Friday, September 22, 2006

Sydney food bloggers for volunteers?

Last year I volunteered for the Sydney Food and Wine Fair - an event close to every food bloggers heart, and the major fundraiser for the AIDS Trust of Australia.

Not only did I have a great time doing something useful for a good cause, but met some terrific people and old friends, worked for Vogue Entertaining and Travel and Delicious Magazines, siddled up to a few restauranteurs, and generally immersed myself in all things food related.

Here's the volunteers invitation letter if you're interested in helping out. It contains the shift opportunities and contact information. If you do want to help, let me know and maybe we can meet up there to sample a few yummy morsels. I'm up for the Saturday morning shift this year. To read more about last year's Food and Wine Fair and the treasures that await within, have a look at Helen's excellent post on the day.

This letter is to invite you to become involved with the AIDS Trust of Australia by volunteering for the Sydney Food and Wine Fair.

The Food and Wine Fair is the AIDS Trust of Australia’s major fundraising event and its success depends greatly on our volunteers, for without volunteers this event would not be able to go ahead. The proceeds of the Fair enables the Trust to distribute funds to community based organisations to assist in HIV/AIDS related education, care, support and research.

Volunteers are needed at the following times:

Friday 27th October between the hours 9.00am-5.00pm. The shifts available include 9am – 1pm and 1pm – 5pm.

Duties include covering stalls with plastic, general cleaning and unloading supplies.

Saturday 28th October, the day of the fair, between 8.00am-8.00pm, with the following shifts available:

8am to Midday

11am to 4pm

11am to 4pm

Coupon Sales

4pm to 8pm

Duties include setting up hygiene stations, distributing coupon boxes, meeting stallholders, distributing produce to the stalls, as well as general assistance to all sections.

On Saturday our volunteers are provided with refreshments, breakfast for the early Saturday shift and Lunch vouchers. Clothing may be left in the Volunteer Tent.

Please register via email at or by phone 1800 689188 or by filling a volunteer registration form and returning via fax or post. All personal information provided will be treated as confidential.

It is a fantastic day, full of fun, hard work and all for a great cause. We would greatly appreciate you joining us again on this day.
Kind Regards

Daniel Byrne

Sydney Food and Wine Fair

Volunteer Coordinator

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Surprise! Ricotta and chocolate strawberries

Sugar High Friday’s theme this month (its 23rd incarnation) is the surprise inside hosted by A Veggie Venture – yummy sweet treats that look deceptively like one thing on the outside and … ta da! … reveal their secret heart on the inside.

A whole range of decadent chocolate fondant-y things sprang to my mind, but as we’re just coming out of winter here down under, and the strawberry season is in full swing, I went for something lighter to suit the warmer temperatures. It might also help the darned zip on that pair of summer trousers that’s having trouble, well, reaching its full vertical potential.

Look at the picture above. Looks just like an ordinary strawberry, yes? Well read on .... there's more to those strawberries than meets the eye.

1-2 punnets of large strawberries
80 grams of ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons of mascarpone or crème fraiche (or low fat fromage frais / fruche if that zip’s really giving you trouble)
1 teaspoon of finely zested lemon rind
1 teaspoon of finely grated chocolate - 70% cocoa solid
2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar

Mix all the ingredients except the strawberries together in a small bowl. Using a sharp knife, cut the top off the strawberries in a straight line about ½ a cemtimetre under the green calyx. Reserve the top. Cut the centre out of the strawberries, being careful not to pierce the outside, so you end up with a hollowed out strawberry. Use a small spoon to fill the strawberries with the ricotta mixture and re-position the top. Lay them on a plate and chill for 30-60 minutes. Serve dusted with vanilla sugar or even drizzled with melted chocolate.


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

La Mint

The great thing about the SMH Good Food Guide being published each year is that it gives me fresh enthusiasm to search out the restaurants I either never managed to get to in the previous year, or didn’t know existed. Like I need any more encouragement? I think only dedicated eaters read the GFG like a novel. I make notes and lists like I was reading it for a research article. Sad, isn’t it?

