Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Breakfast Variations For All Occasions, Or BLT Bliss, nom nom nom!

So in the interest of continued diversification and variety here's another first.  We seem to be having a few, but then these are such exciting times! It's a breakfast construction or “stack”, I use the term because it recalls the humour of a year or two ago (well it got to be funny), when everything you were served, be it in restaurant or more casual eatery was described as some sort of chimney pipe construction. “Stack of duck confit, green pea and kipfler” or “Beef with vegetable stack” and so it goes, you get the idea and one has to admit it is probably a better word than pile, though it can be a challenge to see the difference. Anyway, what matters is the product and the flavour, something good to chomp on! I think this is something along those lines.

*I confess it's only really a stack/pile because I opted for the open sandwich idea, keep that to yourselves though.

Breakfast is not something you really want to mess around with. Your a bit sleepy, at best a bit slow but feeling refreshed, at worst hungover and feeling about as good as last nights ashtray looks. You need a tea/coffee/juice and something to revive the long flagging blood sugar levels. Here's something to help, it might even impress if you have friends and hangers on present.

Suprisingly I took the photo...
I must call it a BACT really, I omitted lettuce and added a slice or two of cheese. Rationale? Who wants lettuce at 9am and you can't have enough tasty protein in this mix.

So to the recipe...

Sourdough Bread, sliced (I use my own, always wanted to say that!)
Avocado, sliced
Bacon (here use whatever cut/type you like or have, remember it is 9am)
Cheese (I used a bit of aged cheddar, but again personal preference and availability is king)
Tomato (I repeat the above statement)


Sauce of choice (I'd like to say I enjoyed something sophisticated here, but my guilty pleasure is a dash of tomato sauce.)

Fry some bacon, as this cooks slice your avocado, tomato and cheese. When the bacon has nearly reached the level of cookedness (dodgy word there I know, so sue me) you like, toast the bread. At this point when the toast is done I give it a little rub with a cut garlic clove, not too much and it's very tasty. This is one of the options I suggest and you can also butter or not butter as you desire, I just felt with the cheese and avocado it didn't need it, but choice and free will are great things.

On the toast arrange the ingredients in as artistic or haphazard way as pleases. I did make mine look ok for the photo but I promise everyone that the whole cooking process, even the photography only took me about 15 mins and I made it early in the morning.

Eat it! Possibly with Coffee, Tea or a Bloody Mary depending on how desperate the circumstance.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Not Drinking Wine? So Talk About It. Cygne Blanc...

Benson Rise Cygne Blanc 2007 Limestone Coast, South Australia.

I find myself having a non drinking evening, rather silly if you ask me, so what to do but think about a good drop.  Here's an opportunity I thought to delve into my tasting archive and put one of those rather silly notes to some use! 

Cygne Blanc is an interesting and rare variety I came across and was intrigued to taste. The grape has it's origins in the Swan Valley area of Western Australia and would appear to be a white mutation of Cabernet Sauvignon, a chance discovery in the garden of a vigneron at that. Propagation began from this single seedling and test batches and small scale production have followed from that point. To date the variety perhaps hasn't risen to the level that was hyped by some, but on the basis of this wine I feel further experimentation is worth the effort, as you will see by my ramblings below. I should also note I tasted the wine properly after it had been open a day, on opening I would say the wine was tighter, but there was some volatility. It was all more settled the next day.

Approaching 5 years old, the wine has a very youthful pale lemon hue. Nose has lemon citrus, stone fruit, lanolin and a hint of spicyness (spice may have faded somewhat over 24hrs) with a touch of flint. On the palate the texture jumps out at you, with a full, mouth filling but soft quality, my note said (“interesting!”) the lanolin quality comes through but there is also fruity sweetness with peach and melon. A savoury quality, underlines and counterpoints these features in the form of a grassy herbal note. This savoury quality is bolstered by pleasing acidity and lingers on the palate. A split personality was the thought I had of the wine as a whole, but in rather a good way. 87?

