Paul Bocuse has died, aged 91. It seems that a life of hard work, butter, eggs, cheese and wine suited him well. He was certainly the most important chef of the 20th C, much decorated, awarded the medal of Meilleur Ouvrier (Best Artisan of France) and up until recently the only chef to receive the Légion d'Honneur. His restaurant held onto its three Michelin stars for fifty consecutive years.
He was a striking man, tall, robust with a fine gallic nose. He was personable and amusing. He does not seem to have aroused much snide dislike. English language headlines are happy to tell us, nonetheless, that he had concurrently, a wife and two mistresses. It would be hypocritical of me to comment on this, having seen "big men" at work. (As an aside, Escoffier was dismissed in disgrace from the Savoy in London for "gross negligence and mismanagement", i.e. embezzlement.)
There is much that can be said about Paul Bocuse (trust me, all cooks will revere him in some way) but I want to emphasise two things. Firstly he brought respect to the profession. Chefs worked in terrible conditions, stifling heat, underground, rarely seeing the light of day. They had varicose veins and flat feet. Their lifestyle drew them often to alcoholism and gambling. Bocuse changed the image of the chef, dragged them into the light (even the limelight) not just through his personal self promotion but through the promotion of the profession. We have benefited from that.
Secondly he was a strong proponent of Nouvelle Cuisine. Groan, groan I hear. How often do we hear people laughing derisably at the expression. Certainly it was lead astray by chefs of little substance - the white plate, growing ever larger and the pretty arrangements that were inspired by the colour of the ingredient rather than flavour. Think kiwifruit purée next to a beetroot coulis.
Like the committed purist that he was, he became disenchanted with the empty frivolity he could see happening in his industry and instead championed fine dishes based on la Cuisine Bourgoise and la Cuisine Traditionelle, particularly from his native Lyon.
If you have any snide opinions or reservations about the movement called la Nouvelle Cuisine, hold onto your hat. I will show in my next post how what we eat at home and in restaurants would not be the same without it. (If it hadn't happened, we would have had to invent it.)
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Well, this was my old faithful, used daily ever since we bought our house. Visitors were aghast that not only was it an "old relic", it didn't have a fan-forced oven and wasn't even gas! "Surely you'll be upgrading," they said. The hot plates did take a while to heat up and cool down, but no matter. It screamed a late fifties stream-lined modernity that said we were facing the future confidently and the future was bright. Nothing could go wrong. It was sturdy and easy to clean.
I took a perverse pleasure, I guess, in showing that you can cook on a candle. You simply need a love of good ingredients and the desire to share with others.
Enter the new stove. Yes, we did live, during five scorching summer days, with nothing other than
the electric egg cooker. (Eggs mayonnaise, of course.) I realise now I could have used the microwave (but I pretend it doesn't exist) and the Thermomix, which is another story.
It has disappointed many friends that it is indeed a very simple stove, no bells and whistles. Not sure what they thought I needed. I reiterate, fancy equipment can be lovely but it's not what makes you a cook or an entertainer. It is often just more "stuff".
I haven't done a lot with it yet. I like it very much and I'm sure this will develop into a lasting love affair. I have boiled water to cook beans, made a curry and cooked rice. I seem mainly to make sure no finger marks tarnish its brushed stainless steel and I keep the ceramic top pristine. There's some special cream I can buy, apparently. The oven it spotlessly superb and can cook on nine different setting. Why? I am yet to find out. Friands and cakes happening soon.
Check out what Ina Garten, American Food Network chef recently purchased for her apartment.
The Lacanche Stove
If only I'd been more ambitious in life.
The casserole (1960, Finland) is an original by Timo Sarpaneva - he of of the wavy vases and icy glassware. It's enamel with its original wooden handle. The design was awarded a silver medal at the Milan Triennale in 1960. It has recently been reissued by Liitala of Finland.
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This image is proudly part of a COSTCO promotion on Facebook.
Have we sunk so low that this is seen as inspirational? (That's what advertising is, isn't it? Inspirational?) I accept (well, not really) that eating at Costco will involve a disposable plate and plastic cutlery. I can't accept that this is seen as an acceptable or attractive way of eating.
Firstly, pizza is very happy to be eaten held in the hand. If necessary, fold it over like a piece of paper and munch on the end. That's tradition and fun.
Next, HFLF (holds fork like flute) is uglier than HKLP (holds knife like pen). I shudder to think this is becoming acceptable. (See post 8/12/2017.)
There is nothing you can do with an adult who knows no better. There's nothing to be done with an adult who doesn't wish to change. I envy their innocence but I'm saddened by the burden they carry of looking like an ill-educated dork, lacking social graces.
