Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Meat: A Not-So-Bad-Romance

But man is a carnivorous production
And must have meals - at least once a day;
He cannot live, like woodcocks, upon suction,
But, like the shark and tiger, must have prey.
Lord Byron (1788-1824)

The Boyfriend cooked steaks tonight and it was lovely.  Sealed and charred nicely on the outside, pink-ish rare on the inside, butter, salt and pepper mingling juicily with the richness of meat in every bite.     

I know it's grisly, but I love the taste of flesh.  I love, love, love the feel of it, the juiciness, the fat, the (sometimes) mess.  Nobody except PETA models and certain pornographers get all starry-eyed and sexy over vegetables.  Mind you, this is no criticism of vegetables.  They just inspire a different kind of love.  A stalk of grilled asparagus dipped in mayonnaise (Kewpie please, or home-made) is it's own kind of heaven.  A plate of 5-spice crispy chicken ribs is another, although with the juices running down your fingers it really does feel more sinful.

The fundamentalist vegetarian would use words such as 'dead', 'rotting', 'unconscionable' and probably even 'yuck'.  However, I'm an omnivore and not ashamed.  A good steak is a treat, and I've been known to get very upset if I commit the crime of overcooking it.  It happened about two months ago and I still shudder at the memory.  There's something very heartbreaking about getting a meat dish wrong.  There's the expense, of course (although with the price of tomatoes these days...) plus the time and the waste.  

I overcooked not one, but two porterhouses and still haven't gotten over it.  Normally I'm the Queen of the Grill, the Barbecue Bitch.  In my house, it's me who wields the tongs.  When I'm not at the butcher,  I'm that annoying person at the supermarket who rifles through and scrutinise every vacuum-sealed pack to find MY perfect steaks.  

I am genuinely confounded by people who simply reach in and toss in any old package of chicken thighs/scotch fillet/lamb cutlets in their baskets.  Maybe it's an illness, but peering through the plastic I imagine how the fat will render, how the skin will crisp and imagine the thickness of that particular cut under my teeth.  Then I make a decision.

Anyhow - two months ago, I chose wrong.  The tiniest rivulet of gristle ran through each of these two steaks like a stream, as they must have been sliced right next to one another.  Which is actually reassuring, because it showed that they came from the very same animal.  Cold comfort, but in these days of Frankenstein meat and other horrors, I'll take what I can get.

Aside from choosing badly, I was also tired and impatient.  I quickly pulled the package out of the fridge, seasoned it and laid it on the pan.  However, the meat was still too cold and the pan not hot enough.  No sizzle.  No char.  Usually I take it out a good 5-10 minutes before I lay on the salt and pepper.  You don't want to shock the meat.  It's my version of winking at it across the bar and buying it a drink.  Or, more truthfully and less perversely, that extra 5-10 minutes allows me to chop vegetables/put away dishes/figure out what the hell I'm doing.

After committing the sin of putting cold meat in a cool pan, I committed another by leaving it alone for too long.  Then I further failed by hastily grabbing it out and not resting it.  Sure, I put more butter on it (because butter is wonderful) but the damage was done.  

The first bite was grey and disappointing.  So was the rest of it.  Like lying back and thinking of England, hoping it would be good anyway (it wasn't) and that it would be over soon (nope).  

The Boyfriend tried to convince me it was okay and he'd had worse, much, much worse but I was disgusted at myself.  I'd treated The Meat badly.  I promised it a good time and instead ended up being... premature.  It's awfully lewd, but cooking a fine steak really is like having good sex.  You need to be patient, gentle and watchful, all while letting it take it's own good time.  I tried to cheer myself up by thinking about all the other times, the other wonderful steaks I'd cooked.  

I was still unhappy.

So here's how to cook a steak, from Carlos and Anthony.  Because I'm still a bit ashamed.

[Make sure to watch from 4.20 onwards.  A beef bourguignon makes a small cameo, but just keep watching.  Ah hell, the whole damn thing is worth it.  You've read this far, what's another 13 minutes?]

