Saturday, December 31, 2011

Xavier and Joe's Bloody Mary oyster shots

Another lovely thing we had at Christmas, but which is great for New Year or indeed any celebration, are Bloody Mary oyster shots, freshly-shucked oysters presented on a bed of coarse sea salt, clustered around a potent and tasty Bloody Mary oyster shot. This stunning looking dish was a combined effort by my son Xavier and son-in-law Joe.
Xavier's recipe for Bloody Mary:
Tomato juice
Good vodka(we used Russian Standard)
Worcester sauce
Salt, pepper
Celery(to decorate, can also be used as an edible swizzle stick!)
Mix together in cocktail shaker(quantities as required, to taste). Serve very cold in small glasses with a fresh oyster down the bottom of each glass. Knock it back in one!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Pippa's delicious salmon gravlax

One of the beautiful dishes we had at Christmas this year, but which can be enjoyed at any time of the year, was my daughter Pippa's beautiful home-made salmon gravlax, cured in salt, sugar, and fresh grated beetroot and orange juice. It looked spectacular with its dark red underside, tasted fantastic, and was prepared in minutes(though you need to leave it for 24 hours to cure before serving).
Here's her recipe, with quantities suitable for a half-side of fresh salmon(skin off).
You need three grated beetroots and 3 juiced and zested oranges. Mix together with some sprigs of dill and pop it in a long china or glass dish big enough to hold the salmon. Then mix 100 g of sea salt(coarse)and 3/4 caster(fine) sugar and coat fish in it, pressing it in on both sides. Then put salmon on top of beet/orange mixture, cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for 24 hours. The next day, take it out, wipe off any excess salt/sugar with a cloth , take the salmon out of the dish and slice it thinly to serve. Serve it with sliced Spanish onions, thinly sliced cucumber, and a cream cheese and caper mix on the side.

Writers and editors on food 13: Meredith Costain

A new post in my guest series, featuring a deliciously simple recipe to see in the New Year!

Meredith Costain is a children’s author who lives in inner-city Melbourne with her partner – publisher and YA author Paul Collins – and a menagerie of pets, who frequently wrangle their way into her poems and stories. Her books range from picture books through to novels and non-fiction for older readers, and include Doodledum Dancing, Bed Tails, Dog Squad, A Year in Girl Hell, and novelisations of the TV show Dance Academy. She presents writing workshops for kids and adults around Australia and (when lucky enough to be invited) overseas. Visit her at

This is a quick and easy recipe that you can have on the table in just over 20 minutes. Don’t be too worried about quantities and times – just throw it all together and serve when it looks ready!

Atlantic salmon with sesame seeds and ginger soy sauce

• 2 pieces of Atlantic salmon – skin off
• 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
• 1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
• knob of ginger, finely diced
• 1/3 cup soy sauce
• 1/2 cup water
• 2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves

1 Pan fry the salmon for about 3 minutes on each side, until it’s just starting to lose its pinkness in the middle.
2 Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients (except for the spinach) in a bowl.
3 When the salmon looks almost cooked, pour the sauce over the top and cook for another minute on each side (or to suit).
4 Sprinkle the baby spinach leaves over the top during this stage so they start to wilt.
5 Place the salmon and spinach leaves on the plate, leaving the sauce on a high heat for a few more moments to reduce and caramelise slightly.
6 Pour the sauce over the salmon.
7 Serve with boiled or steamed baby potatoes (with a litte dijonnaise for a French twist!) and green vegetables such as runner beans, snow peas or asparagus.
8 Enjoy!

Serves 2

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Our Christmas menus

Big family Christmas at our place this year. Lots of cooking! And on the menu is:

Dinner today(23rd):

Entrée: Shrimp rémoulade, using fresh Sydney tiger prawns, the rémoulade made with herbs from the garden, Saskia Beer's horseradish mix, Maille wholegrain mustard, and home-made mayonnaise made with our chooks' eggs.
Main course: Chicken in a basil, oregano and white wine sauce, with fresh home-made pasta, green vegs, and lots of salads. Cheeses, too, from a Stilton to a French goat cheese.
Dessert: Paris-Brest cake(beautiful choux pastry ring filled with butter cream and praline). One of David's specials.

Christmas Eve dinner:
Entrée(and appetisers): Chilled duck foie gras from south-west France, white anchovies, Hunter Valley cacciatore, all served with crackers and our own home-grown green olives.
Main: Barbecued meats with various marinades and sauces, home-made bread, lots of salads.
Dessert: Raspberry and strawberry charlotte, with whipped cream. Also David's creation.

Of course each day we'll also be having aperitifs--Tokay, muscat, kir, and/or cocktails, plus good wines to accompany everything(and we'll definitely be taking Deborah's suggestions from previous post!)For non-alcoholic drinks, there's also deliciously refreshing home-made elderflower pop.

Christmas Day lunch:
Will be a stupendous buffet, accompanied by cocktails, French champagne, and a selection of good wines from Australia and elsewhere!
Cold course: freshly-shucked oysters, home-cured side of salmon with beetroot and orange glaze, cream cheese and dill side, with rye bread or crackers, and our butcher's lovely ham, served with home-made mango salsa(mangoes from Stanthorpe in Queensland).
Hot course: Rare roast rump of beef sauce cassis et groseille(blackcurrant and redcurrant sauce), home-grown small potatoes sautéed in duck fat, home-grown steamed snow peas, selection of other green vegetables.
Salads: Mushroom, tomato and basil, mixed green salad, couscous and pomegranate salad.
Dessert: Buche de Noel frangourou-style(as below), and home-made Christmas cake featuring dried fruit soaked in armagnac. The first traditional French offering is made by me, the second traditional English offering by David, demonstrating the true entente cordiale in our family!
Super easy, super delicious frangourou Christmas Log cake
(requires no baking, can be made Christmas Eve).
This was my mother's invention, we had it every Christmas when we were kids, and I still make it every Christmas.
1 packet sponge finger biscuits
200 g unsalted butter, melted
1 or 2 eggs(depending on how much mixture you have)
half to 3/4 cup hot strong sweet coffee(a good instant coffee works fine)
Cooking chocolate, melted with a little cream.
Crush all the biscuits, add the hot sweet coffee, the melted butter, and mix well. Add the slightly beaten egg(or two). You need to obtain a good stiff mix that you can easily shape into a log. That's what you do then--shape it into a log, and then put it in fridge till it is set. Meanwhile melt the chocolate over a low heat with a little cream, stir till all melted and glossy. Spread over the cake, on the top and sides. Put in fridge to set overnight. You can also decorate the top with angelica leaves, almonds, sugar holly, whatever you feel like!
To everyone I wish a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, and every other seasonal festivity, and a happy New Year! A bientot!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday wine and food pairings: guest post by Deborah Gray

I'm very pleased to be bringing you today the first of an occasional guest series, covering a topic that goes ever so well with good food--good wine. It's written by wine expert Deborah Gray. Deborah, an Australian native, has spent the last twenty years importing Australian wines into the U.S., focusing on bringing small, high quality, family-owned brands to distributors, retailers and restaurants across the States. Her first book, How to Import Wine – an Insider’s Guide (Wine Appreciation Guild) published in August, 2011, has just been named “Best US Professional Wine Book 2011” by Gourmand Magazine. Her websites are at: and she blogs at

Her post today is on holiday food and wine pairings, and also includes a delicious mussels recipe.

Holiday Wine and Food Pairings
Conventional thinking used to say red wine with meat, white wine with fish, but we’ve moved far beyond that these days. The primary goal in enjoying wine and food together is to have the flavours play off one another, allowing each to show to best advantage. At their most sublime, food ingredients taste much more piquant and appetizing and wine will shine as its perfect complement. At its worst, wine can taste bitter and unbalanced and food is overwhelmed and tasteless.

Consider not just the main element, but also the way the dish is prepared. White fish with hearty ingredients, such as mushrooms and tomato based sauces can be overpowered by a light wine. In addition, if the dish is to be prepared with wine as an ingredient, a wine pairing of that same wine is often a great choice.

Salmon is a prime example of a food that can pair with quite diverse wines.

• With a béarnaise sauce, a Chardonnay aged in oak is heaven.
• Poached in good quality Sauvignon Blanc would fit hand in glove with the same Sauvignon Blanc.
• Grilled with a mustard glaze, cherry sauce or mushroom side picks up the classic flavours of Pinot Noir or Merlot.

