Sunday, January 31, 2010

Free Pork? What to do?

As you know, the yum yummers were recently enjoying the launch of the new Food Bloggers category of the Australian Media Food Awards at La Mint, hosted by The Australian Pork Corporation. The goodie bags were mouthwatering and generous, and each of us took home a couple of luscious looking Murray Valley pork loins, and trays of delicious rosemary pancetta.

I am a bit of a pork lover (and don't we ALL love a well done Pork Belly?), however I will say I'm a bit hit and miss with my cooking of pork. As with everything, I think part of that equation in this is the quality of the pork. After trying the Murray Valley pork, I suspect I won't be buying anything else! Surely it can't be fail-proof (or should that be fool-proof? ha ha), but this loin was was so easy to handle and even came through shining after my usually distracted way of cooking dinner. I was incredibly happy with the result.

Firstly, I made a simple marinade of honey, seed mustard and soy. I didn't use just any honey, I used my deeply toffee coloured honey, direct from the bee-keeper, John Donvito.

I used to buy generic brands of honey from the supermarket, but since buying a whole lot of jars of John's honey at a roadside stall in Galston a few months ago, will probably never do so again (unless he's not there again for while...don't leave me John!!). I always thought honey was a purely natural product, made by bees, and not tweaked very much by the brands that packaged it. Now having tried the other style, I guess I'll be doing
some research into what the big brands actually do with the honey and if they add anything to it? Another blog perhaps?

Anyway, I'm convinced there is a very big difference between the two varieties, and will bend John's ear about it next time I catch him. I don't think that'll be a problem, he loved a chat and was happy to talk honey last time.

Ok, honey check, seed mustard...was generic and fine, soy, all mixed with a little dab of oil. Pork in, not for long as I was throwing this together after work and the kids were hungry! Whilst the marinating was underway, I flicked on the oven to 180, and tossed together some assorted green leaves I picked up at the Asian supermarket, a nicer mix than the usual supermarket variety.

I seared both sides of the pork in a hot frypan, just to seal them, then quickly put them back in the baking dish with the marinade and cooked them for 15 minutes with no lid. I just had time to set the table and get everyone sorted, before removing the pork to rest under foil for 10 minutes before carving slices and stacking it on top of the leaves. I dribbled the remainder of the marinade over the top as dressing and voila! I had a warm pork salad ready to serve.

The pork was succulent, sweet, soft and yummy. It was a perfect light dinner for a warm evening. Friday nights we are usually all tired and uninterested in dinner, but there wasn't a skerrick to be seen on any of the four plates! I'm sold. Murray Valley pork is a nothing short of a sensation!

Oh, I shouldn't forget the pancetta, we served that cold with a salad the following day for lunch and thought it was beautiful. The kids were less enamoured with the "black stuff" in the middle, so I think we'll stick with plain pancetta for them next time. Hubby and I have always been porchetta lovers as well, so this is just another choice for another day in our book! If you haven't seen the new Pork ad, check it out !

Over to YaYa here

This is what I did with my Murray Valley pork but first (cue lecture mode) being of the curious researcher type in my day job, and having been introduced to Murray Valley pork chops by my local butcher a couple of years back (who enthusiastically called it the Wagyu of pork and yes it is more expensive than the regular variety) I wondered exactly why the pork was always so tender and juicy, was it a special breed of extra fatty pig, what the farmers fed the pigs or was it the way the meat was processed?
A quick google search reveals the the meat is the product of a company called Rivalea Australia based in the Riverina town of Corowa. According to their website the secret is in the processing of the meat. Murray Valley Pork is brined for you in advance. This is a technique of soaking the meat in a salty solution akin to marinating which locks in the moisture ensuring a tender product. You can do this to any ordinary unbrined meat or poultry but having it pre-brined from the butcher does carry a greater convenience! The brining process doesn't appear to make the pork particularly salty, I guess I would have to cook it without any flavouring to see what it tastes like, perhaps it's only a mild solution as any flavour I add to the cooking process is not exaggerated!

I marinated my pork in lemon infused and plain olive oil, Murray River pink salt, white pepper, some rosemary and a gorgeous saffron flavoured marmalade I had on hand.

