Friday, December 3, 2010

The Great Aus/NZ Pavlova Stoush - latest episode

Well it's on again. This morning in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald hackles were raised on this side of the Tasman by the announcement that the Oxford English Dictionary has proclaimed the Pavlova a New Zealand invention (something the Kiwis have been claiming for decades while the Aussies make equally strident claims for it). Part of their logic for this was apparently the fact that " claimed the dessert was first recorded in New Zealand in 1927 in Davis Dainty Dishes, a publication of the Davis Gelatine Company."

As the SMH's go-to "leading expert on pavlova" (I wonder if that's what it says on her business cards) Dr Helen Leach correctly cautions, the pavlova in the Davis booklet is actually a jelly impostor. Here's a scan of the aforementioned Davis Dainty Dishes from 1927, and as you'll see, it was a publication which oiginated in Sydney but was also published in New Zealand and South Africa at the same time (meaning by the OED's standards South Africa could also claim the Pav). You'll also see that the Pavlova in the cookbook was not, as it is today a light as air meringue confection, but a layered jelly which vaguely resembles a tutu. I don't have an opinion either way about who can claim the Pavlova, but the OED will need to find something else to back up its claim aside from Davis Dainty Dishes (which by the way is a great source of recipes for gross things like Sheep Tongue Shapes:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

That's not an old cookbook - THIS is an old cookbook

I have had an exciting couple of months on the vintage cookbook scene, which accounts for my silence on the blog front. First I tracked down for a Melbourne institutional library the holy grail for Australian cookbook collectors -The English and Australian Cookery Book: Cookery for the many as well as the Upper Ten Thousand by an Australian Aristologist. published in London in 1864.( You can read about its author Edward Abbott, a Tasmanian politician, in Colin Bannerman's entry for the Australian Dictionary of Biography . Even better read Colin's excellent history of early Australian cookery books A Friend in the Kitchen). Essentially it is a must-have for serious collectors because it is widely accepted as the first Australian cookery book. It is as scarce as... well as scarce as the first Australian cookery book really! When Fedex finally delivered this treasure (at great expense!) from the US I opened up the enormous package to find a small and slightly unprepossessing book, with a couple of nice engravings (particularly the title page which you can see below) and an amusing text on the vagaries of cooking and eating in the colonies (apparently kangaroo makes a good substitute for venison). The library were very happy to have it, and I felt the satisfaction of having managed to find it for them.

However my next purchases brought home for me the relative youth of Australia's European settlement and culinary scene - I bought a library of books which included 5 English cookery books published 100-150 years before Edward Abbott's, in fact three were published before Edward Abbott was even born in 1805. When you handle these beautiful books (very carefully!) you can literally feel the print on the thick, textured pages. While Edward Abbott's book is amusing in it's tone, in the earliest of these cookbooks the language and cookery terms are almost foreign (and the f for s mesfes with your brain!) In the earliest - a 1705 edition of William Salmon's The Family Dictionary or Household Companion household advice is mixed in with recipes, so a lengthy recipe for Lumber Pye (Take grated bread, cloves and mace finely beaten, beef suet cut fmall into fquare pieces, the veal or capon minced fmall) is followed by a treatment for Lunacy (apparently a bit of Angelica, rhubarb and other herbs boiled in spring water and given hourly while the victim rests in bed with a warm candle does the trick) One day I might try the killer recipe for Gingerbread, but doubt I'll be Fricafing any Neats-feet anytime soon!

Here are some photos of the others and and links to their descriptions on my website. A real treasure-trove.
The Housekeeper's Instructor or Universal Family Cook
by William Henderson (1805)
The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy
by 'A Lady' (Hannah Glasse) 1763

Monday, September 13, 2010

A few of our favourite cakes - the first Melbourne meeting of The Cake Committee

After a baking marathon by all concerned, yesterday was a great success for the first meeting of The Cake Committee. We had more than 25 cakes, 50 guests (yes that is half a cake each!!) and raised $600 for the loca, CFA and Melbourne charity second bite. Here's some photos to whet your appetite for the next meeting - which will be early December.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Trial Baking - The countdown to the 1st Cake Committee tea-party begins

Some of my friends think I'm a tad compulsive, and when it comes to preparing food for a big event I am inclined to agree. Ever since I first decided to convene a Melbourne slice of the Cake Committee I have become a little obsessed with what I should bake and wanting to make sure it turns out as perfect as possible. I scour the old baking books on my shelves, check out baking blogs and websites and dream up variations on past efforts. Much to my personal trainer Loz's despair, this compulsion naturally involves a lot of trial baking (but not too much tasting Loz, I promise). Here's one result:

The Chocolate Lush Cake from an old advertising pamphlet for baking powder. Actually called a Chocolate Plush Cake, I've replaced it's stodgy icing with a whisky marscarpone cream and a whipped chocolate ganache icing. The topping is pecan praline. Hiding shamefaced in the second picture is a trial baking failure - espresso macarons - I always said I wouldn't try making them, and I did and never will again!

If you would like the recipe email me on If you want to try the finished product, come along to our first meeting on September 12th, 2.30 - 4.30 at the Kallista Mechanics Hall on Tom Roberts Rd, Kallista (Melways 75 K$).

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tearooms at Yarck - a trip worth taking

Every time we head off to North Eastern Victoria or I drive to Canberra or Sydney we drive out the back of the Yarra Valley through Yea and onto the Maroondah Hwy, passing through a series of little towns before eventually joining the Hume: Molesworth, Merton, Bonnie Doon and a "blink and you'd miss it" hamlet called Yarck. For several years now I've been hearing all sorts of good things about the little Italian trattoria which took over the Tearooms at Yarck (and which is now called, appropriately "The Tearooms at Yarck"). As we would sail through in the early hours of the morning or return at dusk on a weekday, I would always promise myself - I must come back when it's open!!

