Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thank you readers for a record 1250 pageviews per month!

When I first started this blog, primarily as a means of recording my memorable food, wine and related experiences, and to share those experiences with friends, never did I imagine that I would get more than a handful of pageviews a month, let alone hundreds.  So it's quite nice to know that enough people are interested in my musings to get 1,250 pageviews in the last month!

This blog appears to have a regular readership from all around the world - not only Australia, the UK, USA, but also Africa (a special hello to my Namibian readers: thanks, спасибо und danke!), Phillipines, Germany, Malaysia, Russia, Taiwan, Poland, Canada and even a lone reader (or perhaps two) in Iran!

I hope that my articles bring some measure of enjoyment to your day, and inspire you to embark on your own culinary adventure - the idea is to try something new or different - not necessarily to a Bear Grylls extreme, but just something you've never done before.  Don't knock it till you've tried it, I've always said!

Anyway, keep reading, and feel free to leave comments.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Latte Art - Miss Silvia's Easter Bunny

I thought I'd try my hand at some latte art today after doing some research on Youtube.

I had a couple of mates over for a beer and a yarn, and Benji decided that he wanted a latte.  Here was my opportunity!  On account of the fact that yesterday was Easter, I thought that a bunny might be a nice one.  As you can see, it's more of an ephemeral rabbit, and I had to go heavy on the outlining, but hey, it's my first time ever trying latte art!

It's dinner party time - Tuscan-fusion pork belly and a handful of wines

Well, it's that time of the year again, when the weather cools down enough to have a bunch of friends comfortably sit around a table for dinner without the need to sweat in the heat.

So it came to pass that Dario, Susie, Lisa and Joe came over bearing gifts of wine and chocolate while I slaved away in the kitchen.  Lisa kept saying that I made it look so easy, which gave me my long awaited opportunity to emulate Curtis Stone and proclaim: "here's what I prepared earlier!"  The trick is the two hours of prep in the morning, and the 3 hours of prep and cooking just before my guests turned up.  And not to mention a couple hours of shopping in between, and I even managed to squeeze in a cheeky cigar and JB (no not Jim, but Johnny) with the boys at Devlins in the arvo.
The main course was a recipe I picked up on  The recipe was for Tuscan-style roast pork belly, but being unable to find fennell seeds, I decided to add an Oriental-Indian fusion to the recipe, swapping out the fennell seeds with cardamon pods and coriander seeds.  And instead of just letting the initial 500ml of wine dry up in the roasting pan, I topped it up with chicken stock every half hour or so when the liquid looked like it was going to dry up (not a lot baby girl just a little bit, as Fifty Cent says).  So the meat effectively gets braised while the skin stays dry and crackly.  Both Joe and Lisa remarked that they didn't normally enjoy eating pork, but the meat was so tender and juicy that they (and the rest of us) had seconds.  Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of my masterpiece, but here's a plate of the leftovers.
Potatoes were boiled for about twenty minutes until they were soft but not squishy, then halved and slathered with duck fat before going into the roasting pan with the pig half an hour before the end.  Long beans were easy - quick blanch in the still hot water from boiling the potatoes, simmer some garlic in a generous dollop of olive oil in a pan on medium-low heat, then stir fry the beans through until thoroughly combined and starting to sizzle.  Add cut chilli for extra spice.

For drinks, we started with a 1999 Delamotte Brut, from Mesnil-sur-Oger, the little brother to the legendary Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs (which compared to the commercially known rapper's champagne brands is like comparing a Barrett to a Marlin).  Highly underrated because it's relatively unknown, it is a champagne of amazing balance, delicious citrus mouthfeel, but so soft it slips easily down your throat like velvet.  Then we have Dario's contribution, the 1997 Brunesco Di San Lorenzo by David Migliorini.  Again underrated and not so well known, but this Tuscan sangiovese still had backbone14 years after coming off the vines, and was a perfect foil to the pork belly - slightly sweet plummy juicy flavours with a dry-ish finish.

And a little tip on sparkling water - nobody I know can tell the difference between Coles brand and the imported Italian stuff.  So instead of spending 3 times as much on your sparkling water, just pour and serve in a nice glass carafe!

As my forays into dessert-making have always ended in disaster, I opted instead for a plattter of Rocquefort, piquant, moist yet crumbly and La Bouche D'Affinois, super creamy, runny and almost syrupy; with a bunch of seedless grapes and crispbread.  Perfect with the delicious Woodlands Estate V.P. - a port with a surprising twist - it's much lighter than your usual port, yet still sweet and flavoursome without the gout-inducing unctuousness of most ports.  Lisa was so impressed that she toyed with the idea of buying a bunch as gifts - yes please do, Lisa - we need to support West Australian, especially where it's so well-deserved.

Speaking of great West Australian wine, the mood was so convival that Dario and I cracked open my last bottle of 1985 Moss Wood Pinot Noir.  The cork had slipped down into the neck, so I was quite worried.  But with a bit of finagling with my invaluable twin-pronged butler's friend, I managed to get it out intact and decanted the wine.  After a bit of breathing to blow off the head of sulphur, this wine was amazingly drinkable - very mellow and almost fruity but still displaying strong tannins.

Dario and I then adjourned to the cigarden (sorry Simon for appropriating your term) for an after-dinner cigar - a Por Larranaga Petit Robusto, with its medium bodied choclatey flavours offset against a glass of Martell Cordon Bleu, for a good bloke-to-bloke chat about life, the universe and everything.  As Arthur Dent discovered, we all know the answer, but working out the question is the real issue.