So a few wild stabs and questions! It feels a bit like a weird blend of Semillon/Chardonnay/Viogner (or something... Vermentino)? My questions were: Could it take some oak and would it be better a little leaner with a bit more acidity? To this end there would be pros and cons. In the rather sprawling world of wine it's always good to have something different and new, but only if it genuinely contributes something worthwhile or compelling to what is an already overflowing market. Another angle that might add to arguments for and against this variety is how it fairs in the shifting growing conditions we are experiencing due to climate change and water availability. I'm not sure if it shares the late ripening characteristics of Cabernet, but this would surely be an asset if it were the case. On having a glass of this as a drink, the lingering savoury quality is what struck me most. I felt like I'd been eating some tasty antipasto or the like. Perhaps similarly to Vermentino, this would be great with food, and versatile. If you get a chance to try some, see what you think.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Baby, You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To... or Mint Orange with Pomegranate Molasses

I'm not much of a dessert man if I'm honest. There isn't some particular prejudice towards dessert, I quite enjoy them and indeed have been known to have a second go at ones I particularly esteem; I even create them on occasion, it's just not a focus I have. Too savoury a palate, or maybe the title suggests I'm subconsciously in a hurry, I have no idea. Here we are anyway with a dessert, which is a first for musings.

Just a note at this point that I think pomegranate molasses the most amazing thing. It is so good in a variety of savoury and sweet situations because of it's beautiful intertwined sweetness and biting acidity.  Translating to a great counterpoint in a dish like this, or a tremendous flavour booster on the savoury plate.

A dessert most simple yet intoxicating, with a tantalising play of sweet and savoury, it could even be used as a palate cleanser if you intended to follow with a more "proper" dessert. Personally my choice after this little number would be a coffee and chunk of chocolate, simple tastes I know...

Mint Orange with Pomegranate Molasses

4 Oranges (navels may be the go, otherwise deseeding is an additional task)
Pomegranate Molasses
Mint, handful torn
Optional White Port

With a knife, top and bottom the oranges, then take the skins off. Slice finely crossways. Arrange on a serving dish as you please, throw some mint over and add another layer of orange. How you do this step all depends on the quantity your making, obviously you can make more and this would allow more layers. When constructed drizzle generously with pomegranate molasses. Refrigerate for 2hrs or so for maximum flavour. If you like, a drizzle of White Port (or favourite liqueur, Cointreau would work well) with the molasses adds further tastiness. Garnish with whole fresh mint leaves when serving.  It really is quite the delightful melange.

Despite the apparent simplicity, this really is a show stopper!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Warm Courgette & Bean and Salad

Most of the time I like to try and be an original, or at least think I am. I know I know, it's all been done before but I resist as I can. So anyway this is a first where I post another's recipe pretty directly, bear with me though as it serves a purpose beyond mere cookery. Oh and it's fantastic in flavour and simplicity.

The recipe comes from an episode of Poh's Kitchen where Poh teams up with Antonio Carluccio. For those unfamiliar with either, do you live under a rock? Google them! It's Antonio's recipe, sure, but not really (I'm certain he would agree). It's so simple and classic that it or a variation has graced many a table; we are blessed to have and be able to pass on dishes like these.

So before I get to the recipe, this dish says a number of things to me: It illustrates beauty in economy and quality of ingredients. It also allows me to express one of the joys which food gives me in that it is a celebration of what unites us, whilst encouraging diversity.  The two cooks in question come from very different origins, yet have such a similar outlook when all is said and done.  I admire very much Poh and Antonio for their enthusiasm and love of great food and the atmosphere it engenders, both show such obvious delight in what they do.

What of this recipe you ask? It's so simple!

Green beans
Garlic, roughly crushed
Mint, torn
Olive oil (I infused the garlic for an hr or 2 in the oil)
Lemon juice

In salted boiling water cook the beans and courgettes until slightly softtened, al dente etc (it really depends how you like it) but don't go too far! Drain and toss through the oil, lemon, garlic and mint. Quantities, well I'll just say have a little more courgette than bean and be generous with the mint and garlic over the top. Slosh some oil and lemon over, season, and well, pleasure should ensue! Also, you can obviously adjust it to suit the number eating. Still confused? Click here...  There's also a great load of recipes available, so it's well worth a look.  (Thanks ABC TV).

Easily a good dish to go with lamb or another cut of meat, it is also delicious alone or with some salami and good bread.

In closing as Antonio Carluccio says, MOF. Minimum of fuss, Maximum of flavour! Thanks to you and Poh Ling Yeow.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

“What's that Skip, you fancy something Italian?” Kangaroo Bolognese...

It's funny how some people react when you mention Kangaroo featuring in a dish you cooked or tried, I'm not entirely sure why, but it seems to divide, some love the idea whilst others appear perplexed. Sure I understand the notion of it being a national symbol; many seem to see kangaroos as cute and cuddly, up there alongside koalas for example, but there's some irony in the fact that neither are particularly like this most of the time in the wild. Not that koalas are eaten regularly, but I digress! Kangaroo seems a logical additional protein choice for a variety of reasons, but principally, alongside more familiar meats, such as beef, chicken, lamb etc, here is a relatively sustainable and low impact product. There is some argument about how sustainable, but there is no comparison between the relative environmental impact of cattle vs kangaroo.