Well last weekend David and I drove to Euroa to test-drive a 1978 Holden ute ( it's a long story and involves neither food nor cookbooks, so I won't bore you with it). As I was plotting out our route (I'm a little OCD that way) I saw Yarck on the map, and made a snap decision that we were finally going to take the opportunity to eat at "Tearooms at Yarck". I booked for 6pm for what I thought would be a quick meal on the way home, and we rolled out of there at 8.45, groaning but satisfied. The lovely waitress offered us the option of dining a la carte from the small (but perfectly formed) blackboard menu or choosing the chef's tasting menu of 4 courses. Well at $79 it seemed like a good option to sample the Tearoom's wares so we settled down with a nice glass of Italian sangiovese and the dishes started arriving.

First up was a delicate dish of the freshest kingfish, raw, thinly sliced and served with a light vinaigrette. Then a procession of small antipasto samplers: marinated fresh octopus, white bean salad, two gorgeous sardine fillets, beetroot salad and more. After a short wait a small bowl of hearty artichoke soup, smoky and perfectly seasoned and garnished with slivers of deep-fried artichoke leaves arrived, accompanied as the earlier courses had been by a plate of house-baked sourdough. A slightly longer wait later was rewarded with two plates of 4 plump pumpkin and goat's cheese ravioli.

So if you, like me are counting, that's four courses right? fish, antipasto, soup and tortellini. For a moment I felt cheated - they had goat and suckling pig on the menu and I gave them up for ravioli? But wait here comes the waitress with fresh knife and fork. OK lets just go with the flow, Goat you say? yes please. Slow-braised and tender, but I have to say not as tasty as the ragu I make regularly, a couple of gristly bits in theres and not served with any other accompaniment so I pinch some of the soft polenta from David's dish of two snapper fillets, quickly grilled and apparently delicious.

Right that's it then - I'm happy, it's 8pm and it's a 1 1/2 hour drive back home so we should be in bed before ten. But then the waitress comes by with spoons and forks and I say - "There's more?" and she says "Yes Dessert!" A plate of semifreddo arrives, which we have almost finished when the waitress places a share plate of three desserts on the table: a lemon meringue tart, flourless chocolate cake and a tiramisu. How can we resist. With each mouthful we both swear we can't eat any more, but somehow finish it off; the chocolate cake is the star of the show, the tiramisu not quite as good as mine (if I say so myself!).

We ordered coffees to go and dragged ourselves up to the counter to pay. As I signed, I said to the waitress: "I thought I heard you say the chef's tasting menu was 4 courses" "Oh it is" she says, "but there were somethings not available so we gave you a few extras" A few extras!

In conclusion a wonderful meal, a welcoming venue (if a little chilly the night we were there) and knowedgeable wait-staff. The open kitchen was a treat to watch in the lulls during our meal, which was, with a couple of exceptions, near-flawless. Although bookings are highly recommended the restaurant was not full the night we were there. The diners were a nice mix: a local family having pizza (which I want to try next time, having watched the Pizzaioli at work all night), a well-heeled spring-autumn couple clearly down from the snowfields or their nearby weekend retreat; a family celebrating some family occasion. For me the bonus of eating a great meal at a great restaurant was also the knowledge that as far as possible the Tearooms sources much of their produce locally (very locally, given some of it comes from the farm owned by chef/owner Pietro Porcu). And having now finally experienced a meal there, I wasn't surprised to see it get a second hat from the Good Food Guide. We'll be back-possibly next week when we drive to pick up that ute!!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Cake Committee - a Melbourne slice

About a month ago now an article in the New York Times Dining section caught my eye. It was about the first gathering of the New York chapter (or slice as they call them) of 'The Cake Committee'. As I read I had a bit of  road to Damascus moment- people who love to bake get together regularly and bake up a storm for other people who pay money to come along and taste the wares and the money goes to charity. What an inspired idea for those of us who are 'feeders' and need a willing and hungry audience to test out  their creations. I emailed Peter Ting who, with several others, started the first Cake Committee in London and he was happy for me to start a slice in Melbourne. The first meeting of the Cake Committee Melbourne slice will be on September 12th, if you want more details, become a fan of the Cake Committee on Facebook and you'll receive an invite. The proceeds of our first meeting will be going to local CFAs.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Food Biographies

What a great idea - Jill Dupleix in this week's Epicure shared her 'food biography' - the top ten dishes from her past to her current obsessions, and suggested we all do it. Many of mine relate to my childhood in South Africa:

1.Gem Squash: A lovely hard shelled, round squash about the size of a tennis ball not widely available in Australia. My mum and gran would cut them in half, scoop out the seeds, boil them and serve them with lashings of butter in the hollow. Then we'd mash the contents up. Tastes a little like a spaghetti squash. I remember having them at lunch-time at my child-care centre served with savoury mince in the hollow. Yumm.

2. Dark Treacl-y gingerbread with white icing. I've written about this an earlier blog - food has such a capacity to revive memories.

3. Koeksisters: A South African dessert/pastry. Pastry strips are plaited, fried in oil and then boiled in a thick sugar syrup. Absolutely insanely bad for you, but out-of-this world good tasting.

4. Boerewors: A thick, coarse textured sausage heavily flavoured with allspice. It is the absolute South African standard at barbecues (braais) and can be bought from butchers in Australia, particularly a few South African specialists, although I was once told that food laws here make it difficult to get the right balance of meat and fat.

5. Biltong: Dried meat - another South African staple, essentially dried meat which is first marinated in vinegar, brown sugar and coriander (the spices vary). Doesn't sound like much, but the marinade and drying processes make this a far superior product (and I'd argue much tastier) than beef jerky.

6. My Mum's oxtail stew: My Mum is a great offal cook. Unfortunately I am not a great offal eater. When my brother is out here from South Africa, Mum makes a point of preparing offal for him and my sister - I am not invited!! The exception to my offal aversion is Mum's oxtail stew, simply prepared by flouring, frying and then a long simmer in tomatoes and onions.

