Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Maxwell Spiced Mead

Monday, 21 June, 2010

Maxwell Spiced MeadMead is fermented wine-like drink made of honey. I’ve had it once before, at a friend’s birthday party some years ago, and all I remember is how deliciously sweet it was. I’d never seen it for sale anywhere, until the weekend recently when I went up to the Blue Mountains and happened on a wine shop in Katoomba. Of course I had to buy some.

Checking the company’s website when I got home, I discovered that they make three types of mead: honey mead, spiced mead, and liqueur mead. The only one I saw in the shop was the spiced mead, so that’s what we’re trying first. I plan to give the company’s distributor a call and see where I can find a place locally that sells the other two varieties.

Anyway, the spiced mead comes with a recommendation on the bottle that it be served hot, at around 70°C. Just the perfect thing for relaxing on a cold winter’s evening, snuggled under a blanket in front of the TV. So for my first taste, I heated up a mug of the golden liquid in the microwave, taking care not to boil it. Sounds like some sort of sacrilege for wine, but then this is no ordinary wine.

When hot, the aroma drifts about and fills the room with Christmassy smells of spiced puddings. Unfortunately it makes it hard to get a close sniff of the aroma, since it immediately makes you choke with the alcohol fumes. The taste is warm and sweet, with a bit of a tang, like a hot honey and lemon toddy with a good hit of brandy. That was about as much as I got from the hot version.

Later I tried a glass at room temperature. This was much nicer. The colour is rich and deep, a golden amber that just looks gorgeous in the glass. It is thick and sticks to the inside of the glass when swirled. It’s beautiful just to look at this stuff. The aroma is strong and heady, reminiscent of fruitcake, rich with brandy and spices – the cinnamon and cloves added to make it spiced come through firmly, but not overpoweringly. The taste is like raisins, sweet and delicious, before the spice begins to dominate. There’s a tang, a little like orange marmalade, spiced with those cloves, and it lingers on the back of the tongue.

It’s nice, but I really want to try the non-spiced version, and especially the liqueur version. I suspect I’ll like those even more.

Kalari 2008 Late-Picked Verdelho

Friday, 18 June, 2010

Kalari 2008 Late-Picked VerdelhoOne thing about wine culture in Australia that is unusual compared to many places in the world, and that I was reminded of by a reader, is that here it’s very common to buy your wine at a liquor shop, then take the bottle with you to a restaurant to have it with a meal. Restaurants that allow this advertise as “BYO”, standing for “Bring Your Own”, and most restaurants here support it. It will only be a very fancy and expensive restaurant that won’t let you bring your own wine, expecting you to buy something off their wine list instead.

This custom arose because of our liquor licensing laws, which constitute a significant cost for a restaurant wanting to sell alcohol. But there’s no law against allowing diners to bring their own pre-purchased alcohol to a restaurant, so many restaurants began to allow it as a way of letting customers drink with their meal without having to bother getting a liquor licence. Nowadays many restaurants offer both BYO and a wine list, for wider options.

Anyway, today’s wine we bought at a wine shop in Katoomba last weekend, on our day driving trip. I spotted the “late-picked” label and picked it up to have a look. It’s from Kalari, a winery based near Cowra, in the Central West of New South Wales – a town still better known for the breakout of over 500 Japanese POWs during World War II than for wine. The back label described it as semi-sweet, and a good match for spicy Asian food. Having had success with the delicious Gewürztraminer last week which was described in similar terms, I decided to buy it. Tonight we took it up to Khacha Thai, a short walk up the hill from our place. I had a spicy stir-fried duck finished with a red curry sauce, while M. chose a grilled salmon with apple salsa.

M.’s first reaction on sniffing the wine was “apples!” I agreed, definitely fresh green apples, with a hint of lime. The first taste was similar, green apple and lime, very fruity and a bit sweeter than last week’s Gewürztraminer. It developed into an orange marmalade flavour and aftertaste, almost candied orange peel. I also thought I could detect a touch of peach. It was nice, though slightly less interesting and with no real notes of spice like the traminer.

