Friday, November 13, 2009

Week 12: Hot and Cold Desserts

It's been a long week. The soles of my feet are aching. My brain seems to have taken a holiday without informing me. And Adelaide is burning up with the temperature soaring unmercilessly. Currently it is a scorching 39°C, and although for now I have respite in the corner of the University of Adelaide library computer lab, I am confronted by an overwhelming load of pictures from my amazing week spent doing hot and cold desserts.
Sitting in front of a blank screen with the cursor blinking at me, I am rarely hard pressed to find words. Today, rather this week I have hardly had the time, patience or inclination to drag my butt to the gym and that particular lack of discipline seems to have manifested itself in my approach to this blog post.
So in a nutshell here is what my week looked like... literally snapshot after snapshot. I wish I had scratch-me stickers that would allow you entry to my world. Hell, I wish I could transport my creations to your home/office/ where ever your little terminal may be so that my pictures need not have you drooling all over your keyboard! Till that day and age comes, enjoy ...
Pastry Cases (left) Cinnamon Poached Pears (right)

Open Pear Tart with Cream Patisserie

Folding in egg whites into chocolate mixture (top left), spreading the mixture
out onto silicon paper (bottom left), and finally the baked sponge (right)

Chocolate Swiss Rolls

Sweet Nothings... Garnishes for desserts
Praline before it is crushed (left), brandy snap cigars and baskets (right)
Omelet Norwegian better known as Baked Alaska or an Ice Cream Cake

Miniature Lemon Meringue Pies in the making

Lime and Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Mousse Teardrop with Strawberry & Mint Salad and Chantilly Cream

Melted Dark and Milk Chocolate (left) for filigree designs (right)
Compound chocolate comprising a combination of cocoa, vegetable fat, and sweeteners is widely used for decorations as it is cheaper than couveture chocolate. But because it contains cocoa butter it must be tempered to maintain gloss and coating. In commercial kitchens the chocolate is tempered by cooling the chocolate mass below its setting point, then re-warming the chocolate at around 32°C.
Revealing the secret behind creating chocolate curls

Chocolate Boxes with Detailed Chocolate Butterfly

New York Cheesecake
Contrasting textures is what makes this dessert unique and interesting. A buttery crushed biscuit base is juxtaposed by a voluptuous, heavy cream cheese filling that is then topped with a fresh fruit or a sweet fruit compote and glaze. Typically New York style cheesecakes are made from cream cheese, eggs and egg yolks that give richness and smoothness. Cottage cheese and lemon are often used to impart distinct texture and flavor in addition to the main ingredients.

Black Forest Cherry Torte or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte
A classic German favourite that today has world-wide popularity known for the wining combination of layered chocolate cake, whipped cream, maraschino cherries and kirschwasser or cherry liquor.
Bavarios or Bavarian Creams with Raspberry Coulis and Strawberry Chunks
It is rumoured to be a nineteenth century creation by the great French chef Escoffier prepared for an esteemed Bavarian guest. However, Escoffier seemed to think Muscovite would be a more appropriate name as the dessert was then set by means of a "hermetically-sealed" mold that was plunged into salted crushed ice to set — hence the suggestion 'Muscovite'. Similar to cream patisserie it is instead thickened with cornflour, gelatin is added to ensure it sets and whipped cream is folded through giving it its characteristic light feel.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Week 11: Pastry, Bread and Yeastgoods

Viennese Biscuits

A picture is worth a thousand words they say. Well then, how about valuing a single taste – be it a smidgen of hazelnut cream licked off your forefinger as your wipe the nozzle of your piping bag clean, or a single bite from a freshly baked croissant, or the tiniest morsel of sponge cake straight out the oven, peeled from the crumbled, imperfect edges?

Simple, the value of the most powerful sense – taste – in the smallest trace amount is absolutely priceless, especially when you are using nothing but four of the most simple ingredients that are invariably stocked in the most basic of kitchens. Butter, flour, water and eggs combined with specific quantities and unwavering precision can create (notice I use the word CAN instead of will/does, because with baking, be pastry work or yeast goods there is absolutely NO guarantee of a fabulous end result) the most delicate, flaky puff pastry that justifies your whole existence or the most succulent and moist Savarin that gives you a new lease on life!

