Thursday, 5 April 2007

Seder lite, second night

Our second Seder was really a Seder-lite. Certainly in comparison to the first night of 16 people sharing egg in saltwater, smoked salmon, gefilte fish, chicken soup with kneidelach, roast chicken, roast lamb, roast potatoes, chocolate cake, biscuits and fruit. In line with the levity with which all 5 of us needed on the second night, I cooked veal as a light(er) meat. To my delight, Nigella Lawson has a recipe for Veal in her Passover section of Feast. I marinated a boneless, tied-up loin of veal for 36 hours with rosemary, fennel, salt, 6 cloves of garlic and two glasses of dry Riesling.

On the day, we spent a lovely morning at Prahran market, shopping for salad. As well as salad leaves, the stallholder at the organic stall suggested baby beetroot, which we took his advice on. Strangely, given the immense meal the night before, I was hungry. I had made a matzo fry-up for breakfast – matzo soaked in milk, fried in olive oil, with cheese and eggs, but that had not filled me and I failed in my search for potato cakes, finding only donuts, muffins and focaccias, all of which are illegal during Pesach. I thus had a healthy banana with my cappuccino, and some melted cheese on matzo once home.

This time was incredibly becalming in comparison to the afternoon. Babe and I spent the days before hand preparing the house and food, and had a reasonable and strong belief that the day itself would be easy, with time to kick back and relax in between simple cooking tasks. I realised that I was wrong when tottering on my feet at about 4pm, drenched in sweat, and wishing beyond reason that I could have a shower and another lie down (I had stolen one earlier in the day, at 1pm, however was told to get up after only 45 minutes).

The crowdedness of the stove was possibly part of the problem, as in retrospect, there wasn’t a huge amount of work to do. The chicken soup had been made by Babe the day before, although it was reheated slowly on the stove, and she had to make an flourless orange cake, I had to peel some potatoes, and make a salad, and other than that, there was not a great deal to do. We had all been all been up since 5am, and our baby had not slept very well the night before, with frequent crying, possibly a result of being woken up when she left her grandparents house, and being confused about timing. She doesn’t mix that well with sleep at the best of night times. Hence, possibly the heat and tiredness caused the draining. In writing this, I certainly cannot think of any single task that was particularly messy or difficult. Rather, I think, a crowded menu, a small stove, hot kitchen, a small fridge and a baby who doesn’t yet know how to cook (just you wait – we have a copy of Heston Blumenthal’s instructions ready for her, once she can stand up and hold a whisk).

The final menu read: egg in saltwater, as per tradition; chicken soup; roast veal with garlic and lemon roast potatoes and a walnut, beetroot and carrot salad with ginger-honey dressing; and a flourless orange cake with after dinner mints. As I said, this was light in comparison to the first night, and most other family Seders that I have been to.

The veal, which I cooked for just under 2 hours with some beef bones (Nigella stipulated unavailable veal bones) and water, was moist, and fell apart in lovely chunks. It was light , lemony, tender and herby. I had made a gravy with the pan juices and some extra wine. I was worried that I had been sold Pork by mistake (being unfamiliar with both kinds of meat, knowing only that pork is light in colour), however my mother in-law reassured me on that. A Seder with pork would have been unusual.

No-one could be bothered with telling the rest of the Seder story after the food, so we never got to that bit. Still, we had a lovely, warm, and easy night at our second Seder-lite.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

A step towards a proper post!

I haven’t written a post for a little bit, having applied for jobs, and being generally lazy. This is part of my attempt to pull myself out of laziness. I am good at reading blogs, however the discipline of writing posts still sometimes evades me. Hence, in an attempt to pull myself out of laziness, I will, later today, write a post about roast veal loin and roast potatoes, that we had for our Passover (Pesach) Seder last night. I also want to say a few words about my thoughts on the political and humanitarian meaning of Passover to me. However, as I have a day off work and a morning off baby care, I am off to see the second film in the cinema that I have seen since our baby was born. I will see Hot Fuzz (timing and location gives me a choice of Hot Fuzz or Scoop).

I am also hungry. Doing my best to keep to the strict dietary laws, however also being a progressive, means that I will not be eating wheat products (apart from matzo) this week, however will be eating rice. Hence, sushi and sashimi, in a good little place next to the cinema will be where I will spend some time after the movie.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

A new trick: South east Asian spiced lamb chops

I love lambchops. I love them crunchy, charred and herby, lemony and very, very salty, married with creamy feta alongside some warm, bursting cherry tomatoes. So that is how I always have them. I have done for years. However, yesterday I wanted a change not so much in taste, but in the way that I cook them.

