Nearly Xmas

•November 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

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Someone just said that Xmas is just weeks away… that is so unfair. No time, nothing done, nothing planned and not even an inkling about what to do. I swore last year that I would not do it all again, I think maybe I might even stick to that.

What is this awful thing that seems to happen to our collective psyche at this time of the year? We become obsessed with strange things, buying presents, decorating houses, cooking festive food. I am no different, I succumb each year to the madness. Its almost like some switch is activated in my brain and a release of chemicals sets me off on some mad merry chase for reviving that which is past. This is a list of various issues surrounding Xmas

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christmas_dishes

The strange thing is that I can only remember flashes of the festive seasons of my youth, the times in Port Fairy when we, as less affluent members of the clan, did not get to go to the hotel for dinner, but feasted instead on some ancient fowl that mum was endeavouring, with all her might to both give flavour to and make as tender as possible. Mind you the chook was so bloody big that the four of us could eat slices of white (or brown meat; that was taken from the legs and thighs) for days to come and they were slices, I can never remember my mother carving the chook up chunk like as we do today.

Its funny, I suspect that what we remember may well define our own passions, because as much as I have little memory of the setting, except on one occasion when I had tried to orchestrate the gifts and ended up in a small ball of misery as I contemplated the air rifle I had insisted on my mother buying me and now, in abject agony, was counting the cost of my appallingly bad choices. Finally after unwinding myself, I marched down to the local sports store, woke Alex Hill up from his slumbers and begged and pleaded till he agreed to swap over the gun for fishing equipment and I left a much more satisfied puppy. Needless to say this completely destroyed my belief in Santa.

Our Xmas day was always the same, we would get out of bed and head straight for the lounge room where we would find our presents gathered and wrapped beside the fire place, Mum was ever practical, she had been raised in a family with seven children and very little spare money, our gifts were mostly of clothing essentials and in my case, because I loved the beach, each year I would get something to do with swimming. My mother was never keen on the idea of Father Xmas and this was discouraged at an early age. I still recall the sense of confused disappointment when I watched Father Xmas drive through the town on the local fire truck having just been told that it was all just a story and that Father Xmas was just a local bloke dressed in the costume. Such revelations can have a profound effect on a small child and may well account for my recalcitrant nature now.

Mum liked to go to church on Xmas morning and my sister and I would join her. The church was always overwhelming in its size, smell and services, I was always glad when it was over and we could leave, having fulfilled our Christian duty as well as having been seen to do so. Dad would have waited at home in Bank Street for us to arrive, we would then walk around to Uncle Syds (Dad’s brother) house, where the whole family would be gathered, including the fearsome grandfather for Xmas drinks. This was the first time that I knew I was not cut out to be a conforming social being, but rather was always going to be left of centre. The swamp that divided our house from Uncle Syds was my place of refuge and so after half and hour or so I would sidle up to Mum and just say swamp, she would nod and I was off.

Why didn’t I turn out to be some sort of ologist? (comes from the Greek and means ‘study) It wasn’t the biology or geology or any other ology the swamp had to offer, it was all about life, the swamp was teaming with life, the wind would move the water, the birds would protect their nests, the tadpoles turn into frogs and here was I able to sit in the middle of it all, not have to pass confused small talk nor justify my differences with anyone and yet, be part of it all… a very satisfactory way to spend Xmas day.

Sooner or later, my time in the swamp was brought to a halt with my Father bellowing my name and walking with Mum and my sister back to Dublin House and no doubt the over cooked chook that Mum would have left in the oven, I didn’t hurry, there was no need, Mum would have prepared the vegetables before she left for church, but they needed to be cooked, so I had a full hour before I had to be at the table. Mum had also read this recipe, Woman’s Weekly I suspect, for a mock ham that was made from a leg of sheep, rubbed with salt and left for a few days and then encased in flour and water and baked. Mum had to use one of Dad’s butchering cleavers to crack the now extremely hard casing and reveal the pink ham like meat that to me, simply tasted of sheep. But she was happy. I was always happiest with the pickled pork that was cured in brine at the butcher shop and then cooked slowly in water with a bay leaf and some spices, allowed to cool in the water, it was served barely warm with the chicken.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2015/03/31/396588498/the-resurrection-of-lamb-ham-a-colonial-tradition-revived

http://allrecipes.com.au/recipes/tag-1957/christmas-dinner-recipes.aspx

Mum was not into the cook ahead pudding, she made the pudding on the morning of Xmas to a recipe that had been handed down in her family for generations. It was made with suet and it was cooked for a good five or six hours in its cloth, when the time came to eat it, Mum would lift it from the pot and allow it to stand for a while to get all the water from the cloth, then peel the cloth away which in the beginning she had generously buttered and floured to reveal a creamy white skinned pudding under which was a deep dark rich brown deliciousness that only required the silver coins that she had boiled up, to be inserted, a good brandy custard for her and dad and a plain custard for my sister and I and all was in readiness. I must say that the suet did make a spectacular pudding, adding a depth and another layer of deliciousness.

http://www.vintagerecipes.net/recipes/desserts/puddings/plum_and_suet_puddings/

Serving Xmas dinner was special, Mum would get out the best crockery and cutlery and we would eat, not at the kitchen table like every other day, but at the dining room table which would be set up with a little holly, a beer for dad and a brown crinkly glass decanter of Woodley’s Est for Mum. It was rare that we would have any visitors for Xmas, but on a few occasions, some of Mum’s family would make the trip to Port Fairy and help her to not feel so alone. It was much more likely that Auntie Mon, Auntie Dick and Auntie Nell would come for New Year and the house would become very lively, filled with the zest for life that these three strong women all had. Mum had two brothers, Uncle Lon who had a mystery and who came to Port Fairy often, he was a sort of Bing Crosby type, all tweed jackets, smoked a pipe, wore a sort of trilby hat and drove a small black car. His story is for another time, Uncle Charle was the black sheep of the family in every possible way, he was gay, a heavy drinker, in the navy and could not give even a slight damn who knew or who approved or disapproved.

Nanna Watson was a proper, god fearing woman who spent a great deal of her life being outraged and affronted by the behaviour of her now slightly unwieldy family who often pushed the boundaries that she had established for herself and her family, when Uncle Charle arrived home complete with boy friend for the Xmas festivities and paraded him around town and generally behaved in an outrageous way, she went to ground and refused to leave home or be seen and even missed the Xmas church service in shame. Uncle Charle left a day or so later, complete with boyfriend, much to the chagrin of his sisters who had been thoroughly enjoying the change of pace, the madness and general gaiety of he and his boyfriend. Uncle Charle was never seen by the family again, he was I suspect, shamed into feeling that his life choices were not only anti social, but against nature and proceeded to drink himself to death, dying in the arms of the nuns in Sydney who found him wandering along a railway line.  But his story is also for another time.

Interestingly enough my mother was stepping out with the local Church of England vicar, in the end, nothing came of it, however his connection to Uncle Charle and Uncle Lon were somewhat ‘curious’ and years later when I met him and he was an unwed Bishop, he was clearly not straight. So many stories, so much to say and so few people left to even contradict me!

