Monthly Archives: June 2014

Supernormal, Melbourne

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So I have to ask as soon as our cute waiter approaches, “what’s with the name?”.  Supernormal is apparently the name of a Japanese art movement (how did I miss that) whose premise is seeing the beauty in everything.  I’m not quite sure how that ties in with Andrew McConnell’s latest venture, a voluminous, almost sparse, and canteen-like space in Flinders Lane – but maybe that’s the whole point – I somehow have to find it beautiful? (They also seem to have a thing in Melbourne for restaurants starting with the word ‘super’ – really not fond of the name Supermaxi as a place to eat).

After a good gossip with my friend, first up is the Spicy Braised Eggplant with Housemade Tofu, which we both like, with an unusual mix of spice I’m trying to identify – cardamom maybe, among other things? The chilli sauce underneath – delicious.

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Boiled prawn & chicken dumpling, chilli & vinegar sauce – woha, good chilli hit here, they weren’t kidding, and the dumplings get a little lost underneath it all.

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Then the New England Lobster Roll. Hello. Where have you been all my life?

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Duck Bao – twice cooked duck, vinegar and plum sauce.  Bit of DIY going on.  Lovely steamed buns, flavoursome duck, a little more cucumber would have been good.

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Cold Rolled Pork belly, white kimchi, yuxiang sauce. I should have asked more about this, it wasn’t quite what I had in my head with the thin slices of pork belly.  That sauce makes an appearance again and again I wish there was more of it.

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So overall, pretty good, not mindblowing, but they have only been open 5 weeks, and the menu is certainly interesting enough to give one more go. But be prepared that it is not overly cheap for Asian food – the dishes above came to $90, with the duck being a fair whack of that ($26)

Supernormal, 180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
http://www.supernormal.net.au

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Supernormal on Urbanspoon

Today’s cake – pear and ginger brown butter tarts

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When you read pastry recipes, there is a lot of ‘relaxing’ going on. Which is quite ironic really, because I don’t find myself relaxing – I’m usually huffing and puffing and thinking “this bloody pastry better work out”. So maybe I should take the cue from the recipe and chill a little. I read recently that Gwyneth Paltrow said we shouldn’t yell at water because we “might hurt its feelings” (really, Gwyneth?), so perhaps the pastry can sense my anxiety?

Following the pastry class I went to with Lorraine Godsmark, I decided I would try to make the pear tart with the sour cream pastry at home – that evening we only made the base pastry and not the fillings or toppings, so time to try it myself without The Master’s watchful eye.  In the class she described this pastry as “very forgiving” – and it is too – so it’s a really good one to tackle first up. It comes together nicely, doesn’t stick to the bench, lifts easily into the tin and you can bash it about a bit. Ta da!  And as Lorraine suggested, I filled my tin to the very brim.

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In terms of the pear filling – the method she gives isn’t very descriptive (no chef is ever going to give away all their secrets, are they?). For instance, the Buderim ginger comes in chunks, is it meant to be cooked with the pears then removed from the mixture (as it wouldn’t be great to bite into a whole piece), or chopped finely and left? I opted to remove the pieces after cooking. I also found that there was quite a lot of liquid after cooking so I strained the pears.  And the brown butter topping – which is so so delicious – I discovered runs as soon as it starts cooking.  I had heaped my pears into a little mound, which turned out to be not a good idea.  Make sure they are in a very flat layer, and perhaps a couple of millimetres below the top of the pastry case, so that when you pipe on the brown butter topping it can’t really go anywhere. Because it ran, my pears are sticking out a little at the top, whereas they should be completely covered.

Make the pastry and the brown butter topping the day before and the pears the day of cooking. The pastry was enough to make 1 large tart and 4 x 12cm tarts, but the pear compote quantity was just enough for 1 large tart, you’d probably need to double it to have enough for all the pastry.  This was seriously some of the best pastry I have ever had, and the brown butter topping is to die for.  Definitely worth perfecting, and will also try it with apple.

Cream Cheese Pastry (make the day before)
300g plain flour
Pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
170g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
130g cream cheese, cut into cubes about twice the size of the butter
30g ice water
30g apple cider vinegar

1. Place flour, salt and baking powder in a food processor, pulse for a couple of seconds to sift.
2. Add the cream cheese and pulse for 2-3 seconds
3. Add butter and pulse for further 2-3 seconds
4. Combine water and vinegar and add to mixture and pulse for a final couple of seconds.
5. Turn mixture out onto bench, and using the heel of your hand smear the dough (fresage) across the bench forming streaks of butter and cream cheese through the dough. Use a pastry cutter to bring the mixture back to you and smear another two times. It will be slightly marbled which is fine. (You can find some examples of how to fresage on youtube).
6. Press into a flat disc and allow the pastry to relax in the fridge overnight
7. Remove from fridge and roll out onto a surface 5mm thick. Fit into a flan tin and allow it to relax in the fridge for a further 2 hours

Brown butter topping (make the day before)
3 eggs
200g caster sugar
80g plain flour
185g unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split down the middle with a knife

1. Using an electric mixer, whisk eggs and sugar until thick and pale. Lower speed and mix in flour.
2. Meanwhile place butter in a small pot, add vanilla bean and heat over a medium-high heat until butter is brown and foamy. Continue until bubbles subside and colour turns dark golden and has a nutty aroma. Strain the butter through a sieve onto the egg mix whisking continuously until well combined. Refrigerate overnight

Pear and Ginger Compote (make the day of baking)
1kg pears
80g unsalted butter
40g sugar
100ml lemon juice
80g ginger in syrup
80g candied orange or marmalade

Peel, core and cut pears into 2cm cubes. Melt butter in a wide saute pan, add pears and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Add sugar and cook until pears are soft. Deglaze pan with lemon juice, add ginger and marmalade and allow to reduce for 5 minutes. Allow to cool and refrigerate until required.

