In continuing yesterday's theme, but on a less serious note, we return to slow food. which isn't really, or at least it isn't slow cooked food.

I have been harnessing my inner Italian mama of late, which could potentially have been difficult as I am unaware of any Italians in my gene pool. It didn't take much to find her...

As some may know, I have taken to cooking pizza on the sandwich grill. I think it needs to be hotter to be perfect, however it's still the best pizza within cooee of the garden club. I've since also tried my hand at cooking in wood-fired oven thanks to the lovely crowd at the bloggers banquet. I'm yet to try the previously mentioned weber experiment...

Recently I was nearing the end of the day, and my thoughts turned to dinner. Actually, that's not true... I start thinking about dinner the moment I wake up... Anyhow it was the end of the day and despite my obsession with "what's for dinner" (I can still hear my siblings and I asking when we came in from the park after school) I had no commitment to anything. More to the point, there wasn't a great deal in the fridge.

One would think that running a home grocery service would mean that there is always an abundance of fresh food in our house, and often there is but we live on the "scraps" from the orders. And this day there were few. A mental stock take of the larder came up with eggs and flour, and a few random bits of produce. I recalled a blog on making pasta at home at the stonesoup, and as always it was delicately written, and inspired me to give it a go in the spur of the moment.

Whilst the end result was no oxtail ravioli with gremolata (funnily enough I didn't have any oxtails hanging about) I was quite chuffed with the outcome. I have no pasta machine so I hand rolled and cut the pasta which resulted in a lovely rustic look and texture, tossed in the random bits of produce, and served it up with a glass of wine.

well i never...
It's been a long time since I made pasta from scratch and I had forgotten how simple it was. Not only that, but it was a very enjoyable process. Even better, was the taste and texture of the meal itself, with the pasta offering bite and a little chew and its own mild flavour to complement the other ingredients. It was, dare I say, fantastic!

so much so, that I have made pasta several times since and have not bought any dried pasta. I don't think this will be an ongoing thing - some dry pasta is a pantry essential; however I will be making pasta on a more frequent basis for sure.

another string to my bow...

I am not much of a baker. In fact I rarely bake (unlike my mother who baked at each week).

I don't have a particularly sweet tooth. I enjoy the odd sample of chocolate or caramel something-a-rather, love a creme brulee, inhale mum's profiteroles, and don't mind lemon tart either. However, eating sweet foods is something I rarely seek out and when I do, it rarely has the goodness of my mother's love. Consequently, the urge to prepare sweet things seldom strikes.

Without much natural inclination to do so, I have another good reason to avoid baking and that's my "oven on steroids". I have a stock standard apartment issue fan forced smeg. the writing on the dials has come away with cleaning (within the first year). The manual assures me that the seal on the smeg ovens is one of their great features and I can only concur. My oven goes on and if anything needs to be cooked on low heat, the oven is turned off when the subject is posted in it. the latent heat is just amazing, and at other times it's a fine balance switching the heat and fan on and off (not necessarily together).

Anyhow, over the past two weeks I have seen two blogs that got me intrigued and motivated to give something new a shot. The first was over at the stone soup by jules clancy - someone who I admire from afar, who's musings on dulce de leche got my mouth watering. From the comments left on her site afterwards, I am guessing that retailers had a rush on sweetened condensed milk!

Then by coincidence I stumbled across a divine picture on which led me to the blogspot of "muffin" and in particular "so the dog didn't eat my homework..."

the result: me baking on a saturday afternoon... check it out!

in praise of fussy eaters (part 4)

who ate all the pies?

Roaming around the day before we had found Red Ned's Pies - an award winning pie shop (is there a town in Australian that doesn't have one?). hubby is the pie monster so we grabbed a few before heading back to Sydney.

Now I'm not a pie purist. In fact "the pie" is the perfect vessel for leftovers as well as bespoke pie fillings. Red ned's did every filling imaginable - lobster mornay pie (what the?) to a plain old mince pie. I was conservative and got "lamb, rosemary and mint sauce", "steak and mushroom" and "chicken and mushroom". eating these pies I wanted to know who was dishing out these awards, because quite frankly I don't rate them! I refer you to PG for elaboration on what makes a good pie and only comment that "less is more" when it comes to dried herbs and conflicting flavours.

If anyone is still reading this 4 part novella, I thank you. the point of conveying this long-winded recount of my weekend is to point out the resounding and repetitious disappointment encountered when dining out, particularly, but not only, in small towns.

