Panna cotta is betta

Continuing the bribery story from Saturday Night Sushi (I didn’t realise my cooking carried with it a threat on life!). I went with the failproof, the delicious, the wobbly panna cotta. There are approximately 1 billion flavours that you could use for panna cotta and I’m fairly confident that I’d say no to none of them.

This time, I chose honey and cinnamon, with a tequila berry sauce. Words cannot describe how dead easy this dessert is (wait, I’m being told this is a food blog and that I do, indeed, have to describe in words how dead easy is this dessert).

You will need…

Step 1: get steeping. Combine 600mL pouring cream, 150mL milk, 90gm honey, 40gm caster sugar and a couple of cinnamon sticks in a saucepan. Bring this all to a gentle boil over medium heat and give it a good old stir occasionally. When the sugar has dissolved, remove the pot from the heat. Let it hang out for 20 minutes or so to let that delicious, fragrant, spicy cinnamon ooze its way through the rest of the creamy liquid in the pot.

Cinnamon, honey and cream. Have there every been better friends?

Step 2: Mix 5 grams of gelatine in a small amount of cold water (for no particular reason at all, ahem, I can confidently say that dissolving gelatine in boiling liquid does not work). Tip this gooey mixture into your pot of creamy goodness and stir until the ingredients are friendly with each other.

Step 3: it’s moldin’ time. Pick your mold – say, individual 200mL-capacity ramekins. The idea is to tip your mixture into the ramekins, give it about 4 hours chill time in the fridge and it should be set. When it comes to serving, use a knife to slice around the edge, upturn the ramekin, run a little warm water over it all if it’s stuck, and serve as a beautiful, wobbly, upturned delight. I made the fatal error of choosing a 12-muffin…muffin tray, which is fine, except when you decide you want 1 panna cotta for dessert and all 12 of them decide to exit the muffin tray.

On the one hand, probably don’t use a muffin tin. On the other hand, no panna cotta on my bench!

Step 4: Gettin’ saucy. I tipped about a half a pack of frozen berries into a fry pan along with half a cup of water, a couple of teaspoons of sugar and a decent dash of tequila. After cooking on high (and stirring occasionally) for a few minutes you can see the liquid reducing and starting to get this lusciously thick, deep-coloured, sweet appearance. Basically, when you’re happy with the thickness, your sauce is done. The longer you leave it, the more liquid will evaporate and the thicker it’ll get. Spoon over the panna cotta while warm and you’ll get a fantastic warm/cold smooth sensation.

Time to get saucy

So syrupy

The punters will be happy and you’ll feel like a champ.

Tripod Cafe, Redfern

Redfern. There you are, shrouded in mystery, in dodgy reputation. Someone once told me even the cops wouldn’t go into Redfern. Given this was only a couple of years ago, they were probably pulling my leg. But the point still stands. When the shit went down, Redfern is probably not where you wanted to be.

But now. The yuppies. They have flocked in their packs. They have bought their renovated terraces, they have knocked down state housing. “But where will we eat?” the yuppies one day questioned, concerned, “We certainly can’t walk to Crown Street in 0ur suede boots and camel-coloured chinos, and we certainly can’t start our day without a triple shot, half foam, skim soy, extra chocolate sprinkles, chai-infused, decaffinated monstrosity!”.

Fear not, young yuppies. For I shall tell you a tale of a street. And on this street, once lined with workers cottages and a sole pizza shop, the baristas have been busy. This street is Abercrombie Street.

One fine and dreary morning, DF and I strode hastily along Abercrombie street in search of a hearty brunch on a cold, rainy day. After undecidedly wandering back and forth between a few cafes (“this one looks cozy”, “but the sum total of chairs at this one is 3”, “this one has too many trendy people”), we plonked ourselves down at a table inside at Tripod Cafe.

