Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Frenchman's Savoury Protein Salad for Blokes

I've been going through a strange and unusual healthy phase recently, so I decided that I would try eating salads for a change (just once a week - let's not get carried away).  This of course meant that I needed to work out how to make a salad that I would enjoy.

Fortunately, it didn't take much experimentation to come up with the Frenchman's Savoury Protein Salad For Blokes.  Okay okay, it's really just cos lettuce, quinoa and chicken, jumbled up with various condiments, seasonings and flavourings.  But it rocks!

Quinoa and chicken gives the salad a great protein boost, and the rest of the ingredients are really just for flavour and texture, or to help you feel better about eating a salad.

Main Ingredients

  • Shredded chicken.  Just buy a roast chicken from the supermarket and rip up enough meat into bite-size pieces).
  • Quinoa (thanks Kimmie H for introducing me to this great superfood).  Just cook it like rice (or follow the instructions on the packet if you didn't know what "cook it like rice" meant).  I find that white quinoa fluffs up a lot more, which means more volume to fill you up.  I like to add black quinoa for a textural counterpoint (they tend to be smaller and crunchier, even when cooked).  And of course, quinoa is super-rich in protein, has half the carbs of rice, and is gluten free!
  • Cos lettuce.  Break off a handful of leaves, give it a good wash, and tear it up into bite size pieces.
  • Extra virgin olive oil.  Drizzle this over the salad - as much or as little as you want.

Flavouring ingredients
(use some or all of these, depending on what you've got sitting in the pantry/fridge or can find on the supermarket shelves)

  • A stalk of spring onion.  Chop it up into little discs and chuck it in for a nice bit of flavour.
  • Red onions.  Slice it up into half-moons, separate the layers and sprinkle it through.
  • Ikan bilis.  This is a great little South-East Asian ingredient, basically crispy dried little anchovies and nuts.  Fantastic savoury flavour and crunchy textural counterpoint.
  • Vinegar.  Experiment with this!  Try apple cider, red wine, malt, balsamic, or even more than one kind together.  Adds a nice sharpness to the flavour and aroma.
  • Roasted pine nuts.  Just toss a handful of pine nuts into a dry pan on medium heat and regularly toss it, otherwise it burn up and become sad and bitter.
  • Sesame seeds.  Sesame seeds are a great addition to anything!
  • Sesame oil.  Imparts a delicious aroma to the salad.
  • Salt.  If you want to get fancy, try black lava sea salt, which will supposedly leach the toxins from that toxic nachos and beer meal you had yesterday.
  • Bonito flakes.  Yeah now I'm showing off, but if you can get your hands of these (from a Japanese grocery store, most likely), they are the bomb.
  • Japanese rice seasoning.  Contains sesame seeds, salt and bonito flakes, so it's a three in one flavour bomb.  However, I suspect that it also contains MSG, which is why it tastes soooo good.
  • Cherry tomatoes.  Halve them before you chuck them in, otherwise things could get slippery when you try to fork one.
  • Chia seeds.  Some superfood to make your super salad even more super.
  • Garlic.  Mmmm. 'nuff said.  If you're really lazy, you can buy pre-chopped garlic from the supermarket.  Just don't go overboard if you're heading out after your meal.
  • Chopped chilli.  Not for the faint of tongue.  But great for a zingy flavour hit.
  • Pamigiano Reggiano. Or any hard cheese, really - just grate it or (if you're lazy like me and don't want to wash up the grater) snip slivers off with a good pair of scissors.  I like parmesan because it provides a sharper, tangy flavour.
  • Or whatever the heck you can find lying around at home - chances are, it should work (fingers crossed).

So as you can see, it's quick and easy to prepare, and you will feel healthy and gourmet at the same time!

And if you wanted to be extra-blokey, make this meal before a work out, and eat it straight after for a protein hit to bulk up those guns when you're still feeling the deep burn ...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pony Express, West Perth - great coffee revisited

When I had to meet up with someone for a coffee in West Perth the other day, I immediately chose Pony Express, and was glad to have done so.

This time, the Slayer was operational, and I ordered a single origin espresso.  Their coffee roaster, Crema Gourmet Coffee Roasters, had left postcards on the tables expounding the virtues of this particular single origin from the family-owned Finca El Limonar estate in Guatemala's mountainous Huehuetenango region, which has been in operation since the middle of last century.

Check out the crema on this bad boy - occupying as much volume as the coffee itself, and every bit as delicious (or perhaps more so)!  Beautiful, rich, creamy, soft, fruity textures and flavours abound, with my favoured lemon-crisp citrusy finish at the end.