Of course it doesn't matter how you hold (until it matters). Cutlery etiquette will not stop the plastic mountain growing or outrageous population growth or inter-religious wars. But it might help someone get a better job or help someone feel more comfortable amongst people she/he might not know.
It might not matter, but MY visual sensibilities are offended. (Being a real pain here. It must be Costco I'm angry at!)
Don't be afraid to re-guide a young person today.
Is there any way to guide an adult?
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January and we are seeing lists of what’s hot, what’s not, what’s in, what’s out. The Adelaide Advertiser, fount of style and charisma, filled me in on the following.
Well Sauvignon Blanc is out and Chablis is in. Chablis is a French wine made of chardonnay grapes. Does that mean we’re to be encouraged to stop buying local? Or is Chardonnay now going to be called Chablis? So confusing.
Sliders are out. Aren’t they just little hamburgers?
Freakshakes are out. So mums keeping the kids quiet while they have a café outing can now save about $30 per child. That’s a plus, not to mention the sugar rush and bad choice of colours.
Cronuts are out. Frankly haven’t seen one in ages so not missing it. I think they were time consuming to produce, like the Polly Waffle.
Wooden boards and plates. That’s a relief for diners (the sauce ran off the board, as did the cutlery) and a relief for waiters. "You learn how to carry three plates and they introduce boards!" I hope slate goes the same way
Veggies are in, raw, fresh, cooked or pickled. Who would have thought? But cynicism aside, this will lead to delicious produce and to exploring native ingredients. (Dads and uncles will complain.) This is called the New Vegetarian and has been brought on by our craze for healthy foods. Wow, the power of words.
Finally, the revelation for me was Bowl Food. Hadn't heard of it. It’s very HOT (although it’s usually cold) and very IN. I had to try it.
A bowl is filled with all sorts of diverse ingredients and I can’t put it more simply than that.
On the plus side, it helps use up leftovers. It needs only a fork to eat it so it can be eaten in front of the telly. It often contains lots of crunchy raw stuff (which is delicious) and eliminates the need for conversation. If offers lots of variety so even a few left over beans can build a bowl. Washing up is minimal.
I can't think of any down sides, especially in this heat and with the new stove not yet installed. More on that later.
Top bowl - Faïence transfer-printed bowl, pre-Glasnost USSR, widely sold in Scandinavia, particularly in Finland. Wish I knew more about the provenance. - Beans, our baby carrots, cos lettuce, herbs, bean sprouts, roasted pork belly and isn't that a little bit of left over pineapple? Washed down with some Dandelion Rosé.
Second bowl - petit bourgeois Dutch faïence, c.1890 Maastricht "Slamat" - a "bowl" to celebrate a present of a bunch of holy basil, along with bean sprouts, water cress, fried shallots, our green beans, coriander and a Vietnamese-style dressing.
Will I ever get back to cooking?
Started off on the right foot with my 2018 resolutions - the important one being to regularly keep up with friends. We had dinner here the other night on a ludicrously hot day – 40˚C. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure whether the new stove might land unannounced or whether the old one would behave. So we did it all cold. Here’s the menu.
Iced pea and mint soup (So, so pure)
Eggs mayonnaise – our eggs, boiled, yolks just firm, masked in real mayonnaise. Not the sweet stuff in a jar, I made it. Each half had an anchovy fillet and tiny capers.
Whoops – forgot to make a main course
Cheese, grapes and a fougasse* – (Cheese - see previous post.)
Pavolva with strawberries, passionfruit and cream – large and lavish. I macerated the strawberries for the day with some castor sugar and kirsch. Whipped the cream.
Licorish & red berry tea and some too, too delicious sweeties from Iran (praline and cardamom) brought by Angela and Hossein Valamanesh and chocolate fudge brought by Mirna & Ian.
Now, this menu was cold, was prepared well beforehand, was easy to serve, immensely satisfying and totally non threatening, even if I say so myself. (I bought the Pavlova base, for heaven’s sake, leaving the guests to boast about how they all made theirs from scratch.)
Try this soup, if you like chilled soup. You won't believe it. It’s beyond zen.
Iced pea and mint soup - easy for 6, and a little over, in case.
1 kilo frozen baby peas**.
Mint leaves 1-2 per person
Seasoning & 2 tbsp of EVO (optional)
Place peas, just covered in water, in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, lower heat a little and simmer, uncovered for about 2 minutes.
In the meantime, have ready a deep bowl in which you place your colander. This is VERY important because you have to save the cooking liquid. (It's so easy to tip it down the sink.) Have also another bowl with a tray of ice cubes.