A quick pan fry to brown the outside and then popped into a hot oven for about 15 mins

before serving with a mango salsa (mango, red onion, coriander and sweet chili sauce) and some baby potatoes which had been steamed, sprinkled with salt and pepper and olive oil and crushed with a potato masher and sprinkled with nigella seeds before baking.

Thank you to Australian Pork for the opportunity to try out this new recipe! The pork was tender and perfectly cooked, the marmalade adding a slightly bittersweet caramelised bite to the meat which was delicately perfumed by just enough rosemary. The Montecatini rosemary pancetta which we also received in our take home packs was just so good eaten out of the packet, we didn't do anything with it except serve it up with some sourdough bread!

Hey readers, Lobo here

Congratulations for getting this far. I know it's a long post so I'll try to keep this short but when it comes to pork Yaya's Yummers have a lot to say! A Homer Simpson quote sums up my feelings about this amazingly versatile meat quite nicely.
Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Lisa: No.
Homer: Ham?
Lisa: No!
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal!
Homer: Heh, heh, heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
Yes Homer a wonderful, magical animal indeed and especially magical when it is received as a gift. So what did I do with the rosemary pancetta? Pan fried pancetta wrapped asparagus with poached eggs anyone?

I tried poaching eggs once before with terrible results and have stayed away from the cooking technique since, always using the more forgiving methods of scrambling and sunny side up. But under the tutelage of Youtube instructional videos, I thought I would give it another go.

I missed the centre of the swirling water a couple of times so the egg white didn't wrap around the yolk but luckily the yolk stayed intact during plating up. I loved the combination of the creamy egg yolk, the salty crispness of the pancetta and the crunch of nicely blanched asparagus. One asparagus hating guest suggested that next time I should replace the foul weed with fried sourdough bread stick soldiers and serve it up for breakfast.

The last couple of weeks have been filled with talk about pork. It seemed to be a consensus with most that their favourite part of the pig is the belly. I just couldn't resist going out and buying some organic pork belly and attempting my fathers crackling pork.

The process requires 2 days of curing with a dry rub so you need to think in advance for a dinner party but it's well worth the wait, the result being a light, extremely crunchy crackling that is brittle and yields easily to your molars. Another success story for pork!

Friday, January 29, 2010

EXTREME Snack Food! (Not for the faint-hearted!)

Cue the theme from Jaws!

No, these are not the preserved embryos of some poor pre-historic creature nor are they wrapped in an inner layer of plastic as I was sure they still were when we squeezed them out of their vacuum sealed foil packaging.

As far as packaged snack foods go, I'm sure if I looked hard enough, I'd find some much more exotic entries in the many countries which I have yet to visit.

But I think the Fuzhou Weng Cai Ji Foods Co., Ltd in China (you may want to read on after you click the link, it takes a while to load!) may have stumbled onto something! It's a company which deals mainly in packaged nuts and seeds but has a delightful sideline in prepared meat. And how wonderful our local store decided to stock them!

Always on the look-out for something to tickle my funny bone, Yaya came back excitedly from her visit to one of our many Asian grocery stores armed with these standard plastic pouches.

They turned out to be Duck Feet, Duck Tongue and (from a different company) Chicken Wings! Just a slight variation from your standard packet of Twisties! He he!

The back of the Duck Feet pack helpfully shows in full iconic detail when you might wish to consume these little goodies, as in, on your next flight! I can just see the expressions of the flight staff as you pull out your 4-pack of Duck Feet or your 10-pack of Duck Tongues.

So how does it taste I hear you ask?!!

Anyone who has been to Yum Cha (and who doesn't have an aversion to eating chicken's feet) will be familiar with the double-cooking process which brings out the gelatinous goodness to be found within the folds of skin and sinew, whether it be the soft red predominantly black bean/soy and chilli variety or the crunchy plain gingered white ones. In a nutshell, you either like poultry feet or you don't. These aren't going to sway you if you can't stomach the idea.

