Just Sous Just Me

Musicians, inspired recipes, songs and food adventures.


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Queue-Ba

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No amount of research or advice from fellow travellers, not any of the multitude of documentaries or published texts available in any library can prepare you for Cuba. This is one country, and I have visited several in my existence where prior research to visitation is essential, but still does not prepare you for what lies ahead after your arrival. The best advice I was given was to ‘Go With It’, have no expectations and for want of a more inventive phrase to just ‘Live In The Moment’. This is the Cuban way. Make plans yes, as you do for any new adventure but in Cuba don’t expect them to unfold accordingly. Five minutes wait can turn into two hours and don’t ask how long something will take. If you find yourself in a long queue for example at a bank or a supermarket chances are the vendor/teller is having a nice chat oblivious to the line of people waiting patiently behind. This is the Cuban way and no one seems to mind! When you get your head around this, you will be fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are in Cuba for the music of course. Of the many facets to this country, the music has been our motivation to visit. Musicians who wish to perform in Cuba need an official invitation, one of which we were lucky to receive from the Havana International Jazz Festival. Without this, we were not officially recognised as performers there and was an essential document needed for customs next to health insurance certificates.

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Needless to say, the music is present everywhere you go. If it was on the streets, in the bars, in the theatres or restauraunts, it was there and always excellent.  I thought I had mastered maracas in Australia and couldn’t have been more wrong as was offered an impromptu lesson when one of these maraca masters witnessed my questionable technique. They can do it in their sleep and even before they are born at a guess.

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The food on the other hand, is not so. You would think that a Caribbean Country with Spanish, African and South American influences would have a somewhat exotic cuisine base. Theoretically this makes sense but realistically was not the case for us. Who ever heard of Cuba as a world food force the likes of Italy, France or even Sydney. When you spend time there, you realise why so. They eat and market seasonally which is a good thing in any foodies books. It’s just what is available and to whom which makes eating compared to what we are accustomed in Australia a daily challenge. As a chilli addict, was having major withdrawals discovering nothing of any heat was available. Anywhere. Including at the fresh produce markets I visited with my Casa girl who through a lost in translation episode as she no English and I no Spanish, purchased a bag of miniature capsicums disguised as ghost chillies. They looked promisingly hot. Alas they were not, with little flavour  to speak of.

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The Bananas are very good and very cheap in Cuba

At the beginning of the trip we decide upon the breakfast option at our Casa for an extra five CUC a head. (I decide later in the trip to prepare our own breakfast as we have access to their kitchen in order to save our diminishing cash supply – mostly everything must be paid for with cash in Cuba). This is always an omelette, slices of processed ham, cheese, papaya chunks, pineapple or guava juice, bread rolls and coffee. The coffee is very good. Coffee is one of Cubas main exports next to rum and tobacco, so mercifully they do know how to make a decent espresso. Out of the three separate Casas we stayed in there was virtually no variation in the breakfast presented to us, with the exception of bananas or pineapple instead of papaya. With the uncertainty of food options in the streets, the fruit was welcoming as it very well could be just rice and beans for the rest of the day. We ate many bananas.

Our first restaurant in Cuba, not knowing any better and dog tired from travel was a tourist trap. It was the closest in proximity to our Casa and Lobsters are ordered. We are in the Caribbean, right? Wrong. Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations has sung praises of the Cuban Lobsters. Perhaps he dined at one of the more affluent expensive tourist restaurants which do exist commonly in Cuba, but these are out of our reach finacially being a five piece band on a guitar-string budget. Tonight the taste is tantamount to fried rubber. Taking the iniative I enquire  as to the special of the day – In broken English the waiter recommends the squid ink rice with shrimp and octopus. It’s dark, almost pitch black however very tasty. A wiser choice than the lobster at this establishment. Advice for future travellers to Cuba – go for the specials. There is an element of freshness to these dishes as opposed to the menu options designed purely to cater for the Western World palate.

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The Cuban Salad

Our next dinner outing is at a Casa Particular around the corner from ours. This is a private home with a dining room set up in the front and always an affordable option so locals often dine in these homes too. Here we can expect a typical Cuban meal of which I am curious to try. The menu is entirely in Spanish (the tourist restaurants always have English translation) so our menu decoder in the back of the Spanish phrase book comes in handy. First course is a vegetable noodle soup and is very good, not needing any extra salt and served with lime wedges. So far so good. Second course is salad. Every salad you order in Cuba appears the same way – Thinly sliced tomatoes, cucumber, an avocado cube and a mountain of grated cabbage on the top. This one also had additional ingredients: One boiled broccoli floweret, finely diced boiled to within an inch of it’s life carrot and a few unidentified green leaves. There is no dressing. Unimaginative but healthy which is what I remind myself during consumption. The third and final course arrives. Picadillo is a traditional dish of ground beef, capsicum, raisins, ham, beans and rice. It is in a mound shape on the plate and next to some fried plaintains, also another Cuban delicacy. If any spices have been used here I am unable to detect them. Right about now I’d murder for chilli sauce or Himalayan Sea Salt! Still, a cheap and cheerful meal with a few bottles of quite good Chillean wine has cost us around thirty Australian dollars for the five of us so we are happy and content musicians.

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Festival Performance at Cafe Miramar

Back to the music. After a brief sojourn to Cienfuego and Trinidad across the country and back, we are slowly getting into the Cuban Swing. Of these two towns Trinidad was the most beautiful. Vibrant colours, cobblestoned streets, loudly coloured Chevrolets navigating the narrow streets, music music music and a long awaited dip in the Caribbean Sea via Anacon Beach. Our travel from and back to Havana to visit these places was also colourful. Hurtling down the ‘single-laned-suicide highway’ dodging horses and carts, tourist buses, potholes and other travelling vehicles of varying speeds left us fairly frazzled! My knuckle bones white from the trip and grip, no seatbelts, thirteen of us piled into an elongated Jeep and only half a seat for the 300km journey. I do pray we make it to Havana in one piece. Stan says, just don’t look. We stop to refuel at a farm rather than a service station off the road down a lumpy dirt track. The motor still runs while petrol is poured into a funnel into the tank and the driver smokes a cigar nearby. I don’t look.

