08 February 2009

Corkmaster's 2008 Year in Australian Wine

My first post for Chokecherry Pancakes involves a reflection on the year that was, in wine of course. Our year started with a move from Sydney to Melbourne, a move which saw us leave our well stocked cellar under the care of Wine Ark. However, it also gave us a good excuse to re-stock our wine fridge. What a better place to start than in one of the world's great wine cities, with a number of wine regions within a one hour drive of Melbourne. Melbourne is also home to one of my favorite places on the planet, The Supper Club, which has an unrivaled wine list, an Old New York state of mind, and a quirky mix of appetizers that always please.

First, the ground rules ... I/We must have either rank a full bottle of the wine during 2008 OR tasted it at a show/cellar door and subsequently bought a bought a bottle. Most, however, are the former. So, in no particular order, here are my top ten wines of 2008.

Mount Mary Quintet 1999 - We actually had three bottles of this spectacular Yarra Valley wine in 2008. We had one on our fifth anniversary, and I shared the other two with some good mates over dinner in the Hunter Valley. This Cabernet blend was my favorite of 2008, but it was also probably the only reasonably aged wine that I had, so not really a surprise I suppose. At a retail price of $100+ it is not something you pull off the shelf every day, but well worth it if you want to spoil yourself. You will rarely go wrong with the Mount Mary wines, but they will lighten your wallet.

Saltram No. 1 Shiraz 2003 - I have always wanted to try this wine, as I am a fan of Nigel Dolan, the chief winemaker at Saltram. We got our chance when we found it at Dan Murphy's for under $40 (it normally retails for around $60). This is a classic Barossa Shiraz, well worth its price, and an absolute bargain if you find it below $50. The Mamre Brook range from Saltram is also an excellent value at around $20 per bottle.

Yeringberg - 2006 reds, 2007 whites - A great surprise. Normally very hard to come by, understandable when you consider that the winery is only open to the public two days of the year. Completely by accident, we ended up in the Yarra Valley on the one weekend of the year that this winery was open. Of course after sampling the wares, we left with an entire case of wine. We still have all of the reds left and the whites have been superb. This is a great family owned winery that is well worth a visit if you're in the Yarra in May.

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2005 - The so called experts will tell you this is Australia's best Chardonnay. Who am I to disagree? We splurged on this Margaret River beauty one night while out with mates, and I also picked up two of these bottles for the cellar thanks to some timely Wine Ark specials. If you've gone off Chardonnay in the last few years, try this and you will be back on board. The next challenge is to have the patience to let one age.

Peter Lehman Stonewall Shiraz 1998 - We didn't buy this wine, but it was served as the red wine of choice at a friend's wedding, and I am sure I drank more than a bottle, so I am not breaking the ground rules! This is teeth staining stuff, and I tried my best to paint my teeth red that night. This Barossa Shiraz requires patience thought, it is a wine that is made to last.

Jacob's Creek Steingarten Riesling 2006 - This wine normally retails for $25+ but we found it on special at Dan Murphy's for $19. We quickly grabbed a few cases and didn't waste any time getting through them. It is drinking brilliantly now, but will also age. This is one of the benchmark Australian Rieslings that will probably change any preconceived notions that you had of the variety.

Lakes Folly Cabernets - Having been members of this winery for a few years now, which entitles us to an annual allocation of 8 Cabernets and 4 Chardonnay, the cellar is well stocked with these wines. I took a case on a weekend away with friends, and although both were a hit, the Cabernet blend was the favorite. A great medium bodied Hunter Valley Cabernet blend, which is rare for the region.

Rockford Moppa Springs Grenache/Mataro/Shiraz 2004 - Through a colleague at work, I finally managed to get on to the Rockford Mailing List. Over time, loyalty on the mailing list is rewarded with membership to the famous Stonewallers' Club, which entitles you to an annual allocation of a case of Basket Press Shiraz. Along the way, you also get to have some fantastic wines such as this one. Very fruity, with a bit of spice to keep things interesting and well worth its $30 price tag.

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2005 - A bit of a cult wine in Australia that is pretty difficult to come by (read above). We found this in a wine store in Queenstown , New Zealand for under NZ$100 and drank it that night. If they had more than the one bottle remaining, I would have bought the lot. This is one of my all time favorite wines and thanks to the refreshing philosophy of those at Rockford, it is still at a reasonable price ($55 for Stonewallers).

