Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Japan 2007: Bakeries!

A selection of breads and pastries, a latte and an ice tea at Andersen Bakery, Ueno station, Tokyo.

We ate an incredible amount of bread and pastries whilst in Japan. Little bakeries were everywhere, selling high quality pastries, yummy bread rolls and coffees of varying quality. And they were cheap! Loaded up with a few pastries and bread rolls, we were ready to face hectic days of sightseeing and shopping. Great food for the budget traveller.

My favourite bakeries were Andersen Bakery (Ueno Station), and Kobeya Kitchen, although there are many others. Follow the warm smell of bread and look for the brightly-lit stores with trays and trays of baked goods.

The Andersen bakery in Ueno station, Tokyo, is huge, and turns out thousands of products every day. Whilst we were in Tokyo, we'd often start the day there, buying everything we wanted, eating what we could, and saving the rest for later in the day. Incidentally, Andersen Ueno was the only place in Tokyo I found that did a latte I liked - not scaldingly hot, not super bitter. When I wasn't at Andersen and needed a caffeine fix, I'd stick to coffee in a can, or cafe au laits. Yum yum.

Marble cupcake with marshmallow, Andersen
Madeleine! I also saw lots of places selling little round cakes called "madeleines", which I thought was interesting. I guess it's just a madeleine batter baked in a round tin.

Apple Turnover, random bakery
Cheese pastry!!! YAY!
Apple turnover. apperu taanova no naka

Selection of breads from Kobeya Kitchen - chocolate scone, Portuguese Pão de queijo (cheesebread), sugar raisin bun. Boss Rainbow Mountain Blend coffee in a can. Travelling food for the shinkansen.

Chocolate cake from Andersen.

Sausage bread, Garlic gread, random bakery in Shibuya station


And a useful phrase just in case you get stuck:

Where is the bakery? panya wa doko desu ka?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Vegetarian Chilli

Lisa Simpson: I’m gonna go get some vegetarian chili before they get desperate and add meat!

This is my beloved terracotta pot, which I use for all stews, soups, chillis, or anything gloopy.

In my ongoing quest to find delicious, healthy midweek meals, I turned to an unlikely source - Nigella Lawson's Feast. In the Partytime chapter, she has a recipe for vegetarian chilli, which has a cornbread topping, and is served with guacamole, grated cheese and sour cream. It also feeds 10. Seeing as I wanted it to be healthy, I halved the quantity, left out the cornbread topping, sour cream and guacamole, and served it with low fat grated cheese and steamed broccoli. Steamed broccoli is much tastier than it sounds - we love it! Come to think of it, the cornbread topping isn't too unhealthy - it only contains 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of oil and 40g of cheese per 5 servings - but making the cornbread does add 25 minutes onto the cooking time. Maybe I'll try it when I have a bit of extra time.


As for the chilli itself, it's pretty much a stock-standard chilli con carne, with capsicums and red lentils instead of meat. It takes about an hour to cook, but most of that time it's just simmering on the stove and you don't need to do anything. While it simmers, the red lentils cook down and become mushy, with a texture rather like minced meat. You'll see that I used chickpeas instead of the more usual red kidney beans, simply because that's what I had in my cupboard. Very healthy! The dish is high in protein and fibre and low in GI. I would have served brown rice with it instead of white, but I didn't want to scare my family away from the whole healthy-eating thing right away.

Unlike the patrons at the Chilli Cook-off (in The Simpsons), I was not tempted to add meat to this dish, and thought it was perfectly satisfying just as it was. As a bonus, I didn't get that greasy-orange taste you get when you have a minced-meat-and-tomato-dish. Woohoo!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Germany 2008: Nigella's Apple and Blackberry Kuchen

Cooking with yeast is not my thing. However, eating food made from yeast is definitely my thing. Especially Nigella's apple and blackberry kuchen - a sweet yeasted dough, enriched with eggs and topped with blackberries, apples, and a crumble mixture. A quiet weekend in Germany gave me the opportunity to test out some of my (still developing) yeast-baking skills.

Kuchen simply means 'cake' in German, (a topic I researched in great depth whilst in Germany), but Nigella's Apple and Blackberry Kuchen is the German-American version. You start off with the yeasted base....

