Tea Festival

I went to the Melbourne Tea Festival! I was pretty excited to go, although at the same time I was apprehensive; I don’t love crowds and I am easily overwhelmed these days. So I was worried that it would be just TOO BIG and I would find the choice overpowering.

Happily this was not the case.

I mean, I’m still amazed and impressed by the number of small scale tea blenders in Australia, and there were even some people there selling Australian-grown tea. But it wasn’t like a craft festival where there’s a dozen people selling identical stuff.

Well. Except they were all selling the same sort of product, I guess.

Also I just ignored all the naturopathic places, and if you’re selling Slimming Tea I am walking past.

ANYWAY. There were people selling black tea, green tea, and chai; I felt like green and chai dominated. Possibly because I don’t love those things, although my co-attendee, my sister, does like both of those so she was interested. This was my haul:IMG_1461.JPG

So yeh, I have a thing for Earl Grey (the two test tubes of black tea are both French Earl Grey). Partly this was in order to give myself a way of focusing; it would have been verrrry easy to just go completely nuts. At least this way I had some direction… and then there was the chocolate one. That’s made from the husks of cacao pods! How cool is that? Take the leftover stuff and roast it and serve it up as tea. Yes, it is still quite chocolate-y. The ceramic cup at the front was included as part of the entrance fee; pretty much everyone had tea brewing for you to sample, and that’s what you got to use.

IMG_1459.JPGThere were also some food stalls. In the spirit of my obsession, we had to try these Earl Grey macarons. They were very nice… but they were not very Earl Grey-y. WOE. (They were a not-very-overpowering jaffa, basically.)

I will probably be back next year.

I’m Just Here for Dessert: the food

9781743368824Yesterday, the book. Today, the food.

(This book was provided at no cost by the publisher. It’s RRP $39.99; out now.)

While I quite liked the recipes I’ve tried from this book so far, I have to say that I am not the target audience for this book. I am not one for making particularly pretty objects. I have neither the patience nor the vision to experiment with different piping techniques. I am more interested in flavour than appearance, so I found this book a little frustrating. For example: I made the basic cupcakes, and they are a fine cupcake. I liked them a lot. But the only flavour variations suggested are to add zest; or cocoa and a bit of chocolate; or put a berry into the middle. And those are fine suggestions… but I’d rather be playing with nuts and rose water and so on. This isn’t a problem with the book itself – it’s a mismatch between what I want and what Khoo’s intentions are. If I had the patience and skill, I love some of her styling suggestions: topping a cupcake with a meringue rosette, a macaron, and a mini Oreo, all on top of dark blue buttercream? Spectacular! I just can’t see me doing it.

Anyway, what I have cooked: the cupcakes, as mentioned. Very nice. Also made her buttercream, and used it to top 16 cupcakes rather than the six she suggests!

IMG_1446.JPGDonuts. Oh yes. Courtesy of Alisa, I have a six-hole pan, and I made them and they are great. The first time I actually had no milk so I used double the yoghurt, and I think they might have been a bit better than the next lot with half yoghurt, half milk. At any rate, they are delicious and easy, too. The second time I made them I even followed the suggestions for icing: I made the basic ombre icing and used one drip of colouring, and iced a few… then added another drip of icing and iced a few more… and so on. And yes, having that progression of colour was indeed delightful to look at. So that sort of easy styling, even I can manage.

Ice cream: I have an ice cream machine and have followed the recipe that came with it. Khoo’s recipe is very similar, and didn’t have a different texture that I could perceive. I did follow her suggestion of making lemon ice cream, and I also followed her suggestion of mixing and matching two flavours. So as well as lemon, I made lime ice cream, using a couple of leave from my makrut lime. I think I should have used a bit more because it wasn’t quite as lime-y as I had hoped, in the end. I even amused myself by adding a drop of yellow to the lemon and a drop of green to the lime while churning. Together, they were indeed excellent.

Waffles. Yeh, I made waffles. I now own a waffle iron. I’ve tried a few recipes, which I’ll blog at a later date. In terms of the recipe here: firstly, we discovered that the waffle iron Khoo is using must be a lot smaller than ours, because while her recipe says it will make six, we made four that weren’t full size. In terms of taste, I really liked them; the texture was smooth and they rose nicely. I haven’t made any of the suggested waffle toppings because we’ve mostly had them as a savoury thing so far!

