Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Unblogged Files: June

Finally, June was a relatively quiet month. Phew!  I'm gonna do my best to make this post photo-heavy and light-on-text. Let's roll!

On the first day of the month, I attended the Good Food and Wine Show.  (Disclosure: I received free tickets to the show, as well as to some events within the show). I really enjoyed the "How not to Drink Wine Like a Wanker" session at the Riedel Decanter Bar, hosted by Dan Sims and Ben Edwards, where we got to taste six different wines and talk about, well, not drinking wine like a wanker!  It was a fun, informal and informative session - I'd definitely recommend attending one of their events or demos!
"How not to drink wine like a wanker" at the Riedel Decanter Bar, Hosted by Dan Sims (pictured) and Ben Edwards

Before the session, I did wander around the different stalls, but there wasn't anything particularly interesting to share with you.  I must admit that I normally avoid these types of food shows, mainly because I'm a crotchety old grandma who hates dealing with big crowds, but also because I don't see the point of attending a big trade show where you have to pay to enter, just so that you can buy more things.  However, the event I attended was great, and well priced. A ticket was priced at $60, and came with a pretty sweet gift bag, including a pair of Riedel glasses! (N.B. Buying a ticket for any event at the show will enable you to buy a slightly discounted ticket to enter the show itself.) So whilst I don't think it's particularly worthwhile attending the Good Food and Wine Show just to visit the different exhibitors, it can be worth it if there's a particular event or session that you're interested in attending.

I had a fun morning baking with the lovely Duncan, making Jill Dupleix's chocolate espresso brownies, with added hazelnuts and white chocolate.  These were a little cakier than I normally like for a brownie, but had a lovely deep flavour from the dark chocolate and espresso.
Espresso Brownies with espresso in a cute Rice Bubbles cup!

I was pretty excited to get a direct message from Nigella on Twitter, in response to my Instagram pic of tagliata steak on rocket.  (I'm @sarahcooksblog on Instagram, follow me!)

I had a great lunch at Firechief Pizzeria in East Hawthorn, the highlight of which was the fantastic wood-fired "Margherita d.o.p - the authentic".  (Top left in the below picture).  Next time I think I'll take a tip that I picked up on my previous trip to Naples and ask for my pizza with doppio formaggio.  (Double cheese).
Top: margherita d.o.p the authentic
Bottom left: Bianca - fior di latte, goats cheese, pumpkin, broccolini, caramelized shallots and pine nuts
Bottom right: Calabrese Style - classic hot & spicy calabrese salami pizza w fior di latte, crushed tomato, black olives & roasted red peppers 

After seeing Prometheus at the cinema, we had a quick dinner at Monk and Me - as y'all know we love their curry puffs, and the rich chicken laksa was the perfect meal for a cold night. BTW, I thought Prometheus  was great!  Michael Fassbender as a Peter O'Toole-channeling android? Awesome.
Clockwise from top left: chicken satay, curry puffs, vegetarian char kway teow, chicken laksa

I finally whipped out the pantalons oeufs egg cups and rubber ducky tea infuser that I got for my birthday. Super cute, right?  (And yes, that's the "toaster" Instagram filter on the picture of the toast!)
Pantalons Oeufs - "Egg trousers"

Rubber ducky tea infuser

I had a fabulous takeaway dinner from Purple Peanuts on Collins Street (near Southern Cross Station). The below deep-fried tuna onigiri with mixed salads (miso carrots and beans; Japanese potato salad; brown rice salad) was only $7.90, and was a filling yet virtuous dinner on a night that I couldn't be bothered cooking. Yay! I love the fact that they're a bit creative and different from the standard Japanese takeaways around town, and can't wait to go back and try more from their menu.
Tuna onigiri with mixed salads - $7.90

I had a mini freakout when I saw an episode of The Barefoot Contessa with Mariska Hargitay and Alec Baldwin! I'm a huge fan of Ina Garten, Law and Order: SVU AND 30 Rock! Woah! The episode was so cool, Alec even went grocery shopping for Ina!
Mariska Hargitay and Alec Baldwin on The Barefoot Contessa

