Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Take a Peak at my Plate

I’m a well fed gal. I like to make food. I like when friends make food for me. I like when chefs in restaurants make food for me. I like that I study food, and that all my friends and classmates also like to eat my food and make food for me to eat and eat food with me at restaurants and shop for food with me and talk about all the food we experienced together and how it all relates to the history of gastronomy or food and drink in contemporary western society.

My classmate Jackie is at the top of my food buddy list lately. Apart from supplying me with fresh eggs from the chooks she keeps in her backyard, she has done an excellent job at keeping me full and happy in recent weeks. I shared her recipes for Thai Curry with Prawns and Lemongrass Beef Stir Fry in a previous post. I must have been a good dinner guest because she’s invited me back for an assortment of Indian curries (her specialty)….

…including chicken curry, lamb curry, her mom’s fish curry, daal, and yellow rice with black mustard seeds.

I also got to experience her grilled leg of lamb with pine nut, parsley, and garlic stuffing….

…along with turmeric roasted potatoes and caponata.

She also made up a batch of harissa and gave it to me and our fellow gastronome buddies to test.

I made a spice paste with the harissa along with caraway, cumin, lemon, coriander, paprika, ginger, garlic, saffron, and some extra olive oil (not as yummy or luxurious as the Joseph’s EVOO Jackie used in the harissa) and gave my chickie a nice little massage and allowed her to take a nap in the fridge for a few hours.

I then braised her in some homemade chicken stock, then roasted her with some Brussels sprouts until her skin was crisp and golden. Served her with lemon couscous and the braising liquid, and of course extra harissa.

Jackie – you’re a genius!!!!!

I recently hosted my first dinner party – something I used to do almost weekly in Boston and have been missing dearly! My classmate Amy, a chef from Peru, and I went to the market together and got all the fixins for a proper Latino feast.

She banged out an incredible meal, chopping and rolling and stirring and whisking and steaming and roasting and tempering and baking and frying and boiling and pounding away in my tiny little kitchen. I had originally intended to cook all the food but when I saw her skillz I figured, hey, it’s not often you have a real chef in your kitchen, so I let her work her magic!

Roast citrus pork shoulder with almond crust and strawberry rocoto marmalade... tostones with parsley chimichurri, achiote rice with leeks, green beans with capers, and lychee martinis.

Three of these menu items are notable. First, I’ve never been as excited as when I found plantains in the market! That in itself was the reason I decided to host a party. For real. And, when I was in Sydney I found a Peruvian restaurant that sourced rocoto paste and was able to score a jar for the strawberry rocoto marmalade. And Peter splurged to buy Grey Goose for the martinis, something none of us had had since moving to Australia. Wanna know why? Cuz a bottle of Grey Goose is $70 here. And vermouth is $30. So, Peter basically dropped $100 on liquor, plus buying martini glasses for the occasion. Thanks, P-Man. Cheers to you.

Liquor is obviously prohibitively expensive here, so wine and beer are certainly the way to go.

Another notable plate was my meal at The Hundred Eaves, a restaurant in a renovated church in McLaren Vale. Much more on this amazing restaurant later, but on this visit Leena and I started with chicken liver pate and damper, the Aussie version of a biscuit (so delish that I bought a pate to-go bag for home).

We shared a local vegetable pie with a haloumi crust…

…and Bogan’s Choice, a rib eye steak with open farce of native spices and nuts.

One of the best meals I’ve had in Adelaide so far. Leena, Adam, Anthony and I, along with Candy and Cherry (I wish I could make this stuff up), two Adelaide newbies from China, raved about our meal and the personal attention of the owners and chef and I am going back this weekend for my birthday so more to come!

The last meal of note was a special tasting and dinner on Value Adding South Australian Lamb, the culmination of a research project by Uni Adelaide, SA Government, and TAFE SA. The focus of the study was to alter the flavor of lamb by feeding it different diets, ie of olive oil and garlic, to make the meat more appealing to international consumers (notably in Japan and Korea). Coming from a non-lamb eating country, I understand that those who are not used to the strong aroma or flavor of lamb may not be attracted to the product. We sampled the “value added” lamb as a lamb shank, shallot & parsnip puree tartlet... slow roasted shoulder on chick pea tagine... and grilled cutlets with feta mash and kasundi.

