Thursday, October 27, 2011

Embrasse

You my remember that a few months ago, Sandra and I were treated to a magnificent birthday dinner at Vue De Monde by our good friend An.  Well, when his birthday rolled around we also wanted to take him to a fabulous restaurant, preferably with a degustation menu.  And after much deliberation, we chose...


Embrasse
312 Drummond St
Carlton VIC 3053
Ph: (03) 9347 3312
Website

I had read many good reviews of Embrasse in blogs and newspapers, and was very excited to visit.  It is a small, unassuming restaurant, located on a quiet street in Carlton.  I was also aware of the protests (and apparent threats of violence) that surrounded their decision to serve horse meat for a very brief period.  I didn't quite understand the fuss, or why horses deserve special attention over say, cows, chickens or sheep.  Horse meat is often served in other countries - in Germany, for example, Pferdemetzgereis, or horse butchers, are not uncommon.

However, back to the topic at hand:

In addition to an a la carte menu, Embrasse have both 5-course ($95) and an 8-course ($125) degustation options.  Being a special occassion, we splashed out on the 8-course option.  And because I didn't have to drive (yay!) I also splashed out on matching wines for an extra $95.  Sandra and An aren't big drinkers so just ordered a glass of wine each for the meal.

And speaking of splashing out...
Kir Royale - $26 each
We started with a round of kir royales.  These are one of my favourite pre-dinner drinks, and were a lovely start to the meal.  At $26 a pop they were pretty pricey - I assume they were made with real champagne - so I've since 'invested' in a bottle of crème de cassis so I can make kir royales at home.  (You can safely assume there's always champagne in my house, hehe!)

Before the procession of courses commenced, we were brought some little amuses bouche served on individual spoons.

I was amazed by the intensity and the purity of flavour of those little mouthfuls; a theme that would be repeated throughout the night.
Beetroot, black sesame seeds, apple

Cauliflower
The breads on offer were olive, and smoked wheat - both warm, crusty and delicious.  These were replenished throughout the night.

The butter was perfectly soft and spreadable - a small detail but so important!  I loved the cute block for butter and the wooden butter knife too.

Now, let's look at the procession of courses.  I'm not going to say too much about each course individually - suffice it to say they were all fabulous and the wine matches were great too!  I love how beautifully composed each plate was.

First Course
Souvenir of Laguiole….our way
Meli Melo of vegetables, emulsions and purees, home grown and foraged herbs and flowers
Suze Cocktail – Gentiane, Cassis and tonic



Second Course
Dory, smoked olives, stinging nettle juices, old way pickles, malt bread
2010 Polperro Pinot Gris – Mornington, VIC


Third Course
Squid cooked in red wine, zucchini and family, fromage blanc froth, meyer lemon and bergamot
2010 Wittmann Riesling – Rheinhessen, Germany

Palate Cleanser
Rhubarb and Rose Tea

This was a rather interesting little palate cleanser, with a unique sour taste that we all thought tasted absolutely distinctly of McDonald's cheeseburgers.  (You know, the sour pickle/onion tang?)  I'm sure it wasn't intentional, but it was so unexpected and really cool!

Fourth Course
Pork fillet- roasted and glazed with an anise syrup, mushrooms, Jerusalem artichokes, flame grilled potato, chicory, Dijon mustard
2008 Bella Ridge Chenin Blanc – Swan Valley, WA

Can you see the little mushrooms on the left hand side of the plate?  How adorable!  I thought this plate was like a composed woodland scene - gorgeous.

Fifth Course
Wagyu beef, smoked rice vinegar, asparagus, ink, caramelised butter, pomme croquette, plantons, wild garlic
2008 Domaine du Vieux Chene Côte du Rhône – Rhône, France

Mmm... rare beef and a crunchy, creamy potato croquette: bliss.

With our final savoury course, I thought that now would be a good time to mention that all the little leaves and flowers on courses weren't just for decoration, but were actual edible components of each dish, adding texture and flavour.

