About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008
We'll Have the Lamb and Duck
How could you explain yourself better?

We picked up a few brochures from the information stand at Ballarat's Eureka Stockade building and amongst them was one for The Glasshouse Restaurant & Lounge Bar, which included their menu.

Things change, so I called the restaurant to see if the smoked lamb rack on a potato hash with a haricot bean cassoulet and the confit of duck legs with red wine poached pear and date chutney were still on the menu. They confirmed they were, so a booking was made.

Here's a tip for restaurateurs - make sure that whoever answers the phone is thoroughly familiar with the menu; it doesn't pay to have customers disappointed before even ordering.

When we arrived we were shown to our table and perused the menu, those two dishes were nowhere to be seen. The poor waitress was left in the firing line as I explained that we had booked our table on the basis of those two dishes. Crestfallen, we decided to soldier on and ordered off the menu. There was an intriguing dish of kangaroo fillet served on mountain pepper mash, along with some bush tucker chutney.

I hesitated, worried the earlier mix-up might indicate that the kitchen might not cook exactly to order, a proposition that could render the delicate kangaroo fillet overcooked and inedible due to the leanness of this meat. It proved to be a well founded concern. The rib-eye steak that was ordered medium-rare, came to the table one short step from well-done, was tough and left largely uneaten.

It was difficult to reconcile the overcooking of the steak with the perfection of the vegetables - the broccolini and asparagus were cooked by someone with good feel - still crunchy but cooked through, whilst retaining vivid colour and the garlic flavoured mash was light, fluffy and with just the right amount of garlic goodness. My wife also loved her duck breast with a gently aromatic cinnamon sauce, but the damage had well and truly been done by this stage and we left for alternative dessert pastures.
 
  posted at 9:42 am
  5 comments



Sunday, April 20, 2008
Preserving the Bottom-Line
There were a couple of articles in Saturday's The Age newspaper alerting the good people of Melbourne that we are in for some petrol style price hikes in the restaurant industry, due mostly to the rising cost of raw ingredients, which, according to Daniella Miletic, have risen well beyond the inflation rate over the past five years.

John Lethlean's sobering news is that restaurateurs concerned about menu price increases frightening away customers, are instead turning to their wine lists to add in the the extra cost of buying in food. But it would seem that won't stop the $30-$40 main course soon becoming $40-$50.

Curiously, restaurateur Matteo Pignatelli is reported to have taken tomatoes and asparagus off his menu in an effort to keep costs down. It's curious because both these vegetables are now out of season here and that at least a part of their soaring prices is due to their having to be shipped in from somewhere else, far, far away - there is always a premium attached to having fresh fruits and vegetables available out of season; we have to pay the cost of refrigeration, transport and storage, as well as a bit extra just to have that sweet cherry in the middle of winter.

It's good news for farmers though, as they get to send excess production to other areas and countries, helping them both ways. It reduces excess production flooding the local market at harvest time, thus stabilising prices in an Adam Smith moment, as well as having other markets available to sell to, which are prepared to pay a premium for out of season product.

But for consumers it's a different story. This evening out of market forces means that at the height of the season for particular fruits and vegetables, the price won't fall as far as it used to, which in older times meant one thing, preserving. Why does Mr Pignatelli have to take tomatoes off his menu? George Biron at Sunnybrae Restaurant certainly doesn't have to, he's preserved tomatoes three different ways and will have the pleasure of his foresight keeping him good company as the weather turns bleak and cold, not having to fork out a fortune for out-of-season produce; nor were tomatoes the only things he's put away.

It would seem though that Mr Biron is in the minority, for in having fresh fruit and vegetables available all year round, many chefs have in fact lost touch with the seasons and are now having to confront the bottom-line reality of the situation. But why are so few chefs using preserved foods when they are so much cheaper? It's not that we despise preserved foods, in fact, we have come to really appreciate some preserved things just for themselves, salt cod, tinned anchovies, the flavour of smoke, jams and conserves, to name a few.

