Monthly Archives: July 2012

Thank God for my country boy

You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but my husband is a real country boy.  Underneath his suit and tie there lurks a hunter, a fisher, a fresh-tomatoes-pulled-from-the-back-garden-for-dinner-lover and a secret pick-up truck fan.  And I love that about him.

Removing the casings from the breakfast sausages (bought at Peter’s Meats in Edgecliff) for the sausage gravy

Browning the sausage meat

Sometimes I’ll ask him to tell me a Little Andy Story.  I love to hear about his childhood and about the experiences that made him the man I fell in love with.  We both agree that our favourite Little Andy Stories are the ones that involve his grandmother.  She was a proper old-school country lady who baked bread every day, was active at her small church and could cook any type of meat that her family of hunters happened to bring her that day.

The dry ingredients with the butter for the biscuits

Rubbing the butter into the flour (this step will be easier when my things arrive from the USA and I’ve got my pastry cutter again!)

Andy will tell stories of being woken up by his father when it was still dark outside.  They’d load up their things, and head into the cold and silent Georgia woods first thing on a Saturday morning to hunt.  They’d sit, hidden in camouflage, in the trees, waiting for deer or wild turkey.  It was peaceful and beautiful and Andy loved being outdoors, being with his father, even if they didn’t shoot anything that morning.

Adding the buttermilk to the mixture.

The dough looks a little raggedy, but just sprinkle it with a bit more flour and pat it down.  Can you spot my iPhone in the background?  I was listening to Billy Joel whilst baking!

Once the sun was well and truly up and the animals had most likely taken cover for the day, Andy and his dad would head out of the woods and over to his grandmother’s house for breakfast.  Her home was warm and snug, with a woodburning stove and walls lined with family pictures.  After a morning of hunting, Little Andy would be very hungry.  And his favourite breakfast was, and is, biscuits and gravy.

The biscuits are cut and should touch each other on the baking tray.

Stirring the flour into the sausage grease to form a roux or paste

I know that for the non-Americans reading here, this whole story will sound weird (guns!  hunting! gravy on top of cookies!) but don’t worry.  Your definition of a biscuit and our definition are totally different.  You say biscuit, we say cookie.  You say scone, we say… that’s KIND of like a biscuit.  Oh, and the gravy is a white gravy.  Y’all are having your minds blown right now, aren’t you?

The flour and grease have thickened into a paste. Let this brown for a few minutes before adding the milk.

The milk has been added and the gravy is thickening up.

Biscuits and gravy is a good old fashioned country-style breakfast.  It’s warm and meaty with the contrasting textures of the thick, smooth gravy and the fluffy biscuit with crunchy edges.  I made biscuits and gravy last weekend to celebrate Andy’s birthday.  My version wasn’t nearly as good as his grandmother’s, but, hopefully, I’ve got years to perfect my version for Big Andy.

Golden and buttery biscuits fresh from the oven.

Hello, breakfast! On a plastic plate. I cannot WAIT until our boxes arrive.

Biscuits
Makes 6-8

2 cups plain flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
100g butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup butter milk

Preheat your oven to 200C (about 400F) and line a baking tray with grease-proof paper.

It’s best to start with VERY cold ingredients when making biscuits.  Go head and measure everything out and place the ingredients in the fridge for 5 minutes to chill.

Once chilled, place all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Add the butter and cut it into the flour.  A pastry cutter would be great for this, but I just used my fingers to rub the butter into the flour.  You want to end up with small (smaller than a pea) pieces of butter all through the flour.

Make a well in the centre of your ingredients and pour in the buttermilk.  DON’T STIR MUCH!  The secret to nice biscuits is to NOT handle the dough too much.  Stir just enough to combine the ingredients.

Dump the dough out onto a floured counter and pat it together so it’s even and about 1 1/2 inches thick.  If it’s simply too sticky (which happened to me recently!) sprinkle the top of the dough with a bit more flour.

Using a SHARP cooking cutter or knife, cut out your biscuits.  Don’t press down and twist, this will make the layers of the biscuits stick together and they won’t rise.  Just press down and lift out.

Place the biscuits on the prepared tray with their edges touching.  This will help them rise more.  Pop them in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Gravy
Serves 2

3 breakfast sausages or 250g sausage meat
about 2 tbs flour
about 1 cup full-fat milk
salt and pepper

The measurements for this gravy are approximate.  That’s because making gravy is an art and not a science.  The amounts you’ll use depend on how much sausage grease you start with.