I don’t tend to make cocktails, but I happened to have strawberries in the house when I noticed this suggestion: put halved strawberries into some gin; allow to steep; drink. So I did. And it was delightful.

The most significant chapters of the book are the ones on styling cakes. I admit I skipped past those, because the idea of building three layer cakes and then decorating them with cascading meringue makes me freeze in fear.

At some point I will make macarons. For sure. Definitely. No doubt about it.

If you’re into styling, or want to be into styling, then this is a book you want. If styling isn’t your thing, you may want to skip it.

I’m Just Here for Dessert

9781743368824I received this from Murdoch Books at no cost. RRP $39.99; out now. Today, I’ll discuss the book itself; tomorrow, the recipes.

I love dessert. I called my 30th birthday party “my just desserts” and served only dessert.

This is probably the most beautiful cookbook I have ever held in my hands. I mean, look at that cover. The edges of the pages are all gold. Inside, there are exquisite pictures of food and baking utensils and some of the inspiration for Khoo’s own creations – buildings, flowers, and so on. This is a delightful book to browse through.

Khoo opens the book with a discussion of why she started Nectar and Stone, some of the places she finds inspiration for her designs – florists and bookstores! – and a recommendation that you play with colour. I think this section is meant to be more inspiration than anything else, and that later chapters give a little more detail. She also discusses key ingredients – including, intriguingly, that she prefers to use Nuttelex rather than butter because of dairy intolerance. She also includes suggestions for how to dress a table, and some ideas about how to photograph your creations if you want to take instagram by storm.

The cooking chapters are the eleven ‘layers’ to the book – yes, like an epic cake that you’d be terrified of trying to cut. It covers meringues, cupcakes, (baked) donuts, macarons, ice cream, tarts, small and large cakes, waffles, cocktails, and popsicles. Each chapter has a basic recipe, a few suggestions for flavour variations, and then ideas about how to style them. Also a whole pile of pictures to either inspire you, or make you feel like you’ll never achieve their perfection!

One thing I like about the way she presents the recipes is that there’s a list of ingredients… and then a list of equipment. This, I appreciate a lot. The recipes themselves are presented clearly and the method is explained in a straightforward manner. She includes tips on things like what to do with buttercream if you’re making it in advance, while the entire section on macarons (which is only layer four!) has a whole pile of advice and reassurance. I haven’t tried them yet…

Although this is a hefty cookbook, there’s not that much recipe-substance to it; a lot of it is the pictures, both of food and Khoo’s inspiration – pots of paint, buildings, trees, and so on. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth knowing that this is not intended as an ‘everything you need to know about making dessert’ book. If you really want suggestions for how to experiment with flavours in ice cream, cupcakes, or cake, this is not the book for you. But if you want a gorgeous book to browse through, as a springboard for your own work – well, that’s what Khoo has written this book to be: she says she wants to “provide… the skills and tools you’ll need to shape your personal style of dessert design” (14). So it’s light on specific direction and heavy on general advice to ‘let your creative juices flow’.

Acts of Kitchen: Hilary McNevin

AoK_logo_v2In which I talk to Hilary McNevin about writing about food and making food and promoting food, and I also talk about two books I got to review.

Hilary’s website

(and 1001 Restaurants You Must Experience Before You Die)

Cookbooks: Luke Mangan’s Sharing Plates and Caroline Khoo’s I’m Just Here For DessertUnknown9781743368824.jpg

Luke Mangan’s Sharing Plates: the food

Unknown.jpegWhen you have friends coming over for dinner, it makes sense to experiment on them with recipes from a book called Sharing Plates (sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost; discussion of the book itself).

Rosemary popovers: these are in the Bread section of the book. You make a batter of flour, eggs, milk and rosemary, and then pour it into a muffin pan to bake. These were ok; they popped right out of the muffin holes (maybe mine were deeper than the 60mL specified in the recipe), which was amusing. I found them a bit too eggy to really enjoy like a bread roll, which is what I was assuming they would be like. The recipe calls for it to be served with seaweed butter (adding dried seaweed); I neither have easy access to an Asian grocery nor the inclination to try seaweed this way at home. I put thyme into some butter instead, which is still in keeping with the book as it does say you’re allowed to experiment with other herbs. I made 8, so they certainly count as ‘sharing’ food.

