Thursday, May 31, 2007

Duck for Dinner

I could blog about so many aspects of this meal. “I’ve never cooked duck before” is just the start. There’s the discussion I had with a vegetarian colleague about eating your pets, just prior to buying the duck, then there’s my visit to Luv-A-Duck in Port Melbourne, which also seemed to highlight the “eating your pets” thing, with a cutesy duck as their logo. Surely such cuteness associated with their product is bad for business.

What about my search across Melbourne for redcurrant jelly, a problem I’ve encountered previously. My unsuccessful search for out-of-season plums? What about disorganization in the kitchen. Then there’s my apparent inability to cook celeriac and dessert that sticks to the pan. Not to mention my forgetfulness…oh yes, I forgot to put an ingredient on the plate.

Phew. Did I mention the reason for holding this meal? A desire to get through two years worth of uncooked recipe clippings, including a duck recipe, combined with a bottle of rose I was dying to drink. That’s probably a good place to start. And since that sentence needs no further explanation, I guess I’ve started. I should add that I picked up the wine when travelling around Hawkes Bay in New Zealand; a 2004 rose from Alpha Domus.

The meal was Cinnamon spiced duck with pink grapefruit and raddichio. Or not, as the forgotten ingredient was radicchio. I’d seen it a few weeks earlier at the South Melbourne Markets and yet, when I went to buy it I had to search, hard. But I found it. Sadly it’s still sitting in my fridge. I’m sure I can make something of it. Hard-to-find was a feature of this evening. Even pink grapefruits and celeriac, which have been everywhere I turn, mysteriously disappear when I’m being specific at the market. As for redcurrant jelly, I often searched for this in Canberra and it was never available in the supermarkets, except at Christmas time apparently. I’m sure Essential Ingredient had some, but that was a long way across town from where I lived. In this instance, Albert Park Deli had a lone bottle, tucked right up there behind the cranberry.

I can tell this is going to be a long post, let that be a warning. But I encourage you to keep reading because, whilst it all sounds disastrous, the duck turned out beautifully. The recipe is from Good Living, about this time a year ago, with thanks to Bill Granger. The duck breasts appeared quite lean (4 people, 4 breasts) and I scored the skin a couple of times before rubbing 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 2 tbsp brown sugar into the skin. I was just doing this as my guests arrived, my little trip to the deli had detoured to the expensive fruit shop to see if they’d magic-ed some plums and a quick duck into the IGA (get it?) for last minute ingredients. Nevermind, it was all hands on deck in the kitchen and Fogarty, bless her, said I remained very calm and collected.

The duck quacked its way into a hot pan, skin side down for 2 minutes, turn for 1 minute and then into the over for 10 (oo, there that talk of pets again).

A few things were going on while this duck business was unfolding. In a large pan I had 500 g of peeled potato and 500 g of peeled celeriac. Dessert was being plopped into a muffin pan and strawberries were being placed on-top, along with almonds.

Into the hot pan went 80 ml pink grapefruit juice and 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly. I was meant to whisk until it combined, but I occasionally gave it a half-hearted stir whilst doing other things. I was meant to simmer it for 3-4 minutes, but I left it till needed. AND, as I write this post, I realise I was meant to put 80 ml chicken stock in there too. Another forgotten ingredient!

I plopped some grapefruit segments on each plate, proceeded to mash the potato (cooked) and celeriac (uncooked) together with cream and butter. I don’t know what happened to the celeriac. It remained very fibrous, which makes me think it wasn’t quite right to begin with. So, I avoided the chunks and served very creamy, runny potato mash with a faint hint of celeriac. S-bo is a big fan of celeriac and has cooked it quite successfully, inspired by his Aunt Jane.

My guests were starving by this stage, so there was not a lot of time to take pictures. I snapped a couple quickly and I’m sure you’re used to my dodgy photography by now.

Sigh, it’s amazing what great company, great ingredients and great wine can do to a dinner party. Despite bombarding my guests with jobs, pots and pans and general kitchen chaos, the dinner turned out delightful. The duck was sensational and the sauce, minus the stock, perfect. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the grapefruit segments are just for show, because their flavour was a little too strong for the delicateness of brown sugar and cinnamon. I’d probably skip them next time. The duck was melt-in-your-mouth tender and I’ll have to make another visit to Luv-A-Duck to write a dedicated posting.