When I chatted to Emmanuele of Ristretto some time later about the monstrous head of crema I enjoyed, his view was that the volume of crema is a function of the freshness of the coffee beans, not the machine.  And he then proceeded to make me a cup of Guatemalan La Esperanza (this one was the 2012 Cup of Excellence #7), which he had freshly roasted himself the previous week at his Northbridge roastery (is that what it's called? I dunno - I just made it up).  And yes - massive head of crema all the way to the rim of the porcelain espresso cup, and tasting every bit as silky, fruity and citrusy as one would expect from a great coffee.  I even got hints of ginger with the first few sips!

That's what I love about coffee - you learn a new thing everytime you ask, and everyone has a different approach and philosophy, but all roads still lead to great coffee.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The best Japanese food you will never get to eat - Sake House, Applecross

Sake House, tucked away in one of the carparks near the corner of Riseley Street and Canning Highway, is not a traditional Japanese restaurant, nor does it pretend to be a fine dining restaurant either.

But what they do offer is good.  A combination of Japanese street-fare like octopus balls and okonomaki (Osaka-style seafood and vege "pancakes"), to the more ubiquitous deep-fried soft-shell crabs, sushi and sashimi selection, all the way to slightly more exotic and unique things, like the superb eel tempura and the sublimely soft and fluffy fried fish.

It's really more of a tapas style menu, full of small plates which are designed for sharing, priced anywhere from $8-15 a plate on average.

It's also a relaxed and cheerful place, usually with only one or two people to serve, decked out Japanese style, with upbeat Japanese jazz numbers playing in the background to complete the atmosphere.  And BYO wine as well!

Some highlights are:

  • the little bundles of enoki mushrooms wrapped in a sliver of grilled beef, which is just unique, good to look at and delicious.
  • the Osaka-style seafood and vegetable pancakes, which doesn't really look like what you'd expect a pancake to be, but is generously drizzled with bonito flakes, satisfyingly filling and delivers a different textural surprise depending on whether the bit you've just put in your mouth contains seafood or vegetables.
  • the lotus root chips - unbelievably good!
  • the tempura eel, which is just amazing taste- and texture-wise.  The chef has removed the fattiest bits of the skin, so that eel-flavour doesn't overpower your enjoyment of this delightful morsel.

What's left of the soft-shell crab ...
But the prize must go to the fried fish: little bite size morsels which appear to be deep fried, but when I bite into them, I experience a warm, fluffy, cloud-like texture, the likes of which I've never had before.  This is unbelievable stuff.  Certainly a must try!

Sadly, they are closing down on 30 June 2013 because the rents have gone up too high. I hear that they may have secured another place, but when I spoke to the owner, he mentioned that he might be taking a break for a while.

They're open only for dinner from 6pm to 9.30pm on Wednesday to Sunday, so you may have one or two more days left before it's all over.  So get in while you can.  In fact, you might see me there tonight ...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chaîne des Rôtisseurs - Western Australian Jeunes Commis competition

I feel privileged to have been a tasting judge at the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs’ Western Australian Bailliage Jeunes Commis competition on Wednesday 16 April 2013, my second year to have undertaken this role.

5 brave and talented young chefs, some as young as 16 & 17, competed under great pressure in Crown Perth’s commercial kitchen to design, cook and plate up a 3 course meal for 4 people within 3 hours, to be served in one of the Crown’s ballrooms.  This was not a case of all comers being allowed to compete.  Rather, care and consideration went into selecting the competitors to ensure that the limited spots in this event went to worthy challengers:

  • Michael Hull, Crown Perth
  • Zak Kinnear, Secrets Golf Links, Mandurah
  • Jemima Evans, Harbour Fitness, Secret Harbour
  • Melissa Spencer, Crown Perth (patisserie)
  • Oliver Scott, Salt on the Beach, Fremantle

This year, we had 4 kitchen judges and 8 tasting judges, with the tasting judges staying out of the kitchen and carrying out a blind tasting of numbered plates so as not to have their judgment affected by what went on in the kitchen.  All of the judges were hospitality professionals, except for WA Bailli Regional Wayne Teo and myself, who were tasting judges.  The judges were:

Kitchen Judges
  • Chef Phil Westwood, Challenger Institute
  • Chef Michael Canavan, Challenger Institute
  • Chef Patrick Carter, Challenger Institute
  • Chef Marco Bijl, Crown Perth

Tasting Judges
  • Bailli Wayne Teo
  • Chef Sean Marco, Crown Perth
  • Chef Travis Simmonds, Crown Perth
  • Chef Ralf Vogt, Crown Perth
  • Chef Matt Horne, Crown Perth
  • Tracey Ashman, Apprentice Coordinator
  • Chef David Webster, Secrets Golf Links, Mandurah
  • The Frenchman

The black box of ingredients was unveiled first thing that morning, and included some challenging compulsory ingredients: lamb shoulder on the bone, mussels, eggplant, dried apricots and bananas.  Competitors were also given a wide range of optional ingredients to choose from – the snapper was a popular choice.

