I must have eaten a million salads, not all of them came to expectation, some soggy, some dry, some with wrong dressing completely. We have been hurled around the place with a thousand or two variations on multiple themes, most thanks to the endless inventivness of the USA cooks and TV presenters. Think BBQ pittmasters and huge number of diner's, think a population who, unless the plate is filled to the extreme and in danger of causing major catastrophe, don't regard it a meal. Chefs needed to have a large repetoir of dressings. In some cases, all topped off with litres of melting cheese (can you believe the cheese is kept melted on the stove just to pour over the dish).

As a kid, I knew just two salad dressings, one was a mix of boiled egg yolks mashed with some cream and vinegar, I think this is what the Brits called a salad cream, then Mum discovered the condensed milk and vinegar combo, but she always had the boiled 2/4/6/8 dressing in the jar in the ice box. I left Port Fairy to work in Melbourne and begin my education in food and eating.  I came home raving about the delicious combination of Olive Oil and Red Wine Vinegar (Mum was stunned over this one, the only vinegars she had ever known were Malt and the mouth wrenching White Vinegar made from ascetic acid) who knew that wine would become vinegar if left alone. I don't think Mum had ever tasted red wine, maybe her sisters who had married well and moved to Adelaide, but Mum married a butcher in a seaside town. She cooked what her mother had cooked. But then when I said that the new fangled garlic that Edgar Egan, local greengrocer had bought in at the behest of several European families, had to be included, along with a bit of Dijon mustard, her eyes bulged. She thought it too sour, but tasty, I added a splidge of sugar and that helped. It never did get the tick of approval from Dad!

Salad Cream how ever did..

Ingredients

2 free-range eggs, hard-boiled, yolks only 

2 tbsp English mustard

½ lemon, juice only

1 tbsp caster sugar

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

150ml/5fl oz double cream

150ml/5fl oz olive oil

salt and ground white pepper

Method

Place all of the ingredients, apart from the oil and seasoning, into a food processor. 

Blend until the cream starts to thicken then gradually add the oil, until the salad cream is smooth and emulsified. 

Season, to taste, with salt and freshly ground white pepper.

Mum had several Boiled Salad Dressings, some were very sweet. The one I think she did most was 2/4/6/8

2 eggs beaten

4 level tblspns sugar

6 level tblspns milk      

8 level tblspns white vinegar

1 tspn sugar

salt to taste.

Put all in the top of a double boiler saucepan and place over heat, stir asll the time until the mixture thickens. If you boil the water too hard, you may curdle the mix.

This one is good... it contains flour and is a bit more punchy.

1 level tblspn plain flour

1 level tblspn mustard powder

1/2 cup white vinegar

1/2 salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

1 cup milk

1 tblspn butter

Place all but the milk and butter in the top of double saucepan, bring to heat and stir constantly, when thickened, add the milk stiring well, allow the sauce to thicken, remove from heat and stir in the butter. Allow to cook and store in a cool place.

And then..

I once went on a fruitless search of exploration for wine vinegars and their history in Australia. My conclusion was that very little wine vinegar was used, if it was, it was mostly by the Upper Classes, the wine makers and found in South Australia and the Hunter Valley. Fruit vinegars were made in patches, often Tasmania, but never widespread until the advent of Raspberry Vinegar and about that, enough said. My mother's go to was always Malt vinegar, it was the vinegar cuisine poverra in Australia. Made from beer it was easy to do and with less sourness than wine vinegars, greatly favoured.

Mums salads were not extravagent, they consisted of lettuce (most often grown in Dad's garden) tomato, carrot, celery, cucumber, beetroot, salad onion (all also from Dad's garden) on the odd occasion and to say to the world, some left over green peas, some grated apple and later, a potato salad. Salads were thought of as 'summer' food and rarely made an appearence in winter, Sunday evening was the exception when the cold left over meat from the sunday roast would appear, usually with some mashed potato and a bowl of shredded lettuce and some beetroot. Mums go to dressing for this was salad cream and I quite liked it drizzled on the mash potato.  The other option was what Mum called a Russian Salad and that was a lettuce cup filled with vegetable left over from the roast and dressed with her go to dressing.

