Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Delicious Lemon and Vanilla Jam

I absolutely loved the look of Chit Chat Chomps Lemon and Vanilla Jam from week 1 of the cooking challenge, so gave it a go myself on the weekend. Its deliciously tart, with additional depth of flavour through the vanilla. An absolute hit- and perfect as a small Christmas gift for friends and family!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gateway to India

Week 2
Theme: Indian
Cookbooks Used: Madhur Jaffry Indian Cookery &
Charmaine Solomon Complete Vegetarian

I love cooking and eating Indian food, so this week was an absolute pleasure. The only thing I don’t like about Indian food is that it is not always particularly photogenic- I find it so hard to photograph and make it look appetizing…so looking forward to seeing everyone else’s pics.
Anyway, again I made 3 dishes from the theme.
Pork Vindaloo - Goan Style Hot and Sour Pork (Madhur Jaffrey)
Sweet Corn and Potatoes with Mustard Seeds and Mint (Madhur Jaffrey)
Eggplant Pickle (Charmaine Solomon )

Sweet Corn and Potatoes with Mustard Seeds and Mint

Of the 3 recipes, this is my favourite. Made it on a Friday night after a couple of drinks at work- it was quick, easy and satisfyingly carb rich with delicious fresh flavours. And it is pretty healthy too. If you’re on a diet, apparently you can substitute water for the coconut milk.

Serves 2 as a main meal
3 tbsp vegetable oil
½ tsp black mustard seeds
¼ tsp cumin seeds
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
150g potatoes, peeled, diced and boiled
200g ripe tomatoes, cut into fine dice
4 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
3 tbs mint , finely chopped
1 fresh hot green chilli, finely chopped (I left the seeds in, but if you want it milder, take them out)
Fresh corn kernels measured to the 450 ml level in a measuring jug (you could use frozen to be even quicker)
85ml coconut milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp ground cumin seeds

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When hot, put in mustard seeds and cumin seeds, as soon as they start to pop, add garlic and potatoes. Stir and fry until potatoes are lightly browned.
Add the tomoatoes, fresh coriander and mint and green chilli. Stir and fry for another couple of minutes.

Put in the sweet corn and stir. Add the coconut milk, salt, cayenne and lemon juice. Stir and bring to a simmer.
Cover and turn heat to low and cook for 3-4 minutes- or until the corn is cooked.
Uncover, add some black pepper and the ground cumin.
Stir through, check for seasoning and serve.

Pork Vindaloo - Goan Style Hot and Sour Pork

Serves 6

2 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 dried hot red chillies
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp cardamom seeds
Cinnamon stick
1 ½ tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
5 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp salt
1 tsp brown sugar
10 tbsp vegetable oil
200g peeled and sliced onions
900g boneless pork, from the shoulder, cubed into 2.5cm cubes
2.5 cm piece of ginger, roughly chopped
Whole head of garlic with the cloves separated and peeled
1 tbsp ground coriander
½ tsp turmeric

Grind the cumin seeds, red chillies, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, black mustard and fenugreek seeds in a coffee grinder- put in a bowl. Add the vinegar, salt and sugar. Mix well and set aside.
Heat the oil in a wide, heavy pan and put on medium heat. Fry the onions till brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and put them into the container of an electric blender with 2 – 3 tbs water. Puree. Add the pureed onion to the ground spices (This is the vindaloo paste- it can be frozen at this point if you want to make it ahead of time).
Use a blender to puree the ginger and garlic- again adding a couple of tbs of water.
Heat the pan again to medium heat and brown the pork in batches. Remove all the pork. Add the ginger-garlic paste to the pan, fry off the paste for a minute or two, then add the coriander and turmeric. Stir.
Add the meat with any juice that has accumulated and the vindaloo paste as well as 250ml water.
Bring to the boil and the lower heat to gently simmer for an hour- stir occasionally to prevent sticking.

Serve with rice and raita (I used just plain greek yoghurt- as this dish is pretty hot, depending on the chillies you are using).

Eggplant Pickle

I made this to give friends and family, this made 2 nice medium size jars, with half a one left over that I’ll use myself. This would be delicious served with curries, but would also be nice to spice up a ham or cheese sandwich.
1 kg eggplants
12 dried red chillies
4 tsp chopped garlic
3 tsp chopped ginger
2 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 ½ tsp ground turmeric
1 ½ cups oil
3 tsp salt
½ cup brown sugar
¾ cup vinegar
2 tsp. garam masala

Wash eggplants and slice crossways. If eggplants are very large, you can also cube them.
Soak chillies in hot water for 5 minutes.
In a blender, combine chillies, garlic, ginger, mustard seeds and some of the chilli water and puree. Combine with the turmeric.

Heat the oil and fry the blended mixture for a few minutes, then add the eggplant. Cover and cook on low heat till the eggplant is soft, stirring now and then.
Add salt, vinegar, sugar, and simmer till thick, stirring to prevent burning. Stir in garam masala, remove from heat and bottle.

If you like these, here are another couple of recipes you might like:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Finally...Vue de Monde

Spoiler alert: this entry does not have a happy ending : (

Finally got my wish to eat at Vue de Monde- its been on the list for a while...and got to eat at the Chef's table- a wonderful vantage point to sit and watch the theater of the kitchen.

