Monday, August 29, 2011

An Artichoke with Beurre Blanc Sauce

Hiya ladies and gentlemen, it's artichoke season.

I had written this whole blurb about the sun ebbing through the winter chill or something similarly nauseating (which my grandmother would just adore) but then I deleted the whole thing because although yes, Spring is dangling its beckoning, tanned and stockinged leg around the corner of this gloomy season, the fact of the matter is that winter was a rather dismal blotch on my cooking repertoire. This last Sunday past I ruined four perfectly good eggs before arriving at two semi-decent poached ones. Lovely though my boyfriend is, it must be tough on him having a girlfriend who sobs over smashed eggs. Although he'd be happy with a bowl of Sultana Bran so thankfully there's no love lost there.

Anyway, even through the dark days of my kitchen fails x 1000,000, there are things to look forward to. Not to mention my impending trip to the USA in two weeks, I'm getting hot-under-the-collar thinking about spring eating and spring living. Broad beans, blueberries, avocados and asparagus, rosé and barbecued prawns; it's all coming. We had the most chubby, meaty stalks of steamed asparagus dolloped with a buttery almond cream on the weekend. It got me thinking about serving a pile of steamed stalks with melty, gooey tallegio, or brown butter and almonds, a whole stack of delicious things which I can see in my asparagus future. But asparagus are an easy vegetable and I needed something completely unfamiliar to jolt me out of my stupor and back into action. The artichoke.

Everyone always bangs on about how fiddly they are to prepare, but they also wont shut up about how worth it they are, so I figured snapping a couple of leaves couldn't be that hard, and do you know what? It wasn't. I picked up one lonesome 'choke from the grocer on Sunday night and studied up on Stephanie Alexander's good words on the subject. She seemed to think I could do it, and so I did. I even managed a lemony beurre blanc sauce to dip the leaves into, huzzah!

Artichoke with Beurre Blanc Sauce
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander's "The Cook's Companion"

Serves 2 as a light snack or starter

Choose an artichoke that is glossy and heavy with tightly closed leaves and a firm stem. If it feels flacid (for want of a better word) when you hold it by the stem, it's not fresh. 

1 artichoke
wedge of lemon

beurre blanc sauce
1 tablespoon finely diced French shallot
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
100g butter cut into 6 cubes
lemon juice
salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. To prepare your artichoke, snap off the first two or three layers of outer leaves, until you notice that the leaves are a lighter shade of green or yellow at the base. Cut off the stem leaving a 1cm stub at the bottom. Rub all cut surfaces with the lemon wedge to stop them turning brown. Artichokes brown very quickly when severed. Cut off the top third of the artichoke with a knife to dispose of the pointy, sharp ends of the leaves. Rub the cut side with the lemon. 

Place the artichoke into the pot of boiling water, and place a small plate over the top of it so the artichoke remains submerged. Boil for 15 minutes. When the artichoke is ready you will be able to spear a skewer through the heart with little resistance. If you hit a hard core, then continue boiling for another couple of minutes. 

When the artichoke is tender, remove from the water and leave to cool for a few minutes.

In the meantime, make the sauce. 

Sauté the shallots, wine and white pepper in a small, heavy-based saucepan until most of the liquid has evaporated. Over a low-medium heat, add each cube of butter, whisking after each addition, not adding the next cube until the previous one is completely melted, whisking all the while, until a thick, glossy sauce emerges. Squeeze the juice of about a 1/4 lemon into the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Place the artichoke in a bowl and fan out the leaves so they are easily detached. To eat this yummy thing, pull one leaf off at a time, scoop up a pool of sauce into the leaf, and suck the soft flesh off the artichoke, leaving the woody, tough part of the leaf behind. Once you reach the tender center you should be able to eat the entire leaf.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Beach House

I've just come back from spending the weekend at a friend's beach house up the coast in a tiny town called Catherine Hill Bay. There is only one road running through the town and it leads to the pub. There's no supermarket and nowhere to buy a paper in the morning. Weatherboard cottages sit alongside it, some look empty, but the pub has live music on Sundays (and lingerie waitresses on Mondays...?)

The wharf is abandoned. We tried to climb down there onto it, we wanted to walk all the way to the end to watch the ships waiting to dock in Newcastle. Heather scurried under the fence and over the wire but it was all boarded up. It was dusk and the weather was closing in so we wandered back down to the house and ate chocolate cupcakes and the boys drank the better part of a bottle of whiskey called Monkey Shoulder. 

It was a great weekend.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Orange Tree

I've been having a horrendous run in the kitchen. I don't know what it is but nothing is working. I made quinoa honey biscuits, they were soft and clung to the roof of my mouth like damp weetbix. A creme caramel was grainy, the caramel had soaked into the custard leaving a brown, floury residue for me to sigh at. A ball of pizza dough was tough and biscuity and I'm just done with the failures.

I need to be re-inspired and re-ignited. I need to be blown away by food again. I need more time to experiment, when the pressure of waiting mouths isn't crouching behind me, poised to pounce with bared teeth.

So for now here's an orange tree. Strung with solar powered lamps. Friends of ours are renting this house in North Melbourne and I want something exactly like this when I look out the window.

Anyway, there's a jar of pickled pears waiting patiently in the fridge, perhaps that'll do it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

EAT - Video

Such an inspiring video about travelling and eating. It's just one minute but makes me want to sell all my possessions (my car may be my one thing of semi-value) and run to Europe to stuff my face.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Please?

This summer i'm drinking Campari and blood orange every weekend.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Izakaya Fujiyama - Surry Hills

Kenji Maenaka manned the dessert station next to the coiffed and tattooed boys at Bodega for years. Recently he's flown the coop to open Izakaya Fujiyama on Waterloo Street (another cab to join the rank next to Orto Trading Co. and El Capo), a Japanese bar and restaurant with an enviable sake range that is watering mouths all over the city.

Izakaya, to put it bluntly, is a Japanese bar, with affordable food to match the drinks. There's a lot on offer from the deep fryer, which goes down nicely with their range of frosty Japanese beers like Saporo, Asahi and Yebiso. The spicy Japanese fried potatoes, fried snapper with Japanese escabeche or KFC (Kenji's Fried Chicken) with a sweet mayonnaise would start the night well if you were stopping by for a pre-dinner snack.

You might be lucky enough to try a special of soft and smokey cubes of miso-cured and lightly seared salmon, or you could go all neanderthal and order the whole grilled tuna jaw, a toothy, prehistoric-looking dish which you pick away at, leaving the gleaming carcass behind. A dish you need to order just to say "yeh I eat fish skull, what of it?" The sashimi is sliced with razor sharp precision and is fresh and juicy but it's the teriyaki beef ribs, sticky and dark, whose tender flesh has been sliced and laid across the bones left for you to chew on, is a contender for best dish to smash with a beer in Sydney. However, the lime-flavoured kingfish with miso and fried wedges of tortilla was a little lack-lustre, the beigey-brown colour and oil-soaked tortilla could have been a little more vibrant with more citrus.

The desserts echo those plated up at Bodega, warm chocolate cake with baked quince and condensed milk ice cream, or vanilla bean ice cream served with a toffee and Japanese vinegar topping will finish up a night of snacks and sake rather nicely.

Izakaya Fujiyama
52 Waterloo St, Surry Hills, Sydney
Open for dinner Mon-Sat from 5.30pm
02 9698 2797
No Bookings