Barons of the Barossa Shiraz 2006 - The annoying monthly phone calls from the Wine Society finally got the better of me and I ordered a case of this for under $20/bottle. It was a great surprise and we've finished the entire case already. The wine is made from premium fruit contributed by various Barons of the Barossa, a fraternity of the best wine 'personalities' in the Barossa. They have hooked me in to an annual purchase. Great value stuff.

There you have it - my top Australian wines of 2008. I'm already looking forward to the 2009 post, having already cut our teeth on a few crackers in January, and look forward to contributing to Chokecherry Pancakes on a regular basis.

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18 January 2009

Top Ten Wine O'clock in 2008

Last year, I posted my top ten Australian wines of 2007, which put me in the firing line for a lot of comic relief, as when my list was referred to, sarcastic undertones predominated. Admittedly I am not a wine diva, more of a foodie than a sommelier; my husband is more of a sommelier than a foodie. As we attempt to become better on both the foodie and the sommelier fronts, we have decided to retire his blog and come together under the Chokecherry Pancakes banner, matching food with wine, wine with food, capturing our wine drinking ways. Look forward to Steven's posts - he is passionate about wine and pursues his hobby like a professional. He has even given himself the title of "Corkmaster", story to follow later I am sure.

On a personal note, I am still drinking more white wine than red, and this past year I have started to enjoy champagne and sparkling wine, which is something worth celebrating. When I drink red wine, it is usually to mark a momentous occasion or is chosen specifically to match with food. Because it is not too often that I dip my toes in our vat of red wine, when I do, very nice wines are consumed (as you will note from my list of red wines).

In the spirit of keeping my list alive, I will attempt to capture the year in wine as a reluctant punter - here it is, the 2008 rendition of my favorite Australian wines.

O'Leary Walker Polish Hill River Riesling 2008
Grosset Springvale Watervale Riesling 2008
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay 2005
Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling 2008
Yeringberg Chardonnay 2006

Rockford Basket Press Shiraz 2005
Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier 2005
Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
Stonier KBS Pinot Noir 2004
Torbreck Struie Shiraz 2005


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25 December 2008

Frozen Raspberry Makes Ripe Return

I have been in a little bit of a rut lately, where new recipes are seldom, and if I have ventured into the "white space" abyss, I have been unable to photograph, let alone post my epicurious adventures. The back half of 2008 turned out to be a tumultuous time for me personally, but I am giddy and gleeful with the new year imminent. As I kiss 2008 good-bye, it is rather difficult not to have a permanent smile on my face at present - we are surrounded by loving friends and family, back in the deep freeze that is home - Canada, and at the most wonderful time of the year - Christmas.

We attempted to climatise and brave ourselves for the Saskatchewan winter with a short stint skiing in Whistler en route to the "land of the living skies". In Whistler, zero degrees seemed cold, but the retail therapy quickly warmed us up, not to mention the skiing itself. As luck would have it, when we touched down in Saskatchewan, rugged up in our new winter gear, Jack Frost was truly nipping at our toes ... the temperature was minus 55°C with the wind chill. Temperatures have hovered around minus 25°C ever since, but the next few days should see things change to a balmy minus 8°C. I feel like a typical Canadian chirping on about the weather, but how can you not? I cannot count how many times we have been asked with a smirk, "Is it cold enough for ya?". On the positive side, I have been able to get my hands dirty in the kitchen with an eager sous chef (my mother) and an audience that is always up for something new and different.

From Donna Hay's Instant Entertaining, this brownie recipe (titled Raspberry-Spiked Chocolate Brownies) is my favorite brownie recipe so far - absolutely rich chocolate, colliding with the sweetness of ripe raspberries. Served warm accompanied by a little dollop of ice cream and a big glass of red wine, the flavours really come alive. Make this your next happily ever after!

Ingredients & Preparation:

200 grams (7 ounces) dark chocolate, chopped (I use Lindt 75% cocoa)
250 grams (8 ounces) butter
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
4 eggs
1 1/3 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup cocoa, sifted
1 1/2 cups raspberries, fresh or frozen*
* If using frozen raspberries there is no need to defrost them first. You can also use fresh or frozen blueberries.

Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Place the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until melted and smooth. Place in a bowl with the sugar and eggs. Sift over the flour, baking powder and cocoa and mix to combine. Pour into a 23 cm (9 inch) greased square cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Top the mixture with the raspberries and bake for 30–35 minutes or until set. Serve warm or cold with thick (double) cream or vanilla bean ice-cream.

