Saturday, August 30, 2008

Stop Food Waste! Campaign

When I was growing up, Mum would bung a roast in the oven every Sunday and serve it with all the trimmings. Which meant one potato for each person, a small spoonful of tinned peas, about five pieces of carrot and, if we nagged for long enough, a couple of Yorkshire puddings. Nevertheless, being a family of four there was still going to be meat left over. But could we nibble on it over the ensuing day or two? Could we hell. Mum would guard it savagely and turn it into Monday's dinner, which was casserole. She'd use the leftover gravy, too. In our house, the words 'food' and 'waste' didn't appear in the same sentence.

In a survey conducted by Planet Ark last year, homes in the ACT were chucking out 4.2 kilos of food per week. In Victoria and SA, 40% of what people bin is food, and in Sydney, around 50%. Personally, I find it hard to believe, yet the same stats are coming out of most affluent Western countries. In the UK, Brits piff five million spuds, four million apples & seven million slices of bread every day. That's an awful lot of wasted bread & butter pud. In the US, it's estimated 14% of purchased food is thrown out. The stats go on and on. It's depressing.

When I try and think of solutions, my thoughts return to Mum and how she ran her tight ship. Just a few of her food habits included:
  • as mentioned, using left-over roast meat for dinner the following day. Or for sandwiches, if we were lucky.
  • still on roasts, pouring the leftover pan juices into a bowl and putting it in the fridge. It would harden into lard, which you could slather onto crusty bread later on. My Dad was a happy man.
  • writing up a list of all the dinners for the week so she could shop for exactly what would be used.
  • not bothering with use-by dates on eggs. She'd just bung them in a bowl of cold water - if they sank, she knew they were okay.
I love my freezer and don't understand why more people don't use theirs. And in these days of abundance, a small chest freezer in the garage isn't going to break the bank. Freezing ideas include:
  • freeze your bread, muffins, rolls, scrolls, pikelets and crumpets
  • when cream or yoghurt is on the turn, cook up & freeze a batch of muffins, substituting the milk for the cream/yoghurt.
  • go to the market and buy your meat and fish in bulk (see earlier post on markets). Freeze it in serving portions. Some meat lasts for up to 18 months in the freezer. It's a hell of a lot cheaper than the supermarket, too.
  • Freeze your fruit & veg! Berries, stone fruit, blanched asparagus, blanched green beans, corn cobs, herbs..they all freeze really well.
Gosh, I'm feeling all Martha Stewart now. For more information or to share your own ideas (and possibly win some booty), go to . Or you can share your ideas/viewpoints here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Review: Star Anise

It's really lovely when the stars of an establishment - in this case, owner/chef David Coomer and his sous chef protegee, Matt Stone - are so accessible to the hoi-polloi. When I first rang the restaurant to make a booking, it was an affable Matt who answered the telephone. And on the night, it was David who made a point of approaching every table for a bit of cheerful meet & greet.

We decided to visit on a Saturday night, which meant the only fare available to us was the seven-course tasting menu. Oh well, one does what one must. Perhaps this was designed so that David could extract himself from the kitchen and mix it out the front? Either way, it certainly says a lot for the trust he must have in his young offsider, and fair enough too. The kitchen didn't miss a beat all night.

The first course arrived, and I was well chuffed to discover a bit of molecular gastronomy at play. The glistening horseradish foam balanced on a sliver of kingfish tartare was hot and excellent. David is renowned for his wonderful aromatic duck and (dare I say it) his fearlessness in the kitchen, but my money was on the third course, a generous slab of deep orange smoked ocean trout cooked at 45 degrees. It was briney and flavoursome, and went perfectly with the brown rice tea broth spooned over it. The cheese course of occelli di barolo and Valdeon blue cheese were both first-rate, but what really transported me was the soft, creamy brilliance of the French triple brie, brillat-savarin. I could eat this any place, any time, and it must surely be listed as a comfort food somewhere. Our sweet dessert was all whimsy and folly, with a tall hat of glittering fairy floss perched atop a crunchy head of pavlova, and a boiled lolly jar full of colourfrul fruit salad served as a side.

There were a few minor hiccups during the course of the evening. The music was variously on, off or skipping to its own beat. The service too was a little hit-and-miss. There was an increasing chill-factor in the ambient room temperature as the evening progressed, and I found myself nursing a cold the following morning. None, though, marred our overall experience of the evening. In fact, little glitches such as these can be almost conducive to the bonhomie of an establishment that, despite its highbrow clientele and intimate surrounds, doesn't take itself too seriously. Nor should it, either. It will be interesting to see if their second eatery, rumoured to be a tapas bar in North Perth, will follow along the same path.

