The art of French cooking

As many of you will be aware, I am currently travelling. We had a few weeks of camping, and we’re now coming to the end of our month in Europe.

A fortnight before we were due to be in Paris, my darling suggested, out of nowhere, that we look into a French cooking class. Clearly, this was an inspired idea. After a bit of googling we found Le Foodist, which had exceptional online reviews and which had spots available for our last night in the city. We decided not to book for the market bit at the start, because we figured there wasn’t much point when we were leaving 12 hours later, and becuase we thought we might want more time doing museum-y sorts of things.

The food

Our menu consisted of cauliflower soup, coq au vin, and peach Melba (which as an Australian I found hilarious). Our class of  twelve was divided into different working groups at different times to do a range of prep. While doing so we tried different French white wine and two different Bries. We ate everything that we prepared. 

Cauliflower soup doesn’t sound all that exciting. This cauliflower soup, though, was topped with roasted cauliflower florets that had been brushed with curry powder; with boiled mussels – whose broth was added to the soup; and with dots of truffle oil. (I have to get me some truffle oil.) It was exquisite. 

Coq au vin is something I have heard of, and may have eaten once or twice, but I haven’t made it. Making the sauce was a fascinating exercise: using a vegetable base and a large quantity of red wine which reduced to nothing, and then adding stock to turn it back into a sauce. Cooking the chicken was the most interesting part: salt and pepper on the chicken breast then rolling it up with plastic film into a sausage, and then boiling it for five minutes and resting for another five. It was delicious and succulent and this method is going straight to my must-repeat list. For the vegetables, we were introduced to not-melon-ballers: small spoon-like instruments with rounded ends that have a fancy name in French and come in a variety of sizes. These are used to carve balls from things like carrot and turnip. We were introduced to the sensible way to finely chop thinks like shallots. And we were shown how to make the best potato mash ever, which involved a fine sieve and a very large amount of butter.

For dessert, we made raspberry cousli and creme anglais, which then became ice cream, served with delightfully fresh peaches. It was a very simple dessert which was a good accompaniment to the fairly rich main meal.

The course

Our teacher, Fred, was excellent. He was good at dividing us into groups and showing us a variety of cooking techniques. He is passionate about food and French culture (the tag line of Le Foodist is “discovering culture through food”), and sharing his knowledge about food, the regionality of food, about Paris, and tricks for making food work. The premises aren’t huge, but there was enough space for the dozen of us to cut and stir without chopping anyone’s fingers off.  

Highly recommended. I absolutely intend to make chicken in this way when I am home; at some stage I would like to recreate the “au vin” part of the recipe too. I’m inspired to make cauliflower soup that really works – it gives me a reason to plant them again, too. 

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.

25 years of Nebbiolo

IMG_1436 copyI enjoy wine, but I am by no means a connoisseur. For me, going to an event like this (with friends Gillian and Andrew), is an interesting exercise – doing a vertical tasting of the same variety of wine to see if I can actually taste a difference in them. It’s also usually more about the food and company though.

Organised as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, this was a celebration of Pizzini Wines having made wine, and especially nebbiolo, for a quarter of a century. We didn’t get to drink any of that first vintage because they drank it all…

IMG_1437.JPGIn the first bracket, I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I really didn’t enjoy the 1993, although it did actually improve with some air (I’ve always been a bit sceptical of this claim). The 1995 was definitely my favourite of this trio, although the 1997 was also fine. The 21st century wines, however, were far more to my liking. The 2004 in particular was very drinkable… we later discovered that this vintage was stored in new oak, which basically equates to sugar in wine-making terms; thus, no surprises. The 2006 was fine – I would drink it although it wouldn’t be my choice; I found it too dry – and and 2011 was a bit meh, although it too improved with some air; it didn’t have quite the flavour of the 2004. The last pair were intended to be a bit special, and they certainly were. Sometimes I have tasted wine that’s meant to be all ‘this is the reason we have a top shelf’ and I’m all ”I’d pay $25 a bottle”. The 1998 magnum was quite tasty. The 2004 Coronamento, though, was definitely the best wine of the evening. I don’t have the training to use all the proper wine-snob words, so all I can say is: it was very, very tasty.

The vertical tasting was definitely worth it in that sense – the same grape tasting different based on growing conditions and time in bottle and all those sorts of things. It was a good education in that.

…well, the Coronamento was the best nebbiolo, anyway. Because not listed here was the final wine we tried: we tried it out of a cask, because it hasn’t actually been bottled yet. I don’t know if it has a name but it’s made from trebbiano grapes, is a dessert wine, and whooooaa. A. Maze.

The food was provided by Project 49, in the restaurant which isn’t officially open yet. The first course was a wee plate of four types of mushrooms, accompanied by a white bean puree and truffle paste with dehydrated/rehydrated mushrooms and was spectacular. Next was a risotto of pine nut, pear, pear, ash… and rabbit. And it was also amazing. Then main was two thick slices of a pan-fried sausage, which was a bit like chorizo and all caramelly from the frying and delicious, with lentil and pickled radish. So good. Dessert was fig-leaf pan cotta and rhubarb, with a hazelnut shortbread. Overall, I enjoyed the food more than the wine (except for the trebbiano); this is no reflection on Pizzini and absolutely a reflection on me!