With one of our hosts running late, we were quite spoiled, with a number of Amuse Bouche- including the perfect 62 degree egg- it really was perfect. I adore tarragon and the little bit of tarragon cream was a delight and they served up the crispiest breadcrumbs (yes everyone has been laughing at me for raving about bread crumbs- it has that Emperor's New Clothes feel to it somehow).

The deconstructed sorbet was lovely food theatre and has had us talking for days about how passe or not this style of interactive food is...

(Rainbow trout, smoked salmon mousse). The trout was perfectly cooked, the salmon mousse perfectly cooked- the topping of lemon, baby basil and caviar creating variety and delight.

But sadly, this is where the story ends. Due to a commitment at 3 and the lateness of one of our group, I had to leave after entree, so no main or desert...wwaaaaghhhhhhh!

I must go again- the food really was divine, and for anyone who is interested, I think the weekday lunch special is absolutely worth the money (lunch time only, Tuesday to Friday with a selection of signature dishes to choose from. Two courses for $55 or three courses for $70, includes a matching glass of wine and side dishes for the table).

BTW For anyone doing the cooking challenge, its a week late, but these chocolate orange custards would have been perfect for citrus week!

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Week 1
Theme: Citrus
Cookbook Used: Marie Clair Flavours

Author: Donna Hay

Well, the citrus cooking challenge turned into an absolute citrus-fest. I turned to one of my favourite cookbooks, Marie Claire Flavours. It seemed the obvious choice as it has a chapter titled lemon + lime. Problem was deciding on one recipe. I solved that problem by making three.

Roast lamb with preserved lemon (served with Sicilian Broad Beans)
Fresh salmon and lime cakes (served with fresh beans and lemony onions)
Spaghetti with lime and rocket

All three were delicious, and as with most of the Marie Claire Flavours recipes, all three are easy and quick to prepare.

My favourite were the salmon cakes, so let me start there. They combine the lovely flavour of kaffir lime leaves in the cakes themselves and tart and tangy lime juice in the dipping sauce.
Fresh salmon and lime cakes
Serves 4 (or in our case 2 for dinner with enough cakes left over to combine with a quick salad for lunch the next day)
500g salmon fillet, skin removed
1 egg white
3 tablespoons rice flour
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
1 tablespoon grated ginger
(recipe calls for 1 tsp wasabi paste- I left this out as Rusty and I both hate wasabi)
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Oil to shallow fry

Lime dipping sauce
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar

Remove any bones from the salmon and chop into 5mm dice. Combine with the egg white, rice flour, lime leaves, ginger, (wasabi), and parsley
Heat oil over medium heat. Place 2 tbsp of the mixture into the hot oil, flatten out and cook till golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper and keep warm while you cook the rest.
For the dipping sauce, combine the ingredients and stir till the sugar is dissolved.
I served this with fresh beans and lemony onions. Soaking red onions in lemon juice overnight changes their flavour and texture- making them mild and delicious. So combine 1 sliced red onion with lemon juice, pop in the fridge over night and use to spice up steamed vegetables or with simple salads. (Courtesy of Taking Tea in the Medina, by Julie le Clerc).

Spaghetti with Lime and Rocket
So simple and quick, this was the perfect worknight meal. Rusty was pretty skeptical about pasta and rocket (he thought it sounded as exciting as lettuce soup)- but succumbed to the great combination of flavours.
Serves 2
250g spaghetti
1 tbsp olive oil
Lime rind from 1 lime
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp. capers, rinsed
6 slices of prosciutto, chopped
100g rocket, torn
3 tbs lime juice
80 g soft feta marinated in feta (I used Persian Feta from the supermarket)

Cook the spaghetti as per the pack instructions and drain.
While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the oil in a large saucepan. Lightly sauté the lime rind, garlic, chilli and capers- for around 1 minute or until aromatic
Add the prosciutto and cook for another couple of minutes- till the prosciutto is nice and crispy.
Add the spaghetti to the pan and toss to coat and heat through.
To serve, toss through the rocket and lime juice and pile into serving bowls. Top them with feta and some of the marinating oil and cracked pepper.

The lamb doesn’t really count, as I made this on the Sunday night before the challenge started (through winter we have a roast every Sunday night, and though its getting a bit warm, we just can’t break the habit). This was delicious (though I overcooked the lamb a bit!). Lamb was sourced from Vic markets (as was the salmon above) and was tender and tasty!

Roast Lamb with Preserved Lemon
1 leg of lamb – about 1½ kilo (recipe recommends tunnel boned- I didn’t get this, but inserted a slit down the bone with a big sharp knife for the stuffing)
1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon
¼ cup fresh oregano
2 garlic cloves sliced
½ tablespoon cracked pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°.
Trim the lamb of any excess fat
Combine the preserved lemon, oregano, garlic, pepper and oil in a bowl.
Stuff the cavity of the lamb with the filling.
If using a tunneled leg, tie together with kitchen twine and place on a rack in a baking dish.
Bake for 45 minutes for a quite rare roast, or longer until cooked to your liking.

Serve with mashed potatoes and minted peas.
Or with Sicilian broadbeans as I did. At the Vic markets last weekend, I saw broad beans for only $3.99 a kilo so I grabbed a kilo to make this- an old favourite I sourced off the internet ages ago.