[To support the seemingly world-wide "ewww" factor, while by no means an exhaustive search, the internet is not inundated by recipes for how to prepare chicken's feet but Asian Online Recipes has one and Recipezaar has Golden Phoenix Claws the "floral" name for the dish! I will note that neither recipe mentions cleaning the tough outer skin of the feet off but this blog, helpfully titled "How to Prepare Chicken Feet" does!]

Getting back to how it tastes, first of all, they can't compare with the fresh hot variety. That said, I can honestly say (and this is supported by my fellow tasters) that the Duck Feet at least are actually quite addictive! The flavouring is damned authentic and although gelatinised and cold, the spices really hold their own. The texture is crisp and they taste briny with a hint of chilli. They are a little more anaemic than pictured on the packaging but let's face it, who would buy them if they looked like they actually do?!

Each outer pack contains 4 further vacuum sealed packs, a waste of packaging to my mind as it's very easy to eat 4 in one sitting. (I can't believe that my stomach is growling as I write this and I don't have one at hand!)

The Duck Tongues, while also flavourful, are a bit of a chore. I wasn't aware (why would anyone need to know this?!) that duck tongues are full of bones so no matter how small your bite you will crunch into a piece of bone after which you will be forced to use fingers to separate bone from meat. They are tiny and individually packed (boo! for the environment!) and almost not worth the effort (except to say that you've tried it!).

The Chicken Wings taste good as well and amazingly are manufactured by a company a few streets away from where I work (I clearly don't explore my home turf well enough!). The outer pack contains an inner plastic pack containing a single serving of 4 pieces. There was a worrying degree of pinkness as I got close to the bones on these but all of us who sampled them are still here to tell the tale so they've obviously been properly cooked and packaged.

And what if you just can't picture yourself eating one of these let alone a bagful? My tip is: forget everything I've just said and just close your eyes!

Bon(e) appetit!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The great Birthday Cupcake EXTRAVAGANZA!

Well, the firstborn is eight years old, and although this year she wanted a party, the idea of trying to get it organised in the last few days of the school holidays got me all in a lather. I am a motivated and dedicated mother (well, I like to think I am anyway), but I just couldn't manage to pull it off after a very active and busy 5 weeks. Alternatives had to be offered that would assuage the little miss, and I quickly realised that, at eight, it wasn't as easy to put her off the idea as easily as it was only a year ago! What to do? We settled on a horseriding expedition which was our "special activity" and on the actual day, we headed off to my sisters house for some one-on-one time with her fave aunty decorating cupcakes! Its a young girls dream come true (actually I think my sister really got a kick out of it too and she no longer technically qualifies as a "young girl"! Definitely young at heart though!). My sister has recently become a grandmother, and being a creative soul, has grasped the childrens party cake "thing" whole-heartedly. Once in the possession of a Womans Weekly Kids cake book, she was inspired and ready to roll. One thing about my sister though is she never ever EVER does things to the letter, there is always some little tweak, some little change that she has to make to improve a recipe, pattern, or activity. It makes me laugh. So, the day arrived. We headed off to her house, a good hours drive North of Sydney, for the great cupcake extravaganza. My sister had pre-baked dozens of itty bitty cupcakes, and had set out all the decorations in neat NEAT lines, and pre-mixed the icing colours before we arrived so all that had to be done was a quick gift giving, a quick cup of tea, and STRAIGHT INTO THE CUPCAKE MAKING. We began with the little teacups (my favourite) made from tick tock biscuits, marshmallows, freckles and fizzers, all stuck together with icing suger. They looked beautiful and incredibly cute lined up on the lacy trimmed plate. Then was the green frogs with the googly eyes. Green icing, tinsy marshmallows, and choc bits. I loved these 3-d looking creatures. Yellow pussy cats with licorice whiskers, which I loved but they weren't as popular as licorice isn't a fave with my kids. Blue icing "spiders", purple butterflies with "freckles" for wings, but the peace de resistance of course was the very very girlie pink iced cupcakes, with hand made pink roses, and pink edible glitter. Feminine, pretty, and cute to-boot. We made more of these than any other, and we ATE more of these than any others! Who would have ever thought that we needed edible glitter in our lives? Next was fairy bread and kids. After the fun of putting together the cakes, we had to share them, who better than to share with our little cousins? Ava, Cody and Lincoln came to visit and to help devour the feast. A bit of hide-and-seek, and chasings ensued to work off all that sugar (and glitter no-doubt!), a short dig in the dirt, and the celebration was complete. The firstborn had a ball! Mission accomplished. Once the kids went home for a sleep, my sister, myself and my kids zipped off to the local beach for some fun in the sun. What a perfect birthday and I'm eternally grateful to my sister for organising so much fun for the firstborn to enjoy. I think she'll remember this birthday for a long time yet. This isn't the first time my sister has made a serious batch of cakes either, I have included pictures of past batches which included red ladybirds, more pink piggies, fishies and bugs. I'm loving the revival of the cupcake, and hope that we have many further years yet of enjoying them! Happi eating!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

