Monday, March 29, 2010

Fresh Pasta, Occam's Razor and Three Sauces

I love making fresh pasta, it has a rich taste and tenderness, and it absorbs the flavour of sauces very well so you only need to make a very simple sauce to go with it.

Another thing that I love about making fresh pasta is seeing all the processes in action and its evolution from a lumpy mixture of egg/flour to dough to thin strands of pasta.

Fresh pasta is not hard to make but it is quite time consuming (!)

All you need to make pasta is OO flour (a fine flour with a lower gluten than normal flour), eggs, olive oil and a little salt.

I used 200g of OO flour, 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt to make my pasta dough.

There are two ways you can go about making pasta.

Method (1) Completely by hand, whereby you pour the flour and salt onto a work surface and make a well in the middle. Add in whisked eggs/oil into the well and use your hands to draw in the flour from the sides into the middle, and incorporate the flour into the eggs. Work the eggs and flour together until it becomes dough and knead for 5-8 minutes or until the dough feels very smooth and elastic.


Method (2) Using a machine, whereby you put all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until it comes together and the mixture pulls away from the sides. Then turn the mixture out onto a work surface and knead it to form dough for 5-8 minutes or until the dough feels very smooth and elastic.

Tip: When you knead the dough - if it becomes too dry you can add a little water, if it is too wet you can add a little flour.

After you have made the dough, wrap it in cling film or a damp cloth and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. This will give the dough time to relax and soften for rolling out into pasta.

Either method will give you the same result but using a food processor is quicker as it does all the hard work of incorporating the flour and eggs together for you.

Occam’s Razor states that “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”, this principle is often expressed as “of two equivalent theories or explanations, all other things being equal, the simpler one is to be preferred.”

Occam's Razor should not be just reduced to the idea that ‘the simplest explanation/method is the best or correct one”, which is how it is often mistakenly used and interpreted as.

The Simpsons are probably to blame for this.

Episode 6, Season 10: Grandpa vs Sexual Inadequacy
Bart: Okay, it's now painfully clear. The adults are definitely paving the way for an invasion by the saucer people.
Milhouse: You fool! Can't you see it's a massive government conspiracy? Or have they gotten to you too?
(He leaps on Bart and they start grappling on the floor.)
Lisa: Hey! Hey! Hey! Stop it! Stop it! Why are you guys jumping to such ridiculous conclusions?! Haven't you ever heard of Occam's Razor? The simplest explanation is probably the correct one! (This is WRONG! Please note: it only applies to cases when there are two competing hypothesis, equal in all other aspects, then you should select the simpler hypothesis!)
Bart: So what's the simplest explanation?
Lisa: (Sarcastically) I don't know, maybe they're all reverse vampires and they have to get home before dark!
Everyone: Aaah! Reverse vampires!

In making pasta dough, I apply Occam’s Razor and propose the Blue Apocalypse Razor
 "Of two equivalent recipes or cooking methods, all other things being equal, the simpler one is preferred".
Thus, I choose to use method (2) and make pasta dough using a food processor. I prefer the simpler method over the more complicated method but only because it produces the same result. Nowadays there are so any kitchen gadgets and gizmos out there to provide shortcuts and reduce cooking time, for example, pressure cookers, thermomix. I think it’s a good idea to take advantage of all this!

So after the dough has rested. Run it through a pasta machine to firstly stretch the pasta to make it thinner, silky and elastic, and then use the cutters provided with the pasta machine to cut the desired shape.

After cutting the pasta, it is important to dry it thoroughly if you want to store it for later use to ensure that it stays nice and fresh, and doesn’t go moldy. I recommend hanging the pasta on some coat hangers from the cupboards above your stove/kitchen bench.

I used my pasta machine to make some angel hair pasta and fettuccine.
Over the weekend I experimented with cooking different kinds of pasta sauces for the fresh pasta I had made.

Sauce 1 – Pasta with olive oil, garlic, shallots and chilli sauce with prawns, roasted grape tomatoes, rocket and goats cheese.

‘Aglio e Olio’ is a traditional pasta dish which is very simple to make. You basically lightly sauté crushed garlic in olive oil and then serve it with spaghetti, topped with parsley and grated cheese.

I used the idea of aglio e olio and expanded it. I lightly sautéed finely diced shallots, garlic and chilli in olive oil until fragrant, then added in some diced prawns and cooked through. I tossed the sauce with angel hair pasta, along with some roasted mini roma tomatoes and rocket leaves. I then topped the pasta with some crumbled goats cheese and squeezed over some fresh lemon juice.

Verdict 1: I really like the combination of olive oil, garlic, shallots and chilli. A simple but very tasty pasta sauce. The addition of diced prawns were also a treat as it took on the flavours of the garlic and chilli. The tomatoes, rocket and goats cheese rounded everything nicely.

