Saturday, December 5, 2009

St Lucia saffron cake

I adore saffron. Sometime back I decided to play around and add saffron to a cake and came up with this recipe.

As it turns out, just today I read that saffron is used to make a traditional Christmas cake in Sweden for St Lucia Day, which is celebrated on 13th December. Legend has it that Lucia as a young girl, about to be a bride, gave her entire dowry to the poor of her village and admitted that she had become a Christian. She was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake on December 13th, 304 A.D. (She is also the patron saint for Italian fisherman, and is said to guide them through a storm).

I've read that in all the Scandanavian countries, on St Lucia Day, breakfast is served at dawn, and is celebrated with saffron buns and gingerbread.

My homage to St Lucia is this cake. Why not try serving it dusted with icing sugar to represent the white gown usually associated with the Italian medieval saint. And, in Australian summer of December 13th, seasonal fresh berries can provide the red sash that usually adorns the gown.

St Lucia Saffron Cake

generous pinch of saffron threads
3/4 cup milk
4oz (125g) butter
3 eggs
1 cup castor sugar
1 1/2 cups self raising flour
pinch of salt

Place saffron in milk, and bring to scalding but do not boil. Remove from heat and allow to infuse. Add cubed butter to the milk; heat slowly until the butter has melted and remove from heat. (Do not boil) Bring back to room temperature.

Grease 8" (20cm) square pan and line base with baking paper. In a large bowl, whisk whole eggs and gradually add the castor sugar, making sure the sugar dissolves between each addition. Alternatively add sifted flour, and butter mixture, (1/4 each time) to the eggs and sugar base. Whisk until light.

Pour into prepared tin. Bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes. Allow to stand a few minutes, before turning out to cool.

Serve when cold, dredged with sifted icing sugar, and adorned with fresh red berries (or macerated red fruits).
The photo is a later addition to this post ~ I never got around to taking a photo myself ~ and with kind permission I've used this shot that twitter food friend @daz77 Darren Smith took of his cake that he made with this recipe, and that he shared on twitter ~ another wonderful way that we share food

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

From Garden to Plate LUNAR DINNER

I'm quite delighted by idea of the monthly Lunar Dinners at Sydney's Universal restaurant. This month the Lunar Dinner was aligned with the Spring Equinox. That's an important landmark in the gardening year for those who follow biodynamic planting by the phases of the moon. So, it was quite fitting that the September Lunar Dinner was 'From Garden to Plate' with guest chef for the evening Stefano Manfredi.

A highlight of the event was definitely the freshness of the produce, much of which was grown at the restaurant garden of Bells at Killcare. Stefano had earlier described the menu as 'vegetables as the hero without being vegetarian". It was not only low in 'food miles' but seasonal and at optimum same day just picked freshness. We'd been treated with pictures of the produce still growing in the garden, in the lead up to the event. For me, this provided a marvellous extra level of anticipation.

At my table of eight friends, the night, the food, the company were all perfect. None of us could isolate a favourite dish. We loved them all!

Stefano told me that while guesting at such an event is not always easy, this night went as planned and he found working with Christine Mansfield and the Universal team was excellent. My group were delighted because not only was the food sensational but also because Stefano was a most charming host. Stefano, grazie!

For those who didnt get to 'this' event, here's a peek at what you missed:

Stefano Manfredi 22nd September 2009

Baccalà balls

Crostini with vitellone tonnato

Salad from Bells’ garden: broad beans, Italian white radish, baby artichokes, radicchio and mustard cress with pecorino and walnut salsa

Prawn, leek and barley stew

Wild weed raviolini: borage, nettles and cime di rapa with sugo pomodoro

Grilled lamb shoulder “roman style” with cavolo nero gratinato, salsa dragoncello

Panettone pudding with balsamic strawberries

Caffè served with crostoli

Sunday, September 13, 2009

If Pigs Could Fly

Yesterday I took a jaunt to Sydney's newest (and oldest) retail butcher. I knew something was different as soon as I saw the window in Queen Street Woollahra. Paintly boldly is the motto: "If Pigs Could Fly". In the window is a small whole pig with wings and in the base of the display a bed of white feathers. This is no ordinary butchers. Father and son, Vic and Anthony Puharich are suppliers to many of Sydney's finest restaurants. "The Churchill's Butchery site has been a butcher shop since 1876, so it seemed only appropriate that we opened our flagship shop there" say Anthony Puharich, CEO of Vic's Premium Quality Meat.

Anthony was kind enough to take time out of a busy Saturday to proudly yet humbly show me around the store. There's a fine range of goodies, including charcuterie, traiteur and rotisserie. Not sure if the secret's out yet but my favourite mustards and salts are also stocked there. There's even dessert.

While we were there chef and charcutier, Romeo Baudouin was producing (natural skin) sausages on the premises including Pork Toulouse.

Some of the in-store range that took my eye were Duck Confit, Veal Sweetbreads, Black Pudding, Celeriac Remoulade and Spring Lamb Navarin (recipe from Romeo Baudouin follows):

Lamb Navarin

Ragout of Lamb with mixed seasonal vegetables. Navarin comes from the French word "navet" meaning turnip. In France this lamb dish is mainly served with turnips.

1.2kg boneless lamb shoulder
2 tomatoes diced
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspon plain flour
1 Bouquet Garni
2 bunches baby carrots
200g baby turnips
1 bunch baby onions
200g French geans
300g green peas
300g baby potatoes
25g butter
1 litre chicken stock

1. Dice the lamb
2. Finely chop the garlic
3. Heat oil in a casserole dish and brown the lamb. Remove meat and drain excess fat from the meat.
4. Put meat back in the casserole dish, add flour, salt, pepper and cook for a couple of minutes.
5. Add diced tomatoes, garlic, bouquet garni and the stock. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and cook for approximately 1.5 hours on a slow heat.
6. Prepare all the vegetables, peel and blanch them separately and refresh with cold water before adding to the casserole dish.
7. Add the baby potatoes, then 5 minutes later add the turnips, carrot, onion and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the French beans and green peas at the end.
8. Serve hot in a casserole dish with fresh sourdough bread.

Victor Churchill
132 Queen Street
Woollahra NSW 2025
61 2 9328 0402

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


This might not be what you'd expect from a food post, or a restaurant review, or an interview with a chef. As it turns out, although I'd always very much enjoyed the food of Stefano Manfredi, my journey to Bells At Killcare and my stay at Pretty Beach House, was so much more than I had expected.

You see, it was a full moon last Saturday night. I had dropped off my things at the Pretty Beach House accommodation, then I trotted up the road for Stefano to show me around Bells' kitchen garden while there was still afternoon light. My dinner started at 7.30pm and for my primo (first course) I had selected the above-pictured white radish: with the fresh Bells' farm eggs, asparagus and salsa verde. Next came Sand Flathead one of the day's specials. Stefano explained that Italians make the most of flavours with simple cookery. This whole fish with lemon was the materialisation of his explanation. And, then it happened. Tears welled up in my eyes. So many emotions and yet none (I was not sad at all). I put it down to the full moon.

Brian Barry (host and proprietor) had another theory. Like flavour and Italian cookery, Brian explained that there was a simple explanation. He announced that it was Killcare Coincidence. According to Barry it's a well known phenomenom. There certainly is a spiritual air to the place. And even the restaurant has its own Killcare Coincidence story.

Originally Brian and Karina Barry had come to Killcare for a three month assignment to complete a business case. Once in Killcare, they knew they had to stay. In the meantime, they were in rented holiday accommodation for the three month period. As they worked a plan to bring a high profile chef to the properties, they considered their options. Stefano was one of a number they were considering to approach. And then the coincidence. Brian related the tale of how as he finished his coffee and considered which chef, he looked down and in the bottom of the cup the Manfredi name was displayed before him. The Barry's opened the kitchen cupboard which was stocked with Manfredi coffee.

