Saturday, September 27, 2008

Grand Final BBQ Lunch

2 bio-dynamic T-bone steaks, grown on Avonmore Estate

Aussie Rules Grand Final Lunch
T-bone steak, Italian-style with wilted spinach (Neil Perry's Good Food)
Baked new potatoes on a bed of salt (Bill Granger's
Asparagus steamed in a paper bag (Tyler Florence's Tyler's Ultimate)

Yes, I know the Grand Final is on. And yes, I know my team's in the final. (GO THE HAWKS!) But I'm too nervous to watch, so here I am blogging, and getting updates on the game from hearing my dad yell at the TV.

There's nothing like the footy to put you in the mood for barbecue. So this morning, I had a leisurely stroll to my local grocers, and picked up 4 massive T-bone steaks, 2 big bags of spinach, and an incredibly gorgeous bunch of sage.



When I got to the butcher, I couldn't see any T-bone in the cabinets, but the friendly butcher got some for me from out the back. He brought out a freakin enormous side of beef, started trimming off the fat, and cut up 4 thick slices for me. He then used one of those big electric saw things that butchers have to slice through the bones and finish the job. Wow. I love watching butchers work. (Maybe that's why I like Dexter so much).

The total weight of 4 steaks was 2.4 kilos, and came to $70!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ahem. I guess it really does cost a lot to produce biodynamic beef, and to have a skilled and trained butcher cut it up for you. Neil Perry's recipe suggests one T-bone per person, with a small side of wilted spinach. I, however, realised there was no way we'd each eat a whole 600g steak each, so I carefully double wrapped 2 of them and stashed them in the freezer.

This picture shows you 2 of my favourite things - my labelmaker and gratuitous umlauts.

The other accompaniments - potatoes and asparagus, were the result of some fruitful rummaging through the fridge and pantry.

Bill Granger suggests serving these potatoes with a massive La-Plancha style rib-eye, so I knew they'd go great with my T-bones. You put the potatoes, oil-less, on a bed of sea salt, and roast at 200C for an hour, turning once during cooking.

I found 2 bunches of asparagus in my fridge crisper drawer, and vaguely recalled a beautiful picture of asparagus in my Tyler Florence book. Upon reading the book, I realised that Tyler cooks his asparagus in a brown paper bag. I happened to have a brown paper bag, (it had previously held free cookies from my local bakery), so gave it a go. Apparently, steaming the asparagus means you keep all the nutrients, rather than having them leach into the cooking water. So, you pack up all the ingredients in the bag: asparagus, lemon slices, salt, pepper, a bay leaf and a drizzle of olive oil.

Then you wrap it up tightly, drizzle the bag with olive oil to prevent it from burning, and bake it for 20 minutes at 180C. Easy!

While all that was going on, I prepared the steak. Perry suggests a mixture of sage (above), rosemary and oregano to press onto the meat. I have both rosemary and oregano growing in my garden, so that saved me a bit of money.

My little herb collection. As you can see, my oregano (at the front) and my thyme (on the right), are going great guns, but my coriander and parsley have seen better days.

And I have a massively wild bush of rosemary growing in the garden. I think Mum planted a little seedling of it a few years ago. Look at it now!

Then it was time to light up the barbecue and slap on the steaks...

In a stroke of fantastic timing, the whole lunch was ready just as Hawthorn ran onto the field...
Two big steaks were a great amount for four of us. I'm glad I didn't cook all four!

The spinach just needs a quick toss in a pan with some garlic and oil. Super easy!

Paper-bag steaming was a great method of cooking the asparagus; it was so vibrant and green.

I adored these potatoes! Blistered skin on the outside, super, super fluffy on the inside.

Great lunch. Ok, gotta watch the match. 3 minutes to go. GO THE MIGHTY HAWKS!!!!!!!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sugar High Friday: White Mochaccino Cupcakes

My white mochaccino cupcakes were adapted from two almost identical recipes that I'd had my eye on for a while - Nigella's blonde mocha layer cake (Forever Summer), and a coffee-tea cake from a recent issue of Delicious. The fortuitous combination of my friend Markii's birthday, and Fanny Foodbeam's Sugar High Friday cupcake event gave me the opportunity to make a massive batch of them last weekend. Woo!