A quick perusal of the menu later, we ordered at the counter, a bacon and egg roll ($7), a baked beans, chorizo and sourdough ($12) and a pot of chai ($4.50). I spotted some quality-looking quiches in the cabinet at the front, as well as some drool-worthy muffins that had just come out of the oven, still in their muffin-tray housing. DF2 (from Saturday Sushi Night) tells me they also do an awesome $12 pasta special at lunch time)

Not too long had passed and my pot of chai came out. I’ll admit to being the biggest chai snob I know, always in search of the next perfect blend. Allow me to rant: too many punters out there serve this sickly, sweet, syrupy excuse for chai. So sweet is this chai that my teeth actually begin to ache. This is not chai. Chai is cinnamony and gingery, anise-y and cardamom-y. It is heavenly and lightly sweetened by honey, if you so wish. And this was the cup I got.  This chai was fantastic – I think the hunt may be over.  Served brewed with milk, in a teapot with a cute little pot of honey on the side, this was the perfect start to a cold winter’s day. They also sell bags of the tea for $10 but given the 4 bags I already have to get through at home, I thought this was probably a little excessive.

It was truly chai-licious

With tantilising smells of frying bacon becoming ever-surrounding, we looked on with glee as our waiter brought out brunch. DF’s bacon and egg roll probably could have done with a little more (read: any) presentation. But it was what it was – a bacon and egg roll. Plenty of bacon, a runny egg and a smear of tomato relish.  It wasn’t mind blowing but for 7 bucks it was decently hearty.

Bacon & egg roll

My  beans and chorizo came in a cute terracotta pot, served on a chopping board (they’re everywhere!) with two toasted, buttered slabs of sourdough. The chorizo had a nice little kick and the whole lot was wading in a pool of warm tomato-y puree. I did get this overwhelming sense that the chef had just chucked a can of four bean mix into some tinned tomatoes, and it would have been nice to have that slight crunchy/chewy texture of chorizo that had initially been fried for a while before being added to the mix…. but aside from that it was warm, tasty and satisfying.

Beans and chorizo with sourdough

DF and I were at the happy stage where we had eaten an appropriate amount. We were neither bursting nor famished – a happy middle ground. And then. Those chefs, those taunting chefs brought out a new tray of muffins. Out of a choice of mixed berry and banana brazil nut, we went with the former ($3.50, though because at some point we had had a coffee (…or a chai) I was only charged a bargain $2). The waiter must have been flustered, as a few customers came in and out immediately after my order, he clean forgot about it. Immediately flustered as soon as I walked up to the counter, the penny dropped and we ended up getting the muffin to go. All good, we weren’t in a rush. As we walked home in the rain, munching on this warm, crunchy, fresh muffin top (Seinfeld fans, the best part of a muffin, am I right?) and the rest of the muffin stuffed full of berries I thought to myself…ain’t life grand.

Delicious, fresh mixed berry muffin

Cafe Tripod
262 Abercrombie Street, Darlington

Tripod Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday night sushi

The end of a long week brought Friday. The end of a long Friday brought after work drinks. The end of after work drinks brought a ravenous form of hunger. You know the one. The hunger that can only be satiated with a doner kebab with garlic sauce. My plat du jour that fine eve was that served in a fine establishment, which brought with it rich wafts of cheese, tomato and garlic. With delicate overtones of lard and processed meat, I found myself at the one and only Pizza Hut. Somewhat satisfying at the time I realised the next morning that I had actually taken photos of these oily, triangular creations in some vague fantasy where I thought it would be food blog material. It wasn’t:

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The sheen on these things is inspiring

Onto the real post at hand: Saturday night sushi. An idea had been a-brewing in this old head of mine. One trip to Paddy’s market later and I had convinced DF1 (Dining Friend 1) and DF2 that we should try our hand at creating our own Japanese extravaganza. Having had to lure my dining friends with non-“scary” sushi, I took the Gringo approach, settling on teriyaki chicken, fried fish, cucumber and avocado, as well as gyoza, the Japanese dumplings.

