Monday, November 9, 2009

Cheesy Twirly Blue(y) Goodness

I bought a piece of beautiful Roquefort today; Roquofort Carles. It was spectacular - creamy, crumbly, buttery and sharp; rich yet deeply salty and with a perfect tang.

You can read some more about it here (although be warned - the language verges on the wank and contains the word "artisanal") and I can recommend their website almost as much as the cheese. Once you see that arrow go around, you know it's the good stuff.

In the words of Google Translate:
"Placed on span of oak wood in magnificent caves naturally ventilated by a stream of air continuously cool and wet, Roquefort Carles will be refined for a few months later his inimitable flavor."
So, I raise a glass of Seppeltsfield Grand Muscat, sip quietly and wish my mouth would stop shouting at me. Wonderful, and full of his inimitable flavor.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

White Bean and Tuna Salad

We don't go out much anymore, and although it looks like we're losing sight of the original purpose of this blog, we do still eat and we do still have words to describe food.

Once again, tonight we failed to eat at somewhere on High Street, but this time at least we did eat photogenic. So with malice aforethought, I offer white bean and tuna salad, although I can't for the life of me remember where the recipe originally came from. What I can remember is that it's perfect when the weather's turned sweaty all of a sudden.

White Bean and Tuna Salad

You'll need:
  • 2 tins of cannellini beans
  • 2 0r 3 decent sized tomatoes, or at least a punnet of decent flavoured cherry toms
  • A big tin of tuna in oil
  • Half a red onion
  • Green olive oil
  • Lemons
  • Basil
  • Olives
  • Cos lettuce
  • Salt and Pepper
Rinse the beans in a colander and let them drain for a bit. Dump them in large bowl with chopped tomatoes, a handful of halved olives and the drained tuna. Slice the onion as thin as you possibly can and add it too. Make a sharp(ish) dressing with the oil and lemon juice and toss with the beans, salt, pepper and a handful of roughly chopped basil. It needs to be a bit sharper than usual because the beans have a bland taste (but a beautiful texture). Try not to over-mix it - the tuna should still be fairly chunky.

Dump into individual bowls on a bed of Cos lettuce. A bit more dressing to wet the leaves and you're done. Crusty bread, wine of any description and you're good to go. It's also great with a shirt-load of parsley.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Night at Home

We haven't eaten out in quite a few weeks. We've talked about it, but middle child has a whooping kind of cough, and although vaccinated against just such a situation, our GP tells us not to be surprised. "It's OK", he says. "It just a mild variation from the standard", implying it's the medical equivalent of one of the more dull Bach cantatas. Oh.. that's alright then. She's only got one of the four diseases she's not supposed to be able to get, but I'll accept that this might be ok....

So, as I'm not keen on leaving the house, tonight I offer two courses cooked at home.

Asparagi di Campo con Acciughe e Limone

This is, without any pause for thought, the best asparagus dish this side of something that's a long way away. It's gutsy and earthy, but still manages to emphasizes asparagusness, which is important for something that's ultimately a vegetable. The original recipe came from the book "Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style" by Viana La Place, but I've modded it over time and with considerable love and respect. It contains:
  • Asparagus
  • Anchovies
  • Parsley
  • Olive Oil
  • Lemon (Lime)
  • Garlic
Take a shirtload of asparagus - you know how much you like, but at least 4 or 5 stems per person. Steam or cook in water until *just* tender. Drain in a colander and refresh in cold water. Stop it cooking and keep it green.

A big slug of olive oil now goes into the dry pot the asparagus was cooked in... Once it's warm, drop in some finely chopped anchovies - at least two per person, and a finely chopped clove of garlic (one is enough). Let this gently frazzle for a few minutes. Add the grated rind of a lemon and the asparagus.

Toss the asparagus to make sure it's covered in the oil/anchovy/garlic/parsley/lemon/Sex God mix, splash on some lemon juice and serve. It's earthy, dirty, sexy and asparagussy...