Salad of roasted pumpkin, chorizo, chickpeas, quinoa and blue cheese: from the Snacks and Salads section. I’ll be upfront and say I am made a few alterations to this. I don’t like blue cheese so I used a very good Persian feta instead; I left out the roast capsicum because I couldn’t be bothered; and I didn’t make/use the cabernet sauvignon dressing because I thought the chorizo left enough oil to dress the quinoa, and the chorizo and seasoned pumpkin and feta together all seemed to add enough zing. I did like the combination here of using quinoa and a few chickpeas with the chorizo and roasted pumpkin; the walnuts on top added a good crunch, and the preserved lemon a piquant tang. In the past I have made similar salads with couscous; I think quinoa is a bit lighter, and I’ll tend towards it from now on (remembering to not let it burn in the pot…). I guess salad counts as a sharing food?

Chermoula lamb: I wanted to use the salad, above, so I mixed n matched with the Chermoula lamb with pumpkin couscous, from the Meat section. Perhaps you can buy chermoula somewhere in Australia as a marinade, but I’ve not noticed it. I assume this because the ingredients list says “30g chermoula; 6x80g lamb loins…”. I’ve used chermoula before so I was happy to go make it, but I was really surprised to see if referenced here as something you would just buy. The chermoula/lamb combo was fine. To be honest I don’t really see how this counts as a ‘sharing plate’ since there’s nothing more ‘sharing’ about this than with any other recipe that serves 4-6 people.

Bounty bars: from the Sweets section. I was pretty excited about making these – the ingredients are straightforward (butter, sugar, condensed milk (!!), coconut, chocolate) and I love a Bounty. And yes, they were very tasty, and of course licking the bowls was lovely. However the instruction that “Using two forks, dip a bar into the melted chocolate and roll to coat all sides. Use one fork to remove the bar from the chocolate and the other to wipe off the excess chocolate” (p213) is deceptive. That process was far more difficult than implied: the bars had been in the freezer, to solidify, so the chocolate just stuck to them really quickly – removing excess was hard. And just getting them into and out of the chocolate was a process. Perhaps I need to use a wider-mouthed bowl, but that’s not specified in the instructions. In the end, because of how annoying the process was and because of just how much chocolate was ending up on each bar, I gave up on covering the whole thing and went with fairly serious drizzling instead. This was far easier and still, I think, deposited a good amount of chocolate on the bar. Having learnt this trick I would be happy to make these again. I did indeed make the 15 suggested by the recipe… they do count as a ‘sharing’ plate in that respect, although given that they are meant to last for a week in an airtight container, you could just as easily not share them…

At other times

Sumac-spiced pork and vela meatballs with fontina mash: the meatballs were great, although I couldn’t pick up the sumac, which was sad and perhaps not surprising since you put in the same amount of ground coriander, and then some allspice, paprika, and pepper as well. The recipe calls for you to have bacon in the mix, which I think is intriguing, as well as pork back fat… which I couldn’t find, so I just left it out. Not sure what difference it would have made, of course; perhaps smoother texture? I thought they were fine, anyway. The tomato sauce had anchovy in it, which I like for the salt and umami flavour. The potato mash was intriguing – milk, cream, butter, parmesan, and fontina. I did not add cream, because I don’t tend to have it just sitting around, but I did go out and buy some fontina specifically. Fontina is not a cheese I would willingly eat, being much stinkier than I enjoy… but I was intrigued by its addition to the mash, and I quite liked it. Having said that, I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to source fontina for future mash: it’s not that easy to find, and it’s not particularly cheap, either. I’d be happy with either more buttery mash, or adding parmesan. The meatballs and the tomato sauce were very nice. Once again, unconvinced that this really deserves the moniker ‘sharing plate’; yes you can share it, yes it would be a nice cosy dinner party meal, but… it’s not something other than that.

