Monday, April 30, 2012

#porkfest Cooking Class, Restaurant Atelier Glebe

Sometimes The Boy and I have THE DUMBEST disagreements about the best way to cook pork crackling for example. I'm a firm believer that you have to salt the rind and The Boy stubbornly thinks you don't...he thinks it will just "crackle on its own" (kinda like the way he thinks the bathroom might just clean itself). Of course neither of us are great cooks so I took the pork crackling debate to Twitter (yes, cos I'm nuts) where I got a tonne of different ways to cook crackling and most of them proved me right (in your face BOY)! By this time The Boy had adjourned to the study to watch The History Channel and wasn't interested in my victory dance in the kitchen.

Needless to say when I heard that Darren Templeman from Restaurant Atelier in Glebe was teaching a class in Pork Crackling I knew this was one class I HAD to attend. Conveniently The Boy had other plans that day so couldn't come (and be proven wrong again). Turns out really that both The Boy and I were somewhat right in our pork crackling methods. You do salt the pork and THEN you rub it off later - it has salt and then it doesn't.

This was the first class of a series that Darren plans to offer each month. There'll be another Pork Crackling class in May and after that the classes will vary...I'm keen for a sausage making class (hint hint).

The classes are "demonstration style" in a commercial kitchen - you can get as close to the hotplates, smokers, ovens, pots, pans and the chef as you like. Ask questions, sample the goodies, peer into the saucepan to see exactly what "really caramelised" means.  The class is relaxed and fun.  Darren is totally relaxed in the kitchen and happily answers ALL the questions we throw at him.  I've never been in a restaurant kitchen before so this was REALLY exciting.  A lot of the attendees were really happy to be able to ask a chef questions about his cooking methods - much more interactive then just reading a recipe from a book and hoping you're on the right track (like I do).

I was intrigued that Darren planned to teach us THREE different methods for making pork crackling - you mean there is more than one way to crackle a pig?

Method 1:   I was in slightly familiar territory with the first method that Darren demonstrated to us, Crispy Pork Belly and I could easily attempt this at home without too many tears. The pork belly is coated with a mix of salt and other spices and left to cure overnight in the fridge.

The next day wipe the salt mix off the pork and wash off any excess "stuff", pat it dry, spray (or rub) with oil and pop into the oven.  A big thing I took away from the class was NOT to score the meat. Whilst scoring might look fancy and perhaps make the roast easier to cut up it essentially lets all the juices run out of the meat rather than back into the piece of pork.

Method 2: Whilst I've eaten a bit of Confit Pork in my time I've never thought about making it at home as it involves cooking the meat in quite a bit of fat which I thought would be super messy (it's not). The more adventurous and experienced cooks in the group were really taken by this method and it's actually much more simple than I thought it would be.

A slab of pork belly is placed in a deep dish, covered with fat and cooked in a slow oven (the dish is covered in foil).  Once cooked and cooled, the pork is wrapped in Glad Wrap and cooled in the fridge overnight under a heavy weight to compress it.  Then you simply cook the pork in a pan skin side down until the skin is super crisp and crackling and dance like a maniac around the kitchen when the Chef allows us to sample the Confit Pork. The Confit Pork was so soft, like butter, totally delicious yet surprisingly didn't taste or feel fatty at all. Miracle stuff.

Method 3:  If I have one weakness it's Pork Scratchings - I could eat bag loads of the stuff and still want MORE.  When I realized that Darren would be showing us how to make this I did (another) crazy little dance around his kitchen and squealed like a Big Girl!  Of course when the time came to sample I had to dash out of the restaurant to put more money in the parking meter...luckily noone sampled anything until I got back.

I'm considering if I'd "try this at home" given deep-frying is involved and I burn myself on boiling water - imagine what damage I could do with a pot full of bubbling oil.

In this method the rind is boiled, cooled, and the fat removed from the skin. The skin is then dehydrated in a slow oven until it resembles a piece of plastic. It's then popped into a deep-fryer and Miss Piggy dances like a fruitcake when the whole lot emerges from the fryer ready to eat. OH HAPPY DAYS!

Samples:  throughout the class we got to sample each of the three types of pork demonstrated to us.  Darren of course, like most chefs I've met, doesn't do things by halves. He also prepared a few extra styles of pork for us to try.  He also let us try a few extra things like a fancy fish sauce he'd just got into the restaurant, as well showing us the perfect way to make a Pork Jus.

We were also sent home with a piece of pork belly and a bag of seasoning to try and make our own Crispy Pork Belly at home. Along with this everyone was given a piece of Confit Pork Belly to finish off in the pan at home. We're sent home with a recipe for each of the three methods we've learnt...easy peasy.