It really doesn't have to be hard. I don't expect hatted standards at a seaside holiday destination. All i want is the ability to chose a meal that is fresh and flavoursome. Correction, I don't even need to have choice if I think about the places I have eaten at in Naples. Just get fresh produce and apply some basic cooking skills as a start.

For example, How hard can garlic mushrooms be?
take a skillet and put on a burner , pour in a lug of olive oil and grab a handful of quartered mushrooms and add to pan when mushrooms are nearly cooked, crush a few cloves of garlic (preferably australian grown and organic - it has more flavour) into the pan, season with salt and pepper, (possibly chilli flakes). stir around, serve into dish and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley. now this can be embellished or not, the point is, that if i had been served this without embellishment I would be happy.

To put it simply, I love cooking, and I also love dining out but I am absolutely fed up with being served crap! It seems to me that the yardstick has regressed to the point that hospitality standards don't seem to apply until you fork out $30 or more a dish (not counting lovely ethnic hole in the wall places) and quite frankly this is unacceptable.

I say, let's clone Gordon Ramsay, send them to the far corners of this broad country and ensure that when I next go on holiday, that I can enjoy the food. To not be able to do so, is, dare I say... un-Australian!!!

in praise of fussy eaters (part 3)

of coastal towns and costly meals...

The great Australian beach holiday is one of those things many of us are brought up to believe are a fundamental part of the Australian psyche. Hell, it's barely possible to get through school without reading Away! Unfortunately the political state of our nation over the past decade and the Cronulla riots a couple of years back has created a notion that it would be un-Australian not to enjoy a beach holiday.

Let me set one thing straight. I love beach holidays. I love little coastal towns -no shoes, wet bottoms in sarongs & shorts, plastic chairs outside the pub, early morning swims and afternoon naps, twilight dinners, and that wonderful feeling of being so so tired after a day of sun, sand, and saltwater.

With all of this in mind, an overnighter in Port Stephens was not to be scoffed at. After leaving the "farm" and bbq and hoping that my olfactory system would recover in time for dinner, we arrived at Nelson Bay, checked into our motel (what is it with that word) that had been recently acquired by a retired couple (a German man and an Italian woman) who had clearly scrubbed the place clean within an inch of its foundations.

After a little afternoon siesta, we mooched around Nelson Bay starting by the marina observing the usual suspects - Hog's Breath Cafe, and asian eatery, some casual cafe thingy with pizza, burgers and nachos on the menu, and of course an ice cream parlour beside the "resort wear boutique". It's about this point in time that I start thinking that I could be at Anywhere's Bay on the Australian coast.

We venture up to the main strip - I'm keen to check out Zest, the only restaurant in the area that gets kudos in both the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, and the Australian Gourmet Traveller. I don't expect to eat there, but I want to read the menu and see what "deft workings of quality produce" mentioned in the review are on offer. Unfortunately there is no menu to be seen, and the front door is still locked.

Moving on, I identify one place I may be prepared to eat. It says it's Spanish on the overhead sign - Capitan Torres or something of equal distinction, and it says wood fired pizza oven on the window. It turns out that they do both. It's still too early for dinner so we head around to Shoal Bay.

At Shoal Bay things appear more mellow and possibly more refined. We find ourselves a table on the strip and grab a drink - I chose the Firestick semillion blend in the hope that I might win a holiday they are promoting (that and we had a lovely late lunch at the cafe a couple of months ago and I do like the wines coming from Poole Rock estate). We then peruse what's on offer. I flat out refuse to eat at the pizza/salad/burger place based on what I can see, which leaves dear hubby exasperated. Eventually we find a little Italian joint that we agree we can eat at after perusing the tables of existing customers. For some reason or other we can't or don't eat there.

Back to Nelson Bay we head and hubby makes a beeline for Zest; of course they are fully booked and this isn't one of those places where if you ask if they are likely to get a cancellation they magically find a spot. Nope, there is no way this lady is going to consider accommodating we desperate, hungry forlorn travellers. We head around the corner to the aforementioned el capitano. it looks okay - just a seaside pizza joint, but at this stage I'm happy to settle for that.

