The last few weeks have been rather hectic in my kitchen. I’m taking it easy in December, especially now that I know my niece will host Christmas Day Lunch. Hooray, I’m off the hook. Now I can safely sneak away to my favourite beach and pretend that the festive season is not happening.
I am picking around 500 grams of berries every day. Raspberries, boysenberries, youngberries and strawberries are having a wonderful season. It’s time to think about using some in an alcoholic concoction.
We have consumed many berries with small meringue nests which I store away in tins for a week or so. These meringues had the addition of finely zested lemon peel. Limoncello cream filled the cavities, then raspberries. We also had cinnamon meringue with cherry.
One of the big sultana vines lost a branch when Mt Tranquillo was pruning. I wasn’t going to waste these lovely fresh vine leaves. A big batch of dolmades lasted only one week in my kitchen.
My daughter- in- law has done some ironing for me. It is so nice when all the tablecloths are ready for the season ahead. This is the blue and white stash. Yes, slightly anal, I know.
I found this old gelataio in an Op shop (thrift shop) in 2009. It was only $15.00 and had just been serviced. It’s little churning wings broke the other day as I was making some berry ice cream. It has served me very well so I might ask Santa for a new one, unless a spare part turns up soon.
The beautiful blue plates, a set of 12, seem to be unused and cost $3.00 in total. They were made by Johnson in Australia in the 1950s. Another lucky find in the second hand world of Melbourne. Perfect for a morning tea of mini muffins with white chocolate, amond meal and fresh raspberry.
Why does everyone always crowd around in the kitchen? Here are a couple of party animals, a reminder to always have fun in the kitchen. Put your finger in the cream, steal a morsel off that platter, help roll out the pizza dough or dance like a crazy spider.
There was no way we were prepared to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower with Mischa Belle. She appeared heartbroken as we explained our problem of vertigo. Then, out of the blue, we were approached by a lovely South American family, a couple with two teenage children. They had purchased too many tickets on the internet due to an error in the system. Would we like to buy a ticket for the next carriage which would leave in 20 minutes time? We established that they were not scammers and so negotiated a deal: Would they mind escorting 14-year-old Mischa to the top? We would purchase two tickets, but Mr T would exit after the fourth level. They were more than happy with the arrangement.
Mischa not only got to the top to take these photos of Paris from above, but learnt a great deal about Paris from the escorting couple, who had worked there for many years.
Mischa , who is now 17, has just finished her VCE finals in French. I am sure she plans to return. Well done Mischa.
We are standing on the banks of the Yangtze river close to its convergence with the Min River at Yibin, Sichuan Province in China. A large cargo boat travelling upstream slows down. A ferry waits at the scene. There is a man dressed in white standing on the edge of the ferry. The boats finally converge. The man in white is hauled up and off to work he goes.
The season is hotting up, in both senses of the word. Mr Tranquillo, my current Cabana Boy, refuses to don the appropriate costume or demeanor as he attempts to get the pool functioning in time for a sizzling hot weekend. My adult daughter sips her white wine as she ponders the thought of her father as Cabana Boy. She announces that she doesn’t want to go there, the thought is just too ‘gross’.
Whenever these hot evenings string out for too long, dinner preparation must be super fast. I had calamari fritti on my mind. As my daughter left before the meal, her black eyes glared from the car ” Don’t send me a photo, it’s not fair!”.
These lovely molluscs were acquired from the Queen Victoria Market on the best day of the week, Tuesday. In terms of Melbourne’s catch, this is the first day of the week, when the fish are still jumping fresh. The fishmongers at the Vic Market are happy to clean your purchase.
Calamari Fritti con Rugola in Fretta ( for two)
2 big handfuls of wild rocket/rugola
3 spring onions, sliced, including green end
1 chilli, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
a little olive oil
400g freshly prepared calamari, sliced, including tentacles.
salt and pepper
five spice powder
neutral tasting cooking oil, such as canola, for frying.
Prepare the salad base. Arrange the rocket leaves and toss with the spring onions on a serving platter.
Make a quick dressing. Crush the chilli and garlic with some salt in a mortar and pestle. Add some olive oil. Lightly dress the leaves.
Heat a fryingpan or wok and add some oil. Toss the calamari slices in cornflour mixed with salt and five spice powder. Cook the calamari in batches, tossing well, for around one minute. Using tongs, drain well on paper towels.
When all the calamari is fried, toss through the salad leaves.