Bon Appetit!

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13 July 2008

Hopelessly Devoted to Pink Ladies

The Kitchen Aid got another work out today, this time to make an Apple Crostata! We had some Pink Lady apples in the fridge that had seen better days, which when found has been known to spark my baking bug. Normally I make an Apple Crumble when confronted with this type of fruit phenomenon, but since I need to expand my dessert repertoire, I went hunting for new recipes. I was very pleased with this dessert in the end - it was easy to make, presented well and was just a little different than a tradtional apple pie. For a dinner party, it would be great as it is quite a cute dessert, presents beautifully and is perfect for Autumn/Winter, the aromas heavenly.

What is a Crostata? Isn't it just a pie? Wikipedia, my humble and reliable online companion, cites: a crostata is an Italian baked dessert tart, and a form of pie. It is traditionally prepared by folding the edges of the dough over the top of the fruit filling, creating a more "rough" look, rather than a uniform, circular shape. The fruit can be anything from apple to mixed berry to peaches.

Ingredients & Preparation:

Short Crust Pastry
(from Bill Granger's Bills Sydney Food):
2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup icing sugar (confectioners' sugar)
a pinch of salt
180g (11 3/4 oz) unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup (2 fl oz) cream

3-4 Pink Lady apples, sliced thinly
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon Zest of half a lemon
3 tbsp white sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Demerara Sugar (to sprinkle)
1 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1 tsp cold water

For the pastry: Place flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Add butter and rub through the mixture until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add just enough cream for the mixture to form a ball. I made the pastry with my Kitchen Aid, using the dough hook. Refrigerate pastry for at least 30 minutes before rolling. Ensure that you have a perfectly round sphere before rolling out the pastry on a lightly floured surface - this will ensure that your pastry rolls out into a round shape.

For the filling: Toss the sliced apples with the lemon juice and zest. Add the cinnamon and white sugar, then gently combine.

To assemble: Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place the rolled pastry in a pie plate or on a flat cookie sheet. Arrange apples within the pastry, leaving 5 cm on the outside if using a cookie sheet. If you are using a pie plate, ensure that there is at least 5 cm of extra pastry on the outside of the pie plate.

Once the apples are arranged on the pastry, fold the pastry edges in to the centre. Dust pastry edges with egg yolk mixed with water. Sprinkle demerarra sugar on top of the crostata. Drop tiny cubes of the butter on the apples just prior to baking.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until crust is lightly golden. Dust with icing sugar. Serve warm.

Bon Appetit!

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11 July 2008

Going Bananas for Banana Bran Muffins

I went bananas today, almost literally! Thanks to a tip from a friend, I learned the Kitchenaid KS150s were on sale at Minimax as part of their stocktake sale. I had convinced myself that online shopping was the way to go to acquire one of these sexy little units, but the deal breaker was that if you spent over a certain amount at Minimax, you received a Le Creuset 20 cm pot for FREE! Add to this, the Kitchen Aid appliances were 10% off. Already in the car sleuthing out my errands when I received the tip, I high horsed it over to the shop, and within minutes the Kitchen Aid Mixer I had been scoping out for months, along with the bonus pot, were in my hot little hands. The sale was not meant to start until Monday, but for me, the sale started today. As my grandfather used to say, "you have a tongue in your head, use it." It worked! Yet another old adage which my great grandfather used to say is "a sale is not a sale unless you need it" which I can agree with, but definitely not in this circumstance. I had to grab this bargain to save my sanity along with yours. My blogosphere audience is likely dwindling due to my constant whinging about all of the elbow grease I have been using in my "bitchin" kitchen. Well, there will be no "bitchin" in my kitchen any more! The mixer is mine, and will most certainly source some inspiration for future posts (and a whole lot less complaining).

The Kitchen Aid mixer is timeless, in brushed nickel, and matches our oven, fridge and dishwasher. I am all about the matching motifs! It looks great in our industrial style kitchen in Melbourne, however I know it is hanging to head over to Young Street in Annandale (Sydney) where it would be even more at home (I am really missing our house in Sydney today). The freebie is a cute little Le Creuset pot in royal blue, and unfortunately does not and never will match my kitchen theme (I am collecting the Dune color in this range of pots), so the online garage sale continues, on eBay. For anyone that knows me well, I am an eBay addict, more so for selling rather than buying. My husband jokes that "if it is not nailed down, it will get sold on eBay." While not entirely true, I am definitely guilty of auctioning off things I do not feel I am using to their full capacity, and usually have something up for grabs on eBay every couple of weeks. It is a lucrative little enterprise I have going, and helps me justify purchasing items on my Peters of Kensington and Minimax wish list. Next cab off the rank is the Gordon Ramsay Platinum Royal Doulton China range of dishes. Divine! And a Dualit hand mixer .... mmmmm!