My first choice for the year was La Mint in East Sydney (page 83). I based my list on ‘restaurants that are open for lunch on Mondays’ to narrow it down. To further refine the choice my dining companion added ‘perhaps something spicy? – and not too expensive?’ After ruling out the ones I’d already visited, and after an aborted attempt to eat at Darbar in Glebe (page 46 – note: despite what the GFG says it’s not open on Monday for lunch) we headed in the general direction of Woolloomooloo via Crown Street. A little dog leg brought us to La Mint. Looked nice. Open. Parking Station next door. Man sobbing hysterically in front entrance being comforted by friend. We were hooked.

Constant traffic from the back of the rent-a-car depot, and delivery trucks quadruple parked on each side of the road, makes this bit of Riley St a little difficult to negotiate, so the parking station was a godsend. La Mint’s dining room is very cool. GFG hints at its Saigon chic. The water feature at the back is particularly pleasant as it tinkles away melding with mod Viet pop floating through the speakers. At the front of the room is a high bench table with high stools, as well as a few outdoor tables to watch the passing parade.

There are standard as well as intriguing menu items, among them the snails in lemongrass and garlic butter. Maybe next time. The guy at the entrance is still sobbing. We went for a basic selection of things to put La Mint through its paces. The mixed entrée plate ($25, left) is substantial and comprises all the popular choices like fresh spring rolls with prawns (2, cut in half), fried pork mini spring rolls (4) and coconut prawns (4) accompanied by an aromatic salad and dipping sauces. It would easily feed four people, so at the price it’s excellent value. The prawns are crisp and juicy, the pork rolls delicately flavoured and crunchy but if I had a criticism, the fresh rolls were light on prawn and heavy on vermicelli, making them quite filling and a touch bland. The salad was so aromatic with mint and parilla it almost made up for it.

To share for a main we ordered the chilli salt squid (yes I’m on the verge of entering the 12 step program at chillisaltsquid anonymous) and grilled scampi with lemongrass butter ($25). The squid comes in 2 sizes, and we chose the ‘light’ serve ($16, left) which was more than generous. It was fantastically tender and well spiced with fresh chilli and green onions fried to garnish the dish and provide even more flavour.

The scampi (we had the salad option, below – there’s also a nage of vegetables and broth on the menu) presented two plump grilled crustaceans on the half shell atop a salad similar to the entrée plate, but with a more pronounced lime and fish sauce dressing. Sweetly mouth watering, the lemongrass butter complemented the flesh brilliantly, and as a combination, lifted the scampi out of the Italian cuisine monopoly is seems to enjoy, into an Asian barbecue essential. (Note for home recipe list – make lemongrass butter for next seafood barbie).

La Mint is an Indochinese oasis in the predominantly Italian restaurant district of Riley and Stanley streets, and hopefully it will gain a good following. I’ll certainly be back to try some of the more adventurous and unusual offerings they present. The wine list is sturdy and very well priced, and the food on this visit didn’t disappoint in any way. The service is friendly and helpful, and eventually the guy in the front stopped sobbing. Probably after a soothing helping of Vietnamese culinary love.

And an added treat: a parking voucher from the restaurant will reduce your $15 parking fee to $5. What a bargain indeed! 1 down, 299 to go.

La Mint
62-64 Riley Street,
East Sydney (near William St.)
(02) 9331 1818

Panic stations!

On my god - Christmas alert!

I've just seen the first Panettone of the season in my greengrocers! Eeeek!

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Gruyere and herb soufflé

So when you have fresh eggs, make the most of them, I say. What better way to celebrate the humble egg and fresh spring herbs than by the spectacular satisfaction of the vertiginous triumph of the soufflé. Crusty on the outside, creamy soft and foamy on the inside. There are two important factors to the soufflé: heat and air. The air goes inside, the heat goes outside and makes the air trapped in the bubbles of the egg white expand, giving the soufflé its lift. This recipe is for one large soufflé, but if you have time to do more greasing and tie collars around the dishes, you can do individual ones. Reduce the cooking time by 5-7 minutes. For casual lunches, and less time in prep, I just do a big one.

Heat the oven to 200°C and grease a soufflé dish with melted butter, brushing the sides from the bottom to the top vertically.