Unknown to Brian and Stefano, I had my own coincidence, well more than one. The visit came at the pinnacle of a major change in my life. And, the tears, well, while the visit certainly invoked many wonderful memories of Manfredi restaurants in Sydney, it was also the Father's Day weekend. That perfect fish was just the same as the one I caught on my first fishing expedition at six years of age, and was cooked just the way I remembered my dad cooking that first catch. Simply! Perfect!

There were also other connections, coincidence, with the women of this weekend, but ... that's another story ...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Cruising with Aussie Chef Luke Mangan

I've been known to eat out a bit (quite a bit), and I love good food. Anyone who knows me (and even some that don't) know that it's true!

And I also love to travel. And though I've never been on a cruise, I might just be persuaded now that one of my favourite Sydney chefs is taking his signature dishes to the seas.

"I want to create an intimate restaurant which passengers will enjoy so much it'll be one of the highlights of their holiday experience", says Aussie Chef Luke Mangan. From December, he will be taking some of my favourite food from Glass Restaurant Sydney to the seas on Salt Grill by Luke Mangan on P&O Cruises Pacific Jewel. Did I heard a rumour, that Luke will be on that maiden voyage? Three more restaurants on three more P&O ships will follow.

As an Aussie, what's also exciting is that "this is the first time an Australian chef has been brought onboard a cruise ship" joining the ranks of cruising chefs Gary Rhodes and Marco Pierre White.

Do you want a peek at a selection from the menu?


Oysters - Natural / Six Ways / Tempura
Kingfish Carpaccio, fetta rocket and ginger and shallot
Tuna tartar with ruby grape fruit, wasabi, lotus chips
Salmon gravalax, shaved fennel, crispy onion rings, lemon olive oil dressing
Citrus tempura prawns, wasabi dressing
Chilled prawns with mango salsa
Lobster sashimi, changes daily


Rocket, pear, walnut and blue cheese, verjuice dressing
Salt salad: seasonal vegetable salad; slow cooked hen's egg, and truffle dressing
Lobster soup, tortellini of lobster, pickled mushrooms and basil
Glass Sydney crab omelette, miso mustard broth
Seared sea scallops, blue cheese polenta, truffle
Artichoke ravioli, mushroom ragout, asparagus

And yes, I'm delightfully lucky, as we did get to taste some of these treats at tonight's launch at Glass Sydney.

You can also find @LukeWMangan on Twitter, at Salt Tokyo, World Wine Bar Tokyo and South Food + Wine Bar San Francisco.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Boeuf Bourguignon (inspired by Julia Child)

This week was an exciting moment in the food blogging world as the movie Julie & Julia opened. (here in Australia we've still got a couple of months to wait though ... and my fingers are tapping the kitchen table impatiently). The movie features two stories: the memoirs of Julia Child and the story of food blogger Julie Powell cooking her way through Julia's recipes.

One of the things I'm delighted about with the movie is that it features some of my French (classic) favourites. They've never gone out of style with me. They are the dishes I taught myself as a teenager and have been cooking ever since. Every winter since I first cooked this recipe, I've warmed family and friends with Boeuf Bourguignon. Here's my adaptation using mustard, not flour, for thickening. Where possible, for added depth of flavour, I prepare a day ahead of eating, and start preparations with the marinade the day before that.

Boeuf Bourguignon

1.5 kg (3 1/2 lbs) casserole beef (shoulder or shin) cubed

60g (2oz) butter

5 tablespoons olive oil

sprigs of fresh thyme

3 carrots

3 onions

button mushrooms

125g (1/4 lb) fresh bacon

2 tablespoons dijon mustard

1 bottle good red wine

salt and pepper

Trim and cube beef. Peel carrots, halve lengthwise and slice thickly. Halve onions, peel, then halve lengthwise and slice thinly.

Marinade the beef, together with sprigs of fresh thyme, carrots and onions, in the wine and leave to marinate overnight. (I've omitted this at times to cook the same day, but it really is worth the effort if you can plan ahead).

Remove the meat from the marinade and pat the meat dry. (reserve the marinade for later use in the recipe). Put a large pan on the stovetop over medium heat, and add and heat olive oil and brown the meat a batch at a time; remove to another dish off the heat after each batch.

Trim bacon and slice into lardons (thick julienne). Reheat the pan and fry the bacon, again in batches. Set the bacon to one side.

Clean the pan removing excess fat.

Return the pan to the stovetop on a lower heat, add butter and return all the cubed beef to the pan. Add the dijon mustard (with thanks to Gary Rhodes for inspiring this addition, in place of flour, for thickening) and stir. Add the bacon, mushrooms and the marinade (fresh thyme, carrots and onions) and cook on a low heat for two hours. Where time permits I leave the casserole to sit overnight. (then you can skim any excess fat from the top, pick out the thyme if the sprigs have remained intact, and you can replace with fresh thyme again before gently reheating).

Check the seasoning; add salt and pepper as required. Check the thickness of the sauce and, if necessary, add some beurre manié (butter and flour.) The red wine should have reduced, and the mustard provided some natural thickening that most likely the beurre manie will not be required. Some recommend that the cooking can be finished in the oven in a covered casserole. Most usually I serve as it is on the day of cooking, or reheat on the stovetop. Bon appetit!

Monday, August 3, 2009

CSIPETKE (Hungarian Pinched Noodles)

I love sharing food with friends, and cooking for them, and there is no greater honour than being invited into a friend's home and having them cook in a labour of love to share with me.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a leisurely Sunday lunch in the home of my friends Georgie and Janos. That day they treated me to homestyle Hungarian fare. I've never made Csipetke, and they've been kind enough to give me a lesson, shared here with you. They even took the photo.

Csipetke: home made pasta for soups

80g continental flour
1 small egg

Mix flour with egg and knead until firm dough forms.

Sift a little flour on a hard surface and roll dough with a rolling pin until it is 1mm thick. Dip your fingers into flour and pinch small pieces from the dough (about 5mm x 5mm).

Add small pieces of dough to boiling soup (such as gulyas soup) or boiling salty water. It is cooked when it comes to the surface (about 2 - 3 minutes).

If we're lucky maybe they'll share their recipe for Gulyas (Goulash) some day soon ...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rhubarb and Apple Crumble

Rhubarb and Apple Crumble
with Mum's Crumble Topping

Crumble is one of my favourite comfort foods. It's warming to the heart as well as the tummy in winter. In summer, I still serve crumble (with a change of seasonal fruit) and serve it at room temperature or cold.

There's a couple of ways I make the fruit filling for the crumble, but I always use mum's crumble topping; this is the one we ate at home as kids.

For the Topping

In all honesty, while I don't remember ever measuring the ingredients, here's my attempt to recreate with measurements. There are four ingredients butter (125g or 4oz), brown sugar (1/2 cup), plain flour (1 cup), rolled oats (1 cup).

- Mix the dry ingredients. Add the melted butter. Stir, and loosely sprinkle on top of the fruit mixture.
- After a hint from Chef Luke Mangan, I've recently created a 'friends to dinner' variation by adding little chocolate nuggets (I used dark chocolate roughly chopped) to the crumble topping mixture. It really is a delicious extra layer of complexity, and the chocolate works really well against the oats.
- If I'm not using the chocolate, I sometimes add ground cinnamon (goes well with apple), or ground ginger (works well with peaches) depending on the fruit of choice.

