New home page - in season and we could be eating artichokes. To prepare them, perhaps re-look at Blog Post 19th December, 2018)
And broad beans are around too. A braise, Greek-style, of small artichokes, broad beans and mint is a winner. Remember to eat the stem but avoid the leaves.
Chicken Tagine with Mograbieh & Minted Yoghurt
This lovely chicken tagine is from Ashraf Saleh, who features as guest chef in the week-end magazine "Life" section of national newspaper, The Australian. Saleh is chef/owner of Coya in Sydney; his book Coya: French Middle Eastern Cuisine could break my "no more cook books" mantra.
The recipe calls for an organic chicken. Now I'm as "woke" as your next foodie-eco-warrior but I must ask, would the recipe still work if I used a free-range chicken, or a corn-fed chicken, or a macro-biotic chicken? What about a harassed mum who just grabs a poor blighted supermarket chook on her way home? (A previous "guest chef" recipe called for free-range chicken pieces. Once again, would an organic chicken have ruined the recipe?)
I'm being facetious here, but what do I require of a chicken?
Mograbieh is sometimes called pearl couscous, sometimes Israeli couscous, sometimes Lebanese couscous. It's now made specifically to size and dried. It was once a by-product of making couscous from scratch, by hand at home, something that is rarely done today. My mother could do it. I can do it, but rarely choose to.
When the semolina is dampened in the open flat wooden bowl, and rolled and rubbed to create the fine grains of couscous, there are always some large ones formed, the size of a small pea, that are winnowed and set aside.
Mograbieh is basically little round pasta. Whatever, it's a useful starch alternative, under stews or roasts or part of a salad.
A Tagine is both a dish and the pot it's cooked in. If you make a tagine, (often a combination of meat, vegetables, sometimes dried fruit) but cook it in a covered saucepan or casserole, can it be called a tagine? A conundrum.
Tagines are often just a decorative kitchen piece or an exotic serving dish, the earthenware base and funnel-like lid needing to be handled carefully. Le Creuset make a "modern" one with a cast iron bottom and red earthenware top. (There have also been good ones at a fraction of the cost at Aldi!) As the food simmers, the steam rises up the funnel and dribbles back down, round and round, like a retort in gin making. It does seem to create rich flavours.
Perhaps there will be a mograbieh recipe and a tagine in my next post. And I'll make sure to get an organic, free-range chicken.
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It looks like our Gastronomy Book Club is going ahead.
Those keen to read and who can't join the face to face, live group, can be part of a wider, on-line connection. We have started a "closed" Facebook page and only book club people will be able to read comments posted. We'll see how we go. Let us know if you want to be included. If you're not a "Facebooker", we'll email information, comments etc. to you, nonetheless.
We're going to start easily. We may leave Brillat Savarin, the Greek philosophers and the Post-Modernists for later! October's book will be Bee Wilson - The Way We Eat Now. The title is self-explanatory. I was particularly touched by the loss of the lunch hour and the family table.
November's book will be Gabrielle Hamilton - Blood, Bones, Butter - an autobiographical account of her life in food, through an eccentric, hippy, slightly dysfunctional childhood, her discovery of Italy and to her N.Y. restaurant Prune.
Let us know if you'd like to join the gastronomy readers.
Lunch at Chez Jupiter, a very French little bistro in Adelaide.
Apparently "Bill Anxiety" is a thing, another one of those 21st C, First World problems. It's experienced at the end of a shared lunch or dinner when faced with the account. Recent studies show (love that phrase) that about 75% of diners who eat out feel uncomfortable when eating in a group, to such an extent that many even consider not going out at all. Will they be asked to split the bill or pay separately?
Come on, people! Are we friends, or what?
Most restaurants state they will not prepare separate bills. This annoys some people. Having seen it from the restaurant side, I understand how difficult, time consuming and petty paying separately can be. Are we concerned that others have ordered more than we have or that we have over-stepped the mark and look greedy?
(As an ex-school teacher I can share the joke that teachers are notorious - from Athens to Sydney, from Paris to Anchorage. "I had the fish, you had the salad but you spent more drachmas on the wine." Or "But you had Saint-Géron (the "niche", very delicate, lightly effervescent French water ) but I had tap."
