Sunday, February 28, 2010

slow food saturday

Dinner with friends: the perfect excuse to spend a quiet Saturday doing what I do best. Focusing on food.

I was up and at Victoria Market by ten. A bit seedy after a glass or two too many the night before, I kept the sunglasses on despite the heavy cloud. For once, a sea mist was blanketing the city in blessed coolness, the humidity was high and it smelt like Ireland.

Vic Market was buzzing, as it always is. I strolled down the lines of produce in the fruit and veg shed first, comparing prices, tasting locally-picked fruit, getting sidelined by things not on my shopping list. The sellers shouted out their prices, competing with each other. Bananas $1.50 a kilo. I remember after Cyclone Larry when they went up to $15 a kilo. Seems like forever ago.

Laden already with plums, grape tomatoes, fresh basil, cucumber, sweet yellow chillis and mushrooms of different sizes, I headed for the meat department. Again the rows of perfectly-presented meats made me second-guess my menu plan. Perhaps it's not too late to choose steak? Perhaps I should make hamburgers with that lovely mince? (it was the debut of our new barbecue after all.)

No. I steeled myself and kept walking down to the seafood. I browsed the counters, looking for the best prices, the exact tiger prawns I wanted, nice butterfish (which is not sold everywhere). Scallops winked at me; sushi-grade tuna begged to be bought and I capitulated. Something for me and Orlando, not this evening's guests. Back to my usual butterfish man, I bought too much, knowing I would want leftovers. Two kilos of fresh shelled tiger prawns with the tails still on - perfect finger food - and I was done. Almost.

Over in the deli building, I quailed at the increasing weight of my various bags and rued my decision not to bring my wheelie trolley. Who goes to the market without a trolley?? Hungover me, that's who. Plump Ligurian olives won over skinny kalamata. Bocconcini won over a more substantial piece of mozzarella. A sourdough baguette won over the other fifty or so breads on offer: this is always the hardest decision.

Last stop the chicken place for nice locally-produced free range chicken breasts, to round off the feast. Lucky I remembered.

Laden like a pack-horse, I sank to a seat in the food court with a strong flat white, two sugars. That's better. A trip to Dan Murphy's for wine and rum, and Safeway for a handful of remaining ingredients, and back home to take over the kitchen.

Half the prawns I marinated in a mix of red chilli, garlic and Punjabi Kitchen King Masala. It's my favourite for shellfish and a real crowd-pleaser. The chicken was cut into more manageable pieces and coated simply in Italian herbs, garlic, a touch of chilli and green pesto. The butterfish got the Walkerswood jerk seasoning treatment.

Meanwhile more chicken was quickly browned off with some vegetables and slow-cooked in the oven with some of John's seasoning. John Maughn is our friend who is a food wizard and his home-grown and produced seasoning is the best Caribbean flavour you can find. Seriously addictive.

A sit-down, a cup of tea and a Creme Egg later, I tackled the Greek salad and prepared the ingredients for an Italian pasta salad: grape tomatoes, bocconcini, fresh shredded basil, more pesto. Vegie skewers were constructed from yellow chillis, mushrooms and more grape tomatoes. The table was set and the mossie coils in place ready to be lit: all done.

The evening was a success. Two bottles of divine Brown Brothers 2002 Patricia Shiraz, and two more of Stanton & Killeen's Rutherglen Shiraz Durif (2007), washed down the feast. The barbecue acquitted itself well, as did the chef. I thank you. Eileen's cheese platter, Robyn's handmade chocolates and Orlando's orange muscat and flora rounded off the evening in style.

Evening the washing-up went swimmingly.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

it's Pancake Tuesday!

The day before Lent begins means a stack of pancakes for lunch and more after dinner. Or that was how it was when I was a child.

I would come home from school for lunch and Mum would have made a big stack of pancakes, frying-pan sized, made from freshly-mixed homemade batter. Simple: flour, eggs, milk, beaten until smooth then poured into a frying pan spoonful by spoonful.

The first one was always less than average. The frying pan was never hot enough, and the skill of pouring just exactly enough batter to make a thin pancake forgotten since last year. The second one was always better.

A perfect pancake was extra-thin, it filled the whole frying pan and it was cooked just long enough to give it dark brown grooves of caramelised loveliness on each side.

There was no messing about with exotic toppings in our house. This was a pre-Lent ritual, designed to get all the flour, eggs, sugar and butter used up before the fasting began. Each pancake would be spread with butter, sprinkled with a liberal amount of sugar and finished off with a good squirt of lemon juice. The three toppings would mingle into a sweet-and-sour liquid of perfect viscosity.

Mum always stacked the pancakes one by one, topped individually as described above, then when the whole stack was done she would slice them into wedges like a cake. Personally I always preferred to eat my pancakes whole, rolled up, with butter, sugar and lemon juice added fresh each time. This is how I do it myself when I make pancakes in my own house.

Anybody else doing Pancake Tuesday? Anybody got any other family rituals you want to share?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Bajan sweet bread

This is a lovely cake/bread from Barbados.


125g butter
1/2 teasp coconut essence
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup coconut
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
300g sour cream
1/3 cup milk


Grease a deep 23cm round cake tin.
Cream butter, essence, and sugar in a small bowl until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time until combined.
Transfer to large bowl.
Stir in half the coconut and sifted flour with half the sour cream and milk.
Then stir in remaining ingredients. Stir until smooth.
Pour into cake tin.
Bake in moderate oven for 1 hour.
Stand five minutes before turning onto wire rack.

Monday, February 08, 2010

five memorable meals - are you in?

At dinner a few weeks ago with Sam, Amanda and Mena, our conversation revolved around food and its significance in our lives. We recalled memorable meals with family or friends, favourite restaurants, unusual or particularly good food in far-flung places when travelling.

Our conversation sparked further thoughts in my head about how food has such a strong place in our memories, connecting us with significant events, people or moments in our lives.

So I would like you to have a think about the five (or so) most memorable meals you have had in your life, and why you think they hold such a special place in your memory. It could be a simple rustic lunch of bread and cheese on a park bench on the side of the road in France, or your first Michelin-starred dinner as a proper grown-up. It could be alone when travelling on business, or in the heart of your family at Christmas or on a birthday. It could be home-cooked, shop-bought or served in an eatery. The link is its significance to you.

I think the trick might be not to think too much about it. What are the first images (or aromas, or tastes) that go through your head when you think about this? These are probably the places to start.

I shall deliberate upon my own list this week and share with you here on this blog. In the meantime have a think about your list, then either write a post on your own blog, or a note on your Facebook page, and make sure you share a link with me so I can collate all the responses. Or email me if you wish and I can add your list to my blog.

Just jot down a few words about when and where the meal took place, who you were with (if anybody), what you ate (which can be in detail or very brief, depending on how you are remembering it) and why you think this particular event is so memorable to you. Be as brief or as lengthy as you can: it's the stories you are telling that I am interested in.