Thursday, April 27, 2006

Olive and Rosemary Bread

There’s something deeply satisfying about making bread. Something about squelching all that dough in your hands and waiting for the miracle of yeast to work its magic … twice. Then the smell and rapture of freshly baked bread, steam rising as the knife crunches through the crust, cleaving the airy centre. Butter or oil soaking into the feathery dough. While any sort of bread is nice to make, and the antediluvian pleasures of its baking and eating quite universal, if I go to the effort I like to attempt something flavoured. I’ve always had a knack with yeast cooking. Yeast likes me and I like it, so we work well together. This one is particularly tasty – a slightly wet and pliable dough that makes a well-risen free-form, focaccia like loaf, bursting with some of my favourite flavours.
3 cups plain flour
¾ tablespoon of bread improver
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 sachet (8g) instant dried yeast
¼ cup olive oil
1 ¼ cups luke warm water
1/3 cup pitted black olives, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary spikes/leaves
2 tsp coarse salt extra.

Combine flour sugar yeast and salt in a bowl and pour the water and oil into a well in the centre. Stir to combine ‘til it comes together and turn out and knead for 4-5 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with cling wrap and stand in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size. Inch it back and knead again for a few minutes and form into a rough rectangle on a tray lined with baking paper. Stud the olives and rosemary over the top and leave to prove for 30 minutes. Brush the top with a little oil, spinkle the extra salt on top and bake at 220°C (fanforced) for about 15 minutes or until golden on top.

I also cut into very thin slices and toasted it the next day for a satisfying and crunchy snack with drinks.

(Recipe inspired by SFI March 2006).

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Crème fraîche and chive blini with soft smoked trout

A yummy little entrée or finger food type thing, you can top these blini with whatever takes your fancy. I chose one of my all time favourite products – Tetsuya’s Soft Smoked Petuna Ocean Trout – which you can buy from good suppliers, but I tend to get it frozen from De Costi’s at the Sydney Fish Market. You can pretty well rely on them stocking it. I’m a bit fussy with smoked salmon, often finding it too oily and fishy, but this product is light, sweet and definitely not overpowering. A little goes a long way and I think it’s top of the class in this category. This recipe is adapted from one that appeared in Super Food Ideas using wholemeal flour. I like the taste of buckwheat much more and it’s more traditional for blini.

1 ¼ cups of buckwheat flour
1 sachet (8 grams) instant dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
200 g crème fraiche (at room temperature)
1 cup warm milk
3 eggs, separated
½ bunch of chives, snipped or finely chopped.

100g crème fraîche extra and 2 tablespoons of finely chopped dill.
1 x 200 g packet of Tetsuya’s Soft Smoked Petuna Ocean Trout

Mix the flour, yeast and sugar and make a well in the centre. Mix in the crème fraîche, milk and egg yolks and whisk to form a batter. Cover with cling wrap and set aside in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until the batter starts to bubbles on the surface and it has increased in volume by half. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold into the batter in two lots along with the chives. Heat a non stick pan with a little butter and drop small spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan, then flip over when one side is cooked.

Mix the remaining crème fraîche with the dill and top each blini with a spoonful, followed by a small piece of ocean trout. Serve with a grind of pepper and lemon wedges.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Chocolate and Crème de Menthe Tart

It’s often said that chocolate and orange are a match made in heaven. It reminds me of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Everyone seems to approve of it, but I think there’s something fundamentally wrong. Jangly. Nervy. Unnatural. Not quite right. But chocolate and MINT – now you’re talking. Maybe it’s Freudian – I must have had a traumatic experience with a jaffa when I was little – but I really have it in for chocolate and orange. I am a radical mint chocolate advocate.

I wanted a luxe dessert that could be served in small slices and have the effect of everyone feeling they’d been deviously naughty at Easter with a choccie overdose. The mere mention of it sending guests weak at the knees with eyes rolling back in their heads through sheer delight at the thought of eating it. And here it is. It worked. The first person to walk through the kitchen upon spying it cooling just out of the oven, looked past the Lindt 70% eggs, fresh baked breads and piles of salmon, fixed it with a round eyed glance and said “WHAT”S THAT!!!!!!!” loud enough for all to hear. I spake it’s name. They sighed, looked heavenwards and said “ahhhwwweerrghhhoooo”…. My work here is done.