For the Fruit

- I really like my rhubarb and apple, gooey and scrumptious, so I usually cook this combination of fruit stovetop before adding the fruit to a greased oven proof dish.
- I like to add two apples (peeled, cored, sliced) to a bunch of rhubarb and add 1/2 cup raw sugar to the mix. I wet it with a little water (and if I'm feeling lush change this to red wine). Then cook until its melted.
- One variation is to change the apples to oranges (chunks of peeled fruit) and cook in orange juice. If you like you can add orange rind.
- Or use quince instead of the rhubarb with the orange or apple.
- After cooking stovetop, place the fruit a greased oven proof dish and cover with the crumble topping. Cook about 30 minutes in a moderately hot oven if the fruit is still warm to hot when the crumble is added.
- Alternatively place the fresh fruit in the oven proof dish and cover (lid or foil) and cook down a little before adding the crumble topping.
- My favourite combination is peach with blueberry. I just skin and slice the fresh peaches and sprinkle with blueberries then the topping. No other additions, no sweetening and no prelimary stovetop cooking. The colours as well as flavours of this dish are delightful! Let this one cook around 45 minutes starting in a moderate oven, and turn up the heat the last 10 minutes.

To Serve:

Try custard, icecream, cream chantilly, or mascarpone as suggestions on the side.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Chef's Recipe: Pig's Trotters from Ron O'Byan


Pig’s trotter filled with cotechino and celery, Mt Zero lentils, celeriac puree, Calvados jus

This delicious recipe is on the current winter menu at Melbourne's award winning Italian restaurant Church St Enoteca which was recently awarded their first “chef’s hat” at the 2009 Age Good Food Guide Awards, and two “wine goblets” from the Gourmet Traveller Wine List of the Year. My very humble thanks to executive chef Ron O'Bryan for sharing the recipe when he learnt that pig's trotters is one of my favourite dishes. You can also read my interview with Ron about cooking and what inspires him on Inside Cuisine

Ron tells me he "can’t take full credit for this recipe. Zampone dates back to about 1500 and is a specialty of the Modena area. Traditionally served with lentils, spinach and/or potato puree, I have tried to stay as true to this tradition as possible, only substituting the potato puree for a silky celeriac puree.

This recipe can be prepared a day or two in advance and reheated and assembled when required. Remember when reheating the Zampone from the fridge they need to be simmered for about 20 mins."


6 pig’s trotters from the foreleg
1 large cotechino sausage (about 600-700g)
3 sticks celery
150ml extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch oregano, washed and chopped
5lt chicken stock, or water

200g Mt Zero green lentils (du Puy or any type of French green lentils will suffice)
1 small carrot
1 small leek
1 stick celery
1tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp chopped parsley

1 large celeriac
200ml cream
200ml milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 side American pork spare ribs
2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot
1 onion
1 leek
1 stick celery
1 bay leaf
¼ bunch thyme
200ml white wine
3lt veal stock
50ml Calvados

2 bunches spinach
sea salt
cracked black pepper

For the trotters:

- Carefully bone out the trotters (or ask your butcher to do this for you), leaving the very end knuckles and toes in place. Make sure you don’t pierce the skin if at all possible.
- Dice the celery. Cover it with olive oil and place on a gentle heat and simmer for 15 mins so that it is just soft and translucent. Drain and allow to cool.
- Remove the skin from the cotechino and mix with the celery and oregano. Season lightly with pepper only.
- Stuff the mixture into the trotters, ensuring it goes all the way into the toes. The trotters should be nicely full and rounded, but not over-full.
- Roll the filled trotters in aluminum foil and secure the ends tightly. Place in a large pot, cover with chicken stock or water, weight down with a plate and bring to the boil.
- Turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 3 hours.

For the lentils:

- Wash the lentils well in plenty of cold water and place in a pot. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer and cook until al dente (about 20 mins). Drain well.
- Cut the vegetables into 1cm dice and sweat in the olive oil until just soft and translucent. Mix through the lentils and season with salt, pepper and sherry vinegar.
- Set aside.

For the celeriac puree:

- Peel the celeriac and cut into small, even sized pieces.
- Place in a large pot with the milk, cream and butter and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer and cook until soft, stirring regularly so that it doesn’t stick.
- Drain well and puree in a food processor until smooth and silky, adding a little of the cooking liquid if the mixture seems a little dry.
- Season with salt only and set aside.

For the sauce:

- Chop the ribs into small pieces.
- Heat a little olive oil in a large pot. Add the bones and sauté over a high heat until they are well caramelised, stirring constantly.
- Add the vegetables and herbs and sauté for a further 5 mins, stirring constantly.
- Deglaze with white wine and reduce by half.
- Add the veal stock and bring to the boil. Skim any foam, oil or impurities that rise to the top and turn down to a strong simmer. Reduce by half.
- Strain through a fine sieve and return to the heat. Reduce to a sauce consistency. Strain through muslin cloth or an oil filter paper. Set aside.

To serve:

- Reheat your trotters and celeriac puree.
- Blanch the spinach in plenty of salted water, drain well and squeeze dry in a tea towel.
- Reheat your lentils. Add the parsley.
- Bring your sauce to the boil. Add the Calvados.
- Place a line of lentils in the centre of 6 serving plates.
- Roll the spinach into 6 even sized balls and place at the top of each plate.
- Place a spoon of the celeriac puree at the bottom of each plate.
- Carefully unwrap the trotters and trim the ends to neaten. Place on the lentils.
- Season the spinach and spoon a little of the sauce over the trotters.

Church St Enoteca
527 Church St
Richmond VIC 3121

+61 3 9428 7898

and you can follow Ron O'Bryan on Twitter too

Sunday, July 12, 2009

paper bag cookery - en papillote

There's something delightful about receiving a parcel. It's the discovery process in the opening that enchants.

This holds true also for food. Cooking in parchment paper, ...... en papillote in French or al cartoccio in Italian, was one of the earliest cooking techniques that I experimented with as a child. Perhaps I was enchanted (then as now) with the hidden treasures of aromas and taste. When the best of the season's ingredients are folded in a pouch (of parchment, bag or aluminium foil) and then baked, the flavour is captured within and released as the parcel is opened.

One of my most memoriable parcels was Tuscan perfection at Cibreo in Florence and provides the perfect example of cooking with this technique. A parcel of aluminium foil arrives at the restaurant table. The simple package is opened to reveal flat wild mushrooms, which had been baked in a little oil, and tickled with a few fresh herbs. All the flavour, all the aromas were retained. Simple! Delicious!

METHOD: To make a parcel lay the parchment (or foil) out flat. Grease with butter or oil. Place ingredients in the centre of the sheet (covering no more than 1/4 of the surface area). Add a wet ingredient (wine, stock, water, tomato concasse ...) as sauce if desired. Add the hero and accompaniments including herbs spice and seasonings. Fold the sides to close the parcel at the top and sides; roll to the edges to secure tightly.

Ideas and combinations for ingredients are limitless. Here are just a few basic ideas as a starting point:


Fish is the most commonly used ingredient for this method of cooking. The simplest approach is to add slices of lemon, and a herb (such as dill), or perhaps even capers
  • Fish can be cooked with a vegetable accompaniment in the same parcel. Try a mirepoix (onions, carrots, celery) or a julienne trio such as leeks, capsicum/pepper, carrots as starting points.
  • Molluscs (such as squids, cuttlefish or octopus) enjoy this treatment with a bed of fennel, or try tomato concasse or green pesto oil
  • Bivalves (such as mussels, clams, cockles or pipis) and a splash of white wine with a herb make a simple treat
From these bases, add other flavours, experiment, enjoy. Try a parcel with Asian flavour combinations too.