Savarins and Babas with whipped cream, fresh strawberries, kiwi fruit and mint

White Bread Rolls with Sprinkled Poppy and Sesame Seeds

The beginnings of forming croissants - cutting the dough into measured triangles

Rolling the triangles over into the traditional croissant shape

All, perfectly risen croissants by Chef Bill Caulderbank

And my sad, pathetic attempt. My yeast died on me. The result - deflated pastry and morale.

Russian Buckwheat flour Blinis with Sour Cream, Smoked Salmon, Chives and Kalamata Olives

Cooking out the choux pastry

Piping the choux pastry onto the baking sheet

Choux buns and eclairs straight out the oven

Hazelnut Cream pipped into little rosettes on the Paris Brest rings

Eclairs get a pipping of whipped cream

My choux pastry sitting pretty

A labour of pure dedication, hard-work and perseverance.
Who said love had anything to do with making good Puff Pastry?

Putting the puff pastry to use. Task one, a traditional French pastry: Pithiver.

A Pithiver is Puff Pastry rolled out into a circle, a tiny spoon of Frangapani (almond filling) and another circle placed on top. Then it is designed to look pretty, egg washed and baked.
Sounds simple. It's not. I've skipped about 12 steps or more!

But the final result is undeniably gorgeous!

Step one of making apple strudel. Roll out the dough into a big rectangle.

Generously brush with butter and sprinkle with sponge cake crumbs cooked off in more butter.
Sorry, did I just put you off strudel forever. Not my intention.
It is no fallacy that where there is butter there is undeniably fantastic flavour.

And finally the chunks of apple come to rest atop the cake crumbs with a sprinkle of
cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar for good measure.

Roll the dough into a long snaky-strudel

Manipulate it into a shape that fits onto a bakers tray to ensure even cooking and will not
bend with the intense heat of the oven (in this case a horse shoe).
Glaze with egg wash and pop into the oven, keeping a close watch.
When its crispy and lightly starting to get golden brown - it's ready!

Plate it up prettily and serve with a little Sauce Anglaise! Bellisimo!

Pasrty can be savoury too. There's pizza ofcourse!
Here we have a Snapper and Kalamata Olive Pizza with Tomato and Torn Basil

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Week 10: Butchery

I regret to inform that my meticulous documentation of my time at cooking school, all the learning thru the various modules has been disrupted by an unforeseen, unfortunate circumstance. Last week while I was busy, in the midst of one of my usual action packed day in the Regency kitchens my house all the way over in Glenunga was being robbed. The result of which cost me my trusty pink Dell laptop, USB internet modem and handy-fits-everything red croc Guess bag, needless to say it has left me emotionally and mentally drained, officially unplugged, unhooked, cut off, severed from any, correction ALL ties to the outside world. There has never been such a defining moment as there is now for me at this juncture in my life – where the adage “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone” has resounded with intense impact and truth.

Losing my computer has made me feel naked. Suddenly estranged from the world I am without a portal to the outer universe. Be it email, facebook, sykpe, I am without the tools that I require to express myself – Microsoft office with all its wonderful programs is something I have grown up with and taken for granted, belonging to Gen Y. All evidence of my last 1.5 years in Australia has disintegrated into thin air, my pictures, my thoughts jotted on word docs, my past assignments in all their many glorious versions, my recipes – disappeared forever. Without a backup I am lost and feel cheated. The worst part though is learning how to live without this magic gadget – the laptop – that I have come to take for granted. My pink Dell saw me thru happy times, sad times, times of leisure, times of marathon research findings and of course it saw my thru the completion of my Masters thesis. I never even got to say goodbye to my old friend – so now I take this opportunity to bid him farewell. As for me and my continual state of dispair and disconnect – I continue to work on a long term soluation. Since I relied on it for writing and uploading my pictures and all blog content, it is my blog that is ultimately going to suffer. For now I post from Uni Adelaide. But it is all too cumbersome!