Let me digress a bit, the Sunday Roast ws an institution in my youth, and much anticipated. My favourite was a corner Topside that Mum would stuff with her usual sage and onion stuffing, wrap in bacon and slather large amounts of beef dripping  and place in a moderate oven and cook for hours. The roast potatoes would be dark brown and crisp, the gravy delicious and the meat, if carved in thin enough slices, pretty damn good.  Mum's decision later on Sunday usually after the bowls club was, will we have cold meat that meal or more likely the Monday meal which would have Bubble and Squeak from the roast or three vegetables. My job was, usually after the beach, boil a couple of eggs, peel, cool and use the yolks for a dressing. I lived in hope that Mum would decide on scones and that would also mean a scone pizza... bits of bacon, cheese, tomato and onion all baked in the oven. Mum had mastered this and it appeared often on card nights.

Scones with a pizza top..

How ever many scones you have left over cut in half.

Enough slices of tomato to allow one per as above.

1 small 2 cm x 2 cm square of bacon to cover scones

Enough small onion rings to allow one per scone

Grated cheese to allow a small dollop on each of above

Place all on a tray and get the oven set onto 180 c, drizzle a little olive oil over the top of the scones and bake until they are cooked, about 30 minutes.

Serve warm.

If I knew that Mum was doing these for a card night supper, I was so nice, so polite and quite crawley until I got three or four and bannished to my room.

Cheap Meat

 

Today was one of those days when without even trying I found some meats that are always cheap and cheerful and which we, for some reason that I am yet to understand, no longer embrace! I need to pose the question...

Why do we always have to have meat that is - over trimmed - fatless -  oven or pan ready - or even worse - tasteless?

I was strolling through the market and came across these 'lamb off cuts' I suspect that they are neck of lamb, which for a while when some celebrity chef or aspirant, used in some fancy dish, at that moment, the price was doubled, they have now given way to what I always knew as forequarter of lamb/sheep/2 tooth and which my mother loved and most often boiled, but that not todays story. Suffice to say that Lamb Shoulder, SLOW COOKED, has become hugely celebrated for much the same reasons as the shanks and necks did, no doubt it too will fade back into yesterdays hero and lamb/sheep/2 tooth will again become a single dimensional meat, well trimmed and in the case of the chops (loin or what is now called bbq) will be tough and hard to eat, no matter how you cook them.

I was lucky, I bought four of these meaty on the bone items, not much fat and paid the princely sum of $8.95. A great bargain. I knew immediately what I was going to cook and I even bought some papradelli egg pasta when I saw some a little later. Dinner solved. It was a Ragu of Lamb cooked in the Greek style with some Papradelli and a good salad. Easy. Recipes follow. I have given you a recipe, very easy, I cooked mine in the heavy enameled iron pot on the oven for about three hours, let it sit to allow the fat and oil to rise to the top, skimmed that and as the pasta was cooking, put the pot back on the heat, added some fresh herbs, basil and parsley in fact and it was delicious.

Earlier in the week in my ceaseless quest for pork, I dashed into the local Vietnamese butcher across the road in Smith Street Collingwood (near the factory) I had seen some delicious looking pork belly in the window. A quick conversation with the butcher elicited the fact that it was female pork and dam fine it was too. But there, sitting next to the pork belly was a tray of pigs trotters at $3.50 each. I immediately bought four. As it turns out I had been chatting with two of my part time staffers, one Indonesian (Chinese) and one Thai and both had said that there was a very good little Thai restaurant tucked away in the arcade near the railway station in Hawthorn called I-Spicy (shop 19, 674 Glenferrie Road Hawthorn), a hole in the wall really and clearly focused at the many Asian students who attend Swinburne. The recommendation was a pork dish with water spinach but as ever I was seriously attracted to the pork trotter on the menu described as having been gently poached for three hours and then deep fried and sauced to a delicious stickiness and served on rice. Delicious does not do it justice.