  • Potatoes, radishes, carrots with a little vegetable broth and garlic (try other root vegetables such as sweet potato, parsnips, rutabaga, celeriac)
  • When I can I bake corn on the cob still in its husk as its own parcel. Where the husk has been removed use aluminium foil. Accompaniments in the foil parcel can include butter, salt and pepper, red capsicum/pepper dice, chilli flakes
  • Zucchini/courgettes make a wonderful base vegetable for a parcel as this technique retains flavour. Serve skewered on rosemary branches with pieces of red capsicum/bell pepper and a little tomato/garlic/white wine sauce
#try also CHICKEN, DUCK, LAMB, BEEF, PORK and accompaniments ... I believe the French also use this method for RABBIT ... now that your getting the hang of this expand your repertoire to include KANGAROO, GOAT, VENISON, PIDGEON and more

#OFFAL I've seen recipes in French cookbooks for en papillote for sheep's tongue and have had success in lightly cooking livers with cognac and cream in a parcel

  • Strawberries or other berries warmed through with brandy make a simple parcel idea
  • Bananas and brown sugar and rum are another treat

I've read and seen others partly cook the ingredients before laying on the paper. I've never done this. I've only put my fresh raw ingredients in my treasure. I'm not sure if it's because I want to utilise this method to its utmost, if it's because I am lazy, or if it's because of habit and cooking this way (without first searing or sealing) since I was a child, but in any regard, each time my end results have been delicious.

While parcels are traditionally baked in the oven, these ideas above and below, can also be adapted for the BBQ.

And here are some links for other ideas:



HOT SMOKED TERIYAKI DUCK with pak choi and ginger

LAMB CHOP PARCELS by Aaron Craze (Market Kitchen)

LEMON CHICKEN PARCELS with sweet potato


There are lots of other ways to wrap food too:

Or try using a Bread Dough as the parcel like BRAISED LAMB PARCELS with tomato, pepper, olive

As an Aussie I've also included a recipe for PAPERBARK PARCEL Smoked Vegetables by Benjamin Christie

Or why not consider trying LOTUS LEAF RICE

What are your favourites parcels?

Monday, July 6, 2009

everday DUCK

Every few weeks or so, if I've had the afternoon at home, I like to poach a duck for Sunday dinner. This is not a treat, it is everyday duck. And, from the poaching I get > 5 meals (> 20 portions) which certainly makes it economical.

#1 Poached Duck

  • For poaching the whole duck, I have many variations depending on the season: bay leaves, mirepoix (2 parts onion, 1 part carrot, 1 part celery) peppercorns and/or ... white wine, lemons, oranges, fresh ginger root, juniper berries, quatre epice ... endless options
  • To serve on the Sunday, I remove the duck from the stock, rest, and remove the 2 breasts
  • Slice the breasts to serve with a variety of vegetables ( a favourite is sweet potato / kumara mash or souffle) depending on the flavours of the stock base - or - sliced in a composed salad
#2 Stock
  • After I've removed the duck, I strain the stock twice (don't season until finished dish)
  • Soups (of many varieties) are the obvious first choice for a second duck dish using the stock as a base
  • Other uses for stock: sauces, reduce/enrich for demiglace, add to other dishes for flavour

#3 Duck Fat

  • Treasure this prize: remove the fat from the top of the stock (easiest after refrigerating overnight) - rendering for its best
  • Duck fat makes the best @ home potato dishes, hand cut chips, roesti and more - I've even enriched my mash with a little
  • Or use the duck fat with some remaining meat for confit

#4 Legs Thighs and Wings

  • Here are a few options for the next cut of meat - try classic confit or add directly to cassoulet
  • Make a ragu (with seasonal options - for winter try fennel and orange)
  • My most constant companion is risotto (with peas, with sweet potato, with onions, with mushrooms, with truffles ...)

#5 Remove remaining meat from the bones

Add remaining shredded meat from the carcass, as well as any leg, thigh or wing meat that is left over to many dishes such as pasta sauce (add a vegetable or two, onions and zucchini/squash for example), pasta filling, dumplings, risotto (maybe add another earthy flavour like mushroom), layered in Potatoes Anna, upmarket quesadillas, duck and noodle salad, duck fried rice, add duck to lentils (cooked in duck stock), try duck in hash browns ... limitless combinations limited only by your imagination

#6 Repeat Stock

On the first, second or third day, remove all the meat from the bones, using fresh mirepoix, roast the vegetables and bones, and make additional stock with water (and/or some wine). Be easy on yourself with stock, no need to remove onion skins, or peel carrots - just rough chop. Tomato peelings are another stockpot addition which will enhance flavour. This second stock may need to be reduced and will be lighter in flavour.

Now I'm not proposing you eat duck every day for a week! Refrigerate, freeze, and otherwise (safely) preserve the duck meat, stock, and fat for later use. My hint for freezing stock is put in icecube trays and remove for portion size convenience.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

food from the heart

This belief seems so intrinsic to me that I hardly know what to write: love feeds us, and putting love into the preparation and cooking of our food nourishes us in a way that is greater than the nutrients of the ingredients.

Connecting with those around me I know others of like minds. Yet I am constantly surprised when observing others who dont have the same central belief: that we take on the essence of what we intake. Take in food prepared with love for a happy loving life. Take in food prepared in angst and without feeling to deliver the result of the same hurried and angry approach to the world.

This belief is one very good reason that I don't eat take away or prepared foods, and avoid those packaged foods on supermarket shelves. I like to cook from scratch and feed those close to me with not only the nutrients of the food, but to nourish them with love. A great honour, is always to be invited into someone else's home, to be allowed into their sanctuary, and to be honoured with the labour of their time and love in their cooking, and as their guest. I do very much like to eat in quality establishments, restuarants where quality produce is chosen, where food is treated with reverence, and crafted in a way that is not possible at home in my day to day cooking.

Food should be treated with respect, in not only preparation and cooking but also in the eating. This means stopping other tasks, taking time to sit with family and friends, and to eat slowly, deliberately, with recognition of the purpose.

I shake my head in dismay when I see people eating as they walk down the street, on transport, while doing other tasks, and all the time their bodies are not recognising that they are accepting food. So many challenges arise from this approach: a trilogy of health, emotional and spiritual issues.

Smell. Look. Taste. Savour. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

seasonal regional and fresh

I've always had an interest in cooking in the way that is now called Slow Food. The movement to local is again gaining popularity. It never lost momentum with me.

Flavour marriages are at a premium when you take the local produce from the same region and season; you can't go wrong! Classical food combinations are historically based on these regional and seasonal marriages. Although my reasons for cooking seasonal regional and fresh were always based on taste, there are lots of other reasons to use this base in understanding food, produce, cooking.

For a start in our industrialised, and then technology based societies, (global) transport is easier and quicker so we've come to enjoy produce from other regions at any time of year. Long distance hauls have an impact, on not only flavour, but also have a huge cost to the environment. What is the impact to our world on transporting water in a bottle up to 15,000 kilometres (or sending pears to China from Australia?) Long storage from farm to shelf for a supermarket takes on a whole new meaning past the family at home bottling of surplus home produce.

All of this is without the other considerations that go into long haul or long storage, such as irradiation, using only hybridised varieties that support transport or GM GE foods for more rescilient farm to shelf time and distance. So many questions, so much impact, when the answer (local supply chain) can be so simple!

During the week I also got to thinking about food in another way. It makes sense that nature has looked after us with seasons, and that nature also supports us with appropriate seasonal nutrition in our food that is available at different times of the year. Think for example winter at its best in citrus: lemons, oranges, mandarins (then think winter colds and flu and the vitamin C that supports us in the best of that season's produce).

Let's get back to basics. Best flavour, lowest cost, lowest impact on our world, best effect to our health is available from a simple choice: regional seasonal and fresh.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

just smiling

It comes too close to home sometimes when poor customer service affects quality time spent with family, and even more so when it disrupts the last moments we may spend with someone who is dear to our heart.

Over the last few months, I've experienced my share of some of the poorest customer service of my life, and I got to wondering, in a world of high unemployment, and with companies vying for increasing or just retaining market share how this could be so. I've changed my health insurance and my mobile phone after years of loyal patronage, in these last months, and for just these reasons.

