Huey's blog

  • The Seasons - Winter Magic

    I would love to start a group along the vein of "I'm not going to eat anything that is not at the height of it's season".

    What brought this on was a visit to my local Bi-Lo store, where I watched people ignoring all those wonderful winter goodies (such as parsnips, Swedes, turnips, brussel sprouts, apples and pears). Instead they opted for those many little numbers that purely and simply depend on a good splash of sunshine to be at their very best. (Not that we've had a lot of that in our so-called sunny months this year.)

    I don't blame the supermarkets. After all they are in the business of giving us what we want. But we, the customers, should be ignoring ingredients such as tomatoes, strawberries and asparagus and even, dare I say it, prime cuts of lamb and veal. And, instead think of root vegies, Asian greens, the aforementioned apples and pears and any cut of meat that can be successfully stewed or braised.

    This is the time of the year for hearty food - rich stews bubbling on the back of the stove as you watch TV, thick soups that can be whipped up at the drop of a hat and roasts with lots of crispy, crunchy roast vegies. And, of course if you are feeling a little fancy, oysters are at their very best in the colder months (they tend to spawn and become milky in the hotter months) and game birds such as pheasant, guinea fowl and partridge are also at their best right now. (All of which everyone whips up for the family dinner on a regular basis, don't they?)

    But, at the risk of repeating myself, this is the time for hearty, winter warmers.

    And, just to get you in the mood, try whipping up a simple stew by sauteing a few sliced or chopped onions with a couple of crushed garlic cloves in some oil, before adding a kilo of cubed well trimmed meat. Toss until it changes colour and then add 1 heaped tbsp of any Indian curry paste or pre-prepared spice mix and cook for a few minutes. Then add 3 tbsp plain flour and briefly cook, before just covering with stock (and wine, if you like) and a couple of cans of drained, diced tomatoes. Cover the pot and gently cook for 1-2 hours, stirring every now and then. If you like, throw in some green vegies (such as broccoli) towards the end. And, just out of interest, the curry paste or spice mix just adds body and richness and will not be discernable in the end product.

  • A Pot Of Mussels

    There are few things that I regret about having spent most of my working life in restaurant kitchens. But one thing that does annoy the hell out of me is the fact that, because of this, I have developed a quite serious allergy to crustaceans. A fairly common problem among chefs, it not only means that I can't eat the blessed things, but I also have at times difficulty even preparing them.

    Fortunately, in recent years, this has not been so much of a problem, because crayfish, mud crabs and even prawns have almost priced themselves off our tables. And, for some strange reason, cheaper numbers such as blue swimmers, bugs and yabbies just don't seem to have quite the same appeal (maybe purely and simply because they can be so bloody difficult to eat).

    Still, I suppose I should really count my lucky stars that it is only crustaceans that cause me such problems. Because, with other shellfish such as mussels, oysters and scallops freely available and still relatively inexpensive, I will hardly starve. Although I do remember the days when I could sit down to a whole freshly boiled cray with melted butter that was not only affordable, but didn't attempt to kill me. Or piles of prawns pulled straight from the poaching stock and peeled the minute I could touch them. Or mud crabs with black bean sauce in my local Chinese that was so good and so cheap that I invariably ordered two.

    Here's a mussel recipe for you to try.

    Serves 4-6

    4-5 dozen tightly closed mussels
    300 ml dry white wine
    1 medium onion, finely chopped
    1 bay leaf
    4 parsley sprigs
    100 ml cream (optional)
    1-2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
    freshly ground pepper
    crusty bread

    Scrub mussels with a stiff brush and remove the beard (discard any that are not tightly closed). Place in a large heavy-bottomed pot with the wine, onion, bay leaf and parsley. Cover tightly and cook over a high heat until mussels begin to open, giving a firm shake at regular intervals to redistribute them. Remove mussels as they open and place in deep bowls, discarding any that don't.

    When all mussels are open, remove the parsley and bay leaf. Add cream, parsley and pepper. Stir and boil for about 1 min. Then pour the sauce over the mussels and serve with plenty of bread on the side.


    nb. Sydney chef Steve Manfredi removes mussels from their shells and rolls them in fresh pasta sheets along with some fresh tomato sauce. He then places these 'rolls' in an ovenproof dish, sprinkles them with more tomato sauce and plenty of grated cheese, and bakes them until they are bubbling - delicious.

  • Pepper - What A Grind!

    I am beginning to feel that I may have, of late, developed a rather dishonest look. A look which discourages all waiting staff from leaving that valuable piece of restaurant equipment, the pepper grinder, within easy reach.

