Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

24.7.15

Label lore: a fascinating game of mystery, puzzlement and sheer idiocy to help you while away those boring shopping trips to the supermarket.

Aisle one.

Seen on a can of pineapple: Naturally Low in Fat.

Spent the next two aisles looking for sugar labelled Naturally Low in Salt, spring water labelled Naturally Low in Caffeine and legs of lamb labelled Naturally Low in Fish. Didn't find any, but the shopping trip was a quarter over, and I found myself in ...

Aisle five.

Seen on a can of tomato soup: Made from responsibly grown Australian tomatoes.

Now this was a hard one, and provided enough entertainment to get me through the next four aisles (which also made me forget two items on the shopping list). To start with, since grammar went out with old telephones, people throw words into sentences in any order. Was the adverb 'responsibly' even intended to modify 'grown'? And if so, how do you define responsibly grown tomatoes? Or irresponsibly grown ones? Left out in the rain? Letting cockatoos eat them before they ripen? Or did the manufacturer really mean that all Australian tomatoes are responsibly grown, compared to the cheaper imports? Who knows. I suspect the latter, and that the phrase was mangled by a semi-literate marketing executive and went unnoticed all the way up the line to the CEO. So many questions, so little time left to shop! This game is great. Into the home straight now.

The refrigerated aisle.

A health warning for Pliny the Elder.

Ancient Indian writings described yogurt and honey as the food of the gods; Abraham supposedly owed his longevity to the regular ingestion of yogurt; the biblical land flowing with milk and honey was reportedly fermented yogurt; ancient Greek cuisine included a dairy product known as Oxygala - a form of Greek yogurt; while Pliny the Elder is among many writers to mention the benefits of yogurt, which is, among other claims, responsible for raising the average Bulgarian age at death by decades compared to non-yogurt eating races.

Fast forward to twentieth century Australia. I picked up a tub of Greek yogurt, intending to coat some bone-in chicken pieces with it along with a selection of Indian spices before baking them, tandoori-style, and serving them with the three Rs (rice, roti and raita). But right there on the label, traffic-light style, was a star rating graphic, giving the product the low rating of just one and a half stars out of five. Australian bureaucrats had decided, after several millennia of opposing evidence, that GREEK YOGURT IS BAD FOR YOU.

The shopping trip was over, and I forgot only some shampoo and a tin of baked beans.

21.7.15

Happy birthday, Martin.

Tried to call you yesterday and you've obviously ditched the landline, like I did last year. Hope you had a good one.

*Rest of the world thinks: WHAT! No Facebook, no Twitter? These guys try to TELEPHONE greetings to each other? Nuts!*

16.7.15

Wake up and smell the onions.

John Lennon never wrote a song called 'Looking Through a Glass Parsnip'. No-one ever wrote a book titled Chokos in the Stew. "He knows his carrots" was never a figure of speech. There was never an online satirical magazine called The Potato. Booker T. and the M.Gs never recorded Green Beans.

There is a reason for this. The reason is that the onion is not just a vegetable. It is a cultural artefact.

The onion underpins more recipes than any other ingredient. It stars in its own right. It makes grown men cry. If there were no onion, it would be necessary to invent one.

The onion is the only vegetable in existence that can literally stop people in their tracks. I have proven this several times, when working on the Bunnings kindergarten fund-raising sausage stall. For some reason I always got to be the cook while the others handled the money or served the customers. This meant I was able to stand behind the grill turning onions and sausages, while gazing out over the vast car park, where thousands of home renovators would arrive, reverently, as early as 8a.m. on a Sunday morning. They should call it St. Bunnings. It is the new place of worship, supplanting churches. You can tell the home renovators from the tradies, because the renovators keep coming back for more of what they took home earlier – much more. They don't realise how much Spakfilla or Liquid Nails or Floating Floor they actually need until halfway through the job. Television renovation shows don't tell you this. They also don't tell you that, just off-screen, sits a B-double semi-trailer loaded to the gunwhales with hardware supplies and an army of crew to carry it onto set. The thing for the home renovator to remember is to buy four or five times as much of anything you need. Of course, you'll end up with a truckload of offcuts as well. Send these to the kindergarten for the children to play Renovate My Cubby with.

So it's eleven in the morning, and the sausages and onions are on, and I employ my technique of drenching the onions in oil, and then dredging them across the hottest part of the hotplate, so that they send up clouds of fragrant smoke, which drifts across the car park ... and the home renovators stop like pointers, mid-stride, and change direction towards the smell of the cooking onions that are vigorously frying to the point of caramelisation. When you've been digging trenches or painting a roof all morning, the smell of frying onions is irresistible.

The onion wins the countdown.

The onion sits proudly at Number One; immovable, like Dark Side of the Moon was through the long cold months of 1973; sailing on and on into 1974 and beyond, a triumph of majestic, dignified, imperial progressive rock in a sea of tawdry glitter, cheap glam and appalling disco.

The onion reigns over all. If this vegetable were a footballer, it would be Dick Reynolds, Bob Skilton, Wayne Carey and all three Gary Abletts* rolled into one.

Citing onion recipes is almost superfluous; most are clichés, such as onion soup, a masterpiece of taste, aroma and satisfaction, and yet a refugee from a 1980s bistro menu. And yet ...

Caramelised spiced onions and potatoes.

By adding the mystique of eastern spices, you will exponentially increase the taste and aroma power of already irresistible caramelised onions. Try this at your next barbecue and they'll be marching towards the serving tables like zombies, completely deprived of the power of free will. This recipe is the ultimate conversation stopper. Bring it out when they start talking religion, politics, or sex. Onions! Spices! Must eat! What was I talking about? Who cares!

Cut 750g of new potatoes in halves. Boil and then simmer until just tender. Don't overcook.

Cut a couple of onions into very thin slices. Heat a quarter cup of oil in a frypan; add two teaspoons each of hot paprika and powdered coriander, half a teaspoon of black pepper and a dash of cardamom powder. Stir spices through for half a minute then add the onion. Stir through, set to low and cook until caramelised, about twenty minutes.

Drain potatoes when done, rinse in cold water, drain again.

Stir potatoes through onion mixture, add half a teaspoon of salt, and cook another minute or two to combine, adding two tablespoons of lemon juice for a delicious acid kick.

Transfer to serving bowl, top with plain yogurt and chopped coriander. Often served as a side to crispy skin spiced fried chicken, but which is the real hero here?

*

Breathe, breathe in the air
Dont be afraid to care
Leave but don't leave me
Look around, choose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be


*

*Yes, of course there were three Gary Abletts.