Kimberley trip: On the road

Termite mounds are a common sight when you drive on the open roads in the Kimberley

In the second half of our week in the Kimberley, we made a road trip, taking in three major Kimberley visitor attractions over three days. Our destinations were Geike Gorge, 20km north of Fitzroy Crossing; Bungle Bungle, in the far east of the region; and Mowanjum Art & Culture Centre, on the outskirts of Derby.

It takes four hours to drive from Broome to Fitzroy Crossing, a small town with a majority Aboriginal population, that sits beside the mighty Fitzroy River. For much of the time, the topography is a bit monotonous; even the termite mounds lose their lustre eventually. But when the Napier Range – a large section of a once vast Devonian barrier reef – comes into view, things start to become intriguing.

The Fitzroy River drains a vast catchment – more than 90,000 square kilometres – and most of it is located north of the Napier Range, which runs for about 100km in an east-west direction. The annual wet-season torrent of water in the river has, over millions of years, cut through the limestone that forms the range to create a gorge that is 8km long and lined by 60m-high walls.

The English colonists named the gorge after a leading British surveyor. The traditional owners of the area around Fitzroy Crossing, the Bunuba people, call the gorge ‘Danggu’, meaning ‘the area where water is very deep under the cave’. You can see why – even in the dry season, there is usually plenty of water in the gorge. And when we visited, it was not long after some unseasonal rain had topped up the water volume.

Soon after arriving in Fitzroy Crossing, we explored the gorge on a boat operated by a senior National Park ranger. Over the course of an hour, we saw numerous features of the gorge and the the ranger provided us a wide range of interesting information. The tour was not very expensive and was an outstanding experience.

Personally, I was sad to hear that another cruise option, operated by two Bunuba men, had fallen by the wayside due to the impact of the Covid pandemic on visitor numbers in the Kimberley. The ranger is training some younger locals who already work at the park but he’s not sure if they will take the step to replace him at the helm of the boat.

Here are some of the highlights from our tour.

Geike Gorge/Darnggu, with its year-round supply of fresh water, is home to a vast array of terrestrial and aquatic wildlife, including freshwater crocodiles. This species is much smaller than the saltwater crocodile and, thankfully, has no interest in humans, nor other large animals, as a source of food. Sure, if you step on one or give it some other cause to feel threatened, it might give you a nasty bite. However, if you are sensible, it is quite safe to take a dip in the waters of the gorge. Trust me, I have done it, albeit more than 20 years ago!

We were up early the next morning, as we had another four-hour-drive to reach a helicopter that would take us over the Bungle Bungles. We drove east to Halls Creek – a town teeming with Indigenous people from several different language groups – and then north to a caravan park just along the road towards the National Park. You need a 4WD vehicle to go further, which is why we booked a flight.

The Bungle Bungles are in Purnululu NP. The traditional owners of the area are the Kija people. In Kija language, Purnululu means sandstone, the rock of the raised plateau. Bungle Bungle is from the Kija word for a cockroach that has an abdomen striped like the famous domes

The western wall of the plateau is largely protected from the erosion that is caused by sand blown on harsh, hot winds off the desert country that lies to the southeast. However, rain and heat from the sun do slowly convert lines of weakness in the sandstone into gorges of various shapes and extents throughout the plateau.

As our helicopter approached the eastern edge of the plateau, the stunning effect of 360 millions of years of erosion came into view.

It takes up to three hours to drive a 4WD vehicle from the highway to the west side of the plateau – the access road is rough and circuitous. Once you get there, you have access to camp sites and a series of walking trails.

Large, double-axle caravans aren’t allowed in the park because they cause too much damage to the road. However, the caravan park where the helicopter is based has plenty of room. Indeed, while we were waiting to board our scenic flight, at least six caravans arrived in less than half an hour.

We had another early start the next morning to begin our return journey back to Broome via the town of Derby, where the Mowanjum Art & Culture Centre is located.

The closed community of Mowanjum was formed by three distinct West Kimberley language groups in the 1950s. Mowanjum means ‘settled at last’, reflecting a history in which the three groups were obliged to relocate more than once during the years after they lost control of their traditional lands before coming together to forge a new history. You can learn more about their story here.

