Archive for September, 2012

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The Coffee Cocktail: Murder on the Dancefloor

September 22, 2012

I am not a fan of flavoured coffees. Vanilla and caramel belong in ice cream sundaes in my opinion. If coffee must be tampered with, then let it be adulterated with liqueur.

My parents and their Italian friends loved a drop of grappa (grape brandy) in their short blacks. As a child, I couldn’t see the attraction of this “caffe corretto” except it was probably very warming in winter. Of course it was, it’s 40-60% alcohol!

Years later, embracing 1980s’ long working lunches, my arts festival colleagues and I developed a Sambuca habit with our post-meal short blacks. Sometimes drunk separately with the traditional three coffee beans* floating in the shot glass; sometimes set on fire to create a Flaming Sambuca … but mostly poured into the coffee to create a kick-ass finish to the meal. Happy days.

Move to September 2012, and the Italian Film Festival organisers have tampered nicely with coffee, inventing the Mocha Martini. Two nights ago I made the mistake of sampling one or two of these at the festival opening night party at Palace Cinemas in Leichhardt.

I have no complaints with the taste of the cocktail – an elegant mix of Lavazza espresso, Galliano Ristretto, vodka and Bols White Cacao. The mistake was sampling the cocktail after Prosecco sparkling wine and shiraz, the caffeine unleashing my inner dancefloor maniac.

A salsa tragic in the early noughties but now suffering from chronic dancefloor avoidance syndrome, I resurrected every Latin American move I’d ever learnt. My arms now ache from something called the Sombrero move and my arthritis got a wakeup call during the three piece combo’s version of Madonna’s Holiday.

The Mocha Martini hangover was not pretty but neither was my mother’s favourite headache remedy: half a cup of strong coffee with the juice of half a lemon. Imagine swallowing that and surviving. Perhaps I should have taken the Italian equivalent of the hair of the dog: an espresso with grappa alongside my breakfast croissant.

Shot glass with grappa* Supposedly, the garnish of the three coffee beans in the Sambuca represents health, happiness and prosperity. The beans floating in the glass are thought to resemble flies and chewed after drinking to enhance the flavour of the anise-based liqueur.

The Lavazza Italian Film Festival continues at Palace Cinemas throughout Australia until 28 October.

Photo top left courtesy Palace Cinemas

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Mandarin Cooking Challenge: don’t try this at home

September 10, 2012

It can’t be because I’m missing the themed parties we used to attend. The ones where you had to come dressed as a fruit starting with ‘M’. Whatever the reason, I obviously needed a challenge.

I consider myself quite handy in the kitchen, but this attempt at a grand mandarin themed meal with an Italian twist delivered an ‘F’ for fail. I wouldn’t have minded so much had the fruit not been harvested in our garden with my own sweat and tears (see past blogpost). Here’s the results:

ENTREE: COUSCOUS, MANDARIN, FENNEL and TREVISO RADICCHIO SALAD

mandarin salad

Verdict: These ingredients do not want to be on the plate simultaneously. All wonderful by themselves, but ask them to mingle and it’s like the party where no-one has a good time.

MAIN: ANATRA AL MANDARINO  – my mandarin version of Duck a l’Orange (that some Italians claim was brought to France from Florence by Catherine de Medici in the 16th century).

Verdict: Fairly successful, if a little sweet for my taste. However, substituting the only liqueur I had in the cupboard – Drambuie – for Grand Marnier worked a treat, but I’m really here to rant aren’t I…

DESSERT: MANDARIN AND COCONUT JELLY

Blood orange and mandarin dessert

Verdict:  Gelatin recipes can be quite tricky, so follow them accurately. First attempt – a runny mess – couldn’t be rescued. Second attempt (while the Calypso dancers waited patiently) produced a stiffer wobble, but the mandarin marmalade topping (and blood orange sauce) I added quickly dissolved the two layers of jelly.

CAKE: MANDARIN and ALMOND TORTE with CHOCOLATE GANACHE (a variation of Claudia Roden’s flourless Orange and Almond Cake using mandarin marmalade)

Using mandarins in cakes

Verdict: BELIEVE what you read. If you don’t follow the recipe and substitute enough marmalade for two oranges you get dry cake. And don’t drop the cake icing-side down after adding the almonds. Any attempt at re-arranging will resemble Bugs Bunny’s two front teeth poking out under the ganache.

I see that Heston Blumenthal took the challenge to put the duck INSIDE l’orange. Quel smartypants.

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts on my posts. The Comments button is only a click away…

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