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.

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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.

https://goo.gl/omE4gN

 

Liquor France and desire

•June 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Call me old fashioned, call me yesterdays man, tell me I am an ostrich, I am all of that, I am maybe lots more as well. But I think that what went on yesterday and the day before and before that made us and what makes today richer and more real is our history. What makes the future exciting is not to lose what we were, but to add to it, make it better.

I came from an era when, in my memory, life seemed at least a bit more civilised, slower, more graceful, less immediate and much more time. I spent the best part of my life without a mobile phone, no means of instant gratification, (well, some!) no computer and a lot more time to live. Nothing wrong with today, nothing wrong with instant gratification, so long as we never forget how to live. It seems that we are once in a while prone to the push and thrust of todays excess. It could be said we drink far too much wine, without all that much discrimination. We are occasionally tossed here and there as we bow to the pressures of the latest information, butter is good butter is bad, meat is good meat is bad, eat more vegetable and on and on. In the end it may be possible that confusion has arisen and we lose a sense of self.

Dinner parties and life and living when I was in my ‘salad days’ were very different affairs, we enjoyed food, we had the advantage of Julia Child and her Mastering the Art of French Cooking 1 and 2. We definitely got it, we ate well and drank well. My wine education was not gleaned from the ministrations of great wine makers, there were not that many, rather we drank cheap and cheerful (looking back) wines from glass flagons and that was quite OK. More importantly, the wine formed a part of the whole, we also enjoyed a pre-dinner cocktail, or two, a fine tummy settling après le diner drink with our coffee. I can honestly say it was a rare thing that we rose from dinner pissed. But once in a while, as of need.

In todays world where those of us who appreciate quality and style, struggle a little to overcome the shortness of good product, minus the invasion of chemicals, must constantly forge forward to ensure that what great products were, are still there, untouched and untrammelled by the rushing crowds. Its this that motivated me to pursue making liquor the old way, lots of time, no chemical and allowed to grow and develop the rich depths of flavour that I so admire.

It is amazing to note that in the world of Vodka, Vanilla in particular, only one company apart from us, uses real vanilla, the rest use flavours. Good flavours made by old companies, but in todays world, not made as they were by long distillation. I’ve tried some of the flavonoids, they are good, just not the same.

I love a great Cream de Cassis, so delicious and so good in the kitchen, so many things you can do with it. What I hated was the slightly artificial, down market taste that had evolved with it. Cassis is a noble thing, born from the first frosts of the end of summer as the black currants matured on the vines, lovingly caressed by the ‘water of life’ as they gave up their richness, colour and verve. Kir Royale is a kingly drink, Kir is something that we commoners can enjoy at any time. What makes it so special is the divinely inspired Cream de Cassis. So we made some!

I made Gin, I have always loved a fine refreshing G and T, even miles in the sky, a Gin and Tonic can do wonders, settle the nerves, refresh the soul. I made it the old way, long long soaking of Juniper berries and other spices, even some orange rind and then distillation. I liked it, it had depth and a lot of oomph. It had something old fashioned about it, a mystery. It was a bit like the Dutch gins. But I got gazumped, I realised I had created a bit of a monster and that people (the gin drinking public) did not want intense rich flavours, but the more American style and London style that were lighter and less pronounced in botanicals. I of course had also created a Gin that was never going to be cheap. That’s put on the back burner awaiting a further look.

Alcohol is a fascinating thing, it is, for good or bad an entrenched part of life and living, it is not about to go away. What is sad is that it is frequently abused, cheapened and diminished. Take a look at the whole Australian experience with Sherry and Port, it is, not to put to finer point on it, diabolical. The Sherry is unspeakably bad, cheap and drunk by whole brigades of wino’s. When you place it up against the refined elegance of the Sherries of Portugal and Spain, you soon see the difference. The Port produced in Australia, with some very few exceptions (Galway Pipe is not totally shabby) is horrid. It is expensive to consume great Port and so its hard to blame the public, but it is time that the local producers were given a vicious slap on the wrist for the sins they have perpetrated. I note that one of the larger manufacturers of ‘fortified’ wines has gone from business.

