Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Friends Spooning...

You might not know it, but we have an understanding, you and I. Things work according to their own little logic. I don't call the shots, I follow them. You see, I don't just write, I write for you. I think about you. Not in the shower or while you're getting dressed. No. Nothing like that. I think about you as a collective. I put a lot of effort into keeping you interested. I use all the tricks I can muster through word and lens to tell you a little bit about this, and a little bit about that. As much as you think you might read blogs for the writing, well, a blog without pictures is like footy without the pies, like ice cream without the topping, like tea without the Bonsoy, like a person who doesn't like garlic. It's like the Bechara's having a normal, quiet, civilized family dinner...something just aint quite right about it. It's like an actress without cleavage...Okay, okay, i'll stop.
Well, there's a recipe i've been dying to share with you for a while now, but there's just been one recurring, little snag: I don't like to cook and take pictures - at the same time. I know, I know. Women are meant to be multitaskers, but I always was a bit of a tomboy - it was only this year I started wearing pink in public! But cooking and snapping, nuh-uh. Add to the loss of focus the fact that oily fingers on an SLR is the bane of the modern day blogger clutz, and you might begin to understand where i'm coming from. That's why this piece has been kept from you for so long. I decided it was just time to bite the proverbial bullet and do it despite lacking perfect photos of the preparation and the finished product...Come on...don't be like that...this is Australia! Land of fudging it, this is a patriotic act i'm doing here - preserving our cultural ethos and heritage at absolutely any cost for generations of unborn brethren. 

Or Not.

Anyway, i've decided to distract with you some very half assed generic kitchen pictures of some of the key ingredients. To fool you even further I used a macro lens so they'd appear more deep, profound and mysterious - like an average, happy-go-lucky 20 something guy in a philosophical frown, woolen vest and fedora - trying to create an existential demeanour to pull in the babes. You're going to look the other way, we're going to let this incident slide by, you're going to forgive me - and we're never gonna talk about it again. Deal? Pinky Promise? 

Okay, Now for The Bus-i-ness.
Soup. Bliss. Simple. Warm. Brothy and Frothy. Soup for my mind and soup for my mouth and soup for my heart. Soup is love. It's gentle. Simmering. Rustic. Biblical. Bowl to Spoon, Mouth to Soul. Pendulums back and forth and softly, again and again. A rhythm. A beat and Flushed cheeks from a steamy swirl. Infusion Transfusion, Transcendence

Soup should always be kept to just a few thoughtful ingredients. It's a little like matchmaking, think about just 3 or 4 main ingredients that go together, introduce them in a bubbling pot and let them get to know each other for a while. The Golden Rule with Soup is to never make it too complicated. Put everything in and you often end up tasting nothing much at all, some people can pull off the complicated, but I prefer it all pared down to essence. Soup is so effortlessly elegant, such a beautiful way to explore a few select flavours in a different way. It fills you up, leaves you warmed and loved and happy. 

What's in a name? A fair bit, Shakey. Which is why I give you The Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption Soup. Why MF in Shawshank? Because this dish is entirely pleasing, good for your soul...but sooo bloody corny you're permitted the occasional eye roll. This soup is my own creation, come up with on Pyrmont Bridge Rd en route to Harris Farm with Dan. I love feeding it to all my friends. It's a bit like a mother with her first born, I can't seem to stop telling everyone about this soup and wanting them to know how amazing it is. It's just as good vegan as it is with a little goat's cheese, and it is simple and simply wonderful! 
Get thee the following:
2 Brown Onions/1 Onion + 1 Leek
Fresh Ginger Root
2 Cloves of Lebanese Gold (Garlic)
3 Bunches of Curious Coriander
1 Red Chili (if you'd like)
Shitloads of Cracked Pepper
Chicken Style/Vegetable Stock (Massel's great)
9 Cobs of Fresh Corn
2 Bunches of Asparagus (White is ideal, Green'll do)
Goast Chevre - only if Desired
Marjoram - necessay!
Sea Salt
This should serve 8, or 4 realistically, never had anyone who didn't want seconds. Ready to rock n roll?
True love starts with a little olive oil warming in a pan. To this you add the diced onion/leek and let it brown a little (like the teenage dreams of aging spinsters). You peel about a good 2-3 cm of ginger root - look for a fresh young and golden yellow root. We're not going to pun that last sentence. But we are going to extract 2-3 tablespoons of gingerella (depending on how much zing gets you going) by rubbing the peeled root over a good quality zester (not a grater). 