Pork Hocks (or Trotters) are a much maligned bit of the pig, in many parts of Europe and the Mediterranean they are used as a casing, all the bone is removed and the cavities filled with minced meats and herbs, reshaped and poached and often fried (Cotechino of Italy is an example) There are many many recipes from almost every cuisine on earth. It needs to be remembered that pork was a meat that was in fact a peasant food, since the pig was an easy animal to breed and the litters were large. In times gone past, most people would have had a pig that they raised and eventually when it was fully grown, fat and often almost a member of the family, was slaughtered and in most countries, every single bit of the animal was used.

In so many ways we look back on this aspect of life gone past with great nostalgia and we are encouraged to dibble at the side here and there, slow cook this and that, but in fact we are so persuaded by media, medical and celebrity and lack of time, that we have very little remaining in our lives that embraces old ways. Media is so money driven that it follows the dictates of its major advertisers and rarely if ever, even consider suggesting to the public that foods, other than those sold directly by their major advertisers, has any merit. The medical lobby has succeeded in scaring the hell out of everyone with the tick campaign and instilled fear and loathing in everyone over fat and cholesterol. Whilst one must acknowledge that to eat excessive fat is not a good thing, its a little hard when (a) my grandfather lived to 94 and ate every bit of fat, butter cream he could find (b) We need a certain amount of fat in our diet and, how come the French are not a nation of fatties? They eat more butter than any other country on the globe? (c) The information we get is constantly conflicted, butter is bad, butter is good, fat is bad, fat is good. It may be of some advantage if internationally some sort of consensus was to be found and then, lay data on the unsuspecting public.

In the meanwhile I am going to toss my lot in with the French, the Greeks and the Italians and hope that, even if I don’t live a long life, I at least live a good one.

The recipes are as follows.

Ragu of Braised Lamb
 as cooked in Greece.

1kilo. of lamb shoulder (bone in) 
Or in my case neck of lamb off cuts.

1/4 cup olive oil 


1 large onion, diced


4 cloves of garlic, minced 


1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley


2 carrots, fine dice 


2 stalks of celery, fine dice 


1 tsp. dry rosemary 


3 - 4 sprigs of thyme 
(pull the leaves off the stems)

3 bay leaves 


2 cups of good tomato puree (passata) (I used two small cans of whole tomatoes, I like it better)

Really, simplicity itself, place all the ingredients in a heavy based pan, I added no extra water or wine, just the juice that accompanied the tomatoes and put into a slow oven 150 C for three or so hours until the meat was falling off the bone.

Serve with pasta of choice, the Greek solution may well have been to add some pasta to the pan itself, along with a little water to cook through and then its a complete dish.

The below dish is a good dish with lamb shanks...

Greek Braised Lamb Shanks

by AT THE GREEK TABLE on Saturday, January 23, 2010 at 11:11am

Greek Braised Lamb Shanks 
Every Greek kid grew up with some version of this dish – manestra – braised lamb shanks. My Mom would cover the roast and cook it in the oven for two and a half hours, then add a box of Orzo pasta and slow cook it for the last half-hour. In this contemporary twist of the recipe, I add a little of balsamic vinegar to cut into the fattiness of lamb shanks, crushed red pepper to give it a little bit of background heat, and natural honey instead of sugar. This is a nice dish for Sunday dinner with friends when you don’t want to have a lot of pots going. It can be prepared the night before and baked off Sunday morning. You can add baby potatoes after the first two hours of cooking or pasta for last half hour.