Sixth Course
Cheeses from here and over there
2009 Mas Amiel – South-West France

Pre-Dessert

The pre-dessert was an adventurous flavour combination: dark chocolate, and a red capsicum sauce.  Our waiter informed us it was a love-it-or-leave-it combo - I loved it, Sandra and An weren't quite as enamoured.


Seventh Course
Banana, nougatine, desiree potato, olive oil, sheep’s milk yogurt
2009 Pichot ‘Le Marigny’ Vouvray Moëlleux – Loire, France

Potatoes in a dessert?  A thousand times, yes!  The little potato noodles were appealingly mealy (y'all know I love dough), and combined with a lovely smooth yoghurt, crunchy nougatine and little sweet bursts of banana.    Just wonderful.

And rounding up the meal was Embrasse's famous forest floor dessert.  I've seen and read about it on innumerable blogs, and I was ecstatic when it was brought out!

Eighth Course
Chocolate & hazelnut parfait, forest floor, sorrel mint granita
1982 Toro Albala gran Riserva Pedro Ximenez – Xerez, Spain

I know it's a 'forest floor', but I think it also looks a little 'under-the-sea', don't you?  My favourite part of this dessert was the 'mushroom' with its meringue stem and chocolate parfait cap.  Wow!

And as it was a birthday, our lucky An got a little salted caramel and chocolate petit four.


I'm so glad we chose Embrasse for this special occasion!  The food (as you can see) was amazing, the atmosphere was lovely, and the service was fantastic - warm, professional, efficient and well-informed.  Our dietary requirements were easily accommodated (we'd informed them when we made the booking that one of us didn't eat seafood and only liked meat well done; I felt that it was only fair), and all our other needs were taken care of without us even having to ask.  No problems, no worries - it was such a perfect, enjoyable night!

Happy birthday An!

Embrasse Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rotweinkuchen - Red Wine Chocolate Cake


Check it out! My Rotweinkuchen, or red wine cake, that I baked last night  Who doesn't love a bit of Saturday night baking?  I bake this cake reasonably often, and hadn't thought to blog it before now, as I tend to think of it as a bit of a plain, homestyle cake.  However, when I tweeted about it, I got lots responses from people interested in this unusual-sounding cake, so here's the post!

I actually have heaps of blog posts in draft, all in various states of completion - homemade almond danishes, rainbow cookies (rainbows!!!), a breathtaking 8-course degustation dinner at Embrasse, buffalo wings and more - which I'll be posting just as soon as I am able.  But for now, please enjoy this post about Rotweinkuchen!

I got this recipe from Sandra's mum - it's a light and fluffy chocolate cake with red wine in the batter, covered in a red wine icing-glaze.  As for the type of red wine, I don't think it really matters, as long as it's a dry one that you don't mind drinking - you only need about 180mls of wine in the cake, so you'll wanna be able to drink the rest.  Bonus!

The original recipe for the cake simply instructs you to "mix everything together and bake", but as you'll see from the recipe I included below, I split up the steps when I bake it myself.

There's no melted chocolate in the batter, just a little cocoa, which gives a lovely buff-coloured batter.

One of the key ingredients is Schokoraspeln, or those little chocolate sprinkles that you'd normally find on an ice-cream sundae.  Most supermarkets here sell them in the baking aisle.  I think of these little sprinkles as being sweet rather than chocolatey, but that fits in well with the light taste and texture of the cake.


I love bundt tins (I have two 16cm tins and a mini-bundt tray in addition to the 22cm one below), and have previously made this cake in a loaf tin, and as cupcakes.


Ta-dah! Here is the baked product.

If you don't feel like glazing, I think the cake would be just lovely with a dusting of icing sugar.  Having said that, the glaze isn't difficult, and I'm required to stick to tradition when I make it!

The original recipe only asks for red wine and icing sugar in the glaze, but I'm not a fan of the insipid lilac coloured glaze this makes.  I add a little cocoa powder to mine to get a nice matte brown.


Please excuse the mess in the background! I like to call it my "creative chaos", hehe.

And here it is, all glazed - a lovely, tender-crumbed cake with a hint of both chocolate and red wine.