Xmas lunch was always a heavy meal and designed to get everyone sleepy, we all pitched in with the dishes and as I remember, Dad snoozed in his big chair, Mum dozed in her, I would have a quick spin around the town on my bike and then head for the beach to swim off the weighty meal. Good times.

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On to now….

The Xmas Turkey… and in the end, all year round poultry.

All weird and sort of a non event, the family was scattering in numerous directions, we decided to have a festive breakfast. I don’t know about you, but breakfast for me is all about a decent cup of tea, pot not teabag, a slice of my own home baked 100% wholemeal, tastes good and satisfies health issues, butter and vegemite. I cannot, as hard as I try, get into the whole champagne, fruit juice and the million and one things that now seem to grace the breakfast table. There simply must be a limit to the ways you can serve eggs. I cannot bring myself to leap into meat at that hour and the prospect of cake, repels. Confusion. In the end, I made pancakes, it was the least I could do.

They came, opened gifts, ate breakfast and went. Those left holding the Xmas candle were left with a sort of vacant, what the hell happened and why, look on their face. In the afternoon as I settled into the snoozing and reading chair, I reflected that it did not feel like Xmas at all, even if the tree was draped in bits of xmases from years past, the pair of not quite right deer’s hauling a sleigh that had seen better days, graced the mantle shelf. Even the black crepe paper decorations I had purchased in a strange moment of anti celebration hung desolately over the dining table. Scene set, no action.

Boxing Day had been designated as family festive food day. The night before I had started the turkey brining, put some wine in to chill, worried all over again that no one in the household except me liked plum pudding, asked the promises of the vegetable run if they were ready, roasted the ham with a glaze that I was not fond of…. that whole glaze issue is fraught, you simply have to have some thick sugar laden number that will stick and rise to the occasion. I even took great care to skin the pork carefully, not being the patient and manually dexterous type, I have been known to rip a bit hard at removing the skin and leave the fat layer in less than pristine shape. Xmas had come and gone, this was another day, another event completely.

I am a creature of habit, up early on Boxing Day, cup of tea, toast and turn the oven on high. I had a Ledoux turkey to roast to perfection. I was well behaved and followed the recipe (below). I have this 45 year long argument with some family members who want to eat everything seeringly hot whereas I want it mildly room temperate. Allowing for the size of the bird, a 2 hour cook and good rest after all that heat and indignity would be about right. Stuffing was a separate thing and was already in the loaf tin. We have always had a Swedish style potatoes and they were lying in their bath of cream garlic and anchovy, beans topped and tailed and someone was running up a cauliflower cheese. Someone else was inspecting a bowl of ripe tomatoes preparatory to roasting them with whole garlic cloves and basil leaves. The ham was out and on the sideboard, a side of smoked salmon with a Swedish dill mayonnaise (is there a theme emerging here I am unaware of?) shared the location. In my over enthusiasm I had also purchased a standing rib roast and that was rubbed with salt, anointed with oil and waiting its turn in the now pulsating oven. Gravy was not even a remote non event, it was demanded by several family members and would be closely tasted and critically assessed, so I had to get that happening. I went down the middle road, roasted a bunch of beef and turkey bones until they were brown, added some water, the turkey neck and giblets for a damn fine stock and then reduced it a bit. Gravy started. A salad or two would see it all done.

Time for a bit of reflection.

I doubt that Poppy or Aunty Pearl, or my father and mother had ever tasted turkey… it was just not often eaten or even available. I remember once when going with Dad on his ‘country round’ delivering meat, one of the farmers had a flock (called I think a rafter of) of turkeys that sort of ran wild, along with a gaggle of geese and essentially intimidated the entire farm. I was completely freaked out and refused to get down off the horse and cart dad used, the horse was not impressed either. They were destined for the table the farmer said, My family were butchers, I cannot ever recall seeing them selling poultry of any kind. I suspect that a few of the top enders of Port Fairy ate turkey and goose for Xmas, Dad usually killed one of the older chooks stuffed, very long cooked chook that was maybe one of just six eaten during the year. Ducks we ate when Dad went out in duck hunting season and brought home a bunch of wild ones. Hearn’s Hotel always offered turkey for Xmas lunch, we just never went, Mum would have viewed that as a great extravagance.

In time, we all tasted turkey and became seduced. Why it was turkey and not goose or duck is a mystery, it is a native of the America’s http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkey_(bird). Geese are found in many countries including Asia, Ducks are world wide. Perhaps again another example of the formidable power of the USA in influencing. Turkey it is then.

I searched and hunted and I think in the end, found a great, no, bloody fabulous bird, produced by the Ledoux family in Gippsland, free range, organic (genuine) and tasty. Judy Ledoux just told me that they supply just 4000 birds in any one year, she says that it keeps the quality high and allows them to be sure of it. She is the sort of supplier that we all need to find.

I am going to repeat myself… this is the BEST way to cook big bird.. (Nigella calls it that.. and good on her, she deserves a break)….

Brining Turkey’s is good, makes the bird moist, keeps a great flavor. So choose either the salt brine (for big birds like Turkey this is best) or the lemon juice method (best for smaller birds)… but do please give the high temperature a go. It will produce a moist crispy skinned bird.

Salt water/Sugar brine

You must start the evening before… the turkey must be fully thawed the bird should be submerged in the brine solution and preferably kept in a cool/chill (refrigerator) situation. It would be an 8 hour, no longer brine.

This solution should be enough for a 5 kg to 8 kg bird.

3 litres of chicken stock 275 grams of table salt 1/4 cup sugar (brown is best) 1 tablespoon dried sage 1 tablespoon crushed dried rosemary 1 tablespoon dried thyme 1 litre of iced water..

Bring stock, salt, sugar and herbs to the boil, allow to cool add the litre of iced water. and cool completely.

I like to use a clean plastic bucket that will hold the turkey easily with the brine. Place the brine into the bucket.

Wash and dry the turkey and lower the bird breast first into the bucket making sure that the cavities are filled with the brine. Place the bucket into the refrigerator over night. If the refrigerator is otherwise occupied, consider using a chiller or even a styrene box. Remove the turkey and dry completely. Make a mixture of Olive Oil, garlic, finely chopped herbs and pepper, rub this well into the cavity of the bird.

Salt and Lemon Juice.

The salt and lemon juice method is more for me about taste. I love lemon and I love what it does to foods. I also acknowledge that this method is slightly ‘awkward, but give it a shot.

Your object is to cover the turkey in lemon juice, generously and then also generously, cover the bird in salt. No, not a snow field of salt, rather a scattering, 7 kilo turkey would take about 1/2 a cup of salt. Having done both of the above, wrap the bird in plastic film and put aside (on the bench) for 45 minutes. This will allow time to heat the oven. Prepare a seasoning.

Stuffing or as we always called it, seasoning.

Cooking a turkey without stuffing is better. The argument goes that the stuffing will impede the heat from reaching the inside of the bird and make if more uneven in cooking. This is not something that I have ever suggested, I have held the view that the stuffing added to the deliciousness of the bird, but I have to reluctantly admit minus stuffing is better, is true. Your stuffing can be cooked separately and we suggest our new Persian stuffing mix.

High Heat Cooking Method

As a preparation for the cooking, remove the wing tips from the turkey and if you have been given the neck and the giblets, place them in about half a litre of water and cook for 45 minutes, use this to make the pan gravy.

