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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Cook Next Door: a meme

It's been weeks, maybe months, since I've been tagged for this, so I've finally got around to it. I must be the last person in the foodblogging hemisphere to do this; my apologies.
So, I present you all with the long table above, set for a virtual dinner that all us foodbloggers can enjoy, now that we've all introduced ourselves properly!
What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
My brother and I would often spend school holiday time staying with my grandmother about an hour from Melbourne near the start of the Victorian High Country. The Man From Snowy River-type forests and chilly weather in winter. I remember reading by open fires, and begging my nanny to bake biscuits with her. She always said yes, as long as we ate everything we made; my brother and I didn't have a problem there! Somedays we baked every day; plain sugar biscuits, coconut drops, cookie kisses etc. which would fog up the windows and give me every opportunity to explore her amazingly stocked walk-in pantry. It was a gold mine in there!
I also remember sausage sizzles by the river bed in summer, and hot potatoes roasted in the coals of bonfires in the neighbouring paddock on winter nights.
Completely on my own? I remember in the one semester of cooking classes we had in year 8 learning to bake fish in filo pastry, and asking my parents if I could make it for dinner one Saturday night. The family went out for the afternoon and came home to their first dinner cooked by me. I think it went well...

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
Probably my mum and dad, as I grew up with parents who enjoyed cooking and did it very well. Mum always went to a bit of extra effort making tasty meals for dinner every night, which we ate together as a family at the dinner table. Meals were always perfectly garnished with a sprig of parsley and artistically arranged. This annoyed me sometimes as a teenager, but with maturity I'm very impressed by that!
Also, the TV cooking shows that dad and I watched obsessively as I grew up. We'd often try things we saw or experiment with new ingredients. Since then I've done a lot of reading, and I'm most inspired and excited by the British chefs around at the moment.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?

Nothing that I'm showing here! I do have a great photo of me with pig intestines in hand, making home-made salami with the Italian relatives when I was 14. It looks so woggy, the only thing missing is the knotted hanky on my head!
Read on for more information!

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
I'm a bit intimidated by classical French cooking; anything that involves fiddly, last-minute, capricious sauces or turned vegetables. But, my biggest obstacle so far is yeast cookery. I'd like to make my own bread, but I haven't yet built up the courage to devote the time and energy to it. And the one foray into yeasted buns this year was a complete disaster, which hasn't inspired much confidence!

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?
I recently wrote about our wonderful Gaggenau oven and cooktop, which I adore. I also love my red Italian kitchen scales A. bought me last year after I complained so much about the rubbish one I had. My scales are a spunky bright red, measure accurately up to a kilo and used every couple of days. And as they were a spontaneous present from him, I value them even more. Flowers and chocolates are all well and good, but nothing shows you care more than a good kitchen appliance!

The biggest letdowns have been those gimmicky gadgets that reckon they can finely chop herbs. They look like a mini-rolling pin with a line of circular blades. No they can't. AND the herbs get stuck inside. Nothing is better than a good knife and chopping board.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
When I was at uni and living cheaply, one of my favourite combinations was 2-minute noodles with Thai fish sauce AND parmesan cheese. Yes...I know, totally revolting! Dairy and Asian?? But both are salty, and I like salty....although realistically I don't think I'd ever convince anyone to enjoy the combination.
My family also really enjoy Vegemite risotto, which is something my father 'invented' as a teenager. Instead of hot stock, use LOTS of butter, parmesan cheese, and a big tablespoon of Vegemite. A big, salty, creamy bowl of rice on a cold night...yum! It was something only my dad could cook well, although my brother does a pretty mean version now.

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?
-My nonna's chicken broth with pastina - that's my desert island dish.
-A pan-grilled steak with steamed green vegetables - my favourite quick meal. I'm definitely a protein and vegetable person.
-Blue cheese, as strong, smelly, creamy and palate-burning as possible.

And I have to include a fourth! - dark chocolate in any form...but particularly the truffles from Koko Black.
Ooooh - and satays from Golden Orchids in Chinatown. The first place to serve satays in Australia, and still the best. We eat their peanut sauce by the soup spoon!

