Friday, 20 June 2008

Bisy, backson

We're off to Cairns for a bit of sun and snorkelling and all that jazz. I'm taking a week off the computer, so there probably won't be any updates until early July. Bye!

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Zierholz Brewery

Last night the cook and I went out to Zierholz brewery with a bunch of the Slow Food group. While I'm not really a member of the Slow Food group I really couldn't pass up an opportunity to visit Zierholz.

For those who don't know Zierholz is a small brewery that . . . .

. . . started up in Canberra a couple of years ago by Christoph Zierholz . He got into brewing by starting as a home brewer and then took the brave leap into a commercial setup. He's pretty adventurous. While most of us start home-brew with kits, then move into extract and experiment with grains. It sounds like he started with extract and leapt to all-grain mashes and boiling. Brave man!

The idea of the visit was that Christoph would give us a small talk describing the brewing process while showing us the brewery. We would then taste some of his beers.

I've been doing a little research into brewing lately. There is a lot of information out there on brewing and it can be a bit difficult to separate theory from myth from experimental fact. My latest, greatest read is "Designing Great Beers" . It's a brilliant book that contains vast amounts of information if you want to approach brewing from a more scientific point of view. It goes into great detail on methods and beer styles and beer history. Someone should start a one semester Uni course using it as a text book. . . .

. . anyway where was I before I got carried away. Ah yes. Reading the book provides lots of information but it was better to have Christoph show us through the brewery and explain each step in the brewing process. He told us what was done and why and some of the history. It really made the theory bloom in front of my eyes. Christoph knows all the theory and has a very pragmatic approach. Just brilliant. I had some of my pet theories confirmed (e.g. don't ferment over 18C) and unfortunately my fears confirmed (e.g. brewing from extract is OK but it's like making instant coffee).

So even before the beer the trip was well worth it. But then, of course, there was beer :)

The beers we tasted were: Schank, German Ale, Hopmeister, Pils, Weizen, Brown Ale and Porter.

They are all good beer although my tastes really run toward the hoppy and darker beers. I would like to be able to do the beers justice but I don't think my beer palate and vocabulary are up to beer tasting standards however I'll give it a go.

Schank: A very light beer. Somewhat hoppy. Very little malt taste
German Ale: This is the one I have tasted before. This in many ways is a reasonably generic beer. Something that most people (who like beer) would drink happily. As such it is not a stand-out from the rest but it's still very drinkable.
Hopmeister: Sort of like the German Ale with more hops. That means I liked it more.
Pils: Noticeable hops and somewhat sweet. This is a very tasty drop. This is the sort of beer that I would drink through the warmer weather.
Weizen: Don't ask me I'm just not a fan of wheat beer.
Brown Ale: Somewhat reminiscent of Newcastle Brown Ale but superior. This has a slightly nutty flavour and is full bodied. Not really hoppy.
Porter: One of the best porters I've tasted. Porter is a very wide church of a beer. It even used to include Stout. A lot of porters have a very rich malt taste. So rich it seems to overpower the other tastes in the beer. This doesn't do that. This is a very even beer that spreads all the tastes out. It's slightly biscuity, a bit caramelly and of course you can taste the malt. If anyone likes stout or porter and gets a chance to drink some of this don't let the opportunity pass you by.

So after tasting a beer or two we wandered home. Or, more accurately, the designated driving Cook drove me home. It's a hard life.

If anyone is interesting in trying these beers and is in Canberra Zierholz is opening a cafe. So it's worth dropping in. I'm planning on it and I suspect Canberra taxi's know how to find Fyshwick.

At this point I should add that I have no interest in Zierholz past the point that I love good beer :)

The Bloke

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Beef Bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon is good stuff, especially if you take the trouble to make it properly. It's a stew fit for a dinner party, rich and savoury, and it gets better with a rest overnight and reheating. But it's not really fit for photography, because it's basically just brown. I made enough for three meals, and we've had it with mixed broccoli and cauliflower on the side, and some toasted sourdough bread one night, and pumpkin mash another.

I used Julia Child's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, with some modifications. I revisited this cookbook a while ago, when the Julie/Julia Project was in full swing. I loved Julie Powell's blog - she took on the amazing task of cooking every single recipe in that book in the space of a year. As she put it, "365 days. 536 recipes. One girl and a crappy outer borough kitchen." Did she make it? Read the blog. Although it was 2002/3, so you can find out quite quickly.

