Thursday, 30 June 2011

How to insult a Canberrian!

Ok ... Aah Canberra ... land of donkey coloured civic buildings glinting in the icy wintery sun!! There are many things to enjoy about Canberra ... wide open spaces, the national gallery and its companion the potrait gallery, questacon ... but lets face it, with shit coffee and nary a local to be seen imbibing in, its really not the coolest place to be. Just don't tell that to a Canberrian, or you might just get the spectator vs participant lecture ... but between you an me ... if I feel the need to indulge in some music, I want to see an "alright!" band, not join some shitty community oompah beardy get up. If I want to be intellectually stimulated by some footlight entertainment, I want to go see a play, and not sign up for some neighbourhood theatre sports with Mr and Mrs suburb and their emo kids at the community library.

But enough capital bashing. There used to be 2 things great about Canberra, D & J! Now we can add one more - Kagawa Japanese Cuisine in Dickson ... Canberra's chinatown.

It was D & J's first time here as well. And what a find. The food is cheap and simply amazing!!! And because it was me and D, a plate of sashimi was a fait accompli!! But our sashimi plate arrived with three special delicate morsels - scallops served in their shells with a dollop of fish roe!! They were to die for!

J chose some pork gyoza which were perfectly cooked ... the dough was suitably pliant with just the right amount of charring.

We also had several plates of Sushi Nigiri - Salmon roe and Tubiku ... and really we could have just ordered 10 of those and left happily sated. Is there anything better than fish roe? I think not.

After our Izikaya Den celebration last time D & J were in Melbourne, we had to order the Grilled Fish head which cost the princely sum of $11.90 and I think far surpassed the one served at Melbourn's uber cool establishment.

As it was a particularly icy night, we opted for a hot pot style dish - the Hot Bibinba which was Beef, Raw Egg and Kimchi. It was a veritable witches cauldron of sticky raw egg, sweet beef, acrid kimchi over a bed of sushi rice.

This was followed by a steaming bowl of miso ramen which was beautifully subtle, flavoured with just the right amount of Miso so as not to be too overpowering.

And to wash this all down, some warm sake.

Oh and it would have absolutely killed M but there were that many globs of really good quality wasabi that most of it went back to the kitchen barely touched!
So next time you hit the capital, make sure you mark this down as an essential port of call.

Big thanks and hugs to D & J for takingt time out to entertain me, including a visit to one of Canberra's instituitions - Tilleys! (erstwhile den of sapphic delights, or so I'm told) ... where I enjoyed a yummy glass (or 2) of Canberrian Cab Sav and a suitably spicy portuguese Chicken burger.

Other highlights of my recent work trip - entering Parliament House via the Ministerial Entrance and marvelling at the artwork I got some hurried glimpses of, including a Le Corbousier tapestry, and entering Turrell's Skyspace but during the middle of a sunny day, which didn't really play to its strengths ... best time to go ... sunrise or sunset.

Aah Canberra ... land of donkey coloured civic buildings glinting in the icy wintery sun!!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Wine and Pizza - a pleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon at Train Trak

Ok ... newsflash readers, conversation does not come easy to me. I am for all intents and purposes socially inept. Most of the things I am passionate about are quite insular in nature, so being stuck at the end of a table makes things slightly more awkward for me ... but ... in a setting like the Yarra Valley, and with amazing food, wine and company, it doesn't really matter.

Now I am not going to name drop but we do have "connections" with Train Trak in the beautiful Yarra Valley. So a bunch of us, said connection included, decided to go on a road trip (well not quite as we set off from Bulleen) for lunch at Zonzo.

If you have never been to the Yarra Valley, make amends very soon. It is a beautiful spot and not that far out of the city with so much to enjoy. I can thoroughly recommend the Train Trak winery, not just for Zonzo, but also for their exquisite wines. Our picks if you can get them - Pinot Noir 2004, Cab Sav 2004, Shiraz 2006 and their champagne equivalent, which I think is a little hard to track down.

We decided to opt for a few starters, followed by 4 pizzas to share. As we had a vego in tow, we needed to ensure an even split. D's recommendation was for the chilli and garlic prawns, which were citrusy and fresh and with just a hint of spice (and not enough to M - surprise surprise).

 Gamberi piccanti - chilli and garlic tiger prawns

DV chose the artichoke hearts which were crumbed and drizzled with Vincotto. This was a definite highlight!! And if you're there and its on the menu, get it!!

 Carciofi Fritti - crumbed artichoke hearts drizzled with vincotto

I asked for the Aarrancini balls to cover off the vegetarian component, and these tasted exactly what they should have, crunchy on the outside, and smooth creamy risotto filling on the inside.

Arrancini Balls 

For the pizzas, we went with the Pizza alla Luisella, which had porcini mushroom as its predominant ingredient For the people who had it (I wasn't included) it was by far the best pizza of the day.