Rotweinkuchen Red Wine Cake
A traditional German recipe, with slight adaptations by me

Cake
300gms plain flour
1 packet baking powder
2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
250gms softened butter
250gms sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar
5 eggs
125ml red wine
100gms Schokoraspeln

Glaze
1 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4c red wine
Enough icing sugar to make a drippable glaze

Preheat the oven to 175C, and grease a 22cm bundt tin.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder, and set aside.  Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and vanilla sugar together until the sugars are dissolved and the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Now, using a spatula or a wooden spoon, fold in the dry ingredients a third at a time, alternately with the red wine.  Finally, fold in the Schokoraspeln.  Pour the mixture into the prepared bundt tin, and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cover with foil if it is browning too quickly.

Let it cool for 15 minutes in the tin before turning it out on a wire rack to cool further.  Glaze the cake while it is still warm, but no longer piping-hot.

To make the glaze, whisk together the cocoa powder and red wine, and gradually whisk in enough sieved icing sugar to make a smooth, drippable glaze.  (Alternatively, do this in the processor if you CBF sieving the icing sugar).  Spoon the glaze over the cake - you can either let it run in little rivulets down the lines of the cake, or spread it around the cake to make a thin, all-encompassing covering.  Let the icing set for 20 minutes or so before eating.

Friday, October 21, 2011

James Halliday's Wine Companion Magazine Launch at Golden Fields


I recently attended the launch of the new magazine, James Halliday's Wine Companion, at Golden Fields.  I must admit that when I received the invitation, I was just as interested in the venue as I was in the magazine itself.  Prior to the evening, I'd heard great things about Golden Fields, but never actually been myself.  You see, I tend to avoid hyped-up new venues, especially if they have a no-bookings policy.  I am the type of person who likes to plan my social life weeks in advance, and the possibility of being stuck for two hours without a table is just too much for my fragile constitution to bear!  I've also, generally, been quite disappointed with the food at these types of hyped-up venues (e.g. Mamasita, Hu Tong), and can never justify the long wait.  I thought that this event would be a good opportunity to sample some of Golden Fields' famed dishes, without the added stress of trying to secure a table!


There were loads of people there, and it was great to catch up with some bloggers who I hadn't seen in a while.  Unsurprisingly, there were quite a few wines being served, including the delicious Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling and the 10 Minutes by Tractor Pinot Noir.




And some of the nibbles that were on offer:
Clockwise from top left:
Squid-skewer
House-made cold rice noodles with sesame paste and chilli oil
Twice-cooked duck, steamed bread, vinegar and plum sauce
Pressed pork terrine with ginger jam

I wasn't particularly wowed by the dishes - the cold rice noodles had a lovely texture and a nice garnish of fresh herbs, but overall it was extremely bland.  I would have liked a lot more of the sesame paste and chilli oil!  The duck was my favourite - I love soft mantou dough!

And of course, there were plates and plates of Golden Fields' famous lobster roll.


I believe it was Ed who said he wanted to secure a large plate of these lobster rolls, and scoff the lot!

New England lobster roll, hot buttered bun, cold poached crayfish, watercress & Kewpie
I liked the rolls, but didn't love them - another danger of trying things that have received a lot of favourable press: naturally expectations are high.  I definitely liked the soft, lightly toasted buns, but felt that there wasn't enough lobster for the bread.  (Although having said that, these were canapé versions; looking at other blog posts, the full-sized version is a lot more generous with the lobster).

I've already agreed with my dad that, inspired by the Golden Fields roll, we're going to make our own lobster rolls for Christmas this year, and we're going to make sure they're chock full of lobster!

We were all given a proof copy of the magazine to take home with us.  I don't tend to read a lot of wine writing, and I was actually surprised by how much I loved it!  It seems to be targeted towards people like me: young-ish, enthusiastic wine drinkers, who want to increase their wine knowledge but aren't interested in traditional, old-world stuffy wine writing.