The winner of the WA Jeunes Commis is Michael Hull of Crown Perth, who led by a clear and convincing margin in the eyes of both the kitchen judges and tasting judges.  His entrée of perfectly cooked snapper and mussels with a perfectly crisp slice of prosciutto and main course of deliciously tender lamb shoulder on a bed of apricot rice and eggplant mousse were easily the best executed and tasting dishes; his dessert of panacotta with lime zest drew rave reviews from some tasting judges for the remarkably striking and lively flavour of the accompanying lime jelly which perfectly complemented the pannacotta, itself displaying a perfect balance of creaminess, texture and firmness.
Michael will now undergo intensive mentoring and grooming in preparation for the Australian national Jeunes Commis competition that will take place on the Gold Coast on 8 June 2018, utilising funds and resources that the WA Bailliage has set aside to be spent on the development of young talent in the hospitality industry.  This includes dining out at some of Perth’s best restaurants to better understand the front of house experience.
National Conseiller Culinaire and WA Vice-Conseiller Culinaire Phil Westwood, remarked that everyone was a winner – all competitors received a certificate of commendation, a Chaîne apron and pin and a cooking book or recipe diary.  Michael’s prize also included the State winner’s medal, a cheque for $300 and a magnificent Heston Blumenthal cookbook.

All competitors received valuable advice from the judges, which included last year’s Australian Jeunes Commis winner and Chef Rôtisseur Travis Simmonds – among Travis’s pearls of wisdom was the need to integrate the compulsory ingredients into the dish, rather than just sprinkling them on as a garnish or an afterthought.  Chef Westwood also commented that all of the competitors performed with remarkable composure, and that he had seen more experienced young chefs crack under the pressure they experienced that day.

Competitors were also encouraged to compete again next year, armed with the new knowledge, experience and advice gained from their participation this year.

The WA Bailliage wishes to express its gratitude to Crown Perth for generously providing its world-class commercial kitchen and cooking supplies for the competition, and especially to Maître Rôtisseur Chef Sean Marco for his staunch support on this and other Chaîne events and endeavours.

Full credit and congratulations for a successful and well-run event must also go to National Conseiller Culinaire and WA Vice-Conseiller Culinaire Phil Westwood for his tireless efforts in organising and running this very important culinary event.

Vive la Chaîne!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Why you should grind your own coffee

When I woke up this morning, I groggily fumbled around with Miss Silvia for my morning espresso, but had to pause a moment when the coffee beans started grinding - so that I could enjoy the delightful, sweet aroma of caramel wafting up from the freshly ground La Lagunila Mexican Cup of Excellence #3 beans (locally roasted by Ristretto just 2 weeks ago - in the zone!)  And the palate - crisp, fresh dried apples with a hint of vanilla.  Wow.  What a perfect thing to wake up to!

For those of you who still buy pre-ground coffee from the supermarket, or even from the "gourmet" coffee shop - this is what you're missing out on.  That's why the big chains stick all these weird flavours like vanilla and caramel and what-else into their pre-ground stuff.  Or even their whole beans that are intended to sit on the supermarket shelves for months on end (once again, the dollar wins out over quality control).  Because the beautiful natural flavours and aromas have long ago dissipated by the time you crack open the bag to make your first coffee.

Have you ever drunk a freshly-ground, freshly-brewed coffee and marvelled at the natural caramels, vanillas, apples, citrus, chocolates or even coconut aromas and flavours?  If not, then you're missing out.

And that folks, is why you should grind your own coffee, and also why you should use single origin coffee roasted by someone who cares about their art.

P.S. The photo is of the same bag of La Lagunila, taken when the guys at Ristretto generously offered me a surprise taste comparison between the La Lagunila and the blend of the week (which incidentally was composed of two single origins from El Salvador and Indonesia).  Both were marvellous.

Post-note (30 May 2015): I believe that you should only grind your beans just before you make your coffee - this preserves maximum flavour, oils and freshness.  No need to be precious about getting the best, fancy top of the range grinder, unless you're an über-aficionado of coffee who lives for all of the barely imperceptible nuances and dimensions of flavour and texture that us mere mortals could not even comprehend.  Or unless you're running a cafe and need a serious industrial strength grinder - but this article is directed at the home coffee aficionado.

All you really need is to ensure is that your grinder has a burr mill rather than steel blades (the latter will heat up the coffee and degrade its quality before it even goes into your filter basket).  You should also make sure that you can adjust the fineness of the grind, because different beans with different post-roasting ages will require a different fineness of grind.  Generally, the longer it has been since roasting, then you should consider a finer grind - unfortunately trial and error is mandatory since every bag of beans will be slightly different).

A ceramic burr grinder will in theory generate even less heat than a steel burr grinder, but I'm not sure it will make a real difference if you only grind enough beans for one or two shots of coffee at a time.