Don't give the restaurant a hard time. Don't look tacky. Come up with a strategy and a strategy means talking.
When might you possibly pay the whole bill? More of that later.
Are you a sharer or a separate payer?
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I was at the market recently, standing in line behind a family - mum and three children. She asked them what they wanted for dinner that evening. One wanted pizza, one wanted pasta, one wanted sausages. It was clear that four different meals were going to be prepared.
Why, oh why, was the question ever asked? This is just so not what I'm used to.
If we had asked my mother what we were having that night, she might have replied "liver with onions & parsley, mashed potatoes (pommes purées) and carrots" and we would have shouted "Yummy!" Perhaps we were lucky that both our parents made our food sound marvellous - and it was. Sitting together was not just normal; it was a very agreeable moment in the day. We were expected to have a story and more importantly perhaps, to listen to my father's stories! (My anglo-saxon friends were amazed that we were allowed to talk during meals!)
We were not asked what we wanted. We were told what we were having (like being at a simple country hotel).
So how do you make a gourmet? Perhaps you might ask first why you would want to make a gourmet.
Gourmets are easy-going, happy kids. They don’t make a fuss. They’re easy to look after, they’re enthusiastic, you can take them anywhere, they’ll smile at a bowl of lovely chips as easily as at a truffled guinea fowl with duck-fat-fried potatoes. They’re cheap, they’re accommodating.
Needless to say, you will be aware of any harmful allergies – peanuts might be fatal, chocolate could bring on unbearable eczema, prawns could inhibit normal respiration.
So, to make a gourmet, this is our method. It works.
Firstly, you must accept that everyone in the family eats the same thing and all sit together at a table for most main meals. No more one meal for Johnny, another meal for Annabel, another for Hepzibah, another for the adults. Serve the meal and don’t make a fuss. Allow your child to choose not to eat certain vegetables but put them out, nonetheless, day after day, day after day. Someone may not like carrots. Just keep putting them out.
This normalises the meal and your choices. Your child will not starve. This might be hard but it will work in the end.
Get everyone involved. Children can lay the table, they can peel carrots, they can wash lettuce. Food can be parcelled out individually but a platter brought to the table will illicit a "Wow".
And start them early on eating from a plate and with (yes) cutlery. Never too early to learn where to place that important little forefinger on the fork.
If we don’t encourage children to eat everything and develop a broad palate, where are the gourmets and polite eaters of tomorrow?
Never make a fuss, never penalise, never bribe, never complain, never explain. Just keep serving them. One day those discarded black olives will be tried and accepted, that grilled red capsicum will be eaten along with the rest. It’s a little bit of tough love. You are the tour operator around the world of good, real food. You are the adult.
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I recently mentioned having enjoyed Bee Wilson's book "The Way We Eat Now". She touches on, among other things, the loss of the lunch hour, unhealthy "health foods", and our busy, busy lives.
I've also just finished two books by Michael Booth – "Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking" and "The Meaning of Rice: and Other Tales from the Belly of Japan." I admire his honesty in admitting that as a self-avowed Japanophile, he nonetheless finds the level of pedantry involved in the Japanese tea ceremony to be mind-numbingly boring. “I can’t quite see how watching a pedantic elderly woman take two hours to make a cup of matcha (tea) will enhance my life.” Both books are riveting and got me into a week of ramen, okonomiake, chawan mushi and mochi.
I miss not being able to talk with friends about what I read.
Friends? I have friends. Some belong to book clubs - crime, romance, dystopia, historical fiction, WWII but what I really want is to be free to discuss my gastronomic readings without anyone rolling their eyes. So it's occurred to me. How about a book club!
I guess we'd meet once a month. Someone would make a suggestion for the next gathering. How many readers? I guess 8 to 10 at the absolute most. Would we have tea and madeleines or wine and anchovies on horseback? So much to work out but the reading possibilities are endless. There's history, health, sociology, philosophy, biography, science...
The world doesn't need another cook book or another recipe. They're already out there, somewhere in the cloud, in the ether or on a bookcase near you. But it would be lovely to gather with consenting adults in private and talk gastronomy.
What do you think? There could be chapters all over the country, all over the world. Let's get up a group.
