Okay, I know I said we don’t really celebrate Christmas, but in fact we still do with the extended family and hence I have a present for all of you – a simple recipe for aïoli!
I’ll start by saying I’ve made aïoli for years, but have never been entirely satisfied with the result until this version. The two keys to today’s success are most definitely the quality of the garlic and the choice of oils. In the past, I simply used extra virgin olive oil, which is often too fruity or sharp for a good mayonnaise of any sort. I found myself often compensating with extra mustard, or too much salt, hence the ‘meh’ outcomes. This version uses a mix of a mild extra virgin olive oil and grapeseed oil.
I probably don’t need to explain the reason for using good quality garlic, but I was lucky to find some locally grown globes where we are down the coast (silly me left our own garlic at home) that are very tasty indeed. Whatever you do, NEVER buy cheap Chinese garlic – aside from the obvious food miles and ‘goddess knows what they’ve put on it’ issues, it has no flavour.
Okay, enough back story. Here’s the recipe. We’ll be enjoying it tonight with crayfish and asparagus. 🙂
2 cloves garlic
1 T dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
1 C extra virgin olive oil
1 C grapeseed oil
Put all ingredients except the oil in a container and hand blend (I use an electric hand blender, but of course you can whisk if you like!). When combined, drizzle the oils in slowly while blending until fully emulsified. Takes about 5 minutes. Enjoy!
This is not a post to make others feel guilty about what you’re not doing, though it may have that unintended effect on some. I apologise in advance to any who take it that way. But while we have a quick look at the life of the Jonai, here’s a brief bit of background:
I was raised in a family with two working parents who outsourced most domestic labour, including quite a lot of what cooking was actually done (very little, in truth). Our ‘junk cupboard’ (full of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Chips Ahoy, Ruffles potato chips, etc) was precisely half the size of the ‘real food’ pantry, which was stocked with tins of vegies, soup and other highly refined items. There was minimal fresh produce in the house beyond bananas and apples. My mum hated to cook, but would occasionally produce a dinner of pork chops cooked to cardboard consistency (to ensure we didn’t get salmonella) and mashed potatoes (made from real potatoes). Many dinners were toast or a bowl of Cheerios we made ourselves, though we could sometimes convince Ma to make french toast, waffles or pancakes (from Krusteaz). She also made oatmeal to order as we all chilled out in front of the tv at night.
Stuart, on the other hand, was raised in a family where fresh food was paramount and readily available. Hardly any refined foods sullied their pantry, and his mother was a steady and plentiful cook of quality meat and three veg. Neither of our fathers cooked, though mine would man the barbecue at parties (Stuart’s still doesn’t like to do so) and mine also taught my mum to whip up a damn fine southern-style fried breakfast (he’s from Alabama).
The point is, I certainly wasn’t raised with any cooking skills, let alone positive food memories from childhood, except for the beautiful restaurants my folks would take us to during our regular travels. Our housekeeper did teach me a lifelong love of quesadillas, which I have passed on to my own children, though with many added vegies and my own refried beans.
So here we are, late thirtysomethings, both working full time, with three children. I work as well as doing my PhD, and this year my role as President of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) sees me interstate on average one night a week. Yet this year is the year I am learning to make sourdough, it is a year we are slaughtering chooks and eating them, a year our garden has proven extremely bounteous (and we rent, by the way), and we manage to put a home cooked meal on the table nearly every night. How do we do that, we’re often asked?
I’ve written plenty on the importance of skills – competence is the friend of efficiency. The other thing I’ve written about is the pleasure of competence, and the need to take pleasure in the everyday, including ‘chores’ such as cooking, gardening and tending the chooks. Finally, I’ve also pointed to the benefits of teamwork and the further efficiency of a larger household to reduce waste, a point supported by last year’s report on household waste, which showed that smaller households waste more, though large share houses that are not families still tend to waste more as well. Just briefly then, here’s how we do it:
We don’t do exhaustion. Our philosophy is that everything is achievable if it’s a priority, and cooking when you’re tired can actually be a way of relaxing if that’s how you see it. For Stuart, this extends to foraging on the way home, doing a bit of harvesting or staking tomato plants, etc, and for me it extends to finely chopping a number of ingredients for a quickly fried Thai basil, chili garlic fish instead of ordering takeaway. This is not to say we never get tired. We do, but perhaps we think of it differently to others, and reasonably expect ourselves to still cook a meal for the family, which may be something as simple as rice and avocado on a really lazy night. (NB We do order takeaway sometimes – perhaps once a month.)