I think this posting has gotten long enough, so you’ll have to wait to here about dessert! I’ll leave you with the rest of the wine and a photo I took of the remaining pink grapefruit in the fruit-bowl after clean-up.

I haven't included the recipe here, if you would like a copy please email me and I'll happily oblige.

The Albert Park Hotel, again

Newsflash re: Albert Park Hotel. Epicure has published this review, claiming the pub tailors to the “upmarket inhabitants of top-tax bracket Albert Park”. Judging by the number of people who seem to pull over in their shiny cars and ask for directions to APH whilst I’m out walking, and the number of taxis going to and from APH, many patrons are not actually from Albert Park. Now I haven't lived in Albert Park for very long, but locals talk of a wonderful old, character-filled, local boozer, with good bar meals and great atmosphere. What happened to that place? Did it really exist before the re-fit or are “inhabitants of top-tax bracket Albert Park” getting nostalgic? I’d like to know. I’d also like to know who the patrons are too, are they truly Albert Park locals or if not, where are they from?

Do I have a chip on my shoulder? Not really, I’m just intrigued by this place. Yes the food is good and the wine list impressive, but otherwise it seems like a place to go just to be seen and network. Go for the food and bistro service, but personal preference dictates this is not my place for relaxed drinks with friends. Wood fire or not!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Koh Samui

The restaurant in Middle Park that is, not the location (I wish).

For my first three years in Sydney I lived in Newtown. As we lived on campus and ate the associated food, my friends and I often got takeaway. And what better place to be getting takeaway than Sydney's Thai Food capital. Consequently I have very high standards when it comes to Thai food. Although, I was a uni student and not eating in the finest establishments, so perhaps it's more appropriate to say I have very specific standards.

Koh Samui didn't quite match those standards, although it's clear that a lot of care goes into the dishes. To tell you the truth, I can't even remember the name of my dish. I'm sure it's loosely translated to flash-fried chicken with vegetables and tamarind. The word Maram seems to stick in my mind, or something similar. Kai (chicken?) Maram? Nevermind, the chicken was excellet; light with just a hint of peanut oil to satisfy the wicked side in me. The vegetables were standard (Australian) Thai fare, fresh and thinly sliced. S-bo had the Thai Chilli Squid which was well on the tough side.

Koh Samui seems to be reaching out with their menu, producing dishes that I don't associate with my lower-end-of-the-market Thai history. Things like Baby Snappper La Prik (deep fried whole baby snapper with special lime sauce) were not things I was privvy to at university. I was looking for my familiar Pad Prew Warn, of which I can't even remember how to spell, Satays and greasy spring rolls. There were spring rolls and they weren't greasy which, despite my previous statement, is a good thing. They were however a little light on filling.

I'm not saying bad things about Koh Samui because it's not a good place. It just didn't match my previous prejudies. The service is attentive and the atmosphere good, as long as they keep the music playing. Don't be misled by the Richardson St entrance. The tables seen from the front window were vacant and deserted, however out the back are more tables and more people in a nice modern, but not stark setting. The price is more than I would usually pay for Thai ($16-$26 for a main), with smaller portions. But there's that uni student again. Although, for that price in Newtown you could be getting some pretty damn amazing Thai food and excellent.

I guess I'll go back. Until I can find a Newtown Thai in Melbourne I'll always need something to satisfy my cravings.
251 Richardson St
Middle Park
(03) 9696 3080

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Provincia, Albert Park

I’ve discussed earlier my dislike for eggs. This sometimes makes going out for breakfast difficult…if everyone else is eating eggs, what do I eat? I try and search out savoury options; bacon and mushrooms on sourdough, ham, cheese and tomato croissant etc. However I have a very sweet tooth, so often I give in and order something sugary, like pancakes.

Breakfast at Provincia is a pleasant surprise, the menu contains a lot of variety and maintains the strong Italian influences of lunch and dinner, for example carozza, a savoury French toast filled with mozzarella, tomato and basil.

Nevertheless, I still opted for sweet: breakfast pikelets with berries, mint and mascarpone cream. Some breakfast items are offered on weekends only, indicating to me that you’ll be getting wonderfully fresh ingredients.

The service is interesting. It’s definitely good, but I might also call it colloquial. Staff were suffering the after effects of the FA cup final the previous night and it was expected that we sympathize with them. Being a sports lover myself, we did. Regulars were treated with prejudice and everyone was treated as a regular, so it worked well. Andrea Faraone has done a wonderful job capturing Italy in food, interior and vibe. What’s more, the coffee is gooooood and served with a shot glass of soda water for cleaning the teeth afterwards.

