Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Terrines I Have Known

I've actually had a request to post one of my pictures! Given that I am the world's worst photographer, this is a first.

I know that the requester is a bit of a terrine fan, so it struck me that this might be a nice time to do a compilation post. I ate a lot of terrine at the beginning of this year but ended up never posting about most of it.

So I give you Terrines I Have Known.

Terrines have been around since Roman times. Originally a mix of a scraggly leftover bits of pork and fat, they stemmed out of a need to make the most of the meat you had. A terrine, with it's wrapping of fat, bacon or later pastry, is a great way to preserve your food for a bit longer and make a little meat go a long way. As cuisine evolved the terrine became a good way for chefs to show off their creative chops and use more luxe ingredients. No British gastro-pub menu is complete without a terrine and it can be a good yardstick to see what the chef's capable of. I tend to order terrine when I'm looking for something big, ballsy and meaty to kick start a meal, although one always hopes that the actual testicle content is minimal.

Let's start with a fairly standard example from The Fox in London. You can see the bacon wrapping, the different chunky meats and a reasonably high fat content. This is what I would call a standard terrine; the chef knows what one is and has has a passable go at making one. It was enjoyable, if a bit fridge cold. It was served with some gherkins and bread, both quite standard . The gherkins (I think) add some acidity as terrine can be quite fatty . I don't need to tell you what to do with the bread.

Next up we have a glossier terrine from Simply Simpsons in Kenilworth. They used to have a Michelin star. This terrine struck me as being a bit pornographic at the time. It was very meaty, rather moist and set with jelly.

You can see a lot more technique here, with the distinctive bits of ham, the foie gras and the carrots. I enjoyed this much more than the previous terrine.

And finally we have the modernist, deconstructed Terrine of rabbit with foie gras and pistachio mousse from Vue de monde in Melbourne. Even the terrine virgins among you will come to realise that the presentation here is a little different to your average terrine.

This is a very haute terrine, despite the slip of the claggy butter. It's served with some fresh pistachios and a pistachio mousse which is a nice nod to the more rustic terrine style which often has pistachios for textural contrast. Chef Doherty has deconstructed the dish well; the bacon which is usually used to wrap the finished terrine is represented as a ham slush (third row down) and there are layers of rabbit rilettes and foie gras. The confit carrot and the pistachio mousse frame the meats.

A vegetarian friend pinged me as I was writing this and said that they'd never had a good vegetarian terrine. I'm annoyed with myself as I had a great Tuscan terrine with layers of pesto and tomato and wrapped in provolone cheese rather than ham on the weekend, but I forgot to take a photo. I'll try and get the recipe and report back.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Vue de monde, Melbourne

Given that Melbournians will tell you that Melbourne is the best food city in Australia, it's fair to assume that the best restaurant in Melbourne will be the best restaurant in Australia right? Vue de Monde, which has won Australian Gourmet Traveller's restaurant of the year for the past two years and was named by the Age as the best restaurant in Melbourne, gets higher plaudits than that. The Age says "Here’s the proof that not only is fine dining in Melbourne not dead, it has soared to unprecedented heights. Vue de monde is not just one of Australia’s best restaurants; it’s probably one of the world’s."

I went with a couple of friends last week and I'd say that it's a good fine-dining experience, but one that just misses out on perfection too many times to quite merit that hyperbole. That said, it's the first restaurant that I've been too for a while where I am interested in getting to know the Chef a little better, so I will be back.

The "twist" with Vue de monde (I hate that missing capital) is that there are no menus. You tell your waiter how hungry you are and how much money you want to spend and off they go. Our pass side seats meant that we were able to see everything that went out of the kitchen and there were points where the three of us were craning our necks to see what people wer
e getting. This place is cooking as theatre, in fact Chef Doherty talks about competing with theatres and shows rather than other restaurants for customers' money and the kitchen is completely open, right in the dining room. There's even a mirror above the pass so you can see exactly what your neighbour is getting. Perfect for the voyeurs among us.

First up was a pumpkin puree with scallops marinated in yuzu with Sterling caviar. I can see where the dish was going, but the pumpkin was a little too sweet and overpowered the scallop, which in turn ov
erpowered the caviar. This is posh nursing home food (no chewing...) and wasn't a patch on the snail amuse with mouselline chicken that really set our palates going.

