Tuesday, December 06, 2016

WHAT’S COOKIN’, GOOD-LOOKIN’?



My friend Joy (blonde) and Me...Circa 1962


I might not have had the papers saying I was a qualified chef, but I certainly qualified by the long, hard, sometimes stressful hours I put in over commercial stoves/ranges/deep-fryers; by the blood, sweat and tears.   

However, there few tears, except for the first time I watched my food being taken out of the kitchen in the hands of a waitress to diners.  I almost shed tears at that special, unique time.  I felt like a mother watching her children being taken away from her! 

Over the years many tears were shed from laughter, though. 

I learned very early in the piece, and very quickly, no tears needed to be shed over the slicing, dicing or chopping of onions.   I always stored the bags of onions in the cold room.  Using onions that have been stored this way (or in a home refrigerator) was/is a sure-fire method of stopping the flow of tears caused by the chemical in the onion, when the onion is cut, that irritates the glands in our eyes, causing us to tear up.

Over the years when I was working within the hospitality industry I wore a few different hats, and one of those metaphorical hats was a chef’s hat.  I prepared and presented thousands of meals to the dining public in various venues.

From my childhood, watching our Nana prepare our meals, I showed a keen interest in cooking. I learned a lot of the basics from Nana.  Her pastry-making skills were beyond compare, and to this day, from the lessons I learned from her, I’ve never made pastry other than with my hands/fingertips.  I’ve never used a processor to make pastry, and I probably never will.

My interest in cooking that began when I was a little girl carried through to my teenage years.  

Take-away food wasn’t high on our radar when I was a teenager.  There were “mum and dad-owned” fish and chip shops, many of which doubled as a hamburger “joint”. And, of course, the good old Aussie meat pies, pasties and sausage rolls were available at every corner store. The iconic Chiko Rolls, which originally originated in Bendigo, Victoria, hit the market in the early Fifties. Chico Rolls later really hit their strides in the Sixties, and became a popular addition to the fish and chips/take-away outlets.   

There were no McDonalds, Hungry Jacks, KFCs and the like when I was a child and teenager.

As I’ve written often in previous posts, during the halcyon years of my teens my girlfriends and I spent every weekend during spring, summer and autumn at the coast.   

On those weekends most of the time I took on the mantle of “cook”; a role I willingly performed.  During our weekends at the beach my mates and I lived mainly on freshly-prepared food, using fresh produce; a lot of which we purchased en route to the coast from the roadside stalls belonging to farmers along the way.  Fresh fruit was also a regular on our menu.  

Similar applied to our mid-week get-togethers/parties when we used to sit around philosophising and listening to music. We prepared our own food, never buying it in, already prepared.  We loved to experiment with recipes, and probably me more than the others.  We ate well.

From my very first visit to a restaurant at the tender age of 16 I was hooked by the romance and allure of restaurants.

Joy, a friend (we’re still friends to this day – we’ve known each other since early primary school days and our beach-going/surfing days) and I went to Brisbane for a weekend.

Our main intention once in the city centre was to purchase our first bikinis.  This we achieved on the Saturday morning.  

In those years the major stores closed at noon on Saturdays and remained closed until Monday mornings.  There was no late-night shopping; no seven days a week opening hours for the major retailers.  Corner, family-run shops operated under their own jurisdiction.

Joy and I bought a pair of towelling bikinis each at Weedman’s in Queen Street, the main street in Brisbane’s CBD.  

(Weedman’s, which originally, in 1931, had started out as “Players”, in 1970, became “Sportsgirl” – just a little background history that is probably of little interest to anyone other than me).

Later, in 1982 Queen Street was turned into a pedestrian-only mall, encompassing Queen, Albert and Edward Streets; and then later again, in 1988, the mall was extended to cover a larger area.

I had my mind set on buying a white bikini, but Joy struck first and chose white for herself.   I didn’t want to have an identical bikini, so I chose hot pink – same style; same fabric; different colour.  