Chicken, Chorizo and Paprika Stuff Hopkinsii

It would be jolly to claim that this is a classic Spanish dish that was passed to me from a Great Second Uncle's Third Aunt's Daughter's Neighbour, but, truth be told, I made this up and while it's still evolving, it's still damn good. It's part casserole, part soup, rich with garlic, sausage and paprika. For four, we used:
  • about 500g/a pound of chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • two chorizos (the Spanish sort, ie dry like salamis, not fresh like sausages)
  • three decent sized potatoes
  • two red capsicums/bell peppers
  • a brown onion or two
  • three(ish) cloves of garlic
  • smoked paprika
  • cumin
  • some saffron threads (optional, but should be dropped in a scant cup of boiling water)
  • 500ml/two cups of chicken stock
  • bay leaves
  • salt, pepper

Chop the onions coarsely into strips and gently saute in a heavy casserole. Add the finely chopped garlic and capsicums after a couple of minutes, then the chorizos, which have been chopped into bite-sized pieces. Fry for a bit until the smell forces you to taste a bit of sausage. Hmmmmm....... By this point you should be hungry.

Add a tablespoon or so of smoked paprika and a teaspoon of cumin and gently fry for a few moments. Add the chicken and stir-fry a bit longer. Once the chicken is coated with spices and coloured, add the stock, two bay leaves and the chopped potatoes, which have been chopped into large bite-sized chunks (and peeled, if you like), and the saffron with its water. Salt (a bit) and lots of pepper...
Simmer on a low heat (*just* bubbling) for about 35-40 minutes. Test the potato, and when it's soft, crush a few bits if you like (I do) to thicken the liquid.

Serve in bowls, sprinkle with a small handful of roughly chopped parsely (don't skimp on the parsely - this is important!) and pour yourself a glass of cheerful and assertive vin rouge. "Huzzah", he said, through wetted and slightly oiled lips. Nom nom nom......

Monday, August 31, 2009

The third rule of Cheese Club is if someone says "stop" or goes limp, it's time to stop eating cheese

Cheese Club arrived again. Life is good, although my cholesterol is probably stratospheric so I shall continue to avoid having it measured. This bunch went from the "ho-humm" to the sublime to the "OMG WTF BBQ!" At least one here fails the urbane scrumping Cheese Club test of bare-chested Brad Pittism, but there are a few that will rail against the materialism and alienation of modern life while tearing your ears off. You may go limp, but you won't say "stop".

Chabichou du Poitou is a fresh, white mould goats cheese, and not surprisingly was similar to the previously loved Buche Chevre du Poitou. Like that cheese it had a series of layers of various degrees of ripeness, although the Chabichou had a thicker chalky centre with a lovely, goaty, lemony tang and less of the creamy layer of the Buche. On the outside was beautifully wrinkled skin like a Shar Pei, although there is nothing else doggy about it. Cleansing but still rich, like a goats cheese should be.

The Brie de Nangis was a lovely, perfectly ripe Brie, with a gooey, runny middle ("it's runnier than you like, Sir...") and a big flavour as far as Brie goes. To do this cheese justice you have to try and forget years of average, bland Bries that offer a smooth texture and not much else. This is as strong a Brie as I have tasted, and its slightly mushroom, sexy scent will stay in my mind until the next disappointing Brie. Until then, however, whooooaghhhhhh.......

Fromagella di Capra
Fromagella di Capra. Oh yes, this is the stuff for me. An Italian washed rind cheese of goats milk, it had a luscious creamy texture followed up with an elegant fist in the ear of flavour. Strong and rounded without being in the washed rind stinky league, although I think I'm not only becoming immune to increasingly orange rinds, but beginning to demand them. Today is father's day, and this is how I'm celebrating...

Jean's Cow Goat
Jean Faup Vache Chevre - So, this is Jean Faup's Cow Goat (ok, so my translation is a bit literal), or at least is made of both kinds of milk. Semi-hard, smear-ripened it is rippled with small holes. The texture is creamy with a little firmness, like a very soft Emmentaler and the layers of flavour are intense but still subtle. I kept going back trying more, looking for the goatyness (at least, that was my excuse) but I couldn't find it, although I suspect it made the cheese lighter than it would otherwise have been. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Tete de Moine - a Swiss, hard cooked cow's milk cheese. Strong, nutty and with a powerful and complex perfume, it's the bovver boy of the bunch, although the Fromagella di Capri is leering from behind the Tete's back. There's apparently a gadget you can by to shave the Tete de Moine with (because cheese with stubble is a little too casual), and I can imagine it sitting in the back of the second drawer in the kitchen doing the good work of the goddess Anoia. Unlike the gadget though, I will go back to this cheese again and again. So, to the monks of Bellaly Abbey we say "thank you for this glorious cheese. Oh, and sorry your abbey got turned into psychiatric clinic."

