Sunday, June 17, 2007

As Nice as Pie

In this month's issue of the Australian Gourmet Traveller, the Gourmet News section on page 16 is devoted to featuring the editor's picks for some of the best pies around the country. Of these, proud Queensland establishments Bespoke, Yatala Pies, Joycelyn's Provisions and Absynthe Bakery can celebrate the great honour of making the list.

In addition to that, and just to delve further into the topic of good pies, I would like to make an honourable mention of Songbirds in the Forest, which serves a killer rabbit, mushroom and herb pie. Their's is essentially a revamped version of everyones classic favourite, served atop a mound of smoothly pureed mushy peas, and drizzled with a rich madeira jus. Yes, I know this is a little of a longshot from the usual comforts of a messy, saucy meat pie with tomato sauce, but it sure makes up for every bit of that in the taste catagory alone.

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Rabbit, mushroom and herb pie from Songbirds, Mt Tamborine

Meat pies have been feeding the hungry man for ages, but sadly, aside from being an expert in devouring them, I know little else about their place in our society. Thus, I took it upon myself to research further into the literature of the humble (meat) pie.

Surprisingly, my research revealed a few neat facts:

- meat pies were described by former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr as Australia's "national dish"

- Australians consume an average of 12 meat pies each per year

- Four'N Twenty Pies produce 50,000 pies per hour

- by Aussie regulations, meat pies may legitamately contain snouts, ears, tongue roots, tendons and blood vessels (urgh!)

Personal research even led me to try Domino's meat pie pizza which, while Bev enjoyed, I was rather disappointed with (it's a pretty cool idea, but having shortcrust pastry on pizza dough is just a little too heavy on the starch for me).

On a lighter note, I discovered this awesome sounding thing called the pie floater, which is a meat pie topped with tomato sauce, and floating in a puddle of green pea soup (oooh!). Apparently it was popular all over the country at one point in time (how long ago was that?), but it's popularity gradually weaned and now its availability is limited to mostly only South Australia, where it was officially recognised as a South Australian Heritage Icon by the National Trust of Australia back in 2003!

Geez, now I really gotta sink my chops into one of those pretty soon! Maybe a little pilgrimage to Adelaide on the horizon? We'll see about that..

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An old picture of me mucking around, making a beef pie

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Thai Wi Rat - Our Favourite Thai Joint

Thai Wi-Rat in the Valley is by many standards our favourite Thai restaurant here in Brisbane. No doubt, it could also easily stand up to any other great Thai restaurant that you'd find in this big country.

The restaurant has been around for a while now, and Bev and I have been there at least 6 times this year alone (talk about a lot, geez). And everytime we go there, the food never fails to impress. We've tried most of the stuff on their menu by now, and feel confident enough to announce to the whole of Brisbane that Thai Wi-Rat absolutely rocks!

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Yen Ta Fo noodles- noodles and seafood in a tasty red soup, topped with crispy pork crackling

Unfortunately, and oddly enough, everytime we eat there, we forget to bring our trusty camera along. Perhaps its because we're always too excited about the thought of eating there that we blindly rush out of the house. Well, this last ocassion was different, and we finally arrived at Thai Wi-Rat prepared. Here's some incriminating pictoral evidence of what we pigged out on that day.

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Pad Thai with juicy prawns- possibly the most well known Thai noodle dish outside of Thailand

The food boasts regional integrity, something that's increasingly hard to come by these days. The food is of Thai-Laotian influence, and deviates away from most of the run of the mill Thai-restaurant-syndrome dishes (think green, red and yellow curry, fried rice, spring rolls, etc). Although they do offer these dishes still, the focus is on the not-so-stereotypical fare. Our favourite dishes thus far have been the lipsmacking grilled thai pork sausages, stir fried pork leg slices with chilli and green peppercorns, duck larb (mince meat salad), calves liver salad, pork fried with pickled bamboo and pad see ew noodles. They do the usual fare very well too, and we adore the pad thai, som tum (green mango salad) and chicken rice just as much. But ooh, please promise me that you'd order a side serve of deep fried egg and/or fried pork cracklings (just $2 each) to top things off - superduper unhealthy, but just too darn good!

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Yum Thai Wi-Rat (Thai Wi-Rat salad)- crispy fish maw, calamari and cashews with herbs and red onion in a sour dressing

To add to the excitement, the restaurant even has a couple of their own no-joke looking metallic "spice kits" which they bring around to every table when it's not too busy. If they don't bring you one of these, you should go hunting around for them; some people like to hog them at their table. Inside them you will find four compartments containing the essentials of Thai eating: chilli powder, fish sauce, sugar, and a sour chilli sauce.

Price-wise, Thai Wi-Rat serves up fantastic food that would'nt break your budget. In fact, it was even featured in the Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine's Cheap Eats column a while back. Apart from the food and the price tags, our other favourite thing about this place is that it opens early and doesn't close till late. That means that you could drop in anytime in the arvo between lunch and dinner and still be served. Now, thats one hell of a joint eh?