Perhaps the answer lies with the consumer, you and me. Do we really have to have a fresh peach that has been flown several thousand kilometres, when we can simply open a jar of fruit that was grown in our own backyard? Preserved doesn't mean inferior, preserved fruit and vegetables have different qualities, that's all. Nor is preserving hokey, these days, as always, it's the smart thing to do.
 
  posted at 9:33 am
  6 comments



Friday, April 18, 2008
Grossi Florentino The Grill & Google
Ed's recent post about the reasons why restaurants should respect blogs that review them came to mind recently as I wrote a review designed to fit a certain publications template. It occurred to me that there were just not enough available words to really say what I thought about this particular establishment, even though what was written was a true account of the evening in question, but if I was blogging about it, a reader may get a much better impression of the restaurant as that review will only have been touched by one person, me, the blogger and not some sub-editor whose function is to fit the article to their publications style and space limitations, sometimes changing the thrust of a review in the process.

What one gets in a blog is warts and all and to illustrate, below is a piece I wrote, followed by a blog style review of the exact same evening in question at Grossi Florentino, The Grill.

The Grill’s two course $30 pre-theatre menu is rather like a man who wears a Zegna suit, while inside beats the pure heart of a peasant. The Robyn Boyd designed room is grand old Melbourne, all wood panels and hard mirrored surfaces divided by columns, fuelling a noisy ambiance. Smartly attired waiters serve rustic Italian food, with starters like char-grilled cotechino with lentils, pasta and bean soup and perfectly cured salmon. Generously portioned mains include a beef stew, fillet of fish with giant couscous and breaded chicken served alongside garden fresh peas. Simple, good value fare with honest flavours. Glass of wine and excellent coffee included - dessert choices extra.

************************************************************************************

It's not often anyone opens a door for me, perhaps never really, but that is exactly what happened the night I dined at Grossi Florentino's The Grill.

It is the sort of place where the doppelganger actors from Underbelly, a television series detailing Melbourne's violent gangland war, would feel very comfortable, just as comfortable perhaps as the notorious criminals they played, who would revel in the Robyn Boyd designed surroundings of hard mirrored surfaces and wood paneling that ramp up the noise levels, making hearing or overhearing a conversation almost impossible - they would also like that plenty of seats face the door.

But what you have, despite being slightly dated, is a very stylish interior overlooked by the Florentino crest. It is also a room that has a split personality, with a long narrow section of seating abutting the open kitchen, of bustle and high energy levels, where chefs choreographed their complicated ballet, that leads into a larger space, which seemed altogether gentler and more relaxed.

The warm welcome from the door was carried on by the friendly and efficient waitstaff, snappily dressed in black jackets and starched white aprons, who happily carted an endless supply of Source Municipal (tap water) for the entire evening.

We nibbled on quality olives and dipped sour dough bread into olive oil whilst choosing from the $30 pre-theatre menu consisting of two courses, glass of wine and a coffee, which continued the split-personality theme; this elegant restaurant was serving simple and rustic Italian peasant food, the sort of food that Cafe Di Stasio serves on their $30 menu - to a much higher standard.

The pasta e fagioli soup, while having the necessary flavour, was perhaps lacking for body, better were the three slices of cured salmon, cut in the modern manner of long, thin slices, surrounded by a tangle of rocket leaves; lightly cured, they were fresh and clean tasting The char-grilled cotechino was sticky with deep flavour, sitting atop a bed of earthy puy lentils and encircled by a green watercress sauce that lacked the peppery pungency of this herb.

The mains which passed by included a piece of fish with giant couscous, swimming in fragrant juices, a hearty wet beef stew, married to roast potatoes and the dish that probably best summed up the simple nature of the food, a lonely breaded chicken breast served only with garden fresh peas and a lemon wedge, even a scattering of fresh herbs would have lifted the dish.

A generous slice of soft, creamy La Bouche cheese with thin slices of new season pear and dried muscatels was well received, but could easily have been the home made gelato or mud cake with double cream. An excellent coffee was served with amusements of almond bread and a fruit paste studded with hazelnuts.

It's a great place to grab a quick good-value meal in stylish surrounds, but the food, while well cooked and executed for the most part, needs a bit more thought to bring it into line with the quality that is obvious all around.

**************************************************************************

I think you can see why restaurateurs may prefer the former review, there is only room to state the obvious, with no space for even gentle criticism, but that is doing them no favours, you can't address what you don't know about. That's a service being supplied by bloggers, upon which the public have seized through the agency of Google. Bloggers are saying what they feel, unfettered by the limitations pressed upon journalists, who, despite the strictures, come up with regular good copy, which, through no fault of theirs, sometimes might not say exactly what they think.

It's all about the choice.






