Sunday, April 22, 2007

Herbies, Rozelle

Deciding where to live in a new country is hard. I posted on a couple of food forums asking for help and I am still working out if the suggestion of Redfern was a joke. My criteria were quite simple; good fishmonger, butcher, bakery and grocer all within walking distance of each other. I'd got used to not using the supermarket when I lived in Islington, managing with a weekly organic box delivery and the local great butcher, although the winter when I got so serious about food miles that I only ate locally sourced produce will never be repeated. There are only so many things you can do with a swede.

We haven't done too badly with Balmain. It's centrally located so anything that isn't in the suburb is in the next, and Sydney suburbs are really small, so the difference between Balmain and Rozelle is barely noticeable. We're eating mainly vegetarian at the moment so haven't troubled the butcher yet, but I am looking forward to getting to know the guys at AC Meats in Leichhard. Emile's Fruit and Veg seems to be catering to my fruit and vegetable needs, although my lovely new bike means that I am going to be able to get to the farmers market really easily. Once I stop falling off.

But no-one told me about our local amazing food shop. Herbie's Spices is a food mecca. It's only tiny, but this is the sort of store that you'd cross town for. I've just started to stock my pantry so I was just there for the basics but I felt like a WAG in the Selfridges sale. It's quite simply the best selection of spices I have ever seen.

I picked up some garam masala, ground ginger, and some slightly cheaty sambar power to make a vegetarian feast. So last night was lots of dhal, chana masala, garlic naan and brown rice. I'm also on a real allspice kick at the moment and tonight was a roasted pumpkin salad.

750 grammes of pumpkin and butternut squash (you could use either, I was emptying the fridge)
100g chickpeas (I used tinned because I am not organised enough to soak dried pulses)
1tsp allspice
1 clove of garlic, pounded to a slurry with a pinch of salad in your pestle and mortar
couple of handfuls of wild rocket
1-2 tbsps olive oil

3tbsp tahini
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp lemon juice
Another clove of garlic, pounded
warm water to thin

Preheat the oven to about 200 degrees. Begin by peeling and chopping your pumpkin/squash into inch large chunks. Don't go too small or you'll be left with minuscule pieces. Add the allspice, garlic and oil and mix well. Roast the pumpkin for about 20 minutes, or until it's starting to go all roasty and stick to the bottom of the pan. If your oven is fan assisted, I suggest you turn it off, as I find this can make your veggies steam rather than roast.

While your pumpkin is roasting, mix the tahini, rest of the garlic, lemon juice and oil together. It might all seize up, especially if you add the lemon to the tahini first, but the water is there to thin it down. You want the consistency of single cream.

Assemble your salad with the rocket at the bottom, then the pumpkin and chickpeas. Drizzle the tahini sauce over the top. Eat while watching the first night of Australian Big Brother.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Why bother?

My old friend John Scott taught me a saying. "Life's too short to drink shit coffee."

Sydneysiders take their coffee very seriously, and while I am not yet ready to proclaim that it's impossible to get a bad cup of coffee here, it's bloody hard. Part of this is because it's an espresso based coffee culture thanks to the large Italian influx way back when, and the lack of chain outlets. Starbucks just hasn't got a foothold here. There are currently only 50 branches of Starbucks across the whole of Australia (only one or two more than in Islington then) and there's a completely different coffee lexicon here.

No more double tall skinny soy extra hot moccachinos with wings or venti frappuchinos with a caramel swirl and java chips. If you want a milkshake, go to a juice bar or the local gelateria (more on these another time) If you want a perfect coffee, you need to learn about the flat white and the short/long black. It's quite simple really. The flat white is an espresso based drink, roughly one third espresso to two thirds steamed milk. It's less milky than an latte and less foamy than a cap. The short black is an espresso, the long black basically an americano. You are allowed to add milk to a long black. The standard size is about 220-240 ml, slightly smaller than a Starbucks tall cup. To my mind, the perfect amount.

But what I love most about Sydney is that I haven't had a bad cup of a decaf yet. I don't take caffeine, what with it having the effect on me that crack cocaine has on most humans, so I'm all about the decaf. And if you think it's hard to get good coffee, try getting a good decaf in 98% of the developed world. The only problem is that some Sydneysiders* find this a bit weird and I experience some ribbing at every morning's coffee run. It has got so bad that my cup today had "why bother?" written on the lid, rather than the contents.

I'll try and get round some more places and hope to report soon on where Sydney's best cup of coffee is. Suggestions are welcome!

*you know who you are

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