Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pork & Cider Dinner @ New Shanghai

"Make sure you put some apple sauce on your pork, it balances out the richness " Mum would say when I was a kid sitting round the dinner table over a pork roast.

It's very simple - Pork & Apple works.

I recently had the pleasure of attending New Shanghai's Pork & Cider Dinner. 

To begin we start with the Sweet & Sour Pork Rib cooked with dark vinegar sauce. The ribs are sticky and full of flavour but the dish is let down by the fact that it is served cold and the ribs are full of little bones making it very hard to enjoy.

Sweet & Sour Pork Rib in Dark Vinegar Sauce

This dish is paired with Fog City's Cloudy Apple Cider which I absolutely love! See my review of this cider here . The only change in this cider, appears to be that it is now locally brewed in Victoria by East Ninth Brewing Co.

Steam Dumpling Basket

The second course comprises of a set of three steamed dumplings. The first one I try is the vegetarian dumpling with is brimming with shredded vegetable goodness. It have tried these before at NS's Ashfield restaurant and love these with brown vinegar which I also add on this occasion. 

The Xiao Long Bao, a soupy pork filled dumpling, is filled with hot seasoned broth and minced pork and it disappears quickly from my basket. I then move on to the Crab Meat Xiao Long Bao which is filled with a generous amount of sweet shredded crab meat - Yum!

Accompanied by The Apple Thief's Pink Lady Cider, a gorgeous pink hued cider, it goes well with most things so it's no surprise this one has made an appearance.See my review of it here.  We are told that this cider is to accompany both dumpling courses so we are careful not to drink it too quickly.

The Apple Thief's - Pink Lady Apple Cider

Pan Fried Dumplings 
The Pan Fried dumpling course arrives next and I am delighted to see my favourite New Shanghai specialty - The pan fried pork bun ( Above - Far Right). Filled with hot soupy broth and delicious minced pork I can't get enough of these guys - the outer dough is what makes these beauties, it's SO good.

Steamed Meatball w/ Crab Meat
By this stage those of us on my table are starting to get very full. This meatball tips us all over the edge. A substantial meatball filled with pork mince and generous amounts of shredded crab meat and vegetables. Served in a broth with bok choy it was a meal in itself and when paired with Montieth's Pear Cider, very filling indeed. 

I really like the change from apple to pear cider at this point in the meal though. It provides a nice transition and gives a different flavour profile to the pork.

Montieth's, a very drinkable cider, comes from New Zealand and is made using 100% juice rather than concentrates. To find out more about their ciders check out my review of their apple cider and pear and apple cider.

Stewed Pork Belly Sandwich
The next dish is my favourite. Tender pork belly served in a steamed bun with fresh cucumber and hoisin sauce. More please?!

Served with a cider I have never come across - Ecusson Rose Cider from France. 

Excited to be trying a new 'cider' variation, this one is quite sweet and has a fairly robust carbonation. Different, I will look into reviewing it here in the future so stay tuned. 

In terms of a pairing for the steamed bun - I felt like it was perhaps a little too sweet for this dish as it clashed slightly with the sweetness of the hoisin sauce. I would have preferred a dry cider for this dish. 

Pork Belly in Sweet Soy Sauce
Did I mention that we were quite full a few dishes prior?

Cider can be quite filling, when had degustation style. Not that I was complaining!

The pork belly in this dish had been braised overnight and was sticky, sweet and tender.

Again, I was delighted to see another one of my favourite cider producers make an appearance - Small Acres, Medium Sweet. 

We finished on a sweet high with a traditional mango pudding paired with Rekorderlig's Strawberry-Lime 'cider'. 

What do you think or pork and cider? Would you like to attend a pork and cider degustation?

The Food Mentalist attended the Pork & Cider Dinner as a guest of New Shanghai.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

delicious. Home Cooking by Valli Little

Valli Little is one of Australia's favourite food writers and food editor of the popular magazine delicious.

