The first time I ever saw a TV crew was when I was about 12 and the local news team trailed behind our town’s minor celebrity for a day. Not much happened in our small town, except for an annual dance through the streets and to a non-stop news cycle that was old news. Even back in the 1970s, news needed to be made when it could not be otherwise gathered.
The minor celebrity, whose name was Charlie, was filmed on a chilly slow news day and for once, the weather was part of the set piece. Charlie was the local ice cream man. He drove his van around the estates and narrow streets and was the most popular foodie in town.
Even though it was barely above freezing, children would line up for his best-selling item, the eponymous ‘Charlie’s Special’. The Special was three scoops of best cornish ice cream, vanilla, strawberry and chocolate, with a flake bar and sauce of your choice drizzled over the lot. Even on cold winter afternoons children couldn’t get enough of it and the news crew had no trouble convincing kids to be filmed lining up next to his van.
Charlie really did sell ice cream to Eskimos and for many years was the only ice cream seller to continue operating throughout winter months. His ice cream was the so-called cornish ice cream and long before the rest of the world caught on, us locals knew how amazing it could be. The vanilla ice cream was then a pale yellow, made as I now know from a custard base and not cream at all. It was to be another twenty or so years before I saw anything similar in Sydney and by then it had been upgraded to a vanilla bean ice cream and was the province of beautiful people, not children on estates. Read more…
It’s mushroom time around the country. There’s simply no better time of year to get away from the mild – dare I say, bland – tasting button mushrooms we rely on throughout the year and to try something with a bit of interest.
Whether your tastes run to pine mushrooms to big flat beauties for barbecuing, or from tiny enoki to swiss browns, from morels to porcini, do try to mix it up a little.
In this case, I went foraging in the wilds of the Queen Vic markets and came away with a mixed bag; just like a pick ‘n’ mix for lollies, only with a decidedly earthy bent, I selected a few of everything from the mushroom stall. Even in supermarkets this time of year you will be able to grab more than your usual selection so don’t be shy. Then add them to some leek and a cooked chicken breast and stir the lot through some buttery fettucine. Read more…
EDIT: Now, where were we before we were interrupted?
Thank you all for your patience and understanding while this giveaway was postponed. To thank you for your support, Kambrook are now offering a second pressure cooker up for grabs – that’s right, TWO pressure cookers are yours to win.
Suzanne Gibbs, the daughter of Margaret Fulton, famously recounts a story from her childhood when a pressure cooker exploded into the ceiling after a long day when La Fulton was trying to get dinner – for visiting guests – on the table. Unfortunately, it’s an all too common memory amongst home cooks of a certain generation – pressure cookers were notoriously temperamental and inclined to explode their contents all over the kitchen if they were not sealed tightly. It’s not so surprising that the popularity of pressure cookers declined at the exact time microwave ovens became cheaper and widely available, and so an entire generation of cooks – myself included – never got to appreciate them for their wonderful advantages.
There has always been much to recommend pressure cookers – not only are they THE appliance to use for speedy cooking but they lock in all the nutritional goodness of the food inside. Best of all, they work best with so-called secondary cuts of meat, those cheap cuts that tenderise beautifully after hours of slow cooking. With a pressure cooker, a three-hour casserole can be made and on the table within the hour and yet still have a reduced and rich sauce, and tender caramelised meat and vegetables. Use it for curries, lamb shanks, perfectly soft spare ribs, soups and stocks, stews and braises in a third to a quarter of the cooking time of a conventional casserole and just a fraction of the time of a slow cooker. Read more…
With pumpkin well in season, now is the time to take advantage of prices as low as a dollar a kilo. The question then becomes one of how to use it all up, especially if you don’t much care for pumpkin soup.
Hard to believe I know, but as my housemate reminds me, it does happen. Pumpkin soup is not universally popular, despite our best efforts to convince the nay-sayers.
