Monday, March 31, 2014

Eat My Words

Eat My Words - A Memoir of Politics, Pig-outs & Pickles, is the latest tome by Australian political journalist Mungo MacCallum. Journeying through his epicurean adventures, MacCallum takes the reader on a bold ride across many decades, continents and food fashions. Although it contains several recipes, it is “not a cookbook” as MacCallum states in his opening line. It is a “real book for real people about real food”. 
As an introduction, MacCallum recalls the moment in his youth when he realised that food was an essential part of life and should be accorded careful consideration - but not be taken too seriously. This thesis is built upon throughout the book, as MacCallum encourages and inspires the reader to take culinary control over their meals but to also have fun and experiment. This is evident through the loose structure of his recipes, instructing you, the cook, to “vary, add or omit at will”. Not exactly haphazard, but certainly liberal, his recipes focus on availability, ease and seasonality. Rather than having you run all over town looking for something not readily available, he lists many substitutes that will work just as well. The recipes are also somewhat mood-based, “if I’m in a hurry or feeling lazy”, and bring a comfort and a reality to the situation and the result trying to be achieved, which simply is your dinner, not a Michelin Starred dish.
Infused with haunts from his tumultuous past, MacCallum creates a sense of place extremely well. The reader is instantly transported and finds themselves smack bang in the middle of the crowded bar, dodgy restaurant or Labor Party Lunch . His writing also conjures vivid imagery and sensory experiences -  “This downmarket Italian dive’s exclusive tipple was a red wine manufactured in bulk... It arrived in 44-gallon drums and was a formidable drop - so much so that following an afternoon on it you felt that you needed to clean your teeth with an electromagnet.”
Eat My Words is certainly written with a distinctive voice: it’s colloquial, funny, and slightly assaulting. It is clearly a male voice and this book has more appeal to a male audience than a female audience - dare we separate the genders in this day and age...? Yes, we must. MacCallum throws caution to the wind in terms of political correctness and recounts many a tale where gender dictates what role one plays is various social settings -  “A more old-fashioned line is that a barbecue gives the sheilas a break; the blokes get their turn to do the cooking...” 
Although enjoyable at first, MacCallum’s conversational tone and his slap-dashery of “throwing in a tin of tomatoes” into almost every dish he makes, gets a little tiresome. The book is somewhat repetitive and wears thin after 248 pages. Comical in parts, one gets the idea that nobody is enjoying the jokes as much as MacCallum is himself. Eat My Words is an easy read and would best equip a young male who has just left the nest and is looking for some guidance on how to cook blokey meals with flavour and flair.
Eat My Words - A Memoir of Politics, Pig-outs & Pickles
By Mungo MacCallum
HarperCollinsPublisher, 2012, pp248, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-7333-3124-4

Schott's Food & Drink Miscellany - Book Review

Did you know the ancient Romans had a predilection for dormouse or that Francis Bacon died from the pneumonia he caught while stuffing a chicken with snow? Since the success of his first book, Schott’s Original Miscellany, hailed by The Guardian as "the publishing sensation of the year", Ben Schott has followed up with a number of captivating Miscellany books. Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany is a witty volume, jam-packed with tasty morsels of trivia, history and humour. Stating in the preface that it “makes very few claims to be exhaustive, authoritative, or even practical”, it certainly is entertaining. Not only is it entertaining, but it actually does offer helpful snippets of information - how to sharpen a carving knife and the comparative translations of egg sizes across the globe - useful to both the home cook and the most well-read gourmand. Then there are those facts that may be less useful on a daily basis, but will be perfect conversational fodder for your next dinner party: the plethora of celebrated artists who were commissioned to decorate the labels of Mouton Rothschild included Dali, Picasso and Warhol and the nomenclature of wine bottles. Due to the density and breadth of information in Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany, it is not the sort of book one reads straight through. It is more the sort of book one picks up every so often and flicks through, sating themselves on a handful of excerpts. Bon App├ętit. 
Schott’s Food & Drink Miscellany
By Ben Schott
Bloomsbury, 2003, 158pp, $18.95, ISBN 0-7475-6654-2

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lady Cheese

Cheese: that melting, yellow string that ties us all together. From the unassuming Tasty wedged between two slices of rye, to the Blue Vein adorning platters served by those fancy enough to regularly serve a cheese platter, cheese does not discriminate against class, colour, creed, age or race. It is embraced by all in its multitude of varieties. This is so, as Lady Cheese has a talent for transforming herself. From infancy to dotage, she personifies all ages and personalities.