And yes, David, that chandelier looks as though it's been constructed from lasagne sheets.

What we ate:
Two spoons of Virgin oyster & hiramasa kingfish tartare with horseradish foam; jamon iberico gran reserva, octopus, confit tomato, piquillo peppers, fans of fennel, olives; ocean trout, enoki mushrooms, seaweed, endamame (soy beans); crispy aromatic duck, braised Chinese cabbage, sweet & sour mandarin & ginger sauce; cheese; raspberry & blood orange spider; pavlova with fairy floss & fruit salad.

What we drank: Picardy Pinot Noir; O:TU Sauvignon Blanc

Friday, August 22, 2008

Canning Vale Markets

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig. Home again, home again, jig-a-de-jig.

So goes the nursery rhyme that invades my head every time we make the family pilgrimage to the
Canning Vale Markets at Market City each weekend. I'm having a bit of a love affair with them at the moment. Not only for their unparalleled freshness when compared to supermarket-bought produce, but for their gob smacking value (read: cheapness), too.

This morning, for instance, we visited the butcher's. Not your normal butcher, mind, but cases and cases of fresh meat with every conceivable cut prepared in every conceivable fashion. Ten frantic staff ran up and down the aisle serving a crowd that was permanently three-deep. With all that selection, it was difficult for a carnivore to decide. In the end we were overwhelmed and bought 500gm of fresh lamb mince for $2.00, and a blade of sirloin for $26 that had a deep, almost purplish hue when sliced into and enough marbling to rival Wagyu. We got ten rich, tender steaks out of it - that's $2.60 per steak! We passed on the stash of whole giant hog's heads sheathed in tight clingfilm. I could not even begin to fathom the prep it would take (remove eyes, eyelashes, ears and brains. Machete into four equal pieces..). Nope.

The fish market is also excellent. There's nothing like fresh whole fish packed in ice to swell a crowd and expand the cooking repertoire. Last week we bought two red perch for $7.00 (but ask for it to be scaled and gutted or, like me, you too will have a job on your hands) which tasted so sweet it reminded us of fresh marron. This week we bought four garfish for $9.00. If anyone knows of any good recipes, do let me know.

Oh, and give the bakery a miss. It's crap.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Recipe: Stock

Alright, so call me a numbskull but I never knew that when you made your own stock, you were meant to roast the bones first. Now, thanks to Anthony Bourdain, I do, so all is as it should be. I made some lamb stock this week, reducing it down and down until it became a thick, caramelised condensation of demi-glace goodness that I socked straight into the freezer for future sauces.

Buy 2-3kgs of roasting lamb bones from the butcher. Smother with tomato paste, dust some plain flour over the top and bung them in a 180 degree oven in an oiled tray to roast. Turn a couple of times. Add some onion and carrots to the roasting pan, top with oil and turn frequently until caramelised.

Throw the lot into a big pot and fill to the top with cold water. In his book 'Les Halles Cookbook', Bourdain commands "DO NOT EVER BOIL YOUR STOCK!" but I did, briefly, and the world didn't stop. Let it simmer for 6-8 hours. Strain until there's nothing more to strain. That's the basic stock. Some can be stored, or you can go for broke and use it all for your demi. It's a long, long process and you don't want to go through the whole palaver again any time soon. At least I didn't, anyway.

For the demi, add red wine to a pot that's about one quarter the volume of stock you're going to use. Simmer, and reduce to around half the wine. Add your stock and simmer and reduce it for 3-4 hours until all you have is a few inches at the bottom of the pot of fairly thick, strong, dark demi-glace. Strain again, if you're really keen, then pour into ice cube trays and bung in the freezer. To be used for red meat sauces and gravies.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Recipe: Pancakes

When I was growing up, the ultimate foodie treat for us kids was a piping stack of Dad's pancakes, with an alternating topping of lemon & sugar or Log Cabin maple syrup.

These days, not too much has changed. I still love the occasional stack, although my maple syrup palate is a little more discerning ('CAMP...pure authentic nature you can taste' reads the bottle. Hmm, maybe not). Anyway, this is my dear old da's Yorkshire recipe.

Mix 250gm plain flour with half a teaspoon of salt. Add two beaten eggs and a little milk, then mix well with a wooden spoon. Keep adding milk gradually while mixing until the batter has the consistency of thickish cream.