Julie's first go at this dish was not a success. But she persevered, and the second time worked fine. I simplified. There are whole chunks of the routine that I skipped - no boiling bacon, because I didn't have a whole chunk, just slices. No salt, because the bacon is salty enough. And after going to all the trouble of getting the meat right, I could not be bothered to cook the onions and mushrooms separately. I just chucked them in late in the cooking process. Nor did I bother skimming and straining and reducing the sauce. It worked fine. I really do think that the critical thing is the startup, so I put the effort in to that section.

Recipe follows:
Recipe: Beef Bourguignon
180g good streaky bacon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 kg trimmed weight stewing beef
1 onion
30g plain flour
750ml red wine
500ml rich beef stock or consomme
pepper, rosemary, 1/2 tsp thyme, 2 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, crushed
18 shallots or pickling onions
400g white mushrooms

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Trim the large chunks of fat and rind from the bacon. Toss them in a deep fireproof casserole dish with the olive oil, and fry gently to render down the fat. Meanwhile, slice the bacon into small strips, and chop the onion. When the fat is rendered, remove the solids and discard, and add the bacon strips. Brown lightly, for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a bowl.

Brown the meat in the bacon fat, a handful at a time, removing to the bowl when nicely browned on all sides. Don't cover the base of the pan with meat, you don't want the fat to cool down too much and the juices to come out.

Add the sliced onion to the pan to brown. Remove pan from heat, pour out any remaining large pools of fat, then return the meat and bacon. Sift over the flour and toss through. Put the open casserole dish in the oven for 4 minutes, then remove, stir well, and return for an additional 4 minutes. This browns the flour and lightly crusts the beef.

Reduce oven heat to 150C. Pour over the wine and stock to cover the meat. Add the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in the oven for two hours. Check it to make sure it doesn't go above a simmer; reduce heat if necessary. Add the peeled whole shallots and the mushrooms, and continue to simmer for another hour.

When the meat is tender and vegetables are cooked, bring the casserole to the stove top. Adjust the gravy to your taste - simply simmer uncovered for a while to reduce the sauce down, or add extra wine if it's too thick.

Notes: I used Campbell's Real Consomme in a tetra pack, and a superior quality cask wine. You don't want to go too cheap and nasty with this; the wine is a major ingredient, but don't use the $50 a bottle version either. Also, I doubled the garlic and herb quantities that Julia Child uses, and added a sprig of rosemary.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

The Strangest Meal

I thought a bread roll with sharp cheese, and a large bowl of steamed brussels sprouts with plenty of pepper and malt vinegar would be the weirdest dinner I ate while the bloke's away. But I topped it tonight.

Bacon fat and grapefruit.

Honest. I've been making a fairly proper boeuf bourguignonne, in honour of the bloke's return. To do that you need to render down the fat off a goodly quantity of bacon, and use that fat to brown the beef. So you have to scrape the cooked bits out of the pan, leaving the liquid fat behind, and, well, some of them have gone all brown and crispy, and, well, how could you throw out those little crunchy morsels of deliciousness? It can't be done.

And the grapefruit salad needed finishing. It was a little past its best, but still nice and sharp and clean. I didn't exactly need much dinner, since I had a stonkeringly huge and delicious lunch today at Poachers' Pantry.

Friday, 13 June 2008

How to (not) get a UK visa

Like many Australians, I have family roots in the UK. My mother is actually still a British citizen, which entitles me officially to a "Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode" in the UK. I've had one of these in my passport, ever since I got my very first passport. I've never actually lived there, but it does give me the right to stand in the shorter queues at Heathrow, and it's kind of cool to think that I could just pick up and move to the UK any time I want.

Now I've renewed my passport (one of my 101-1001 goals), it seemed only sensible to renew that bit of paperwork, too. Here's how it worked for me. I'll also give you 1998 for a comparison.

The Procedure, 1998
* Take old and new passports to UK High Commission.
* Wait in waiting room for 15 minutes.
* Helpful gentleman at counter says "Oh, a renewal. No fee then, love."
* He puts a new sticker in my passport, stamps and signs it, and I'm on my way.