 Pizza alla luisella - Pomodoro, buffalo mozzarella, funghi porcini and basil

The other vegetarian offering was the Four Cheese pizza, the four cheeses being pomodoro, mozarella, gorgonzola and mascarpone. The Mascarpone provided a beautiful sweetness that cut the richness of the other cheeses. I didn't find the gorgonzola particularly significant in flavour, although M reckons it was very much to the fore, and wonderfully so.

 Pizza ai quattro formaggi - Pomodoro, mozzarella, gorgonzola, mascarpone and shaved parmesan

For the meatwhores among us, we had the Pizza con carciofi which had prosciutto and artichoke hearts. The prosciutto was not overpowering which allowed all the other flavours to blend in nicely. A pretty good pizza all round.

Pizza con carciofi - Pomodoro, mozzarella, gorgonzola, rocquette, prosciutto crudo and artichoke hearts

And just to conform to the recent trend of having a Bianche based pizza (and also because its delicious!), we had the Bianca con Speck, which was my favourite of the day (and also my pick). Although, I would have liked my speck a little stronger.

 Bianca con speck - X.V olive oil base, mozzarella, gorgonzola, rocquette, speck and shaved parmesan

I should mention that Zonzo's pizza bases are thin ... just the way I like it.

Having gutsed on savoury, we took some time to enjoy the view, then it was back in for dessert.

M had the panna cotta which was orange infused with a hint of cointreau and it was delicious.

 Panna cotta - Orange infused panna cotta served with a cointreau and orange syrup

I had the calzone filled with ricotta, chocolate and hazelnuts served with a bit of ice cream. This was heaven!!

Calzone alla Ricotta

The chocolate filling was spot on and just oozed out of the pastry when I cut into it. I had a sip of M's Machiatto to wash some of the richness down. Good cup of coffee!!

To round off the day we had a tour of the old homestead, where I made a special little friend.

Then it was back to the city lights and sausage with homemade lemon pickles and olive infused chilli at J & CC's ... we have the life!

A whole new world ... of Salmonella ... CBA Friday at Dumplings and More

Ok, yet another CBA Friday comes around and what better way to end a week of woe but with a hot plate of steaming dumplings to soothe the soul and chase those winter blues away. Why have the hipsters taken to dumplings in such a big way? It can't just be Camy's proximity to the uber cool Section 8 bar? There must be more to it. But as far as dumplings are concerned, if they're good, I care not for setting and place. Give me the dingiest rat infested corner of a laneway and I'll be there, appetite in readiness. As far as Dumplings and more is concerned, setting and place unfortunately were duly noticed!! This is certainly one joint that you will be wiping down the cutlery, and even the table, with the napkins supplied! The dumplings are not super fantastic, but they are passable, its the unusual menu (with quite a few things untranslated) that really gets the gastric juices going.

And don't make the stupid mistake we did by not turning the (yes wipe the menu down too) soggy laminated menu over and missing out on the variety this plain and filthy jane has to offer. I guess I just didn't want to handle that menu more than I had to. But our eyes followed in envy each successive dish that was brought out from the kitchen to other tables. The lamb with Garlic chives, a plate full of maybe chicken strips and tang hoon (glass vermicelli), a whole fried fish ... all looking incredibly delicious.

We had lamb dumplings (15 for $9 - although they're better at 1 plus 1). I'm glad that we didn't choose pork, because the lamb mince was on the pinkish side of raw, and I wouldn't have risked it with pork. There was something lacking in the flacour, but I made a mix of chilli oil, vinegar and soy on a plate which fixed it up perfectly.

As with the dumplings, the lamb skewers at 1 plus 1 have a fuller flavour but we enjoyed the spicy crunch of the cummin seeds that peppered the skewers here.

We also had the Stir fried greens (Bak Choy) with garlic, which was full of that yummy wok hei garlicky flavour, but it was swimming in oil!!

We had Eggplant in Spicy Sichuan sauce ... yummy for the first few mouthfuls, but it did start to cloy, mainly because there was so much of it!! Well too much for just 2 people.

And for carbs, we opted for Fried Rice (ok ... ho hum) that had little cubes of Luncheon Meat (Spam) which provided a comforting notslagic hit for me. And lets face it, went well with all the other dishes ordered.

So in summary, I would recommend this place not so much for the dumplings but for all the other delectations on offer. But bring an extra pack of tissues as you may need it. And ask for extra bowls to collect the additional oil that you might just want to skim off the plate.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Redemption in the Jiu He Eng Chai

Ok ... I have to admit that I'm not a 3 strikes you're out kinda person ... I am a first impressions kinda person ... thats just how I roll!! But unable to get into either Laksa King or Chef Lagenda and absolutely craving Malaysian, we decided to give ChilliPadi another go, even though our first visit was a gastronomic disaster. This time round she took baby steps to rectify the situation, and the saving grace came in the form of Chillipadi's version of Jiu He Eng Chai!!