Sauce 2 – Pasta with tomato sauce, prawns, spinach and roasted eggplant.

I wanted a very simple and basic tomato sauce where I would get a pure tomato taste. I used a recipe from the Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan which contained just tomatoes, butter and an onion which you put in whole and then removed before serving (there was no olive oil used). When I first added in the butter and tasted the sauce I was concerned that the flavour of the butter would overwhelm the tomato but given time and a steady low simmer for 50 minutes, the butter and tomato incorporated together well and provided a really nice taste. Once I had finished simmering the tomato sauce I added in some prawns and cooked them through for 2-3 minutes. I then turned off the heat and added some spinach leaves into the saucepan and stirred through until they were wilted. I tossed the fettuccine pasta in the tomato sauce with prawns and spinach, and also added some roasted eggplant.

Please note that when you using fresh tomatoes to make a sauce instead of using the canned tomato variety, remove the seeds and jelly inside the tomato (after blanching) before dicing, this will give you a cleaner sauce and also the majority of the flavour is in the flesh of the tomato, whilst the bitterness resides in the skin, seeds and jelly.

Verdict 2: The tomato sauce was nice but in comparison to the Sauce 1 it lacked some punch.

Now that I have made an oil based sauce and a tomato based sauce, it was time to try making a cream based sauce.

Sauce 3 – Pasta with alfredo sauce, roast chicken, roast pumpkin and topped with diced avocado.

Alfredo is another very simple pasta sauce to make. You basically combine butter and cream together in a saucepan and simmer for a few minutes until it thickens, then add in a little crushed garlic, salt and pepper and a tiny grating of nutmeg. Whisk in grated parmesan and heat through until it melts. Stir in some parsley and serve with pasta.
I toss the pasta in the alfredo sauce and then added some roasted chicken, roast pumpkin and diced avocado. I roasted some chicken thigh with a little thyme, lemon zest, lemon juice, butter and olive oil.

Verdict 3: The alfredo sauce with pasta went really well with the roasted pumpkin. The roasted chicken probably wasn’t required as it didn’t really add anything to the dish. I ate the chicken separately from the pasta rather than with the pasta.

The Conclusion – Sauce 1 was the best and something that I will definitely make again and again.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Communist Pork - Red Cooked Pork (Hong Shao Rou)

Red Cooked Pork (Hong Shao Rou)

Red cooking is a Chinese method of cooking where meat is slowly braised with ingredients (such as soy sauce and/or caramelised sugar) which results in the meat obtaining a rich dark red-brown colour.

This dish was Chairman Mao Zedong’s bitch. The dish is widely regarded as the ‘brain food’ which provided Mao with the wits to defeat his enemies!

It consists of pork belly in a thick, sweet dark sauce with aromas coming from the spices of star anise and cinnamon.

Hong Shao Rou is a traditional Chinese pork dish – a simple, home-style peasant dish.

Mao loved this dish and it was a frequent request from his personal chefs in Beijing. Many restaurants in China call it “The Mao Family’s red-braised pork”. The people of Mao’s home village Shaoshan (a country city in the Hunan Province) even declared it a health food - “Men eat it to build their brains and ladies to make themselves more beautiful”. (But in reality this dish is not health food! – it is quite fatty due to the layers of fat and meat of the pork belly which is what makes it taste so damn good as it yields very tender pieces of meat and all the flavours of the sauce as infused into the fat)

Mao was so fond of this style of simple, home-style peasant cooking that he went to great lengths to ban fine dining in many Chinese restaurants.

The local government in Hunan recently issued official guidelines to restaurants to standardise the cooking of the dish, so that everyone could enjoy it the same way that Mao did and also stem the tide of imitations that crowd Chinese restaurants.
According to stringent instructions from the government's food quality supervision and testing institute, true hong shao rou can only be made with the meat of rare pigs from Ningxiang county. Officials have designated the pig, which has been bred for nearly 1,000 years, as an "agricultural treasure".
Restaurants which do not follow the correct procedures will not be allowed to title themselves as "authentically" Hunanese.


~700g pork belly (skin left on)
2-3 tablespoons peanut oil
2 tablespoons of white sugar
2-3 whole star anise
½ or 1 small cinnamon stick
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed (with side of cleaver)
1 ½ cup water or stock (from par boiling pork)
¼ cup Shaoxing rice wine
5 small dried red chillies
2 spring onions, cut into 2inch long pieces
¾ inch of ginger, skin left on and sliced
1 ½ -2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
½ - 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
salt and sugar to taste

(I have provided a guide for the star anise and cinnamon, you should add as much as you desire the flavours to come through the pork)


Chop the pork belly into bite sized pieces (1 ½ chunks).