And, I must end on another true Aussie note. Chef Adam, artistically placing sausages on the barbie.

K, gotta go eat now.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cosmopolitan Adelaide

Whenever I tell a Sydneysider or Melburnian that I live in Adelaide, I usually get an apologetic look. Followed by, “Why?” All’s well when they find out I’m studying gastronomy and therefore have an implied interest in wine, since Aussies recognize the Adelaide area’s supremacy in this respect. But I get the impression that Aussies in general mistakenly think of Adelaide as a hickish backwater town. Sure, I’ve spotted a few bogans here and there, but overall it’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan city for its size (about 1 million pop).

It seems like there’s always something artsy-fartsy and cultural-ly going on. I especially liked the Northern Lights show, where colorful artistic spotlights illuminated the beautiful sandstone buildings on North Terrace (where my uni is located).

Hi Phil!

The food and wine available here is certainly world class, with the Central Market leading the charge here in the heart of the city. Here’s me, just a tad too excited about the Brillat Savarin triple cream brie I got at The Smelly Cheese Shop in the market.

The number and diversity of restaurants here is also impressive. I always get super giddy and believe a city is tres-cosmopolitan when it has an Argentine restaurant. And guess what – Adelaide has at least THREE Argentine joints! I’ve eaten at Argentine restaurants in Boston, Miami, Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur, Buenos Aires, and now Adelaide, and so I’ve come to learn that outside of Argentina where the food is quite obviously authentic (duh), a good place must have: 1. blood sausages, intestines, and sweetbreads as part of their mixed grill. 2. a mini table grill. 3. properly-seasoned chorizo sausages and empanadas (the best gosh darned parts of the meal, in my opinion) – lots of paprika and garlic. 4. the correct cuts of meat, like flanken-cut short ribs. 5. unlimited chimichurri on the table. 6. a maximum of one vegetable offered on the menu, preferably mashed potates (we’re talking food from the land of beef eaters, people!). 7. Quilmes beer and at least a few Malbecs from Mendoza on the wine list.

While Argentine restaurants outside of their homeland can’t touch the quality and price of the meats and accoutrements in Argentina, some do surprisingly well. Rancho Argentino in Miami’s South Beach came closest, with Boston’s Tango coming in second (mostly because of the charismatic owner and fridge full of Quilmes). The Argentine restaurant in Amsterdam was next, followed by the Kuala Lumpur establishment. I really hate to say this, but Sosta here in Adelaide was last on this list! Sosta Argentinian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I was encouraged by the carnivorous piles of raw meat on display when we arrived to Sosta…

…but was so bummed when the mixed grill we ordered was overcooked, the empanadas and chorizos were bland, they gave us a side of roasted vegetables (what?!?!) and there was no chimichurri available!!!

It’s quite possible we were just there on a bad night. Our waiter disregarded our request for wine and we were seated across from a morbidly obese man who ordered a bottle of wine, an appetizer of four sausages, and the largest steak I have ever seen (at least a kilo) and ate the entire meal with his eyes closed, sweating, on the verge of sleep. Not the most appetizing or luxurious of environments, but admittedly his sketchiness was beyond the control of the restaurant staff. He was way too large for anyone to even consider picking him up and tossing him out of the restaurant in his sleep.

So, I guess I’m not sure why this topic is in a blog post titled “Cosmopolitan Adelaide.” That fat dude was the farthest from cosmopolitan you can possibly get. But that’s the direction I took so deal with it. I’ll certainly check back in with you once I’ve eaten at the other two Argentine restaurants here in Adelaide…

How can you complain when you're surrounded by good friends and wine?