45g butter
1 ½ tbsp plain flour
1 cup milk
3 eggs
3 tbsp of mixed fresh herbs, finely chopped, like parsley, basil, dill, chives, chervil, tarragon – whatever you have hanging around – create a combination, or use 2 or 3 types.
60 grams grated Gruyere cheese
Salt and pepper, season to taste

Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour. Stir for a minute or two to get any lumps out and to cook the floury taste out of the roux, and therefore bursting the gluten molecules in the flour. Add the milk and stir until combined (use a whisk if there are any lumps) and continue stirring/whisking until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and add the cheese, stirring to combine. Cool to room temperature and transfer to a large bowl that will be big enough to accommodate the whites when you mix them in.

Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the cooled sauce along with the chopped herbs and seasoning, stirring to combine. In a clean bowl whisk the eggs to stiff peaks (when you lift the beater out of the bowl and turn it upside down the egg white should stand up and not flop over except at the very tip). Using a large metal spoon, take a spoonful of the white and stir it into the sauce and yolk mixture to loosen it a little. Then very gently fold in the rest of the whites. Don’t worry if you have a few lumps of uncombined white in the mixture, just don’t over stir it. Pour into the prepared dish and put it straight in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until it rises and is golden brown on top. Take it straight to the table as it will start to fall as soon as it’s out of the oven.

To serve, take two metal spoons and hold them back to back and insert into the middle of the soufflé, gently separating it. Give each person a little of the golden top, the crusty sides and the creamy interior.

Then give them a green salad, a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc, and a sunny day.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Béarnaise sauce

Eggs are wonderful things. Eggs are even more wonderful when you get to meet the chook that layed them that morning and she’s pretty chilled out and happy, or you meet the person who collected them that morning. You can use them whole, you can split them into different parts and put them back together again (as I’m going to do in the next recipe I post) or you can make entirely different things out of them. So as the natural order would have it, when you make pavlovas you can then make Béarnaise sauce (or Hollandaise), and when you make Béarnaise sauce, you can then make a pav. I’m sure someone will try and use this as an argument for intelligent design.

Larousse Gastronomique dates Béarnaise sauce to 1818 where the recipe first appeared in la Cuisinière des villes et des campagnes. So while it may have been used to honour Henry IV (who came from Béarn) at the opening of Le Pavillion Henry IV restaurant in Saint-Germain-en-Laye near Paris in 1836, Larousse contends this is not it’s first appearance in culinary history and that its origins are much older from the province Béarn, near the Spanish border.

It’s basically an emulsion so you have to love standing over a stove whisking. Fortunately I find this quite therapeutic.

For the reduction:
½ cup tarragon vinegar
3 shallots, finely diced
8 peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Place all these in a small pan on a medium heat and let them come to a simmer. Simmer until the liquid has reduced by 75% and you have a tablespoon of concentrated glaze. Strain and discard the solids.

For the sauce:
The reduction (above)
2 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh French tarragon (coming into season now)
4 egg yolks
250 g salted butter, cut into cubes and chilled.

Over a simmering pot of water place a large bowl, making sure the water can’t touch the bowl and the simmer is not too strong. Add the egg yolks and reductions and begin whisking them until they start to look a shade lighter. One cube at a time, whisk the butter into the eggs. As each cube melts add another until all the butter and egg is combined and you have a thick glossy sauce. It should take about 5 minutes to whisk in all the butter. Remove from the heat and add the fresh tarragon.

We had this sauce with T-bone steaks purchased from a traditional country butcher. They looked like they’d come off a brontosaurus, not a cow. The hostess with the most-ess had been told by the butcher that by ordering steaks this way she’d “just re-defined Father’s Day barbeques”. Well marbled , and after some weighty discussion, they were cooked in a similar fashion to the way you’d cook Wagyu – that is, not on too high a heat, with more frequent turning, to allow the marbling to melt through the meat, leving it perfectly juicy and pinkly medium rare.

Another good tip for any leftover Béarnaise, which hates being re-heated and will certainly split if too much heat is applied, if you want to bring it back to room temperature or just above, place a serving amount in a small bowl and place the bowl in another bowl half full of tap hot water. Stir it every minute or so and it will start to liquefy without splitting.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Chocolate pavlovas

I’m not going to get into the debate regarding who invented the pavlova, supposedly named after Anna Pavlova because the meringue represented the fluffy white frou frou of her tutu. Whether it was Australia or New Zealand or Azerbijan, I’m just glad someone thought of it and Australia adopted it. And I’m glad someone thought of putting chocolate in it.

