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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Saturday, May 30, 2009
Perfect, Really?
I was somewhat disturbed last night, when chef George Calombaris on MasterChef Australia said that red wine sauce should be silky smooth, like “velvet knickers”. Has he just revealed a side to himself that could have only be guessed at?

In fact I could handle that about Calombaris, but what left me dismayed and perturbed was his masterclass on how to make the perfect chip. The perfect chip? Perfect?

Only hours earlier, I read in this month's edition of Gourmet Traveller how to make perfect roast potatoes.

Perfect food is everywhere and it's driving me nuts.

I suppose we could blame Heston Blumenthal for this plethora of perfection. After all, it was his program, In Search of Perfection, where practically everything, or it may have even been everything he cooked, was proudly pronounced perfect.

But what does it really mean, a perfect dish? What is the subtext?

Does it mean that there is no need to look any further, for the definitive recipe has been laid at your feet? It can't possibly, it was only a few short years ago that Blumenthal stunned the world by blanching his chips in water before frying them off, in fact, what Calombaris showed us what a shortened version of that, less the probes, exact temperatures and timing.

Before that, the perfect chip would have been the twice fried version, but even that wasn't enough for some. A friend's dad used to fry his chips ten times before he considered them worthy.

Perfection has always been a moving target.

The problem with describing a dish as perfect is that it suggests that there is no possible way to do any better and as a latent adapter of recipes, that's a thought that ought to be consigned to the garbage. All cooks know that cooking is an intuitive process, hand a recipe to ten different cooks and you will get ten different results and how those results are perceived is totally up to the individual.

Sure, there are better cooks than others, but a cook capable of producing perfect food is a laughable idea.

I wonder what a food critic like Matt Preston actually thinks when he hears a dish described by a chef as perfect?

Probably something like, 'You stick to the cooking, I'll do the describing.'

Perfect, bah, humbug.
  posted at 2:12 pm

My Ragout of Snails & Liquorice

The mysteriously disappeared photo, showing my version of a ragout of snails and liquorice, has just as mysteriously turned up.

Must be time for another snail dish.
  posted at 1:55 pm

Thursday, May 28, 2009
The Good Food Show

The Good Food Show is here again, with what seems to be a more serious foodie slant this time around. As a veteran of all previous exhibitions, it's an encouraging move in the right direction.

Gordon Ramsey is a return visitor as the headline attraction; with all his recent press one would hope that this time around it's all about the food rather than any titillating extra-curricular activities.

What has really caught my eye though is all the other talent lined up for the celebrity theatre. First up are those two boys of the moment, Gary Mehigan & George Calombaris, fresh from MasterChef, no doubt revealing a few insider secrets, as well as two more wonderful television personalities and great chefs in their own right, Matt Moran and Tobie Puttock.

Wine buffs haven't missed out either, Matt Skinner and Jane Faulkner are presenting amongst others, but if you want my real tip, then the Burgundy masterclass presented by Nick Stock and a friend of this blog, Phillip Rich from the Prince Wine Store, is a must see.

With a restaurant, bar, a whole host of exhibitors, there is something for everyone. Go and see the USA Foods stand for amazing American products including a great range of chillies and sauces. Don't buy their flavoured popcorn, you'll be addicted for life!

To whet your appetites I have passes for two lucky people to enter the show and attend a cheese masterclass, on Saturday, 6th June at 10.00am, presented by Naomi Crisante, a food educator, television presenter and food writer. That's worth $57.50

All you have to do is to leave a comment saying why you'd like to go, or mention what you liked about other Good Food Shows. Winners will be drawn this coming Sunday night.

Good luck.

The Good Food Show, Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre, Queen's Birthday weekend, Friday 5th June, 12pm - 9pm, Saturday 6th June, 9am - 6pm, Sunday 7th June, 9am - 6pm, Monday 8th June , 9am - 5pm

Please note: because there isn't much time, just leave your name in comments and I will draw two winners Monday night instead of Sunday.
  posted at 8:40 pm

Sunday, May 17, 2009
Ragout of Snails and Liquorice

My good friend Elliot, from 1001 dinners 1001 nights, suggested it.

He had just been to a Langham Melbourne Masterclass, part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and attended the session, The secrets From My Jura, presented by two-star chef, Jean-Paul Jeunet, whose eponymous restaurant is in Arbois, part of the rolling, wooded mountains of the Jura in eastern France

Those who follow Elliot's blog know of his excellent palate, so when he excitedly showed me the recipe for Ragout of snails and liquorice, I knew it would be well worth trying, especially, as Elliot pointed out, it was a million miles from traditional snails served with copious amounts of garlic and butter.

Snails are an ancient ingredient, eaten for thousands of years in many parts of Europe, usually encountered served in a rustic manner. What Jeunet has done is to thoroughly modernise this shelled beast, removed from its peasant roots and placed firmly into the realms of haute cuisine.

A pertinent thing for those who aren't quite sure about eating snails, and there a quite a few of you, is that they are hidden from view in this dish, less confrontingly wrapped in a cabbage leaf, surrounded by a medley of chopped vegetables. At the table were two guests who had never eaten this tasty mollusc, one of whom had been pysching herself up for the preceding week! Both later described the dish as delicious.

If you can't find the liquorice powder called for, do what I did and use very finely chopped liquorice - be careful not to use too much as it has a very strong flavour.