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Before Sunset

There are snippets of time and space which present as opportunities.  Amongst the fugue state of chronic pain, the limited motion, the scrabbling of the mind to be anywhere but here, one turns to our friend the Internet for comfort and distraction.  That's why I read newspapers on my HTC smartphone at 4am, teeth gritted, waiting for the effects of ibuprofen/paracetemol/whatever works to take over the body, allowing possible sleep.

So, those opportunities I mentioned... while looking through The Age, this caught my eye.  Summer is here and the Suzuki Night Market is back.

This means Good Food In The One Place And Lots Of It.

At this stage I had been shut in for about 10 days, without the ability to shop for and make meals.  Sure, The Boyfriend has abilities.  He is capable of a making perfectly nice asparagus and tomato omelette.  His pancakes are divine.  However, his talents are no match for The Madness.

The Madness is probably best explained by Gabrielle Hamilton in her book Blood, Bones and Butter.  Chapter 19, specifically.  I won't recount much here as you should just buy the book, it's very, very good.  But the main thing is this - hungry leads to cranky which leads to crazy, compounded horrifically by a hardwired hunger for specifics. 
To quote Hamilton -  "I do not get vague or generic appetite, which will be satisfied, more or less, with just anything that is handy.  I will skip a meal rather than eat the corner joint's interpretation of eggs Benedict with spinach, button mushrooms, and 'blood orange' hollandaise sauce.  I don't eat that kind of shit."

If you've got that plus a big handful of 'bitch-be-crazy' when blood sugar levels drop - well, let's just say I'm surprised that The Boyfriend is still my boyfriend.

I mean, last night I was saying shit like, "I want something dark... savoury, but not chicken or a vegetable.  Like the crispy edge of a seared steak, but this some lightness too.  Know what I mean?"

Seriously?  Seriously.

This isn't a problem when I'm in charge of the kitchen, which is nearly always. But with current circumstances being a tad disabling, the most I've done is put the kettle on.

So damn the dull ache creeping from my lower back, snaking its way down my hip and thigh.  Damn the fogginess and hint of nausea brought on by medication.   I was Going Out To Eat at the Suzuki Night Market.

Little pig, little pig, let me in.  The wolf has arrived.

Fortune favours the famished (in this instance at least) and I found parking easily.   After rendezvousing with The Boyfriend, we headed for the food, set up in hawker-stall fashion at the centre of the market.  Long collapsible wooden tables and chairs were set up everywhere, giving the whole place a real street-eats vibe.

First stop - takoyaki.  Freshly made, crispy-on-the-outside, searing hot takoyaki may not seem like a big deal, but it is because you often unknowingly get served the frozen stuff.  Making takoyaki is a deceptively simple art, but it does require fresh batter, shrewd timing and lightning fast hands in order to flip 16 or more perfectly spherical balls of batter using only a skewer.  If that discount sushi near your work starts to offer takoyaki as well, chances are it's probably this stuff.

And what you really want is this:

Luckily, the takoyaki stand at the market does the real deal, which gives you a damn tasty plate of this:


They also do a prawn variation, which I've yet to try.  They also make traditional taiyaki - a fish-shaped cake with sweet red bean filling.  Another item to come back for.

Then it was onto the sangria and paella.  They were ingested with much gusto and deemed Rather Excellent.



The sangria is particularly well suited for those who don't like their alcoholic drinks tasting too alcoholic.  It's verrryy easy to have more than one cup!  The paella was loaded with saffron and there is a good rice-to-bits ratio.  We had the seafood one and there was plenty of it. 

A great appeal of having paella at the market is that that you don't have to make it yourself.  Sure, I understand that paella making is well-honed tradition and quite a special and manly thing to do.  However, I imagine that paella is one of those things that if you screw it up, you'll hate yourself for days afterwards.  If you are merely mortal and don't want to bugger up A Very Special Dish, then paella is a lovely treat to have when dining out.
We also shared some lovely grilled chicken on a stick with peanut sauce.  It was advertised as satay, but it was not satay.  I shall not go into what is satay vs. what is not satay, because this post is already far too long.  Nevertheless, the meat was very tender and juicy and the sauce quite light and a little bit sweet.  A very nice grilled-chicken-on-a-stick-with-peanut-sauce.