The community’s art & culture centre is probably the most important in Western Australia outside the Western Desert, due to the fact that the three language groups share custody of and responsibility for Wandjina law and iconography. Artworks produced according to this heritage are unlike any others by Indigenous Australians.

This website provides an excellent introduction to the Wandjina story, the elements of the art & culture centre and the festivals that are staged by the community for public viewing. During our time at the centre, we viewed an excellent video about Mowanjum; explored the extensive gallery of artworks for sale; and took in the excellent displays and information of the compact but comprehensive museum.

I don’t have any photos to share with you. Firstly, photography is not permitted in the gallery section – fair enough! And secondly, we were so enchanted by the other elements of the centre that we just forgot to click! Anyway, their website is full of colourful images for you to explore.

Conclusion

We flew home to Melbourne feeling both refreshed and stimulated by our week in the Kimberley. Our program of activities was rich and varied but not so crowded that we didn’t have time to relax by the pool at the Mangrove Hotel, take advantage of its excellent location and food & beverage service and stroll around the nearby town centre of Broome.

Depending on our travel priorities, we might not return to the Kimberley but we know that we would be more than satisfied if we did.

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Kimberley trip: Horizontal Falls and Pearls

The Kimberley is a vast region, more than three times the size of England. And it has been occupied by Indigenous peoples for between 45,000 and 60,000 years. So, it shouldn’t surprise visitors that there is a long list of ‘must see’ natural and cultural sites.

One of those sites is known as the ‘Horizontal Falls’. It is located about 250km north-east of Broome, so most visitors make the journey by light plane. This is the plane we booked ourselves onto.

The Horizontal Falls are phenomena caused by a unique combination of topography and tides. The setting is shown below. The two parallel coastal ranges closest to the ocean each have a narrow gap through which seawater can pass. Tides in this region average around 13 metres!

As the tide rises, seawater flows through the first gap but the flow is sufficiently constricted that the water level on the ocean side becomes higher than that of the first inlet. As it does, the water ‘falls’ through the gap.

Meanwhile, the water level in the first inlet rises above that in the second inlet because the gap between the two is narrower than the first gap. (This probably reflects variations in the rate of erosion over millions of years.) So, a second ‘fall’ is created.

After the tide has stopped rising, the water level in the two inlets eventually reaches the same height as the ocean. However, soon enough, the tide starts to go out, creating another pair of falls.

When we flew around the site, it was an ebb tide. The tide movements were below average that day but it was still a spectacular sight.

From the falls, our flight path took us over part of the Buccaneer Archipelago, which takes its name from William Dampier, a British chancer who explored the continent’s NW coastline.

Then we flew over Cape Leveque, the northern tip of Dampier Peninsula which lies between Broome and Derby. The peninsula is home to communities of Bardi and Jawi people.

A few minutes later, our plane landed on the airstrip of Cygnet Bay Pearls, located on the eastern side of the peninsula, where we would enjoy a guided tour of the pearl farm’s land-based operations, followed by a lunch of grilled Barramundi.

The story of Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm is remarkable in several ways, including its relationship with local Aboriginal men. If you click here, you will find the history of the farm and the wider story of pearling in the Broome area.

During our tour we saw these two pieces of ‘mother of pearl. The piece on the left has been carefully cut from a whole shell in order to be decorated to become a modern example of the ‘Riki’, as shown in the second photo. Traditionally, Riki were carved and painted, then threaded onto a string and worn below the waist by local Aboriginal men who had been initiated.

In nature, only one in every 10,000 pearl oyster shells contains a pearl. The seeding technique, known to just a select few, enables pearls to be produced much more readily. These pearls are known as cultured pearls.

On our tour, the guide opened one of the oysters and there it was!

Remember Dampier the buccaneer? There’s also a street named for him in Broome, lined with pearl shops. One is the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm outlet, which we visited the next morning. In one section of the shop, the history of Broome’s pearling industry was set up as you would find in a museum. In the other section, there was a display of pearls for sale, on their own and or set in pieces of jewellery.