Par-boil the pork – put the pork pieces into a pot of boiling water and simmer for 1-2 minutes until partially cooked. Rinse pork under cold running water and drain well. Par-boiling is a technique often employed on meats for braising, it improves the end result of the dish, the sauce comes out clearer and more visually appealing, and the meat absorbs the braising flavours more thoroughly.

Heat up wok and melt the peanut oil and sugar over medium high heat until the sugar is caramelised and turns a rich caramel brown (about 2-3 minutes).

Add the pork pieces into the wok and fry it in the caramelised sugar for a few minutes until the pork is well coated. Then add in the Shaoxing rice wine to deglaze the wok.

Then add in the garlic, ginger, chillies, spring onions, star anise, cinnamon stick, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce and a pinch of salt. Stir fry all together (1-2 minutes). Then add in water/stock, bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Transfer the pork from the wok to a pot and simmer on low heat for 1 hour (cook until the pork becomes very soft and tender). Stir the pork even now and then to make sure that the pork at the bottom of the pot does not stick/get burnt. Turn the heat up during the last 10 minutes to reduce the sauce, at this stage also taste the sauce/pork and season with a little salt or sugar to taste.

Note: This dish like most stew/braised dishes is better left overnight and reheated the next day (to allow the flavours to develop).

Part of what makes this dish so good is the layers of fat and meat so make sure that you get a good cut of pork belly which has some nice layers. I get my meat from So Fresh Butcher in Northbridge. It’s in 375 William Street, Northbridge.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Everyone loves to eat burgers right?

Like me, maybe for most people their first experience of eating a burger was a happy meal at McDonalds when they were a kid. And then the second burger that you ever ate was also from McDonalds and so this pattern continues throughout your childhood and into your teens.

As a kid I loved eating McDonalds and as an adult I always question why? I attribute this to the fact that I just didn’t know better, I was young, innocent and I was sucked in by the promotion toy. I think this is why children are not allowed to vote and they have to wait until you are 18. Kids just don’t think very logically about what they eat. As a kid, like most kids, I didn’t like eating vegetables very much and now as an adult I love my veges. If you can’t make good decisions on what you eat, how can you make good decisions about what party to vote for? Not that all adults are very smart about their eating choices either...maybe from now on we can measure the intelligence of the voting populace by what they choose to eat. Before entering the voting booth, people should be asked where they like to buy their burgers from. If you say that you like to eat burgers from McDonalds then you can be dismissed as a donkey vote. A donkey vote refers to the practice of numbering the candidates' boxes sequentially from top to bottom of the ballot-paper, rather than taking the time to number the candidates in the voter's own thought-out order of preference.

So anyway…then for some reason I stopped eating burgers at McDonalds for a few years. This coincided with my new found adversity to all fast food restaurants as I entered onto my adulthood and started uni, and become anti-fast food and anti a whole bunch of other things too. I was anti-mobile for a while...

Then I started going out a lot and eating out more, and I found back my love for a burger…but this time it’s a real burger. Burgers that you don’t buy from some commercial franchise but somewhere small and quaint like Flipside Burgers in North Fremantle before you see a gig at Mojos, or Jus Burgers in Leederville before you see a movie at Luna. Places where it’s all about the food rather than a mass production of products at the lowest possible cost. Burgers which are not packed into a sugary bun but use real bread or sometimes sourdough bread (yum!). Burgers which costs 2-3 times more than what you would pay for at McDonalds but worth every cent (this price includes the fact that your burger was not made from some pimple faced pubescent teen who you hope have washed their hands…actually this aspect of the burger is priceless!).

I guess I am appearing all bias against McDonalds now, so to be fair and not all one-sided, I have a confession to make. Yes, as an adult I have eaten at McDonalds, it was a few years ago (when I was a poor arse uni student and it was the only place that serves food pass 10pm in the city of Perth) and it reaffirmed why one shouldn’t eat a burger there. The fact is, the burgers at McDonalds just don’t taste very good in comparison to what you can get at other little burger joints around town. As an adult, one has a little more dosh to throw around and invest in a better quality product.

I like eating burgers but like kebabs they can be a challenge to eat. It’s a delicate balancing act to bite into a burger and minimize the exit of the filling out the other end and onto your lap. It can be a messy affair. Some burgers are jammed packed with so much goodness that it is not possible for you to fit your whole mouth around it.

The good thing, however, is that burgers are one of those foods which is socially acceptable to eat with your hands! I think this is the only way that you can manage eating a burger and avoid it going all over your lap. Imagine holding up a burger with chopsticks or eating it with a knife and fork - you are meant to eat all elements of the burger together, not separately (don’t let it become meat and three veges on a plate with the buttered bun as a precursor).  Eating with your hands also feels liberating, like you are getting back to your roots, this is how humans first ate millions of years ago - with their hands. Cavemen did not have knives or forks, and certainly not chopsticks!