With a densely overpowering rich mint chocolate filling that’s smooth and cocoa-y, rather than sweet, and a pastry as light and short as a hobbit jockey, serve with a sprig of mint and cream whipped with a dash of crème de menthe. Interestingly, when I tasted the raw mixture (as you do) it didn't taste very minty and I thought I'd just end up with a chocolate tart. Well that's not so bad, really. But once cooked, the mint flavour intensified immensely to provide a clean counterbalance to the rich chocolate.

Pastry (do make your own for this – it’s worth it):
225g plain flour
40g icing sugar
125g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 egg yolks
Blitz flour, icing sugar and cold butter in a food processor until it’s the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Add egg yolks and process ‘til it comes together in a lump. If it looks dry add a few drops of cold water and blitz again. Dump onto cling wrap, encase in the wrap to form into a ball, and refrigerate for at least 30 mins. Take the cold pastry out of the fridge and roll onto a piece of baking paper. Lay another piece on top and continue rolling until it’s big enough to fit a greased 27cm loose-bottomed flan tin. Fit it into the tin and press into the edges and smooth out. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes. (Pastry tip: don’t trim the edges, but leave ½-1 cm above the edge of the tin. Refrigeration will help stop it shrinking, the extra pastry will help if it does happen to shrink, and if it scorches on second baking you have enough overlap to trim off the scorched bits for a clean-edged professional finish to your tart. Also, reserve a thumb sized piece of raw pastry in case a crack or split appears after baking it. You can patch it up before putting in the filling so it won’t leak out).

Line with baking paper and fill with beans or pastry weights and bake at 180°C for 10 minutes. Remove weights and paper and bake for a further 5 minutes until the base is dry and crisp. Leave to cool before pouring in the filling.

6 eggs
320 mls thickened cream
180g good quality chocolate – I used Valrhona Le Noir Gastronomie 61%
4 tbsp cocoa – Valrhona for me again (100% Cocoa, 0% Sugar, 21% Fat Content, Dutch Processed)
80 mls Crème de Menthe

Melt the chocolate and allow to cool. Combine cream, eggs, chocolate, cocoa and Crème de Menthe in a bowl and beat or whisk to combine. Pour into the tart shell and bake at 180°C for 20-25 mins or until the filling is just set. (Tip: don’t pour all the filling into the tart before putting it in the oven. Place it in half full and pour the rest in as it’s sitting on the shelf. That way you can fill it to the brim without risking an ugly bench-to-oven transfer spill. Also, keep a watch on the timing. Don’t overcook the filling or it won’t be as moist). Cool to room temp, don’t refrigerate, and serve. Die happy.

* recipe credit to Delicious mag from quite a few years ago.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Malsouka: Tunisian Brik Pastry

I love exotic ingredients. I’d never seen this pastry before (purchased at the Essential Ingredient) so it was an absolute must buy and try. The helpful chap at EI said it was a bit like Asian spring roll pastry to use – which was sort of true – but I think it’s quite different in texture and flavour. It doesn’t need to be frozen and it’s a little more like a stiff crepe, and less pliable or stretchy than spring roll pastry. There’s a website for the importers, but it doesn’t tell you much about what to do with them.

Coming from Tunisia all the instructions are in French, which I luckily speak fairly well, but even school French would get you into the basic swing of what to do, especially with the helpful origami-like illustrations on the back of the packet showing how to fold it into different shapes. You can use sweet or savoury fillings to make Tunisian ‘Brik’ (or Bric) and a few recipes I spied while looking on the web (like this one) had spicy meat fillings, which appealed more at the time to the ravenous hordes than the sweet ones. They often have an egg cracked over the mixture before folding which, as it is quite an art, I decided not to indulge in this first time as I didn’t want to get into 'egg spilling out all over the bench inevitably leading to cranky cook' territory. The important thing with a meat-based filling is to cook it first before assembling, as the sheets brown extremely quickly in the oil and there would be no way a raw meat filling would cook in the same time as the wrapping turns golden brown. I pinched a Stephanie Alexander curry puff filling, so it was Kuala Lumpur meets Carthage in a tag-team event …
1 tbsp Malaysian curry paste or Laksa paste mixed with 1 tbsp water
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 small onion finely chopped or minced
200g chicken breast fillet, finely diced
150 g potatoes diced the same size as the chicken
100 mls coconut milk
1 fresh green chilli, seeded and finely diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves

Fry the onion ‘til translucent on a medium heat in the oil, and add the paste mixture. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the chicken, potato and salt to taste and fry for a few more minutes. Add the coconut milk and reduce to a simmer, then cover and cook 5 minutes until the potato is tender. Add chilli and coriander, increase the heat and cook stirring 'til the liquid is evaporated. Cool completely.