7. Mum's Pickled Tongue: OK sorry there are two exceptions to my offal aversion - Mum makes the best pickled and pressed tongue, sliced thinly, in a sandwich with picallili. Heaven. I have never attempted to cook it and doubt that my vegetarian and semi-vegetarians would even allow it in the house. Perhaps I should campaign for an invite to the next offal dinner!

8. Goat Ragu: Skipping into the present, this is hands-down my favourite thing to cook in the past few years. The Aga makes doing slow braises such a snap. Served with polenta or good quality gnocchi.

9. Elizabeth David's Flourless Chocolate Cake: The best chocolate cake ever, rich and dense, this is a ecipe I will be making forever - it never goes out of fashion.

10. Twice-Cooked Pork Belly: I've avoided mentioning the MC word, but yes I was a big fan of Master Chef, and I have made quite a few recipes from the show. This is my new favourite, in which the pork belly is cooked in a complex master stock (which had me running around the outer suburbs trying to find things like'cooking caramel' and rice wine. Not so easy when the nearest Asian grocer is 20 kms away), deep fried and then served in a reduction of the stock to which heaps of brown sugar is added. The beauty of this recipe is  I discovered it works equally well with tofu!! All you have to do is split the original recipe in two, and replace chicken stock with vegetable stock and thne follow the same process.

That's my food biography, I could have gone to 20 - to include all the things I love to bake. Try it yourself, it's a lot of fun.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Outrageous and Odd Cookbooks

I've been inspired by an article in The Huffington Post online: '"The most WTF cookbooks of all time" to post a list of my own. Frankly I think some of theirs are a bit tame (Last Dinner on the Titanic for example, which I have in stock and is actually an interesting historical cookbook). So herewith my Top 10 Outrageous and Odd Cookbooks from the shelves of Vintage Cookbooks.

#10: Manifold Destiny, Chris Maynard & Bill Scheller,
Only last on the list because it's been noted and blogged in several places. Manifold Destiny does, as it promises, show you how to cook all manner of things on the engine of your car. Recipes include Scion S'mores, Thruway Thighs and Donner Pass Red Flannel Hash (and if you don;t know what happened at Donner pass, Google it) The authors thoughtfully provide a list of the best 'tuck' spots for various makes and models of cars:

#9: "Cooking for Texture" by Josephine Emlee, Faber & Faber, 1957. This ranks with "A Surprise in Every Dinner" as an unfortunately titled cookbook which really doesn't inspire one to buy or use it. Mrs Emlee's premise is that "a dish may well come with all our requirements in five or six respects and fail completely if its texture is wrong". What follows is actually quite a good book on the science of cooking and food, if you can get past the title.

#8: Cool Cooking: Recipes of your favorite rock stars, Scholastic, New York, 1972. Yes this book really is as lame as it's cover art and back cover blurb suggests: "When they get into the kitchen what do the rock stars make? The Jackson 5 - a real cool hot chili con carne; The Who - luscious burnt sugar pudding; George Harrison - Yummy Peanut Butter and Banaa sandwiches.

#7: Annie Ross says "Come on In!" and try her favourite recipes, Andre Deutsch, 1972. (clearly a good year for lame cookbooks). Annie Ross was a jazz singer, and I suspect from the photo on the front cover, that a lot of her favourite recipes would include a large dash of alcohol in some form.

#6: Zorba the Buddha Rajneesh Cookbook, published by Rajneesh NeoSannyas International Commune, 1984. Remember Ma Sheila, the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the Orange People? The sect's restaurants were also called Zorba the Buddha, which was apparently inspired by the Bhagwan's inspired insight that the new man "will be Christ and Epicurus together".

#5: Cooking with Fat, Bantam Book, 1995. An over-the-top answer to "culinary correctness", with such delectable dishes as Beef Intestines stuffed with Schmaltz (which for the uninitiated is chicken fat); Neck Fat Soup; Uruguayan Frog Soup.

#4: The New Hot Dog Cookbook, Modern Promotions, New York, 1983. American cuisine has a very bad (and sometimes undeserved) reputation, and it is this kind of cookbook which perpetuates it. 250 'new and exciting' uses for the humble frankfurter - apparently a 'foolproof way to family mealtime magic'. Some examples:Hot Dog Loaf (versions 1 - 4); Hot Dog-ghetti Dinner; Peanut Rollups (white bread, peanut butter and 6 hot dogs, cut horizontally); Brussel SProuts and Hot Dogs. Thankfully no desserts.

#3: Passport to Survival by Esther Dickie, Bookcraft 1980. OK here is the book for you if you are preparing for global warming, nuclear obliteration or a zombie apocalypse. The four foods are wheat, salt, honey and powdered milk and I was actually surprised at what you can do with these ( plus water). Handy chapters on food preparation, health care and tips on finding water when there is a shortage should equip you for anything.

#2 Marijuana Cookbooks: Gourmet Cannabis Cookery: The High Art of Marijuana Cuisine, 1999; Brownie Mary's Marijuana Cookbook, 1996. I shelve these in the herbs section, which is luckily also next to the Wild Foods/Strange Foods section. Gourmet Cannabis Cookery includes growing tips and many recipes for meals and snacks with small amounts of 'herbal butter' as one of the ingredients. Brownie Mary's Cookbook is actually the story of Brownie Mary, the San Francisco grandmother arrested several times for selling pot, with a few recipes including ground leaf or powder.

#1: Unmentionable Cuisine, Calvin W. Schwabe, University of Virginia Press, 1979. This unassuming looking cover hides within it a treasure of recipes for anything unmentionable you can think of ( or mention!). Chapters on lamb, beef, pork etc are actually a wealth of offal recipes, with detailed information on preparing and cooking every bit of these animals. There are chapters on game, seafood and shellfish and then we come to "Insects and Land Invertebrates": recipes for Locust Soup, Fried Cactus Caterpillars, Bee Grubs in Coconut Cream and Red Ant Chutney await. And to increase the gross-out factor I'll leave you with the last chapter in this book: Milk, Eggs and Sperm (actually fish roe!).