If you’re using whole sausages, take them out of their skins.  Break your sausages into small chunks and brown them in a pan with a little bit of vegetable oil.

Remove the chunks of sausage from the pan and pour off all but about 1-2 tbs of the grease.  Return the pan to a VERY low heat and sprinkle in the flour.  Use a fork or a whisk to slowly stir the flour into the grease, forming a paste.  Don’t allow any lumps to form during the process.  Once the paste has formed, allow it to cook and brown for a few minutes before adding the milk.  It will give the end product more flavour.

Once you’ve got a smooth browned paste, pour in your milk little by little, whisking the whole time.  Keep this up until you have a smooth, thick gravy.  It takes a while over low heat, but don’t be tempted to turn the heat up to speed it along.  You’ll only curdle your milk or cause the flour paste to get lumpy.

Once you’ve incorporated all your milk, season your gravy with salt and plenty of black pepper.  Taste it as you go to make sure you have a very flavourful gravy.  Then, add your chunks of cooked sausage back to the gravy to reheat.

Split your biscuits in half and top each half with spoonfuls of your gravy and sausage mixture.

Fancy French food… bringing people together!

Since moving back to Sydney, I’ve fallen in with a very interesting crowd of people.  They are passionate, picky and have excellent image branding.

Food blogger dinner at Restaurant Atelier.

Ready for dinner at Restaurant Atelier!

No.  I haven’t been hanging out with a new group of Hollywood starlets.  I’ve been hanging out with food bloggers.  Just as opinionated as Hollywood celebrities, but generally more willing to be captured on camera eating pie.

Sourdough bread.

Tapenade, EVOO and Pepe Saya Butter.

Using Twitter and blogs and good old fashioned email (when did email become old fashioned??) this group of food lovers from around Sydney frequently gathers together to eat, photograph and talk about food.  And last Friday, the largest, most well organised version of these food blogger meet ups took place at Restaurant Atelier in Glebe.

Amuse bouche of yellow fin tuna, coral tenax and red capsicum jelly.

The event was epic.  More than 30 food bloggers attended the 7 course meal.  We literally took over the entire restaurant.  There was a sign posted on the door of the restaurant that said “Closed for a private function.”  When Andy saw the sign he said to me, “I’ve never been on this side of a sign like that!”  We were made to feel incredibly welcome and incredibly comfortable.

First course- WA marron tempura with crisp pork belly. Served with delicious dots of chili mayo and yuzu gel.

Course one- fermented soybean miso served alongside the marron and pork belly.

All that’s left of the first course!

I know that many, many bloggers who were at the event will post all about the food and the amazing service we had at Restaurant Atelier.  I’m not going to do that.  I mean, yes.  The food and service were both wonderful.  Four days later I’m still trying to figure out which course was my favourite.  I can’t pick!  They were all beautiful to look at and to eat.

Second course- Master Wagyu tartare, crisp quail egg, pea and broadbean salad.

Look at that perfectly cooked quail egg on top of the tartare!

But, despite the distractingly great food, my attention on the evening was very much on the gathering of people.  This is what I love about food.  There were people in that room not just from all over Sydney, but literally from all over the world.  We’re all spread out across this gorgeous, shiny city with our own lives and our own groups of personal friends.

Course three- Poached fillet of John Dory with celeriac, potato and wilted mache with sauce Bearnaise.

Would we have met each other if it were not for our mutual love of food?  I don’t know, but probably not.  In a big city like Sydney, it can sometimes be hard to make new friends.  People are busy and rushed.  Commutes can be long and weekends are always packed with plans.  Without the pull of a fantastic meal, and the power of Twitter and the internet, we may never have all come together.

Course four- Szechuan and caramel glazed breast of Thirlmere duck, crisp confit leg, sweet and sour baby turnips and radishes and Szechuan vinegar sauce.

Which would be a shame.  The crowd last Friday at Restaurant Atelier was uniformly lovely.  Interesting and funny and generous people.  I’ve never met a food lover that I didn’t like.  And that loveliness extended to the staff at the restaurant as well.  They were warm and kind and seemed to love the food as much as we did.

Dessert one- Vanilla custard, coconut crunch and sheep’s milk yoghurt ice cream.

