Last night I made one of our tastiest meals that both of us have been preparing for at least 30 years: Garides me Saltsa or shrimp in tomato, wine and feta cheese sauce.
Allow me to ramble because this story goes back to the late Sixties in San Francisco’s North Beach area; specifically to the now moved Discovery Bookshop which was next door to Ferlingetti’s iconic City Light’s Bookstore. Anyway, as often happened, I would drive done there and search for cheap used books and I bought about 5 volumes of the old Time-Life international cooking series. This was early-on in cookbook publishing history and the one containing this Garides recipe was the Middle Eastern Cooking and exactly why Greece is considered Middle Eastern is known only to the author Harry Nickles but the combination of tomatoes, feta cheese, oregano, wine and shrimp with rice is an unbeatable combination.
I just made a simple salad with lettuce, spinach, tomatoes cut into eighths, avocado pieces, olives and that salad acted as a perfect cleanser to the garides.
Our wine was again what we in Australia call a “clean skin” because the wine variety is just bottled with no further information except variety and in last night’s case it was a chardonnay; very good at less than four dollars per bottle.
Garides me Saltsa is one of the great dishes of the world and I anticipate enjoying it many times before I am finished.
To begin our meal and continuing in the holiday spirit Diane made us a delectible Sidecar with some little toasts spread with her olive tapenade. As a main she made one of her many delicious pasta meals for our enjoyment last night: linguine with salmon and prawns. She did not vary the dish greatly except that she used less cream and added her fish stock to maintain the amount of liquid. She also used a Tasmanian salmon product whereby the pieces leftover from the packaging of thinly sliced salmon are sold and these extra thick, as opposed to the very thin normal slices available, make for wonderful smokey flavour.
Pasta is the original fast food and its variations are immense. We have been eating pasta regularly since ’71 in Italy and we seem to maintain our weight; exercise in a wheelchair is not an option and Di’s exercise is no more than her normal involved, busy life. Italians are not fat people and they eat pasta (carbs) far more frequently than we do so the weight must come from somewhere else. Alcohol is also caloric but we have had wine with every meal since ’71 also.
Diane helped me out tonight by preparing a delicious pantry meal after my lunch preparations.
We both decided to begin the Silly Season a little early and she made us a Jim Beam Rye Manhattan that always puts a smile on the face of those lucky enough to enjoy one (if you haven’t tried Rye as opposed to Bourbon, I find it earthier and less “handled”-if that makes any sense). As a nibble (actually a little more than a nibble) she made her signature Bruscetta with soft Turkish bread covered with chopped tomato. Locally when you order this now common beginning to your meal restaurants, in order to justify their high prices, will cover the bread with chopped tomatoes so high that eating this beast becomes a formidable task; I simply will skip it for that reason. Diane makes hers with chopped tomatoes (not too large a dice), mashed garlic and olive oil; it sounds simple but hers are the best I have ever tasted.
For a main, Diane made a wonderful pasta dish, orecchiette with peas and a little chopped prosciutto for flavour. The ever present green salad was this dishe’s accompaniment.
Yesterday was another quiet meal time around Casa Johnson. Diane always makes a little hor-d’oeuvre for us to begin the meal but alas I have never done so, except tonight. On many restaurant menus, both expensive and non-so, they offer as an inexpensive beginning to your meal a small plate of fried salami which I have always enjoyed (for price and taste). Last night I tried making my own with some Spanish chorizo which I fried in a little olive oil with some pimientoed green olives halved. The two together were a repeatable meal beginner.
For a main I slightly improved our favourite German pizza, Dr. Oedecer’s, with a little extra cheese and a dash of olive oil. It is a mystery of the universe why some company in Germany can make and ship half-way around the world a better store bought pizza base than companies here in Australia; we have tried them all and the good doctor’s is our favourite. The pizza and a robust green salad completed a very easy yet excellent meal.
Today for lunch I made something that I have wanted to make but have waited for years but today I tried making corn cakes. I found about seven recipes in our various cook books but I settled on one off the internet and to make it even odder, it is an Australian recipe. Corn cakes have an extremely long history in the States because of their huge corn production and, admittedly, the recipes are all roughly the same but this one wanted an avocado and tomato salsa with which to be severe. I had to make some adjustments because I did not have the exact ingredients: chives for green onions (the onions would have been better), a few Tbs. of finely chopped onion (I did not use enough), frozen corn rather than fresh corn cut from the cob (much easier), a few rings of finely minced jalopeno (use more) and I had no coriander (it probably would have been good). I did not realize that the corn cakes would spread out so much in the skillet so next time I will spoon the mixture into large buttered egg rings and see if they can come out of the skillet a little ticker.