The Mad Raven: Pizza as Plate

Once night falls in the village, we are poorly served for places to eat good food. But last night that situation improved with the opening of The Mad Raven, a gourmet pizza restaurant in Kallista's main drag. The owner/cook Holger has been responsible for several very good and succesful eating houses in the Hills over the past 15 years, including Genie's Cafe and The Firebox, so the Raven's opening was much anticipated by local foodies. We had a booth booked for 8pm, and on a very cold and wet hills night the Raven was warm and welcoming. The decor is eclectic and eccentric, with two very comfortable booths each seating 4 and tables handcrafted from slabs of chestnut. There is also some seating outside on the enclosed verandah where the gas heater and roll down blinds were a necessity.

We ordered 3 pizzas to share: At $21.50 the Morroccan Prawn Chermoula is the most expensive item on the menu, but with plenty of beautifully plump and juicy fresh Australian prawns fried in a (very) spicy moroccan chermoula, it is still good value. The pizza bases were thin and had the right balance of crisp and chew factor. Really in many ways the base was just a vehicle for what would have been an equally good dish on a plate - a spicy prawn curry, topped with a lime wedge and coriander leaves. The second pizza was also a spicy one: The Hot Pesto ($16.50) although not as spicy as the prawn had sliced fresh chili for a warm kick on top of a pesto base, fresh buffalo mozarella, goats cheese and red onions. Finally the Pumpkin Perfection ($16.50) was a perfect modern pizza, sweet roasted pumpkin was given added complexity by the garlic, rosemary, pine nuts, mozarella and sheeps milk feta, also with a sprinkling of fresh coriander when it came out of the oven. Superb.

We're looking forward to trying the Raven's version of a ham and pineapple pizza - the Sweet Pork with fresh pineapple and pan fried bacon; the Lam Boreka, the Goa Chicken and David wants to try the Smoked Tofu parmiginana. All Holger's pizzas are handmade from scratch with the freshest ingredients, so allow yourself some time if you decide to eat in. There are a couple of entrees and a couple of desserts, but really the pizzas are the star of the show. If you're going, don't eat lunch!

The Mad Raven Pizza Deluxe is open Wed - Sat from 5.30 - late. They are BYO only ($3 drinkage) and cash only at the moment. They're at 78c Monbulk Rd, Kallista

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lemon Ricotta Cake and Cairo Dainties - old tech/new tech

Cairo Dainties - the Aga has a tendency to brown biscuits much faser at the back and sometimes I forget to turn the tray around - as you can see

As I've blogged before, I tend to bake on a Sunday morning to fill up the biscuit tin for the week ahead. Since three of my children left home I have been doing it less often. This morning however I wanted to do something with the lump of ricotta left over from my first pasta-making foray last week. I remembered seeing a Ricotta Cake on my favourite tv show Top Chef a couple of seasons back so headed to the internet to track down a recipe. I have been using the Epicurious app on my iphone but they only had ricotta cheesecake recipes. Eventually I found a recipe on a great blog called Creative Loafing. It was a quick and easy recipe and when it went into the Aga I decided to make some biscuits by turning to the other end of the spectrum - my 80 year old copy of Miss Drake's Cookery Book. I've been cooking from it a lot lately: I've been invited to talk at several local libraries and like to bring along something baked from the old cookbooks. Miss Drake's has been a treasure trove of interesting recipes; of things we never bake any more (like "Bubble Bread" which it turns out is a Salada-like cracker ) and dishes which now go by different names: like Cairo Dainties, a lightly spiced biscuit which it turns out tastes like, and has the texture of, a Dutch Speculaas. So at one stage I had propped up on my bench, a 1927 cookbook and a 3rd generation Iphone showing a page from a blog, and it struck me that there will always be a place for both old and new tech - paticularly since a recipe on a page is so much easier to read than a little touch screen which ends up covered in slightly greasy fingerprints because I have to scroll up and down!!
Lemon Ricotta Cake - the black around the edge is the bottom of the springform pan (not the Aga's temperamentality!)

Cairo Dainties

Mushrooming at Moorooduc

In line with our newly discovered zeal for foraging, Jonathan, David and I went on a mushrooming tour with Cameron Russell of Mushroom Tours at Moorooduc on the Mornington Peninsula last Sunday. Mushrooms are one of those things that you don't want to get wrong - an apple is an apple and chances are the worst thing that can happen if you eat one picked by the roadside is finding a worm. However pick the wrong mushroom and you could die A Slow and Painful Death. So to feed my passion for exotic fungi as well as for life, I decided we needed some expert guidance.

Meeting at 10am at the gorgeous Moorooduc Estate, after a brief chat from Cameron and a welcome coffee and homemade bikkie, about 40 of us headed off in a convoy ending up after 10 minutes down a dirt backroad (I could tell you where it was, but then I'd have to kill you - mushroomers are very protective of their patch!) Getting out of the car I looked around and thought Mushrooms, what mushrooms?" but as became clear as Cameron walked us down the roadside reserve, mushrooms are everywhere.
Shame of it is that most of them are poisonous, and Cameron's informative and knowledgable tour was really more about what not to eat than what you could eat. Having said that I am now fairly confident I could safely pick and eat a Saffron Milk Cap which grows under Radiata pines. I also discovered I have at least two customers who are keen mushroomers and the lovely Martine has offered to go mushrooming with me next year.