In sharing these thoughts I've been given lots of reasons: staff implementing company policies to the letter, without allowance for initiative. I'm sorry, but it doesnt hold with me. A smile costs nothing. Surely the companies I'm talking about have not got a policy against staff smiling.

The latest incident is one which this normally half glass full person will not forget. My farewell, perhaps for life, and certainly the intention that this will be so, was unforgivingly disrupted at the international airport by totally rude and unhelpful Jetstar check-in staff. What did we do so wrong? I took my darling Natalie (sweet patient and kind, and experienced traveller of the last 5 out of 6 years) to the airport, went off to have a coffee while she checked in, and thought we'd then have time for farewells, brunch, hugs and kisses. We arrived there well before the prescribed time to allow us time to do just that; in fact we arrived at the airport three and a half hours before departure. Her paid airline ticket wasnt enough; she was not given a seat allocation. The only thing the Jetstar customer service desk would do was quote that if we purchase on online ticket we become our own travel agent and we are responsible knowing the conditions of travel. (OK so when I had calmed down slightly, and got home I checked all of those conditions online, over and over, and not one thing mentioned about the issue we had at the airport). So, we spent all the time jumping through hoops at check-in, without any concern from Jetstar, without help or advice, or one ounce of initiative to make the process easier. It could have been so much easier; it was like pulling teeth guessing the next part of the maze that we couldnt see around the corner. The final straw for me was the disdain which with we were treated, and the laugh that was given us. A great memory on a final parting, after 27 years years, to the person who has been closest in my life. I don't think so Jetstar! You are dealing with people, and at the international terminal, with people who are leaving a country, and perhaps leaving loved ones!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

food @ the heart of friendship

This week saw the consolidation of an international friendship. I first met Robert and Mabel about 18 months ago cruising the Nile. We were part of a small group where other friendships were also made, and were allocated the same table for breakfast, lunch and dinner on those eight days of travel.

Holiday conversations at that table, discussed not only the historic sites we had explored each day, and the culture and mythology of ancient and modern Egypts, but also centred around the food of our hearts and the culinary delights from our home towns (they are originally from Argentina and now live in LA; I was born bred and live in Sydney).

While I have had the good fortune to catch up with some of the others I met on that trip to Egypt, on a later holiday overseas, I was truly delighted to be able to recently entertain Robert and Mabel in my hometown Sydney, and to showcase Australian food at its best. Their initiation to Sydney and Australia was by our Australian culinary dignatory Luke Mangan at Glass. Each of us delighted in the dinner we had ordered, and we sampled the flavours of each others plates. That dinner holds a special place in my memory because of a generous gift which is also one of the personal highlights of a lifetime enjoying food. I digress but I should now share the gift he sent to the table with you: a coddled egg in the shell, topped with maple syrup cream, garnished with some roe and crowned with gold leaf (magnifique!)

Together I've shared with Robert and Mabel a range of Australian food and wine, including a number of restaurants and their tasting menus, culminating in the tasting menu at one of our Aussie and Sydney treasures: Tetsuyas.

With hand on heart, I have been not only pleased to be part of this journey with them, but proud to say that they take back to LA a view of Australians as generous, and, of Australian cuisine as well crafted, innovative, diverse and delicious. I'm looking forward to exploring through them the food of their home LA and of their original homeland Argentina, as I've promised to reciprocate and visit with them sometime soon. But, no matter what now eventuates, we have at the heart of it, what will be an ongoing friendship based on the sharing of food. And, as they leave tonight, this post is my gift to them.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

100mile regional food week

During the week I've been following a regional food challenge limiting myself to food within a 100 mile (160km) radius of my home.

I started the tough way by cleaning out the fridge and starting with an empty larder. Well, it would not have been a challenge otherwise. Always mindful of using fresh seasonal produce, limitations on distance from farm to table have proved interesting. What an education I've received.

Was I crazy to think I would walk into the Sydney CBD and find local produce, or even find food for which the origin was known. On the first day, I spent (more than) my lunchtime walking the city. Just one helpful fruit stall (Pitt Street near Martin Place) had produce (known to be) from this state. His display of apples was from Batlow and I purchased three. To be sure of my distance obligation, a friend did his technical thing and checked, and Batlow did not fall within range from Sydney. Regional for sure! But I'm a Taurus and determined. I did not want to fail on my first day.

So I went without (any food in fact) and put in a distress call to alliance partner Jackie Harper (MIP distributor of WherescapeRED). She lives near the Hawksbury. Emergency supplies of beef and eggs were delivered. Jackie tells me the meat was from Nelson who lived a happy life on her property and was patted and cuddled everyday.

With more time I found friends with backyard veggie gardens and even a local health food store Soul passion, who bring in father-in-laws acreage produce each Wednesday. This week they obliged me with silverbeet, small sweet green capsicum, oranges and rhubarbs.

And so I survived the first couple of days.

During the challenge there were a number of items that were excluded not only for distance, but also because of fairer trade and other issues: coffee and chocolate. I also couldn't source local wheat (flour), rice, dairy products, oil, salt or pepper.

I'd given thought to making some salt myself from the seawater to which I have access. A Twitter friend Natascha Mirosch from the Courier Mail, told me she had done so. By the time we tweeted, the required 3 days for evaporation still meant no salt for me this week! She'd also done the 100 mile challenge and found it tough. Perhaps things are changing, as once I had time to learn and research I was delighted to find the newly opened Eveleigh Farmers' Market in Sydney. And what a delight for local season fresh food ...

Check out for more on the Eveleigh Farmers' Market each Saturday.

Still I brought home plentiful fresh fruit vegetables and herbs. And, I've enjoyed a healthy and delicious week filled with flavour.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My Live Local Challenge

YOU CAN FOLLOW MY WEEK on the Live Local Challenge @

Things have changed over time, and living in the city, we've really separated ourselves from being close to the earth, and to understanding our impact on it.

This week, a new site is being launched with an aim of regrouping and rebuilding community. I'm going to do my bit and you can get behind it too by adding your ideas on the site. Of course with my food focus, a lot of my effort is food based. I've always tried to cook a lot of what I eat from scratch, to not use processed foods and to really support fresh seasonal produce. Once I started thinking about it, there was and is so much more that I can do.

Starting this Wednesday I've accepted the live local challenge. As part of the challenge I've decided to take on a week of living only on regional produce (only grown within 100 miles of where I live). The preparation has been interesting, as I've started to research where I can access local seasonal food. Not as easy as you might think in a city like Sydney. The challenge is even more interesting when I add the environmental challenge of reducing my fossil fuel usage (through for one thing better transport options).

I lead a very busy life, and for the challenge, you can share in my decisions, and the thought processes that lead me down each path. I'll be blogging and tweeting as I go. Please share my life with me this week. I'd really love it if you joined me in the challenge too

I'll be looking for your support through ideas on where to access regional food, how to prepare it and in all things to improve what I do. My small step forward to a better community.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

a tribute to mum

Mum has provided me not only with unconditional love, and the groundwork for my life, but also within that a connection for this city girl with rural life, with fresh farm produce and a love of cooking. Mum and the women in my family taught me how to cook. She along with Aunty Dossie, and Aunty Mona are the inspiration for my Becca's Bakery blog too.

Today is Mother's Day, and yesterday, I was excited here in Sydney to find country produce from mum's home in country town Wingham, New South Wales. Shopping at Sydney's Orange Grove farmers market, I was delighted to see a Manning Valley Beef stand. Only their second week coming from country to city (a good three and a half hour drive) I discovered that the farmer was representing himself and his neighbours in an attempt to receive better prices for their wonderful produce. And, this week in particular as my treasure for a Mother's Day present, I was delighted to discover, preserves. They were displayed on a small square table beside the refrigerated display cabinet. Next to the jars, with their colourful fabric round covers, was displayed the small blue First Prize certificate from the show at the country town of Wingham, the town where mum was born and raised.