    Because it appears that the minute my meal arrives at the table, there they are brandishing the bloody thing before me in a manner which insinuates that this is my one and only chance for a sprinkling of the freshly ground stuff before they whisk the grinder away and lock it up in a safe place.

    Do I really look like the type who walks out the door with salt and pepper shakers and the odd teaspoon in their pocket? Or maybe they just have the feeling that I don't have the skills which are necessary to operate such complicated tools?

    Well, whatever the reason, I just wish they'd leave the mill on the table and clear off. Because, in my rather perverse way, I do actually like to taste my food before smothering it in pepper. And, who knows, later on I may even like to add a little more without having to beg for a repeat performance of that waiter's showcase - the pepper grinder ritual.

    Here's a dessert recipe you can try at home, with plenty of ground pepper already included.


    ANTON MOSIMANN'S PEPPERED PINEAPPLE

    100 gm caster sugar
    50 ml fresh orange juice & grated rind of ½ orange
    75 ml Creme de Cacao
    20 ml fresh lemon juice
    70 gm unsalted butter
    1 small pineapple, peeled, cored & cut into 1 cm thick slices
    freshly ground black pepper
    vanilla ice cream

    Melt the sugar in a pan until it lightly caramelises.

    Add orange juice, 50 ml Creme de Cacao and lemon juice. Stir and simmer gently to reduce a little.

    In another pan, melt 35 gm butter until lightly brown and add to the other pan together with the orange zest.

    Grind pepper over the pineapple slices and set aside.

    Melt remaining butter in the pan and add pineapple with remaining Creme de Cacao. Flame, add the sauce and gently beat.

    To serve, arrange pineapple on individual plates, top with a scoop of ice cream and spoon the sauce over.

  • Iain Hewitson - Food At The Movies

    We all, I'm sure, have our favourite food scenes from the movies.

    Being a romantic sort of fellow, to me, the fruit eating scene from 'Tom Jones' certainly stands out.

    And I do remember being the only member of the audience who saw the humour in the situation as Robert Morley (that sensibly proportioned gentleman) dispatched of a number of chefs in 'Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe' in the manner of their specialities, ie. pressed as in the famed Pressed Duck of La Tour d'Argent.

    There was also that great tantrum when Jack Nicholson was refused toast in 'Five Easy Pieces' - "Alright, if you won't give me toast, just give me a Chicken Salad Sandwich, hold the chicken, hold the salad and then can I just have my f...ing toast" - or words to that effect.

    But my favourite of all time would have to be from that terrific Aussie movie 'Sunday Too Far Away', when Jack Thompson told of the wonderful meatballs made by a particular one-armed shearer's cook. After unsuccessfully trying to persuade him to divulge his secret, a rival spied on him only to discover that the extra flavour came about because of his disability, which forced him to form them with his one good hand then roll them - where else, but under his armpit.

    My wife, Ruth, has insisted I also include her favourites - the fridge scene in '9 1/2 Weeks' with Kim Bassinger and Mickey Rourke (when he was good looking) and pretty much the whole French movie 'Chocolat', starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche. And, even Charlotte is getting into the act, naming 'Ratatouille' as "cool". (I enjoyed it a lot as well.)

  • Viognier - The Magic Grape

    I’m always a little apprehensive when all wine writers jump on one band wagon and wax lyrical about the ‘next big thing’.

    But, then again, their push for greater appreciation for our wonderful Rieslings was certainly well warranted and seemingly successful. Although, it must be said, it took a number of years before the public came on board and also began to appreciate the blessed stuff.

    This brings me to Viognier, which is certainly much appreciated by wine writers of all shapes and sizes. But is this just a new fad – a trendy little number that will disappear the minute something newer appears on the horizon? I, for one, certainly hope not. Because Viognier at its best is a delicious, fresh, full bodied white wine that just begs to be drunk with good food.

    Originally from the Rhone Valley, Viognier almost disappeared in the 60’s. This was due mainly to the fact that it is not an easy grape to grow and it generates a fairly low yield to boot. Fortunately sanity prevailed and, with the 70’s resurgence of the popularity of Rhone wines, the Condrieu’s of France began to receive a great deal of well deserved attention.

    It then achieved more fame through the Californian Rhone Ranger movement (a group of Californian wine makers who decided to make wines in the style of the Rhone Valley – particularly Syrah [shiraz] and Viognier. At the same time, the wine made a great comeback in France itself and replanting occurred rapidly in both the Rhone and nearby Southern France.

