Monday, July 27, 2009

the frog prince...

Once upon a time, there was a spoilt princess who went for a lonesome walk in the deep dark woods with her golden ball. Being a spoilt princess is very hard work, and so, in her dainty Zimmermann Spring/Summer 08 frock, she stopped for some needed rest by a quiet spring pool. It was by this pool that she played with her most treasured possession of all, her lovely golden ball. She threw it, high, high, high into the air and caught it always as it fell back toward her. Alas, she threw it far too high and it rolled away, away, away, all the way into the dark, deep and quiet, quiet spring pool. So deep was this dark little pool, that our spoilt princess, she cried out, how would she ever retrieve her beloved ball. Aroused by her cries and by her tears, a frog appeared from the waters depths and to this spoilt princess of ours, in his deep, calm voice, he said... Yadayadayada, and fast forward to SlimeTime, Our Princess Spoilt, perhaps in a drunken stupour (come on, we've all been there), pashes FrogFace and it's 1-2-3 Presto Prince, if you know what I mean. Fairy tales can be terribly tedious things, sometimes you want them to be over even before they have begun. However, there are other pleasures in life, so savoured and so rollingly precious, that you will them to seep slowly and lingeringly through your tongue and into your senses like some delicious, long forgotten infinity...

A Medium Sized Haigh's Milk Chocolate Frog is one such experience. CakeKnifeIfiers, if you have never had the pleasure, this is mmm mmm mmm in milk chocolate. Chocolat au lait, all the way. It is frogtastical chocolaterificness, and from the very first moment it leapfrogs into your magical mouth, you will be croaking from the intense yumminess of it all. Milk chocolate is generally a more disappointing enterprise than The Dark Side. I find it hard to locate some good milks, probably because I like my chocolate deep, deep, deep, dirty rich and not too-milk tasting. You have already heard about my high brow Chocolate Eye Apple, the caffarel hazelnut chocolate bar from Simon Johnson, but I still have a home grown hero. The Strand Arcade in Sydney is home to some very delicious shops like Fleur Wood, Bettina Liano and The Corner Shop, but none is more delicious than the very busy, very bustling 19th Centuryesque wooden, glassed and high ceilinged Haigh's Chocolate Store on the George Street end of The Strand. In admitted arrogance, i'd always assumed that it was like other Australian chocolate shops selling overly sugared, unimpressive chunks of choc, the kind that looks All Show, and tastes No Go. Maybe the Fonz would have had an easier time saying he was wrong if he knew how decadently delicious it could be! I discovered my error when my Fairy Choc Mother, Clare B, having had a frog in medium size left over, generously bestowed upon me, in golden wrapper clad magic, her delightful excess.

Biting into one of these perfectly sized frogs is divine, rapturous Death By Chocolate. Haigh's chocolate is rich cubed (aka. richrichrich), it has a screamingly creamingly texture to it and binds so strongly. The texture, width and hardness of this bar could never be separated from the tantalizing taste. To bite into the froggy in order to secure between your excited teeth a little wonderous wedge, is much, much harder than it seems at first. People go to bite in, and then, saucily surprised by how hard it is, they sink their teeth in harder, crease their curious brows and give it another go or two, with much more force and focus. It is a hardness that commands respect. And when they finally succeed...a gentle and warm explosion of chocolate that is never too quick to surrender into melting, slowly reveals its sweet self through intense waves of pure, nutty milk chocolate flavour. It's gluggy, ThickSlickSuckMuck chocolating, it completely colonizes your mouth, a bite or two of this stuff can go a very long way. Usually, milk chocolate can be eaten in larger amounts than dark, because it's less intense. Haigh's milk, especially in frog form, is difficult to scoff in cadbury quantities, it's so resoundingly rich.

Peeling back the slinky, clinging WillyWonkaGoldenTicket gold wrapper is the perfect introduction to the descent that follows. You feel just like M. Antoinette deconstructing with trembling fingers the fumbling, frgaile foil, and the secret inside: It is a perfect indulgence for when subtle just won't do. CloseYourEyesCreamy SweetTreat StubbornToMeltSexy SinkingSinkingSinking MilkenedMagicMouthFeel LusciousLiftingDrifting chocolate. When you bring it your lips, this frog kisses you back with crescendos of aching, soaring creamy cocoa.

It comes in three sizes, a small frog, and a much larger frog, almost A4 sized. At just under $8, the medium size is perfect for one or two. It comes in dark as well. Perfectly moulded, you can really taste the Haigh's technique of putting it all together in the final, textured experience.

Haigh's Chocolate is Shop 1, The Strand Arcade, 412-414 George St, Sydney. Website here.

You'll live Fatily Ever After.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

ADHD-elicious (aka, The New Clipper Line Up, Glebe)...

Change, it seems, from history to underwear, is an entirely inevitable affair. The seasons will turn and all that is will become all that was. Time... you curious creature, is there nothing you leave untouched? Even the menu at Glebe Cafe To The Cool Kids, Clipper Coffee, is not immune. It wasn't broke, but they still fixed it, and their creative whims have procured some very interesting and decidedly delicious results. What once made people grunt now makes them cross their legs in ecstatic agony and beat their satisfied fists down on chic wooden tables. Okay, that was a wee exaggeration. No crossing of legs or pounding of fists, but it does taste damn bloody good.

