A Clattering of Dishes

A Clattering of Dishes

The Country Women’s Association seems to never had quite the acclaim that it should. Well in my opinion anyway. There is a problem in the food world. We have become complacent and accept that which we are told (and fed) by food gurus, restaurateurs, supermarkets and manufacturers. Its all wrong and we have lost the essence.

I find it unbelievable that people would get excited about being able to make a cake without opening a packet! That cooking something from our past food history is either regarded as completely unacceptable because it is somehow perceived that a food from say 50 years back, is over fatted, over salted, over sugared, over spiced or just plain bad for you, Or greeted with acclaim! This is all becoming a nonsense.

We seem obsessed with eating from the four corners of the globe, with every possible twist and turn, and yet seem to have scant knowledge of the foods from the countries we visit in our kitchens. The USA has developed food cultures, the foods of the South, the Jewish influence, the Italian migration all have defined areas of influence.  Can you define an Australian food? God knows there are whole organisations sprung up that are desperately trying to define and convince us that a true Australian cuisine exists and that it is also dependant on the region and the terroir. I am sorry, but I remain as yet, unconvinced.

This all came about from me watching a few European cooking shows in particular a show with two Italians, Antonio Carluccio and Geraldo Contaldo called Two Greedy Italians…


This show encapsulates for me the sense of place, of people who know their food, of locals who enjoy all that their region and the restaurants and cooks of their area offer. Now I am sure if the truth be told there are many places in Italy where food and cooking is just as confused as the restaurants strive to gain more and more of the tourist dollar and thus offer foods that are not essentially part of their norms.

Take a look and have a read about French food. I have recently read some autobiographical books by Australians in the food business, one in particular who has in some ways dominated the food and eating of Sydney siders and who recently went through a very difficult financial problem. Reading his story is both interesting in the development of food in this country since the 1950’s and yet sad as we see the often fraught struggles by Australian chefs to have French food as the centre of their personal universe.

Review – Tony Bilson “Insatiable”

Let me start by saying that I was born in the same (almost) era as Tony Bilson, a lot of what he talks about in his early years in Melbourne resonates with me. Bilson reflects the times we lived through, the stirrings of new food awareness in Australia, the need to learn and to know, the players in the fields all pursuing change as indeed change swept in from all directions. ‘Insatiable’ reflects Bilson’s passion for food and wine and his unceasing search for the best. He is clearly a driven man. It also highlights the difference between the cuisine that had developed in Australia (very UK centric) and the foods of Europe lead by France, Italy and Spain. Bilsons many trips and the reverence with which he meets French Chefs is a little cloying. Its hard not to be a bit sympathetic for Bilson’s partners as they took a back seat to his pursuits. Bilson’s struggle with his over indulgence of fine wine is eye opening. There are few people who in their life time can be said to have contributed as much as Bilson has to the eating and drinking habits of this country. His writing style is a little indulgent as is his prose, but then if a book is about your own life, how else do you write it.

Published by Murdoch Books and widely available Aud $39.99

Its reasonable to acknowledge that the French have developed their own foods in ways that make them the master of a certain cuisine style, but it is also not unfair to say that very often the acclaim in which certain chefs in France


(mostly men I note!) are held, has made for a cuisine style that is now beyond the pocket of most, has lost simplicity and purpose and been relegated by many to being irrelevant in todays food world. Of course it isn’t if we look at what the French have given to cooking, its clear that without them and their influence and the joy with which even the most ardent non cook in France, approaches the table, we would not enjoy much of what we eat today… Mayonnaise, Béchamel and on and on. Note too that in Europe, meat is getting way beyond the budgets of many people and even that is impacting strongly on the eating habits of ordinary people. It is also fair to say that this was always the case in the past, hence the growth years ago of preserved meats, sausages and general charcuterie which enabled everyone to enjoy meats apart from providing a way of preserving food for use later.


The Spanish and Portuguese approach food in a very different ways. Look at canned food for example it is almost in complete contradiction to tinned foods in our own country. The Spanish put only the very best in the preserving process and the quality of the canned products is amazing and completely trusted. The Spanish also have a very strong attitude to regional foods and work hard to protect tradition. I would be completely amazed if a Spanish woman was to cook from Thailand tonight, The Middle East tomorrow night, Greece the following night, Indian curry on the following and then topped it all off with Roast Leg of Lamb and three veg with brown gravy. The Catalan cooks will cook foods of that region, the cooks of Seville, from there and the Andalucians from that area. It may be true that Spanish food is influenced by the foods of North Africa, but that has long be subsumed into the local food style of Spain.

There are a number of issues to contend with … influences, knowledge, cooking and confusion. Lets start at the beginning.

