In My Kitchen, February 2017

Strangely enough, February is the busiest month of the year in my kitchen. It’s also the hottest month in Melbourne, although this year we have been spared ( touch wood) those soaring temperatures of over 40¬ļC. The kitchen frenzy comes with the flushing of major annual crops such as zucchini, tomato, cucumber, chilli and now plums. It’s a bumper year for plums. I have another 5 kilo waiting for me in the fridge. Our annual beach camp is interspersed with busy times back at home preserving and freezing crops for the cooler months, as well as watering the garden and clearing away the fire hazardous leaves and fallen branches. The Sagra delle Prugne is around the corner.

Vietnamese tomato and dill soup with fish.
Vietnamese tomato and dill soup with fish.

Meanwhile, we eat simply and cheaply. When not eating zucchini¬†fritters or Moulin Rouge Tomato Soup, I turn to Vietnam for inspiration. C√° nŠļ•u c√† chua,¬†fish, tomato and dill soup,¬†is perfect for a hot day. I found this recipe last year while in Saigon and now that summer has arrived, I am delighted to make it with my own produce. The fish market at Preston provided the economical red snapper for this dish. Light and sustaining, it tastes like a wet version of cha ca la vong.

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Chopsticks and Vietnamese fish, tomato and dill soup. Summer time in Melbourne.

While at the market, I purchased a big pile of local Southern Squid for $5 a kilo. Yes, there’s an hour’s work gutting and preparing these for the freezer but my little ones love fried squid after a swim in the pool. The best day to buy squid is on the day the market opens for the week. In the case of our nearest fish market, that’s Wednesday morning. Squid needs to be super fresh to compete with is pricey relative, the calamari. How can you tell squid from calamari? Australian southern squid, the most sustainable seafood in Australia, has an arrow shaped tail, whereas the calamari has side wings.

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Hello Southern Squid. Five fresh squid for $7. Now to prepare them for the freezer. More summer jobs.
Arrow head on a Southern squid. I usually discard this bit. Not so the wings of a calamari.
Arrow head on a Southern Squid. I usually discard this bit. Not so the wings of a calamari.

At the same fish monger, I bought some fresh river shrimp from the Clarence river in NSW. These are tiny and eaten whole. They make an excellent beer snack with a little lime aoili. A tempura batter, made with iced water, baking powder and cornflour, protects them as they fry. A pre-prepared salt of interest is also a good accompaniment. I used Herbes De Provence with salt, a batch I made before Christmas. I love special salts and am about to make a celery seed salt and one from our chilli flush. These salts make cheating easy.

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Shrimp tempura with lime aioli and a provincial salt.

To mop up the big soups and fried things, one needs a large cloth napkin. These lovely cotton towels, seconds, turned up in a linen shop in Brunswick for $2 a set. I bought them all. They soften and improve with washing.

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Japanese tea towels turned into napkins

Last week I celebrated the summer zucchini plague on Almost Italian. This zucchini slice is handy and well known. I added almond meal to the mix for a lighter version. It comes with grated carrot, zucchini, chopped capsicum and herbs.

Succhini slice, enhanced with extras.
Zucchini slice, enhanced with extras.

This hungry lad has finally learnt to make a good tuna pasta in my kitchen. It is an easy dish for a 12 year old to learn. Practice makes perfect Noah.

Kids in the kitchen
Kids in the kitchen

And what would be an IMK post without my little Cheffa, Daisy, who always drags her stool to the bench to help with anything I am making.

hungry days by the pool.
hungry days by the pool.

Good food does come at a price around here, not so much in monetary terms but certainly in labour. Thank you kindly Liz, at Good Things, for your gracious hosting of this monthly link up.

Simple Seafood Paella

Paella is an uncomplicated and quick dish to prepare at home, once you get to know the basic ingredients and keep a few of these on hand. When a bag of mussels and a handful of fresh green prawns saunters my way, I now turn to Paella. It’s easier than risotto, with no stirring involved, and can be made on a regular gas stove.

The basics for Paella
The basics for Paella.