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Riviera Hotel Pool, Havana

Finally, it’s the day of our first gig. By now we are used to being given very little information in relation to what we are doing till the final minute. The festival program, fresh off the press has just been handed to us. We have learned not to ask questions as usually is answered with a shoulder shrug. We get told what we need to know, when we need to know it and ‘hurry up and wait’ has taken on a brand new meaning in Cuba. Our soundcheck time is 1pm and they tell us we need to be there at 11am. OK. Except it’s now 1.30pm, we haven’t yet soundchecked and the program of four bands starts at 2pm. ‘Should we eat’ I suggest? Yes, says Mary but make sure you are back here for soundcheck. Whenever that will be. Then we are told that we will be on second, rather than first. So we sit out the first band, but are told half way through their performance that we will be on third now. Only to be informed next we will be last. This is Cuba afterall, things change at the last minute and we are beginning to realise this. Also, we are to perform for no longer than thirty minutes maximum. So when we finally get our spot, at 6pm after waiting around for hours, we give our thirty minute adrenalin fuelled performance everything we’ve got. My word, we do.

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Playa Anacon – Trinidad

As the week goes on we are making a few inroads into this country and just how they live and operate on a day to day basis. Staying in a Casa enables ground-level knowledge being right in touch with the locals, language barrier and all, an experience not to be had if a tourist hotel option is taken. This becomes most apparent when we decide to start cooking for ourselves and need to shop for ingredients. We have a stove-top and some very basic kitchen utensils so why not? Just what to exactly without any knowledge of produce available or where is our next challenge.

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Descarga de Bienvenida (The program lists this as the name of the band) translates into ‘Downloads Welcome’! Que? They are brilliant Cuban Musos

We’re pointed in the direction of a supermarket co-incidentally located next to the Jazz Club and situated opposite the famous Riviera Hotel (Frank Sinatra’s old haunt). There’s aisle after aisle of canned, boxed and plastic packaged items. Bag upon bags of rice, pasta and lentils and an extensive frozen food section, not much in the way of vegetables other than one lonely bag of frozen broccoli. No eggs in sight. Looks like dinner tonight will be pasta and a canned pasta sauce. There are no spices whatsoever other than one Maggi brand labelled Sazon and at a price of 1CUC, this will not break the band bank and is our only option. There’s one whole row of identical plastic oil bottles labelled ‘Soya’ telling me Olive Oil is out of the question. Blindingly flourescently lit, the power went off for about ten minutes while we were waiting in another long queue at the checkout. No one seems fazed, taking the opportunity to chat with each other rather than pull out their smartphones to stare at screens in order to pass the black-out time. Wifi and internet access exists but is not widely available or affordable yet in Cuba. A refreshing prospect. People talking to each other again. Who’d have thought.

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’57 Chevy

Back at the Casa and into the kitchen I go. Glenda our host is curious and watches on as to just what I will prepare there. I cook the pasta (in bottled water), heat up the canned sauce and serve to the band. She appears fascinated and all the while chuckles. I wish to ask her what is so funny, but she no English and I no Spanish so we laugh together at who knows what. It’s ridculous to me because I never cook this sort of thing up at home. And until I learn how to speak Spanish properly, I’ll never know what amused her so.

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On the Bourdain trail at Puerto de Sagua. Excellent Mojitos and Lobster

However, I must somehow communicate with her as I want to visit a fresh produce market and she would know. Even Bourdain says there is a great one and the translator book helps now more than ever. She comprehends my desire, and even better will drive me there herself in the morning in her carro. Turns out it is three blocks and two streets away from the house and is the exact same one Bourdain went to.

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Marketplace 19th and 3rd – Havana

We make the short journey to the marketplace in her Fiat Polski, a bright blue tiny two-door with no boot leaf-blower-engine sound-alike car. Luckily she knows all the vendors here and does my negotiating and paying for after I just point at stuff and open my wallet. Everything here is in season and every stall has all of the same things on display. Tomatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin, capsicums, carrots, okra, cilantro, bananas, papaya, pineapples, limes, guava, avocados and mangoes.  I buy some of everything as it all looks wonderful. (I do find out later the mangoes are actually out of season. They were of stringy texture, but tasted pretty good and was a welcome alternative to the ever-present papaya). The avocado is enourmous and will take a few days to ripen. Took a week as it turned out and was a complete meal for all of us when it did. I calculate this abundant fresh fruit and vegetable supply has cost around $6.50 AUS, and will see us out for meals over the next week.

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British Ambassadors indoor pool

Then there was the meat section. Slabs of pork, different cuts and sections all displayed on an unrefrigerated bench top in the open with a couple of blowies hovering. Bourdain had gone there but I’m afraid I just couldn’t bring myself to do the same.  I know the boys of the band would have loved me to bring home the bacon but being a temporary vegetarian won’t hurt them. Plenty of opportunity to resume their carnivoric diets back in Australia Xmas day and beyond.