The photo on the left shows the world’s largest ever cultured pearl, grown at Cygnet Bay. It is more than 2cm in diameter and it is NOT for sale! However, we were more than happy to purchase a more modest pearl for Maggie, set as a pendant, which she has attached to a chain we purchased at the Gold Souk in Dubai several years ago. The shape is known as Kenshi, and its quality was classed as Grade A

Cheers!
Rick Grounds

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Wonderful week in the Kimberley: Broome

Boab Tree, iconic image of the area around Broome and Derby

Maggie and I recently spent a week in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. It was a varied and wonderful experience.

Our week began with four nights in Broome, staying at the ever-reliable Mangrove Hotel, overlooking Roebuck Bay. The second photo gives you some idea of the large tidal movements common in this part of Australia.

It was the second half of July, the best month to visit Broome during its dry winter season. Daily maximum temperatures were in the high 20s (Celsius), with very low humidity. As the sun set each day, the temperature dropped quickly, making for idyllic alfresco dining.

The Mangrove Hotel features an expansive terrace overlooking the bay, from which you can view the famous ‘staircase to the moon’ from time to time. It’s a great spot for a leisurely evening of dining, chatting with other guests and watching the sky change colour.

Dusk on the terrace at the Mangrove Hotel

We spent our first morning in Broome on a half-day ‘town tour’. We recommend doing something like this because the history, culture, coastline and layout of Broome are so diverse. A well-organised orientation will help you get the most out of your visit.

Significant Broome sights we saw on the tour included Gantheaume Point, home to fossilised dinosaur footprints …

Broome sandstone at Gantheaume Point

… the Camel train on Cable Beach, where the original telegraph cable connecting Australia to Asia and beyond came ashore …

Camels at Cable Beach

… the Japanese cemetery, final resting place of about 170 Japanese men brought to Broome to dive for pearl shell, also called mother of pearl. It was a very dangerous occupation. Some men died while diving, others when their boats were caught in cyclones …

Cemetery in the Japanese ‘stone garden’ style

… and a poignant memorial to the 88 civilians and military personnel killed by Japanese fighter planes – bullets, not bombs – in March 1942. Some of the victims had only just been airlifted to safety from Java by a fleet of Catalinas (flying boats or seaplanes). The memorial was ‘unveiled’ on the air raid’s 80th anniversary earlier this year.

Part of the memorial at Town Beach

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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A very more-ish chicken roast

This year, Maggie and I have been cooking whole chickens more often than usual, having discovered that Peter Bouchier, one of our favourite butchers, stocks a high-quality free-range chicken at a reasonable price.

At first, we prepared these using a fairly traditional bread-herbs-and-friends stuffing and then roasting the chicken. But we are always open to trying new ways of cooking chicken. A recipe on a local website for a ‘Moroccan-style’ roast chicken sounded appealing, so we gave it a try. You will find the original recipe here.

Here is my dinner plate, including sweet pieces of roast pumpkin and some wilted spinach. (Both pumpkin and fresh or cooked spinach are great partners for this chicken dish.)

We were reasonably happy with the result but we could think of a few ways we could make it better suited to our palates, along with a couple of modifications to the method.

Here are the changes we made to the recipe for our second attempt, which involved two chickens, to be shared with eight friends visiting us for lunch.

  1. Two-thirds of the quantity of stuffing ingredients is more than enough for one chicken
  2. We prefer to use French shallots instead of an onion in a stuffing
  3. We substituted 1/4 of a teaspoon of cinnamon powder for the cinnamon stick
  4. We substituted almond flakes for the pistachios
  5. The quantity of dates is very much a matter of personal choice. We think you should always be cautious when combining sweet items with meat in a cooking process. We like the flavour of fresh dates but we used about 10% less than the recipe
  6. At our first attempt, the cinnamon in the glaze overwhelmed the other ingredients. We replaced it with powdered ginger, added an equal amount of powdered coriander seed and boosted the cumin by at least one third
  7. We always begin to roast a stuffed chicken by putting it into a cold oven as we turn the heat on. This helps to ensure that the meat nearest to the stuffed cavity cooks through
  8. It is much easier to apply the glaze after the chicken has been in the oven for 15-20 minutes from its cold start. And we kept some glaze in reserve to add once or twice more as the chicken cooked.
  9. We set the oven temperature to be 180C. However, when we opened the oven to apply extra glaze, we could see that the honey was burning. So, we turned the temp down to 170. Next time, we would set the temp at 170C from the get go. (If we had followed the recipe and cooked at 200C, I think the end result would have been black all over; might even have caught on fire!)