After deciding on these flavours, we checked the back label of the wine, which described it as having apricot and pineapple, followed by mandarin peel. Well, apricot isn’t too far from peach, but I’m pretty adamant the dominant notes were green apple and lime, not pineapple. The mandarin peel matches the orange marmalade pretty well though. So a decent hit on the label notes there.

The food was excellent, as usual for Khacha, and the wine matched it nicely, the sweetness and acidity balancing the Thai spices. All up, a positive experience with this wine.

Stonecroft 2006 Hawkes Bay Gewürztraminer

Friday, 11 June, 2010

Stonecroft 2006 Hawkes Bay Gewürztraminer
I’ve never had a Gewürztraminer before, so I was keen to see what this was like. It’s from Stonecroft in Hawkes Bay on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island. A note by the bottles when we bought it said that it was good with fatty fish. So we booked a table at Garfish tonight and had a nice relaxing Friday evening dinner. M. and I both chose the grilled salmon with chips, after a starter of buttery garlic bread. So lots of oily food!

From the first sniff I could tell this was a very different type of wine to anything I’d had before. It was citrusy, with strong lemon-lime notes. There was also something else very distinctive present, but it took me halfway through dinner to start identifying the other components. After the first glass I finally nailed part of it down as floral aroma, something like a cross between jasmine and rose. And there was also a hint of musk as well… sweet and a tiny bit cloying. A very interesting mix of smells.

In the mouth, the initial burst was a slightly sweet lemon-lime flavour, matching the aroma. There was some fermentation prickle. After sitting in the mouth a bit the flavour mellowed out into something very mild and almost creamy, with those hints of floral aroma. Like Turkish delight, now I come to think of it – yes, that was definitely it. It wasn’t anywhere near that sweet – it was just a touch of sweetness that made it very different from a dry, tart wine like a sauvignon blanc. And then the most astonishing thing happened. The creamy texture starting developing a distinct spiciness – cloves perhaps, and then peppery flavours. Subtle at first, but on swallowing there was a mild peppery sensation all the way down the throat.

It was really complex, with lots going on, and very interesting and enjoyable. I feared M. might not like it, but she really got into it, and said it was great. It complemented the fish and chips beautifully.

Even liking it so much, there’s no way the two of us can finish off an entire bottle of wine over dinner. I have no idea what other people do in this situation. (Tell me!) We take our vacuum sealing pump to the restaurant (it fits into the wine chiller bag with a bottle) and seal it up once we know we’re not pouring any more, then take the remainder home again. It’s a little conspicuous pumping air out of a wine bottle at the table, but nobody’s ever looked twice at us doing it, yet.

Anyway, this wine was a fantastic experience. I’ve just now looked up some more information on Gewürztraminer, and see that it’s known for a bouquet of lychees – which, now that I think about it, matches very well to the lemon-lime thing I was trying to put a better name to. Lychee – I must remember that. Furthermore, Stonecroft’s tasting notes on its 2009 Gewürztraminer says that it has notes of – wait for it – jasmine and rose petals! I’m now feeling very pleased with myself and my slowly developing wine tasting skills.

Kitchen gadgets

Monday, 7 June, 2010

I decided for no apparent reason to make a list of our kitchen gadgets, and how often we use them. Begin pointless infodump!

Electric gadgets:

  • Blender – We made smoothies and stuff with this for about a year after we got it, but that ended suddenly. Has been used maybe once or twice in the past couple of years.
  • Food processor – Used once a week or so for things like pureeing pumpkin or potato for soup, chopping nuts, pureeing fruit, etc.
  • Microwave oven – Used a few times a week, mainly to reheat food, but also sometimes to melt butter, or cook vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli.
  • Electric wok – We used to use this a lot for stir fries, but it’s large and stored inconveniently so we’ve moved away from it. Gets pulled out maybe once a month or two.
  • Ice cream maker – Used to make a batch of ice cream every few weeks. We’ve got a lot of use out of this!
  • Electric hand mixer – Used frequently for beating ice cream mixture (see above), cake batters, pancakes, whipping cream, etc.
  • Sandwich press – Used two or three times a week for hot sandwiches, mostly on weekends.
  • Toaster – Used nearly every day to make toast.
  • Electric kettle – Used daily to make tea and coffee.
  • Electric scales – Battery operated. Used to measure ingredients when baking cakes and stuff.

