Friday, December 31, 2010

Photos from the blogs we never got to do in 2010 (and stories we became involved in)

We have only 10 minutes left for this wrap-up before this becomes the first post of 2011...:)

March 2010 - FH got a decent grinder, we got coffee beans and we all did a pseudo-cupping session at her place.  We say pseudo as, let's face it, we were not conducting a real cupping session.  Nevertheless, we got to taste the differences among different grinds.  It was a fun group session, and we tried very hard not to drink so much as to end up bouncing off the walls from the caffeine we ingested.  This heralded a time of us buying more-than-amateur domestic coffee grinders, whole single-origin coffee beans and fine tuning home brewing methods.

We had a lot of weekend brunches, and we really should have given Three Bags Full a lot more writen attention than we did in the end.  Their ricotta pancakes are great, and so are their coffees.  Get there early on Saturdays, or just go there on weekdays.  FH rates this place as one of her Top 10 in Melbourne, which is saying a lot given her extensive and particular taste buds.  LS, on the other hand, sat so long at Dead Man Espresso enjoying her brunch that she budged only when somebody reminded her to turn up for a late afternoon picnic in the park...

Seven Seeds still does a mean latte, especially when Taylor is behind the machine.  Lucky are we who visit when that happens.
Of course, we had a LOT of coffee which consequentially meant that baristas around towns (yes, the plural tense, because of SL being in Sydney) had to pay just a bit more attention to petite Asian girls coming into their cafes who would glance at their coffee machines, ask about the tasting characteristics of their house blend(s) versus single origin of the day, and request for short blacks or macchiatos.  All we want is a little bit of respect.  For our coffees. 
Bar 9, South Australia - still the only place LS had three coffees in her first sitting.  The baristas there still do not know her face, which means that (a) they have bad memories; (b) she does not visit the place enough; or (c) there are so many serious coffee drinkers who visit this place that they have no chance to remember faces.
We also had a fair amount of cocktails and continued to visit new places in town.  Of course, we could not help visiting our favourite old haunts, especially when quality in drinks, menus and service continued to improve.  While 1806 (pictured) became the most convenient to do group sipping sessions, Der Raum and Golden Mountain earned "Must Visit Again" titles in our books.  We promise mixologists that we will try not to have to drag poor dear PN out of the place every single time...

We support farmers'markets but we do not neglect the other fresh produce markets.  Farmers' markets can realistically sustain us, but only so far - one can only take so much barramundi and eel...not to mention artichokes!  We cannot get sick of the glossy purple sheen of those eggplants, of course.  Bill's Farm expanded its space in QV Market, to the glee of its fans including FH.  LS realised the Bald Oyster Shucker man at her favourite seafood stall (pictured) in South Melbourne Market could recognise her (she says thanks to ML for making that happen).  SL found heritage tomatoes and consequentially Tomato Lady in Sydney.

We checked out little places we happen to walk by which intrigued us, like Bosisto's Wine Bar that we would not have walked in but for the nearby ramen bar being closed for the day.  We also looked upstairs, downstairs and around the neighbourhood for places like Metropolitan Eating House, which does a traditional French Sunday lunch but a modern French degustation menu at all other times.  The little chocolate cafe opposite the restaurant that was one week old helped to wash down the orange and Grand Marnier crepes...

There were the blogs we would have liked to do but did not get the opportunity to do because we got there too late (like Broodbox) or did not have the credentials to enrol (like the masterclass Gwlym Davis did when he came to town in May).

 Thus we could only drown the sorrows of our missed opportunities in desserts and wines...
Philippa's bread and butter pudding at il Fornaio, one not to be repeated now that she has parted ways with the establishment...
The Maze dessert we waited 30 minutes for.  Worth the wait, it was but we still have not been back to Maze...
What do you do when it rains in the Yarra Valley?  You go to a small winery and make small talk with the fun staff while sipping on every wine produced.  Yum.
Then there are the blogs that just came too late for 2010 and will seem a bit bizarre to do in 2011 until after the next visit.  Case in point: Josie Bones, which opened just two weeks before Christmas...
Oysters with dark beer jelly and guancale - both owner-chefs were in even though it was already 230pm...
Rolled pig's cheek with crackling and a egg+caper salad.  They do beer matching so prepare a good gut before entering...
Happy New Year gourmets and gourmands!  Watch those waistlines and blood pressure points, eat with a joyful heart and drink with good company ;) 