As the summer season draws near, we’ll probably take a break from preparing meals of roast chicken but we will definitely look forward to returning to this dish in 2022.

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Bloody good Greek orange cake

It’s 12 months since I last published a post here. Another non-fatal casualty of the pandemic!

Now, as my home city, Melbourne, draws near to the vaccination level that will enable a cautious easing of restrictions, I feel ready to share some tales of the pleasures Maggie and I draw from our time together in our kitchen.

Let’s start with this beauty: blood orange portokalopita.

The recipe we began with for this cake is by Helen Goh, a Malaysian-Australian pastry chef who has worked alongside Yotam Ottolenghi since 2006. You will find the recipe here.

When we first saw the photo that accompanied the recipe, we thought: “We would love to make a cake that looks like that”. Once we had read the recipe, we felt a little daunted but we also knew that Helen Goh has a high reputation.

So, with blood oranges in season here, we gave it a go. Here is how our first attempt turned out.

Now, some blood oranges do have pale flesh, so the look lacked the wow factor we had hoped for. However, the flavour and texture were exceptional, despite the fact that we had left out one ingredient – 120ml of cream.

We learned some lessons about the ingredients and the baking process, made some adjustments and, at our second attempt, produced the result at the top of this post. That wowed us! And it tasted as good as it looks.

Here is a list of our observations and modifications.

  1. Unless your home has a high level of humidity, the filo sheets will take no more than 4 hours to dry out.
  2. The orange that you simmer needs to be of a good size; otherwise, simmer two smaller ones and use one and a half of them.
  3. We put half the cinnamon stick, two cloves, two cardamom pods and some fresh ginger in the water with the orange. (The remaining half of the cinnamon stick was used in the syrup.)
  4. We processed the cooked orange with the orange (more) and lemon (less) zests and about 100ml of vegetable oil and then transferred it to bowl in which we had whipped the eggs, sugar, yoghurt, cream etc.
  5. We halved some of the fresh oranges so we could pack more pieces on the base of the baking tin.
  6. For half of the baking time, we used a setting on our oven which generated heat only from the bottom of the oven, supplemented by the oven fan. This helped the orange pieces to caramelise.
  7. To make the syrup, we used 170ml of the strained water from cooking the orange and 170ml of fresh blood orange juice.
  8. We cooked the syrup for quite a bit longer until we were satisfied with the taste and consistency.
  9. And, to help distribute the syrup through the cake, we poked a couple of dozen holes in the top with a wooden skewer.

Cheers for now.
Rick Grounds

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A dish to pump up your kin on hump day

One of the benefits of cooking primarily for the two of us, sometimes with the addition of a couple of friends with known tastes in food, is that we are free to try any recipe that appeals to us. No fussy palates to discourage our enthusiasm!

When we try a new recipe and we like how it works out, we might take a pic or two of the final product. But we wait for the second or third attempt for photos of the method, by which time we have settled on our modifications to the recipe.

Sometimes, as in the case of this dish – a ‘hasselback’ half of butternut pumpkin – we make most of the modifications first-up. But we keep the iPhone lens in its holster so the quest for images doesn’t distract from the job at hand.

You can find the original recipe here. We weren’t convinced by the mix of herbs, so we went to The Cook’s Companion, as listed on our ‘Recipe origins’ page, for some advice. This guided us to go with a mixture of parsley, rosemary and sage.

We also decided to delete the maple syrup – pumpkin is sweet enough already – and reduce the amount of grated parmesan from 60ml to 20ml. Here are the butter mix ingredients ready to be combined.

Maggie began the preparation of the pumpkin half by using a good-quality potato peeler to remove the skin – safer and neater than a knife! Next, she used a fine, sharp serrated knife to make the incisions into the pumpkin. To produce an even result, it helps to turn the pumpkin around 180 degrees so you can cut from both sides.

This is how the pumpkin looked before it went into the oven for the first time. To ensure even cooking, we had brought the pumpkin to room temperature before we began our preparations.

For this first phase, we set the temperature at 160C and cooked the pumpkin for about 45 minutes.

