Saturday, 25 February 2012

salted watermelon salad with mint, rose, and peach vinegar

salted mint & rose watermelon salad with peach vinegar.

I'm in holiday mode. I'm in holiday mood. Tomorrow I'm jumping on a plane, off to spend a few days in Byron Bay, and then a few days in Sydney.

You know what else makes me feel like I'm on vacation? Watermelon on a sunny day. Watermelon in bed. Watermelon with friends. Watermelon anytime, really. It's almost impossible to feel agitated while chomping on a sweet, icy piece of watermelon. It's relaxation therapy via fruity hydration.

A good watermelon is so gratifying on its own, but I've recently taken to making a simple salad out of it. Watermelon cubes, strewn with shredded mint leaves. Drizzled with peach vinegar, sprinkled with salt, and kissed with rose water. It's surreal. But nice. (Thanks, Notting Hill.)

salted watermelon salad with mint, rose, and peach vinegar

approx. 2 cups cold, roughly cubed watermelon (2.5 cm / 1 inch pieces should do fine)
10 mint leaves, shredded
2 teaspoons peach vinegar (see here for my peach vinegar recipe) or 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon rose water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Serve cold.

Note: For strict vegans, make sure the vinegar you use for creating the peach vinegar is of vegan persuasion. Otherwise, go for apple cider vinegar, which as far as I know is invariably vegan.

salted watermelon salad with mint, rose, and peach vinegar.

Click here to read the rest of the post!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

peking duck dreaming: dadong, beijing

DaDong's roast duck. Skin so crispy, it shatters...

It was a cold spring evening in Beijing. Simon and I had just arrived at DaDong, the esteemed restaurant chain that I believed could hold the key to the Peking Duck of my dreams.

I knew Peking duck in Beijing was a must-have, and I did my research prior to our trip to China.

There's the old-school chain, Bianyifang, established in 1416. There's the longstanding stalwart, Quanjude, established in 1864. And then there's DaDong, a relative newcomer from 1985.

Simon isn't quite as fascinated by food as I am, and moreover I knew a comprehensive duckfest in Beijing was not easily achievable on our schedule. Out of the many Peking duck restaurants in Beijing, I found DaDong to be the most promising. It garnered high scores from the aggregate restaurant review sites in China. Happy customers cited the roast duck at DaDong to be lighter and crisper than their rivals. Hell, Heston Blumenthal visited DaDong in his quest for the perfect Peking duck. If we could only fit in one restaurant for Peking duck, surely it had to be DaDong.

Still, once we landed in Beijing, I decided to pester the locals for their opinions, my curiosity unsatiated. The taxi driver who took us to our hotel from the airport was the most knowledgeable, having had his duck at all the major players on the scene. "DaDong," he responded without hesitation when I posed the question. The roast duck at DaDong had all the flavour with half the grease, he said, and it was the clear winner for him. So that was that.

And here we were, finally.

The DaDong restaurant building.

We entered the restaurant. It was a Thursday night, and the reception foyer was busy with punters. We had neglected to make reservations, so a girl gave us a number and told us to wait for our turn. We found empty seats and sat down.

I gazed into the clear glass that separated us from the kitchen and looked upon the staff going about the preparation of the ducks. Ducks that glistened, mirroring the angry flames rising from the burning firewood. Ducks hanging and resting off stainless steel bars. A man in chef's whites deftly slashed one of the cooked ducks, and the juices came gushing out with reckless abandon. I rummaged in my bag for my little point-and-shoot camera, but the battery was dying. I asked Simon if he could help me out with his DSLR, and he obliged. Disaster averted.

Teasing the flames, tending to the ducks...

We watched and we waited. Twenty minutes later, our number was called.

The menu at DaDong was a work of art - I wish I had asked Simon to take photos. It was a large, heavy book, filled with stunningly styled pictures of their extensive options. DaDong, it turned out, wasn't just about the duck. They have a vast range of dishes, ranging from traditional favourites to the modern exhibits of molecular gastronomy. One memorable option was styled in the impression of a winter's scene: a wash of snow-white flecks raining upon elegantly sculpted morsels on slate-gray stone.

We bypassed the numerous temptations with some reluctance, and proceeded to order Peking duck, half a bird's worth, and a pot of tea.