Ardri, again. How could anyone forget? Getting him to pose for this shot with his anachronistic pride-of-scottish-joy wheels was about as easy as taking candy from a diabetic baby who hates candy and has no hands. In the respite which was our uni break, his ever restless mind has been doing all of its usual turns and ticks to see how it could reinvent what was already wowing a very devoted and otherwise fickle, student crowd. And when Adriano asks, the taste gods answer. CK'tians, I give you: Eggy Crumpets with bacon and maple syrup. Perhaps not a revelation in combination, but, my fussy foodies, the genius is always, always, in the delectable details. Drool proof your laps, this is how it's done...

This dish involves several simple, select flavours making maddening love with themselves all on a pretty white plate. It begins with a 1/2 sourdough Brasserie Bread crumpet, all rich and rustic looking, not at all like the cartoonish ones you pick up at Coles. This is snobified crumpet, wide and imperial and with a gorgeously chewy texture, ready to soak up any willing gooeyness of gorgeous flavour. In order to get the creamy eggy mixture to bind to the crumpets the way it does so lusciously, Ardi came up with the ingenious idea of using stretched milk globs, the kind of skin you see on the top layer of a coffee which hasn't been made properly. A scrumptious crumptious that's been slightly dipped into some of this will bind wonderfully with Ardri's rich, fresh, frothy, WhisperLight free range egg mix. It tastes like the best french toast you've ever had, but with the silkier and chewier texture of crumpet base-edness. Holy Crumpet Christ!

Crispy As Barossa Valley Bacon adorns this eggy crumpeted creation like a meaty neglige. So divine. Deep, rich, clean and full flavoured bacon, with little flickers of burnt ChewyChewyChewy Crisp Sizzle SnapInYourMouth pockets of well done piggy flesh. It's a carnivores last hurrah. This stuff is like heaven with a side of God, basted in some St Peter. So good. And just to push you over the divine edge of solid sound and reason: lashings, and I am talking down. right. syrup. down pour of madness as maple. Hallelujah. Before he presents this bacchian beauty to you, he makes a pure Canadian maple mess of the things. It's a clean but heady as all high hellish sweetness that offsets the saltiness of the bacon so frickin fabulously, and then you bite through crumpety eggness and have to wrestle with moist and chewy crumpet fibers of enraptured being. It just may not be in good taste to eat this in public, not at all proper or Presbyterian of you. The combination will draw you into severe raptures of PDA with yourself and your fork. So, for those of you who prefer to be made sweet dainty mouth love to, Ardri has not left you at all wanting:

Oooh. That's not how you make porridge, but that's probably how you should. Ardri is almost as proud of this as he is of his courageous crumpet. One of my more pleasant memories of 2009 will be recounting him describing the ingredients, which I shall divulge, and finishing it all off (in thick Scottish accent) with 'those are Scottish oooooats'. No shit, sherlock. What else were they going to be? Yummy and creamy and light. This porridge is delicate and chai infused! Chai and oats are like Marge and Homer: made for eachother. It's a very subtle teaspice that perfumes a little floating dream of porridge ridden perfection. Pure Polly Anna breakfasting, this is.

A little gingered sugar and organic orange juice is used to delicately persuade some fruit into achingly pliable poachedness. Rhubarb, dried fruit, sometimes pear or apple. It's a subtle and gorgeous, moist fruited coolness you bite into, not overly sweetened, it tastes sweet and spicy and stains like a coy blush on the ivory cheek of an 17th Century English Rose, the creamy dream of softened oats beneath. Ardri soaks the oats overnight, which isn't just great for releasing the nuttiness of the flavour, it assists with breaking the fibers down and makes this porridge much more digestible for people with amateur alimentaries (like moi). It is finished with a generous spattering of fresh, singingly green pistachio and a dollop of pure organic cream. And, in something Tats and I agreed shows that Clipper Knows Porridge, it isn't a too large serve. Porridge isn't something to be eaten in massive amounts, a good bowl with almost as much porridge to fruit is much more enjoyable than an enormous dry bowl that just gets monotonous to munch through, the flavouring on top should mix well and in equal parts with the porridge to moisten it. Too large a bowl is like only buttering a section of your toast, leaving the rest dry and flavourless. This is the perfect size, a warming whisper of chai spiced persuasion. This isn't just good breakfast food, it'd be great afternoon teaing.

Just a yummier menu with the old sandwich stellars, nothing else has changed. Still at 16 Glebe Point Road, Glebe. Still open six days, from six til six. Still the best grub in or near Sydney Uni.

Adriano Matteoni, take your bow. ADHD is a truly beautiful thing in a crazy, food mad, Scottish mind.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lost In Translation, (aka Emon, Surry Hills)...

Cleveland Street, Surry Hills, is the bane of my bloody existence. Cleveland, of red lights and Cleveland of gridlocked traffic at any time of the day. Cleveland of the sort of pollution that makes existence a generally demoralizing affair and Cleveland of the exceedingly untoward behaviour of terrible taxi drivers who manage to cut you off while simultaneously collecting the contents of their nostrils with an agile pinky and a fervour that is almost, but not quite, fretfully forensic. But every cloud of exhaust fumes has a silver lining, and Cleveland is no exception. Exceptional Japanese has the ability to redeem almost anything, and Emon, a little known Tats Temple of Taste, is serving up just that, clean food with authentic flavour. The place is delicious and decidedly local, although always crowded, it doesn't yet have the reputation beyond Surry Hills that it clearly deserves. The name means, 'fortune comes in by a merry gate':... ? I think it has something to do with the ethical cooking that inspires the divine menu and the gentle and kind service and thoughtful cooking. My new gorilla tripod joined our little intimate dinner for three, and my difficulty in setting it up explains why most of these shots are of almost completely devoured dishes. Nevermind, my curious CakeKnifeSkis, the time to jump off the sushi train is now, because this is as about authentic as it gets in Sydney.