Ragout of snails and liquorice
(adapted from Jean-Paul Jeunet)

Serves 4

25g butter
50g double cream
25g carrot, diced into a fine brunoise
25g turnip, diced into a fine brunoise
25g celery, diced into a fine brunoise
25g fennel, diced into a fine brunoise, save the feathery tops
32 tinned snails
1 tablespoon shallot, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, diced
4 green cabbage leaves
fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives and fennel tops)
2g liquorice powder or finely chopped liquorice
salt and fresh ground pepper


2ooml duck consomme or chicken stock
1 tablespoon Pernod
25g cold butter in 4 pieces


Cook each vegetable separately in salted water and drain. Rinse the snails and pat dry. Blanch the cabbage leaves in salted boiling water until soft and pliable, refresh in ice water, dry and keep aside.

Melt the butter in a frypan and gently sweat the shallot and garlic, do not colour. Add all the vegetables, snails, double cream and parsley, tarragon and chives, torn or roughly chopped and gently cook until the cream thickens and the ragout comes together. Season with salt, fresh ground pepper and liquorice powder or finely chopped liquorice.

Lay a blanched cabbage leaf, inside facing up, on a piece of plastic film. Place a quarter of the ragout mixture in the cabbage leaf and roll up tightly using the plastic film. Steam for 5 minutes. Reduce the duck consomme or chicken stock by at least half, add the Pernod, then whisk in the cold butter piece by piece, check seasoning.

In four warm plates, spoon some sauce and place the cabbage roll in the centre, garnish with a selection of the herbs.

The accompanying photo was taken by Elliot Rubenstein and is of Jean-Paul Jeunet's dish, as my photos have mysteriously disappeared.
  posted at 10:25 am

Monday, May 11, 2009
Sunnybrae Restaurant
It was a gorgeous sunny morning as we headed out to the rolling plains of the western district to celebrate Mother's Day at Sunnybrae restaurant on the outskirts of the tiny hamlet of Birregurra.

There was no scent of discord as we journeyed to George Biron's restaurant and cooking school with a long established reputation for excellence, leaning towards contemporary rustic food, which is such a hit with the locals as well as day trippers like us from the big smoke.

It's a large property with its own orchard and vegetable gardens and the restaurant itself is part of George's home, giving a relaxed feel with excellent views through large windows and plenty of knick knacks scattered around the dining room to catch the eye.

However, for me, a problem arose from the first taste of potato bread, yeasty and warm from the wood fired oven, spread with abundant fresh butter.

It was Mother's Day and all my attention was for the wonderful woman in my life and there was no way I was going to divert myself from the task of providing a perfect day, which was exactly what she deserved.

In short, no blogging. But upon tasting that bread, I flinched.

Alas for you dear reader, my will was strong and I resolved not to tell you any of the details of our meal that brought such great contentment and a not insignificant number of brownie points.

It's a shame I can't tell you about the fragrant chicken broth drizzled with eggy parmesan shards that disappeared all to soon. Nor would you want to hear about the tarama with green beans and carrots, plated with a tangle of salad leaves and topped with crispy fried garlic, pine nuts and breadcrumbs, a play on a Polonaise topping.

Should I reveal to you that I'm going to tie Mr Biron up until he reveals the secret of his lighter-than-air tarama with its extraordinarily delicate brininess that makes a mockery of any that have gone before under the name? Uh uh.

The on-the-spot smoked semi-soft cheese with home grown tomatoes in a creamy basil flavoured dressing will need to go unmentioned too.

Mellow and salty Spanish style jamon contrasted with a sharp Mexican inspired salsa of avocado, tomatillo and pomegranate is something you will just have to imagine as you will also have to do with the unlikely sounding but endearingly earthy flavours of a kohlrabi, parsnip and leek strudel with anchoiade.

I could tell you about the meltingly sticky slow braised goat shank with just enough deep flavoured jus to moisten things along, with any leftovers mopped up with a potato and shallot galette, but I won't.

Since I'm not telling you anything, there's no need to be reticent describing a bayleaf and honey panna cotta as trembling like a breast and having the sweet breath of a bride on her wedding night.

Sorry, I'm not able to tell about such a fabulous meal, no blogging is no blogging, though feeling a bit guilty and wanting to make it up to you, I'll allow for a one word review.


Sunnybrae Restaurant & Cooking School
Birregurra, 03 52362276
Lunch Saturday & Sunday from 12.30 pm
  posted at 10:37 pm

Friday, May 08, 2009
Who's The Judge?
The first contestant has been knocked out of MasterChef Australia, good-bye Melissa.

So do you think those tough and super experienced judges, Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan got it right?

Not a bit of it. In a pure Jerry Bruckheimer moment, it was the contestants who voted against one of their own.

So how would you feel if you went right through to claim the big prize? Probably elated for sure, but wouldn't there be a tiny nagging doubt that it wasn't industry professionals who judged you the creme de la creme, but you may have got the nod by using strategies straight from from a defunct television series and not superlative cooking skills?

Okay, perhaps I'm not the target audience, but this show has the look of a mongrel, spawned from the union of two shows, Survivor and Big Brother, whose collective times have passed.

Why can't they let the judges do what they're paid to do - judge?
  posted at 9:18 pm


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