I went to Pappa Rich twice this month (once to the Chaddy branch, once to the Doncaster one).  This is the place that sells the plate of deep fried chicken skin.  Ahem.  (Don't judge me).  I really felt like I was getting in touch with my Malaysian roots by shopping in a mall and then going for Malaysian food and teh ais!
Pappa Rich - Deep Fried Chicken Skin
The highlights included: a wide-ranging menu, better-than-average roti canai, and a great range of drinks.  My Milo Mocha was incredibly rich and had me buzzing for the whole night, hehe.
Negative aspects included: some staff who weren't very confident or well trained, lukewarm curry puffs, and an inability / unwillingness to do a char kway teow without seafood.  (Although I must give credit where credit is due - one of the waiters at the Doncaster branch was really good about checking with the chefs for dietary requirements, so thank-you!)
Top row L-R: Chicken laksa, Hainanese curry chicken chop; Curry Puffs
Middle L-R: Hainan Chicken Rice; Ipoh Chicken Soup; Rice with deep friend chicken, eggplant sambal, sambal prawns
Bottom L-R: Milo Mocha (kopi ais in the background); Roti Canai; Sar Hor Fun
Despite a few inconsistencies, the food overall was very good. I liked Pappa Rich and would definitely go back, especially for the roti! Next time I must save space for roti kaya!

We had a really bizarre, yet fun evening at Matrioshka, a Russian function centre in Carnegie, where we celebrated my friend's birthday. The food was good, and there was a lot of it!
Cold entrees

Hot entrees. Clockwise from top left: Piroshki, Cheese pastries, Garlic prawns, Red salmon caviar with blintzes 
Unfortunately, there was at least a two hour wait between entrees and mains!  I think this was to give time for dancing (and the tables of Russian families around us were really getting into it, and didn't seem perturbed at all by the delay - so I think this is normal!)  However, about fifteen minutes after the mains (see meat platter below) were brought out, waitresses were quickly coming back to our table asking if they could clear the (still full) plates and bring out the cake.  HUH?
Baked duck legs with apples; Chicken shashlik ; Lamb shanks cooked in red wine sauce; Chicken “Matrioshka”
Despite that, it was a fun night! My advice is to BYO vodka and get drunk, fast.

It was only back for two days, and I had to do it: the KFC Double Down!  Two hot and spicy chicken patties, filled with Zinger sauce, bacon and cheese. Eep! Salt and fat alert! I think my KFC cravings for the rest of the year have been well and truly satiated!

And on the total opposite spectrum of fast food, we enjoyed some tasty hand-made, locally sourced hot dogs at Phat Brats. (Disclosure: we were invited to visit and our meals and drinks were complimentary).

Y'all know how I feel about sausages, so I was really keen to try out their self-proclaimed "top notch dogs".  The fresh sausages come from a butcher down the street, the smoked sausages come from a German smoker, and the veggo sausages are made in house.
Clockwise from Top:
Cheesy smoked kransky sausage w German potato salad, dill pickles & Bavarian mustard - $8.90
Quinoa, S'Potato & Tamarind - handmade superfood dog w chilli lime mayo, smashed minted peas, alfalfa, coriander & sour cream - $9.50
Lamb & Rosemary sausage w smashed minted peas, house gravy, raw slaw & crumbled feta - $8.90

With all their generous toppings, the hot dogs were a little messy to eat, but all the combos were very tasty, and I loved the soft, slightly sweet buns. (That's what she said!)  Obviously I had to try one of the German sausages, and the cheese kransky gets my tick of approval!  I actually liked this kransky better than the ones from my favourite butcher, Andrew's Choice, as it wasn't as overpoweringly salty as Andrew's ones can often be.  I thought the lamb sausage with minted peas and crumbled feta was a cute mod-oz interpretation of the classic combination of lamb and mint.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the vegetarian superfood dog - it had a great texture from the quinoa, and an appealing sour note from the tamarind - and I'd happily order it myself in future when I'm not in the mood for meat.