In the pantry you will need these standbys:

  • a small container of commercial pre-made fish stock, or home-made frozen stock or one vegetable stock cube
  • some good quality Spanish smoked pimenton ( paprika )
  • Calasparra rice- no other rice will do for this dish
  • saffron strands

Some other desirable ingredients for a seafood paella for two people are:

  • some left over calamari wings, stashed in the freezer*
  • some green prawns, three large or 6 small per person
  • mussels, around 6 per person
  • one green or red capsicum, sliced
  • one finely sliced onion
  • one finely chopped garlic
  • good olive oil
  • parsley

You don’t need a special paella pan for a no fuss paella for two people. I use a heavy based frying 20-25 cm frying pan with a glass lid. My other paella pans come out and are used for bigger gatherings. Just double or triple the quantities for your larger pans and seek out an even and very large heat source.

Pictorial recipe instructions follow.

Fry the onion, garlic and red capsicum in two tablepoons olive oil.
Gently fry the onion, garlic and red capsicum in two tablespoons olive oil for around 5 minutes or until softened but not coloured.
after the onions have softened but not browned, add the rice and stir about until opaque
Add one cup of Calasparra rice and stir about until opaque
Grind one generous pinch od saffrom with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a mortar and pestle and add to the pan.
Grind one generous pinch of saffron with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in a mortar and pestle and add to the pan. Add a little water to the mortar and add remaining saffron water to the pan.
Add the sliced strips of calamari wing and smoked pimento to the pan along with 2 1/2cups of stock.
Add the sliced strips of calamari wing and 1-2 teaspoons of smoked pimento ( I like mine smoky) to the pan along with 2.5 cups of stock. Commercial fish stock packets usually contain two cups. Add extra water if needed, or use a stock cube. Cover the pan with a suitably fitting glass lid and cook on low to medium heat for 15- 20 minutes. Relax.
after 20 minutes, add the mussels to the pan, and cover.
When the rice has swelled and most of the liquid has been absorbed, add the mussels to the pan, and cover. After another five minutes, add the prawns and cover until cooked. Check that liquid has been absorbed and the dish should now be ready to serve.
Serve in the pan, with finely chopped parsley
Serve in the pan, with finely chopped parsley
The bottom will have formed a slightly golden crust. The soccarat is the best bit.
The bottom will have formed a slightly golden crust. The soccarat is the best bit.
More than enough for two, with some leftovers for breakfast or lunch.
More than enough for two, with some leftovers for breakfast or lunch.
The big fellas used for larger crowds. Not so suitable for stove top cooking.
The big fellas, used for larger crowds are not so suitable for stove top cooking

After preparing fresh calamari for another meal, stash the wings in the freezer for occasions like this. They defrost very quickly and add depth of flavour to the rice as it cooks. I have also used a small fillet of Dory in the same way.  I learnt this trick from Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe and the habit has stuck.

In My Kitchen, a Very Fishy Post. November 15

There have been lots of fishy things happening in my kitchen this month, or should I say, in cabin kitchens along the East Coast of Victoria and New South Wales. I love the challenge of cabin kitchens: they are all so idiosyncratic and designed for the user of microwaves or non cooks. Challenges include how to drain pasta without a colander, chopping on thin plastic boards that have warped into canoes, looking for a non-existent grater and salad bowl and dealing with an oven that doesn’t cook. ¬†But I’m jumping ahead.

Let me introduce you to the first kitchen I popped into on my coastal road trip. I met up with Maree, from Around the Mulberry Tree, in her kitchen in Trafalgar. She was having a garden open day and I just happened to be passing by. Her garden was looking magnificent with its well designed chook house and wicking beds, but I was keen to see the progress on her kitchen renovation and her ‘toy oven’, in which she makes beautiful sourdough loaves! I can report that it is all true, and it just goes to show that with a bit of imagination, a good loaf can be made in a tiny little pie warmer of an oven! Neither of us are too keen on having our photos on our posts: I think this one sums it all up.

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In Maree’s kitchen, the blues sisters.

The first night in our Lake Tyers kitchen we feasted on a seafood paella or Paella de Marisco. The seafood co-op at Lakes Entrance provided the goodies for this- fresh squid, prawns ( from South Australia) and a few scallops. I used the prawn heads and shells to make a quick prawn bisque for the stock. I love the first stage of making paella when the smoky pimenton is added to the stock. bbb

Travelling with me always are these ingredients, as well as a good pan with fitting lid, a decent knife, a pasta pot, and fresh herbs and spices from home.