Hehe, I love James Halliday's distinctive 'hawk' eyebrows
There was only one article by James Halliday himself: a very useful guide to cellaring wines.  Having never read his writing before, I greatly enjoyed his clear, unfussy style.  There were also features on rose and sparkling red (yum yum), and some great food and travel features, including - gasp! - recipes for a 3 course meal to accompany champagne.  Could that be more me??


Do you recognise Seppeltsfield Road in the above picture?  Yay, Barossa!

The first issue of James Halliday's Wine Companion Magazine will be on sale at the end of the month, and I'm really looking forward to reading future issues.


Sarah attended the magazine launch at Golden Fields as a guest.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pretzels


Check it out! I baked my own pretzels! Yay!  (Hehe, and I just realised that I have three posts in a row with a pretzel as the first picture!)

The week before PORKTOBERFEST II, I was undecided as to whether I'd bake pretzels.  I really, really wanted some freshly baked Bavarian deliciousness, but I just wasn't sure if I'd have time on the day.  But then I saw a recipe for them in Gourmet Traveller, and that made up my mind for me.  (The recipe is here, on the Gourmet Traveller website).

I know you can buy pretzels here, but they're never really impressive.  I'd say Lueneburger or Brezel Biz are the best you can buy in Melbourne, but I'm still not super-keen on them.  Whilst I think they're made reasonably well, pretzels are only really good when they're fresh out of the oven.  After they've been sitting around for a few hours, you may as well not bother.  And this is where home-made pretzels will always have the edge over store-bought ones, no matter how rough and ramshackle they are.  (Oh, how I miss Grimminger bakery, and their constant stream of hot pretzels, baked throughout the day!)

I made and kneaded the dough the night before and let it have a slow rise in the fridge overnight.


Early on the morning of the party, I got rolling!  (You may remember the last time I made pretzels, with Duncan and Thanh, I struggled to roll the dough out into long sausage shapes, but this time I had no such trouble - woo!)

You'll see from the first picture in this post that my pretzels were quite thick - I didn't think they'd expand so much; next time I'd definitely roll them thinner.


Traditionally the pretzels are poached in a solution of lye (AKA caustic soda) before being baked, to give them their characteristic colour and taste.  Gourmet Traveller's recipe, however, has a much simpler poaching liquid: water and baking soda.  Much easier for home cooks!

Raw on the left, poached on the right

Brushed with egg-yolk glaze
And the final touch before baking: a sprinkling of coarse sea salt.  The recipe suggests using sea salt flakes (like Maldon or Murray River), but that's just a bit wrong.  You need big chunks of salt, the type that you might put in a salt grinder.

And before you worry about excess salt consumption, remember that in Germany, people just rub off the excess salt with their fingers before eating.

Ooh look - they split just like real pretzels do!

I also loved the pretty patterns they left on the baking paper.

Don't you just love this pretzel bread-bag? I got it at Tchibo in Germany, and thought it was sooo super-cute!  Love!

The pretzels were really easy (all the kneading was done in a mixer), and so lovely fresh out of the oven.  I think I'll be baking these a lot from now on!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

PORKTOBERFEST, II


Guten Tag und Grüß Gott!  I am most certainly back in Australia now, and have been for about a month, but have only just finished all my Europe posts.  Phew!  I've been cooking and baking heaps since I got back, and am really excited to share lots of Melbourne-based deliciousness with you!  Funnily enough though, my first post back in Australia happens to be a German-themed one: our second annual PORKTOBERFEST party.

I think I improved greatly on the first PORKTOBERFEST, and not just thanks to the cute decorations!  We bought these super-cute paper napkins and cups online, and they arrived just in time for the party.  (We'd also ordered a blue and white tablecloth, which, unfortunately, didn't make it in time - boo).  When I was in Germany, Dirndls and Dirndl-style dresses were available in the stores, and I desperately wanted to buy one.  Perfect for PORKTOBERFEST, Halloween, and other beer-drinking occasions! However, I was told in no uncertain terms: "Das ist verboten!  Only drunk tourists and Bavarians wear those!"  Hehehe.  Perhaps next year I'll have better luck.