Pallid in appearance and processed to within an inch of its life, the Cheese Stick is the baby of the cheese world. Pudgy, toddler hands fumble and struggle with its convoluted wrapping but once opened it is a marvel; how smooth, how pristine! It is shoved into greedy little mouths with gusto.

Melting Cheddar bubbles like a magical lake and mesmerizes the eater. It is a wide-eyed ten year old, full of energy and this is who it attracts. When the recess bell sounds, those in the know tear out of the classroom like tornados and blow their way to the canteen, hoping to score one of the coveted cheese toasts. 

Acrid, assaulting and utterly regrettable, Blue Vein is the teenager of Lady Cheese. Its bold personality clashes with some and blends well with others. Feedback can encompass everything from, “It was as if I’d put the foot of a sweaty Viking in my mouth”, to “Blue Vein is just so beautiful, with its intricate patterning, as if inhabited by some tiny spider, spinning her blue web throughout”. Blue, like a teenager, divides us, challenges us, offends us, enlivens us.

The slap of a Parmesan is akin to the confidence one finds as a fully-fledged adult. You know who you are and you are not willing to compromise anymore. I believe Parmesan is a strong, young woman.  Sharp, direct and usually well-liked, this adult cheese can sometimes be a little on the nose, but it will not back down. Don’t reserve this fine dame for the top of your Bolognese, sink your teeth into an unadulterated wedge of her firm flesh.

A creamy Feta, always there to comfort us with her soft, alabaster arms, is another sort of woman. She is a little older, a little more worldly. She is the salt of the earth and is merry and open. She adds life to all she meets, be it salad or pizza, and is loved by everyone.

Washed Rind: an embittered, elderly woman whose dreams have been dashed to pieces and now she waits out her final days, slinging insults to the Cheese Sticks and the Cheddars of the world from her front porch. She is an acquired taste, her company only bearable to those who also have suffered somewhat and been broken by the world. I met her the other week and I am still reeling. 

With such a menagerie of characters, Lady Cheese rouses something deep within us all. She provokes an excitement and a satisfaction, making us eternally thankful to the ancient shepherd who once stored his milk in a bag made from a sheep’s stomach. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Chocolate Mousse

When faced with an excess of cream thanks to a recent Costco expedition, chocolate mousse is a welcome treat to offload it.

Using my Le Cordon Bleu, Chocolat - The Chocolate Bible, for the first time, this mousse is light and dreamy.

The recipe states dark chocolate, and usually I would use dark, however, I made it with milk as the recipient doesn't like things too cocoay (insane, I know).

125g dark chocolate  (milk, white even if you dare)
50g unsalted butter
150ml whipping cream (I used thickened and it worked well)
2 egg yolks (for a lighter mousse use room temperature eggs)
3 egg whites
45g caster sugar

1) Chop the chocolate and melt over a bain-marie, add the unsalted butter, stir until smooth. Set aside to cool.

2) Whisk the whipping crea, in a large bowl until stiff peaks cling to rhe whisk. Beat the egg yolks and blend into the cream. Refrigerate.

3) Put the egg whites into a bowl and whisk until frothy. Add a third of the caster sugar a little at a time, whisking until the egg whites are smooth and shiny. Gradually add the remaining sugar, whisking until stiff peaks form.