I served this as a lunch today with the salsa. I also added spoons of Greek yogurt as a sauce. Ainsley Harriott uses Greek yogurt to accompany his Mazatlan meatballs and other dishes that he cooks and it is a brilliant and easy sauce to add a little wetness to the corn cakes.
The cakes and salsa where washed down with a shared bottle of Dos Equis.
I have trouble cooking because my collection of recipes are too caloric for two people in their Sixties so when Diane says that she enjoyed my lunch, both because of taste and calories/kilojoules, I thought that was a victory. She thinks that for five cakes: 1/2 cup of flour, one egg, no butter of other shortening and the only bad stuff was the safflower oil for frying, the meal hit on both accounts; a win for the good guys!
Last night was a very simple meal for us because I was on my juice diet and had that all day and for dinner. It is a simple affair; I juice carrots and celery and add whatever vegetables that can be juiced to them–if there are none then the juice tastes good anyway. The only flavouring is a klnob of ginger that I put in with one of the juicier vegetables and you have immediate flavour.
While I had this Diane just made a simple pizza with Arabic Flat Bread to which she added some toppings.
Meal times are just practical at times.
Last night’s meal was a cracker: the recipe was an old favourite and the main ingredient was far better than I had thought (I thought that the baking would dry it out).
The recipe was from Francoise Bernard’s cookbook, La Cuisine, which is one of those old fashioned cookbooks that I picked up for $25.00 and contains hundreds of recipes with no photographs; it is like a French version of Joy of Cooking or the CWA Cookbook-just recipes. Also, it is not like Julia Child’s famous, The Art of French Cooking, because Bernard does not explain the processes as Child does so well. Bernard just presents recipes that for the most part are easy and she does display ratings at the beginning of the recipe so the reader knows what they are in for. The ones that I have tried have been noted as Easy.
The cooking could not be simpler and this time I tried, as the fish of choice, Patagonian Tooth fish. Several years ago, bear with me because it is a good story, the Australian Fisheries Dept. spotted on radar a vessel fishing in Australian waters far southwest of Australia but in territorial waters so they gave chase. The illegal trawler ran for South America, the nearest landmass, and after about six days in bad seas the Australians boarded the trawler, impounded it, arrested the crew and confiscated the trawler’s catch that had been quick-frozen on this factory ship. They brought the fish cargo back to Australia and sold it but no one here really knew what the hell Patagonian Tooth fish were but they soon found out. To my taste buds it is the best fish that I have ever tasted, even better than salmon; it is soft and mild with a distinctive flavour.
Bernard’s recipe is so easy. Oil the bottom of a small baking dish; cover with thinly sliced mushrooms, sprinkle with finely chopped shallots, pour in about 120 mls. of fish or vegetable stock, sprinkle with fresh thyme, dot with butter and bake at 180 c. for 20 minutes. Serve with rice and a garden salad.
We enjoyed a 3 Corners Enterprise Chardonnay from New South Wales with it.
Tonight was a mirror image of last night although a little cooler because the southerly winds were blowing a little and the southerlies come off the Southern Ocean and therefore cold.. We had decided to have a double BBQ, last night and tonight, so the only point of discussion was what to do with the lamb. Diane had bought chops which provided the beauteous meal last night and she decided, after I welched on the decision to cook tonight, to turn the chopped lamb from the store into mince and making a special meal with it.
To begin the meal, Diane (because Friday night is Party Night) made herself a Maker’s Mark Manhattan and I a Jim Beam Rye Old Fashioned; her meal just got bettert after these openers. They were served with small toasts covered with a spread of her olive Topanade.
Our first course is with cheese: in this case the remainder of last night’s Halummi on toasted Turkish bread. Both the Halummi and the bread had been toasted on the BBQ with sprigs of fresh herbs of various kinds tossed on the hot coals thus flavouring whatever is cooking over those herbs: very effective,very inexpensive.
The second course was the vegetable course; in this case thinly sliced new egg plant (corgette). Diane braised them over flavoured coals and served the slices, about four a piece, drizzled with olive oil on a bed of chopped lettuce.