The Procedure, 2008
* Take old and new passports to UK High Commission.
* Discover from gate guard that they've moved the visa office out to Brindabella Park.
* Ask the gate guard for directions, discover that he's so new to Canberra he doesn't even know where he is himself. Commonwealth Avenue is a mystery to him.
* Go home, check on the website.
* Discover that there's a whole mass of forms available there, and the new procedure is to fill them out first and take them in.
* Fill out lengthy online forms, including the funky bit where I say I'm not a terrorist. This is really deep security, because of course terrorists would never lie.
* Print forms, sign them, acquire photo.
* Worry a little that it's the wrong from, because it's an application, not a renewal form.
* Following instructions on the website to take paperwork to visa office, drive out to Brindabella Park in their posted opening hours.
* Be informed by security that they will see nobody without an appointment, and no, I can't make one from there.
* Go back home. Search website for contact to make appointment. Find none.
* Call High Commission, select option for visas, get recorded message telling me to go to the website.
* Select option to return to menu and get operator. Call times out on hold.
* Call again to get operator; get through. Am given 1-300 number to call.
* Call the 1-300 number, get recorded message saying this call will be charged at $9.90, have credit card ready.
* Roll eyes, swear, fetch credit card. Plenty of time to do this as I'm on hold for 15 minutes.
* Speak to intensely polite call centre person who responds not an iota to my mildly expressed frustration. (And it was mild and friendly, I'm not stupid!)
* During conversation, learn that I have filled out the right form. There is no renewal form; you have to reapply every time now. And it costs $486.
* Try to make appointment. None is available on the day, so I try for next Friday, a full week away. She offers me 9.00am.
* Knowing how unbelievably awful the traffic to BBP is, I ask for a later one, such as 10am. There are none. It's 9am or 9.15 am. I settle for 9.15am.

That's where I'm up to. Who knows what might happen at 9.15am next Friday? But one thing that might happen is that I stand them up. After all, I can't call to cancel the appointment without paying another $10 for the privilege. And this new procedure means that there's no great advantage to me doing it now. If I ever do decide to move to the UK, I can deal with the bureaucracy then. Should I pay close to $500 for an idle sense of freedom to move somewhere that I don't really want to live, and shorter queues at Heathrow immigration? Perhaps not.

Internet Salmagundi II

Welcome to round 2 of the salmagundi.

I hope you don't suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia.

I know a lot of people who like to knit, and one of them (you know who you are, Belinda) has been trying to foist off excess scarves on me. But I've found a better place to send them: Afghanistan! The Winter Warm project wants knitters. Even though this is organised by Scandinavians, you only have to post stuff as far as Melbourne. They want stuff by 15 September for shipment in time for the next northern hemisphere winter.

Two words: steampunk dalek

Two more words: knitted dalek.

I found a cruller recipe. After my rant against Krispy Kreme, I feel obliged to make these sometime soon. This recipe makes pink oven-baked choux pastry style doughnuts, so perhaps Belinda will join me in this project. I did discover that the ones I remember fondly are called "French crullers" in some parts of the US, to distinguish them from the cake donut cruller. So the KK version is legit after all. (But still nasty.)

Speaking of my mate Belinda, (who is getting a lot of mention this week) she has just started a blog of her own.

I've been studying up on world war two songs for a show in late August, so here are the Andrews Sisters singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, at YouTube.

And while thinking about WW2, it turns out that Adolf Hitler's few surviving relatives (they didn't like each other) have been living quietly in New York for decades. They may, if the article can be trusted, possibly have made a pact to wipe his genes from the earth by never having children. Understandable, you'd think. But on the other hand, it turns out that some 8% of men in Asia are direct descendants of Genghis Khan, and that seems sorta kinda cool. A thousand years turns horror into ancient history.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Cooking for One, Take Two

Another week on my own. The bloke's epic journey continues - he got stuck in Birdsville, by a flood. Yes, he's crossing the desert, and it rained. He's due back Saturday, but may be late. So anyway, I have another week of eating stuff he doesn't like. Last week I ate a lot of pasta and eggplant. This week I've based it around a big tray of roast vegetables - looks like a stupid amount for one, doesn't it?

I've made liver and onions for two dinners. Yummy. And how else do you get organic lamb for $6.99 a kilo? I ate it with onions and bacon, with roast parsnips and carrots one night, and with mashed sweet potato the other night - that was just the baked sweet potato, squished and nuked. I had some broccolini and frozen peas for greens.

