My beef with boards

I am a burger lover from way back. Not the global-fast-food-chain type of burger but full, messy fish-and-chip-shop burgers.

Long sun-kissed days on the beaches of my childhood and adolescence in Australia – Bribie Island and Caloundra just north of Brisbane; Mills, Seaford and Point Leo beaches in Victoria – were regularly rounded off with a visit to the fish and chip shop on the way home. For me, despite all of the feverish battering of frankfurters, fish fillets and potato cakes behind the counter, the hamburger always reigned supreme as the most satisfying of post-beach eating. Watching the staff flip and griddle in the searing heat before cramming that soft white bun chock full of scrumptious stuff – lettuce, cheese, tomato, fried onion, streaky bacon, a fried egg, beetroot and a beef patty – was a joy to behold.

(My mouth is watering even as I type this.)

Aussie beetroot burger

Back then, my burger would come wrapped in a piece of something like thin baking paper and was then tucked and folded into a white paper bag. My portion of hot salty chips came separately wrapped in butcher’s paper and my fingers would have eagerly poked a chip-sized hole in the parcel before I’d even left the shop.

Anyway, back to the burger.

Preparing myself to take that first luscious bite, I’d lean forward and peel back the top of the bag. Holding the burger with both hands and squeezing it from the top and bottom – to ensure it fitted into my mouth – I’d take a huge bite to get the full medley of delicious flavours.

(Mouth is continuing to water.)

Wrapped snugly in its white paper bag, any renegade hamburger juice (I think you call this fat) would dribble back into the bag, leaving my hands relatively clean. And keeping a firm hold on the burger with one hand, with the other I’d pick out the smaller crunchier chips to munch on while shoving the longer, fatter chips into the burger.

Don’t knock it peeps, it’s an art form. And it’s bloody delicious.

Then burgers got a bit specialist with the advent of the American diner craze. Johnny Rockets was big for a while when I lived in Melbourne and other like-minded establishments flourished with their flashing jukeboxes and dancing waitstaff, their shakes and sodas and their baskets and bags – baskets for burgers and bags for chips.

So burgers became a dine-in experience but still with a hands-on approach

Fat Bobs

Currently Fat Bob’s in Melbourne, Australia serves their mouth-wateringly amazing burgers wrapped in foil (retains the heat – clever!) in baskets with the fries alongside. Yes, I travelled across the world for this and it was worth every jet-lagged minute.

Then burgers went gourmet. They came on plates, with knives and forks, and with  buckets for the chips and special dipping sauces.

GBKburger+fries+onionrings

GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) in the UK is one of my favourite places to eat over here. The burgers are really delicious: a wide range to choose from – which is fantastic now that I don’t eat red meat – and full of great ingredients. (Loads more than the usual offering of some shredded lettuce and a wisp of tomato sauce on a sad white bap that falls apart as soon as you look at it but that’s a rant for another time.)

But I find it impossible to pick the burger up. And in the unlikely event that I manage this, I can never manage to a) squash it enough to take a proper bite and b) avoid the ingredients spilling out.

So a knife and fork are a necessary evil here but happily, the burgers come on plates that are big enough for me to decimate my burger and to tip my chips out of their bucket to join the general melee.

But things go awry when burgers come on boards.

Six months ago, my favourite local restaurant starting serving their burgers on long narrow boards with the burger on one end and a metal bucket with chips in it on the other. Even if I take the chip bucket off, there is not enough room to cut into my burger – which is definitely a knife-and-fork job – and tip a decent amount of chips onto the board. And let’s not forget the ‘thoughtful’ paper – that which lines the chip bucket (why?) and that which lies beneath the burger. After much knife-and-fork wielding, the latter is at best, in the way or at worst, in shreds.

And they are not alone…I found loads of pictures on the internet like the one below.

Burger on a board 1

I mean, what is the point of this? A board is not a nice thing to eat from – no matter what Jamie Oliver and the like profess. And what’s with that stupid salad garnish stack – it’s taking up valuable room and unlike the mug (again, why?) of chips and the condiments pots, it cannot be shifted onto the table.

Interestingly, when I mentioned my frustration to the owner at my local restaurant (I know them well) and requested a plate, he was completely surprised. They had decided to change it, he told me, because they thought it would look nicer for customers. More a case of overthinking the style and completely screwing up the customer experience of eating it methinks!

I wonder when the last time they ate their burger and fries on the board – rather than a plate – was. I suspect they haven’t – or maybe other customers are not as incensed / vocal about this – because when I popped in last weekend, my roasted vegetable and goats cheese burger came out…on a  board.