Left: Pork Neck Rillet and Right: Smoked, deep-fried pork belly. OMG

Lunch: After the class we all sat down to a fantastic Sunday lunch. Darren had slow-roasted two HUGE pork shoulders overnight for us to enjoy - both complete with an Armour of the most crackly of crackling.  This felt A LOT like a long, relaxed fun family lunch - a long table heaving with beautiful food and fantastic conversation. 

Darren had also been foraging for Pine Mushrooms the day before, along with Karen, and he had returned with a HUGE haul of mushrooms that he smoked as a side dish for our lunch.  The smoker was a pretty impressive machine.

Smoked Pine Mushrooms and a Green Salad with roasted Hazelnuts
Dessert - complete with POP ROCKS!
The classes are organised by #twEATup guru, Karen.  She organises the classes via Twitter (cos she's very modern you know) and you can follow her on Twitter @vanityfare1 to keep abreast of further classes and #twEATup events.

Restaurant Atelier is at 22 Glebe Point Road, Glebe. Phone them on 9566 2112.

Restaurant Atelier on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 27, 2012

Castle Hill Farmers Market, Castle Hill

It's probably only since I started this blog that I really got "into" Farmer's Markets - really appreciated what they are about. In the past I've enjoyed visiting markets like Paddy's to pick up a few bits and pieces for my dinner (and a cheap handbag along the way), but I wasn't really into, nor did I understand the essence of the Farmers Market.  The fact that farm fresh produce is being brought to the Big Smoke for us city slickers to enjoy - STRAIGHT FROM THE FARM. Often by "real farmers" who wear boots and they big, broad-rimmed hats.

I really enjoyed my visit to Eveleigh Farmers Market last year, and The Boy and I often find ourselves at Orange Grove on a Saturday picking up fresh fruit, vegies and of course my beloved free range meat.  The markets are such a great way to disengage from city life and "get real" for an hour or two. It's a chance to ask questions about the produce if you want to, rather than blindly filling up the trolley at the supermarket without any knowledge about the provenance of your haul.

The only thing is, Eveleigh and Orange Grove are a bit of schlep for Parramatta so we don't go as often as I'd like - battling Saturday morning traffic is never fun.   So imagine how excited I was to find out that there was a VERY GOOD Farmers Market only 15 minutes up the road from Parramatta (I was beside myself, just for the record).  It only took 18 months of living out here to realise that these markets even existed.

The Castle Hill Markets are held on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month - you'll find them at the Castle Hill Showground.  The first market of the month seems to be the bigger of the two - but they are both equally as good.

As with a visit to any Farmers Market you really need to start with brunch.  Cappuccinos along with Bacon and Egg Rolls seem to be the order of the day for most people, but I'm quite taken by the Spinach and Ricotta Roll.  It's good, firm filling with a lovely flaky pastry.

The Boy is really excited to try a Buffalo Sausage Roll - made with Buffalo meat from a herd that resides in the Blue Mountains.  The stall also sell Buffalo Mozzarella and they're doing a roaring trade in Buffalo Gelato (that I HAVE to try next time).  We chat to the stall holder who tells us about her herd of 22 Buffalo (all free roaming of course).  You can tell she's really passionate about what she does as she's holding back tears telling us about a Buffalo they lost during the week - along with her two unborn calves.

The Boy makes a beeline for the Duck stall - fixated on nabbing some Duck Sausages (we try a sample or two and they are REALLY good).

We also visit the Trunkey Bacon and Pork stall. These guys come down from their farm in Trunkey (up near Orange) for each and every market.  I have a chat to the owner who tells me that the pork is barn-raised, rather than free range.  He tells me their pigs are are of the "pink skinned" variety who don't do so well free-range as they get sunburnt if they don't have a wallow to...wallow in (unlike Berkshire Blacks who can hack the sunshine a bit better).  The Trunkey pigs are shipped to an abattoir in Orange and then come back to the farm where they do all their own butchering.  Trunkey don't use gestation stalls on their farm so The Boy and I decide we'll buy some porky goodies.  I have no idea if this is an ethically sound decision or not, but I've read a bit about Barn Raised pigs and I feel "OK" about it.

Whilst we're feeling meaty we head over to the guys from The Free Range Butchers and snag some snags (grass-fed).  We've bought free range chicken from these guys before and it's great produce. They also have a store in Pennant Hills if you're so inclined to visit them there.  The guys are the stall are the butchers from the Pennant Hills shops - they are cheeky and love to engage in a bit of banter with their customers, just like the butchers shops I grew up going to.

The eggs are from a free-range farm in Terry Hills - laid on Thursday and at the markets on Saturday.  If you're not convinced about why you should buy free-range eggs, or why you should spend a bit more on them, have a quick squizz at this campaign that Missy Higgins is involved in - when you see the squalid and appallingly cruel conditions battery hens are kept in I hope you'll soon opt for free-range. No animal should live a life of such misery - it really should be illegal here just like it is in the European Union.  AND free-range eggs just taste better. They have a vibrant yellow yolk that holds together really well in cooking due to a thicker membrane.