In the next photo, you can see how the incisions have widened during the initial roasting time. Now, we have added about one-third of the butter and herb mix and it is ready to go back in the oven. (Any leftover butter mix can be wrapped and stored in your freezer.)

We gave it about 35 minutes at 165C to produce the result you can see at the top of the post. We basted it after 15 and 25 minutes with the pool of melted butter that formed around the base of the pumpkin.

As we served our portions, it held its shape very well and the combination of flavours was very, very moreish! One of the most attractive recipes for cooking a vegetable that we have come across.

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Unlocking Melbourne’s puzzle, piece by piece

 

As I begin to write this post, it is 1pm local time and I, along with most of Melbourne’s five million residents, am anxiously awaiting the daily Covid-19 update from Victoria’s Premier and senior health officials.

The briefing is likely to take place later in the afternoon, once the latest test results are in from a district of the city where an unexpected cluster of Covid cases broke out last week just as it looked like the spread of the virus was under control. If the results are good, we expect there will be a significant easing of the tight restrictions (aka LOCKDOWN) that have been in place for nearly four months.

All of us are hoping that the retail and hospitality industries will, subject to various precautions, be able to open up and that we will be able to have persons visit our homes again, albeit two at a time. Oh to sit down for a good espresso or go shopping for, well, anything but daily essentials!

That is part of the explanation for the title of this post. The other source of its inspiration is the fact that we have just completed our third ‘Pandemic Puzzle’ and it was a doozie!

It is called the Melbourne Map Jigsaw Puzzle and it has become quite a ‘thing’. If you go to this link, you will find more information about how it was produced.

Here is a photo of the puzzle, taken soon after we put the last of the 1,000 small pieces in place. Taken as a whole, it is not easy to make out the various elements of the map, let alone some of the finer detail, so I’ll take you through a few close-ups, including places that some of you will have heard of or seen via various media.

The body of water below comprises the mouth of the Yarra River, that flows through Melbourne’s CBD, and the northernmost part of the bay that connects Melbourne to the Southern Ocean and beyond.

The next three photos cover most of Melbourne’s CBD: it’s heart, featuring the Yarra River and the iconic Flinders Street railway station (centre, right); the western end, including a revitalised waterfront precinct; and the eastern end, including the Parliamentary precinct, the beautiful Treasury Gardens, where we had our wedding photos taken in December 2006, and the larger Fitzroy Gardens.

   

Speaking of gardens, the city’s main Botanical Gardens dominate the next image. They are very popular with locals and visitors alike.

The final two images are for sports fans, beginning with Albert Park lake. The track for Melbourne’s F1 Grand Prix race circles the lake. The lake itself is very popular for gentle-water, small-boat sailing, and the park’s green spaces include venues for several outdoor sports, including golf, soccer, cricket and Australian football.

And last but definitely not least, Melbourne’s main ‘big occasion’ sports precinct.

By way of orientation, the light brown strip which runs from the top left-hand corner, is a collection of railway lines that feed into more than half of Melbourne’s extensive public transport train network.

The stadium on the north side of the lines is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, known widely as the MCG and to Melbourne residents as The ‘G. It has permanent seating for nearly 100,000 spectators and close to that number attend the Grand Final of the Australian Football League (AFL) season. In a normal year, this event would take place on the afternoon of the last Saturday in September. However, this year was anything but normal in Melbourne, so most AFL matches were held in Queensland, where the spread of Covid-19 was contained early on, culminating in the delayed Grand Final being staged in Brisbane two nights ago.

The ‘G is also famous as a venue for Test Cricket matches played between Australia and other cricketing nations. These always begin on 26 December, which is the Boxing Day holiday in Australia, and continue until 30 December or when the match has been won by one of the two sides. It is common for more than 80,000 persons to turn up on the first day of each match. The ‘G was also the main stadium for the 1956 Olympic Games and is occasionally used for other major events, including international rugby and soccer matches and concerts by visiting pop and rock stars.

On the other side of the railway tracks you will find Melbourne Park, the venue for the Australian Open, one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, for which the main stadium is Rod Laver Arena (RLA). Melbourne Park runs from immediately opposite the MCG, westwards towards the patch of yellow gravel beside the Yarra River. Outside the tennis season, RLA is often used for contemporary music concerts.

