Monday, June 29, 2009
There are always weekends spent moping around the house, wondering how your epic hunger coincides with a Mother Hubbard state of cupboard affairs.
And then there are the ones where everything lines up extremely nicely. Blake and Lex had given me a jar of their home-made tomato relish the week before and I had some crusty bread that was going to cross over into that rock-hard stage of dental pain and general inedibility if I didn't use it soon.
So I made some breakfast bruschetta with the relish, adding some parmesan shavings, pine nuts, a greedy extra lug of olive oil and some shreds of baby spinach.
The relish was really the main star – the chilli was an unexpected scissorkick of flavour, as was the tart hit of vinegar.
If you're in a condiment-making mood, you can create this relish by finding Blake's recipe in the Save FBi cookbook (which you can download here, in exchange for a voluntary donation to the station.
Otherwise, you can wait until Blake (hopefully) opens his cafe in Berlin (one day).
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I know I blogged about Black Star Pastry last year but I was recently re-reminded of how great it is. The macro-sized patisserie has sort of provided the menu to my week – or a kind of diary spelt in sugar, ganache, elderflower and rosewater.
It started last Saturday with a Zucchini and Pumpkin Muffin ($3.50) I bought, just before the gavel came down on a house that Will really wanted to buy at auction. I needed some oven-baked-fortification to steel myself for the scary bout of bidding I was about to witness. I really liked the muffin (whoever knew that timid zucchini actually had flavour?) but could only eat half of it before the auction started. It was that nerve-wracking.
I'll spare you a dramatic re-telling of the actual auction (but if you want, you can imagine a cheesy movie montage with overloud timpani and bad close-ups of people's sweaty foreheads, etc), only to say we were hugely relieved when the auctioneer yelled 'Sold'. Will got the house, despite last-minute deviousness by another bidder we have since dubbed 'Snake-In-The-Grass'.
So we had a celebratory Rose and Lilac Macaron ($3.50) a few hours later. And it was occasion-worthy: crumbly when you split it, but crisp when you bit in and the filling was a liquid hit of rosewater delicious.
My bulk-Black-Star-Pastry-buying that day also included a Mandarin and Lemon Myrtle Panna Cotta ($5). I liked how the mandarin pieces were playing it both ways: gloopy-sweet and a little tart, with a few shreds of lemon myrtle for modulated punch - like the feisty topic that ignites an otherwise civil dinner party conversation.
I ate a third of it, left it in Will's fridge and a day or so later, reminded him not to forget it.
"Too late, I yum'd that up yesterday," he said.
Later in the week, I went on another buying blitz at Black Star Pastry. This time, the treats were for a dinner being thrown by Blake and Lex (who make the most moreish mushroom soup and za'atar bread I've ever eaten).
You can see (above), the Strawberry Watermelon Rose Cream Cake ($6), Elderflower Cheesecake ($6), Chocolate Hazelnut Torte ($6), Saffron Mango Shortbread ($3) and another rose-speckled macaron. All are as delicious as they look and the cheesecake is definitely a conversation-starter: particularly regarding the mysterious concentric circles trapped in the icing (our Sherlock Holmes-like guess: grapes, sliced painfully thin).
What you can't see above is the slick chocolate topping of the torte (a casualty of cake-box transportation, the icing was wiped clean against the lid and diligently spot-removed, one spoonful at a time, by Will).
You also can't see the Mushroom, Pine Nut, Spinach Pithivier ($5), a flaky, crusty pie-slice that completely monopolised my thoughts for a few days after I had it for lunch. The sweet, near-caramelised mushrooms still haven't entirely left my brain and I have an auto-craving right now, just thinking about it.
I asked one staff member what it was they did to the mushrooms that made them so tasty. All she said was that they used, "lots of fresh herbs, lots of love".
So I am plotting my next visit again (hopefully it coincides with pithivier presence on the counter). Better still, Will's new house is within walking distance of Black Star Pastry. So I'll have to improve my cake-box tranportation methods, because it'll be hard to fight the gravitational path that curves towards this wonderful patisserie.
Black Star Pastry, 277 Australia St, Newtown NSW, 2042, (02) 9557 8656
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Not The Last Supper: the Save FBI cookbook zine is done and ready for you to download!
If you're printing it out, you can download a high-quality cover for it too. It was beautifully designed by Grace Lee.
It was quickly put together in a week and features some very great recipes (Sweetie’s Delicious Dumplings, Julia Thomas' Choc-Cherry Muffins, Sausie & Tomato by Shag's mum, Vegan Ginger Cakes and Mulled Wine by Eliza Sarlos, Vegetarian Lasagne by Danny & Caroline Jumpertz, Station-Saving Slow-roasted Lamb Shoulder by Peach and much more!)
More details here, where you can also make donations in exchange for the zine.
Download, enjoy, donate - and save FBI 94.5FM!
For a taste of it, here's my contribution – which includes my recipe for Bruschetta In A Teacup.
I love bruschetta but I am hopeless at eating it – I start slicing a piece of it and the little tomato cubes jumble off the bread and I have to re-scoop them up with a knife and redistribute them amid the crusts again.
So, I came up with Bruschetta In A Teacup to combat this. It is also a good time-stalling starter if you are throwing a dinner party – you can feed it to your guests while you’re still dashing about in the kitchen, slinging things into the oven, garnishing dishes and watching pots bubble away. Also, you can make it ages before they arrive (the flavour is even better) and it’s all good to go when they turn up.