LA MINT RESTAURANT & BAR - East Sydney: Launch of Food Bloggers Award by Australian Food Media Awards

What a nice way to spend a warm Sydney evening...champagne, funky canapes, a bunch of foodies and a free porking!

This was the way I spent last Thursday night at the launch of the Australian Food Media Awards' new food bloggers category for their 2010 awards. I welcomed the little frisson of excitement when the invitation arrived. Another blogging event - what fun!

How very exciting that the blogging community has grown to such a size and visibility that the Australian food writing professionals formerly known as the Food Media Club of Australia, feel they should officially recognise the medium, and how great that the mighty Australian Pork Corporation have put their money where their mouth is by sponsoring the award. I'm looking forward to the nominations and subsequent awards night, and am really excited to be part of the process in its infancy.

The night began well, (I was having flashbacks to the Jenius book launch where the screamingly hot day ended in a mega storm that gave me such grief getting to the event), and I managed to make my way to East Sydney with no real issues. Only a little after the 6.30 deadline, I managed to glide in, and was the proud guardian of a champagne flute fizzing with Grandin within literally SECONDS. Way to go baby!

I managed to find my fellow yum yummers quickly amongst the fray and after our quick hello's turned to greet an unknown couple who turned out to be the delightful Liz and Ian Hemphill, founders of Herbies Spices. What an interesting and easy-to-chat-to couple they are. Ian, it turns out is also the Chair of Judges for the Australian Association of Food Professionals and, although not judging the awards this year (due to his own book entry in the 2010 awards), is usually instrumental in the process. (Disclosure: Yaya is rather addicted to Herbie's Fragrant Sweet Spice which is the secret to better gingerbread and Ian says it is great on porridge!)

(NOTE: Also worth noting that Ian Hemphill has stood down as Chair of Judges for the Australian Food Media Awards 2010 to avoid any possible conflict of interest. Yaya's Yummers wish Ian the best of luck this year. We'll be rooting for you! Or porking for you??) Note added by Lobo.

After a quick chat our attention was drawn to Stewart White, President of the Association, on the microphone welcoming us to the event. Stewart has been promoting food and wine for 26 years, and also writes "the digestive tract" and is a great believer in the power of the food blog. Not only that, we also gleaned later in the evening, he has a penchant for green tree frogs! Another interesting man!

Next was Liam Silk who was the representative from Australian Pork announcing the exciting news that they will be proudly sponsoring the inaugural Food Bloggers Award as well as launching their highly entertaining new Pork Ad onto YouTube live. The ads use the old "get some pork on your fork" hook, but go one step further in the cheeky stakes with a wife telling her girlfriends conspiratorially that she "porked" her husband last night and thinks she'll do it again tonight! Very funny. I'm sure it will appeal to the Aussie sense of humour, and will certainly be a campaign to remember.

On top of this, we were shown the goodie bags that had been supplied by Australian Pork for each of us, which had us all salivating and wondering how we could do our pork. It included some super tasty Rosemary stuffed pancetta (we had ours simply with salad for dinner the following night) and a perfectly plump and pink Murray Valley pork loin which, I have also cooked up tonight and was impeccable! Yummo!

