Friday, October 27, 2006

A Quick Dinner of Bangalow Sweet Pork


We had just arrived home from Village Meats in Rosalie. It was there that Bev and I purchased a nice, fatty rack of Bangalow Pork and a couple of Toulouse sausages.

Bangalow Pork, raised over in Northern New South Wales, is said to be free of hormones and antibiotics. It's fat content has also been scientifically proven to be over 60% unsaturated. But above all, a foodie like myself would tell you that the greatest joy in eating Bangalow Pork is the fat. Yes, the fat.

Bangalow Pork is the piggy equivalent of Kobe or Wagyu Beef. The intra-muscular fat dispersed throughout the meat of this pig renders it so much more juicy, succulent and tasty than other breeds of the same animal. As unhealthy as it sounds, let me just disclaim here and now, that consuming small quanitities of this delicacy in moderation ain't as bad as you'd imagine. Hey, I'm no nutritionist, but my personal standpoint is that it really can't be much worse than a drive-thru from the houses of Ronald or the ol' Colonel.

This time, I cut the rack down into pieces of two rib bones, sprinkled fennel seeds all over (fennel and pork are good mates), and pan roasted them very gently. Then I cooked some orecchetti and quickly sauteed it with a mixture of chopped garlic, smoked paprika, olive oil, nodules of Toulouse sausage and seasoning.

I finely sliced some fresh fennel, and cooked it very briefly just in oil and seasoning. Then the sauce: I, like many others, happen to believe that mustard and pork are pretty tight too. So I made a sauce by reducing cream and cuvee brut with some whole grain mustard.

This is the dish. It took just over half an hour to prepare, from start to finish. As I have mentioned before, Bangalow Pork and Toulouse sausage are available at Village Meats in Rosalie. Their Toulouse sausage is made with white wine, garlic and herbs, and is one of the best snags I've laid my hands on here in Brisbane. I really suggest you jazz up your next backyard barbie with some of these beauties. Enjoy!

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Date with the Pink Gold


As you would have realised by now, I have this 'thing' for tender, juicy Wagyu beef. Here in Brisbane, Village Meats at Rosalie Village is such a place where you can find some good cuts of this pink gold.

Village Meats is a fantastic one-stop-shop for all your carnivorous cravings. On any given day, you may find yourself walking in to the delightful aroma of bacon being smoked with applewood chips, or like on the day we were there, lamb loins being smoked with cedar. The good people at Village Meats stock all kinds of meats, and as with other good butchers, are more than happy to entertain special requests from customers. This outlet also happens to be one of the few gourmet butchers in Brisbane to officially supply Bangalow Sweet Pork to the public. (More on Bangalow Pork in a coming post).

This day, we were after a hit of Wagyu beef. Unfortunately, we were not particularly spoilt for choice; only rumps and sirloins were on offer at the time. We opted for rump ($49.99/kilo), and headed across the road to Rosalie Gourmet Market to purchase some cheese to make an accompanying potato gnocchi.


We were kindly recommended a Capriconia goats cheese as an alternative to the conventional parmesan/pecorino for making the gnocchi. We were also offered a great tip on cooking gnocchi by the cheery lady assisting us (pity we didn't get her name): Drop a couple of fresh sage leaves into the potato boiling water to infuse a subtle hint of sage flavour to the gnocchi.

The final dish: Wagyu rump with goat cheese gnocchi, porcini mushroom ragout and wilted spinach, sprinkled lightly with Murray River salt flakes.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Restaurant Two

Eating out:
Bev and I had gone on a quest to dine at every one of Brisbane's 3-star restaurants, as rated by the 2005 & 2006 Courier Mail Goodlife Restaurant Guides. Restaurant Two was one that we had yet to dine in.

We walked through the doors with high expectations; this was driven by the fact that out of the numerous restaurants in Brisbane, only 5 are awarded 3-stars, and Restaurant Two is one of these elite 5.

Upon ordering the degustation menu ($110pp), we sat back and let the night unfold:

Feuillitine of Queensland Asparagus and Leeks, smoked garlic and thyme butter-.

A rectangle baked puff pastry, split open and filled with leeks, green and white asparagus. The vegetables were perfectly cooked. The garlic and thyme butter sauce was the highlight of the dish, but I somehow wished I had a bit more of it on my plate to spread on my puff pastry. Nice start to the meal though. Expectations at this point, I must say, were still relatively high.

Seared Hervey Bay scallops and Mooloolaba tuna, green paw paw and Thai spiced dressing.