Cooking the Turkey on HIGH heat is the best way. This method requires a bit of preliminary work… a very clean oven, a baking pan with sides no higher than 5 cm and nerves of steel. The cooking is done at 240 to 250 Celsius and the oven MUST be preheated. The rule is 18 minutes per kilo. For the first 45 minutes, no matter what, do NOT open the oven. Resist the temptation to baste. And cook the bird on a V trivet breast side down, don’t truss the bird. It will or should be brown and crisp and very moist at the end of the cooking time. After 45 minutes, take the bird from the oven and turn it over breast side up, return to the oven for the balance of time, still on high heat.  If the bird is getting too browned, cut some foil and make a double layer draped, but not tucked in on top of the bird, (remove the foil 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time) and continue cooking. For a near 7 kilo bird, the cooking time should be about 2 hours. The bird should be allowed to stand for 20 minutes after cooking, covered, but not tightly or you will loose the crispy skin.

Gravy

Make a gravy (sauce) but please no flour… just pour off as much of the fat as possible, add a couple of cups of stock (turkey stock if you have it as described above, if not chicken stock) and bring to the pan to a good rolling boil, this sauce is thin, but very tasty. The other option is to stir in a couple of big spoons of a very good Red Currant Jelly (PW brand is good and made in house) to enrich the sauce. Turkey sorted, now for the ham.

The Ham

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All I ask is that you get one full of taste, free from as much water as possible. The prices will vary between $8 to $40 a kilo. Be aware that you will get what you pay for, but also be sure that you have tasted the top end hams. Myself, I favour a ham from Bangalow but that is my taste memory from the days when Mum bought her ham, sliced from Swintons Your Grocer in Warrnambool. Why is taste memory always so good.

Glazing the ham is something that I like to do. There is a question about glazing with skin on or off. In my case it’s simple, I like to drape the turkey with the ham skin for the hot fast cook, removing it for the last 20 minutes to brown.

In which case… remove the skin. As a suggestion, don’t try and do this when the ham is chilled, it will work a lot better at room temperature (20 Celsius) or a degree or two warmer. Simple start to peel the skin back with a small knife and then, using your fingers, ease it right off. Keep for draping purposes. With the same small knife, cut into the fat and make a pattern, a criss cross is usual.

Bring the glaze to hot, but not boiling, using a brush, begin to paint the ham, allow to cool a little and coat again. Put the oven on to 180 Celsius and after it has reached heat, put ham in and cook for about 40 minutes. If there is some glaze left, pour it over the ham and return to the oven for a few minutes. Allow to cool.

The Rest

The stuffing should be made up according to the instructions, it is best cooked in a loaf tin, usually I would cover it in foil and add a little extra oil.. You can cook this in advance and simply warm it.

If you want roasted vegetables, do NOT cook them with the turkey, they can be done in advance, or as the turkey is having a rest after the heat of the oven, twenty minutes rest is suggested.

There you go…Now let me tell you the very good news, you can apply all of this to any poultry, the brining, the the high temperature roasting works really well on ducks and geese, it will remove a lot of the fat and you will end up with desirable crisp skin and moist flesh.

Felice Navidas, Buon Natale, Happy Xmas, it was all go. Years of being in food had left me a bit bad at the whole feast thing, it is some sort of subconscious thing that forbids me from nose diving into food and so, I sit back. I don’t like a piled high plate, so sitting there nibbling a bit of this and that worked well.

Dessert in the house fell a bit short of my personal festive season expectations, I like a plum pudding, I love a trifle, I love a big pavlova, I like a great bowl of chocolate mousse. Instead I felt like I was on restrictions, a fine thing for ones figure, but not altogether a great end to a festive meal. We live and learn.

In the run down, my biggest moan was that we did not have a Xmas cake… that luscious fruit filled cake that was then topped with heaps of icing. I think its essential. The logic was that since I am the only one who likes it and, the only one who should NOT eat it, problem solved. Bugger.

Mustard Sauce “Hovmästarsås”

6 tbsp sugar

Pinch of salt

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

4 tbsp of PW”s Imperial Russian Mustard

6-8 tbsp vegetable or olive oil

¼ cup chopped fresh dill

Pour the vinegar in a small bowl, mix with sugar and salt and stir until somewhat dissolved.  Add mustard and oil and stir until well mixed.  Cut the dill finely with scissors in a cup.  Add dill to the sauce and stir to mix.

The sauce is ready to be served and can be stored for several week in the fridge.

 

 

Char Siu Sauce/Marinade/Dry Rubs

•October 17, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Char Siu is a marinade that is used specifically for Pork. I have tried it on other meats, lamb is good.

The cuts used most are the belly and the eye fillet. In the case of the belly, the skin is removed and the belly is cut into strips about 2.5 cm wide and the length of the belly, in the case of the fillets, any connective tissues are cleaned off.

I like to try and marinade for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 48. Char Siu is a sticky, flavour filled sauce that needs time to penetrate the meat.

Use a zip lock bag and place the meats into the bag and a generous amount of the marinade, make sure that all surfaces of the meat are well coated and as much of the air as possible removed, place in the refrigerator for 22 hours or 46 hours, bringing the meat out of the refrigerator for two hours before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature.

Three choices for cooking… oven, grill or barbecue. In each case it is essential that the appliance be turned to maximum heat (domestic ovens take 20+ minutes to get hot). The grill should also be well heated as should the barbecue. Do not throw away the marinade from the bag, that will be used to baste after cooking.

For the oven… place a drip tray under a shelf that is at the hottest part of the oven, make sure the shelf is clean, place the pork on the shelf and close the door. It is hard to give a definitive cooking time, after 25/30 minutes you may want to test the meat, the eye fillet will be cooked, the belly pork not and will likely need another 25/30 minutes. Do NOT over cook, the meat should be sticky and brown on the outside and moist in the middle.

For the grill… you will need an exceptional grill that can be well heated. Place the meats on the oven tray over a drip tray and cook until done… turn as needed.

For the barbecue… traditionally this would be done in a Chinese style oven/barbecue (looks like a tandoor oven) with the meats suspended and the oven super hot…this has the effect of cooking the meat very quickly, leaving it moist and deliciously browned. The same method is used for Ducks.

Which ever way you go, please remember to baste the pork (or lamb if you have tried it) with the marinade/sauce after cooking.

Serve with rice and stir fried vegetables.

Barbecue Sauce/Marinade.

Owing much to the USA this is typical of the type of sauce that can be used two ways.

Way 1… is to use it as a marinade for up to 24 hours before cooking. This is purely to add flavour, it is not designed to tenderise.

Meat choice… in some countries, the meat chosen will be a large roast size weighing up to four or five kilos. Alternatively this can be used on steak sized or even on sates. The best technique is to have the meat in a zip lock bag and be well rubbed with the sauce, then allowed to rest in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Remove from the bag, cook as desired.

Way 2… the meat you choose can be rubbed with a dry rub, marinaded in any way that you desire, even simply given a nice rub with some good olive oil, salt and pepper. It is then cooked according to your choice and the sauce is used to paint onto the cooked meat prior to serving.

Rib Rubs.

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We are somewhat inexperienced in cooking this cut of meat. Yet it is cheap and often delicious meat that will be well worth us learning the techniques.