I took my lead from some Asian salad leaves that I brought at South Melbourne market. I didn’t actually use the salad leaves, but I did buy and use some fresh turmeric, galangal, red scud chillies, ginger root, lemongrass, coriander, normal limes, and best of all, fresh, bumpy, kaffir limes, which I had never seen before. I also brought silverbeet and pumpkin, because they looked good and I love them; and fresh figs, because they are sublime and suddenly affordable; and of course, a tray of lamb chops. Oh, and some corn on the cob, which alongside the salad, is the only thing that I didn’t use, and is now sitting in the kitchen, dehydrating and looking weary. After a coffee and doughnut shared with the baby (she had babychino, and I scoffed the doughnut when she wasn’t looking, as she should not eat such bad things – she is not quite 1 yet, and gelati on very special occasions is as wicked as food gets for her), we went home, and I started to think about what to do with the lamb. By the time I had put everything away and tidied up, the baby had woken up, so I waited till the evening to cook. In the interim, I read David Thompson’s fine but (in our house) under-utilised Thai Food.

I would guess that (I may be wrong) lamb is not a big part of south-east Asian cuisine, so I looked at his beef recipes. I settled on Marinated beef salad, however added ingredients which weren’t in there, as I had them and wanted to use them (ginger, turmeric, galangal). I also altered quantities to suit the increased amount of meat.

Hence, my not really authentic South East Asian lamb chop recipe was cooked like this:

8 thin chump chops
large pinch salt
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Juice of 2 kaffir limes
Juice of 1 normal lime
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
5 chillies
1 chopped large red onion
1 stalk lemongrass
grated zest of 2 kaffir limes (in lieu of lime leaves)
Mint leaves
Coriander leaves
1 inch ginger root
1 inch galangal
1 thin inch turmeric.

I put all of the ingredients bar the lamb and lemongrass in the food processor to make a marinade. This was added to the lamb in a deep bowl, and left it for about 40 minutes. I added the lemongrass towards the end of the marinating time, as I it needs to be chopped late so as to preserve its freshness. As the lime partially cooked the lamb, I heated it slowly but not for very long in a large pan.

We ate the sour, salty, spicy and vividly fresh lamb in front of desperate housewives, recorded and saved from Monday. The spices and lime cut through the sweetness and richness of the lamb beautifully, as did the Coopers Sparkling Ale. We had it with silverbeet, sweated with a little chilli and fish sauce; and plain steamed rice with sweet potato cubes. We feasted really well, and I learnt a new trick with lamb. We concluded with fresh figs and yoghurt.

Monday, 19 March 2007

A gross and dangerous Aussie icon: meat pie.

Unfortunately, I have eaten junk food over the last few days (apart from porridge in the mornings), having chips yesterday evening for dinner, when I was at work on an extra shift; and a meat pie today. That was absolutely gross. The chips are junky, but nice, reassuring and good and pure in their own unhealthy way. The meat pie was the only thing left in the canteen at 2pm. That this meat pie has become an Aussie icon is shameful. I don’t eat them much, so it’s repulsiveness was surprising. I thought that it may at least be comforting, filling and have something suggestive to it. Instead, the bland, soggy pastry contained gristly, extremely frightening dark meat. Thank god for the tomato sauce, this took my mind away from the pie, and allowed me to get the calories whilst tasting only a vinegary red sauce, making me (probably wrongly) less scared.

Friday night alchemy: chicken and wine

I had a busy weekend, and am still eating the leftovers from a wonderful Friday night meal. We had Babe’s parents come round to us, and I made chicken in wine sauce. Not coq au vin, which is more classic and more involved, and possibly grander than what I made, but still a beautiful combination of Riesling and chicken. Based on numerous chicken casseroles that I have previously made, I sort of made it u[p as I went along, taking some of the methodology from Nigel Slater’s winter chicken supper, but changing ingredients and methods.

It was very easy to make, and I am hesitant to write this down, as the end result seemed to owe something to alchemy, rather than the really easy one pot meal that it was. I browned two jointed free-range chickens (for four people, plus too much leftover) in olive oil, about 4 pieces at a time and threw them in our slow cooking pot. I then quickly softened some onions, leeks, carrots and garlic, and threw them in with the chicken. I also added some silverbeet, which seems seasonally good, and I have discovered a great love for. The pot was very, very full, and I filled the cavities in the pot with a whole bottle of clearskin Riesling. I don’t believe the received wisdom that one should only cook with wine that one would also drink – I would never trust a bottle of wine that I paid $6 for in anything but cooking.