So much for the voice of the [lone] customer. I’m tempted to persist because it does really irritate me. But can I be bothered? Perhaps I need to let it go, to chalk this up to a small and insignificant battle that’s not worth getting het up about.

Hmmmm…

In the meantime, would someone please get me a plate?

Bread and philosophy

I’ve been stretched out of shape this week.

Since June I have been immersed in an Introduction to Philosophy course. It’s a MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course), a learning format that is starting to make inroads into the way we learn, and is offered by MITx via edX, the non-profit and open-source platform founded by Harvard University and MIT in 2012. It offers a wide range of courses and programs from many of the world’s leading universities and institutions. I did a couple of shorter courses earlier in the year but the content weight and length of the Introduction to Philosophy course was a much bigger challenge for me.

After twelve weeks, eighteen lectures and three written submissions, on Thursday I received my final mark (88%) and my certificate.

Intro to Philosophy certificate

It’s been a long time since I’ve undertaken a lengthy period of formal study. Even though I’m not working at the moment, setting aside 6-7 hours each week – sometimes more when a written assessment was due – has been challenging. Much of my impetus to keep at it was the fear of falling behind and potentially having to find double the time the following week.

It’s also been a subject that’s really tested me. Contrary to what you might think, the course was not about what I believed about God, knowledge, consciousness or identity but rather reading a range of arguments about these subjects and assessing them rigorously using a particular structure.

I’ve always loved learning and when faced with difficult concepts, I usually get through by applying myself to pulling the topic apart and putting it back together again. But there were a couple of weeks – thankfully not in a row – when I floundered. I couldn’t see the point of the arguments and engaging in the discussion forums/asking questions made me even more confused. In the end, surviving all of my harsh self-talk required an exercise in generosity. I surrendered to the feeling of ‘wandering in the wilderness’ and tried to trust that I would eventually work it out. As the weeks moved on, the fog did clear a bit and I was able to pick up the pieces and put them together again.

I am proud of receiving my certificate. However more than that, I’m proud of sticking with it, not letting the feeling of being completely clueless deter me and of finding a little generosity of spirit in myself to get me through the difficult bits. And I feel different – more open, more aware, stretched in a new direction.

Speaking of difficult bits, on Saturday I stretched myself in another direction, this time to take on my battle with bread.

About seven years ago, I started my relationship with bread by making hot cross buns. I’m allergic to oranges and all of the hot cross buns here in the UK contain mixed peel (even bakery-bought ones). So I thought it would be an excellent thing to be able to make my own. So with recipe in hand and wielding my spatula, off I went.

The first batch of buns I made were amazing – mouth-wateringly fragrant, absolutely delicious with a cross on each glossy crown.

Since then I’ve attempted several more batches as well as a variety of other loaves. I love the physicality of making bread – my fingers pulling and stretching as they knead, seeing the magical doubling of the dough as it proves and the oh-so-glorious smell as the fresh bread emerges from the oven. But none of these have reached the dizzying, delicious heights of that first batch. So I decided that I needed to go back to basics and booked myself into the Beginner’s Bread Bakery at the Waitrose Cookery School.

I loved it!

Over five wonderful hours, Laini took us through the rules according to bread: The science of the ingredients, the importance of exact measurements and temperatures and the stretchy, springy consistency of great dough. To my delight, my doughs proved and proved again and I managed to produce a range of delicious breads…

Garlic and Rosemary Focaccia

Foccacia montage

Here it is:  Proved, flavoured and about to go into the oven (left) and beautifully baked and cooling (right).

Pesto and Cheese Straws

Foccacia Straws montage

We used some of the focaccia dough after the first prove to flatten, fill and shape these deliciously salty straws to accompany the mushroom soup served for our lunch. I had two at lunch and then the other two that evening.

White Bloomer Loaf (and dinner roll)

White bloomer montage

What’s a baking course without a white loaf and here it is (left). We also learnt how to make a perfectly shaped dinner roll (right). It’s not as easy as it looks!

I also learnt where I had been going awry in my bread-making, namely the water being too warm (thereby killing the yeast before it even got going) and using flour instead of oil to knead the dough (according to Laini, adding flour during the knead makes for a very dense loaf). Needless to say I’m very keen to put these all of these new techniques into practice but I need to finish all of the bread I brought home first…

bread basket 1

I ate the two focaccia straws and the dinner roll that evening, enjoyed the crust of the white bloomer loaf with organic raspberry jam the next day and portioned three quarters of the focaccia for freezing.