Things took a turn for the better with this cep risotto which was paired with one of Vue de monde's own wines, a 2005 Pinot Gris by T’Gallant on the Mornington Peninsula. This was a very successful pairing, the wine really enhancing the earthiness of the ceps. Some good technique here too (I sound like Ron Atkinson commentating on the FA Cup) with dehydrated cep powder and a cep foam adding layers of flavour to the risotto. Chef Doherty amkes judicious use of some more modern techniques and uses them throughout the meal to add accent and contrast, but never just for the techniques sake.

Next came a dish I was really looking forward to; a
terrine of rabbit with foie gras and pistachio mousse. I love the visual of this, it's a really modernist, bright and colourful terrine, that my terrible mobile phone camera doesn't do justice so I won't share the photo. Each part of the terrine was carefully thought-out; the foie gras contrasting with the pistachio mousse and a layer of serrano sludge that was really well flavoured. And serving rabbit with carrot always makes me smile. The terrine was let down by a layer of clarified butter between the rabbit rillettes and the ham that was just too claggy and fatty, especially on a cold terrine. So, a really beautiful well conceived dish with great elements, just let down by a slip.

Our fish course, red mullet wrapped in crayfish and then blanketed with carrot julienne was an interesting fish course, but was just a little sweet for me. I think I've been ruined for all fished courses ever since I had that seabass cooked tableside at Moto in Chicago. There was something about the simplicity that just was the perfect expression of the ingredient. This dish was a little too complicated and lacked depth in terms of the flavour profile. Might be improved by serving the essence of bouillabaisse that came in a little stopped test-tube with the fish, rather than as a shooter.

The wine pairing here was phenomenal though, a premier cru Chassagne-Montrachet that made up for the slightly unsuccessful dish.

We were then served a palate cleaners of an intense tomato consomme which appeared bubbling with dry ice. We've all seen the trick before, but it did make me smile.

On the left is the lamb dish that was our last savoury course. I've never eaten lamb belly before and the consensus was that it wasn't the best treatment. The sweetbreads were my favourite, all unctuous and savoury, although my companions preferred the confit lamb loin which you can see on the right. This was all really well flavoured meat and the whole dish was really well balanced.

Desert was a classic Souffle Rothschild which showcased the kitchen's some solid French roots and I enjoyed the counterbalance to the frozen kiwi fruit lolly we were served as pre-desert palate cleanser.

All together an enjoyable meal with some neat technique and good flavours. I'm looking forward to getting back here and understanding a little more about what Shannon Doherty's food is all about.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Eurovision Weekend- Part 1

More homesickness as it was Eurovision Song Contest Weekend.

Eurovision reminds me so many British things. Saturday nights at my Nan's during the early 80's, being able to count to twelve in French by the age of seven (but not knowing eleven or nine), begging my Mum to let me change my name to Suzi G (after Bobby G of Bucks Fizz fame...I probably shouldn't be telling you all this). The 80's turn to the 90's when we choreographed a routine to the British entry rather than studying for our finals and I start planning elaborate buffets based on the host country's cuisine. I like to think my Eurovision Party is a bit of an event, although I'm still annoyed my friend Mark, a Eurovision nut, won't come because I don't take it seriously enough.

For the uninitiated, the Eurovision Song Contest is an institution. Started in 1956, it's either a chance for a variety of countries to showcase their songwriting skills or a chance to get together with your gay mates and eat a Ukrainian themed buffet. Despite the "Euro" in the title it's open to all of the countries that are part of the European Broadcasting Union rather than the European Union, so this explains the inclusion of Russia and Israel. Lebanon is actually rather interested in taking part, but their unwillingness to recognise Israel as a state is stopping them. Given that this year's Israeli entry was about a suicide bomber it's probably for the best...

The show has changed over the years and the Orc rock of last year's Finnish winner Lordi has opened the diversity gates. 60% of this year's semi-finalists were hoary-old rockers from the former Soviet Union. I counted eight pairs of leather trousers and more curly perms than the Bigg Market on a Saturday night.

Ah yes. The semi final. Eurovision is so popular these days that there's no way all of the countries who want to play can, so a semi-final was introduced in 2004. There are now 14 guaranteed places in the final, going to the Big Four (UK, Ireland, France and Germany) and the top ten from the previous year. If you're not a Eurovision fan and find the main attraction interminable, the semi final probably isn't for you...Luckily Bri indulges my passion and I got to see both.