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Manouche performing at Sala Raquel Revuelta

I decide on a pumpkin soup first, as we’ve now a huge chunk of it plus carrots, onions and garlic galore. Normally I’d roast all of this drizzled in Olive Oil then wizz it up with stock and spices and re-heat on the stove-top. Roasting is not a possibility in Glendas kitchen as it turns out. I point to the oven she possesses and she hand gestures wildly while repeating ‘Non, Non, Non!’. I figure this translates as it’s on the blink. So it’s all in the one big pot on the stove, boiling furiously. Glenda has a blender thankfully so I can wizz it up in this. I must use my imagination when it comes to seasoning this soup with the absence of stock. I use the Maggi Sazon and wait for it…a generous dash of Havana Club. Amazingly, the end result is delicious. I ask the band to guess all the ingredients. One of them correctly guesses the rum. (My recipe for ‘Rumpkin Soup’ is at the end of this blog).

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Old Habana

Wonders never cease in this country. We’ve kindly been invited to the British Ambassadors palace for their Xmas party with lunch included in exchange for a private Manouche concert, a fair enough trade. The guests were a mix of Ambassadorial staff and representatives from other Embassies, around forty in total for this pleasant afternoon soiree in the grounds of the stunning building. Which, co-incidentally was located three blocks from our Casa, within easy strolling distance for carting accordion purposes. The catering for this was, as you’d imagine generously salubrious. Large platters filled to the brim of more of the same seasonal cuisine – rice and beans, cabbage salads, cucumber and tomato slices and lashings of avocados. And an endless supply of the omnipresent Mojito. There are barbequed pork steaks piled high as well as fat chicken breasts. (Our Embassy girl Alice mentions she has never seen such fat chicken breasts after a year of service in Cuba and where these would have been obtained she couldn’t comment). Of course, the band pile their plates to capacity then have seconds and thirds. Then we play for them. They don’t usually have live music at these do’s, so they are very appreciative of this. It goes both ways as we haven’t eaten like this yet either.

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The most interesting of facts the British Ambassador to Cuba informed us over lunch was that Mick Jagger had been for drinks there a few weeks before us. Turns out Mick is angling for the Rolling Stones to perform in Havana at some future point. He has been laying the groundwork for what will be, when and if they can pull it off, a concert of a lifetime. Because, the Rolling Stones are by a long shot Cubas most endeared band ever. And they have never performed there. This is a valid reason to return to Cuba I decide right there and then. The Ambassador will keep us in the loop with developments <insert smiley face here>.

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Local friendly butcher

Amidst the communication, banks and food challenges we are met with everyday and our subsequent overcoming of these, the Jazz Festival has been running alongside and we have been performing and also watching other fantastic and diverse bands from all over the world. To our delight, our music has been received very well by both Cubans and international visitors alike. It was a major undertaking getting our five piece band Feel The Manouche to Cuba. With the fully funded Pozible campaign generously supported by family, friends and fans our mission was successful. One of the venues the Cafe Miramar even invited us back for an unscheduled encore performance on the last night of the festival. Gestures such as this are uncommon and made us feel that all the effort was worthwhile. We made many new friends and contacts, both English speaking and non as communication through music the universal language, we’ve now seen first-hand absolutely applies in Cuba.

Cuban Rumpkin Soup

Ingredients:

2 Brown Onions, chopped

5 Garlic Cloves, chopped

1 Kilo Butternut Pumpkin, peeled and chopped

6 Carrots, peeled and chopped

4 Tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 Mashed Banana

Mango pulp (I used half a large one plus juices)

Handful of Coriander leaves

Juice from one lime plus the zest

I TBS Sazon (Or seasoning of your choice, sea salt good)

1/2 cup of Havana Club Dark Rum

Method:

  • Fry onions and garlic till soft and fragrant
  • Put all remaining ingredients into the pot and bring to the boil
  • Simmer for an hour
  • Let cool and transfer to blender in batches and return to pot reheat
  • Swirl through Rum
  • Serve garnished with coriander
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Rumpkin Soup

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Havana Central

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Ossi

 

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Cuban Jazz Adventures, Mojo and the Cubano

Disclaimer: The following blog does not contain anything related to the way Cavemen eat, is not Gluten-Free, Non-Dairy Vegetarian or Vegan. It’s not for the food-intolerants. The citrus pictured is here because is included in the Slow Roast Pork Shoulder Mojo Marinade and Mojito.

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Part 1:

I have always believed in music and food as the ultimate companions especially when both of them are of exceptional quality and experienced simultaneously. We really can’t expect anything less in todays hipster environment of the unending and continually evolving dining boom cutting us off at every pass.  If you are a constant travelling musician like me, food and coffee apps are invaluable and can point you in the right direction when you find yourself in a foreign land, if you haven’t had the time or inclination to do the research before you get there. Who does that anyhow? I do if I have the time but apps like Zomato, TripAdvisor and of course Bean Hunter have been saviours with an average of ninety-five percent success rate or win factor of approval and satisfaction.  Yes, some time is required scrolling your phone but in the pursuit of excellence and value for money, this is necessary. There was only one double espresso that was undrinkable, and three of outstanding quality after circumnavigating the country three times this year and consumption of around sixty-three of them.  Top 3 where Alice Springs, Toowoomba and Nowra. Regional areas, who’d have thought and quite serendipitous. Call me a coffee snob and I do realise a bad coffee purchase is a first world problem. But If I’m going to hand over four plus dollars for that miniature cup of single origin goodness with notes of caramel, chocolate and floral overtones that will put a smile on my face, I expect it to be palatable and delicous.

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And the travelling and food pursuit continues while I am fortunate enough to perform around the country and various destinations of the world for the duration of 2015. Two significant factors have occurred recently while I have been home for a spell, unpacking and reacquainting with the ragdoll who is yet to forgive my absence and rightly so. Firstly, a friend told me over dinner the other night in Croydon that I must watch the movie Chef, which I did the very next day. While watching this truly inspiring foodie movie, which also includes a mighty soundtrack of food and specific music pairing, I was also keeping an eye on a crowd funding campaign being run for my band Feel The Manouche to attend the Havana International Jazz Festival in Cuba, which was creeping towards the finish line of being fully funded. As of writing, this project has now been funded and we are going to Cuba in December. Bring on the Cigars and Mojitos I say.