Non-electric gadgets:

  • Garlic press – Used this a couple of times, years ago. It’s impossibly fiddly to clean, so we gave up using it.
  • Apple corer – I use this occasionally to core apples or pears for baking.
  • Tea balls – Used regularly for loose leaf tea.
  • Citrus reamer – Used occasionally for extracting lemon juice.
  • Wine bottle pump – Used a few times a month to keep half-drunk bottles of wine sealed and oxygen-free.
  • Bamboo steamer – Used a few times a year to steam Chinese dumplings.
  • Pizza pan – Used frequently to bake pizzas.
  • Various cake and muffin tins – Used a couple of times a month for baking.
  • Cooling racks – As above.
  • Potato masher – Not used much; we never have mashed potatoes. Occasionally used to mash pumpkin for soup.
  • Egg rings – Occasional use for making neat fried eggs to put on hamburgers.
  • Wooden trivets – A few times a year for presenting hot food dishes on the dining table when guests are over.
  • Hotplate heat dispersers – Used frequently to avoid the gas flame from over-heating saucepans.
  • Cookie cutters – Never used as far as I can remember.
  • Corkscrew – Used on wine corks, which is only about 20% of the bottles these days.
  • Corn holders – Used when we have corn on the cob, a few times a year.
  • Pastry brush – Used rarely, it’s so evil to clean that I hate using it.
  • Chopsticks – Never use these at home.
  • Meat tenderiser – Used maybe once, ever.
  • Teapot – Almost never used; we usually make tea one cup at a time.
  • Coffee percolator – Used once or twice years ago; I don’t drink coffee and M. prefers instant to percolated.

The usual suspects, used fairly frequently:
Cutting knives, eating knives, spoons, forks, wooden spoons, serving spoons, slotted spoons, tongs, vegetable peeler, can opener, oven mitts, colander, spatulas, egg-flips, cheese grater, ice cream scoop, cheese knife, various pots and pans, cutting boards, casserole dishes, pie dishes.

Some more-or-less common gadgets we don’t have:
Rolling pin, mortar & pestle, bread maker, rice cooker, lemon zester, deep fryer, egg cups, blow torch, pressure cooker.

Not listed:
Crockery and glassware – that’s a whole ‘nother post (except it would be even more boring).


Sunday, 6 June, 2010

Orange-lime cheesecake
So I decided to make a cheesecake, of the chilled, non-baked variety. I’ve never made one before, but I saw a great looking cheesecake recipe book while browsing around in Borders the other week. I was tempted to buy it at the time, but decided against. And then a week later we received some Borders book club coupons, one of which was 40% off a cookbook! So it was duly acquired.

The book is split half-half between baked cheesecakes (my favourite type), and non-baked. I thought I’d start by trying a classic non-baked cheesecake, before moving on to some of the more exotic types in the book.

Being my first time, I tried to follow the recipe as closely as I could. After making a reasonably successful biscuit-crumb base, I turned to the filling. The recipe said to start by dissolving a teaspoon of gelatine in a tablespoon of water, by using a heatproof cup in a saucepan of simmering water to heat it gently. That worked fine. The recipe said to set it aside for 5 minutes to cool, while mixing the rest of the filling.

Fine… I got the rest of the filling mixed up. Cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, some orange zest, lime juice. It looked fine and tasted right. Then it was time to add the dissolved gelatine. Only the cup which had the gelatine and water in it now held a solid, rubbery plug of jelly. It was no longer liquid at all! I tried mixing it through the filling mixture, but it was like trying to mix a lump of rubber through it. I had to fish it out and make an entirely new batch of dissolved gelatine. This time I mixed it into the filling before it had a chance to cool down and solidify. Hopefully it will turn out okay and the filling will set properly.