Now what the hell is Jui He Eng Chai ... you may very well ask. Let me break it down for you:

(i) its sweet
(ii) its prawny
(iii) its peanuty
(iv) its fermented ... erm ... ey
(v) if you're of the anglo saxon persuasion and temperament, chances are you'll hate it
(vi) if you're of the southeast asian persuasion, chances are you love it and crave it

Its basically reconsituted dried squid served with Kang Kong (water spinach) in a molassey peanut/belacan sauce. Hea-ven!! And I have to say, Chillipadi's version is not too bad at all.

We decided to try the Roti Jala again and this time the curry sauce accompaniement was spot on. But really Roti Jala should not have those crispy edges, so I think ours spent a little too much time on the grill.

We also had the hainanese chicken (this and rendang are test dishes for any restaurant purporting to serve authentic Malaysian/Singaporean food - get them right and I can forgive any insipid horrors lurking on your ridiculously populated menu, get them wrong and you lose my patronage stat and my recommendation) to go with our Jiu He. Passable is about all I can rate this. Someone overdosed on the lime/lemon in the sauce ... in fact someone overdosed on sauce full stop. Our hainanese chicken was threatening to turn into a chicken stew.

We also had a Sambal Balado fish. Pretty good Sambal Balado. Menu states it as being a whole fish, but it was served as 2 filleted halves ... not the best thing for this kind of dish. Especially since the gooey texture (as opposed to soft fresh) was indicative of frozen fillets that had travelled some distance from purveyor to store. And when you say whole fish, I want to see head and tail!!

Oh and I had a Milo Peng ... served rather quaintly in a relish jar, like the ones you used to dunk your paint brush in at school ... a nice enough touch.

So in summary, a few steps forward for this mob ... but perhaps not enough for it to move up the queue ahead of Laksa King and Chef Lagenda.

Closer to home, we have seen signs for a Sambal Kampung (nice bit of punning) in Edgewater! Lets hope for Chillipadi's sake, this is the watered down version of Malaysian Cuisine, otherwise we are unlikely to visit their shores again.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Of Stiff Carrots and where chickens come from

Ok ... the last few cards I have written to M have marked each year with an acknowledgement of survival ... and isn't that a bit of a sad indictment of the times? And even as we stood on the brink of emotional collapse, we were reminded of the symbolism behind our difficult union as we conversed and broke bread with our close friends at the DMs. At an early point in the evening, DK rushed up to me and gave me a hug ... she will never know how much that meant to me ... but hugs and glossy viticultured smiles aside ... the DMs laid a winter's repast as testament to good times and friendship ... I wish you all the very same luck we have.

Cheese Souffle

Lamb Shank with honeyed carrots and rossini

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Vale Martin Rushent - the thing that dreams are made of!

Ok ... "run all day, run all night, do or die, do or die" ... how did I miss this. Vale Martin Rushent. And if you say Who? I say, Producer of Human League's Dare of course! And if you say What? I say Captain! And then I say you have some serious musical gaps in your knowldege.

I didn't realise just how many quintessential pop moments Rushent's talents were across from my musical upbringing. And I certainly didn't realise how far back his career stretched ... I mean Shirley Bassey and Curved air?? Wow.

But I guess Dare eclipses it all and well it should. It is the perfect electronic pop album, and everyone else has tried to follow the template with varying degrees of succes. But I somehow feel that they broke the mould after they made it and no one will ever come close.

So here are some of the influential new wave moments (in chronological order) in honour of Martin and his musical genius:

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Elimination! A Photographic Representation

Heartattack and Swine - Consuming the Consomme or is there enough breadcrumbs!!!


D dunks a pigs tail in an egg mixture, then a bowl of flour, and then a bowl of breadcrumbs. P watches on. Camera swings in on P's face as he speaks:

P: Is there enough breadcrumb?

Camera pans towards D's face as he gives P the side-eye

Camera zooms back on P & D having a face off.

Fade to black

Ok ... our first cook up for the year!!! Excitement!! Well, it would have been even better if we hadn't royally gutsed ourselves by the end of it. Still it was one of our more successful cookups for a long time, and we actually tried a number of new things that I feel made it the closest to the unspoken remit of what our cook ups should be.

The star of the meal or rather the ingredient that pulled all the other elements together was Pigeon. Now at $18 a pop we had to make sure we treated it with respect. I knew that I wanted some kind of berry/fruity sauce to go with it, but ended up opting for a Masterchef recipe of Roasted Pigeon on a bed of Split peas ... modified!