Heat a teaspoon of oil in a frying pan. Add a large tablespoon of the batter and tilt the pan so it spread out to the edges, like a crepe. Cook on a medium high heat until bubbles break the surface. Turn over (or flip, if you can wing it) and cook on the other side briefly. Don't worry, the first one with undoubtedly turn out crap. Add to a plate and keep warm in the oven, with a teatowel flung over the top to prevent from drying out. Repeat to your heart's content.

Serve with lemon juice & sugar, or Canadian maple syrup.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Macaroons @ Lamont's Wine Store Cottesloe

Ah, the macaroon. Winking away at me like colourful jewels on a plate, these were imported from France by Lamont's Wine Store Cottesloe and totally looked the goods. With light, crunchy shells and delicate, slightly chewy praline fillings they came in flavours of mango, blueberry, vanilla, raspberry and rose water. LWSC manager Jeri was right when she said they were moreish: I had three and could easily have scoffed half a dozen more. Duncan, macaroon aficionado that you are, my thoughts were with you.

ETA: I profiled Lamont's Cottesloe for Your Restaurants, here

Star Anise is Not Closing

Practically everybody I've spoken to recently about David Coomer's top Shenton Park restaurant
Star Anise has come back with the comment "Yeah, did you hear they were closing down? Such a shame". So it was with some trepidation that I called to make a booking. Happily, they are alive and thriving as always. I asked sous chef Matt Stone what the skinny was on the rumour.

"We're not even close to closing", said Matt. "Actually, we've just renewed our lease so we'll be here for years yet. It's just a hospitality rumour that's going around at the moment. We're very much open".

You heard it here first, folks..

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Review: (A)LURE

It irks me when people say dining out is all about the food, because it isn't. Dining out, especially when it's high-end, is also about feeling loved and cossetted, like being wrapped in a warm cocoon of specialness for the night. If I wanted just food, I'd have stayed at home.

At Burswood's (A)LURE, I felt about as loved as a puppy caught in the rain. On arrival, we were led past a cool bar/sushi station through to a wonderful Manhattan-inspired fit-out, then towards the back until we were seated next to an exit door in a small, tiled area entirely by ourselves. This was a little puzzling considering the restaurant was only three quarters full, and I felt the rumblings of foreboding. And heard the sound of much clattering as crockery, cutlery and glassware began to hit our table. All delivered in a most unloving way by a team of young girls who looked as though they'd prefer to be anywhere but serving us. Sean Marco is an award-winning chef who has worked in some of the world's most prestigious hotels. Such a shame, then, to have such poor conveyors of his fine fare. I asked only one question during the night, hesitatingly, knowing I would be disappointed: could a side be suggested for my $48 upmarket surf-and-turf? "Um, like, maybe a salad?" was the surly reply. Care factor: zero. I went with the buttered asparagus.

(A)LURE is great if you're after conventional high-end grub with low-end service in a cool space. Not so great if you expect fine dining.

What we ate:
Entree - Mixed half dozen oysters ($20); fetta & mushroom tartlet ($17)
Main - Avon Valley beef fillet with lobster tail ($48); confit pork belly with grilled King prawns ($42); buttered asparagus.

What we drank:
T'Gallant Pinot Grigio; Capel Vale Unwooded Chardonnay; Clairault Cabernet Sauvignon

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Gourmet Traveller 2009 Restaurant Awards-WA Nominees

Gourmet Traveller has just announced the nominees for their annual restaurant awards. Congratulations to all the WA nominees who made it into the final cut:

The 2009 Restaurant of the Year will be announced in Sydney on 18 August.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mundaring Truffle Festival 2008

There was a whole lot of truffling going on in Mundaring today. And the weather held out in a most obliging manner. Truth be told (and being the greedy pig I am), there wasn't as much truffling as I would have liked, considering this was, after all, a truffle festival.

Cute truffle-seeking labradors, yes. Truffle oils with the obligatory dukkah (by jingo I'm sick of that stuff), truffle butter, a big scrummy truffle in a jar worth around $150, a mega truffle luncheon for the gastronomes and a truffle masterclass with master chef Shannon Bennett (who looks suspicously like Kurt Cobain).

But where was the elusive truffle to be tasted? Must I forage for it myself? In the end, The Loose Box saved me with their excellent offerings: boiled egg in its shell blended with a bechamel sauce, nestled into a carton of raw brown rice, and topped with shavings of black, earthy truffle. Heaven in a cup.