The base is a coffee-flavoured Victoria sponge, and the icing is a mixture of melted white chocolate, sour cream, melted butter and sugar. The finished cupcakes are dusted with cocoa powder.

Baking these cupcakes also meant I finally finished my stash of Lindt white chocolate piccoli...
Farewell my little hexagons of deliciousness....!

Funnily enough, some of the cupcakes turned out smooth, some were humped, and some rose on one side like a scone (see the one in the blue wrapper, on the back at the right?).

For the humpy ones, I had to slice off the tops to get a good surface for icing... and for the all-important taste tests!
Top of the muffin to you!

Oh wow, that sponge was a-mazing! But that's just what you'd expect from a Victoria sponge base, isn't it?

Next up is the icing. I actually let it sit in the fridge overnight before icing the cupcakes, as it is extremely soft and creamy. Even though the icing could have been more stiff (ooh, cheeky!), it was already very sweet, and I didn't want to add any extra sugar.

When making the cakes and icing, I followed the quantities for Nigella's blonde-mocha layer cake, making a few substitutions to the ingredients. For example, in the cake, I replaced the instant coffee and milk specified in Nigella's recipe with a short black espresso. In the icing, I substituted sour cream for Nigella's more expensive crème fraîche. When I got around to icing the cupcakes the next morning, I found that I had more than double the amount of icing I needed! I know Nigella recipes tend to be generous with the icing, but this was ridiculous. D'oh! Luckily that sponge recipe is so easy to make (all in the processor), so I whipped up another batch, using half the batter for cupcakes, and half as a 20cm cake. (In the recipe below, I've adjusted the icing to a more appropriate amount.)

Again, I have no explanation for why my 20cm golden coffee sponge rose so unevenly, or why they got those huge air bubbles in them!

We shared the grown-up sized cake for afternoon tea on Saturday, and despite not seeming very enthusiastic at first, my family loved the cake! We greedily wolfed down 2 slices each. Later that day I took the 28 cupcakes to Markii's birthday, where they were a runaway success! I was afraid they'd be too sweet, but indeed the sweet icing complemented the coffee sponge beautifully. This is my new favourite cake. I've already shared the recipe - my cousin requested it - and now I share it with you.

White Mochaccino Cupcakes

Golden Coffee Sponge
225g self-raising flour
225g very soft unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
3-4 tbsp freshly brewed espresso coffee, left to cool a little

White Chocolate Icing
125g white chocolate
45g soft unsalted butter
150ml sour cream (full fat)
125g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the flour, butter, caster sugar and eggs in a food processor, and mix until fully combined. With the motor running, add the coffee, tablespoon by tablespoon, until the batter is of a soft dropping consistency. Line a muffin tin with papers, and spoon the mixture the into papers. Only fill the cases halfway, as the mixture rises quite a lot, and you'll want a nice flat surface for your icing. Bake the cupcakes for approximately 20 minutes, until light golden and cooked through. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

For the icing, melt the white chocolate and butter in the microwave on medium for 1-2 minutes, until just over half melted. (Be careful not to overheat the white chocolate, as it burns more easily than regular chocolate). Stir gently until smoothly combined. Let cool slightly, then beat in the sour cream, followed by the sifted icing sugar. Beat until smooth. Store the icing in the fridge until needed.

If any of your cupcakes have very humped tops, slice them flat before icing. Spread the icing thickly onto the cupcakes, and dust lightly with cocoa. Ta-dah!!

Makes 18-24, depending on how much you fill the tins.

In baking these, I realised that I was recreating, in cupcake form, my beloved white mochas from Starbucks. (Is that a gasp I hear from my shocked readers?) I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Starbucks. The official Sarah Cooks position is that it's crap, or as my cousin elegantly put it, "water mixed with dirt", but of late I've found myself more and more drawn to them. I think I feel sorry that they had to close so many stores. And when I was doing a lot of travelling, often alone in foreign countries, I'd see Starbucks as little havens, where I could comfortably sit and take a break from a big day of sightseeing, sipping a reliably consistent beverage. Consistently average, I admit, but when it comes to coffee (or crappaccinos), I feel that consistency is often a virtue in itself. And if Starbucks is one thing, it is consistent. So therefore I approve. Promise you won't tell anyone? Good.