There are a couple of tricks with liver - first, it is really, really disgusting if overcooked. Either it turns to shoe-leather, or it goes weirdly granular. Possibly even both, if it's an uneven thickness. Trim it well, slice thinly (about 1cm), and flash fry in a dash of olive oil - a minute a side is enough; even less is OK. That's it. You can get foofy with seasoned flour and such if you want; there's plenty of recipes out there. The second trick with liver is that you can soak it in milk. Liver tastes pretty strong, and lots of people don't like its metallic notes, even though all that iron is very good for you. If you're a bit marginal on the idea, but you still like pate, try milder choices like calves' liver and chicken livers. Soaking it in milk for a few hours, up to a whole day, can make it a lot milder, and tenderises it slightly, too.

Another think the bloke doesn't like is leeks, unless they are well-concealed. Leeks have a mild onion flavour, and they're pretty easy to handle. You just need to be aware that they will contain quite a lot of dirt in the upper part, and make sure you wash them well. If you're chopping them up, this is dead easy. Remove the dark green parts, chop the rest, and just leave them to soak in a bowl for a while. Swish them around a bit to loosen the dirt, and lift them out of the water with a slotted spoon. Leeks float, dirt sinks. If you're wanting to keep them whole, a bit more rigmarole is needed - slice partway down, fan out the leaves as much as you can, and soak, rubbing the dirt off with your hands as much as you can. If you google for "preparing leeks" you'll find videos. The internet, what did we do before we had it?

I baked them in a Welsh style, chopped in short lengths, mixed with bacon shreds. Sprinkle over some nutmeg, salt and pepper, pour over some milk (or cream) to cover, and bake uncovered until soft. Most of the milk will evaporate. Cover with grated cheese and bake another ten minutes. Ideally you'd use Caerphilly cheese, but you don't normally get that around here. I used a white Cheshire, which is similar: white and crumbly, but not as buttermilk-sour. Really, any old cheddar would do - you can't go wrong with bacon and cheese and leeks. A couple of small baked potatoes and roast carrots, and there's another lovely meal or two.

After all that, the last thing left in my tray of roast veg is the pumpkin. I'm thinking I'll probably turn that into soup.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Cupcakes for breakfast

I ate a bit too much last night, and didn't feel hungry until late morning when Beth turned up ready to go for a walk. Luckily, she brought me a small box of cupcakes, so I had one for breakfast. Her sister made them last night, and by Beth's account was reluctant to let me at them. Because I'm a food critic, and so obviously I was going to take a nibble, swish it around my mouth, and spit it out going "Peh! No icing! Been in the oven too long! Too grainy! Depart from me, vile scum!" Since Belinda did much the same thing on Friday with her date scones (Underbaked! Chunks of date too large!), I can only assume that I must have undergone some massive Jekyll and Hyde like personality disorder.

No longer can I accept a scone or a cake from a friend. Apparently, I transform into a giant green monster, rip off my shirt, and scream "YOU SUCK! CRITIC SMASH!!" Then I awake with no memory of the event. It's the Canberra Times that did it. Mysterious vibes from printers ink, when seen in the shape of my actual name, have fizzed and bubbled like a kryptonite radioactive spider accident in my brain. Never mind that the editor picked me to be a sort of average punter type, with a bit of a track record of writing as seen here. Never mind that I'm a mere casual fill-in while the regular is overseas. Never mind that I have zero cheffy professional training, and have always loved to chat about food and cooking techniques. Publication has created a monster. Stand back!

PS. The reviews, since they did seem to insist so.

1. Belinda's Date Scones
OM NOM nom nom nom (yes, the dates are actually a bit big, if you want the scone to not fall apart) nom nom nom what?

2. Kimbla's Cupcakes
Ace! Thanks heaps! I'd better freeze some, so I don't eat them all at once.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Fruit, glorious fruit

On my latest Choku Bai Jo round, I seem to have bought almost nothing but fruit. If only that "5+2" thing was 5 fruit and 2 veg a day, I'd have no problems. Instead, when I got home, I set my lone cauliflower and bunch of leeks on the bench with the 2kg of apples, 3kg of oranges, 1 1/2 kg of persimmons, and a couple of grapefruit, and thought "uh oh". In my defense, I do have quite a lot of veg left over from last week. Because I bought too much, not because I didn't eat enough.

Choku Bai Jo has developed very nicely since they opened. Opening hours have shifted slightly - from 2pm-7pm weekdays now, and Saturday closing is at 1pm. The trestle tables are still there, but now there's some new racks and a new fridge. Apart from fresh produce, there's also local olives and olive oil, free range eggs, a selection of herbs, teas, and coffee beans, and some high quality processed foods like the Pilpel dips and the wonderful Darikay pesto I bought last week.

The prices are still good, although it won't always beat the supermarket for everything - they do have some economies of scale, after all. But I don't begrudge an extra 50c here and there to support our local producers. So far everything I've bought from there has been top quality, and so fresh that it keeps way longer than produce from other sources. I've had only one exception - I got a half dozen fuji apples a few weeks ago which turned out to be unripe.

Other people seem to be pleased with them, too. They were absolutely packed at midday on Saturday. So, good news, it looks like they are going to be successful. North Lyneham probably doesn't know what hit it. Somebody smart is going to open another kind of food shop there to pick up the sudden massive influx of passing trade. A bakery or a butcher would be good.

Mostly I just eat my fruit straight, and the persimmons are just too delicious to do anything else. With this new variety, you can eat them before they go soft, and they have very few seeds. I like to just slice them up on a plate. You can peel them if you like, as the skin is a little bit tough, but I don't bother. Apples, of course, I also just eat straight, unless they've got too old to be crunchy. I hate soft, mealy apples. Yecchh.

I like to eat grapefruit for breakfast but I rarely have the energy to prep it in the morning, so I made a grapefruit salad to keep in the fridge. (Recipe below.) I also had some old apples to use up, so I've cooked them up with cinnamon and sugar. That was quite interesting, as I had a mixture of apple varieties: a couple of golden delicious, a Cox' orange pippin, and the 5 unripe fujis I mentioned above. What happened was the fujis stayed almost whole, while the others cooked down to a total mush. Since I was feeling like LOTS of cinnamon, that mush is very brown. So I now have an odd mix of semi-firm chunks of pale cooked apple in brown apple sauce. It looks really horrible, but it's delicious. I had some with my porridge this morning.

Recipe: Grapefruit Salad
2 pink grapefruit
2 yellow grapefruit
3 oranges
3 tablespoons stringybark or other strong flavoured honey
few mint leaves

Peel the grapefruit and oranges with a sharp knife, removing all pith. Slice the oranges, removing seeds and any large chunks of internal pith or membrane. Segment the grapefruit clear from its membrane. Pour over the honey. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, then stir. The honey will have mostly dissolved into the juice by then.

This will keep in the fridge for several days. Add some shredded mint leaves at serving time.

Notes: To segment grapefruit, peel all the pith off, then slide a small sharp knife down in between the membrane and the flesh of each grapefruit segment, and come up the other side to separate the juicy segment from its cover. Drop it into the bowl, and continue around. This is surprisingly easy when you get going. When you get to the end, squeeze the book-like leaves over the bowl to get juice from the bits of segment that didn't come off cleanly. Do this whole process over the bowl, to catch the juice and falling bits as you go. You can do this with the oranges, too, but I find that's mostly more trouble than its worth.

Honestly, this is more a concept than a recipe. Do what you like with the balance of fruit and honey. I like sharp flavours, so you might like more honey than me. The picture looks more yellow than pink, because one of my grapefruits was a bright ruby and the other a softer pink. Also, the pretty segments will come apart a bit as you stir. Whatever. It's for eating, not for a beauty contest.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Internet Salmagundi I

I'm thinking of a new weekly feature, just for fun, of stuff that I have found on the internet recently that made me laugh, or fascinated me, or otherwise just sit up and take note. I'm not sure if the idea will stick, but here it is.

The inaugural Canberra Cook's Salmagundi
Greta Christina, who normally blogs about sex and atheism, wrote a food post about making stock.

Stories about the platypus genome have been coming out for the last month; but Carl Zimmer at the Loom noticed a weird thing. The platypus has no stomach! Yet another whacky characteristic for this egg-laying, venom-spurred, electric-beaked mammal. Just amazing.

I've added a new Canberra food blog to my side links. Progressive Dinner Party has been going since April, and Zoe writes really well. I was inspired by her post on baked eggs and thought about making them, but got sidetracked into making poached eggs to have with my silverbeet agrodolce instead.

Is this the best-titled game in the universe, or what? Dangerous High School Girls in Trouble. It's all 1920s style, so cute. I'm not sure how to describe it - a mix of turn-based RPG, where your party goes around killing orcs solving mysteries, with the aesthetic of an old board game. An assortment of mini-games are your weapons to extract clues and storyline; they range from liar dice to taunting and flirting.

I keep forgetting to watch the ABC's wonderful Mediawatch, but they have a web site so now I can catch up whenever I like. This week there was a story about really shoddy science reporting, with the most excellent title "pixie bulldust". Ooh, regrowing missing fingers! Sadly, not so much.

Do you read Two Lumps? In this one, Snooch is channelling Shadow. For the one or two of you out there who don't actually know me in person, Shadow is one of my two cats. The other is Plummet, and he is not very much like Eben at all. I think.

And while on a comic theme, xkcd once did the best illustration of sexism in a nutshell I've ever seen. Memories of my early uni days... And just now someone has found that the "gender gap" in maths is smaller in more egalitarian countries. Geeze, ya think? Although it does make me wonder about non-western countries - I suspect the correlation might disappear. The idea that women are bad at maths is a modern western one. Barbie ("math is hard, let's go shopping") has not been our role model for very long at all. This may or may not explain why women from Asian ethnic minorities seem to be doing comparatively well in science. Like these wonderful young women in America.

Oh, and congrats to Obama. He seems a very inspirational chap. Go Bazza! Yes, I do get most of my news online, though I have just decided to renew our Canberra Times subscription. I write in it sometimes, plus, it makes good garden bedding weed mat :)

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Japanese Day

My review of Wasabi Manuka is in today's paper, and now Testuya is on tellie. It's part of the Japanese food on Maeve O'Meara's Food Safari. Testsuya was talking about ingredients, but I notice that as in many Japanese grocery shops, the packages are not labelled in English. Or even Japanese, but in Roman characters. Frustrating, that.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Cooking for One

As I mentioned, the bloke's away in the desert somewhere, so I'm on my own. This doesn't mean I give up cooking and eat takeaway or baked beans on toast. Not that there's anything wrong with baked beans on toast; I probably will have them at some point this fortnight. Also cheese toasties - I'm especially partial to cheese on toast with pineapple or sweet corn, and Indian hot lime pickle. Salt, fat, sugar, chilli, carbs, what's not to love? A side salad, or just some sliced cucumber, is good for contrast.

Actually, when the bloke is away, my thoughts turn to the stuff he won't eat. So I made an eggplant dish. I did this on Sunday - really simply, just layered eggplant, fresh tomatoes and onion in a baking dish, drizzled over a random uncooked sauce that I made in a coffee mug, and topped it with grana padano towards the end. The sauce was just crushed garlic, tomato paste, red wine, and dried oregano and basil. While this was baking, I cooked up a half packet of pasta, dressed it with a good pesto, and some sauteed mushrooms. I got the pesto from Choku Bai Jo - it's made with olive oil, parmesan and pinenuts, unlike most supermarket brands.

So basically I cooked enough for a lot of meals, and it can be varied to avoid boredom. I have a lot of precooked ingredients in the fridge, ready to microwave for a quick after work dinner. So far I've had simple pesto-mushroom pasta with steamed broccoli; and baked eggplant with crusty bread and cheese. On Monday night I also cooked up some baby red silverbeet in agrodolce style, with a few pinenuts and currants for a slightly middle eastern twist. I ate some of it with some of the pasta and broccoli. Other ideas that I may use include pesto, mushroom and tuna pasta with frozen baby peas; silverbeet frittata; pasta with eggplant and tuna... I also have salad makings, if I get bored of the broccoli. So I'm going to eat well, but in a slightly lower effort style.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Cedars of Lebanon, and other gems of the south

Short review: go there! Soon!

It's in Mawson, which I rarely visit since I'm a north-sider. But a friend was playing at the Serbian club on Saturday arvo, so I had to gird my loins and summon my courage to make the long, long trek south. With the GDE now open, and outside commuter hours, it took me a huge 23 minutes...

The band was Judy Pearce & The Arrangement, and they are great fun. Their repertoire is defined as "stuff Judy likes to sing", which is mostly blues standards and some R&B from back in the old days when R&B didn't suck, and some random other tracks (Amy Winehouse. Srsly.) I like her choice, her voice, and her band and would gladly promote her in my small way, but they seem to have no web site, the slackers. Not even a myspace. My friend Michael, whose other band is The Backbeat Drivers, is part of the Arrangement.