We’d already stretched the limit more than far enough by purchasing a similar style; choosing the same colour would’ve meant we’d gone way over the line by miles.  She and I went to the coast together every weekend; and as much as we liked each other, were the best of mates, we had no desire to dress the same, whether on the beach or elsewhere.

It was on that particular weekend that I had my first restaurant dining experience. 

After our Saturday morning shopping spree, Joy and I decided we’d lunch at “Christies” in Queen Street Brisbane.  We sat upstairs on the mezzanine level.  After studying the menu carefully, I ordered Spaghetti Bolognese.

Joy was aghast that I would even entertain the thought of eating spaghetti in public, let alone bite the strand and chew it!  

In those days, in many ways, Joy was more openly confident that I was, but on that occasion she chose to stay safe by ordering for herself, toasted cheese, ham and tomato sandwiches.  

My choice of fare was made to enable me to conquer my shyness about eating in a public venue; to build up and gain self-confidence by eating, of all things, spaghetti! 

In for a penny, in for a pound...I dived into the pot!  Well, not quite...

A few years later when I was residing and working in Brisbane (employed by the Kolotex Group of Companies) I’d often take myself to lunch at various Chinese restaurants. I’d ask the waiting staff to remove the knives and forks from my table setting; for them to replace the cutlery with chopsticks.  By eating alone amongst and within view of other diners I taught myself how to handle chopsticks with aplomb. No fear...fully confident...and no dropped food!

Spaghetti Bolognese really only became popular in Australia...became one of the “In” foods...around about the late Fifties/early Sixties.  Until then, in most Aussie homes the only spaghetti eaten came in tins/cans. No kitchen cupboard or pantry was complete without a few tins of Heinz Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce. Of course, Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce kept the spaghetti company on the shelves.  Like love and marriage, or a horse and carriage, they go together....

In those days, and probably in the majority of instances still, - Spaghetti Bolognese was prepared and served here in this country using spaghetti, not tagliatelle.  

For goodness sake!  We were still getting used to the long, thin, cylindrical, solid dry pasta called “spaghetti” ; the pasta we, ourselves, had to cook in salted, boiling water.  

We didn’t need tagliatelle thrown into the mix to confuse things!  

I doubt tagliatelle was available in Australia in those days other than perhaps in the homes of Australian-Italian families, where the barely-English speaking Nonnas diligently passed on their cooking knowledge and prowess; where the Nonnas prepared everything from scratch.  

The majority of  “Anglo-Saxon Protestants (or those of the Roman Catholic faith) hadn’t even heard of tagliatelle, let alone eaten it!  

Aussies were just waking up to the fact that there were myriad varieties of interesting food from the rest of the world ready for us to explore - foods other than the British-Scottish-Irish influences we’d grown up with in our homes.

During our weekend in the “big city” the beach beckoned Joy and me.  After all, we were the “Gidgets” of the day.  We couldn’t ignore the lure of the beach.  

One of Joy's cousins, who lived in Brisbane, generously offered to drive us to the Gold Coast.  Being a Sunshine Coast surfer girl, I’d never been to the Gold Coast before that particular Sunday. I can’t remember clearly, but I feel it was Joy’s first visit, too.

Sitting on the beach at Coolangatta we cared not that it was a bleak, grey, windy, somewhat chilly morning in August.  

August is still winter here in the Land of Oz. Our spring springs into action in September.  

With stiff upper lips, Joy and I braved it out, keen to christen our new, and first, bikinis.  We were two trim, taut and terrific 16-year olds. 

On the beach we determinedly remained for a couple of hours while her cousin, who was much older than us (and who obviously had more sense), drank of cups of hot coffee in the warmth of a local cafe.

I believe we looked pretty good in our newly-purchased bikinis.  In those days of yore I think we looked pretty good in whatever we wore.  However, we were in no way cocky or “up ourselves” about it.  If we even broached the perimeter of feeling that way we’d soon be brought back down to earth by someone in our respective families - of that there is no doubt.