The lovely thing about this pie is that you can substitute many of the ingredients. It’s a fantastic resource for an end-of-week fridge clear out. I used pumpkin, but a layer of sweet potato works just as well. Instead of capsicum you could use a layer of squeezed out frozen spinach. Use roast vegetables, peas and corn kernels, some sliced carrots, even lentils or quinoa. Substitute the ricotta for cottage cheese, and if you have none, use mozzarella or bocconcini, or some grated tasty cheese mixed through the vegetables. It’s a very generous and compliant meal, generously supporting many food combinations. Read more…
Three years after Dad’s last birthday, it’s the little things that trip me up and tilt me into tears. A shared joke. A piece of music. His sense of the absurd. I feel him with me whenever I fly, whenever I watch the mens singles at Wimbledon, and always when I see a happy labrador.
A sponge cake similar to this one was the last thing I ever made him, for his birthday, just six weeks before he died. I made it even though the bastard illness had reduced his appetite, even though he was by then too wasted and atrophied to walk and too tired to talk. Even though it meant two hours of cooking, two hours to his place and just ten minutes of his attention, if I was lucky, if the illness and drug haze would go away long enough for him to focus. He had just one mouthful before apologising to me that he could not finish it.
And then he passed and I swore I would never cook another sponge cake again. There is no place in the recipe for salty tears and it was too technical a process to allow for the distraction of grief. I just couldn’t face it.
So I wrote and made another 1000 recipes beforehand and my days passed without regret that this recipe would not be written.
But of course, even though friends will tell you that time passes and gently heals, no-one can say when or where circumstances might provide a moment of grace and reflection. So when talk unexpectedly turned last month to sponge cakes on our Facebook page, I knew the time had come.
There comes a time, all too sudden and unexpected when a GP will look you in the eye and give you the ‘At Your Age With Your Family History” speech and very confronting it is too. Because, if you are anything like me, you avoid those times as much as possible.
It turns out that us women are really not very good at paying attention to our own needs. Who knew? As speedily as we might whisk someone else to a doctor’s appointment, we are less inclined to do so for ourself, preferring to run around after children, stay back and finish the end of month report, walk the dog, fix dinner, ignore that nagging pain, self-medicate the cough away.
The last time I saw a doctor she gave me a pap smear, a breast examination, weighed me and took my blood pressure then we talked about suitable contraception for a woman my age. It has now been so long since I last saw a GP that I can confidently tell you contraception would be the very last thing I would need to discuss now. I have reached That Age, when all my genetic chickens are coming home to roost, enabled and enhanced by my rapidly advancing menopausal years. Nowadays, my GP wants to know about My Family Medical History.
In the mid 1970s while still living in Cornwall, I commenced what was then called O Levels. As well as the mandatory English and Maths, my subjects included Biology, History, Geography, French – and Cookery.
It was called Cookery then, long before it became Home Economics or Food Technology, but to this day it remains the only formal study of cooking and nutrition I’ve done. The double period of lessons each week was always conducted in a kitchen and it was there I learnt to make flaky pastry, a fat-less sponge cake and how to work with arrowroot and gelatine amongst other skills. I was perfectly content in this world, but trouble lay away from the classroom. The theory involved – and the homework – was spent working out how protein is broken down and ingested, the correct way to re-heat food (and so avoid food poisoning), meal plans for diabetics, how Vitamin C is absorbed and so on. It was difficult course-work and I stumbled through it with very poor results. I doubt I would have passed this O Level had I continued. As it was, we relocated to Sydney and I abandoned Cookery, at least in the formal sense, at the end of Year 10.
Still, there are some basic recipes from this time that I constantly return to, not least when making cakes and pastries.
Last month the Queensland branch of the CWA contentiously decided to allow the use of packet cake mixes into their cake competitions. I took it to the Facebook community and we were all united in our opinion – it makes for poor cookery skills. Not because packet mixes aren’t useful, but how else do you learn the value of weighing and measuring ingredients, how do you learn to trust your judgement when assessing that the creaminess of whisked butter is just right? How else to you gauge, just by the merest drop, how much of a dash of vanilla extract to put in?
In short, how else do you learn to trust your judgement and so become an intuitive cook?
So, let’s begin trusting that intuition, with the most basic of all sponge cakes – a butter cake. Read more…