The Miso rule holds true here, good miso = good Japanese. Lovely light and salty in HotHotHot beautifully brothed miso whets your appetite for the delicate and delicious flavours that are a wee-ish wait away. Brown rice is probably my favourite food of all time (even more than cake) and I love that they serve it here, steamed genmai brown, as well as white rice, and with some crunchy, lightly toasted sesame seeds atop. This little stunner is the Emon Special Bakudan, a breezy, beguiling mouth waltz of market fresh assorted diced melting sashimi with perfectly steamed rice (I requested brown) and a half cooked egg. It is so light and translucent to taste, so delicate and healthy and delicious. It comes with little shavings of toasted nori and willing globs of ripe avocado, mix it up with your chopsticks and sink into some seriously good food that is seriously good for you. All that fresh, raw fish and brown rice and you'll be glowing in no time. Besides, all that lightness just begs for something heavier to follow...

...and follow it does. Jesus Japanese Christ!! Chicken Namban is like a proverbial kick in the gut: just one innocent hit and everyone groans and stops, startled. This chicken is epic! Screw Helen, if Paris ever got a mythical, ancient Greek gob-full of this, he would have let her fall long before Troy. This is luscious chicken, crispy chicken, delicately deep fried with none of the over oiliness and all of the beautiful depth. Succulent chicken with a thin crust and a bountiful dose of just about the creamiest, most sharp tartar you'll ever try and a sweet and sour sauce, with some mixed salad to lighten the load! Argh! It is de--liciously-lect-able. I meant to try just a little of Tatsu's and couldn't help myself, he had to part with much more namban than he ever intended. Dan loves this as well, he is usually a Teriyaki boy, but now my manman is all about namban. Make no mistakes, this isn't skanky, cheap chicken. Just like a Bris ceremony, it is a choice cut, and one that warrants a very merry gathering - straight up meal mazal tov!

All of this Jazzed up Jap is a little slow coming out to you, but places where they take quality seriously very rarely come with speedy preparation. It's a very relaxed service, sometimes we have been kept waiting for a while, but it is so completely worth it in the end. Theirs are very caring methods of cooking, with very clean food and amazing ingredients. The Udon noodle soup here, with tempura prawn and chicken, is the best I have ever had. It comes in a traditional ceramic bowl with a ceramic lid, precious and earthen, and is a steamy, light and delicately flavoured soup. Dan was right to point out that most Udon soups are heavily seasoned in a very artificial way, the first few mouthfuls are heaven, but the more you have the less you appreciate it. Not this ooooh-don, no, no. It is so nuanced and subtle, a beautiful fresh egg, gently cooked, floats placidly in a silent broth amidst some plump shiitake and a fabulously fresh, fleshy, tantalizing tempura-ed prawn. The udon itself is perfect, chewy, strung and strong, and the broth is so simple and understated, and all the more wonderful because of it. I add a few spatterings of chili flakes and a little soy for sharpness, then it's slurp central for the next fifteen minutes. Great udon, and so clean and light, you feel gorgeously warmed and fed afterward.

That's not just a gratuitous/glutinous close up, it's also proof of how thoroughly made and specially prepared every meal here is, even down to the rice. Nothing feels quickly shlupped together or rushed. Everything is beautifully and carefully prepared, and tastes like it is. It is beautiful to look at, so evidently put together with so much skill and care. They respect food here, it's not just a business to them.

This dried and shredded fresh white daikon radish cooked with carrot and tofu is a sharp and rich side. The texture of the radish is beautiful, for those of you who don't try anything too different at Japanese, this is a safe and scrumptious side step. It's wonderfully chewy and perfectly seasoned and has a rich oiliness to it that tempers the freshness of the daikon.

That miserable looking shot is the only photographic testament I have to one of the most delicious meals I have ever had the privilege to scoff. This Is, or rather, That Was, pork belly kakuni. It is a tender, aching, softlysoftlysoftly melting pork with mustard, cooked for over 4 hours until it gives absolutely luscious way, served with a special sauce. Pork isn't something I am too batty about generally, but seriously, this dish was the culinary equivalent of a tubby, gorgeous, friendly three year walking up to you and throwing their arms around you for a random hug. So surprising and so fatty in a lovely, gentle way! I loathe fatty meat and food in general but this dish is puddinged proof of that art that Japanese cooking shows off more than any other: balance. Skilled Japanese chefs are able to take ingredients that are very rich and overpowering and to temper them with sharp and commanding flavours and cooking techniques. This pork is rich and wonderfully flavoured without being at all overwhelming or too much. Savour it. I think this was what Signor T. Reznor was on about when he said hey pig yeah you hey pig piggy pig pig pig...What.. no NIN fans? Anyway...

Emon is exactly what it promises to be, excellent food with natural ingredients, made freshly. It's completely authentic. You will pay a little more than most low key Japanese eateries, but my, my, you really do get what you pay for here. I have never had a meal here that didn't make me want to come back again. A lovely tea menu with robust greens and a gorgeous punjabi chai rounds off what is always a phenomenal meal. They also have a decent sake list.

Emon happens at 432 Cleveland St, Surry Hills. Call to book on 9698 0778. They open Mon-Sat from 6.30pm - 10pm and are closed on Sunday. They even have a cooking school. The website with full menu is here.