Now to the holidays...I’m not going to make any one turkey wine pairing suggestion, because the Christmas holiday meal is chock full of incredibly diverse flavours – white and dark turkey meat, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetable with creamy sauces, casseroles and gravy. An assortment of reds and whites will go well with it all, depending upon your tastes and preferences: Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Beaujolais Nouveau, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, to name a few.

What I’d like to do is suggest some holiday bubbles that may not have come to mind before and makes a festive event of any occasion.

Prosecco, an Italian grape, made into a dry, sparkling wine is not only a less expensive alternative to Champagne, but absolutely delicious and fun its in own right. It can be enjoyed as an aperitif prior to the meal, served with a cheese platter, or paired with many of the same dishes as any brut white sparkling.

A particular favourite of mine is ceviche, a dish common to Latin American countries, where each region gives it its own flair utilizing lime, lemon or bitter orange to marinade fresh fish or shrimp. Ingredients are few, always fresh and usually include some form of chili pepper. In Mexico, street vendors serve it in paper cups from carts. The bright fresh flavours of Prosecco are the perfect accompaniment.

Sparkling Rosé, also brut (dry), is a versatile choice for many foods. I’ve included a recipe here that is not necessarily traditionally holiday, but illustrates that while mussels are the main ingredient, tomatoes and garlic give the Rosé its ideal pairing.

Mussels Steamed with Leeks, Tomatoes & Garlic

2 medium leeks
3 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
14.5oz can petite-diced tomatoes
2 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
4 lb. mussels, scrubbed well

Trim dark leaves and root ends from the leeks. Split the leeks lengthwise and rinse them well under cold running water. Slice them crosswise into about ½ inch thick half-moons.

In a large, heavy pot, cook leeks, garlic and bay leaf in the oil over medium heat, stirring often, until the leeks begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Sir in the tomatoes and their juices, tarragon and pepper flakes and simmer to meld flavours for 5 minutes. (This mixture can be prepared up to 3 hours ahead and left out at room temperature.)

When you’re ready to cook the mussels, return the leek mixture to a boil over high heat. Add the mussels, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mussels open, 3 to 8 minutes. Spoon the mussels, broth and vegetables into large bowls and serve with crusty artisan-style bread, sliced, for dipping in the broth. Serves four.

If I’m to continue the theme, may I throw out all the other turkey/wine matches and suggest a magnificent and inimitable Aussie Sparkling Shiraz?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Writers and editors on food 12: Helen Evans

Helen Evans, a former teacher, lives in Armidale NSW and is a writer, storyteller and textile artist. As well as visiting early childhood centres each week as a storyteller, Helen runs the family gallery in Uralla, NSW, where examples of her textile art can be seen(as at right). For more details visit her website

In this beautiful piece, Helen remembers childhood Christmases, and a favourite recipe.

Christmas dinner has always been the meal of the year for my family. Traditional British fare of baked vegetables and roast meat as the main course were what my Mother had grown up with, and she maintained that tradition all her life. We were lucky during the war years, that a cousin in the country used to bring in a hen, dressed in its feathers, for us. My brother removed the feathers on Christmas Eve and it rested in state in the meat safe that hung on the back veranda until Christmas morning when it would be stuffed with bread crumbs and herbs. Daybreak found us gathered excitedly on Mum’s bed to open parcels and then to play with the treasures until breakfast. As soon as that meal was over, it was time to make the Christmas pudding. My Dad, who was in Malaya from 1941 serving in the AIF, had never liked traditional Christmas pudding, so Mum made his favourite, a steamed date one accompanied by jelly, custard, stewed cherries, and cream. We three children always helped to make it. I stirred the jelly crystals, my sister beat the eggs for the date pudding, my brother cut the dates and measured them into small piles, each one an ounce, while Mum creamed the butter and sugar. We stood there expectantly to take turns in adding the ingredients at the right moment, to put in the three-penny and sixpenny bits, and to clean out the bowl when the mixture was transferred into the aluminum pudding bowl. Before the lid was secured, we had greased pieces of brown paper that Mum tied over the top of the bowl with string. The big old iron pot had been brought in from under the laundry tubs, and was by then bubbling and steaming on the gas stove. Mum carefully lowered the pudding bowl into the water and after adjusting the water level, that lid was also put in place. The pudding cooking, Mum put the chook in the baking pan to brown in the oven, then peeled potatoes, pumpkin, squash, carrots and stringed the beans. As the morning progressed the aroma of the food began to fill the house, something never to be forgotten. As there was no refrigerator, the red jelly was sitting in a dish of cool water in the coolest spot under the grape vine. We had decorated the dining room several days before, but for Christmas dinner, the special white damask cloth was put on the table and the precious silver cutlery came out from the sideboard. The pewter and glass tankards that Dad had sent from Malaya would be filled with lemonade and there was a dish of lollies and table raisins that Mum had found somewhere.

Serving the dinner was a nervous time for Mum. Would the meat be just right, would the vegetables lift from the baking pan, would the pudding be cooked through? We’d all be dressed in our best and waited quietly while Mum removed the dish from the oven and served up the meal in the kitchen. We carried our plates, all piled high, into the dining room and sat while grace was said. How we enjoyed those Christmas dinners. Our pudding plates were also filled generously and topped with thick cream skimmed from the boiled milk. Milk had to be boiled in order to keep it fresh. The pudding was always perfect and none of us swallowed the hidden money. We counted out our cherry stones to the old rhyme tinker tailor soldier sailor… My brother always managed a second helping, but then feeling so full, would have to let his belt out. Washing the dishes was also a family affair and the rest of the afternoon was for resting and reading.
Each of us has developed a new Christmas dinner tradition, but those far off Christmases still bring a smile to my face and no desert is more enjoyed by me than date pudding. The big old iron pot originally owned by my Grandmother, now lives under my laundry tubs and comes out each Christmas to cook the pudding. Here is the recipe for the date pudding.
Steamed Date Pudding
4oz butter
4oz sugar
2 eggs
8 oz dates
8 oz flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons milk
Pinch of salt

Cream butter and sugar and add well beaten eggs. Stir in milk, add dates (stoned and chopped). Sift flour, baking powder and salt and stir in very lightly. Turn into greased mould. Steam for three hours.

Writers and editors on food 11: Felicity Pulman

Felicity Pulman is an Australian author with an interest in crime, history and fantasy. Her novels Ghost Boy and the Shalott trilogy reflect her fascination with such possibilities as knowledge travelling through time, ghosts, parallel realities and reincarnation. Her very popular medieval crime series for older teenagers, The Janna Mysteries, indulges her love of crime, history, plants and herbal healing. Her short stories for adults have won several awards. Many have also been published, as have Felicity's numerous articles on various topics including writing and the creative process. Felicity is also a popular presenter at schools, conferences and writers festivals, where she talks about her work and/or gives workshops for students and budding authors.Her website is at

A lovely festive recipe from Felicity:
After growing up in Africa I found, when I got married, that I had to learn how to cook, keep house and later, look after children - a HUGE learning curve! We moved to Australia after we were married and for several years there were only two of us celebrating a rather lonely Christmas away from our families. A friend passed on this old family recipe for Christmas pudding - and for the first time I learned the difference between store bought and delicious homemade! Over the years our family has grown and I've had to double the quantity to make the pud. This year 17 family and extended family members will sit down to Christmas dinner at our place, with a new baby girl being our fifth grandchild. We are truly blessed in our family and our friends. May I wish you and yours a happy and blessed Christmas with your loved ones, and may all your wishes come true in the new year.
Christmas Pudding
500g mixed fruit; 1/4 cup brandy, 4 oz butter, 1 tsp Angostura bitters, 3/4 cup br sugar, 2 eggs, 1/4 cup chopped almonds, 1/2 cup grated carrot or apple, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp mxd spice & cinnamon, 1 cup soft (not new) breadcrumbs.
Method: prepare fruit the day before; soak overnight in brandy and bitters. Cream butter/sugar and add eggs one at a time, beating after each. Add almonds, carrot/apple and mix. Sift flour and spices, add with breadcrumbs to mxd fruit. Add to cream mixture, mix thoroughly. Butter pudding basin and place small square of butter paper at base. Spoon into basin and press down. Cover top with butter paper and double thickness foil. Tie lid down. Place in large saucepan with enough boiling water to come halfway up basin. Cover pot with lid and boil 4 hours. Remove foil to let steam escape. Replace when cool to store. On Christmas Day boil another two hours.
NB For family size pud and a bigger basin, I double the quantities, and boil for 5 hours, with another 3 hours on Xmas Day.
BRANDY BUTTER: Cream 125g butter; gradually add 2/3 cup icing sugar, then brandy to taste. Should be creamy, light and foamy. Chill. (Can also be served with store-bought brandy custard or brandy cream - all delicious!)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Writers and editors on food 10: Michael Pryor

Michael Pryor has published more than twenty-five fantasy books for Young Adults. His latest book is ‘The Extinction Gambit’, the first in ‘The Extraordinaires’ series, from Random House Australia.