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Home from a week in Hobart, I was greeted by this magnificent display. The Cattleya (bought last year at the Royal Adelaide Show) had opened with 4 enormous blooms. Cattleyas are no longer fashionable but I adore their vulgarity and they're my orchid of choice. The popular phalaenopsis (the white, flat-leaved, S.E. Asian "moth" orchid) is a long lasting, good little trooper, pretty, but...
These were the orchids used (circa 1950s) for a corsage offered to a dance date, worn high on the shoulder or even on the wrist. In the film of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, Swann "flirts" with a Cattleya thrust in the bodice of Odette, his pulchritudinous mistress.
Hobart is very accessible, with great art, great produce, great seafood, great markets and therefore good restaurants. The highlight for me (and possibly one of my best experiences ever) was meeting Ainstie Wagner, the lively, energetic, knowledgeable, executive chef of Tasmanian Government House who showed me around her domain. (Allowed into the vault to see the silver, the teapots, the salt cellars, asparagus servers, the salvers, the marrow spoons - not often called for - I was rendered speechless.)
Then followed a walk around her ordered and immaculate kitchen, her store-room of preserves, the produce garden with its chickens, its soft fruit canes, its nut and fruit trees, its rows of rhubarb, spinach, carrots. She is also working on adding to their two crocus plants for their own saffron!
A tale of two flowers.
The Cattleya originated in Brazil where it grew wild in trees. (It's epiphytic i.e. it attaches itself but thrives independently.) It was brought to England in the early 1800s. British botanist explorers in fact found many flowers in South America to add to the English garden.
The vanilla orchid (Vanilla Planifolia) has a similar shape, but very much smaller, about 12cm long, pale green and cream and grows as a vine. While the Cattleya flower will last sometimes six weeks, the vanilla orchid fades in a day, after which the vanilla bean, its fruit, develops. The vines must be checked daily.
From Mexico, the explorer Cortez introduced vanilla to Europe in the early 1500s where is was an instant success. More and more plantings were gradually set up in Madagascar, Indonesia and Tahiti. Pollination by bees is erratic and hand pollination was developed in 1840 by a 12 year old slave, Edmond Albius, in Madagascar.
So what with one thing and another, vanilla is time consuming to grow, very much in demand and therefore very expensive. It's a ubiquitous flavouring - think vanilla ice-cream. When my Cattleya flowers fade, I will carefully watch the development of the bean. It will not be a vanilla bean of course, but I will feel a connection.
And so to the saffron crocus.
This little crocus (Crocus Sativus) is just like the bulb you might plant at home, along with the daffs, hyacinths and snowdrops. It grows in clusters, has a lovely mauve flower, but stands out with its three (yes, three only) red stamens - the saffron. While you're unlikely to pick up a vanilla orchid at a nursery near you, it would be possible to find a supplier of saffron crocus bulbs. Harvesting however may deter your enthusiasm. (There are nonetheless some small Tasmanian growers.)
The saffron crocus spread across Europe from the middle east. It's grown extensively now in Iran, Spain and Portugal. The flowers are harvested then the stamens are collected, three at a time! Saffron is time consuming to grow, very much in demand and therefore very expensive.
With saffron I am incredibly fortunate. I am suppled by my rug dealer (I said rug, not drug dealer) Javad Alikorki and by the artist Hossein Vallamanesh when either returns from a trip home to Iran.
My advice for using vanilla or saffron? Choose your dish well and don't skimp. The Spaniards might throw saffron around with gay abandon in their paella but we might be more circumspect. But using not quite enough because you're "saving" it, is a total waste.
"Saving" vanilla beans is also a waste. They might dry out. I have precious vanilla beans stored in castor sugar and the flavour permeates the container and will keep on doing so over a year. This way, the flavour can grace most sweet things. It's very effective.
(And you may like to know that artificial "vanillin" is a flavour compound from the petrochemical industry - the devil's work!)
P.S. The saffron-coloured robes worn by monks are not dyed with saffron (and never have been). Imagine the kilos required!
When do you use vanilla? When do you use saffron?
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Part of the hotel breakfast buffet (Ravenna, Italy) enjoyed by Ken, (hospitality guru and IT social media trainer) while playing in Italy. This is hotel hospitality certainly, but it does illustrate the Italian concept of breakfast - coffee and pastry. (Aussie tourists faced with this, apparently have a meltdown.)
