Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Interview with Angie Schiavone, editor of Everyday Eats(Sydney)

Last year, I had the pleasure of being a reviewer for Everyday Eats, Sydney's bible for foodies on a budget. It was great fun but also a great responsibility--as someone who loves food and the whole dining experience, I couldn't just concentrate on my own pleasure(though that was important) but also on observing and noticing what other people were eating, the atmosphere of the place, etc. As observation and noticing are the stock in trade of a novelist though, that wasn't too difficult. What was difficult, though, I found, was rating different places against each other(each reviewer covers six allocated restaurants or cafes)--because usually that involved totally different styles of food. Writing the reviews to produce something succint, informative and lively--and not too personal either, as there's a 'house style', if you like--was also a challenge but one I very much enjoyed.
Anyway, the book's coming out out next week and to celebrate its imminent release, I did an interview with Everyday Eats' fantastic editor, Angie Schiavone. Enjoy!
(The book will be out in Sydney at bookstores, newsagents and more generally at the Sydney Morning Herald online store on Tuesday Feburary 28 for $24.99. A digital edition will be available for download from smhshop.com.au/everyday or from iTunes $9.95, and an app is in the works, release date TBC, price $8.49.)

Sophie: Who is Everyday Eats aimed at? Has its focus changed over time?

Angie: This is actually only the second edition of Everyday Eats, but our sister publication - The Age's Cheap Eats (in Melbourne) has been around for decades. I know way back when Cheap Eats first started in Melbourne, they included McDonalds among the listings. These days we leave the cheap fast-food chains to their own devices and focus more on world food, family run restaurants and cafes - anywhere you can get a good quality feed without spending lots. The budget is $30 per person or less, and often it's hard to spend that much. The book is great for anyone on a tight budget, but it's really just for anyone who loves food, and exploring different cuisines and different parts of Sydney.

Sophie:. Are there any trends that you've seen emerging over different years: for example, are certain kinds of restaurants becoming more popular?

Angie: One wonderful trend - if you'd call it that - is that we're getting more authentic renditions of specific regional cuisines from various countries - rather than a "greatest hits" of a particular cuisine, or a "dummed down" version that won't scare timid diners. Thai is one example: Sydney's got restaurants serving North-Eastern Thai food , and even one new one that specialises in Southern Thai food. This year there were also lots of new Mexican and South American restaurants to include, Korean is continuing to become more popular, too.

Sophie: What do you look for in a review? Are there things you watch out for?
There's an art, I think, to writing a restaurant review. It's important to give people a clear picture of what's on offer at a certain place, so they can then figure out for themselves whether it'd be up their alley. There's a fair degree of subjectivity involved, so if we get carried away praising a place we particularly love, it could mislead readers who don't necessarily have the same taste. I always try to keep in mind that we're telling people what a place is like, rather than whether we like it. Adjectives are the key: use lots, and make sure they're evocative rather than subjective.

Sophie: Putting the book together out of so many different contributions must be a huge job. How do you go about ensuring there's coherence to the book?

Angie: Lots of reading, re-reading, research, picking people's brains, digging deeper and asking questions when a review is submitted that perhaps doesn't give a vivid enough picture, editing, double and triple checking facts... it all helps! It's trickier with things like star-ratings, as there can be so much of a range within one rating, and some reviewers are less generous than others: so there's lots of discussion, and lots of extra meals had by me until I'm sure we've got it right.

Sophie: Anything other you might like to add!

Angie: Sydney is such a great place for affordable dining! Proof of that is that this year's edition of Everyday Eats has more than 550 listings, with 130-odd places that weren't in last year, and about 70 different cuisines represented. I'm hoping people will start using our facebook page (www.facebook.com/smheverydayeats) to share tips with us and other fans - whether it's about places we've reviewed or new hidden gems. I really hope people embrace Everyday Eats and that we end up a decades old publication, like The Age's Cheap Eats!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Guest post: Deborah Gray on pizza and wine pairings

In Italy, pizza is a national dish, but variations are enjoyed all over the world, including Australia and France! In this case, I will weave a few French and Australian ingredients and wine suggestions through the pairing.
Yes, Chianti from Tuscany is a natural wine pairing for pizza. But instead of the delicious, but predictable, pairing of Chianti with red sauce and mozzarella, let’s think outside the box and consider alternative wines and toppings. As with other main dish meals, such as chicken, fish and beef, it is the accompanying ingredients and cooking method that best determines the wine. Earthy, rustic Chianti is wonderful with all that rich and acidic tomato sauce. But what about avocado, zucchini and fontina cheese? Not so much. In that case, a Sauvignon Blanc would be fabulous.
Homemade pizza dough is relatively easy to make and well worth the effort. There are plenty of dough recipes in books and on the internet, but the one I have provided takes you through step by step and hopefully removes the intimidation factor. If you don’t happen to have several hours to wait for yeast to grow and dough to rise, there are very acceptable frozen or fresh commercial dough, and good quality flatbreads will work too.
Here’s one pizza that uses a number of individually appetizing ingredients that collectively combine to make a wine pairing a little tricky.


