thoughts op winter food

February and the reality of life returns, work, shopping, cooking, children, school, forms and notices, those long languid summer days at the beach starting to haze in the heat that hangs over the city.

Monday, first day of school, followed by cricket training and with two crying, whinging, tired children get home close to 7pm.

As I give thanks for earlier prepared crumbed chicken, gravy from the freezer and some quickly blanched vegetables, then the bad news…” I need to make a Powerpoint presentation of my holiday, by TOMORROW”. I begin to cave. Some quick thinking, some downloaded pics of the Sydney sights, a couple of hours and a USB stick, homework done, and this is only grade four.

So this month's “In the kitchen page” is my holiday presentation.

Annually, about the second weekend of January there is the “Mussel Day”…
Set high above the bay, views over the bustling pier, to the You Yang Range in the distance, and the odd glimmer of the life left behind as the sun hits the city. Nestled among the old gums, on the parched, dusty, dry park around the Community centre, a random selection of offerings, the best of the Bellarine and the die hard, festival attending manufacturers.

You know the ones I mean, someone making those little Dutch pancakes, the Turkish women slaving over their pizza things, Gozleme, it was not a month ago that I saw them in Johnson St for the festival. It has been said, “You're not actually allowed to run a festival in Australia without a gozleme stand, it's federally legislated.”

Then there’s the stuff you really want to see, olive oil, olives, and now as a by product olive based creams and lotions, the holistic approach of farming, to maximise the available products from your crop.

An aside to to this, olive leaf extract, haven’t tried it yet, but it was mentioned to me the other day that it was a bit of a “cure all”. The conversation started with fish oil capsules among other eczema remedies.

Despite all the producers, we settle for Masons Creek Olive oil, cold pressed, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil pressed 100% from Manzanilla olives. We scored the last two bottles of the batch. To my palette it was the most pungent, peppery oil tasted on the day.

For me mussels are evening food, maybe it’s the pervasive flavour and my fragile palette takes a while to warm to flavours other than coffee, so we didn’t try any of the mussels being prepared in the fine looking commercial kitchen of the Community centre, by local winery folk from Kilgour Estate.

The sun not yet, over the yard arm, but never too early for a little wine tasting, Kristine, partner in crime and I set to sample from all of the 6 or so local producers.

Not a bad sparkling from Bellarine Estate, too early for beer so we passed on the new’sh Lonsdale Lager et al. The folk from Wyuna Park are always so gracious and lovely, as if a by part of the conversations being had, oh would you like to taste some wine? Yes and we would like to buy some!

There is nothing better than buying direct from the source especially with the GFC hanging over our heads, there’s a feel good factor about the consumer investing directly with the provider.

From Wyuna Park, delicious Pinot Gris, Italian in the style of pinot grigio, zesty, fresh, ripe melon, a little passion fruit. To contrast, Pinot Gris in the Alsace style, lightly oaked, ripe pear, round, full and luscious. Probably my favourite, a Pinto Noir, an elegant blend of spice flavours blended with the Burgundian style Pinot Noir flavours. Holistic approaches again, Wyuna Park produce a range of conserves, also available for sale.

There were of course others, beautiful Chardonnay from Leura Park and also from Mermerus vineyard, who have a particular vintage chardonnay that is my current favourite. Then from Marcus Hill I recall a very delicious 06 Pinot Noir that came somewhat later with dinner and the mussels.

Then there is the CFA, an attraction themselves. The obligatory demonstration as they set fire to an old oven and then proceed to extinguish the blaze. The trucks are always open for climbing upon and looking at the equipment. There are show bags for big and little and the mandatory, fundraising sausage sizzle.

This year you got to have a go of the hose, who can shoot the furthest?
All good fun.

We simply steamed our mussels for dinner with some white wine, basil stalks and a tin of chopped tomatoes, eating them from the pot and discarding the shells at our feet, the leftover became dinner the following evening, one of my favourite pasta dishes….



Coming soon.


Coming soon.





For me mussels are evening food ...

They take a bit of work, but they are worth it


Orecchiette with mussels, white wine, tomato, braised leeks and peas

2kg local blue mussels
beef with beer1 onion, sliced
Bay leaves
200 mls white wine
Available herbs such as dill, thyme or basil

500g packet Orecchiette (or other pasta of your choice)
400g tin diced tomatoes
1 leek, the white only, split and rinsed well
500g peas
300mls cream
200mls mussel cooking liquor
Murray river salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Mussels take a bit of work, but they are worth it.