Mint in my frontyard, essential ingredient in the Mojo and Mojito

Mint in my front yard, essential ingredient in the Mojo and Mojito

You will have to watch Chef to understand where I am going with this. If you have seen it you will most likely comprehend my obsession and possibly have developed your own for the Cubano.  The Cubano is the official name for the Cuban Sandwich, which originated in Florida early last century, introduced by the Cuban cigar builders who migrated to Miami. In Cuba, where it’s origins date back to the 1500’s, it is simply known as ‘Sandwich’.  The history of the Cubano, evolution and how it came to be a universally known is fascinating and can be read in more detail here or you could just get on with trying to get the pork shoulder slow roast part right which is what I believe must be the secret to the success of a party in your mouth, sensational Cubano.

The mustard, swiss cheese and dill pickle slices are layered on top of the mojo pork with smoked ham slices. These are all contained on what is referred to as Cuban bread (a french-style baguette will suffice) then smothered with softened butter and placed in the Plancha (sandwich press) and cooked till the cheese has melted and the bread has turned a beautiful caramelised golden colour. This is then cut on a diagonal bias, so they are in triangular shapes. For Cubano authenticity they must be in triangular form. Makes sense, easier to eat as there’s a lot of information on that sandwich. And easier to digest with Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack on while consuming.

I don’t own a Plancha (yet) or a sandwich press, but you can use a cast iron grill pan and place a brick wrapped in foil on the top of the sandwich to press down instead. I’ve got the pork shoulder marinating now overnight in a combination of spices, adapted and reformed from a few of the many recipes I found on-line for the traditional Cuban Mojo marinade. Most importantly, am using the garlic from our friends Organic Garlic farm in Kempsey of which have an enormous amount, and can’t think of a better way to use it, seeing as the marinade requires at least ten cloves. Some recipes suggest using twenty. Best not cook this up if you are flying anywhere the next day or two after.

Organic Australia Garlic From Kempsey

Organic Australia Garlic From Kempsey

Part 2:

So the shoulder has been marinated now for twenty-four hours. Cuban roast experts suggest forty-eight, but am keen to get this roast going today being overcast and semi-cold in Sydney, hanging onto Winter being of cryophilic persuasion. I’ve not roasted a pork before, it’s always lamb so want to get this right. In Chef, they roast the shoulder inside a kettle drum on hot coals. Not being near a Bunnings to obtain these appliances, into the oven it goes.  The Cubans also don’t cover the meat with foil, but let it get all browned up at a very high temperature 250C, then drop it down to 190C. So far the scored fat on the top has browned and crisped up a bit (a good sign) at the high temperature, so have lowered the heat now and covered loosely with foil just for good measure. The last thing we need is dried out meat, we want the juice factor on completion. Fingers crossed.

Have to say am fairly happy with the way it looks, but it’s really only about the taste, so it’s now having a good rest before I start carving it up and we’ll find out then if this roast has any Mojo. Mercifully, it does.

Now all that is left is to assemble the Cubano then grill. Have sliced the pickles, melted the Pepe Saya Butter, sliced the pork, cut open the bread rolls (which aren’t Cuban, but the closest softest ones could find) and finally covered the brick with foil, and of course made a Mojito to go with it.

Yes, that is a house brick wrapped in foil with a Mojito in the foreground

Yes, that is a house brick wrapped in foil with a Mojito in the foreground


Cubano filler - Swiss Cheese, triple-smoked ham and dill pickles

Cubano filler – Swiss Cheese, triple-smoked ham and dill pickles

Getting the Mojo Pork right is the first important step in the Cubano process, the next step is the assembly which is also vital, and don’t be too shy with the filling amount as it’s all going to get squashed down with the foil brick so the flavours all meld together in a nice little flat crunchy toastie.

Start with a good smearing of mustard on each side of the open bread roll, then a layer of cheese followed by the Pork, Ham, Pickles, then a final layer of Cheese. Liberally spread the melted butter on both outsides of the roll and it’s now ready for the grilling stage.

Pre-grilled Cubano

Pre-grilled Cubano

Next I heated up the grill pan, tossed in some more butter till it was sizzling but not burning, placed the sandwich in and put the brick on top. After a few minutes I removed the brick and checked the underside so as it wasn’t burning, then flipped it over and put the brick back on again. The cast-iron Chasseur grill pan can get extremely hot over the gas flame, so it was only a few minutes needed so as the outside was nicely browned and the cheese was melted…

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It’s taken two days to make this sandwich but the end result has been worth it, and pretty much looks like what it should as far as Google Imaged Cubanos go. Must say though, am looking forward to tasting the real deal when we are in Cuba later this year. In the mean time, Es hora de celebrar. El exito Cubano, trae en la Mojitos!