Rochebaron is a cow's milk cheese that looks and feels a bit like a white mould cheese but is also a blue, apparently. I say apparently, because although I can see small pockets of blue, it was exceptionally mild and like a not-very-inspiring brie. It looked like a Camembert dusted in charcoal. Best described as "safe for the kiddies". Everyone else liked it but I.... well, I like the sterner stuff.

(From top left corner, clockwise: Rochebaron, Chabichou du Poitou, Jean Feap Vache Chevre , Fromagella di Capri and Tete de Moine. The Brie de Nangis looked like Brie.)

Friday, August 28, 2009


Well, it's been a long time between drinks, not to mention High Street food, and in the last couple of months we've had the long distance runaround between Melbourne, Adelaide, Coober Pedy, Alice Springs, Darwin, Rockhampton, Fraser Island, Sydney etc... Now we're home again and the High Street odyssey is underway some more.

Tonight we start at Otsumami, an elegant minimalist Japanese restaurant on the leeward side (OK, the west side) of High Street, high on Ruckers Hill. Minimalist in decor, but this being Northcote on a Friday night there was an encouraging buzz without being too noisy. This is important to me - although I practice that quizzical smile that is attentive while still projecting, "I can't hear a word you're saying but I am interested" - I'm not very good at it yet.

I'd booked only 45 minutes before we sat down and ordered and we'd been squeezed in, but only on the proviso that were out by 8.30 and we'd eat at a sitting-on-the-floor-table. As we were dining with a four-year old, time was never going to be a problem.

We ordered swiftly and food was delivered quickly with low fuss and high efficiency.

The Moriawase, a platter of mixed sashimi and sushi, was beautifully presented. The sashimi was sliced perfectly (I'm not into the thick cuts of tuna), although the tuna/salmon/kingfish trio is getting a bit too familiar. The Unagi Nigiri (a personal favourite) was luscious without being cloying and even Mr Four Year Old wolfed down some salmon.

The Tori Niku Gyoza, made with chicken and allegedly five-spice, were the one disappointment. The filling was bland and the dumpling wrappers were slightly underdone and chewy. One disappointment, but the only one in an otherwise wonderful meal.

I can never go past Nasu Dengaku, grilled eggplant with miso, when I see it, and this was great. Soft, sweet and unctuous without being heavy. When it's as good as this, it's hard to remember that, to me at least, eggplant is a predominately Mediterranean vegetable.

The Tempura prawns and vegetables were good. Not outstanding, but still very good.

The stand-out dish of the night, however, were the soft-shelled crabs. Stunning, and not a scrap was left. They were served fried in an ethereal tempura batter and a simple mayo-based sauce. I've never had soft-shelled crabs before, and when they came out was a bit surprised they were cooked whole, appendages akimbo. That the shells were entirely edible was fantastic, at least for us. Less so for the crab, who had popped his clogs* probably regretting he hadn't been born a hard-shelled crab. But no regrets, eh? Well, not from the humans. The meat was soft and the gentle scraps of batter did nothing to interfere with the soft flavour. Spongebob can keep his crabby patties - I'm having these.

The sake was good, which I put down to Otsumami having a short but good list, and luck on my part. My approach to sake is the same as my approach to substituted phenethylamines: I don't know much about them, but I know what I like and I'm probably not very discriminating.

The dessert menu is short with no surprises. (Insert former Prime Minister joke *here*.) The green tea ice cream was pretty good, but Emmy's cheesecake was a textbook Philly cheesecake. It was OK, but nothing special. The black sesame ice cream, on the other hand, was the standout dessert, with a rich nuttiness highlighted by sweetness.

