Monday, September 25, 2006

The Joy of Risotto

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Risotto- "An Italian method of cooking rice primarily made by stirring stock and often wine into rice that has been sauteed in butter and/or olive oil and sometimes onion. The stock is added slowly, and the rice must be stirred continuously as it cooks, resulting in a soft creamy mass of rice.."

There absolutely nothing that satisfies me more than a rich, hearthy dish of risotto. Risotto, to me, is a fantastic backdrop for a plethora of flavours that may be showcased through it- parmesan, saffron, roasted garlic, mushrooms, peas, pancetta, the list goes on..

Ever too often I find myself out of flour, eggs or sugar; however the one thing that never goes out of stock in my kitchen cabinet is risotto rice. It is, to me, nothing less than essential to good eating.

Risottos make a spectacular meal, whether for one, or for a party of twelve. After many hectic nights in the restaurant kitchen, cooking my own midnight dinner of risotto is a pure comfort to me. Risotto is one of those dishes that requires a labour of love. You get out exactly what you put in. The more conscientiously you stir it, the creamier, the richer the end result will be. So when making your risotto, please give it the utmost care and patience, and I guarantee you will taste the benefits.


Making your risotto:

- Start off with a good variety of aborio rice. Here in Queensland, the best and most readily available varieties would be aborio and carnaroli. I personally prefer the latter, which happens to also be the favourite variety of Thomas Keller, chef of the world renowned French Laundry.

- Heat a mixture of oil and butter in a saucepan. Butter gives it a great flavour (On this day, I used natural butter from the wonderful people at Gympie Farm), while oil raises the smoking point of butter and prevents it from burning.

- Add some chopped onions or shallots. I prefer shallots as they lend more sweetness to the final dish. Be sure to cook the onions/shallots till they are well-translucent; this ensures that the maximum sweetness is extracted from them.

- Add the rice and stir to coat. Allow the rice to cook slightly in the fat; this 'opens' up the starch molecules in the individual rice grains, and facilitates their absorption of liquids. On this day, I also added venison salami to the mixture at this point.

- Add white wine (or vermouth) and reduce till almost dry, then add stock bit by bit and let simmer, stirring continuously and adding more stock as it is absorbed. Stirring the rice breaks off the surface starch, releasing it into the liquid stock, which eventually makes the dish thick and creamy.

- Once rice is al dente, with a tiny opaque spot left in the middle of each grain, turn off the heat and add a knob more of butter, and grated parmesan. On this day, I also added a good knob of gorgonzola that I purchased from Jan Powers Market the day before. Cover, and leave alone for at least two minutes. After two minutes, remove the lid and stir to emulsify the butter and the cheese into the cooking liquid. This process, known as mantecantura, helps in making the dish even more creamy and smooth.


Every one deserves the pleasure of eating a homemade risotto. Do remember to ensure the integrity of the ingredients (tinned SPAM and long-life powdered parmesan just won't do) and do not rush it. Finally, and I have said this to many people: eat risotto with a fork, not a spoon. Shovelling risotto into your mouth with a spoon makes it too easy, mechanical and monotonous, whereas a fork allows you to fiddle with it a little more. I also feel that the first taste of risotto should touch you tongue first, not the roof of your mouth, therefore a fork works best. Enjoy!

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jan Powers Farmers Markets


The weather was gorgeous with the sun in its full splendour. And the occasional welcoming cool breeze. Yes, Spring is definitely here. It was a lovely, leisurely Saturday morning indeed. We decided to drop by The Powerhouse Farmers Market on Lamington Street, New Farm.


What we love about these farmers markets are the rows of eclectic array of fresh produces, hand made confectioneries, artisan breads, gourmet delicatessens and the arts and crafts stalls. And the wonderful thing about The Powerhouse Farmers Market is that its just beside the park. Overlooking the river, it makes for a
splendid picnic after all that walking and purchasing wares or grub from the stalls.


We arrived a little after 10 a.m and already, it was hustling and bustling with discerning market go-ers. And at some of the stalls, the goods were nearly snapped up.