Wending your way through the choice of rib is a little fraught and you will need to decide if you are going to have the ribs running as ribs or be cross cut. They can be called long ribs, short ribs. The third way is if you are buying beef ribs for an Asado (South American) barbeque in which case it will usually be different.. for more information please research.

Two ways to use the rub… dry or wet, the classic way is dry. The method is very simple, rub the meat with the dry rubs and allow to stand for up to 24 hours (your guessed it… in a zip lock bag), it is not usual when cooking meats with dry rubs, to cook on high heat as this will burn thbe spices and turn them very bitter. If the heat is a high temperature, then be sure to baste the ribs with some oil to ensure that they seal and retain moisture. The oil will crisp them.

The second way is to mix the rub in with some oil and lemon juice (or even some wine… you are looking for anything acidic) and rub this into the meat, and again in that enless supply of zip lock bags, allow the meat to stand for 24 hours.

Ribs are traditionally cooked on an open flamed barbeque and this does seem to bring out the best flavour in them. Cook as per your normal barbeque method and serve with salads.

Bread… with a great recipe

•October 2, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Bakers Baking

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I am obsessed, so many things, so much to do and the days fly by. I am reminded again that one of my more developed obsessions is with bread and baking in general. I blame Iris Edna for this, she made me love bread far too much.

The king of the bakers in Port Fairy was of course, Little Tommy Digby of whom I have written often and who still looms large in my thoughts and food dreams, his contribution to my life of food and eating was boundless influence and even today I can still taste the pastry, the Neapolitan slice and the jam roll and the dozens of other cakes and breads that he made daily for Caddies in the back room with the great wood and gas brick ovens that gave such a special taste.

Alas the king is no more, retired to his fathers stone house at the East Beach and playing the organ at the church, his magic is passed on to others but they do not, as far as I know, have the same touch for the bake house as he did. Well at least not as far as I am concerned.

A magazine crossed my desk today, compliments of the peak body of the bakers of Australia. It made me very nervous and yet also reflective. Have I got the right to demand wood fired ovens made from brick, have I got the right to want breads that are made from superb flours with real yeasts and sour dough starters, have I got the right to demand from my local baker, cakes of great quality and taste, jams that are real, sugars that are free from chemicals. In fact the whole thing free from chemicals. I think I do, but alas I may well be alone in this, since most bakers these days seem not to be able to make breads from scratch, cakes from beginning to end. At least that’s the way the magazine sees it.

Lets look at this one thing at a time. Ovens seems like a place to start. Let me start with a question… why is it that Italian Pizza makers and Jamie Oliver all seem to think that a wood fired oven is essential to life and limb and, while I am at it, a trip by anyone to Costante Imports in Bell Street Preston, will garner you a small, but impressive (steel it has to be admitted) outdoor oven, along with some of the great Italian cooking delights, you will leave there with a much deflated wallet. The food cooked in these things does taste different, it has a more earthy, rich and round taste. Why is it that bakers who have been lucky enough to have found premises with wood fired ovens installed, cannot bake enough bread to keep up with the demand. But please, tell me someone, and I am prepared to be wrong here; are the stainless steel and glass, free standing, plug in, on wheels ovens of todays bake house any better/worse/same as wood fired or for that matter gas ovens?

Is this whole issue a little like the unwashed baking dish of my mothers past, made the best gravy and roast meats to perfection, roast potatoes that you would travel to eat. A clean stainless steel roasting dish is just not the same. But then again it can be me, I have noticed as I grow into maturity, a decided tendency to reject the new and spiffy and rely on the old clobber. Mind you there are some things that you just have to have, blenders, mixers, induction cook tops and oh, I would say about a million or so small, but in my case utterly essential tools and appliances which no kitchen of mine could ever possibly not have.

Turned the page and became nauseous. They are now introducing a bread that is made with gelatine. Gelatine is for Jellies. Claims that the bread is made much softer and delicious with the addition of this product. I could feel the spirit of Tommy Digby move at that moment, as if to haunt the page and try to expunge it from view.

So much flour is grown under less than ideal conditions and so much of the wheat and grain is grown with way too many chemicals. Its all about production and money money money. Its about way to much of our wheat and grain farms being taken over by multi nationals and using the same techniques as are found in the USA, developing mega farms. Bugger it, I want to see Australian farms left in the hands of farmers who have farmed and grown on them for generations, I don’t want to see us loose our quality and our standards. I am also alarmed to see that GM modified flour is fast becoming a reality and that is not good.

Google organic flour and you will be surprised to see how few growers and mills there are, it is not of major interest or impact in the over all sales and these would have to come from the bread manufacturers of the ubiquitous white sliced loaf, sold and eaten by millions, I don’t know that even amongst the artisanal bakers of bread, you could actually buy a loaf that is baked from certified organic flour. It may be that owing to some regulation and price manipulation, the cost of a fully organic commercial loaf would be too high.

But lets take a look at the operators of the bakeries in Australia. I am sure that in some there will be found men and woman who have served their apprenticeship and have learned their craft and cooking ability. I have in my possession a hotel training manual from the kitchens of what was the Victoria Hotel in Little Collins street. This hotel was the hotel that served the vast majority of country people who came to Melbourne for various reasons, it offered great clean accommodation and a dining room that specialised in foods similar to what would be found at home. It boasted an almost self sufficient kitchen and amongst the things that they did was to bake their own bread. The manual covers all the steps and moves in detail for not only bread, but cakes, biscuits and deserts. It is, by any standard a revelation and should be used today by the many bread shops which dot the landscape offering mediocre food and called by themselves, artisanal. Indeed it may well be an art, but it certainly lacks the taste and food values that, as an indulged fellow in a town of just 2000 people, came to accept and expect from the three bakers in town. I wonder what sort of courses are offered and their content in the food teaching facilities today, are the young bakers required to undergo some sort of formal training, or is it a matter of learn as you go on the job, you wonder how much learning is needed to simply add water and stir well to the ‘bread mixes’ that are supplied by head office. Mind you to know just what is in those mixes would also be of enormous interest.

Sadly we have become a society that accepts that mediocre is good enough, that bread the like of which I grew up on is no longer widely available and that should you be lucky enough to have a great baker near you, then you are going to pay extra for the bread. Complain bitterly I say, bitch and moan and you will get good results. Do not accept second best, maybe the odd time, specially in the area of human relations, but when it comes to food, no way. Or bake your own bread…

1 kg bread flour (slightly higher Protein content)

780 mil water

20 grams salt (I usually add 1.5 desert spoons of cooking salt)

1 teaspoon dry yeast

1 level dessertspoon of sugar… no more.

Put all the above into a container (I use a 10 litre plastic bucket with a lid) that you can leave it in overnight. Use the handle end of a wooden spoon and mix until all is combined. The mix will look lumpy. With 20 minute intervals … wet your hand and pull the dough from the corner (4 directions) into the middle, stretching well. By the end of the fourth round, your dough will be silky smooth and a little on the wet side. Put it to sleep overnight.