Here's his delicious recipe for spiced lamb fillets with two dips.

Serves four.
For the lamb fillets
Eight lamb fillets
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon paprika
½ - 1 teaspoon chilli powder
A handful of rocket per person
Combine cumin, paprika and salt in a large plastic container. Add lamb fillets. Shake until well coated. Cook lamb on hot griddle or in large frying pan for about five minutes, until tender but still pink inside. Put aside for a few minutes, covered with aluminium foil. Slice each fillet into four or five pieces.

For the baba ganoush (eggplant dip)
2 large or 3 medium eggplant
220g plain yoghurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup tahini
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in food processor and process until smooth.

For the hummus
2 X 400 g tins chick peas (you can cook your own chick peas if you like, but tins are easier)
1 tablespoon tahini
1 teaspoon cumin
1 small dried chilli
3 cloves garlic, crushed
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt to taste
Combine ingredients in food processor and process until smooth. Add some water if the mixture is too thick.

Serve lamb fillets on a bed of rocket, accompanied a dollop of baba ganoush and a dollop of hummus. Crusty bread is a fine addition. A good cabernet goes well with this, but I wouldn’t discount a pinot noir either.

Note: it’s best to make the dips the day before, as the flavours will have time to integrate, especially the garlic. Mmm.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writers and editors on food 9: Adèle Geras

Adèle Geras was born in Jerusalem: the seventh generation of her mother's family to be born there. On her father's side, her grandmother came from Rabat, in Morocco. She's written more than 90 books for readers of all ages and after living in Manchester for 43 years, now lives in Cambridge. Her website is

This is my Moroccan grandmother's recipe.

Messoda's Cauliflower

2 cauliflowers divided into florets (keep the green stalks. Wash and chop these.)
2 large eggs beaten.
120 gm flour and more if you need it.
salt and pepper.
Oil for frying...sunflower I guess or light olive.
Juice of three lemons.
2 fl. oz water.


Prepare the cauliflower florets by dipping each first in beaten egg and then in flour, which you've seasoned previously with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a frying pan until hot and then add the florets. Fry a few at a time until they're mostly a lovely golden brown.
Line the bottom of a heatproof casserole dish or thick bottomed saucepan (on top of the cooker) with the cauliflower greens, then remove the cooked florets from the frying pan and lay them on the bed of greens. Pour the lemon juice over the top of everything, add the water, cover the casserole turn down the heat and gently simmer for about 20 mins. Season to taste.
This is wonderful with roast potatoes and roast meat of any kind. I like it best of all the next day, cold from the fridge. That's if you can manage to get any left over. The stalks, by the way, stewed in the lemony water are DELICIOUS.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Writers and editors on food 8: Paul Collins

Paul Collins was born in England, raised in New Zealand and immigrated to Australia in 1972. He lives in a historic bluestone home built in 1851 with his partner, fellow author, Meredith Costain, and a menagerie of pets including a kelpie called Jack and Molly, a red heeler.
His many books for young people include The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler and series such as The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars, The Quentaris Chronicles and The World of Grrym in collaboration with Danny Willis. His latest book is Mole Hunt, book one in The Maximus Black Files. The trailers are available here: and He is also the author of over 140 short stories.
Paul has been the recipient of the A Bertram Chandler, Aurealis, William Atheling and Peter McNamara awards and has been shortlisted for many others including the Speech Pathology, Mary Grant Bruce, Ditmar and Chronos awards.
He is currently the publisher at Ford Street Publishing ( Visit him at

Paul's Spinach Quiche

One of my all-time favourites as a single bloke was spinach quiche. Easy to bake, and I'd prepare three at the same time. When baked to perfection, I'd cut 'em into four slices, cover with Gladwrap and stick in the freezer for future easy meals. Sometimes lunches :-).

6 pack of filo pastry (preferably shortcrust but can use puff). If you're keen, you can roll your own pastry
Large tub of Greek yoghurt
Large pack of grated cheese
Three tomatoes
Two onions
Two bunches of spinach (cut the stems off)
Eight eggs.


1/Grease three quiche tins and place two sheets of pastry in each. Smear a bit of butter on them and stick in oven till slightly brown.

2/ Boil spinach in minimum water for three minutes. Squeeze out water and leave to cool. Meanwhile sauté onions.

3/ Beat eggs. Add cheese and yoghurt and mix well. Then add cooled spinach and onions.

4/ Place mixture in three quiche tins. Add some grated cheese over the mixture and place tomato slices on top. I sprinkle paprika over the quiches. Bake at 180 C for 45 mins or till top is golden brown and firm.

Voila! Dinner, lunch, snacks for a while. Especially if you're single!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Writers and editors on food 7: Gillian Polack

Gillian Polack's published writing includes two novels, two anthologies, a cookbook, fifteen short stories and a slew of articles. She was shortlisted for a Ditmar for one of the novels and one of the anthologies and she won a Special Achievement Ditmar for one of the banquets featured in the cookbook. Gillian has a doctorate in Medieval history from the University of Sydney, and advises writers on use of history in their fiction.

Gillian's latest non-fiction book is Historical Feasts, available at it

Her delicious Hanukkah recipe for latkes is a family recipe.

Gillian's latkes
This is not only seasonal, but with a little twist that makes it purely Australian!
2 big potatoes (grated)
1 big onion (chopped fine)
2 big eggs
plain flour (just enough to keep to mix from becoming too moist)
salt and pepper (or lemon juice and just a dash of chilli – this is the Australian twist)
oil for frying (canola is best)
sour cream
Mix the potato, onion, egg and seasoning. Keep the flour aside to add when the mixture gets running.
Heat the oil in a pan (how much oil you use depends on you – they are nicer deep fried, but healthier fried in almost no oil at all).
Put the mixture into the pan using large spoons and flattening each spoonful before moving to the next. Don’t cook too many at once.
Remove when golden-brown and drain on paper towel. Eat while super-hot and crisp (don’t let them sit!) with a dollop of sour cream.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Writers and editors on food 6: Therese Walsh

Author Therese Walsh co-founded Writer Unboxed ( Kathleen Bolton in 2006. Since then, WU has been named as one of the top 101 sites for writers by Writer's Digest five years running, and was named one of the top 10 sites for writers last year by Write to Done.
Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Crown, Random House), was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for RWA’s RITA Award for Best First Book, and is a TARGET BREAKOUT BOOK. She is the founder and president of RWA-WF, the women’s fiction chapter of RWA.

Home-Made Cranberry Sauce

I love it for Thanksgiving and Christmas both, and I love the picture I snapped of it at Thanksgiving. :-)

1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. orange juice
1/2 tsp ginger
2 bags fresh cranberries
1 c. toasted and chopped pecans
6 strawberries, hulled and mashed
maple syrup to taste

Mix sugar, ginger, and juice in a pot over med-high heat, and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Add 1 bag washed cranberries, and cook until the "pop" (5 minutes). Add next bag; cook 5 minutes more. Then add strawberry mash and pecans to mix. Remove from heat, and add maple syrup to taste. Serve cold or warm.

Writers and editors on food 5: Jan O'Hara

Jan O’Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer on Writer Unboxed (, she’s hard at work on her contemporary romances, hoping one day soon to become unqualified for the position. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two children, and welcomes visitors to her citrus-infused blog, Tartitude. ( You can also find her on Twitter ( and Facebook (

Here's Jan's recipe for a most unusual fudge!

Creamy Curried Fudge
Neither my kids nor my husband care for it, but I tend to appreciate different and exotic flavors. This is a sweet that isn’t too cloying, yet also satisfies in small quantities. I bet it would be superb served alongside a fruit and cheese platter for dessert.