Take a sheet of malsouka and lay a thin line of about 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture along the pastry. Fold the bottom section closest to you over the filling, then fold in the two sides, then roll into a cigar shape. Brush the edges with egg wash. Fry the cigars in vegetable or peanut oil for a few minutes each side. Makes 8 briks.

The filling was fabulous and just spicy enough, while being very aromatic. The pastry is light, airy and crisp, crackling and splintering in the mouth as you bite into each brik. I'll get more authentic next time and do a meat, parsley, cheese, and raw egg one (eek!) when I'm feeling very patient. Maybe I'll fold it into a stork shape or a jumping frog as well.

Societe Elgamra feuilles de Malsouka
Available from the Essential Ingredient
AUD $6.50 for 10 sheets.

Hot Cross Buns

I’m going to be right up front about this: I don’t really like Hot Cross Buns. Not until now anyway. I’m also a bit tepid on fruit cake and highly suspicious of mince pies at Xmas. But everyone else likes them, so that’s a good reason to cook them. Also, there’s been a raft of inspiration from Aussie food bloggers over the last week as they enthuse and commiserate over triumphs and, well, ‘interesting’ outcomes in the yeast cookery department.

Helen got in first with a pre-Easter smash hit, a combo effort between her and Veruca Salt. Alex, an expat writing out of Leeds, slayed the foaming beast to great effect and rounds of applause, while Cin from A Few of My Favourite Things had a false start with a Nigella Lawson recipe, but quickly recovered thanks to Auntie Delia Smith. Kylie, who is keeping the keyboard warm for Ed at Tomato, overcame renters’ kitchen and churned out some worthy examples of the genre. If you haven’t read their posts, hop on in and have a look. If I've missed anyone, leave a comment with your post link!

Simultaneously, I headed for La Lawson’s recipe, mainly because of the orange and cardamom content, and had better success than Cin.

So here’s the recipe, largely from Feast (which by the way has a whole section on Easter cooking) slightly mucked around with by me:

150 mls milk
50 g butter
Zest of one orange
1 clove
4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

Combine all the above ingredients in a pan and heat gently until the butter melts. Allow to infuse as the milk comes back down to blood temperature – ie the right temp to activate yeast.

400 g bread flour (or 400 g of plain flour with ½ tbsp of bread improver – see GYF in the comments section for the low down on this)
1 packet (8 grams) of easy blend or instant yeast (the kind you can mix straight into dry ingredients without activating it first)
100 grams mixed dried fruit
25 grams mixed peel
1 tsp of cinnamon
½ tsp fresh ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground ginger
1 egg

Mix all the dry ingredients, spices, and fruit together in a large bowl. Remove the cardamom husks and the clove from the still-warm milk and whisk in the egg. Add the milk mix to the dry ingredients and combine, then knead the dough until it’s elastic. (I found this creates a very stiff dough that was quite a chore to knead in comparison to other yeast doughs I’ve made. Because of the stiffness it was quite slow to rise and was only really easy to knead once it had risen). Cover and leave to rise for 1 ½ hours in a warm place, punch it down, knead again, and form into small buns. I made about 14 little buns.

Line the buns up close but not touching and score the top with a knife or pastry scraper in the shape of a cross. Cover with a tea towel and prove again for 45 mins. Heat the oven to 200°C fan forced, 220°C normal.

Make up a stiff paste of 3 tbsp plain flour, ½ tbsp caster sugar and 2 tbsp milk and put it into a piping bag. Once proved the buns should have risen enough to almost meet. Brush them with an egg wash (egg and a little milk) then pipe on the crosses (see picture, left) and whack immediately into the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden on top and when they come out of the oven brush with a mixture of 1 part caster sugar to 1 part boiling water to make them glossy and shiny.