But you can’t eat with your hands all the time, people will look at you funny…but the only way to eat a burger is with your hands. Try to eat it with a knife and fork, and people will look at you funny.

On Sunday I had a burger at Novembar's for the first time. I have heard some urban legends about this place, that it serves the hottest and most deadliest burger known to man which no one can ever finish and you can get a $1000 which contains 100 beef patties. Is this for real?...actually these are not at all urban legends but true stories.

The menu states “the World’s Most Exciting & Craziest Burgers” and it was certainly the most interesting burger menu I have ever come across.

(Broken Heart and Fat Boy Burger - 7 beef patties, bacon, egg and cheese!)

I went for a classic, I ordered the hamburger. Considering that I had so many other interesting burgers to choose from, it may appear like a boring option. But there is method is madness or I should say method in my boringness. I felt that if any burger joint wants me to come back, if they can get the basics right than I will be back for more, it’s that simple.

So was I served a good hamburger? 

Between a bun I had a beef patty, tomato, lettuce and some tomato sauce. It was a pretty basic hamburger. I have to say that it’s not the best burger I have eaten but it is quite tasty.  The beef patty was flavoursome, it is obvious that Minh makes the patties himself as there are ingredients in it which separate it from your standard beef patty, it contains spring onions (!). At $6.70 it was also good value for money. I give this hamburger 7.5 out of 10.

Novembar isn’t just about the burgers though, I think was makes this place special and gets people coming back is Minh – he is a spirit and quite a character. He’s very friendly and loves to share stories about people eating his death burgers. His burgers have become a phenomenon, people travel from afar to take on his burger challenges. 

  • Eat the red faced and runny nosed burger (hottest burger ever!) within 10 minutes and it’s yours for free.
  • Get a free burger, small chips and drink if you can gulp in down in 8 minutes using chopsticks.
  • Can you take a burger with 11 patties in 11 minutes? It’s a 911 Mars Attack.
  • Or have the bottomless burger for $0 as long as you agree to pull off your pants and go for a run down the street.
(The bottomlesss burger)

Are you having trouble deciding? You can roll a dice on the condition that you have to order whatever comes up.

I think it’s great when you see someone who loves and is passionate about their work. As I was waiting for my friends to come I overheard a conversation that Minh was having with another customer. She said “I’ve read so much about you on the internet. So you used to work at the Hyatt” Minh replied “Yeah, but like working here, it’s more fun”. Who else can say that they have fun at work?

I will definitely be back, next time I will order the ‘hamburger with the lot’ and then I will work my way up. 

Novembar's Cafe & Takeaway on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 19, 2010

Restaurant Amuse

In 2009, three months before their second birthday, Restaurant Amuse was awarded Best Fine Dining Restaurant and Outstanding Restaurant of the Year by the Restaurant and Catering Association whilst Hadleigh Troy was honoured with the title of Best Chef.

As a part of the City of Perth Eat Drink Perth program for the month of March, Restaurant Amuse closed their doors for service and opened their restaurant, kitchen and themselves to provide a masterclass and a special dining experience on Tuesday 16 March and Wednesday 17 March.

I registered for Tuesday, it was a night of firsts – it was my first time at Restaurant Amuse, my first cooking class and also my first degustation course!

I haven’t done much fine dining, it’s not something that would have been affordable for me previously or something that I would have felt comfortable with. The formalities of fine dining can be daunting at times. But no need to stress, it’s pretty simple, just use your cutlery starting from the outside and work your way in. If in doubt, just insist that everyone else at the table eat before you (so you can suss out what fork you should be using while masquerading as having polite table etiquette)…"you should eat first, please I insist, I always feel rude eating before other people start…"

With a secure job now and an avid interest in food and cooking I am definitely seeking to experience some more fine dining. At least now I can afford shit, and I know shit, and I can eat out and tell what is ‘the shit’ (awesome) or what is ‘shit’ (not so awesome)…and I can also say that I can cook this shit better at home (game on!).

Restaurant Amuse is located in East Perth and when you get there it looks like a house that has been turned into a restaurant, in fact Hadleigh and Carolynne Troy who own Amuse actually live at the restaurant! Hadleigh runs the kitchen and creates the menu, and Carolynne is the business manager and matches the wine to the dishes. It would be quite weird to live at the place that you work but I guess it makes things easier and they would just live, eat and breathe food (not something that I would complain about!).

I really like the décor of Amuse, it's simple but bold and there were some nice abstractish/ interesting paintings hanging on the walls, a bit left-field (for lack of a better word)…I was sitting down waiting for the masterclass to start with a glass of champagne in my hand while listening to the sounds of Sigor Ros playing in the restaurant (!)