18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (I use 300 g bag)
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp curry powder (I use Madras powder)
2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
~3/4 cup Thompson raisins
dash sea salt (this is nice if it’s in large crystals)

1. Toast the coconut in a thin layer on a sheet pan at 350 till golden. (Can use a skillet too.)

2. Over low heat, stirring constantly, melt chips and blend with milk until smooth

3. Stir in vanilla, 1-1/2 cup coconut, curry, raisins, dash of salt.

4. Spoon onto wax paper and spread to desired thickness. Sprinkle with a bit of salt. Press remaining coconut into the top.

5. Chill until solid.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Writers and editors on food 4: Jackie Hosking

Jackie is a Nigerian born, Cornish Australian who loves good food, good wine and good rhyme. Mostly she is a children's poet, weekly she is the publisher of PASS IT ON - the children's book industry, networking e-zine and every other time she is a mother to her own three children. Jackie also enjoys helping fellow rhymers tighten their meter which she does via her Rhyming Manuscript Editing Service. To find out more about Jackie you can visit her blog

Here is Jackie's absolutely fabulous recipe-in-verse, featuring inimitable Cornish pasties! Love it, Jackie!

For Cornish pasties
All you need

Are steak and onions

Spuds and swede

Shortcrust pastry

Rolled by hand

Salt and pepper

Makes it grand

Forget the carrots

And the peas

And never mince

Your skirt-steak please

The vegetables

Will need some slicing

Watch it though

There’ll be no dicing

Potato first

Chip it fast

Onions, suede

And meat goes last

Layered twice

And piled up high

So much better

Than a pie

Fold it over

Crimp the side

Not too long

And not too wide

In the oven

For an hour

Time to clean up

All the flour

Cornish pasties

Taste just great

And bigger than

A dinner plate

Friday, December 2, 2011

Writers and editors on food 3: Hazel Edwards

Hazel Edwards is one of the best-known and loved children's authors in Australia, with her third published book, There's a Hippopotamus on our Roof Eating Cake, first published in 1980, being a great Australian classic that just keeps selling and selling. But Hazel's written many more books than that beloved classic, in fiction, non-fiction, picture books and more, and as well as writing for children, also written for adults. An all-round performer, Hazel's also involved strongly in the literary industry, has mentored gifted children, and taught creative writing, amongst many other things, and is currently pioneering an e-publishing venture. Hazel's site is at

For this series, here's her account of a very special afternoon's menu:

Recently, we had a break up/launch at my home for the Holmesglen Diploma of Professional Writing 'Non Fiction Projects' and 'Writing for Children' Both groups had each completed a book length manscript.They were invited to bring a plate of food to share linked to their title or the theme of their book. It was also my last group of students at Holmesglen as I will not teach there next year,

Samples Included:

The Diffability book for parents of children with Aspergers , stressing differences, not disabilities, had Asp(aragus) burgers.
Unicorn shaped sparkly biscuits for the speculative fiction.
Cottage pie for a memoir drawing on home and Mum's 'Unexpected' cake
Cheese cake for 'In my fashion' , a memoir.
'It Makes Cents',The how-to teach kids about money' had little pig money boxes
Owl cupcakes
A cat-shaped cake for 'The Shape Shifters'
A mountain of chocolate for the climbing novel.

and other imaginative food of the mind links.

(from Sophie: Sounds--and looks--gorgeous, Hazel!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Writers and editors on food, 2: Dmetri Kakmi

Dmetri Kakmi was born in Turkey to Greek parents. His first book Mother Land was shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards, and was published in Europe. He is currently working on a second novel.
(Sophie's note: Along with many other writers, I've also known Dmetri as a very fine editor for Penguin children's books, and recently he edited my short story 'Restless' for the Penguin ghost story anthology, Thirteen Ghosts. Dmetri is now working full time on his own writing)

Here's a recipe that will frighten away readers, says Dmetri(no, never, we're adventurous here--Sophie). I love it as an entree.

Crumbed Lamb Brains.

4 sets lamb brains
Lemon juice
Black pepper
Quarter cup plain flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Quarter cup breadcrumbs
Oil, for deep-frying
Lemon wedges, to serve

Soak the brains in salted cold water for 2 hours, changing the water every 30 minutes. Drain them, peel off the membrane with a knife and swirl the brains in tepid water to remove blood.
Place the brains in a saucepan, cover with cold water and add a little salt and lemon juice. Simmer for 15 minutes. Allow to cool in the liquid, then drain and pat dry on paper towels.
Cut the brains into bite-size pieces, trimming off any gristle. Coat with flour, dip in the egg and roll in the breadcrumbs. Deep-fry until golden brown and serve with wedges of lemon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writers and editors on food: 1: Stephanie Smee

Stephanie's the brilliant Australian translator of some of my favourite French children's books, written by the great 19th century French-Russian author, the Countess de Segur. I was so thrilled that the Countess' beautiful, touching, original and funny children's novels are being introduced to English-speaking children today, through Stephanie's pitch-perfect translation and publisher Simon and Schuster Australia's belief in the power of these stories! The three volumes of the Fleurville trilogy--Sophie's Misfortunes; Camille and Madeleine; and The Holidays were released earlier this year, and went down very well with young readers and their parents. The next Countess de Segur title to be translated by Stephanie, Monsieur Cadichon: Memoirs of a Donkey, is just about to come out, and hopefully there'll be many more to come!
Here, to kick off this new series, is Stephanie's lovely evocation of a magical summer holiday in Sweden, and the delectable cake that goes with it.

Sunshine Cake
By Stephanie Smee

A couple of years ago, my husband and I, and our two youngish children, aged about 9 and 7, were lucky enough to holiday in Sweden. My mother is Swedish, although she has lived in Australia most of her adult life … and the main aim of this holiday was to have a family reunion, with one branch of the family coming from Boston with even younger children, aged 2 and 4, and my parents journeying also from Australia, to an island in the Stockholm archipelago.
We had rented a house on this island(see house in photo) for 2 weeks in the middle of July – the sky never fell darker than a deep midnight blue – and the island itself had no roads, only fairytale-like paths winding across the island. Wild strawberries and blueberries were scattered through the grasses, under birch trees which seem to grow much taller than I have ever seen them in this country.
We had driven north from Copenhagen and stopped to overnight for a couple of nights in a youth hostel which was sandwiched between the Gota Canal which traverses Sweden, an enormous inland lake fringed with pine trees, and a towering forest of birches. It was real Elsa Beskow territory. (Elsa Beskow is one of Sweden’s most adored children’s authors from last century who illustrated her works with stunning paintings and line drawings. They are so typically evocative of the Swedish landscape of forests and lakes – almost a Swedish May Gibbs …) Summer had just arrived – there were merry “seniors” pedalling down the canal’s towpath in often little more than their underwear, so joyful were they at seeing the sun. My favourite memory, however, was a recipe for a cake which the owner of the youth hostel made and served every day in a summer house under the blossoming apple trees, along with freshly brewed, percolated coffee, as the Swedes drink it. Guests of the youth hostel could simply help themselves whenever they felt like it.
I have made this cake on an almost weekly basis since returning to Sydney as it is the perfect lunch box cake! No awful icing which will melt and be messy. And it takes 15 minutes to throw together and 25-30mins to cook. A word re measurements. All Swedish cake recipes are measured in decilitres – dry ingredients as well as wet ingredients. 1 decilitre is one tenth of a litre – so 100 mls. I find it much easier than weighing ingredients! You will find that all the stainless steel measuring jugs sold at IKEA are marked with decilitres ….
Sunshine Cake
125 g melted butter, cooled slightly
3 eggs
2.5 decilitres (250 ml) caster sugar
2.5 dcl (250ml) plain flour
Frozen/fresh raspberries to taste
Grease and line a spring form cake tin with baking paper. Heat oven to 175-180 deg C.
Beat eggs and sugar until really pale and fluffy.
Add flour, then melted butter.
Pour batter into cake tin and sprinkle with raspberries. My children prefer raspberries but I’m sure you could add blueberries and it would be just as delicious.
Bake for 25-30 mins or until skewer comes out cleanly.
Sprinkle with icing sugar for decoration.

