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.