The things I love

I haven’t posted anything since last September. Time tends to get away from you a bit… family, work, moving house. One month becomes two, then six. I haven’t really been eating out as much either. A few places, but nothing new… except for a trip to New Zealand. Cibo in Parnell, just out of the Auckland CBD, was great, but I forgot to take photos, otherwise I would have written a review.

There have been a few articles of late that spruik the latest and greatest food fads, which are more or less titled [insert number here] of the [best / weirdest / latest] foods you need to eat before you die. I don’t want to think about dying in that way. On my deathbed, with tubes inserted into every orifice, connected up to a machine that goes ‘ping’, the last thing I’d be thinking about would be a truffle-filled cronut wrapped in lardo. Maybe.

But it did get me thinking about my top 5 things that I love. The things that I tend to revert back to and revere. They’re not necessarily fancy or expensive, nor would they rate too highly on someone’s culinary bucket list (some might).

My Top 5... make that 4

So, without trying to sound like John Cusack in High Fidelity, here is my all-time, desert island foodie top 5…

5. Bread
Coeliacs, look away now. I’m not talking about your standard Wonder White variety that I feed to my kids. I’m talking about bread with character. Stuff that’s been made with love. A Treat of France is a Boulangerie and Patisserie that is only a few doors down from my place. They make the best olive sour dough I’ve ever eaten. Hit that shit up with some Myrtleford Butter, Pepe Saya or at the very least, Lurpak.

Random bread pic from Google

Northcote Bakeshop make the bestest, densest fruit loaf. Cut thin and crisped up in a low oven. Forego butter and opt for a tangy, creamy blue or a perfectly ripe triple cream brie.

Toasted sandwiches also rate a mention… on Wonder White if that’s all you have. I originate from Adelaide, so it’s not a jaffle either. Nan used to make us toasties with that Kraft processed cheese that you bought in the aisle, near the Vegemite or with tinned braised steak and onion that was so hot, you couldn’t taste anything else for a week until your tongue healed.

 

Kraft Cheddar anyone?

These days, simple ham and cheese is just fine or at the very least, the perfect medium for left-overs… like the meat from the previous night’s lamb shanks with cannellini beans. The best baked bean toastie there is.

4. Coffee
I only started drinking coffee when I started my first full-time job in 1994; nearly half my life ago and of course, it was Nescafé from one of those cafébar things where one click of the dial dispensed the recommended amount.

One click or three?

Way back then, I think my three clicks into a plastic disposable cup bred my love of a strong coffee. Fortunately, my tastes in coffee have matured, as has my passion for making the best coffee I can. I use St Ali’s Steadfast Blend, (formerly known as Orthodox and before that, known as Chompy) and with my Breville Smart Grinder and Gaggia Classic, I can belt out a most very decent, rich creamy shot, time after time. It seems more satisfying with the more tactile process of making an espresso with a manual machine. People may scoff at the rest of the process. Skinny milk in my favourite rabbit mug, heated in the microwave for 70 seconds, topped with a double shot and half a teaspoon of panella sugar. Hey, that’s how I like it.

STSKFW 0.5

I also feel like a bit of a wanker when it comes to ordering my small strong skinny flat white with half a sugar. I always have this feeling that then they write STSKFW 0.5 on my coffee lid with a sharpie it could also mean stupid skanky fuck wit. I hope they don’t mean that.

3. Condiments
I know that’s a pretty broad brush to paint with, but life without condiments would be joyless and somewhat less tangy, fruity, sweet and delicious.

I moved house recently and it was a good time to take stock of what lived in my fridge. Six kinds of mustard; Sweet Alstertor Mustard (that comes in the small beer mug), which we slather on sausages to get our German on, Maille Dijon and wholegrain mustards for cooking, Masterfoods Mild English for Lily’s ham and cheese roll for school, Hot English (Colman’s, of course) and that yellow stuff you put on hotdogs.

condimentspoons

There is also Gochujang chilli paste, hoi sin, miso, pickles in many forms. Countless jars of preserves, chutneys, sauces. Hank’s Chilli Jam goes with practically everything. They will all be required at some point… maybe to make up a quick BBQ sauce for ribs with tomato sauce, mustard, plum sauce and sriracha. I also keep a big jar of homemade chimichurri sauce in the fridge too. It goes with everything. I start with this recipe from Matt Preston, but vary the heat and herbs depending on how I’m feeling at the time.

