Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Flavour fast - Herbie's

I love taking my time in the kitchen and planning and cooking intricate meals for family and friends. Unless it 6:45 pm on a Tuesday evening and I can barely be bothered to defrost something in the microwave let alone cook a couple of courses. That's when I reach for my handy collection of Herbie's spice mixes.

I'm probably preaching to the converted here, Herbie (Ian Hemphill) has a been an active member of Sydney's foodie scene for around 30 years. I am a more recent convert having only made it to his store during trading hours for the first time last year but since then have made regular pilgrimages to Rozelle. I was a regular visitor to his very informative website before my first visit but it is nothing compared to the sensory experience you get at the store. It is well worth the trip over the Harbour Bridge.

The range of herbs and spices is impressive but it is the wall of spice mixes that gets me really excited. They make everything from Aussie Fish Seasoning to Za'atar. All the mixes come in dry form, the pouches have suggestions on how to use them and/or recipes. But just about all of them are fabulous just sprinkled on meat or fish and then BBQ'ed.

I have tried about 10 different mixes now but the real stand outs for a quick and easy dinner have to be the Cajun Spice Mix, Za'atar and the Balmain and Rozelle Spice.
The Cajun mix is pungent and spicy but still fresh tasting - chicken burns to a beautiful smoky crust when coated to make a perfect Blackened Chicken. Just make sure you open some windows - the smoke makes your eyes seriously water.
I have put the Za'atar on just about everything - meat, fish and vegetables and it's always good. My favourite way to use it is crusted on tuna steaks and lamb cutlets. It has a mild nutty flavour - probably from the sesame seeds with a hint of tang from the sumac.
The Balmain & Rozelle spice was designed to reflect the diverse influences that shape Australian cuisine. It has a strong lime smell and a surprising spicy bite. Very good on BBQ prawns.

Every time I go to Herbie's I come back with something interesting and very very tasty. The staff are very helpful and very happy to open endless sample jars so you can smell the different mixes. They also sell themed Spice Kits which make great presents.

Herbie's Spices
745 Darling Street
Rozelle, NSW, 2039
Ph: (02) 9555 6035

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Apple Martini

Until a recent trip to L.A. I was never a big cocktail drinker - red wine, beer and the occasional G&T was about it. We had a 24 hour visit to L.A. on our way through to visit some friends in other parts of America and Canada. My husband's cousin lives there and he took us on a whirlwind tour that started at the Beverly Hills Hotel for breakfast and finished at the W bar with cocktails and George Clooney (no really!)

At each of the bars we visited that night I was presented with a mammoth cocktail menu and was enthusiastically encouraged to try what ever I wanted. I proceeded to try some amazing (and very expensive) concoctions. The stand outs for the night were the raspberry Mojito I had at Palomino and the Apple Martinis at the Living Room at the W Hotel.

The Living Room looked like something on Las Vegas - the TV show - all low couches and even lower lighting. Very glamorous waitresses tried to chase of us reserved tables but the cocktails were divine. After about 3 Apple Martinis I wandered off to find the bathroom. Coming out of the bathroom - I swung open the door, stepped out and ran straight into someone coming around the corner. I looked up to apologise and realised I had literally bumped into George Clooney. He was grinning at me with his frighteningly white teeth and beautiful eyes. In an extremely sophisticated fashion, my jaw dropped and I ran away as fast as I could. Hmmm.

I actually emailed Palomino for their recipe and they were kind enough to share it with me. Unfortunately the type of raspberry rum they used is not available in Australia yet - so I haven't been able to make it just yet. I have managed to track down all the necessary ingredients for a wicked Apple Martini though. At the W they used DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker - a bright green tart apple schnapps. I haven't been able to find this in Australia yet but I did find the very similar Sour Monkey Apple Sour from Dan Murphy's.

I modified the recipe slightly after a few tries - most of the recipes I tried were just too strong. I now make them so you can have a couple and not fall over.

Apple Martini

30mls Vodka
30mls Apple Sour
30mls Apple juice
A small green apple

Pour into a cocktail shaker half filled with ice.
Shake and strain into martini glasses.
Garnish with a slice of apple floated on top.

Voila! L.A. sophistication at home.