Otsumami has the beautiful, light touch I associate with great Japanese food. The menu (divided into Sushi & Sashimi, Small Food, Medium Food and Big Food) meant we took a punt on quantities, but we did well. The service is quick and attentive, and although we knew we had been squeezed in we never felt rushed.

Japanese food is hitting that part of the fashion curve in Melbourne where proliferation is well upon us. Within 250 metres of my office (in the CBD) I can get a nori roll from one of a dozen places. Some of them are even good, although the average quality (across the board) is falling. With that in mind, I think we're pretty lucky to have a Japanese restaurant of Otsumami's quality this close to hand. Otsumami offers a gentle touch, a zazen approach to food which sets it apart from proliferating nori rolls. Lucky us!

*F points out that the crabs hadn't in fact, popped their clogs. They were still wearing them when we ate them.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The second rule of Cheese Club is don't talk about Cheese Club

It was a truly great day. Cheese Club day always is. This time we were joined by the Urbane parents and the wines of the Rhone - a bottle of rounded red and a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise. The Richmond Hill blurb for the selection emphasised fondue, Switzerland and winter, and while it was cold and wet outside, inside it was warm and cheesy. The cheeses were either Swiss or from Alpine France, but there was nothing neutral or appeasing about them.

Fromeger des Clarines - Louche, lush, luscious, moannnnn... This is a surface ripened, white mould cheese that makes your average Camembert look as attractive as a lump of ripened soap. The emphasis here is on "creamy", and the lesson is "fat is your friend". The rind/mould has just the right amount of texture to stop the cheese from falling apart; the flavour is gentle and earthy but the texture of the middle is a thing that makes you go "mmmmmmmmm"... somewhere between a fully ripe Brie and creme fraiche...

La Graine des Vosges - Well, roll me over, call me slave and make me beg for mercy - this is a petite smack in the face with a slice of lemon wrapped around a gold brick, to paraphrase Douglas Adams. It's cute and smaller than you expect (insert Kylie Minogue reference here), and while a washed rind, it's not in the cat's tray league - the orange mould is a subtle, yeasty tang (note "orange mould" and "subtle" aren't mutually exclusive) and the overall effect is rich, salty, creamy and vegemitey. Spruced up with a sprig of spruce, this Kylie, this looks pretty and has a particular nasal twang. Mmmm.....

Le Caviste de Scey - the first of the obviously mountainous cheeses, this is a cooked smoother than smooth thing that's been given a light sanding in preparation for a quick coat of varnish and a French polish. It has an intensity, but apart from the smoothy smoother smoothster texture, mark this one down as Captain Pleasant.

Cave Ripened Emmentaler - Heidi as slut. Unpasteurised, dirty and sexy, this is sweeter than the Caviste de Scey and dribbles a bit - the eyes are moist with a sweetened whey and the cheese itself has a slight but perfect grain. Nutty and verging on nuttiest, as though it's going to key your car and write a nasty farewell on your windscreen with lipstick. The whole wheels of cheese apparently weigh more than a Range Rover but look fetching in a pair of silk stockings. Switzerland, eh? Who would have thought...

Bresse Blue - F remembers this as having been mentioned in the "cheeseshop" sketch, proving only that she's as much a sketch comedy gunzel as I am. It's soft and has white mould, blue mould and a partridge in a mould tree mould. It's a mild and creamy blue, rich and not too tart. Like Joe Hockey, it's plump and mostly inoffensive, has a friendly appeal that doesn't particularly stick in the mind.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I Saluti

At last, we're back on High Street proper. We're not somewhere else, we're not having take away, drinking beer or shopping at the market. We're doing what we set out to do, which is to enjoy and record the restaurants of Northcote and Thornbury.

Arriving at I Saluti also means we are getting ever closer to the glorious summit of Rucker's Hill, and will soon have to cross the street, descend and start heading north.

I Saluti celebrates its wood-fired pizza oven by literally raising it on a pedestal. A cheerful space with perky, good-humoured staff, it's a bit more casual than its almost-neighbour, Cafe Bedda, but just as warm and inviting. Racket, but chipper racket; not the sort that makes me realise how old my hearing has become.