A handful of cherry tomatoes per guest
A slurp of extra virgin olive oil
A dash of caramelised balsamic vinegar (you can use aged balsamic with a good sprinkle of sugar instead, if you don’t have this)
A nice loaf of bread (sourdough or ciabatta are sound picks), sliced thickly
Clove of garlic (optional)
Finely diced garlic
A bit of fresh chilli/dried chilli
Finely diced Red onion
Toasted pine nuts
Shavings of good Parmesan cheese
Finely diced olives
Sea salt and ground black pepper to season
Basically, chop the cherry tomatoes.
Drop into a small Asian-style teacup or ramekin.
Add a good slurp of extra virgin olive oil (enough to submerge half the tomato).
Add a dash of the vinegar.
Add any optional extras you like – don’t go over-the-top with one particular ingredient, but go for a nice mix. Be sparing with stronger ingredients, such as onion or garlic, unless you do like a sharp hit with your bruschetta.
Give the ingredients a good stir, so the oil is evenly distributed. Leave to let flavours sink in for a bit.
Repeat as appropriate for the number of guests you have.
Before serving, grill/toast the bread.
Cut a garlic clove in half (if using) and then rub against the still-warm slices.
Serve bread on a platter.
Everyone can take a slice and dunk into their teacup as appropriate or spoon the mix onto the bread if they like. Less bruschetta spillage occurs, everyone is happy.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Sometimes it is really hard to tackle big serious topics without people zoning out and falling victim to a sudden epidemic of watch-checking. So I was really inspired by my friend Ebony's approach to World Environment Day last week. You can read up on some of her many great deeds at her Hello Sandwich blog.
Ebony didn't go for finger-waving or stern-lecture-giving, but she didn't sugar-dust the facts either. She organised a talk by Al Gore Climate Project Ambassador and Dinosaur Designs' Liane Rossler at our work (which was pretty well-attended, given everyone was missing lunch for it). It really was great and inspiring to have someone well-versed in the facts to remind us what lies ahead if we really don't do anything about global warming. I can see how easy it is for people to read about the scary scenarios presented by dangerous climate change (the increase in more extreme weather events and wildfires, the damage to ecosystems) and feel weirdly immune, treating it like the plot of a disaster movie that will eventually go away.
I think that's the toughest thing, trying to do something about it when there's a huge crowd of naysayers trying to outblare any facts about the issue. Scarily enough, Senator Steve Fielding recently attended a climate change conference run by an institute that believes the dangers of smoking are based on "junk science" and as a result, the senator no longer believes that humans are behind global warming, the Herald reports. It's pretty frightening when someone who has the power to block/amend legislation about environmental policy chooses to listen to people who say "'Steve, do you know that over the last decade carbon emissions are rising but global temperature isn't rising?'", even though 13 of the hottest years recorded occurred in the last 17 years – and the likelihood of this happening by chance is 1 in 10 trillion according to New Scientist magazine, showing that there's "a very high probability that human emissions are causing global warming".
(Also, I'm not sure why we are still toing and froing on this topic because in 2007, a series of reports by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] concluded with 90 per cent certainty that human activity was behind climate change. It was a finding that was reported around the world and earned the 2500 climate scientists a Nobel Prize.)
OK OK, I didn't mean to have a fact smackdown here, but it is hard not to get smooth-talked into believing some vague, unverified climate change skepticism unless you keep slinging these scientific details in defence.
Anyway, I think I'm floating away from my point a little. What I wanted to say was this – that it's hard not to be disheartened by all the political squabbling and feel that nothing major will happen about such a serious topic. But it's people like Ebony that remind you that you can approach the issue in different ways, even if they seem pretty low-key.
At the talk, she gave away all these really heartwarming lucky door prizes – like bento boxes, potted herbs and linen napkins – to remind us of small things that we can do. I think that's one of the image problems of the environmental movement, it's seen as pretty joyless (all cold showers and tasteless muesli), and Ebony reinserted some wonder and warmth into a topic that can be pretty cold. Her pile of fabric-wrapped presents were all a reminder to re-use, recycle and rethink the way we go about our lives. I was pretty happy to have won a little face towel, with a cute hand-written tag that said, "Towel Dry! Embrace the Japanese tradition of carrying around a towel in your bag to use for drying your face and hands instead of tissues that are used and thrown away!"
It reminded me of being in Vancouver with Beth and Jeff and how we went crazy for the portable fabric fold-up cutlery kits, which each had a bamboo fork, spoon, chopsticks and mutant not-quite-knife/not-quite-spoons tucked inside. They were made by Burmese female refugees (I know, could you get any worthier!) and were great for carrying to Japanese restaurants which have a bit of a shameless reliance on disposable chopsticks.
I am a bit hopeless and sometimes forget to pack mine in my bag but lately, I have started to put it in my reusable spotty lunchbag (which is where I will also store my new mini-towel!).
I know that major things have to be addressed and a big problem like global warming can't be solved by me toting around bamboo chopsticks or having one oregano plant on my balcony and patting myself on the back for it, but I still applaud Ebony, because she got people re-engaged in the subject through clever and inviting ways and that's a key thing. When people lose interest, they are not willing to change anything.
I know it might seem weirdly non-food-blog to bring this up, except that so much of the environment is affected by food – when you think of how we source what we eat, the energy and costs to the earth of producing our meals, and how the scale of our carbon footprint can be shrunk or magnified by what we have at the table.
Plus, I really just wanted a shameless excuse to show off my cool prize and bamboo cutlery!
Anyway, I shouldn't sound too worthy because there's always more we can do but sometimes things that sound killjoy are surprisingly easier than you think (I am going for my third winter without a heater at home and my Origin green-powered energy bills actually are less than the normal electricity rates I used to pay). Now, if someone can convince Japanese restaurants to cut back on disposable chopsticks … and get Senator Fielding a few key copies of New Scientist magazine and the IPCC report for some light reading.