Blind baking and assembly
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
2. Remove your prepared tart tin from the fridge and prick the pastry lightly with a fork
3. Spray a sheet of foil with canola oil spray and place it in the tin. Fill to the brim with baking beans or rice and bake for 20 minutes
4. Remove from oven and remove beans and foil. Lightly beat an egg and using a pastry brush lightly brush the pastry with the egg. Put back in the oven for a further 15-20 minutes until golden
5. Remove from oven, fill with pear, then pipe a thin layer of the burnt butter topping to cover the pear, and return to the oven for 45 minutes then lower the oven the 160 degrees for 15 minutes

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Rockpool on Bridge – $79 lunch special

In an effort to capture more of the lunch trade, many of the fine diners around town offer some fabulous lunch deals.  Often dinners at these toqued establishments are degustation menus in the $150-$200 per person range, and beyond, and if this isn’t in reach, the lunch is a great alternative.  Come noon, Rockpool offers one course for $52, two courses for $69 or three courses for $79.  Similarly places like Aria offer $46 for one course and $74 for two, and Est three courses for $95.

I had been to the original Rockpool on George a few times, but this is my first visit to the new digs on Bridge. We are celebrating the birthday of my friend at A Tea with the Queen. The “new” Rockpool has a different feel to it – darker, more sophisticated, a little bit like it has now grown up and come of age.  I actually met Neil Perry last week, and he talked about his evolution as a chef – from wondering why he was running a restaurant serving French provincial food on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, to his immersion and connection with Asian cuisine. This is a man who is very passionate about what he does.

The staff are polished and on top of their game (except for one waitress who does a runner towards the end of our meal with our not yet empty wine glasses, but this is quickly rectified) and we feel warmly welcomed.  There is plenty to tempt on the menu, and I opt for the Asian influenced dishes, as in my opinion this is where Neil Perry’s cuisine shines.

But first we are bought some bread, with butter and also some ricotta.  The bread itself I don’t find anything special but this is butter like no other.  It has a caramel like consistency and a slight sweetness, I want to smother my bread in it (the only other butter that rivals this is Tetsuya’s truffle butter, which I think I could live on).  Similarly the ricotta is magnificent with a smoky undertone and creamy.

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My first dish is the scallop cake with herbs, peanuts and prawn broth. The seafood is beautifully fresh and I scoop up every drop of that divine broth.   This rivals the crab congee on the dinner menu.

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I then move onto the smoked Burrawong chicken hotpot with braised fungus, chestnuts and dragonwell rice.  The rice is bought out first, dragonwell tea is poured over it and it is left to infuse.  Shortly after the chicken arrives and I know I have ordered very well today….so well that I dig in and forget to take a photo of the actual chicken!

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Most of the table opts for the short rib with creamed spinach, hoisin and black vinegar for their main course.  This is a $10 supplement and no wonder – it is enormous.  Some find it a little salty; I’m kindly offered a little to try and it is meltingly tender with a beautiful smokiness.

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None of the desserts tempt me that day (I have a different agenda anyway) but the popular choice at the table is the chocolate gran cru of Valrhona with peanut butter and jelly.

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Instead I opt for one of the best deals around town – a petit four of Rockpool’s original 1984 date tart for $3, which Neil developed and Lorraine Godsmark perfected; she sells a full slice at her patisserie for $15.

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Fancy a lunch at Rockpool? You won’t be disappointed.

Rockpool on Bridge, 11 Bridge Street, Sydney ph (02) 9252 1888
http://www.rockpool.com

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Spinach, Feta & Tomato Loaf

This was a recipe I saw on Better Homes and Gardens that I modified a little.  Very tasty, and great to eat warm or cold. This is a vegetarian dish but some prosciutto, ham or bacon throughout would be a nice addition.

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Ingredients
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, thinly sliced
3 cups baby spinach, washed
120g feta, crumbled
3/4 cup semi-dried tomatoes, drained, coarsely chopped
2 cups self-raising flour
1½ tsp fine salt
150g creme fraiche
4 eggs, beaten
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Making it
1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a medium (21.5 x 11.5cm) loaf tin, then line base and sides with baking paper.
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until softened. Remove from heat. Stir in spinach and set aside until wilted. Add tomato, season with a little salt and pepper and allow to cool
3. Sift flour and fine salt into a large bowl. Stir in creme fraiche, eggs and remaining oil until smooth. Add onion mixture to flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon gently to combine.
4. Add feta and gently combine. Spoon into prepared tin and smooth the surface. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer.
5. Cool in tin for 30 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Use a serrated knife to cut into slices, eat as is or serve with butter if desired

Pasta class @ Salt Meats Cheese

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There are so many great cooking schools in Sydney, and one of the newer ones is at the Italian food emporium Salt Meats Cheese, and we’re here for an introductory pasta class.  The long table is set up, the pasta machines ready to go, and the eggs and flour await.