Drain the peas into the colander, reserving all the cooking liquid. Dump the peas onto the ice cubes and toss about to quickly chill them, keeping them bright green.
Set aside 6 generous tablespoons of peas, covered in a small bowl.
Measure out 800mls of pea cooking liquid.
When cool enough to handle, "blitz" the peas, adding the liquid bit by bit, until you have a creamy consistency. This must be done thoroughly to obtain a totally smooth purée, (otherwise, you might have to sieve it, which would be a shame).
Season the soup with salt. You will need to balance the sweetness of the peas.
Chill. Making it the day before (if you're going to be busy) will not "tarnish" the colour.
To serve - check the consistency of the soup. It should be creamy not what I call hippy-soup. (See next post.)
Sliver the mint leaves not too long before serving so they don't blacken. Give each guest a bowl with the reserved peas and some mint in the centre.
Serve the soup (over which you have poured a thin stream of EV olive oil) in a tureen, at the table.
I had this first in Paris served in a martini glass with a small spoon. Set aside a larger quantity of peas and hold back the pea liquid to obtain a heavier purée.
I matched the plates to the peas - Bing & Grondhal, Erantis. These from around 1955 but the design carried through from 30s to the mid 70s.
*Fougasse - a flat, slashed bread, chewy and studded with black olives, made here in Adelaide by Muratti Patisserie.
**Frozen peas - of course we all want food home-grown, organic and fresh but like sweetcorn, when you pick peas, you need to have the pot bubbling on the stove beforehand. When peas are picked, the sugar starts converting to starch, practically immediately. I've bought organic peas, shelled them with my own bare hands and they were like bullets. Frozen peas are fantastic, as are broad beans.
I like starting a dinner with soup. And of soup, there are various.
There’s cream soup – a combination puréed so smoothly that it’s cream-like. It may even contain cream. Needless to say, mine generally does. It has a silky mouth-feel (You might need to help it with a little thickening such as an egg yolk or roux).
There’s consommé (ah, if only) – the most elegant are clear, perhaps with something delicate floating. It might be a simple chicken broth with a few floats of white meat. It could be a miso soup with silken tofu cubes or a Thai soup, clear, sweet and hot, dotted with herbs and straw mushrooms.
There’s chunky soup – with nourishing bits in it like minestrone or a Swedish bean & pork hock soup, which could be a meal.
Then there’s the dreaded thick soup or what I’ll politely call hippy soup, more like a thick gruel, so thick that a spoon could stand in it. This soup needs thinning. It is just not nice in the mouth. If you want the soup to be a meal, do chunky.
If following a recipe slavishly, you may have to add more liquid like "tap stock" (i.e. water) or stock or cream.
The travel writer Paul Theroux scathingly describes his mother’s cooking (in Mother Land) – “soup so thick a mouse could have trotted across it”. This is an image good enough to remind you to check your soup's consistency.
Platter of cheese - Bleu d'Auvergne (French), Woombuy Blackall Gold washed rind, (Aust), Wyngaard Goat (Dutch), dried golden raisins, local red grapes, Swedish crisp bread (Ikea!!!)
Christofle art deco-style grape scissors (discontinued late 1970s)
Onnaing Narcisse oval platter and footed fruit plate (French, faïence turn of 19th C)
Tiny Danish silver-handled knives (about 1920s Raadvad - the Danish Birmingham)
I was trawling through some on-line images of cheese platters. Would it surprise you that I hated all of them? Why is this noble product festooned and garlanded with garishly coloured fruit, assorted nuts and crackers?
Brillat-Savarin said “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye”. Yeah, yeah, enough already with the silly quotes from old, dead, white males.
Nonetheless, this is what I think about cheese, eating and serving it. Would it surprise you that I am going to be dogmatic?
Serve three different cheeses only, four if you absolutely can’t decide. (Any more means each cheese can’t receive the attention it deserves.)
OR - Serve three cheeses of the same type for a “tasting”. Three blue cheeses can be very interesting, ranging from the delicious, well-made but ubiquitous supermarket Blue Castello to a sublime Roquefort. How about starting a patriotic war with a Stilton, a Gorgonzola and a Roquefort? (Yes, but what if someone doesn’t like blue cheese? Tough. I said I was going to be dogmatic.)
OR – serve just one superb cheese. I went through a phase of serving a large dramatic slice of Talegio, if it was “à point” (just right, just ripe).
No-one reading this eats fruit cheese.
Allow roughly 90gm per person in total (e.g. 3 x 30). You may have left-overs for yourself the next day.
Do you serve cheese after main course or do you serve it at the end of the meal? Neither is better than the other - it's more a cultural choice. See next post.