..., which contains, in addition to flour, salt, sugar and yeast, some eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, milk, butter and cinnamon. I'm sure you can imagine how divine the fragrance is..

Once it's risen (overnight in the fridge, or an hour in a warm spot), it will be soft and springy and doubled in size. My photos make them look the same size, but rest assured, the dough did actually expand. Can you see the stretch marks at the top of the ball?

Once it's risen, you stretch out the dough into a 9x13 inch pan, glaze it with egg-wash, and cover it with fruits and crumble.

This is the crumble mixture, with yummy crunchy almonds:



Once it's baked, it will be risen and divinely fragrant.

It's supposed to be eaten as breakfast, but we had it for afternoon tea with crème fraîche. (It's only 79 euro cents for a tub! Blackberries were cheap there too. *Sigh*). You'll also be able to see from the picture, that it's quite high. It's supposed to be a thinner, burnished and brown slab, but mine turned out high and slightly doughy, although not unpleasantly so. I realised later that the ruler I used to measure the tin was a technische Zeichnerin (technical draftswoman) ruler, which measured increments slightly smaller than inches, undiscernable to the naked eye. Or I just wasn't looking closely enough. Whoops! At any rate, the finished product was really good. We ate about half of it, and I carefully sliced up the remainder and wrapped it up in foil to freeze. Come to think of it, my host family might still have some slices in their freezer! Frau Margit, bitte schicken sie mir kuchen!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A deceptively simple supper

Grilled pork chops with lemon and caper dressing, rocket salad and fast fries

I don't often cook chops, as I have been disappointed by the quality of supermarket chops a couple of times in the past - bony, dry and tasteless. When I do head to one of my favourite butchers, it's usually to buy a big-ass roast or steaks for a special meal, and often I'm too lazy to be hitting the speciality shops for a weeknight dinner.

I have been delighted to see that Coles and Safeway are now stocking a good selection of cuts of free-range Otway pork. According to a media release on their website, it's actually been in Coles across Melbourne since 2004, but I've noticed a much larger presence lately. I'll probably still get my big pork roasts from a butcher - Nigella says that plastic wrap gives crackling a "very sloppy kiss of death", and the friendly guys at Rendinas, or any other quality butcher, will cut your meat to size, as well as scoring the rind and other fiddly jobs. For individual porky pieces, however, like chops or fillets, the supermarket will be a great source. Yay!

Last week I found a juicy pair of Otway pork chops at Coles, reduced in price because they were approaching the use-by date. Score! I took them home, and in an uncharacteristic display of spontaneity, marinated them in lemon juice, olive oil, peppercorns, salt, rosemary and garlic. (Loosely based on a chop recipe that Lisa emailed me).


I let them sit for an hour or so, before grilling them on a medium flame for 5 minutes a side and letting them rest. Meanwhile, I washed some rocket, knocked up some fast fries, and mixed together a lemon-caper dressing. The recipe for the dressing - just lemon juice, olive oil, capers - is from bills open kitchen, and accompanies Bill's veal chops. Easy peasy.

I was absolutely knocked out by how delicious this dinner was. It didn't take a huge amount of effort, and the result was fabulous! I will definitely be trying this combination out on my family soon.

The dinner was really, very easy to make. Please give it a go! I made it when I'd strained the muscles in my right hand, and it was all bandaged up. Yes folks, I made this whole dinner with my left hand! Yes, this also means I can't slice up the meat. I did a Joey Tribbiani, and, extremely classily used the bone as a handle to eat it. YUM!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bistro Guillaume

Finally the long wait is over! For all of you who were waiting for this post, (*ahem*... I should say both of you), I am now writing about our dinner at Bistro Guillaume.


Bistro Guillaume
Crown Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman St
Southbank Victoria 3006
(03) 9693-3888
Website


Decor


The space (formerly Prada) is beautiful. Marble benches, candles, French bistro chairs, dramatic petticoat-shaped lamps in the front section, (no, that's not the technical term, but that's what I thought when I saw them), patterned lamps in the back section. We were in a group of 5 for a special occasion, and got a table at the back, which happened to be quite private, and had banquette seating along one side of the table. (Wahoo, I love couches). The grey leather banquette was very comfortable and had mirrors above it. So, I sat in comfort all night; my brother sat on the opposite side and could admire his reflection in between courses. It was win-win! The only complaint about the atmosphere was that it was really cold all night! The air-conditioning must have been on high, and there was a vent right above us. Brr! We did mention this to a waiter, but it remained cold all night. No matter; I don't think the temperature is controlled by the staff anyway.