CUBAN ROAST PORK

Mojo Marinade

Ingredients:

1 Pork Shoulder (I used a 1.2Kilo)*

20 Cloves Garlic (Or ten giant Kempsey organic garlic ones)

2 Tsp Sea Salt

1 Tsp Black Peppercorns

1/2 Cup fresh squeezed Orange Juice

1 Tsp Orange Zest

1/2 Cup fresh squeezed Lime and Lemon Juice

1 Cup Onion, minced

2 Tsp Oregano (fresh if you’ve got it, otherwise dried is fine)

Handful Coriander leaves, chopped

Handful Mint leaves, chopped

2 Tsp Cummin

1 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Method

  1. In a food processor, place garlic, onion, black peppercorns and salt. Whizz till a well combined paste
  2. Place garlic mixture in a bowl with all juices, zest, oregano, coriander, mint, cummin and mix together
  3. Heat Olive Oil in a saucepan over medium heat till is hot but not bubbling
  4. Remove from heat, add the garlic mix to the oil and whisk till well combined. Let cool
  5. Make slits around the Pork and score the fat layer with a very sharp knife (Stanley Knife works best) crisscrossed or however you can safely manage this process (Learned later the butcher will do this for you if you ask nicely, good idea for musos who’d like to retain their fingers)
  6. Roll your sleeves up and massage the marinade all over the Pork, basically smother it to bits
  7. Place in a plastic heavy-duty zip-lock bag, with the left-over orange and lime peels, air out and sealed. Refrigerate for a day or two

Oven

  1. Remove Pork from fridge, place in roasting tin and let come to room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 250C
  3. Place roast in oven and cook at this temp till the top is starting to go brown and crackly (the time for this depends on oven types and size of roast – just keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn)
  4. Turn oven down to 190C and baste every half hour with pan juices.
  5. Use a meat thermometer to check internal temperature – Ideally it should be at 170C for the trad Cuban sliceable texture. Mine was in the oven for about two hours. (There are variables with cooking times, left in for longer than this it will become pulled pork if the internal  temperature gets to 190C – either way it’s going to taste good)
  6. Remove from oven, cover with foil and rest, rest, rest!

CUBANO

Soft long bread rolls (Subway style 6-inch length)

Dijon Mustard (traditionally American Yellow Mustard is used)

Swiss Cheese slices

Smoked ham, thin slices

Dill Pickles, sliced thinly

Mojo Pork, sliced

Butter, melted

Method

  1. Cut bread rolls lengthways
  2. Spread mustard on each opened side
  3. Layer cheese, Ham, Pork, Pickles and finish with more cheese
  4. Heat grill pan (or sandwich press) and melt butter till sizzling
  5. Put sandwich in pan and place foil brick on top, grill a few minutes check not burning
  6. Turn sandwich over and place brick back on top, grill a few more minutes till browned and cheese has melted
  7. Make Mojito
  8. Cut sandwich in two long triangular shapes and serve

MOJITO

1/2 Lime, juiced

2 Tsp raw sugar

10 mint leaves

1 Cup crushed ice

1 decent nip of white  rum (Havana Club or Bundaberg White)

Soda water

Lime wedge

Method

  1. Place lime juice and sugar in a tall glass and stir till sugar is dissolved
  2. Add mint leaves and gently muddle to release oils but leaves aren’t crushed
  3. Add crushed ice, Rum and dash of soda and stir till combined
  4. Serve with a garnish of mint and lime


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The Wrap Artist

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‘Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams’, ‘Wrapped Up In You’. Anything that comes in wrapped form usually means there is a hidden treasure inside just waiting to be revealed. Brown paper packages wrapped (yes I realise it’s actually ‘tied’ in the lyrics) up in string must be favourite things for all of us. ‘Wrap it up’ (I’ll take it) by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by the Waitresses or who could ever forget ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ by Agnetha Faltskog.

How about food being wrapped up, how about that. Who hasn’t experienced the wrap? Who hasn’t ordered a mystery parcel in the form of a sour dough or wholemeal wrap at a lunchtime sandwich bar? You may have ordered a salad, teriyaki chicken or a roasted vegetable wrap. A ham and swiss, a bacon and egg, or a smoked trout, beetroot and horseradish wrap, how divine.

Whatever sort of wrap you have chosen, it will undoubtedly be wrapped. Unless you unwrap the wrap and who would do this unless it’s not been assembled correctly in which case easier to consume in the unwrapped version where the ingredients just spill-out everywhere. This scenario is fine considering all contained ingredients are thoughtful, tasty, fresh ones plus a knife and fork on hand. Wrapping a wrap is indeed an art-form, it’s all about placement.

And then there’s avocado wrapped eggs.

Eggs and Avocado

Eggs and Avocado

For the last few weeks have seen pictures flung all over the internet of eggs inside avocados, you may have seen similar visions. Sometimes cooked, sometimes even raw which would be a major protein hit and highly nutritious mono-stereo fat hit. This has been intriguing and have clicked on the links only to find that this is not a recipe at all but a site selling the miracle weight-loss cure called Garcinia Cambogia. I didn’t want to lose weight only wanting to find out more about those eggs and avocados. There is no recipe or any other mention at all but of course further googling uncovered several recipes for avocados and eggs. If there is any food that is going to wrap up another food, avocados and eggs are pure chemistry at its best. (Possibly only surpassed by grated lime-soaked carrot, garlic, mint and ginger wrapped up in chinese cabbage leaves).

IMG_8852As you’d expect, there are varying recipes for this type of dish – some calling for roasting the avocado with an egg cracked into its cavity. Personally am not a fan of baked avocado, finding the room-temperature sublimated flesh of a fresh, uncooked avocado irresistible. Poaching or boiling an egg and then placing into the avocado cavity splashed with lime juice and a dash of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt, cracked black pepper and a sprinkling of smoked paprika is truly something else. So basically simple and easy to assemble, this dish would appear to be a breakfast option but can be experienced any time of the Night Or Day.

Spicy Avocado Wrapped Eggs

Ingredients:

1 Ripe Avocado, sliced in two and pit removed

Juice from 1 Lime

1 Organic Free-Range Egg – Hard boiled and cut in half lengthways (Or two small poached eggs)

1 Tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Black Pepper

Pinch of Smoked Paprika.

Method:

Remove a decent scoop of avocado flesh from each half. (Just enough to make room for the egg and at least half of it left as texture – don’t bother reserving the flesh for another use, consume immediately).