Action packed!
In a mix of opportunism and willingness to share, we were joined by Penny, Kent, Elisabeth and Cameron. Cameron and I both Joined Up In Canberra All Those Years Ago at the same time in the early 1990's, and now he was visiting from Oop North; Lis is one of my joyfully madder colleagues; and Penny and Kent are, wonderfully, family.

Cameron and the author, seen here dressed as the white person he is.

Kent, Pen and Al
The greatest challenge of the evening was the calculation of optimal seating. Far more complicated than a garlic-tinted version of the traveling salesman problem, we ended up moving at least once, but still ended up with Al and Em feeling they'd been isolated at the junior end of the table. Both fiddled with phones. Thus is the way of the world.

We all opted for pizza, pasta or risotto, and all were pretty damn happy with what they received. The pizzas all had the right balance of thin/crispy/chewy crust without overdoing the top layer. I'm a bread fiend when it comes to pizza and there's nothing that turns me off pizza more than the "too much ain't enough" approach to cheese and foamy, dull bread. But these were perfect - mine was mostly Mediterranean vegetables with hot salami and a chewy, thin base. This is closest I get to a vegetarian pizza. I take the Bill Bailey, post-modernist approach to vegetarianism: I eat meat, but I do it ironically. And these were worth the irony.

My pizza
Cameron had a Lebanon-inspired lamb kofta pizza. Lamb good, sweet chutney a little out of place, but overall a worthy crack at the pizzorial arts.

F and Al were happy with their seafood risotto and Lis thought the chorizo pasta was pretty fine.

Dessert, alas, was a mixed fare. The bread and butter pudding, if it was bread, was the sort of bread where the use-by date on the packet says, "don't worry - you won't live that long." Although the stodge was interleaved with dried fruit and drizzled with a good custard, it was still stodge.

And when I say "dried fruit", I mean the brand-free boxes of mixed dried fruit you get to make a boiled fruit cake. Sultanas? Check. Currants? Yup. Peel? Oh yes (but never enough). Cherries? Well..... There are at least lumpettes of cheerfully coloured jelly disguised as cherries - that's close enough, surely?

On the other hand, Em and the Wubbleyou shared a chocolate and pistachio pizza that looked pretty fine, and A's panna cotta was perfect - judiciously sweet and the right balance of lightness and girth.

Yes, the food was great, and the atmosphere and staff were warm and friendly. But what really set the night apart; what really made it special was the company. Oh, and the weird hands. Weird stuff.

So if there was a lesson from the night, it was that taking friends makes the food even better. It seems pretty obvious in hindsight, but it's important to remember that, although it might seem like I'm writing about the food, it's the night that's far more important. And this night was fun. Conversation that never waltzed but occasionally pogo'd; company that was friendly but never demanding; and food that didn't demand respect but earned it anyway.

From left: Em, Cam's nose, F, Lis, a glimpse of Kent, gesticulating Pen

Friday, June 12, 2009

Butchers Grill

Butchers Grill (no apostrophe ) is nowhere near High Street, but is in Bourke Street, a few doors down from where I work in the city. We'd gone from High Street, where places were too dark (the Wesley Anne); to Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, where everything was full to the City. The plan leaving Fitzroy had been to go to a Korean BBQ place, but it was being dismantled/brought undone. We'd walked through bitter winds, tried a few other places full of suits and settled on Butchers, which obviously had plenty of tables from the window.

It's a grill room in the style to which I had become accustomed when I worked at the (then anachronistic) Southern Cross in the mid 1980's, but brought up to date, if that's not a contradiction in terms. Dark red timbers, red and gold wallpaper, chandeliers and a wall of wineracks and stained-glassed windows. But it's not quite right.... This is a style that requires a total commitment: the customer can't be allowed to see behind the facade (or even that there IS a facade). But the real world kept poking out: from behind the bar where the post-mix pipes had a cheeky Matrix-like effect; to the veneer of veneer; and to the stained-glass that looked like it had come from a colonial-style home in 1979.