Step 1: Get marinating (the Teriyaki Chicken, that is). None of this bottled teriyaki sauce garbage (would you like some flavour with your MSG?). Chop up a couple of cloves of garlic, a healthy thumb sized piece of ginger, a tablespoon of soy, a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of mirin and a couple of shakes of pepper. Roughly slice some chicken (I used thigh, sliced into inch-thick slices), roll it about in your marinade and let it hang out while you’re preparing your other sushi ingredients (I left mine for about an hour or two). Fry the chicken off in a pan with a little oil until done – careful, honey has a sneaky tendency to go from deliciously caramelly to seethingly burnt in seconds, so watch it!

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Hanging out in a bath of sweet, salty deliciousness

Step 2: gyoza. I like to think of Gyoza as heavenly parcels of deliciousness enveloped in a crunchy, chewy blanket of fantasticness. To make the filling, I chucked 200gm of pork mince in a bowl along with 4 chinese mushrooms (which I had soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes), a thumb-sized bit of ginger, grated, a chopped spring onion, a few chopped chives, about 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, one teaspoon of sugar, a teaspoon of pepper and a tablespoon of cornflour (so it all holds together). Don’t feel scared. The only way to truly mix this mix of heaven is to get in there with your hands and squelch it all together.

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Get in there, son

Once this is mixed, you’re ready to wrap. Hold your gyoza skin (you can get them from any Asian supermarket) in the palm of your hand and lump a good, heaped teaspoon of mixture in the middle (no one likes a gyoza of air!). Dip your finger in some water and “paint” around the edge of the wrapper, fold the side toward each other and press as hard as humanly possible so you end up with this:

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Wrapping like a bullet in a speed train

Now you’re ready to see these beautiful pillows of deliciousness to their full potential. Whack a frying pan on high. Heat some olive oil and when hot, add your gyoza to the pan. Fry the base until golden, then tip about a half centimetre of water in the pan, put a lid over the gyoza and once the water is gone, they’re done. Fry them for a little longer after the water has gone, to re-crisp and then feed them to the masses.

Well, at least we saved one gyoza to photograph

Step 3: the other but probably not less important sushi ingredients. For my fried fish, I used flake and cut this up into square-centimetre pieces, crumbed with the usual flour / egg / breadcrumbs routine and fried until golden. I also sliced some cucumber and avocado, and boiled about 3 cups of rice. In a brief moment of yuppie-ness I used special sushi rice but post-checkout was informed that it really makes no difference. Once the rice is done, mix around a couple of tablespoons of sushi vinegar (or you can make your own using half normal vinegar and half sugar) and let it cool a little.

Step 4: assembly. Much like primary school assemblies which involved lining up in neat rows and singing the national anthem the assembly of a sushi equally involves neatness and precision, though not necessarily singing. Get yourself a bamboo sushi mat, they’re only a few dollars and make the whole process a lot easier.

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Nori just wanting to be made into sushi

Lay a piece of nori down on your sushi mat and spoon rice – a half centimetre thick – leaving about an inch across at one end, positioning it so that the un-riced nori is farthest away. You can pretty much put whatever filling you want at this point – for the teriyaki chicken I lay strips of the deliciously caramelly meat in a line on top of the rice at the end closest to me (i.e. farthest from the non-rice end) as well as some cucmber and avo. The more you fill, the harder it is to close so filling the whole area of rice with filling would be an impressive challenge. It’s rolling time! Roll away from you, use the bamboo mat to help and essentially just keep rolling until you have a cylinder. Dab a line of water across the un-riced nori and this will help seal the sushi. Done!

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Deliciousness on a plate. Served with some pickled ginger, wasabi and a dish of soy, hiding to the right

Washed down with a few Asahis, Saturday night sushi was a bit of a success. Despite a little bit of prep work, it was actually a pretty fun night where everyone could participate in making their own fantastic / suspicious (depending on how you look at it) combinations.