Best eaten immediately with butter, these buns tasted fantastic, the cardamom and orange scenting them way beyond any other HCB I’ve tried, giving them an exotic flavour. Next time I’d play with the dough quantities to lighten it up a bit and make it easier to knead and work with.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Family food
Mother’s birthday before she goes off on a dig (she’s an archaeologist)
Friends for big Sunday lunch
Projected menu for 5 days of non-stop, house-party eating and drinking (spread out, not all on one day). I may not do the lot but here’s the plan :

* Crème de menthe and chocolate tart
* Stracciatella (Italian ‘egg drop’ soup) with cognac and chives
* Strozzapretti (in Italian: ‘priest stranglers’ – it is Easter after all) with duck ragu
* Mud crab and gruyere soufflés
* Home made Falafel: something for the vegetarians – will throw it to them over the fence.
* Cardamom hot cross buns
* Fazzoletti (It: ‘handkerchiefs’ of ricotta, fruit, rum and lemon zest in puff pastry)
* Sirloin with café de Paris butter and frites
* Lots of thin bacon, grilled, waffles and maple syrup – yes I have been too long in Canada
* Sour cream and chive blini with whatever – haven’t decided yet – maybe Tets’s cured Petuna ocean trout.
* Tarte au Citron

… and others I’ll probably think of on the fly.

And to keep the cook sane after a kitchen marathon?…. Ahhhh …. Long Island Iced Tea. I got maggoted on these in New Orleans on my birthday year before last, in a jazz club, at 2 am. So it’s on with Big Al Carson live at the Funky Pirate singing Sweet Home Chicago and get mixin’:

1 part vodka
1 part tequila
1 part white rum (Bacardi)
1 part gin
1 part cointreau
Big squeeze of lemon juice
Cola (if you can, use the New Zealand brand Phoenix organic cola – it’s gorgeous and they have nice business and production ethics) but only enough to turn the drink the colour of strong tea

Mix over ice. Drink. Fall over. Priceless.

For everything else there’s disaster card.

Will blog the food details when I recover! Have a Happy Easter, all, and may the Easter bunny bless you with many single origin 75% cocoa mass goodies.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Potato Gratin

I haven’t made this since last winter, so the urge to do it confirms that we are inching inexorably closer to cooler temperatures. Yay to that.

I always feel as though potatoes need help. On their own they’re a bit boring unless they’ve been turned into a chip or roasted in duck fat (but see – that’s helping too). Boiled, baked … blah. Salad? Only if they’re supporting something interesting. Mash? Only if it’s colcannon or champ. Röesti? Getting warmer. The French do things to potatoes that take all afternoon with a 9.5 degree of difficulty just for a support act, but this one’s much less stressful, and quick and easy given the impressive nature of the outcome. The oo-ahh factor from guests is high. Almost as high as the number of calories. This recipe is not, according to Larousse, the classic Gratin de Pommes de Terre à la Dauphinoise, which has cheese and eggs and stuff in it, and indeed there are many different recipes for potato gratin which have lots of cheese, cabbage, and vegetables and other things. But this is my favourite, a version adapted from Stephanie Alexander.

2-3 large potatoes (about 600-700 grams total) – I use an all purpose variety like Sebago which has a balance of waxy/starchy qualities.
Butter for greasing
½ an onion finely sliced, separate the slices into half-moon slivers
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
Nutmeg to grate fresh
300 mls of milk
300 mls of cream (I prefer single pouring cream for this recipe)
1 teaspoon of plain flour
Salt and pepper.

Peel and slice the potatoes thinly. Not mandolin-thin or they’ll collapse, but about 2 millimetres. Grease a baking dish with butter. Don’t use oil. Layer the potatoes in the dish with a few of the onion and garlic slivers, adding fresh grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to each layer as you go. Add the spoonful of flour to a little of the cream and work out the lumps, then add the rest of the cream and milk and mix thoroughly.

A little note here, and it’s back to first year Uni Chemistry lectures which I always thought were a complete waste of time, but it seems now are actually of some use. You must use cream and full fat cream at that. Don’t be tempted to use just milk. Why? Potatoes are acidic. When you put acid with milk, especially under heat, it can curdle unless the butterfat content is over 25%. If you encounter a gratin that’s developed that split cheese look, that’s possibly what’s happened. The little bit of flour helps to prevent this too. You can use all cream if you like, but don’t send your cardiologist’s bill to me.