What is most upsetting is that the butchery module is what I had been looking forward to since the start of the course. So when week 10 rolled around and it was time to take out the fillet knife and sharpen it up, learn how to use a saw to hack through brittle, thick beef, pork and lamb bone I had my camera on video mode ready to document the ground-breaking information I was about to witness. After a week of careful documentation of breaking down whole carcasses including a side of lamb, an argentine of beef, a forequarter of pork and a whole rabbit into primary, secondary and restaurant cuts I had the privilege of learning everything from anatomy to where and how to find the most tender cuts, how to utilise and make the most of cheaper, tougher cuts and most importantly to be able to recognise meat in all its glorious forms and decipher butcher scams like disguising the silverside eye fillet as tenderloin fillet for example!

While I have no pictures to entice you with and no proof that I did in fact spend a week butchering animals into respectable restaurant cuts, I can say this – getting in touch with the beast in its entirety is a beautiful thing and is a must for any gourmand that enjoys a good chateaubriand, pork chop or crown of rabbit. Today we are so far removed from where our meat comes from that most people are disgusted, shocked and turned off when they find that mince meat actually comes from a shin of an animal for example. There is a missing understanding and appreciation for meat and the animal by and large today which is really unfortunate.

So what did I ultimately learn? To be a first class butcher – No Way. Chef’s are not butchers and do not pretend to posess those skills. The butchery component is a part of the course because knowing your meat, the cuts, being able to identify and deal with it to the best of your abilities improves innovation, as well as cuts down wastage. This makes it an economical and is why butchery in its basic form must be part of any ‘real’ chef’s repertoire. So while we cut racks of lamb from the ribloin and Frenched them, (and with all that manual sawing they were far, far from anything respectable - far from industry standards) it was not that learning those skill is what is expected by chefs, but rather that chefs are able to know what to look for and what they can demand/ request from butchers. In order for innovation in any field – one must know the produce dealt with inside-out. Without this information you and your work will ultimately suffer. Stay tuned as coming up in the following week is pastries, and this will be in full on vivid colour with glossy pictures.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Four continents in two weekends = one happy stomach

Often I find myself in catch twenty-two situations contemplating what to put into to my stomach and what not to waste stomach space on. At the beginning of the night I am usually carefully eliminating options, and by the end of the night I am wishing I was a cow, after all they do have three stomachs, damn, what I wouldn’t give to have an extra stomach every now and again!

Food is central to tradition and culture, moreover for migrants and those living overseas for long periods of time. This usually abounds from a longing for home and the yearning for the foodways of one’s childhood, namely the spices, smells, memories and tastes of our childhoods. This I have encountered and observed firsthand on several occasions over the last 18 months spent living, studying and eating at various friends homes in and around Adelaide.

The past two weekends in particular have been especially multicultural in terms of the meals I have enjoyed with foodways being celebrated as the core pillar and foundation of inherent identity. Last weekend I attended a friend’s 21st birthday, enjoying an array of finger-foods including samosas, curry puffs, pakodas, vadas, iddiappams with potato curry, fried rice and sausages with ketchup – a spread that symbolised her Malay-Indian roots amalgamated with her Australian upbringing. What can be said was that it was undoubtedly an eclectic buffet that made evident their interpretation of a local community’s adaptation of its foodways that can perhaps be said to have evolved.
This was not my first 21st birthday celebration in Australia, nor my first run in with what I refer to as fusion-confusion. About four months ago I got a taste of what the Greek community in Adelaide today recognise as being their cuisine. Sadly it is very much a generic Aussie-Greek hybrid mish-mash of potato and pasta salads doused with an overload of mayonnaise, camouflaged with shredded carrot, chaffing trays loaded with dried out grilled chickens and piles of shaved souvlaki meat accompanied by platters of bastardised creamy, dairyfied hummus, tzakaki and roasted bell peppers.
Although I tend to be conservative when it comes to maintaining traditions and foodways, extremely pro-active about saving and resurrecting ‘the way in which we used to eat’ and protecting the future of our recipes and food-culture, I can understand how along the way foodways become watered down and thus take on different undertones and direction. This I can appreciate, since through it new cuisines, interpretations, styles of cooking and techniques are born.