Few would disagree that the "Mediterranean Diet", so called, has given us a blue print for better eating - smaller portions of meat, if any, more fish, lots of vegetables, real bread and fruit as the sweet component.
As Michael Pollan says "Eat food, not too much, mainly plants".
Guido Brunetti, Donna Leon's Venetian policeman, throws back a tiny espresso for breakfast but later interrupts his morning at a local café with a small glass of white wine and a couple of tramezzini.**
So without muesli, yoghurt, celery juice and turmeric lattes, Italians have managed to develop a working (sort of) government and legal system, raise families, produce great art, composers, architecture, poets, beautiful cars and great shoes.
Meanwhile in Britain, there have been some changes in eating - aided by yummy lunches of Ottolenghi salads. But nonetheless, with a breakfast of bacon, blood pudding, fried bread, eggs, white toast, mushrooms and tomato ketchup followed by dinners of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes, somehow, the Brits have managed to develop a working (sort of) government and legal system, produce great art, composers, architecture, poets, sensible cars and Harris Tweed.
Over the Channel, the French still breakfast on coffee and a carbohydrate, often dunking the baguette or croissant for better slurping. During the day they gorge themselves on dairy products and fats of various provenance - duck, goose, pork, olive, hazelnut, walnut oil, washed down with wine. The French have managed to develop a working (sort of) government and legal system, produce great art, composers, architecture, poets, the Citroën DS 19 and Krug.
I could go on, travelling around the world.
Now this isn't a very scientific analysis, but I think you get my drift. Just eat food, stay away from engineered food-like substances that need labels, avoid anything that has been known to "heal" for thousands of years, avoid anything that needs to tell you it's healthy, avoid the very word "healthy". Just be.
**Tramezzini -little sandwiches, creatively seasoned fillings, more filling than bread, soft white bread, crusts off. (Soft white bread? Go on, you know you want it.)
But we consider this Japanese conundrum next.
Above - very cute emojis of sushi and bento box.
Now consider the Japanese conundrum...
The Japanese are known to live long lives, sound in body and mind.
The Japanese diet has its ups and downs. It has lots of fish, it's low fat but high salt.
In the early 1970s, a study was done on the health of Japanese men who had settled in America comparing those who followed as much as possible a traditional Japanese diet centred on fish, vegetables, tofu and tea with those who "went native" on a diet with burgers, processed foods, fats, salt and sugary drinks .
Statistics showed that men in Japan had significantly lower rates of coronary heart disease than American men (at that time the highest in the world). The obvious explanation was diet. For Japanese men in America, did sticking to a Japanese diet protect them?
The results were disturbing and confusing. Japanese men in America suffered worse health issues than Japanese men in Japan certainly, but not all were better off than their America counterparts, even on a Japanese diet. Those that stood out convinced Professor Michael Marmot to look deeper.
(Marmot had migrated to Australia as a child. After university in Australia, he received a PHD in 1975 from the University of California, Berkeley for research into "Acculturation and Coronary Heart Disease In Japanese Americans".)
Crunching the numbers they decided that what mattered more than the food was the culture in which they ate it. Rather than the American emphasis on speed and individualism, the Japanese men who maintained better health ate with family and friends and maintained a sense of community. Whatever they were eating, they made time to eat, free from any sense of impatience and panic. They had not yet been seduced by the American values of urgency and competition. (Times would change.)
In brief, it showed that how we eat is as important as what we eat. Take the time; you’re worth it. If possible eat with someone. If alone, prepare something nice, eat it slowly on a nice plate; you’re worth it.
It makes sense to me.
People see themselves as “time-poor” with no time to prepare a meal, be it a hot casserole or a mixed salad. But somehow time slips easily through our hands in front of the second series of The Crown or while surfing the net for that vintage handbag, that first edition Julia Child, that slightly cheaper carburettor.
I loved this book Bee Wilson The Way We Eat Now
“We have been sold the idea that all that matters about food is the nutrients it contains. But an organic salad gulped down in a state of anxiety and solitude is not necessarily “healthier” than a takeaway of fish and chips enjoyed at leasiure with friends.” Bee Wilson
Below, eating with friends - a treat.
L - an unexpected afternoon tea (never high tea)
R.- lunch with three friends and a home-made bread.
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