It was a bit late in the season so there weren't heaps of edibles around, but enough to show us what to look for. After a couple of hours wandering through the undergrowth, we headed back to Moorooduc Estate where our hosts plied us with mushroom soup and mushroom bruschetta fresh out of the amazing wood-burning oven which was getting ready to dispense pizzas to the wine-tasting crowds. I can recommend tkaing a tour with Cameron - they've finished for 2010 but will be on again in Autumn 2011

Friday, May 14, 2010

Book fairs & excursions

Well the last few weeks have been frantic - a buying trip to Canberra, a selling trip to Clunes and I've also begun the process of reorganising (renovating is too strong a word and might scare my landlord!!) the shop to increase the amount of shelf-space. Followers of my blog may be aware that the shop was on the verge of closing because of the inaction of an uncooperative agent, however the intervention of the landlord (who saw an unexpected 'To Let' sign in the shop one day while driving past) has now ensured that the shop will be here for the foreseeable future. Even when I'm not carting my books to and from various fairs, they sometimes go on excursions without me!! Here are some photos from a recent lunch to launch Jindi Cheese's new range of artisan cheeses. Florist extrodinaire Melanie contacted me about renting some old cookbooks to decorate the tables and at the end of April 100 mainly cheese,wine and dairy books made their way with her to Jindi. Some older books are also about to make their appearance in the Katie Holmes movie "Don't be afraid of the Dark" which was filmed in Melbourne in late 2009. Two of the film's set dressers borrowed books for kitchen scenes and I can't wait to see the results! My books have also appeared on 'The Cook and the Chef' and other magazine articles. All very exciting and not the kind of thing I expected would be a part of this business when I bought it in 2006!!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Standing up for Vegos

I am an avowed omnivore - love a good steak and wouldn't give up cooking and eating good things like goat and rabbit and duck and venison and kangaroo for anyone. However for the last 27 years I have been preparing two separate meals most nights of the week because I am married to a vego and my oldest daughter went over to the other side at age 15. I am known to mutter darkly about these arrangements, but in reality I think the whole family is a lot healthier because for my sanity we tend to all eat vegetarian at least two nights a week and do eat much less meat than the average Aussie family.

As a result of my long experience cooking for vegos I have little or no tolerance for restaurants which don't cater for them. There's nothing worse than going to a function where you've informed the venue that a vegetarian meal is required and having them essentially presented with the vegetables served up with the meat option. Of course the opposite can be true too - sometimes vegetarians end up with a better quality meal because it is prepared individually (and airline food is often better if you tell them you're a vego).

The other night we were catching up with friends (both of whom are vegetarian) and I booked a table at a new local restaurant about which I had heard really good things - small menu, nice atmosphere and apparently excellent food. We arrived and I checked out the small menu (around 7 mains in total) to find that the only choice for vegetarians was no choice at all, a mushroom pasta or a roast vegetable salad (this on a cold, wet hills night). The 3 vegos insisted that the pasta would be fine, but I just didn't think it was good enough and did something I've never done before - I politely told the waiter that we wouldn't be staying because there really wasn't enough choice for the vegetarians. We walked up the hill to Earthly Pleasures cafe where among their choices were a tasty roast vegetable and goat's cheese stack, vegetarian lasagne or a vegetable tagine. I enjoyed a beautiful wild Barramundi steak served with a reduction of the sweet sticky sauce in which it had been marinated. Earthly Pleasures is a great example of a restaurant playing to it's audience; the chef and owners are locals who have worked out their market - a slightly grungy, alternative, environmentally and socially conscious crowd who care about the provenance of their food (all produce and wine is organic). The old bluestone house (built by the Jorgensens) is very atmospheric, and is much more laid back than when it was home to the fine dining Jorgie's restaurant. There is enough choice in the menu to cater for different budgets, and importantly they also know that the hills are alive with vegetarians (and their meat-eating partners) who'll patronise the restaurant and tell their friends (and blog-readers).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Canberra's gourmet delights

I know I know, one doesn't usually associate our national capital with a rich foodie culture. And over my several years of visiting there on book buying trips what has struck me most is the difficulty of finding something other than the generic, cookie-cutter Italian and Asian restaurants in the local shopping strips. However I have to say that I sell almost as many cookbooks online ( often really esoteric and specialist ones) to residents of the ACT as I do to NSW; and on my latest trip last weekend I also discovered the Farmer's Market out at EPIC - the Canberra showgrounds. There were lots of locals selling really excellent fresh produce, around 4 stalls selling organic locally-grown lamb and pork, several with beautiful baked goods, wine, honey you name it. David and I were on our way out of town for the drive back to Melbourne, so stocked up with muffins for breakfast and piroshki for lunch as well as beautiful new season apples and.... mushrooms.

I am a sucker for mushrooms of any sort but these weren't just any mushrooms - they were exotic varieties of a sort I hadn't seen since the Farmer's Market in San Francisco. They are sold by the man who grows them, in a disused railway tunnel in the NSW Southern Highlands, and were a delight to behold. We bought $20 worth of wood ear, enoki and king brown and that night sauteed them up in a stir-fry vaguely based upon the Monk's Dish - quickly fried with lots of garlic, sesame oil, oyster sauce and a touch of soy.

We followed that up with figs also bought from the market which I combined with frozen raspberries, drizzled with honey and topped with my standard "I don't feel like making pastry" crumble mix. After an 8 hour drive home witha boot full of books for the Clunes book fair (May 1st & 2nd) it was lovely comfort food.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A late Christmas present - Cooking class at Bella Vedere

I have written elsewhere about my enthusiasm for Gary Cooper's gorgeous Yarra Valley wine country restaurant, Bella Vedere. When I discovered on my last visit that Gary runs cooking classes from the restaurant I demanded one as a combined Christmas gift from my family. They obliged and on Thursday I was able to de-stress from the previous two days baking and cake decorating efforts with a wonderful morning cooking and then eating the results.

It was a small hands-on class, in which rather than going step-by-step through basic recipes, we worked with Gary to prepare some dishes for lunch-time service. Bella has a purpose-built room on the first floor beautifully laid out with gas burners and sinks around the edge and two huge wooden tables in the middle for prep. We started with something I often have difficulty with - a tarte tatin, in this case a rhubarb version. Whenever I have attempted caramel in the past, the sugar always lumps or burns, and it was really instructive to watch as Gary heated up a large copper frying pan, covered the base with castor sugar and gently swirled the pan over the heat until it started to melt and then turned a beautiful golden and then going to brown. He then added a vanilla bean and two large bunches of rhubarb, which we had washed and chopped into lengths (without de-stringing, which apparently is what causes rhubarb to turn into pulp - who knew!?). This was topped with a sweetened croissant dough and taken downstairs to the bakehouse to cook.