Heavily decorated platters are useful at parties but at table, keep it simple.
You'll place the platter in the middle of the table but please give a plate to everyone, always (even a small one) and a knife (even knife and fork if you're offering salad). Have the cheese platter small enough and light enough to be easily passed. Keep your prized slab hewn from the door of an ancient Viking church from the Faroe Islands, for a party, not dinner. Perhaps for a table of eight there could be two identical platters, one at each end.
Serve a knife for each cheese. Trust me, that knife will inevitably end up on someone’s plate but at least you’ve tried.
Serve bread and or crackers.
When serving yourself, always maintain the shape of the cheese. (For example it would be very rude to cut across the end off a triangle of Brie. In France they say you're cutting off the nose.)
Apart from a startling lack of decorum, restraint and good taste, these platters also make the cheese very hard to get at. An embarrassment of excess. Bearable for a party but not for the table.
From left to right...
1. What's with the inedible decorative squash and the tatters of greenery?
2. All cheeses have their backs to us and one is covered in inedible wax.
3. How do I get to the cheese?
4. Sensory overload. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
Yes dear reader, I made these -
3 Camembert-style rounds, just before their "fur" starts to grow.
Some time ago, friend Rosa and I took the plunge and enrolled in a day course of cheese-making. It was designed as a refresher for the industry or an introduction for the beginner. We were certainly the latter. It was a TAFE course which meant that we were not leant upon to purchase "stuff".
The group was separated into three groups, soft cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, hard Cheddar-like cheese and blues. We were soft. We were lead by Gina Dal Santo, an autodidact who now is not only the S.A. TAFE cheese lecturer but a nationally recognised speaker, trainer and judge in this area.
My photographs are sketchy - chosen for anonymity because the cheese-making garb is very unflattering. A white overall, blue plastic apron, white rubber boots and best of all a hairnet made of what looked like Chux. If we had to leave the space, we walked through an antibacterial liquid and we washed our hands and slathered on antibacterial lotion about every five minutes.
But for two gastronomes and cheese lovers, what a fun day! Straight up, I can say that sending someone on a cheese-making day could be the best present (birthday or otherwise). Even one of those evenings where you go home with a little kit which makes one tiny Camembert, could open up a whole new world of entertainment. Even if we never made cheese ourselves, the experience was invaluable in teaching a respect and new appreciation for the process.
We learn't that milk is broken down into curds and whey, whey being the watery part. The whey makes up 60-70% of the final product. The whey can be fed to animals, used as a liquid in cooking (e.g. soups) or saved and made into ricotta (ricotta = re-cooked). This day, the whey was discarded, the plug at the bottom of the vats removed and the whey allowed to run out. The floor of the cheese room was a totally flat stainless steel "sink", with intermittent drain holes. No wonder we sloshed around in our rubber boots. This loss accounts for some of the high cost of cheese (and I'll never complain again).
We learn't that we could make small batches of certain cheeses at home, while others styles might require equipment like presses and temperature-controlled cellars.
Once home, I knew I could do this and contacted CheeseLinks (Cheeselinks) for some "ingredients" (small vials, easily stored in freezer or refrigerator).
I recommend CheeseLinks and also a new book "Curd and Crust" by Tamara Newing ( and of course our favourite cheese-master, Mr Google.)
When I make a batch, I spend a morning with my curds. It's not hard work, just some waiting around. I do five litres of milk at a time and make the following...
3 beautiful Camembert style rounds OR
3 triple cream OR
3 chèvre (Goat, to us. Have not been able to get hold of sheets' milk yet.) OR
Wonderful feta (because I control the salt) OR
Haloumi - excellent grilled
My washed rind is still a work in process, as is the bleu cheese. (The blue seems to grow on the outside rather than inside).
Imagine a cheese plate where, along with the blue and cheddar style, there is one round made by you.
Next post, next week, a step by step through my cheese making morning.
Decluttering / Cherries / Change
I woke up yesterday with an irresistible need to declutter the kitchen cupboards.
Marie Kondo ( Magic-Tidying ) and William Morris ( william morris ) would have got on famously. A hundred years apart, both push the idea that we should surround ourselves only with what is both useful and beautiful. (To Marie, it must spark joy!!!)
I realised there was not much joy in my store cupboard. In particular the olives had gone soft as had the pickled walnuts. The walnuts were old because I don’t use them because I’ve never liked them so why would I ever eat them? Can’t imagine a relish or “tapenade” made with them. (Mashed with cream cheese? No.) I have chutneys dating back to 2006, jams to 2007. I’d had a lot of plums that year, obviously. They’d become dark and thick. Not dangerous but not appetising. In the fridge there was some pickled eggplant, pure vinegar. On and on and on it went and so dear reader, I dumped the lot, ruthlessly.