Drinks


We don't tend to drink wine when we go out; we're not big drinkers, and wine at restaurants can make the bill soar uncontrollably. (Being concerned with money isn't glamorous I know, but I may as well be honest). However, my family does love a good aperitif! Aperol on the left, Pimms and cranberry on the right. Aperol is the French equivalent of my beloved Campari - it has a bitter anise flavour. Love it.


Bread


You receive quality, intensely chewy pieces of baguette, and butter with fleur de sel.


Entreés
Seared scallops with cauliflower veloute, shiitake mushrooms and veal jus

Jamon Iberico served with olives, pimento, fennel and quail egg

Hunter Valley snails with buerre persillé

Mine: Rabbit Terrine, including cornichons, dijon mustard, toasted sourdough bread, and a cute little rack of rabbit.

We were so incredibly impressed by the entrées! Especially the scallops that my father and brother's girlfriend both ordered. They were perfectly cooked, and the jus was intensely flavoured - a great combination. I loved my terrine, not just for its flavour, but also its texture. Within the slice itself were whole pieces of tender rabbit meat, as you can see in the photo above. I believe that these pieces of meat would be the bunny-equivalent of backstrap or fillet, but I can't be sure.


Main Course

Before I get on to our main courses, I should just admit to an embarrassing obsession with restaurant crockery and cutlery. The crockery at Bistro Guillaume was all Villeroy and Boch. (Yes, I turned the empty plates over to check). Their steak knives are very fancy Laguiole.
Look at the bumblebee detail on the steak knife! Oooh! Aaah!

Now, the food.

Steak frites, sauce à la bordelaise

Mine: Steak Frites, sauce béarnaise. "Hey, these are like Maccas chips but sooo much better!" I had been craving a good steak frites for weeks, and I'm glad to say that this one lived up to my expectations, if not exceeding them.

Bistro Guillaume fish and chips - whole whiting with pommes Pont-Neuf and buerre maitre d'hotel. Skilfully boned, delicately fried, very impressive.

Pan-fried fillet of blue eye trevella on celeriac purée, pommes allumettes, sage buerre noisette

Mixed leaf salad with shallot vinaigrette. Not just a lazily-thrown together side salad, but a deliciously refreshing selection of leaves, including tender red and white witlof, and a tasty dressing.

Eaten, but not photographed: a risotto with field mushrooms and Reggiano parmesan. When I first saw this on the menu, my first reaction was that it must be the vegetarian's punishment. However, having stolen a spoonful or two from my brother's plate, I found that it was, in fact, a delight for vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Comparison of the 2 steaks - notice that mine was rare, whilst the other was "medium-to-well-done". Both were cooked exactly the way we wanted them!
Mmm........

I am quite amazed that we managed to demolish such a large amount of food.


Desserts


Having all thoroughly enjoyed our meals, we were greatly looking forward to dessert. I am sorry to say that 4 out of 5 of us were disappointed in this department.

First up, a nice coffee.
Cafe Latte - ooh, La Perruche sugar!

The next 2 desserts, the crème brûlée, and the soufflée, certainly looked very impressive...

Mandarin crème brûlée

Chestnut Soufflé

... but were, unfortunately, way too sweet. With the first bite of my soufflé, I could already tell it was too sweet for my taste. I persevered though, and made it about halfway through before I admitted defeat. I'm not sure what you're supposed to do in this instance - the dessert wasn't poorly made, or faulty, just too sweet for my taste. Do you just send it back? Ideas anyone? My father ordered the same thing, and also found it too sugary. Oh well.

The brûlées, whilst not quite as sickly sweet as the soufflés, were still quite underwhelming. According to my mum and my bro's girlfriend were that it was (again) too sweet, too rich, just average.

My brother, however, ordered the lemon tart, which was divine. Crunchy base, soft, soft lemon interior. Why didn't I order that?


