Monday, 19 February 2007

Jamie’s not at home

I am aware that I made some fairly disparaging remarks about Jamie at Home, but seriously Channel Ten, is that really a reason to pluck it from the air?

I was most disturbed last Thursday, when my digital hard drive automatically recorded Kim Watkins’ presents Saving Babies instead of Jamie. (Watched it. Cried, despite irritating presence of Kim Watkins. That woman gets my goat. Mainly because she titters at everything David ‘I’m a complete moron who doesn’t know what a placebo is’ Reyne. Is it just me, or is that woman EVERYWHERE at the moment. I’m surprised she hasn’t turned up on Seven’s Dancing with the B-Grade Stars. Anyway, clearly I am a sooky la-la.) I checked on Ten’s website, which lists Jamie as one of its ‘personalities’. According to the TV Shows section of the site, the program ‘returns soon’. What is the meaning of this? First you promote the bejeezus out of the new Jamie instalment, then you program two episodes and rip it off the air again! it’s enough to force one to write a ‘Dear Aunty’ style letter to the Green Guide! Do I sound irate? Good. I feel utterly enraged.

After my Jamie-bashing last week, I feel it necessary to sing his praises in the form of a referral to a recipe from his Jamie’s Kitchen cookbook. I’m pretty sure that’s the one that was circulating via e-mail (hey, we all got a copy of it, don’t judge me), but I am happy to report that I received a hard copy for Christmas (yay, Kris Kringle).

I don’t think Big J would like me to publish the recipe here, but try the ‘Best Chargilled Steak’ on page 260. Mmmmm. Smokey bacon, mushrooms, herbs, garlic and steak in one delicious concoction. I’m pretty sure my cholesterol spiked immediately following the meal, but what’s a little heart attack when food this good is involved? It’s also well worth the effort of making the accompanying Salsa Verde. A wonderfully tasty dish.

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Monday, 12 February 2007

Why I love (and hate) Jamie Oliver

He’s a tough one, that Jamie. I can never seem to decide if I love him or I hate him. I’ve been watching the new show Jamie at Home, and I can’t decide if I am more irritated by the obvious staginess of the whole thing (see below) or if it is just some good old fashioned, ill-disguised jealousy. So I was thinking I should make a list. Lists always help to make the tough decisions easier. As you can see here, I found more reasons to hate him than to love him (and you could probably come up with a whole lot more yourself). Either way, I always watch him. Can’t drag myself away from the TV. I’ve even got some of the old stuff on video and I own heaps of his cookbooks (mostly gifts, but I use them often). So although on a rational level the bad outweighs the good, he still seems to be winning. Perhaps love really is blind.

Reasons to love J.O.
1. Ten(ish) years ago, he brought cooking to masses of people who thought it wasn’t very cool (let’s face it, Delia isn’t really the most happenin’ spokesperson of all time). Of course, this might also be a very good reason to hate him.
2. He gives kids who’ve had a bit of a rough trot a go in his kitchens around the world. Despite the marketing value of Fifteen, you can still admire its mission.
3. Jamie’s School Dinners was brilliant. There was something incredibly satisfying about seeing a bunch of kiddies go from not being able to identify an onion to saying, “Erghh!” at the sight of a chicken nugget.
4. His first two books have great tasting, accessible recipes and pretty pictures. Have you tried that salad with peach, prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella? You should. Yum.
5. He knows what he’s good at and has a crack (metaphorically. Well and physically, obviously, but that wasn’t the crack I was referring to). Kudos for having the balls to go for it.

Reasons to hate J.O.
1. Happy Days, Dead Puckka, Lovely Jubbly, etc. I needn’t go on.
2. The live shows. I went to one (I know). It was like a cross between Rent and Ready Steady Cook.
3. Jools (sic). Do you remember her banshee-like declaration that she would allow, “Nothing to spoil her perfect family!!!!!!” Scary. Not to mention the fact that her tits are plastered across many a double-paged spread in the ‘cookbooks’.
4. This one’s for my husband. The drumming, the band, that load-of-shite song that they used for the outro of series 2 of The Naked Chef. Stick to what you’re good at, mate. There’s a reason you’re a celebrity cook, not a celebrity musician.
5. He tries to make is seem like he does all the prep himself when you know for a fact that he has about 50 researchers, food sourcers, and kitchen hands slaving for him. Three minute fish stew? I think not.
6. Have you seen the new show? Jamie at Home. The name (not to mention the pretend ‘Jamie’s garden notes and doodles’ they use for each segue way) suggests that it’s just him and the fam, pottering around the English countryside, selecting a bit of this and that from the kitchen garden for their High Tea. The veggie garden is absolutely amazing, and totally organic, yet so far only one gardener (other than Big J himself) has appeared on camera. It’s just been the J-man, kitted out in his stylishly askew gardening outfit (including trendy beanie. In the middle of summer. I ask you!) and some gorgeous little antiquey things adorning the shabby chic ‘pieces’ behind him in the kitchen. Nobody has that much vintage, coloured enamel gear on display, let alone in use in his kitchen. Except perhaps Donna Hay. I suspect that even the dirt under his fingernails has been put there by a stylist.
7. The biggest problem of all, of course, is that he basically acts like a bit of a knob (a ‘pucking wanker’ puns my clever husband). I’d like to know what the people who have worked with him really think.

