Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cheese Expectations

Bonjour monsieur, bonjour mademoiselle. Ca va? Making your own cheese. Who would have thought that was possible? Surely not I, until some extremely thoughtful friends presented me with a camembert making kit! Country Brewers is a small little shop next to Thornleigh station that supplies brewing equipment as well as sausage, jerky, and cheese kits.

Steps to make cheese. Create a starter. Add the starter to 7 litres of milk warmed to 32 degrees. Add rennet and allow to turn into curds and whey. Divide the curds into molds and turn repeatedly to drain out excess whey. Then you put them in a container and leave them at 9 to 15 degrees and wait for the mould to appear. C'est Tout!

It's a surprisingly simple process. All it takes is some common sense and a heck of a lot of patience. I created the mother of all double boilers to hold the 7 litres of milk and keep it at a constant 32degrees, for approx. 4 hours. Once the milk reached temperature I could turn off the stove and the double boiler did the rest so there's no messing around trying to keep the temperature consistent, even though I did compulsively check the temp every 10 minutes (hey it's my first batch of cheese, excuse me for being paranoid!).

So 4 hours later enter stage right, curds and whey. Before dicing it up into cubes as you can see here, it looked a lot like pannacotta (but didn't smell like it!). Scooping the curds into draining moulds which are just pvc pipes with holes drilled into the sides, then comes the hours of turning and turning which compacts the curds into a solid cottage cheese type consistency and drains out the excess whey.

The path of life has many twists and turns. Well on the journey of making your own cheese there are certainly more turns than anything else. Into the ripening container they go and daily turning is required until the cheese is
completely covered in the mould spores. If you
have ever sprouted alfalfa from seeds and cotton wool, ever grown your own mushrooms or owned a chia pet, you will understand the pride and pleasure that comes with cultivating your own little living wonders. Each tiny little white fluffy mould spore is becoming a soon to be tasty wonder of nature. Once they have completely developed, then you wrap them up and let the mould eat their way into the cheese to create that smooth creamy texture that we all know and love.

The aging process complete, I find myself sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch reflecting on the life of my cheese. Like most things, upon reflection, there are things that should have been done differently. There was a moisture problem from the start, using baking paper rather than the provided cellophane would probably have worked better. Take utter care when turning the cheese. If pieces start to fall away from the main body, they will turn into crusty brown pieces. Don't wait too long, you can see from the picture that it was over developed, which produced an intense, salty, mushroom flavour. Eat it fast and eat it early! Next time I will try it after 3 to 4 weeks. It doesn't have to be perfect, just shared with friends and enjoyed. Because that is what it's about. (Actually what it's all about for the first batch is surviving the experience which I can safely say I did).

Merci Beaucoup mon pote SMS for the french lessons. Much love.

Re-re-wind, when the crowd say Ko-pi Lu-lu-lu-wak-wak...

Defecation is not a term commonly associated with food and one should probably avoid incorporating such practices anywhere near foodstuffs. Yet whilst the thought of consuming brown products formerly encased within fecal matter is inconceivable to most, could regurgitation produce a warmer response?

Weasel coffee, similar to Indonesian civet coffee, is derived from Vietnamese civets regurgitating remnants of ingested red coffee berries which are considered to be superior due to reductions in bitterness. The resulting beans are sterilised then lightly roasted for retaining flavour.

So, how to approach this? If one can consider the beans as merely reversing out of the civet's gastric garage then regurgitation is clearly the lesser
of two evils. No bowel movements necessary!

On this occasion the Weasel coffee made was produced by Edible. Whiffs from an opened packet revealed rich chocolate and caramel notes which was promising; a very different aroma compared with Arabica beans. One cup of long black (americano) was brewed using an Aeropress.

The drink itself was smooth with zero acidity, bitterness and aftertaste. However, it was disappointing that the chocolate-caramel tones never reappeared in either taste or smell unless they were just that subtle. Sugar was added for the decaf drinkers; the sweetness overpowering any original flavour.

Several espresso shots made from regular Arabica beans were added to the remaining cup and then churned to make coffee ice cream. Yum.

So.. civet coffee. Reject it, embrace it, either way there'll always be some nutter willing to try something not quite right. Your immune system may eventually thank you for it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Forthcoming Flavour Trends?

Are Australians ahead of the game on future flavour trends? I found this article on trends in recessionary eating in the US carried out by Chicago-based market research firm Mintel. It predicted growth of bread and peanut butter sales and more making coffee at home.

The article also highlighted flavours that will become more popular over the coming year, but examing the list, the flavours don't seem to be that exotic for Aussie shoppers. Taking into account it is looking at trends for the US market, the only non common item for us would be cactus and that is because we don't have a large Latin American population.