Manuela, a native Italian, talks us through the process.  She is absolutely delightful and I could listen to her all day. The authentic “formula” for pasta, she tells us, is very simple:

100g of flour and 1 egg per person.

Yes, that’s it – two ingredients. Though of course, the flour may need to be adjusted for the size of the egg, and humidity will also have an impact. The ones we were using looked like 60 grams. She recommends “00” flour that refers not – as is often incorrectly stated – to protein content but to the fineness of the milling. This, she tells us, results in pasta with a more delicate texture. You can now buy 00 flour in Coles and Woolworths, once upon a time you could only get it at the Italian delis – I buy either Molini or Molisana brand.

We work on marble slabs, which are a great non stick surface. Coincidentally Aldi had marble slabs on sale the week after our class for $14.99, and a friend kindly picked me up one. It will also come in handy to ‘fresage’ my pastry.

To start, weigh out your flour depending on the number of people. Segregate a portion of the flour (say 10% or so) because it is much easier to add more flour if you need it rather than end up with overly dry and tough pasta dough. Create a well with the rest of the flour, and crack your eggs in the centre.  Beat the eggs lightly.  It is at this point, Manuela tells us, that you can make any flavour additions if you want to make a particular type of pasta – pureed spinach, pumpkin, saffron, squid ink – the possibilities are endless.

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Then, using the fork, gradually begin to incorporate the flour into the dough until it comes together and you can knead it with your hands. Gradually incorporate the flour you had set aside if the dough is sticky. Here we all are hard at work!

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Once your dough is nice and smooth, shape it into a ball and leave it to rest for half an hour – this resting step is very important. After resting, you can begin to roll out your dough into sheets and then into strands of pasta – like so!

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Allow the pasta to dry a little before cooking it and adding your desired sauce. We sat and enjoyed a relaxing glass of wine while the Salt Meats Cheese crew cooked the fruits of our labour in a ginormous pasta pot.

If you don’t feel confident about making your own pasta, this class will definitely do the trick.

Salt Meats Cheese, 41 Bourke Rd, Alexandria, Ph (02) 9690 2406
http://www.saltmeatscheese.com.au

Julia Child’s Madeleine Biscuits

Who didn’t love the movie Julie & Julia? Wasn’t Meryl Streep just brilliant – and if anyone didn’t know who Julia Child was before the movie, they certainly did afterwards.

Madeleines are a cross between a spongecake and a biscuit and are huge in France – France’s answer to Milk Arrowroots I suppose. One day a friend calls me and says, like a woman possessed, “I HAVE to make madeleines”. I completely understood where she was coming from – every now and again I get in my head that there is something I just MUST make, come hell or high water, and regardless of what other tasks await. I become single minded about conquering a recipe (do not attempt to approach me or disturb me when I am in this state of mind). So off she went to buy madeleine pans, and set about making a batch. After telling me about their buttery deliciousness, and apologising that they had been eaten so quickly there were none left for me to try, she handed over her baking pans so I could make my own. It is fairly straightforward and the good thing is it uses pantry staples, you’ll just need to buy a lemon if you don’t happen to have a tree handy, or a father-in-law like mine who brings over a kilo or two at a time. I think rosewater or orange water flavour would also be nice. You’ll need two pans of 12. Makes 24.

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Ingredients
2 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup caster sugar
1 cup plain flour
115g unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated lemon zest from 1/2 lemon
3 drops of lemon juice
Icing sugar, for dusting

For buttering pans
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter melted, combined with 1 tablespoon flour

Making them
1. Combine flour and sugar in a mixing bowl and add three quarters of the eggs. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon to blend into a heavy cream – if very stiff, add a little bit of the remaining egg, one droplet at a time. Set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, the butter to a boil until it begins to brown very lightly (it should have a slightly nutty aroma). Pour into a bowl and stir over cold water until cool but still liquid.
3. Beat the remaining bit of egg into the batter and stir in the cool butter. Stir in the salt, vanilla, grated lemon zest, lemon juice.
4. Cover the batter, and set aside in the refrigerator for at least one hour.
5. Meanwhile, paint the Madeleine cups with a light coating of combined flour and melted butter. Put trays in the refrigerator.
6. Preheat the oven to 170° fan forced. Using a spoon and rubber spatula, drop a rounded tablespoonful of batter into each Madeleine cup. Resist the urge to spread the batter to fill the mold, it spreads as it cooks. Set pans on the middle rack and bake for about 12-15 minutes, you’ll see the edges turn a light golden brown. Turn onto a wire rack to cool, then dust with icing sugar

Madeleine baking pans

Madeleine baking pans