Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Double up, Dish of the Month

If your savvy about food in Melbourne, it's likely that you have heard of Tempura Hajime, and are either desperate to get a reservation or a very patient happy diner.

I'm one of the very happy diners but I didn't have to be so patient.

I've dined at Hajime on four occasions now, each time the menu has changed a little - and I do mean little - yet it's the constants that win me over. I dined there the first time back in March last year when it was about 6 weeks new. I loved it so much I went back again a few weeks later just to check I hadn't drank too much shōchū and blurred my perception -and it was better.

Each time Daisuke and Noriko have made me feel even more welcomed into their little dining space.

So without a moment of hesitation, Tempura Hajime is the holder of not one but two equally deserving Dishes of the month for January

Tempura eel in Teriyaki sauce and
Sea urchin roe stuffed tempura scallop

Sorry, just couldn't pick between the two.
I'm a huge eel fan usually smoked with any number of accompaniments, so I know a good piece when I see it. The eel at Hajime wasn't smoked, just delicately flavoured and in the lacy tempura batter that we love and then a dip in Dai's pot of teriyaki sauce. The sweetness balanced the goodness of the intense fish oils of the eel and the batter the necessary textural factor.

We already know how embarrassed I get taking photos in local restaurants, so I hope you can forgive my very poor image of the stuffed scallop, yet I think it helps you get an understanding of this morsel.

A large deep sea scallop, split and filled with sea urchin roe, the flavours are not light hearted, intense fishy and with a slight grainy texture two pieces is not enough.

One gorgeous memory I take away from my last visit to Hajime, was listening (it's hard not to when there is only twelve seats!) into a Hajime virgin couple. They were loving it, so much so that when the oyster was served the man just had to have another so asked if they could have a couple more as they were happy to pay whatever the extra would be. The sweetest response was returned, along the lines of "...I'm sorry we only have twelve for our twelve seats, I don't have extras".
This sums up Tempura Hajime in my mind, it's all about the quality, they are not there to make a quick buck and were absolutely horrified when they received 500 calls in just one day after The Age review.
I'm not usually patient enough to book ahead, but for Tempura Hajime, I can make some concessions.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Australia Day, some things never change

And others can surprise you...

Things that never change
-our sense of national righteousness about having a barbeque on Australia Day - or on the public holiday at least
-my relief that it didn't end up like the last - a fire engine squiring water up onto our third floor balcony to put out the barbeque and gas bottle on fire. We laugh now but are still a little (correction, a lot) paranoid with the barbie
-that if you offer a pavlova, you will not have left overs

Shhh, the resting pav...

All dressed up and ready to go

Things that surprise me

-we also served kangaroo fillet, marinated and seared on the barbeque, it went so fast I felt like a bad host for stashing a marinated fillet for later (thinking that the consensus would be 'no thanks').
I have been eating kangaroo meat for years, and apart from loving the gamey earthy flavour, its inexpensive, really good for you - high protein vs low fat, and sustainably produced in our environment.

So we ate from the coat of arms... but if only I had invited Anna from Morels and Musings with her emu dish from earlier in the month and we would have completed the pair!

A fun dessert in my house, were Kiwi and Aussie rivalry is already alive and well, we don't need to make it worse reminding them that it really is an Australian dessert.
In case you care... created in Perth by a German chef called Herbert Sachse at Hotel Espanade in 1935. He named it after Anna Pavlova the ballerina. The tricky part is that Herbert is like all good chefs, he reads lots of cook books and was 'inspired' from the equivalent to the Womens Weekly and used a recipe sent in by a kiwi reader. So yes a meringue, cream, fruit thing was made in NZ first but Australia owns the Pav (the kiwis can keep the lollie cake though... don't ask if you don't know!)

The even funnier thing is that PDC the kiwi of the house made this perfect pavlova, from an Aussie recipe -Thanks Stephanie.

Stephanie Alexanders Pavlova recipe
4 egg whites at room temperature
pinch of salt
250g castor sugar
2 teaspoons of cornflour
1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar
a few drops of pure vanilla (we didn't have any)

Preheat oven to 180C
Line a tray with baking paper
Beat egg whites and salt until 'satiny' (not sure what this means!) peaks form
Beat in sugar a third at a time until meringue is stiff and shiny
Sprinkle over cornflower, vinegar and vanilla and fold in
Mound onto paper lined tray about 20cm round with a smooth top and sides
Place in oven and immediately reduce the heat to 150C and cook for 1 1/4 hours (ours took a little longer until golden)
Turn off oven and leave pavlova in it to cool completely.

Stephanie flips her pav but ours was served crunchy side up with whipped cream (no sugar) and heaps of very sweet passionfruit - the especially purchased mango and peaches stayed on the shelf...

Hope yours is as successful as PDC's


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mishima. The new, old 'wagyu'

Every restaurant worth their fancy salt has given wagyu beef a go in the last few years. It's so common (and bastardised) now that you even see it as wagyu burgers and pies. So what is the new step up from this, apart from having producer branded 100% wagyu cuts on your menu?

Mishima could be the answer. Mishima is the original Japanese cow, fortunately they lived isolated in the Sea of Japan on Mishima Island and were not cross breed with European cows in the late 1800's. The Japanese cross bred cows eventually became the Kobe (in Kobe -Japan) and wagyu (in Japan, Australia and the US) cows that we now are familiar with. The Mishima cows were able to stay pure bred and retain their unique marbling qualities when fed solely on grass.
These pure, native cows became so rare that sources suggest that there was less than 100 beasts left in the early 1980's. The meat is so prized and rare, even in Japan that my internet searches mainly turn up Iron Chef with $12 000 a beast competitions.