My treasure created great delight today when amongst a basket of goodies delivered as my token of love, mum clapped hands with child-like eyes when I told her of the origin of the preserves. An even greater pleasure, was that the preserves, by chance and not design, were from her favourites: quince jam, pickles. Other bounty in the carefully selected basket included Hunter Valley (alcoholic) ginger beer, a box of chocolates, and more regional produce from mum's childhood, in a round of Comboyne washed rind cheese.

Mum has never said an unkind word that I have heard, and to me in times of trouble and trauma, has been my rock. We've travelled together as adult friends, on a number of journeys. We've explored Australia, and later Singapore, Uzbekistan, South Korea, and Egypt.

She's also kept our family together when some of us have done our best to undermine what we should most dearly love. I love you mum.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

fashion in food

This started with a comment this week in my techie group at work...

It was about foam, as it's been 'fashionable' recently... (and the comment was take it off the food please! Or maybe the please was omitted?)

Not one for 'fashion' (in couture perhaps yes though not cuisine) au contraire, I've always been one to put flavour first. While I enjoy thoughtful and new food combinations, and I revere craftsmanship I cannot create at home without the restaurant's brigade of chefs, I tend to the honest, not the fashionable. Over the years I have observed a number of food trends. Nouvelle cuisine, comfort food (sticky date pudding, lamb shanks, boeuf bourguignon), food from different regions of the globe (Moroccan, Italian, Vietnamese), different fashions in plating (piped sauces, stacked food, food served in bowls that make it hard to eat) ... The trends absorbs us ...

Some of the latest flavour combinations (unlike those by the truly inspired such as Alain Passard) are enough to send you running out of the restaurant fast. There is good reason that certain food combinations have been historically married for such a long time (mostly because the food grew in the same region, and was seasonal at the same time). The unflavoursome combinations have ended (and should end) quickly in divorce. Some other combinations are classical and have just been buried; now rediscovered, hidden treasure are again reigniting our palates!

Food produce has also moved in and out of favour; take the humble beetroot, rhubarb, quinces, and figs. Until recent years I felt at times isolated, having been weaned on these foods, they were favourites. They were certainly not food to serve to my guests, or food I would find at the restaurant table. That table has turned, and I feel like I've come of age now my favourites are in fashion (the benefit is this makes them available). Stepping back even further is fascinating too. I've also got quite a collection of vintage cookbooks that proudly display aspic covered chicken, in fact jellied everything! Ruffled white overcoats for rack of lamb, vandyked oranges, cubed cheese the list goes on ...

Each decade has had its own food presence, the statement that has matched the other fashions in architecture, clothes, art and design. Changes in economy are enforcing new thinking, and will encourage new 'trends' too. The return to fresh and seasonal that many of us have been promoting for sometime, will now be the way forward for other reasons. What will the new decade bring? To my colleagues, I propose that foam will not last. Will we see a return to honesty in all things including food?

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Twitter Guide to Pumpkin

During the week I asked Twitter friends what were their favourite pumpkin ideas. Actually it was a simple request, one little tweet (Twitter miniblog post), and I was surprised by so many replies and retweets (repeat posts). Here are the responses:

@sgere: pumpkin polenta! we just had that for dinner on Sunday

@Amykr: I love pumpkin ravioli or since it is late some pumpkin bread

@Kimbitz: my 5 year old asked for pumpkin pie today - something in the air? I make my pie with honey and coconut milk - fantastic!

@achillesmama: RT @frombecca: so now have pumpkin on my mind ... maybe pumpkin risotto tonight ... other pumpkin ideas anyone?

@VeronicaFitzhug: after din din you should watch the christin ricci movie pumpkin. it's 1 of my favs & soundtrack is awesome. love that ricci chick

@fridley: Pumpkin pudding!! Had it the other night. Delicious!!

@crazybrave: try pasta with chunks of pumpkin roasted with cumin and chilli, grilled ricotta and pesto.

@JohannaBD: nothing beats pumpkin soup with crusty bread

@divinepurple: pumpkin scones. mashed pumpkin with honey and carroway seeds. classic pumpkin soup. pumpkin gnocci

@lavieenchocolat: Dorie Greenspan has a great stuffed pumpkin recipe on her website.

@Miss_Melbourne: @frombecca I'm planning on making tortellini with pumpkin, feta & pine nuts..yum!

@KathrynElliott: @frombecca I'd make @FoodStories beetroot, pumpkin & haloumi salad with chilli dressing

@essexgourmet: @frombecca How about roasted Pumpkin with Gorgonzola cheese - great with a baked ham or a simple pork chop... Yum?

@doriegreenspan: @frombecca a pumpkin recipe? here's a great one:

@ciarando: @frombecca Roast pumpkin risotto w sage & pinenuts is absolutely heavenly. Oh & don't forget sweet pumpkin pie! Mmmmmmmm...

@megmaker: @frombecca Pumpkin is so autumnal! You must be down under :-)

@transcribe: Love pumpkin sound with melted cheese on toast as a side ;)

@starrnat: i'll be having pumpkin soup for dinner i think

@figandcherry: @frombecca pumpkin and cauliflower curry!? Or pumpkin, chorizo and chickpea soup:

@KeyIngredients: pumpkin risotto family fave - roast it first for max flavour.

@queenglass: ...How about pumpkin bisque? Or grilled with a balsamic reduction glaze?

@MaryLuzonfood: Pumpkin ravioli with a sage butter sauce! Yummm.

@lyndons: Aaaah. U just can't go past sliced pumpkin *roasted* hot and fast & toasty..

@Allyinspirit: Haven't had sweet pumpkin pie for decades * Used to make it myself * Thanks for reminder * Can almost taste it now.

@NON53N53: been a while - I tend to just make pumpkin soup - I'm boring :o)

@lyndons: Rockpool Sydney has an excellent unusual side-order: Baked pumpkin & sweet potato with yoghurt & mysterious [2 me] herbs... yum.

@GypsyOwl: Would love to see the pumpkin blog post :) Missed submitting. Did you get pumpkin drizzle? (a glaze)

@GypsyOwl: :) 2 C powderd sugar, 2 TBSP Pumpkin (pie filling), 1TBSP milk Whisk Together & drizzle ovr pastry (sprinkle w minced pecans)

@fridley: Pumpkin pudding - Recipe in translation if you want it. My wife puts them all in Japanese so its a challenge... :-) (note from Becca - a recipe in 8 tweets)

1.Line cake tin with butter;
2.In a small bowl,put 100g caster sugar+50cc h2o & caramelise in microwave for 5min. Place in base of cake tin.
3.Remove pumpkin seeds and skin,cut into small pieces totaling 500g.Steam or microwave until soft.Blend until smooth.
or force through a strainer
4.Add 80g caster sugar,2.5 tbs cornstarch,3 eggs,150cc cream,cpl drops of vanila ess,+few dashes of nutmeg & cin powder(to taste). Then mix.
5. Add pumpkin mix to the cake tin and tap to remove large air bubbles.
6. In a preheated 180C oven,steam bake(place cake tin in larger container filled with boiling h2o up to half the height of cake tin) 30min.
7. Done if when skewered, stick remains clean.
And that folks is the best damm pumpkin pudding recipe I have ever tasted. I especially love it the next day out of the fridge...

@Ozquilter: good idea, I have a savory pumpkin pie recipe to include as well :)

@fridley: @ozdj And again with the pumpkin.... :-) @frombecca

THANKS to my wonderful twitter follow friends!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fine Dining and the Ultimate Truffle

While I have a great love of home cooking and comfort food, there are a few food moments that stand above all the great memories (food delights or otherwise) of my life. On food, one of my favourite times was enjoying a simple piece of artisan bread shared with some local NZ cheese on a parkbench on the banks of Lake Taupo, New Zealand. Another bread and cheese favourite, is of course enjoying fresh baguette and camembert in Paris (cliche! but unforgettable!)