The next dish was a Bella perennial favourite: locally-farmed rabbit braised with pancetta and cooked for around 45 minutes with apple cider, shallots, garlic, rosemary, seeded mustard and (lots) of cream.

We also prepared a free-form lasagne with a filling of smoked eel, mustard fruits and bechamel sauce, and I was gratified to see that even in a professional restaurant wonton wrappers are an acceptable substitute for fresh pasta.

The final dish prepared was ravioli stuffed with roasted pumpkin, feta and amaretti biscuits. While the pasta dough had been prepared beforehand, we rolled out the dough and made the tortellini, forcing me to finally face up to one of my cooking fears - the pasta machine. I was given one for a birthday present about 15 years ago and have always been too scared to use it - and for good reason I discovered today - it's not as easy as chefs make it look and people like me who are more than a little uncoordinated can have problems getting their heads around the process. After a few stuff-ups (patiently rectified by Gary) the tortellini was finally done. We then spent a pleasant half hour in the picturesque kitchen garden, created by a Kallisa local Jenny Hoogland, who also runs the kitchen garden at the local primary school. After a relaxed couple of hours wining and dining on the fruits of our labour, I meandered my way back to the hills, thinking once again how fortunate I am to live where I do.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A cupcake adventure

My daughter Hayley has just been witness/bridesmaid at the wedding of a close friend. The wedding was very small (25 guests) and low-key and I offered to make a cake for the occasion. The bride settled on a cupcake cake with a small cutting cake, only slightly complicated by the fact that she is gluten-intolerant. Because I have no familiarity with gluten-free cooking, I decided not to risk adapting one of my recipes and instead resorted to a couple of good quality gluten-free cake mixes. I did a test run a couple of weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the end result. The chocolate mud cake in particular was excellent, dense and rich and still moist a week after the practice run (the mix contains 1/2 cup of olive oil which helps).

Immediately upon arriving back from our Easter break, Dee and I, with help from Pippa, got down to work. Dee has recently done a cupcake decorating short course so her help was indispensable, particularly given I have a familial hand tremor that makes piping anything a VERY shaky endeavour. We were all quite chuffed by the end result - the cutting cake was decorated to mirror the wedding invitations and looked very cute (if I say so myself). Most importantly the bride was thrilled.

Easter feasting - Pumpkin Tortellini

I've just had a wonderful Easter break with the whole family in the beautiful and serene Bogong Village, half an hour from Mt. Beauty on the road to Falls Creek in the Victorian Alps. David and I used to have regular holidays there with the kids when they were little, so it was a little bit of nostalgia plus the desire to completely unwind that took us there again. The thing about a holiday at Bogong is that there are no shops in the village and the nearest ones are a 16km winding road down to Mt Beauty. This means that you literally have to take all the food you think you may need with you. Luckily the house we were in was very well-equipped with cooking gear, and while mostly meals were uncomplicated, I did decide to take advantage of time and our crop of butternuts at home to make pumpkin ravioli. I wasn't brave enough to attempt fresh pasta in a new kitchen, so instead we used wonton wrappers and stuffed them with roasted pumpkin and ricotta cheese mixture. With the help of Jonathan and Ryan they turned out very well. After a couple of minutes in boiling water I gave them a couple more minutes in a fryin pan in which I'd fried up fresh basil leaves in olive oil (I'd forgotten to take butter with me). Definitely something I'll try again, although it may not be the same without the entire family mucking in to help; now there is just the three of us at home, I do miss the communal nature of our cooking and meals.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Recipe for a perfect Sunday

Take a perfect Melbourne autumn day, a table for 200 down one of it's lovely hidden laneways. Add excellent company, and an indulgent 8 course Vietnamese banquet, including the most tender and taste-laden twice-cooked pork belly. Marinate for 3 hours in sunshine and many glasses of Moscato. The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival provides many opportunities to indulge in such glorious days. If you're in Melbourne, take advantage of them, or if you're not, do what two bloggers from Sydney sitting next to me did, make a note in your calendar for next year and come down for a weekend. Once again I was let down by my camera, but here's a link to one of the Sydney bloggers account of the day's food with amazing photos. Apparently they were flown down to Melbourne by the Festival, and here I thought they had come of their own accord to check out our amazing festival.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Granny and Gingerbread, Saturday morning memories

I'm often asked if I cook (umm I have a cookbook shop people, is that a clue?) and my response is I have been cooking since I was old enough to stand on a stool at the kitchen table. And as with many people, some of my fondest memories of childhood and family revolve around food - the smell of garlic that always accompanied my grandfather, the taste of eggplant my Granny cooked and pineapples growing in her Durban backyard, guinea fowl hanging in our dark pantry.

My earliest cooking memory is of an afternoon tea for my class one (prep) teacher, Mrs Mulcahy. My best friend Rose and I stood at the white melamine table in the kitchen of our fire station flat (there's a whole other non-food memory: the acrid smell of smoke on my father's uniforms) helping Mum bake. I can't remember what else we made, but I will always remember the rich dark and fragrant gingerbread with white icing. Possibly all I did was stir the mixture, but I always claim it as my first venture into baking. I called Mum this morning for the recipe, only to be told it had been lost years ago and she had replaced it with one very similar. So this Saturday afternoon I made it in honour of my beloved gran, my beloved mum, Rose and Mrs Mulcahy, wherever she may be. I also made it for my son Jonathan who is home for dinner tonight after walking from Melbourne to the Dandenongs (a distance of around 36 kms). I think he'll need the sustenance.