Will I go back? Of course, I have to sample lunch and dinner now.

95 Victoria Avenue
Albert Park
(03) 9345 5260

Thursday, May 24, 2007

HHDD #12: Caesar!

I’ve kept my eye on HHDD events for a while. Not long after I started blogging. Alas, I haven’t been in the position to enter. Until now…..

Katie has pitched the challenge of all things Caesar. I’ve never made a Caesar Salad before so I decided to run with it rather than incorporate key ingredients into another dish. Purists beware; my salad doesn’t contain egg (other than in the dressing) or anchovies because I don’t like them! Don’t like egg? Yup, that’s right. Put it in a cake or biscuits and I won’t bat an eyelid……Batter? Yes, I’ll eat raw egg in cake batter too, being the queen of bowl licking. However, put that egg in a quiche, frittata and other such egg-y concoctions and I’ll turn up my nose. It’s not for lack of trying. On Sunday I even had a bite of S’bo’s eggs benedict, but alas, eggs are still not for me.

As for the anchovies, according to Wikipedia, original Caesar salads didn’t contain anchovies, instead it was Worcestershire sauce that gave the distinctive flavour.

Anyway, on with the show. I pulled my recipe from Cooks Companion, special mention should also go to the lady at a South Melbourne Market Deli, who gave me my anchovies free because I only wanted two!

Caesar Salad with Sourdough Croutons

I will work from the dressing onwards. I rarely understand why cookbooks will give ingredients for dressings (and sauces etc.) last yet get you to make them first.

3 eggs
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 anchovy fillets
2 tsp mustard (I used seeded for aesthetic reasons, however the recommended is Dijon)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 ½ Tbsp red-wine vinegar (I upped the vinegar to make a sharper dressing)
1 Tbsp spoon grated parmesan cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper

S’bo was around to help so, being an egg eater, I put him in charge of boiling the eggs for exactly 4 minutes. I then whizzed them up a bit with my stick blender. I’m not fortunate enough to own a food processor…..yet. From here I added the garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar and parmesan. The recipe recommended I work them all to a paste before adding to the eggs, however I just blended like mad. The oil went in next, followed by salt and pepper to taste. This made about 2 cups.

For three people (+ next day’s lunch), I washed and chopped 2 cos lettuces and arranged them on plate. In a pan I cooked 4 rashers of bacon until crispy and then fried cubes of sourdough (I used 3 slices for 3 people). I tore up the bacon and scattered it with the croutons over the leaves. Next to come was the dressing, then some fresh parsely and finally, shavings of some great parmesan that I picked up a week or so earlier.

So there you have it, my first ever Caesar Salad AND my first HHDD. Thanks Katie for being a great inspiration.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Albert Park Hotel

What’s more important? Great food or great service? Well it doesn’t matter at Albert Park Hotel, because you get both. I’ve had the odd drink here, being one of the closest pubs to my place, and I’ve found it very trendy and consequently intimidating in a way that only slightly-less-trendy females like myself can understand. However, to step into the bistro at the rear is to step into another place. The décor is an eclectic mix of trendy, sophisticated and eccentric; from the stem-less Riedel glasses on each table, to the carpet taken straight from Grandma’s floor.

The thing that stands out from the beginning is the service and attention to detail. I called ahead and was told I didn’t need to book on this particular night. “Just turn up and we’ll look after you”. As we perused the menu a plate of (great) olives and grissini arrived at our table to keep us going. As tempted as I was by the zucchini flowers stuffed with fontina, artichokes and ricotta, we decided to skip straight to mains. The menu has a heavy seafood focus, with cuttlefish salad, sea scallops and smoked ocean trout amongst the entrée selection, and barramundi, kingfish and flounder amongst the mains.

I regularly opt for red meat when eating out however I bypassed lamb and steak for wild barramundi fillet, green papaya relish with crispy pork and roasted chilli sambal. S-bo ordered the roasted kingfish on celeriac mash with fennel, radish and fetta salad.

We took a little longer to decide on a wine, particularly considering the depth of the list. Did we want red or white? Sparkling? A whole bottle or perhaps a few glasses of a few wines? In the end, on the waiter’s recommendation, we chose a bottle of the Vavasour Pinot Gris from the Marlborough, NZ. There’s a good selection of wines by the glass if you’re just after a couple too.