Add this and 2 gloves of crushed garlic and the chili to the onion mix, followed by the finely diced and very well washed roots of the coriander. Coriander root is so much of the reason that Thai food tastes amazing, it adds a lot of dimension to the final flavour but so few people even use it. Don't throw away good roots, people! 

Let all this sautee a while. Add a generous amount of cracked pepper in at this stage. Soup is always about stages, you take it slowly, the fried element adds a unique heat and flavour to the simmering, it's like layers, slowly, slowly and one at a time.
Take 9 cobs of sheared corn, put them perpendicularly in a bowl (don't get out a protractor or anything) run a knife along the kernels and cut them free from the cob - doing this in a bowl saves grenades of kernels ending up all over the kitchen. 

As soon as the mix is smelling sensuously of garlic and coriander and warmed, gingered onion, add the corn and cover with just enough water to submerge the corn kernels. Let this approach a boil. Add 3-4 massel chicken style cubes - go heavy on the stock, it adds so much glorious body. About ten minutes after you've added the corn, add the chopped up asparagus. The smell should be divine.
Boil for a tiny while then reduce to a cool, rolling simmer. Let it all become soupy. Then add all the chopped coriander leaves. Green Crack. Coriander contains all of the earthly joys of this life, don't hold back! Puree either with a hand held mixer, or, by the slightly messier route of taking ladle fulls out and blending them. Blend the soup so it becomes smooth, but not so smooth there's no texture. It starts to look wonderfully dreamy, pale and ivory-gold if with the white asparagus.
Return to the pot and let it readjust on a low heat. You should have a thick, puree type consistency that is absolutely bursting with vegetal goodliness. After assaulting it with a pepper cracker, it's edible at this stage - absolutely divine in vegan form. No, seriously! For extra flavour and creaminess, add 2-4 tablespoons of a good, deep, sharp goats chevre - it doesn't need any more cooking, it just melts in. Alternatively, a tablespoon of butter or some yoghurt or sour cream can add that extra dimension and some more luxurious thickness. 

I've also added some well washed red quinoa once or twice, in with the corn and white asparagus, it looks beautifully golden pale in the end with little red flecks like floating seeds in the soup.
Anyway you have it, add a sprinkle of sea salt, even more pepper, fresh coriander and fresh marjoram. Marjoram added to the mix is like lighting petrol, it sets the entire gingered, garlicked, chillied craze ablaze - and takes you down with it.

This is soup is transient and eternal. It is full and fresh and alive. The flavours meld so perfectly and profoundly. Jesus. You feel as satiated as you do light after a calming bowl of this with a good solid wedge of buttered and toasted miche. It is luxurious but so cheap, elegant but so easy - like a jilted blonde socialite.

Everyone I have tried it on has fallen in love. Mick Howled. Hela Sighed. Danny Nodded in Approval. Even Howie who doesn't like soup managed 2 big bowls - and when he wasn't even hungry! It's wonderful that it's almost pure vegetables, so many soups you eat out are lamentable little concoctions. Thin and Frail. Using milk and cream to hide the absence of any true flavour - like a Cow with noticeable self esteem issues. Soup can be a healthy, hearty, easy and cheap way to eat so many good things for you all at once, and to end up wriggling your toes as you do. 

It's also such a good and ready thing to share with friends. Often when we're cooking for others we tend to do too much and go over top (especially if we're Lebanese). Soup, real home made soup, is not something many people have often, they always appreciate it when they do.
Morgan Freeman in Shawshank Soup, it's worth escaping to. And I promise...it will set you free. 