I round of pizza dough, stretched thin (see recipe below)
Cornmeal (polenta) – not corn flour, which is finer*
4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pear, peeled, cored and sliced ¼ inch thick
3 to 4 ounces young arugula (rocket) leaves
3 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
8 ounces brie, very thinly sliced
Course black pepper or pepper in a mill

Preheat the oven to 450° F for 30 minutes. Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. When butter gets foamy, add several slices of pear. Sauté for about 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Transfer the pears to a plate and continue until all of the pears have been sautéed, using additional butter as necessary. When all of the pears have been sautéed, put the greens in the pan. Cook, covered, until just wilted, about 1 minute, and remove from the heat. In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter.
Sprinkle a baker’s paddle or the bottom of a sheet pan with cornmeal and set the pizza dough on top. Brush the dough with the melted butter, place the strips of prosciutto on top, and spread the greens on top of the prosciutto. Arrange the cheese over the greens. Scatter the pears on top, and grind black pepper over all. Transfer the pizza to a baking stone sprinkled with cornmeal and bake until the crust is lightly golden and the cheese fully melted, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes and then cut into 8 wedges. Serve immediately.
For a vegetarian version, as illustrated in photo, simply omit the prosciutto.

*the idea of coarser grain is to provide a little cushion for the pizza to prevent sticking.


Some recipes for pizza dough require six to eight hours’ time for rising, a slow process that require more advance planning than this one, which gives excellent results in less than half the time. This recipe, which makes a 12” round, can easily be doubled, though you should not increase the quantity of yeast.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
2 ½ cups (approximately 10 oz.) all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine the yeast and water in a large mixing bowl and set aside for 10 minutes. Use a whisk to stir in ½ cup flour, the salt and olive oil. Add more flour, ½ cup at a time, until you have ½ cup remaining. As the dough thickens, switch from whisk to wooden spoon. Stir in half of the remaining flour, reserving ¼ cup.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead about 7 minutes, or until it is smooth and velvety, working in as much of the remaining flour as the dough will take. Brush a large, clean bowl lightly with olive oil, set the dough in the bowl and cover it with a damp towel. Let rise for 3 hours, until it has more than doubled in size. Gently turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and let it rest for 5 minutes.
Use the heel of your hand to press the dough into a flat circle, and then use both hands to pick it up. Hold the dough perpendicular to your work surface and move your hands around its outer edges, shaking gently as you do. If it doesn’t stretch easily, put one hand on either side of the disc and pull gently until the dough is about ¼” thick, or slightly thinner. The edges will be thicker. Using your hand or a floured rolling pin, flatten it into a 12-inch circle and about 3/8” thick. From this point you top the dough with recipe ingredients and bake as directed.

Okay, so shall we choose wine to go with brie and pear? But what about the arugula? A Chardonnay will go with both, but only a crisper, less ‘buttery’ or ‘creamy’ Chardonnay, one that has not gone through malolactic fermentation, will go with both. To make it a little easier, choose one from a cooler climate such as Margaret River or Yarra Valley, or if you want to learn a little more about wine, ask a wine store consultant for a Chardonnay without malolactic fermentation. It is more often a better choice for Chardonnay anyway, allowing the grapes’s true nature to come through.
A dry rosé from Provence is a safe and appealing bet, or try a Rhône white such as Marsanne or Roussanne.