We order a pizza and two tapas dishes - prawns in spicy salsa and garlic mushrooms, to share; it should all go well with the vino de plonk we've picked up on the way, and we say we don't mind what order it comes in. the tapas arrives first in the traditional teracotta dish. The quartered mushrooms are just off raw and sitting in a snot-like gloop, still cold in the middle. I scrape off the snot and eat a few raw mushrooms; I need some vegies after the day we've had... The prawns are kind of warm, (I don't really think about it until later that night but they're not sizzling) and sitting in tomato based sauce that has no kick whatsoever to it. NB: terracotta dishes do not make the tapas taste better!!!

The pizza then arrives and we say nothing. We're over the day, we've niggled at each other for the past hour, and quite frankly, we just want food in our stomachs. The pizza is piping hot, run straight to our table from the oven and the toppings are of moderate quality (I checked on the way in that they were edible). The base of the pizza is spongey and I don't like it at all, so i dip it in the tomato sauce from the prawns. I'm convinced that pizza base this bad is frozen, although I stand corrected when we leave and see a ball of dough on the work surface - maybe they're using some kind of mix, because pizza dough is not that hard. Being the prawn monster that I am, I absent-mindedly pick at the prawns until they're gone and then whooshka, we're out of there and back to the motel (that word again) for another drink and a well deserved rest.


Please come back if you are eating whilst reading this.

... I receive an early morning pang in the stomach that lets me know that I must be on the toilet within 30 seconds. And there I remained for about 2 hours. In the morning hubby has a slightly unsettled stomach, but nothing to mention. We blame the prawns.

to be continued....

in praise of fussy eaters (Part 2)

oh Kurtz, the stench!

the (husband's) work-related Christmas bbq was held at a kind of petting farm north of Newcastle. Stepping out of the car on this warm and particularly humid morning I was punched in the face with the acrid stench hanging in the atmosphere.
This was no "Mmmmm fresh country air" of cow manure. It wasn't even the "oh boy, a sheep truck just went past" in north-western Victoria. no, this was a smell beyond any I had experienced before. this was goat poo upon goat poo upon goat poo upon... (you get the idea). And unlike the first two smells described, the latter was not one that the nostrils "acclimated" to. No indeed, some 4 hours later when we left, I could still smell only this one thing.

Once we entered the "farm" the source of the aforementioned smell was identified, as was our little party. The former, like the latter, were inside the gated circle and I suspect they had managed to over-run that part of the farm some time ago. In a way it was quite refreshing that in this day and age of over-sanitisation and community nannying (pardon the pun) that we were having a company do, and goats were jumping up on the tables!

It was actually a fantastic set up; using the per employee head budget these guys had come up with a family gathering which was more than well catered for and provided lots of entertainment for the lots of little sproggies that joined the party. The catering had been arranged by the social committee and the newly appointed office co-ordinator, and they did a wonderful job; this was no gourmet feast, but a family bbq.

Compromises were made in all the right places and none of the wrong ones. the quality of the sausages was good, the minute steaks were (I don't know, I didn't have one), and salads galore. There were drinks of all denominations in boxes of ice that were like King Midas purse - magically refilling! Thought had even gone into the kids' treats and snacks - lollies and crisp type snacks chosen on a preservative, additive and artificial colour free basis.

Hubby and I later noted that we observed not a single outburst from any child during the 4 hours, and none of them got taken by the dingoes either - incredible!

after making our farewell we headed to nearby Nelson Bay in "resort area" Port Stephens where hubby's company had arranged for us to stay the night so as not to spend 6hours on a Saturday in the car.

to be continued...

in praise of fussy eaters (part 1)

It's not what you think. Really! It just happens to be that our perception of fussy eaters are people who constantly chime in "I don't eat that" or "I don't like that". In which case, if you haven't tried it, or at least had a good look, scratch & sniff, I won't give you much of my time.

however, the fussy eater has a role in this society, particularly if we correlate it to a discerning eater and by this I don't mean a food critic or someone practised in the art of fine dining. I just think we could do with a great deal more of honesty when talking about food in our society.

Take for example the weekend just past...

Friday night was to be a pretty quiet affair as we had an out of town bbq to attend on Saturday. As it turned out my mum was in town, and so I invited her over for a stir fry of prawns, kangkung (ong choi or chinese watercress) and beansprouts. I make special note of this meal not because it is anything out of the ordinary, in fact it's one of our regular dishes, but only as this was the best meal I ate all weekend.