Labels: ,

 
  posted at 7:49 am
  7 comments



Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Sign of the Times
As seen on a sign...

Life is uncertain

Eat dessert first


Well, what's stopping you, do you need any other excuse?
 
  posted at 12:00 pm
  6 comments



Monday, April 14, 2008
Polish Orchard - Mixology Monday
Hey, a cocktail using fruit liqueur as its base, well, I'm all over it, especially given that we make fruit liqueurs, which just happens to be the theme for this month's Mixology Monday, being hosted by Anna from Morsels & Musings.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that cocktails are high on my list of things to drink, having had my first ever Negroni just the other day, but the chance to experiment with a homemade liqueur seemed to good an opportunity to pass up; the experimenting was lots of fun too!

We have a good supply of homemade cherry vodka, which is also available commercially, in Australia it is stocked by Dan Murphy. It's made from fresh sour cherries which gives a deep cherry flavour and because the cherry pits are left in, it picks up some of that slightly astringent kernel flavour.

At first my thoughts turned towards a classic Eastern European combination of cherries and walnuts as found in a wonderful cherry and walnut cake made by my local Russian bakers, but there was a slight problem. The only walnut liqueur available was Nocello, a sweetish Italian liqueur made from both walnuts and hazelnuts.

The difficulty was its strength of flavour - it completely overwhelmed the cherry vodka and after two goes I was unwilling to commit any more attempts at fine tuning, though it was a fine drink in its own right. Pity, because a name suggested itself, Polish Autumn, after the deep burnished brown and the taste of nuts, traditional autumn fare, along with the use of vodka.

Then some inspiration hit, what about using some elderflower syrup?

Elderflower is such a light, delicate flavour, there was no chance it would compete with the cherry flavour - elderflower seems more like a perfume, acting similarly to rose water, though not with the same intensity. One attempt was all it took for a perfect fruit cocktail to be born, not overly sweet or overpowering in flavour, just wonderfully sophisticated.

Polish Orchard

2 shots cherry vodka
2 shots vodka
1/3 shot elderflower syrup

Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker full of ice. Give a few shakes and pour into a cocktail glass, garnish with a morello(sour) cherry on a toothpick.
 
  posted at 7:48 am
  4 comments



Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Oasis Bakery's Sharwarma
With interest rates creeping ever upwards, here’s a lunchtime meal that proves Greeks don’t have the only mortgage on lamb in a wrap. The Makool’s busy Oasis Bakery is churning out a $7 Lebanese version of souvlaki, called sharwarma. In-house freshly baked flat bread is wrapped around the usual suspects of spit-roasted lamb, lettuce and tomato and then takes a decided Middle Eastern turn with the addition of parsley and onion dusted with sumac and pickled cabbage with beetroot tinged edges, all doused with tahina sauce - extra fillings available, sadly, not interest rate relief.

Place: Oasis Bakery, 9/993 North Road, Murrumbeena, 9570 1122
Open: Seven days a week, 8.00am till 7.00pm, dine in or takeaway
Cards: Yes, except American Express or Diners Club
No license
 
  posted at 7:43 am
  3 comments



Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Grilled Mussels
In the uplifting, gentle comedy Last Holiday, about a woman, Georgia Byrd(Queen Latifa), who believes that she has only has a short time left to live, there is a wonderful short exchange between her and Chef Didier(Gerard Deperdieu) who became drawn to her after Georgia one night ordered everything on the menu. They were discussing food when Chef Didier said to Georgia, who is also a good cook...

"You and I know the meaning of life."

"What's that?"

"Butter!"

Spoken like a true Frenchman, though Georgia was probably more the pork fat kinda gal.

These words came back to me last night as I softened some butter to mix with parsley and garlic to make garlic bread. It's not a thing I make very often, preferring most times to lazily pick it up from the supermarket chiller, but there was some leftover parsley and half a breadstick that needed to be used plus no one wanted to cook last night...

The thing is, the taste of home made garlic bread is exponential to the amount of effort required to make it and easily beats anything one can buy. But butter is not the sole secret of garlic bread, it is the holy trinity of butter, garlic and parsley that gives it character.

Holy trinities of ingredients pop up time and again in many of the great cuisines, giving identity and a certain feeling to a dish - butter, garlic and parsley is pure French, but think of a Spanish sofrito of garlic, onion and tomatoes, an Italian soffrito of onions, celery and carrots and Creole cooking is dependant upon bell pepper, onion and celery. All these different trinities are the foundation upon which many of the great dishes of the world are built, that speak of particular nations or ethnicity.