Interestingly enough, I didn’t have any old jars of pickled cherries and so I offer these observations. Make jams and chutneys you think are delicious rather than because someone has dumped a bucket full of something on your doorstep. Don’t let fruit bully you.
I learn’t a lot from my sister-in –law’s mother. She was a sensible no-nonsense cook who had no time for fancy foreign stuff. Her jams and chutneys were sublime, beyond reproach. Her secret was small batch production – small so that you could watch over and care. Make stuff you are proud to give away or stuff of which you will be sorry to see the last jar. Extend the pride and label them clearly and nicely.
Furthermore, give out and inevitably, you will receive. I've never received a jar I didn't appreciate.
Now, it’s that annual, short cherry season. Pickle some cherries. They look fetching and there’s no chance of any jars still being around after May, I assure you.
For every 1 kilo of cherries, prepare a pickling liquid of...
The aromatics are forgiving and very much up to you. I suggest 1 tsp each of whole peppercorns, coriander and 1/2 tsp cloves plus a small whole dry chilli - (just enough to give a little bite). Bring the pickling mix up to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes. Allow to cool and pour over the cherries. You may wish to discard the aromatics but keep the chilli tucked down into the jar.
Seal and keep for 3 weeks before eating.
But there's change afoot in the kitchen. It's time for my Frigidaire De Luxe Cookmaster (see above) to retire. It was installed when the house was built in 1959 and is in perfect harmony with the mid-century- modern kitchen. The clock stopped last year with no-one around to fix to it. With this went it's timer and its ability to turn on, cook a roast while you were away, turn off, ready for when you came home from the movies.
The new "foreign" stove will arrive next week and its obsidian and brushed stainless steel will be a clash against the white and gold-flecked Formica of the cupboards. (White Goods are no longer white.) On the plus side, I will now work in degrees celsius, I can be sure the temperature will stay constant and the top glass plate will wipe clean with one swish. Sad, none the less.
Cocktails seem to be “back”, not taking over but an alternative to bubbles as the pre-prandial drink of choice. Based on spirits, they act fast. Many cocktails are downright silly but that is the point. They’re meant to be.
A reader commented on my post about “unfriendly” tables (8th December, 2017). She saved herself from a boring night by ordering a Naked and Famous. (See below.) I’d never heard of it so I “researched” the topic. It seems there are many cocktails with agonizingly risqué names. Could you order one of these and not blush – Sex on the Beach, Climax, Buttery Nipple, Silk Panty Martini? The Orgasm has been around for a while and frankly, I’d like to stay innocent of its ingredients.
To make cocktails on call, willy-nilly, one needs a massive array of bottles. Setting up a cabinet to rival the one coveted by Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, would make drinking Roederer Cristal and Krug look downright economical in comparison. So chose your cocktail and stick to it.
For the recipes below, there are ratios, not quantities. I leave you to decide the amount that makes a decent drink.
Negroni is my favourite. It’s has enough bitterness to make it a true aperitif, it’s stylish and adult. We changed from flagon red vermouth to a decent bottle and it was worth it. A garnish of orange is important (and counts as a daily fruit portion).
Equal parts – gin, Campari, sweet red vermouth, orange slices.
Manhattan – Maraschino cherries are as important as the main ingredients. Use a decent basic whisky. A single malt would be a waste and an affectation while a wonderful peaty whisky (e.g. Lagavulin, Bowmore or Laphroaig) is in fact ghastly used this way.
1 part sweet red vermouth, 2 parts whisky, dash bitters, minimum 3 maraschino cherries per glass. (Classicists insist on rye whiskey or bourbon, but when in need...)
Bloody Mary is my overseas airline drink - serenity and nutrition at the same time. I like it made with gin rather than vodka and a nice “side salad” of celery jumping out of it. I refuse to drink vodka, a drink that prides itself on having little flavour.
I like the lemon/lime cocktails, especially for the vitamin C. (HaHa.)
Whisky sour, White Lady, Between The Sheets, Margarita are all good and not too sweet. (See the Google Cocktail Bar.)
Naked and Famous falls into this category.
Equal parts - tequila (or mescal), Aperol, Green Chartreuse, grape-fruit juice, garnish slice of lemon or lime.
Cocktails need a statement glass. If in Sydney, visit The Glass Pavillion on the corner of Queen and Oxford Street, Woollahra. The owner is a glass fanatic and sells wonderful sets and oddments at madly reasonable prices.