Omitting the prosciutto, if you want a vegetarian version, will neither adversely affect the overall dish nor change the wine pairing.
If you don’t have a pizza stone (which often cracks after a few uses anyway) an inexpensive alternative is unglazed Mexican paver tiles. Put these on a rack in the oven and for a minor investment you have a pizza stone. Always put them in a cold oven, so that they absorb the heat evenly with the rise in oven temperature. A stone or tile is essential because it absorbs moisture from the dough and ensures a crisp crust.
Do not touch while hot, even with oven gloves.
Because unglazed tile also absorbs flavours, don’t wash with soap and water.
Use warm water only.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Our own Puy-style lentils

For the last few years, we've grown 'French green lentils', as you're meant to call them if they don't actually come from Le Puy--it is the only vegetable to have its own AOC. And no wonder, for these are the finest, tastiest lentils in the world, beside which every other is a boring mess of pottage. Okay so that might sound chauvinistic, but I don't really care. With its pretty look, green with little spots, like a tiny flat bird's egg, (they do go a pale brown when they are fully cooked) subtle, fragrant flavour and nutty texture, the Puy lentil is the king, no, the emperor, of lentils!
This year and the last we had actual Puy lentils brought back from France to sow(other times, we've used the 'French green lentil' packets you can buy in the supermarket these days, coming from other parts of France, or else Victorian green lentils, from the health food shop--Victoria is the only place in Australia that grows this variety of lentils commercially.) But two years ago we went to Le Puy and toured around looking at the lentil fields, eating various lentil dishes in restaurants, and buying some to bring back. Last year unfortunately though the big rains here meant the poor lentils, after looking wonderful for the first couple of months of growth, drowned, and we only just had enough to keep back to sow. But this year they've done well, as David made sure to put in a whole lot of drainage near them(our soil having a strong clay content does not drain easily). The result is--home-grown lentils to eat again!
I love these lentils done pretty simply--I soak them for a few hours(after sifting carefully to remove any stray pebbles that were not spotted at harvest--this is the major problem with growing lentils! )And then fry up some onion in olive oil, add the drained lentils, stir them around, add salt, pepper, garlic, a splash of white wine, then only just cover them with stock or plain water if you prefer. Simmer them till tender(but still nutty) which doesn't take all that long, 15-20 mins or so(taste them to see). Then drain off any remaining liquid, add chopped herbs, a little more garlic, stir around quickly, and serve. I personally love them with meat--either pork(bacon or grilled pork belly)or lamb(shanks especially), but they're beautiful vegetarian style as a main course too. In the picture you can see them simmering on the wood stove with the sauce which will accompany them--a little bacon, onion, garlic, tomato and herbs. Hot, the lentils are gorgeous; cold, as a salad,also superb!

Friday, February 3, 2012

A fun book!

Here's a book that sounds like fun, a collection of recipes inspired by the charming books of one of France's greatest children's authors, the Comtesse de Segur(nee Sofiya Rostopchina, daughter of the Governor of Moscow). I'm writing a novel for kids set around the Comtesse's childhood, so maybe this will be good for research too!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writers and editors on food 15: Lucy Sussex

Lucy Sussex is a writer, academic and reviewer. Her fiction has spanned a wide range of genres, including science fiction, fantasy, and detective fiction, and she's written for adults, children, and young adults. Her non-fiction work is in literary criticism and journalism, and she is a reviewer for several major newspapers, as well as being an academic at the University of Melbourne. Today, she writes about a magical childhood time spent in Provence, and offers a delicious recipe from that time.

When I was five, my family spent a year in Provence. I attended my first school, where despite we being the only Protestants (‘I’m afraid we’re heretics,’ my mother Marian told the head nun), my older sister Polly played the Virgin Mary in the school play. There are a few mementoes of that time, photos, Provençal folk costumes, and a recipe book, carefully bound in plastic: Louis Giniès’ Cusine Provencal. Its bookmark is a postcard of the Basilique de Saint-Benoit.

My mother attended Provencal cooking classes in Aix, and loved to recall how, trying to be helpful, she opened a paper parcel only to find it contained live small crabs, who proceeded to scuttle all over the kitchen. She ended up with a signature dish, very useful for the wife of an academic specializing in French language: Tendrons de Veau a la Giardiane. It was exotic, but not too pungent for bland Anglo tastes.

Something which does not fit that description, and which she made, to judge from the pencil marks, is this potent tapenade. To test my French, I made it from the book, but a rough translation is:

Take equal quantities of capers in vinegar and stoned black olives. Add half the quantity of tuna in oil, and anchovies depending upon preference, with a small amount of English mustard and a pinch of the quatre-épices (four spices): cinnamon, cloves, pepper and nutmeg. Blend, and add olive oil for consistency, and a small glass of brandy.

I see underlined in the book is the words: préalablement rincés, with reference to the ‘anchoies au sel’. Indeed, this is a pretty salty dish without the anchovies. The brandy makes it grown up, and it rolls around the tongue like a French R.

Giniès comments that; ‘Au point de vue historique, notons que presque toutes ces preparations étaient connues dans l’Antiquité.’ I like to think of the Ancient Romans relishing this dish.