2. Asian Food

And you thought condiments was a pretty broad brush. Unfortunately there’s no better way to describe so many dishes that I love that cross Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian and Thai borders. There are probably more too. It’s safe to say that of the 14 lunches and dinners available to me per week, some form of Asian cuisine would take up at least 10 of these spots.

I love dumplings. But then if I just had dumplings on my list, I couldn’t have pho or sashimi or bibimbap or any of the meats that feature in the window of a good Chinese restaurant.

Mmm... window meats

Other favourites are Hainanese chicken and rice, Korean fried chicken (and beer) with pickles and kimchee, a laksa that blows your head off, crispy crunchy Vietnamese coleslaw and rare beef salad with roasted rice, broken rice with a perfectly cooked pork chop and a punchy nuoc cham, freshly made banh mi with lots of coriander, pickled carrot and chilli, gua bao, agedashi tofu, My discovery of the raw prawn dish, Gung Chae Nam Pla, Karē Raisu, okonomiyaki, satay, red duck curry, chicken skin yakitori… any yakitori!

Gung Chae Nam Pla

A fresh Thai dish that can nail the perfect combination of hot, sour, sweet, bitter and salty can be just as exciting as a simple and comforting congee. I love it all – I’m enjoying a Bulgogi Hot Pot for lunch even as I write this; rich, sweet stock, a little heat from chilli, slippery sweet potato noodles, tender beef… You don’t get that from a salad sandwich or something from Red Rooster.

So what’s number one? Number one is tough. There are many things I’ve missed, like beer, potatoes in many forms, good hamburgers, ice cream, eggs, pigs, fresh strawberries at their prime, roast chicken, a perfect steak, ribs… or fancy stuff like truffles or even the Chinese deliacy tong zi dan, where every spring in the city of Dongyang, eggs are boiled in the urine of young schoolboys (I’m not making this up).

Sadly, there is no number one. Yet… and this remains a top 4 for now (sorry John Cusack). Fact is that there are so many things in the culinary world that I revert back to and revere and I guess that’s part of being a so-called foodie.

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Evil

The Australian Truffle Industry’s history is fairly short; the first trees seeded with black truffle spores took place in Australia in 1993 and the first truffle was produced six years later in 1999, in Tasmania.

The Western Australians were instrumental in commercialising the industry in the mid 2000’s and now there are growers in every state and territory (bar the NT), with an estimated 150 registered growers. The Tasmanian and Western Australian growers still lead the way, by way of larger commercial growing operations, but NSW and Victorian growers contribute to over 60% of the market with approximately 95 smaller scaled independant and contracted grower truffière.

In 2010, Australian production of Black Truffle was estimated at 1.7 tonne and it’s forecast that by the end of the 2011 season, production will double. The Australian Truffle Industry is only a baby, but growing at an exponential rate.

I blame the wines, a later than normal night on a school night and the intense flavour of truffle that continued to resonate on my tastebuds, but it was mainly the wines.

After the Truffle Redux last Monday night, I foolishly jumped online and ordered a 50g truffle from Friend & Burrell for my own greedy experiments and consumption. The rest of the week was largely spent worrying about what to make with it. The other bits of the week left over were dealing to my buyer’s remorse. But hey, it’s tax refund time; if you can’t treat yourself, what can you do?

See? There’s always a plausible rationale. And a lot less coin than year’s 55 inch LED 3D TV that I was compelled to purchase for the family.

After some advice from SJ and Mat Beyer, I decided to hedge my bets and knock out a number of things to try the truffle in a few different ways.