We also stock up on some veggies and a bit of fruit to help balance out all that meat. All of the sellers as Castle Hill are identified as a Genuine Grower, Genuine Producer or Resellers - so you know if you're talking directly with a farmer or a reseller.  I think it's a nice touch.

And if you feel like "growing your own" there's a stall with an outstanding number of seedlings on offer.  I recently planed my very first balcony garden so I was really interested to see what was on offer here - but not the Brussel Spouts, they won't be coming home with me.

I also picked a few spices for some homemade pickled veggies that I attempted - which didn't turn out too badly if I do say so myself (except for my executive decisions to use Fennel Seeds when I couldn't find Dill Seeds).

All this food shopping is thirsty work...

Farmers Markets give us an option to turn out backs on the big two supermarkets (you know who I mean) who are screwing our farmers into the very ground they are trying to make their livings from.  That super cheap milk that you see on the shelves of Coles and Woolies is NOT a good thing. It's a price war that's all about gaining market share, and our dairy farmers are losing out...selling their product for less than it's worth. How can anyone make a living like that?  Pretty soon those dairy farmers are going to go out of business, walk off their farms and we'll be left drinking imported milk from countries where we have no say about, no influence, about the animal welfare practices that go into making that milk. First it was milk, then bread, and now "The Big Two" have fruit and veggies in their sights.

Castle Hill Farmers Market
is on at the Castle Hill Showground Castle Hill, enter via Carrington Road. The markets are on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ton Ton, Sydney

With all of the miserable weather Sydney's had lately you'd be forgiving for thinking it's London.  You'd also be forgiving for heading off in search of a hot bowl of Udon...which is exactly what The BFF and I did.  Not being entirely over my Menya Mappen obsession I'd hoped we'd score a table there, but alas the queue was out the door so went in search of our Udon fullfillment elsewhere.

Not too far up the road is Ton Ton, a casaul Japanese noodle joint - it's no Mappen, but on a wintery autumn night it does hit the spot.

We kick things off with some snacks - a simple seaweed salad is the first tidbit to capture our eye.  It's your stock standard seaweed salad - nothing to write home about, but pretty decent. 

The BFF can't resist a piece of Chicken Karagi and I'm tempted by the Sweet Potato Sticks which are served cold and are drizzled with a sweet sauce (honey perhaps?) and dotted with black sesame.  I quite liked these, but I'm not sure The BFF was a fan, oh well - more for me!

The BFF orders a big bowl of steaming hot Kogashi Ninniku Ramen ($12.80) which looked really nice and I'm told was pretty tasty.  The broth is flavoured with black sesame soy and burnt garlic which is home to some tender BBQ pork.

There was only one meat-free option on the menu so it looks like it was going to be the Vegetable Udon ($9.80) for me which was actually really lovely. The broth was simple and clean flavoured and the vegetables were perfectly cooked - I especially loved the big chunks of soft potato. 

Ton Ton is certainly no Gumshara (just letting all you hard-core Ramen fans out there know that), but if you're in the area and need a bowl of Udon or Ramen to warm your belly I reckon Ton Ton would fill the spot.

Ton Ton is at 501 George Street, Ground Floor of Regent Place, Sydney.

Ton Ton Regent on Urbanspoon 

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Baron, Castle Hill

So, first things first. Although The Baron's address is listed as "Castle Street, Castle Hill" you'll find them tucked away on Old Castle Hill Road.  Don't make the mistake that we did and wander around Castle Hill for 40 minutes wondering where the hell a) you are and b) where the cafe is!  And for the record, Google Maps - you are NOT my friend. OK?

The address conundrum is simply explained. The Baron resides on the outer-rim of the enormous Castle Towers shopping center. Shopping centers really do my head in now that I'm "an old lady" (back in my 20s I could happily spend all weekend inside one of these places...but not any more).

It's a blessing not to have to go inside this monotonous shopping center to find a great neighbourhood cafe bursting with fresh and flavoursome locally-sourced food, wonderful coffee and friendly staff.  The cafe has a really unique vibe with it's urban, industrial styling and minimalist approach to the decor.

First order of the day is an Iced Coffee ($4.50) for both myself and The Boy.  The Baron does a really sophisticated, minimalist looking Iced Coffee - not a dollop of cream to be seen anywhere, just a great-bodied espresso poured over vanilla ice-cream. 

The Boy orders the BLAT ($8.50) and I'm surprised at how huge this sandwich is for the small price tag.  Crammed between two thick slices of bread is a mound of crispy bacon, tomato and avocado. It's gone in less than 60 seconds.

