Friday, May 8, 2009

Coffee Encounters

Melbourne have a very strong coffee and cafe culture. You can find cafes in every little corner or lane way in Melbourne. Melburnians love their coffee and they have very discerning taste when it comes to coffee. Therefore, you will find many cafes here serving good coffee.

The coffee culture here is very much influenced by the large number of European migrants arriving after the World War II. And with subsequent migration from the other Continents, some interesting coffee culture are seeping in.

Here are some of my coffee experiences or 'encounters':
Froth Art - The art of drinking coffee has now advanced into 'fine arts'. I was quite delighted when served a cup of coffee with the beautifully crafted image of a woman's face. This was in a cafe at Swan Street.

Ethiopian Coffee - It is a great treat to have someone prepares fresh coffee while you finish your meal at Harambe Restaurant, Footscray. When I mean fresh, this is truly fresh, it starts off with roasting of the green coffee beans, grinding and brewing the coffee. The coffee is then served in a clay jug. It is believe that the Ethiopians were probably the first to discover coffee. In the Ninth Century, the coffee were only found in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian highlanders are the first to cultivate the native coffee beans. This explains why the coffee is so deeply rooted in their history and culture. I cannot help but noticed that Ethiopian have their coffee in Chinese teacups. Chinese influence in East Africa dates back to as far back as in the 14th Century. The East African have early contact with the Chinese traders, among the items that were traded are porcelain, silk, elephant tusk etc., Frankincense was much sought after.
Home Brew - At home, I brew my coffee using a Bialetti moka pot. The one I have is quite fancy with two spouts and a convenient platform to hold and heat up two espresso cups. This is the next best thing to an espresso machine. I enjoy the time spent grinding and waiting for the coffee to spew out into the cup. It is so typical of my lazy weekend; chilling out - no rush, just relax, and the aroma of the coffee that fills the air.
Indulgence - When you like your coffee so much, you can have a big bowl of it at Laurent Patisserie, in Chadstone Shopping Mall.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pesto and Pasta

This is a classic and basic Italian cooking. The main component is the pesto sauce. The pesto sauce is very versatile. You can combine the sauce with any pasta or you can even served it with risotto. I would sometime spread the Pesto on the toasted bread.

The pesto is very easy to prepare, all you need are good and fresh ingredients. Have it all mixed or churned in the food processor.


100 grams Pine Nuts

3 handfuls of Fresh basil leaves

Extra virgin olive oil

100 grams Parmesan Cheese

Half a clove of Garlic

Sea Salt and ground black pepper

Method - Lightly toast the pine nuts in a pan. Grind the Pine Nuts in the food processor, or if you prefer you can pound them in a mortar. Take the grounded pine nuts and reserve it in a bowl. Next, grind the basil leaves with the garlic. Mix the pine nuts and basil together. Pour some olive oil and half of the parmesan cheese into the mixture. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Gradually add the olive oil until you get a smooth paste.

Cooking pasta seems like a simple job, but if you want to cook perfect pasta, there are few things to take note. Pasta should be cooked ‘al dente’, an Italian term used to describe the pasta that is cooked through but maintain it’s firmness.

I usually check the cooking time on the packaging and set the timer, when the cooking time is almost up, I would take a few strands to check (by eating them) if it is ready. The cooked pasta should be felt firm when bitten, as opposed to starchy and soft if it is overcooked. The time between under-cooking and over-cooking is so brief that you have to monitor the pasta very closely in the last few minutes of cooking time. "You can cook the best tasting sauce, but if you messed up the pasta, the end result is not good", this has always been my mantra when cooking pasta.

When selecting your pasta, take a closer look at the texture of the pasta. The texture will give you an idea of the quality of the pasta. Avoid those that are smooth and almost glazed. These pasta when cooked are extremely slippery and the sauce will not stick and lacks the texture. Take a closer look at photo above (by clicking on it) to appreciate the texture.

In pasta manufacturing, one of the process is to extrude the dough through a die. The quicker they are extruded, the more pasta can be made in a shorter time (make more money). However, this compromise on the quality of the pasta. There are huge choice of pasta from Italy in Melbourne, I usually stock them up in my larder whenever I come across the good quality ones in the supermarket or 'deli' grocer.