Pigeon sourced from Wangara Poultry and Game

I've been dying to see clarification of a consomme first hand, so convinced P that we should have a consomme for starters, but I did commit the cardinal sin of suggesting that we already had store bought stock in the pantry ... oh well that simply wasn't good enough for our fine bespoked feathered friend, so off to Donati's he went for some bone marrow for the stock, which then led to the suggestion of Bone Marrow and Parsley salad for a side.

I already had my eye on the Colcannon that was on Masterchef and thought that it would be a good addition to the potentially rich, fatty meat of the pigeon, and also something to mop up all that yummy jus on the plate.

In addition, after having crumbed pig's tail at Cummulus Inc, I've been dying to try my hand and doing something with this particular offcut, and found a mustard crumbed recipe (thank you Fergus Henderson for this and the bone marrow salad) online which seems to be one of the more traditional ways of treating this bit of the pig.

We had to get the pigs tails in the oven at the start as it needed a 3 hour slow cook. So after our quick shop, we chopped our first lot of Mirepoix for the day and placed it in a pan with red wine and stock. This formed the cooking base for our lovely little tails to slowly braise in.

Pigs tails resting on a bed of Mirepoix

We then turned our attention to the magic of Clarification: egg whites, crushed egg shells, a stick of carrot, celery, onions (bring on the mirepoix!) and ice went into the cold stock, brought back up to the boil and simmered for another 20 mins. I watched in wonder as a grey foamy sludge formed a skin on top of the bubbling stock. We made a hole in the centre and gently scooped out the clarified stock underneath and strained it through a tea towel. Magic!!! P was very proud indeed.

Mirepoix with egg whites, egg shells and ice
A potful of the Yarra

First straining of the clarified stock

An entire bunch of celery chopped up then went into the strained stock and cooked out a bit longer. Then it was strained again and voila ... the final product - Celery Consomme. It was beautiful to eat, the heady taste and scent of celery is what hits you first, but then the rich beef broth takes over in all its meaty glory ... it may be clear soup, but it certainly is not light.

A whole head of celery

The end result

Consuming the Consomme!!

Onto dessert, yet another variation of the potted cream desserts we seem to keep gravitating towards - Butterscotch Pot de Creme - a dish that P fell in love with when he was the States. Effectively we made butterscotch which we poured into ramikins ready for the oven. It was the Muscovado sugar that really lifted this deceptively simple dish to heavenly heights.

 Just out of the oven ... waiting to set competely

Served with cream and a sprinkle of Muscovado sugar

It was time for sorting out the rather phallic looking pigs tails (thats if your dick is ground to a point). They were drenched in a mixture of eggs and mustard, then lightly floured and finally smooshed into some breadcrumbs ... P watched critically and asked .... well you can read it in part of the title of this post. It well and trully earned him the side-eye! Then into the oven to bake for another 20 mins or so.

 Gooey and gelatinous ... our tails just out of the oven

 Drenching the tails

Browning lightly in a pan and then into the oven for the final cook

Served with M's homemade mayo

The Pigeons were waiting their turn on a bed of ... you guessed it .. Mirepoix. A mixture of gound juniper berries and star anise was rubbed all over their plump little bodies. They were then stuffed with a piece of garlic, a bay leaf and a knob of butter, seared in a pan to brown and then roasted in the oven for about 20 mins, with 5 mins resting time.

 Our little pigeons marinading

Roast Pigeon plated

TheVin Santo sauce we made with Port and chicken stock ... wonderfully sweet and rich ... perfect for gamey meats.

We also had the bone marrow roasting in preparation for the bone marrow salad .. well basically bone marrow served with a salad of parsley, shallots and capers.

 Bone Marrow fresh out of the oven

Bone Marrow and Parsley salad

If you're feeling your arteries slowly starting to constrict as you read this, well imagine how we felt halfway through the meal. In the immortal words of ONJ it "feels like a heartattack!"

Now this seems to be the new fangled way of preparing potatoes for mash ... no longer do you simply bung them in a pot of boiling water ... oh no ... you now place them lovingly on a bed of salt and roast them in the oven. I believe this gives them the right texture and consistency (I also believe that playing with yourself is called wanking). Colcannon is simply Mashed potato served with herbs and onion. We had to forego the Cavalo Nero, which we substituted with a few bits of chai sim. M cooked these off before mixing it all together. And there's still a bowlful of it left for a few more enjoyable lunches yet.

 Mashed potato ... the chefy way


We had to ditch the peas because P doesn't really like them ... man is there nothing he is not allergic to!! So we opted for Asparagus cooked with pancetta to sit the birds on. We couldn't find Cotechino sausage which is what the original recipe called for (some of those so-called italian delis round here should hang their heads in shame!!), so I tore apart a couple of pork sausages and added them to the asparagus mix. And to round off the calvary of sides, just some roasted parsnip and swede.

Its all about the root

So there you have it ... another successful cookup and enough food to feed the extras on a Cecil B Demille set. Next time we cater.

And in honour of our very first cookup for the year ...

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