The cheesy fries were a standout for me, sprinkled with tasty mystery seasoning and smothered in cheese sauce.
Cheesy fries with house made seasoning - $6.00

I was happy to hear that they'll be getting a liquor licence soon, so that you can enjoy a craft beer with a hand-made hot dog. (How very Fitzroy!)  Even more excitingly, they're going to be expanding the fries menu beyond the current offering of cheesy, veggo chilli or beef chilli, so I'll have to make another trip back to try them out!

And finally (yes, we're getting there), I had a great lunch with my parents at Ora Cafe, in Kew.  We were all impressed with the friendly service and excellent coffee, and I liked their creative take on brunch food, made well and served in sensibly-sized portions. (Unlike the ridiculously giant portions you can sometimes get at cafes!)
Clockwise from top left:
twice baked souffle - goats cheese feta, petite waldorf salad - $16
confit duck leg - birdseed salad, sweet sherry drizzle - $21
cafe latte ($3.50), portuguese tart ($4), cold drip coffee ($4) carrot cupcake w/ vanilla bean cream cheese icing ($5)
pine mushrooms - goats feta, redlof, hazelnut, jerusalem artichoke, egg - $18
I don't normally buy cupcakes, but seeing a carrot cupcake with vanilla bean cream cheese icing (my favourite type of icing!), I just had to have it! It was a cakier style of carrot cake, lovely and moist, with a generous splodge of cream cheese icing on top.

And that was June!  For what felt like a quiet month, I'm amazed how big this post got!  I also can't believe the year is half over already, it's just zoomed by!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Charlie's Cookies Factory

Aaah... warm choc chip cookies, fresh from the oven.  Does it get any better than that?

Last month I was invited to visit the Charlie's Cookies factory in East Bentleigh.  As you know, I love cookies, and I was super excited to see a cookie factory in action!  Just walking into the building, the smell of butter and baked goods was overwhelming!

I met owner Jacky Magid and publicist Kate Anderson, who gave me an insight into the Charlie's Cookies story.  Jacky's husband Ken Mahlab bought Charlie's Cookies (then "Uncle Charlie's") as an insolvent business in 2004, and Jacky joined the business in 2007, concentrating on sales, marketing, and reinvigorating the brand.  Thanks to their hard work and tasty products, Charlie's Cookies has continued to grow, and the company's 2011 turnover was three times their 2007 turnover, which I think is a pretty amazing achievement!

Factory outlet; Cookies-in-a-Cup; Cookie Gift Boxes

The factory also has a little factory outlet, which stocks a good range of their products. I recognised the bite-sized Cookies-in-a-Cup, which I've bought from my local supermarket before, but they also make Cookie Gift Boxes (available at gourmet supermarkets like Leo's), as well as supplying cafes and corporate clients with a range of cookies, cakes and slices.

Entering the factory itself meant I had to wear a (very glamorous) blue hair net and a white lab coat, and scrub my hands clean, because they wanted it to be a hands-on tour!  On average, the factory produces one thousand kilos of cookies a day.  A thousand! That's (literally) a whole tonne of cookies!  Awesome!

Let's take a look!  I loved seeing all the massive bags and boxes of ingredients.

Nuts, sugar


Giant mixer
Mmm... cookie dough.
Trays of dough and pastry

Here are some big bags of add-ins (choc chips, coconut etc.), all measured out and ready to go. Efficiency!

Despite being a large operation, many of the processes are still done by hand, including the chocolate-dipping of these Viennese Eclairs.  I got to dip a few of these myself, and the ladies who work here said I did a pretty good job!  I personally consider it an achievement that I managed to dip these and place them onto a tray, not in my mouth, hehehe!

Dipping the Viennese Eclairs in chocolate

Viennese Eclairs

I also got to see the bite-sized choc chip cookies being made.  (These are the little ones that are sold in cups - I'd bought them myself a few times, before I'd ever been contacted by Charlie's Cookies, and can categorically say that these crunchy little cookies are totally addictive!)