A special thank you to my parents who have funded today's shopping expo, combining my birthday with my husbands, along with our anniversary, to grace our kitchen with the Mac Daddy in kitchen appliances! Introducing my new "baby" and another new (but not so new) recipe. My mother is a seasoned baker, and to christen this appliance, one of her recipes was in order ....

Today's post is all about going bananas (as I have been going all day for my new toy), and for going bananas in resurrecting a family favorite - Banana Bran Muffins, a staple when I was growing up and something I often crave for breakfast or as a pick me up during the day. It goes without saying that the fiber content in these little babies is probably going to make your insides go bananas too.

Ingredients & Preparation:
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup mashed bananas (about 1 1/2 bananas)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup sour milk (add a cap full of white vinegar to 3/4 cup milk to create sour milk)
Beat above ingredients until combined.

Add the following ingredients to the wet mixture, and gently beat:
1 cup bran
1/2 cup oat bran
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup raisins / sultanas

Spoon in to greased muffin tins (fill 3/4 full) and bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 12-15 minutes, or until the top of the muffins are springy to touch. As the muffins are cooling, lift the muffins out of the muffin tins with a knife (they do not stick to the muffin tin, but I find it is best to lift the muffins out whilst they are warm). There is no need to use cupcake casings with these muffins as long as you grease the muffin tins.
This recipe makes 1.5 dozen. If you are doubling this recipe, use 3 eggs and double everything else.

These muffins freeze well, and are great microwaved just out of the freezer, topped off with just a dab of butter. Best served when warm so the butter melts into the muffin - throwing the health component of the muffin factor completely out of the window.

Bon Appetit!

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29 June 2008

Sugar and Spice and All That's Nice!

I consider myself to be a humble person, but I thought I would mention the little round of applause I received from Jenn at Leftover Queen (if you haven't guessed, she prides herself on making masterpieces out of left overs!). Jenn also hosts the Foodie Blogroll, which is a growing community of over 2000 food bloggers. Every Friday, Jenn picks five blogs from the Foodie Blogroll to feature as part of Finest Foodies Friday and this week, my blog was chosen! I feel honored, but more than that I feel grateful that there are people like Jenn who put their heart and soul into such endeavors so that it can put a smile on the lucky bloggers who make the weekly picks, but more importantly unite people around the world who share this hard to shake food bug. So, if you love food like I do, and enjoy writing or reading about it, head over to Leftover Queen and the Foodie Blogroll to poke around for new recipes and inspiration in your kitchen - every blogger takes a different angle in the blogosphere so be prepared to get so absorbed in the journey around this website which will help you navigate the blogging world to discover so many culinary sensations! Congratulations to my fellow bloggers who made this week's picks - I have spent half a day perusing your blogs and have a short list of recipes to get stuck in to!

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20 June 2008

Happy Birthday Corkmaster - Pass the Pasta, Saucy!

I think I have an obsessive personality. No, I know I do. I woke up today with the idea in my head that I was going to have another crack at making fresh pasta. Last time I had this idea, I went for it, but sadly my little pipe cleaners of arms could not quite muscle the rolling pin to flatten the dough enough . The result was thick, tough, under-cooked pasta. Despite my enthusiasm and high hopes, my husband remarked my pasta raviolis looked like perogies. Tail between my legs, I knew he was right. The "perogy pasta" was not blogworthy and barely edible. So, today I visited one of my favourite new stores, Minimax, and grabbed the last pasta machine they had left. The Binford of Pasta Machines, straight from Italy, the Marcata Atlas 150. I was Tim Taylor proud. I still am. Maybe I always will be?

I started to make the dough, got completely stuck in, then was interrupted by a repairman who was here to fix the heating. No wonder I am making all this comfort food - we have no heat! And it is cold in Melbourne in Winter!!!! Bloody cold! He spent all of 5 minutes addressing the problem, only to say he would have to return next week with another guy for OH&S reasons. So, another weekend of cold, craving comfort food .... and we have our 10KM run on Sunday. We will most likely roll over the finish line. Running is hardly an option. The training has fallen off, the comfort food has taken over. The Corkmaster even decided to do the 10KM rather than the half marathon he was initially planning to run. It is going pear shaped really quickly in our digs!