There was a small group of around 15 people for the masterclass and we were served a five course degustation menu. We got to go into the kitchen where head chef Hadleigh Troy introduced us to his staff, showed us his workspace and all his kitchen gadgets and gizmos. We were given the menu and recipes beforehand so we could scribble down notes as Hadleigh explained each dish to us and described the processes involved, and showed us how some parts of the dishes were made. Hadleigh was very friendly and welcoming, and open to answering any questions asked. After going through the first three dishes we were lead into the dining room so we could eat the entrees and mains before going back into the kitchen for an overview of the last two desert dishes.

Once we were seated at the dining table Carolynne gave us a run down of all the wines which would go with our dishes. Each dish was beautifully matched with wine. I’m not a wine expert so I appreciated the time that Carolynne took to describe the wines that she had picked and her rationale for choosing them. I have to say that they were very generous with the wine, they would not stop refilling our glasses throughout the night (plus they gave us glasses of bubbly before the masterclass started). This was cool and all until you remember that you have to drive home and that you have to get up for work in the morning…

To start off the night we were given an amuse bouche which consisted of white chocolate ganache, white chocolate shavings, salmon roe (ie: fish eggs), saffron pearls and foie gras shavings. I think its purpose was to prepare the palate and give us a sneak peek of what we were in for. Yes, I ate white chocolate and fish eggs together, and it was simply divine. Does white chocolate and fish eggs go together? Hell yes!

Then we were served the first dish of our five course degustation menu which was my favourite dish of the night. Marron and sea urchin pannacotta with consommé, rillette (consisting of avocado, chives, lemon juice, mayo and marron), tarragon oil, grapefruit and tuile. There were so many different elements to this dish but everything came together really well and there was a lot of depth to the flavour. I couldn’t believe that I had a pannacotta made with marron and sea urchin (when I tried to describe this to people at work the next day I just got this weird scrunched up face that said, that sounds kind of gross) but the flavours were subtle and not overwhelming – it was a pure delight! The pannacotta was about 1cm high and was encased by everything else so you can’t really see it in the photo. 

I thought the presentation of this dish was fantastic. The pannacotta could have just being on the plate sitting on its own with all the other elements scattered around it, but every element was layered on top of each other in a specific order. The pannacotta was on the bottom with the rillette surrounding it, a little consommé, tarragon oil and grapefruit was piped on top of the rillette, plus a little seaweed and topped off with a thin crisp tulie. I felt that this style of presentation contributed to the taste of the dish.

I watch all the cooking shows on TV like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules (yes, I am a sucker for cooking shows) and the judges always emphasize the importance of plating up well, it has to look beautiful, like it could be served at a fine restaurant. You watch the contestants plate up and see that for a lot of people the idea of plating up involves plonking the main somewhere on the plate, scattering all the accompaniments around it and then splattering the sauce on the plate in some manner, so that in the end the dish looks like some bad abstract painting. So how do you go about eating this sort of dish? where do you start? what part goes with what? should I mix stuff together? should I try this bit first or this other bit?...

Over the whole course I noticed the centralized nature of the presentation of the dishes.  For most of the dishes, each element was layered on top of each other. It was simple but effective. As I ate each dish I began to really appreciate the presentation of the dishes in that I felt that the presentation of the dishes actually contributed to the taste of the dish. For the first dish, because everything was layered on top of each other, it guided how the dish was to be eaten and how all the different elements were consumed. Each layer provided a different texture and taste, and they built on to top of each other. If the dish was presented on the plate in another manner, the impact of eating the dish I think would not have been as prominent.

For the second dish we had squid, mulloway and mojama wth a cauliflower puree and a lovely dressing made of too many ingredients to list. The squid was diced really finely so that it resembled rice and made into a risotto using squid ink and stock. The fish was so tender and succulent, and I loved how the other elements contributed to its flavour. We were each offered a piece of bread and most of us used it to wipe up every bit of sauce on the plate.

For the third dish we had lamb rump with an eggplant and capsicum sauce, ricotta gnocchi, orange powder and lamb malto (which was liquid lamb fat with malto mixed in so that it resembled powder – Hadleigh called it ‘the good fat’). In the kitchen, Hadleigh explained how they cooked the lamb and it was very interesting to find out that the lamb was cooked in a water bath ala sous-vide. I do not know much about cooking using a water bath but it’s a method that Amuse often use for cooking meats and fish. It involves vaccum packing food and then placing it in a water bath for prolonged, low-heat cooking. This keeps meat and fish really succulent, it minimizes the loss of moisture, and the flavours and nutrients are preserved. The fish (mulloway) for the second dish was also cooked using a water bath.

After the three dishes we were given a little saucer containing some malto, lime lest, water and icing sugar to refresh our palates as we headed back into the kitchen for a masterclass on the remaining two desert dishes and we got to taste some freshly churned vanilla icecream!