Now, if there are any masochists out there looking for a way to occupy a few weeks of their pandemic-skewed lives while learning more about our home city, Maggie and I can thoroughly recommend this remarkable puzzle!

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

PS. Just after I finished drafting this post, Melbourne got the news we were hoping for!

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These cakes won’t sell your strawberries short

Here in Melbourne, it’s early in the fifth week of a tough, six-week lockdown, which was imposed by our State Government to suppress a severe Covid-19 outbreak. We can venture out no further than 5km from our home and only for a short list of purposes. One of our favourite activities – travel planning – has become an exercise in futility, all the more so because residents of Melbourne are very unwelcome in other Australian states.

Unsurprisingly, Maggie and I have been spending even more time than usual in our kitchen, as we work to ward off the mental demons let loose by confinement and boredom. (Our other main tactic is to tackle interesting-but-challenging jigsaw puzzles.)

One of the new dishes we have made during ‘lockdown’ was inspired by the bumper crop of flavoursome strawberries coming to us from coastal parts of southern Queensland, which enjoy berry-friendly weather when we are shivering our way through winter.

The dish is strawberry shortcake, which is commonly associated with the United States. Other cuisines match strawberries with scones, eg England, feature them in tarts, eg France, or, in Australia, pile them onto a pavlova. And, of course, a fresh, ripe strawberry is a pleasure, per se. I sometimes enjoy a few as an after-lunch palate-cleanser!

Anyway, back to the shortcake.

We looked at various recipes before finding one that suited us, albeit subject to several modifications. Here’s how it turned out, followed by our recipe.


Ingredients

250g ripe strawberries, hulled
2 tsp Cointreau or Grand Marnier
120g plain flour
30g almond meal
60ml caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
50g butter

Method

  1. Cut strawberries into pieces about 2cm x 2cm in size and place them in a bowl. Add the liqueur, stir gently and leave to macerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Line the base of four 11cm non-stick flan tins with baking paper.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Using a fork, whisk the egg in a small bowl.
  5. Preheat oven to 170C.
  6. Melt the butter over low heat and add to the bowl of dry ingredients. Stir well to combine.
  7. Add about half of the whisked egg to the bowl, mix to combine and, if necessary, add a little more of the egg to form a soft, even dough.
  8. Transfer dough to a lightly-floured surface and divide into four portions. Trim 5-10% of each portion, dust with some extra flour and set aside.
  9. Flatten each portion by hand, transfer them to the flan tins and spread the dough to the edges.
  10. By hand, distribute the pieces of macerated fruit across the dough, taking care not to overcrowd them (see photo below).
  11. Dot each tin with crumbled pieces of the reserved dough.
  12. Place tins on a baking tray and place on the lowest shelf in the oven.
  13. Bake for 20-23 minutes, turning tins if necessary for even cooking, until dough is beginning to turn golden brown at the outer edges.
  14. Transfer tins to a rack to cool for 5 minutes before separating the cakes from the tins and returning to the rack.
  15. Serve at room temperature, with or without a dash of cream.

  

   

And here is the second jigsaw puzzle we completed during lockdown: a truncated version of The Kiss by the famous Viennese artist Gustav Klimt.

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Delicious fish pie, with a Tasmanian twist

From time to time on this blog, I have mentioned one or the other of my two friends, Bill and Susan, who live in Perth, the capital city of the Australian state of Western Australia.

I have known Susan and Bill since 1975 and 1981, respectively. Since their marriage in 1984, we have shared home-cooked meals accompanied by a generous amount of wine on numerous occasions, and such events long-ago became a key plank of our relationship. If anything, that shared interest in pleasures of the palate has grown stronger with age, particularly as it applies to Bill and me, both of us having more free time on our hands these days.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, Bill sent me a link to a Youtube video in which an Australian couple – one a renowned restaurant reviewer, the other a well-trained cook – demonstrate how to prepare a dish of fish pie (see below). Turns out Bill had decided to have a go at making one for he and Susan to share and, sure enough, I was soon treated to a video clip of Bill serving it up.

I took all this as both a generous act of sharing a source of inspiration and, not that a middle-aged man like me would ever be competitive about cooking, a challenge!