Dark Sticky Gingerbread

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup golden syrup
1 1/2 tsp bicarb soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice

Cream the butter and sugar. Add beaten egg and syrup. Add sifted dry ingredients. Add hot water. Beat until smooth. Bake in a 180 oven until cake begins to draw away from sides and top springs back to the touch. (Sorry since I startd using the Aga, timing in recipes means nothing to me - it's done when it's done.

Ice with a simple white glaze icing

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Road Trip

One of my most frequently asked questions (alongside "How do you make any money selling cookbooks?") is "Where do you source your books?". My answer is always vague (one has to preserve some trade secrets as well as some mystery) but includes -road trips. I love a good road trip, taking to the highways and byways and back roads and making serendipitous discoveries along the way: hospital op-shops in a small town, a previously undiscovered second-hand bookshop tucked away in a back street. I took February off and spent a couple of days driving around the goldfields region of Victoria: Bendigo, Castlemaine, Maryborough, Clunes, Ballarat, Maldon. Sorry I'm not giving away any trade secrets, but wanted to share a couple of the treasures I picked up in my travels. The Savoy Cocktail book is a facsimile, but a very faithful one, which retains the lovely art deco design of the 1930 original; there's also a first edition of Mary Burchett's Through my Kitchen Door which I wrote about in a previous blog; a scarce-as-hen's-teeth Cookery the Australian Way; several copies of the Esk Valley Cookery Book and other early Australian classics. These will all be in my next catalogue - due out just before the Clunes book fair on the first weekend in May.

I've just added to the front page of my blog as well as my website a list and links to some of the best food shops in Melbourne - not your trendy delis, but the authentic and often wholesale suppliers of good ingredients for a variety of cuisines. Please let me know what your favourites are and I'll add them to the list (and go and visit them myself).

Monday, February 15, 2010

The fruits of our foraging part two

A month late here are a couple of pics of the end results of our foraging expedition. I have discovered that a good camera is a neccesity for a food blog, and mine died just after Christmas. I have only just retrieved the plum jelly and plum sauce photos from David's Blackberry. Recipes follow:

Plum Sauce

This recipe comes from a perennial favourite Australian Preserving with Fowler's Vacola. The resulting sauce is rich and mildly spicy. To use as a condiment the sauce should be left to mature for 3-6 months as it is quite vinegary. However it can be used straight away as a marinade and is fabulous on barbecued pork, chicken or tofu.

3kg plums;1kg granulated sugar (I use soft brown sugar for a more mellow result); 5 tsps salt; 2 litres brown vinegar; 3 tsps whole cloves; 3 teaspoons allspice berries; 2 tsps black peppercorns; 2 teaspoons ground ginger; 2 star anise.

Cut plums in half and remove pips (if this is too laborious leave pips in, they will float to the surface by the end of boiling). Combine plums, sugar, salt and vinegar in a large pan. Tie spices up in a cheesecloth square and add to the pan. Bring to the boil, uncovered, and cook gently, stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick, dark and rich. This can take as long as 2 1/2 hours according to the depth of the mixture in the pan. Strain the mix through a coarse sieve (make sure you press the mix through with a wooden spoon to get all the goodies and leave only skins and pips behind). Pour into hot, sterilised bottles or jars and cap immediately. You can further preserve these by simmering in a hot water bath (or Fowler's preserver) for 20-30 minutes, but I find that pouring hot sauce into hot jars and sealing immediately creates the vacuum neccesary for the sauce to properly preserved.


When my children were little I used to make a little extra money selling jams and preserves at the Kallista Market. My recipe for jelly was fairly standard for any fruit (except quinces, a recipes for quince jelly is in this post)

Plums; water to cover(about 1.5 litres); 1/4 cup lemon juice; white sugar

Wash plums and cut in half. Place in preserving pan with water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer until plums are soft enough to break down with a wooden spoon. When cold, pour into a large square of cheesecloth in a colander which is resting in a large bowl. Tie ends together to make a bag, remove from colander and leave to drip overnight (I hang mine from the laundry sink tap with the bowl underneath, this prevents the splashes from making a complete mess of the kitchen). The next morning measure the liquid (do not squeeze the bag, this will result in a cloudy jelly), and for each cupful of liquid add a cupful of sugar. Return to clean saucepan with lemon juice. Bring to boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Pour into hot, sterilised, dry jars. Seal immediately.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I heart Melbourne

I have a love/hate relationship with my home town. I hate Melbourne's summer weather, I hate that it is so far away from San Francisco, I hate that it is a long way from my family and friends in South Africa. But if you're going to live in one city in Australia, I reckon Melbourne is it.

This week I've been doing an intensive industry overview for a writing and editing course I have started. So every day I've been catching the train into the city to the class room in Flinders Lane on the corner of Degraves St, at the heart of everything that I love about Melbourne. After a couple of stinking hot days, this morning as I came in on the train, the tops of the skyscrapers were lost in the mist and a gentle drizzle was falling (LOVE a cool change). A couple of baristas had set up in a hole-in-the-wall kiosk in the historic Campbell Arcade subway (LOVE Campbell Arcade, Melbourne's laneways and good coffee). As I walked the 100 metres to the CAE I passed two lots of buskers - including a couple of funky young things on uke and guitar, in obligatory Melbourne black and vintage fedoras (LOVE that there are pepole brave enough to do this and good enough to listen to).