Sicilian Broad Beans
1 tbsp oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock
350 g broad beans (about 1 kilo still in the bean)
350 g fresh peas
4 small artichoke hearts, cooked, quartered and marinated (I use the ones from the jar)
4 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to season
Pinch grated nutmeg
10 leaves fresh mint

Sauté onion till transparent
Add all other ingredients except the mint.
Simmer gently for 30 minutes
Stir in the mint and cook for 5 more minutes

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Bake Club - Sticky Orange and Vanilla Upside-down Cake

For some reason this cake makes me think of Vincent Van Gogh. A perfect autumn treat!

4 eggs

1 cup caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup self raising flour

150g unsalted butter, melted

1 cup almond meal

Sticky orange topping

1 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup water

1 vanilla bean, split

2 oranges, very thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 16 degrees

To make the sticky topping, dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan, add the vanilla bean and the oranges and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract for about 10 minutes or until its thick and pale and has tripled in volume. Sift the flour over the egg mixture and fold through. Fold through the butter and the almond meal.

Pour the orange mixture into the cake tin. Then pour the dough on top.

Bake for 40 - 45 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Turn out onto a platter to serve.

(Recipe courtesy of Donna Hay)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hens Love Art

Let's be honest, hens nights are usually fairly embarrassing affairs, there's always the mandatory tiaras, naked man/ men and someone on board with a slight compulsion to public exhibitionism.

This weekend a girlfriend celebrated her hens with all the mandatory bits, but ringfenced in a safe environment - it made for a really interesting (and fun) night- instead of male strippers, we did a life drawing class.

After a lovely dinner at Blue Chillies and a few wines under our belts, 16 of us trooped on down to Hens Love Art on Smith Street for our 9pm class.

The space is amazing- large and spacious. You can self cater, so we took a few bottles along and cupcakes.

Once we were settled in, we were taken into the art space, where 16 easels and a podium awaited. We were joined by our art teacher, a lovely lady who gave us some basic techniques and pointers and then off we went. With cool music pumping and plenty of breaks to have a look at everyone's work, the two hours there was an absolute giggle!

Definitely recommended for something a little more tasteful- and when you finish, you're in the heart of Fitzroy, so there's still plenty of opportunities for further mayhem at your feet!

Hens Love Art
Address: Smith St, Fitzroy, VIC, 3065
Phone number: 0414 339 792

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Social Roasting Company

A cafe with a conscience where the coffee is divine- SRC on Racecourse Road is my new absolute favourite for a quick pick me up on a Saturday morning or a relaxed Sunday breakfast.

With 100% ethically sourced coffee and an employment philosophy that favours the longterm unemployed, this could all be a bit worthy. But its not.
They keep the funky space refreshed with different art and you have a choice between regular tables, a communal table, the bar facing the street for some people watching, or tables outside. The coffee is seriously good. And the cafe style food is fresh and delicious.
We've only breakfasted there- baked eggs were great, wtih nice gooey insides, fruit toast good- lots of newspapers and a superfriendly vibe.
Definitely recommended for a coffee, brunch or breakfast if you're in the Flemington area!

Social Roasting Company
307 Racecourse Road
FlemingtonVictoria 3031
Phone: +61 3 9372 3288
Social Roasting Company on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Putting on a Vietnamese spread

The hardest thing about putting on a Vietnamese spread for some friends last week, was picking what to make- I ended up with 5 dishes- after Rusty insisted I cull a couple- given the tightness of timing on the day, I have to say it was a good call, and I don't think anyone was hungry...

Most are from the Red Lantern cook book, the calamari is an adaptation of something we made at the Red Bridge cooking school in Hoi an and the desert is an old Gourmet Traveller favourite, with Red Lantern ice cream...

So the menu:

Mussels with Lemongrass, chilli and garlic

and Lemongrass Calamari

Braised Duck with ginger and spring onions

and Chargrilled Sirloin on a green pawpaw salad

Banana Split with homemade coconut and banana icecream
And my new favourite apperitif- Cosmopolitan Champagne Cocktail

So it was a pretty hectic day- after getting back from the Footscray markets, I spent most of the morning making the chicken stock, the icecream and getting the beef, duck and calamari into marinades. Had a break in the afternoon and then got on to cleaning the mussels and doing the other prep. I got so confused about when what how, I scribbled down a running sheet - which Rusty found highly amusing- but it got me through...
Now, the recipes:
Cosmopolitan Champagne Cocktail (makes 6)
Boil 250 ml cranberry juice uncovered for 10 minutes. Cool. Combine with 2tbsp of cointreau and 2 tbsp lime juice in a jug.
Take 6 glasses, each with a sugar cube + 1/6 of the cranberry concoction and fill with bubbly.

Lemongrass Calamari
1 kg calamari
4 lemongrass stalks
4 shallots
2 clove garlic
1 chilli
tsp pepper
tsp salt
tsp sugar
2 tsp vegetable oil

Peel lemongrass and cut finely. Chop the shallots and garlc and chilli. Put all ingredients in a mortar and grind to a paste.
Clean calamari and score.
Smear the paste over the calamari and place in a container and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Place on the barbecue and grill till golden brown.