Having a son who has embraced the world of making wine, I am delighted that he approaches his task using sustainable and organic and is restrained in the use of chemical. I am told that it is almost impossible not to use a little. As for me I will continue to fight the good fight in food and wine, doing what I can to be sure that the standards we have are not diminished, but continue to grow and become better and better.

I made a Béarnaise Sauce. Its not hard or complicated. It requires little or no great knowledge and fear need not come into it. It started, as things often do by greedy desire. I watched a show on the style of the French. And let there be no doubt, they do have style. The every day dressing, the living and the eating, amazing. Its all about personal style and the ease with which they do it. Food is simply expected to be the best, butter, meat, fresh organic vegetables, great cheese and a good glass of wine.

Not to be eaten to excess, but most certainly to be enjoyed. It was fascinating to see one of the French commentators saying as she was tucking into a large piece of steak and some pomme frits with a good red wine and followed by some very handsome cheese (with bread, NEVER with those vile biscuits), that she would need to compensate by cutting down on eating for the rest of the week. There was no suggestion she would not enjoy the things she loved, butter. cheese, wine, cakes and great bread. just less of it.

France has adopted into its own cuisine, foods from the countries it has conquered or occupied, North African food is common in France as is Vietnamese and also food from around the Mediterranean from regions with shared boarders. France’s influence on food is amazing and important as the styles, methods and ingredients permeate the world of eating. Frequently one must say, with horrible results as techniques are shortened and not properly used. Buy yourself a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking volumes 1 and 2.

In the world of day to day France, it is expected you will buy and eat fresh bread a couple of times a day, that when you pick up your bread, you may also pick up a delicious (as opposed to the bloody rubbish we are offered in bread shops) cake to be enjoyed. You will call by your cheese seller on the way home to collect a piece or two of the some hundreds of great cheeses. You will not arrive home in a state of agitation, or if you do, you will calm down with a small aperitif. You will enjoy the experience of cooking food and relax as you eat and drink. One glass of wine, a piece of cheese to finish. Simple, delicious and done with style. Its also the fact that French tend to like regulated eating hours and seldom vary from them, they enjoy dinner at 6 pm with most kitchens closed by 7.

The overwhelming sense is that it is both expected and done with ease, is not forced, it flows. We seem to have lost that, we live very stressful lives filled with anxiety, rushing headlong into a life not filled with much grace. A life that sees us under a great deal of pressure, never enjoying the good things of life. That’s just sad.

The confusion can come from a multitude of issues, way too much advertising bombarding us constantly until we no longer have enough confidence in our own abilities, but need to be lead along by lifestyle specialists, television cooks and a great deal of no knowledge. It is interesting that most people I know in the food business have little time for celebrity chefs, food shows and lifestyle food programs. In the opinion of most, the public are not benefiting from this vicarious experience, learning little and rarely ever translating into action. (Having said that I have just had a conversation with an ex Deli for 20 years owner who is now working in a foodie outlet in Coburg… she says that among the staff where she works, the cooking shows are well watched and frequently followed. She also says that she sees people in markets with lists of ingredient) I could be wrong… the jury is out.

When you have conversations with people who care about food and actually enjoy food in all aspects, they have well established basis on which to ground their eating habits. It may come from their home kitchen, it may come from a cuisine style (like French). What seems to be the case is that most are not deeply swayed by fads and food fashions, obviously they will try them, they will seldom allow the advertising and celebrity cooks influence over the day to day eating of food. This seems to be the way of the older European countries where the food of the country is deeply entrenched.

The French and indeed the Europeans do not have the same issues with meat that we are experiencing, it is consumed by most Europeans every day, perhaps not in the same quantity that we do, also it seems that discrimination of meat is not a dead art, but one that demands the best you can afford. This is an area that we have grown away from, we are not as discrimatory as we once were, we are driven by the dollar and what it can buy, it could also be said that we consume too much meat. On the other hand, the way shopping has evolved, its hard to blame anyone choosing a $14.00 whole chook over a $35.00 whole chook bred by the daughter of a food queen in Adelaide.

So long and thanks for the fish

•October 5, 2017 • 1 Comment

 

So long and thanks for all the fish…

 

There are times when the prospect of a Vogon super highway blasting the earth into mini matter, seems like a plan.