Monday, November 29, 2010

My top 4 clover/pour over coffee bars in Sydney

I come to appreciate filtered coffee since coffee can pronounce its character than in espresso form.  So, I did a wild hunt for clover/pour over coffee in Sydney CBD area for the past few months for fabulous filtered coffee.  And, here're places I 'll bring my foodie teams for coffee if they come up to Sydney:

1. Coffee Alchemy
I postponed my trip to this place since it's far from my place but I had to come here before I head back home.  I was so overwhelm when I first steped into Coffee Alchemy.  There are 6 single origins (s/o) coffee on offer and tempting.  Some s/o 're very sort after like Nekisse from Ethiopia and Panama La Esmeralda.  The other s/o're something different in term of estates.  Flavor's clearly stated in pour over form.  And, Hazel and her baristas're happy to talk coffee.

2. Mecca
The King Street branch's the branch that offers clover coffee.  They have 3 s/o to go with the clover.  I love their La Esmeralda.  Its flavor just screamed back to me with jasmine on the nose, bergamot, and nectarine, plus coffee profile kept changing when the temperature dropped.  I love the roaster when they do a great job ^^
The catch for this place is try to go there during off-peak hour.  Afternoon and Saturday're my favorite time to go there.  Not only that I'll garantee to get a seat, baristas're also happy to talk coffee if they aren't super busy.

3. Le Monde (83 Foveaux St, Surry Hills)
They aren't a roaster but they provide great coffee.  Apart from espresso, they have 5 s/o, supplied from 5 senses, on a clover machine.  Rumor said they have 4 clover machines in total.  Sigh... can I get one?

4. The Sources, Mosman
It's my Sunday filtered coffee place since all other 3 above're closed.  Not that it's not as great as the other three but it's so far!  It takes me about 40-60 minutes to go there depending on the buses.  They have around 3 s/o on clover.

Which one is my most favorite?  No, I can't answer this question.  Their coffee all met my standard.  So, it depends on what beans they offer at that moment.  At one point in time, all four places have Nekisses... sigh...   

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Warning: This Is Non Halal, Not Kosher and Definitely Not Vegetarian

As the remaining daylight fades away, I gaze at the rain falling, listen to the wind blowing.  I try to remember when the last time I took a day off was but cannot.  I check my payslip and realise I am the only person left in my office who has a perfect zero sick day record for the calender year. 

I feel exhausted and cannot confirm whether I have a fever.  My brain is struggling to even entertain the idea of paying someone else to cook for me.  I badly need comfort food.

I open the freezer.  Chicken drumsticks, duck marylands, a jumbo quail, sardine fillets, lamb shoulder.  Then I turn to the pork section.  Pig liver, bacon, rack of pork, spare ribs, speck.  I opt for the little bag of female pork belly I had cut up into slices and marinated before freezing.  Nothing like the classic marinade recipe of sesame oil, pepper and soy sauce (plus a touch of cornstarch for those who like their meat a bit more tender) to turn mere pork slices into stir-fry gold.

Right.  Defrost meat.  Soak and slice dried shiitake mushrooms, peel and julienne a carrot, julienne three Chinese cabbage leaves.  I am tempted to finely chop a knob of ginger, garlic and onion but instead choose to finely slice the white part of a scallion stalk.  Do I need peanuts?  Meh.

Boil water in a pot.  Heat up some oil in the wok.  Brown meat in oil, set aside.  Throw white scallion bits into resulting hot pork lard and oil, then carrots.  Stir around a bit.  Water boiling, time to cook discs of dried alkaline noodles from home, my favourite pasta.  Time to add the Chinese cabbage leaves and mushrooms into wok, using the mushroom soaking liquid to make sure the vegetables will not burn.  Wait a few minutes while dreaming about Grand-dad's pig stomach & white peppercorn soup, stewed pork belly in Chinese buns, Grandmother's braised pig trotters and Chris Badenoch's crispy roast pig's head (will that man open the restaurant already?!).  Check, looks good, time to add the noodles and pork back in, toss to mix, add soy sauce and the chopped up green part of that scallion stalk, toss some more.