Serve with lime dipping sauce and fish dipping sauce

Lime: tsp salt, tsp pepper, tsp sugar + juice of one lime mixed together

Fish: Fish Dipping sauce.
Combine 3tbsp fish sauce, 3 tbsp rice vinegar and 125 ml water and 2 tbsp sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir well and cook until just below boiling point, then allow to cool. To serve, finely chop 2 cloves of garlic and 1 birds eye chilli and stir through with 2 tbsp lime juice (makes 250 ml.)

Mussels with Lemongrass, chilli and garlic
500g mussels
250 ml chicken stock
2 tbsp oil
2 lemon grass stems, white only finely chopped
½ onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
Birds eye chilli, sliced
Tbsp oyster sauce
Tbsp fish sauce
Tsp corn flour
2 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
Handful fresh coriander
½ lemon

Scrub and debeard mussels, then set aside. In a wok, over high heat, add the chicken stock and mussels, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the mussels open (discard any that don’t open). Strain the mussels, but keep the liquid for later.
Put the wok back on medium heat, add the oil and gently fry the lemon grass, onion, garlic and chilli. Once golden, add the mussels and increase the heat. Toss through the oyster sauce and fish sauce, then add 125 ml of the reserved cooking liquid.

Mix the cornflour with tbsp of water and toss it through the mussels to thicken up the sauce. Season with salt, pepper and sugar and serve, garnished with coriander and lemon.

Chargrilled Beef on pawpaw salad
2 x 250 g sirloin steaks
2 handfuls shredded green pawpaw
Small handful mixed Vietnamese herbs (perilla, Vietnamese mint and basil)
Tbsp fried Asian shallots
Tbsp dried shrimp, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and drained
3 tbsp Fish Dipping Sauce

2 tsp pickled chilli
2 crushed garlic cloves
2cm piece of ginger, minced
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp vegetable oil
Pinch salt

Mix all the marinade ingredients together until the sugar dissolves.
Add the steaks and marinade a minimum of 2 hours in the fridge.
Chargrill the steaks over medium high heat to your preference, then rest the steaks for 5 minutes. Reheat the steaks on the chargrill, then cut into thin slices.
Serve with a salad of green pawpaw, mixed herbs, shallots, shrimp and dressed with dipping sauce.

Braised Duck with Ginger and Spring Onion (Vit Tiem Gung Hanh)
I was a bit sceptical about this recipe- boiled duck?! But the sauce reduces down to a gooey deliciousness that is brilliant served with jasmine rice.
6 duck leg quarters
6 spring onions – white part bashed, green part finely sliced
3 garlic cloves
3 tbsp. minced ginger
125 ml fish sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp caster sugar
Litre of vegetable oil
2 litres of chicken stock

Wash duck leg, pat dry with paper towel. Trim and discard excess fat. Add the white part of the spring onion, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, soy sauce and sugar to a large bowl and mix well to dissolve sugar.
Cut the legs in half through the knee joint and marinate for a minimum of 2 hours.
Remove from the marinade (keep the marinade for later) and dry the duck with a paper towel.
Heat the oil in a wok and deep fry the duck pieces for 3 – 5 minutes or until golden. Remove from oil, place in a single layer in a saucepan. Add the reserved marinade and cover with stock by 2cm.
Bring to the boil, skim off impurities and excess oil, then reduce heat to a slow simmer.
Cook for 1 hour.
Garnish with sliced spring onion greens and serve with jasmine rice.

Chicken Stock
Crush 6 garlic cloves in a mortor. Clean a whole chicken under water- place chicken in saucepan with 6 litres of water and bring to the boil. Skim for 10 minutes to remove impurities, then add garlic + 8 spring onions and a 4cm piece of ginger sliced up. Cook for 2 hours.

Each individual recipe is really easy to make- typical Vietnamese- just simple fresh ingredients- it lets the food speak for itself- so go ahead and try.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Set to impress

As a Sydney expat who has lived in Melbourne for 3 years now, I think I am qualified to say that Sydney people love Melbourne. Most of them, not enough to actually leave the harbour city- but since the day we announced we were going to move, we've been regaled with comments about how fabulous Melbourne is. Especially the food. And the fact that true gems are hidden in Melbourne, not lit up in neon.

So when we have visitors from Sydney, as we did this weekend, I feel a strange responsibility to my adopted hometown to show it in its best light. So choosing a restaurant for a Saturday night "double date" should be hard right- well no, its not- because I've got the Panama Dining Room- and it has never let me down.

So on Saturday night, we set off in a cab bound for Smith Street, with Sydney friends in tow. Stepping out across from the inauspicious entrance and going up the stairs, we all marvel at how Melbourne's delights are hidden in such a curious way.

Every time I step into the dining room - a turn of the century furrier's warehouse, with enourmous semi-circular gabled windows along two walls with a great view- I like to reimagine it as my apartment- an open plan kitchen where the bar is- I'd probably leave the pool table where it is...well anyway, its a fabulous space, and usually full enough to generate a pleasing buzz. The kind of buzz that makes you feel like you're part of the city...

But the best part is the food- and Saturday did not disappoint.

The highlight was definitely Frizz's perfectly cooked pork- that thin line of perfect golden crackling skin, but the rest of us did alright with succulent, moist rabbit loins succulent and chicken pie- all exquisitely cooked and flavoured.