It's been a pleasure spooning with you, I hope we can do it again sometime.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Eat, Pray, Lust (aka Gigi in Newtown)...

Naples is a somewhat dangerous place. And not just because it's where a rather famous volcano lost its geological cool many hundreds of years ago. No, that's not the reason at all! Naples is as dangerous as it is delicious, and even now. It is a noisy, rollicking, gritty melting pot of a myriad of ways you could die: lots of angry sooty pollution, random, darting traffic...mafia hiding under your pew in some subterranean Catholic chapel, waiting to blast your pious brains out. You know what i'm talking about. So many ways to kick that existential bucket. But perhaps the best way to succumb to this lethal citadel of Italian vaffanculo Charm involves a dirty Death by Pizza at hallowed Napolitana dining spot Da Michele. 

Serving only 2 types of pizza in the traditional Naples style (thin, chewy base and sparse, sharp topping - unlike Roman Pizza) since 1870 means that you're really in for quite a decent slice. It's probably the best pizza you'll ever have, in this life or in any other. I can still summon up a mournful look in Danny's eye by mentioning Da Michele, and how it was so very long ago. Alas, love hurts, and the difficulty with falling in love that hard and that fast is that when you leave Naples and go back home to Sydney, 'Stralia (mate), long distance relationships don't really work. Well not with margheritas, anyway. You come back home, you've had the real deal, and all that's left to you are sorry, saucy substitutes. Pizza Mario tides you over for a while. You can get by on some Crust, or just avoid pizza altogether. 

But then, fate's got your chubby back, just like always, and you find out about a magically dusky little Newtown denizen of decadent slice, where the pizza and the homemade desserts gun your will power down, like Sonny at the Set Up Toll Booth, one delicious and deadly bullet of flavour at a time, until you're lying on King St, writhing in absolute agony - well metaphorically at least.