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, Calasparra rice, saffron and smoky pimento – the key items for a good paella.

The kitchen in Lake Tyers was pretty good as far as cabin kitchens go except for the dodgy oven which only worked on the grill function. This was the setting for our scallop feast.

1-2015-10-25 19.51.13_resizedThe kids were happy to eat their way through piles of flathead tails, also readily available from the local seafood co-op.  A large bag of panko crumbs from Costco and eggs from home are also part of my travelling kit.

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Flathead tails, with panko crumbs. Hands up who wants more!

Eden was the next stop for seafood along this route, with blue mussels available near the jetty and a local smokehouse. Kyle bought a bag of smoked mussels: I like his cooking style. Pour the smoked mussels out of the bag and into a bowl, and compete to see who gets to eat the most. No photo for this treat as they disappeared in a flash.

The lakes of Pambula provided the next briny piatto del giorno. Two dozen oysters, freshly shucked, only required a picnic table, a lemon, and a loaf of ciabatta. Needing lemons?  Head to the country op-shops for cheap home-grown bags full.

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Sydney Rock oysters from Pambula Lakes.

Heading back down south, and passing my favourite Co-op again, these pretty creatures were available for $13.50 a kilo. Packed on ice, they are now in my home kitchen and will give us at least three more meals. Calamari and squid are the most sustainable seafood species you can find in Australia.

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shiny calamari ready to be cleaned.
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calamari, stir fried chard, garlic, chill, kecap manis, lemon, sesame oil.

Thanks Celia once again for hosting this marvellous monthly series. You may find more like-minded souls at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, Living well in the Urban Village.

Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza

There were a few surprises hiding in the vegetable garden when we returned from our long sojourn in Indonesia: a crop of zucchini, some small ruby radicchio, herbs, pumpkin, chilli, and a bundle of borlotti beans. I hung on to the last zucchini of the season until the first day of winter. Now we will be zucchini free until next November. Some may say that’s a blessing! Six months of fecundity and benevolence and six months of none. Ci vediamo in primavera.

To celebrate slicing into the last one, I constructed a dish made from my favourite ingredients: fresh calamari, radicchio, garlic, chilli, good olive oil, wine and squid ink pasta. This isn’t a pasta dish as such:¬†the black tangle of pasta gives a little more body to the dish but doesn’t dominate. The following recipe is an attempt to quantify a spontaneous dish. And, given the absence of winter light, my photos are hazy and dull.

Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza
Winter Zucchini and Calamari Mescolanza

Zucchini e Calamari Mescolanza  (serves two)

  • two tablespoons EV olive oil
  • half a medium zucchini, very finely sliced
  • 2 fresh calamari, cleaned then sliced thinly *
  • radicchio leaves to taste, shredded roughly
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • one fresh hot chilli, chopped finely
  • one handful of black squid ink pasta (about 60 gr)
  • white wine
  • salt, black pepper

Method

  • Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Drain, retaining a little cooking water.
  • Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan. You need a lively heat as this is a fast dish.
  • Add the zucchini slices and toss well till lightly coloured and very soft.
  • Add the garlic and chilli, toss well.
  • Add the finely sliced calamari, cook for around two minutes only, tossing as you go.
  • then add the shredded radicchio leaves and toss for a one minute.
  • add a good slurp of wine, reduce a little,¬†then add the pasta to the pan, add a little cooking water, reduce, then season.
  • Serve in wide, heated bowls.*

Notes

* A good fish monger should clean the calamari for you. Don’t bother using the rubber tubes from the supermarket. They will spoil a good dish. Fresh squid is a good substitute and more economical. Don’t throw out the wings. Freeze them and add to another dish later, such as a pasta or risotto marinara. Read the following recipe from ¬†Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe for an economical approach to using seafood scraps.

* Why wide heated bowls? I never used to heat plates and bowls when I was working full-time and coming home to cook for five or more. Since then, I have adopted bowl heating as a matter of course, particularly for pasta, soup and risotto. Imagine making a lovely hot dish and then plonking it into a freezing bowl? The temperature of the food cools almost immediately, whereas a hot bowl acts as a food warmer for the duration of the meal.