PS. If anyone wants to see a photo of the legendary fat man, all you have to do is ask.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Sydney by Night

While my first trip to Sydney to visit Phil was based on touristy day activities under the Aussie sun, my most recent trip consisted of sleeping until noon, taking two or three naps while Phil was in class, going out for dinner, and finally watching a movie or going for a drink with his classmates. You may think it sounds lazy, and you may be right, but let me tell you, after finishing my final assignment for my first course I deserved to be as lazy as I gosh darn pleased! Plus it rained every single day I was in town, so outdoor activities just weren’t an option.

So don’t expect to see any sunny beaches or verdant garden shots in this post. This is Sydney by NIGHT, baby.

As always, let’s start with food. Imagine my delight upon discovering a Peruvian restaurant near Phil’s campus, La Cocina Peruana! Philari ordered a combination goat and pork stew…

… yucas fritas (wave back to Phil!)…

…and also some tamales peruanos and refried beans.

We took a night walk across the Harbour Bridge and Phil stopped to enjoy the view.

The full moon and clouds were pretty cool. Plus, I love exciting activities that I don’t have to pay for.

A bit bigger than Adelaide!

Another night we hung in Kings Cross to take a stroll and enjoy the company of homeless men and the wafting scent of cheap perfume coming from the strip clubs. Ah, Phil, you’re so romantic!

We then hung in Surry Hills and enjoyed a latte next to a classy tattoo & piercing parlor. Phil should teach courses on the use of romantic locales to sustain a long term long, distance relationship. Nothing but swank all the way when Philari’s in the house.

We chowed on some Thai food with Phil’s classmate and his wife.

We also caught a live show of a funk band called The Hands at a venue called The Basement.

We drank The Beer and The Wine and did The Groove throughout The Night and I mastered The Double Fist.

The Trip to Sydney was The Bomb but now I’m back to The Masters and The Study in Adelaide.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

McLaren Vale

I was writing my way out of a mountain of research, chasing an elusive argument shimmering before me like a mirage, and could almost imagine the form my final assignment would take when I got a call from Leena.

“Hey Cari, let’s take a roadtrip to McLaren Vale to eat. And drink wine all day. K?”

I wish I could say I weighed my options with pluses and minuses and at least considered staying home to plow through my assignment. But why waste my time weighing options when I know darn well what my choice is going to be?

Ah, McLaren Vale, where the vines meet the sea and every day is a tasty adventure…

Leena, Adam and I began with a snack at Blessed Cheese.

A local cheddar, some smoked meats, local olives and pickles, a berry and a tomato onion relish. And…

…haloumi and zucchini patties with a yogurt and olive oil dip and a watercress salad.

We sampled some wines in “downtown” McLaren Vale and then headed to the Woodstock Winery. A whack group of Yankee-hating Australians heard our accents and dragged us to the stocks!

I really didn’t want to die because I heard the Woodstock shiraz is really quite lovely and it just would have been a shame to not try it before dying, so we put our heads together and made a heroic escape to the cellar door.

We then made our way through rolling hills…

…stopping for some photo opps….

…of course picking up some snacks of smoked macadamias and jolly coloured edible critters…

…until we arrived at Pertaringa for another tasting and so Leena could buy some nasty fortified wine. Then we were off to Moana for their monthly market. I bought some herbs to plant on my deck. They’ve already died. Oops. Daddy, will you send me an Aero Garden?

We did some skipping on the beach near the Moana Market. We were just in such a darned good mood.

Weeeeeeeeeee! I learned from watching America’s Next Top Model how to jump gracefully while relaxing my face and limbs so as to appear natural and effortless. I think I did a good job here.

We then went for a walk along the ocean cliffs. Leena wasn’t pleased with this physical activity segment of our roadtrip but she got over it when Adam planted a big wet one right on her. Ewwwww!

Here’s me, the third wheel!

Spectacular coastline.

Adam took the scenic route back to Adelaide and we were lucky to spot tons of kangas at dusk in the farmlands.

Every great trip starts and ends with great food. We hit up an Ethiopian number in nearby Torrensville called Abyssinian.

I ate too much food. It was totally worth it. I can't remember what any of the dishes were called. And I didn’t think about the impending due date of my final assignment even once all day. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.