Despite the desserts, we all really enjoyed dinner here, and would definitely come back again. The atmosphere was lovely, the service was professional and prompt, although personally, I would preferred it if the hosts and waiters in general were a bit warmer. (Apart from the waiter who served our table, took our orders and explained the menus. He was very cool). We loved our entrées and mains, and even though they were pricey, we felt they were worth it.

Bistro Guillaume on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 16, 2008

Germany 2008: Kaffee und Kuchen

*Thanks to everyone who sent me get well soon wishes! Am still not up for typing a whole post with my left hand, so here's another one from my drafts! It's about cake in Germany! Yay!*

Kaffee und Kuchen at some Konditorei in Heidelberg.

I absolutely adore the German tradition of Kaffee und Kuchen, or coffee and cake. We'd usually have it on a Sunday. Papa would drive into town and buy a selection of amazing cakes, come home and brew a pot of coffee, and wait for the relatives to arrive. Other times, we'd be out sightseeing, and I'd insist - and I do mean insist - that we stop at a cafe for a much needed caffeine-break. (Take-away coffees don't seem to be as popular over there as they do in Melbourne, and we all know how much I love my coffees!)

These first few photos are from a Konditorei in Heidelberg...

Shockobanane - chocolate and banana.

Frankfurterkranz - sponge cake layered with cream, covered in crunchy praline.

More of that crunchy praline.


And next up are some kuchen we ate at home.

Bienenstich Kuchen - literally "bee sting cake". 2 layers of sweet yeasted dough, with cream in between, and honey almond praline on top. You'd think you couldn't finish a whole piece, but then you'd be wrong. It's ethereally light and fluffy, all too easy to eat.

Some sort of Swiss roll with raspberry filling.

Selection of cakes! Including Black Forest Cake, Frankfurter Kranz, Sachertorte, Bee Sting Cake, and a Fruit-topped Cake.

Christstollen
Schwarzwalderkirschtorte. (Black Forest Cake). Amazing. The cream has such a different texture to what I'm used to - so fluffy and light, like the inside of a pavlova! The sour cherries, kirsch, chocolate cream, chocolate cake and base make a combination that's out of this world. It was absolutely incredible.


*For anyone who's interested, or may be similarly suffering: I've been living on chicken soup, honey tea and butter menthols for 2 days. My cold is getting slightly better, although my throat is still a bit sore. As for my right hand - it's stuck firmly on a bag of frozen broad beans (my physio told me ice would calm the swelling down), and feels a bit better. Or maybe that's just because it's numb. My left hand is getting surprisingly fast at typing! I promise the Bistro Guillaume post will be coming in the next couple of days!*

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Scones

*I am desperate to blog about our incredible dinner at Bistro Guillaume 2 nights ago, but I've hurt my hand. Using the mouse makes it worse, and typing is incredibly slow. So, I've decided to publish this post from my drafts. Enjoy!*

Clockwise from front: whipped cream, scones, strawberry jam.

I love a good scone. A few weeks ago, we had some early-morning visitors - an occasion for which scones would be perfect. Making scones is easy, choosing a recipe is hard. Especially when you are the proud owner of dozens of cookbooks, and each scone recipe is slightly different. Donna Hay, Belinda Jeffrey, Bill Granger, Mrs Beeton? Where to begin? In the end, I chose a recipe from the "Teatime" chapter of Relish by Joanna Weinberg, mainly because the photo was the most attractive.


As you can see, the scones turned out quite flat. Even generous dollops of cream and jam couldn't make them appear sufficiently tall and scone-like. They did, however, smell gorgeous and taste great.

After making these, I cross referenced this recipe against my other ones, and conclude that the flatness of the scones is the fault of the method. Whilst the ingredients and proportions were all fine (hence the nice texture, taste and smell), the instructions weren't very good. Weinberg instructs you to roll the mixture an inch (2.5cm) thick, which I did. This was obviously not thick enough! According to Belinda Jeffrey, Australian cookery writer and baker extraordinaire, scones don't rise very much and should be rolled at least 2 inches (5cm) thick. I'll have to try that next time.


*If you'd like to feel even more sorry for me, I'll let you know that I've also got a cold. Blergh! Can't go out, can barely type, can't cook ('cos of the hand). I am so incredibly bored. I even watched the Rachel Ray talk show on W. Shudder.*