Friday, July 31, 2009

Meatlovers' Masterclass with Mad Cow

“When I grow up, I’m going to Bovine University” – Ralph Wiggum

Thankfully, I’m not eligible for Bovine University, but I did attend a masterclass with Christopher Whitehead, head chef of Mad Cow restaurant.
Part of
Merivale’s Winter Feasts promotion, this 1 ½ hour class took us behind the scenes of the ivy’s Mad Cow New York-style grill eatery. That meant meat, meat and more meat!

Mad Cow is basically a steak restaurant, and it focuses on different cuts of beef, cooked to perfection. Chef Christopher Whitehead has worked in the restaurant business for 20 years, and has been with Mad Cow since it opened 2 years ago. Apart from being a top chef, he is obviously extremely knowledgeable on the beef products used at his restaurant.

I should also mention that Glenda, one of the managers at Mad Cow, was also in attendance, and she is also enthusiastic and well-informed on the produce and the methods of the cooking process (as well as keeping everyone happy and topped up with wine during the masterclass).

Chef Christopher Whitehead gets hands on during the masterclass

We were introduced to the various breeds of cattle, including Wagyu, and also to the Australian producers of the meat used at Mad Cow, including Rangers Valley and David Blackmore. A variety of grass-fed and grain-fed meat is used, with the flavour of each being quite different. The length of time that the cows are fed for also influences the flavour and texture of the meat, with grain-feeding times ranging from 150 days up to 600+ days!

We were also shown two cuts of meat that had been dry-aged. The dry-ageing process is interesting because it is also time-intensive (special drying room, someone turning the meat regularly), and this translate to a higher price for dry-aged meat.

The cuts of meat we tried included:
- dry-aged, grass-fed, rib eye on the bone (400g)
- dry-aged, grain-fed, T-bone (massive 650g)
- David Blackmore grain-fed, Wagyu skirt steak (marble score 9+)
- Rangers Valley 400-day, grain-fed, Wagyu sirloin (marble score 7+)
- Grain-fed, eye fillet (200g)
- Black Angus minute steak (very thin, cooked very quickly)

The meats included a marbled Wagyu sirloin (right)

At Mad Cow, they use a special American broiler to cook the thicker cuts, and this contraption, which has a flame over the top of the meat, can reach up to 700 °C. The masterclass was held in the kitchen of one of the ivy’s function rooms which doesn’t have a broiler, so the chef used a couple of pans and the chargrill plate to cook the meat. And because a very high heat is necessary to achieve that all-important crust on the meat, the flames were turned up HIGH.
Tip: The meat should be at room temperature, and seasoned generously just before cooking; oil and butter can be spread on the meat beforehand as well.

The meat is seasoned before being cooked in a pan or the broiler

Gosh, it smelt good! But thank goodness for the industrial exhaust fans in the kitchen there, I can imagine the smoke alarms going off big time if we tried it at home (barbequeing outside is probably a good idea).

Mad Cow prepares all their sauces in-house, and the chef also prepared some sauces for us during the class: Mad Cow’s own chimichurri and horseradish cream. Interesting fact: they tearfully grate their own fresh horseradish every week and store it in vacuum-sealed bags to make the horseradish cream. The chimichurri was a fragrant mix of roasted capsicum, Spanish onion, olive and grapeseed oils, parsley and oregano, with lime juice added just before serving.

Salad of tomatoes, buffalo mozzarela and baby herbs, with olive oil

Sauces (from left): chimichurri, spicy barbeque, horseradish cream

Verdict on the meats: We were told how the ‘tougher’ cuts of meat, such as Wagyu skirt, have more flavour than the tender cuts such as eye fillet. I’d heard this before, but didn’t realise how delicious the skirt was – the marbling of 9+ may have had something to do with it. The flavour was incredible, and all the steaks were cooked to a perfect medium-rare. Chef did say that the restaurant is happy to cook whatever the customer wants, so if you must have well-done, then that’s fine.
Tip: The meat should be rested (uncovered) in a warm place for the same amount of time as it was cooked for.

Selection of steak cooked perfectly medium-rare

All up, it was a fun, informative night. It also means that I won’t automatically order the eye fillet when dining out, nor will I necessarily get the scotch fillet when I buy meat for a barbeque.

Thanks to Chris and Glenda for being wonderful hosts for the masterclass.

At the time of writing, the Winter Feast masterclasses for August are not yet available on the Merivale
website, but if you see one for Mad Cow, I recommend you check it out if you love your cow.