Deserts were great- I shared a lemon custard with citrus salad with Rusty- tart and creamy, the custard was perfect. The Frizz and FC had chocolate mousse- an absolute delight...

Another highlight (sorry, it felt like just one after the other!) was definitely the cheese plate- we decided we would each pick one- and each of us wanted a different cheese, so we just got all 4- served at room temperature they were absolutely divine!

Commencing the evening with brilliantly mixed cocktails (I had a gimlet, the boys had martinis of various complexions) and complemented by an extensive winelist and a sommelier who knows his wine and food, the overall culinary experience can hardly be faulted.

For anyone into detail, here the cheeses we enjoyed with their descriptions from the Panama website.
GABRIEL COULET ROQUEFORT This blue made from raw ewe’s milk is matured in caves in Southern France. This artisan cheese has a strong salty flavour yet is rich and creamy
BRILLAT-SAVARIN A rich cow’s milk cheese from Normandy in France. Made with whole milk and enriched with extra cream. It has a dense creamy texture similar to that of ice cream.
SEVRE & BELLE CAPRIFEUILLE This log shaped goats cheese is ripened using a geotrichum mould giving it a slightly yeasty flavour. Typical of cheeses from the region of Poitou-Charentes in central France.
LE NAPOLEON A rare hand made single dairy ewe's milk cheese from the Central Pyrenees. Slow ripened in cold humid conditions it develops a condensed nutty texture and rounded caramel flavour.

Level 3/231 Smith St, Fitzroy Phone: (03) 9417 7663

Panama Dining Room and Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hot and Sour Soup

This is my most favourite meal in the world. I haven't made it for ages...and it is truly wonderful, such a lovely combination of flavours!

I was inspired to make it again when I picked up some shinoji mushrooms at the markets for $1.50- oyster mushrooms are great, but substitute with any kind of mushrooms you can get.

I usually make my own vege stock to start. Just your usual stock- but add in some coriander roots to give it a little bit of zing.

Hot and Sour Soup
Serves 2
Nam Prik Pow
4 tbsp oil
3 tbsp chopped garlic
3 tbsp shallots
3 large red chillis deseeded and chopped
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt

3 cups vege stock
1tsp nam prik pow
2.5 cm lemongrass, sliced
3 kaffir lime leaves roughly torn
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice
60 g oyster mushrooms
2 – 3 small red chillies, slightly crushed
Coriander leaves to garnish

Nam Prik Pow – fry all ingredients except sugar and salt in the oil till golden brown. Pound all ingredients together in a mortar and pestle.
Bring stock to the boil and stir in Nam Prik Pow. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer, stirring well until the mushrooms are just cooked.
Pour into serving bowls and garnish with coriander.

Different Strokes

Yesterday I had decided to make one of my absolute favourite dishes ever - a beautiful curry using beetroot and eggplant. Rusty was less than excited. After announcing my plans and getting a less than thrilled response, I asked how he would rate this dish in terms of anticipation. 2/10. I was devestated. I guess its easy to accept that blokes don't want to watch chick flicks, or spend hours looking for shoes, but I still take it personally when my bloke doesn't get excited about the same food I do. After eating it, he gave it an 8/10 (I think if he was being honest that would have been maybe a 6 1/2 or 7)- so there was peace in the household. But for me, this dish is an absolute 10/10- I just love it!

I've been trying to think of other dishes that divide the genders- would love to hear your stories...

Beetroot and Eggplant Curry
2 red onions, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves
3-4 hot chillies (fresh or dried)
1 lemongrass stalk
1 dsp cumin seeds
1 dsp coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 tbsp sunflower oil
450 g beetroot, peeled and cubed
5 baby eggplants, quartered (or one normal eggplant)
200ml stock
300 ml coconut milk
Salt and pepper
125 g cashew nuts
Fresh coriander to garnish (optional)

Process the onions, garlic, chillies and lemon grass to a smooth paste either in a food processor or using a wand.
Dry roast the cumin, coriander and fennel for a few minutes and grind to a powder.
Heat the oil, when hot, add the onion paste and cook briskly for a few minutes, then add the spices, stirring continuously. When the spices and paste are nicely combined, add in the beetroot and eggplant and fry for a further couple of minutes- stirring constantly.
Pour in the stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the veges are nice and soft.
Add the coconut milk and cook for another 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, dry roast the cashews to golden brown.
Serve with rice and garnished with coriander and cashews

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bake Club- Plum and Ricotta Crumble Cakes

Welcome to Bake Club. The first rule of Bake Club is you do not talk about Bake Club.

The second rule of Bake Club is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT BAKE CLUB.
OK Bake Club isn't quite like that, but talk about pressure.

The real second rule of bake club is that you can't wimp out and just buy something- you have to bake it. Two people per week for about 20 people. And this week was my first week.

The standards are pretty high, but I was happy with my performance- got a good response.

It's a recipe I've done a few times from the April Gourmet Traveller.