From the consumers point of view this meat is interesting for a few reasons: it can be seared as steaks for a lean and flavoursome dish, and many prize the gamey quality of the meat. This high quality, it's leaness and flavour also suggest it would make excellent carpaccio. However for this dish I'm using a mince, the main concern with any preparation of roo remains ensuring the meat does not dry out due it's extreme leaness (for those unfamiliar with it think of venison). It's handy to use a little bit more oil or even use another fat or stock to maintain the delicacy of the meat.  For steaks, in the form of marinades and bastes; in this case a little more olive oil in the initial cooking process.

For this take on a dish possibly done to death, I feel the kangaroo brings such a wonderful depth of flavour and a welcome twist and sense of difference. It is also intentionally an easy one to prepare regardless of your skill level.  The nervous or novice can do this one and it's great for the pros when you want something good, but don't want to be slaving in the kitchen for hours.  I love cooking, just not all the time!


The dish goes nicely with a Cruickshank 2007 Shiraz...
(See it in the previous post)
 Olive oil
2 small to med onions
3 cloves garlic
500g kangaroo mince
½ tsp cumin
1 tsp mixed herbs
A little dried chilli
Good grind of black & white pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 bay leaves dried (really a matter of taste, I'd use less if fresh)
Some of my superdupa pork belly stock! (beef stock is ok if you don't have the former) *
2 400g tins of tomato
a little quality red wine (2 dessert spoons approx)
parmesan cheese

Piling it all in the pot

Sweat off and lightly brown the onion in a little oil, throw in a little salt as this nears completion. Add your mince and garlic, cook until the meat is coloured through. pop the spices in and let this cook a little as you open the tins of tomato. Whack these and your stock in the mix and combine. You should have quite a lot of liquid, but this is good as I just let it all cook for a couple of hours and reduce gradually to a rich sauce, really the longer the better, but if your low on time turn the heat up. Right at the end of the process I add the small amount of wine as an essence to the sauce, it gives a lovely subtle lift to the flavour.  You may like to use the same wine you will serve with the food, if your having wine.  (Who makes statements like that?  Of course you shall have wine!) You can also check your seasoning at this point as well and adjust accordingly.

Mix through al dente cooked pasta of your choice, I like Fettucine, but the choice is between you and your pantry shelves.  Garnish with parsley and parmesan if desired.

*My Pork stock is the rendered material of an oven roasted piece of pork belly, there's onion, spices, wine and various other goodies that went into the roast originally, anyway I froze the remaining liquid and have been using it in sauces and other dishes to give depth and richness. It's great! If I don't use this or another “proper” stock, I've been using good quality stock cubes in recipes, this would be fine here.

Skippy rates it 5 stars ;)  Actually reflecting on it, the thought of Cannibalistic Kangaroos digging into this is somewhat disturbing, or the seed of a new horror film...  On that note, enjoy!

A Doubleheader, Cruickshank Cabernet Rosé 2011 & Shiraz 2007

I felt it only appropriate to complete the cycle of Cruickshank wines I have to hand in the current release.  We have already looked at the Cabernet and Chardonnay/Verdelho blend, but Cruickshank are well regarded for their rosé and indeed the Shiraz may be the best of their wines.

Rosé can often be a non event rather than the most beautiful of understatements.  They should not be in your face with acid, or overladen and sweet, but it's always such a plus when these wines whilst retaining delicacy and finesse, have depth and some complexity lurking. Here is one of those wines, there's something for all comers, meaning you could serve this to wine lover or casual friday night drinker alike and both would probably enjoy, if not demand another glass!

A beautiful pale red colour fading to rust at the edges. Smells of confectionary, strawberry and grassiness combined with lovely musk and perfume notes. Unlike some the wine has a nice fullness of body in the mouth, flavours of sweet fruit played off with sour cherry. My very minor quibble is that it could be a little tighter in the mid palate, but hey, very small complaint! Acidity and dryness really carries it through well anyway. Better wines of this style often improve with a bit of bottle time, obviously not really to age, but they settle down and integrate, so 6 months to a year and this might be even better. 89.

(As a postscript, I was tempted to up the score as time passed, pleasure impairing judgement in a good way I think. Also that the wine was indeed lovely the day after opening and probably more seamless.)