Back home in Gympie after our enlightening adventure I decided I’d make Spaghetti Bolognese for the first time.  It was to be a special treat for my mother, grandmother and brother. 

I learned a quick lesson from that not-so-little episode, too.

I managed to cook enough spaghetti to feed the population of Gympie, and probably the nearby towns of Maryborough and Nambour, as well!

Always learning – forever learning!

More to follow...

Thursday, December 01, 2016

A FEW PORKIES – THERE’S NO NEED TO BE CRABBY!



The resort on Newry Island no longer exists...National Parks now have control, after knocking down all the buildings.  Depicted here in the above pic is where the main building once stood.  The building shown is an open, picnic shed of sorts. Nowadays permits must be given by National Parks for people to visit the island.  It has been said people are woken at night by a spirit that haunts the island....don't tell anyone, but it's me!!

Uncooked mud crab

Randall & me...circa 1982...with a feast of mud crabs he and a mate caught in Lake Weyba. Lake Weyba is out the back of Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast. We were living on the coast at the time.

These last two pics are of Lake Weyba

 

Presently a piece of shoulder pork sits patiently in my fridge in readiness for roasting.  In the meanwhile I sit here impatiently drooling over the thought of the final outcome.

 

My appetite is already whetted and tormented, so I’ll share my torment with you. Every time I open my fridge door I see the glorious piece of meat sitting there waiting for me to do wonderful things to it! I can’t wait to get my teeth around its crisp, golden crackling.  However, before then a few motions have to be set into motion to reach that point.

 

The skin is already scored.   When I begin preparing it for roasting, I’ll sit the piece of pork on a rack in my kitchen sink, and then I’ll pour boiling water all over the pork skin.  This action will open up the scoring.   Once I’ve thoroughly dried the piece of pork with paper towels, I’ll liberally rub olive oil over and into the skin.  Then I’ll halve a lemon and rub the halves over the skin. Next steps I’ll take will be to liberally rub salt and Chinese Five Spice powder into the skin. 

 

You don’t have to be a licensed masseur to do these steps, but it would help…so pretend you are!  Be gentle, but firm…be liberal!

 

It’s funny the things we remember…well, speaking for myself, anyway….I’m the only one I can speak for….

 

A glorious roast shoulder of pork I cooked and ate way back in 1975 remains in my memory. 

 

Late November, 1974 Randall (who later became my husband and, later still, my ex) had returned to Brisbane from his New York stint and further world-wide odyssey that had lasted nine years.  He and I were living together in my unit in Toowong - a western, inner-city suburb of the city of Brisbane. We’d not yet bought our little worker’s cottage, our first house property purchase, a few doors up in the same street, nor had we yet married.  Oh!  Dear!  We were living in sin!  No…we were living in pleasure and happiness!

 

It was a mid-week night.  On my way home from work I’d purchased a small shoulder of pork from my favourite butcher, whose name was "Virgil".  At the time,  the butcher shop was situated on Milton Road, Auchenflower, the suburb just before Toowong. The butchers catered to the working public and never closed shop until around 6.30 pm, weekdays; a practice which was very convenient.

 

I can still taste that wonderful piece of roasted pork.  This statement probably sounds odd to some, but it was such a sweet, juicy, tender piece of pork, memorable in every way.  It was as sweet as fresh crab meat.  I’m sure if I mentioned it to Randall on the phone today, he, too, would remember that special piece of pork, and agree with my assessment of it.  The meal hadn’t started out being special…it was just a “roast dinner”, but on the evening I hit the jackpot with that piece of meat.

 

On the subject of pork (and I’m telling no porkies) - I’m also reminded of a particular day when I was living on Newry Island, and running the little, very low-key, relaxed resort thereon.  

 

When I arrived on the island the large freezer in the room (the room also housed the laundry area, among other things) at the rear of the kitchen was filled with “unknowns”.  It was unknown to me how long the frozen goods had been there. 

 

Rather than take any risks, I decided to get rid of suspect items.  I’m always of the mind…and  I always have been…(and particularly when I was cooking professionally)…I’d rather toss away than take the chance of poisoning anyone…including myself!  So if I’m unsure about something…I don’t question…I just toss!  I never take risks as far as food is concerned.