Bryan Burrell and I coordinated our rendezvous out the front of my city office building on Friday afternoon. It reminded me a little of how a covert drug deal might go down. He rings me, I give him the location in code, he meets me downstairs, he’s the one in the dark glasses and overcoat, I’m wearing a flower in my lapel… well, that wasn’t exactly how it played out. The most striking thing was the undeniable perfume that hit you in the face like a rolled up newspaper when Bryan opened the back door to his car.

WHACK! It may indeed put you off truffles, through desensitisation. Then again it might not. It was amazing! Just when I couldn’t get more impressed, Bryan opened a large styrofoam esky to reveal a casual 8kgs of Western Australian truffles that arrived the day before. That was 24 grand’s worth of gear right in front of my eyes, only no threat of getting busted by ‘the man’.

Bryan also generously threw in some of their Iranian Sargol saffron and several Papa New Guinean vanilla beans to try out. For that, Bryan, you get a second plug: http://www.friendandburrell.com.au/

Thanks heaps!

Our 'third' child... but not for long

So with the exchange made, I raced straight home to settle my new baby in with whatever eggs we had in the fridge to impart the truffle flavour through the pourous egg shell and permeate the egg itself. I don’t remember much of high school science lessons, but I am thankful for osmosis in this instance.

 The next day was Saturday; time for a few preparations. The first cab off the rank was Truffled Butter. SJ put me onto Naomi’s Butter, made lovingly by Naomi Ingleton at The Butter Factory in Myrtleford, Victoria. Fortunately, Key Ingredients in Clifton Hill were relatively close to save me having to battle the Queen Vic Markets. Or the drive to Myrtleford.

There wasn’t much science to making the butter. I was more trying to get over the anxiety of cutting into ‘Nugget’. Sure, he’d only been part of  our family for around 18 hours, but he’d given so much joy to us. Mainly through us opening the fridge door and taking a big whiff. But it was time for some amputation.

Experiment # 1: Truffled Butter

For the 250g stick of butter, I decided 15g of truffle would be appropriate. So I had a best guess at slicing off roughly a third and the scales told me I was only 1 gram off at 16g. So far so good.

Fifteen grams of truffle looks like a lot when it goes through a microplane. After a quick mix of the planed truffle through the softened butter, I scooped the lot into a ramekin, covered it with cling wrap and chucked it into the fridge. After sampling what little evidence of truffled butter remained in the mixing bowl, I was glad I opted for salted butter.

Truffle dish number two was going to be a given. Since we missed out on sampling the Fromager des Clarines at the truffle dinner, I was always going to have to make this. Plus, it was also a tactic for K to approve of my extravagant purchase. 

Dairy loves Truffle

Although it seemed as simple as cutting horizontally into a chilled wheel of soft cheese, loading it up with as much truffle as it will hold, put the halves back together and wait for a few days before greedily tucking in, there were some specific instructions I was provided to ensure optimal success. I mean, throwing fifty bucks worth of truffle into an already twenty dollar cheese makes it a tad expensive experiment, therefore I wanted to get it as right as I could.

Now, that's a fuckload of truffle!
Mat’s Advice: Microplane the truffle, allowing more surface area to absorb into the truffle, give it 7-10 days for the flavours to develop and probably the most important, newly created unit of measure in the kitchen; use a fuckload.
 
SJ’s Advice: Scoop out some of the insides to enable the said ‘fuckload’ of truffle, use the excess cheese to reseal the cut edge  and wrap tightly in silicon paper before storing back in the fridge.
 
All advice was duly taken and actioned.
 
The remaining 18 grams of truffle is still keeping the eggs company; bearing in mind that with every day that passes, is another day that ‘Nugget’, loses a little of his aroma and flavour. I am sure this weekend will involve another truffle recipe, in addition to and probably including the aforementioned butter and cheese.
 
For now, I’m thinking maybe chicken breast with truffle under the skin, cooked sous vide (in my own dodgy way), browned up in the pan with some truffled butter until the skin is crispy and finished with a champagne sabayon, made with the truffled eggs… too much truffle perhaps, or is there no such thing?
 
So, what to do with the remaining truffle?