Let me assure you, however, that these white mochaccino cupcakes are so much nicer than anything that's come out of an actual Starbucks. But why take my word for it when you could make them yourself?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Markii!!!

A big batch of white mocha cupcakes was a birthday gift for my good friend Markii, and will also be my entry for Fanny @ Foodbeam's Sugar High Friday cupcake event this month. Details on these delicious little beauties will appear in an upcoming post. Today, dear readers, I am going to tell you all about Markii's birthday drinks at the Belgian Beer Cafe Bluestone.

Leffe Blonde ($7.50) in the foreground, Leffe Dark ($7.50) in the background.

The Belgian Beer Garden is a place I always associate with lazy summer days, and I'd never even set foot inside the cafe part before. When I arrived on Saturday afternoon, Markii's posse were firmly settled inside. It turns out that they'd already been darting in and out, trying to outsmart the haphazard weather, and finally gave up and decided to park themselves inside, lest they lose their good spot once it really started to cool down.

I love the old fashioned wood panelling and decor.

My favourite aspect about the Belgian Beer Garden is their fries with mayo. Oh yum! Only complaint was that the mayo had congealed a bit - it must have been sitting in the little ramekin without being properly covered. But it was fresh and tasty.
Frites and Mayonnaise - $7.00

The frites were hot, fresh and crunchy. So much better than the shitty fries from Lord of the Fries that I got at Flinders Street Station a few weeks back. How could the "Lord" of the fries make such bad fries?

After a few more beers, we whipped out the white mocha cupcakes. Upon seeing them, my cousin exclaimed, "They look like little cappuccinos!" Success.

(1st tin of 3)

As the night wore on, we realised we needed a bit more substantial food, and ordered from the "BeerFood Menu".

Cheese Croquettes - mix of emmenthal, gruyere and parmesan lightly fried - $9.00

I love it how they write "lightly" fried on the menu, in an attempt to make deep-fried cheese sound less hideously unhealthy. They are pretty addictive..

Fried mussels - lemon crumbed mussels with tartare sauce - $8.50

Meatballs - minced pork and veal braised with witlof and abbey beer - $8.00

Escargot - snails sautéed in garlic and herb butter with a touch of pastis - $9.00

The meatballs and mussels were pretty good, but the snails were pretty bad. They were quite bitter, and the sauce was overpoweringly garlicky.

Of course, the Belgian BEER Cafe is nothing if not a place for beer. Which is great, because I love beer. I'm actually surprised that so many girls don't like beer - it's delicious! They have a selection of Belgian draught beers, and a wider selection of bottled beers...


My non-beer drinking cousin ordered a Belle-Vue Kriek, which is light red in colour and tastes of sour cherries. It has, apparently, "a sweetness to charm even the most hesitant of non-beer drinkers", but she wasn't convinced by the combination of sour cherries and beer. I'm pretty conservative when it comes to beer, and was happy to stick to the easy-to-drink Leffe Blonde (light in colour, only slightly bitter) and Stella Artois (pale, pilsner-style lager). I used to love Hoegaarden (white beer), but find it a bit too fruity now. The final beer-on-tap, Leffe Brune, is a dark, malty beer, which I find a bit too heavy for my taste. (It's almost like drinking Vegemite).

Next up is a bottle beer - I'm not sure who in our group ordered it, but I couldn't resist taking a photo.

Apparently Rubbel Sexy Lager is a real Belgian beer, pilsner style. In the words of Homer Simpson: "Hey, do you know who'd like these? MEN!"

Winter in Melbourne sucked ass this year - it was cold, miserable, stressful, and just plain feral. Working part time in the semi-outdoors in gale-force winds did not help. Now that winter's over, and I'm gainfully employed in a climate-controlled office, I am firmly committing myself to enjoying summer. Barbecues, beer gardens and beaches will all feature highly on the agenda. Last week's trip to Yarraville and yesterday's drinks were a good start.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Abendessen, wurst, fleischkäse, kartoffeln...

1/2 Cheese Kransky, 1 Debrecziner mit gurken und kartoffeln salad

Fresh from my smoked-meat shopping spree, and enthused about my awesome stash, I got busy in the kitchen this week making some homestyle German dinners.