I stuck in the fridge on Thursday night, and then on Friday morning, before I went to work, I tucked some herbs in (thyme and rosemary), and set it to cook for the day. I asked babe to add the mushrooms that I had forgotten in the afternoon. That was it. It was a complex, rich and fascinating dish to eat, along with roast potatoes that I managed to get perfectly crunchy and brown. We drank a (more than $6) bottle of pinot noir with it.

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Cooking just for fun!

Yesterday, I made really good banana bread. This derived from a hunger to do something more fun. I didn’t have a recipe that I took shopping. Instead, the baby and I went to South Melbourne market, and I brought things that I thought would probably go into banana bread. Bananas, obviously, and very ripe ones at that, at only 99c per kilo; flour – I chose organic stone-ground wholemeal self raising flour, and purchased 500grams of it; some beautiful Australian seedless raisins, big, plump and as dark as the night; and raw walnuts. I figured that we would have the rest of anything that I might need at home. I also brought a couple of free-range chooks for Friday, and some apples and plums for a new fruit cup.

I got home, the baby having fallen asleep in the car, and looked up recipes for banana bread on the internet, having failed to find one in any of the major cookbooks that we own. I ended up fusing a few different recipes, and this was the outcome:

Ingredients for 2 loaves of banana bread:

8 (approx.) very ripe bananas.
3.5 cups of wholemeal self raising flour.
1.5 cups dark brown sugar
3 beaten eggs
150g mixture oil or melted butter.
Handful or three of raisins
Handful or three of Walnuts (ground, or grind yourself)
Splash and a bit more balsamic vinegar (or lime or lemon).


Mix the sugar and oil together until light. Add the eggs slowly with motor of a mixer running, and mix together in a mixer.
Add flour into mixer and continue to mix together. Splash in vinegar and integrate well into mixture.
Divide mixture between 2 loaf or cake tins. Mash bananas and add together with raisins and ground walnuts, then divide between cake tins and fold into loaves.

The cooking posed some problems. One recipe suggested 2 hours at 160 degrees, another 45 minutes at 170 degrees. I went with the higher temperature, however the top cooked before the inside (that always happens to me), so I covered the loaves with silver foil, turned the heat down, and left for another hour and a bit.

I cooled them on wire racks, and between Babe getting home,and we going to bed 7/8 of one of the loaves went. It was good plain, and also with jam. The baby loved it too, and when she held some out for me to taste, as she is prone to do generously, I tried it. I would usually only pretend to take her food. I don’t think she noticed. We have put the other one away for desert on Friday we created room in the freezer). We will serve it with vanilla ice-cream.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Another Indian food post

The Indian food that I cook tends to taste like Western food with Indian spicing. Somehow, I haven’t got the boldness of touch to make it taste really…well, Indian. I am proud of my nutty golden dhal, tangy tandoori chicken, and the freshness and liveliness of my fish curry. They are popular and interesting dishes. Yet, from the 6 months that I spent traveling in India, and now from fabulous pre-packaged vegetarian meals imported from India, I know that real Indian food has another dimension, possibly being that of being completely so thoroughly spiced that the raw ingredient and spicing are unified. Even Indian restaurants in the UK and in Australia don’t do this for me. Once, a tandoori chicken in a Punjabi restaurant in Tooting, South London, knocked me for six. I remember a thali that I also had in a Tooting vegetarian restaurant. Keith Floyd on India also touched on the real thing – his biriyani topped with silver leaf is something that I would pay very good money to eat. However, that is it. Only memories and packaged meals presently remind me of the real thing. Otherwise, I am at the mercy of my own cooking, recipes and restaurants which only hint at the reality. I am not sure why this is.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Independent Jewish Voices and Friday night dinner

We went to my in-laws’ house for Shabbat dinner this week, where we had a good chicken noodle soup with vegetables, tofu and slight spicing; some very salty barbecue style chicken ribs, and some well-done roast lamb with a sauce. We had a big bottle of hefty South Australian Cab Sauv to drink, and I was up all night because of the salt and wine. I knew that this would happen as I took seconds of wine and chicken ribs.

I enjoyed the night, and Friday nights are always about catching up and eating a lot. When we do them, we worry greatly about the food style and quality, but that’s possibly the young generation for you. I grew up with approximately 10 years of half a grapefruit, brilliant roast chicken, and apple crumble, and it is still the dinner that I would ask for on my last day on death row (maybe not the grapefruit).