As it happened, Maggie had a couple of sheets of puff pastry lying idle in our freezer, leftover from the pack we bought to make our annual batch of Beef Wellington. Here is how it turned out in 2020, accompanied by a modest heap of wilted spinach.

So, Maggie and I had a good look at the instructional video and decided we’d be happy to give it a go, noting that the method included a true, classic béchamel sauce, in which milk is infused with the flavours of a bay leaf, black peppercorns and slices of white onion.

We decided to vary the recipe by replacing some of the fish with scallops, in part to reflect the Tasmanian heritage on my late father’s side. Scallop pie is a long-established part of the diet of most Tasmanians and, in the historic small town of Ross, there is actually a business called the Tasmanian Scallop Pie Company!

A couple of suburbs away from our home, there is a shopping and hospitality precinct famed for being a centre of all things Greek and it is a popular destination for home-cooks wanting to buy fresh seafood and lamb. That is where we bought our two main pie ingredients – some firm-fleshed white fish and some beautiful scallops, all so fresh that the only aroma was that of sea water.

In the end, we used 400g of the fish and 200g of the scallops. Maggie cleaned the scallops and separated their roe from their flesh, before scattering them around the two pieces of fish in an ovenproof pan.

Meanwhile, we had prepared the milk for our béchamel sauce, bringing it to a gentle simmer, turning the heat off and leaving it to infuse until it was lukewarm. We strained the milk over the seafood, covered it with the recommended damp sheet of baking paper and placed the pan over a low heat until it began to simmer.

 

Once the seafood had finished cooking in the warm milk, we removed it and finished making the béchamel sauce, including the addition of some thickened cream off the heat.

The fish, which had been flaked into chunks, and the scallops were returned to the pan and smothered in the sauce.

 

Maggie then covered it with a sheet of pastry, trimmed to size, cut an opening in the centre and brushed it with the seasoned egg yolk.

And here is how it looked after being baked at 170C for 40 minutes.


We served it accompanied with some tender, fresh peas, a winning combination IMHO. Remarkably, given the extended period of poaching and baking, the scallops were as tender as my father would have wished, well, insisted upon, actually!

We’ll be making this one again. Thanks Bill!

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

 

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Blue cheese and roasted cauliflower soup

 

Our bowl of this delicious soup

Just over a year ago, Maggie and I returned from the Northern Territory at the end of a wonderful two weeks of travel experiences, including two days in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

The accommodation for our Uluru-Kata Tjuta visit was a hotel – Sails in the Desert – where the main bar offered a smart and varied menu of bar-bites and light meals. One lunchtime, I decided to try a bowl of their soup for which cauliflower and blue cheese were the key ingredients. It was very tasty, without being too rich in flavour or texture.

Once home, I found a recipe which, with a bit of tweaking, produced a similarly delicious result. After some further minor adjustments, this is how I prepare it.

Ingredients

500g cauliflower florets, weighed after trimming
40g butter
2 cups stock (vegetable or chicken)
salt and white pepper
1½ cups stock, extra
80-100g blue cheese (to suit), chopped coarsely
60ml cream
3 tbsp (60ml) chopped parsley

Method

  1. Remove the cheese from refrigerator at least 2 hours ahead and chop while it is still firm
  2. Pre-heat oven to 170C
  3. Place the cauliflower florets in a baking pan
  4. Melt the butter with about 200ml of stock and pour it over the cauliflower and put the pan in the oven on the middle level
  5. Bake the cauliflower for about 40 minutes, turning after 20 and 30 minutes, until the florets are tender and caramelised on their edges. During the cooking, add more of the remaining 300ml of stock in batches to prevent the pan from becoming too dry and burning the butter
  6. Once the baked cauliflower is cool enough, transfer it and any pan juices to a food processor. Add as much of the remaining stock as needed to make it easy to process to a smooth puree.
  7. Transfer the puree to a saucepan and add any remaining stock. (If necessary, use some stock to help you remove the puree from the food processor.)
  8. Heat the soup until it comes to a very gentle
  9. Add the blue cheese and stir gently until it has all melted; this might take several minutes. Add the cream, stir it through and bring the soup back to a simmer.
  10. Serve immediately and sprinkle with parsley, to taste.
  11. Leftovers should be reheated carefully if using a saucepan, to prevent the soup from catching on the base of the pan.

 

 

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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