Of course, you get what you pay for, so it's a bit of a balance between a lower price and acceptable durability/quality.

To save you some effort, I've done some searches: the Cuisinart (see my US Amazon Affiliate link below) is an example of something that will do the job, but which won't cost a huge amount of money.  Unfortunately, it doesn't ship to Australia, but I hope that this example gives you an idea of what parameters to look for in selecting a coffee grinder for home use.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Print Hall Dining Room, Brookfield Place, 125 St George's Terrace, Perth

 A few weeks ago, I had lunch at the Print Hall with my dear old friend and mentor Dario.  Alas it had to be a short lunch (by our standards) of less than 2 hours as he had a meeting with lawyers in the afternoon (always something to look forward to!) and I needed to pack for my departure first thing the next morning on a week-long trip to Melbourne and then Hong Kong.

The Print Hall is a pretty special place – a palatial open bar area dominates the ground floor atrium; the back of this leading to its flagship Print Hall dining room.  Then there’s The Apple Daily on the next floor up, a casual and cheerful place serving up modern Asian fusion cuisine by Sunny Ocampo.  I haven’t met him yet but Jerry Fraser tells me that Sunny’s inspiration is Cheong Liew (who happens to me one of my all-time favourite chefs, alongside the Demon Chef and Fergus Henderson).  On the same floor is the private dining room, which, from the last time I ate in that room, offers a perfect private dining experience.  On the funky rooftop, you can find Bob’s Bar, apparently named after a legendary Aussie Prime Minister from that side of politics when they also used to care about the Australian people as a whole rather than this class warfare crack that they are pushing nowadays.

And of course, there’s Jerry’s Oysters, happily ensconced in the corner of the main bar facing the main dining room under the neon sign “Jerry’s Oysters”, which is where I caught up with old friend Jerry Fraser the King of Oyster Shuckers to reminisce about the good ol’ days at Churchill’s in the back of the WA Club, when he used to shuck over 100 dozen oysters on a single Thursday night.  I also gifted Jerry with a precious bottle of Akabanga from my fast-dwindling stocks of this delicious, flavoursome and fiery Rwandan chilli oil. I’d like to see the look on the faces of those blokes who claim to be impervious to chilli, and disregard the recommended limit of one (or half) drop per oyster!  This chilli has a delayed action – you taste the flavour first, and a few seconds later, the burn hits you like walking into a glass door if you’ve overindulged.  While chatting to Jerry, a solicitous Cathy (the manager) comes round to make sure I am okay and organises a Hendrick’s gin and tonic for me.

The other diners at the Print Hall’s dining room sport a professional, corporate look.  I bump into a mate from university, Chilla – he’s on his way to a meeting.  But he takes time to stop and chat with me and Dario before he heads off.  I sincerely wish him all the best, all the way to the dizzy heights of his chosen career.

Once we’re done with our deliciously plump oysters (the Walrus would have shed great rolling globs of tears at these beauties), Jerry takes it upon himself to usher Dario and I into the elegantly minimalistic and tastefully decorated dining room, where Dario instantly notices the exquisite handblown Italian decanter, with little indentations at the bottom for your thumb and fingers to facilitate the pouring of the wine.

The service is amazing – there is absolutely nothing to whinge about.  The menu arrives when you are thinking about it.  The sommelier turns up to ask you about wines when you are thinking about it.  The waiter assigned to our table asks for our order when we have just decided on what we want.  The waiter then compliments me on my choice of burgundy which nicely complements my entrée and main.  The food arrives without either of us feeling like we’ve had to wait for it.  Someone turns up to replenish our water glasses.  When we want our bill, we just turn around and our waiter is there!

For my entrée, I order the Avruga Caviar on a bed of fresh Mandurah crab meat, accompanied by a perfect quail yolk, crouton squares and an ascetic sprinkling of vegetals, including sliced beets and a couple of green leaves.  Delicious.  Beautiful.  And it does complement my pinot noir!

For my main, I have the lamb fillet and lamb shank.  ‘nuff said.  Perfect.  The fillet is perfectly medium rare, tender yet textural.  The shank falls off the bone and melts in the mouth.  Dario’s main is the Barramundi, sitting on a bed of delicate greens and squid legs.  Beautiful.

We talk about life (one of my favourite topics, as you may have gathered); Dario’s beautiful and loyal wife Suzie and his sons’ diverse interests.  What's next on the horizon of life; the things that matter; the things that make a difference.  We reminisce about that warm, enjoyable winter’s dinner at my place with Dario, Suzie, Lisa and Joe.  The ever effervescent Joe – not a drop of alcohol, yet always the life of the party!

And then all too soon, it’s time to go.  Such is life – there is never enough time for the important things.  Dario has to go to his meeting with the lawyers (sad I know), and I need to go home to start my packing.

I look forward to the next catch-up.  Definitely a long lunch next time ...