Thai Wi-Rat
TC Beirne Building
Shop 48
20 Duncan St
(same stretch as Burlington supermarket)
Fortitude Valley 4006 QLD
Phone: (07) 3257 0884

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Custard 2 Ways: Baked Creme Caramel & Frozen Vanilla Custard

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As spoken about previously, I promised the good people at the Mount Tamborine Winery cellar door that I'd feature a dessert dish on my blog that (hopefully) does justice to their fantastic Mountain Muscat. Now, I think I've outdone myself! Here is a second dessert, following last week's olive oil and Muscat cake, a duo of of creme caramel and frozen custard, laden with that wonderful Muscat.

I won't deny it, this dish does require a bit of effort. But irregardless of whether you're a self-confessed culinary dummy or an accomplised home cook, this should'nt be in any way out of your league. So here's how its done:

Muscat Creme Caramel and Frozen Custard

150 gm sugar
100 ml water

200 ml thick cream
200 ml milk
100 ml Muscat (or other appropriate dessert wine)
seeds of 1 vanilla pod, or alternatively, a few drops of vanilla extract
4 whole extra large eggs (59g min weight)
4 egg yolks
110 gm caster sugar
8 buttered ramekins

200 ml cream (extra)

Preheat the oven to 160C.

For the caramel component of the creme caramels, simply heat the sugar and half of the water over a medium heat till the water evaporates, and the sugar begins to caramelise. Once it reaches a golden brown colour, take off the heat and splash in the remaining water to slow the cooking. Swirl it around till the caramel dilutes and cools down slightly. Distribute warm caramel among the bases of each buttered ramekin.

In a separate saucepan, heat up the cream, milk and vanilla till just scalding (ie. just before boiling point). Meanwhile, whisk the sugar, whole eggs and yolks in a mixing bowl till pale and frothy. Pour in the hot cream mixture bit by bit, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Then, when all the cream has been incorporated, whisk in the Muscat. Pour the entire mixture back into the pot and heat over a medium-low flame, stirring constantly, for 4-5 minutes till it slightly thickens.

Strain the liquid mixture through a fine sieve into each of the prepared ramekins. If there are little bubbles along the top edges, remove them carefully with a teaspoon (trick of the trade: you could use a blow torch, if you have one, to blast out any small bubbles off the tops of custards). You will have some custard left over, this will be used to make the frozen custard.

Place the ramekins in a baking dish half filled with hot water (aka. bain marie), and cover the entire thing with al-foil. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove, wrap each individual custard with al-foil to prevent drying out, then chill for at least 6 hours, or at best, overnight. Run a hot knife around the rims to unmould them onto a plate, pouring out as much of that sinful caramel sauce as you can! The longer you leave it in the fridge, the more caramel sauce you will get out of it (within reasonable limits of course!).

For the frozen custard, mix the remaining egg custard with the extra cream and churn it in an ice cream maker. If you, like me, do not have an ice cream maker, you can most easily complete this process by placing the mixture into the freezer and diligently mixing with a fork every half an hour till it freezes. That should make it fluffy enough!

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Save on Washing Up with a One-Pot Chicken and Chorizo Rice Pilaf

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Now here's a recipe thats simple to prepare, and best of all, made in one pot. That's gonna save you heaps of time in front of the kitchen sink after dinner; and if anyone asks me, that sounds like a mighty good plan!

A pilaf is a dish where rice (or other grain) is browned in oil, then cooked in a flavoured broth. There are variations of pilafs across the many different cultures of the world. The Spanish have paella, while Indian and Pakistani cultures have biryani. The Italians have risotto, and Africans can be proud to add jambalaya to this list.

Chicken and Chorizo Sausage Rice Pilaf

5 chicken thigh fillets, skin intact, cut into cubes
salt and pepper

1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground fennel
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika

1 large onion, diced
1 capsicum (green/red), diced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 chorizo sausage, diced
3 cups long grain rice

750 ml hot chicken stock, infused with a large pinch of saffron threads
5 medium roma tomatoes, roughly diced
1/2 cup frozen peas

lemon wedges, to serve

Start off by heating a few tbsps of oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. When hot, add in chicken pieces, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Leave chicken to cook on medium to high heat. Resist any temptation to touch or turn the pieces at this point. What you should be looking for is a very well browned and crispy crust to form on the chicken pieces. After 5-10 minutes, turn the chicken pieces, they should have formed a deep brown, crusty exterior, and release themselves from the base of the pot without much coaxing. Season again. Let them cook on the other side in the same fashion. Remove from pot when done and set aside.

In the same pot, add the spices and fry till fragrant, scratching the base of the pot to release the tasty chicken reside thats left behind. Add in onion, capsicum, garlic and chorizo, and cook for a further 5 minutes till the vegetables become translucent. Add in rice and stir to coat the grains evenly with oil. Pour in the stock, saffron threads and the tomatoes. Stir to mix everything evenly. Top with chicken pieces, and sprinkle with peas. Put on a tight-fitting lid, bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer over the lowest heat setting for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn off heat and let stand covered for a further 15 minutes to steam. Do not at any point in the cooking process open the lid, as this allows precious steam to escape. Remove lid and serve with some lemon wedges alongside.

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