Getting back into cooking since 2009.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

West End Deli (Cafe - West Perth)

Beautiful West End Deli shot courtesy of Matt from Abstract Gourmet

The small spot on the corner of Carr and Strathcona Streets in West Perth (the Leederville side, not the CBD side) used to be a fairly dull lunch bar, which only opened a few hours a day and specialised in cheap, dreary pies and sandwiches for the office block around the corner. Cafe Saga, as it was known, eventually closed and the spot lay dormant for a few months until a sign proclaiming the arrival of the 'West End Deli' was affixed to the window.

The speculation began to mount: would it truly be a 'deli'? If so, would it be your run-of-the-mill cigarettes and Coffee Chill type establishment? Would it do breakfast? Lunch? Most importantly, would it be any good? This frenzy of speculation was, admittedly, mostly confined to my interior monologue, but it reached fever pitch nevertheless.

Soon, it opened with relatively little fanfare: a promising looking caf
e with a few shelves of nice pantry supplies on sale, a bit of fresh produce and some house-made charcuterie. I was hopeful, but skeptical. Lincolns and Sayers had only recently opened and I thought it would be hoping for too much for another quality food-focused cafe to open within walking distance of home.

The West End Deli turned out to be my favourite cafe of the
m all. It has a small (some say too small) menu that constantly changes to reflect the seasons and, presumably, to keep the chefs and customers interested. The 'deli' aspect of things has been reduced over time, but the cafe just gets better. I love this place.

At the moment the menu is focused on nourishing, wintery dishes like a braised beef cheek with creamy semolina that is beautifully gelatinous and hearty (pictured below thanks to Matt from Abstract Gourmet and his superior photography skills).

Another great photo courtesy of Matt from Abstract Gourmet

The current menu also features a shellfish bisque that is crammed with mussels, creme fraiche, tobbiko (a small, bright orange flying fish roe) and chives, served with a generous portion of house-made bread.

Beautiful photo of West End Deli's shellfish bisque by Matt from Abstract Gourmet

The bisque is incredible: rich, deep, complex flavours with plenty of mussels. The tobbiko pops in your mouth and provides a nice saltiness. I'd been daydreaming about this dish since my first serving a few weeks ago, and tried it again yesterday. It was just as I remembered, and perfect for the rainy weather Perth has been enjoying for the last few weeks. Best of all, it's only $13!

Some other items are not so cheap, and a few friends find the breakfast selection in particular to be a bit thin. I can see their point, the menu could perhaps do with one or two additional breakfast dishes. Still, there's always something on the menu that I want to eat.

West End makes all their own bread, pastries and sausages. Their baguettes ($4.5) are worth going out of your way for, and they supply some other local businesses (like Distracted on Oxford St, and Cantina 663 in Mount Lawley). There are also apparently plans to start opening for dinner in a few months time, which makes me ridiculously excited.

The coffee is very good and, most important of all, it's consistently good. They also make their own citrus-infused chocolate for the hot chocolates.

As you might have gathered, I am a bit of a fan.

(Thanks again to Matt from Abstract Gourmet for the photos. He has more at his flickr. He saw this post with a single crappy iPhone picture I'd taken, and generously offered his West End photos for use here).

West End Deli on Urbanspoon

West End Deli
95 Carr St
West Perth WA 6005
9328 3605

Monday, July 13, 2009

Home-made tortillas

I haven't eaten any Mexican food that I've been particularly happy with in Perth.

I've found That Little Mexican Place to be bland, with none of the bold flavours you expect of Mexican food. We went there with a few friends on their opening weekend a few years ago (2006?) full of anticipation, after being tantalised for months by the promise of Mexican food in North Perth. The food wasn't awful, but it was a bit of a disappointment. The tortillas appeared to be microwaved, and they were certainly dry. The rice was mushy, the steak lacked flavour. The tamales were OK, but very expensive for what they are. The whole thing was kind of amateurish, and a poor representation of Mexican food. Still, I was determined to give the place the benefit of the doubt, so I retained an open mind.

We've been back a couple of times since, once for breakfast and once again for dinner. Neither visit has advanced my opinion of the place; it's not horrible food, and it's better than you'll get from the old generation of Tex-Mex places still lingering around Perth (Acapulco Annies, etc), but it's still a bit disappointing.
That Little Mexican Place on Urbanspoon

The Flying Taco is much better, with great tasting burritos, quesadillas and tacos, but I find the portions a bit small for the price.

Anyway, if you're not satisfied with what's available in restaurants, make your own! That seems to be Matt from Abstract Gourmet's ethos, and it's one I'm happy to subscribe to.

Soda posted previously about the big box of Mexican food supplies I bought her for her birthday. The first item we made using her swag was corn tortillas. You might think that tortillas are the sort of thing that's not worth making yourself. You'd be wrong.

