Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fat Belly Everyone

The Wife's dad turned 60 last week and we all headed off to Brunswick Heads to stay together in a house, drink beer and coffee, eat and generally celebrate the occasion in a low key way. At least thats what Neil wanted. The Wife knows how much he likes seeing his family and friends though, so using the fully operation awesome power of Facebook, organised for them all to be in Brunswick for dinner on the Saturday night.

The Wife organised dinner at fatbellykat, which by pure fluke happened to be across the road from our house. Kat's is a greek resteraunt, with a strong emphasis on shared food, so after much consultation The Wife decided on the following menu.

1. Natural Oysters
2. Hand-made Spring Onion Flatbread with Dips
3. Smoked Fish Fritters with Tomato Marmalade + Creme Fraiche

1. Layered Dish of Marinated Pumpkin, Eggplant Chips + Herbed Sheep's Milk Labna
2. Confit Duck & Kipfler Potato Dolmades with Orange Yoghurt
3. Shredded Lamb Filo Pastries

1. Kataifi Crema topped with mastic flavoured custard and finished with cream, cinnamon and almonds
2. Greek donuts soaked in honey syrup served with hand-made vanilla bean icecream and praline
3. Chocolate Mousse

At this point i'd like to point out that The Wife, who after 10+ years of scientific training can make a chinese military unit look disorganised and the head of the spanish inquisition feel like he can't get a question in, was very impressed with the level of service and the speed of response times. Little things like a suggestion to change from on big cake to three small desserts showed an attention to detail and understanding the individual customers needs, that you don't always get.

On to the food!

Having grown up with oysters straight off the rocks, I don't have the love affair with them that some people do. The consensus was that they were very fresh and had great flavour. The fish fritters were light and very tasty, but the winner of the entree and for me, the whole night was the flatbread. The texture! The flavour! The dips, mmm oh so garlicy. I will be having a crack at flatbread again and again till i get it right, because i could think of nothing better than having a few mates round with some cold beers and getting stuck in to a plate of this.

The mains sharing plates came out and i hit the only down note of the entire evening. I love pumpkin, especially when you slow roast in and caramelise all those natural sugars. I'm not sure what the marinade was but it just didn't sit well with the pumpkin, though to be fair this might be traditional greek combination and other people on my table loved it. The duck confit dolmades were a win, but then you'd be pretty hard up if you ruined something with confit in it. I loved the soft lamb in the crunchy filo pastries, though a few people weren't fans, but i thought they had a great balance of flavour and i love the texture of a good filo done right.

By the time dessert came around I was pretty full, but the dainty three desserts on the plate were tempting enough to dig in. The mousse was first and it was light and rich, then i tried the honey soaked donut. WOW. I need that recipe. It was something else, not sickly sweet, with a fantastically doughy texture, I polished it off and sadly the custard was left behind.

The staff at fatbellykat were superb, there is no other word for it. When i ran The Alley and we were on form it was like this, the staff genuinely wanted to make your night as enjoyable as possible, Damian made sure that we had everything we needed and it all ran smoothly, he even encouraged The Wife to get up and do a speech. We weren't the quietest bunch, but the staff and owners obviously enjoyed the communal atmosphere, there were no dirty looks or a feeling that we should tone it down.

The food was great, thanks Kat, the staff and the night were likewise, if you are in that part of the world, check it out!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Comfort Food

I have a new Asian cookbook, purchased to find the recipe of the legendary Sichuan Crispy Pork Ribs. Unfortunately it didn't contain the right recipe and the whole book is freaking me out a little, mainly because I have about one in ten of the ingredients and can recognize about four in ten. With The Wife invalided with the flu and feeling the start of it myself I went with something for dinner that I can cook blindfolded, comfort food.

Comfort food is a pretty broad church. Could be a uplifting Asian broth or fried eggs on toast. As long as the flavours and experience are like and old treasured coat, welcoming and soothing of the soul.