So in the space of a week I feel like I’ve achieved a little mastery over two challenging subjects – bread and philosophy – and now have some sound points of reference to build on. I feel incredibly energised, eager to apply it all and excited to learn more.

Just goes to show what a little stretching can do.


For my other visit to the Waitrose Cooking School – Sliced and Diced – click here

A scrumptious success

In my last post, I waxed lyrical about my day slicing and dicing at the Waitrose Cookery School.

I am delighted to report that just ten days later, I have successfully reproduced one of the recipes at home.

I’m SO pleased…and proud!

Here’s my path to today’s red onion chutney.

I started by slicing up two large red onions and heating them in a medium-sized saucepan – with a little groundnut oil and sea salt – until the onions started to ‘fall’ (that’s cookery school jargon for soften slightly).

Red Onion Chutney 1 (crop)

I added 62.5g of caster sugar and a quarter teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds…

Red Onion Chutney 2 (crop)

…and stirred through until dissolved (see pic below).

Red Onion Chutney 3

I then added 70mls of red wine vinegar and left it all to simmer – no stirring! – for about 15 minutes.

I ended up with about 100g of this…

Red Onion Chutney 4 - finished

 

Yippee! Woohoo! You little ripper! 

 

Yes, I’m a bit excited. I’ve already had some and can report that apart from looking gorgeous, it tastes absolutely delicious.

I am one happy little Vegemite right now.

Feel free to snaffle the recipe – in about an hour, you could be enjoying this scrumptious treat for yourself…

You are welcome.

Sliced and diced

This week I did a knife skills course. No, I am not running away to join the circus. I’m talking about knife skills of the kitchen variety.

I’m a bit of a foodie, have loads of vegetables in my diet and tend to spend a lot of my meal preparation time chopping stuff. I never had lessons in how to do this – I just got stuck in with what needed to be done over the years and it all seemed to work okay. Especially as all ten fingers remain attached and intact.

But when watching cooking television, I’m always hugely impressed and intimidated by the speed and confidence with which chefs slice, dice and generally handle their knives. Every so often they offer a smattering of how-to-chop instruction when a celebrity guest gets involved but do you think I can remember it for application later on?

So I have never filleted a fish or jointed a chicken and terms like Chiffonade and Brunoise are a complete mystery to me. Or used to be.

Continue reading

A taste of Spring

I ate a plum today.

———-

I took it from the fridge

and left it to warm in the sun

as I read on the patio.

———-

When I picked it up, I stopped

 to admire the shine

of its bruise-purple skin

before I took a bite.

———-

I leaned forward

and brought the round glossy fruit

to my lips.

———-

I felt the skin resist

then split under my teeth

surrendering

its lush golden flesh.

———-

It was firm – “al dente” –

keeping the juice softly wrapped

in the meat of the fruit

as I took each cool, sweet bite

around its stony heart.

———-

In five bites I was done

and the seed tossed casually away

under the rose bushes.

———-

I ate a plum today

and it tasted like Spring.

———-

When a foodie goes to Melbourne: By night

I spent two and a half weeks in Melbourne (the one in Australia not Florida – just to be clear) over the Christmas-New Year period visiting family and catching up with a few friends. It was hot – much hotter than I’m used to even in the warmer parts of Europe – but that did not stop me from doing loads and eating even more.

Last time I tap-tap-tapped away about the high points of our daytime eating adventures and promised to follow up with the same for our culinary exploits after dark. So here it is, post number two.

Fat Bob’s Bar & Grill – Moorabbin

For at least three years, my loved ones have been Facebook posting about Fat Bob’s and when I arrived for a visit two years ago, I was sadly informed that Fat Bob’s was closed until the day after I was due to fly back to the UK. This time Lil Chicky was on the case – Fat Bob’s would be closed from Christmas Eve so nine hours after I got off the plane on December 23rd, we were scoffing amazing burgers, more-ish fries and some super scrumptious fried apple dumplings.

fat-bobs

Tucked away in an industrial estate in Moorabbin, once you walk through the gate there are vintage signs everywhere you look.

fat-bobs-food

There’s a good range of craft brews and ciders to pair with your burger. My White Rabbit Dark Ale was smooth and easy (too easy?) to drink and my Victa burger – a crumbed chicken fillet with Asian slaw, Japanese mayo and BBQ sauce – was completely scoff-worthy

It’s a fabulously unpretentious place and was definitely worth the wait. The food was served in plastic baskets with the burgers wrapped in foil (helps to stop the drips as you hoe in) and cutlery was kind of optional frowned upon. If you love a dirty burger and a retro approach to decorating, get yourself to Fat Bob’s…and leave your tiara at home.