    Today the United States is most probably the largest producer of Viognier, with more than 50 wineries producing it. And, Australia has certainly jumped on the bandwagon. Yalumba was one of the forerunners and offers, at last count, 3 or 4 separate bottlings – including a Noble Pick Botrytis Viognier. D’Arenberg also sometimes produces a wonderful McLaren Vale version (The Last Ditch Viognier), which is both inexpensive and bloody good - sadly, it’s as rare as hen’s teeth. While at the other end of the spectrum, Gary Farr (with his own brand By Farr) and Petaluma both produce terrific wines. And I often drink a terrific version from the Mornington producer Elgee Park.

    On the other hand, I did also recently taste a rather dreadful version from a large producer who shall remain nameless. And, herein lies a slight problem. Obviously not every wine can be wonderful, but Viognier is, and has always been, a very difficult grape to deal with (as mentioned above). If unripe, it is thin and, for want of a better word, awful. Whilst if over ripe, it’s not much better. This is a wine that is completely dependent on the flavour of the grapes when they are picked. If the flavour is not there at that time, then it never will be.

    So be careful when you buy Viognier. Start off with the brands I have discussed and keep in mind that this is a food wine – not something that you quaff while leaning on a bar.

    ps. I’m also very impressed by the Shiraz-Viognier blends that are appearing – in particular, Mr Riggs version from McLaren Vale in South Australia.

  • In Search of the Perfect Tomato

    A number of years ago, I was invited to a tomato tasting at Digger's Seeds in Victoria's Mornington Peninsula. Conducted by David Cavagnaro, the then farm manager from America's Seed Saver's Exchange, it was (to say the least) an eye opener.

    Apart from the amazing array of colours (purple, yellow, green, striped and, of course, many shades of red), these tomatoes had real flavour. Obviously, much of this had to do with the fact that they were all organically grown without commercial pesticides and fertiliser (as were the seeds). But also, as it was quickly pointed out, because they were original varieties from palmier days when taste and flavour was all important, rather than ease of transport and a prolonged shelf life.

    Reminding me of my father's wonderful 'tommies', which were grown with little more than a sprinkling of homemade compost, we ate them like apples. I vowed to never again let those modern insipid, tasteless beasts darken our lips.

    I would like to say that I have faithfully stuck to that vow - but I can't. First of all, my attempts at growing the blessed things in pots in my backyard failed (the possums had a feast). And it appeared that many of the so called organic vegie shops I visited were, to say the least, dodgy. (I still have nightmares about my pommy mate, Solly, who made millions buying the spotty seconds from the London market and selling them as organics.) But, I am pleased to report things are finally looking up. Terrific organic shops are opening everywhere, self-regulation of the industry appears to be working and even some supermarkets appear to be coming to the party with organic vegetable sections.

    But those tomatoes still don't taste like my Dad's (or David's for that matter). So, it could be a return to the backyard where I could maybe put a puree of chillies around the base of my tomato plants to scare off the pesky possums. Although, I do seem to remember that last time they treated this is as an appertif and ate it first.

    ps. For your information, the Seed Saver's Exchange is a non-profit organisation which is dedicated to the preservation of original varieties from around the world. And their Heritage Farm has a seed collection of over 8000 different strains of vegetables - a vital collection in a world that often doesn't realise the danger in switching lock, stock and barrel to the so-called 'miracle' high yielding varieties. Their website address is http://www.seedsavers.org and another good reference website is http://homepage.tinet.ie/~merlyn/seedsaving.html And, for something closer to home, take a look at http://www.diggers.com.au


    ROASTED TOMATO & BASIL SOUP
    Serves 4

    10 large ripe, red tomatoes, cored & halved
    2 garlic cloves
    23 fresh basil leaves
    sea salt & freshly ground pepper
    olive oil
    1 large onion, chopped
    1 large potato, chopped
    vegetable stock
    2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan

    Preheat oven to 180°C fan forced (200°C normal).

    Place the tomatoes in a baking tray, sprinkle with 2 coarsely chopped garlic cloves, 8 finely sliced basil leaves, seasonings and a generous amount of oil. Cook in the oven for about 50 mins until the tomatoes collapse and caramelise around the edges.

    After 30 mins, put the onion and potato in a pot and cover with the stock. Gently cook until soft.

    Then blend the onion, potato and tomatoes with some of the tomato oil.

    To make the pesto, blend or process the remaining garlic and basil with the parmesan and enough oil to make a paste. Season to taste.

    Serve in individual bowls with a dollop of pesto on top.

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  • More handy conversions
    1 stick125 gm
    a dashless 1/8 tspn
    4 tspn1 tbsp
    3 tbsp1/4 cup
    1 cup250 ml
    4 cups1 litre
    3 tbsp1/2 cup
    1 lb450 gm