We share the shopping, and make do with what’s in the house when necessary. Stuart pops into the Vic Market once or twice a week on his lunch break to pick up mostly fruit or a bit of meat. I stop in at the butcher, Italian grocer, organic grocer or fruit shop in our local shopping street after dropping kids at school on a day when I work at home, or on the way home from working in the city. When we’re really low on fresh food and too busy to go get some, we raid our freezer, which is always full of stock, homemade pasties and sausage rolls, and frozen meat for ’emergencies’. Plus we keep a lot of beans, both dried and tinned, for quick and simple meals. Having chooks means we always have eggs on hand, and my breadmaking obsession keeps us in bread!
Although I’m the primary and more passionate daily cook, we share the cooking as well. Like I said, if we’re very busy, sometimes the meals are incredibly simple: rice and avocado, pasta with a jar of passata from last summer’s harvest, lamb chops with roast potato and a simple salad, or Stuart’s stir fry, much beloved by the children. When there’s time to do something more, we do. I love nothing more than having time to get into the kitchen by 5pm so I can serve something delectable between 6:00 and 7pm. Sometimes I’m overly ambitious and dinner is late – in which case I let the children graze on nuts and fruit to tide them over.
But you even make bread during the week? Yes, and I can do this because I believe in a lackadaisical approach that makes it possible. You can see my post on how I wander through the kitchen, giving a dough a quick knead here and there, before letting it rise overnight to pop into the oven when we get up. This takes me no more time than someone else might spend reading the paper or watching the news (in fact, much less). Much of my bread is fairly flat because I leave it to rise for too long – it’s still totally scrumptious! Stuart also regularly brews beer of an evening, and does so quickly and efficiently after more than a decade of practice.
What about all the preserving? Harvesting and processing the masses of plums, tomatoes, pumpkins, olives, apricots, and more is one of the pleasures of our ‘down time’, though some of it can be rather tedious as well (ie pitting plums!). We do most of this on the weekends, though Stuart, who never rests, will often do some after work as I make dinner (does this cause some tension in the kitchen occasionally? Yes. ;-))
How do you manage to have a social life, take children to lessons and sport, and do any exercise, etc? Okay, a confession: I’m a little allergic to exercise. When I commute to the city I try to ride my bike (8km), so I get exercise that way sometimes, but admittedly not enough. Stuart rides every day, rain or shine, so does about 20km a day. He also brings crazy amounts of stuff home on his bike, so perhaps he is a little superhuman and not everyone is inclined to do what he does. We socialise plenty, but often by having people over or going to their houses for dinner. Our kids are not heavily scheduled, though Antigone now does gymnastics (shared between 3 families, so only have to drive once/three weeks) and piano (the teacher comes to us). The boys aren’t keen to do lessons, and we don’t push. We’d rather have more homely time here, cooking, reading and playing, which we think will give them what we regard as more important life skills than many other things we could outsource, though we’re not knocking the value of those other things – they’re just not priorities for us.
So how can everyone ‘find time’ to cook more delicious and nutritious foods? First of all, through practice. The ability to use limited time well requires skills. Skills lead to competence, which is pleasurable. It feels great to know you’ve dashed in with a few ingredients and knocked up a lovely meal for the family, which leads to you wanting to do it again. Rushing in and throwing a frozen or takeaway dinner on the table doesn’t feel that great, but you’ll probably do it again if you don’t know how to cook something better, leading to a dreadful cycle of bad food and related guilt/bad feelings. It’s a no-win cycle, but skills are the way out.