The fourth dish was the first desert dish. It consisted of white chocolate which had been baked in the oven at 140C for one hour until it turned brown and was then crushed into crumbs (providing an amazing taste and texture) with vanilla icecream, walnut icecream, condensed milk and elderberry syrup. It was a constant flow of creamy milkiness with splices of flavour provided by the vanilla, walnut and white chocolate. It was a nice prelude to the main desert dish which really packed a punch and livened up your taste buds The final desert dish consisted of guava sorbet, coconut espuma and passion fruit bavarois. Whereas the flavours of the first desert dish seemed to melt into each other, the second desert dish took your taste buds on a tour de france of sweetness, sourness and bitterness (it even looked like it could be a tour de france route). The flavours were very bold and while there was an unanimous verdict of love for the first dessert dish, the second desert dish divided the group into lovers of sweetness and lovers of sourness. Some loved the second desert dish because they had a sour tooth while others were more fond of the first dish because they had a sweet tooth.
 Separated at birth??

The night finished with petit fours consisting of mini cinnamon and almond cupcakes, dark chocolate with baileys filling and a dark chocolate truffles filled with dark chocolate. Tea and coffee was also provided.

It was an amazing dining experience. It was great to finally eat at the restaurant that you hear and read so many positive things about and see pop up in top ten restaurant lists all the time. It was great to see Hadleigh and Carolynee at work and get a behind the scenes look at Amuse. I also get to take away recipes of the dishes served (!), but that’s not the most important thing that I will be taking away. For me, what I have really gained from this experience is an appreciation of the thought that should go into food and how different flavours and textures can come together. It also made me think about the presentation of dishes and how it contributes to the taste and how the dish is consumed.

I’m looking forward to going back and having a nine dish degustation course. Amuse have a different degustation menu every month! What’s also great about Amuse is that they offer a vegetarian degustation, a lot of my friends are vegetarians and I know that they always complain about the lack of vegetarian options at restaurants or the token one or two vegetarian dishes like risotto or salad. It’s good to know that Amuse offer a vegetarian menu on a par with the meat menu.

Restaurant Amuse have only been open for around 3 years and they have become one of the top restaurants in Perth and now I know why. Amuse provides you with food that is cooked classically but with a modern twist and full of surprises, and you come out loving and appreciating every bit of food served.    

Restaurant Amuse on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 15, 2010

Twice Cooked Pork (Sichuan style)

A delicious combination of thinly sliced crisp pork belly, stir fried with chilli and sweet bean pastes which provide lovely sweet, salty and spicy aromatic flavours.

It’s called twice cooked pork because you cook the pork twice (!) by simmering the pork belly first and then stir frying the pork belly in a wok.


•    450g pork belly
•    ginger – 2 slices and 2 minced teaspoons
•    garlic – 2-3 cloves, crushed
•    star anise – one whole
•    spring onions – chopped into 4-5cm lengths
•    shaoxing rice wine
•    leek – 2, chopped diagonally at a steep angle
•    garlic shoots – chopped into 4-5cm lengths
•    shallot – sliced  thinly
•    red and green chilli peppers – deseeded and chopped
•    dried chillies – 4-5 soaked and drained
•    chilli bean paste – 1 ½ tablespoon
•    sweet bean oaste – 1 tablespoon
•    dark soy sauce – 1 teaspoon
•    light soy sauce – 1 teaspoon
•    salt
•    pepper
•    sugar

(Quantities are a guide only, please add to taste and add as much chilli as you want to your desired heat rating)

To make the twice cooked pork. I put around 450g of pork belly in a pot with a splash of Shaoxing rice wine, pinch of salt, two slices of ginger, one star anise and a spring onion chopped into 4-5cm lengths. Cover the pork with cold water and bring to boil. Then reduce the heat to simmer and cook (half cover the pot with the lid) for 20-30 minutes, until the pork is just cooked through. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the pork to cool in the stock. Then remove the pork from the pot (when you smell the pork it has a really nice aroma from the ingredients infused into it as it was simmering it in the pot). Place the pork onto a plate, cover with glad wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 hours. This will make the pork firm and easy to slice thinly.

Slice the cold pork belly thinly, as thin as a slice of bacon.

Heat a wok with peanut oil and fry the pork belly slices until golden brown and slightly crisp, and the fat has melted a little (the layers off fat in the pork belly will become translucent). Remove and set aside.

Stir fry the leek and garlic shoots for 1-2 minutes until golden and set aside [Note: I chose to pre-fry the leek and garlic shoots to add back into the work later on because they are quite bitter raw and requires cooking to sweeten its flavour, the other option was to blanch the leeks and garlic shoots first. When you are cooking a stir fry it should be quick, so it is best to you precook your meats and veges until they are about 50-70% done first to add back into the wok. This ensures that nothing is overcooked (or undercooked) and the meat and veges retain their individual flavours.]