At Emon, it's always Suntory time*.

*for those of you who actually thought about it and concluded that that made no sense and I just wanted to end with a Lost in Translation reference: well done.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tessa's Moussaka for Dan.

In a whirlwindish trip of 26 countries in 21 weeks, whether you want to or not, you learn a fair bit about a person. That's how, in 2007, I came to know so well the man who was to change everything. Just like me, he loves food, but as much as he has the capacity to appreciate the finest gingered sashimi in a Ginza backstreet or some perfectly roast Mexican lamb in the hills of Oaxaca, he likes the simple things in life. For instance, Dan can never say no to a hot dog. He just doesn't have The Hot Dog Restraint Gene. Not the gourmet kind of hot dog, the fluro-orange-on-squishy-white-with-a-squidge-of-tomato-and-mustard-kind. Oh, Dan. And the man loves pasta. He goes all glassy eyed when he he talks about spaghetti, cooks spaghetti, sees spaghetti on a menu, orders spaghetti from room service after a 2 course meal of Nepalese food. We estimate that he probably ordered spaghetti bolognaise in every single country we visited, and we went to some very non-spaghetti-ish places like Cuba and Morocco (his favourite was in Costa Rica). Dan is the kind of guy who can't watch his kid cousins tucking into some mac and cheese and turkey sandwiches without sidling up alongside with his very own bowl. Meat Pie and Vanilla Milkshake Classic, he is, my Dan. He is beautiful to cook for, all appetite and appreciation, he brings out the Old Wog Mum in me that wants to make big, classic, baked dishes, rich and hearty and warmly filling - and this is coming from a girl who aced feminist philosophy. My, my, how we turn...

...and what wonderful things we turn into. Falling Cloudberries by Tessa Kiros is exactly the kind of recipe book to turn to when you want something as resounding and commanding as this moussaka. I simply love Tessa: Mad Girl Crush. Her photos of food and great grandmothers, her winsomely textured writing style, the story-ness of her cooking, her deep, dark eyes: all of these things lend some kind of strange essence to her cookbooks, they are set apart. Precious. Different. I always look forward to trying something new from her well recorded recipe past. And it always turns out this good. You've had enough cake, don't you think? Enough eating out for a while, yes? It's time to get cooking, Good Looking...

For Tessa's Aunt's Moussaka (don't try saying that one at home, lispers) Recipe, as in Falling Cloudberries, you'll need:
2 large eggplants (aubergines, if you absolutely insist)
25oml/1 cup of light olive oil (I use HeavyHardCore Olive Oil, The Radioactive Green Kind, Lebanese people are not allowed to use light, very unpatriotic)
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons roughly chopped flat parsley
2 garlic gloves, finely chopped (I used 4, again, I plead Lebaneseness)
850g mixed pork/beef for moo-saka (I used pork/lamb)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf (2)
125ml 1/2 cup white wine
500g 2 cups of tomato passata (used a great, heady Simon Johnson one, very rich red red red)
500g peeled potato

and for the bechamel sauce (yes, I was surprised it had bechamel in it too)...

120g butter (I always use organic, in good dishes, it makes such a creamy difference, honestly, normal butter is crud, it tastes like dull greasy crap, organic butter is Taste Tenor)
125g 1 cup of plain flour (I used to spelt to make it that much (not much) healthier)
1 litre/4 cups warm milk (use organic again, you can taste it, I swear)
A little freshly grated nutmeg (oooh, how nice does that sound!).

This'll serve 8 normal people, or Dan and his lovely flatmate, Eddie.

Tessa's right to warn that it seems like a big job, but it really isn't. I find it really relaxing to make and enjoy the slight architectonicness of its assemblage. The steps are a few, but they're all simple enough and really rewarding for the effort. Step 1: You begin by scalping the heads off the eggplant and slicing them lengthways into 5mm thick slices, pay attention to the width, it makes the texture true when the slices aren't too thick or thin, leave them, with a heavy sprinkling of salt, to soak in water for 30 minutes. This makes the eggplant less bitter, given it's such a reactive food for a lot of people, don't skip this step.

Step 2: Heat three tablespoons of oil and sautee onion until golden. Add the parsley and garlic and cook it until you can smell the garlic, then add the mince. Cook all of this lovely shlup over medium high til meat is browned/and it loses its water. Then add the cinnamon, oregano, bay leaf and salt and pepper to taste. I used about half a pepper shaker, I love the fire of it. Step 3: When the meat is golden, add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure none has stuck. Once the wine has evaporated like good sense from the mind of a raving drunk, add the tomato puree and leave it to simmer on a low heat, with no cover, for about 30 minutes, stirring a little with a wooden spoon. This is where a wonderful aroma of Meaty-Cinnamoned-Garlic-Tomato should begin to conquer the intoxicated walls of your nasal passages like a Greek army advancing relentlessly into a Petrified Persia. The moussaka already starts to taunt and tease you before it has even taken shape, this is the real joy of cooking: you begin to imagine it before you begin to taste. Food should always be prefaced by anticipation.