You can't have Eurovision without food though. I've finally found a good butcher, and so I have been cooking meat for the first time since I got here. I needed to counter-balance the European-ness of the TV with something really Australian, so we had lamb and rosemary snags (Australian for sausages) from TJ Quality meats on Darling Street. It's a Demeter certified, organic butcher (more on this soon) and the sausages were damn good. I served it with my favourite lentil salad.

This is a really versatile dish and you can perch some griddled chicken or salmon on top, serve it as part of a salad selection, or with sausages like I did on Saturday. All quantities are up to you; you cannot be prescriptive about lentil salad.

The basics:
Some little green French lentils (as many as you need)
Half a head of garlic
A bay leaf

Rinse the lentil, cover with boiling water, add the garlic and a bay leaf and boil until cooked. Should take about 15 minutes. Rinse when they're done as I find lentil water a bit unappealing and drudgy. Fish out the garlic and bay leaf. Moisten the lentils with some of your best olive oil.

The dressings:
A white onion, diced finely or some shallots or scallions
A good handful of rocket or some leafy herbs. Parsley and mint have worked well for me in the past
A couple of tomatoes, skinned, seeded and sliced
Some little slips of roasted red pepper
Something creamy, like some nice fresh goats curd, ricotta or feta. I used some marinated feta from Meredith Farm and it was sensational
A little chopped chili if you like
Olives, capers or gherkins

Once the lentils are ready, just mix in whatever you have handy from the list above. I didn't bother with any olives, capers or gherkins as I wanted the little dots of feta and red pepper to be the stars. I toned down the chili too, although I'd use more if I were using a blander cheese like ricotta. A swish of red wine vinegar might be good at the end too to make more of a dressing than my olive oil alone.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Weight Watching...

Sometimes a girl looks at her wardrobe and realizes that some of it is a little tight. Othertimes you quietly put all of your jeans into one of the containers that’s going to take three months to get to you and hope that no-one notices you’re the size of a camper van.

So I’ve joined Weight Watchers. For the uninitiated, WeightWatchers is the slimming club where “no food’s a sin”. Food energy values are measured in “points”, arrived at by doing something mathematical with a kilojoule and the saturated fat content. WeightWatchers also provides a support structure for your weightloss. The theory is that the weekly meeting gives you a network and stops you feeling alone in your diet. To quote from the literature “you can discuss what works and laugh about what doesn’t”. In reality, you find yourself wearing chiffon every weigh-in day and considering the use of laxatives.

I know that WeightWatchers works because I did it eight years ago and lost lots of weight. I used to go with my best friend, Emu. I fondly remember “pointing up” (as we called writing down our day’s food) every evening over several glasses of wine. This memory makes the whole Australian WeightWatchers experience bittersweet for me, because Emu’s a very long way away now. But still, each evening I write down everything I’ve eaten that day, get terribly homesick and work out if I can have that second glass of wine.

Eating healthily can be a challenge in Oz as the portions are insane. There are at least two sandwich joints within walking distance of the ThoughtWorks offices that are known as “the sandwich as big as your head” place. I had a wrap the size of my leg last week and of course there’s the muffin the size of my left breast coffee shop. The food halls are Valhallas of deliciousness, with multiple tempting choices of salad bar, fresh sushi roll, Portuguese burger, rice paper roll. Pho and stir-fry places. Given that a food hall in the UK usually consists of a McDonalds, KFC and Spud-U-Like all congealing away under the heat lamps, this is heaven for me. But the thing that has impressed me most is the freshly tossed salad bar concept. I have no idea why this hasn’t caught on everywhere, but London is just crying out for some of these.

You pick your salad leaf base and size. You add up to six extra ingredients from a list of about 30. These include lots of raw veggies like capsicum, carrot, onion, some roasted bits like aubergine and pumpkin, protein like tuna, egg or marinated tofu and some highly flavoured things like olives, capers and anchovies. It can be a recipe for disaster if you’re not thinking about flavour combinations and I don’t generally approve of any eating establishments where you create your own dishes. Trust the chef, I say. But this really works. You can add something more substantial like marinated octopus, steamed chicken or salmon and then it’s tossed for you and your dressing added.

The whole thing takes about 2 minutes and the result is the best lunchtime solution I’ve ever come across (apart from lunch at Arpege, natch) Beats the compost from Neal’s Yard Salad Bar which I used to have most days by miles.