4) Whisk a third of the egg whites into the cream mixture to lighten it. Using a spatula, carefully fold in the remainder in 2 separate batches. Quickly whisk in the melted chocolate, making sure it is thoroughly incorporated. Refreigerate the mousse for at least three hours before serving. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Moon Park

Although Sydney has its fair whack of Korean food - the suburbs are packed with street food joints the locals flock to - it was missing a Korean fusion restaurant where chefs get creative. Enter Moon Park. It's a Wednesday and half the city has been shut down due to a fire at a big construction site. Sirens blare and cop cars whiz past providing the entertainment for Moon Park's terrace, but then again, it is Redfern , so it's nothing too unusual. 

Lucky enough to walk-in, for a Wednesday night the restaurant is full by the time we leave at about 8.30pm, so either book or come early. 

The food at Moon Park possesses a delicacy and finesse perhaps not usually associated with Korean - my mind instantly goes to strips of beef laden in a heavy sauce - however this is far from the fare served here. The miso soup with oyster cream ($6) is absolutely outstanding. Who knew miso could get so good? I certainly did not. My dinner buddy agrees. I want to swim in it.

Spanner crab bibim ($22)  is light and well crafted; no one flavour overpowers. The dehydrated burnt butter (which looks like dark sand) is amazing. It is Western touches like this that make Moon Park something special for this self-confessed butter addict.

In contrast to the light and fresh, there is fried chicken ($18), but by no means is it overly greasy or stogy. Do not think American-diner style. The serving is a generous heap of juicy chicken pieces adorned in a golden-crunch batter, empowered by the smack of shrimp brine. Yes please. The cucumber kimchi ($5) is the perfect side for this dish as it brings freshness and heat to the party. 

And a new discovery is made: Ob Larger. A beery tasting beer (dinner buddy shys away from the fruity and floral) that is refreshing and honest. And let's face it, who doesn't love a tinnie?

Service is friendly and lacks ego. Phew. And the prices are very reasonable for the portion size and the level of technique and love put into each dish. 

Moon Park. Go. 

Moon Park on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Pantry

Situated on the foreshore of Sydney's iconic Manly beach, The Pantry makes other lunch-with-a-view venues whimper with embarrassment. Easy to walk past and construe for a block of public amenities, The Pantry sits in a little booth right on The Esplanade. On an afternoon such as last Monday, cares melt away as the azure blue hypnotises, and you sup on sumptuous fare. I quietly giggle at the modesty of the name, The Pantry, and wish my pantry was filled with such delights instead of the odd assortment of dried fruits, nuts and tinned tomatoes.

Opting to order a range of dishes and sharing is the way to dine, as you can experience more of the wonderful menu. The goats cheese, pear, walnut & honey bruschetta is a textural feast; sweet flecks of firm pear dance with the smooth, goaty tang. Morcilla (blood sausage) may be scary for some, but is soft and full of flavour. My dining partner is a convert. 

It would almost be an outrage to sit by the ocean and not have seafood, and the scallops do a splendid job of satiating the seafood hunger. How could they not when they are: baked scallops with manchego, sour cream, jam on and bread crumbs.  I may have licked the shells, and one diner sustained an injury trying to scrape off the delicious melted cheese from the shell. 

Gnocchi proves a good dish to share as it is rather substantial and can be served out easily. It is laced with plump prawns and juicy tea-soaked sultanas. 

The Pantry is a wonderful example of modern Australian cuisine and showcases seasonal produce in enticing ways.

Go for the food and the view and the people watching -
"Are they just tanning their sunburn? Get out of the sun!"

The Pantry on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fish Finger Salad

Fish Finger Salad? I can hear you scoff from this distance. But don't, as this simple dinner for one will have you licking your chops. Jamie Oliver has released a range of sustainable frozen seafood, and guess what? It's good. The fish fingers are filled with flaky white Alaskan pollock and are relatively low-fat and dead easy to make. Simply heat a bit of olive oil in a pan over medium flame and grill three fingers until crunchy and brown. 

Cut up into chunks roughly an inch long and then toss through some baby spinach and cherry tomatoes, or whatever salad stuff you have in your fridge. Dress with a mix of full-fat, creamy mayo, lemon juice and wholegrain mustard. Do it.

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