 

I decided to discard a few large legs of pork (four or five from memory), which I believed had been too long in the freezer.

 

Together with some aged, frozen, rich orange-coloured, cooked mud crabs that I also believed had lived too long in the freezer, I tossed the huge pork legs (by the size of them, they were probably from some old wild boar caught in the wilds) into the ocean, knowing they’d eventually be carried out to sea and become fodder for the abundant sea creatures.  As much as it hurt me to throw away mud crabs, the ones in the freezer had been hiding in there since before I stepped foot on the island…or even before I set two feet on the sand.

 

Every morning just after dawn I’d do a run down behind the generator shed, past the cabins on the foreshore to a garden plot a fair distance away. It was also an area where I’d burn off rubbish, and also bury any waste that would quickly decompose into mulch.  

 

I did eventually gain some sense.  I started a garden plot out from the main building, between it and the generator shed, making access much easier for me, rather than having to traipse all the way to the plot that had come into existence before my arrival on the scene.  Having a garden close to where all the action was made more sense to me.

 

I’d get all similar “hands-on” chores done before any boats and humans from the “outside” world arrived to the island.  It was the only time, between dawn and around 7 to 7.30 am I could get such chores done.   The cleaning of vacated cabins had to be done, when possible, during those hours, too.   It was all systems go!

 

Once the day began, in proper, I had to be back around the main buildings…the bar, dining, cabins and nearby surrounding outer areas.

 

The morning after the discarding of the uncooked pork and the cooked mud crabs a boat full of unexpected island visitors arrived before I’d had a chance to go down to the beach.   I was still been mucking about in the kitchen, and/or laundry.  I’d been up early, as was my habit. And it was then around 8.00 am or thereabouts  I heard a boat motor  People were arriving, unannounced, other than for the sound their boat motor.  They’d not been bookings; they were obviously day-trippers.

 

The boat was slowly edging towards the shore as I arrived at the water’s edge.  It was still a few metres out from where I was…between me and where my boat was moored at the drop-off; in the channel between Newry Island and Outer Newry Island.  

 

A couple of little kids, along with their parents who were guests on the island raced down to the gently-lapping ocean to greet the interlopers.

 

And then I saw them!  No…not the interlopers….worse!

 

Floating, without a care in the world, between me and the incoming boat were the pork legs and the cooked mud crabs!

 

Oops!  You can imagine my panic and embarrassment!

 

In the tossing of the pork and crabs I hadn’t taken into consideration the first incoming tide would bring them back to the ocean’s edge during the night.  A second tide would have carried them out to where they belonged…but not enough time had transpired between tossing and tides!

 

As I stood waist-deep in water with my arms and legs flailing in a frantic attempt to drown the offenders out of the way of prying, inquisitive eyes - (I didn't have enough arms and legs to keep all the pork legs and crabs beneath the water out of human sight.  I was failing miserably at my extreme efforts) - a little boy yelled out excitedly;

 

“Look Mum!  Mud crabs!”

 

“Yeah,” I replied dementedly. “I’m lucky. My mud crabs come already cooked here!”