So to the Shiraz. I confess I was aware before tasting that this had received some pretty good reviews, but usually if anything I think this make me more sceptical. (Just to give you some background to tasting this, and how I see things generally I suppose). Getting to the point, this is a pretty good little wine.  It has style alongside varietal and regional character with full flavour and balance. It was even better a day after opening. I hope your getting the impression I really enjoyed it...

Bright fruit heads the lovely rich nose alongside oak and spice. When just opened, this shaded earth, straw and sweat notes which were peeking though, but came up more as the bottle was open. I still think the oak is too pressing, though not to the same extent as in the cabernet. Flavours of generous shiraz fruit and beautiful leather and earth, sweet but still savoury. Oak and white pepper also figure, whilst healthy tannins shape it nicely and the flavours persist nicely for a finish of some length. As mentioned it really came into it's own on the 2nd day, so decanting may be helpful, as would stashing a bit away, if only for a year or two (that's also known as a clever move!).   92+.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Wine time; A Hunter interlude.

Diverting from the Yarra Valley for an evening...  Let us raise a glass or two to Cruickshank Callatoota Estate, a winery located in the Upper Hunter Valley at Denman, New South Wales.  The opportunity to open a few bottles with dinner guests was a great way to sample a few of their offerings together. Cruickshank is an interesting winery for a few reasons and I thought rather than just a raw review here was presented an opportunity to look at wine from a few slants.

note the poor quality and graininess in shot...
Personally, it's one of the first producers I can remember singling out as one I particularly enjoyed and was attracted to for their style and approach. Being small producers, they could be forgiven using another winery and contract winemaker to produce their wines. Instead they do it all in house, formally at Wybong and now at the new vineyard and winery at Denman. This allows the wine to be made the way they want, and to pursue wine styles as they feel appropriate and compelling. Cruickshank has had to relocate in the last few years as a result of a new open cut coal mine which was opening adjacent to the Wybong site, thus the move to the new Denman locale. I find it appalling really that a piece of prime agricultural land and producer come second to a coal mine, but this seems the way of things unfortunately.

A few wines were tried, both old and new, we even had a lovely 2007 Brangayne Cabernet (Orange, NSW) for a bit of difference and comparison. The Cabernet franc comes from the Wybong site, the Cab Sav and white from the newer Denman vineyard.  
Cruickshank Chardonnay/Verdelho 2011

Something a bit different, here's a 50/50 blend.  Fruit salad nose, citrus and tropical fruit. Rich with some fruit sweetness, in the mouth similar to the nose but with a lovely melon note, dryness on the finish retains line and refreshment. Here's a great little summer quaffer, 88.

Cruickshank Cabernet Sauvignon 2007

Deep Ruby wine, lightens at the edges, smells rich with fruit and chocolaty vanilla oak. This somewhat masks the inherent cedar wood cabernet characteristics that are present, though these came up with a little air. The palate presents considerable power and generosity, there is something of grandma's Christmas cake here and the American Oak is very present. Thus toasty vanilla and even hints of coconut combine with the fleshy fruit elements of the wine, the cedar and spice also come through. The finish is surprisingly savoury with a satisfying lick of acidity and tannin tying it all together. Flavour lingers nicely in the mouth. Needs more time and should age well. 90.

Cruickshank Cabernet franc 2003

Quite a lovely autumnal colour to this wine as it fades to brick red tones at the edges. Smells of barnyard floor, straw and sweat, remarkably fresh fruit peeking through as well. The palate is redolent of these lovely elements mingling with fruit and cigar box/tobacco notes.  Nice vegetal characters and fine tannins.  Line and length complete an elegant wine of finesse and rustic charm.

We enjoyed the wines with a lovely rare seared whole eye fillet, potatoes and greens.  Simple but beautiful and a recipe which I will post in the future.

I'm loathe to score the Cabernet franc because it really was beautiful and somehow a score diminishes it all a bit. Being as objective as I can I still think it's a 93+ wine! As I have stated before I only like to score to give a rough guide, it's also usually reflective (or tries to be!) of quality and style as I try and take my personal preferences out as much as I can. If indeed this is possible, is really a valid question and challenge of any taster or commentator.  Can personal taste and opinion ever be practically moderated in a meaningful way to this end?  I think not, but I'm all for personal musings and lively discussion.

It seems that over time the wines have been tidied up and are cleaner and more polished in their production. Again it's arguable as to the relative pros and cons of this; cleaner wines promote the purity of fruit and varietal expression, but the slightly dirty rustic quality does lend some charming idiosyncrasies to the wines. Overall it's probably a move in the right direction, the wines should last better and indeed they still have the qualities that appealed previously. The dirt and paddock are still there but with a degree of subtlety absent previously. It may also be prudent to remember that the new source of fruit has no doubt changed the equation somewhat as well.  With regard to the fruit I'm tipping some great things as it settles down and the vines get a little older, heady times!

