Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Making Pizza with Grosvenor Hotel

Disclaimer: I was invited by Tink PR and the Grosvenor Hotel to participate in the bloggers pizza competition and try out some of their food. If you're here just for a recipe, skip to the bottom!

Eating pizza? Y'all know already, I love it. Making it though? That I'm not so sure about, especially a gluten free base. You have to wonder how much the technique would differ to regular flour. 

However, I was more than happy to jump at the opportunity to learn how to make pizza and participate in a bloggers pizza competition at the Grosvenor Hotel in St Kilda! 

Blogger pizza competition? How does that work? Well, it's pretty simple. Head chef at Grosvenor Hotel, Emilie, would first take us through how to make pizza, with the help of the other chefs in the kitchen, and then we would each make our own pizza, with whatever toppings we wanted and then vote on each other's pizzas, the top 3 then getting to be on the specials menu and voted on by the public…sounds a bit like a pizza version of My Kitchen Rules!

So who was in the ring for this 'friendly' competition? We had myself (obviously), Thanh, Shellie (the biggest trash talker of them all!), Daisy, Sabrina and Scott, Lianne and Cherrie! We had a great time on twitter trying to psyche each other out and push each other to plan our pizza toppings…taking the competition to a whole other level! When Shellie showed up with a decent sized esky slung over her shoulder, we knew she was prepared!

Before making pizzas though, we naturally had to have some sustenance! This came in the form of lovely thin sliced prosciutto, heavenly chicken liver parfait (apparently based from a Marco Pierre recipe that Emelie's kept in his back pocket since his apprenticing days), and chicken arancini that were crunchy on the outside. Mmhmmm.

We also had this lovely cocktail with passionfruit, lime, basil and gin, the basil took off a sweet edge to the drink, giving it a nice roundness. Perfectly refreshing.

We were then paraded out into the kitchen, where we each had a little setup with all the things we would need to make dough! Stefano, the pizza extraordinaire, with curly hair, bright red glasses and a gorgeously rich Italian accent (was kind of dying to ask him to say 'It's a-me, Mario!'), was all enthusiasm, buzzing from one person to the next and assisting in kneading and giving tips out. The passion that Italians have for food just oozed out of every pore of his body!

The basic process is pretty straight forward, if making a base with a 00 flour:

- Mix fresh yeast in warm water and allow to sit for a few minutes
- Mix with flour and salt, add oil once coming together
- Knead dough until smooth and elastic then leave to prove, somewhere warm and covered for 3 hours. 

It all looks pretty simple…until you actually get to the kneading! Everyone was at it for a good 15 minutes at least, really building up a good sweat and working out those biceps! Well that is, everyone in the group…except me. 

Using gluten free flour for a pizza base has a slightly different procedure, since it is lacking that binding agent, gluten, to give it strength. So a couple of changes have to be made to the ingredients and the procedure. Instead of fresh yeast, dry yeast is used, sugar is added into the flour and salt mix and instead of doing a lot of kneading, you have to gently combine and fold the dough together with your hands. It's a fine balance to get the right consistency of water and flour in the dough. My dough was quite sticky for a while, but had to be wary of adding too much flour, as the chef's all kept telling me how quickly it could go dry!

With gluten free bases as well, you do not need to prove the dough, and should actually divide the dough out and roll it into bases straight away. Whilst it is possible to stretch the dough out the traditional way, because gluten free dough is so fragile in comparison, it's best just to roll it out with a rolling pin between some baking paper. I'll include a neater version of the recipe at the end of this post!

One of the chefs did show me how to stretch it out by hand, but he was the only one in the restaurant could do it. It was awfully impressive, as within 2 minutes, he had stretched it from a ball into a full size pizza base! Since gluten free doughs are so fragile in comparison, whilst they combine the regular dough in a mixer, every gluten free base at Grosvenor Hotel, has to be stretched or rolled out by hand. 

After the other bloggers finally finished kneading their dough and left them to prove, we went into the kitchen in batches of three, to prepare our pizzas on pre-made bases. It was about to get hot!