Mexico City – Bentleigh

The original Mexico City restaurant opened in 2011 around the corner from where I used to live in Elsternwick but I’ve been away since 2004 so when Lil Chicky told me that there was a new one in Bentleigh, it seemed the perfect place to stop for a pre-cinema dinner. It’s quite a small place and as we were only two people and didn’t have a booking, we had a choice of sitting at the bar or at the window. We chose the latter and ordered a couple of Moscow Mules to sip with our complimentary corn chips and salsa before our meals arrived. I loved my vegetarian burrito and Lil Chicky enjoyed her Mexican trio. But be warned – the portions are huge so if you want to have more than one course, I’d suggest sharing.

Favorite Noodle & Dumpling Restaurant – Moorabbin

This is a family-run business right across the highway from Moorabbin train station. It’s a large restaurant with an extensive menu of dumplings and Chinese stir fries. Mum, Licensed-To-Grill and Lil Chicky all raved about the dumplings so that was what I chose. They were soft and melt-in-the-mouth delicious – definitely the best I’ve had. I’d been eating elsewhere in the day so couldn’t fit anything else in but again I was gobsmacked by how big everyone else’s portions were.

It got really busy while we were there and the service, while still friendly, did suffer a bit as a result. There was also a little lost in translation moment when pea-hater Lil Chicky asked whether there were peas in the fried rice. (We were absolutely assured there were no peas, just beans, only for Lil Chicky to be faced with picking out all the peas when it did arrive.)  But it’s cheap and cheerful and if I lived there, I’d probably be doing a dumpling run at least once a week.

Bad Frankie – Fitzroy

I was reading one of the daily newspapers at Lil Chicky’s in turns marvelling at how clueless I am about Australian celebrities nowadays and checking out all of the things-to-do recommendations. It was the word ‘jaffles’ that caught my eye – these were the mainstay of many a Sunday night dinner growing up and were crammed full of things like baked beans, ham, tuna, tomato and savoury mince but always with loads of gooey melted cheese. I managed to convince some friends to have a jaffle-themed catch-up…and what a catch-up it was!

bad-frankie

Top row: Look out for the sign when you turn off Smith Street into Greeve Street; Quirky decor  Bottom row: Retro cocktail glassware; the traditional ham and cheese jaffle with a side of tomato chutney; the infamous lamington jaffle – there are no words – you’ve got to experience it for yourself!

Bad Frankie specialises in Australian spirits and the drinks list is pages and pages long (who knew we Aussies were so prolific outside wine and a bit of boutique beer) so we went with cocktails served in the types of glassware you might find at the back of your Mum’s kitchen cupboard. We chose a range of savoury jaffles to begin with – which were yum – then tackled the lamington jaffle. Chocolate sponge filled with jam and rolled in coconut was served warm from the jaffle maker with cream on the side – it was scrumptious and VERY rich, making us all glad we had decided to share. The others also tried the ANZAC Bikkie jaffle (brioche toasted with rolled oats and golden syrup) which they reported tasted faithfully of its namesake.

To my mind Bad Frankie was an absolute find. The decor is quirky and cosy and everything is very laid-back. We’d been in the City in the afternoon and the promise of jaffles and boozing did take us out of our way but it was a chilled and convivial evening with an easy tram ride at either end. Just go!

Okami – Hampton Street

Okami is a chain of five Japanese restaurants across Melbourne and on my last night, we decided to tackle the All-You-Can-Eat offer at the Hampton Street branch. You get a two-hour sitting, a menu and then you just keep ordering dishes until you can’t eat any more. We shared many great dishes but stand outs for me were the Chicken Karaage and the Teriyaki Chicken Skewer. We also tried the Octopus Ball – which turned out to be balls of octopus meat versus something akin to a Bush Tucker Trial – better served with soy sauce than the mayonnaise they came with I thought.

okami-1-441x640

Domo arigato for a job well done! 

We managed to find a small space at the end for some cold vanilla ice-cream (it was 38C that day – that’s really hot!) and pretty much rolled out the door. And all of this for less than $30 (approx. £18) each.