Vineyard Cottage Twin Trees 2001 Shiraz

Wednesday, 2 June, 2010

Vineyard Cottage Twin Trees 2001 Shiraz
The wedding we went to last month was in the Hunter Valley, a few hours drive from Sydney. So we drove up on Friday and stayed the Friday night before the wedding and the Saturday night afterwards, before heading home on Sunday. We stayed at Twin Trees Country Cottages, which was nice. The property had a small vineyard on it, and they make their own wine. We were given this bottle as a complimentary when we checked in.

South Australia is better known for shiraz than is the Hunter Valley, plus this was a freebie, so I wasn’t expecting any great things from it. Although the 2001 vintage could be taken as a good sign, because (as far as my still rudimentary knowledge goes) shiraz tends to age well and improve as it gets older, so 9 years old should theoretically be better than a vintage from just 2 or 3 years ago.

I’m also a bit reticent about shiraz as so far I’ve consistently found it to have a distinct “petrochemical” smell, which also translates across into the taste. Strong and a bit like (what I imagine it would be like) drinking kerosene.

This one, however, was pleasant on the nose, without that sharp, pungent smell. I couldn’t pick anything particularly identifiable in the odour, but I noticed it didn’t smell like what I’ve come to think of as “typically shiraz”. And the taste was amazing. It was smooth and light, with a very distinct flavour of fresh raspberries. Totally not what I was expecting. After a bit of development in the mouth, the distinctive shiraz spiciness came through, though not with the power of some others I’ve tried. I was looking for black pepper, but it wasn’t that – it was more like cinnamon and aniseed.

I have no idea if this would be considered a good shiraz or not, but I really liked it, which is a first for me and shiraz.

Cabernet Merlot by Brad

Monday, 17 May, 2010

Cabernet Merlot by Brad
Here’s one of the wines we bought yesterday – we cracked it for dinner with lasagne. This is an inexpensive cabernet sauvignon/merlot blend from “Brad” in Western Australia’s Margaret River region. M. was drawn to it by the admittedly catchy pop art labels.

The back label claims tastes of dark chocolate and plummy blackcurrant with a touch of mint. I couldn’t detect any chocolate notes at all, but I got plum and blackcurrant, and a faint hint of mint in the aroma, though not the flavour.

Red wines are really difficult to wrap my head around. I’m more confident in picking the differences between various whites and identifying some of the flavour components, but the overwhelming taste I get from most reds is still “red wine flavour”. It’s really hard work dragging out something identifiable as the various fruity flavours that the wines claim to have. I can tell this isn’t spicy, like a shiraz, and that it’s probably one of either cabernet or merlot (or a blend) based on comparison to others I’ve had before, but actually identifying the specific flavour notes is really really hard. I fear I’m a bit biased by the labels on the back of the bottles, which usually claim something like blackcurrant or strawberry or whatever, and I just sip the wine and nod, and go, “uh, huh, yeah, I can taste that.” I’m trying not to, but it’s hard knowing how much that’s influencing me. At least with this one I can positively deny being able to taste anything resembling chocolate!

But anyway, the label art is cool.

1944 Vintage Port

Sunday, 16 May, 2010

Seppelt Para Liqueur Port, Vintage 1944
A few weeks ago I went to a wine shop a couple of suburbs away for the first time. It was an Aladdin’s cave of delights, even to my raw and naive wine skills. It was where I bought my first Beaujolais.

The shop is in an old bank building, and the vault is still in there, now filled with rare and expensive wines. One of the things I spotted in there in that first visit was a bottle of 1944 vintage port. At the time I had no idea if it would be any good, and it was $99 for the bottle, so I left it sitting there in the vault. When I got home, I did some searching and found that this particular brand was the premier Australian vintage port, and the 1944 vintage was supposed to be pretty good. People have drunk bottles form this vintage recently and been most impressed. And everywhere else that offered a scant few bottles for sale were asking the order of $150 each.