The greatest moments however have been above fine produce, and ultimately have included exceptionally crafted cookery. I'm talking the kind of food (and service), that no matter how much I do love to cook, and no matter how practiced, that I just could not ever achieve at home.

My star amongst a handful of ultimate dining experiences is still a recent memory.

I'd done some research on what would be my selected 3 star Michelin dream for this Parisian holiday.

Yes, such 'fine' dining is a costly exercise, but, to me, to unfold this treasured moment in a lifetime of good food, well, how can I call it expensive. I chose to dine at Arpege and furthermore, as this was a once in a lifetime experience (well once in a handful of ultimate dining experiences) I indulged in the 'tasting' menu. As it happens, it was near the end of truffle season (January 2009) and so the hero of the menu was de truffe.

I applaud the kind of exceptional dedication, talent, focus, and training for chef, and the kitchen team and front of house that delivers an experience, that is, as close to perfection as one can get.

'Arpege de truffe'

Oeuf a la coque
quatre spices

Damier de truffe noire du Perigord et coquilles Saint-Jacques d'Erquy
huile de noisette

Bouquet de homard de Chausey au miel du jardin 'recolte ete 2008'
vinaigre de Xeres

Couleur saveur, parfum et desiin de jardin
cueillette ephemere

Foie gras de canard de l Madeleine de Nanancourl
pays d'Avre et d'lton

Aiquillette de Turbot ux Cotes du Jura et truffe noire
pomme de terre fumee u bois de chene

Rotisserie 'flamme d'hiver' eleveurs de nos regions
arlequin de legumes

Comte de Garde Exceptionnelle septembre 2004
truffe noire du Perigord


3 macarons de jardin

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Reigniting the 'gentle'woman

There are a few friends and acquaintances that really impress me. They have outstanding manners. It doesn't matter if their sense of etiquette matches mine or not, if their manners are from a similar cultural background, or a same sense of generation. What impresses me is that they are always thoughtful. After all that's what the foundations of etiquette are all about.

I've been lucky enough to grow up with a fine example. On the second day after any event, there will always be a card arrive in the post from mum to say thank you. Maybe, heritage post is a lost tradition. I certainly am not as vigilant in using that medium. I do always try to show my appreciation for thoughtfulness that has been extended to me.

Mum relates that if a woman left the table, or the room, the gentlemen would always stand. I think this is divine and always appreciate that courtesy (though rarely observed today).

Knowledge of the table setting, of how to act when dining, is an art that is worth retaining. The reason it is so precious is that it makes everyone in company feel comfortable to know how to act.

I pine for the return of 'gentle' when it was part of our social responsibility to think of others. The terminology of 'gentle'man and 'gentle'woman I feel was used with good reason.

I've lived within a shadow where I was told that is pretentious. To the contrary, gentle manners are an art! I'm releasing the albatross, and reigniting my authentic self: the self that shows and admires these arts before they are lost. Will you join me?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

on food and celebrations

This week is mum's birthday, and I have a big '0' birthday not too long afterwards ...

I got to thinking about celebrations and the part that food plays, and has always played in the defining moments of our life. Birthdays are just one of the celebratory milestones of course. On a personal note we also have births, deaths, marriages, coming of age, and more. These celebrations mark the passage of our lives. There are also celebrations in community, whether that is spiritual or other. Food is significant in all of these, and sometimes symbolic as well.

Each year for mum's birthday, we try and make her feel even more special to us, by selecting the foods for her family birthday celebration from amongst her favourites. For her birthday in April, in Sydney, in Australia, this will mean that some of her favourites are in season: figs, persimmons, pomegranates, chestnuts, artichokes, spinach, white sweet potatoes, mushrooms... Mum's getting on and it only just dawned on me that most of her top favourites are autumnal, and I then wondered if they 'are' favourites 'because' they relate to childhood memories of birthday food, birthday celebrations. Quite possibly so. Many of these foods are also my favourites too!

The pomengranate has found recent fashionable favour. Its been hailed for the health benefits it bestows. It's long been a favourite in our family. Until recently I did not remember knowing anyone who treasured a pomegranate the way that mum did. That labour of love has another memory for mother and daughter too. Early last year we cruised The Nile. Each morning the breakfast table was laden. I selected one item only: a very very generous portion of pomegranate seeds in juice, a treasure I would not have time to indulge in as a daily ritual at home. When I think of the pomegranate, I'll always remember that marvellous holiday with mum.

While there are many significant life experiences tied to food, one of my greatest memories is from my friend Janina's wedding. Janina is of Polish background, and food in her family symbolises that bond. It is nurturing and generous and shared. Every menu item at Janina's wedding was carefully selected. The caterers could reheat, plate, serve but the food had been cooked by the family. We were warmed and welcomed into the celebration with a demitasse of abalone chowder. This was a family treat, the abalone was dived for by her brothers on the morning of the wedding, she had cooked the chowder herself fresh from the sea.

The feast continued and each dish represented a memory of her family. The festivities finished with breaking of the bread, signifying the union and the part that each friend or family member had and would play in their marriage.

Food is also represented not only in religious festivals, but there is also a required respite from food at certain religious times in the calendar.

There are other food associations too. Not of the significant personal milestone, but celebrating achievements in events or by people. Some that come to mind are the naming of the meringue dessert after the dancer Pavlova, or the dessert Peach Melba in honour of the opera singer Dame Nelly Melba. Then comes to mind the other April celebration commemorating the valour of our soldiers Australian New Zealand Army Corp ANZAC. Our family recipe for ANZAC biscuits is on the Becca's Bakery post:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The problem with packaging

It's been a bit easy for most of us growing up.

We've come to know food in cities as packages on the supermarket shelves. We've lost touch with the earth under our feet.

I thank my lucky stars that I spent some time on family farms seeing, feeling, touching, smelling the produce growing, and eating it fresh from the soil on the day it was picked. This is what taught me to appreciate freshness and flavour as well as gain an understanding of the seasons of food.

My first food memories are of a large walk in pantry on Aunty Dossie's farm. The shelves were lined with vacola (preserving) jars taking the excess of each season and stored for later use. I still remember the taste of icecream that came fresh from the cream of her cows. The icecream was lovingly beaten by hand every 20 minutes (no churn no icecream machine) throughout freezing to stop crystals forming.

The chickens produce eggs that were gathered warm each day and used in the kitchen on the same day they were laid. They had bright yellow yolks from the corn they were fed. The corn itself was fresh from the farm and I rubbed my knuckles close to raw rubbing the kernels from the cobs to feed the chickens.

We all thought it was a blessing when the first processed foods arrived on the shelves. Well, the women of that era did, and thought that freedom was bought with time saving. Has the cost been more than the gain?

Have you ever thought about the amount of energy that goes into the processed food in the supermarket? Its not just the from farm to shop transport cost, but also the energy in processing and packaging, the cost of energy to wholesale and stock the supermarket shelves, and the cost of the waste (and unused food that we use). Household food waste alone is estimated to be 5% of our energy consumption (sobering thought).

I am reminded of this all year, as one who has held fast to cooking with fresh seasonal food. I'm driven mostly by a need to retain optimum flavour and freshness. And, the cook's need to use everything, the onion skins, tomato peelings, and celery tops are kept for the stock pot, has driven me to think about rotating food and utilising everything in my pantry. I even learnt a new tasty dish to use every part of the tomato. Previously I had discarded skins now I know to dry the tomato skins slowly in the retained heat of the oven (in dry conditions they can just be dried over a few days in the kitchen): very tasty.