This new cookbook features Valli's favourite home cooked recipes, which are super easy, look fantastic and taste delicious. Seasonal chapters make this cookbook really easy to follow and ensures that you are always cooking with the best seasonal produce. It's smart. It's also a very good looking cookbook with a matching full colour photo for each of the 120 recipes contained within. You won't find any complicated restaurant style dishes in this cookbook either which is refreshing, it really inspires home cooking.

My favourites include:

  • Tagliatelle w/ Cheats Meatballs & Cherry Tomatoes;
  • Figgy Piggy;
  • Blackened Salmon w/ Papaya Mojo;
  • Coconut & Mango Tarts w/ Chilli Syrup;
  • Asparagus & Ricotta Tart;
  • Sticky Pork Cutlets w/ Spicy Asian Slaw; and
  • Simple Apricot Tart. 

I could go on and on...

To start you off and get you in the mood for Summer, Valli has kindly provided readers of The Food Mentalist with her recipe for Strawberry Tart w/ Basil Cream which is featured on the front cover. You will note that it is a simple recipe with limited steps and easy to follow instructions. Oh, and it looks divine!

Strawberry tart with Basil cream

Serves 6-8

Just for presentation, I like to keep some of the strawberries unhulled. The bright green leaves add an extra burst of colour to this tart.

200g amaretti (Italian almond biscuits)*
125g unsalted butter, melted, cooled
2 x 250g punnets strawberries, halved if large
2 tbs icing sugar, sifted, plus extra to serve
600ml thickened cream
2 tsp finely grated lime zest
Pulp of 2 passionfruit
6 large basil leaves, finely chopped
1/3 cup (95g) thick Greek-style yoghurt

Grease a 22cm loose-bottomed tart pan.
Place the amaretti in a food processor and whiz to fine crumbs. Add the butter and pulse a few times to combine, then press into the base and sides of the tart pan. 
Chill for 30 minutes to firm up.
Place the strawberries in a bowl and toss with the icing sugar. Set aside.
Place the cream and lime zest in separate bowl and beat with electric beaters until stiff peaks form. Strain the passionfruit pulp into the cream mixture, pressing down with the back of a spoon to extract as much juice as possible and discarding the seeds, then gently fold to combine. Fold in the basil and yoghurt.
Fill the tart shell with the basil cream and arrange the strawberries on top. Serve the tart dusted with extra icing sugar.

* Available from delis and gourmet food shops.

Stay tuned for another Summer recipe from Valli's cookbook - Peppered Tuna w/ Green Tea Noodles. Yum.

The Food Mentalist road tested Home Cooking by Valli Little compliments of Harper Collins Publishers Australia. This is not a sponsored post.

* Photos supplied by Harper Collins Publishers.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cider Sunday - Apple Tree Apple & Elderflower Cider (NZ)

When you love cider and food as much as we do, you tend to find that holidays turn into a little bit of a hunting expedition for new and unusual cider and foods. The bad part about that is that cider bottles are heavy and prone to breaking and you can't take them as hand luggage as they are over the 100ml limit.

So you can imagine the dilemma when we travelled back from NZ recently with many new ciders in tow. I have managed to get the packing of cider down to a fine art - although during a visit to Wine Tastes in Queenstown I discovered these convenient and economical wine bottle transport packs called The WineSkin. I think they cost me $4 NZD each which really is a small price to pay to protect your bottle.

I was really impressed by it because basically it's designed to fit a standard 750ml bottle. It has two really strong adhesive seals at the bottom and bubble film on the inside to cushion the bottle. And, even in the unfortunate event of your bottle smashing it claims to be strong enough to contain the broken glass and all the liquid preventing it from leaking through your luggage.Lucky for me the wine skin protected my NZ ciders and I didn't have to test this theory.

Apple Tree Cider is a cloudy cider made from Braeburn NZ apples and elderflower, a white blossom flower which are known for their aromatic qualities. The elderflower contained in this cider are grown wild and handpicked on the banks of the Rakaia River in Canterbury, NZ.