A chef prepared the duck by our table with nimble precision. Only the top surface area - the skin, along with a slim sliver of the flesh underneath - the crème de la crème, if you will - was sliced onto the plate for us. He then left, taking the rest of the carcass with him, which still had substantial amounts of meat on it. Apparently we could've requested to take the remains home, or, in our case, back to our hotel, but we didn't know it at the time.

Roast duck at DaDong. Now that's what I'm talking about.

The skin of the duck was delicately crunchy, the flesh gentle and juicy. Gleaming with translucence, it crackled and dissolved in our mouths without the excessive oil slick that all too often comes with the territory. Yes, it was refined. It was magnificent.

The duck had two platforms on which to shine: sweet, crisp sesame buns that were scrumptious enough to eat on their own, or the more traditional thin pancakes, ethereal yet not too fragile. Both were superb.

An array of condiments to raise the Peking duck dish to another level of lusciousness.

The condiments for dressing the duck were a joyful collage of sweet bean sauce, cucumber, leek, radish, garlic paste, pickled/preserved vegetables, and even white sugar - a surprising inclusion that just made so much sense, in the same glorious way that honey-baked ham and maple-candied bacon makes sense.

We finished every crumb on our plates, then pored over the menu again - for dessert, naturally.

Digging into the candy apples.

Simon and I concurred on the hawthorne sorbet, which we felt would be a refreshing end to the dinner, but it was sold out. We settled for the award-winning deep-fried apple fritters with spun sugar. The waitress brought it to our table, and dunked the apple fritters quickly in and out of a bowl of iced water, solidifying the syrupy exterior into a crunchy coating with slender thread effects.

Look ma, no face!

Though we opted for a small serve, it was perhaps still a little too generous for the two of us. Perfectly brittle on the outside, hot and tender on the inside, I popped the first few fritters down with enthusiasm - but make no mistake, this is quite a heavy dessert, and with only some complimentary fresh fruit to lighten it up, we both struggled to finish it by the end.

The bill was not too daunting at all. The Australian dollar was strong at the time, and our simple meal came well shy of AUD$20 per person.

So was that the best Peking duck in the world? I don't know. But it was certainly the best Peking duck I've ever had. I only regret there wasn't a second visit to DaDong, and I wished, too, that we could've made the time to visit at least one of their rivals on the Peking duck scene. But I am content. When I hark back on this experience - perhaps with the rosy hue of travel nostalgia, yes - it had an almost magical quality to it.

It would be greedy to ask for more.

24th March 2011

Da Dong Roast Duck (Nanxincang Branch)
1-2F, Nanxincang International Plaza,
22A Dongsishitiao, Dongcheng District,
Beijing 100007, China.

(Check out their seriously amazing food styling and photography!)

Click here to read the rest of the post!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

fresh peach vinegar, a valentine's gift

A simple no-cook fresh white peach vinegar.

I had this post all written out. It was ready to go. And then... it went kaput. I shall spare you the details, but suffice to say, I was left with only a blank page, and even the geekiest things I tried couldn't bring it back.

I was devastated. All those hours of work... gone. All those words. My thoughts on Valentine's Day. An amusing story about my relationship with Simon. My take on peaches. My recipe for this no-cook fresh white peach vinegar, and my sentiments on the end product. Everything.

The one in front is a white peach, the one at the back is a yellow peach.

I thought of Simon. He, the cool, collected one. What would he say? I can imagine it so vividly. "There's nothing you can do now to change what happened," he would say. "You just have to forget about it and get on with what you have to do next."

So here I am, re-writing this post. And you know what? It's not that bad. This was not the post I intended to share with you all. This is a completely different story, with entirely different musings. I'm okay with that.

So here's my early Valentine's Day message to Simon.

Thank you for keeping me sane and calm, even though you are thousands of miles away in India right now, no doubt snapping away with your beloved camera and enjoying your new-found love of chai.

When you come back, I have this little vessel of sweet peach vinegar that I have created especially for you, to celebrate your appreciation of a good salad dressing. I hope you enjoy its gentle fragrance and subtle sensuality as much as I do.

I can't wait to see you again in a few days.

The pale, perfumed flesh of the white peach.

no-cook fresh peach vinegar

1 ripe peach, peeled, pitted and chopped
3/4 cup white wine vinegar

Blend peach pieces together with white wine vinegar. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes, then strain it through a fine sieve or muslin cloth. Store it in a sterilised bottle.
This peach vinegar should keep in the fridge for at least 3 months.