I cooked lamb meatballs in a tomato sauce. Lamb mince, with thyme, ginger, garlic, a blitzed bit of bread, onion, an egg, lots of cumin, chilli, tomato paste and salt, all mixed up into little balls then fried off in a heavy casserole dish until brown. Take them out and whack in a diced onion and some mushrooms, sweat off a little then hit it with a good slosh of red wine. Put the meatballs back in and a tin of tomatoes then bake for half an hour. Tear some mozzarella over the top and turn the heat up in the last five minutes. If you have access to buffalo, spend the money on that beautiful silky cheese. Serve with mashed potato.

Best when crook or living in Tasmania or NZ.

MF from the iPhone

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Looking at cooking...

I haven't posted anything here for a while, what with moving house and everything.  However the big move across town has meant a couple of delightful changes.

One thing is that we are now able to drop into Footscray pretty regularly for a big bowl of pho (pronounced 'fur') at a huge range of Vietnamese places. To date our favorite is called Dong Que VN on the main drag there - it has that really authentic feel without being grotty. There are always a couple of older guys sitting there eating who look like they were ARVN regs who escaped the fall of Saigon on the last chopper out as well as some babealicious younger Vietnames hotties. Plus you just can't fault a place when their spring rolls are just totally awesome. The pho is delicious as well, coming out with a huge pile of bean sprouts, fresh basil and chopped up chili and lemons that you add to your fragrant beef broth.

Another is that we are also very close to the fantastic Station Hotel (also in Footscray) which has to have the best steaks in Melbourne. I had the most enormous and delicious angus t-bone there on my birthday in February, washed down by some very nice Torbrek shiraz.

The best thing though is that after having 'made do' with an electric stove for the past 2 years we once again have a gas cooktop. We still need to put some time, effort and money into building a new kitchen but we decided that we could probably live with the existing 1930s-40s era cupboard size set-up for a while. We needn't have worried - the old stovetop puts out a ferocious heat and works a treat. I don't know how I lived without gas for so long - it just makes cooking better somehow...

On the weekend I went to the Footscray Markets and picked up some fresh salmon and prawn meat and then we went to a pretty fabulous farmers market at Williamstown, so I don't think we will be suffering in the food supply department.

Unfortunately the new homeowner cash flow situation  has meant that I haven't been able to take in as much of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival program as I would like. There are  a few freebie events but most of the activities require an outlay ranging from 50-100 bucks per person and we can't justify that at the moment. We have a weird installation type thingie in front of work and had a pretty good event today with a bunch of people talking about different eras in food in Melbourne. Guy Grossi from Florentinos was ths stand-out talent, I went to his restaurant last year for Sweet Thang's birthday and it was truly excellent.

On another note I thought that this sounded like a pretty good cookbook (pictured)  for the person who has everything - although I have to admit that I still haven't cooked anything from my Kinky Friedman cookbook - so never sure how useful a novelty cookbook actually is...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A nice surprise.

Last week we went out to dinner for a mates birthday. I knew we were going out to a restaurant but had no idea where it was or what type or quality. Turns out it's a restaurant that I've always wanted to visit, from the old days when it was Tables and in it's current incarnation as Brents.

I don't eat out that much, partly because I sink all our extra cash into Lantanaland, a night out might buy me eight fruit trees or half a cow and partly because I back my own skills in the kitchen.* But it's good to go out, to be inspired by truly exceptional cooking and to spark your own inspiriation. Brents was such a night.

There was 21 of us so it was a simple three choice menu. I moved my napkin to have a look and immediately said "I know what I'm having". The Wife had a look and laughed, because the first line read "crispy pork belly" and I didn't need to read past that really. It came with a mustard ice cream and that worked amazingly well, the cool icecream worked really well with the tender crispy pork belly.

They then had a nice little pallette cleanser after all that tasty, tasty fat, a passionfruit sorbet. It was simple and delicious and one of the girls passed hers over and I doubled up it was that good. The main choice was not quite as easy. Normally I would jump on duck confit with pork belly swiftness, but I was tempted by the slow cooked beef cheeks, mainly because fellow food blogger Natascha Mirosch was so passionate for it a few weeks back. I went with that and I'm glad I did, beautifully cooked meat, falling apart with a smooth mash. I'd usually share a taste with The Wife so we can sample all the dishes but I'd cleaned my plate before she could even offer some of her salmon. I did manage to snaffle a bit of confit from one of the boys and it was also very, very good but I was glad I went with the beef cheeks.