For my son Andrew, who recently commented about the heating of bowls, thinking that his mother had finally turned totally anal and lost the plot. He may be right! 

Hot Summer Nights. Calamari Fritti in Fretta.

The season is hotting up, in both senses of the word. Mr Tranquillo, my current Cabana Boy, refuses to don the appropriate costume or demeanor as he attempts to get the pool functioning in time for a sizzling hot weekend. My adult daughter sips her white wine as she ponders the thought of her father as Cabana Boy. She announces that she doesn’t¬†want to go there, the thought is just too ‘gross’.

Whenever these hot evenings string out for too long, dinner preparation must be super fast. I had calamari fritti on my mind. As my daughter left before the meal, her black eyes glared from the car ” Don’t send me a photo, it’s not fair!”.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese lovely molluscs were acquired from the Queen Victoria Market on the best day of the week, Tuesday. In terms of Melbourne’s catch, this is the first day of the week, when the fish are still jumping fresh. ¬†The fishmongers at the Vic Market are happy to clean your purchase.

Calamari Fritti con Rugola in Fretta ( for two)

  • 2 big handfuls of wild rocket/rugola
  • 3 spring onions, sliced, including green end
  • 1 chilli, chopped finely
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped finely
  • a little olive oil
  • 400g freshly prepared calamari, sliced, including tentacles.
  • cornflour
  • salt and pepper
  • five spice powder
  • neutral tasting¬†cooking oil, such as canola, for frying.
  1. Prepare the salad base. Arrange the rocket leaves and toss with the spring onions on a serving platter.
  2. Make a quick dressing. Crush the chilli and garlic with some salt in a mortar and pestle. Add some olive oil. Lightly dress the leaves.
  3. Heat a fryingpan or wok and add some oil. Toss the calamari slices in cornflour mixed with salt and five spice powder. Cook the calamari in batches, tossing well, for around one minute. Using tongs, drain well on paper towels.
  4. When all the calamari is fried, toss through the salad leaves.

Serve with lemon wedges.

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It is heartening to know that calamari is a sustainable seafood here in Victoria. The rubbery frozen tubes sold in supermarkets are not worth buying unless you fancy eating fried condoms. These usually come from Asia or the USA.  If you do choose to buy these from the supermarket, ask about the source.

The following is a great site to check out the sustainability of Australian seafood.   http://goodfishbadfish.com.au/

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Song plant.  Ooo Ooo, Ooo Ooo Ooo, Ooo Ooo, Ooo Ooo, Ooo,  Hot Summer Nights.

 

 

Crunchy Fried Calamari with Tahini Remoulade

Saha, by Greg and Lufy Malouf.
Saha, by Greg and Lufy Malouf.

It was a lucky find. I was cleaning out the freezer in anticipation of the bounty that late Spring and Summer provides, when I found a small packet of frozen calamari. This buried treasure was still within the realms of short term memory, unlike many of the other odd frozen parcels, which became treats for ‘el chooks’¬† (the chickens).

As the rest of the ingredients were on hand, it was time to attempt Greg Malouf’s¬†Crunchy Fried Calamari and Tahini Remoulade from the cookbook Saha.

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Although the total recipe appears to have a long list of ingredients, it is really quite simple. The recipe is divided into steps: make the spice mix, then the remoulade, then the crunchy topping and finally the quick fry of the calamari. The Golden Spice Mix comes from the first chapter of Malouf’¬†s Saha with recipes for cumin salt, fragrant salt, paprika oil, taklia – a garlicky spicy topping- baharat, and a spicy marinade.

Golden Spice Mix.

  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon turmeric
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 tablespoon chilli

Mix together and store in a jar for up to 6 months.

Tahini Remoulade.

  • 150 g plain yoghurt
  • 3 tablespoons tahini, well stirred
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat¬†leafed parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped gherkins
  • 1 teaspoon chopped capers

Combine the yoghurt, tahini, garlic and lemon juice in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.

Crunchy Coating

  • 3 tablespoons cornflour¬†( cornstarch)
  • 3 tablespoons fine polenta
  • 3 tablespoons fine semolina
  • 1 tablespoon of golden spice mix ( see above)

The Calamari, Cooking and Assembling.