I personally felt that this dish was a complete waste of time. Unfortunately, the tuna was overcooked for my liking, the scallops undersalted (or not even salted at all), and the salad uninspiring. To make things worse, the "Thai spiced dressing" was diluted and weak, and flowed on the plate like water. As I sat there, I suddenly began to have doubts about what was to come.

Sauteed organic potato gnocchi, confit of Tetsuya's ocean trout, goats cheese, trout roe, preserved lemon butter.

Now, this dish was good, despite a few ups and downs. The gnocchi was a little on the firm side, but the tasty caramelisation on the surface made up for that. The confit was, in my opinion, done very brashly. I have been to Tetsuya's and eaten the 'original' version, and this was no where close to it. The intention behind the trout confit is that it barely cooks, changing the texture a little, but not the colour whatsoever. As you can see from the photo, due to overcooking, the proteins had actually been allowed to coagulate, changing the colour of the raw trout to an opaque pink. However, based on taste alone, this dish was fantastic; the goat cheese and ikura, a perfect compliment to the fish. Had it not come with the labels 'Tetsuya's' and 'confit', I would have given it a 9/10 instead of an 8.

Roast breast and confit of Rannoch Farm quail with celeriac remoulade and Madeira jus.

Nothing much to complain about this dish. I thought the quail was cooked perfectly, with a little spot of pink on the inside. It was juicy, savoury, and went really well with the remoulade.

Peking duck consomme, duck, pork and prawn tortellini.

This dish was not on the degustation menu. Because Bev was so keen to try it when she overheard it being recommended to the next table, we asked our friendly wait staff if he could somehow slip in an order of that duck consomme between our remaining courses. Ten minutes later, two degustation sized bowls of consomme arrived at our table! The consomme was served with small bits of duck meat and prawns, and a petite duck and prawn dumpling. It was a fairly refined dish; but is it just me, or have all the consommes I've had in the last 6 months been way too salty?

Crab risotto with lobster oil.

We have a winner! I adored this dish from the first bite till the last grain. The risotto was chock-full of crab meat; and from the taste alone, it was obvious that the crab meat was freshly picked, rather than out of a can (some restaurants are actually guilty of that). The rice grains were cooked spot on, the lobster oil intensely fragrant and the baby arugula fresh and crisp. I would come back to Restaurant Two again just for this dish.

Asian barbequed duck, steamed greens, fig and chilli jam, spicy cumquat sauce.

I've always been a bit skeptical about dishes that sound like that. The problem is: I'm particularly familiar with authentic Asian food, and have actually become quite a purist in that area. Thus, I'm not too enthusiastic on such dishes that attempt to 'modernise' Asian food. But being the open-minded individual that I would like to think I am, I eagerly shoved aside these reservations and dug in. The sauce was lovely, the fig and chilli jam even better, but as good as the duck was, I'd much rather be caught burrowing my face into Golden BBQ's (Fortitude Valley) authentic barbequed duck on any given day.

Rare seared 'Cervena' venison, parsnip, leek, white bean and foie gras crumble, buttered spinach, morels and bitter chocolate sauce.

The idea was there, but unfortunately, something got lost in translation. As you can see, the venison was nowhere near 'rare seared'. The crumble did not taste of foie gras at all, and it was a little too dry on the inside.

Assiette of miniature desserts.

We waited 35 minutes for this. It eventually came on a huge platter, with a selection of 5 baked goodies and at least 5 flavours of sorbet and ice cream. There was a Belgian waffle, a creme brulee, a chocolate pudding, a cheese cake with fresh coconut, a lemon tart and a fruit salad. Although I especially loved the fig sorbet, Bev and I agreed that everything else was rather ordinary.

What can I say. Dinner at Restaurant Two didn't knock my socks off as much as I would have liked it to. Did I set my expectations too high? Even if I did, I had every right to, given their reputation and 3-star rating. The whole meal was a rollercoaster of hits and misses. I would graciously suggest that Restaurant Two focuses a little more on the finer details of their food in the future; and for their sake, I sincerely hope that my ordinary dinner experience was just a one-off, rare occurance.

Restaurant Two
2 Edward Street
Tel: (07) 3210 0600

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What's in a Pickle

I was browsing along the fresh fruits and vegetables section in Woolworths when the glistening red and green chillies beckoned. I just had to grab a bagful of each. They looked so plump and fresh, a far cry from the limp and embellished ones that I always come across at other times. So I decided I was going to make me some Pickled Green Chillies and try my hand at making Achar.

Achar is the Southeast Asian take on pickled vegetables (and fruits) marinated in spices, vinegar and oil. The Penang or Nonya Achar essentially consists of cucumbers, carrots, cauliflowers, pineapples and stuffed green & red chillies marinated in a spicy concoction. I headed to Bjorn's and sought assistance from the numerous cookbooks in his humble library, on making Achar. Decided on a recommended recipe from Bjorn's folder of his personal collection; recipes collected from his kitchen stints.