Plum and Ricotta Crumble Cakes
Preheat the oven to 180°
Ingredients (makes 12)
90g butter
225g caster sugar
Finely grated rind of ½ orange
2 eggs
50 ml milk
100g plain flour
80g hazelnut meal
1tsp baking powder
350g ricotta
1 egg yolk
2 blood plums, thinly sliced
20g hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Beat 80g butter, 165 g sugar and orange rind in a mixer until pale and creamy (3-4 minutes).
Add eggs one at a time, beating well. Scrape down sides and add milk and beat to combine.
Stir in flour, hazelnut meal and baking powder. Spoon into 12 buttered cupcake moulds. Smooth tops and set aside.
Process ricotta, the egg yolk and 40g sugar in a food processor until smooth and divide among the moulds. Top with plum slices (or any other fruit).
Combine chopped nuts, remaining butter and sugar in a small bowl, rub together with your fingers, then scatter over plums.
Bake until risen and golden.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Zucchini Flowers fresh from the market

A step too far outside my comfort zone- bitter melon

There are not alot of things I don't enjoy eating- brussel sprouts are about all I can think of. And in recent history, or since I've meet Rusty, I can honestly say I've only cooked one thing that was inedible (100 Year Eggs - gross!). Well now, make that two things.

We were at the Footscray markets last week, and I love to try out things I don't know, this time I think though I took that step too far out of my comfort zone. I think I've found another ingredient I don't like - bitter melon.

Its such a shame, cause everything around the bitter melon was delicious and I thought I was onto a really cool, quick to prepare and healthy weekday meal. And apparently bitter melon is amazingly good for you and can help with everything from diabetes to psoriasis.

The recipe I used comes from a fantastic book called "Secrets of the Red Lantern- stories and Vietnamese recipes from the heart" by Pauline Nguyen. If you've ever been to Sydney's successful Red Lantern restaurant on Crown Street in Surrey Hills, you'll know why the book is so awesome- Pauline is the chef, Luke Nguyen's sister.

Every other dish I've made out of this book has been delicious- so its not the recipe, but the overwhelming bitterness of the bitter melon. What I did think I might try is the same recipe but replacing the melon with choko or capsicum...any other ideas of what to replace it with would be very welcome!

But here's the recipe just in case for anyone who does like this rather unusual vegetable.


50g glass noodles

50g dried blck fungus, sliced

150g minced pork

4 spring onions, sliced- just the white section

3 tbsp fish sauce

1/2 tsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 egg

2 bitter melons

1.5 litres chicken stock

green parts of the spring onions

tbsp chopped coriander

Soak the nookles and fungus separately in boiling water for 10 mnutes. Strain, then dry. Roughly chop the noodles into 4cm pieces and mix up with the fungus, pork, white parts of the spring onions, 1 tbsp of the fish sauce, sugar, 1/2 tsp of salt, half the pepper and the egg.

Cut the ends off the bitter melons, then cut into 2cm slices. Remove the seeds and white flesh. Wash in cold water and pat dry. Lay the discs flat and fill with the pork mixture.

Put the chicken stock in a large saucepan with the remaining fish sauce and salt and bring to the boil. Add the stuffed melon, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with the greens of the spring onions, coriander and remaining pepper.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cirque du Soleil

This post is totally off topic, but I just have to say, I thought I'd hate it, but actually loved it! OK, I laughed at alot of it, but man that trampolining thing looked like so much fun!
There was so much cheesiness- mainly in costuming and music (the medieval Bonnie Tyler look-alike and her side-kick cruising around singing mashed arias was priceless) and their attempt at appealing to female sexuality (well, I think that's what it was) - a woman and a ridulously buff bloke on ribbons looking longingly at each other and swinging around in the air - had me in stitches.
But yeah, you did have to marvel at their physical ability (although the bird who stands on one hand was pretty dull after the first 25 seconds of ooh aah) and I love the energy and showmanship of the whole thing.
Most of the buzz around the office this morning ( a bunch of us from work went along) was about the size of the juggler's package and how many seconds prior to the rest of his body this particular part of his anatomy hit the floor when he did the splits.
So from me, an 8/10 for an evening out- kept me super amused- in one way or another- for the whole night.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dancing Dog Cafe in Footscray

Doesn't look like much from the outside, but the Dancing Dog cafe is a little haven for a perfect coffee in Footscray.

The Dancing Dog is open 7 days a week, 8am - 4pm, 9am Sundays.
42a Albert Street Footscray


What a winter classic- perfect for cooler nights. And if you replace all the tbsps of oil and replace with a spray, not even that bad for you.

2 eggplants, 1cm slices
3 tbsp olive oil
50g butter
50g plain flour
250ml milk
50g parmesan
1 egg yolk
2 brown onions
3 cloves garlic
2 tsp cumin
1 cinnamon quill
4 tomatoes- roughly chopped
1tbsp tomato paste
500g lamb mince
1 l. chicken stock
Zest of ½ an orange

Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and brown the eggplant. Set aside.
To prepare the white sauce, heat the butter in a saucepan. Once melted, add in the flour and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes or until thick.
Stir in parmesan and egg yolk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Sautee onions and garlic in 1 tbsp oil for 5 minutes. Stir in the cumin and cinnamon. Cook for another 3 minutes, then add chopped tomatoes and tomato paste
Brown the mince in the last tbsp of oil. Once cooked, drain off fat.
Add the lamb mince to the tomatoes, and add stock and orange zest.
Simmer for an hour.
Remove cinnamon.
Starting with about a third of the lamb mix, layer it with eggplants, finishing with the mince.
Top with white sauce.
Bake for 20 minutes

Eight hour pork

My favourite cupcake baker at work was telling me last week about a pork roast she did- that she kept in the oven for 7 hours. Mmmm- sounded so delicious.