Turn your stove on to 240 Celsius and put into it a lidded cast iron casserole pot. The idea is that it should get as hot as the oven. Meanwhile sprinkle a little flour around the perimeter of the container, release the dough and do a bit stretch of the dough upwards and fold to the other corner, this is called stretch and fold. Do this for all 4 corners, twice. Wait until the pot and oven have reached heat, remove the cast iron casserole, sprinkle it well with flour, carefully lift the bread into the pot, replace lid and return to the oven. Cook for 30 – 35 minutes with the lid on, remove the lid and cook for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack. Simple, delicious and rewarding.

Poverty Giving & Nature

•October 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

We have just seen the absolute destruction that can happen with almost no warning, one minute sitting with family, the next fighting for your life in a swirling whirlpool of stones, bodies and debri. And then all around you is death and destruction, not even any way to get food. Happens in an instant,

I had many conversations with the people of beautiful Pangandaran in Java, wonderful simple people living their lives in a region of great beauty and abundance. Then a piece of the wall of the Sunda Trench broke off, followed by a terrifying Tsunami and in a second, all was destroyed and hundreds of people dead. My Friend Erin said it was like being in a washing machine of water mud and rocks. Few had the strength to survive it. I only saw the devastation after a year or so and even then it was absolute.

I wrote this a year or so back, but it remains true today with the addition of a messed up political situation in Australia and a world dogged by men of little compassion and a lot of self greed. Things can only get better.

Poverty, pass the biscuits!

Jen asked had I seen a short film on an Indian man who was feeding the poor… Nuhuh, I am such a goody goody two shoes, think I am doing ok with my one or two donations of food and money for the poor each year.  Well I am not, by comparison to this man, I am not even close.

Watching it squeezed my heart. I’ve been to India, I have seen the poor, desparation, hunger. Felt it, specially in the young and the old. Seen kids who maim themselves so they can beg. Seen the old dragging themselves through one day to the next, just so they can die with some dignity. Yet I have managed to walk away.

This man could not walk away, he shames me.

Sometimes we all feel down, bit flat. Upset when politicians muck up, upset when we see the way life is, food is. Deep in avarice, unable to control our lives. Lost so much. Forced to chase the dollar, just to live. It’s not easy.

Yet, we have never faced this, never faced not knowing where the next mouthful of food is coming from. I remember an Indian kid I met in Dharamsala during a visit to prop up my ailing philosophical beliefs. Little kid, maybe 9 or 10, begging. Been begging for years. his begging supported his family, Mother and sister. He had no place to sleep. He said it was only difficult at night when it was cold. It gets very cold in Dharamsala. Dharamsala is knee deep in Buddhist monks and nuns, maybe that was a good choice on his part. It truly rattled me for a day or so, I recovered, picked myself up.

Same trip I ran into a girl I had met in Australia at a Buddhist centre, she was experiencing life on the streets in India with nothing. somehow she had lost everything, passport, the lot. She said she lived by doing a bit of sewing, she was good at it and it brought in enough for some rice. It was a puzzling, confronting experience. Westerners were supposed to be helping Indian poor, not the other way. At the time I may have justified it by thinking things like karma. Maybe I was reminded of one of my mothers sayings.. ‘there but for the grace of god go I’. I wonder what happened to her.

Raised C of E, became Buddhist, caring sharing, travelled in Asia, seen the tough side of life, big family, lost and gained, weight and money. Worked hard, still do! Don’t feel like I have over indulged in the hedonistic side of life. I am shamed that I do so little.

How do I change, overcome the fear. Could I, would I be brave enough to do what this man does, would I ever be able to find the courage and strength. I doubt it. I might fool myself occasionally by thinking that my one or two good deeds are sufficient. They aren’t, barely touch the sides. Maybe I sustain my own self belief by comparing myself with others. But that’s an odious practice, means you judge others. If I look at the world around me in Australia, I will see little but people trying hard to live, keep up with debt and hold their jobs. I will see reflections of me, looking in a mirror.

Writing about this stuff is an apologia.. not real. A way of holding back the real issues, putting some space between, keeping the enemy at bay. A salve for the wound, a paste over the heart. In Buddhist teachings, wisdom and compassion walk hand in hand, the path of the saint, the Bodhisattva. It tells me that I am no saint, not close even.

And then the news today, ten thousand, maybe more, have lost their lives. Lost hope, lost homes, lost every damn thing. All because of a huge Typhoon that blasted in to their region and reeked havoc. We were spell bound that this was the biggest weather system ever recorded to make land fall. We seemed to not be aware of the massive human suffering that would occur, or in fact even that concerned. Just so long as it did not touch our own happy lives.

Well, it does.

I have a couple of Filipina friends, I got an attack of the panics, as the Super Typhoon started to make land fall, I worried. Fired off a couple of electro-contacts and crossed my fingers. One of them had managed to haul himself out of the swirling all consuming poverty of Filipino life, the other hadn’t and I was constantly trying to help him. Everything I ever did for Joven resulted in some sort of failure and the number of times I had been forced to rescue him from a variety of horrible situations and get him home to the relative safety of his sisters house, was staggering. With Joven’s luck, he could have been standing on the beach as the typhoon approached, convinced of his survival. I don’t think he even got my electro-message, I just prayed that he was inland with his sister and not once again ‘trying his luck’ in a world that simply did not understand him.

In all this madness, all this life in a world that demands more and more, becomes more confusing, less human, less caring, lets raise a cup of tea to all those people on the planet who can’t keep up, who are poor, who struggle with life. Lets spare a thought for the kids who will never know anything but a life of hard work and poor reward.

Lets celebrate life, for all its greatness and horror, it may often not be nice, it may be extremely difficult, but it remains an amazing thing.

BBQ

•July 31, 2018 • Leave a Comment

BBQ

The joy of exploration of the dozens of cuisines now in this country, the pleasure at discovering something new. My only prayer is that we do not end up like the confused cuisine of the USA …  Please!!

Two different sides of the planet are amongst the most enthusiastic alfresco (outdoor) cooks of meats, poultry and fish (and occasionally vegetable) using items that can assist, add flavour both during and after and also work to tenderise meats. The America’s both North and South and Asia. I don’t want to get into an argument here… let me be the first to acknowledge that the countries of the Mediterranean on all shores also have some excellence in this area. Many western countries, Australia included, often fall a little behind in this area. Have you been to a BBQ in tropical climes lately? It may be important to differentiate between Barbecue and cooking over charcoal as is normal in many Mediterranean and Middle East countries.

There are two ways to consider sauce/marinades/rubs, one is to add flavour, the second is to help with tenderising. The America’s have a way with meats, think the Asado of Argentina and Brazil, think the BBQ’s of the South of the USA and the way that this form of cooking, very foreign to us since we seldom use smoking in cooking, has such a hold all the way through the USA. On a personal note I confess to not being a great lover of smoked meats, light smoking, so long as it is NOT by some damn awful machine or a liquid smoke, can be good. Cooking entirely in smoke, with the possible exception of foods like fish, I simply find too aggressive.