Here's the dough:

To make the little cookies, the dough is put into a special machine, which stamps it into circles (or any other shape, using the cut-outs, below.) How much easier would rolling and cutting-out cookies be with some of these?  (I'm thinking cheese stars!)

And here they are, going into the oven.  The oven was massive, taller than me!

I also wanted to show you the slices and brownies that they make. Love the big, generous slabs!

Even though they'd already given me heaps of little samples and treats as we toured the production line, Jacky and Kate also generously loaded me up with heaps of cookies to take home.

From left to right we have chocolate chip shortbread (part of the food service line), the Handmade Double Chocolate Chip Bites, and the Chunky Chocolate Chip Mini Cookies-in-a-Cup.

Chocolate chip shortbread; Handmade double chocolate chip bites; Chunky chocolate chip mini cookies

I liked the crisp butteriness of the shortbread, but would have preferred a higher chocolate-to-biscuit ratio.  But as you can see from the above photo, the other two biscuits certainly have a very high chocolate content!

The double choc chip bites and the chunky chocolate mini-cookies are actually made from the same dough, but the choc chip bites are formed by hand, whilst the mini-cookies are pressed out using that machine I showed you above.  Both are very tasty and are crisp all the way through, so I guess it comes down to whether you like your cookies flat or chunky!

Whilst I enjoyed all the cookies that I tried, I particularly liked these mini lemon melting moments, which were super-cute, buttery and crumbly. I was impressed to see the very short ingredients list: wheat flour, butter, custard powder, icing sugar and natural lemon flavour. (Exactly what I'd use if I were making melting moments at home!)

And don't worry, I certainly shared the cookies and didn't keep them all to myself - you may recognise some of the packets from the insane snack-shelf on our most recent weekend away.

It was really fascinating to see a cookie factory in action - thank-you to Kate and Jacky for the invitation!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jazz Apple Masterclass with Fast Ed

I was recently invited to attend a Jazz Apple Masterclass hosted by Fast Ed from Better Homes and Gardens.  Myself, Sandra and Thanh were lucky enough to be picked up by a private car and chauffeured to the event, held at Raw Materials in Footscray. I must say, it felt a bit special!

Once we got to the street, it took us a little while to identify the venue, as lots of the buildings on the street look quite similar.  But then we spotted this parked car, and knew we'd found the right spot.

The Jazz Apple Car
Jazz Apple car!  No, we didn't get driven in the Jazz Apple car - but how cool would that have been!  I also wonder why they didn't use a Honda Jazz... (get it?)

Thanks to our really efficient driver, we arrived a bit earlier than the other attendees, who included fellow food-blogger Agnes, and a group of competition winners, so we had a bit of time to hang out and try the apples.
Apple Scooter
Jazz Apples are a relatively new species, a cross between Galas and Braeburns, specifically bred and created to maximise the most popular characteristics of eating apples: crunch, sweetness, a thin skin.  I'd seen them in supermarkets before, but didn't give much thought to where they came from - who knew so much effort and planning would go into producing a new apple variety!
Once everyone arrived, we were ushered into the demonstration kitchen for drinks and to watch Fast Ed make his apple dishes. A glass of champagne? Before midday?  Don't mind if I do! (Well I wasn't driving! And it would have been rude to say no to champagne, right?)

Fast Ed demonstrated the three courses of apple dishes that we'd be cooking and eating that day.

I must be honest - I don't actually watch Better Homes and Gardens, so I wasn't sure what to expect from Fast Ed, but he was awesome!  He was super friendly, chatting and interacting with the audience, and he shared heaps of great cooking tips and info.
Fast Ed tossing his caramelised apples
If the kitchen looks familiar, it's because that's where they film Good Chef Bad Chef! (Otherwise known in my house as "Good Chef, Angry Nutritionist", hehehe!)

Soon though, we had to don our own aprons and get cooking ourselves!
Apple apron!