Wandering around the Footscray markets and wondering what to cook for some family we had coming over Saturday night, Rusty picked up a beautiful shoulder of pork- it was still before lunchtime and so we decided we would take Cupcake on and try our own version- 8 hour pork.

And the experiment paid off- the meat was so tender and served up with some lovely gravy and bread dumplings and red cabbage, we would have eaten a kilo each ourselves, had we not had people coming round.

Smashed Pav for dessert- all in all a perfect dinner! And yes, my diet is totally ruined- but it was so worth it : )

8 hour Pork Shoulder
Pork shoulder
3 Tbsp caraway seeds
1 Tbsp dried marjoram
500ml of wheat beer
1 brown onion
Preheat oven to maximum heat.
Score the skin on the pork
Rub down the pork shoulder generously with caraway and marjoram
Lay pork skin down in a baking dish for 20 mins.
Remove from oven, flip so the pork is skin side up, add the beer, reduce the oven heat to 140 degrees and let it cook in the oven for 8 hours.
Remove pork, wrap in foil. Pour pan juices into a saucepan.
Sautee a finely chopped onion in a little bit of butter. Then add a tsp of corn flour and slowly add the pan juices to make your gravy.

Bavarian Bread Dumplings
10 slices stale bread (we used some stale Phillippas multigrain)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups lukewarm milk
3 slices bacon -- diced
1 small onion -- chopped
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 teaspoon marjoram
2 eggs

Cut bread or rolls, with crusts, into small pieces, put in a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Pour lukewarm milk over bread and let soak for an hour. If there is excess milk in bowl at that time, pour it off. Fry bacon in skillet with chopped onion until bacon is almost crisp and onion is soft and golden. Toss in parsley and marjoram and saute 3 or 4 minutes. Add bacon, onion and herbs to bread mixture. Mix eggs in thoroughly. If dumpling batter is too soft to form, add breadcrumbs, a tablespoon at a time, until batter is firm enough. With wet hands or two wet tablespoons, form a test dumpling. Drop into boiling salted water and simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Starting the journey

Well yes, following on from the Easter break (a four day period in which I ate my own bodyweight in both cheese and bacon) I realised that my metabolism was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with my fastpaced gourmet lifestyle. And I was at least 5kg over what I consider my ideal weight. So I've had to put the brakes on, and joined Wieghtwatchers - OMG- shock horror!
This last 2 weeks in food hasn't been easy.
Week 1 I was on a roll and managed to save up enough points for a bottle of wine over the weekend.
Week 2 - and its still fun- appeals to my analytical side to trade off food and exercise.
Toughest challenge was facing down a lemon meringue pie at a work lunch this week- the pie won, and the points mounted- so unlike last week, I don't have a hell of alot left for alcohol this weekend- a major concern as hubby's black sheep sister is in town this weekend and the temptation will be great.
Not really sure that I am being as innovative as I could with healthy and cheap (in a points sense) meals- my lunch just now was called a Tuscan Bean salad- which sounds posh, but was really half a tin of cannellini, a little tin of tuna, half a red onion and some sage and parsley with no fat dressing- pretty uninspiring really- and the rest of the week has been Country Ladle soups (except for the Lemon Meringue Pie incident of course)- I need to get more creative!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Finding juniper berries in Melbourne

Thanks goodness for IT crashes- our computers came crashing down today, so we all got an early mark- if you can call 9.30 am an early mark- I didn't even make it to the office. I had some kitchen tasks to take care of that I hadn't managed on the weekends, so had a lovely day of it.
Thank goodness too for Basfoods in Brunswick- if there is any food of the continental persuasion that you can't find, head to 423 Victoria Street Brunswick, cause you'll more than likely find it there. Its like a Bunnings with continental food- a big warehouse style environment with simple interior and what I consider cheap prices. They have nuts and dried fruits, beans and pulses, a fantastic range of spices, loads of pickles and conserves, olives, sauces and cheeses.

I was after juniper berries and lima beans today. Even my little Indian spice store on Nicholson Street didn't have the juniper berries- and I had thought they have everything- the lady was very apologetic, I think she thought she had everything too!

The juniper berries were for the first red cabbage I've made in ages- and it was delicious!

Sweet and sour and delicious, I adapted this recipe from the German magazine "Essen und Trinken"- if you can be bothered tracking down some juniper berries, try this good German home food cooking!
Red Cabbage with Cranberries
1/2 red onion (chopped)
1 small red cabbage (quartered, core removed and sliced, not too finely)
2 dsp oil
3 tsp sugar
4 dsp red wine vinegar
100ml orange juice
100ml vege stock
bay leaf
3 juniper berries
50 blackcurrant jelly
2 tsp cornflour
handful dried cranberries (or 100g frozen cranberries)

Heat the oil in a pan, add the onion and cabbage lightly sautee. Add the sugar and let it caramelise a bit.
Add vinegar, orange juice and stock. Season with salt, the bay leaf and juniper berries. Let it simmer with the lid on for an hour, season again with salt and then add the blackcurrant jelly.
Put the cornflour in some water and stir till smooth. Add in to the cabbage, then add cranberries.
Simmer for 15 minutes stirring regularly.
Preparation time 10 - 15 minutes. Cooking time 90 minutes.