At the moment I thought the Cab Sav a good wine, but not to my taste entirely as the oak component seemed rather overpowering. The wine should integrate nicely over a few years though as it settles down and things harmonise a bit. On the Oak; and I'm being picky here, (I have a bit of an American oak thing!) I prefer french or atleast old oak, as otherwise I feel like things are a bit of a coconut vanilla bomb. For those who love it, this may be your thing.  For myself it just comes across as heavy handed, sticking out everytime I taste.  Time to pour another Malibu and Pineapple by way of training... 

In The land of Verdonnay/Chadelho/Denman gold things were suprisingly good. There has been much speculation amongst others who enjoy a Cruickshank drop as to what this wine would be like. Well, here it would seem is a lovely summer afternoon/evening drop!  I'm not a huge fan of the straight Vedelho, so this impressed and may even be something better than the individual varietals offered.  Regarding a name for the wine, perhaps a more oblique name or reference might give it a suitable title. 

So finally to the Cabernet franc much lauded previously, not much needs to be said; lovely wine and one so identifiably of the Hunter Valley, perhaps even more than the varietal characteristics.  Bliss!

Have a look at their website for more info, well worth a glance http://www.cruickshank.com.au/

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Tasting the delights outside the Paris of the south... (Or a short segue to the Yarra Valley) Part 1.

The Boss...

Long overdue, but here it is.  I had a lovely jaunt to Melbourne a few weeks ago, it certainly was a pleasure to catch up with my dear friends Anthony and Andrew; in addition to their four masters Hebe, Lucy, Pixie and Millie.  If only landlords were as considerate as the boys cat bosses, and that's after one decided my luggage was an attractive place to relieve the bladder.  Just as well I'm not one to hold a grudge!
Anyhow amongst other activities Anthony and I headed off to the Yarra Valley to taste, rate, even gulp some of the local wines.  Things you should know at this point: Andrew didn't make it, he was “tired”/hungover.  The weather was balmy, a lovely 8 degrees in fact.  I had to break out the shorts! 

Sun cream packed  we motored north east, I dreamed of the Caribbean, working on the tan as Anthony got slightly lost...  A bit of my GPS later and all was back on track.  Laughter aside the locality itself really is a lovely part of the world, rolling hills, the resulting verdant vistas and... vines!  So we pulled in at a toilet block.

Look at that sun!  We could be in Champagne.

It wasn't a public convenience, that's just what I told Anthony it looked like (James Halliday gave it 91 points and described it as unassuming, the cellar door, not the wines)!  No, here was St Huberts cellar door.
To be fair, the view from inside the building was good and the wines very good.  Chardonnay and Pinot were the stand out.  Bit disappointed there was no straight Cabernet to try, but you have to remember that the area was subject to smoke taint due to the terrible bushfires a little while back.  Thus many producers literally have nothing to release at this time as a result. 

As we drove away it still looked suspiciously like a toilet block, but on we went!  A pullover, sunshower and   u-turn later, we arrived at Oakridge.  I probably should mention at this point that this was the AFL grand final Saturday, thus we were amazed to find anyone actually at the cellar door.  For any international (or non Victorian readers, because they consider it a world sport...) AFL is a provincial and somewhat bizarre ball game, where players fumble around for the small version of what looks a rugby ball, occasionally trying to get the ball between a couple of pairs of sticks.  Anyway, being the truly international sport it is I was a amazed to find this place full of young women.

Slightly blurred map, after a tasting or two.

Had I been of sound mind we probably should have gone over and ingratiated ourselves, though  foolishly we concentrated on the wines.  All was not lost though as there was some good stuff on offer here. Quite deliberately I won't bore with tasting notes (serious reviews will come), go and try it for yourself!  But some observations:  I had a Pinot Grigio that was actually of some interest, very nice.  Chardonnays were again very good, lovely.  Cabernet from here was excellent, yum :)  Pinot was ok and our lovely pourer/server/bar attendant was beautiful and informative.  Which sounds like I was biased or distracted but she really was and I am most sorry I can't remember her name.

A couple of happy snaps later and we were back on the road.  Sensibly Anthony suggested we really must have lunch and thus it was decided we should head immediately to Medhurst Wines.  They had Wine and food!  (And were seriously good!)

Continued in part two, which is on the way...