Pour this mixture over the potatoes so that the liquid is just below the level of the potatoes. You should also try to have at least a few centimetres or so of baking dish rising above the level of potatoes, unless you particularly enjoy cleaning burnt cream off the bottom of your oven. If you find you’re a bit light on liquid, add some more milk and cream, as the actual volume you need will somewhat depend on the size and shape of your dish.

Put into a pre-heated 180°C oven for about an hour. Several things will happen. The liquid will bubble up and boil quite vigorously over the potatoes. That’s fine, it will eventually thicken and bubble less as it is absorbed into the spuds. After about 30-40 minutes, the potatoes will collapse slightly at which point I push them down lightly, sinking them back into the cream with a flat spatula. I find this helps give a very even crust. At the end of the cooking time, ensure you have a dark brown crust on top, remove form the oven, and let it stand for 5-10 minutes, as it’s easier to slice and slightly firmer.

You will end up with an alchemically transformed potato which has subtly absorbed the flavours of onion, garlic and nutmeg, and is silky smooth while being still slightly biteable, rather than mushy. Serve it with anything, at the table, and drink in the ooo’s and aaaaaah’s.

Kopitiam Malaysian Café

I'm told that 'Kopitiam' is Hokkien for ‘coffee and a snack’ (or ‘coffeeshop’) but the menu at this little café certainly holds more than simple snacks with its extensive list of Asian and Malaysian dishes. The décor is, well, basic and the two rooms are small. Odd assorted bare tables and chairs, a window through to the kitchen, specials mounted on the walls alongside various pictures of Malaysian royalty. However, a full room on a Thursday lunchtime and a constant stream of Asian patrons flowing through the door for hawker-style cuisine confirms that this is no ersatz Malaysian eatery.

I heard about Kopitiam on the grapevine from people who know about such things – visiting Malaysian academics in particular – and have heeded their advice to come down and try it out, along with Helen, who’s always up for an encounter with authentic international cuisine, and who had also heard rumblings regarding their fine food. We sit wedged next to, and facing, a large, unattractive drinks fridge, but the other alternative is looking at trucks go past on Harris St., so we kind of don’t mind. I get the plum view of the Malaysian monarch as well, so I lucked out there.

The menu has about 100 selections and spans Malaysian, Singaporean, and various regional Chinese cusines, enough to cater to whatever whim takes you at the time. No dish is more than $13.80 (most are around $7.00-$9.00) and the $6.80 weekday lunch special comprises chicken or beef with a choice of sauces and boiled rice. There are daily specials as well, and they are apparently famous for the quick-to-sell Hainanese Chicken Rice, served only on Sundays.

We both love Roti Canai and order one with curry sauce to share ($3.50, left). The menu boasts they are freshly made, and they certainly taste as though they are made and cooked fresh on the premises and are light and flaky. The curry sauce is creamily coconutty and not too spicy. In addition we order Belacan Buncis, which the menu tells us are green beans fried with spicy prawn paste ($8.50) and one of the house specials of the day, Hakka Style Pork ($13.80)

I’ve never had either of these dishes before so am looking forward to something completely different. I’m often a bit wary of shrimp paste because I’ve had it in places where it’s been so strong it overtakes everything else in the meal. I ask about the Hakka Pork, but all I can get by way of explanation is that it comes ‘in black sauce’. Oh well – may as well just jump and give it a go!

The beans (left) are wrinkled and studded with a confetti including chilli, garlic, fried shallots and the aromatic fragrance of the shrimp paste hits you first as it wafts from the plate, but then multiplies a hundred fold when you taste it. Intensely hot and salty and sweet all at the same time, the beans are still very crunchy. It certainly doesn’t taste overpoweringly of fermented shellfish, but warmly and pleasantly pungent. I figure this is how it’s supposed to taste and could be one of the reasons so many people have told me this food is really ‘authentic’.