The cider has a lovely aroma with crisp sweet apple and honey scents coming through. It pours with only a little fizz which settles quickly and its flavour follows through with apple and floral notes. It is very crisp and fresh, and quite acidic with a welcome zing which wakes up the palate. 

With a very balanced sweetness, it is obvious this one is a little different to many of the mainstream/commercially produced ciders on the Australian market. That said I am unaware of it being available for sale here - yet.

I really like the name of this cider and its bottle design - it is fresh and modern, not to mention the fact that it comes in a 500ml bottle which is perfect for sharing. Pete really liked this cider - he likened it to Fog City.

I purchased this one on the South Island of New Zealand and it retails for approximately $7.50 NZD per 500ml bottle.

Tell me, have you ever had a bottle smash in your luggage when travelling?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Balkan - The Original Balkan Restaurant - Sydney

Balkan restaurant has a new home on Sydney's Crown Street in Darlinghurst. Having already established an excellent reputation for Croatian cuisine, Balkan prides itself on being Sydney's first original Balkan restaurant having served diners for the last 48 years at their previous location on Oxford Street.

Specialising in Croatian dishes with a strong emphasis on fresh charcoal grilled seafood and meats, Pete and I recently had the pleasure of dining at this famed Sydney institution.

To start, we notice a good selection of wines are available with many local and a few overseas varieties making an appearance, all available by the glass or bottle. 

We decide on a fruity Pinot Gris from Mudgee following a recommendation from our lovely waitress Sanja. 

Garlic Prawns $18.90
We start our meal with the garlic prawn entree. They arrive served in a mini cast iron pot, sizzling in a hot buttery garlic sauce. There are four large prawns to the serve sprinkled with fresh parsley with just a hint of chilli. They are incredibly moreish and we use some crusty garlic bread to mop up the delicious sauce.

Balkan Salad $7.90
The Balkan Salad arrives and we are told that it is a traditional favourite - A combination of white potato and cabbage, it has a lovely vinaigrette, is seasoned perfectly and topped with fresh parsley. It's simple yet SO delicious and Pete and I have to stop ourselves from filling up on it before our mains arrive.

Seafood Platter For Two $78.90
Next, we move on to the seafood platter for two which is brimming with fresh succulent grilled seafood. The seafood has been cooked over charcoal which imparts a lovely smokey flavour. The platter is filled with generous sweet morsels of grilled scampi, baby octopus, calamari, crispy fried whitebait, and two large home made prawn cutlets. Lots of lemon and a generous portion of tartare sauce compliment the delicious seafood.  

Our seafood extravaganza continues with a whole grilled John Dory which is Pete's favourite. Served with a smattering of fresh parsley and lemon, the fish just peels away from the bone and is fresh, full of flavour, and again - seasoned perfectly. I'm really loving these smokey flavours too. 

Grilled John Dory $38.90
Hand cut chips make a nice addition to the fish - with just the right amount of salt, they remind us of home made chips we had growing up.

Hand cut Chips $8.00
Pola-Pola arrives next and we are told it translates to 'half-half' . The selection includes skewered pork neck and cevapi sausages which are a skinless sausage made with a combination of seasoned beef, veal and veal mince - A meat lovers dream!

The platter is served with a side of Ajvar - a traditional Baltic relish made with char grilled red bell peppers, garlic and a hint of chilli which compliments the meaty flavours.

The meat is well seasoned, smokey and tender. Pete prefers the pork neck whilst my favourite are the cevapi sausages. We also try some of the lamb cutlets and they too are tender, cooked until slightly pink and seasoned nicely. 

Pola-Pola $24.90
By this point we are well and truly full and decide a shared dessert is the best option.

There are a few dessert options available but we decide on the Croatian Pancakes as they are known as the 'house special'. Filled with fresh sweet seasonal fruit - which tonight includes kiwi, strawberries and banana, it is finished with a drizzle of pear liqueur and vanilla ice cream. More of a crepe than a thick pancake this dessert is the perfect finish to our meal. They remind us of some of the ones we had in France - YUM! 