Drizzle each half with Lime Juice and Olive Oil

Place boiled egg halves or two poached eggs individually in each cavity and sprinkle over sea salt, pepper and smoked paprika.

Love Lettuce Wrap

(Ingredients pictured at top, such a gentle alternative using lettuce as the wrapping as opposed to a wheat-flour dough variety)

Iceberg Lettuce leaves, whole

1 Lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced with a mandolin

Avocado flesh for spread

1/2 Green or Red Capsicum, thinly sliced

Lemon Juice

Shredded Basil Leaves

1 Tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Grated Cheddar Cheese

1 Tsp Airlie Beach Chilli Sauce (optional)

Method:

Wrap all listed ingredients inside the iceberg leaves same as you would do with San Choy Bau.

It’s a wrap.


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Tamworth and the Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

Ruth's Festival Fuelling Fruit Salad

Ruth’s Festival Fuelling Fruit Salad

Hitting the New-England Highway each year as I drive away from Tamworth back to Sydney, my mind is undoubtedly swimming with many vast and varied wonderful musical moments and memories.  Mixed feelings of relief and exhaustion follow due to having survived it all once again because if there is one time of the year when musicians must be well nourished, match-fit both physically and mentally, the Tamworth Country Music Festival is it. Preparation and fore-thought is vital to endure this festival and to emerge on the other side of it intact rather than a dishevelled wreck which can occur after grabbing food on the run, sleep-deprivation, navigating roundabouts and the ever escalating build-up of traffic adding stress to reaching sound-checks on time only then having to locate a car-park after loading our equipment on to the stage – all of this madness carried out under searing degrees of 39 Celsius plus.  It’s a case of every musician for themselves in these conditions, not to mention the punters who follow a similar regime trying to get around and see as many favourites performing as possible over the ten days.  It’s a conundrum how this is achieved on the smell of an oily bucket of chips laced with chicken salt 🙂

During previous festivals, musician friends and I used to have competitions to see who could do the most gigs over ten days. In 1998 I did thirty-nine gigs, ten of which were in the attractive time-slot of midnight till 3am at the West Tamworth Leagues Club Legends Bar, followed by a few 8am Bluegrass Breakfast gigs and various shows throughout the day, then back to the midnight slot. In those days my body could handle it but now am a bit more selective and wiser (I hope). With that kind of carry-on, coupled with salubrious accommodation (such as squash court floor one particular year) there would always be what I label the inevitable ‘Mid-Festival Meltdown’, something I try to intercept from occurring these days.

Starmaker Grand Final View From The Stage

Starmaker Grand Final View From The Stage

While not hurtling around town from venue to venue navigating roundabouts, camels and cowboy hats, alternatively am required to be on a stage reading charts for more than ten hours backing Starmaker hopefuls, previous winners and students of the Academy of Country Music. Sustaining the level of concentration required for this (including executing fiddle solos in feel-good keys of C# and F#) can only be fuelled by sensible food options. In the words of Ian Lees – Musician of the Year 2014, “There’s nothing worse than staring at a chart and all you can see is a burger”.  Mercifully, the Starmaker organisers supply us with a beautiful fruit platter and some healthy vegetarian wraps on the busiest day which is a very welcoming sight indeed as catering for the musicians is usually a rare or substandard occurrence. (One day, we were presented morning tea in the form of a tray lined with hot-pink iced cupcakes and a plate of chocolate chip biscuits next to a crate full of Coke – not really my idea of musician nourishment however it’s the thought that counts). During these situations, I am grateful to have the hand-bag almonds on hand, never leaving home without them.

The Atrium in Ruth's House

The Atrium in Ruth’s House

It only took thirteen festivals to find her, but serendipitously my angelic Tamworth host Ruth Blakely now opens her home and her highly nutritional kitchen to me every year. Ruth’s home is quite simply Nirvana and an essential link to my survival of this festival. Every morning, she prepares an incredible fresh fruit salad of mangoes, strawberries, paw-paw, rockmelon, blueberries and what ever else of what seems to be endless supplies of fruit on-hand. After this, if she isn’t rushing off to work herself, she will offer to cook up a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes. Then, she will fill up jars with almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts for us to take away. Being a host to musicians for several years, she has surely observed the plight  we face every day and understands the value of a good breakfast in order to face the daily marathon, because when we leave her home each day we are often at the mercy of the un-known, food-wise. Sometimes all we will have time for later in the day in between shows, is a quick and easy no-queue-waiting soggy white bread salad sandwich in a plastic container. Or, if there is more than five minutes to spare, perhaps extravagance in the form of a roast dinner for $26.

Performing with The Bushwackers at the Longyard Hotel

Performing with The Bushwackers at the Longyard Hotel

A night off is not something I get to experience much during the festival, however do manage to squeeze one in this time. As all of my time not involved with performing has been writing charts and learning songs and repertoires, there’s been no time to go to any local restaurants or even do any research on where is best to eat out. Plus my ears need a rest from all of the music as some on-stage volume levels have been monumentally decibelic. A quiet, cleansing salad is in order so I rummage through the well-stocked fridge full of love and nourishment, with the addition of some of Ruth’s own home-grown produce to create this one.

Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

As for any salad, you can add any ingredients you like but being absolutely fresh is the key. Even better if you are lucky enough to pick the produce straight from the garden. Realising my schedule for the next few days would be nothing short of monolithic, this was a definite pick-me-up :-).

Mid-Festival-Meltdown Salad

1 Bunch of English Spinach Leaves

1 Bunch of Rocket Lettuce

1 Zucchini, thinly sliced with a mandolin

1 Cucumber, sliced

Vine Ripened Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half

Basil Leaves, torn

Juice from freshly squeezed lemon

1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper

Dried Chilli Flakes

Method:

Place all ingredients in a bowl, add the lemon juice and olive oil and gently toss. Consume immediately. Goes nicely with a cup of organic green-tea

* You can also add sliced boiled eggs, or for the non-vegetarians some sliced grilled chicken breast.