Samstag Abendessen (Saturday dinner)

I started off by making a huge vat of gurken und kartoffeln salad - boiling whole potatoes, then peeling and slicing them, then mixing them with chopped onions, thinly sliced cucumbers and the dressing. The dressing consists of oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and a small cup of meat stock. (I actually used Massel's beef-style stock cubes, which are 100% vegetarian, and taste great!) You're supposed to let the salad sit for "a good hour", but we were hungry and didn't want to wait.

We also had some Noisette white sourdough, picked up at Hausfrau earlier that day..

And fleischkäse, quickly fried in a pan.

Interestingly enough, what I knew as fleischkäse back in Lampertheim, seems to be more widely known as "leberkäse". Indeed, if you're at Andrew's Choice Butcher and want to purchase this loaf of meaty deliciousness, you will have to ask for leberkäse. Andrew's do sell something that they call fleischkäse, but it seems to be a chunky meatloaf rather than the uniformly pink loaf that I know and love. Whatever you call it, Andrew's German-style-meatloaf was frikkin awesome!!!

We also had some cheese kransky with the meal, mainly because I wanted to try cold smoked sausage. I didn't realise that all smoked sausages can be eaten cold. D'oh!

That little beauty atop the two sausages is my Wüsthof Gourmet Salamimesser. How cool is that? A knife just for salami! (Although actually, being a small serrated knife, it's great for sausages, bagels, tomatoes, bread rolls, cakes...) I'd wanted one for ages, but only actually bought it when I was in Germany earlier this year. You see, in Australia, the only Wüsthof knives I could find were the expensive, fully forged ones, and I just couldn't justify spending over $100 for a small salami knife. When I went to Germany, I realised that Wüsthof actually have some cheaper ranges of knives - the Gourmet and Silverpoint ranges - which are stamp-pressed, rather than fully-forged, and sooo much cheaper. I ordered myself the salamimesser, a brotmesser (bread knife) and a small utility knife from I can't remember the exact price, but it was about 50 euro for all 3. BARGAIN!

And whilst I do know that fully forged, perfectly balanced knives are a joy to hold and easier on the wrists (quite important if you're a chef and slicing, say, hundreds of salamis all day!), I don't find that it makes a huge difference in my day-to-day kitchen life. These 3 "lower end budget knives" are incredibly sharp, and I have the battle scars on my hands to prove it.

Sonntag Mittagessen (Sunday Lunch)
Leftover fleischkäse and potato salad. I found the potato salad to be nicer the next day, when the potatoes had been able to absorb the dressing.

Dienstag Abendessen
(Tuesday dinner)

For a solo, post-work dinner, I quickly fried a debrecziner and the half-cheese-kransky that was left over from Saturday night, and the remaining potato salad. (Picture at the top of the post). The potato salad was ok, but becoming alarmingly oniony by this stage.

The sausages tasted great, but I was surprised to find the debrecziner gave off a helluva lot of liquid when I cut into it. Look at that plate! And that was only half the liquid. I had to get up and swap plates halfway through, lest I spill meat juice all over myself as I watched The Simpsons on the couch. Is that much liquid in a debrecziner normal? Oh well, I guess I'll just eat the next debrecziner hot-dog style, to avoid that problem.

You'll be pleased to know that after dinner, I went straight to the gym. As much as I adore German smallgoods and sausages, we all know they're not that great for you - all that salt and saturated fat! Like they say on the family blocks of KitKat, "Life's all about balance".

Sunday, September 14, 2008

East end girls and West end cafes....

How good was yesterday's weather!? My cousin and I made the most of the first warm day of the year by making a little road-trip to the west side of town for some German-style food-filled fun. Yarraville is full of trendy cafes, restaurants, food shops and other pleasant weekend activities. I do realise that I'm extremely late on the Yarraville bandwagon, but the West side is FAR, ok!

First stop? Hausfrau.
321 Ballarat Street
Yarraville 3013
Ph: 9687-8364

I first read about Hausfrau in Epicure some months ago, and I knew I had to go when I read that they had Bienenstich cake. (It's my favourite German cake, remember?) Hausfrau is owned and run by an Australian chef and her Austrian husband, and remembering my trip to Vienna in '06, I was understandably excited. The cafe itself was very cute - all pastel colours, shelves and shelves of food, and a giant whisk hung up on the wall.