FLAVOR TRENDS in the US for 2009

1. Persimmon: Viewed as a unique and exotic fruit, persimmon is poised to make a major splash in food and beverage, blended with more common fruits.

2. Starfruit: Another unusually shaped, distinctly flavored fruit, starfruit is catching on around the globe.

3. Lavender: Mintel expects lavender to move beyond the home and personal care categories and into food and beverage.

4. Cactus: Cactus is already a popular food flavor in Latin America.

5. Chimichurri: Another classic from Latin America, chimichurri is a sauce for grilled meats, recognized for its clean, clear flavor.

6. Peri-Peri: The African hot sauce is growing in popularity.

7. Masala: An extension of the curry trend, the next Indian-inspired flavor will be masala

What do you think? Will we be finding lavender as ubiquitous as truffle oil used to be in Sydney restaurants?

But look what I found at a stand at the recent Easter Show: Chimichurri

A lovely South American blend of parsley, garlic and a little chilli. They recommend you adding it as a condiment to steaks and other meats but I've been using it as a spread on toast and adding it to a pasta sauce as a handy nut free pesto substitute.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Day with the Kids at Sydney Tower Restaurant

Okay, from the start it wasn't about the food, having been a couple of times before, I knew the buffet would be pretty ordinary, it was all about showing a couple of kids what Sydney looked like from 300 metres up in the air and introducing them to their first revolving restaurant! Hey, if you're 7 and 4 it's a rite you have to go through in this family, hehe.

Given the times, we had to go through a metal detector to enter the lift to the restaurant, a couple of us set the alarm off with our collection of cameras, mobile phones, keys and other metallic paraphernalia. The attendants joked about bombs and inspected our handbags but still let us through!

And the view was worth it, looking at the rooftops of buildings we'd visited or worked in and seeing how green Sydney is after the recent rain, as well as the fun of watching the kiddies test that, yes, the floor was REALLY moving.

Having read all about how to behave at buffets, courtesy of NQN's Buffet 101 I knew to avoid the carbs and other fillers first. Here's how the restaurant managers want you to think the food's supposed to look like - peruse the images above the buffet area!

And what I collected was seafood-centric of course to get the best value for money, at $49.50 per adult head you'd want to make sure you were fully satisfied. Although we did get a $5 discount voucher each from a nice man handing them out at the entrance of what used to be the Centrepoint shopping centre, it's undergoing renovations at the moment and is a building site.

Service was friendly and helpful, admittedly there weren't a lot of customers to compete with, the restaurant being only about a quarter full and they were mostly tourists.

The buffet items were poorly labelled so you had to search a bit to see what you were helping yourself to. No problem in recognising big containers of oysters and prawns, although I had a small helping of what was called marinated chilli squid which was spicy but tough.

The pickled vegetables were very flavourful and wonderfully crunchy but oversalted, strangely, green olives in the mix tasted as if they'd been washed before being added. The oysters were okay but didn't taste particularly fresh, the prawns however were the standout item - not salty at all and had a very sweet plumpness to them. There seems to be a dob of what turned out to be babaganoush (eggplant dip) on my plate that was available in the salad area, not sure what it was suppose to accompany but it was a tad salty.

I'm afraid my appetite wasn't at all stimulated by the hot foods, there was a range of roasted meats, some tired looking roast beefs, hams and lamb and one poor lump of what was purported to be kangaroo which looked like it'd been sitting in the campfire for about a week it was so overcooked. Accompanying this was a tray of dry looking roast vegetables. Sorry no photos but frankly I couldn't be bothered.

I chose instead, a small tasting selection of what I thought might be appetising. As you can see, it wasn't much. Avoided the greasy and wan looking dim sum, which E said was full of some vegetarian filler, avoided the teriyaki chicken which looked like a stew, and the spring rolls and the pasta salad and the...oh never mind.
I ended up getting a little white rice with some Thai yellow curry sauce, some butter chicken sauce ( I can't stand the meat that comes with them, usually very stringy bits of chicken breast cooked to death) 2 small Arancini balls (leftover balls of risotto dipped in crumbs and deep fried), a couple of pappadams and added some mango chutney and raita drizzled strategically over an onion bhaji. Hmm, does there appear to be an Indian theme happening here? There were also 2 tiny wagyu sausages which were the prize pick of the day I think, apart from the succulent prawns. Maybe I just like sausages but these were simple yet flavourful and didn't taste like they were full of fillers.
I liked them so much I went back and got another one and stuffed it into a mini breadroll to make a sandwich! No tomato sauce available, only HP, Tabasco, sweet chilli and soy sauce so I just enjoyed the roll and sausage by itself.