Serve with lemon wedges.
It is heartening to know that calamari is a sustainable seafood here in Victoria. The rubbery frozen tubes sold in supermarkets are not worth buying unless you fancy eating fried condoms. These usually come from Asia or the USA. If you do choose to buy these from the supermarket, ask about the source.
The following is a great site to check out the sustainability of Australian seafood. http://goodfishbadfish.com.au/
A trip to the Queen Victoria Market is a one way ticket to Il Paradiso or L’ Inferno. I arrive and never want to leave these acres devoted to food heaven and hell. Known locally as the Vic Market, it is a major landmark in central Melbourne, a top tourist destination, and a national treasure. At around seven hectares (17 acres), it is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere.
The space is divided into different halls and sheds. The fish area houses ten or so different specialist fishmongers offering the freshest catch in Melbourne. This section has diminished over the years but the quality has improved. With quick turnover and now correct labelling with regard to source, it is worth a tram ride to shop here on a weekly basis.
But it is so hard to choose. Will I have those baby snapper, the freshly shucked oysters from Coffin Bay, or the lovely scallops still in the shell? Hmm, fresh baby calamari. All too tempting.
The Vic Market Deli comes next, which is housed in a hall of Victorian glass fronted shops and tiled floors. You may go there with a list, but I guarantee you won’t stick to it. My levels of greed and gluttony soar to unholy levels.
Thomas Aquinas, 13th century Italian philosopher puts it this way:
‘gluttony could include an obsessive anticipation of meals, and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods.’
This sin includes,
Praepropere – eating too soon
Laute – eating too expensively
Nimis – eating too much
Ardenter – eating too eagerly
Studiose – eating too daintily
Forente – eating wildly
This Deli Hall is a wicked place indeed but at least I can’t be accused of eating too daintily so there’s hope for me yet.
I came here especially to buy a large jar of Mt Zero Olives from the Grampians region of Victoria as these mixed olives last forever in the fridge. A little scoop here and another one there provides a lovely drink snack. No need to marinate them or tart them up with herbs and garlic. They speak for themsleves. The young vendor is keen to be in my picture too.
Cheese was not on my list, and yet I was tempted, severely. I was lucky enough to stop after purchasing three small delicious wedges. This is the place to find Christmas treats. Oh yes, I might be accused or eatingtoo expensively, Sir Thomas. Just to tuck away, in anticipation of guests.
And then there’s the row of takeaway instant treats. The Bratwurst shop is famous and has been there for at least 40 years, but my favourite is the Borek shop. Still, I find it hard to choose: I want it all. Perhaps I have I eaten too soon, Mr Aquinas?
After the deli, the acres devoted to fresh fruit and vegetables beckon. My mind races as I obsessively anticipate the meals that could be made. I stand accused of the sin of gluttony every time I enter the delectable land of The QueenVic Market.
I made my first Sourdough loaf in late July this year after Celia sent me some of her starter. I have made yeasted breads for many years and was familiar with Italian style biga starters, but had never made sourdough until that fortuitous gift arrived. Now I make it at least twice a week, with a yeasted pizza special on Friday nights.
Generally I make a Finnish sourdough, based on a recipe given to me by a gifted baker who is now in Newcastle, New South Wales. If you are in that area, visit Craig at the Baked Uprising Cafe. Check this review here or web site here. Craig studied sourdough baking in San Francisco and worked there for many years before coming back to Australia and then to the mud brick, wood fired oven bakery in St Andrews, Victoria. Then he left! The void in my bread eating life has been partly filled by one of his fab recipes so now I can get on with things.
Some days I go back to basics and re-acquaint myself with Celia’s baking blog. When I am doing a Celia style loaf, this is the mix we favour. Mr T prefers this loaf.
15og bubbly sourdough starter
270g water (filtered or tank)
25g EV olive oil
350g white bakers flour ( I use Wallaby flour by Laucke Mills)
150g wholemeal spelt
Proceed with Celia’s instructions here. This is based on Celia’s white sourdough recipe. I have added spelt because I like a bit of nuttiness and have added a bit more water to compensate for this. I often now make the dough in the evening, place the covered bowl in the fridge for a very slow overnight rise, then bring it back to room temperature in the morning and proceed to shape, do the second rise, then bake. This bread is surprisingly easy and well-behaved, and never lasts long in our house.
My sourdough starter, who is also called Celia, has given birth to Frankie who is now in the hands of my niece Louise. Can’t wait to see what Frankie and Louise bake together.