Oven Dried Tomatoes

I don't know about you but I find it very hard to walk past the discount table at the fruit and veg shop or supermarket. All those big bags of over ripe squishy bananas for $1 just right for banana bread or in this case bags of very ripe Roma tomatoes. I also like to try to make things you generally buy just to see if I can do a better job than the supermarkets or just to understand the process and see what's involved. Which is why I decided after a successful scavenge at the supermarket to make oven dried tomatoes.

The process itself is really simple, it just takes loads of time. Firstly cut your tomatoes in half length ways and lay them out on a oven tray. Don't cram them on - they need a little space around them or they won't dry evenly. Season them with salt and pepper - in this case I used Herbie's Bush Pepper, it's not terribly authentic but it's a delicious nutty pepper mix. The oven should be turned on as low as it goes, if it's too high they'll cook. Leave the door of the oven slightly ajar and leave them for oh about 12 -18 hours.

This photo is after a full day in the oven and what I'd call semi-dried. At this stage you can cut them into pieces and store them in a vinaigrette dressing for antipasto or salads. They must be stored in the fridge though as there is still enough moisture in them to go moldy.
Finally at about 11pm that night they were done - dry but not crispy. Chewy and intensely flavoured. I sterilized some small jars and stored them under olive oil. If you want to avoid the oil you could pack them in an airtight container and store them in a cool dark spot or in the freezer.

I'm very pleased with my jars and am looking forward to using my tomatoes in salads and on homemade pizza. Next time I'd like to experiment with cherry tomatoes - they would take a lot less time and would perfect to toss in a salad. I'll have to wait and see what's on the discount table next time I go shopping...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A small slice of Orange

Although I am die hard Sydney-ite or Sydneysider now I grew up in country NSW. I spent the first 18 or so years of my life in Bathurst, a town about 3 hours over the Blue Mountains and west of Sydney. I moved away to university and as my family drifted away to other parts of the world I never really went back.

This Easter my husband and I went on a road trip to visit my father and we all spent Saturday in Orange. We drove straight through Bathurst while I nostalgically pointed out places from my childhood. We didn't stop. Unlike Bathurst, Orange has become quite the haven for foodies - it has several 'hatted' restaurants, plenty of artisan producers and about a squillion wineries.

We were especially interested to visit Borrodell - a vineyard and heritage apple orchard. When we arrived we were given a paper carry bag and pointed in the direction of the orchard which is home to a bewildering 170 varieties of apples - some I have seen for sale at the supermarket , most I have never heard of. We were given the run down of what was in there and what we should look for by the owner Harold Gartrell and let loose.

The view from the restaurant and tasting room at Borrodell

We walked very happily in the sunshine munching on apples as we tasted the different varieties and picked some to take home. We tried plenty of delicious apples but the real stand outs were-

Egremont Russet
As Harold explained are ugly little buggers but very very tasty. They are small little apples with a brown textured skin very similar to pears. They are firm and crisp to bite and have a very tangy taste. They have a long shelf life - up to a couple of months without any discernible loss of flavour according to Harold. I don't think they will last that long at our house.
With their firm texture and tart flavour I would imagine that they would be a great baking apple and am looking forward to making a few desserts with them when I get a moment - especially now the weather is cooler.
Five Crown Pippen
A large-ish sweet juicy eating apple. This was not as exciting as the Russet but a great eating apple and a gorgeous looking apple with it's golden green skin with just a blush of red. It has a distinctive base with 5 raised bumps around the core - making a crown shape, hence the name.

These are a common eating apple and available quite widely but I had never eaten one straight off the tree or at the peak of ripeness. These are beautiful apples, they look just like a storybook apple - glossy, perfectly formed and bright red. We could see the trees from the other side of the orchard with their dark leaves and dots of deep red.

We came back to the tasting room laden with more apples than the three of us could possibly eat but at just $4 a kilo we were very pleased with our haul. We sat and tried a few of the wines and watched people arrive for lunch at the vineyard's restaurant. We didn't have bookings and they were packed so after bundling up all our purchases (we HAD to buy the cherry liquor) we dove back into Orange for lunch.
If you are heading to Orange for some wine tasting I highly recommend you drop into Borrodell and check out a dedicated collectors passion.

Borrodell on the Mt
Lake Canobolas Rd
Orange, NSW, 2800