However, disappointment soon set in, when the very friendly guy at the counter informed me that they had no bienenstich - he said that their pastry chef had taken it off the menu and it probably wouldn't come back for a couple of months. Whaaa...? My first instinct was to beat my fists on the counter and yell "Noooooo!", but I bravely fought back tears and instead examined the many cabinets of food.

Hausfrau is well known for their sweets, and they did indeed have a large selection of gorgeous-looking cakes and pastries - honey madeleines, cherry frangipane tartlets, pfeffernüsse, brown butter shortbread, Sachertorte, baked chocolate mousse cake with raspberries, just to name a few. They also serve toast, muesli and many savoury treats. Particularly eye-catching were kranskys wrapped in pastry with sauerkraut, a super-creamy croque monsieur, and sausage rolls. You can also buy a selection of ice-creams, Noisette breads, and Hausfrau tee-shirts. I don't know if I'd wear a Hausfrau tee-shirt, but I wouldn't mind buying one of their cute aprons if they sold them! (See one in the first picture, hanging outside their door).

I really, really wanted that pastry-wrapped kransky, but it just seemed way too unhealthy. Instead, I got a mini sausage roll ($2) and a sweetcorn and parmesan hotcake ($5.50). They certainly looked beautiful.

The sausage roll was very cute and delicious, but the hotcake was quite disappointing. It was way too sweet. I know sweetcorn is sweet, but the sweet relish and lack of parmesan just sent the balance of the dish off-kilter. I could only eat half. (I know, me!) I should have just got that kransky!

My cousin, who doesn't eat pork or red meat, opted for the mushroom and artichoke strudel.
This one was quite nice, with its flaky pastry and intensely mushroomy filling.

For dessert, I tried a pfeffernuss (yum yum)...
... and a slice of the decadent-looking mascarpone and redcurrant roulade. Again, this one looked better than it tasted: whilst the mascarpone filling was lovely, the cake part was quite dry, and there wasn't enough filling to balance it out. Ah well...

My cousin, as with the savouries, made the better choice with a surprisingly light ginger pudding with sticky toffee sauce.

Even though I wasn't bowled over by Hausfrau's food, the service and decor were great, and I think it was a great place to sit down and while away a weekend afternoon. It was pleasantly busy, but not super-crowded. Now that I've got a grown-up job, my cafe-visiting days are limited to the weekends. Incidentally, I used to think I wouldn't mind being a hausfrau (that's German for housewife). We all know how much I love to cook! But there's no way I could rely on someone else for my money. So I guess it looks like I'll keep working for the moment.

And speaking of being independent and self-reliant, stay tuned, as your intrepid blogger dons her Fraulein MacGyver apron and starts whipping up her own bienenstich.

Hausfrau Bakery and Cakes on Urbanspoon

Next stop was Andrew's Choice butcher, just around the corner from Hausfrau.

Andrew's Choice
24 Anderson St
Yarraville 3013

And if Hausfrau was slightly disappointing, Andrew's Choice exceeded all my expectations, with their dazzling array of continental sausages and smallgoods. Andrew's Choice has developed quite a reputation for the quality of their fresh and smoked sausages, hams and smallgoods, and make quite a few of my beloved German specialities. They make everything in house, and their hams are smoked over a German hardwood (minds out of the gutter, kids).

I admit I went a little crazy in there...
The majority of that delicious stash was carefully wrapped up, labelled and stored in my freezer. I can't drive all the way out to Yarraville whenever a wurst craving hits!

Andrew's also grill sausages outside the shop to sell. In addition to my sausage-stash, I got a $3.50 grilled cheese kransky with onions to eat on my way to the car. Yum-to-the-yum! It more than made up for the lacklustre lunch.

According to my cuz, Aldi was having specials on German food, so we headed there next.

Footscray West
67 Ashley Street
West Footscray 3011

Going to Aldi always reminds me of Germany. In addition to cheap almonds and macadamias, I picked up some beer, spätzle, a rosti-in-a-packet, rohtkohl, sauerkraut and some German roast coffee. I don't hold high hopes for a bargain brick of German ground coffee, but I couldn't help myself.

Thanks to my cuz for joining me on this little road-trip! I can't wait to get stuck into my purchases.