Not just because we were about to make our pizzas and really get the competition started, but because of that searing hot wood fire oven as well!

Thanh, Shellie and I were all up first, and each of us had brought some 'secret weapons' to put on our pizzas! Emelie was most helpful in suggesting the order of which to put our ingredients on, some ingredients needed to obviously be cooked for longer in the oven, but some were best put on the end, like rocket, greens and some sauces!

Thanh rocked it out with a his 'Kaarage Kid' pizza with Kaarage chicken with roast capsicums and rocket and some delicious secret sauce with a nice sesame hit. 

Shellie's 'Banhmigeddon' totally was punching a pack of flavour, obviously inspired by the humble banh mi, with delicious marinated chicken, pickled carrots, Kewpie mayo, siracha sauce and chillis. It was spicy, but so fresh and bright as well. Loved how colourful it looked as well!

I did mine on a gluten free base, and used some bakkwa that my mum had prepared, which is essentially a salty and sweet dried pork treat, kinda like jerky, but tastier and not as chewy. My dad was the one who gave me the idea! I kept it simple, and just added some zucchini and chilli flakes with the bakkwa on top of a tomato and mozzarella base. The pizza had to be half cooked, before taking it out to put the bakkwa on, so that the already cooked pork didn't dry out! 

I have to say, I was incredibly impressed with the gluten free base, fluffy with a nice crusty bottom, I don't think anyone noticed it was gluten free until I made mention of how impressed with the base I was! 

Oh and my pizza was called 'Bakkwamon'. Obviously!

Whilst Sabrina and Scott were making their pizza's, we were treated to some of the chef's hand cut chips. Oh my goodness. Thick, golden chunks of crispy potato goodness. These were, so delicious and even stayed crispy even after they had cooled. In love!

Sabrina's 'Baa Baa's Delight', was a very elegant blend of lamb, fennel seeds, beetroot, yoghurt and radish. It was a very mature pizza, and one that I enjoyed a lot for the complex flavour combination. 

Scott's 'Fiddle to the Fennel' was impressive in it's elegant simplicity, with fennel and caramelised onion on a white base. I've seen and had caramelised onion and potato pizzas, but I loved the switch with fennel, which made it a bit lighter and more interesting in flavour. Would love to see fennel on more pizzas now!

As our bellies starting to feel kinda heavy, Daisy, Lianne and Cherrie all trooped into the kitchen, to do our last round of pizzas…the dessert pizzas no less!

Aww shit…check out that dulce de leche….

Lianne's 'Banana Nut Cracker' was a well balanced blend of butterscotch sauce, sliced bananas, flaked almonds, cinnamon sugar and walnuts. Nothing was overwhelming each other and I loved the wholeness and the sweetness of the sliced bananas. 

Daisy's 'Sweet Attack' was exactly as the name describes. Dulce de leche base, nutella, flaked almonds, almond crumble and honeycomb, it was a delectable sugarbomb in the mouth! There were a lot of textures on this pizza, the honeycomb being so sticky and attaching itself to everyone's molar's! I did make the comment that I think it would have been even better with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream on it….always next time…

And to round us off, Cherrie's 'Bananas about dulce de leche…and bacon', with everything the name insinuates! It really should have been called 'The Elvis' in my opinion. I absolutely loved the saltiness of the bacon with the sweet bananas. So delicious!

We all proceeded to wander around the restaurant after, as we were all so full and our scores were being deliberated. We were all quite surprised how much time had to be spend tallying up the scores...

In the end, I wasn't in the top 3, but Shellie's 'Banhmigeddon', Daisy's 'Sweet Attack' and Lianne's 'Banana Nut Cracker' were, so those three pizzas will now be on the Hotel Grosvenor's special menu for the next week and a half, where you can try before you vote on your favourite!

How do you vote? Simply visit Grosvenor Hotel's Facebook page, go to the 'Pizza Competition Top 3' album and like your favourite pizza! Sure you could vote them without trying them, but where's the fun in that? You can also cast a vote, simply by ordering one of the three pizzas in Grosvenor Hotel!