4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
1 cup (220 g) caster sugar
2 tsp corn flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder (use Valrhona if you can)
1tsp white vinegar

Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form, then gradually add the sugar a little at a time until thoroughly beaten in and dissolved in the egg whites. Test a bit between the tip of your finger and thumb – you shouldn’t feel any grainy bits in the mixture. Sift the corn flour and the cocoa together and fold in gently to the egg whites. Fold in the vinegar.

Place 6 or 7 rounds of pavlova mixture onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper, making a small depression in the centre of each one with the back of a spoon. Bake at 120°C for 60 minutes (the recipe actually claims 45 minutes but they weren't cooked in this time in the fan forced oven I was using) or until they are dry and sound hollow when lightly tapped. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar while they slowly cool for about an hour.

They're quite fragile, much moreso than a standard pav, so be careful when removing them to serve, use a pallette knife to lift them off the tray to a serving plate. Serve with berries and whipped cream in the centre of each little pav.

(Recipe from September’s Australian Womens’ Weekly).

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

One pan roast chicken à la Pieri

Nothing like lazing about watching re-runs of Gondola on the Murray (12.30pm Saturdays on ABC2) for inspiration. With a mess of produce, not a great deal of time, and a few hungry mouths to feed, this looked failsafe. And like much great Italian cuisine, the whole is always more than the sum of the parts.

Political aspirant Snr Pieri cooked this for a picnic, but after a day of planting spring flowers it looked like a solution that would cook itself for dinner while we all enjoyed a lingering aperitif, surveying our hard work, as the Spring sun shrivelled away.

Pre heat the oven to 170°C. Joint or quarter 2 small organic chickens. In a very large oiled roasting pan lay the chicken pieces and in between scatter a selection of vegetables: A chopped fennel bulb, a few quartered onions, 2-3 peeled potatoes cut in thin wedges, or some halved chat potatoes, leeks, root vegetables – whatever you have around and in season. Add in 6 unpeeled garlic cloves. Scatter over a selection of chopped fresh herbs: the fennel tops, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, parsley. Throw in a decent glug of white wine – at least 250 mls – and drizzle with some olive oil. Season with sea salt and black pepper, and sprinkle over a few handfuls of breadcrumbs. Sparingly ladle over about 4-5 tablespoons of tomato passata. Cover tightly with a greased sheet of foil and bake for 1 hour. After an hour, remove the foil and bake for a further 20 minutes or until the chicken is golden. Serve straight from the baking dish with a salad or fresh blanched spring vegetables. The chicken juices and vege juices will combine with the wine and oil to produce a wonderful sauce in the bottom of the roasting dish, so ladle this over each serving.

If you have leftovers, remove the chicken from the bone, re-heat the leftover chicken, sauce and veges together and stir hot shell-shaped pasta like orecchiette through the sauce, with a generous shaving of parmesan.

Min supervises the pansies

Camembert or brie mini 'fondue'

This dead easy yet highly impressive pre dinner nibble / snack is a creation of cheese impresario and non-pasteurised cheese product campaigner Will Studd (applause, cheers … without your Herculean efforts I wouldn’t be able to eat Roquefort in this country).

Pre heat the oven to 160-170°C.

Take a camembert or small brie cheese, a little under ripe is ok. Try to buy one that comes in a little wooden palette – the local King Island Cape Wickham double brie does, and works well with this recipe. If you have a Normandy camembert, lucky you, so much the better. In this instance I couldn’t find one packaged in wood, I used a Margaret River brie, so improvised a bowl the right size to cook and serve the cheese.

Unwrap the cheese and place it back in the wooden palette and keep the wooden top. (If you use King Island brand the wooden packaging has a tendency to break in the oven so keeping the top means you have something to present and serve it in).

Using a small sharp knife, make slits in the top of the cheese being careful not to pierce the base. Slice 2 cloves of garlic very finely and insert them into the slits. Do the same with some small thyme sprigs. Gently pour 2 - 3 tablespoons of red wine over the top and bake for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is warm and squidgy in the middle. Serve with crusty French bread.

Maximum yum factor, great cheese hit, minimum effort.

Watermelon mai tai

Just the thing to herald in Spring.