Roast Pork Shoulder:  Remove 1.5kg to 2.5kg pork shoulder from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking and place on a chopping board. Prepare it as described above (or how you prefer to prepare roast pork e.g. dry the pork all over with a kitchen towel. Mix salt and pepper together; rub the mix on top of the skin and into the scoring). Preheat oven to 220°C, fan - 200°C, gas 7. Place pork in a large roasting tin; roast for 25mins before reducing the heat to 180°C, fan 160°C, gas 4. Calculate the remaining cooking time allowing 25 minutes per 500g, plus an extra 30 minutes. If the crackling starts to become too dark, cover with a loose piece of foil. 45 minutes before the end of cooking time add 4-5 green apples, halved horizontally, cut side up right and 3 or 4 quartered red onions (or as desired). Baste with the pork juices. 20 minutes before the end of cooking time stir the sage into the cooking juices and baste the apples and onions. After the cooking time, remove the pork, apples and onions from oven. Check the meat juices run clear. If the juices are pink continue roasting for a further 10-15 minutes or until the juices run clear. Transfer to a warm serving plate. Cover loosely with foil and allow to rest, 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, to make the gravy: place the roasting tin over a med-heat and stir 1tbs plain flour vigorously into the meat juice. Slowly add 400ml apple cider; cook 3-4 mins or until thickened.  To serve, remove the crackling from the pork; break in to pieces. Carve pork into thick slices; serve straight away with pieces of crackling, apples, onions, roast potatoes, pumpkin, carrots (whatever vegetables you feel like) along with steamed greens of choice, and the cider gravy.  The only vegetables I peel are onions...but, of course, the choice to peel or not to peel is your own!

Balsamic Roast Pork: Preheat oven 180C; season 1.5kg boneless pork loin with freshly ground black pepper. Heat a large pan to smoking point; add meat; seal on all sides for 3-4mins until golden brown. Transfer to roasting dish. In pan, melt 50g unsalted butter; add 2 red onions, cut into 8 wedges and 15g fresh, chopped rosemary. Sauté for 5mins until onion has softened. Tip into the roasting tin; pour over 125ml balsamic vinegar. Make sure the pork is well coated. Place in oven; cook for 40-45mins, stirring onions occasionally and basting the pork. 40mins before pork is ready add 6 small green apples, halved and pour over another 125ml balsamic vinegar. When apples are tender and pork is cooked, remove pork from roasting tin; allow to stand 10mins before carving. Place apples in serving dish; cover and keep warm until read to serve. Stir some dry white wine into roasting juices; simmer 3-4mins over medium heat. Serve with pork and apples.

Roast Pork Loin with Horseradish Crust: Preheat oven 220C. In heavy skillet, cook 1c fresh breadcrumbs in 1tbl olive oil, salt and pepper over medium heat until golden. Transfer bread crumbs to a bowl; toss well with 2tbls bottled horseradish. Pat 2kg piece boneless loin pork dry; season with salt and pepper. In skillet heat 1tbl oil over moderately high heat until hot, but not smoking; brown pork on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer pork to a shallow baking pan. In a small bowl, mix 1.5tbls each Dijon mustard and mayonnaise; coat top and sides of pork evenly with mixture. Press bread crumb mixture evenly onto mustard; roast pork in middle of oven 25-30mins (if bread crumbs begin to get too browned, arrange a sheet of foil loosely over pork). Transfer pork to a cutting board; let stand 5 minutes.

Lemon Pork Scallopini: Brush 2 pork scallopini on both sides with 1/4c Italian dressing; season with lemon pepper; set aside. Mix together 1/3c each plain flour and grated Parmesan cheese on shallow plate. Coat pork generously; shake off excess. Heat 1-2tbls butter and a dash or two of lemon juice in large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Quickly cook scallopini, about 3 minutes per side. Serve with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered broccoli spears, sliced tomatoes with blue cheese vinaigrette.  

Mud Crabs: There are other ways to cook and serve mud crabs, but I prefer them cooked and served simply.   I eat them just with vinegar, and/or lemon (I love my vinegar, though) along with fresh bread and butter…even the bread and butter is optional!  Why spoil something near perfect, or perfect?


How to cook mud crabs: Wash the securely-tied mud crabs thoroughly (otherwise you might get a nasty nip)!  Place the mud crabs in the freezer for 35 minutes.

Add 4-5 tbsp salt to a pot of water (about 5 litres of water per crab) and bring to the boil. Place the now unconscious, deep-sleeping mud crabs into the boiling pot of water. Bring the pot to the boil again; and then cook for 18 minutes.  (Depending on size...the smaller ones require about 12-15 minutes; the larger ones, about 18 minutes). Cool for about 5-10 minutes before serving; or longer if you desire – if you can wait that long!  I never can wait very long!