USA.. There are two very specific styles of meat BBQ cooking, one that uses a smoker, the other not. The essential difference is that for cooked, non smoked foods, the food is always marinaded before cooking, basted with the marinade as it cooks, basted again when cooking is complete. This will result often in meats that look very glazed, tender and with a sweet finish. (This is an interesting thing, because of the amount of sugar in the marinade, a higher quantity of salt is added, in the end perhaps not great for health) The smoke cooked meats are not usually subjected to so much marinade, but are instead cooked for much longer times until a very tender stage is reached and then reglazed with the original marinade. (Note: there are numerous types of smokers ranging from cold to hot) The longer cooked larger pieces of meat and poultry are most often found using the dry rub method. Rubs are occasionally treated as state secrets and handed down from father to son with the recipe never revealed. There are some popular rubs that are usually named after the cities or areas in the USA where they originated.

It is fair to say that some other countries have a tradition of smoking foods, Japan being one. Smoking was also used extensively in the old world as a means to preserve foods and is still found in less advanced societies used for that purpose.

Rubs are not something that we have used a lot in Australia,

we have only started using marinades of any kind in the past 10 to 15 years, prior to that when meats were cooked outdoors, they were traditionally cooked until they resembled charcoal and were often considered inedible (Charcoal is bitter and yet I must confess that if I am offered a piece of BBQ’d steak, then I want it crispy charcoaled on the outside and bloody inside. Lamb chops that are cooked on a hot bbq where the tails get all crispy are delicious). The next step was the introduction of indoor alfresco style grills mostly based on gas and volcanic rock and these encouraged the use of basic marinades, mind you its fair to say that Volcanic Rock did become unattractive after a few cooks, I can’t remember if it was possible to wash them. I remember for example a boned leg of lamb that was ‘marinaded’ in plum sauce and then cooked slowly over an indoor bar grill. As I recall it was delicious, but not what we now think of as barbecue.

It was the advent of the migration of people from the Mediterranean and Asia that awakened our interest and showed us the pleasures of foods cooked with care using even simple marinades like a good olive oil with herbs and perhaps garlic. At much the same time, Cajun foods took many peoples interest in the restaurant area and the first of the American influences began. Cajun cooking was all about the use of a dry rub, which was often then mixed with pounded onion. It is only in the last couple of years that people have begun to explore the world of rubs and realised that the spices, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper found in so many rubs and often teamed with a drop or two of lemon juice, can be so enticing.

Asians have long known that meats that have been bathed and allowed to both absorb flavour and tenderise (Pawpaw or Papaya and Kiwi Fruit, one is said to be able to tenderise up to 3 kilo of meat… are great tenderises of meats, as is Nashi pears, used a lot in the cooking of BBQ meats in Korea) and have developed the techniques according to the regions and countries, with occasional boundary hopping that sees for example Chinese techniques in Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Singaporean foods. It is historically interesting that the influence of countries like Japan and Korea have not much ventured beyond the boundaries of their own lands. One of the most delicious of these is Char Siu Sauce, a method for cooking pork that produces meat that is both tender (it is often belly pork or one of the fillets) and delicious.

It is regarded as a barbecue or roasted food because of the way it is cooked in the extremely hot Chinese style oven which produces heat similar to a tandoor oven of India, the difference is that the foods being cooked in the Chinese ovens are suspended with hooks and usually do not touch the sides of the oven, in India and Middle East, foods cooked in the Tandoor are often cooked on the sides of the oven (breads for example) and the meats and similar are cooked on long metal skewers that are allowed to stand on the base of the oven. This style of cooking uses enormous heat, the result is the food is cooked fast, retains moisture and becomes deeply coloured. It is possible to replicate this in domestic ovens, but time must be allowed for the ovens to heat up.

One of my favourite all time lunch orders in Asian restaurants both here and in Asia is a mixed plate of pork, Char Siu and Barbecued pork belly with crispy skin. (ok ok… and a plate of stir fried vegetables) The Crispy Skin Pork is rubbed with dry spices and cooked at the same extremely high temperature resulting in richly tasting pork with great crackle. When you get this with Char Siu pork, its somehow delights the senses. Mind you it is also wise to order a plate of stir fried vegetables to counter the excess of meat.

Vietnamese have a rich tradition of foods that are first marinaded or basted. Then subjected to cooking. It is not common for meats to be cooked over an open flame, nor is an oven a common cooking method (except in the North where Chinese influences are stronger) but an oven like method is created by lidding the wok and trapping the heat. Thai food is the same, in that cuisine much emphasis is placed on the proper balance of sweet, salt, sour along with ingredients to lift taste. Malaysian foods are a strong mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences, in the north where peninsular Malaysia meets Thailand, the influence is Muslim Thai. Grilling on open flame is much loved amongst the Malays and my all time favourite is the way they cook fish. Most Asians are content with small fires which do not require much fuel.

The point is that Asia does have a vibrant tradition of using marinades and spice rubs to enhance and tenderise!

In the Mediterranean the simple truth is that it has been done for thousands of years and is much loved as the primary way of enjoying meats, poultry and fish, It is also fact that the use of marinades has been part of the cuisine for all that time. Simple things like lemon juice, great olive oil, wild herbs have all been used to work their magic. Its very strange that we have developed away from that form of cooking in Australia, preferring the cooking range or stove as the common way. I suspect that in many cases this has also become the reality in most Mediterranean countries where the constraints of time and living, simply do not allow for the lighting of wood or charcoal fires. The cooking of meats done in the old way is some thing that has been relegated to special occasions.

When Elizabeth David researched her first book on foods from the Mediterranean, in Italy she could only find one spice blend, this was made from Juniper Berries, Nutmeg, Pepper and was used mostly on grilled or roasted meats from the Northern parts where the pines produced the berries. Prior to that, reaching back into the deeper history of countries of the Mediterranean, meats were often cooked with a lot of things like pepper (from India and North Africa) and the extensive use of fermented fish was common. This was often accompanied by sour wines (the precursor of vinegar) and the result was a very pungent mix. Honey featured widely in these marinades. Resulting in a very strongly flavoured protein. This sort of food was the province of the rich, most average people’s diet was very heavily based on grains. and pulses. Very little of this style of cooking remains today as the basic tastes were simply way beyond what we now accept as good taste. However that said, there are echo’s and these can be found in the extensive use of fermented fish (read anchovy and Balacan) in things like fish sauce  and stir fries from South East Asia.

Spain has given us Adobo and with the Spanish conquests in the new world, this recipe (name) has followed. It is now found in many countries and seems as much loved today as it was years back. It is essentially a spice blend along with vinegar that is added to meats before cooking. There is a note here, the word Adobo was also given to a dish that is native to the Philippines and in fact has nothing to do with this spice mix. The Filipino dish is meat stewed in (coconut) vinegar with spices, similar and since Spain ‘conquered’ the Philippines, there is a similarity. The Spanish love pork and so the majority of meat cooked alfresco in Spain is just that. It is important in both the Spanish and Filipino dishes, that you understand that preservation of meat was of great importance before the days of refrigeration. In the case of the Filipino dish, it was the combination of acid from the vinegar and salt from the soy, that did the job. In the Spanish case it was the addition of salt to the vinegar that prevented bacteria forming. Two other points, vinegar when cooked loses some acid (see the French Bistro dish Chicken cooked in red wine vinegar. And in the cooking process stock is added to modify the vinegar.

https://www.davidlebovitz.com/chicken-in-red-wine-vinegar-sauce-french-bistro-recipe/

Spanish Adobo Recipe https://www.yummy.ph/recipe/spanish-adobo-recipe

Filipino Adobo Recipe

https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/filipino-chicken-adobo/

The Middle Eastern countries are experts on cooking meats, poultry and fish on the BBQ, wars have been started and fought over techniques. The Lebanese could argue with the Moroccans and even the Libyans when it comes to this form of cooking, but in the end, it has to be said that most of the countries of the region have great foods to enjoy with this method of cooking, many use the spice blends of their region as flavour base. Baharat is an example. There are many spice blends of the region, most if not all can be used to add taste to meats with the simple addition of some oil and an acid, usually lemon juice. Think the kebab found all through the region.

https://goo.gl/bDJ3Gw

 

Birth and Death

•July 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Birth, Death and a lesson… welcome Sylvie Clare

Another death, unexpected, unwanted, but irrevocable, the great Wheel of Life. I am in constant mode of remembering, confusion, fear and oceans of doubt. We all approach the great karmic moment in our lives with a million swirling emotions.