Bread arrived on our table and meals came shortly after. I was about to say the fish seemed fresh, but in fact the whole plate was fresh. Lime juice gave the whole dish a lift and cut through the chilli. The green papaya relish didn’t have a distinctive flavour but that was more than compensated by the pork.

It’s a great feeling when you’ve eaten a beautiful meal and feel satisfied but not full. We thought it was such a nice feeling to enjoy our wine without our stomachs bursting that we skipped dessert and had some cheese instead. Of the three cheeses on offer, we ordered the Bleu Brebis La Memee. Not only did this come with crackers, it also came with semi-dried grapes (stewed? I’m not really sure what they were) and quince paste.

It was the perfect way to end such a delicious dinner. Albert Park Hotel will no longer be “the pub down the road where everyone’s trendy”, it’ll be “the pub down the road with the great bistro out back”.

Albert Park Hotel
Cnr Montague St & Dundas Place
Albert Park
ph. (03) 9690 5459

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Eating in Melbourne on a Sunday Night

Back to N1 & N2's visit visit, their last night in town was Sunday and we went out to dinner. N1 was keen to head to hardware lane where we'd once had a great meal last year.

The Melbourne natives amongst us will say "there's nowhere open in the city on Sunday night" and to a large extent they're true. With this forewarning I searched a few books and found a smattering of places claiming to be open on a Sunday night...wrong! It might be rude-ish to be closed on a Sunday night (I guess everyone needs a night off) but to advertise you're open and then be closed! That's downright rude. Especially when you're supposedly a "Melbourne local" and therefore an all-knowing tour guide in your friend's eyes. Luckily N1 & N2 were very understanding of the fact that I couldn't click my fingers and find an open restaurant. N1 convinced us to try Hardware Lane just on the offchance.

As we walked off Bourke st, past the carpark everything looked pretty closed. But, just down a little further we were convinced we could see umbrellas. And is that music we could hear? Sure enough, Vons Restaurant and Bar was open and teeming. There was a band on one side of the alley and people eating under the comfort of heaters on the other. It was a food oasis for our hungry tummies. The vibrant atmosphere was a stark contrast to an otherwise closed city.

Apparently one can't be too choosey on a Sunday night in the city and Vons did all right. I ordered Osso Buco which was as lovely and tender as it should be. It also came with polenta which I'm not always so keen on, but this was so moist it was more than enjoyable. The flavour intensity of the sauce could have been a little sharper as things became quite bland towards the end of the dish.

Having made only a recent return to my blog I'm a little out of practice at taking photos without the flash, so you'll have to apply a little imagination to my images while I practice up a bit. I've also been forgetting to take my camera out and instead having to make do with a mobile phone camera (see post to come.....)

S-bo had lamb fillets, with red onion confit, polenta and baby peas, and N1 & N2 both had pasta. Whilst not groundbreaking, the food was good quality and generous. The service unfortuantely was a bit hot and cold. The floor manager was excellent however the waitstaff were a little scatty. Maybe there's a reason why Sunday is traditionally the night off in town. We took a little while to order and our waitress kept returning prematurely. Even a polite "we'll call you over" made no difference. Perhaps I'm being fickle, I know a few posts ago I was accusing staff of being too inattentive!

Our meals arrived together but N1 ordered carbonara and received calamari, so one dish had to be sent back anyway. These things happen, I guess "carbonara" and "calamari" sound sort of the same, but we were a bit annoyed when carbonara AND calamari arrived on our bill. The bill was more than expected and I just put it down to a Sunday loading. Luckily someone looked closer.

It was an unfortunate way to end an otherwise enjoyable evening. We left no tip, but I'm sure we'll be back if we want a meal in the city on Sunday night. Apparently Vons has been open on a Sunday only for a few weeks and are relying purely on word-of-mouth. Their website doesn't list Sunday opening times so call ahead to be sure.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Celebratory Lasagne

Last weekend the crew from work gathered together for a team dinner, to celebrate the completion of a project. We all pitched in, bringing mains, dessert, beer and wine. I volunteered to make lasagne for the obvious reason that it feeds many people. Unfortunately I'd forgotten how much work a lasagne is. There was the trip to the markets mid-week to source quality ingredients, the bolognese sauce made from scratch and the white sauce with it's associated stress (I'm paranoid of ruining white sauce yet I can't actually remember ever doing so). Then of course comes assembly and the grating of parmesan on top. Not to mention the transporting of this big bertha over to Bulk's house (my workmate hosting the dinner) for deployment to the oven.