However at times, this swings quite in the opposite way where the migrants foodways are changed or monopolise, imposed on such a dramatic scale by the local food culture that the initial foodways are high-jacked and overpowered into diluted nothingness. In this case we witness the sad demise of a migrant cultures foodways and the prospect of that culminating into something bright, beautiful or even strange, special.
Getting back to my recent multicultural food experiences, last Sunday contrasted both 21st birthday celebrations by way of ‘authenticity’. Now I know this can be a sticky word, and be using it here, by default I have invited criticism, however, Fan Hong my host for that evening is fresh from Beijing , China. In fact she has been in Australia for less than five months, so if this does not make her cooking authentic, I don’t know what does (her food is unparalleled to anything you can get your hands on Gouger or Moota Street). Cooking from the heart using simple, rustic methods and techniques she has honed over the years the result was a sensationally satisfying authentic Beijing meal. We started with crunchy green beans lightly stir fried and topped with minced pork with soy sauce followed by drums of heaven – chicken drumsticks that I have a sneaky feeling were rubbed with Chinese five spice powder prior to being fried golden-brown and crispy. Then we went on to relish (and I actually mean devour because it was so unbelievably amazing) a whole deep fried Barramundi enveloped in a wet, spicy yet subtly sweet sauce made of finely sliced spring onions, garlic and red chilli fragrant with stinky-sour tell-tale scent of fish sauce that caught me by surprise (I was under the impression that it was only the Thai and Vietnamese mainly that used it, and never the Chinese). However, it could have been a variation of oyster sauce that has a stronger, fishier pong than I am used to. Last but not least was a clear broth, its surface clotted with fat globules and at the bottom lardons of pork, thickly framed by jiggling rind glistened and gyrated. This particular dish conjured up images of a Chinese sage proffering a healing bowl of broth ensured to render good health and fortune. However, no matter how youthful or agile that soup could possibly make me I would not be able to stomach it – the fat was just far too much, congealing my upper palate.

This Friday night took me all the way to Mexico, with American couple Tim and Mariah from Colorado hosting a Mexican themed evening. While this does not reflect North American foodways per say, it speaks of the principal pretext of human nature – seeking out foods one misses and craves from home (in Australia Mexican food is pretty much alien territory). I got not only taste homemade, hand-rolled tortillas but also get a free demo! All the other usual suspects were in attendance – guacamole, sour cream, salsa, corn and pepper mix and enchiladas.

Saturday we travelled to the suburb of Camden Town to enjoy a South African Barbecue or as they like to call it in Cape Town – Braai, or so our hosts Eddie and Elba informed me. The SA version of a barbie typically involves freshly poached game meat thrown onto the grill, however given the nature of the Aussie bush we substituted with a side of silverside beef cut into thick, juicy steaks and corn on the cob thrown onto the grill.

All of which were generously seasoned with Marina Sea Salt Braai BBQ Seasoning (screaming with heady notes of cracked black pepper, cumin, coriander seeds, allspice and nutmeg) as well as Mrs. Ball’s Original Recipe Chutney – a piquant combo of vinegar, salt, apricot and peaches.

Although I have a long standing love-hate relationship with globalisation one thing can be said for sure - when it comes to gastronomy and the widespread availability of everything from paneer to dolmades at your neighbourhood grocerry store, to the diverse and endless array of ethnic restaurants most metropolitian cities offer, the sharing of different cultures through foodways makes life worth living. For me, my time in Australia has allowed me a rollercoaster ride of gastronomic food advetnures. Cheers to all the people that have hosted me so far and to all the meals in the future here in the land Down Under.