The winning pizza will then stay on the menu for an extra month, so that everyone can continue to enjoy it! I have to say although I do like sweets, I was pretty enamoured by Shellie's Banh Mi pizza…

If you would like to try making your own pizza, Grosvenor Hotel also holds pizza making classes every third Saturday of the month for $45. It's honestly great fun, us bloggers were smiling and laughing the whole time and it's something I would happily bring my friends to do another day!

Or if you'd like to try it yourself at home, here's the recipe for a gluten free base, which will definitely need to be tinkered with as you work on it, depending on feel. I hope between 8 blogger pizzas, we've given you some ideas for your own home creations...although it's always better with a wood fire oven...just saying... ;)

Gluten Free Pizza Base (from Grosvenor Hotel)

1kg gluten free flour
500ml warm water
14gm dried yeast
20gm sugar
20gm fine salt
40ml extra virgin olive oil

1. Warm water slightly and add the yeast, mix until dissolved and allow to sit for a few minutes

2. In a large bowl mix the flour and salt, then add the water (with the dissolved yeast) and mix together

3. Once the dough is coming together, add the oil and fold it in. 

4. Put the dough onto a slightly floured work bench and continue to knead the dough until smooth and elastic

5. Divide the dough into five 250g balls, put between two sheets of baking paper and with a rolling pin, roll out into a pizza base shape. You can use a tin to help you

6. You can then half bake the base to keep in the fridge, or cook in the oven at 190 degrees for 10 minutes with all your toppings!

Grosvenor Hotel
10 Brighton Road
St Kilda East, 3182

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Demitri's Feast

I am wishing it wasn't 30 degrees. That it would be instead, slightly overcast, with a brisk breeze blowing through. The perfect weather for bundling into warm leather jackets, holding hands and craving rice pudding. 

But not just any rice pudding, I am wishing for the weather for the rizogalo from Demitri's Feast. 

I am dreaming of stepping into a warm, bustling little cafe. 

Of fire engine red tables. 

Smiles and gleaming white waiter's teeth. 

There is just an incredibly welcoming vibe to Demitri's Feast, my eyes were busy for ages, hopping around a wall turned into a scrapbook of memories and Greek pride. 

I giggled at the photo of the rather young looking George Calombaris. How much more he's done since that picture I'm sure!

I loved the bright red teapot, matching the fire engine red table, which brought a pop of colour to the overcast day outside. I also adore the deep, rich and heavily spiced chai, which you must slowly sip on and savour. 

Ah, yes, that rizogalo. A greek rice pudding topped with wild spiced figs. I personally can't imagine having it in hot weather. A hearty bowl, heaving of sweet, honeyed rice, with spicy yet sweet figs. It was rich, richer than breakfast should be, but there were no complaints here, this is comfort food. Although I did struggle to finish it due to how rich and filling it was!

Brad ordered, on my behalf, the baked eggs with sweet and sour peppers with black pudding. Because he knows that anything with black pudding in the menu is singing out to me. As this did. Piping hot and full of flavour. Smile inducing. 

Brad told me this particular morning, after we had finished eating, that he was glad I was going to the States with him. 

I had been honestly fretting, up to this point, that my bubble of excitement of going to the States was overwhelming him, that constantly sending links of hotels and restaurants and things to do would be invading into his work time and creating more anxiety than enthusiasm, but a quiet smile and a steady tone, cleared all that up in an instant.

Which is why these sort of mornings are so precious to me. 

141 Swan Street
Richmond 3121

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Secret Kitchen

Grandmothers are funny. My grandmother has dementia and is currently living in aged care, it was a bit challenging before she was there, as she was living with us, but now whenever I do see her, I am able to enjoy her company a lot more.

Take Chinese New Year this year for example. She was guided over to Brad by my aunt, to give him a red packet with money in it, as the tradition goes. First thing she asks him is where his wife is! When he answers that he doesn't have one yet, she proceeds to tell him she is waiting for him to get married and that she will hit him next year if he's not! 

And then proceeds to talk to him in mandarin and is bewildered when he doesn't know any of the Chinese dialects at all. 