The following morning we had a slower than anticipated start but were still on the M2 by 9am which is pretty good for our sleepy little clan. We'd grabbed some takeaway coffees locally, but by the time we hit the F3 I was regretting skipping breakfast. A pit stop on the F3 at coffee-has-taken-its-effect o'clock and I could hold out no longer. Thinking that I would feel better if I chose something from the newish convenience designed to deliver fresh and satisfying foods, I perused the cabinets to no avail. nothing looked, well, appetising, or that fresh for that matter. An I didn't want a tub of hummus on an empty stomach either.

I know I could have packed a picnic, but I didn't see the point of shopping for food when we were heading to a lunch three hours out of town. We should have had breakfast of course, but we didn't.

So...I am afraid ladies and gentleman that you may be disappointed, but I did indeed head over to McDonalds (but only after scoffing at the coolibah cafe bain marie display!)

The thing is, I actually have very little against McDonalds, and I think they get a pretty rough deal compared to other sinners. I don't think McDonalds is ever going to win any awards for haute cuisine, nor is it something I would chose to eat regularly. But for someone that has travelled the roads of Australia over a lifetime, I am occasionally grateful for the proliferation of McDonalds.

"But what about the small townships?" I hear you cry. "What about the home made burgers at the chip shop?" All I can say is this. when you have had enough offal pies and offal burgers, when the frozen cheese sandwiches are soggy from defrosting, and the brown landscape of Australia seems to offer no reprieve, those golden arches on the road into the next main town are a relief indeed. A cold drink, fries and a burger that will have met some basic health and safety requirements, is perfectly satisfactory.

Some tips to eating at this establishment:
1. lower your expectation. You are about to buy a meal that costs $6 on the roadside in the middle of nowhere. in the township it will cost you $7 for the dodgey offal burger and then more for the extras.
2. what price do you attribute to a stable belly for the rest of your trip?
3. they have facilities that are usually reasonably clean. if they aren't there is always someone to complain to, and then they clean them.
4. watch the operations behind the counter carefully. listen to what people order and what the stuff have to ask to be made up as they're low. when it's your time to place an order, order whatever is just coming off the grill. failing that order what has run out.
5. keep an eye on the fries. no, not because of hamburgler silly! make sure yours are packaged as your order is put on the tray or in the bag. If there is a wait for your burger and go to give you the rest of your order say "I don't mind waiting for the burger, but I would like fresh fries with it when it's ready rather than now"
6. order something with lettuce. there's only a tiny bit, but you'll feel better for eating something with lettuce.
7. chew VERY slowly. the thing with this kind of food is that it's pre-chewed (by a machine of course) so the temptation to gulp it down without a tooth mark is high. this is not good as (a) you still feel hungry at the end of it so order more, and (b) a gut ache is almost guaranteed to follow half an hour later if you don't take your time.

Back on the road, and some time later we arrived at the bbq venue intact and in tolerable moods owing to our blood sugar count being in check.

to be continued...

idiot box; idiot jar

it's not that I don't have anything to say. I simply have too many things to say. so whilst we wait for the sediment to settle and the cream to come to the forefront of my mind i thought i would mention my great annoyance at a certain television commercial. In fact, I thought I had already had a rant about this product as it flies in the face of decency and common sense, but alas I have neglected to share this with you until now...

two angelic looking blonde children (are they twins? friends? who knows) are at the table and their poor frustrated mother is at kitchen bench. we're told how difficult it is to feed children fibre because, let's face it, kids hate vegetables. So instead of trying to hide vegetables in dishes such as spaghetti bolognese we should sprinkle in some fibre supplement to help get the family's fibre intake up to where it ought to be.

even better, is that the supplement is a totally tasteless, dissolvable and non-thickening powder that can be added to your everyday food or drink, you can even cook with it!!! as it is totally tasteless, dissolvable and non-thickening, you're children won't even know that they are eating fibre!!!

of course by the end of the advertisement the children are happily tucking into their bowls of spaghetti bolognese!

here we have a completely unnecessary product, marketed to parents and children alike, to declare that children don't like vegetables so give up trying, don't educate your kids about the importance of eating fibre and eating a balanced diet and neglecting to mention the additional nutrients and benefits eating vegetables can have. (the advertisement also breezes over the detail that the supplement is made from chicory - a plant!)

this product is touted to be a health food product. and yet from what i can tell, the community at large is more concerned about fast food chains putting toys in their "happy meals". whilst i don't want to get into a fast food debate, i do wonder where the priorities lie when people are thinking (or perhaps not) about these issues and how society determines what appropriate advertising is and isn't!!!

more S.O.L.E.

how breakfast became lunch...