And that peeps ends the culinary tour. The next day I boarded a plane for the long trek home with an underweight suitcase (believe me, it took careful packing to manage this with the amount of shopping I did). However I cannot say the same for yours truly and I must admit to my comfy travelling trousers feeling slightly snugger than when I arrived two and half weeks earlier. But what are holidays for, I ask you?

I hope this has whet the appetite of those of you  living in or travelling to Melbourne…if you are a glutton for punishment and want more or missed the partner post on daytime eating in my hometown, you’ll find it here so in the words of my childhood dinners…

Two four six eight

Dig in. Don’t wait!

 

Lessons in kale

Over the past few months I’ve been paying a bit more attention to my diet.

It’s so easy to get into a food rut and whilst swimming has proved to be an excellent exercise rut and remains in the well-being kitty, I’ve been wanting to create a few more good habits especially since I need to keep myself in good mental shape for my ‘what comes next’.

I’ve been keeping a food and exercise diary since the end of August. The idea has been to become more aware of exactly what I’m eating and, rather than adopting some diet or other, to understand how to balance calories, nutrients and exercise better. Recording this each day has certainly made me more mindful about food choices and also about really enjoying what I choose. Let’s face it – catering to every whim is not particularly healthy but when I do indulge, boy do I make sure it’s worth it.

One of the areas I’m particularly conscious about is getting enough iron in my diet. Many years ago I restructured my eating habits (alongside some other lifestyle choices) and one of the consequences is that I don’t eat red meat. While I get enough protein from other things like poultry and eggs, iron in a form that can be absorbed by the body – like in dark green, leafy vegetables – has not featured in recent times.

I’d rather eat fresh where I can versus taking supplements but I’m no rabbit so I want something more appealing than leaves on a plate. Every so often I’ll add a bit of spinach or rainbow chard to something or munch on some mixed nuts but I know it’s not enough.

In an inspired moment during my bi-weekly shopping order, I decided to add some kale and ordered the smallest size bag available – 500g.

Do you have any idea how much kale this is? (Peeps, this is not the time to be funny and say 500g, okay?) I gasped – and may have actually sworn in shock – when I pulled that big green pack out of the delivery bag. To use that much kale before it became limp and un-usable seemed like an insurmountable challenge.

But as with all challenges, it seems this one has taught me a thing or two three.

Lesson 1: Out of the bag

I was bemoaning my mountain of kale at work when one of my lunch pals gave me a great storage tip. Line a large plastic container with paper towel and store the kale in that versus keeping it in the bag. This blew my mind (I know, it’s the small things peeps). It kept the kale dry for almost a month which, luckily enough, is how long it took me to use it. And it works for spinach too. All of a sudden leafy greens have become workable rather than wasteful in the Gidday kitchen.

Lesson 2: More than a handful

As with most green leafy veg, once kale wilts down there’s not a lot of it so after adding a first miserly handful to my normal stir fried vegetables, I got a whole lot more generous when next I stir fried…

thai-fish-cake-with-veg-stir-fry

Thai Sweet Chilli Fishcake with Kale (and other Vegetables)

I have also thrown some leaves into my Quorn sausage and vegetable stew with fabulous results.

Lesson 3: Hey pesto!

Within half an hour of getting that enormous leaf-filled bag I desperately googled “recipes using kale” and was particularly inspired by a Walnut and Kale Pesto recipe from The Food Network for a number of reasons:

  • It had a four and a half star rating and was marked as easy.
  • Pasta is one of my go-to mid week meals, especially after swimming.
  • It would use up half the bag of kale.

So I chopped, toasted, grated and pulsed away to make my very first pesto…

The ice cube tray was another gem from a different work pal – that’s fourteen meals right there in the freezer. No need to defrost, just stir a cube into the hot pasta!

This pesto has turned out to be an absolute winner – one cube is tasty enough with a portion of plain pasta but I’ve also tried adding sun-dried tomatoes and black olives and in the version below, turkey bacon and red pepper.

turkey-bacon-tomato-spaghetti-with-kale-walnut-pesto

Gluten-free Spaghetti with Turkey Bacon, Red Pepper and Kale Pesto

I cannot believe I waited so long to make pesto. Seriously peeps, what have I been doing with my life?

So kale has made its way into my culinary pantheon (much to my surprise and delight) and whilst its superfood status may be under scrutiny, adding this green leafy habit into my kitchen is definitely a big tick in the box for me.

PS…If you made it all the way to the end of this random post about kale, well done you. You definitely deserve a pat on the back. And while you’re at it, if you know any other handy ways with kale, please don’t be shy about letting me know. I’d be very grateful.