When we stayed in Shinjuku, 新宿駅, Tokyo, we were often disoriented, especially when returning from Shinjuku station to our hotel. If we didn’t leave from the same exit each time, the sky was full of angular buildings that we hadn’t noticed before. Lost again!
There are 200 exits in Shinjuku Station and they all look the same. This underground world sees 3 to 4 million people pass through it daily. No one rushes, there are no loud noises or cell phone conversations. The system works efficiently and smoothly.
Exiting upwards into the modern angular world of Shinjuku, it’s colourful, vibrant, busy and often bewildering.
Two words are synonymous in my mind: colourful and India. At times the colours are shocking and overwhelming. These Ganesha were taken down to Varkala Beach, Kerala, India for part of Onam festival. If you think these colours are loud, imagine the volume of the speakers!
Flattery will get you everywhere, or is that nowhere? Flattery is often associated with obsequiousness or false praise. But for the hard-working cook, a little flattery, a little praise, or just a heartfelt ‘thank you’ goes a very long way.
I remember those who dine at my table, the ones who say ‘thank you, I enjoyed that, it was really tasty’. I don’t care if they are telling the truth, although I sense that they are. I also remember those who either say nothing at all, or proceed to tell me how they, their wife or the restaurant up the road, makes a delectable version, remaining oblivious to the presence of the food on their plate and in their mouth. I distinctly recall laboriously making a rich, buttery pastry for a summer Charlotte, filling it with spiced plums and apples, and ‘taking the plate’ to a friend’s house to share with him and the assembled others, who had arrived plate- free, for lunch. As the host ate, he recalled the quince tart made by a mutual friend, whose pastry was so much shorter and how delectable it was. This story was related at length with a big spoonful of my **tart in his big ** mouth. I tried to disguise my annoyance, but I have never forgotten that incident. Another chap, enjoying a three course meal with us, spent the time breathlessly talking about his wife’s superb cooking and the wonderful things she makes. No praise for the meal, and only a meagre parting thanks. Don’t you hate that?
Then there is my lovely niece, Louise, who came to stay recently, and commented on every dish she ate – the yoghurt and stone fruit breakfasts, the home-made but stale bread, the soup, the Flamisch, the pasta, the broadbeans. She made proper Maeve O’Mara noises – Mmm, Ahhhh, followed by lovely text messages the next day. “Can you text me a slice of your sourdough,” was her latest amusing message. She is an excellent cook herself and certainly doesn’t need any guidance from me, but she requested my recipe for pizza dough. Since she is such an appreciative guest as is her hungry nine month old bambina, I am finally posting it. Warning, the recipe is short, but the post is long.
Pizza dough from Carol Field’s Italian Baker, with a few variations.
Ingredients for Two Large Pizze
This dough is made in a stand mixer, and lists by cups then in grams. I prefer to weigh. You can make it by hand or in a food processor. Use cold water if using a processor. If using a bread making machine, use the dough setting and cold water, adding the water first.
1 3/4 teaspoons/5 g active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1 1/3 cups warm water/320 g
1/4 cup/ 55 g olive oil
3 3/4 cup/5oo g unbleached all-purpose flour*
1 1/2 teaspoons /7.5 g sea salt.
Stir the yeast and sugar into the water in the mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and satiny but firm, about 3 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface and form into a ball.
Rising and Baking.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat with the oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until not quite fully doubled. Depending on the weather, and the room temperature, this may take up to two hours.
Shaping and second rise. Shape the dough with a rolling pin or by hand. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a lightly floured surface, for 1-2 minutes. Divide the dough into two ( this amount will make two large pizze). Roll each piece into a ball on a floured surface then flatten to a thick disk. The easiest way to shape the dough is with a rolling pin*. Roll out thinly, leaving a cornicione, a thicker edge along the rim to keep the sauce in. ( The Cornicione is a favourite of babies, gastronomes and dogs named Bill).
Place the dough on large trays dusted with semolina or polenta and let them rise another 30 minutes, covered with a towel. Dress the pizze with your favourite topping. Turn oven to full ( 250c), and wait until the oven reaches that heat which may take 30 minutes. Cook for around 20 minutes. You can usually smell when the pizza is ready. It is done when the crust is crisp and golden brown. Remove from the oven and brush the crust edge with a little olive oil.