Link to an event in Sydney in December around Monsieur Cadichon's release:

Writers and editors on food: a new series

Getting into the holiday mood, I'm going to be running a special series of guest posts over the next month or two, from writers, editors and other people involved in the publishing business, here in Australia and around the world, about food--featuring a favourite recipe, tips, or simply an observation. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Broad beans cornucopia

This year, the broad beans have been going gangbusters--not the case last year and the year before, when they really struggled. Hard to know why it's happened--it rained as much last year as this, and the weather patterns don't seem different--but anyway, that's the way it is. So we've been eating lots of them, struggling to keep up with the fat pods as they just keep going on and on. I used to hate broad beans as a kid, having been subjected once to a nasty broad bean soup made of beans much too big to be any good really; but now I love them; fresh out of the garden, and small, they are tender, subtle delights.
We've been making all sorts of different things with them: delicious hot vegetable dishes or warm salads, with the beans simply podded then sauteed in butter and a little olive oil, with garlic and herbs; or with tomatoes, or a splash of wine, or crispy bacon (as illustrated) or whatever. They can be cooked using European flavours, or Asian ones, or anything, really. You can have them cold in this way too. Double-peeled(podded first, then cooked, then the toughish outer skin peeled off as well), the beans can also be mashed and mixed with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and a smidgeon of sour cream to make a yummy broad bean guacamole, which is delicious spread on toast. You can also make soup out of them, cook them and preserve in oil, and we've even dried sun-drying them and rolling them in a chilli mixture, rather like wasabi peas(mind you, not sure how that will work out yet!) Thing is, there are umpteen wonderful ways to use them before they get too big to be of any good.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Strawberry time

The strawberries have come early this year, and in a big flush too. It's funny because last year despite the bumper crop of other fruit we got(tree fruit, to be precise), the strawberries did not do well at all. As neither did the other berry fruit, actually. That's despite the fact that like this year it was a wet year and everything else grew well! Ah well, forget about analysing the vagaries of nature, that's just the way it goes, and this year we certainly can't complain about a paucity of strawberries! We're eating them for breakfast lunch and dinner, with cream and without, with Marsala and creme de cassis, as simple mousses and fools and icecreams, using just crushed strawberries, sugar, cream and egg whites; as syrups and spectacular tarts and lots more. And David's started making heaps of strawberry jam too, and there'll also be lots of delicious sun-dried strawberries to store for the winter. (They are divine sun-dried; it seems to concentrate both taste and fragrance.)
As a child, my daughter Pippa once made this delightful bon mot, which has since passed into family legend: 'Trouble with living here, is you get to eat too many strawberries!' Well, looks like it's going to be another of those years..

Friday, November 4, 2011

Zakuski spread for dinner

The other day, I bought this gorgeous book called 'Culinaria Russia', which like the other titles in this series, is not so much a recipe book(though there are recipes) as a marvellous journey through the culinary culture of this richly varied and extraordinary part of the world. For in fact it's not just Russia, ie the Russian Federation, that's covered, but also Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan(not sure what the latter four would think of being lumped in with 'Russia', but never mind!) There's wonderful articles and photos on all sorts of aspects of food, drink, folklore associated with food, festivals, looks at sub-cultures, and lots more. It's fascinating stuff!
But as I said, there's also recipes, and there's also the most mouth-watering pictures of food you can imagine. Four such pictorial spreads are devoted to the Russian tradition of zakuski, which can be usefully compared to the Spanish tradition of tapas, or the Scandinavian one of smorgasbord. Like those ones, it accompanies drink,(usually vodka, in this case) is often presented in small dishes(though it can be in bigger ones) and features both cold and hot dishes. Zakuski can be as simple as olives, gherkins and pickled herring, or as elaborate as you like. Salads also feature strongly; colour and pleasing pattern is important.
So, inspired by those pictures, I put together a bit of a zakuski-style spread for dinner the other day. Not all of it was traditionally Russian, but I was still inspired by the concept, the colours, the patterns. And it all tasted great, was simple and quick to prepare, and elicited many admiring comments, both as to the look and the taste!
This is what I made(see photo):
In foreground to right of photo, a Georgian-inspired chicken dish, with tomatoes, tomato puree, onions, dill, chicken stock, Tokay(supposed to use Madeira, but I didn't have any, so I substituted), lemon juice, sour cream. Added chorizo too as didn't have enough chicken! Basically, you just cut up the chicken and chorizo, brown in a little butter along with chopped onions, then add tomatoes, lemon juice, dill, stock, wine, and tomato puree, cook till done(about half an hour). Sauce should be lovely and thick, don't let it burn
In foreground to left of photo, is a mushroom salad. Slice button mushrooms thinly, toss with salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, dill, chives. Do this at least an hour or so before you eat the salad, as then it absorbs the flavour of the dressing most deliciously.
Behind the chicken dish, on right, in mid-field, is a grated carrot salad decorated with capsicum and sorrel. Vinaigrette for the salad is made with Dijon mustard, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. To the left of the carrot salad, are smoked salmon rolls on a bed of sorrel: slices of smoked salmon simply stuffed with small gherkins and caper-berries.
Far left in background is the other hot dish, which is a Russian-inspired dish of finely cut lamb slices, sauteed in some oil with onion, then vodka added(not too much), cranberries, finely chopped garlic, caraway, and finally sour cream(and salt and pepper of course). Delicious! To the right of that, is a salt herring salad, made of chopped up salt herring slices(which I'd soaked in water first, and then in lemon juice as otherwise find them too salty), mixed with chopped apple, chopped walnuts, finely chopped fresh garlic, and chopped cucumber. Made a dressing for this out of a little olive oil, a little white wine vinegar, sour cream, dill, and wholegrain mustard, it went perfectly with the flavours. Then to the right of that is a warm (but not hot) salad made of braised scallops cooked in a little butter, a little white wine, with garlic, salt and pepper, decorated with capsicum, tomatoes, etc. To the right of that, just behind the bottle of Russian Standard vodka, a salad of avocado, tomato, olives and capsicum, with a dressing like the carrot salad(yes, I know, not very Russian, the avocado, but never mind, improvisation is the key in zakuski!), and finally, in the far background, a green salad with lettuce right out of the garden and a vinaigrette made of olive oil, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, with chives and garlic chives. For dessert we had the remaining half of a delicious strawberry tart David had made the day before.
It was a wonderful feast!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tis the time for elderflower pop

Elderflower pop is one of those quintessentially English drinks that sounds like it belongs in an Enid Blyton book and so maybe it does but it also belongs most emphatically on the table. Delicately fragrant, deliciously refreshing and naturally brewed, it is one of the most pleasant summer drinks I know, and it tastes so much better home-made than buying it ready-made or as a cordial.
The elderflowers are out now so we've started making batches of it already. Basically, for a five litre mix, you need, first, about ten elderflower heads in full bloom. Pick them in full sun, because that releases their natural yeasts, it is definitely not a good idea to pick them when it's wet or even cloudy. You also need about 700 grams white sugar, 5 litres water, 1 lemon and 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar.
As soon as you've picked the flower heads, put them in a clean bucket or very large bowl along with the lemon juice, grated lemon rind, the sugar, and the vinegar. Add the cold water, stir till sugar has dissolved and leave to steep for 24 hours. Strain into clean old plastic soft-drink(best not to use glass, in case of explosions!) close tightly, and leave for at least two weeks. You will know when the pop is ready to drink by feeling the bottle--when it is tight, the pop has fizzed and you will be able to enjoy a lovely sparkling drink!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bread, the staff of life