We were split into groups and assigned a different course to cook for all sixteen attendees - by a stroke of luck, us bloggers were all on the dessert team!  Woohoo!  We were making a spicy caramelised apple verrine with brown sugar crumbs and citrus mascarpone.

Different cooking stations

You can tell this is the food bloggers' station - SLRs, champagne, iPhone...

Here we are, busy preparing.
Busy cooking
The dessert was made up of caramelised apples, a citrus-scented mascarpone cream, segmented lemons and oranges, and a spicy crumble mixture, all layered up in a glass.

Thanh made the spiced crumble...

Agnes peeled and chopped the apples...

And I somehow got stuck segmenting the lemons and oranges! Phew, it was a difficult job and it took aaaages!

Crumble mixture ready for baking
From here we all pitched in (Sandra included) to cook the apple slices and assemble the desserts.
Apple slices and butter and sugar... Soooo much butter

Boiling caramel - watch out!

And done!
You can see I'm still segmenting citrus in the background there!  But how good do those apples look! I love caramelized apples! I think these would be great with ice-cream, pancakes, waffles, whipped cream... any dessert really.

With all the elements prepared, we just had to layer them up in the glasses.

And done!

Our course happened to be the easiest one too, so we were done quite quickly, and we managed to have a sticky beak at the other teams.

Mmm... cheese!
Emmental Cheese
I especially liked the look of these crispy potato and apple galettes, layered with grated Emmental cheese.
Potato and apple galettes with Emmental cheese

And then it was time to eat our three-course lunch.  I think these apple centrepieces were quite cute!

First course was slow-cooked ocean trout with fish crackling and spiced apple salad.

The slow-cooking process resulted in meltingly tender flesh.  The overall dish was lightened by the refreshing, crunchy apple salad and the crunchy piece of fish crackling.  I don't know if fish crackling will overtake pork crackling for my affections, but it provided a welcome textural element to the dish.

The main course was veal escalopes with forest mushrooms, potato and apple galettes.

I love the combo of veal and mushrooms, so the flavours in this dish worked well for me.  (Especially the potato-apple galette - yum!)  However, I'm not really into heavy sauces, so I found the amount of cream sauce a little overwhelming.  If I were to make this at home, I think I'd pass the sauce around separately so that people could add as much or as little as they like.

And the final, best course... (not that I'm biased or anything!)... our spicy caramelised apple verrine with brown sugar crumbs and citrus mascarpone.
I loved this dessert! It was kind of like a deconstructed cheesecake, with the combination of crumble and citrussy mascarpone.  Sometimes mascarpone-based desserts can be a little heavy, but the citrus pieces and caramelized apple chunks provided a lovely contrast.  Ok, so segmenting all those oranges and lemons was worth it in the end!

We were sent home with loads and loads of Jazz Apples - all those apples used in the centrepieces and as decoration needed homes - and to finish up this post, I wanted to show you a few things that I made with them!  Because they're sweet and crunchy, they're a good eating apple, and indeed, I just ate most of the plain as a snack.  But here are a few of the (slightly) fancier things I made with them:

I had some apple slices with cheese, salami and bread, as part of a German-inspired aufschnitt dinner.

I sliced some up, lightly cooked them in a pan with sugar and butter, and served them with some oatmeal waffles.

And finally, I made an apple sharlotka (a Russian recipe, which I found on Smitten Kitchen).  This recipe basically consists of heaps of apple pieces, bound together with a tiny amount of sponge batter.  I'm always on the lookout for recipes like this, (the more apple the better), so if you know of any similar ones, please share them with me!

Mmm... super appley

I was surprised how well this recipe worked, and how easy it was.  (Even easier than, say, an apfelkuchen sehr fein).  It was absolutely delicious, with a fabulously homey and welcoming aroma, and a very moist and tender crumb.  Despite the insane amount of apples in the cake, it held its shape pretty well, and I'd definitely make it again.

A big thanks to Fast Ed, Raw Materials, Montague Fresh and Media Moguls for an enjoyable morning and for all the apples!

Sarah and Sandra attended the Jazz Apple Masterclass Event as guests.