Saturday, July 31, 2010

Torbreck Woodcutter's shiraz 2008

What a welcome home. I will hardly need dinner: there's eating and drinking in this wine. Concocted purely from blackberries and not from grapes, if I'm not mistaken. I close my eyes each time I take a mouthful to make sure I don't miss anything.
Now I'm really looking forward to Mena's birthday trip to the Barossa. There is a wine tour company there called Life Is A Cabernet. With a name like that, who could resist?

fill up on wine

I just spent three weeks in Ireland, enjoying the availability of lots of wine I don't normally see: Argentinian, Chilean, Spanish, Italian, French. We can of course get non-Australian wines here, but the range in your average off-licence can be limited, a bit like the range of Australian wines you can get in Europe. So back in Ireland I loved quaffing lots of Chilean merlots, French Côtes du Rhônes, and excellent Spanish riojas, tempranillos and valdepeñas.
Back in Dan Murphy's yesterday, I was re-stocking my woefully empty shelves. This picture was taken of Dan's fine wines section. The rest of the warehouse is full of cheaper wines, beers and spirits stacked high.
You can see from the signs that the wines are displayed in order of state of origin. Along the walls are foreign wines, mostly French and Italian, fortifieds (both domestic and foreign) and rarer, more expensive bottles.
The wines lying flat on floor display are then stored below on the square shelves for selection. Each of those display bottles is a different wine from a different producer. It took me over two years to venture outside the three or four aisles of local Victorian wines: why would I? There are literally dozens of wineries within an hour's drive of my house.
I am fortunate to know the owner or chief winemaker of a handful of wineries personally. I am always tempted to return to their familiar wines but I make a concerted effort to try new bottles, especially after the Melbourne Food and Wine Show when we have the chance to try lots of new producers.
This time I chose half a dozen durifs from Rutherglen - three Campbells and three of The Bruiser. I threw in three bottles of my weekday favourite, Tar and Roses, a Heathcote shiraz (well, it's Mount Macedon next week and their over-the-counter selection isn't fantastic). Then I went completely mad, ended up in the South Australia aisles and selected three Torbreck Woodcutters shiraz from 2008, which has superstar written all over it. Can't wait.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

punjabi kitchen king masala

We are lucky enough to have a great Indian supermarket nearby in West Footscray. Along with freshly-made vegetable samosas, Hindu statues, Bollywood DVDs and Indian crisps and snacks, I can pick up proper Parachute coconut oil for my hair, rose water for my face, karahis and masala dhabas for the kitchen. And, of course, whatever spices I want.

One of my favourites is Punjabi Kitchen King Masala, which I picked up one day without knowing what it was. A mixture of coriander, chilli, turmeric, cumin, dal, fenugreek, pepper, salt, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mustard, garlic, mace and asafoetida, it has a really decent kick to it without additional chilli, and turns your food a lovely golden colour.

Mangal do a good one but there are other brand names around. Perfect for barbeque season, you can marinate fish, shellfish or meat for literally a few minutes and they chargrill up a treat.

For lunch I quickly tossed some black mustard seed into a hot pan with some olive oil, added some fresh tiger prawns and kitchen king masala when the seeds started to pop, then threw in some quartered cherry tomatoes in there when the prawns were cooked. I served it all up with some fusilli pasta instead of rice, but if I'd had some naan bread nearby that would have been perfect too. It was ready in less than three minutes. Divine.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

chorizo and tomato salad

Serves four as a light meal, or six as a meal accompaniment


1 raw chorizo sausage (approx. 225g), roughly sliced
Olive oil
3 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 handfuls (270g) of cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
Sea salt and black pepper
Sherry vinegar
Small bunch of parsley, basil or mint leaves, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

Bread to serve

Optional: goat’s cheese or manchego cheese and pata negra or parma ham


Fry the sliced chorizo in a pan over a medium heat with a lug of olive oil. Stir it with a wooden spoon occasionally while you prepare your tomatoes and spring onions. Put them in a bowl with a good pinch of salt and pepper, a lug of olive oil and a splash of sherry vinegar. Sprinkle over the chopped leaves, toss everything together, then set aside.

By now your chorizo should be getting crispy. Add the sliced garlic to the pan and keep it moving around. Before the garlic starts to burn take the pan off the heat and pour in a small splash of sherry vinegar. Stir, then spoon the chorizo and some of the flavoured oil over the salad.