Thank you, guys, for a most enjoyable evening of friendship and relaxation, and a start to what I hope will be the Frenchman's 2011 dinner party series, as the weather slowly turns colder in this part of the world.

In case you wanted to know where I got the ingredients from:
  • Pork belly - Angelo Street Gourmet Butcher in South Perth - they'll cut it to order and even de-bone it for you.
  • Cheese and grapes - Scutti''s on Angelo Street, South Perth
  • All the rest, including the fresh veg, spices, chicken stock and sparkling water - Coles South Perth

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Solo Pizza - exquisite pizza! Or rather, era squisito!

A new pizza joint in my neighbourhood just opened 2 weeks ago - Solo Pizza, run by an enthusiastic, cheerful young Italian couple, Giovanni and Stefania. It's on Coode Street in South Perth, near the corner of South Terrace.

I ask Stefi why "Solo Pizza"? And she tells me that it's very simple. "Solo" in Italian means "just", as in "only". And that's what they want to focus upon - just pizza. And coffee, of course - what decent Italian place would be without an espresso machine?

If you've read my previous posts, you might have gathered that I'm a true fan of artisanal foods. Foods prepared traditionally, by hand, with care, with flair, and pride in workmanship. The dough is made fresh every morning. And unlike your commercial mass produced stuff (which has its own place in the sun, but not on this blog), each pizza base is a lump of dough individually hand-rolled to order by Gio. I love the uneven edges - shows that it's real. What I love even more is the fact that they only do their pizzas in the one size. If you want a pizza, the choice should only be in deciding on the toppings, not how big your pizza should be. Speaking of toppings, there's also a Gio Pizza and Stefi Pizza. Apparently, Stefi's is much more popular.

I turn up at 9.30pm on a Tuesday night when the rest of Perth appears to have gone home, and they cheerfully assure me that they're still open. Stefi is busy cutting up pre-cooked chicken breast fillets into little bite sized chunks for the next morning's trade, and Gio is busy making my pizza - the carne.

I can't wait to get home to savour the flavour. The crust is beautifully thin and crispy. The toppings stay on each slice of pizza base which I pick up. The meat is flavorsome and varied. And with each 4th or 5th bite, I even taste fresh basil.

Go. Buy some pizzas from Solo Pizza. Support this fantastic young couple. Average price of only $18.50 per pizza. And for that, you get an exquisite handmade pizza. I must confess that pizza is not my favourite food. But these guys have caused me to re-evaluate. For me, when it comes to pizza, sei solo tu, Solo Pizza.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Good Fortune Barbecue Duck, Northbridge & 2001 Hay Shed Hill Pinot Noir

After a week of fine dining, rich foods and haute cuisine, it was time to get back to my roots. So I catch up with my peeps, Brandon and Gihan, and we take a drive down to Good Fortune on William Street in Northbridge, Western Australia - your quintessential hole in the wall Hong Kong barbecue joint with roast meats hanging in the front window.  It's just north of the corner with Newcastle Street.

As you can see from the photos, nothing flash. But that's more than made up by the food! And the fact that it's packed on a Monday night speaks volumes.  The good thing about Northbridge on a Monday night is that it's nice and quiet.  It's probably also helpful that we're at least one block away from the nearest bars and nightclubs.

Okay - we had a mixed roast meat platter, with 2 choices.  I picked roast duck (that's what they're supposed to be renowned for) and the roast pork (or "siew yoke"); garlic chilli fried squid; sambal kangkong (similar to spinach, but crunchier); and one of the house specialties: Teochew soy duck with beancurd.

Soy sauce duck
The two duck dishes were like apples and oranges - completely different tastes and textures.  You just have to try them to understand.  The beancurd in the soy duck dish were also delightful - having soaked up the light gravy, it unloads the flavoursome goodness in your mouth like a sponge.

The garlic chilli squid was also delicious - the batter was light and it wasn't overly oily.  And loads of garlic - yummo.  Good thing all of us were eating this.  The sambal kangkong was a very nice balance of spiciness and flavour - not overly hot, but with enough of a bite to match the crunchiness of the greens, with a rich smokey flavour from the dried shrimp paste in the sambal.

Oh and did I mention that this place is BYO?  I don't think that they even charged us corkage.  Tip for the unwary - bring your own wine glasses, especially if you're bringing something nice.  Otherwise you might have to drink it out of a teacup.  As you can see, we brought little Riedel stemless glasses, which are perfect for transportation, and for its perching stability on a small table crowded with plates.

As I had recently moved house, I discovered all these old wines from my cellar that appeared to be in desperate need of drinking, given their age.  One of these was my last 2001 Hay Shed Hill Pinot Noir, purchased at a firesale price when the receivers took over the previous incarnation of the winery some 10 years or so ago.  You would have to chuckle if you were there to see our faces as we tried the wine - faces scrunched up in anticipation of a vinegary aroma and acidic, mud-tasting, over the hill wine.

2001 Hay Shed Hill Pinot Noir
We were in for a very pleasant shock indeed.  A leafy, dark berry aroma greeted us, and the flavour was truly delicious.  Leafy, almost minty topnotes, with a juicy cherry, blackcurrant body laid on top of just the hint of an earthy backbone.  A perfect match for the duck, and all the other dishes too!

There you go - a 2001 Hay Shed Hill Pinot Noir is still drinking beautifully after 10 years.

All up, it cost us around $25 each.  Given that we had picked the gourmand rather than gourmet hat tonight, we had over-ordered and were thoroughly stuffed full.  You would probably get a decently satisfying feed for less than $20 a head if you didn't go overboard with the quantities.

There you have it - it was certainly our Good Fortune to eat at this restaurant!