But for sheer pungency, the only other thing that comes close to the combination of butter, garlic and parsley is its close Italian cousin gremolata, a mixture of garlic, parsley and finely grated lemon peel, commonly used at the last moment to give a fragrant lift to osso bucco, which requires a restrained hand in order to not overdo it.

Not so with butter, parsley and garlic, to use it is to celebrate life* and one needs to be generous with it. It's not just the soul of garlic bread, think of earthy snails, swimming in garlicky juices or a long cooked stew that is freshened up and given a golden sheen. Or, you could try this.

Grilled Mussels

1kg mussels
splash of dry white wine
200g butter, softened
4 or 5 cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
breadcrumbs

Scrape the mussels and pull off the beard. Heat a large pan until very hot, put in the mussels and a splash of wine. Put on the lid and cook over a fierce heat, giving an occasional shake, until the mussels just open. Remove the mussels and reduce the leftover juices until there is about 2 tablespoons. While it is reducing, remove one half of the mussel shells and arrange the mussels in their half shells on a metal tray. When the liquid is reduced, strain it into a bowl with the butter, parsley and garlic and mix well. Take teaspoons of this mixture and place on top of each mussel, then sprinkle on some breadcrumbs. Heat a grill to high and slide the mussels under until the breadcrumbs are just brown. Serve with some crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.

*If you prefer your butter shared with a friend, whilst listening to Funky Cold Medina, you are celebrating life too...you're just not cooking.
 
  posted at 8:51 am
  6 comments



Monday, April 07, 2008
Preserving Jars
I've just had an enquiry as to where one might find preserving jars in Melbourne. A quick phone call to The Essential Ingredient, who stock both screw lid and rubber seal jars, revealed that they have just received a new shipment of stock. If you do any preserving, you know what great news that is, as preserving jars of any sort can be very hard to come by.

The Essential Ingredient, Prahran Market, Elizabeth Street, 9827 9047

Hot Cheapskate Tip: If you don't mind a bit of variety in your jars, simply wash and store jars that you have used up the contents of, like jam and pickle jars and hey presto, after a short while, you will have all the preserving jars you need. Virtually any jar can be recycled this way.
 
  posted at 3:57 pm
  9 comments



Friday, April 04, 2008
To A Long Life
Having pitched my previous post regarding fat to an editor and receiving cautious interest, my article was turned down on submission. No, I haven't been away sulking, rather, I've been trying to discern the difference between blogging and writing for mainstream publications. Towards that end I've asked a couple of published writers for their thoughts on the matter and have even signed up for a course on food writing.

It would seem to me that it is not enough to be just able to write, there seems to be a small matter of discipline in writing as well, in that one needs to know when to rein in the words, as very often, less is more - word limits. There is also a certain structure that needs to be observed, depending on what type of article you're writing.

My current lack of posting doesn't mean that I've suddenly run out of topics, they are still coming thick and fast, it's more a matter of arranging them in a different way to satisfy the needs of editors, there is even some homework to be done on that.

The Council of Adult Education course I'm doing, called Eating Write, after one week only is certainly opening my eyes to a different world and wasn't exactly what I expected in either content or classmates. There are about a dozen of us and include people who work in food, people who are interested in food and three food bloggers.

We all had to give a little talk about ourselves and the one thing that cropped up again and again, was the word passionate when talking about their interest in food. It was funny sitting there and hearing people's passion, for it's one emotion I don't exactly have with food. I'm far from knocking this feeling in regards to food and I certainly get why people may have it, but for me, my thing with food is an endless fascination and it was only in this last week I discovered how very little I actually know about it, which came as something of a shock.

While watching Gary Rhodes new series, Rhodes Across India (LifeStyle FOOD, Tuesdays, 8.30pm), an alarming epiphany hit. I know virtually nothing about one of the most popular cuisines in the world. To make matters worse, I know roughly the same amount regarding Chinese cookery, probably the most popular cuisine in the world. Don't get me wrong, I do know certain things about them, but not to the same extent that I know other, most notably European, cuisines.

I need to see my doctor in a hurry; I think I need to live to about 500 or so.
 
  posted at 10:44 am
  9 comments



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