Step 4: ...Meanwhile (back at Control's Headquarters), massacre those evil potatoes into 5mm lengthways slices and pat them dry. Then heat 4/5 tablespoons of oil and fry them in batches, on both sides, until golden brown, then place them on kitchen paper/red checkered tea towel to absorb the excess oil and sprinkle with salt. Step 5: rinse the eggplant and pat dry, while closely watching them (apparently they are more emotionally fragile than potatoes), fry them in batches as well. When one side is golden, turn over and prick with a fork in several places then let the other side cook. Tessa gives a great tip when she advises that we push them down with the smooth of fork, they should collapse and feel very mushy and pureed like. Then lay them out as well on paper/towel and (she said sea) salt. Tessa says that if they are darkened but still hard within, stack them on top of each other on the towel and the steam will soften the insides. To try to minimize the oil slick, Tessa only adds a tablespoon of oil for each new batch.

Step 6: Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Use, ideally, a transparent dish thats about 35cm long, 24 cm wide and 6 cm deep. The depth is particularly important because of the layering, it's easy to go over the top. Arrange half the eggplant on the bottom, a little overlapping is okay, then try to add the potatoes in a single layer. Layer all of this with half the mince, pressing down with the back of a spoon. Add the rest of the eggplant on top of this, then the rest of the mince. Once all of this is pressed down, there should be a 2 1/2 cm gap for the final, glorious stage.

Step 7: The bechamel is a little bit of a tricky fucker. And it needs to be made just before the moussaka is put into the oven, so don't get any crazy ideas about short cuts or head starts. With the milk gently warmed on a low heat, take your butter and melt it in a saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes stirring constantly, then begin adding the warm milk in very little dribs and draps. I have never had a deep or big enough pan to do this in, it always spills a little, the bigger the pan the more comfortably you can whisk and actually get the bechamel fluffy. As you add milk it will quickly absorb, keep whisking and add a little more. When it's all done it should be smooth and not too stiff, add salt and pepper to taste and the nutmeg and keep cooking even after it comes to the boil for 5 minutes or so, mixing it all the anxious, exciting while. It should be very thick and smooth (like a Rugby League player with a groupie), taste it for seasoning, then pour it delightfully over the mince (very satisfying step, this one, you'll feel a little bit prouder than you probably should). The bechamel should come square flat, eye to eye, with the top of the dish.

Take a look at that dish, at how deliciously cosy it is in there, crammed full of all that meaty, potatoed, melting eggplantish yumminess. The cross section should get you a little excited, and the smell should be divine. It's squished, slabbed scrumptiousness in waiting.

Bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour, I always take it out a little too soon (impatience). If you leave it a little longer after the flecks of gorgeous crispy brown start to splinter into the creamy bechamel skin, this is where it taskes its firmer, final shape. It still tastes as apocalpytically agonizing when it's a little moist and undone, but I am sure Traditional Greeks are fussy about the shape, don't think mine measures up there, but taste wise, they've got nothing on me!

Check that one out. Tessa tells us we should leave it for a while to cool before we serve - don't, this is well worth 3rd degree burns to the tongue. So delicious, so deep and rich. You will go mad smelling hints of the nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon mixing with the sweetness of the beautiful pork and lamb. God. It is such a satisfying meal to make, to smell, to bring out to a table of a hungry people, to look at, to slowly savour mouthful after melting, meaty, perfectly seasoned mouthful of.

Pause between bites and try to follow all of the flavours all the way through. They weave all across themselves. At first it's the creaminess of the beautifully buttered and golden bechamel, a sticky, cheese-esque (great word) burnt top layer, a delicious crust that belies the soft, frothy, rich, thick, slow, steaming texture beneath. MouthDreamInMeat. The lamb and pork will bass note through the pepper and sweetened tomato, and this, flamed with the sharpness of the garlic and wine, descends into a fatal finale of the faintest flickerings, the gentlest murmurings, of curiously CinnamonedNutmeg. Who else is ready to die now, complete?

It'll make you cross eyed with satisfaction. This is wonderfully rewarding food to cook. You feel great having made it, it's the essence of the home cooked ideal. You want to make it for people you care about, people you love, people it makes you happy to see all rosy cheeked with warm, well fededness - or people whom you absolutely abhor, who you want to subtly undermine the confidence of with your amazing moussaka prowess, and send off into the night sobbing about just how amazing you are.

Tessa, you are delicious! Get Falling Cloudberries if you are looking for some foodspiration.

Take a bow when you're done, just don't do it in front of anybody.

The Joy Of Baking (aka Kawa, Surry Hills)...

One of the great things about being in your late twenties, is that you begin to stop caring about what people think about you. With this liberating irreverence in the very primped face of public opinion, I am going to do something decidedly uncool and begin with a Sound Of Music ism: 'When the lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window'. Maria knew it then, and I know it now: just as one avenue exhausts itself, a new opportunity always comes to take its pretty place. You see, my sweet little Surry Hills terrace is an ovenless set up, not a good situation for a food blogger, especially one who likes wholesome home made old school cake. One who loves cake. One who Lives Cake. Nevertheless, just as this (oven) door closed on me, so many sweet windows of freshly baked opportunity came a-knocking. There are several little treat spots 2 or 3 minutes from my front door, but none as sweet as the Crowning glory of Crown Street, Kawa Cafe, Surry Hills. It's a place I have come to for years now, even before I lived locally. They do wonderful organic sandwiches, spicy soups, moorish breakfasts and rich dinners, but that isn't what this tale is about. Cake+Knifeonians, I am talking cake. I am talking frickin seriously good cake. I am talking old school, quaint-cookie-cutter-baked-by-the-farmers-blonde-wife-sticky-sweet-mushy-wholesome-dainty-DirtyRich-tap-squish-bite-soft-iced-in-so-so-white-creamy-luscious-lick-stick-trick-nut laden treatsicles on towering cake stands with big shiny lids that collect little droplets of moisture from your very baited breath. To hell with class. There's no need to pretend. It's time you all knew. Knew all about the wonderful, the wanton, the wicked, the delightfully, darkly decadent things they are getting up to with SugarChocolateCream down here. I know how much you like your virtual treats, so, I give you, with sticky fingers, another little sugared indulgence, together, now: three...two...yum...

Heidi Klum? Pfft. She ain't got nothing on that Brownie. That is pure cake working the camera, baby. This brownie is intensity masquerading as chocolate. It is die hard, straight up, Chocolate-Rush-Stick-To-The-Top-Of-Your-Mouth-Molten-Mushy-Soft-Aching-Waking-Taking texture. Jeeee-sus. Most brownies are like parking inspectors, too dry and too hard to bite into, not this little slab o' choc. It is beguilingly baked, the top layer is a composed, hardened shell of chocolate that is the backbone of some very wickedly mushy insides. It is harder to get a brownie to feel right than to taste right, I think, this ticks both brownie boxes brilliantly. The texture is amazing, a little stay on the edges with a lot of give beneath, it sinks into your mouth, it melts into it, it just softens and illuminates into some kind of delicate, light, buoyant chocolatey luminescence.

The softness of the inside is broken up beautifully by crunchy clusters of hacked up nuts. I am very sensitive to sugar, so I can only ever eat about a quarter of this, but I adore it. Most brownies taste too floury or too sweet, they don't have enough chocolate in them, not enough richness or enough body. This brownie is rich, they must use a good butter in the baking, because it has a strong buttered taste without ever being too sickeningly rich. Tatsu loved this. We relished it for a long while with some BonSoyed Chai to wash it down. So good. Brownies are epic cakeing, there is something wonderfully no nonsense and not at all delicate about them. They are for when you feel like a SweetRich mouth punch, when you want a sugar rush in a big, bad way. They are all the way desserting. Brownies: The Johnny Cash of cake. As much as I love cash, the brownie isn't my favourite Kawa, treat. No, it's the next little Ring of Fire that flamboyantly, deliciously and without fail, walks my lovely line.

No, not Tats. The next photo down. That little mouth mesmerizer down there is Joy's Famous Oat Cookie w White Chocolate Ganache. Holy Shit. Did anyone else just feel something inside their brain burst? I don't even like white chocolate and I have been eating these things for years. They are the Holy Spirit as Biscuit. They are Courage as Cookie. They are Titan as Treat. There isn't much I wouldn't do for one of these beautifully buttered up bounty of bliss babies. The anatomy of this cookie is a simple but mysterious affair. You have two little, oatish, wholesome, dried fruit flickered, delicately based biscuity discs, they are moist, chewy, soft, achingly textured. You would go ga ga about the cookie itself, even without the divine filling that is Confection as Crack, and I am addicted.

The White Chocolate Ganache peeps out at you between the cookie encasing, it is a rich, smooth, creamy white, and in one of the true joys of caking, it smooshes out a little from the sides, just as all Good Fillings Should. It doesn't taste too sweet, it's more of a buttery, creamy melting thing that happens in your awed mouth. The ganache reminds me of a great carrot cake icing, it has a slight sharpness to the sweetness, and a hell of a lot of depth, it sinks into your taste buds and sets up happy home there forever. These are So good. I buy them as little treats for friends, and if you pop by too late in the day, there's a chance they'll be sadly sold out. They take a good long while to eat, even though they're so small, they are dense as all hell, and so rich, you have to linger for a while to take it all in. It's a good thing Cookie Monster lives on Sesame St and not Crown, the rest of us would never stand a chance.

Macadamia shortbreads are also up for grabs. As is a truly heroic range of herbal and black teas. The chai is really well made, sweetened with honey and Beautiful Bon Soy. It's not my favourite brand of chai, but the way they froth it up makes it a much more decent cup than most. Fresh juices are always intense and frothy, and they have a really unusual frappe I have been wanting to try: Poached pear with vanilla?! But, hey, there's still more cake...

The buttery, luscious little Ginger Nut Slices just want you to bite into them. They have a shortbreadish like base that is smothered in a smooth and caramelicious looking gingery stickysomethingorother. If you still have room after the brownie and cookie, why not order one of these? But the true Kawa-Crowd favourite, isn't any of these...

They sell out, almost every day, of these little creamed coconut cakes. At The Goods, which also stocks the same cakes as Kawa, a man comes in every single day for one of these little sponged, coconutted dainty-as-a-doily-delights. They are gentle and creamy, and taste moist, lusciously buttered. I tried one the other day, I am not a coconut fan and I loved it. It's a delicate little sponge dream, so 1950's and innocent. The girl in the line in front of me bought 5, I asked her about that (she was skinny and I wanted in on her secret!), and she said once a week she comes in to get them for her friends at the office. This is the iPhone of cake, it seems, everyone has one or wants one.

And who is responsible for all of this Surry Hills Sugaring? The wonderful Joy bakes all of these treats you have been salivating over. She bakes for Kawa and for The Goods which is a one minute stride down, on the same road but on the other side, towards Oxford st (2 doors down from Mad Mex). Joy's folks were pretty bang on when it came to picking names. This Aussie WonderBaker keeps many local people in a transsugarfixaton. I talked to her about her cakes, and loved her patent and well earned pride in her baking talent, she knows how good and how in demand her treats are. These are the products of recipes she has been honing for years, and she's keeping total mum on the recipes. Which is a good thing, I can control all of this cake craziness by purchasing only one little thing at a time and sharing it. I would never account for my control being alone in a kitchen with a freshly baked tray of the cookies, or a whole, lonely slab of brownie that really wanted someone's mouth to play with it.

Bloody Hell. Marie Antoinette lived in the wrong age, poor sucker, she never even got to sample a bite of Joy's joys.

Kawa happens at 346-350 Crown St, Surry Hills. They cater as well (ph: 1300 322 837).

I will do a piece on their food some time in the future. Even if cake isn't your thing, this is a great spot for healthy, organic, inspired food. It's also the best sidewalk sitting on Crown St. It catches the sun, is a good people watching spot, lots of cool cats go here (ie. people who will never ever admit in public how much they love the Sound of Music).

Ps...I was going to call this piece 'Kawa-Bunga, Dudes!', but it seems not caring about what people think has some limits. Thank god for that, eh.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Middle East Crisis (aka Al Aseel, Greenacre)...

If you think Brett Easton Ellis' American Psycho is intense, then you've probably never dropped in to the hallowed Greenacre 'Dining' Institute: Al Aseel. I say 'dining', because this is not one for tame Sydney Siders, this is hardcore, Roman Mess-esque eating. It doesn't matter how good your intentions are, nor how lofty your ambitions, this place will defeat your stomach in an epic battle of meat and garlic that even the most hardy of gluttons will be completely subsumed in. This is culinary warfare, it's intense, it's excessive, it's bloodthirsty, it's Paced In Your Faced, and it comes with a side of hot chips. For years now, people have been traveling from as afar as Bondi and Penrith to mix it with the locals in a true test of Tummy Tumble Mettle. This is loud, this is livid, this is Lebanese, this is BangBangBangBanquet Quick Meaty-Lemony-Garlicked-Creamy-Rich-Thicker-Than-Thick-Doused-In-Oil-Of-Olive-Baba-Beautiful-Smokey-Eggplant-Crisp-Hot-Burn-Lick-Sesame-Dip-Quick-Quick-Falafel-Breath-Coke-Cold-Cold-Down-Quick-Quick-Quick dining. This is the heartland of the Lebanese culinary experience, and just like the people, nothing is done by halves, and everything is done by triples. A place where, if there's not enough to feed you and everyone on your street for 3 days following, then there's just not enough. The heat of battle is a place where many young soldiers have gone down. The going is steep, the dangers are many, stay close to your captain, she knows the way.

Before I begin, I want you to remember that our hungry, exhausted group of 12 decided on the basic (ie, most cheapest) banquet setting of $25 a head, which we supplemented with only a few extra dishes. What ensued was the most elaborate, deep, rich, colourful crazy cadence of sizzling and spinning dishes. Lebanese Restaurant Mistake # 1 is the sorry saps who go ahead and O.D on Mezze, they ooh and they ahh at the sheer magnitude and frivolous and fancy flavours of all the pretty little dishes that spring up in front of them like daisies in a green meadow in December. They wrap warm pockets of willing and pliable bread around smothering layers and lascivious lashings of hummous with thick globs of lemony salad and devour bite after bite, always, always, always forgetting, that this, is just the beginning. But, my hungry little habibis, what a beginning it is...

It all starts innocently enough with little baskets of freshly baked Lebanese bread, still droopy with the softness of their teasing texture, and little bowls of baked, slightly oily, chip like squares of crispy fried bread. So crisp and crunchy, this bread is perfect for the creamy moistness of the hommous, baba ganoush and labnah. Forget the constellation in North America, this is the real big dipper. It's easy, peasey, Lebanesey from here, you take you bread, and you sully it sordidly any. way. you. like. with lashings of the dips for which we are famous. Personalities come out in full force, the architects and the scientist at the table constructed little pockets of gooey, salady delight, while the lawyers just got right in there and dashed torn bread like a suicide bomber into the creamy, oily embrace of hommous heaven.

Check it out. That is a molten mouth dream, light as a whisper, rich with good golden olive oiled delight, hommous. Most commercial hommous is disgusting, preservatives and a general tendency to be too creamy prevail, especially as they're too heavy on the tahini (sesame paste). Hommous should be rich and deeply satisfying, somewhere between light and heavy, the texture should never be completely smooth, but it shouldn't be too grainy either. They have it bang on here. You can eat a fair bit of it without it feeling like it's too rich, usually I only tolerate a couple of spoons, here I can do a decent sized bowl (not a good thing).

The Baba Ganoush (literally, 'spoilt father'), is just as mouthwatering. Baba Ganoush is generally too heavy on eggplant smokeiness for me, I find it too overpowering. Here, the dip has a solid, earthy eggplant taste but is tamed by the oil and creaminess, you can actually tell by its lighter colour that it has a more delicate flavour. Baba Ganoush generally has a deep greenish/purplish tinge to it, when it does, I never like it as much. This is beautiful, I mix it up with hommous and salad and put it on some bread and get in touch with the part of me that feels the most like a true Leb (my stomach).

All of these dips are beautiful to mix with the Tabouleh and the Fattoush. The Fattoush here is maddening, I never understood this Lebanese salad of fried bread, parsley, tomato and pomegranate juice until I tasted it at Al Aseel. The crunchiness of the bread gives an amazing crunch and texture to the parsley, it grounds the freshness of all that green with a baked-roasted bread taste, and the lemonishness of it cuts like a blade through the heaviness of all the meat and dips. Dan finds it a bit too heavy on the tartness, it is, but I think it really works in this dish and especially as respite from the richness of everything else. The Labneh, which we ordered as an extra to the banquet, at E.Bee's very cute request, is delicious: a thickened, subtle yoghurt laquered in lashings of deep olive oil, with a faint sprinkling of paprika aloft in a perfect whiteness. If you never tried it, it's so solid, dense and beautiful. I like it more than Greek Yoghurt, especially because it has a sharpness to it that I think is quite unique. Funny, that, first time I have evered described something Lebanese as subtle.

Are you ready to rumble? This is probably less vegan than Meat Stuffed Deep Fried Roadkill. The meat platters are as full on as you will ever find food. The Shish Tawook here, incendiary. I can never eat much of it, because it's so damn rich, but this grilled, marinated chicken (which comes with a relatively tame version of Lebanese Garlic sauce) is pure mad mouth bomb. Just like Japanese get fish, Lebanese get chicken. It's always juicy and tender and pale inside with little flickerings of chargrilled crispness on the edges, don't hesitate to squeeze some fresh lemon over it to cut the richness. It's such a robust way to eat chicken, it has none of the gentleness of roasting, this is a fired up f-you to dull meat, so, so good. Even if you don't order the meat platter, get this as a dish on its own, they don't claim it as such, but i'd say it's the signature dish.

Kafta (minced meat with parsley and onion) and lamb skewers also star in this MeatGoneMad platter. This is not light, lean, meat. This is old school, rich, deep, cut with fat flame grilled to carnivorous perfection, skewered scumptiousness. I can eat a bite or two just for the flavour before I give up. If you Mezzed more than you should have, this is where you start feeling it. Stuffed bastards among us were taking a little bite and pushing their plates away and sitting back. It's just so intense, you have to eat this stuff to know what I am talking about. But if you're on a moo-free, baa-free food thing, don't despair. My favourite thing on the menu doesn't involve the slaying of anything, except your expectations of How Good A Chickpea Can Be.

Oh, Baby. Forget that dull, microwaved, podgey, pokey, miserable-ball-o-mush crappified blobs of banal bite they call hummous every where else. This is snappy, sizzling, green bright crunchy delicious falafel that you must eat as soon as it hits the table and before the sizzling chickpea shell cools down. Quick fried, the browned edges are very thin, as they should be when made by someone who knows falafel very, very well. The insides are soft and heaving, gently touched by the oil and they are much more green than brown, this is beautiful, crispy, alive, singing, spiced falafel, dip it quickly with a little tahini, bite in, and release the steam inside. So, So, So good. So Good. So. Good. Of Such So Goodness it's just so good. They come with a side of vine leaves (which are nice) and some spring rolls, which are great, Chinese As, and pretty funny. Traditional Lebanese places always have spring rolls and hot chips. They're two standard aberrations from an otherwise uncompromised authenticity that always crack me up.

My other favourite, Kris' too, is the Shawarma Meat. This meat will make you groan. It involves deep, throaty, rich chunks of well cooked meat, grilled with onion, sumac and lashed with splatterings of tahini that lends a beautiful sesamed moistness to the dryness of the meat. I can not explain the sheer brilliance of this dish other than to deem it as more than the sum of its parts. It's fully sick, cuzzz. Beyond belief, it must be in the way it's cooked, it has flavour sinking into flavour bouncing of flavour, head butting other flavours, fighting other flavours, twisting around inside upside down other flavours. I die every time. Order it, brace yourself. Like Vince, you probably won't be able to eat breakfast the next day, but it will be very well worth your whetted while.

The Samka Harah here is an okay version of one of my favourite Lebanese meals, baked fish with tahini, pine nuts and coriander. The sauce here is thick and spiced exactly as it should be, but I find the fish just a bit too fishy, I think they use a Perch, which I don't like to begin with. If you're a fishophile (like Tats or Troy McClure), the fish itself may not be quite up to scratch.But others should enjoy the richness of this, it's a very different way to eat fish, beautiful and rich, great for sharing.

Al Aseel has a no drinking policy, but a comically abundant selection of soft drinks more than makes up for it. Baffled diners stand for aeons of gobsmacked time before 4 fridges as they try to decide whether to coke, ginger beer, juice or lemon lime bitter. Some of us had three sodas during the meal to wash all the heaviness of the food down with. The Burping, although very UnEnglish, is highly inevitable.

12 people eating to the point of abandon still could not demolish 1/3 of what was put down in front of us, and therein lies the crisis. Do you wait a few minutes and slay into a bit more, pacing yourself and getting there in the very eventual end? Do you ask a kind, darting waiter for 3 or 4 of the huge tinfoil take away boxes they have, to fill up as high as you can yourself with the stomach defying remnants of an excessively laid table? I personally like my boyfriend's approach of taking the food beyond the alimentary realm and discovering cute and comic alternatives for its use, such as fake meat eyes, but I am biased when it comes to Dan and his wonderful ways.

Still a cheap meal for how much you get, Old Schoolers reminisce about the days when it was even cheaper. They cook, They cater, They take away. Try it, at least one, and fast for several days, or as may be the case, weeks.

Al Aseel happens at Shop 4/173 Waterloo Road, Greenacre, Ph 9758 6744 to book, and book you should on any crazy busy night.

So good it hurts. Thanks to everyone for a debilitating dinner, especially Emma R, cause she's from Cronulla,
and she's a total riot.