  • 8 small calamari, quartered
  • salt and pepper
  • vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • lemon wedges
  • fresh garden leaves to serve

Prepare the crunchy coating by sieving all the ingredients together. Season the calamari pieces then dunk them into the crunchy coating mixture. Put the calamari pieces into the sieve to shake off any extra coating. Heat the oil in a large frying pan until nearly smoking. Add the calamari pieces in batches, shaking the pan to coat them with the oil and to colour them evenly. They should take less than a minute to cook. Remove from the pan and drain on kitchen paper. Serve them piping hot with lemon wedges and the Tahini Remoulade.

My Notes

*I used larger calamari and cut them into small  pieces. This would work well with any shape you decide to cut. I also used the tentacles.

* The coating would be handy for many other small fry, although a sticking agent, such as a beaten egg or some milk, would help the coating adhere to flathead fillets. Calamari has enough of its own ‘glue’.

* The tahini remoulade is a winner. This sauce is far more appealing than the common place tartar based on mayonnaise. I will be using this in future. I used more capers than suggested in the recipe.

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Thanks Leah, of the Cookbook Guru, for encouraging me and others to cook from a nominated cookbook, taking us away from our comfort zone!

 

 

 

Lake Tyers Dreaming and Fish Frenzy Recipes.

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The waves pound the coastline, often breaking like thunder, along the Ninety Mile Beach in Eastern Victoria . It’s a rugged and isolated stretch with few settlements along the way. Lake Tyers¬†is one of those magic spots, a small town facing the gentle lakes which protect it via a sand spit, from the wild seas of Bass Straight. The town consists of beach houses, a few camping grounds, one milk bar/general store and delightful pub set right on the lake,the Waterwheel Tavern.Image

It’s the place I choose to visit out of season, usually in early December, and sometimes in winter, away from shopping malls, job lists and the internet, which is generally unreliable.¬†We are here to ponder the view, read, walk and¬†eat fish.Image

On clear nights, the horizon sparkles with fishing boats and trawlers, night’s glittering promise of tomorrow’s fresh fish. The catch is landed at Lakes Entrance, a major commercial fishing port which is a short 10 km drive away. Two outlets stock local fish and a few imports from interstate. The Fishermens Own Omega 3 fish shop. (which is basically the fish Co-Op ) and Ferry Seafoods, which is a little fish shop underneath a restaurant of the same name. It’s a fishy surprise each day!ImageImage

On rough nights I ponder the lives of these commercial fishermen who love and respect the sea and I think of my ancestors who earned¬†their living fishing off the coast in the nearby town of Port Albert, many of whom met ‘their watery graves’.Image

The fish feast began on the first evening with a half kilo of freshly caught wild school prawns. To this we added bread and butter,lemon, and beer. A fitting start to the holiday!Image

The following day the ‘fishermens’ own shop’ had some beautiful slippery grey mauve calamari, a steal at $13.95 ¬†a kilo. We dusted them with flour, gave them a quick minute fry, then dressed them with chilli flakes, salt, spring onions and lemon. Say no more!Image

On the third day, the wonderful folk at the same shop had filleted a ton of school sand whiting. I would not normally buy these little fellas as they are so boney, but when filleted, bring them on! I bought a huge pile for $9.00- so delicate and transparent and silvery. These were popped into a Thai green curry, loaded with ginger, garlic, chilli, red onion, kaffir lime leaves, basil, lime juice, fish sauce and coconut milk. I added a few beans and zucchini, to avoid growing fins! The fish were stirred through at the end and cooked in a minute.

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The Fish gods were still smiling on us. On the fourth day some wild caught scallops turned up for a song. In the evening, these little gems were stirred through a simple spaghetti dish with lots of garlic, extra virgin olive oil,basil and a hint of chilli. The halved scallops cooked in the heat of the pasta.ImageImage

Accommodation is available in camping grounds or in apartments and beach houses. These are usually cheaper out of season, which is anytime outside of the Christmas holidays and Easter.

This post is dedicated to my sister Kerrie, who has inherited the same fish gene from Port Albert, and to Bruce, who is always so good natured.