Enjoy with any pork dish, even just a simple pork chop, or with beef- as we did tonight with super-slow-cooked beef, mash and some beetroots.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Healthy freekah salad a la Cumulus

I went to Cumulus Inc in the city for the first time a few weeks ago- have to say, the food didn't knock my socks off and the tapas style way of serving made for an overly long lunch and a nagging feeling of not being quite full (I know- I should just get with the programme- this is the way its done in Melbourne these days!).

One course that I really loved was a Cracked Wheat and Freekah Salad. Lo and behold, in this month's Gourmet Traveller, a reader has asked for the recipe and it is there for all to see.

Now I had a first crack at making the recipe as per the mag, and it was delicious, but I was a little put off by all the butter that goes in. So tonight I had a crack at it without the butter- and hip-hip hurray- it still tastes great and alot less fat.

So if you want to make a healthier version, just leave out all the butter. And to save some time, just cook the Cracked Wheat and freekah together- I can't really see any reason to cook them separately. Not on a weeknight anyway- and not when hubby does the washing up.

Great combination of sour and salty flavours and without all that butter really healthy. Probably took around an hour to make- and we ate it served with some lamb chops - yum- and there's enough left for lunch tomorrow.

I sent the recipe to one of the girls I was lunching with, who also loved the salad- and she hasn't made it yet, cause she is daunted by the ingredients- so here some hints on the ingredients.

The freekah (which I had never heard of before) was available in the healthfood section of our local Coles- so imagine would be available in most large supermarkets, or even health food stores (apparently its amazingly good for you!).

The labne and barberries (neither of which I'd heard of before) are really worth seeking out. A good middle Eastern food store should stock them- I got mine at a little store on Sydney Road up near the A1 bakery (always worth a visit).

The barberries are deliciously tart and I can imagine using them in any recipe you might otherwise use cranberries- they are apparently a staple of Persian cooking and once rehydrated (just soak 10 minutes in water) can be used to spice up couscous or crush them dried to rub into chicken before baking. Here's what they look like dry.

Labne is a cheese made from yoghurt- convenient to buy, but if you were really keen, you could try and make your own- would be quite a feeling- to make your own cheese! Found a recipe here- you'd just leave out the herbs on this one

However you choose to make this salad, I'm sure it will be delish- I certainly love it!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Melbourne Restaurant Wishlist

These are the 3 restaurants at the absolute top of my wishlist at the moment- places I've never been but really want to try- based on hype and hearsay

  1. Rumi -
  2. Mutti - Just read about it in Epicure on April 14 - a new Germa restaurant on Elgin Street Carlton. Thomas Stocklinger (ex-Fenix) is Austrian and will be cooking up a rustic storm
  3. Helenic Republic -
Keen to hear what's heading up everyone else's wishlist at present!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Meadowbank Estate


Meadowbank Estate in Cambridge Tasmania is not a secret or insider tip- its probably just about the opposite of secret as everyone we mentioned our impending Tassie trip to, insisted we visit this winery- and I am so glad we followed their advice! This place is absolutely divine!
Bearing in mind that popularity, it would be a good idea to book ahead- we were lucky that they could squeeze us in for lunch with only a 30 minute wait (perfect for some tasting!)- I would hate to think we might have missed it.
Set amongst vines with lovely water views (though in Tasmania just about everything seems to look out over the water!), this was the perfect spot for a late summer lunch. The staff were amazing- not only their efforts to accomodate a late lunch party of 8 on Easter Sunday but their knowledge of the food and ingredients as well as the wine was indeed impressive- both our waiters were mainland expats and absolutely in line with what you would expect in more upmarket Melbourne or Sydney restaurants, but with a more relaxed air.
See Rita's Bite for more raves about the staff:
Now I'm not usually a fan of the tapas style eating- multiple entree sized, try different things out concept- I usually prefer to have a substantial main and go for it- but glad this place did this, we tried out a number of dishes and they had one thing in common- amazing produce (pretty much a given on the island) and simplicity of presentation and flavours- nothing felt overly elaborated.

Smoked trout fritter, garlic aoli

Smoked hock terrine, cornichons, toasted brioche

Rich flavours of the hock in the lightest of light environs- an absolute delight!

Sugar cured ocean trout, potato pancake, crispy bacon, horseradish cream

Breast of honey smoked duck, figs, walnuts, wild rocquette (to share)

The sweetness of the honey smoking and figs complemented the duck so well- perfectly cooked!

Chargrilled tuna, skordalia, grapes, capers, pine nuts, white anchovies
A perfectly cooked piece of tuna- the skordalia was brilliant (must get a recipe for that!).

I'm not going to attempt to describe the wines- as I am anything but an expert on wine, but their 2005 Pinot took my fancy ( some of our party really enjoyed the unwooded chardonnay

But make your own call on the wines.

Meadowbank Vineyard

699 Richmond Road

T: +61 3 62484484

And for a really comprehensive list of Tassie restaurants check out Rita's bites