A few years ago, when Jacques Chirac was President of France, he gave an internationally-reported speech to the country's master bakers, lamenting the fact that so much of the bread that was now sold in France was in his opinion no longer fit to be called real bread.
It might seem odd to a non-French person that a President should see fit to make a speech about bread, but then the French have always been very serious about their bread. Remember the fate of poor Marie Antoinette, who, upon being told the people had no bread, blithely advised them to eat cake.Of course she never said such a thing; it's a slander designed after her death to destroy even further the 'Austrian woman's' reputation; but it is an illustration of the fact that to say such a thing is heresy in France. Cake is all very well; but bread, ah, bread! It's not only the staff of life, it is a real passion.
It was always the first thing I and my siblings would dive on when we came back to France for holidays; real bread, yes, and real butter, long before we even thought of nice little gateaux!
In France,people drive kilometres out of the way to queue up in more or less patient lines outside bakeries reputed for their bread.(A visiting East European friend of ours, seeing this once, couldn't believe their eyes."I thought you had no shortages here!" he exclaimed despairingly.) These days, as Chirac claimed, the battle rages over whether the fluff contained in cardboard which too many supermarkets and hypermarkets hawk under the name of bread, should be declared illegal to save France's reputation .Poilane breads and their imitators--wholemeal, multigrain, rye--have also made inroads into the traditional wood-oven-fired, crusty white baguettes and ficelles that are still very much the stereotypical image of French bread.People argue whether 'real' French bread is the city type(baguettes, ficelles and their ilk)or country breads such as pain de campagne, a whitish bread made using not baker's yeast but sourdough, which keeps much better than the city breads.
In the villages, the baker still calls in his van every couple of days. It is an occasion for gossip and the surreptitious summing-up for more gossip opportunities. I remember when we used to go on holidays to the little Southern village where my parents had a house, being pumped by all the village women as to what my parents, 'the Americans', as they were called(despite the fact they were actually French and lived in Australia!)were up to now. Old people no longer capable of hobbling out into the street to commune with the baker, like the 94 year old woman across the road from us one summer in yet another little Southern village,hoist baskets down to him into the street on ropes. The baker knows everyone's preferences; for her, a peasant through and through, who had scarcely left the village, (and had some fine stories to tell about it)it was the fine city bread, just as she preferred fillet steak to the rich, pungent peasant stews we all exclaimed over. But the bread was a matter of intense debate; and in the markets, it was even more so.People stopped in front of the bread stalls and prodded, poked and looked carefully, while the baker extolled his or her wares in a raucous voice. Some of the breads were not cheap, either.Staff of life they might be; but some of those staffs of life must have been gilded to warrant their price.
French food has always been as diverse and as rich as it has, because of the country's strong peasant heart combined with bourgeois traditions. In the past, it was not easy to find exotic food there--there were many cafes and restaurants serving excellent, reasonably-priced French food, but very few, and even fewer in the provinces, offering 'exotic' cuisines. As in China, the variety and diversity of food here did not incline people to experimentation with other kinds of cooking. That has now changed, perhaps as the peasants have become rather richer, more powerful and fewer in number, due to the EU. It is rather an irony--and a pity--to think that French people might be getting more of a window on the rest of the world's table, but less variety, less real taste in their own. French culture is closely bound up with its 'quality of life', the prime strand of which is food. Bread is the litmus test for that and we have to keep a close eye on it, for if that goes, then everything else will follow.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Homemade honey and pepper vodka

Last year, when we were in Russia, we tasted a whole lot of different vodkas, including some lovely flavoured ones. My favourite was a delicious honey pepper vodka(actually from Ukraine) which had a wonderful piquant sweetness that warmed the throat. But we couldn't find any to bring home and certainly you can't buy it here. So I decided to try making it and by dint of looking up in various Russian cookery books we have, found a sort of recipe--I say sort of because actually it just talked of pepper vodka, and I had to experiment myself with the honey. Anyway I made it and it turned out just wonderfully, and very reminiscent of that Ukrainian tipple!
I used Russian Standard vodka(by far the best vodka you can buy in Australia, in my opinion--it's from St Petersburg and made with the pure cold waters from massive Lake Ladoga)as a base, then added 10 whole black peppercorns, let it steep for 10 days, then after 10 days, strained the vodka, which had now turned a pale brown colour, and added one large tablespoon of Manuka honey(which happens to be my favourite honey), stirred it, and let it steep for another 3 days before drinking it. Great as an after dinner liqueur, though it can also be drunk as an aperitif. (In both cases in shot glasses).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Baked egg delights

Our chooks are producing so much at the moment and we are kept busy trying to think of new ways to cook eggs. At the moment I'm a bit obsessed with baked eggs, which I hadn't really cooked much before, and I've been trying out all kinds of variations on a theme. I've made them for entrees(one egg per person) and main courses(two eggs per person) and I guess I could make them for sweets too but I haven't tried that yet. Hmm, not sure I want to..
Anyway, I love baked eggs because they're so easy to do, so quick to cook, they look great in their ramekins, they taste fantastic, and you can do just about anything you want with them. And unlike say omelettes they always work for me! Here are some of the variations I've made:
*A basic sour cream and herb baked egg. Butter the ramekins, add a dollop of sour cream in which you've mixed herbs(tarragon, dill, sage, whatever) salt, and pepper, put the ramekins in bain-marie in a baking pan in the oven(moderate temperature), allow the cream to melt a little, then remove, crack the egg or eggs(depending on whether it's entree or main course)carefully into each ramekin, add another dollop of sour cream on top(no more than half-to a teaspoon for the top) , salt and pepper, and cook in bain-marie for 5-8 minutes, till the egg white is set, not jelly-like any more but not too hard set either.
*A smoked trout and herb baked egg. Chop up some smoked trout till fine, add dill, salt, pepper, a little Dijon mustard and sour cream till it makes a nice blended but not smooth mixture, put down bottom of buttered ramekin, but don't put in oven to melt. Instead crack egg or eggs in, add a half-teaspoon of sour cream, salt pepper, and cook as above. You can vary this by adding smoked chicken or ham or if you want a vegetarian variety, strips of haloumi cheese(already fried) or bits of feta or grated Gruyere or blue cheese or whatever. Mushrooms are also delicious in this base(cook the chopped mushrooms first in a little butter with garlic, salt and pepper and herbs before mixing in with the sour cream.)
*A tomato and capsicum baked egg, cooking the strips of capsicum in olive oil till soft(or roasting it)and adding chopped tomato and herbs to make a thick sauce, which you put down bottom, crack egg on top and drizzle a little olive oil on top. You can add olives or capers or whatever else you like to this one.
*A spinach and cheese baked egg. Cook the spinach till soft and mash it, add a little butter, a touch of sour cream or yoghurt, salt, pepper, and feta cheese or any other you'd like. Do the same as for other, and add a small knob of butter on top.
All these can easily be varied, and really the base is just whatever you'd like to dream up!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bits and pieces

Here's a post I wrote on the literary blog Writer Unboxed, about writing this blog!

Also, for those of you who read French, a lovely little piece on marketing cassoulet beyond the South of France, from the Toulouse newspaper La Depeche. In it, a chef describes the three varieties of cassoulet as 'If it's from Castelnaudary, it's the father; if it's from Carcassonne, it's the son; if it's from Toulouse, it's the holy spirit'! Otherwise said, observes the newspaper, it's 'baby Jesus in velvet pants..'
Non-French people, be aware: thee's nothing blasphemous about all this, it just expresses great love and the highest compliments that can be paid, in traditionally truffled and pungent language!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A taste of Malta

Last year, my youngest sister was living in Malta with her family and we went to visit them there, for a week(from France, where we were based for six months). It was a revelation: not only because of the striking natural beauty of this nevertheless densely-populated little country, but also its long and fascinating history, its gorgeous architectural heritage, from the most ancient and complex of Stone Age temples anywhere in the world to the forts of the Knights of Malta and thousands of quaint little terrace houses set on charming, steep streets; a laid-back atmosphere due to its engagingly modest and friendly people, who all, it seems, know about Australia, as so many Maltese migrated there—and many of them have come back to their beloved island and started up little businesses recalling that history, with such places as 'the Australia Butchery', and the bus proudly labelled 'Toongabbie, NSW! And its delicious food.
Malta is an island nation, with three major islands as well as some smaller ones, and that is very much reflected not only in their love of the sea's bounty. There is a big fishing fleet, with lots of small operators passing down brightly-painted boats from father to son(boat-building is also quite an industry, if small-scale, in Malta.) Fish especially features strongly on the menu, and a large range is sold by harbours, in fish markets and from mobile stalls, and octopus and calamari also often appear. Rabbit is also beloved, with one of the national dishes being a delicious garlic and red wine rabbit stew(we had one of these in the beautiful ancient town of Medina, and it was spectacular.). Pork is popular, and Maltese peppery pork sausages are particularly delicious, with the same kind of meaty, coarse texture as a Toulouse sausage. The nearby island of Sicily has heavily influenced the cuisine, with olives, herbs, anchovies, tomatoes, pomegranates, garlic, ravioli and red wine common ingredients, but there's also many other different influences, from Arabic(Malta is pretty close to Arab North Africa, though very much resolutely turning its back to Arabic culture, not only because the Maltese are very strong Catholics but also because of historical enmity after the Arabs conquered the islands in the eleventh century and enslaved its people) to French, Spanish, and even German, because of the many different backgrounds the Knights of Malta came from. British influence can also be seen with such things as Worcestershire sauce readily available. Capers are an island speciality and are sold in every little shop and in the markets, and favourite vegetables are eggplant, artichokes and zucchini. Sweets betray a strongly Arabic influence, with nuts, honey, and sesame seeds, orange flower and rose water common ingredients in a variety of cakes, and there's also sweet ravioli. A quirky island speciality is also jam and liqueurs made with the prickly pear which proliferates in part of the country, and the Maltese also make very nice ricotta style and other white cheeses, some fresh and creamy, others hard and salty or peppery(these mostly come from the island of Gozo, which is renowned for its cheese), and a range of delicious liqueurs, from jewelled pomegranate liqueur to chocolate liqueur(chocolate has a long history in Malta—it's thought that along with Spain it was one of the first places where chocolate was first tasted outside of Central America.)
If you live in Australia and you're interested in trying Maltese food, there's a few suppliers here(we've bought Australian-made Maltese sausages in a big butchery in Seven Hills, for instance), but also a Brisbane-based website where you can order quite a few Maltese specialities, from sausage to cheese and more. It's at