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Airlie Beach Chilli Sauce

Sauce

This is a recipe created by some dear friends in Airlie Beach many years ago and is my adaption of the original one.  You can add as many chillies as you can stand, up to you.  Being a chilli fanatic I go full throttle with the amount.  For extra zing, a pinch of the sauce can be added to many dishes such as pizza, Bolognese or napolitana sauces, scrambled eggs or anything your imagine comes up with.  Add a few teaspoons to a cup of natural yoghurt as an accompaniment to fish and chicken or for the vegetarians, smothered on top of roasted vegetables (particularly eggplant) is also very tasty. If you are a chilli fan, you will use this in everything. Even if you aren’t a chilli fan you will still like this sauce, I promise you.

Ingredients:

Birds Eyes Chillies (depending on the heat factor you can stand – I used 500g, that’s heaps)

4 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 brown onions, roughly chopped

2 red capsicum, roughly chopped

2 cups white vinegar

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp coconut sugar (or brown sugar)

Sea Salt

Method:

1. Place all ingredients in a blender (not olive oil and brown sugar) you will have to do this in two batches and blend well.

2. Heat oil in a heavy based saucepan and add the blended mixture, bring to the boil slowly and let bubble away for a while.

3. Reduce heat to a simmer, add the brown sugar and cook uncovered  for several hours. *

The sauce will begin to change colour to a lovely deep, vibrant, orangey red and at this point turn the heat off, cover and let the sauce rest over night.  Put into sterilized jars and it will last for a few months refrigerated.

* Make sure the kitchen is well ventilated during this time as the brewing chilli aroma will be strong!


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Joy McKean, Anne Kirkpatrick and the Heart-Shaped Scones

Scones and Jam

In one week from today an incredibly famous and talented woman will be visiting me and I am a tad nervous. During my recent trip to the Gympie Muster where she was also attending, I spent a little bit of time with her at the Artist World and was lucky enough to be part of the wonderful Tribute Show performed on the Main Stage organised in honour of her late husband Sllim Dusty, who passed away a decade ago. Regally positioned to the side of the stage, she was attentive and supportive during the two-hour-plus show with a cast of thousands including family members and a myriad of well-known Australian Country Music Artists. With a long and illustrious career spanning decades, an OAM and recognised as one of Australia’s leading song-writers and bush balladeers, the ‘Grand Lady’ of Australian Country Music Joy McKean is making a visit to my house for Morning Tea.

The idea of inviting Joy around came about after a series of consequences. Earlier in the year we had been in contact via email in regards to the case of a missing cheque which we both agreed was due to a mishap by Australia Post. As I had to re-send an invoice directly to Joy for a re-draw, this highly observant woman recognised my address listed as being none other than one associated with Henry Lawson who did in fact reside in my house sometime within the years 1914 to 1919. Joy is an afficiando of Lawson’s Work, her husband Slim Dusty having recorded several of his poems put to music and according to Joy was a Lawson fanatic. She and Slim once walked along Euroka Street years ago and she remembers seeing the plaque (still there) marking the fact that Lawson had indeed lived in the street.

Henry's House

Henry’s House

Astounded with her astuteness, I reply to Joy with a photo of the house attached and confirmation she is correct. She then responded back with some beautifully articulated  words about ‘how special it is that I now own this piece of history and will look at me in future as the custodian of a special place, also that Slim would have been quite excited about it too.’ (I have printed out this email and placed it inside a copy of ‘The World of Henry Lawson’ – Biography and volume of his works).  After some encouragement and suggestion from a few music industry people who are great mates with Joy, I invited her around for Morning Tea and a visit to Henry’s old house which she graciously accepted. She will be accompanied by her daughter Ann Kirkpatrick, another famous and talented Australian Contry Music singer.

It’s time to start thinking about what food to present. As this will be an historical occasion, I can’t think of anything better to serve Joy than some good old-fashioned Scones with Jam Cream and a nice cup of tea, can you? I am sure she would have had her fair share of scones during her extensive travels to regional Australian towns and probably knows how to bake excellent ones herself so I will have to research the art of scone making as have only ever attempted them once before in a previous life-time.

Scones

There can only be one place to turn for this recipe so I consult the writings of another equally famous woman. The legendary Cooking Master, original writer of all things food, author and journalist single-handedly responsible for shaping the cooking adventures of Australian kitchens, Margaret Fulton – Mother of Baking. If anyone has a decent scone recipe in their repertoire it must be Margaret. Not only do I find her recipe, there is also a video of exactly how to do it correctly. Just to be sure I check-out a few other recipes and how-to but Margaret’s approach seems to be the simplest. (I did try another recipe for comparison but the scones burned on the bottom before the top cooked. Straight in the bin).

Some people might think making scones is easy but if you’re not an experienced baker it can seem daunting. YouTube is a useful tool with instructional content for how-to-do just about anything nowadays so I carefully follow the well presented method and manage to replicate Margaret Fulton Scones perfectly. (The tactile feeling of rubbing silky butter into flour with your fingers has got to be one of life’s great pleasures). There’s a reason for them being heart-shaped and that is simply because my kitchen utensil drawer only contained a heart-shaped cookie cutter, no circular one in sight. There was no cream in the fridge either so used Greek yoghurt instead. Topped with Beerenburg Caramelized Fig Jam, surprisingly this combination was terrific.

Heart-Shaped Scones

When Joy and Ann visit next week, I will make sure there is cream available of course but will give them the option of Greek Yoghurt in case they’d like to give that a go. Joy being well-known not only for her song-writing but as a generous woman with her time and a kind-hearted soul, I think the Heart-shaped scones will work.