In the wok, fry some crushed garlic, minced ginger and sliced shallot until fragrant, then add in some chilli bean paste and sweet bean paste, and fry for 30 seconds.

Add the pork slices back into the wok and fry for 30 seconds, then add in some shaoxing wine and a little of the pork stock (the water that was used to simmer the pork) and fry for a bit. This deglazes the wok.

Then add in the leek, garlic shoots, spring onion and chillies, and fry for 30 seconds and then add in some soy sauce, salt, pepper and sugar to taste.

Stir fry everything together for a few more seconds, then serve.

Here are some of my other pork belly recipes:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stuffed Tofu and Chilli

My motivation for making this dish was to recreate ‘yong tau foo’, one of my favourite dishes to eat when I go out for Dim Sim, which is basically tofu stuffed with a prawn/pork mixture.

I am a big fan of tofu. If I am eating out at a Chinese restaurant I have to order a tofu dish.

Tofu is generally accused of being bland but you never eat it on its own. It has very little flavour or smell on its own but I think that’s the beauty of it because cooking tofu is about infusing it with flavour and making it into something really tasty. It has a great texture and absorbs flavours cooked into it really well. If anyone ever tells me that they think tofu is bland, I will tell them that they are not cooking it right. Tofu should not taste bland!

Kind of like bread you know, it’s pretty bland but you never just eat bread on its own (unless you are a poor arse uni student or traveling around Europe and can’t afford anything else to eat). You can spread some jam on bread or fill it with some meat and veges, or make it into something fancy like French bread or fairy bread.

To make my yong tau foo I bought some firm fried tofu and then made a filling mixture with around 40% minced pork and 60% minced prawn, and added in some finely diced spring onion, coriander stalk and carrot. Then I seasoned and flavoured the mixture with a little bit of the following:
•    salt
•    white pepper
•    shaoxing rice wine
•    oyster sauce
•    fish sauce
•    sesame oil
•    soy sauce
Then I used one egg white and a bit of cornflour to bind it all together.
Combine all the filling ingredients onto a chopping board and chop to mix together/mince and develop some elasticity (see photos from previous post on fish patty).

Put the filling mixture into a bowl, cover with glad wrap and refrigerate for a few hours.

I made a sauce for the tofu by lightly frying some garlic and ginger together in some peanut oil. Then I added in some chicken stock into the saucepan. Bring the sauce to boil and add in some soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt, sugar and pepper to taste. Then thicken the sauce with some cornflour.

To make the stuffed tofu - slice the fried tofu in half and gently scoop some tofu out from the center. Spoon some of the filling on top of break tofu (be careful not to break the tofu!). Steam the tofu for 7 minutes and then remove the tofu from the steamer and carefully drain away any liquid. Pour the sauce over the tofu and continue steaming for another 3-5 minutes or until the meat is cooked.

Served garnished with coriander. 

If you would like a little heat, you can try stuffing some chillies.

Split and deseed some large chilli peppers and stuff them with some of the filling mixture. Steam the chillies for around 7 minutes until the filling is nearly cooked through. Finish off by frying in a an with some peanut oil until all sides of the chilli are golden brown, starting with the filled sides down.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cooking Tips from P. J. O’Rourke

Patrick Jake O’Rourke is an American political satirist, (gonzo) journalist and writer. He is known from his libertarian, sometimes conservative and anti-leftist viewpoints.

If you have read any of PJ O’Rourke’s work, then you would know that he is quite a humourist. PJ never fails to make me laugh but also be enlightening at the same time. I went to a lunch talk by PJ last year when he toured around Australia promoting his book On the Wealth of Nations and afterwards I shook his hand and he signed my book!

Even if you do not share the same views/ideological beliefs as PJ, there will be times when you read something of his and think ‘he makes a good point’.

Here are some of my fav PJ quotes –
“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then they get elected and prove it.” 
“There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.”
“Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.”
“Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.”

As you can see PJ provides a lot of political commentary, but enough about politics because this is a cooking blog afterall. There is a cooking related reason for introducing you to PJ.

In 1987, PJ wrote a book called The Bachelor Home Companion: A Practical Guide to Keeping House like a Pig (one of the funniest books I have ever read!). This book devotes two chapters to cooking which I wanted to share.

I will provide extracts of cooking related information by PJ from his Bachelor Home Companion below with my random commentary in italics.

What basic cooking equipment should a bachelor have in his kitchen? PJ lists the following items.

•    Buck knife
•    Fire extinguisher
•    Bottle of Jack Daniels
•    Long stick
•    Aspirin
•    Alka-Seltzer
•    Hungry dog to eat whatever you have ruined

But what if you don’t possess any cooking utensils? PJ provides some emergency helps.