C + K'ers, it's time to get your Gigi on.
Raven haired Jessica takes us through on our first visit and our second, a lovely, gentle girl who's as quietly enthusiastic about the pizza and dessert as she is about photography. I'm guessing she is one of the owners, either way, she has a pride and a love for the place that has me salivating before I have even tried a thing. 
It's all chalked special boards written in patient script like lines for detention. I promise to Eat Amazing Pizza. I promise to Eat Amazing Pizza. Wonderful ingredients jumping out at you like gorgonzola (it's been a while), goats chevre (how'd you do do), oyster mushrooms and speck. It's always about respeck, you know.
The graffitied walls set the ambience: young, vibrant and rocking, this is fun, loud eating in lots of beautifully crowded colour. The woodfire oven holds court in the center of a packed room and you can spy deliciously baked morsels of pizza going into it and coming out. Most pizza places in Sydney, especially the authentic ones, are quite stiff and bland in the way they present, it's lovely to be inside an easy and open space where anything goes and you can be as loud as you like.
Itty Bitty Li Lay, who loves food in the same way as my own heart had only good things to say about Gigi. I didn't even look at the menu the first time and told her to order exactly what she ordered the last, like God leading me through the desert of options.
...and this is how I wind up holding the most sublime potato pizza i've ever had in my oily, loving hands. Potato pizza, like Nice Guy's, Bell Bottoms and Law Degrees, are absolutely wonderful in theory. Nearly every pizza restaurant worth it's sea salt has one on the menu. But have you ever had one done really, really, really well? Didn't think so.
Gigi slices the potatos wafer thin, posh thin, so thin they look like skin thin little membranes of pomme de terre'd delight. Delicate little slices of perfectly layered potato cut to this scant thinness will actually COOK in a pizza oven at the same time as it takes to cook the base. Can you imagine? All those sloppy thick potato cutters haven't yet latched onto the fact that if the potato is too thick, by the time the base is done and they pop it out, their poor, greedy customers will be left with patches of raw potato that haven't cooked properly in the center. Pretty unappetizing, at least for the non Irish.
Humbert Humbert would've loved this baby. So subtle and voloptuous all at wonderful once. Barely there potato with just the slightest flickerings of full bodied, melted mozzarella, spattered with sharp rosemary and undertones of gorgeous garlic. Downright the best pizza I have guzzled in ages. When this luscious topping folds and twists itself against a fundamental base, suspended as it were in the pizza heavens between chewiness and lightness, you have seraph as slice, an absolute angel of pizza lying before you atop some stunned ceramic.
Not to be outdone, the margherita is on fire, blazing and burning in FireEngineRed tomato, rich like a girl on pay day before she steps into Zimmermann, dotted with little islands of gentle, calm mozzarella and all beneath an autumn fall of beautiful basil - the pungent and fragrant oil diffusing all of that terrific tomato and cheese. 
Gently, gently does it. Slice after slice. Take and fold and twist and bite, slices this generous and thin are wonderfully floppy and beg you to make them into more solid contortions before you place them in your mouth. The way you fold and bend the base gives it a myriad of dimensions, of texture and flavour, it enters your being just a little differently every time.
Maddening mellifluous mouth manna, melting into and through itself. If the pizza wasn't tempting enough, add to your Belly Hit List the Best Calzone I Ever Had. Dangerous, clandestine, perfectly fired crust filled with lashings of the freshest ricotta, mozzarella and spinach, oozing out of it's steaming pocket upon cautious bite like a lover's golden secret. Topped with a spattering of some sweet tomato, basil and cheese. Holy Shit. You have GOT to try this before you die. It redefines spinach and cheese, it's an ooey gooey glory that contrasts wonderfully with the baked, chewy cavern that surrounds it. It's hidden, like something precious, and so tender and perfect and gorgeous. 
The meat eaters, whose ranks I have ceremoniously and I am not sure for how long Left, ripped into this next one with lots of carnivorous abandon. It still looked beautiful to my eye - ruby red meat, cut thin like beetroot atop masses of verdant rocket.
But I wasn't missing out on a single thing. At least not when this little stunner of mixed mushrooms with gorgonzola and mozzarella made itself known to my pescetarian mouth. Jesus Christ. Cheesey, mushroomy, easy, greasey make happy Lebanesey. This was awesome, heady pizzaing, rare mushrooms drowning in a melange of cheese on top of pure base perfection. If TeenWolf was at our table, he would have de-Michael-J-Foxed and have broken out into an abandoned howl - heck I almost did and I don't even carry the wolf gene.
Crazy table of 13, eating, talking, laughing. Picture our fullness at this time. Each belly like a ripe sphere of pre-grenade gluttony, inflated to almost happy maxium.
What's a gal to do?
Stop? Give up? Go Home?
Cry? Say it's all too much and go to the gym?
No chance. You know me by now. You know I take it all the way to the end, all the way through my second stomach and towards the dessert menu. I've uttered some good lines in my time, I have. But nothing, bar nothing, supersedes the brilliant moment of earthly glory I fought for and won when I uttered the hallowed words: '

We'll take one of everything off the dessert menu, thanks'. 

No matter what ignominy and disgrace my life falls into from this point, please remember me as the Woman Who Took All Their Desserts. It's a glory I want attached to my name until the day that I die - of diabetes at the age of 34. It felt tres Jackie O, who bought One in Every Colour, although i'd best stick to slimming black alone after this crazy confectionary stunt.
Eeny meeny miny mo, catch a scoopy by the toe...
Wait! Stop. Don't move another second. Looky...There. Homemade Italian Chocolate Tart, Anyone?
Up Close and Personal...
And so far away. Dirty, decadent, sticky tricky in Richity-rich chocolate, hotcolate, oozey woozey swoozey, dense dark and dangerous and with a scoop of iced vanilla on the side. Good Cop and Bad Cop, all on one plate. You know the drill. You've heard about chocolate and vanilla, haven't you? That Old Bonnie and Clyde of the calorie world, breaking into your vaults of will power and cleaning you scrumptiously out for every last inch of resolve you ever had. Whip me, trip me, chocolate drip me in this and I could die happily ever after. Delicious and true and deep, no nonsense in chocolate, gone in minutes, but remembered forever. It didn't need the chocolate sauce on top, but if you're going to err in this respect, well, God Bless You, Italian Dessert Man. This is Definitive Dessert...or...
...at least until Homemade Ricotta Cheesecake topped with patches of crunchy praline and the most perfect crust that ever lived appears. I'll say it here, this is way better than Pasticceria Papa's ricotta cheesecake. It's larger, and deeper and more moistly ricotta-ed and the bits of caramel crazed praline that crown the top add perfect texture to the cool smoothness of what lies beneath. It's beautiful and deep and saccharine, softly, softly sweet and with crunch and bite and creaminess to kill. It tastes so European and dreamy.
And like Daniel Craig: as delicious from the front as it is from behind.
And then tiramisu. How we have mis(d)u! What do you do. Dreamy and powdery in layers of cream, sponge and cocoa, billowing and breathless and not sure whether to be barley there or to knock you over. Gentle meets Smack, sprinkled with chocolate fairy dust. Intangible as dessert. Amorphous of mouth and ghostly of body. Haunt me forever.
Or a luscious lemon tarty thing with a pool of crazy cream by its beautiful, languid side. Lovely in lemon. Licking citrusing and spinning and sighing. Light Lemon, Alive Lemon, Creamed Lemon. Lemon flavoured desserts make me go gaga, the gentleness of the citrus belongs within the sacred realm of the sweet, LemonyCakeySomethings always make for the most beautiful endings to any meal, and this stunner was no exception.
But my absolute favourite, and this is a big call from one who isn't crazy about panna cotta, is this startling mess of vanilla wobbliness with what I think was a scarlet sidekick in stewed rhubarb. It looked like peaches and cream on the plate, swirls of orangey red swooning into patches of perfect ivory. It tasted cherubic, honeyed and gentle and subtle, but with sure vertiginous vanilla singing through and a sticky, fruity mess to vary the flavour and texture of this creamy craze. Divinity as Dessert. Holy Cow.
Amazing pizza and amazing dessert. These people are clearly trying to hurt us. 

Two wonderful nights at such a wonderful place has left me happy and full. You simply have to try Gigi.
Gigi happens at 379 King St, Newtown. I don't think they do bookings, but if you just want to call them up for a chat whenever you're feeling lonely, then their number is 9557 2224.
It's an aptly named place. You'll be saying 'Gee' way more than once anyway. 

Newtown + Naples, who knew!

Thanks to Shirley for coming despite sore foot/attitude, Hela for coming and watching Howie near Ash, Ash for fitting us in (in such great fitted Saba Get Up), Howie for getting there and making do with leftovers, Simon for joining the crazy end of the table, Stephen for eating mouthfuls of mixed dessert, Li Lay for leaving us for HK but also putting me on the path to potato, Irini for being Out in full bubbly force, to Ant for coming despite the forest growing on his scalp, to Mick for constantly smiling and...

to Neil: HAPPY BIRTHDAY JOSHI! Even if you went wishless, could you have wished for more than us? xx

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Illustrated Ladies Afternoon Tea, (that needed male reinforcements)...

Starring (In order of appearance)
Hela
Kathy
Mia
Dana
Lucy
Anna Lou
Heather
Ash
Howie 
Kashi
Wenlu
Lovely Miss Li Lay &
Kevin's Little Black Book

Special thanks to Mia's Grandmother for getting up early and being a Wonderful Greek, Mrs Carlstein, for The Coveted dish and it's amazingly refreshing and exotic contents & also to Our Pancreases for letting us do that to them.

This was a Bonsoy Event.

Wonderful ladies! Extra special thanks to Hela for being my Jeanie and cleaning every mess I made, as I made it xxx