Make up your own mind and visit his site

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Saturday, 3 February 2007

Duck Pies

Mmmm. I love duck. I love pies. The logical progression? A pie that is filled with duck!
My best friend Tam and I have both been known to utter an involuntary 'Yum' as we pass innocent (and possibly protected) duckies, swimming or waddling along, oblivious to the danger they face in our presence. I can't help myself. I see cute little feathered animals and some hidden switch in my head immediately flicks to 'lunch'.

This particular recipe comes from a friend of my mother's. She passed it on to me on condition of a promise that I will never publish it anywhere or pass it on to anyone I know. Serious stuff. Given the threat of death, I will refrain from sharing its recipe in its entirety, however I can tell you that the filling is a delicious combination of Asian condiments, Chinese BBQ duck, and a small member of the onion family. Give it a go.

Despite the exquisite outcome, the production of a large quantity of the pies has been for me and my devoted, pastry-cutting minions, an exhausting task. I first attempted the bite-sized morsels of quacky goodness for a good friend's engagement party. His mother was doing most of the catering, and given my culinary reputation amongst my friends (sorry, modesty not a virtue) I felt the need to offer a contribution. I had tasted the pies a month earlier and already begged its owner for the recipe.

After the offer, I forgot about the whole thing for a couple of weeks. Until that is, I next spoke to my friend, let's call him James, to discover that the Engagement Party's guest list had blown out to 130. "Eek," was my private response. Still, alarm bells weren't quite ringing loudly enough to deter me from the task. How bad could it be? A few ducks, some mini muffin tins, a bit of pastry? "No sweat," declared my cocky self to the grateful James. I'd catered before, spent three days cooking for a 30th when I was 36 weeks pregnant, in fact. I was sure I could handle it.

As soon as I actually sighted the recipe, the volume of the alarm bells increased from a faint, wind-chime like tinkle, to a living next door to the airport, jet-engine roar. "Makes sixteen entree-sized pies". The recipe, amongst it's other important ingredients, listed one Chinese BBQed duck.

"Okay," I rationalised. "Let's not panic." I was, after all, not making entree-sized pies. I was making mini pies. Using mini muffin pans. If one duck made sixteen entree-sized pies, then I should be able to get at least 24 mini pies to a duck. After a brief discussion with James, I calculated that I should be able to get away with four ducks, to make around 100 pies. Didn't matter if there wasn't enough for one each. There were a number of vegetarians (heathens) invited and a few people (crazies) didn't like duck, so we'd be right.

I enlisted the help of a friend, who had volunteered herself and her boyfriend to fill the muffin holes with pastry, while I filled, topped and cooked the pies. It started relatively simply. A one and a half hour round trip to Box Hill, chiller bag and infant in tow, to buy the ducks. Luckily I used to work in the area and knew where to park. Once home, the ducks were deboned and chopped (juices reserved) in a little over an hour. They were then refrigerated overnight, due to an ill-timed dinner invitation. The following morning, the unpaid help arrived and I set to work making the filling. Half an hour later, we began to fill the pies. Luckily, the recipe calls for store-bought puff pastry sheets, so it was just a matter of cutting out the bases and lids with cookie cutters, filling the pies, trimming to make them look pretty, basting with egg wash and placing in the oven for around ten minutes. Easy, right?

As I began to fill the pie trays, I noticed that each little base was taking around a teaspoon of the pie filling. I had a very large pot of filling (four ducks, remember) and only seven mini muffin trays. I had expected that there would need to be some rotation of trays, but after half an hour of filling pies and baking had made barely a dent in the vast quantity of filling before me, I began to get nervous. There was no way I was going to waste any of that gorgeous (not to mention expensive) filling when I knew that there were 130 duck-hungry (minus a few weirdos) mouths to feed in a few short hours.

So on we worked. We cut, we pressed, we filled, we forked and we basted. We went to the supermarket for more puff pastry. We voted (the party happened to fall on the day of the Victorian State Election). After four and a half hours, we had around 200 duck pies in containers and trays filling our usually ample fridge. And about minus 30 minutes to get to the party on time. I barely had time to wash the eu de canard from my hands and we were out the door.

The effort was certainly well appreciated (but probably not with a full understanding of the scope of my team's efforts - nobody likes a whinging gift horse) and the pies a hit. There were 12 left over, and I brought them home, revelling in the memory of the many accolades my contribution had received.

It was probably the buzz of victory (and possibly that of the champagne I was quaffing) that lead to my next dubious offering on Christmas Day. My brother's lovely financè was talking about the date of their engagement party, planned at her parents' home, her mother intending to do most of the catering herself.....

You can see where this is heading. The party was last night. Miracle of miracles, the same friend offered her support. The pies, again, a hit. And my maths is improving. I halved the recipe.

The resulting pies, cooling:

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