Tuesday, August 2, 2011

It's Udon for Lunch

iPhone image
I love those thin slices of coloured fish cakes you find in Japanese soups - they're called kamaboko and often have a dyed red edge, or a swirl of red through the middle which  always reminds me of one of those old-fashioned rolled lollypops. Well, it seems I've digressed in my first sentence, because I'm not blogging about lollies or kamaboko specifically. I'm blogging about soup.

Kanamochi in Manly is possibly the best Japanese on the Northern Beaches. It isn't cheap, and its swank black decor dictates that it isn't exactly cheerful either. But it serves Japanese food that doesn't arrive to your table via conveyor belt or display fridge - which can be rare in a world of sushi trains and eat-me-now nori rolls. 

If you don't fancy splashing out money for dinner, go for the lunch menu which is a cheaper version of the full menu. Order some gorgeous Tempura Udon noodles with, you guessed it, kamaboko (pictured floating in above bowl). The dashi broth is rich and every slurp feels like an shot of nutrients, the noodles spongy with bite, loads of shallot flavour, and the tempura is importantly served separately to remain crisp and light. It's Japanese soul food for a chilly day. 

Darley Road 
Manly NSW

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

My Favourite Saturday

 Chilly Saturday mornings don’t get much better than a visit to Eveleigh Farmers’ Markets. This is one of my favourite Sydney markets – held under the vast cover of the old carriage works in Redfern and buzzing with inner-city vibe.

First stop is always for a piping hot Martabak or Murtabak (pictured twice above) - a crepe like roti pastry stuffed with egg and veg and fried until crisp and golden. Drizzled with hot chilli sauce, this is Indonesian street food at its best.

Then it’s time for coffee. Usually it’s from Toby’s Estate. But this time we thought we’d beat the wait and we grabbed takeaway from funky CafĂ© Ism (below) in Newtown on our walk to market – it’s just a block from the market and we usually find a park nearby.
With coffee in veins, my brain has awoken enough for a browse through the market, just in time to grab the last bunch of organic Cavalo Nero. Hungry again we join the queue for Billy Kwong’s breakfast – this, my friends, is the best damn way to eat on a Saturday morning. Ever. Anywhere. Anytime. Kylie Kwong (scroll down for image) and her brother work this popular stall most Saturday mornings.

After a 45 min wait we’re in possession of paper thin pancakes (think Peking duck style) surrounding snapping-fresh veg and herbs, omelette and a drizzle of sweet soy. This has to be chased by a cup of silky soft steaming pork dumplings, swimming in a broth of soy, vinegar and ginger. Breakfast nirvana.  Dessert is usually a treat from Cupcake Princess…for my four year old, not me. I promise.

Images below: more of Billy Kwong's brekkie; you know it's Winter when Brussel Sprouts look this fresh; Eumundi advertising their smoked stuff; the fruit of my labour...dinner made with Italian sausage and the cavalo nero.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pork stir-fry at New Shanghai

(iPhone pics)
My love for New Shanghai in Chatswood Chase hasn't dimmed (see my previous post).  Now regulars, we've had perhaps a few too many family dinners on an early Saturday night. My preschooler is a devotee to the crispy skin chicken with noodle soup... So while he is slurping up the spongy, thick white noodles, we make a note to try something different on every visit. But we always have Xiao Long Bau.  Last time we hit another jackpot - shredded pork stir-fried in peking sauce served with plain steamed buns. It's kind of a poor-man's peking duck with tender morsels of pork in a hoisin sauce. Stuff the pudgy, chewy buns with a bit of the rich meat, whack in a few bits of crisp cucumber and shallots, and bite your way to bliss. 

New Shanghai
Chatswood Chase NSW Australia
612 9412 3358

Also at Ashfield in Sydney, Westfield Bondi Junction in Eastern Sydney, Lemon Grove Shopping Centre Chatswood, Charlestown (near Newcastle NSW), Singapore and, of course, Shanghai, China.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Butter me up, Pepe!

(iPhone pic)
Pepes Saya’s cultured butter is tangy, creamy and lush enough to spread on anything that stops on my breadboard. It made me very happy for the couple of weeks it resided in my fridge.