Dessert was a lovely cream brûlée. The serving throughout the night but I doubt anyone would have walked away even a little hungry. Check out the cheese board that some of the crew got to finish off with, great cheese and a superb quince paste.

All in all a fantastic night, Brents would have made a bit of cash from the drinks bill, which I hoped made up for the fact they had to ask us to keep it down a touch about three times. Anyone who says that the Brisbane food scene has nothing worth going out for is kidding themselves. Both Brents and Grasshopper Kitchen are top class feeds and if you are getting poor food or service then you need to do your research better and support the places that do food like this.

*if I come off as being a bit arrogant about my cooking, considering I have no chef training, I had my faith in my skills reaffirmed this morning at breakfast at Mooloolaba. I got my favourite eggs benedict. For some reason there was four muffins, they need to find a supplier that sell decent ham and it doesn't have to be five layers thick and their "home made hollandaise" curiously had no flavour at all. If I served that to you at my place I'd be embarressed. But I wouldn't, because I've never made that dish that badly. The cafe wasn't that busy so it wasn't like the chef would've been snowed under. Of course when the waiter asked if I was enjoying my meal I said yes. Doh.

MF from the iPhone

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fresh is Best II

After 4 years of living in a shoe box in Brisbane when I moved to Hobart last year, my girlfriend and I had a list of 3 things we wanted in a house. Sunny position, sunny position, and a garden.

I wouldn’t say I love gardening in itself, but I do love growing my own food. Apart from the freshness, you can’t get any fresher than picked and walked straight to the kitchen and the satisfaction of knowing what you are eating is from your own hard work. The taste is incredible.

We planted Pink Eye potatoes last spring and have been gradually eating our crop since around mid December. Now I like spuds, any spuds, I’ll eat them any form, chips, crisps, roasted, mashed whatever. When we had our new pink eyes, they were by far the best tasting spuds I have ever had. So much so that we have only eaten our own spuds the one way. Lightly steamed, so they are cooked but still firm, with some butter and chopped oregano (also from the garden). The taste of the potatoes was so nice that we wanted to enjoy the taste of the potato itself rather than mixing it with too many things. I had not tasted a spud like it. Maybe next year when we grow some more we’ll do a few more things with them, but for now its just enjoying fresh tasting spuds.

I have a friend that tends to grow the vegies that are more expensive in the shops. Spuds are really cheap in Tassie, but I will be growing spuds every year, no matter how cheap they get. Fresh definitely is best!!

Not from an iPhone

Fresh is Best

Fresh is best! We have a new contributor here at MF, Davey from Tasmania, making Tassie by far the biggest segment of our writers. Until he gets his permissions all sorted, here is his first post....now posted by him above

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pumpkin Soup

If you live in south east Qld you'll have noticed it's been raining a bit in the last month. A bit! My shiny new ride on has barely been touched and the grass grows and grows, time for some geese as a fall back plan I think. The problem with all this rain has been the heat that has come with it. Sticky, humid heat.

Because what I really crave in this weather is comfort food, big hearty roasts and warm soup. With the last lot of rain the temperature has plummeted to about a hot Tasmanian day, just enough for me to do pumpkin soup.

Dice a fair chunk of pumpkin into about 5 cm chunks. Cut the bottom of a whole head of garlic. Deseed a few chillies. Toss the lot in a very light coat of olive oil, salt, cayenne pepper and rosemary or thyme. Bake in an oven about 130 deg until the pumpkin is soft and a little caremelised.

Melt one of your blocks of pork trotter stock in a pan, add the pumpkin, chilli and squeezed out garlic and blend with a stem blender, slowly adding pure cream until you have the consistency that you want. Keep on low heat until hot, try not to boil.

In the roasting pan, fry off some cold smoked belly bacon finely diced, then add diced bread, fry until crisp, spoon over soup with some finely chopped chives.

If only we had a real winter.

MF from the iPhone