I am particularly reminded of this today as we have just turned out the lights for an hour to demonstrate our stance against climate change.

Our ancestors used everything that they hunted gathered and cultivated. It would be good practice if we went back to basics and tried to do the same.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

FOOD on FILM - the best from Twitter

During the week I posted a list of 5 favourite food films.

Mostly Martha (Bella Martha)
Babette's Feast
Like Water For Chocolate
My Dinner with Andre

Discussion followed online as I was searching out those I'd forgotten, and those I had yet to discover.

Here's a sample of the best of the rest... Happy viewing...

The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover

The Flavor of Happiness
Le Grande Bouffe

as well as...

American Pie
Baby Boom

Big Night
Blueberry Nights
Brown Sugar
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Chicken Rice Wars
Chicken and Duck Talk
Chungking Express
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Eat, Drink, Man, Woman
Eating Raoul
Fried Green Tomatoes

Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers
God of Crockery
The Godfather
Hunting and Gathering
Kitchen Stories

The Meaning of Life

Mouse Hunt
Mystic Pizza
No Reservations (note the original German movie Mostly Martha above)
Politiki Kouzina

Under the Tuscan Sun

The Wedding Banquet
Woman On Top
Not quite food on film, more like food habits, eating attitudes (and disorders) but some great food scenes I've just added Malos habitos (Bad Habits)

@vizzz I've just remembered a non-food movie which actually is a food movie. My Blueberry Nights. Love, romance, tears, pies and coffee.

@figandcherry Chungking Express by Wong Kar Wai - Hong Kong Cinema :)
@ruthreichl The Flavor of Happiness. Watched it on a plane. Has anyone else seen this Japanese movie about Chinese food? Quite lovely; stays with me.
@epicurienne ref: food on film how about Under the Tuscan Sun? Or Mystic Pizza? Or Moonstruck? Or The Wedding Banquet? Love your post.
@nekkidchef: @frombecca A few more Asian food films worth findin..These have English subtitles: Chicken Rice Wars (Singapore) & Chicken And Duck Talk.
@Vinyldesign @frombecca you forgot to add "Eat, drink, man, woman" it's a great movie!
@greenmeup: #foodfilm Swedish film: Kitchen Stories. Others I love all mentioned!
@tobiasruss: my favourite #foodfilm is: La grande bouffe (1973) directed by Marco Ferreri
@handstandpants @_mel_ Waitress - I love the "I Don't Wanna Have Earls Baby Pie"
@DiscoDaveUK: Fried Green Tomatos #foodfilm
@_mel_ oh and 2 more: Eat Drink Man Woman - for chinese banquet dishes, and Babette's Feast (amazing French dishes)
@GourmetTweets @SavoryTv a food movie? Try 'Tampopo' - the racy hotel scene with the egg yolk and the live prawn is worth the price of admission alone.
@babydoll20 america pie ? =P
@babydoll20 i DID watch the waitress that was indeed a great movie
@_mel_ : Waitress (with Keri Russell) she makes some amazing pies in that movie! #foodfilm
@astarteny: @frombecca #foodfilm do u have Vatel in your list?
@BigBlackDogs: @Bridget_CooKs Baby Boom = chick flick about the baby food industry #foodfilm
@handstandpants: @frombecca #foodfilm Hunting and Gathering. Audrey Tatou, Some French dude cooking food for her
@To_The_Moon: has Delicatessen been mentioned yet? ;o) #foodfilm
@tomatom Tampopo? (yes got that on the extended Twitter suggestions list) #foodfilm thank you
@MsMarmitelover: @frombecca #foodfilm was telling @ollyf all about Babettes feast last week. 1 of my fave films.
@abstractg: @Bridget_CooKs You missed Politiki Kouzina, excellent Greek foodie movie. #foodfilm
@judecee: @Bridget_CooKs God of Cookery. More of a comedy and meant to be really REALLY silly, though. #foodfilm
@judecee: @bridget_cooks eat drink man woman. tampopo close second. being asian certainly has something to do with choices :) #foodfilm
@a_web_designer: @Bridget_CooKs YES The Waitress by Keri Russell. Do you cook/bake like her? LOL #foodfilm
@a_web_designer: @Bridget_CooKs No Reservations - Catheryn Zeta Jones. Pop-Corn No Salt Please and Mineral Water. #foodfilm
@tomatom: @Bridget_CooKs Easy: Tampopo although I just downloaded Babette's feast from the itunes store to watch on my iPhone #foodfilm
@LaurieSoileau Babbette's Feast- One of *my* favorite films as well, for a number of reasons.
@howardt: @Bridget_CooKs Charlie and the Chocolate Factory :) #foodfilm
@BigBlackDogs: @Bridget_CooKs Baby Boom, loved the kitchen too. Annie Hall scene in the kitchen with the lobsters. #foodfilm
@nrdavey: @Bridget_CooKs My vote would go to Big Night or Babette's Feast - though Tampopo is a lot of fun as well. #foodfilm
@Bridget_CooKs: Craziest food movie of all time " Le Grande Bouffe" #foodfilm
@Bridget_CooKs: #foodfilm best ever food film of all time.... "Women on top" Penelope Cruz is such the culinary seductress.. Wish I had her power. Hehe
@Bridget_CooKs: @ocean Tampopo is a fantastic #foodfilm ... agreed. but is it the best??????????
@To_The_Moon rock on! Charlie & the Chocolate Factory counts as two, as long as we discount the Oompa Loompa songs from the Depp remake! urgh!
@lady09: Brown Sugar #foodfilm
@Bartzturkeymom: #foodfilm - Like Water for Chocolate, No Reservations, Moonstruck
@prmuse: Babette's Feast, Like Water for Chocolate, Chocolat, and Big Night~ loved them all! #foodfilm
@vizzz #foodfilm: Volver, Almodovar
@NoCrowds #food film Like Water for Chocolates, The Discreet Charms of the Bourgeoisie, Sideways, Fried Green Tomatoes, Babettes Feast
@mquiz: @frombecca "Big Night" is one of my alltime fave food films. #foodfilm
@kenwoo: @shanncg I forgot about Tampopo. Great movie. And I'm a noodle addict too #foodfilm
@kenwoo: Another favorite #foodfilm of mine is Eat Drink Man Woman Damn, now i'm really hungry
@kenwoo: One of my favorite #foodfilm is Big Night
@shanncg: How about Tampopo #foodfilm
@foodieguide: #foodfilm Eat Drink Man Woman, Mostly Martha, Big Night.
@slasser: def add like water for chocolate to #foodfilm
@mikepetrucelli Garlic Is As Good As 10 Mothers. If you're into long pork: Eating Raoul + Ravenous. #foodfilm
@ellerylong: #foodfilm, not really a true food film, but lots of great meals: The Godfather
@mikepetrucelli Mouse Hunt has some funny food scenes (plus Christoper Walken). And let's not forget Mr. Creosote in The Meaning of Life.
@mikepetrucelli Don't forget Chocolat, Tampopo and, seriously, Ratatouille.
@HarpArora Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my all time faves.
@mcogdill: Babette's Feast & Big Night #foodfilm
@foodgeek14: How about The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover? #foodfilm
@gonzogastronomy: "Like Water For Chocolate" was fantastic #foodfilm
@greenmeup: Favourite food films: "eat, drink, man, woman" and "Babette's feast" come to mind immediately. #foodfilm
@DiscoDaveUK: Delicatessen & The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover #foodfilm
@SuButcher Tampopo #foodfilm
@paradisetossed Definitely The Godfather Part 1 for both the tomato sauce lesson and the legendary cannoli reference.
@frombecca: COMMENTS tweet your favourite food films with #foodfilm and I'll list next week SUGGESTIONS

And apologies if I have forgotten anybody in my search for this week's #foodfilm tweets. Just @me and I'll update if I have accidentally left you out.