Mad Cow is in the ivy complex, at:
Level 1, 330 George Street, Sydney 2000
Ph: 9240 3000

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

100th Zumbo cake eaten by Ooh, Look

How do I know this is my 100th cake from Adriano Zumbo?

1. I've eaten at least one cake a week from Zumbo since they opened just over 2 years ago
2. I've photographed all of them and have the photos to prove it.
3. There are 77 'cake (Zumbo)'-tagged entries in this blog
4. I started this blog 7 months after the first cake

Wait, this is more like the 150th cake...

Never mind, any cake from Zumbo is great cake, and I've loved every single one.

My cake consumption over the past 3 weeks has been drastically reduced because of Zumbo's popularity After MasterChef - long queues, sold out cakes. It shows no sign of abating, so I was lucky that bf was able to pick up these two creations mid week. By all accounts, the Upside Down Cloud and Pinenut Millefeuille are usually all that's left (along with the Finger Tiger).

So, cheers! Hope to reach 200 cakes very soon...

Pinenut millefeuille - the bottom layer that looks like chocolate is intensely pinenut-flavoured.

Upside down Cloud - this one was falling apart slightly, but the sunny citron ball is still shining.

Edit: I've just realised how obsessive this seems. Maybe I should use my cake money and join a gym instead...hmmm.........(****HELP*** someone has kidnapped Bel and taken over her brain! )

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In the beginning, there was Victoire, Balmain

Lately, I've been Frustrated.

The success of Adriano Zumbo's cake creations After MasterChef has meant queues out the door and down the street every weekend. And when you do get to the front of the queue, there are only a couple of 'Tiger' cakes and some macaron crumbs remaining. Denied.

I do need my cake fix, and salvation comes in the form of Victoire. Adriano Zumbo actually worked for Victoire (doing the pastries) before he started his burgeoning empire, and what a fabulous place in which to hone your skills.

While it does not have the exotic, colourful creations of Zumbo, Victoire does provide the breads for Rockpool restaurant, among others, and the bread products are still the mainstay of its business. The walnut loaf is to die for, and I really recommend the levain ficelle if you want a crisp-outside, meltingly-soft-inside bread experience. The 'rustic' loaves are also excellent, being a long thin breadstick with sourdough texture, but 10 times more delicious (especially the olive one).

To relieve my Zumbo withdrawal symptoms this weekend, I got the olive rustic loaf together with a rhubarb tart and an apple tart.

The apple tart has apple puree topped with thin slices of apple in a shortcrust shell.
The rhubarb tart contains silky soft red rhubarb underneath a top that is sprinkled with sugar.
Both are divine!

Victoire is located in Darling St, Balmain. It is diagonally opposite the Zumbo shop. So check it out next time you're in the vicinity (though I hope that Zumbo also has what you are after!).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sushi Choo express rolls into town

The $20 per person deal at Merivale’s Sushi Choo restaurant has been on for a while, and in fact, the hours have been extended because it’s been so popular.

We finally made it there last night, to enjoy the ‘all you can eat’ extravaganza. It’s available Tuesday to Friday at 12-2pm, and 6-8pm. We arrived right on the dot of 6pm, and by 6:20pm, the place was full. The setup at Sushi Choo consists of 2 long trains snaking around separate tables, with the sushi chefs busy at one end, in front of a kitchen.

They keep the trains well stocked, and you definitely won’t go hungry. The quality of the sushi is tops, very fresh, and as we were seated near the train ‘platform’, the hot dishes were still nice and warm when they got to our mouths.

If I had any complaint, it’s that, understandably, there is not much variety in the sushi on offered during the special deal times. We tried all of the dishes, and they included tuna sushi, salmon sushi, prawn sushi, 2 or 3 types of inside-out rolls, warm prawn katsu, warm gyoza (my favourite, so moist and tasty), edamame soy beans, seaweed in sesame, and a cold tofu with soy sauce. You can order other dishes, but these will cost extra to the $20pp. Drinks are a bit pricey, too, with an Asahi beer and green tea adding $12.50 to the bill.

What we had: sushi rolls, gyoza, prawn and salmon sushi, seaweed

I have to say, though, the staff at Sushi Choo are great, very helpful and observant, clearing away empty plates without asking. This efficiency had a downside – I forgot to count the number of plates we had, so my guesstimate is about 25-30 plates between the two of us. So all up, good value!