Corn tortillas

-2 Cups of instant Masa flour
-1/4 teaspoon of salt
-1 1/4 cups of water

Here's how you do it:

You'll need some maize flour. You can get various kinds, but I used MASECA instant corn masa flour for these tortillas. It's sort of like a super fine polenta, but I wouldn't substitute it for anything else. It has a particular texture that is important for the tortilla dough.
Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Mix until you've formed a ball of dough. It should be smooth and pliable.

Cut or rip the dough into 16 equal portions, then roll each portion around so that you have 16 little balls of dough. You might need to keep your hands slightly damp to do this.

We used a tortilla press (part of Soda's birthday box of Mexican stuff), but you could probably use a rolling pin. It would be a bit more hassle though, so try and get hold of a tortilla press.

Cover each side of the tortilla press with glad wrap, set a ball of dough on the bottom of the tortilla press...

...and clamp down on the tortilla.

Now peel your tortilla off from the plastic wrap, being careful not to rip it.

Then just place the tortilla into a hot, dry pan for about 45 seconds on each side. They'll seem quite brittle when they come off the heat, but they become more supple as they cool a bit (also if you make a stack of them as you're cooking them, they kind of steam each other a bit, which loosens them up).

Serve with some kind of Mexican awesomeness, like the carnitas (left) and chorizo (right) tacos.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Mexifeast: The Condiments

Sunday was mexifeast/mini-tacos for my birthday! Matt took care of the meats and tortillas and I made a bunch of condiments:

From left: Rancheros, Tomatillo Salsa, Guacamole, Molé
Note to self: Sauces do NOT photograph well. Especially Molé :(

1. Guacamole: I don't have a specific recipe for guacamole. My rule is to pretty much drown that tasteless avocado nonsense in as much lime juice and coriander (finely chopped stem, leaf, whatever you can use) and salt until it does not taste like gelatin. The avocado is really just a vehicle for the lime and coriander I guess. Yeah I really do not like avocado. I also added some very finely chopped up lime zest because the limes were depressingly not juicy, some spring onion and a finely sliced up deseeded chilli.

2. Rancheros Salsa: Is this even a real thing? Possibly not. Just the sauce we usually make to have with Huevos Rancheros. A pretty basic cooked up tomato salsa, the recipe is from Delicious magazine (April 2008) so probably not super authentic, but spicy enough and one of my favourite things to have leftovers of in the fridge for an easy and awesome breakfast with an egg on a tortilla. Huevos Rancheros!

3. Fresh Salsa: Real simple fresh salsa, made of diced up tomatoes, red capsicum, a deseeded chilli, coriander, red onion. Dressed with some lime juice and salt.

4. Molé! This is where it gets exciting and the first attempt recipes begin. This worked well! The recipe that is linked above seems to forget to mention when or how the chocolate should be added, so I just melted it and added it at the end when combining the chilli paste and other pureed ingredients. It wasn't at all spicy, I'm not sure if it should've been or not - pressing the soaked chillies through a fine mesh meant there wasn't much puree in the end so that could explain it. But it still was very tasty and worked well with the chicken tacos which is what it is meant to do!

5. Tomatillo salsa. Ohhhh Homesick Texan, I do love you. So many times in thinking about this night and through the full day of cooking, I checked HST for a recipe before anywhere else. In the end this was the only one I really used, but a lot of other posts were taken into consideration, such as for the making of tortillas and general menu ideas. I nearly tried her Texas Sheet Cake as well but thankfully was too tired to bake a cake. Really there was way too much regular food to even consider dessert in the end anyway. I forgot to fry up the salsa once blended but it still worked fine. Also due to the lack of fresh tomatillos in this town, I used tinned ones (from my birthday super pack of mexi-goods!). Who knows what fresh tomatillos would've made this salsa like, but it was really nice. It had a nice freshness and balanced well with the Carnitas especially.

Next stop: Tortillas.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Mother lode

Here is a hint of what the next few posts will probably be involving: a pretty awesome birthday package of mexican food goods...
I especially like how nearly every package features a different (and often saucy) mexican lady:
Is she naked in a huge pile of chillies? I think so! Yaaaaaaaay! Stay tuned for much any-mex adventures!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ridiculous cooking gadget

The most awesomely ridiculous cooking gadget I've come across this week is....

The Smoking Gun!

It's used to blast flavoured smoke at food after it's cooked (or not cooked, in the case of carpaccio or sashimi or whatever). Richard Blais of Top Chef fame apparently likes to create 'chicken smoke' using dehydrated chicken skin, and blast that onto meat cooked sous vide.

I love reading about this preposterous chef gadgets, but I think it's a bit above my level to be dabbling in this stuff. Although the anti-griddle is tempting...