An important part of this skill-building is reframing cooking and food shopping as ‘fun’ and ‘relaxing’, leading to ‘delicious’. It’s also great to spend time as a family doing the harvesting and cooking – we think it’s ‘good parenting’ to cook with your kids. 🙂 Ultimately, the creative process of imagining what’s in the garden/fridge/pantry and how you might transform it into a meal to nurture yourself and others is deeply and viscerally joyful, in my experience. ‘scuse me while I go knead the bread…
Church St Enoteca 527 Church St, Richmond VIC (03) 9428 7898
As I’ve claimed before, the Twitterverse runs on a gift economy, and so last week Stuart and I found ourselves the grateful and delighted guests of the charming Ron O’Bryan (@ronobryan) at Church St Enoteca, along with @myfoodtrail, @jetsettingjoyce, @mutemonkey and @cookingwithgoths. It was Ron’s last regional dinner of the year, the Tour of the Obscure, designed around six obscure Italian wines which were complimented by food from the region of the grapes.
I don’t carry a particularly good camera, and these days I rely on the iPhone almost entirely (which has a terrible camera), so if you want to see great photos, check out My Food Trail or MEL: Hot or Not. These lovely bloggers also gave a detailed description of our meal, which was delicious start to finish, so I won’t give such detail here. Highlights for me were definitely the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene upon arrival, the divine salad of prosciutto with shavings of raw artichoke and fennel, and broad beans, almond and lemon, and the rabbit, fennel and cotechino brodo with rabbit cappelletti. These two dishes were totally heavenly combinations, and fed my current obsessions with rabbit, filled pastas, and cotechino very nicely.
But now it’s time for me to digress, or rather return to what are really my central interests in our dinner at Church Street Enoteca…
First of all, a quick word about social media, food and community. I’ve never been a regular reader of any particular blogs, though I usually enjoy reading casually when I have the time. Predictably, most of the blogs I look at are food blogs, though I do love a dose of a good feminist or political blog. Since Twitter, however, I now follow many dozens (dare I say hundreds?) of food bloggers, food enthusiasts, chefs, and food scholars (yes, we’re a real category), as well as people representative of my other interests in social media, politics, and feminism. On Twitter I have very rapidly expanded my ‘communities of interest’, and have had opportunities to meet many of the people I follow, such as at Enoteca last week. I’ve followed Ron for awhile, and have really enjoyed his tweets about sourcing sustainable and ethical ingredients. We’ve even had a couple of exchanges over the questions of what people are looking for and will pay for when eating out, where I shared some of the findings from my own interviews. And so what a pleasure to then be invited to join the other bloggers to taste his delectable food, followed by a great discussion with him about his upcoming new venture in St Kilda, where he will be showcasing local, seasonal and where possible, organic and biodynamic foods.
Ron is clearly passionate about his cooking and the quality of his ingredients. This passion extends to the ways that food supports community, and his educational dinners that focus on regional cuisine see all sorts of people sitting side by side learning, tasting and conversing. Our dinner was served a la famiglia, with big share plates down the middle of the tables. As Ron said when he was introducing the meal, he served us family style in order to bring people together, and he even suggested that people would probably eat something they hadn’t tried before, which would give us more to talk about. Of course he was right, and our table was abuzz with conversation about what ingredients we were seeing and tasting, and comparing notes on flavour and texture. In fact, it was nearly midnight before we all left, a late hour we had chattered our way to without noticing.
So in terms of creating a congenial environment, Ron’s really nailed it at Church Street Enoteca, where quality ingredients are transformed into truly delicious regional Italian dishes, and interesting individuals connect to form rich and diverse communities.
Thanks, Ron! We look forward to checking out the new venture soon!
The first time I went to India in 1998, I fell deeply in love with the food. As a vegetarian at the time, I delighted in the lengthy menus with a small ‘non-veg’ section at the back, and couldn’t get enough of all things palak (spinach). Two particular favourites were palak paneer and alu palak.
In the middle of our month’s travel through the north, we found ourselves stuck in Agra for an unexpected extra night (due to thick fog and a malfunctioning ILS at the Agra airport). Exhausted from long bus rides, insouciant touts, and endless transport delays, we splurged and stayed the night at a family-run guest house near the airport called New Bakshi House (and it really was a splurge at $42 for the two of us, including breakfast and a hot shower, when we were used to paying around $10 a night).
