Y’all come get some grub: the story of American food night

So a coupla friends, a boyfriend and I are heading over to the good old US of A in a handful of months time to get some snow action on. I take this as a 6 month training opportunity. In food, that is. Epic.

And what better way to spend a Saturday night than having a bunch of friends ’round, tucking in to great food, great drinks and fun times.

For our “taste of America” (yes, I realise this is about as cliche as it gets!) we went for a one-two beef / pork ribs combo, beef brisket sliders (on home made buttermilk rolls), hot wings with blue cheese sauce, a rocket pear blue cheese and balsamic salad (you need to eat your greens!) and the tried and true mac’n’cheese.

I have to admit – it did take a good whole day worth of food shopping and cooking. Though I have to say, with a glass of wine, it was strangely therapeutic. Thanks Sara! Here are some pictures of the feast:

1) Ribs: before and after

Marinated over night in a mixture of a dry rub (sugar, smoky paprika, sweet paprika, garlic, pepper, a little rosemary) and, wait for it, a bottle of coke. Seriously. It works. Roast low and slow and finish off under the grill, baste regularly with epic home made BBQ sauce.

Humungous beef ribs

Humungous beef ribs

Ready for demolishing - thanks Dave and Linda!

Ready for demolishing – thanks Dave and Linda!

2) Beef brisket sliders with home made buttermilk sliders and my ad hoc rendition of chunky bbq sauce

Brisket turns out to be one of the easiest meats to cook. Whack in an oven bag (if you don’t already use them, get on that) – again, low and slow, for about 4 hours. We deiced to mix our brisket in with a chunky BBQ sauce to serve with the sliders. Chop roughly, mix and serve.

The sliders are equally simple, with the lengthy prep time really only attributable to rising time. For these great rolls, you need:
– 5gm instant yeast
– 290gm baker’s flour (I use Laucke; it comes with a sachet of yeast)
– 190mL buttermilk, warmed slightly
– 1.5 tbsp caster sugar
– 1/4 tsp baking powder
– 1/4 cup canola oil
– egg wash / sesame seeds for baking

In a bowl, whack in everything but the egg wash and sesame seeds. Mix and then knead for a few minutes or until the dough is nice and elastic. In a bowl, in a warm and non-draughty area for about 2 hours or until it has doubled in size. Knock back. Form into little balls (say, 2 inches across) and lay on a tray lined with baking paper, about an inch or so apart. Let rise for another hour or until doubled. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle a few sesame seeds – more to convince everyone it’s an actual hamburger than anything else – and bake at 205 degrees C for about 15 mins (or til nice and golden!)

BBQ sauce is basically just a mix of an onion, a teaspoon of smoky paprika, 2 cloves of garlic and a chilli, fried in a few tablespoons of butter – then pureed in a blender til nice and smooth. Return to the saucepan, add 1 tbsp each of dark brown sugar and treacle, then a can of diced tomatoes and a few tablespoons of tomato puree. Along with this, add 3 tbsp white wine vinegar, a good few swigs of worcestershire and a little hot sauce. Turn the heat looowwwww and stir regularly (I learned this the hard way when the bottom burned)

Buttermilk sliders

Buttermilk sliders

Holy slider!

Holy slider!

3) Mac n cheese (complete with weirdly foggy camera lense)

Made by boiling macaroni to just before al dente. Make a roux by melting 6 tbsp unsalted butter until bubbling and adding to that 1/2 a cup of plain flour, stirring for a minute or so. Add 3 or so cups of milk gradually until the whole lot thickens. To that, add a good few cups of cheese – I used a mix of mostly cheddar and a bit of parmesan. Whack in a couple of pinches of nutmeg, pepper, salt and cayenne as well. I also added an optional extra few rashers of bacon fried with a couple of cloves of garlic. Mix the roux and the bacon with the macaroni and top with a little more grated cheese. Bake til browned at about 190 degrees C.

It's a macaromance

It’s a macaromance

4) Hot wiiiingsss and blue cheese sauce (just in case you thought your heart was going to get off lightly)

For the wings, make a mixture to suit your taste of melted butter, salt, garlic and hot sauce. We ended up adding some random ingredients including hot paprika, balsamic, honey…whatever. The point is, make it nice and hot with those core ingredients to suit your taste. Marinate for as long as you’ve got, and grill a good 5 inches from the grill til done!