Dessert two- Caramelised pistachio and cocoa nib souffle with sweet miso milk shake and vanilla bean ice cream.

As we’ve traveled the world, I’ve seen numerous examples of how food brings people together.  Food helps us overcome awkwardness or shyness.  Interest in cuisine can build a bridge across language barriers, social barriers or just the barrier between the Eastern and Western Suburbs of our great city.

This is an idea that I’m hoping to explore further in the months to come.  I’ve got some plans up my sleeve for ways I might be able to use food to broaden this community and bring new people together.  I’m SURE I’ll never do as well as the team at Restaurant Atelier did, but I’ll give it a go.  I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next steps in this journey!

A homesick American post

Oh, I was all in a muddle last week.  You see, last Wednesday was the 4th of July, or American Independence Day.  The 4th of July has always been a really big holiday in our family and I was missing my parents and my brother and my cousins and especially my grandfather so so much.

Usually when I’m homesick I cook up something familiar to make me feel closer to home.  But, it’s winter here in Australia.  Cooking up any of my favourite 4th of July foods, such as watermelon salad, steamed prawns, grilled hot dogs or corn on the cob, seemed wrong.  Those are summer foods.

Instead, I started going back through the photos I took while we were home in the States back in December and January.  Looking at those shots of family-filled winter scenes and warming food from home made me feel all cosy inside.

So, I thought I’d share some of our American winter food shots from our last trip home.  We’re so lucky to come from such a delicious place!

The view of Lake Tiogue from my grandfather’s house

We began our time at home with a trip up to New England to visit my grandparents in Rhode Island.  As a kid I spent all my summers in Rhode Island, so it was a bit weird to be there in the winter.  Weird, but wonderful.  The noisy kids splashing in the lake were replaced by a deep and quiet calm.  The patio full of laughing uncles and cousins was replaced by golden leaves crunching beneath our feet.

At least one thing in Rhode Island wasn’t different during the winter…

Ready for the pot! A large local lobster in Rhode Island.

Lobsters and clams go in the pot to steam.

Hello, my sweet friend!

We literally cannot go to visit the grandparents without at least one giant lobster feast!  We buy them locally and cook them ourselves.  The table is covered with paper plates, small bowls of melted butter and bottles of Sam Adams beer and we are covered in drippy lobster juices and smiles.  It’s pretty much the greatest family tradition ever.

After our visit to Rhode Island, it was back to Georgia to get the holidays properly under way…

The Christmas table at Mom and Dad’s house.

Stuffed celery. Cannot have Christmas without it.

Turkey lurkey!

Christmas Day means a groaning table full of all our family favourites… roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, stuffed celery and more.  No part of our Christmas meal is fancy or modern in any way.  In fact, we pretty much eat the same meal that my grandmother would have cooked.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And then came that lull between Christmas and New Year’s.  Sometimes that week can seem like a bit of a letdown.  Not this year!  This year our friends from England came to visit us, and they had one specific food on their American agenda… burgers!

The skyline of the city of Atlanta.

Paul and I goof off at the entrance to The Vortex in Little Five Points, Atlanta.

A mushroom and swiss burger (with Tater Tots!) at The Vortex.

The massive burgers and fries at The Vortex.

So, we took our burger-craving-English-friends to The Vortex.  Because if you’re in Atlanta and you need a great burger, that’s where you go.  The burgers are massive, handmade patties made of excellent beef with sinfully good and fresh toppings.  And, my very favourite bit, you can get your burger with a side of Tater Tots rather than fries!  Y’all.  Tater Tots are the greatest.  Our British mates were very impressed and declared “Mmmmm… That IS a tasty burger!”

And, suddenly, New Year’s was upon us.  My parents hosted a huge party at their house.  We sat outside on the deck drinking beers, played pool and listened to the band until the wee hours of the morning… and ate and ate.

Everyone who came to the party brought a dish. A stunning spread of deliciousness!

I baked a ham for the New Year’s party. Served sliced up with small rolls, cheeses and spreads it was the perfect party food!

Just going back through these photos has made me feel happier, warmer, and hungrier!  What a wonderful trip we had.

I’ll close this post with a shot of one of my very favourite non-food parts about being home in Georgia…

Cow!

… my beautiful kitty.  Her name is Cow and I love her more than I love burgers!