The main treat at Bakshi House, however, was not the comfortable beds or hot water, nor even the delicious home style food, but the lovely hostess, Rani, who shared her recipes with me. As I banged on about my love of palak and paneer, Rani assured me this Indian cheese was very simple to make, and gave me her recipe, as well as others for kuku, alu palak, malai kofta, ghobi, yoghurt, and another I wrote down as ‘a Chinese dish’. Although she was adamant that paneer was very simple to make, I perhaps simply wasn’t a confident enough cook yet to believe her. It in fact took me nearly a decade before I attempted to make my own.
Here is Rani’s recipe:
Boil 1 litre milk (her sister-in-law Tina had lived in America for 17 years, so perhaps she introduced Rani to half & half , which the original recipe called for. I use raw milk.).
Add 2 tspn lemon juice.
As soon as milk curdles, remove from heat.
Put cheesecloth in sieve. Pour milk mixture through & cover lightly.
Leave 1 ½ hours or more (you may rinse the curd at this stage if you’ve added too much lemon juice).
I think that for many years I simply didn’t trust the simplicity of this operation. Surely the paneer wouldn’t form? Trust me, it does every time, just like that. I now use ordinary full cream milk, and for a family of five I find I need to do about 3L to make enough paneer for a meal (it makes about 500g). I also usually press mine as it rests in the sieve, unless I’m making paneer koftas, since I’ll be crumbling the paneer anyway. I also save the whey, which you can use if you’re making chapatis or parathas. If not, as per @crazybrave’s suggestion recently, I simply add it to the chook scraps.
Here’s what I did with my most recent paneer, which I will usually make before lunch if I want it for dinner. This recipe is adapted from my favourite Indian cookbook, bought in Calcutta, “Desi Khana: The Best of Indian Vegetarian Cooking” by Tarla Dalal.
Palak Paneer Kofta
For 500g paneer, I add about 4T plain flour, chopped coriander to taste (loads!), chopped chilies to taste, pinch of bi-carb soda and salt to taste. Form into balls and deep fry until golden brown. Rest on paper towels.
Bash up (or food process) loads of garlic, pistachios or cashews, poppy seeds (not too many as they’re bitter), ginger & chili (if no children will share this meal) – all to taste, which means lots of garlic especially in our house. Tarla adds grated coconut, but when I was short of any, I actually used coconut cream & just add it after the other ingredients fried for a bit.
Chop up a giant bunch of spinach and cook it lightly with about ½ cup of water until it’s fully wilted. Blend the spinach to a puree and set aside.
Heat ghee in a cast iron frypan and cook the paste for 3-5 minutes, until
the garlic loses its acerbity.
Add a couple of tablespoons of coconut cream and cook for another minute or two.
Add about a cup of full cream natural yoghurt and cook on lower heat for another minute or so.
Add the spinach puree, 1T raw sugar or jaggery, salt to taste and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the koftas to heat back through and serve. 🙂
My kids adore this dish, as do adults. You can serve it with rice and naan or pappadums. If you make it spicy, it’s worth serving a raita as well. As for the paneer, it’s also delicious simply on its own – I have to hide it from the kids while I’m cooking or there’s never enough…
Sometimes, the stars are just aligned, and nothing you do will stop the goodness coming your way. At least that’s how it felt when food blogger and Twittermate @tomatom offered me the opportunity to accompany him to the de Bortoli family’s annual Salami Day in the Yarra Valley. This came on the heels, by the way, of the wonderful @Ganga108 offering to ship some cookbooks she was clearing out to any address in Australia; mere days later Kylie Kwong’s Recipes & Stories landed on my doorstep. The Twitterverse is an amazing land of plenty, especially if you hook up with your real community of interest. But back to Salami Day…
The day began before first light, as Ed and I followed our Google maps blue dot on the iPhone (well, technically the blue dot follows us, but on the return trip after hours of grappa and sangiovese, I was pretty sure we were following the dot…) up to the de Bortoli vineyards. Just as we pulled up, the sun having just risen, there was the pig, which had just been sawn in half. Within minutes, the head and other bits were on the table, where family members Maria, Dominique and Angelo set straight to work. (They had actually already butchered two pigs the day before, so were definitely in the groove.) There were only a dozen or so people around at this stage, including Darren de Bortoli (Managing Director) and his sister Leanne and her husband Steve, the winemaker and manager in the Yarra Valley. Just to prove what a small world Melbourne is, Stuart’s dad’s cousin Andrew Chapman was there taking photos for the family, accompanied by his lovely wife Josie.