Ahhh. I laughed so hard. 

Because of her condition, we don't have many meals out as a family and tend to have her over more often for dinner parties at home, which suit my parents as they love entertaining.

One of meals we did have out as a family though, was at Secret Kitchen in Doncaster Westfield, for my aunt's birthday. 

It's located where Kam Fook used to be, and as such still retains the beautiful floor to ceiling windows that stretch the length of one side of the room. In the evening in summer it is just gorgeous to be watching the sunset. 

The menus here were absolute behemoths! But they were gorgeous to look at and is how people should be doing their menus if they want to have pictures in them. 

Whilst we weren't there for yum cha (since it was dinner time), we still decided to try the assorted dumplings, which are made in the kitchen and not outsourced. We found that they were actually pretty good, the skins were fairly thin and the fillings quite tasty. Would like to come back and try the yum cha sometime now!

Smoked fish, one of my mum's favourites is always a nice way to start a meal, it's a cold dish and is so soft and smooth, served with a sticky sauce.

Secret Kitchen steamed free range chicken. Yum. Yum, yum yum! Juicy and tender, this is one of their specialities which the whole family totally lapped up. 

My parents surprised me by deciding to try something different and ordered the mixed fungus and spinach with pumpkin sauce. Um, last I checked this isn't traditionally Chinese I think! My dad actually quite liked it, but I found it didn't quite work for me. I found the pumpkin sauce a little too sweet and a little off putting and the spinach was just a bit too sad and soggy underneath. 

I on the other hand, decided we should try the deep fried king prawns with spicy salt and duck yolk. Who hit a home run? Yeah, that's right, I did. Huge prawns that were incredibly luscious and juicy, the duck yolk giving it a crunchy exterior and a subtle but sexy flavour. 

Assorted fungus with tofu in bouillon, the tofu is supposedly made in house and it certainly shows! The tofu is just a wobbly, silky smooth experience, melting away in your mouth!

One of the most popular dishes of the night, steamed eggplant in silver cod sauce. It was just so incredibly rustic, full of flavour without being overly salty and hardly oily. My dad kept commenting on how this really tasted like it had just come out of someone's home kitchen. Just the way he likes it. 

I didn't take a picture of it, but my aunt ordered the Szechuan spicy beef. Now my family are born and bred Malaysians, my parents in particular can handle a fair bit of spiciness, but the general consensus was that dish was just too spicy! I know Szechuan is supposed to be spicy, but I think the issue my mum pointed out was that this was numbing, as expected, but it was just too one dimensional, and that there was not much other flavour experienced. 

I'm not sure, we debated it, but none of us really liked it too much. Would be interested to see what others think of it though!

Steam egg with dry shrimp and bamboo bird's nest, I love steamed egg dishes. They're just so comforting y'know? Especially when they come out so smooth, almost like a custard, perfect with a bowl of fluffy white rice. 

Hmm, that's quite a bit of food isn't it? 

Well time, for dessert then!

My brother ordered deep fried ice-cream, which didn't come out quite as expected! Rather than the typical ball of fried ice-cream, this was instead a flat rectangle, but I absolutely loved the crisp and crunchy exterior. Just fabulous. This shape gives it a nice 'fried-exterior-to-ice-cream' ratio as well, although I could have done with a little more volume in general...

And the last but not least…the durian puffs! Man, I could smell it, even before they were cracked open, as they hit the table. I didn't have any, as I'm not a durian fan (fail Malaysian), but reports tell me that they were absolutely delicious, with a short and light crust, and a intense strong flavour, the way the durian lovers like it and the durian haters (like me) hate it!

A couple of other things we liked about Secret Kitchen was the good selection of wine on the menu, we had a lovely gewurztraminer from Alsace for just $39, and the friendly and extremely efficient service. I do not think we were needing at all that night! We instead, laughed, enjoyed all the tasty and homely food, and made merry all evening. What more could you want out of a family meal?

Westfield Doncaster
Shop L2-2003 619, Doncaster Rd 
DoncasterVIC 3108

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