I have known Olive Savage for many many years, she is the mother of a dear friend and the loved matriarch of a family who adored her. Tom Savage had died many years back and in the years after Toms death, Olive lived alone and took care of herself in an active and rich life.

I was chatting about her to my friend just a week or so before, she was saying how much Olive was living a full and interesting life and even at the age of 90+ was in her own home and taking care of herself. Such a hero. And then she up and died.

The counterpoint was the birth of a grandchild. We welcomed Sylvie Clare into the world and our family.

I watched television yesterday, a show about a young man of 36 who for all his life had suffered badly with a rare disease that prevented him from excreting waste. His life had been a succession of operations, long stays in hospital and relentless pain. He had made the decision to end his life. It was painful viewing but in the end, although not a happy conclusion, no miracles, he had what he needed, permission to end his life in Switzerland, should he choose. And yet he chose not to take that step, not yet.

Could hardly have been more poignant!

I became a Buddhist so many years back, its sort of clouded. I spent a few intense years in study, meditation, practice and I suppose I still do, just in my own way. What tripped me up and sent me back to the life I had created was a lot to do with organisational bureaucracy. I could not stand being in the local brass band when I was kid. But leaving the safe cocoon of institutional Buddhism never impacted on me. The essential truths are deeply implanted.

The first course I ever took with my Buddhist teachers was on Death and Dying and very profound it was too. It took my long held (yet quavering) beliefs and wrenched them from my being. All that heaven and hell stuff, spread before me demanding that I justify it by subjecting it to rigorous logic and debate. In the end I was forced to scatter it to the winds and take another look. Buddhist logic is all about never accepting anything until you can prove it by debate. Death and Dying is something of a challenge.

In the end I came away from the course with some sort of structure and a firm understanding that what I was came straight from cause and effect. It changed my life and continues to do so.

And yet, the emotive, even overwhelming sense of life and death is a challenge. As you grow older, life takes on more intense meaning and you struggle to make sense of it. Letting go, holding on, all bunched up. You look at what you have and realise more strongly than ever that stuff, money, possessions is not what or who you are, they are simply a means to an end. There is a tendency to shrink your mind, to become more and more self focussed and then, one day you realise that this is not the way, not the path. The path is beyond you, beyond your family, beyond your friends, it is embracing and finally accepting that you and the entire universe are simply one, indivisible, pure. And at death, when your mind embraces death, you, with love and compassion in your heart, enter the cosmos.

That’s the theory at least. I had a friend in Canberra, a fellow Buddhist. Kevin got cancer, he was a fighter, but more he was a long term Buddhist who even spoke Tibetan. He was a strong, quiet man. Kevin was an inspiration. When things started to look like they were not going to end well, I went up to Canberra to be with him and his wife for  few hours. We chatted and hung out for a while and as I gave him a hug and a kiss goodbye, I think we both realised the likely results.

I rang Marion over the next few months as Kevin battled on and on. He called on all his teachings and studies to keep his mind controlled and he calmly and with amazing strength and dignity, showed us all how to die as a Buddhist. Marion’s strength and mine too came from Kevin.

A whole life has passed since I first met Olive Savage, forty plus years of packing in all manner of living, raising a family, business, moving, building houses, pursuing a religious dream. I travelled in that time, first to India, then Italy and much of the rest of Asia. The map of my life in hindsight looks selfish, indulgent as I pursued life and living. I looked back today at the life map and suddenly I could see many connections, many sameness. People who like me, had chosen to pursue dreams. I dragged my wife and children along with my dreams and occasionally I am pleased to hear that they are not unhappy that I did. Many ways, it bonded us, made us strong, Honest with each other, deeply caring and committed, bound with love. Looking back, its not hard to believe that I would do it all again. No change.

Some would say I relentlessly followed my own path, didn’t care enough for my family. And yet I look at the world today and I see a lot of people who have chosen to stay in, not to venture out into the world, to develop and grow their attitudes by vicarious means, not to experience, to stay safe. Who can blame them in todays violent world, a world that threatens and destroys. A world where children are seen as sex objects and women get gang raped. A world where religion controls and perpetrates wars. Where even brother is set against brother because of belief, money or power. Where love is no longer seen as the universal panacea, where greed and avarice are valued above life and living. Why should simple people in third world countries trust anyone, specially when the very government that is supposed to protect them, takes their land and livelihood in order to give a wealthy developer more money.

I look back and I suspect that the people of my generation could well have been the last of a era. A time where some mutual respect remained. I saw that even in a hippy filled India where locals, tourists and seekers could and did get along. Where people explored new and different religions, ways of living, health and medical care, growing and living without harming or destroying the earth. We sang songs together, danced and ate together, we learned from each other. There was no way of instant communication, no way of sitting at a screen and watching bombs targeted at buildings we were assured had no humans present and we watched as the bomb hit and the building explode. Events occurred around this ailing planet of ours and we saw them moments later. We built ourselves huge houses, we all have a car. We began depleting the resources of the world. We started to destroy the the very planet that sustained us. We listened as politicians assured us that we were wrong, that climate change was not with us, that it was quite alright to genetically modify fruit, vegetables and seed crops, that animals we ate were raised in feed lots, cement bunkers and never felt the warmth of the sun. Never knew the power of green grass.

We came to accept that by some means, we could have it all, could continue to treat the earth badly and not be concerned for the future, that we would live in houses that the cost of the bathrooms alone could have fed the starving and dying children of some inconsequential country. That the same inconsequential country was controlled by western powers either for their own financial or strategic gains. That we were not guardians of planet Earth, merely along for the ride and anything else we could grasp, enjoy, pillage along the way. That generations following us would surely accept that we meant no harm to planet earth.

I think the great law of cause and effect will one day bite back. The Buddhists called it the Wheel of Sharp Weapons and they are. There is no quarter given and none accepted. The cause will engender the result and that is that. The earth may one day just shrug, and civilisation as we know it, will end.

And I keep asking, have I done alright, am I a decent custodian, have I left a good place for my grandchildren, is Sylvie Clare going to be able to live on and in a safe and sane place. Maybe not, but then her parents, one of whom is the result of my own machinations and the other similarly raised, are the sort of people who will at least try and correct some of the wrongs that we have wrought and allow their child the grace to live in a harmonious and loving way.

