Victoria’s lockdown gave us the opportunity to be reacquainted with our kitchens. I spent it cooking my favourites and wistfully remembering my mother’s awful cabbage.

 

 

It seems that, during the coronavirus lockdown, and with people working from home, there was a lot more experimental time spent in the kitchen, especially for males. In fact, if I see one more boastful Instagram shot of a crusty sourdough loaf, I’ll scream. 

So, some culinary confessions from me. I must have been 15 or 16 before I discovered that cooked cabbage was actually green in colour, not grey. That’s because our mother cooked the bejeesus (and probably every vitamin) out of every vegetable. Even the ones we cooked from our own prolific garden down the back.

Coffee? We didn’t have powdered, let alone ground, coffee. We had a thick sludge called ‘essence of chicory’ in a tall, skinny bottle. Our Christmas ham was flamboyantly cooked the day before and served cold. I have no idea why.

Our obligatory Sunday lettuce salad, with the obligatory roast lamb, was shredded like grass and served with a ‘dressing’ which was a mixture of vinegar and Highlander condensed milk.

How the hell that upbringing produced The Hungry Hinch restaurant reviewer and food appreciator, is a miracle.

Since the Covid-19 lockdown in Victoria, I too have been a beaver in the kitchen. Especially making my own soups. I have discovered a wonderful vegetable called leeks. I now make mushroom, leek and onion soup using huge brown mushrooms whose names I can’t pronounce. And heaps of mashed garlic. It takes me back thirty years to when I wrote a bestselling book called the Derryn Hinch Diet Book. It even knocked Naomi Wolf’s beauty book off the top of the bestseller list in Sydney.

 


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Our joke, back then, was: You’ve heard of the Fit for Life diet, well this is the Pissed for Life diet because it allowed you to drink white wine with your soup. I actually lost heaps of weight. 

As I said, during the Covid-19 lockdown and curfew in Victoria, it did send people, especially men, back into the kitchen. I must admit, in the middle of all this, I rashly bought a slow cooker from Woolworth’s online. I may never use it, but it had a classy ceramic bowl and only cost $38.

When I mentioned condensed milk in salad dressing on Facebook, I received a nigh-hysterical response from a woman who said: ‘I know that salad dressing! Mum used to make it, Grandot used to make it, and my husband’s 90-year-old mum still makes it. I can actually imagine the taste of it. Iceberg lettuce, some slices of cucumber peeled so that it looked more like a hexagon, pale tomato wedges and on a posh day, some slices of tinned beetroot. All with that salad dressing.’

Aaah, Sunday mornings in New Zealand. My Dad would be drinking beer before noon and us kids were allowed a ‘shandy’. Very grown-up (if not very responsible). As the traditional roast lamb leg was cooking every bloody Sunday, we were given a tiny ‘shandy’ in a Vegemite jar which was one splash of beer, to colour it, and five splashes of lemonade, but it made us feel very adult.

 

Time in the kitchen can truly be quality time. Don’t dismiss it. It especially was during the lockdown in Victoria. It is important personal, productive, satisfying time. Use it.

 

Food, and its preparation, is such a large part of our lives. I remember a telling line from 50 years ago when I was a young reporter in Sydney. I was a wet-behind-the-ears journo, just arrived in Sydney from New Zealand and sharing a house in Rushcutter’s Bay with several other reporters.

Every Saturday morning, whoever wasn’t working, would do the weekly food shop. I recall, as if it were yesterday, going to the local butcher’s and hearing the pearls of weekend wisdom from the fat bloke in the striped apron behind the counter. As I dithered over the mince or the New Zealand lamb chops (incredibly cheap back then) he said: ‘Remember, mate, if you don’t eat, you don’t shit. And, if you don’t shit, you die’.I’ve been eating (well) ever since. 

I still love cooking. Kitchen time can give you some genuine solitary tranquil time. I have cooked Peking Duck from scratch. Even made the ‘popin’, the traditional pancakes, to go with it. My most spectacularly successful dish is home-cooked roasted Chinese pork rib racks which have been marinated for hours in hoisin sauce and honey. 

I also make muffins that feature sultanas and heaps of cracked pepper. When I worked for 3AW in Melbourne the newsreader, Tony Tardio, liked them so much I nicknamed him ‘Tony Lardio’. He now interviews me on our That’s Life podcast and I always cook him a batch of muffins as a bribe in advance.

Time in the kitchen can truly be quality time. Don’t dismiss it. It especially was during the lockdown in Victoria. It is important personal, productive, satisfying time. Use it. 

And, a treat for you real foodies, here are a couple of my favourite recipes:

 

Magic Muffins

You’ll need:

One cup of white bread flour

One cup wholemeal flour

Two teaspoons fast rise yeast

Liberal sprinkling cracked pepper

A smidgeon of salt

One teaspoon brown cooking sugar

Two teaspoons skim milk powder

One egg (lightly beaten)

A handful of shredded cheese

A handful of mixed fruit

A big handful of extra sultanas

One teaspoon of butter, or margarine, olive oil spread

One generous cup of water

Combine the ingredients and knead the dough by hand or with a spatula. Set aside to ‘rise’ for two or three hours. Coat a six-unit muffin tray with canola spray.

Lightly sprinkle extra yeast in each muffin cup. Spoon dollops of dough into each cup. Wet your fingers to push the mixture into neat muffin shapes. Smear a teaspoon of butter, margarine, or buttery on top of each muffin.

Preheat your oven to 200 about fifteen minutes before you need it. Set your oven timer at 45 minutes. When the muffins are cooked leave them there for four or five minutes as the oven cools.

Take them out, carefully prise them loose with a knife and place them upside down for about five minutes on a board to remove any moisture.

Then eat. Enjoy.

 

Barbecued Chinese Spare Ribs

You’ll need:

1kg pork spare ribs, in one slab

Marinade

½ cup of soy sauce

2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons white vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon spoon Chinese rice wine (sake or sherry)

2 tablespoons chicken stock

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

Chinese plum sauce

Wire coat hangers

Leave the rack of ribs in one piece. If the breastbone is still attached remove it. Trim excess fat. Place in a large, shallow pan and drench with marinade. Cover and leave in the fridge for 4-6 hours.

Cut and shape coathanger wire into 2 or 3 hooks and embed in top of the rack. Pre-heat oven to 215. Hang the rack of meat from the top of your oven and place a tray of water underneath. Cook for 45 minutes untouched. The ribs will baste themselves and the water tray will prevent any flare-ups. Increase heat to 230 for the final 15 minutes.

To serve. Separate with a meat cleaver and serve hot with Chinese plum sauce.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

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