Of course, PORKTOBERFEST is all about the food, and when I say I improved on the first on greatly, I really mean it!  This year I went all out and baked my own pretzels, I made a Black Forest Cake from scratch (and it didn't fall apart this time - yay!), and splashed out on a lovely rack of free-range Berkshire pork.


PORKTOBERFEST II for 6 People

Selbstgebackene Brezeln / Freshly-baked Pretzels

Schweinebraten / Roast rack of Berkshire Pork
Semmelknödel / Bread Dumplings
Rotkohl / Red Cabbage
Apfelmus / Apple Sauce
Soße / Gravy 

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte / Black Forest Cake
Rüdesheimer Kaffee / Rüdesheim Coffee

The whole meal was actually quite easy to put together - I made the pretzel dough and cake layers the night before, I baked the pretzels in the morning (blogpost to come!), and prepared and assembled everything else while the pork was having its slow roast in the oven.

Let's have a look at that beauty...

I bought the pork at Prahran market - they didn't have any racks on display, but the butcher there kindly got a slab of pork from out back, and deftly cut off a neat rack, trimming away the excess fat and scoring the rind.  Lovely!  I'd never had Berkshire pork before, and was really keen to try it.  Now, I didn't follow a specific recipe, but just sprinkled the meat with salt, fennel and caraway seeds before roasting it.  Easy!  Although I must say I was a bit confused about actual times and temperatures for cooking.  I have lots of recipes for roast pork rack, but they all seemed very different - most were variations of: high blast, then a long, slow cook, then a high blast again; one simply said to cook at 200C for 90 minutes (for a 2.6kg piece) - but I couldn't find any guides that gave a specific time-to-weight ratio.  In the end, I kinda winged it, cooking my 2kg piece at 220C for 30 minutes, then at 200C for about an hour, followed by a 20 minute blast at 230C.  Luckily, it came out perfect.  Tender and juicy meat, encased in a crisp, shattery layer of crackling.  Woo-hoo!

While that was cooking, Sandra made the bread dumplings (Oma Resel's recipe) and red cabbage, while I assembled the Black Forest cake.  I had much better luck with the cake this time, (no more flat pancakes for me!)

I did most things the same as last time, except I made it 23cm instead of 28cm, and used this recipe for the cake layers.  Because the cake itself was smaller, I had more cherries to go around, and put them in the 2nd layer as well.

Since my first Black Forest Cake attempt, I've learned that it's much easier and neater to pipe cream onto layer cakes, rather than spreading it on with a spatula!  Ta-dah!

You'll notice that I didn't put any chocolate flakes around the side - the kitchen was already very messy by that stage and I didn't want to be flinging chocolate flakes everywhere!

And with that, lunch was ready.

Mmm... crackly.


Pork rack is easy to carve - you just slice it into individual chops along the bones.

Check out the crackle: when the rind gets all light and bubbly and aerated, and no longer looks like a solid slab, you know you've hit the jackpot.

With gravy...

And a whole plate!  Here is one of my pretzels - yay!

I totally loved the pork!  Very juicy and flavoursome.  It was pretty pricey, at $32/kg, but I thought it was worth it for a special lunch.  The cut also had the perfect crackling-to-meat ratio - I think pork rack is the new pork belly, hehe.

We had a nice, long, lazy lunch; laughing and chatting while we picked at the remains of the meal.  And then, for reasons I don't understand but for which I will be eternally grateful, my friends jumped up and started doing the dishes!  Everything got cleaned while I stood in the corner drinking my wine.  For a girl without a dishwasher, I thought that was pretty amazing.  Love!

And here is dessert.  I just want to state explicitly: even though we had a can of cool-whip for the coffees, the cake was covered and filled with 100% fresh cream!

We even made Rüdesheimer Kaffee, setting brandy alight in the coffee cups, and adding strong coffee and cream.  I'm glad to say it worked!


I finally got my cross-section photo of a Black Forest Cake!  I was really happy it maintained its structural integrity and didn't collapse.



Can't wait for next year's PORKTOBERFEST!