6 large lamb shanks

3 tablespoons olive

oil 
• salt, pepper and flour

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped carrot

6 large garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

28 ounce can of tomatoes

2 cups red wine (merlot or cabernet)

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar 


1/2 cup honey

2 cups chicken broth 


baby potatoes or orzo pasta 



Preheat oven to 170 C

Heat oil in large ovenproof pot (wide enough to hold lamb in single layer) over medium-high heat. Sprinkle lamb on all sides with salt, pepper and flour. Add lamb to pot and sauté until brown, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes. Transfer lamb to plate. Add next 15 ingredients to pot and bring to a gentle boil, continue this until the liquid is reduced by half, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Return lamb to pot, arranging in single layer; add any accumulated juices and cover with lid or parchment paper and foil. Bake for 3 hours. (until the meat is fall off the bone tender)

Pork Trotters (Hocks)

I paid $3.50 per hock from my now favourite Vietnamese Butcher...

If you don’t have a master stock... just make this one up...

Master Stock - Chinese

5 litres of water

3 cloves of garlic (I leave them whole with the skin on)

1 decent knob of ginger, sliced about 3 cm

1 stick of Cassia Bark

2 Large Star Anise

3 Cardamom pods (green)

250 mil of Soy Sauce

250 mil Chinese Rice Wine (Shoaxing)

50 grams sugar (I used Palm Sugar)

Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 10 minutes before using... add the pork hocks and turn way down to the lowest setting. Some say its good to do these in the oven, but they should cook for three hours and be butter tender. I think also you need to turn them once or twice and let all sides absorb the stock.


When cooked, remove them from the stock (carefully, they can easily fall apart..) now the hocks will have a central bone, keep the skin intact and remove the bone by pulling it out. Wrap each one individually in some cling wrap, making it into a nice shape. Place in the refrigerator over night.

The next day when the pork is cold, remove the cling wrap and slice into good thick slices... if you have a deep fryer, so much the better, if not, place them into a pan and fry both sides, hopefully the pork skin will get some cooking as well and become crisp.

Meanwhile, or maybe before you start the frying, make the following.

Chili Caramel Sauce

450 mil water

500 gr of palm sugar

45 mil fish sauce

60 mil of lime juice

2 red chili, finely chopped.

(you can add more chili if wanted)

Place 400 mil of the water and sugar into the pan and allow the sugar to melt and begin to boil and make a caramel, you can brush down the sides of the pot with a brush to stop the sugar crystals from forming (the brush needs to be dipped in water). When the caramel is well done, remove from the heat, add the 50 mil of water and allow to mix, add the chilies and the lime juice and fish sauce, cook for a few minutes.

Serve the Hocks on a bed of rice drizzle generously with this sauce. I also think a Thai vegetable salad is an essential accompaniment.

Good luck and do try and find and support butchers who offer you the full range of meats, great beef for braising that only comes when they break down a full carcass, lamb (not yet, but soon) right now 2 tooth and pork that is both well fed, allowed to free range and do what pigs do best, get fat.

https://goo.gl/ZRZTbZ

CHICKEN WITH ROASTED MUSHROOMS.

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There is the odd occasion when the creative juices flow and for some reason, dredged up from the very depths of taste and perhaps even some visual. Every now and then, something good comes of it. Last night I must have been inspired, it was delicious.

There are occasions when I am very proud of what we do... last nights dinner was one. I made Butter Chicken.

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BBQ

The joy of exploration of the dozens of cuisines now in this country, the pleasure at discovering something new. My only prayer is that we do not end up like the confused cuisine of the USA ...  Please!!

Two different sides of the planet are amongst the most enthusiastic alfresco (outdoor) cooks of meats, poultry and fish (and occasionally vegetable) using items that can assist, add flavour both during and after and also work to tenderise meats. The America's both North and South and Asia. I don't want to get into an argument here... let me be the first to acknowledge that the countries of the Mediterranean on all shores also have some excellence in this area. Many western countries, Australia included, often fall a little behind in this area. Have you been to a BBQ in tropical climes lately? It may be important to differentiate between Barbecue and cooking over charcoal as is normal in many Mediterranean and Middle East countries.

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