Influences in the past were what we knew, what was passed on to us by watching our families cook, what we learned from others as we grew and started to explore foods. In my own case, when I came to Melbourne I met people from other countries, Italy, Greece, the UK, Holland and even a Swiss family. It was exciting and began for me a way of life that remains undimmed as I have wandered through the years. Underpinning all that I have learned over the years is what I guess is called basics. Its the wheelhouse of the kitchen, how to make a white sauce, the techniques for baking, how to buy and cook meat in the way that my family have done for years. I suspect that knowledge is something that needs to have some sort of foundation, something that locks it into a place that allows you to fly as you experience all manner of life’s lessons.

It has long fascinated me that when I dream of the foods of my youth, my families table, I recall simple foods, simply cooked which depended on the quality of the base ingredient, the choicest cuts of meat, the best vegetables butters and cheeses. The seasonal fruits and the vegetables which every year my father would tend with love and care, the eggs and the occasional fowl that would grace the table. My mothers foods were not complicated, yet in every way delicious.

In the era of my childhood such things as pasta and rice rarely if ever made it to our table. My mother simply did not have the ability to use these ingredients, I doubt that in her long years in the kitchen that she ever cooked pasta or for that matter any noodle dish at all, they simply did not feature as foods to be eaten at that time. Rice did make an appearance, but in tiny piles to one side of an otherwise unspeakably awful yellow curry which in effect could have been anything, but most likely was beef. The fact that my mother made this awful concoction which, I suspect came from a recipe handed on to Mum by one of her many friends, possibly from the bowling club. That and tripe were the only two things that were part of Mum’s repertoire that I found completely horrible and would, given a chance avoid eating. Tripe I simply refused to even taste, the smell was enough to turn my stomach.

Learning at the side of someone who knows instinctively how to do things and passes it on is great, you get to understand the dynamics of cooking, the inner workings. Perhaps that’s why I am always attracted to books and television shows that are about the everyday food and not about the high flyers, maybe that’s also why I am not very enthusiastic about cooking shows that are always about food style, where fourteen year olds cook complicated food that they have not the slightest idea of the etymology of food.


Knowledge comes from simply doing it… As I said in the above paragraph, a child or a monkey can be trained to make and do complex things, but it does not mean they know about it, they are just trained to do it. What we need is to base our knowledge on a platform of real experience and then build.

Cooking seems to have become more of a challenge today as we create and build kitchens that are technologically impressive, but lack the warmth and comfort of say my own kitchen where I can explore my food obsessions without worrying that I may destroy some aesthetic of the pristine space. I know its impossible to recreate such warm and glowing kitchens as say Julia Childs


and to equip every kitchen with the likes of 


But dear readers, try, it will be a life changing moment and the rewards for all concerned, phenomenal.

Confusion is all about be pursuaded by those in whom you put your trust (example Master Chef) and believing every word they say. Confusion is about following the dictates of others like the pursuasive spin doctors who control the worlds of the supermarkets and who, if the press is to be believed, are hell bent on the destruction of much of the infrastructure that has be part of their own supply chains. My beliefs about the impact of these spin doctors and the deleterious effect their endless persuasive ways in pursuit of market share and greater profit, is hardly printable. Suffice to say that in the end, we need to follow our own well educated palates, we need to regard our bodies as temples of a beneficent god, feed our family what will keep them healthy in a world that is increasingly aggressive and thoroughly enjoy the experience of food eating, buying and cooking.

Recipes… I am including here a few basic but excellent sauce and mayonnaise recipes, these are gifts to us from the great chefs of the UK and France and show clearly the debt we owe to them. I beg you o learn them and urge you to try them for appropriate dishes.

English Salad Sauce

*Don’t sneer until you have tasted it, it does have some merit.

*Its great with a potato salad with a splash more oil.

*Goes well with cold fish.

*Someone invented it in 1845.

Boil the three eggs for 9 minutes from when the water comes to the boil, cool the eggs under running water and peel, keep the egg whites for something else, you are only using the yolks.

Place the yolks in a bowl and add one tablespoon of cold water and crush them to a paste, add a pinch of cayenne pepper plus 1/4 tspn of salt and work it in.

To this mixture add 150mil (5floz) of thick cream bit by bit, working it in well, when you have got all the cream in, add 4 tspns of white wine vinegar and work that well.

It should have the consistency of thick cream rather than mayonnaise and you can change the seasoning a little if you want to.

Basic Mayonnaise

*This is a no cook sauce that is done by emulsification.

*Have the eggs at room temperature.

*Make sure that the bowl is very clean and dry.

*You can allow 1 egg yolk per 175mil oil.

*Use the best olive oil you can, take no notice of what anyone says, it does taste better

*There are vast numbers of modifications you can make once you have masted the basic sauce…aioli (garlic mayonnaise) herbs, cream, hard boil eggs, gherkins or cornichons, shallots, tomato chips and on and on.. the choice is only limited by your imagination.

*Try some Thai flavours, it make a great change.

*Try some chilli and coriander in the mayonnaise, use orange instead of lemon juice.

*Add some mustard seed and use brown sugar.