The blue cheese sauce is made by combining 1/2 cup of sour cream, 1/4 cup mayo, 1/2 a lemon juiced, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp shallots, 1 clove of garlic and a good few tablespoons of crumbled blue cheese. Stir vigorously.

Fly me away

Fly me away

And there you have it. Our “American feast”. Great food, great company, great times.

Baja Cantina, Glebe

I love a cheeky little Mexican on a Friday night. Their food is pretty good too. Ba-dum-chhhhh! Ok, well that was an obvious joke, but not bad for a Sunday night, right?

My dining friend and I recently went to visit an old favourite, Baja Cantina on the perpetually bustling Glebe Point Road. Bookings are relatively necessary or so it would seem, with the restaurant full by about 7pm (there are two sittings, 6/6:30 and 8:30) and sorry punters being turned away. I’d always been impressed during previous visits so expectations remained high this time around.

Baja Cantina - decked out as any tex mex restaurant should be

Baja Cantina – decked out as any tex mex restaurant should be

We started with a (very) standard entree – chips and guac. I liked how their chips were made on site and fried fresh. The guac was decent. Well flavoured, various little chunks of onion here and there. A solid serve for $9 (large, $14). I have to say I would otherwise have gone for the queso fundido – even the name is screams enjoyment. A TEDs – boooringgg ( a very reasonable $4.50) and a Dos Equis Amber ($7) were also ordered, although buyers remorse briefly overcame me as I saw a brightly coloured jug of sangria arrive at our neighbouring table ($16).

Can't go wrong

Can’t go wrong

Immediately entering the town of Regretsville, I could feel fullness rearing its ugly head even before the mains arrived. What started off as mild fullness courtesy of a delicious pork belly for a team work lunch was only perpetuated by my lack of control over abovementioned corn chips.

It actually worked well that we had to wait really quite a long time for our mains – as in, a good half hour / 40 mins notwithstanding said busy-ness of the restaurant.

My dining friend’s steak fajitas ($25.90) arrived theatrically. An army-sized plate of black beans, cheese, tomato, rice, guac, sour cream and lettuce arrived, together with an hilariously small and unbalanced serve of three tortillas, as well as a bowl of salsa. Mere moments later a great sizzling behemoth of a plate of steak, capsicums and onions arrived. So apart from the obvious tortilla to filling debacle, I have to say that the steak was pretty tough, though the capsicum/onion combo was pretty tasty. It wasn’t really cut across the grain and it was a little fatty. The quantity was enormous – but actually just made me think of the unfortunate wastage of the situation. A human of epic sized proportion still could not have finished this dish.

fa-jeetas, mate

fa-jeetas, mate

My enchirito with shredded beef ($22.90) was similarly man-mountain sized. Tragically, it had clearly been sitting around for a good 10 minutes or so, I estimate! It was cool and juices had visibly run out, mixing with the enchilada sauce. Though the waitress speedily whisked the enchirito away to be reheated at my request, it was mildly frustrating that a dish had been let out of the kitchen, cold. It came back steaming hot and on a new plate, which was appreciated. The filling was pretty rice-y, which I don’t remember having been the case last time (I’m pretty on point with the rice to meat ratio). A sad experience, indeed.

Entrada, enchirito

Entrada, enchirito

Overall, Baja Cantina offered a fairly glum experience! So different from the experiences of Mexican dinners past. Weirdly, the food portions appear to be growing – in stark contrast to food portion sizes of many restaurants out there. I still want to try the Baja fish tacos…but it might take a few more dinners to forget this experience ­čśŽ

Baja Cantina
43-45 Glebe Point Road, Glebe

Food? 5/10. Credit given for past visits; deductions for cold food and tough steak
Drinks? 9/10. Put it this way, 1 page of their 2-page menu is dedicated to drinks. Various beers, cocktails, wines and a whole lotta tequila
Atmosphere? 8/10. Lively and decked out like any tex-mex restaurant should be. We were unfortunately seated right next to the entrance, which meant a constantly opening and non-closing door, but that was more just circumstance – every restaurant needs a door! The waiters were ever present and friendly and the restaurant boisterous and bustling.