It's a surprisingly simple recipe although I tweaked it a little; added tumeric powder, a tiny knob of ginger, one small clove of garlic, a few dried chillies and a mixture of toasted & part-ground sesame seeds and granulated peanuts. The vegetable medley of choice: cucumbers, carrots and sugarloaf cabbage.

Cucumbers are essential in Achar. It's the 'lamb' in Roast Lamb, and the 'duck' in Duck Confit. You get the point. But you can always substitute cucumbers with jicama or omit the cucumber element entirely and have the carrot (or jicama) as the base vegetable. Play around with the combination of vegetables, altering it according to your preference.

This time however, I omited the cauliflowers, pineapple and stuffed green & red chillies. The first two, I accidentally overlooked when shopping; and the latter, well, they don't carry such Asian condiments at Woolworths, so I gave them a miss. Surprisingly though, they do sell fresh galangal and tumeric. I bought a substantial sized galangal though the recipe called for an inch worth. The rest of the root will definitely come in handy for various other Southeast Asian recipes such as Tom Yam Goong, Laksa and the various Thai curries that calls for the root. It is rampantly used as one of the primary ingredients for spice bases in Southeast Asian cooking.

Pickled green chillies are typically served as a side condiment with most South East Asian Chinese dishes. There would usually be a small dish of these little tangy beauties placed on the table before the start of the meal. These pickled green chillies are best eaten with cooked dishes as oppose to adding them into the cooking process, as with most other pickled vegetables.

Pickling the green chillies was a breeze. I 'jump started the pickling process by boiling the white vinegar and sugar mixture. Then I added the hot mixture to the bowl of sliced green chillies and let it stand, covered for about an hour or so. After it cooled, I placed them in plastic air tight containers (or glass jars) and stored them in the fridge. Usually my stash would not last for more than a month. These pickled green chillies go well in sandwiches, pizzas and even with Mexican dishes, especially Chilli Con Carne. Definitely a good subsitute when a recipe calls for pickled jalapenos.

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Casarecci with Wild Mushroom 'Ragout'


Just a short entry today. Its getting late, and there's heaps to do in the morning. So, what we have here is a pasta dish that is so simple to make, provided you can find the right ingredients.

It's such a pity that wild mushrooms are rare here in Australia. Thats probably the reason why I often visit farmers markets. Its only in these places that you actually stumble upon rare gems such as wild mushrooms. These, like many of my other ingredients, were purchased from the Jan Powers Farmers Markets in New Farm.


The flavour of fresh wild mushrooms is second to none. It sure beats the hell out of those button mushrooms found on supermarket shelves. Trust me, one taste of wild mushrooms and you could be a life-time convert. On this very day, I had in my shopping bag a mixture of king oyster mushrooms, shitake mushrooms, trumpet mushrooms and fresh black wood ear fungus (not quite as foul as it sounds).

I have to admit that I'm quite a purist when it comes to mushrooms. I'd only ever cook them with a permutation of the following ingredients: butter, garlic, shallots, white wine, bacon, truffle oil, certain cheeses, parsley, chives, tarragon, black pepper. Cooking mushrooms with any other ingredients outside of those listed would require long, hard thinking on my part.


So as expected, I made a 'ragout' of the mushrooms with a combination of the above ingredients. First I sauteed the mushrooms with garlic, Gympie Farm butter and salt. Then I took them off the heat when they were barely done, and reserved them on a plate. Then I deglazed the pan with white wine, and added some porcini stock (I used a porcini stock cube). I then returned the mushrooms to the liquids and turned the heat down to low. Next, I folded in cubes of cold butter to the sauce to create an emulsification (the French call that technique "Monte au Beurre"- to heighten with butter).

A ragout, strictly speaking, is a rich stew of meat or fish. However, this funghi dish is so earthy and 'meaty' that it would be a no more than a small crime to call it a ragout. Either way, I doubt the Food Police would be coming round to arrest me anytime soon, so a ragout it is!

The pasta of choice- casarecci, short lengths of rolled and twisted Italian pasta. I admit its not an ingredient you'd find everyday at your local IGA, but you could just as easily substitute it with other fresh pasta shapes such as fusilli or farfalle. So these get cooked, and then tossed through the ragout with some grated pecorino or parmesan (I used pecorino), and a good dash of truffle oil.