The Boyfriend, The Madness and I came away with full bellies and good cheer.  The hunger beast was slayed and put (temporarily) to rest.

The Suzuki Night Market at the Queen Victoria Market
On every Wednesday from 16 November 2011 to 29 February 2012 (excluding 28 December 2011).

Oh look, they also do that Tweeting thingy.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

This Is The Part Where You Roll Your Eyes

As I write, the effects of 25mg of codeine are taking hold.  I've done nothing of note for the last 10 days, due to chronic pain caused by fibroid related issues.  Basically, my guts have been kicking me in the guts.

So what's this got to do with a food blog?  Why am I telling you about the workings of my internal organs?  Is this blog written my someone cruel, nasty and self obsessed?

The short answer is yes.  All bloggers blog for themselves, methinks.  Therefore, self-obsession is a prerequisite for any blogger, or anyone who wishes to maintain an identity in the online world.

If you don't find yourself fascinating, or your relationship to your chosen topic (wellness, marathon running, pizza eating, Provence-exploring, mouse-desexing, package-critiqueing) utterly absorbing, you're hardly going to put the time and effort into writing about it, are you?

As for the cruel and nasty part - 'yes' to that too.  Just ask the other blogs I've started and abandoned. 

As for talking about how my insides work, well, there will be plenty of that.  Diabetes, depression and lots of 'lady problems' i.e. fibroids and endometriosis are the drawn straws in my genetic lottery.  If I'm not battling one, I'm trying to stave off others. 

"Where's the food part then, you plainly self-absorbed and rather unpleasant creature?"

The food part is everywhere.  Think - why do people blog about food?  Because food is life. 
It's society, context, art, health, geography, history, politics, etiquette, everything. 
Every subject you were taught in school has some relationship to food.  From dodgy spice racks made in shop class to memorising the periodical table, all of what we know and are taught has a relationship to what we eat.

We are fascinated with food because we are fascinated with life.

Anyway, back to the present - due to the enormous amount of painkillers ingested and general uselessness of my current condition, I've missed out on going to the Duchess of Spotswood for breakfast, and doing Korean barbecue at home.  These events were to occur last Sunday, when I awoke with sharp, stabbing pain.  But bugger that.

The worst part was Missing Out On Food.  The petulant, childlike manner of my internal temper tantrum expressed a veritable sea of disappointment.

"But I really, really wanted to try the Duchess' mango and coconut yoghurt tapioca thingy!", "What, no grand feast of meat, meat and more meat?  No sizzle of porky bits?  No kimchee?!"

Like a child at Easter diagnosed with lactose intolerance, I sulked and sulked hard. 

In pyjamas, with greasy hair, clutching a hot water bottle to my abdomen I could only mourn for what was lost. 

The last time I ate at Duchess, the salmon was so juicy and the asparagus so tender, the peeled stalks coated unctuously (I used the word 'unctuous'.  See, it's a real food blog after all!) with the creamy-drippy bantam egg yolk.  And they have brown sugar with their coffee there, giving it an almost-burnt caramel background.

I had hoped to recover in time to cook up bite-sized bits of cow and pig on our Korean barbecue grill, but that wasn't to be either.  After the morning sulk and a nap, I awoke to wooziness and the sort of pain that makes you go cross-eyed.  By then my senses were too dull and the pain too great to really get upset.

However, it must be said that in our household we love Korean barbecue so much that we've taken apart the smoke alarm in order to cook it regularly, courting death and defying good sense. 
Life and limb at risk for pieces of nashi-marinated beef smeared with ssamjang wrapped in lettuce with garlic slivers.    

I love food.  I may be flawed, perverse and more than a little mad, but at least my love is pure.