Your favorite ice-cream

I do love Charmaine's chocolate chili flavour, when I can justify the expense of a single scoop. I also love the fruit sorbet flavours at Trampoline in Brunswick street - blood orange, passionfruit, grapefruit...all fantastic on a hot summer night.

You will probably never eat
Deep fried cockroaches. Or crispy fried spiders. Both are 'delicacies' my friends who have visited China have spoken about. And both things that make me me shudder in horror. Nope - not a chance.

Which one culture's food would you most like to sample on its home turf?
I'd like to return to Japan, this time with an unlimited expense account! I love Japanese food, and what we tasted over there was incredible. I can only imagine what it'd be like if we had more money and a local guide to show us the more best places to eat.
Also, you really can't beat Italian food in Italy; the vegetables have more flavour and the simple flavour combinations work in a way they just don't when you come back home and try to recreate what you tasted. I remember the simplicity of a thin pizza with rocket that blew me away, and a panini with air-dried beef that was simply the best sandwich I've ever tasted.

Any signs that this passion is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention?
Not yet. I still have the goodwill and fascination of family and friends for the foodblogging world in general, but I wonder how long that will last?!

Who would you want to come into your kitchen to cook dinner for you?
I'd love to be cooked dinner in my home by a big-name chef like Gordon Ramsey, Teague Ezard or Thomas Keller. But I would be equally as enthusiastic to have a big meal cooked for me by my own mum, who is one of the best home cooks I know, made up of all the things we loved when growing up.

Who's your favorite food writer
[General food writing] I adore Jeffrey Steingarten's writing and the extent to which he will research to prove a point or provide an interesting story. I wish I had access to more than his 2 published books.
[Cookbooks] I do love Nigella's easy, tongue-in-cheek style and the multiple literary references she makes that make me snigger in recognition. She also makes so much damn sense in her early books about eating to lose weight, and cooking for children.
I've recently got into Nigel Slater, and I enjoy him for similar reasons; he's completely down to earth and not interested in fripperies or pretension. On a similar level, I have a real fondness for Australia's own Jill Dupleix, now Cookery Writer for The Times in London. She writes in such a blunt, humourous style that, to me, reflects the Australian way of life.

Who will I pass this onto?
I think everybody has been tagged by now, and if they haven't yet done it, they have probably chosen not to participate. So I'll leave it as an open invitation for anyone not yet tagged, who would like to get involved.


  • Niki, I've started Elizabeth David's English Bread and Yeast Cookery but have only gotten to the bit about milling of wheat!

    As a child, I made hot cross buns and white bread, but my dough NEVER rose the way it does on tv. Despite what chefs say, I've found I got a better result using a food processor with a dough hook to carry out the initial kneading. I don't get the pleasure from it that Nigella seems to!

    I am determined to master it too!

    By Blogger plum, at 7/21/2005 09:12:00 pm  

  • Great post Niki!
    It was lovely to learn more about you :)

    By Blogger eat stuff, at 7/21/2005 10:31:00 pm  

  • Brilliant mix of reminiscences and the present!

    Blue cheese, mmm!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/22/2005 11:43:00 am  

  • Nice Post Niki. Get into that yeast cookery soon. Forget bread machines and dough hooks and use your hands to knead.....it's great for keeping the flab from the upper arms! Although you are probably far to young to worry about that. My yeast cookery started with pizza dough and progressed from there.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/22/2005 05:45:00 pm  

  • Lovely post, Niki! Totally share your love for Nigella's and Nigel's food writing. And just a thought of eating creepy-crawlies - whether deep-fried or not - makes me shudder as well...

    By Blogger Pille, at 7/22/2005 11:07:00 pm  

  • Loved reading this post Niki. I agree with you when it comes to breads, although I have had some successes. That's why I like my breadmachine. You can't go wrong with it.

    By Blogger Ana, at 7/23/2005 06:26:00 am  

  • Hi Niki,
    No worries at all ;)) and thanks for taking the time and playing along. On the Blue Cheese front, you'd defintely get a kick out of all the various kinds available here in Munich at the local Farmers Market.

    If you'd like to checkout the meme map, here it is.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/26/2005 03:23:00 am  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/09/2008 01:20:00 am  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/26/2009 10:31:00 pm  

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