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Simple but lush: scallop and avocado salad

A recipe of my own invention, for a simple, yet colourful and intriguingly delicious entree: (proportions are for two people). Take one ripe avocado, one medium-size ripe tomato or two small ones, six scallops with coral on, some chopped coriander, chives and Vietnamese mint, a teaspoon of Tokay wine(you can substitute sherry, but the Tokay gives a finer flavour), salt, pepper, some crushed garlic or young garlic(which we had in the garden)chopped up, olive oil, red wine vinegar and a dash of mustard. First, sear the scallops in some olive oil, add some garlic, salt, pepper, the Tokay, and the coriander and Vietnamese mint. Cook till done(no more than five minutes) and the sauce is well reduced. Let the scallops cool. Cube the avocado flesh, cut up the tomatoes, toss with a little garlic, and a vinaigrette made from olive oil, mustard and the red wine vinegar. When the scallops are cool, serve on an entree plate, surrounded by the avocado salad. Spinkle with chopped chives. The unusual mixture of flavours and textures is absolutely mouth-watering. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marvellous mustard

Australia's got great food these days but there's some things I miss from France: proper crusty traditional baguettes (though our own home-madebread is pretty excellent, a proper baguette is hard to make at home); really tasty creamy butter; really good charcuterie--from air-dried saucisson sec to gorgeous peppery Toulouse sausage to a range of pates and terrines that are cheap but delicious; wonderful patisserie cakes(I never get tempted by cakes in Australian bakeries); and a bewildering range of cheeses. And mustard. OK, you say, but there's mustard here, and yeah, sure, there is. There's 'French' 'German' 'American' 'English' mustard, all rather perfunctory versions of each country's traditional style. There's even Maille's lovely classic Dijon mustard(which we buy all the time.) and even sometimes their wholegrain mustard. But even in such hallowed palaces of food as the David Jones food hall, there's nowhere near the range you get in any ordinary French supermarket. For in France, the mustard is no mere humble condiment, but a star in its own right. Not only do the brands compete, but the styles. They're nearly all from Dijon, mustard capital of the universe, and nearly all very long lasting firms(eg Maille from 1747, Edmond Fallon also from the 18th century.) But they all have different styles, a different feel. Edmond Fallon mustards, for instance, are much more peppery and harsh(to my taste)than the smooth, creamy-winey Mailles. And they feature an extraordinary range of flavours and of ingredients ranging from herbs and spices to fruit, nuts and mushrooms. Nowhere is the ultra refinement of French culture more exemplified than in this amazing list of mustards.
Just in the Maille range, there's my personal favourite, Estragon(tarragon). There's the beautiful Cassis(Blackcurrant); Basilic et parmesan(basil and parmesan)Citron et Harissa(Lemon and harissa spices; Chablis et Morilles(white Chablis wine and morille mushrooms); even Noisettes et Trompettes de la Mort(Hazelnuts and Death trumpets, also a kind of mushroom--and non toxic in small doses, despite the name!)There's mustard with cognac and mustard with blue cheese; with gingerbread and honey, with pears, with chestnuts, with champagne; with figs and coriander, with Thai spices and mango and lots lots more. Of course these aren't all available in supermarkets, but you get at least a good selection, and as to going to one of the specialist stores, well, there you're in mustard heaven! (Have a look at

I use mustard in all sorts of ways. Always in vinaigrette(with a Dijon mustard added to virgin olive oil and good vinegar, and well-shaken together in a jar, you don't need any salt). Always with cold meats, with grilled pork sausage and black puddings and home-made hamburgers. A bit of mustard with bacon is delicious too, and with boiled egg, and it's beautiful on steak. I use it in lots of different sauces, its aromatic tang going well with lemon, sour cream, white wine, cream, tarragon, sage and egg yolk, but also with the less obvious anchovy, garlic, red wine, onion, and pickled herrings. Added to vegetable stocks, it also lifts the taste, and it's a must with rabbit and all sorts of game(great on kangaroo steak and with venison, for instance). In fact it's just marvellous and I don't know what I'd do without it!

We did try to grow it one year but it didn't really work out. But it's fair to say we didn't really try very hard. It was not only difficult getting enough mustard seed to supply more than one jar, but the whole process of turning it into an edible product was much more fiddly than it appeared. Maybe this is the year we should try again instead of sighing nostalgically over the Maille website with its tantalising displays!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The start of the asparagus season

In the last week or so, the daffodils have been going mad, the sorrel is getting new leaves, the coriander is looking happier than it has been for a while. And the first of the asparagus spears are poking their paint-brushtip noses out of the ground. It's got to be spring!

This is the time of year when the asparagus is infrequent enough on our plates to be a source of delighted comment. Soon enough, we'll be harvesting bundles of it, so much that David at least will cry for mercy(I find it hard to be completely fed up of asparagus!)But right now each spear is a singular pleasure. We don't hill up our asparagus as we prefer the green variety to the white one so beloved in France, but which to us taste somewhat pallid and watery. Our asparagus have a beautiful, clean, green taste, juicy and distinctive. They are wonderful just steamed and served cold with a simple vinaigrette, or with a dressing I made up, of one teasoon olive oil, one teaspoon sour cream, a smidgen of vinegar, and a mashed anchovy, with pepper. They're also delightful hot, just with a little butter, salt and pepper, or a tomato salsa. They go well in omelettes, in stir-fries, in quiches, and they make wonderful soup(once we have those massive amounts later on in the spring.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Artichoke Fields--an essay