Toss the salad and serve immediately with bread, cheese and ham on the side.

Mairead's seafood chowder


500g marinara mix, or make your own mixture of prawns, scallops, mussels, calamari and anything else you wish
250g white or smoked fish
750ml of fish stock (preferably fresh)
250ml of skimmed milk
1 tbsp olive oil
4 medium potatoes
1 small onion
1 stick of celery
1 carrot
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric (if desired)
Fresh parsley finely chopped

Finely chop all the vegetables except the potatoes and fry in the olive oil until well softened. Stir in the turmeric.
Meanwhile chop the potatoes into very small chunks (peel beforehand if you wish).
Add the fish stock and the potatoes, bring back to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are well cooked.
Chop all of the seafood into very small pieces (however small you think you want them, chop them a bit more).
Add the skimmed milk, and immediately add the seafood into the pot. Simmer for 30-45 minutes.
Sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and serve with proper Irish brown or soda bread, or if not available a decent pasta dura bread will do.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

chowders I have known

A week in Connemara. A week of fresh seafood, especially seafood chowder. You may think that New England has the market cornered in good chowder, but you'd be wrong. The west of Ireland has it all sewn up.

We were miles from the famed Moran's of the Weir in Clarenbridge, or Monks of Ballyvaughan, but the bars and restaurants of the west coast of Galway held their own admirably. Our first foray was up in Verdon's of Letterfrack, after a morning's scuba diving which had us weirdly craving chowder and chips. We sat outside in the summer sunshine, savouring what was the closest thing to a Manhattan chowder we had all week. Tomato-based instead of creamy, our bowls were full of chopped local mussels and generously sprinkled with fresh parsley. The crown bread was fresh and the chips were fresh, not frozen. The brown bread was shop-bought but on the positive side it was McCambridge's. An excellent start.

On the same day, another group of us lunched at Ballynahinch Castle near Clifden. There, the chowder was more of a bisque, a smooth soup with no lumps in, just a handful of fresh mussels in the half-shell. Those who experienced this one had not discovered the joys of dunking freshly-fried chips into a good chowder, so we cannot record here how good Ballynahinch's french fries are.
A cold, blustery day saw us take refuge in Glynsk House for a late lunch. There, the bar menu served up a lovely creamy chowder, with plenty of celery, carrot and tomato, and with more than a hint of turmeric in there, and perhaps the tiniest pinch of curry powder. The use of dill instead of parsley was interesting and fresh. Sadly, Mum (a legendary chips expert) announced that the chips, whilst piping hot, were made from frozen. Marks lost. However the brown bread was served as big fresh scones, obviously home-made. Marks gained.

Glynsk House's sister establishment is Cashel House, a couple of doors away from our holiday home. Our last dinner of the holiday started - of course - with chowder, but despite being a related restaurant it was quite a different bowlful. No turmeric or dill this time, plenty of vegetables, and both white fish and salmon along with mussels. Chips were good and fresh, but no brown bread, just a white dinner roll.

Tigh Chathain in Cill Chiarain served us up a fish chowder - not a mussel in sight. Creamy white and laden with white fish, smoked fish and salmon, it was accompanied by generous basketfuls of fresh pasta dura and white soda bread. Chips excellent, fresh and chunky. And all washed down with an entertaining and informative chat with the barman about the day de Valera unveiled the sculpture of Padraig O Conaire in Eyre Square in Galway.

So, finally we come to our final chowder, in the Galleon Grill in Salthill on our way home. This one was almost white it was so creamy, but it didn't tasty as rich and creamy as expected. Mostly white fish and salmon, with the odd shrimp and scallop. It could have done with a little more salt but that's not a complaint, as often soups and chowders can be overly salty. Fresh brown bread scones and proper fresh chips. Marvellous.

All of which prompted me to try my own very first chowder today, just to help me re-integrate into Australian society. A decent potato soup made with fish stock, plenty of shrimp, chopped calamari, mussels, white fish and smoked cod. I did a Glynsk House on it and chucked some turmeric in there too, with plenty of chopped parsley. I simmered the pot for a couple of hours and baked some of my own Irish brown bread scones, and if I say so myself it was a bit of a triumph.