Beef Brisket

•July 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

BEEF BRISKET

First thing, watch the pricing. I have had prices ranging from $9.99 to $24.00 , the best medium price is $13.99 per kilo, this from the butchers at Box Hill shopping centre, they are Asian and actually do cut down a whole carcass. Bet your butcher does not do this, bet he/she buys it in cryovaced!! I should point out that most Brisket will come with a goodly layer of fat, this is necessary to bathe the hard working meat as it cooks. It is not usual to cook the Brisket dry as a roast, but to braise in a covered pan. Recipe below.

images-3

Let me add a rider… I checked with a Kosher butcher in Melbourne and the cost per kilo is $34.50, that because the meat was high end and then had to be Koshered.

Brisket was not something that my mother cooked, she may have cooked it diced as a stew or braise (Mum rarely used the word Casserole) the concept of long slow cooking was not alien, it was thought of as normal. The idea that a piece of meat could be cooked hot and dry with no fat was completely laughable. Meats were cooked in accordance with how hard they worked on the animal, but none would have been deprived of natures gift of some good fat. Slow cookers, cast iron cookware, microwaves were all either non-existent or in short supply. Mum had a sturdy set of saucepans, a collection of frying pans, a soup pot and baking dishes. Several cake tins, some tins for cup cakes and slides for biscuits. A few Pyrex presentation dishes would have been it. Her options were governed by supply and demand.

Even though my family were butchers did not mean we ate top quality tender cuts on a daily basis, far from it. The customers always came first and we got what was left over. Mum would on some occasions (the weekend roast) command a certain piece of meat. As I recall, the pattern was often sausages and chops, a stew or braise or two, Saturday was casual and might have been a pie or pasty or even some of her own sausage rolls, a sandwich or two. Saturday nights dinner would be a soup. On Sunday the roast dinner was essential and on the table by 12.30 pm, finished and then off to the bowling club by 1.15 to catch a start of 1.30. If Mum was in a church going state of mind, then the meat would have been in the oven, the vegetables prepared and sitting in saucepans. The potatoes peeled and in water with strict instruction to my father to put them in with the roast by 11 am. the tomato and onion savoury to go in at the same time, just lower down the oven as it did not need so much heat. The meat would be removed from the oven on Mums return from church, a gravy made with the rich dark pan juices and should the roast be beef, then the oven would have been turned up to high and a Yorkshire pudding popped into the preheated tin she had for the purpose. Dad would have been anticipating its removal from the oven all high and golden brown and crispy. Lamb was a simple matter of making a mint sauce from the abundant mint in the garden.

Back to the Brisket. It is from the front chest of the animal, see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brisket

For deeper understanding.

It has a good layer of fat and is a working muscle, it is composed of two sections and is often sold either one or the other. It is not normally considered for roasting or grilling, but even this can be done. See

https://www.wikihow.com/Cook-a-Brisket

Some suggestions about cooking a Brisket.

Brisket USA style is a piece of meat which has very little resemblance to what it started out as, it is so heavily spiced that the outside become burned black with the crust (called bark) I have seen it topped with a whole bottle of some sort of chilli sauce (think like tomato sauce + Chilli) cooked on onion, carrot and celery and then bathed in 2 litres of tomato juice it can go on and on. It seems that the meat is the least consideration and the animal that supplied it, none at all.

My preference is the long slow method, but I am not up for anything too highly spiced or flavoured. I prefer to allow the meat to be the star. Part of the issue I have with USA barbecue is the excessive use of flavours and spices, too much sugar and too much salt, to say nothing of mouth numbing amounts of chilli. The important thing is to consider your own taste and act accordingly.

Steak & Onion Brisket.

1 piece of Brisket, about 2.5 kilo (will feed six to eight)

Salt and Pepper to rub into the brisket

2 large onions cut in rings

1 bottle of red wine (what ever you would drink)

1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon of tomato sauce

6 cloves of garlic peeled and left whole.

Oil for frying.

Use a heavy based lidded pan, a Le Cruset style dis is great. Put on to heat and when hot, add the oil. Gently lower the brisket (that you have rubbed with salt and pepper) into the sizzling hot oil and cook for 7 – 8 minutes per side until a nice caramelisation is achieved, remove meat and put aside. Add the onions to the pan and cook until they are browed and melting. Return the meat to sit on top of the onions, add the remainder of the ingredients, if the wine does not come up half way on the Brisket, add some stock to lift the level. Place in a 150 Celsius oven for 4 hours.

After four hours remove from the oven, remove meat and put aside covered. Remove as much of the fat from the top of the liquid as possible, place on a hot gas and cook until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened.

Serve mashed potato and cabbage. Try simply frying the cabbage in a little of the oil removed from the meat, not too much and no other liquid.

 

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French Bistro Brisket

Serves 6 to 8

1 slab (about 3 pounds) center-cut beef brisket

4 slices thick bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slivers

24 pearl onions, peeled, or 6 small onions, peeled and quartered

8 medium-size carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces, plus 2 carrots, peeled, trimmed, and finely chopped

1 pound small red or new potatoes, cut in half

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup Cognac

1 bottle (750 milliliters) fruity red wine, like Beaujolais

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon chopped chives (optional)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Trim any excess fat (more than 1/4 inch) off the brisket.

Place the bacon in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and cook until browned, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a platter.

Add the pearl onions, carrot pieces and potatoes to the pot, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook until browned (about three minutes), stirring often. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the browned onions, carrots and potatoes to the platter with the bacon. Lightly cover the bacon and vegetables with aluminum foil — they won’t be added back to the pot until the brisket has cooked for three hours. Pour off and discard all but about two tablespoons of the bacon fat from the pot.

Very generously season the brisket on all sides with salt and pepper. Place the brisket in the pot and sear it in the hot bacon fat over medium-high heat until darkly browned, about five minutes per side. Transfer the brisket to a plate. Pour off and discard all but two tablespoons of fat.

Add extra two chopped carrots, second chopped onion, celery, garlic and bay leaves to the pot and cook until browned, about four minutes, stirring often.

Add the Cognac and let come to a boil, stirring up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot with the wooden spoon. Return the brisket to the pot. Add the wine and tomato paste and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven. Cook the brisket until semi-tender, about three hours, checking once or twice to make sure the meat doesn’t stick to the pot or scorch on the bottom.

Remove the pot from the oven. Uncover the pot, and using a large spoon, remove and discard any fat floating on the surface. Stir in the bacon, browned pearl onions, carrot pieces, and potatoes. Cover the pot, return it to the oven, and continue cooking the brisket for 1 hour longer.

Remove the pot from the oven. Uncover the pot, spoon off the fat again, and return the uncovered pot to the oven. Cook the brisket until it is very tender, some of the pan juices have evaporated, and the sauce starts to thicken, 30 minutes to one hour more. Remove the pot from the oven and let the brisket rest for about 10 minutes.

Again, spoon off any fat that has risen to the surface. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and thinly slice it crosswise across the grain.

Place the pot with the sauce and vegetables on the stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Boil the sauce until concentrated and flavorful, about three minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste; the sauce should be highly seasoned.

Return the sliced brisket to the sauce and vegetables. Sprinkle the chopped chives, if using, on top. Serve the brisket French bistro style directly from the pot.

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