*Try some dill weed.

*You can do it in the blender.

2 egg yolks at room temperature

sat and pepper

2 tblspns of white wine vinegar or lemon juice

Dijon mustard if using

300 mil (10floz) of extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, begin to whisk the egg yolks with the salt, pepper and half of either the vinegar or lemon juice.

When the eggs are beginning to thicken, start to add the oil, this must be done in a very slow, steady stream…slow, slow, slow….don’t rush, whisk well all the while until the oil starts to become absorbed (its called amalgamated) into the eggs, once it has started to thicken, you can proceed a little quicker but the oil must not get ahead of you. Whisk in all the oil and add the balance of the liquid, adjust seasoning.

Use the Blender

The blender method is simple, place the egg yolks, vinegar or lemon juice and a tablespoon of oil into the blender, process until it is thick then open the top with the machine running and add the rest of the oil in a slow continuous stream, turn off the machine when it has all been amalgamated.

Basic Béchamel

*This sauce is the basis for so much and so many other sauces, you have to master it.

*Thin béchamel is used as a glazing sauce.

*Thick béchamel is the basis for soufflé (just up the flour and butter to 30gr each).

*Cheese sauce is made by adding cheese to the basic sauce (parmesan or gruyere is best).

*Cream sauce is similar but substitute cream for some of the milk.

*Mushroom sauce is made with the addition of mushrooms that have been sliced and fried.

*Onion sauce is made by adding onion that has been baked to a soft puree.

*Tomato sauce is made with the addition of tomato puree and a splash of vinegar.

*Curry sauce can be made by adding some curry powder.

*Oyster sauce, used to accompany steak is just the addition of some oyster juice and a couple of egg yolks along with some poached oysters.

* Experiment yourself, try some Italian flavours such as basil, oregano, chopped sun dried tomato, turn it to any cuisine you fancy by using flavour bases from the country in question.

250 mil (8floz) milk, make it hot and if you want to, you can infuse the milk with onion, peppercorns or a bay leaf

22gr (3/4oz) butter (unsalted is best but if you use salted, you may not require any additional)

22gr (3/4 oz) plain flour

freshly grated nutmeg.. this is not essential but is classic

salt and pepper

In a saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the flour, use a whisk, it’s easier, put the butter and flour back on the gas and cook for about a minute, this allow the flour nodules to open.

Take off the heat and slowly pour in the hot (strained) milk whisking well all the way, put back onto the heat and keep the wick moving about, a figure 8 is said to cover all the saucepan, it will thicken quickly.

Taste for seasoning and add the nutmeg, salt and pepper.

To keep from getting a film, you can either put a piece of greaseproof paper on top or float a little melted butter, which ever you think is better for you.

Veloute Sauce

*This is one of those classics that you see in recipes all the time.

*The sauce is made from the poaching liquid, often a court bouillon, that the main dish has been cooked in.

*You can be very innovative with additions to this sauce, chopped herbs, chopped cooked spinach, mushrooms, mustard, vinegar and sugar.

*This is the method for making some of the fish sauces made from the shell of fish such as lobster.

*The famous egg and lemon sauce of Greece is made with this method.

*Corned beef juice works well with this sauce, add some sugar and mustard to make a great sauce

375mil (12floz) of stock or liquid from the main poaching liquid

22 gr(3/4oz) butter

22 gr(3/4oz) flour

salt and pepper

The technique is the same as béchamel, butter in the pan, mix in the flour and add the stock whisking well all the time.

You will see that the stock from a poaching liquid often is quite fatty, try and avoid too much fat if you can.

Basic Vanilla Custard

500 mil (16floz) of milk that has been infused with a vanilla pod over a flame for 10 minutes and strained (don’t fuss if you haven’t got a vanilla pod, try and get some great extract of vanilla, not essence, but essence will do if all else fails)

5 egg yolks (keep the whites for a batch of meringues or a dessert of floating islands later, you can even serve the floating islands on this very custard)

60gr (2oz) sugar

Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar together until it is thick and has changed colour to a paler version..3 – 4 minutes of hard work will get it done, then pour in the warm milk, whisking well all the time.

Return the saucepan to the heat and heat gently, if you are nervous, do this over a pot of boiling water, it may be safer. It will begin to thicken and its ready when your wooden spoon can have your finger drawn over it and the path remains clear.

Don’t overcook the sauce, it will curdle… You cannot save it if it does, you have just made sweet scrambled eggs.

* Add some melted chocolate to the vanilla custard for a great chocolate sauce.

* Flavour it with your favourite liqueur… don’t add quite as much milk.

* Orange zest to flavour the milk has a great taste with a splash of sweet sherry.

*This is the basis for Bavarian creams.

* It will keep in the refrigerator for 2 days and can reheat in the microwave on low.

* It becomes much thicker when it is cold.

~ by peterwatson on May 21, 2012.

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