The third course, the meat course, was an old faithful Ainsley Harriott recipe from his Ultimate Barbecue Bible cookbook called Spiced Matzatlan Meatballs with minced lamb. We have cooked it many times and it remains a firm favourite. Just be careful of the cooking time; lamb in this form tends to be dry to my taste and try always to serve them withj generous dollops of Greek (unflavoured and hence tart) yoghurt. Diane braised some salad onions and served them with the meatballs.
Our wine of choice was a delicious Caldora Montepulciano D’Abbuzzo.
She made some chocolate ice cream to finish this brilliant meal.
I added more BBQ charcoal to the fire and everything worked well. Don’t be an environmentalist at BBQ time because it will rebound on you when you see the charcoal needed, but …
The warm days and evenings called out for a BBQ and we were quick to answer its call.
Again, Diane made the wonderful meal over and above considerable marital discussion about the ever present topic of fire/heat. Is it too cool to properly sear the meat? if it is too hot then the carcoal will burn out too quickly and lose enough heat to properly cook the last course, the meat course. How much charcoal to use? I am very stingy about the amount because I do not want to waste too much therefore that leads into many of the above questions. We always seem to be looking for a new BBQ but that raises new problems: how far away from the heat is the grill holding the cooking food?
The variables are many and the answers require considerable time to sort out; hence the difficulties becuse each one of us has a closely held opinion.
Tonight I set the fire and it worked well for the first two courses but she thought that the heat had died by the third or meat course. Her first course was Cyprian Halumi cheese cheese dusted with flour and roasted then placed on Hoskin’s Flat Bread and drizzled with lemon juice.
The second, trataditionally the vegetabhle course, was halved capsicums (sweet peppers) filled with slivered sauted fenel, garlic and onions and grumbled feta. That was roasted on the BBQ with the hood down and drizzled with olive oil.
The third course was lamb chops that had been marinated all afternoon and herein came the question: was the fire still hot enough after the two previous courses? Diane thought they should have had a crispper surface but I thought they were succulent and the best lamb chops I have ever eaten.
So the question of fire intensity continues: I have changed from quick, close to the fire to higher and slow cooked. Obviously there are many evenings remaining this summer before an adequate decision can be made; the determination awaits me.
After railing into Perth this evening we went up James St. in Northbridge to our old favourite, the Saigon Cafe & noodle Restaurant and enjoyed an excellent Vietnamese meal before this evening’s play.
We began the meal with entrée of Fried Wontons (6) and a serve of Prawn Toast (2 halves). Their prawn toast is enough to ensure my return at any time.
Diane again ordered a dish that both of us have enjoyed and that is a specialty of the house, Vietnamese pancake. It is a misleading term because about the only thing that makes it a pancake in its flatness which is caused by the mixture of egg, bean sprouts and prawns and chicken, sort of omelet affair. Pieces of this omelet are torn away and mint leaves and sauce are added before it is wrapped in a lettuce leaf. The omelet/pancake is plate size and you are given virtually a half head of lettuce so the dish is generous and very good. The lettuce is extremely fresh; nothing like the tired heads that we buy in our markets.
For my part I ordered (I am trying to make my way through the menu) a dish I had not tried before Saigon Chicken Rice and for $9 dollars it was a great dish which I will order again. The dish came as a leg and a thigh in a delicious sauce with a generous serve of plain rice. The thigh had been cut into three portions.
We had a bottle of McWilliams Chardonnay and proceeded to the theatre.
My presence in the kitchen tends not to be appreciated during these periods; Diane is (her own version) on a subdued food-intake plan(sounds better than diet–maybe) and according to both our judgements am quite incapable of fixing anything for a meal that is not caloric. Therefore the cooking has fallen on her shoulders but tomorrow morning I will be so thin that I may be allowed to practice my culinary skills, such of them as have ever existed.
I continued my juice diet for brekky and lunch and by mealtime in the evening I was pretty peckish. So as to remove the cooking burden from Di’s shoulders she heated an old favouite, Dr. Oetker’s pizza, to which she added a little extra cheese and drizzled it with a little olive oil for increased moistness.
She served a delightful salad of spinach and a little lettuce, cherry tomatoes and olives.
As a beverage she accidentally opened, I am a philistine when it comes to wine tasting but I do know what I like, a gorgeous (we describe food and drink using feminine adjectives) Kasaura Montepulciano D’Abbruzzo that fights far above it’s weight.
It was a great way to be reintroduced to the joys of food.