As all this was going on, wait-staff laden with trays were at every turn. The location was La Mint Restaurant, a French/Vietnamese place which has been serving East Sydney locals for the last four years. I hadn't heard of it before, but will certainly visit again. Not being on the main drag, it doesn't get many walk-ins, so the fact that its been alive and kicking for four years, means they have returning diners or word-of-mouth clients which is always a good sign.

Back to the canapes, trays of Papillotes aux deux fromages or Camembert and Cream Cheese Wontons, Vine Beef Rolls, Pave de Porc or Caramelised Pork Belly which melted in the mouth, spoons overflowing with Banana Flower Chicken Salad, lashings of Grandin sparkling, we also enjoyed refreshingly cold Vietnemese 333 beers (perfect for the hot balmy night), and delicious non alcoholic lime juices with crushed ice and mint. Not too sweet, and extra refreshing. We had decided early in the evening to stick around for a meal, and were delighted to be offered a generous discount (we had also been given a discount voucher on arrival for later use) for any bloggers dining.

The event was slow to wind up, no one wanted to leave, but eventually, most of the bloggers happily skipped out the door laden with their little insulated bags of Australian Pork, some skipping speedily to release their blogs. The tables were put back into position and the regular diners filled the restaurant. Now for the real business of eating. Although not particularly hungry, as the canapes were copious and frequent, we found we were all pulled towards dishes on the menu (and all wanted to try the Beef seven ways..alas this takes two hours so we will have to return for that particular delight). We started with Escargots a la mint which was huge snails baked in the shell with tomato, chilli and mint. Not the usual garlic butter, so it was a nice change. This was served with cute little baguettes to soak up the buttery kind of entree.

Next was Pancake a la Mint a delicately flavoured coconut pancake stuffed with prawns, mung beans and vegetables. This came with a really nice variety of green salad leaves including some peppery Nasturtium leaves which really made the dish for me! I have them growing my garden and love to add both the flowers and leaves to my salads. Chilli Pepper Soft Shell Crab was a great big pile of salty crispy deliciousness. We made short work of it all very very quickly, so for some un-hungry bloggers we did rather well. But wait..there was more! Saigon Crispy Chicken with tamarind sauce. We were absolutely delighted that the proprieter Leanne Lai, INSISTED that we were brought EXTRA SAUCE. It was piquant and zingy, and perfect for the succulent chicken and that skin really was crispy!

Oxtail a la Bourguignonne came next, with zucchini, mushrooms and carrots. Really soft and flavoursome, I loved this one. Ok, at this point, we all had a quick discussion, I say quick because although a little weary we all agreed on the one point, and that was to continue with desserts! We couldn't come this far and not try at least some of them. We decided on three to share, as to have more would be quite piggish (excuse the pun..oink oink), and we found that one of the three we wanted wasn't available, so we shared a serving of Devil Chocolate which was incredibly rich. A little too much for me, but stunningly chocolatey, it was Dark Chocolate Ice Cream with Cognac and Chocolate Sauce. Lucky we shared, this was amazingly strong flavoured and they weren't sparing with the Cognac either! Poles apart from this, we chose Caramelised Sweet Potato which was crispy fried shavings of sweet potato on Vanilla Ice Cream with Cinnamon Syrup. What an amazing combination. I loved all the elements separately, and was amazed that together they worked beautifully. Who would think it? Crispy fried sweet potato, soft sweet ice cream, and warm syrup..? I love the concoctions that creative foodies come up with.

Right, that done..we simply HAD to leave. It was now late, and there was only one other table of bloggers left. It had been a very long and satisfying night, so thanking our hosts, Stewart White, Leanne and Yardley Kyling (who does the PR for a swag of other restaurants as well as La Mint), we gathered up our Pork bags, and fled into the night. Being well after late night shopping, we felt happy in the thought of a quick drive home..alas, this was not to be.

The city was gridlocked, every exit was banked up with cars trying to get across the Harbour Bridge. There was work being done, and exits had been closed, we couldn't BELIEVE the effort and time it took to get out of town. Finally, happy and full, we all got to our destinations and to a well-deserved sleep.

La Mint Restaurant is found at 62-64 Riley Street, East Sydney. 9331 1818.