Epilogue

Flowers by Joy

Flowers by Joy

When they arrived in Euroka street today, Joy realised she had forgotten to write down the number of my house so quickly consulted the plaque in the street to find the six numbers listed knowing it would have to be one of them. As happens every second day in my street, there was a group of people following the Henry Lawson North Sydney Historical Walk and I could hear Ann talking to someone in the party (who recognised them and wanted a photo) so I went out into the street to greet these two gorgeous ladies.

I invited them into Henry’s House, and after soaking up a bit of historical ambience we sat down for Morning Tea. The Heart-shaped scones were noted, as was the Greek Yoghurt option while Joy entertained us by recounting a few of her vast collection of road stories, caravans and cooking capers. (She is currently writing her Auto-Biography which will undoubtedly be a fascinating read).  She also opted for the cream as had already had her dose of yoghurt with breakfast and informed me that Ann is actually the Queen of Scone Making! Turns out Ann is also very passionate in the kitchen and has ambitions for future writing about travelling and food. Being a successful Artist, just like her mother she has toured and performed extensively around the country so is very familiar with food options on the road and has her own fair-share of road stories.

Ann has kindly shared her scone recipe which originally came from Alistair Jones a musician who toured and wrote a few songs for Slim in the early nineties. This recipe is even easier than Margaret’s, and according to Ann produces brilliant scones every time.

Ann Kirkpatrick Scones (via Alistair Jones)

5 Cups Self-Raising Flour, sifted*

250 ml Pouring Cream

250 ml Water

Method

1) Preheat oven 220 C, grease and lightly flour a baking tray

2) In a bowl, combine flour and cream

3) Fill cream container with water then add to flour and cream mixture

4) Mix with a knife or spatula till combined

5) Tip out onto a floured surface, knead lightly (less handling the better)

6) Plop onto baking tray and roughly shape into a rectangle (There will be a lot of dough, so depending on the size of your oven you may need to do this in two lots – halve the amount on the baking tray and bake in two separate batches)

7) Using a knife, make indents lengthways and crossways, not cutting all the way through so dough is still in one piece

8) Bake for 10-15 minutes or till risen and lightly browned on top

Serve within Jam and Cream OR Natural yoghurt

* According to Ann these measurements make a mountain of scones, so unless you have lots of guests for Morning Tea, this recipe can easily be halved:  2 and 1/2 Cups Flour, Tip out half the 250ml cream carton then top up with water. Use the reserved cream to top baked scones. 🙂

 

 

 


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Shane’s Asian Baked Snapper

Snapper Marinade Ingredients

There are some musicians who throw themselves into performing on stage with as much gusto and energy as they do cooking. They are as passionate about singing, songwriting and honing their craft much the same as they are at preparing and serving up a favourite recipe. One such musician is Shane Flew who I have performed with many times over the years and witnessed first-hand his high level of enthusiasm exuded on stage which also extends to his passion in the kitchen.

Interestingly before becoming a full-time musician, Shane was employed in the food industry briefly. Firstly a stint in the Mossvale Abattoir (so I am not surprised at his skilful ways with a knife watching him slice up the Snapper) and then as a kitchen hand at a North Sydney Hotel. While being a kitchen hand, he got some time off work to attend the Nimbin Aquarius Festival in 1973 – Australia’s answer to Woodstock. This set him on a path to pursue music for a living so hung up his apron from then and has had a very successful musical career ever since, working with many great Australian Artists as a drummer, guitarist and vocalist. In more recent times he has forged his own solo-career being a clever songwriter as well.

Snapper Prep

Snapper Prep

Having survived a recent bout of cancer, healthy eating is of very high-importance to Shane. His approach to cooking and food preparation involves the freshest ingredients possible, preferably organic and sensible eating habits. When it came to sourcing and picking out the freshest Snapper for this recipe, he looked into the eyes to make sure they were bright and clear rather than dull-eyed as this in an indication they may be past their prime.

Asian Baked Snapper

After contacting Shane for a musicians recipe, he made the suggestion to visit my place and cook his chosen dish up for me. This was a fabulous idea, a dinner party at my place where didn’t have to prepare anything! I just had to supply the vegetables and the oven, perfect. The Snapper was also delicious. South East Asian flavours of ginger, spring onions, chilli and coriander infused well into this baked dish, I must invite Shane over to cook for me more often 🙂

Shane’s Asian Baked Snapper:

Ingredients:

1 medium-sized piece of ginger, peeled and chopped

3 Shallots, chopped

Bunch of Coriander, chopped

1/2 Red Capsicum, diced

1 Tbs Olive Oil

1/2 Lemon, sliced

Sea Salt

1/2 Jar of Masterfoods Soy Honey Garlic Marinade Sauce

Method:

1) Pre-heat oven 180 C and line a large baking dish with baking paper

2) Place all chopped vegetables in a bowl with Olive Oil and Soy Garlic Marinade, use hands to mix together

3) Place Snapper on a board and carefully slice deep down one side of the spine, creating a cavity

4) Cut three incisions on side of Snapper (as pictured)

5) Stuff marinade ingredients into the cuts and cavity and pour the rest over the top

6) Place Lemon slices over and sprinkle with sea-salt

6) Place fish inside foil, wrap, put in lined baking dish and bake for 30 minutes

7) Serve with  Jasmine Rice and steamed Bok Choy

Prawn and Mango Salad – (A suggestion from Shane to serve this as an entrée with the Snapper)

1 ripe Mango, peeled and sliced

10 Banana Prawns, cooked

1 Bunch Coriander, chopped

Juice of 1 Lime

Method

Place all ingredients in a salad bowl, mix to combine