Either place the dough on trays dusted with semolina or polenta, OR, roll the dough out on non stick paper and let them rise on the paper. This allows the trays to be heated in the oven, then you lift the dressed pizza onto the super hot trays.
If using a pizza stone, you need to work out a way of transporting your wobbly pizza base to the stone. The simplest way is to make it on the paper, carry onto the stone, then slide out the paper at the 15 minute point when the pizza has firmed up. As I tend to cook two pizzas at once, the pizza stones seem like hard work to me. I simply use the ‘cooking paper method’ on pre heated trays.
* Flour. So much has been written before about flour. I am not a fan of Farina ’00’ flour for Pizza, although I think it has a place for making fresh pasta and tarts. I’m adding an extract by Carol Field here, who discusses flour types as used in Italy:
Flour in Italy commonly comes from the species Triticum Aestivum, which is divided into two major varieties, soft wheat and hard wheat, (grano tenero) – and from which all bread is made.
Durum hard grain ( grano duro), or Triticum Durum, a different species, is the hardest wheat grown and is usually milled into semolina. It is a golden grain that has a higher protein and gluten content and is used almost exclusively for pasta production.
The Italian baker has five grades of grano tenero to choose from, although they are classified not by strength and protein content like ours but by how much of the husk and whole grain have been sifted away. The whitest flour has the least fibre. The lower the number, the more refined and whiter the flour, so that of the five categories, “00” is the whitest and silkiest flour, “0” is a bit darker and less fine, since it contains about 70% of the grain, and “1” is even darker. Darker and courser is “2”.
For all the talk of the prevalence of whole grain in the healthy Mediterranean diet, only a fairly small percentage of Italian breads are made with whole wheat (Pane Integrale)…Millers simply take refined white flour, stir in a quantity of bran, and pronounce it whole wheat.
The Italian Baker, Revised. Carol Field. P 18
It is good to know a little about flours when we bake. I always use a local flour by Laucke mills ( South Australia) for Pizza baking. Wallaby Flour is described as a Bakers Flour due to the high 12% protein content. I check the date and make sure it has been recently milled. Laucke mills also produce an Australian ’00’ flour, a stone ground, organic wholemeal flour and Atta flour, the latter being great for Indian bread. A range of bulk wholemeal flours may be found at NSM in Brunswick, Victoria and a range of spelt and unusual flours at Bas foods, Brunswick, Victoria. I like the idea of eating local products: the wheat grown and processed in Australia means it is fresher and, as Italians are not averse to chemical use, purer. ’00’ type flour is too refined for Pizza but my dear friend Rachael uses it successfully by adding semolina to the mix, which would give it more strength via the higher gluten content. Sometimes I add 20% spelt flour to the mix for variation but I am mindful that a little extra water may be needed. Playing with different flours is always interesting and all recipes evolve over time. But, like Olive Oil, buy the local product.
Thank you and a little praise goes a long way. Mr T receives praise for all his hard work, grass cutting and maintenance in the gardens and paddocks. He praises me for the food he eats. We take nothing for granted.
It’s cherry season here. As tempting as it is to eat them straight from the bag or dangle attached pairs from my ears, I like to save some for a few desserts. The following recipe for Cinnamon Meringue is a handy one for the looming silly season. These can be made ahead and stashed in an airtight box for a week. When you need a dessert, simply whip some cream and poach some seasonal fruit. The cinnamon adds another dimension to the meringue taste.
4 egg whites
225 g caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
1 tsp white wine vinegar
4 tsp ground cinnamon
300 ml cream ( 35 %)
Preheat the oven to 120c. Line the baking trays with baking paper. Whisk egg-white until stiff. Gradually add caster sugar until mixture is glossy. ( do this slowly in stages). Add the cornflour, vanilla, vinegar and cinnamon and whisk until combined.
Draw 8 cm circles on the baking paper: turn the paper over so that you can still see the circles) and pile the meringue into each circle, smoothing the sides. Make an indent in the top and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove when cool and store in an airtight tin or plastic clip box.
Gently poach the cherries in a little water with strewn sugar to taste. This should only take around 5 minutes. Add alcohol, such as Kirsch or amaretto, if you like. Whip the cream.
Serve the individual meringues topped with cream and cherries with some of the poaching liquid, and serve an extra bowl of cherries on the side.
I also made these little meringues with a Christmas topping of caramel apples, fruit mince and brandy. It was so rich! Below is a peak of that version. The recipe is adapted from ABC Delicious, Let’s Do Lunch, 2003