Serve in big white bowl with crispy fried shallots and settle into bean bag & Top Gear while the pig liver, ginger & Chinese wine soup is heating up in the microwave for afterwards.

Mmm pork...##

Friday, October 8, 2010

Baguette Musings


"Merci, Salute"

As the owner continued barking orders to the help in French, I glanced at the queue for waffles.  I would love a fresh waffle with honey but not while both my hands were clutching tightly onto something else.

As I walked into the underground tunnel, I sank my teeth into the roast beef, lettuce and tomato baguette with dill pickles and Dijonnaise.  The golden-brown bread was crunchy, the roast beef a touch dry, the dill pickles sour-sweet enough to temper the mustard-spice coming from the Dijonnaise.  I was reminded of the chewy pale Dench bread that Earl's Canteen offers, and that incredibly crispy roast pork rind that came with its now-famous juicy pork belly baguette with apple and fennel coleslaw.  Should the filling of a baguette be better than the bread itself?  I did wonder.

I was dropping crumbs and the odd bit of tomato everywhere as I looked into the shop windows in the underground.  Not that I was worried about losing my way around in this now-familiar underground shopping haven.  If only I can actually afford one of those fantastic pieces...

I paused to grab an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe espresso at Cup of Truth.  It seemed rather fitting, carrying a red messenger bag, holding onto a paper bag with a half-eaten French baguette in one hand while sniffing and then quickly drinking a good short black in the other.  A smile and wave to the barista, and off I went into the sunlight.  Back to the baguette. 

By the river, the crumbs had stopped falling off but there went a good slice of tomato for the birds.  As  I passed by the spot underneath the pedestrian bridge where the Ghostrider first uses his Penance Stare in the 2006 film, I thought about the few baguettes I had during my limited time in Paris.  They were basic, nothing flashy, and certainly I had to remind the staff more than one time to remember the dill pickles.  I was always bemused by their stunned looks then.  They must really think that people who do not speak French therefore do not eat dill pickles.  I wonder what they would have thought of the queue on Centre Place for the four-dollar petit baguettes filled with smoked salmon salmon red onions and capers, roast chicken lettuce and mayonnaise, ham cheese and tomato etcetera.  Of course, not for me the petit baguette. I much rather pay for a proper full baguette, the kind that tells you how freshly baked baguette is meant to taste and smell like every time you grab a bite.

Scrunching up the now-empty bag, I see the office worker crowd packing up its BBQ mess by the giant pigeon house and the waiter idling by the new crepe place on the riverbank.  I am rather full, really, so no French crepes for me either today.   Besides, work awaits.  The kind where an understanding of France, the French language or the French cuisine is not required. :) ##

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Diary on "Try A New Thing Week"

17/9 1130pm - Watch "Julie & Julia" on DVD.  The scene where Julie tries poaching an egg for the first time in her life sticks in my head.  The last thing in my head before I fall asleep is that I should try at least one new thing each day for a week, just to see what discoveries I make.

18/9 - Attend Regional Producers' Market at Queen Victoria Market.  Try liquor-filled chocolates from Rutherglen Chocolates (tick!), and I am stunned at how good tokay goes with milk chocolate. For dinner I take out a Korean recipe book I bought in Singapore and make chicken kimchi dumplings (tick!) using shop-bought dumpling skins.  The recipe takes me approximately one hour to complete while watching TV and yields me enough to cook 1/4 for dinner (pan fried they are excellent), cook 1/4 for work lunch and freeze 1/2 for future consumption.  Must try the same recipe on beef mince the next round.  Tag for future use.

19/9 - AUD2.05 for a pair of pig's ears (tick!).  Cleaning the ears is arduous - must buy a disposable razor blade if I want to do this recipe again so I can get rid of the stubborn black pig's hairs.  Even my sharpest knife has trouble.  Scald the ears with boiling water.  Then I braise them for two hours in a self-concocted mix of ground white pepper, whole black peppercorns, Chinese wine, sesame oil, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, chilli powder, five-spice powder and chicken stock.  By the time I turn off the gas, the lid on the pot has decided to fall apart and the flat smells of five-spice powder & soy sauce.  I know they are cooked because my chopstick went straight through when I poked to see if they were tender yet.