Today we went back for the first time, mainly to pick and choose a dozen bottles of wine to store away and work our way through slowly. And the 1944 port was still there. So we made it an uneven 13 bottles. I’ve left the dust on it, to retain the character.

The Seppelt family have been producing vintage ports in Australia since the 1880s. They actually used to have a “100-year vintage” program, where they stored part of each declared vintage (they don’t have a port vintage every year), to release them when they were 100 years old. They still do a 100-year tawny port release. Pretty amazing stuff.

Anyway, I now have this astounding bottle of wine, more than 20 years older than me! I’ll probably try to drink it sooner rather than later – no sense missing out! But I’ll wait for a good occasion, and probably share it with some friends. Something to look forward to!


Friday, 14 May, 2010

We went to a new restaurant tonight.

(By “new”, I mean one we haven’t visited before. It’s actually been there for years, just beyond our normal walk-from-home restaurant circuit.)

Qmin is an Indian restaurant, with a mid-range style. The menu was interesting, with a good mix of the classic Indian favourites you’d expect, plus some new and interesting house specialties that show the chef is applying a bit of creativity. We started with semolina-crusted eggplant circles, served with a coconut chutney, then moved on to a coconut lamb curry and some classic black dhal with rice and peshwari naan. We can’t go past a peshwari naan – the sweetness of the nuts and fruit in the bread is just too addictive. And this one was really good – possibly the best peshwari naan I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve had a lot of them. The eggplant entree was very nice, as was the dhal, though next time I go here I think I’ll try something other than the lamb again.

One thing I noticed was the large window giving diners a view of the workings inside the kitchen. I’ve seen this before in other restaurants, and I just realised that it seems to be a feature of Indian restaurants in particular. I mentioned it to M., and she and I counted off a list of Indian places we’ve been to in the past. We realised that almost all of them have either a big window in the wall letting you see into the kitchen from your table, or in fact have the kitchen out in the open, again visible from the dining tables. We counted at least 6 other Indian restaurants we know that conform to this rule. I presume it must be a cultural thing about Indian food preparation. It’s interesting to realise something that you’ve sort of assimilated unconsciously and never really noticed fully before.

Southern Highland Wines 2008 Botrytis Semillon

Sunday, 9 May, 2010

Southern Highlands Wines 2008 Botrytis Semillon
Another dessert wine. A few weeks ago we went on a day trip down to Berrima, a historic town on the old highway south from Sydney to Canberra and Melbourne. I remember having to drive through it on the way to Canberra many years ago and it was a nice place to stop for a morning tea of scones and cream. It’s since been bypassed and has reverted to a sleepy little village, but retains many charming features and has the usual sort of mix of antiques, crafts, art galleries, restaurants, and cafes to attract travellers and day-trippers.

As we discovered on this recent trip, it also has a wine shop, specialising in wines local to the southern highlands region of New South Wales. I hadn’t even realised that this was a wine growing region! They cover a scattered area ranging from about Bowral through to Canberra. Being highlands, they are high altitude, cool climate wineries, very different from the classic Australian hot and dry climate wine regions. I don’t know much about them, but presumably they grow stuff like sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. I’ll have to look into them a bit more closely over time.

Anyway, being a sucker for dessert wines, I picked up this bottle of Southern Highland Wines 2008 Botrytis Semillon. It’s very interesting to compare it to the other botrytised wines we’ve had recently. My wife really didn’t like this one as much, whereas I didn’t see much difference at first. It has an orangey aroma and taste, leading into the slight bitterness of marmalade. I quite liked it.

But a second glass brought out the differences. The previous couple of sweet wines we’ve drunk had a tingly prickle of fermentation on the tongue, whereas this one has none whatsoever. It’s a beautiful golden yellow colour, and thick and syrupy and sweet. Really not as much of that balancing marmaladey bitterness. And… simple for that. Not as complex and full of interesting flavours as the Tamburlaine Botrytis Chardonnay, nor particularly the McLeish Estate Jessica’s Botrytis Semillon.

I still like it – I have a real thing for these sweet dessert wines. But I like those other two more.