So with this level of exclusivity I could not resist a visit to Rockpool Bar and Grill when I heard that they had exclusive access to Mishima beef that David Blackmore has breed in Australia from the only ever exported beast. I don't pretend to understand the technicalities of breeding, but I'm told that these are being cross bred in Australia to eventually produce a 'stabilized breed'.
The thing I do understand though is taste.
Rockpool B&G are offering apart from steak cuts, Mishima burgers in addition to their usual wagyu burgers. To keep this experiment simple I taste compared the two burgers. A tough job but I did have experienced eaters to help...
I was told to expect the wagyu to be smokier and richer as it had a higher marble count. The wagyu had been raised on the usual partial grain diet. The Mishima by contrast has a lower marble count but can offer different flavours since it was raised on grass and can achieve very high marble count on this alone -unlike the wagyu.
So enough, commentary, what did it taste like I hear you ask?
Well... I found the Mishima burger meat to taste very rich and succulent, the typical flavours that you would have expected from the wagyu burger. The wagyu on the other hand was smoky, as we had been told and though also rich and opulent tasting, the Mishima offered another level of flavour that did not need the smoky character inherited from the wood fired grill. The best desciptor I came up with was one close to the Rockpool B&G home; the caramelised popcorn served with coffee, a sweet, yet nutty, dark nearly burnt caramel flavour.
Mishima it is, but it maybe some time before your local gets a hold of it, but that may not be such a bad thing.

Note, It's been a challenge putting this information together about the Mishima beef, if you have anything further to add or correct please let me know, so I can update this information.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gourmet Traveller here I come!

I am the proud winner of the day with Gourmet Traveller Magazine from the Menu for Hope offerings last year.
This amazing prize was offered by Anna at Morsels and Musings, so this is a "thank you" post to everyone involved; Chez Pim for organising such a successful and inspiring fundraiser, Anna for convincing the GT team to donate a once-in-a-lifetime foodie prize, Helen at Grab your Fork for coordinating in Australia and PDC for buying the winning ticket -as my Chrissie present.
Thanks again to all, and I can't wait to post on my experiences and share it will my friendly readers.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Stake Out!

These beauty's will grow into the most luscious figs I have ever tasted, I know, I had some from the same tree last year.
I am not sure what the variety of fig is - though I'd love to know - but this is not my biggest concern. The problem is... I don't own the tree and they are only marginally 'over' the fence - if I stretch my arm right out.
The stake out is on.
Updates to come...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Spanish tomato salad

Tomatoes evoke memories of summer games as a child, playing 'sprinkler' games, nibbling cherry tomatoes as 'energy pills' at each end of the sprinklers reach. Ohh..., the days before water restrictions and before the urban areas, were possums have the run of the courtyard, under the cloak of darkness...
This salad I made in advance, and served to friends, as a little side dish to some panfried whole garfish.
The tomatoes are just from a local green grocer that often has something interesting on offer. This day he had some black russian tomatoes, that I buy when I can, some loose baby romas and some stem on cherry tomatoes.
These were combined with torn basil, arbequina olives that I ripped apart to deseed, and a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, white pepper and Murray river pink salt.
My tomatoes are still happy little green marbles on the numerous plants in my courtyard. But I have very low expectations of actually eating the fruit as the possums are very sneaky and are known from previous seasons to rather Houdini like in their ability to slip through nets and elaborate traps. So, I enjoy these while I can and hope that I have at least a few to show for my newly found green thumb.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

White cherries

I picked these shiny, blushing white cherries, a couple of weekends back just after Christmas. White cherries are one of those things you may see very occasionally at markets, yet would not buy as the perception is that the other, black or dark purple ones are better, sweeter, intenser. As I discovered, that perception is wrong.
At the Ellisfield Farm in Red Hill, I picked these cherries for $7 a kilo, it was a tougher process than I thought, as it had rained a few days prior and there was a lot of split and rotting fruit on the trees, such a shame.
I also purchased some black cherries from the farm and 'tasted' some of the morello cherries straight off the trees. The black cherries were reduced in price from $15 a kilo (that's picked and ready to go, not pick your own), to $10, because of a few marks made again by the rain, what a frustrating life of a farmer, one minute drought and then next minute reduced price, rain damaged fruit.
Back at home, tasting the black and white cherries one after another, it was very clear that the white was my pick. A slightly softer texture and not as meaty at the stone, the white cherries also a little lower in acid and therefore perhaps a bit more scoffable.

So with a few kilos of cherries in the fridge, what to do with them?
~Bring to room temperature and snack on a highly antioxidant fruit
~Poach a kilo of washed fruit with a splash of water and a couple of tablespoons of sugar, slowly until they are soft and eat for breakfast with muesli or dessert with ice cream or left over 'eggnog crush'
~Slightly pickle in equal quantities of vinegar and sugar ( add a few flavours if you like such as bay leaves, cloves, orange peel) and serve after a few weeks with pate or terrines.~
~Preserve some in your favourite spirit, perhaps some vodka or brandy
~I have been known to also take the left over poached cherries once we get sick of them and don't finish the pot and reduce it even further to make a thick sticky reduction to serve with white mould cheese