 

I adored Hitch Hikers Guide to the gallaxy. I also adored Douglas Adam’s work and then the bloody man up and died. If it is not abundantly clear to you by this, we need Adams more than ever. The world is very short of Adams like folk. The past had produced them in volumes, even in this far flung bit of the empire. We had some genius creative artisans of pen, brush and batton.

 

The world is being Trumped, ironed flat, homogenised, financially flattened, religiously terrorised, food diversifed, motorised, in general it’s a little tough keeping up.

 

Bring on the Vogons… it can only help!

 

Nostalgia is a dreadful thing, painful, dangerous. Thinking about a batch of scones, a passionfruit sponge, a roast dinner or for that matter, steamed fruit pudding with lashings of creamy custard. Fear is the enemy of nostalgia, the antidote. Fear makes you shrink away from fat, sugar and carbohydrates. Fear and television make you run around like a headless chook not knowing what to eat. Not until some food guru has added his or her imprimatur. Or a celebrity chef or would be CChef has wept, gnashed their teeth and spent hours using a list of ingredients that are beyond comprehension, cooked it and made you feel deeply inadequate.

 

Of course no imprimatur is worth the paper/time it is written on, or the computer it is uploaded to. Fact is that it is fleeting, butter is good/bad, eggs are good/bad. Think what has been done to tomatoes to enable world markets to sell them, who gives a fig about taste. Think what is done to the fruit and vegetable growers by major supermarkets imposing size, shape, colour but no mention at all of taste, in order to present perfectly tasteless fodder to a non discerning public, who have been seduced into believing that if the shape is good, taste follows.

 

God knows I have tried, fought the good fight, been up and down every new food fad, even started a few before I decided that celebrity sucked. I now seem to have reached a time in my life that makes me long for the things of the past. The simplicity, the (thought of) good flavour. Think blackberry jam, apricot jam. I now have to travel to Tasmania to find fruit that makes pies, jams and preserves taste like they did in my salad days. But why? Why should I have to endure a Tasman crossing on a boat that is not completely charming (think bogons and unruly young folk and not a lot of style). My father’s garden in Port Fairy produced abundant fruit of exceptional flavour, we hunted for wild blackberries, stalked paddocks for mushrooms and looked for wild fennel at the State School.

 

My rural idyll is in Gippsland’s rolling hills, in the past I am assured they grew wonderful stone fruits, they don’t now, it all went cow shaped and the bum fell out of that corporatised mess and many farmers are now scratching their heads and ordering lambs. I asked a few, what about making cheese, what about value added farm grown fruit products, what about fishing. Looks of bewilderment soon cross faces. The ‘new’ way is farmers markets, sadly not working in my region. After wading through the litres of home made (badly) jams, hand stitched this and that’s, there is little on offer. I am reminded of how wonderful the rural markets of France, Italy, Greece and Spain are, how wonderful are home made cheeses, preserved meats, freshly caught fish and such a great variety of fruit and vegetable which all fill the stands. How in some regions of the Med, you can buy edible weeds, so much deliciousness my mouth is salivating. Sadly, perhaps it is the name, perhaps the local health authorities. We are a narrow minded, narrow focussed bunch these days.

 

This is a sample of the requirements for selling food in a road side operation… wee bit daunting.

https://streatrader.health.vic.gov.au/media/41816/running-a-market-stall-in-victoria_2016.pdf

 

My way would be different…

 

Markets in the country would be called Rural not Farmers.

Adequate food/health regulations, but not overbearing.

Local growers both in town and country should be encouraged to participate.

Meat should be included in the market.

Fish should be included in the market.

Preserved meats MUST be included.

Preserved food of all kinds to be encouraged.

Local cake makers and biscuit makers.

 

Timing, every week, doesn’t have to be a weekend, just must be weekly. The local retailers of market product need to be invited to participate. Don’t invite the involvment of local authorities, council etc, they are bound by regulation that is ever growing since something, anything must be done to keep our civil servants gainfully employed, what better than build huge fences of ever more complex regulation, shows how clever they are and how much the public need you!

 

Perhaps what I would not encourage…

 

Sewing bits and clothing (not appropriate)

Hand made furniture and bits (not appropriate)

Old bits and pieces (not appropriate)

Plants and seedlings (not quite appropriate)

 

Lets see what we can do, in conjunction with the Vogons.