The event was well-organised, with quite a small number of people and tables fairly well spaced – it was still a pretty loud environment, thank you concrete floors, but it was bearable. There were four members of the Pizzini family present (it’s family owned and run), with one at each table, and they were pleasant and generous with their time and knowledge. Papa Pizzini should have been made to use notes, though, when he spoke… The Project 49 staff were delightful, and the food as noted was excellent.

Poshing it up

IMG_1425.JPGA while back I interviewed my dear friend Alison. This year marks the 20th anniversary of us knowing each other, so we went on a date to the State Library of Victoria for high tea.

High tea was part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. The idea behind it was to have food inspired by some of the collection that the SLV has: there’s heaps of ephemera from various people important to Victoria’s history including place cards-cum-menus for dinner parties, an awesome fold-out fan menu from a Melbourne Cricket Club event, old Jimmy Watson menus, and what is apparently the oldest cookbook printed in Australia: one for different flavours of ice cream. We got to see a bunch of this stuff – it’s not usually on display, so that was fun.

IMG_1429.JPGThe food was also good. The prosecco was lovely and the English breakfast tea not stewed, which is always a concern… The sandwiches were delicious, with the chicken and pear and basil being quite a surprise but definitely a winner. I think my favourite of the sweet things was the chocolate waffle tartlet with salted caramel; I ate the popcorn but eh, I always think it’s a waste of space. The scones were not as light as I had expected; they were still tasty, as was the jam. The bachelor’s buttons were the big surprise – really quite tasty. And oh look, a recipe from the National Museum!

It was one of those sit-with-other-people events. We were the only people not with our mothers, on our table (one group was three generations). It was a very popular Christmas gift apparently.

It was a lovely event, in a lovely space.

Brewery fresh

Last year we were given (or, more accurately, my darling was) gift certificates to go tour the Carlton United Brewery plant in Melbourne, and then have a beer tasting.

The place is a fascinating mixture of industrialisation and … well, not artisanship, not when you’re working on the scale CUB is, but beer just is primitive, I guess? It’s water, yeast, malt and hops. Add them together, add heat, and ta dah! Alcohol. The difference between your home brew and CUB is that CUB is making several hundred thousand litres at a throw.

The machinery for making the beer is all pretty straight forward. Enormous metal vats for fermenting, and a control room… and that’s it, really. Very minimal. The packaging area is way more complicated, with bottles going whizzing around; we didn’t get to see the canning area because apparently if you open the door too long, you’re liable to get cans going spinning around the place. They bottle and label something like 700+ per minute.

In the fermenting area we got to see and, if we wanted, taste, the three different sorts of malt they use at CUB (I tasted the caramel-y one, and it was surprisingly tasty), as well as hops (recommended not to be eaten) – I don’t think I’d seen hops before. The packaging area had examples of CUB bottles across the century, which was really cool.

Back at the public area/bar and cafe, we grabbed a paddle and choose six beers to try. I only tried five because I knew I didn’t need to try Carlton Dry or VB (blech). And I have to say it confirmed my suspicion: I am not a CUB drinker. I didn’t mind the Wild Yak, and the cider on tap was also quite nice, but everything else… nah. I think I’m ruined by and for your more crafty beer. Don’t ask me what it is that I dis/like because I don’t have the words to explain beer, but I do know what I don’t like.

If you’re interested in the industrial side of beer making I do think this is a good tour to go on. The food from the cafe was fine, they have a range of CUB beers on tap if that’s your thing… all in all they’re trying hard to present themselves well to both hardcore CUB fans and people like, well, me – interested in process as well as food, and I guess on the snobbier end of the food spectrum 😉

Acts of Kitchen 15: Estonian food

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In which I get Liina to tell me about the food she grew up (with background noise), and I talk about a cookbook, make a type of jam, and go to a tea and brunch degustation.

 

unknownIstanbul Cult Recipes: the book and the recipes.
Versions of carrot, cardamom and pistachio jam: like this although without the rose water… and mine wasn’t from Saffron Tales although oh look! Also this one.

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Tea and brunch

IMG_1345.JPGA tea and brunch degustation, folks. Tea and brunch. My sister (of Mexican cooking class fame) and I gave this to each other as a Christmas present. It was hosted by Flag and Spear in a cute little studio in Fitzroy. All of the food was served as canapés; on the left is the menu.

The first tea was slightly carbonated and had a touch of passionfruit puree added; it was delightful and I wish it existed as a tea I could buy or easily make up. I would drink it all summer.

The food was excellent. The pumpkin dumpling was soft and there was a hint of lime in the mayo on top; the bircher was delicious, with the layer of pear in the middle. My sister is a bit over things served in Mason jars; I, however, am still besotted by them.The seeded toast – appetisingly presented here on my hand – was actually seeds and nuts that the cook had laid out and baked and then cut into sheets. Delicious. The waffle stack was amazing and we were a bit surprised  about the chilli on top; the tea smoothed it out nicely. And the French toast muffin was an excellent final dish.
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Of course, the tea was also a significant part of the event. I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of green tea so I wasn’t expecting to love all of these. But the second one, which is called white tea in Chinese but is actually a green tea – because it’s from a white jade tree – was delightful and smooth and wonderful… and in fact all of them were very drinkable. I wouldn’t have much more than this small glass of most of them, but there was no occasion when I was looking for a pot plant… and the last tea had such a story attached to it (it was all sold out from the tiny little plantation and the owner went to buy some back from her person in Shanghai just for the organiser for this event!).

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