Oh, and one last word from me: Please never ever overcook your wild mushrooms. They should only be cooked very briefly. You DO NOT need to cook them till they wilt and start oozing out liquids. That, to me, is pure injustice done to fine ingredients; something that may make the old Food Police really come knocking on your door for.

As always, enjoy!

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Monday, October 16, 2006

My Fascination with Blanquette


What is it about veal blanquette that appeals so much to me? Well, its probably the elegance and refinement derived from oh so common ingredients and simple techniques.

As with most other famous and celebrated French dishes, blanquette started off as a humble dish made of left-over ingredients from the day before. Technically, it is a stew of meat cooked in a white sauce. No prizes for guessing, considering that the word comes from the French term 'blanc' which means white. To look at it from another angle, Alan Davidson (Oxford Companion to Food) suggests that blanquette is the etymological cousin to 'blanket', in this sence referring to the rich white sauce blanketing the stew of meat and vegetables.

Blanquettes are commonly made with veal (today I use osso bucco), but can be just as easily made with pork or lamb. It is typically cooked with vegetables such as pearl onions, carrots, celery.. etc. However, a French purist would tell you that no matter what aromatic vegetables are used when cooking it, it is only the meat and the onions that are put on the plate eventually.

The meat is first cut to size and blanched in one round of water to remove all impurities and left-over blood traces. It is then placed back in the pot with aromatic vegetables and a bouguet garni, and simmered gently till tender. The meat and vegetables are then removed and the sauce thickened. Now here comes the interesting bit- A mixture of cream and egg yolks, known as a liasion, are whisked into the sauce over low heat, and act as a thickening agent while also giving the dish a creamy, velvety texture. The meat and vegetables are then added back in, and a good pinch of nutmeg lifts the flavour profile to another level. I live to serve it with a drizzle of porcini oil, which adds a touch more earthiness to the dish.

Many modern-day recipes call for roux in place of this liasion as a thickening agent, but me being me, I strongly believe in the latter. Roux also makes the sauce slightly starchy, which I find takes much away from the intentions of this wonderful, tradition-steeped dish.

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Blanquettes are as versatile as any other stew. It can be served with rice, pasta or potatoes. You can do as I often do, mop up the lovely sauces with hunks of crusty bread. Today, I served the blanquette tossed with some fresh parpadelle, purchased from Jan Power's Farmers Markets in New Farm. If you are enthusiastic about food as I am, I sincerely hope you try cooking a blanquette too. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of writing recipes, because I personally never follow them. So I'm sorry if I can't provide you with a precise recipe at this time. But do know that there are tonnes floating around on the internet, and in good cook books. Enjoy!

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Joy of Wagyu

Imagine being fed top quality grub and Japanese booze all day long while being constantly massaged to the tune of soothing music playing in the background. This lucky cow has it all. Until some random Japanese bloke pops by, slits it's throat, strips it down, debowels it, and then starts placing exorbitant price tags on its various muscle groups. Yum.

I am referring to Japanese Wagyu Beef, the creme de la creme of the Bos Taurus species. Any self respecting foodie CANNOT pass through this life without having at least once fed on this genetically bred, man-modified luxury.

Somewhere in Febuary 2006. It was just one of those days where I awoke with the uncontrollable urge to once again indulge myself in one of life's most decadent pleasures titled: The Consumption of Wagyu Beef.

So I found myself at the meat counter in Meidi-Ya Supermarket, at the basement of Liang Court Shopping Centre, Singapore. The array of top-quality meats was mind-boggling; but the rest didn't matter one bit, I was a man with a specific mission. "Show me the Wagyu!"

And there it was, calling out to me. $25.50 per 100 grams (approximately 4 thin shabu-shabu-like slices). I immediately purchased a small quantity (good food eats best in small proportions), and headed home. Nothing could stop me now. The following pictures illustrate what happened subsequently.

I sliced some spring onion, whipped up a light soya sauce-lime vinaigrette, sauteed some thin slices of shitake, briefly seared the Wagyu, wrapped the shitake in the Wagyu to form little parcels, plated with shichimi togarashi (Japanese red pepper mix) and drizzled them with vinaigrette. This preparation was inspired by a dish on Tetsuya Wakuda's degustation menu which I enjoyed in July when I visited his accomplished restaurant.

I was introduced to a similar beef carpaccio preparation by my Japanese housemate, Kazuhiro, from my Sydney days. It comprises of thin slices of raw beef drizzled with soy, mirin, fried garlic crisps, Japanese mayonnaise, toasted sesame seed and raw white onion. It is simply amazing, to say the least. I will endeavor to post it as an entry in the near future.

Ultimately, good food such as Wagyu Beef should never be meddled with too much. Anybody out there with good Wagyu preparations to share?

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