Baja Cantina on Urbanspoon

Death by chocolate (tart)

It wouldn’t be the worst way I could think of, to go by chocolate tart; being engulfed so thoroughly by this thick, dark, oozing, slightly bitter lava. If they found me, my face covered with dark remnants, the odd pastry crumb, a fork clawing helplessly at the…last…bite. They’d know I’d bit off more than I could chew…

I’m partial to a sliver of chocolate tart, as you can tell. It has to be dark, it cannot be sweet – well, not too sweet anyway. The sort of richness that makes you feel like you really could not eat anymore at all. That sort of tart is the one I love.

I came across a number of recipes, whilst perusing many sources for this tart. My conclusions: you need chocolate, cream and butter. In really any quantities. Beyond that, it’s pretty hard to stuff up. I made a couple of little tarts and a couple of chocolate pots with mine, but this would yield enough for a 23cm tart shell.

You will need:
– 300g chocolate. I would say get dark aka semi sweet chocolate. I couldn’t find any. I used a mix of 70% and milk, half a half. Though a 70% tart would have been pretty good too. The mix was sufficiently dark that it wasn’t too sweet, but still reminded everyone it was a delicious dessert-y chocolate tart.
– 2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg (use the egg whites for a bomb alaska! see picture at end)
– 300mL thickened cream
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 tart shell. I used the standard shortcrust from my pecan pie a few blogs ago – I like the ever so slightly salty contrasting shell to my filling. Otherwise you could go for a sweeter tart shell, perhaps a chocolate version

Step 1 – shellshock: make your tart shell as per the pecan pie recipe. Blind bake with rice, and then bake for a further 10 mins or so without the rice. Cool.

Step 2 – get tarted up: to make your filling, break your chocolate into pieces and place in a bowl along with the butter. Bring the cream to the boil and then pour over the chocolate. Let it hang out for a few minutes and then stir to combine. Yes, the chocolate will melt. Pour this mixture into your cooled tart shell/s. Bake at 160 degrees for around about 25 minutes, or until you can just see the centre of the tart slightly wobbling. If you want to make it look ever so slightly fancy, either sieve some cocoa powder over the top, or alternatively combine a little melted chocolate with cream to a liquidy consistency and spread over the top. Simples.

You old tart

You old tart


Oh – bonus shot. Bombe alaska!

The nice sort of bomb(e)

The nice sort of bomb(e)

Fasta pasta @ The Italian Bowl, Newtown

Every time I walk past The Italian Bowl on the perpetually bustling King Street, it is jam-packed. Well, not every time. There’s about an hour between 3 and 4pm when it finally dies down. One night, while walking past rather late, my dining friend and I spotted an opening and somewhat athletically jumped at the chance.

It’s cheap and cheerful; it looks like a takeaway joint and to be honest, from appearances alone, you probably wouldn’t think the pasta would be particularly good. You know those ones…Step 1: pick your pasta; Step 2: pick your sauce. Nevertheless, when in doubt, follow the masses – that many people can’t possibly be wrong…can they?

We kicked off our Italian fiesta with a…sadly uninspiring herb bread. The bread itself was fairly nice and crusty, but at the end of the day, it was just 2 slices of bread, smacked with butter and a sprinkle of McCormick’s finest mixed dried herbs. And not really enough of it. That said, it was $2.50. Does anyone really have the right to complain at that price?

Garlic breath, let the night begin

Garlic breath, let the night begin

Fortunately, the tides had turned by the time the pasta dishes were revealed. My dining friend went for his boring usual, chicken risotto. The risotto was delicious. There was a healthy amount of chicken (although I can’t help but think how much nicer it would have been for some freshly grilled chunks of the meat to be sitting on top as well), but in terms of the rice itself, it was quite….solid. You know how they say the perfect risotto is supposed to not really form a mound on the plate (but at the same time, not be a rice stew) – well, this one definitely had a backbone to it. That said, it tasted pretty good and the rice was nicely (if not ever so slightly overdone) cooked. I can empathise, in the sense that risotto invariably takes far too long to cook, especially for what is essentially a “fast” pasta restaurant, so they’ve obviously had a pot of the stuff hangin’ around for a while…still, it was solid. $16 regular; $23 large (we…mistakenly got the large)

Rice-a-riso (not really)

Rice-a-riso (not really)

My pasta was a fettuccine marinara – my favourite. The pasta was deliciously al dente; the seafood was plentiful (prawns, calamari, little chunks of fish) and the sauce not too heavy, but altogether garlicky and flavourful. Once again, made the mistake of getting the large ($16 reg; $23 large) and couldn’t finish it. The seafood was well cooked too.