Upon emergence from the oven the lasagne looked pretty good. So good that everyone tucked in before I had a chance to take a photo! I used a basic red wine bolognese sauce, preferring pancetta over bacon. I can't ever remember making such a large quantity and I was initially quite alarmed at how much reducing might be needed. Luckily it was good to go by the time I'd pottered around and made the white sauce (about an hour or so later). I think next time I'll make a cheese sauce instead of a basic white sauce for a little extra flavour. One of the main reasons I didn't do so was I didn't have enough time to grate any cheese.

Despite my grumblings above, I really enjoyed making the lasagne. But it brings me to the topic of shortcuts. Surely when cooking a lasagne for so many people it would make sense to simply use bottled pasta sauce instead of making bolognese from scratch. Packet grated cheese instead of white sauce? Yup, it would certainly be quicker, but there's a large part of me that stubbornly wont let go of making things from scratch. I'm sure everyone who likes to cook from scratch would agree, there's a lot of love going into scratch-made food. I refuse to accept that food from scratch is always better, often it takes much trial and error to get things right. And once that occurs, you become adventurous, tweak something here and there in the recipe, and the cycle starts again.

There's also the question of "how scratch is scratch?" Can I truly claim to have made the sauce from scratch when I used packet tomato paste and tinned tomatoes?

My ability to cook, write in this blog AND time-manage appears to be lacking (as evidenced by my sporadic postings). If I refuse to do anything but cook from scratch then I guess I should choose my recipes a little more thoughtfully. At least until my life calms down a little.......because that will happen soon, won't it?

Time for seconds anyone?

Monday, May 07, 2007

St Ali, South Melbourne

Such an appropriate name for a cafe don't you think? Personally I still find Melbourne's back alleys a novelty so I can't resist taking visitors down as many random streets as I know (the ones that I know lead somewhere funky that is). So when N1, my roommate and best friend from boarding school, and her boyfriend, N2 came down to Melbourne I took them here for lunch.

St Ali seems to be a known gem for South Melbourne's coffee lovers however I first heard about it only 2 weeks ago, over a few Friday night drinks. When I bumped into some fellow drinkers the next morning at the gym we decided to check it out over a post-gym coffee. I only stayed for coffee but I was most impressed, not to mention pleasantly caffeinated as I made my way home. (Note: Saturday gym is not a habit of mine. I often talk it up the night before over a wine or two but rarely do I back myself up!)

N1 & N2's visit seemed the perfect excuse to have lunch here. The atmosphere is great, with high warehouse ceilings, cement floors and clever usage of coffee sacks. I was particularly taken with the hessian mounted on wooden frames and hung as pictures. N1, who owns a homewares store in Goondiwindi, laughed and said she'd never be able to sell pictures like that because all the farmers would turn around and make them themselves. Still, how often do you see things at the market and say "I could make that" and then never do it! A few louds bangs echoed across from the walled-off half of the building just as we were ordering however the waiter managed to downplay the noise with his sense of humour.

Apparently St Ali takes a lot of influence from Yemen, including their namesake. There's a definite Middle Eastern and North African feel to the dishes but I would've never picked Yemen. Check out their website for more info on the namesake. I ordered pork and fennel sausages on pide, with tomato relish, chilli and roquette. The sausages were sensational. I thought the chilli overpowered some of the flavours however my tolerance to chilli can fluctuate so perhaps my tastebuds were feeling a little sensitive.

My fellow diners all had lamb. S'bo and N2 both had the lamb pizza (pictured) and thought it was good, quite a compliment from N2 really, who's mother has a lamb feedlot business in Goondi (check this link to abc). N1 had lamb kofta which looked great and was apparently delicious, although the portion seemed a little on the small size, perfect for a raining afternoon snack perhaps?
The prices for lunch are very reasonable, but I'm simply excited to have found a place in Melbourne where the coffee is comparable to my favourite roaster in Sydney, Campos. And, just round the corner! I hadn't even had a chance to look for somewhere yet, so the stumble-across makes it all the more sweeter!
St Ali
12-18 Yarra Place
South Melbourne
Ph. 9686 2990
Open for breakfast & lunch, 7 days.