Yesterday at lunch-time I happened upon a small restaurant tucked away on a mezzanine of the historic building which houses the City Library - concrete floors, basic furniture, a long bar and kitchen stools running beneath windows overlooking Flinders Lane. The restaurant is called Journal Canteen, but better known as Rosa's Kitchen and the owner/chef is Rosa Mitchell, whose cookbook My Cousin Rosa has been very well-reviewed (and was on sale at the front desk).The food was simple Sicilian. I had the small antipasto platter with some salami, lovely ricotta fritters, a small mound of bread salad brightened by the addition of fresh mint, and several other small samplings. An unexpectedly civilised lunch, with a nice glass of Sicilian wine and a bit of people-watching over the lane. (Really LOVE that Melbourne is the kind of place you can make such serendipitous food discoveries and a place where small restaurants like these can not only survive but thrive!)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chook madness

I wrote on New Year's Day about the arrival of the new members of our family - 4 beautiful point-of-lay Isa Brown chooks. When we planned for the chooks, it was all about sustainability, recycling scraps, producing eggs as well as compost for the garden. I am happy to report that all of these aims have been fulfilled - in fact on the egg side we have been receiving 4 eggs every day since their second week. We were keeping a record but gave up when we hit 90 eggs after the first month. And the eggs are superb - bright yellow yolks, firm whites that cling to the yolk (making the best poached eggs I've ever tasted, and the prettiest). We've been eating lots of frittatas and quiches.

What I hadn't counted on was the absolute pleasure our 4 ladies have given us (as well as not a few hassles). A friend has declared me chook-obsessed and she's right, I am quite infatuated. The girls (who, after some discussion, have been named after 4 of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice) are full of personality. They can spend all day with their fluffy feathery bums in the air under the magnolia tree, scratching for who knows what. When you call them they come running (in fact even if you just happen to walk past them foraging in the garden they come running) and it is the funniest thing you've ever seen. I want you to picture a corpulent elderly Victorian matron in petticoats, bustle and full skirts (and possibly a little red bonnet!). Now imagine that lady has to run for her life - she hoiks up her skirts and, holding them high off the ground, waddles at high speed towards you, her large frame rocking from side to side - that's what the girls look like as they charge over to us for scraps or just to say 'HI!'.

I will admit to not giving much thought to the free-range vs battery hen dilemma up until a year or so ago. But now I've seen how happy my girls are; spending each day roaming the undergrowth, scratching in the leaf litter, occasionally settling down for a nap in the shade, or finding a bare patch of dirt and giving themselves a dust bath, I could never go back to eating supermarket eggs (free-range or otherwise). Oh the girls certainly aren't cheap - food, housing, etc do mount up. And as I alluded to above, there have been a few hassles. Lydia (named for the flighty youngest Bennett of course) keeps escaping, despite our (reluctantly) clipping her wings. She is a fussy eater and then last week, after several days of laying eggs without shells, became egg-bound. Then on one of the first days they were free-ranging they all decided to visit the neighbours and then couldn't find their way back up the drive and Pippa spent a couple of HOURS retrieving them from the building site. But on the whole I can heartily recommend the exercise of backyard chook-keeping, the expense and occasional hassle are rewarded many times over in eggs and pure enjoyment!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Preserving the Fruits of our foraging

I am a big fan of tv chef and food activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. FW's food philosophies are close to my heart - eat locally, grow as much as you can for yourself, (including in his case raising and slaughtering animals for meat -I admire the philosophy, but don't really have the opportunity to put it into practice) and, importantly use the resources of nature to supplement your larder. Inspired by an episode of River Cottage in which he produced an entire meal from foraging, last March Jonathan and I drove around the countryside looking for 'wild food' and came home discouraged with a measly bag of rosehips for our troubles. So when I spotted several trees heavy with plums and apples on the way back from a visit to Sue and Peter Lendon of Yarragon Books last week, I rang Jon and arranged for another foraging trip. Turns out we had been out looking (particularly for apples for cider) too late last year and instead late January - February is the best season on the roadsides. This morning it was up at 5 for the one hour drive to Gippsland around the back roads near Warragul. The rules are simple - no trespassing (sorry Jonathan) and no trying anything we can't confidently identify (at first anyway!). First off were two varieties of small plums growing next to each other. As you can see, the fruit was weighing down the branches, and we literally only had to run our hands down the branch to get handfuls of sweet juicy, yellow-fleshed plums, around 9 kg worth from two trees, and it didn;t even look as if we'd been there!

We also spotted a wild red currant growing nearby among the blackberries - tasted ok, but we decided that it was too much effort for too small return. Queen Anne's Lace is flowering all over the countryside at the moment - it's a relative of the carrot and when you pull up a plant the root certainly smells carrot-y! It's a bit late in the season to use the roots - they need to be picked when young and tender, although Mrs Beeton's says that even then the wild form has an acrid, disagreeable taste. It's been known from ancient times as an aperient and abortifacient. Very pretty but not a harvest for today. Also just starting to colour were the berries of the Hawthorn tree - commonly used as a hedgerow plant along country roads. The berries are known as Haws, and , I am reliably informed by the interweb, can be used in jellies, jams and syrups ( although I note that all the recipes I have found so far have equal quantities of apples and sugar, so suspect that these preserves are Haw in name only).

Next the search was on for apples. Jonathan has made cider a couple of times, but wanted to try it with foraged apples (cheaper and more plentiful). We spotted plenty of trees that were about a fortnight off being ready (as well as a nectarine in the same state - damn!). Finally down a side road we stopped under an enormous tree laden with what looked like a variety of golden delicious apples ready for picking (as well as falling on the ground). Because the tree was so tall, and we hadn't thought to bring a rake or long secateurs, there was a bit of hilarious bashing of branches with sticks and trying to catch the falling fruit so it wouldn't get damaged on the road. The thing about apples (and any fruit) growing wild is they have probably grown from a randomly dropped apple or seed decades ago, and bear little resemblance to what we see in the shops. Cider is best made with different varieties, so after picking a couple of kilos from this tree we kept driving until we found a couple more - red apples which looked like Bramleys and red delicious, around 9kg in total.

So a very 'fruit'-ful day. Tonight we're going to be cooking up our bootie, and I'll blog the results. I soon stopped feeling self-conscious about our exploits, and got a small thrill every time we had a 'find' either for today or to make note of for future foraging expeditions - of which there will be many! I've made a booking for the three of us to do a mushrooming ramble, which will hopefully equip us with the knowledge not to poison ourselves this coming autumn!