Unlike regular butter, cultured butter has a lactic bacteria added to the cream that promotes fermentation – hence a distinct sour tang. Oddly, this sourness almost acts like a natural flavour enhancer, bringing the old-fashioned, farm-churned flavours and mouth-feel to life.
Olsson’s kiln-dried fine pacific salt is added to Pepe’s butter before it is kneaded to dispel excess water. It’s then dusted with Murray River salt for the fermenting or moulding stage.  Yep, it’s almost the blue cheese of the butter world.
Try it on with your next chewy batard from the weekend farmer’s market. It needs nothing more. Hand-wrapped in wax paper and sold in refrigerated sections, Pepe’s is available on the Northern Beaches at The Cooks Larder in Avalon, and The Village Grocer in Balgowlah.
Find out more here: www.pepesayas.com.au

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Pastry Perfection

(iPhone pics)
Pity it’s not forecast to rain this weekend. I say this because rain, even some cold weather, would give me the excuse to track back to Adriano Zumbo’s Manly shop and have another pie.  The filling of the beef and veg was rich, meaty, moist and spot on. But it needs to be enjoyed in chilly weather. Biting in to it I could feel the butter ooze over my teeth. It was that indulgent.

I was sitting on a park bench overlooking the Harbour. It was 27C. But I totally needed a glass of tannin-rich red...sorry to say, I made do with limonata Sanpellegrino instead.

Zumbo’s sausage rolls are an about-face from usual pastry shop fare – full of chunky, coarse pork and fennel seeds…sort of Italian snag in a pastry case. The African lamb was good - almost green from loads of herbs and spices, although the walnuts on top made it too rich.

iPhone pics (L: Pork R: African Lamb)
I know I've said it before, but it’s certain this place will be my Winter weekend haunt. And it doesn’t hurt that I can polish it all off with a Pandan and Coconut Macaron.

Shop 1a 40 East Esplanade, Manly NSW (on corner of Wentworth Ave, opposite the Wharf Hotel - look for hole in wall and tiny, tiny sign)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Turning Japanese

iPhone pic - last night's Gyodon with Benishoga (red ginger) in Malcolm Greenwood's bowls

Clean and simple flavours, nourishing and comforting - Japanese food always leaves me feeling healthy and sated. But anyway you look at it, making sushi at home is fiddly and time consuming. Last night a class of Northern Beaches food lovers discovered Japanese food is so much more than sushi when Sam Mackie and I taught Japanese at Home at The Cooks Larder. We explored fresh and seasonal food, the sort of food that is easy to eat at any meal. Our group devoured a simple tuna sashimi dish with citrus dressing and shiso, comforting rice bowls Oyako Donburi and Gyodon, an udon noodle bowl with Chinese BBQ pork, spinach and egg, a comforting chawan mushi with prawns, and a chilled sunomono salad. And not to forget our homemade miso soup to start!

As promised to our class, here is a pantry staple list that will allow anyone to whip up a bowl of Japanese comfort at any time:

Bean thread noodles/harusame – sold dried and often called cellophane or glass noodles.
Dashi – this is the all-purpose stock used in many Japanese dishes. It is made of dried bonito flakes (a fish) and konbu (seaweed/kelp) pronounced koMbu. Keep dashi-no-moto in the pantry - it is the Japanese version of stock powder. Spiral Brand dashi powder available from health food stores is really excellent.
Japanese soy sauce/shoyu -there are ‘fake’ soy sauces on the market particularly from China – the giveaways are ingredients like vegetable protein, corn syrup and caramel.  Only Japanese shoyo (soy sauce) and tamari can reliably be taken as naturally fermented soy made only from soy beans, wheat and a mould starter. Salt is added with yeast towards the end of fermentation. I like Japanese soy sauce better than Chinese as it as a more delicate flavour. I use it in all my Asian cooking. Chinese soy sauce uses more soy bean and far less wheat than Japanese, resulting in a stronger flavour.  Tamari is fermented without wheat.  A dark, rich soy sauce is also brewed with rice, making it safe for those with wheat allergies.
Konbu (Kombu) - dried kelp can be reconstituted, shredded and used on rice bowl dishes or in salads. Major ingredient in dashi.
Mirin – sweet rice wine used only for cooking.
Miso paste – fermented soy bean paste used as base for soup and many other dishes. Miso can be red, yellow or white. These are obtained from different stages of fermentation. The lighter the colour, the sweeter and milder the taste.
Mushrooms for Japanese cooking the most widely used are shiitake, shimeji, oyster and enokitai/enoki.
Nori – dried seaweed. Used to wrap sushi, and shredded to garnish dishes.
Ramen noodles – Chinese style noodles of the ‘instant noodle’ fame that are sold dried.
Rice vinegar/Su – naturally sweet and milder than ‘western’ vinegars.
Sake – rice wine that is used mainly to drink, rather than cook. Although it is often used in cooking in the form of mirin or cooking sake.
Sesame seeds or goma – used in many things from salads through to rice bowls.
Shichimi togarishi – seven spice hot powder that includes pungent flavours like hot pepper, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, mustard seeds, pepper and dried citrus peel.
Soba noodles – buckwheat thin noodles that are sold dried.
Sushi rice– steamed with vinegar, sugar and salt for sushi, or used simply steamed for bowl food.
Tahini – many recipes called from the grinding of sesame seeds to make a paste. Particularly the delicious Goma Dressing. True Japanese cooks would never cheat and use tahini, but go ahead – cheat! No one will know.
Udon Noodles – usually sold vac-packed. They are thick, soft white noodles made from flour.
Wakame - dried seaweed used in miso soup and salads.
Wasabi – Japanese horseradish found in powdered, paste or occasionally fresh root from Tassie.
Yuzu – a Japanese citrus fruit hard to get in any form outside of Japan. Jamie Oliver recommends a mixture of ruby grapefruit, lime and mandarin to get a similar flavour.

Many of these ingredients are now on supermarket shelves, but here are the stockists we used last night:
Kiwon Asian Grocery
5 Redman Road
Dee Why NSW (probably best Japanese and Korean range on Northern Beaches)

Asian City 
Shop 2, 308 Victoria Avenue
Chatswood NSW
(downstairs in Victoria Arcade, immediately next door to Chatswood Chase towards corner of Archer Street)

Searls Health Foods
2/72 Old Barrenjoey Road
Avalon NSW (we got dashi stock here)

Chatswood BBQ Kitchen
309 Victoria Avenue
Chatswood NSW
(directly opposite entrance to Chatswood Chase)

Other places to try:
Mao Sheng Asian Supermarket
Shop 8/26 Oaks Avenue
Dee Why NSW  (directly opposite Woolworths)

Heng Fa Asian Supermarket
Oaks Avenue
Dee Why NSW (directly opposite Dee Why Pastiserie and Dee Why Fish Shop)

Tokyo Mart
Sailor's Bay Road

Charmaine Soloman’s Encyclopaedia of Asian Food is a great book if you want to know the intricacies of any Asian cuisine. An indispensable and comprehensive reference for any kitchen shelf.  (Solomon, Charmaine; Encyclopedia of Asian Food – The Definitive Guide to Asian Cookery. Sydney: Hamlyn Australia, 2000)

As a last note,we planned this class long before the devastation in Japan. We considered cancelling, but realised there was no point. Not to forget that Japan needs to keep a strong export market in dried foods like noodles, sauces, spice mixes etc. Our best thoughts are with Japan -may you show strength and resilience along the long road to recovery.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Emperor's Tea

iPhone pics
Tucked into the airy eastern front of the Art Gallery of New South Wales is the restaurant. Stark white laminate tables and chairs, high gloss birch floors and views of the bulking grey ships of Garden Island and Woolloomooloo - visually it is everything expected of a gallery dining space. 

On a recent visit to the First Emperor exhibition we chose to have the treat of high tea. During this popular historic exhibition the restaurant's daily high tea was themed Chinese. The tiered tray of food was pretty and, well, dainty - very high tea, really. For $28 ($36 with glass of sparkling wine) it was a little sparse, but still satisfying. We nibbled on dumplings and peking duck pancakes, sipped a tomatoey broth of hot and sour soup, and indulged in green tea biscuits, mango jelly and banana ice cream crepes. Lemongrass tea was the perfect frame for our platter of Emperor's treats.

Art Gallery Restaurant 
Art Gallery of NSW
Art Gallery Road
Sydney NSW 2100
More details