Lamb empanadas: certainly count as sharing plates, and these were delightful. However, the info bar at the top said it made 10 empanadas; the ingredients list specifies 4 sheets of puff pastry; and the instructions say to use a coffee mug or glass to cut “10 rounds from each sheet”…

Things I haven’t cooked but give a sense of what the book is like: the first recipe is Quail eggs benedict with chilli kale on mini muffins; the final recipe is Soft Swiss meringue with berries and almond anglaise (actually the very last recipe, in the Basics section, is Wasabi Dressing).

Luke Mangan’s Sharing Plates

UnknownThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $39.99. (See here for my discussion of some recipes.)

Overall, this book is well presented and the format of the recipes is basically approachable. The binding of my copy seems like it will cope well with wear and tear; the pages are not going to be destroyed by some cooking splatter. I do, however, have some reservations.

I was really excited about the idea of ‘sharing plates’ because I like the tapas/mezze concept a lot. While some of the recipes here do allow for a tapas or mezze style presentation, many of them don’t, really: they’re just recipes that scale well for more than two people, and that would make nice dinner party meals. They do not all lend themselves to being presented on a central plate, for instance, any more than any other meal does – I mean, you can put spaghetti bolognese in the middle of the table and let people serve themselves; I love that idea and I would totally do that but it doesn’t automatically make it a ‘sharing plate’.

In the advertising copy, the book is suggested as showing “how to keep menu planning easy, it’s often simplest to stick to a general style of cuisine” (that’s [sic]), and that the book “shows us how to think about balancing flavours and textures, how much time you have for preparation and what elements of the menu can be made well in advance.” In the introduction, Mangan does say that balancing flavours and textures is important and that you should think about what sort of time you have, and that “to avoid a confusion of flavours, and to keep menu planning easy, it’s often simplest to stick to a general style of cuisine… but don’t be afraid to be a bit adventurous too” (7). All of this is sensible advice.

However. Firstly, while some recipes are identified by their provenance – parathas as Indian, braesola as hailing from Italy, ‘po boys’ as a traditional sandwich in Louisiana (um, and Thai beef koftas…) – this is not the case with every recipe. So in order to “avoid a confusion of flavours” you either need to know the cuisine of the recipe you’re looking at (or look it up), or spend time comparing ingredients to figure out if they’ll be complimentary. And there’s no “this goes well with that” throughout the book – and no suggested menus – to help someone unfamiliar with any of the recipes. So… not so much with helping in that respect. Secondly, while some of the recipes do tell you what can be made ahead of time, none of the recipe pages tell you how long each step will take. There is no Prep Time/Cooking Time to give you an immediate indication for how time-consuming a recipe is. This is a serious deficit and to my mind negates any notion that this book wants to help you in how you plan your time.

The book is divided into several sections: Breakfast and Brunch; Bread; Snacks and Salads; Oysters and Sashimi; Fish and Shellfish; Meat; Poultry; Sweets. There’s a Basics section, too, with salad dressings and such. I have never seen a cookbook with an entire section on oysters and sashimi! They are very much not my bag but I understand that if you do like them, and have access to a good fishmonger, then such a chapter would be brilliant – they can definitely work as sharing plates. Each section starts with a little introduction from Mangan… to be honest I didn’t feel like they added much to an understanding of what each section is about; they mostly have a few platitudes (“I’ve never really been one for food trends; I believe in good, honest food that’s approachable for everyone”, p131) and some suggestions of which recipes might be particularly good in the coming chapter. As with Julie Goodwin’s book, each section is a different colour so it’s straightforward to flick to the section you want (grey for meat, though? not so appealing).

The recipes themselves are presented one per page, with many having nicely-styled photos accompanying them. The ingredients are listed in bold on one side, the instructions on the other side of the page. If there are multiple parts to the recipe (lamb filling/empanadas/mayonnaise, for instance), then they are clearly separated on the page with bold headings. How many of each thing, or how many people are served, is made clear at the top of the recipe. However, as already noted, there is no indication of how long each step will take. Each page has nice big margins for writing in if that’s your thing.

Acts of Kitchen: Cheryl and Bec

AoK_logo_v2In which I discuss waffles and donuts, and announce that Patreon patrons at the $2 level and above will now have access to a Slack where you can chat to me and other folks…

Cheryl is Flag and Spear

Check out some of imbue’s previous events! (I went to the Brunch one.)

Bec is In the Art of Entertaining (website coming soon but the picture is from the brunch I attended)