It was getting late by the time we sat down, and the full meat event was a bit more than we'd planned on, so we skipped entree and straight to the serious business: grilled meat all round. Lamb cutlets were cooked rare and perfectly. The chevapchichi were ok, but not particularly special (especially with the memory of these so recent). They were reasonably finely ground and evenly cooked - no high temperature flavour but still retained enough fat to keep them juicy.

Chunks of pork and chicken came on long, long skewers with token squares of red onion and green capsicum. The pork was wonderful and had really taken on the grill flavour. Despite being happy to eat every part of the pig except the squeal, I like to imagine I'm discerning when it comes to our four-legged, pink skinned friends. The chicken, on the other hand, was a bit less inspiring. Insert gently damning faint praise here.

The green salad tasted like it had been dressed with a commercial dressing. F's garlic mash was very good, generous with butter.

The food highlight for me was a smoked sausage, which was coarser than the chevapchichi, but which had the rosy inner glow of a snaggle that's been slightly cured, and a deep, smoky flavour. Everything came with a mild, fresh paprika relish.

Butchers promises much and delivers in part. When you dress up like Miss Havisham, expectations are created; great expectations in fact, and these weren't met. The food was good (and not particularly expensive) and we did have a lovely bottle of wine. But the food wasn't great, the service didn't quite meet the surrounds and the people at the next table were laughing like drunk toads mating with hyenas. Not that it's fair to hold Butchers responsible for that.

So in summary, while Butchers looks like a stately club, John Howard's green tracksuit was poking out from under Miss Havisham's wedding dress. She also sang "Happy Birthday" at the top of her voice and flirted with the camp waiting staff.

A Volvo P1800 on the walk back to the car. No reason.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

curry masala

i suppose anything after the superlative cafe bedda was bound to be a bit of a disappointment but curry masala was more than that - it was a complete disappointment.

to be fair we did get takeaway because m and i had headaches, it's a cold and rainy night in melbourne and going out seemed like too much of an effort. but when you have competitors like sigiri, kake di hatti and curryzma who all do brilliant and different curries, well you expect something a bit better than this.

the food was ok - we ordered mixed tandoori entree, chicken makahni, prawn masala, paneer, naan, rice and raita. all adequate but nothing outstanding and certainly nothing we would return for.
and everything seemed to have a very low lump to gravy ratio
thank goodness we had some koko black chocs for dessert...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Preston Market, Saturday afternoon

Backyard Beer! A 3 Ravens or two

Stopping at the bottle-o at the Terminus on the way home, I "uuuummed" and "aaahhhed", dithered and thithered, and ended up with some 3 Ravens Smoke Beer. The young gentleman in the bottle shop, a gaunt love child of Nick Cave & Bruce Spence, said, "that's a local; it's from Thornbury". Living in Thornbury, my heart filled with a strange pride. Beer! Brewed in my own backyard, as it were.

I'd like to think that I apply the same critical eye to this beer as I would for any other. I can't guarantee anything, mind you.

According to their website (and the fridge at the Terminus), they brew a few beers. Tonight, however, the verdict is on the Smoke Beer. It's a fullsome ale with the caramels of well-roasted malt, but soft, and although it's not particularly bitter, it's not in the slightest cloying. And yes, it does have a slightly smoky finish.

The 3 Ravens folk describe it as having a "bright ruby hue". It doesn't; it's more of a lovely pale chocolate colour - beautiful, by all means, but by no means ruby. It's also described as a having an "aromatic beechwood nose". I have a rather pointed and largish nose, but it isn't made of beechwood. I can smell with it, but I'm not sure that makes it aromatic.

OK, so the brewery turns out to be withing walking distance of the front door, but I'm not one to judge a beer by convenience, unless I'm thirsty. It's a really lovely and surprisingly refreshing beer for a dark ale. It's not particularly rich and it doesn't have (or need) the heavy-handed hops often needed to balance a rich, dark beer. This is a beautiful beer, one that I will enjoy again. I can't imagine drinking many dark ales on a hot day, but this'll be great. It's also bottle conditioned, so it's got some modest sludge-meets-Vegemite in the bottom, but it all blends in to the rich whole.

I'm not a fan of wheat beers or blond beers, but they do make some others that I'll give a go. I'll let you know what I think...