•    Cook a toasted sandwich by wrapping it in aluminium foil and ironing it with a steam iron. A steam iron can also be turned upside-down and held in place with books to make a hot plate.
•    Make your own beef jerky by letting meat sit out on the countertop for a week.
•    Dangle a cube steak in front of a blow dryer.
•    Turn TV dinner directly into cold leftovers by allowing them to thaw.
•    Use a low-speed electric drill to turn any fire into a rotisserie.

PJ provides some useful information on ingredients used in cooking.

Meat – Despite the fact that meat is made from a dead animal, it shouldn’t smell that way. Try this test for meat freshness: close your eyes and see if you can tell the pork chops from a gym locker.

Fruit – Is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something brussels sprouts never do.

Bread – Commercial white bread, though not food by any stretch of the imagination, does turn anything you put between two slices of it into lunch. No home should be without some.

Salt – Keeps your blood pressure up to the pitch of modern life and improves all foods. Without salt, pretzels would be nothing but breadsticks with bad posture and potato chips would be potatoes. Use salt in everything.

But what if you don’t have any food around the house? PJ provides some easy things you can make to eat when you don’t have much food around the house.

Emergency Tomato Soup – Made with hot water and ketchup. (Cold water and ketchup makes Emergency Bloody Mary Mix)

Sandwich Sandwich – A slice of bread between two slices of bread.

How do you know when to throw out food? PJ provides some tips on how to tell when foodstuffs spoiled and should be discarded.

Dairy products – Milk is spoiled when it starts to look like yoghurt. Yoghurt is spoiled when it starts to look like cottage cheese. Cottage cheese is spoiled when it starts to look like regular cheese. Regular cheese is nothing but spoiled cheese anyway and can’t be anymore spoiled.

Wine – it should not taste like salad dressing

Chip dip – If you can take it out of its container and bounce it on the floor, it has gone off.

Obviously, the chapters on cooking would not be complete without some recipes. Here is PJ’s recipe on how to cook a steak.

Buy the most expensive steak you can find, about as thick as the heel of Bass Weejun. Salt and pepper it liberally and don’t worry that salting the steak before it’s cooked will make it tough. Salt does not make steak tough. Poverty makes steaks tough, sometimes absent entirely. Put half a shot glass of any kind of oil but motor or olive oil in a skillet. Heat up until the oil smokes like hell. Now take the batteries out of your smoke detector and put the steak in the pan. Fiddle with the steak, turn it over a lot and poke it constantly with a fork and knife. This does nothing for the steak, but it keeps you from wandering off and starting to watch a basketball game and turning the T-bone into a flight jacket. As soon as you think the steak should cook just a little longer, stop cooking it.

That’s enough, if you want more, buy the book! I hope you have had a laugh.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Chocolate Fondant

Most people would agree that chocolate is awesome and what better chocolate desert to have than a chocolate fondant with its oozing melting chocolate insides, served hot, straight from the oven with icecream.

Ingredients (for 2 dariole moulds)

•    50g butter, plus extra for greasing
•    cocoa powder for dusting
•    50g dark chocolate, chopped into pieces
•    1 egg
•    1 egg yolk
•    60g caster sugar (around 1/3 cup)
•    50g plain flour (around ½ cup)


Grease the moulds by brushing melted butter all over the insides and then add in a spoonful of cocoa powder.  Tip the mould around so that the cocoa completely coats the butter and tap out any excess.

Place a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and slowly melt the chocolate and butter together, then leave to cool for about 10 minutes.

Whisk the egg, egg yolk and sugar together in a bowl until it is thick and pale, then sift in the flour and beat together.

Gently fold in the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and mix together until combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared moulds and chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes (this allows the chocolate to set a bit).

Preheat oven to 170C, place the fondants on a baking tray and bake for 12 minutes until the tops have formed a crust and the fondants are starting to come away from the sides of their moulds.

Remove from the oven and run a knife around the edges of the fondant to loosen, invert onto a plate and slowly ease the fondant out of the mould.

Serve with icecream!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fish Patty

A tasty dish which is great on its own or with some rice. You can also thinly slice and pop into a sandwich/roll or chuck into a salad.

•    375g fish paste
•    300g prawns (shelled and deveined)
•    500g mince pork
•    1 egg, lightly beaten
•    1 teaspoon cornflour
•    ½ teaspoon salt
•    ½ teaspoon pepper
•    ½ tablespoon fish sauce
•    1 tablespoon soy sauce
•    1 tablespoon oyster sauce
•    1-2 spring onion, finely diced

Combine all ingredients on a chopping board and use a big cleaver to chop everything together repeatedly to mix, mince and create elasticity.

Then put the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Spoon out the mixture and mould into a patty shape, and cover all over with Tapioca Starch.
Shallow fry in oil until golden brown.
Remove and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing.