Monday, February 22, 2010

Bangers and Mash scream for ice cream

I must say I signed up for this trial of Yoghurt Plus thinking it was literally yoghurt for dogs. I usually give my dogs Bangers and Mash a tablespoon or two of natural yoghurt several times a week. They love it. They lap up the cold stuff like we would ice cream, I imagine! I wasn’t quite so sure it was good for them though so I was very excited when I saw the Yoghurt Plus. I must say I was mistaken about Yoghurt Plus being yoghurt – it turned out to be dog kibble with lactose-free yoghurt added. Never mind my disappointment - Bangers and Mash seemed very excited when the delivery man dropped these off. Interestingly the product was developed by ex AFL player and sports personality John Crosbie Goold. He thought if probiotic bacteria is good for human digestion and general wellbeing, perhaps the same health benefits also could be harnessed in animals. After years of trials on animals in both commercial and domestic environments, Yoghurt Plus was born. The makers of this product believe that feeding our pets with this particular product helps with many health issues.

The said benefits that I am interested in trialling on Bangers and Mash are:

Reduction in stool volume and odour (poor Mash I am convinced has irritable bowel syndrome)
Healthy shiny coats
Reduction in lawn burn (this would be particularly helpful too)
increased immmunity

It will be interesting to see if there are any changes in my dogs in the next several months.

Bangers and Mash take stock

Bangers is a border collie/blue heeler/kelpie we think. He’s a rescue dog from the RSPCA.

Mash is a border collie/spaniel(?), also a rescue dog from the RSPCA.

Day One of Yoghurt Plus
Bangers: Gave usual amount of food. Several hours later Bangers threw up a huge pile of the stuff. I’m not sure if he had a reaction to the new food. Thankfully I didn’t take a photo of his spew, it was rather, how shall we say, unappetising.

Mash: Nothing came up – fine as normal.

Day Two
Bangers: Decreased the amount of food today. Seemed okay no evidence of chuckups in the garden.

Mash: Same amout of food as Bangers. Love it. Want some more mum. Mash has terrible morning breath that seems to last all day. Let's see if this stuff clears up her poodle breath.

Day Three
Bangers & Mash: Nope, all seems okay though amount is less than what I’d give them. I notice that the fat content is 12% and 26% protein - their usual food is 10% fat and usually 20% protein.

Both kids hang around in the kitchen a lot more than usual, waiting for scraps methinks.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ducasse and his cookbook

Alain Ducasse
Spoon Food and Wine review

I am a big fan of books in general but have a very soft spot for food books and cook books. A post on Twitter recently by Barbara from winos and foodies on the unusability of some celebrity chef’s (he who shall be nameless!) recipes got me looking at cookbooks with a more critical eye. Sure, we’ve come across recipes that look good on paper but fail miserably even when you follow it to the tee. I think most of us have had that experience. Some recipes are perhaps inadequately tested in the kitchen, editors may have missed a typo in the amount of ingredients needed. A whole gamut of things can go wrong when dealing with recipes and cookbooks.

I was excited when I found a book with Alain Ducasse’s recipes at the library. What was I expecting to see in a cookbook by the famous and very prolific French chef? Did I expect to see elements of haute cuisine reflected in the construction of text and photographs? Did I expect elegance and refinement reflected in the recipes? Monsieur Ducasse has many, many restaurants under his belt: his bars, restaurants and bistros litter the cities and countrysides of France, Monaco, Tokyo, America, Lebanon, Italy, England and Mauritius. Ducasse has a very impressive line up of eateries and yes, even more impressive that some of these restaurants have multiple Michelin stars. So what did I think of this cookbook?

The Spoon Food and Wine cookbook covers recipes from Ducasse’s Spoon franchise. In his introduction, he states that the book was conceived in the ‘spirit of exploration, analysis and iconoclasm.’ He continues, “Anyway, that is how this book was designed. You will see that there are no one-way streets, that you are not trapped on a ‘motorway’ of taste. It’s a case of ‘as you like it’. If you want to take a side turning, reverse, start again, no one will stop you. But, when it comes to stopping short – no way! …in this sense, the cooking of Spoon is instinctive: chew, munch, eat, drink. These ‘deconstructed’ dishes have all the adapatability of basic cooking. What I like about the ethos of Spoon is that it combines the simplest, most fundamental gesture – dipping a spoon into an earthenware bowl – with modern sophistication.’

I laughed at the motor highway metaphor for cooking styles and then I became confused over the description of the spoon being dipped into an earthenware bowl with utter modern sophisticated abandon. Wait a minute, my detection of pretension/wanker siren is going off! I know celebrities have great authority and say in a lot of things but when does an editor not edit or refine a clumsy introduction? It gets worse from here. The recipes seem relatively easy enough and aren’t overly too complicated but the problem with this book lies in its design elements. Surely you can have a well-designed book (think Murdoch Books’ plethora of beautiful and practical cookbooks) with good-looking visuals without the book looking like the contents of a dog’s breakfast.