Regardless, tonight's meal was a cracker. I will be getting the Binford Pasta Machine out again soon. I was really getting into the groove at the end, had quite a rhythm, and finally got the hang of it. Self teaching is full of hits and misses, learning from mistakes, but I think I actually found my straps in the end with the pasta machine. Cooking with gas, I say. Cooking with gas.

If you are embarking on this "mission" reserve the better part of a day, especially if you have never made your own pasta before. My advice: despite how keen or obsessive you are about making your own pasta, do not consider doing so unless you have a pasta machine. It is just not worth the time.

Ingredients & Preparation:

Pasta Dough:
4 cups Tippo "00" Flour (readily found in grocery stores)
6 eggs

Three Cheese Ravioli Filling:
250g (1 cup) marscapone cheese
375g (1 3/4 cup) ricotta cheese
150g (2/3 cup) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Sea salt
Fresh black pepper

800g Italian tomatoes, diced (I used La Gina - 2 small tins)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4-5 bullet chillies, sliced finely
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup vodka
1 small bunch basil, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp tomato paste

For the dough:
Place flour in pile on counter top or in a large bowl. Hollow out the middle of the flour pile, and crack eggs into this crevasse. Whisk the eggs with a fork until they form a paste. Slowly work more flour into the egg mixture. Begin to knead the dough. Vent your frustrations. There is a lot of kneading. Eventually, the dough will take on a velvety feel - it will neither be sticky or floury, but very malleable. Form about four balls of dough. Place in fridge for about thirty minutes.
Fire up the pasta machine, ensuring it is bolted to your counter. This is serious business. Start by flattening one of the balls of dough with a rolling pin, using flour to ensure the dough does not stick to the counter or rolling pin. When the dough is a few centimeters thick, it is ready to greet the pasta machine. Place one end of the dough in the pasta machine and begin to crank (in my machine, I start at the number 1, then work my way up). Crank the dough through the machine. Notch the machine up to number 2, repeat, and so on. Continue to roll the dough through the machine until you reach a desired thickness. Usually you will need to go up to at least 6, 7, or 8 if making ravioli. When you have reached desired thickness, place long layer of dough on a floured counter top.

For the three cheese filling:
Simply stir all ingredients together. When the pasta dough has been rolled out, drop teaspoon by teaspoon on to the dough, about 5 cm apart. Only drop the filling half way up the dough, brush around the filling with water, then fold the remaining dough over top. Cup the filling as you are draping the remaining dough over the top, ensuring that all of the air bubbles are removed. Gently seal each parcel, then cut with a pizza cutter, knife or serrated pasta cutter.
When you have finished rolling the dough and creating all of the ravioli parcels, place on a cookie sheet or individual plates, ensuring they are floured with Semolina flour so that the pasta does not stick to the plate or each other. Refrigerate until you are ready to cook. This should keep for up to four weeks in a fridge or freezer if you are unable to use this all on the day.

For the sauce:
Gently heat a saucepan. Add olive oil, chillies, and garlic. Sauté for a couple of minutes. Add diced tomatoes and remaining ingredients, reserving the sour cream. Simmer for twenty minutes at least, then add the sour cream towards the end.

To cook the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook for at least 6 minutes, but probably longer (remember you have 2 layers of pasta squeezed together). I ended up cooking my pasta for at least 11 minutes, as I learned from the last time I attempted my own home made pasta that under cooked pasta is blasphemy. As the pasta floats due to the ravioli contents, I even used a vegetable steamer which evidently fits in my pasta pot, to hold down the pasta in the water, ensuring it cooked evenly. I have to admit, I was doing everything I could to avoid the "perogy pasta" and also wanted this meal to be extra special to celebrate my husband's birthday of thirty three years!

When the pasta is done cooking, drain, rinse and return to the large pot. Spoon sauce over the pasta sauce and gently stir, trying not to disturb the raviolis. After all that work, you do not want to break them!

Plate the ravioli gently, garish with chives, freshly ground black pepper if desired and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

The fact that this worked out a thousand times better than my last pasta experience has me very happy. In fact, I haven't stopped smiling all night. I spent $110 on the machine, and in my mind, this was a wise investment! Stay tuned for more of my humble pasta creations.

Bon appetit!

Happy Birthday sweetie, aka Corkmaster!

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