The Hakka Pork (left) turns out to be a Hokkien dish of slow cooked pork belly with black fungus, and what looks like bean curd sheets (Helen assures me they are), in a thick luscious star anise-scented gravy. The complexity and depth of flavour are wonderful and it feels like the sort of food you’d want on a cold wintry night, the smell of it slowly stewing driving you mad all afternoon. The textures are great as well – the slight resistance to the bite of the fungus, the meltingly soft pork. And plenty of rice to mop up the rich gravy. The serving are generous so even though we're both totally satiated, there's plenty to take home for leftovers as a supper snack.
With so many dishes yet to try at Kopitiam I think it will definitely require several more visits and more .. ah.. 'research'. Watch this space.

954 Harris St, Ultimo.
Open for lunch and dinner 7 days, 12-3pm; 6-10pm.
BYO, $1pp charge, no credit cards.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Croissant, nectarine, chocolate and malibu ‘bread & butter’ pudding

A leftover dream of a dessert when you have things lying about the kitchen and pantry. It looks and tastes decadent, and pays tribute to the cooler weather we’re enjoying in Sydney, tantalising the tastebuds with promises of winter puddings to come!

4 large croissants, (preferably a day or so old)
2 very ripe nectarines (peaches or plums will do, or any ripe fruit)
A handful of dark chocolate (63-70% couverture by preference)
50 mls of Malibu (or whatever leftover liqueur is skulking about – brandy, Frangelico, Amaretto etc etc)
4 eggs – and if you have a couple of egg yolks left over from something else, toss them in too
600 mls cream and milk combined (whatever ratio you prefer, or as determined by what’s in the fridge).
3 tablespoons of caster sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla paste or extract
A few spoonfuls of Demerara sugar to sprinkle on top.

Have the oven heating to 180° C. Whisk the eggs and sugar and add the cream/milk mixture, liqueur, and vanilla, whisking until combined.

Generously butter a baking dish. Slice the croissants, slice the nectarines and chop or break the chocolate into bits. You don’t need to butter the croissants – they’re buttery enough. Arrange the croissants and nectarines in your dish, scattering over chocolate as you go. Pour the egg and cream/milk mixture into the dish and let it stand 10-15 mins at least to allow the custard to soak in a little. Before you put it in the oven, sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until it goes brown and caramelised on top and the custard is set in the middle. Remove from the oven and stand for ten minutes before serving.

You can serve it with cream or ice cream, but it's actually so goo-ily moist and rich I didn’t think it needed anything else. Maybe some toasted almonds over the top?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Woolloomooloo Bay Steak and Alehouse

Dazed and confused from an attempt to see the Archibald Prize at the AGNSW, we retreated and re-grouped at Woolloomooloo. It was hell out there in the trenches. Lines of people trailing out the gallery entrance, four screaming school groups throwing ice cream at each other, buses to the left of us, pensioners to the right. Patrons waiting their turn to enter the packed room one by one, frothing at the mouth and baying for portraiture. Man, it was ugly.

So rather than the planned civilised outing to see nice rool painted pik-chus and get a bit of kul-cha, followed by lunch, we opted just for the lunch. There are lots of choices 'down the ‘Loo', but we decided to simplify matters and go straight for the pub. Upstairs, ooo, not many people, yay! A poor disoriented British tourist was asking waiters for directions to the Art Gallery… hah! We nearly shouted out for her to abort her mission and grab a beer before it was too late, but the last we saw she was trudging up the steps bound for certain death-by-queuing.

Predictably, this place upstairs in the pub (and under separate management) looks like a steakhouse. Rustic, nameless, accoutrements are littered about to give the impression of recently departed wiry stockmen, wrestling steers to the ground ready for a slice to be flayed off and slapped on a plate. Old wooden things abound, don’t ask me what for, but a nice display on the far wall looks like it could be for measuring cow tail diameter. The surf and turf (reef ‘n’ beef, ship ‘n’ shore – whatever) menu is just that, and reassuringly the beef is described in details that point to what they ate prior to said stockmen dispatching them, how long they’ve been dead and hanging about down the back, where they come from, and how big your own personal hunk is going to be. Ah, spit.

