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

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