This is not a political blog, and I don’t want it to be – I get extremely upset and angry about things that I can do little or anything about; and I need to protect my own mental health. I will make exceptions when I feel my own personal identity is assaulted politically, in which case I will get angry, but will keep it brief. There has recently been a petition put out in Australia by a movement called Independent Australian Jewish Voices (IAJV), which I signed. It basically argues that the rights of Palestinians need to be taken into account in any peace settlement. To this, Jews and, even more disturbingly, non-Jews from the far right have targeted, as a group, those who have signed it. There have been insinuations that the people are no longer Jewish; that they are self hating Jews and traitors; and that they are in favour of Genocide. I don’t want to link to any of these places, however they can be found from the IAJV media page – the Andrew Bolt link is particularly instructive. Politically, I am happy for people to say anything, however I believe that it is disgusting for people to deny anyone their heritage. There is no time in my life when I feel more proudly Jewish that I am with extended family on Friday night. No-one should take that away from any Jewish person in a political manoeuvre.

Thursday, 8 March 2007


Inspired by an article in The Age by Stephanie Alexander, I replicated (give or take a few ingredients) her oyster-blade steak curry, flatbread and dhal. Wednesdays are my day at home with the baby, and she sleeps for a couple of hours in the morning when I look after her (for some reason, she has more reason to fight sleep and stay awake when Babe looks after her), so I had some time in the morning to cook.

The baby and I went to South Melbourne Market together, after dropping Babe off at work. We looked for the oyster-blade steak first, which wasn’t to be found, by name anyway, so I settled on some nice thick and marbled ‘stewing steak’, but which I suspect was an oyster blade or a related forequarter cut. I also brought half a kilo wholemeal flour, loose, which I found a touchingly old fashioned experience; some silverbeet (I did want mustard greens, but I couldn’t find them anywhere); and some fresh coriander.

Rather than have a latte and babycino respectively, we decided to go home, due to the baby fading with tiredness. She had her sleep when we got back, and I chopped shallots and garlic, and fried these in our crock pot with some dried spices that I picked from the cupboard – fenugreek, which I use for a archetypal smell and taste when I make food from the subcontinent, chilli, cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, ginger, and star anise. I added the beef and silverbeet, coated them in the spice mixture, and added a tine of tomatoes, a tin of chickpeas, and covered it with water to cook for the rest of the day in the slow cooker. I added a tin of coconut milk a bit later.

Babba then woke up, and let me know that she despised the yoghurt and tuna that I gave her for lunch by pushing it away and crying. She loved the vegetables that I offered her, and accepted some more filling pasta, una and olive oil, with no yoghurt (maybe it’s too busy for her).

In the evening, I made the easiest recipe for flatbread ever (from the link above), and some dhal using a mixture of red lentils and yellow split peas, cumin, tumeric, fresh chillis and mustard seeds.

The beef was unfathomably tender and deeply flavoured. We talked, and ate from serving bowls that I put on the table, helping ourselves to small amounts of beef and silverbeet, fresh grilled bread, and a golden, wholesome dhal. It felt like a meal fit for royalty.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Vats and vats of chicken soup

For the last three nights, I have eaten nothing but bowl after bowl of golden chicken soup, made by Babe on Sunday. It doesn’t feel monotonous, because on arriving home after a 20km cycle ride, a bowl of broth and dense, chewy kneidalach is heaven. Being broke lends itself to cooking in bulk, and as we’ve a small freezer, currently full of frozen blue grenadier (for a fish curry sometime soon) and small meals for the baby, we eat things for a few days in a row. At times, I have resisted this, and attempted to clean out the freezer ruthlessly. For example, I dreaded the curry made with 3 kilos of goat after the first two days of eating it. The kneidelach recipe comes from the side of a packet of matzo meal, and involves 4 eggs, olive oil (although the recipe says margarine), salt and matzo meal. I think the eggs are important. Recipes that use less eggs (such as Claudia Roden’s) claim to be lighter and better, however the density and cohesion brought to the kneidelah by the eggs is sublime.

The homogeneity of our diet has also included breakfast. We’ve been having banana porridge for breakfast every morning, and I made some plum and apple puree to go with it. I put two cloves in which make it taste too wintry. Although the mornings in Melbourne have been cold, until about 8am, we are still a long way from winter, and the puree has created some tension. Babe said that it was the worst puree ever made, which is harsh and wrong, and driven by the fact that Babe is usually the person who makes this, with a predictably good outcome. I think that she said this because there is something dissonant about eating a clove-laden fruit puree at the end of summer in Australia. The baby hasn’t realised this, and enjoyed it this morning. I didn’t put it on the porridge, as we were worried that it would taint the porridge, however she drank it from a cup with gusto.

It feels at the moment as if we're treading water, just about managing with money, and with one of us working, or planning to work increasing hours. In this situation, it makes some intuitive sense to have predictability in the way that we eat. We are lucky that we can make this so soulful, and that food can still inject some joy into our lives. I don't know how relationships can withstand bland and nutritionless diets, as well as work and financial strain. I believe that our chicken soup bonds our family, even when we are separated.