Maybe we were a little shell-shocked from our all too close encounter with human flesh at the Gallery, but we all opt for the surf rather than the turf and go for girly entrée dishes. Our choices elicit a raised eyebrow from the surly waiter who, in a clear attempt to impugn the masculinity of my companions, proclaims these dishes to be ‘pretty small servings’. ‘That’s orrright mate’, we reply in deep-voiced unison, ‘we’ll have another look at the menu later’. Ah, spit. At least Mr Burgerbloke orders a beer, rescuing our reputations somewhat, while the rest of us drink sauvignon blanc at an outrageously marked-up price. (Whatever you do, don’t spit – too exxey). We have a decent damper with dipping oils (picture, top) to help us wait for our meals, and it arrives steaming hot on a wooden breadboard with a serrated cutlass to carve it. We feel suitably armoured to slay the malevolent damper and MN plays mother, but really just to play with the knife, effecting an additional face-saving imitation of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Arrrrr, lads!

As you can see from the pix, the servings are small by Vogon or Mr Creosote standards, but not by any I can conjure that pertain to humans with normal appetites. The mountain of barramundi atop a soon-to-avalanche wall of chips (second pic, above, $19 from the ‘light meals’ list), and two hand-sized soft shell crabs on relish and salad (third pic, above, $15 from the entrée list). Both these dishes are great – crisp and moist in all the right places, appropriate seasoning, delish. But then there’s the squid (pictured below) which, unfortunately, is my choice. Apart from looking like a car crash, this pitiful plateful of soggy-batter tattered shoe leather tastes hideous. It’s supposed to be chilli and lime flavoured, but it just tastes acridly peppery and unpleasantly tart. The squid is thick and hard to chew. There is too much fish sauce in the dip, making it overly salty. Even the parsley garnish is wilted, as if embarrassed to accompany such a travesty. I can’t stomach it, and console myself by finishing off G’s chippies which are quite yum.

In addition, my still-full plate is not queried when the waiter clears, a sign to me that they couldn’t care less once the food has been sold onto the table. If there is a next time I’ll go for the steak like a rool woman would have. Ah, spit.

In … The Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel
Level 1, 2 Bourke St (Cnr Cowper Wharf Rd)
Woolloomooloo 2011 NSW
Phone: (02) 9357 1177

Open Lunch and Dinner 7 days

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Dumpling-ator

Every cook is fond of gadgets. We all have kitchen-draw graveyards full of the useless ones, we covet and praise the useful ones, and we lust after the expensive ones, in a never ending cycle of technological consumption.

This one costs $4. And it’s really useful. Now before all you Asian dumpling purists drum me out of the regiment (as one of my Chinese friends has already suggested) there are times when the whole dumpling making ceremony thing just gets too hard if you don’t have an army of similarly inspired enthusiasts who will pinch and crimp their way through enough pastry to make a decent serving for everyone at a dinner party. This gadget is perfect for your spontaneous, single person dumpling effort.

I can speak a little Japanese but can’t read kanji, so anyone with such impressive skills might be able to tell me what this little machine is really called from the label in the picture of the packet above. I’ve decided to call it The Dumpling-ator because it rapidly whips up a plate of gyoza-like delights in as little time as it takes Arnie to robotically mow down baddies.

You can turn a packet of gow gee wrappers and a bit of pork mince into a feast fit for a shogun in 10 minutes. For the filling for a pack of wrappers, use about 200 or so grams of minced pork (or a mixture of pork and prawn), and flavour it with:

1 large clove of chopped garlic
2 tsps grated fresh ginger
2 finely chopped spring onions (or equivalent of garlic chives)
2 tsps each of soy sauce and rice wine
1 tsp cornflour
Splash of sesame oil

Mix together well, massaging with your fingers to distribute the flavours.

Take the dumpling-ator in one hand (it boasts ‘one hand action’!) lay a wrapper on top, place a teaspoon of meat mixture in the middle, wet the inside edges with a little water and close it up to crimp the edges. Bingo.

You can then steam or poach them, or as I’ve done here, heat a non stick pan and add a fine film of peanut oil and let it get hot. Place each dumpling in, base down, so they are standing up. Leave to fry for a minute or so then sprinkle with about ¼ cup of water, put the lid on the pan and turn down the heat. When the water has evaporated, the bottoms will crisp up a bit more and they are ready to serve. Uncooked dumplings also freeze well.

“Pack” brand dumpling maker
$4.00 at Thai Kee Supermarket, Market City, Haymarket (in the same aisle as all the Chinese table crockery).