Keen on ordering something vegetarian I'm told that the Young Man's Salad (which changes daily) is a Mushroom Bruschetta with asparagus and Persian Feta. Sounds great, but it's obvious from the first mouthful that there's quite A LOT of (tasty tasty) shredded pork and bacon lurking in this Mushroom Bruschetta. Whilst I'm not a vegetarian by any means, I prefer not to eat meat when out and about as I like to eat free-range for ethical reason.  That said, I'm not going to dump a perfectly good meal in the bin if it inadvertently has meat in it - that would be a waste of food, and I'd feel pretty bad that the animal died only to end up in the bin for my "ethics". Turns out The Baron actually serves up free-range pork anyway - from Schultz Butchers in the Barossa Valley.  I'm happy to hear this as that BLAT looks like a good option for next time.

So the long and the short of it - really really good mushroom and pork Bruschetta, with perhaps just a little too much oil drizzled over the salad as a dressing.

And who is The Young Man I hear you ask?  You'll see his Polaroid, along with all the other staff members stuck to the back of the Coffee Machine for easy reference. This visual aid might be more for the staff's benefit however as The Baron turns into a small bar once the sun sets over Western Sydney. And who is The Baron? Well, he was the first free-man to own land in this neck of the woods.

The Baron is at Shop 461, 4-16 Castle Street (Castle Towers Shopping Center), Castle Hill.  Like I said though, you'll find them down on Old Castle Hill Road, next to Games Workshop. 

The Baron on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Carrington, Surry Hills

When The Boy and I visited Melbourne last year we fell in love with the quirky Pintox joint, Naked for Satan where tasty little morsels are served on bread and skewered into place with a toothpick in the fashion of eateries in Northern Spain.  Fun and yum!

When The Carrington in Surry Hills opened up its own Pintox and Tapas joint last year I began to hatch a plan to get The Boy to take me there.  To be honest, our "pre-football" ritual of burgers before each game was getting a tad...stale. I LOVE burgers, but a girl can only eat so many bugers in one year.  We needed to mix things up a bit (well I did anyway) and what better to spice things up then some tasty Pintoxs!

We're dining earlier than the folks in the nursing home would, but we have a footy game to get to. The benefit of dining at 5pm (yes, 5pm!) is that all the Surry Hills hipsters are still finishing up their brunches we get a seat no worries.  The dining room at The Carrington is at the back of the pub and it's decked out in dark, moody tones with a decidedly Spanish vibe.

We kick of our dinner with some Pintox - a Meatball Slider for The Boy and a Calamari Slider for each of us ($6.00 each).  A slider is just a mini-burger really, so I haven't escape the pre-footy burger tradition after all. But, I don't mind as the Calamari Slider is great - crispy calamari, mayo and rocket all on a soft brioche-style bun.   I'm test driving my new "second-hand" camera tonight so please forgive my wonky photos.

The Kingfish Pastrami On Rye ($4.00 each piece) is my FAVOURITE morsel of the evening. We actually came back to The Carrington after the football so I could have another slice (or two) of this, but alas the kitchen had already closed. So sad.  The Kingfish Pastrami has a peppery crust just like regular pastrami, but unlike pastrami (where the meat is much more dry) the Kingfish is deliciously moist and plump.  It sits atop of bed of creamy coleslaw which coats the inside of my mouth like butter. The slice gherkins are a great balance to fish and creamy 'slaw.

We move onto some Tapas - that's Spanish for "little dishes of food without toothpicks".  We both LOVE the Salt Roasted King Prawns ($7.50 each).  The prawns are monsters - HUGE and are deliciously charred.

Our bowl of Patatas Bravas Fries ($8.00) are pipping hot, salty and deliciously crispy.  They are accompained by a bowl of spicy Tomato Sauce which is quite addictive.  I get a greasy look from The Boy when I snaffle the last two fries in the bowl for myself. You snooze you loose.

Ever since reading about Salt Cod Fritters ($14.00) on HeNeedsFood I've really want to try them.  Of course I wasn't going to make them myself like John did for his blog - I needed someone to make them for me thank you very much.  We bite through the crunchy outer layer to reveal soft fluffy innards of mashed potato, some random vegies and lovely cod.  The flavour of my salted cod fritter is much milder than I was expecting and not salty at all - I was expecting a really strong "fishy" taste, so this was a nice surprise.

Chef Jamie Thomas kindly sends out a plate of Jalapeno and Smoked Cheddar Croquettes ($14.00) for us to try and they are devine. Deep-fried cheesy goodness is just not the domain of the Royal Easter Show you know.

I'm desperate to go back from some more of that lovely Kingfish Pastrami. Be seeing you soon Carrington!

The Carrington is at 565 Bourke Street, Surry Hills.  Phone them on 02 9360 4714 (they take bookings *happy dance*)!

The Carrington Specialite: Beba y Cene on Urbanspoon

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