The décor is lovely here, and it’s worth going to if you want a decent feed at a reasonable price. The regular menu resumes after 8pm if you want to pay the extra.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Some Assembly Required

This is not a post about food, so if you are expecting it, please move along, nothing to see here.
However, I hope you'll stay for a bit...

Did you know, the words that the other half is most afraid of - apart from 'We're out of Coke' - is 'Can you help me put this together?'. So you could have heard the mutterings a mile away when I bought this piece of 'self assembly' joy.

I needed a place to put all my craft stuff and magazines, and the Oslo low storage unit from Freedom Furniture fit the bill. Except for, ahem, the fact that I had to give the Philips head screwdriver and hammer a bit of a workout.

The shelves are a pain because you have to try and squeeze the dowels and screws into the pre-drilled holes, and they don't always fit. I proudly admit that I made all the drawers myself, and really enjoyed doing it. And yes, I always follow the instructions to the letter.
It took 2 days, but we finally did it (and I did about 75% of it!!).

I've used storage boxes and magazine holders from kikki-k and Smiggle to keep it neat.

Tabitha cat loves it.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sydney Rocks Aroma Festival - rock on!

Don't you just love days like this - sunny, bright, filled with convivial coffee-seeking crowds wandering the traffic-free streets. Welcome to the Rocks Aroma Festival for 2009.

In a city that is filled with festivals, this one celebrates 'coffee, chocolate, tea + spice'. It was held in the Rocks district of Sydney, redolent with convict-built structures and cobbled laneways.

We went fairly early, and it was not too crowded yet.
The first (and only) coffee we got was a mocha from PeaBerrys coffee. Nicely made, with a full-bodied flavour. Nice.

There was also a coffee stall next door, called yukk. Not sure about that name...

Coffee from PeaBerrys; or coffee from yukk?

There was some food for sale, mainly the sweet variety, cupcakes and so on. These berry/chocolate and mango mini pavlovas were very photogenic:

Cute pavolvas (forgotten the name of the company)

There were also plenty of tea stalls promoting the humble tea leaf - as a tea drinker, I found these interesting, but there weren't many samples to be had. I got a sample of Madame Flavour tea from the Good Food and Wine Show that I am keen to try again, but they weren't here, as far as I could see.

Stall selling chai; another stall with an opened flower bud tea in glass

A break for lunch saw us at the Lowenbrau stand, where I had a nibble of the 40cm hotdog ($10). It was served in a sweetish bun, and was alright. They also had available pea and ham soup with chorizo, and a massive meatloaf in a bun ($8).

Food for sale from Lowenbrau Keller

I needed something more, so a stop at La Renaissance patisserie provided a beef burgundy pie. It was full of delicious meaty chunks drenched in red wine. Yum. I ate it in a laneway while reading a wall plaque about Francis Greenaway's journey from convict to chief architect (did you know he probably forged the title deeds to his house in the Rocks?).
La Renaissance fortunately had a stall outside their shop, selling pies, sausage rolls and croque monsieur; pie shot; random phone box in the Rocks

The I love my chocolates stand had the most delicious-looking strawberries on skewers - so red, round and luscious:

Strawberry and marshmallow skewers (can be dipped in chocolate) from I love my chocolate

Flowerfruits sells amazing chocolate-dipped fruit, arranged in baskets and boxes. Very artistic and delightful...

Gorgeous arrangement from

The Aroma Festival also had an area called 'Flavours of the World' - think gozleme, Turkish coffee, etc.

Chinese musical performers on stage; camel rides (!?!); Turkish coffee; the lack of cool drinks for sale meant that the ice cream van under the Harbour Bridge did a roaring trade

As we were about to leave, we passed by this 'coffee masterpiece' produced by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, Grinders Coffee and Dairy Farmers.

It is made of coffees ranging from long blacks to lattes. Amazing!

A fantastic day, can't wait for next year's!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Le Pain Quotidien - a Zumbo backup

Not a good Saturday for me, as I didn't manage to get to Adriano Zumbo's patisserie. Probably just as well, as by all accounts, all cakes were sold out by mid-morning.
But good on him for the chocolate mousse cake @MasterChefAu auction that raised over $1000 for Westmead Children's Hospital!

I did find an alternative, though. Check out this Chocolate Espresso Tart from Le Pain Quotidien. The Bondi Junction branch of this bread chain has some delicious-looking tarts, jams, spreads (including Belgian Praline!), and breads, of course.