20/9 - Fingers get a shock from handling nettle leaves (tick!) even though the leaves are meant to have been tamed.  Hurriedly wash them while wearing gloves before throwing them with hot pasta.  Salt, pepper, grated parmesan, dollops of blue cheese to form the sauce.  Slice up a pig's ear and pan fry to throw on top of the pasta.  End up with a sticky pan and delicious pasta, though just a touch bitter - maybe too much blue cheese?  Nettle reminds me of kale.  Would have preferred the pig's ear to be crispy but cannot complain about the flavour.

21/9 - AS, the seasoned pig's ears gourmet, asks for my braised pig's ears recipe which I take to mean that the taste test over lunch is a success.  I turn up at JJ's place for a Mid-Autumn Festival (aka Mooncake Festival) hotpot dinner.  Try a slice of cold blackforest mooncake (tick!) and think that it tastes more like chocolate ice cream in a little no-melt cake form.  We all start talking about our favourite mooncakes over oolong tea while FH plays with her lantern.  Then she comes in and we all start talking about our childhood lanterns.  Sigh.

22/9 - I remember the AFL Grand Final Morning Tea that I am hosting which asks for staff members to wear their footy colours and bring foods which reflect those footy colours as closely as possible.  I decide that I will produce a French fruit tart in a single rectangular form to meet the requirement on my part (tick on so many levels it is scary).  I line, chill and blind bake half the box of Careme Pastry vanilla shortcrust pastry with guidance from, where else, the inside of the Careme Pastry box (tick 1).  I put the inverted packaging into the Hints and Tips section of my recipe collection book for future use.  In the meantime, Margaret Fulton ('s Encyclopedia of Food and Ingredients) guides me through making a creme patisserie (tick 2) and I realise the wonderful quality of the vanilla pods from Bougainville that I purchased at the Meat Market Christmas fete last year (tick 3 - 1 gone, 29 to go, yeah!).  Margaret also guides me through the making of the glaze (tick 4) and the whole assembly process (tick 5).  I wonder about making my own pastry the next time, but decide that I am not that brave yet, judging by the pile of dishes and pans in the sink I see after I place the tart into the fridge to set.  I wonder how my sister copes with making little individual fruit tarts (including pastry) from scratch while taking care of two children under eight...

23/9 - The raspberry and blueberry French tart is quickly cut up on the morning tea table after the guys realise that it is not a store-bought dessert.  One colleague asks for the recipe, and another wants to take home the leftovers.  A third comments on how well my fashion and food met the morning tea criteria.  I am so pleased that I stop by Oriental Tea House after work for a light yum cha dinner with Happy Tea (tick!).  Happy Tea is not a bad concoction but I decide that I still prefer a traditional tea, like Pu-erh with crysanthemum flowers.   

24/9 - I confirm that Toby's Estate Brunswick has closed its retail operations, becoming a full-time roastery and training school while its retail operations get transferred to weekdays at a little CBD-placed box.  The loss of the best retail coffee in Brunswick depresses me so much I mope around on Sydney Road for half an hour, eat pad thai at Tom Phat before 11am and drink two coffees in one sitting at Seven Seeds.  Fortunately Taylor is at the machine so I perk up after a medium body, not too bright Costa Rica San Jose long black and a still-a-little-too-sour but perfect milk temperature Seven Seeds house blend 3/4 latte.  I go to a forum that is totally unrelated to food and end up meeting new friends.  By the time PN feeds me homemade mother-in-law eggs with sweet chilli jam (tick!), I am chirpy and ready to be an entertaining companion to my fellow diners.  I am surprised that few Thai restaurants in Melbourne serve this delicious dish, and struggle not to grab more than my allocated one egg.  More rice and tom yum soup please, slurp!

25/9 - The week has gone by so quickly and I have actually had a lot of fun exploring new ingredients and dishes.  This day becomes the eighth day of this Try a New Thing week when I go for floating yum cha with friends (tick!), enjoying the warm spring weather on the boat around Williamstown and Port Melbourne.  The food is nothing to shout about, but it is a great opportunity for us to catch up and I get to see the insides of a Yarra River boat especially designed for events and functions. 