If fruit is not your thing, there are many other pancake options on offer - walnut, Croatian plum jam, Chocolate, Strawberry or plain with lemon and sugar. I can't wait to try ALL the others.

Pancakes $12.90
If you love coffee you must try the Croatian traditional style coffee too - it is thick, syrupy and packs a good punch. 

Finally, we finish on a high with a glass each of Pelinkovac (not pictured) - A Balkan digestive liqueur. It is bitter and floral and is based on wormwood. A unique drink that Sanja tells us is the perfect stomach tonic - particularly after a big meal. 

An upstairs dining area also doubles as a private function room for large groups and parties.

What we really loved about this restaurant in addition to the delicious fresh food, was that it offers an informality and accessibility to diners. The dining experience is really complimented by the friendly and professional service and the whole space has a really welcoming homely vibe.

The Original Balkan Restaurant
249 Crown Street, Darlinghurst
Tuesday - Sunday
BYO Optional
Tel 9331-7670 or 9360-4970
Twitter @OriginalBalkan

The Food Mentalist & Pete dined as guests of Balkan.
Balkan Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Cider Sunday - Napoleone & Co Methode Traditionnelle Pear Cider

At the end of each month we have a family dinner where we all head to my Nan's place in the East and it's something I really look forward to. There are however the usual dilemmas about what to cook and who will bring what - which is part of the fun I guess.

Last week, I made a pumpkin pie to celebrate Halloween and took along two bottles of the Methode Tradionnelle range from Napoleone & Co in the Yarra Valley. The range includes a pear and an apple variety and this week I wanted to introduce you all to the pear. 

Silver winner of best Australian Perry at the Cider Oz awards last month - This quality cider is made by winemakers in the Yarra Valley. The Napoleone Family have owned and operated orchids in the Yarra Valley since 1948 and are well known for their range of Punt Road wines.

Their cider range was launched in 2009 and they have already become a firm favourite of ours.

When I try a new cider away from home, I get out my iPhone and record my initial thoughts in the notes function. Two of the first entries I logged were 'delicious' and 'yummy'. Simple thoughts to begin with, but you get the idea.
Because this cider is as the name suggests 'traditionnelle' I believe it is better served without ice. It's a personal preference but ice can sometimes mask the true flavour of a good quality cider. 

The bottles are also a highlight, the design of the calico style labels is a perfect fit for the 'traditional' cider contained within.

The traditional method actually refers to the fermentation and ageing process which for this cider involves ageing on yeast lees for up to 3-4 months. What this actually does is impart a distinctive yeasty aroma and taste adding a level of complexity to the cider that you won't find in the majority of commercial ciders on the market. 

As you can appreciate, this process is costly and time sensitive and understandably the price must reflect this. 

This one has an almost non-existent very fine carbonation which again is in keeping with more traditional styles of cider. Upon opening, sweet baked caramel aromas are present.

With a lovely balanced sweetness, this cider exudes sophistication and has a slight musty character. It does also have a nice creamy texture on the palate and for this reason is one of my favourite pear ciders on the market at the moment. It's definitely on a different level to the majority of pear ciders available. If you get a chance, please try this one.

Made using 60% Packham Triumph pears and 40% Beurre Bosc variety, the flavour is delicate and delicious. 

This one will pair well with lighter flavoured fresh foods as strong flavours which include chili or curries may dominate your palate and distract from the lovely flavours of this cider. It is a refreshing and clean finishing cider so keep this in mind when selecting foods to pair with it.

Limited numbers are still available (only 300 cases were produced) To find your nearest retailer check here

Sydneysiders can still purchase Napoleone & Co Traditionnelle Pear Cider @ Camperdown Cellars & Salt Collins in Northbridge.

Retail - Approximately $22 per 500ml Bottle.

What are you up to today?

The Food Mentalist received a sample of Napoleone Methode Traditionelle Pear Cider compliments of Punt Road Wines.