500g seedless watermelon, cubed
1 bethonga pineapple, peeled, cored and cubed
180 mls white rum or Cachaca
90 mls triple sec or Cointreau
1 tsp grenadine.

Get down the juicer and juice the watermelon and pineapple. Pour the juice and everything else over ice and stir to chill. Serve with a sprig of fresh spring mint.

Inspiration comes from September Australian Good Taste magazine, page 69.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Product find: Effen Black Cherry Vanilla Vodka

This luxe drop, distilled in and imported from The Netherlands, recently fell into my basket. (Well, maybe I helped it a little). What a treat. In Dutch, the adjective ‘effen’ means ‘smooth, even, balanced’. How true. A wheat distilled spirit, it’s as smooth as silk with distinct deep cherry notes and a slight syrupy sweetness from the vanilla that lifts it above the average bland vodka taste, or indeed that of many flavoured vodkas, most of which I don’t’ really like because of their flamethrower aftertaste. It comes in a chic black neoprene sleeve to stop slippage when the bottle’s cold, and to insulate it when out of the fridge or freezer. Practical, as well as drop dead attractive, creating a stand-out shelf look. There’s heaps of recipes for cocktails on the Effen website, but to me just a plain nip over ice was enough to impress. Ok, 2 nips.

Just be careful when asking your local bottle-o for it. “Can I have some Effen vodka?” (say it out loud) doesn’t really come out as intended, nor does “do you sell Effen vodka here?”. Sales staff will be immediately antagonistic no matter what your intonation. I carefully phrased my request as “do you stock a brand of Dutch vodka named ‘Effen’?”, to which my hitherto polite assistant said “Effen Vodka! – is this some kind of joke?”. A tricky one in the vernacular, but worth pursuing for the taste. And if you wake up with an over indulgence headache, you guessed it, blame the Effen vodka.

AUD$49.99 for 700mls at Liquorland and Vintage Cellars.

Chilli salt squid

Off I went to roam around the countryside for a while on holiday visits, armed with a bagful of produce, a swag of this month’s food mags, and Miss Min the cat in her carrybag strapped into the front seat. Mountains, Spring, fresh air – ahhhh.

Something snacky and yummy for that night: a quick dash to fishmarkets on the way and the Hawkesbury calamari stood out as glistening fresh with pearly neon blue flashes speckling its skin. I always buy calamari whole and ungutted. I know it’s a fiddle to do it yourself, but it’s worth it when they’re so fresh. Pull out the centre quill and goopy bits (technical, I know) and slice the hood so it lays flat. Cut the tentacles just below the beak so they come off in one piece leaving aforementioned goopy bits behind. Scrape the inside of the hood if there’s goo sticking to it and score the inside of the hood with a sharp knife diagonally in a criss cross pattern. Then cut the hoods into whatever size suits.

The coating: I’ve tried a few different ways of approaching this dish and pondered many questions along the way. To batter or not to batter, the type of flour, what spices – blah blah. While there’s many varieties around, here’s one that works for me.

In a plastic bag combine 3 tablespoons of rice flour, 1 tablespoon of corn flour and 1 tablespoon of plain flour. Add 1 teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns (that have been roasted for a minute in a hot pan then ground finely in a mortar and pestle) 2 teaspoons of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper and a pinch pf dried chilli (suit your taste, I like a decent pinch).

Heat a wok or deep saucepan of peanut oil to deep fry temperature – 180-5°C. I’m normally not a fuss pot with exact temperatures, but for this it’s important to have the right temperature, so if you have a candy thermometer, use it to keep track.

Just before you fry the squid pieces, dump them (in batches of you have a lot) into the flour and spice mixture, shake off the excess and put them straight into the oil. If you don’t do this at the last minute any moisture on the squid can turn the flour gluey and the squid will stick together in a lump. Flash fry for barely 30 seconds to a minute or until golden brown. Fish out with a slotted spoon to drain any excess oil and drain on kitchen paper. Continue with the next batch. Eat immediately. You can garnish with a bit of lemon or lime, fresh chilli and spring onions, but I’ve never found it’s stayed on the plate long enough to cut a lemon in half. It was a challenge trying to stave off greedy fingers to take a pic!

More holiday food adventures to come – stay tuned.