This tart is crumbly shortcrust filled with bitter coffee and chocolate ganache. It's brilliant, and a most suitable runner-up when Zumbo is all gorn.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi with a Fig chaser

Alright, so the question above is not that difficult, considering the answer is in the title of this post.

But I thought that the gnocchi and the reconstituted dried fig looked a bit unusual. I will start at the beginning...

The recipe for the Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi was in the Food section of Sunday Life magazine recently (by Karen Martini), and it spoke volumes to me with its ingredients of ricotta, parmesan and spinach, drifting in a dressing of burnt butter, sage and walnuts. The ricotta does need to be drained first, to remove as much water as possible, so you’ll need to do this the day before, by leaving the ricotta overnight, draining in a paper towel-lined sieve.

And I’ll tell you honestly (am I ever anything else?) – these are the best gnocchi I’ve ever had!

Here is the recipe (which I’ve changed slightly from the original):

Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi with burnt butter, walnuts and sage

serves 4


350g fresh ricotta (I used low fat ricotta), drained overnight
120g spinach, blanched and chopped
1 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
½ cup plain flour
60g unsalted butter
Large handful of walnuts, roughly chopped
15 sage leaves
½ lemon, juiced


1. Drain ricotta in a sieve over a bowl. Cover and chill overnight.

2. Squeeze liquid from spinach and mix with ricotta, parmesan and egg in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper then stir in flour until mixture comes together to form a soft, sticky dough.

3. Divide dough in half and, on a lightly floured surface, roll halves into a log shape about 40cm long. Cut logs into 2cm pieces. With lightly floured hands, roll pieces into oval shapes. Place on a paper-lined tray.

4. Carefully drop the gnocchi, one by one, into a large pot of salted boiling water. When they rise to the surface, cook for another minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove gnocchi and transfer to a warmed plate with 2 tablespoons of melted butter to stop them sticking. Keep warm.

5. Melt remaining butter in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add walnuts and cook until the butter turns a nut-brown colour.

6. Add sage leaves. Add lemon juice (it’s gonna spit a bit!) and stir.

7. To serve, pour the butter sauce over the gnocchi.

Recipe adapted from Sunday Life magazine (5 July 2009)


Mix the ricotta, parmesan, egg and spinach, then add flour to form a dough

Roll dough into logs, cut and roll into oval gnocchi shapes

Cook gnocchi in boiling water; melt butter and walnuts to 'nut-brown' colour

This is an absolutely delicious, rich and wonderful gnocchi!

And where does the fig come in? Well, it was in a sweet soup made by my mother. The soup included slices of pawpaw, white cloud fungus and little dried figs. It smelt rather offensive and I had to add several spoonfuls of Splenda sweetener and sugar to make it palatable. It looks interesting, though...

Weird 'mum' soup

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My lone visit to Bacco Pasticceria

Bacco Pasticceria is located in the foyer of Chifley Plaza (cnr Elizabeth St and Hunter St in Sydney CBD). So amidst shopping at the swish shops there, you can fortify yourself with a coffee and cake at this Italian-inspired café. And, as there’s an office tower above, you can line up with the office workers for the privilege.

Bacco has been open for a while, but I was prompted to visit only when I bumped into some work colleagues, each carrying one of its cake boxes. “Ooh, what have you got in there? Where did you get them? Why didn’t you ask me to come with?”. After being bombarded with questions like this, they were probably glad they didn’t ask me along to what was a spur of the moment visit (so they said). I immediately made a beeline (alone) for the Chifley building.

There is a wine bar alongside the café that serves food and drink and is very popular at lunchtimes and after work. The café is staffed by a little team of baristas who churn out the lattes and dish out the cakes. The selection of cakes is impressive – lots of cream-based gateaux and some macarons.

I ended up with a ‘Zuppe Anglais’ (shouldn’t that be 'zuppa Inglese'?) which was layers of orange jelly, strawberries, sponge and sweetened cream in a plastic cup. Tastes better than it sounds. It was moist and flavoursome and just enough to push me through an afternoon’s workload.

I also got two macarons (strawberry with caramel ganache, and blue with chilli chocolate ganache). These definitely tasted better than their lopsided shapes suggest. The chilli chocolate was a surprise and a nice one, too.

There’s plenty more where these came from, so I’m going to plan a weekly visit to try the different offerings. And maybe my colleagues can be convinced to come along – if they’re lucky, haha!