Although today we buy clean, farmed mussels they still need to be well cleaned. Mussels today are grown on line lines in the bay, which are leased to mussel farmers.
Call me old fashioned, but I still like to give the shells a bit of a scrub in a sink of water. As you scrub each mussel, place it to the side so at the end of the process you can clear the sink in readiness to make it dirty again.

Mussels require de-bearding. There are a tuft of hairs that protrude from the closed shell, this needs to be removed with a sharp tug, downwards. This removes the little tongue-like piece from within the mussel.

Mussels are best cooked in a wide, heavy based saucepan with a firm fitting lid. Toss in the white wine, bay leaves, peppercorns and any herb sprigs you may have, bring to the boil. Carefully add the mussels in one hit, slap on the lid and let the steam away for 4-5 minutes.

Remove the lid with care, as there will be a rush of steam following. Pour the mussels in to a large bowl, being careful to retain the cooking juices. Any unopened mussels can be returned to the pot with some of the cooking liquor to steam a little longer, and hopefully open. Strain the cooking liquor through a mesh sieve and retain. Remove the mussels from the shell and store in the cooking liquor for later use. You may want to retain a few mussel shells…for later.

beef with beerI like Orecchiette, I like the texture of pasta made from Durum wheat, it has texture, it has bite. Durum wheat is ground down to Semolina, the preferred grain of southern Italy, whereas the Italians of the north prefer softer pasta made with softer flours and often egg.

I like the way each Orecchiette become custodians of the sauce, each little cup brimful of flavour and ingredients it’s hospitable pasta.

Here’s an interesting tit bit – the correct ratio for pasta is 1 litre per portion, and a litre for the pot, so the 550gm packet will need six litres. Technically it’s 100g pasta per person, but as always I am greedy and will cook the whole packet for four to ensure there is plenty and maybe some left overs. Left overs make me feel good, probably something about homebody/carer/guardian like role, surely tied up in the sign of the crab.


Then there is the salt/oil debate. Yes to salt, no to oil. Salt should be added to all the steps of production, cooking pasta in salted water will allow the pasta to absorb some of the salt and enhance its flavour. Add salt at a ratio of 1 tablespoon to 4lts water. Oil quite simply inhibits the pasta from adhering to the sauce in the finished dish.

So bring the six litres of water to a rapid boil in a large pot, pour in the pasta, give it a good stir leave it to boil rapidly for 10 – 12 minutes. Test a piece at 8 minutes and let then again at 10. As I said, I like chewy pasta, al dente, unlike my lazy children who like it well cooked and soft.

beef with beerWhen the pasta is ready, drain it into a colander and let it cool on the bench.
Do not rinse it.

This will wash away the precious starch from the surface of the pasta, again inhibiting the pasta from catching the sauce.

Shell the peas and set to boil a small pot of salted water.

Fresh versus frozen.

If it's Summer, and this is a summer recipe, then there is no excuse for frozen peas. If it’s the depths of winter and you need a little sunshine in your dinner then frozen may have to do, and, yes, I have frozen peas in the freezer at my house.

Slice the leek into thin rounds, use the pot that the pasta was cooked in, melt a knob of butter with a little olive oil and as it starts to sizzle add the leeks, stirring well, reduce the heat and allow the leeks to sweat until they are limp.

Add the tomatoes, 300mls of the mussel cooking liquor and bring it to the boil.
Add the peas to the pot of now boiling water.
Add the cream to the leeks etc, return to the boil and simmer 3-5 minutes to allow the cream to thicken.

beef with beerAdd the pasta, drain the peas and add along with the mussels, keeping the heat low stir everything through to well coat the pasta.

Taste the dish, definitely add a little pepper, but you may not need much salt, given the mussel cooking liquor.

Kitsch but I like the idea of resting a half mussel shell on the side of the bowl to support a wedge of lemon for the guests to add.

You will notice I have refrained from adding a herb to the dish. This is beach food for me and herbs are not that plentiful where I am. You could, of course, add tarragon, or dill, basil or parsley.