I chose to use white-fleshed peaches for this peach vinegar recipe - they have a gorgeous ambrosial quality that I adore.
Use non-reactive containers (preferably glass or ceramic) when dealing with vinegar.
I sterilise my bottles by washing them thoroughly and then letting them sit in boiling water for 2-3 minutes.

Fresh peach vinegar, a valentine's gift.

Click here to read the rest of the post!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

huxtaburger, collingwood

Some people feel that wagyu beef is wasted in a burger. I beg to differ.

For, surely, not every part of even the most delicious of cows is destined to be tataki or steak at a fancy restaurant. I am more than happy to have these other cuts minced and transformed into a luxurious pattie.

So when Huxtaburger (106 Smith St, Collingwood) opened in December last year, I casually suggested to Simon that we should stroll over for a visit.

It was a flurry of activity on that warm evening - impressive for a place that had been operating for only a week at the time - and we were lucky to get a seat outdoors.

Huxtaburger's menu is a simple one. Five burgers, all with Moondarra-sourced wagyu beef patties. Chips/fries are available, too, of course, and they also have a 'salad of the day' option for vegetarians - the day we went, it was roasted cauliflower, quinoa, Meredith goat's cheese, pomegranate and mint, which I very nearly ordered, as it sounded quite lovely.

But that night, it was all about the burgers for us.

Fans of The Cosby Show will get a kick out of the burgers, in more ways than one. Except for the eponymous Huxtaburger burger, the other burgers are all named after characters of the sitcom - Bill, Rudy, Denise and Theo.

I opted for Denise (the hot one) - with jalapeno and sriracha mayo.

Huxtaburger's Denise burger, $9.

Simon went for Theo - with bacon, double pattie, double cheese and barbecue sauce.

Huxtaburger's Theo burger, $11.

We both enjoyed our burgers - the wagyu patties were delightfully sweet and juicy, the seasonings were just right, and there was a pleasing contrast with the soft buns and their crisp sesame-crusted exterior.

The prices of the burgers at Huxtaburger fall around the 10-dollar mark, and they venture towards the petite side as far as Australian appetites go - I was reasonably satiated, but Simon said that he could almost devour another one, which, admittedly, may also have something to do with how tasty they were. Overall, given the quality, I find them to be good value for money. When Simon comes back from his overseas trip, I look forward to another visit together for more beefy burger goodness. And hey, we might even try the salad.

Huxtaburger on Urbanspoon

Click here to read the rest of the post!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

achacha, a tasty tropical fruit

Have you ever met a stranger who reminded you of a loved one?

It may be the way they look, the way they move, the way they smile. It could be the sound of their voice, the scent of their cologne... and, inexplicably... the way they make you feel.

I experienced this sense of déjà vu recently, with a fruit that was entirely new to me.

The achacha.

Achachairu fruits, also known as achacha in Australia.

At first glance, the achacha - or achachairu - is like nothing else I know. Pry it open, however, and its creamy white flesh immediately reminds me of the fruit I adore and miss, one that is abundant in my home country: mangosteen, the queen of fruits.

Pop it into my mouth, and it confirms this impression - achachas are, indeed, remarkably similar to my beloved mangosteens... that same soft texture, that same beguiling taste that defies description. And no wonder, for achacha is a cousin of the mangosteen, as I found out later. Yet there are some crucial little differences. It's a little less sweet, a little more acidic. But that's not all; it even teases me with barely-there hints of duku langsat - another tropical fruit I recall with much fondness.

I like it. I like it so very much.

A popped-open achacha.

After purchasing and sampling my achachas, I hopped online to find out more about them. As usual, the Internet is a saviour. I am educated on the native home of the fruit (the Amazon Basin of Bolivia), and how it has been successfully cultivated in North Queensland - hence why it is now available in Australia. I also observed an alternative way to access the flesh (pierce with a fingernail, then squeeze to crack the fruit open - I had been using a knife to make a slight incision before prying them open, which works fine too). I discover that achachas are best stored at a moderate room temperature, though they may be chilled before eating if you like them cool, which I do. I learn that "achacha" is in fact an Australianised condensation of the original name "achachairu", which means "honey kiss" in the indigenous Guaraní language.

If this post has piqued your curiosity, here's what looks to be the official website for Australian grown achachas with lots of information, including where to buy. Good luck!

Click here to read the rest of the post!