It didn't take Bjorn too long to find a stall where he made his first purchase; Venison Salami from Wilgavale and a grilled Venison Sausage for a snack. Further down the row, a stall churning out freshly made pasta on the spot, caught our fancy; and in goes a bag each of fresh spaghettini and hand rolled fusilli. Next up was a German delicatessen selling all sorts of cured and smoked meats. Needless to say, Bjorn went crazy there, and the spoils included a vacuumed pack each of their Black Forest Ham and Oak Smoked Duck Breast strips.


The fresh mushroom stall we came across next ran out of the pink oyster mushrooms, but we managed to grab some fresh shitake, wood ear fungus, trumpets, king oysters and a box of dried porcini. Right next to the mushroom place was a stall, where I got my first taste of an Argentinian sauce called Chimichurri. It is a concoction of olive oil with a variety of chopped fresh herbs, consisting mainly of parsley, coriander, basil, oregano and thyme. It can be used with bread as a dip, or as a sauce for pastas, or as a marinade for fish and meat dishes. The stall had the Original and Spicy versions of the sauce. I opted for the Original.

Next, we hunted for the Gympie Farm butter stand, renowned for their hand crafted jersey butter, which I'd heard so much about and just had to get my hands on them. We finally found the small discreet stall, whose simple set up was all but a table with their butters, cheeses and a platter of freshly baked chocolate croissants. I gleefully got myself a tub each of the salted (with celtic salt) and unsalted variety. The salted, for freshly baked breads, scones or muffins and the unsalted, mostly for cooking.


I nearly got myself a woven shopping basket. There were a few stalls to choose from. All selling an assortment of pretty, hand woven baskets and other crafts. But by the time I made up my mind, the stall was no longer there. Oh well, next time perhaps.

All in all, it was a beautiful, fruitful Saturday. We even made it to the newly spruced up Portside Wharf
despite having some transportation issues. That was where we found another gem of a find; a well stocked gourmet supermarket (yes, we went crazy there too!). The weather was perfect, the company was fantastic and the day ended with a delicious dinner, using all the fresh ingredients we bought from the markets and the gourmet store earlier. More on that in the next post by yours truly.

Jan Power's Farmers Markets
Lamington Street, New Farm, Brisbane,
next to the Powerhouse.
Powerhouse Markets are held in All Weather on:
* Second Saturday at the Powerhouse
* Fourth Saturday at the Powerhouse

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Isis Brasserie

Eating Out:
After a tumultuous week, we decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner. We made a list of all the places we wanted to try out and decided on one. Since both of us have not been to ISIS, this was the restaurant of choice. So, the reservation was made and schedules were cleared for that opportune date. What a night it turned out to be! We were expecting to be swept off our feet. After all, the establishment have won many awards since it opened its doors to public and is one of the few 3 Star restaurants here in Queensland (as mentioned in The Courier Mail Goodlife 2006 Restaurant Guide).

Isis Brasserie. Here we are! Upon arrival, we were promptly greeted and seated at a cozy table for 2 along one side of dining room, with a clear view into the kitchen window where Chef Jason Peppler and his team were busy churning out the grub. From where we sat, Bev commented that Chef Jason looked like a rather jolly chap. Well, to me, it doesn't really matter; a chef is judged by his/her food.

After ordering our food and asking the all familiar question: "Is it ok for us to take a couple of photos of the food?", we were quickly surprised with a complimentary amuse bouche each. Served in pretty little cups, our waitress described them to be salmon tortellini with some sort of a vegetable concoction on top. After tasting it, I concluded that the 'shady' vegetable garnish served over the tortellini was some sort of a caponata with pinenuts. The tortellini was pleasant, with a smooth salmon mousseline filling. The pasta skin, though, was a little on the thick side, and had a texture rather similar to San Remo's Ready Made Lasagne sheets. But despite that, it was a nice start to the meal.

For starters, Bev opted for the Sauteed local cuttlefish with homemade squid ink noodles. This was one of the specials for the night, and sounded like a pretty neat dish. Personally, I tend to stay away from daily specials, knowing that many restaurants see specials as a means to clear old ingredients. However, upon inspecting the a la carte menu, and not identifying any dish with cuttlefish in it, we were reassured that this wasn't the case. As for me, I chose the Tartare of wagyu beef with a carpaccio of portobello mushrooms and truffled pecorino. How could I possibly go past raw wagyu beef?