Dessert was also uninspiring, a small selection of tarts and mini lamingtons (that and the kangaroo were the only menu items which shouted "Australian"), two different types of custard filled profiteroles - as you can see in the photo, the strawberry flavoured custard one was iced to look like a lamington, very strange.
There were small cubes of brownies and every now and again, tubs of vanilla gelato (which tasted very gritty as if it had been stored at the wrong temperature for too long) would appear. The fruit salad was chilled and had some nice pieces of pineapple but the watermelon was tired looking and the honeydew cubes were not ripe whereas the rockmelon was overipe. Don't even talk to me about the coffee. I went to Starbucks for a frappuccino afterwards.

But as I said, today wasn't about the food, it was about the company and giving kids on holiday a little treat to remember. I think we managed to achieve that. Racing around the circumference of the dining area without interference from the staff was certainly memorable and the kids learnt that in a circle, if you keep going, you eventually end up where you started!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Borderland Mexican Restaurant, Crows Nest

What do you do if there are 6 of you and you want to celebrate S's birthday on a rainy Easter Monday in Sydney and most of us need to go to work in the morning? Why head to Crows Nest of course and check out what's open. Quite a lot of places it seems but what appealed and what we all wanted to try was a Mexican place which according to J has been around for a long time.

A quick look at the menu and it seems obvious that what we're going to get is the fairly plain and simple Mexican food that most Sydneysiders have been brought up to be familiar with, nachos, quesadillas, enchiladas and fajitas etc but sometimes on a humid wet Easter night, that's what you want: friends, a drink or two and something as familiar and comforting as fried rice with lots of white pepper from the local Chinese takeaway (hehe, don't complain about non sequiturs, my blog, my comfort food!)

We arrived fairly early but the tables filled up rapidly, service was a little slow but friendly and we were in no hurry. The food when it arrived was appetizing and filling. First a plate of condiments: onion, tomato and coriander salsa (pico de gallo - is this not one of THE great flavour combinations, right up there with tomato and basil), guacamole and a huge mound of sour cream, full fat no less! Containers of warm tortillas came next, although I found with beans, rice AND tortillas it was carb overload time!
S had the mini beef and bean burritos

J ordered the beef fajita and C the lamb fajita

The other S who was not the birthday S, and K and I had chilli and drunken prawns respectively.

I can't speak for the others but my prawns, 6 large ones, cooked in a white wine, garlic and shallot sauce were delicious! I skipped wrapping the lot in a tortilla but mixed some of the juices with the flavoured rice and salsa and guacamole (yes, and the full fat sour cream) and was still dipping a finger in the garlicky sauce at the end of the meal.

Happy Birthday S, hope it turns out to be a great year!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Mean Fiddler, Rouse Hill

This should have been one of my first post / attempts of food blogging. I totally forgot that I took photos of "food glorious food". Oops Anyhoo :P

I haven't been to the Mean Fiddler in years. It used to seem so far away, in the middle of no where, and it felt that you were driving to the country for a beer / steak. Things have changed. They've whacked one of the largest shopping centres in the southern hemisphere next to it and colonized the acres of grassland with new housing. The Mean Fiddler has also franchised from just being a cozy old pub. It now has a bottle shop, a fish & chip shop and a charcoal chicken shop all under its name in buildings surrounding the pub. With new kiddies playground we had to venture a food exploration...

Gotta love pub-grub. Good man-sized steaks, a cold beer, and live music just makes you wanna grunt with joy. After all that hype about being in a pub environment The W went all girlie and ordered the Salmon with balsamic reduction ($24.00). It did look very good though, and she did give it the thumbs up. Crispy skin with a flakey center really harmonized with the light spinach salad and the balsamic dressing.

I on the other hand embraced the pub environment *grunts*and went for the only acceptable meal ...Steak!! Admittedly I wussed out on the 700grm T-bone *hangs head in shame*and went for the 400grm T-bone steak ($29.00) served with potato mash and English dumpling smothered with pepper sauce.

The steak was cooked to perfection. Juicy and soft with small bits of charcoal burnt bits around the rind/fat. The mash was really creamy and there was quite a bit of it too!! The only thing I wasn't sure of was the English dumpling. I'm used to my dumplings wrapped in rice or egg pasta and stuffed with pork or seafood and steamed :P The English dumpling was a piece of soggy bread, kind of like a profiterole only without it's chocolatey, custardy goodness (would have preferred a profiterole - mmmm!!) It was very plain in taste and I wasn't sure if it should have tasted sour so I left it on the side of the plate and opted to polish off the rest of the mash.

Overall we thought the meals were quite pricey but I think that's due to the evolution where pub-grub meets fine dining. On weekends there's live music and the clown that comes to your table and entertains the kids with balloon art. MiniB got a balloon poodle made up and a Pooh Bear sticker - she was really excited about that!! You can see the poodles tail next to my steak in the photo above. We finished the day with a Oreo cookie ice-cream from the old fashioned ice cream parlor adjoining the pub (oops - forgot to take a photo).

Till next time...we eat!!