As some headed off for their first coffee with a shot of grappa, Josie and I grabbed a knife each and helped shave the fat off the underside of the skin, which was then chopped up to be used for the cotechino sausages. The fat itself was a very pleasing smooth texture that felt scrumptious on the hands. These pigs had followed the strict diet for the last few months of regular acorn feasts, and the flesh was a beautiful dark pink/red as a result. In the adjoining area of the shed, another pig (not raised by the family) was on a spit for the sumptious lunch we would enjoy later… but we didn’t have to wait long before platters of salumi and freshly made ciabattas did the rounds, closely followed by trays of grappa.
By this stage, Maria, Dom, Angelo and the local butcher had made great progress on the pig, having sliced all the flesh from the bones (except the hams, which were left intact to cure and I believe some for prosciutto?). The meat was in pieces about the size of my fist, at which point they spread it across the metal tables, added the spices (chili, fennel, salt, pepper, and saltpeter), and mixed it up a bit by hand. Next it was time to pop it through the mincer (and the need for a nice big electric mincer becomes readily apparent when you see how much meat has to be processed!).As more people arrived and the accordion started to play, the atmosphere got both more festive and less intimate. For someone doing a PhD trying to unravel the difference between Hage’s ‘cosmo-multiculturalists’ (some would call them the ‘foodies’: people who are ‘into’ food for reasons of social distinction) and cosmopolitans (food + community = understanding, openness to cultural difference), the shift at this point was interesting. I felt enormously privileged to have been there from the beginning with the family, neighbours and friends, and had really enjoyed the easy comradery of the communal butchering.
After the mincing comes the salami stuffing. The previous day, they had made the salami with collagen casings, which are made from pork intestines, but reconstituted to get a more even and stronger consistency – hence those salami were quite straight and even as they hung in the cool room. Today they were using intestines (long enough to stretch round the shed!), so ended up with lovely curved salami, which Angelo expertly dipped in near boiling water, then tied up with twine to be hung.
I believe the main salami made would be described as sopressata from Calabria (but I could be wrong). There was some venison brought by the butcher that was also made into salami – apparently venison is too lean for a good salami (too dry) and so was mixed with the pork and fat. Finally the cotechino was made, requiring two times through the mincer with different blades to churn through the tough rind. Whereas the salami will be hung for about 6-8 weeks, the cotechino could be eaten immediately – I was told that you can boil it or cook it slowly for quite awhile to soften it up further.
The morning drew on towards lunch, by which time the crowds had really arrived and the wine was flowing freely. About a hundred of us sat down to a beautiful meal of pork sausages made the day before (to chef Tim Keenan’s recipe, which has renewed my belief that there are really good sausages to be had in the world – yum!), served with wine soaked caramelised onions and grilled polenta with a salad of mixed greens and vinaigrette. This was followed by a beautiful array of cheeses and that fresh ciabatta again. I enjoyed the charming and interesting company of Darren de Bortoli over lunch, and we conversed for hours on his family’s history, community, cultural diversity and cosmopolitanism in Australia (with a few forays into American politics and friendly disagreements over Howard).
As the afternoon waned, the conversation moved from kids’ lunches (“We used to be weird for our salami sandwiches, now they’re so common the kids say they’re boring and want sushi! Sushi, for God’s sake!”), to the resurgence in interest in the ‘old ways’, such as the salami days. Darren made the point that even the ‘skippies’ are into it now, and someone laughed that “people are calling them ‘foodies’, when all they are is wogs!” There was much talk of how the southerners (Italians) maintain the salami day tradition, with the requisite grappa, wine and sociality, whereas the northerners have the salami day, but just get in, get the job done, and get home again. This ‘northern/southern’ discussion was from people who were third and fourth generation Australians, yet still maintained their regional distinctions here in Australia. Fascinating!
Alas, it was time to bid the generous de Bortolis grazie e arrivederci, and follow our blue dot back into the city, where the children and Stuart had excitedly prepared us a three-course meal (not realising I would be too full to eat much!). I look forward to a sausage making day with the children one day soon in our own attempts to nurture our community with food and ritual.