The designer somehow has managed to turn a cookbook into a pseudo-people/fashion shoot and managed to talk the editor into agreeing to use the photos. Shots of attractive young things lounging in restaurants are interspersed throughout the book. Don’t get me wrong, the photographs in the book are beautifully and artistically shot.

What I would like to know is whether people find over-the-top design/photographic elements in a cookbook detract from the recipes and cooking techniques. I found my eyes roving across the pages, struggling to look for some semblance of ease of readability. Typographic inconsistencies rule on the page – recipe ingredients are condensed and line spacing reduced. The font used for the cooking instructions, on the other hand, is enlarged but printed ultra light with cooking steps in an extra bold red font. These red ‘steps’ punctuate the page too boldly and I found them very distracting because the actual instructions were so light therefore hard to read. Some of the choices of very busy background photographs render the ultra light font almost invisible.

By now you’re probably thinking ‘what a bloody nitpicker’ but I am after all, a professional book indexer and I tend to look at things in great detail. If you’re thinking that I can’t pick this book apart anymore, I haven’t even started on the index! Two thirds of the pages dedicated to the index are supplemented by very large photographs of Ducasse’s compotes and salsas in tumblers. What use is an index if you can’t use it or refer to it? (FYI, this link to a badly indexed book is quite hilarious)

If you think you want to look up chicken dishes – you’d look under C for chicken or P for poultry. Well, chicken is not under ‘chicken’ or ‘poultry’ surprise, surprise. It’s under ‘seared chicken fillets’. Seafood is nowhere to be found, instead you’ll find it also under ‘seared red mullet, etc’ Desserts? Ice creams? Try ‘The big meringue’.

Tomatoes? Forget it if you think it’s under ‘vegetables’ or ‘tomatoes’ – it’s under ‘stuffed tomatoes and potato straws’. I could go on and on but I won’t bore you. If there was ever a nomination for a bad index: this is it. This thoroughly inadequate index, is after all, a fitting end to a very superficial fashionable book about the way food should look and the kinds of people who aspire to eat at the Spoon establishment. There is no warmth or generosity depicted in any of the pictures – the images of food is gorgeous (yes) but clinical and exacting, devoid of any emotion or spontaneity. This book leaves me stone cold and I am glad I didn’t invest money indulging in something so inaccessible and unapproachable.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A hop, skip and a jump to Grasshopper Kitchen

Grasshopper Kitchen is injecting much life into the retail strip on Vernon Terrace. The interior space utilises the building’s history as a wool store with its part distressed walls, made it part quirky with hessian bag lamp coverings and thrown in a bit of chic with a sleek fitout. This fusion of many design elements extend into the East-meets-West menu.

Grasshopper was the venue for the second Brisbane’s food bloggers’ dinner organised by Gastronomy Gal and Melanger Baking, and what an enjoyable night it was. Todd Rumble, proprietor of the wine bar, Claret House played host and gave an informative and entertaining wine commentary on the night. Six interesting wines were matched with six courses. Australian wines from the Tamar Valley, Margaret River and Orange were featured, Argentinian and French made the rest of the tasting. The six courses were a tasting menu for their autumn set so we all got a taste preview.

Japanese scallop with duck ma hor, prosciutto with daikon and wasabi puree

Dishes were presented delicately and beautifully – highlights being the slow braised beef cheek in a Vietnamese-style stock with a chilli polenta cake and baby vegetables. The cheek was rich and gelatinous, its flesh melting away from our forks. The scallops presented with sliver of prosciutto and a version of a Thai-style duck ma hor (or also known as galloping horse) was another highlight. The scallop was plump and sweet contrasting nicely with the salty prosciutto; the minced duck with peanuts was spicy and sweet at the same time with I think, minced pineapple on top. The daikon and wasabi puree tasted deceptively like cauliflower – it was very good with a bit of kick.

Beef cheek slow braised for six hours in Vietnamese-style aromatic stock with coriander chilli polenta cake and baby turnip & carrot

Having had a degustation menu here, it will be interesting to see what their normal a la carte menu is like. We didn’t just indulgently enjoy ourselves, the proceeds of our dinner went to Sydney’s Red Lantern restaurateur, Luke Nguyen and Suzanna Boyd’s Little Lantern Foundation, a non profit project for disadvantaged and underprivileged Vietnamese. Grasshopper’s talented head chef Minh Le shares a very similar refugee story to Luke Nguyen, arriving in Australia in 1979. The people who call for an end to accepting boat people should remember that refugees and migrants who come to Australia deserve a chance. Imagine an Australia without Cheong Liew, Frank Camorra, Tetsuya Wakuda, Kylie Kwong, Luke Nguyen, Janni Kyritsis, or George Calombaris (heaven forbid!). What a poor culinary abyss we’d be without them.

Claret House, by the way, is conveniently located next door to Grasshopper if you decide you want to amble along and have a taste of some niche wines.