Bev loved her dish, although at first it seemed a little bland. Turns out that it was one of those dishes where you had to get everything together in a mouthful to actually enjoy it. Oh and did she indeed! The dish gave off a strong aroma of onions, but didn't taste very 'onion-y' at all. It was basically strips of seared cuttlefish sitting atop cold squid ink noodles with finely shaved onions, fennel, tomato and micro-parsley. The dish was dressed with some sort of a citrus vinaigrette that tied all the flavours together nicely. It was a very clean starter, and left her in eager anticipation of the main course.


My wagyu tartare was served on top of some very flat slices of portabello mushrooms, cut on a mandoline perhaps, with shavings of sharp percorino cheese and lashings of truffle oil around the plate. The beef itself was evidently minced by hand, rather than in a food processer or meat grinder, the way a proper tartare should be prepared. Yet again it was a very fragrant and flavourful dish, but Bev was slightly concerned that the strong aroma of truffles, the pungence of the pecorino, and the generous amount of capers in the dish would mask the flavour of the beef. I agreed with her sentiments, but ultimately, I still felt the buttery taste of the beef shining through. Towards the last few bites, the dish somehow started to get a Iittle overbearing and I was just a little disappointed that there weren't any accompanying melba toasts to tone down those bold flavours.

After our starters, we were presented with palate cleansers. These took the form of a Vietnamese mint sorbet with Chinese vinegar. Wow. Surprisingly, the vinegar matched the sorbet perfectly, lending it that well needed 'bite'. I asked the waitress if there were any fruits used in the sorbet itself, as it did taste intriguingly similar to a grape and mint sorbet I had made a month earlier. But according to her, it was just mint and sugar syrup. Either way, the sorbet and accompanying vinegar did a great job of blasting out all remaining traces of the tartare from my tastebuds, leaving me feeling fresh and ready for the main course.


For mains, Bev had the Rare seared venison with a celeriac colcannon and a Lindt chocolate sauce. The venison was cooked perfectly, juicy and pink, fanned out on top of a mound of celeriac puree, and surrounded with a bitter dark chocolate sauce. I found that the chocolate sauce to be a little wierd for my liking, neither sweet nor savoury. Bev, however, liked it very much. Also, for some reason there were entire stalks of tarragon in the celeriac puree. To me that was a little ridiculous, as the whole stalks of leaves were rather fibourous and hard to chew. However, on the whole, the dish tasted pretty good despite my few quips, and Bev wiped the plate absolutely clean, in every sense of the word.

I had the Bobby veal blanquette with asparagus, truffled macaroni and creme fraiche veloute. Its been a while since I had a good blanquette. I just love the fact that a dish cooked without caramelisation such as a blanquette, can taste so rich and flovourful like so. Anyway, it was a winner, the fork-tender veal resting on top of truffled macaroni and crunchy asparagus tips. The only problem is that I forgot that I already had a truffled dish for a starter, so the taste of truffles in the macaroni was starting to get a little bit much for me. My bad, my bad. I should have read the menu more carefully before I ordered. Either way, I too polished off the dish with no explicit complaints whatsoever.


We couldn't decide what to have for dessert, so we ordered the dessert sampler which featured 4 different desserts: a strawberry jelly with fresh strawberries and fresh coconut; an orange blossom panna cotta with an orange crisp (not very crispy); a chocolate souffle with chocolate sauce; and a slice of quince tart. Dessert was good, especially the souffle, which had unannounced sugar glazed pistachios in it, to our pleasant discovery.

Isis is one of the better restaurants in Brisbane that we've been to. I just love the way they play on the classics like tartare, blanquette, coq au vin, and cassoulet. We'll definitely be back in the near future for their cassoulet, which I'm so craving for right now.

Isis Brasserie
446 Brunswick Street
Fortitude Valley
Tel: (07) 3852 1155

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