Then I remember the kohl rabi sitting in my fridge, and wonder how to treat it...###

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Tyranny of Exclusivity

12 dollars for a glass of Panama Hacienda La Esmeralda La Geisha, done either on the siphon or the clover machine?!  10 dollars for an Ethiopian Nikasse?!  Wow, it should be disturbing that the Hawaii Kona looks cheap at 5 dollars for an espresso, or that Jamaica Blue Mountain just lost its status for most expensive seasonal coffee at 7 bucks a pop.  Yet then again, here I am savouring the fruity, wine-like body and complexity of an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Grade 3 clover at 5 bucks a glass in Proud Mary.  In the meantime, the person next to me is declaring how good he finds his little sample shot of the same coffee but how it pales in comparison to the Panama La Geisha.

Ok ok, so the only batch of the Panama La Geisha that is available in this country come courtesy of Seven Seeds and they did pay a pretty decent auction price.  That probably justifies the cost...right? 

Are Melburnians truly spoilt when it comes to coffee, happy to pay any price to have a taste?  Or is this the new reality of coffee prices for brews by baristas?

Ways To Save $ on Coffees (Without Resorting to Instant Coffee) and Still Get Diversity:
  • Bring a friend or two, and join Toshi at the daily free 10am cupping session in Market Lane before sharing a pourover Coffee Flight.  At AUD12, you get to taste three types of coffee with the equivalent of two full coffee cups per type.  You can extend the flight further by doing your tasting blind before relying on the provided notes. 
  • Try a coffee at the cafe in the style that you would have at home so e.g. a coffee that you enjoy as a siphon, clover or pourover will probably work at home on the French press and pourover.  Then buy a batch of the beans you like for home use.  Bonus: some places like Toby's Estate offer one free coffee with every 250gm of beans bought.
  • Frequent drinker cards - use them wherever they are available.
  • Consider and implement the most likely way that would make you have coffee at home instead of a cafe.  The French press, filter, Chemex and pourover systems are all effective at home and in the office environment while the stovetop is suitable for the weekend home brunch (and weekday breakfast).
  • Invest in a good grinder.  This will allow you to play with blending different coffees as well as enjoy single origins while the coffee is still fresh.  Whole beans keep a lot better than ground coffee.
  • Buy beans and split them with friends.  The beans go faster which means you are less likely to compromise on freshness and the cost gets shared around as well.
  • Discipline.  Lock in a schedule of days in the week when you SHALL only have coffee personally brewed.  Coffees brewed in the work environment have the benefit of your ability to use a colleague or two as your sharing companions to keep you in check.
  • Grow green leaf vegetables.  This one sounds left-of-centre but used coffee grounds are good as compost for these vegetables, which mean that the coffee you drink become beneficial for the environment and your health (when you harvest fresh vegetables to throw into your cooking).
Any more tips?  Send them in!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Another reason to make my own coffee

Despite increasing green beans price which gives coffee bars the reason to increase their retails coffee price, there's now one more reason I prefer to make my own morning coffee.  One of the best coffee bars in Sydney started campaigning on 'Coffee Pooling'.

They 're trying to solve the increasing waiting time for coffee by suggesting customers to team up and order the same coffee or at least same type of milk.  So that it 'll be more effeciency to make coffee.  They further suggest that the most effeciency way is by trying to team up to create even number of shots and a full jug of milk!!!  The other benefits from coffee pooling, from their perspective, is to reduce carbon footprint.

Hmm... I can understand that it'll be more effeciency to make coffee.  But I still think making my own coffee'll be more time efficiency and reducing more carbon footprint.  At least, I don't have to queue up to buy coffee and it takes about 5 minutes to brew my own coffee, from grinding to brewing.  Plus brewing my own coffee creates less carbon footprint; don't have to write down my order in a paper, no napkin, and no paper cup, etc.
Will I not drink coffee outside?  Definitely not, I'm still happy to pay for good coffee.  Since good coffee and bad coffee're charged about the same price.  I just try to drink my own coffee if I want one during the rush hour.