It was a big day - a cooking class, quick visits to Bruno's Truffels and Cedars of Lebanon, and a scout around Mawson. See below the fold for more!
I started my Saturday by taking the Bloke off to the airport at dawn. He flew off to Alice, with intent to drive to Canberra. He could have saved a lot of time... Nah, it's camping out in the Simpson desert drinking whisky with his mate, so it sounds good, really. I went back to bed for a bit, because 6am is not a time I acknowledge to exist, then headed off to Belco markets for a Cooking Coordinates class/demo on Australian flavours. It was run by Matthew Henry, a young local chef formerly of Carlo's (which we won't hold against him) and Loui's. He's just opened his own cafe, Xchange on 7 London Circuit, down among all the new development, serving weekday breakfasts and lunches. Not many Aussie flavours on his menu there, sadly, but perhaps one day he will work them in. Beth and I have plans to check it out soon.

Anyway, our small group was regaled with champagne and rosella flower cocktails; Aussie salt, pepper & spiced calamari with macadamia and lemon myrtle dressed rocket salad; kangaroo prosciutto wrapped Barramundi with Aussie spiced potatoes; rack of lamb crusted with Aussie dukkah, with beer damper; and lemon myrtle tartlets topped with wattleseed cream. It was like a degustation lunch, except we got to watch it all being prepared and ask questions. Fabbo. I plan to recreate the potato dish and the wattleseed cream, at least.

From there I headed off to Mawson, and having a bit of time to kill before the gig, I wandered around checking out the Southlands shops. It was terrific - so many great shops out there. I need to visit again, with a bit more time in hand. There are two bookshops, a garden shop, a gym and a Woollies, and lots of small restaurants, as well as various specialty food suppliers. I particularly noticed a continental deli, a Turkish bakery, a halal butcher, and an African grocer which I had no time to visit.

Bruno's Truffels is a Canberra institution. They moved to their Mawson location, just out the back of Southlands, a few years ago now. There, Bruno continues to bake his specialist Swiss biscuits, breads and cakes, and make his chocolates and gelato. He's been at it since 1984, and I used to visit his Narrabundah shop way back then. If I'm not mistaken, he was Canberra's first actual chocolatier. The smell of the chocolate was heavenly, and the annual Easter display a marvel.

Bruno's Mawson shop is also a cafe; it serves breakfast and lunches, Monday to Saturday. The clean simple cafe decor includes a few quirky Swiss touches, like the enormous Alpenhorn hanging over the service counter. I bought a few chocolates, and a small bag of Basler Leckerli, which are like honey, lemon and spice flat lebkuchen. Bruno makes gorgeous gingerbread houses out of these biscuits; they are especially big sellers at Christmas. (About $80. Chocolates $95 per kilogram.) The chocolates are as good as I remembered, although the dark is a touch sweeter than the high cocoa content varieties that I usually choose these days.

Just up the road from Bruno's is a rather terrific looking fish and chip shop called Naked Fish. They're open Tuesday to Sunday until 8pm. All the fish is cooked to order; there's a long list of varieties to choose from. In the early afternoon the piles of fillets were all sitting there heaped up in the sparkling clean refrigerated cabinet, ready for the evening trade. I've heard it said that they are good, and I hope to give it a try myself sometime.

I spent most time in Cedars of Lebanon, feeling rather as if I'd stumbled into a setting for treasures of the Arabian nights. So many wonderful goodies, jam packed into such a tiny space! Halva and pastries and breads and unusual snack foods galore. The fridge includes pastirma, the middle eastern pastrami most familiar from Turkish pides, as well as all sorts of yoghurt, cheese and olives. The freezer includes rare items like molokhia leaves, as well as some very useful things like artichoke bottoms and broad beans. There are tubs and sacks of all sorts of pulses, nuts and spices, including some rarer items like dried limes and cassia bark. You'll also find hookahs and flavoured turkish and egyptian tobaccos up the front.

Since the bloke is away, I had to resist buying too much. I came away with just some pistachio halva, dates, tinned beans ("Foul moudammas", a popular middle Eastern bean dish and not at all foul) and just for curiosity, tinned baba ganouge. And I'd spent so much time browsing the shelves that I was late for the gig. Oops. Sorry, Michael!