It'sa marinara!

It’sa marinara!

Bonus points for The Italian Bowl – they don’t have fake parmesan in their shakers! I don’t know why I’m so impressed with this, but it’s such a small thing that makes such a large difference. The meals came out fast, they were hot and delicious – decently large serving and nicely flavoured. We didn’t try any of their meat dishes, but there are definitely some refinements that could be made to the dishes we tried.

The Italian Bowl
255 King St, Newtown NSW 2042

Food? 7/10. A decent, casual eatery. Lots of traffic, a good “fast food” option. Meals are fairly unrefined….but perhaps that’s how mama likes it
Drinks? N/a – we had a coupla cans of lemon squash and they were as good as any lemon squash I’ve had
Atmosphere? 6/10 – nothing special. The restaurant is long and thin so you often feel as though there’s not enough room to sit more than a couple of people at a table. Service was friendly and efficient though.

The Italian Bowl on Urbanspoon

Liiiiisa, why would you eat me? 6 hour roast lamb

I like the concept of roasting low and slow. That you can take a cheap, shitty cut of meat and turn it into something truly wonderful. Something, juicy, tender and altogether moreish. I recently had a whole day of having to stay at home, studying. What better way to pass such a hideous day, than to have wafts of lamb floating through the house throughout the day. And what better way to achieve such wafts than cooking lamb over the course of an entire day. Well, half a day, because battling inner-city supermarkets at 9am is a several-hour mission in itself.

Anyway, the lamb. I bought a nice, big fat piece of shoulder from the butcher and roasted it at 120 for 6 hours with various flavours added along the way. The concept is that you get a shitty old piece of meat that has heaps of fatty bits and sinew running through it, which all render out and / or go all tender and melty and by the end you have this absolutely delicious piece of lamb on your fork – knives need not apply because this baby just falls apart in your mouth.

You will need:
– 1 piece of meat. You could use pork, beef, lamb, whatever. The idea is just to get one of the cheap cuts. These are the ones that benefit from the long, slow roast. Premium eye fillet ain’t got no home here. I chose lamb shoulder, as mentioned, about 2kgs
– 1 cup of dry white wine
– 1 cup of stock
– a couple of bay leaves
– 4 cloves of garlic
– a few anchovies (optional!)

Phase 1 – get stuffed: The first thing to do is trim up your meat. You don’t want to be too harsh – some of that fat and sinew in slow roasting is a good thing. What you want to remove is that really thick, pale yellow fat that looks like it could clog up your arteries with just one glance. After you’ve spent a bit of time doing that, place a few incisions nice and deep into your lamb shoulder. In it, slide a few slices from the garlic cloves and, if you like, a little piece of anchovy – don’t worry, it seems to mellow and break up during the cooking process. Turn your oven up to 120 degrees at this point. Then you want to get a pan nice and hot with a little oil. You want to brown the lamb shoulder in said appropriately sized pot (because it ain’t gonna get nice and brown cooking at 120 degrees). It’ll take about 10-15 mins and when you’re happy with the golden-ness, deglaze that hot mess by adding your wine and stock to the pot. At this point, add your bay leaves (oh and I also added half a leek, chopped in half…though I’m not quite sure what this added. Sweetness of some variety).

Lamb - phase one complete

Lamb – phase one complete

Phase 2 – hot hot heat: Into the oven goes your lamb, in the pot, lid on. That is all. Seriously, leave it there for the next 6 hours, perhaps turning ever couple of hours. I did the cartouche thing – i.e. putting a piece of baking paper over the lamb so it loses less moisture.

Phase 2 - complete

Phase 2 – complete

Phase 3 – get some lamb (or pork) on your fork: all you need to do now is let your lamb rest in the pot for about half an hour. This is coincidentally the time it takes to organise some epic roast pumpkin / potatoes. Then get your fork out – save the knife – and go mental

Phase 3 - get it in ya

Phase 3 – get it in ya