It is a hot day in the early seventies, and we children are fighting in the back of the car. Dad is driving steadily, smoothly, as he always does, driving as if he is anticipating all kinds of possible dangers, as if twenty-five years or so of driving have not innured him to the myriad possibilities of change. When I am older, it comes to me that this is how he has lived his whole life, on the brink, never taking it for granted, trying hard to keep control of it yet painfully aware of the knife-edge of life, of the way in which, in a second, things can change forever. When I am older, it comes to me that I am similar, driven to achieve, pursued by the awareness of life's fragility, the swiftness of time passing. But at the time, his careful driving is merely another of the traits, the shorthand of experience, which, together, make up "Dad"-- a person you accept unthinkingly, as you accept your mother, or your brothers and sisters. Dad is careful yet can also be awesomely impulsive; Maman is impulsive yet can also be icily logical. You don't think too much about those uneasy conjunctions; as a child, you rely on signs, on the known, and somehow accomodate those things, together.
But here we are, driving. The vinyl of the seats sticks to our thighs, and the warm closeness of a brotherly or sisterly leg leads to sotto voce quarrels about the most ridiculous things possible. It's summer, and we are driving for what seems like hours, to the other side of Sydney, into the wildness of Blacktown. As we approach its rural outskirts, Dad sits up more in his seat. Even though--or maybe because--he is city born and bred, he loves the country with a fervour born of happy memories of his great-grandparents' place in the Aveyron. He says, "It's astonishing, isn't it, to see how hard these people work, " and his tone is gentle, wondering, filled with the pleasure of its simplicity. It is traditional for him to say this, here; yet always Maman nods, always we hear him without wondering at its repetition.
We stop in front of the house. It is a very simple fibro house, and we have only been further than the kitchen once or twice. But the house is unimportant. What is important is beyond it, in the flat fertile acres that surround the house, making it an island out of time, its Australianess an incongruity in the Europeaness of cultivated fields. For here are not acres of wheat, or of the other large, fullscale crops we associate with this vast land; but the smaller, denser patches of vegetables: lettuce in serried rows, tomatoes, ripening in sunrise colours, spinach and leeks and, especially, most especially, the artichoke fields. There they stand, tall and fierce in their greens and purples, acres of them, their tightly-packed heads swaying on their strong stems. Some of them are already going to flower; and their perfume--a strong, sweet smell, like wild honey--fills the air. They are beautiful, beautiful and wild as a Van Gogh painting. The sight of them always catches at my throat, so that even now, years later, I can see them, smell them, and wonder at the selectiveness of memory that will keep such pictures and not others. And, like a Van Gogh painting, if you don't simply stand on the sidelines, admiring, but venture inside them, the artichoke fields will reveal all kinds of unexpectedly painful things.
The farmers come to greet us, their very brown, very wrinkled faces split by their smiles into a thousand more tiny rivulets. I never learnt their names, and to me, at that age, they look immensely old, agelessly old, like peasants in an old picture. They are small, both of them, both dressed in black: but he is lean and wiry, with wild grey hair and sharp pale eyes, while she is round as she is high, her breasts like enormous soft pillows under her dress, her hair done up in a floppy bun, her eyes like lively brown birds in their nest of wrinkles. She is Maltese, he is a Yugoslav. Dad, accustomed, at the building sites he supervises, to working with men insisting on their Croatianess, or Serbianess, or Bosnianness, wonders at the farmer's calm avowal of being 'Yugoslav'--what does this show about his politics?--but does not press the point. But on the way home, he will say, "Hmm, say what you like, I've always found Yugoslavs difficult people to fathom. It's really the extremity of Europe, you know. . " And I wonder at the need of adults, too, for shorthand, for second hand wisdoms.
But Dad finds the woman farmer, the Maltese, very sympathetic. "Eh, paysan!" she says, or that's what it sounds like, in her shrill voice. Her voice, too, is ageless; we have heard, on a record at home, Portuguese peasant girls singing in exactly the same kind of shrill voices, voices you never hear, otherwise, in Australia. I think that her version of 'paysan' means something akin to friend, or compatriot, fellow-spirit, perhaps. Whatever it means, Dad is immensely proud of it. He preens under the accolade which she shrewdly--but not insincerely--gives him. Maman is more circumspect; she is closer--only one generation removed--from a peasant origin, and she has few illusions about it. "She's a good saleswoman, " is all she will say, later, when Dad, talking nineteen to the dozen, drives us back to our somnolent, rich suburb where ennui attacks his restless spirit like a physical pain.
They talk in a mixture of languages; some English, mixed with Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and even a bit of patois, the Occitan-derived dialect of the Toulouse area. Dad is always thrilled when the two farmers prove to understand some of the patois; he sees a connection between all kinds of European languages (or at least the Latin ones)and to hear this confirmed, especially here, the patois under the alien sky, is a source of joy.
We walk with them down the paths that lead away from the incongruous Australian house(where their only child, a daughter, sits eating biscuits in front of the television) and into the European preserves of the farm. Here, before you reach the hand-cultivated fields of vegetables, are neatly-arranged poultry runs, with chickens running about, and rows of rabbit hutches, where blink fat rabbits. There are no pets or superfluous things; in this setting, away from the house which diminishes them, the farmers are tough, witty, their tenacity written in their faces, with none of the bewilderment which must seize them, more than once, in this country. I look at them and think of their daughter and how it must be for them all when they have to come up to the school. When my parents come, I am in agony of fear, hoping they won't say the 'wrong' thing in the 'wrong' sort of accent. There are other people we know, Italians, whose attitude towards their educated children is humble, frighteningly so. My parents aren't like that, at all; yet I wonder how these two, these farmers, and their daughter, must feel like, when they have to leave the artichoke fields and go to the school, or the supermarket, or the myriad things one must do in such a society. It makes me squirm, this thought, and so I turn away from it, and towards the fields. It never occurs to me , of course, that maybe it did not touch them, that the shame may only be in the minds of self-conscious children.
At first, we look in the hutches, say, "Isn't that one sweet?" and the farmer smiles, showing bad teeth, and says, in her appallingly accented English, "Good eating, that one!" We are at the age, in the place and time where such statements appear callous; so we are silent, and ignore Dad's I-told-you-so-grin. He has often said we are becoming too soft, sentimental, Australian; Europeans are tough people who look reality in the face. You like lapin a la moutarde? Right, well then you must be ready to first catch your rabbit and kill it. . Or to plunge your hands without disgust into the freshly-killed carcase of a chicken and make it into an objet de table, a dish, rather than a once-living thing. We are tenderhearted; but our feelings never extend to the nicely trussed, carefully jointed meat dish that appears on the table. . .
Now she is walking in the artichoke fields, talking shrilly, a mixture of salty comment on current events, and wild praise of her vegetables. He is silent ("Taciturn, like all Yugoslavs, " Dad is delighted to say, and I wonder a little at how adults seem to need the shorthand of second-hand wisdoms, too). But he smiles quite a bit, and touches the plants, gently, as if he is greeting each. That, surely, is folly. He and his wife are unsentimental, without fancy or falsity, honest, as the French saying has it, as ‘du bon pain’. But that, surely, is a sentimentality, too; for I have heard Maman saying that these two never lose ‘le nord’, always stick to what they know they want, and are not above using cajoling or even a judiciously-placed marketing ploy to sell their vegetables. They are not doing this for fun, for ‘du folklore’: that is the mistake of urban people, throughout the ages. Simplicity is in the eye of the beholder.
Every so often, the farmer stops. She throws an arm out to her husband: this one. She stoops, cuts the stem, throws the vegetable into the basket he is carrying. Dad trots just behind her, asking her all kinds of questions. She answers with aplomb and humour, in her shrill voice, while her husband fills the basket and smiles what my mother would call a 'corner' smile; half-sceret, enigmatic. We children and Maman follow behind desultorily; the smell of the big vegetables fills our nostrils with a heady odour, their sharp thorns prick the unwary child who leaves the narrow paths between the rows. We all love artichokes; some Sunday nights, that's all we've eaten, an enormous tureen filled to the top with the boiled vegetables, served with vinaigrette on each person's plate. The table would fill up with mountains of discarded leaves, plundered for their bit of sweet flesh, then put aside for the next one. There is something addictively wonderful about artichokes; the more and more frenetic peeling-back of leaves, till you get to the 'straw' inside, and peel that off as cleanly as a bandage, to reveal the succulent flesh of the heart. We ate the stems, too; the Blacktown farmers always sold us young, fresh artichokes, so that their stems were as tender as asparagus. Occasionally, we'd eat them with butter and garlic, or tomatoes. But the simple one, the boiled-and-vinaigrette ones was what we preferred.
We always lingered in those fields, dodging thorns, and in areas where the purple flowers were really out, the bees as well, maddened, as we were, by the heavy smell of the artichokes. Once, I remember, the farmer picked one of the flowers and gave it to me. The unexpectedness of the gesture made me blush, and for the rest of our time there, I couldn't resist putting my nose as close as possible to the flower. I've always been sensitive to smells, finding them powerful evokers of emotion and place, and now, I try to think what it was that made this smell so heady. Roses smelt sweeter, muskier, richer; vanilla smelt more homely and tender; the thick brown smell of meat made me feel hungrier. This was a smell of almost-wildness, of something only just tamed, and only dimly understood, something whose discovery was concealed under layers of half-meanings. It was not the smell of careful, cultivated Europe, neatly arranged, tamed and civilised, the Europe of the mythologisers or the nostalgic. Rather, it was the smell of the Europe whose inheritance was mine, which seeped into me like instinct, but was submerged, like instinct, for a long time. A Europe--a France-- not only of the mind or of the comfortable senses; but also one of the blood's leap, of the pain of rejection. The France my father felt in exile from, the France my mother followed him from, despite her own rather less ambivalent feelings. A corner of Europe forever elusive, never pinned down, half-wild, half-tame, of heady, unforgotten smell, uncomfortable at times, maybe never to be fully understood.