Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tomato Chilli Jam

Reading through some asian menus, I noticed that quite a few of them served Tomato-Chilli Jam with fried eggs, whether it be Sunny Side up, deep fried or son-in-law eggs. So, I thought I'd give making some jam a go.

Here is a recipe I found in The Cook's Book:

About 500g ripe Tomatoes
2 Knobs of ginger
3 or 4 tablespoons of Fish Sauce
4 small fresh Chillies, finely chopped
4 Garlic Cloves finely chopped
300g Caster Sugar
100ml red wine vinegar

Put half the tomatoes, the fish sauce and ginger in a blender and blend until smooth.
Place the blended tomato mixture and the rest of the ingredients into a deep pan along with the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a gentle simmer and leave for about 40 minutes, remembering to stir often.
At the end of this time, it should have reduced down to about a 1/4 and should be thick and glossy.
Pour into jars, leave to cool to room temperature, then refridgerate.
Don't strain out the tomato pips at any stage, as these are what contains most of the pectin, which thickens your jam.

The jam turned out great! However, next time I will add a couple more chillis, as it didnt quite have enough kick to it. I enjoyed mine yesterday morning spread on a nice piece of thick toast with a fried egg- sprinkled with some coriander. Wicked!!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Breakfast Pasta

This is the first recipe I ever put together myself. I invented it one night before going to bed when I was about 5, when I was trying to make my occasional breakfast of 2-minute noodles a bit more interesting. It's kind of like a Carbonara, but instead of adding the eggs after cooking, you want to add them so that they actually do scramble with the pasta. Admittedly, this is the grown up version of my childhood favourite, but I love it just as much! All these amounts for the ingredients are approximate, so use what amount you think is best.

1 Red Onion Finely Chopped
1 - 2 Packs of good quality Angel Hair Pasta, Cooked to Packet Instructions
2 Handfuls of Button Mushies Finely Sliced
2 Handfuls of Oyster Mushrooms Roughly Chopped
1 Chorizo Sausage Roughly Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic Finely chopped
2 Knobs Butter
2 Free Range Eggs
1 Small bunch Thyme Chopped
1 Handful Flat leaf Parsley Chopped
Truffle oil to serve
Salt and Pepper to Season
Grated Parmesan

Fry off your chorizo until cooked and then drain on paper towel.
Sautee your onions until soft in some butter. Add your garlic and cook for about a minute. Add your mushrooms, season with salt and cook until they have lost some of their water content and shrunk a little. Return your Chorizo to the pan and heat through.

Add the drained pasta to the pan and fry it for a few minutes. If the pasta goes slightly crunchy, all the better. Add your eggs and mix through. Continue to fry until the eggs are scrambled in the pasta.

your herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Place on a warm plate and drizzle with some truffle oil if you've got some - or some olive oil if you dont. Grate some Parmesan over the top and some more black pepper. Give it a try, you'll love it. You dont have to have it for breakfast - it's just as good for dinner. You could also use the leftovers to make great pasta fritters. Add an extra add and fry little batches until golden and then turn over.
Good Mornin!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Harvest Picnic - Werribee Mansion

I'm not really one for crowds. I didn't mind them when I was younger, but as I've gotten older - I tend to avoid them as much as I can. On a sunny day like today, I was prepared to make an exception for the Harvest Picnic at Werribee Mansion. To my delight, the layout of the area seemed a lot more spacious than my previous visit to a Harvest day - at Hanging Rock. As nice as the weather was though, the sun of course, brought out the crowds; the families and kids were out and even the end of year office parties were picnic-ing it up.

The big crowds meant that the lines to sample food from the many stalls were long and the tasting tents were full of people. We managed to wander around from stall to stall quite easily though, as it seemed most of the people were lined up for the Souvlaki and Paella stalls. Good to see people are being adventurous with their tastebuds!
It seems that most of these 'foodie' type events though are always full of the same old things. There's your flavoured Olive Oils, Dukkah, Wines, Jams, Honey and some very average hot food, which tries to be different. ie Yabby Burgers. Yabby burgers served at these do's are pretty much 70% potato, with a bit of Yabby mixed in.
I did manage to find a couple of interesting things though. One of tells me them was Chilli wine. I didnt taste it myself - as I don't drink alcohol. Rachel tasted it though and she said it was actually quite nice and was pretty strong with heat - however she didn't think she would have been able to drink much more than a sip of it. Lucky it's considered a liquer then.
We also really fancied the Babycakes stall, which made mini cupcakes. These were pretty similar to the cupcakes you would find at the Crabapple Bakery in Tecoma or at Prahran Market - just smaller. However the flavours were a little more interesting here. I had the Mexican Chilli Chocolate Mudcake. It was a perfect chocolate cake with thick chocolate icing. Unfortunately, there was only a tiny hint of chilli to it - the cake could have done with a bit more of a kick! Rachel had the Spiced Chai cupcake, which was really tasty. Quite like a Chai Tea (as you'd expect.

But in all honesty, I didn't come for the food as such. I came for the cooking demo's which were being held in the Miele tent. At last year's Harvest event, I found myself sitting next to Tobie Puttock, which watching Stefano De Pieri do a demo. This year I managed to catch 3 demo's; David Moyle and Matthew Wilkinson from Circa, Geoff Lindsay from Pearl and Alla Wolf-Tasker from the Lake House.
The guys from the Lake House came out with what appeared to be some interesting recipes, but had obviously not done many cooking demo's before or just didn't take it very seriously. Half the ingredients were missing from a salad they made and they managed to stuff up the bread that went with it. However they did make a Raspberry Tart, that did end up looking fantastic.

Geoff Lindsay on the other hand, was the complete opposite to these guys. This guy is a professional! He was informative, funny and a pleasure to watch. He made a couple of dishes from his restaurant - which is always interesting to watch. One of them was Watermelon, marinated Fetta and Sunflower shoot salad with a clear Tomato jelly.

The finished product looked fantastic! He did 2 versions of this salad - one was the restaurant version and the other was a make at home version - much more slap dash... quite funny really. The other dish he made was Raw Hiramasa Yellowtail Kingfish.
While demonstrating how to open a coconut, Geoff managed to shower me with his (Coconut) Juices (is it wrong to feel privileged?) This dish was another looker! I so wanted to taste it, I'll have to order it when I go to Pearl in a few weeks.

I also managed to catch the end of Alla's demo, where she made a Tomato salad, topped with Fried Green Tomatoes and Buffalini Cheese, garnished with a Grissini stick and drizzled with herb oil and with Chillied Gazpacho on the side. What a gorgeous dish.

The best bit is, none of these dishes were all that complicated (although the Circa guys sure did manage to make their dishes look complicated, even if they weren't).
If you want to taste some mostly average tasting samples and see some mostly fantastic cooking demo's, a Harvest picnic is a great place to visit. Apparently they have good Souvlaki too?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Dippin' Dots

On Saturday arvo, I wandered down to the Johnston St Festival and admired all the fantastic food, music, drinks and dancing. Somehow I managed to leave there sampling nothing apart something called Dippin' Dots.
It's basically just ice cream, but it's set like little ball bearings. The texture is nothing like ice cream until it melts in your mouth and then just tastes like normal ice cream. I had the Cookies and Cream flavour, which had Oreo cookies in it. Not bad at all, definately worth a try, especially for the novelty value.

Sunday Family Lunch

It was another perfect Summer's day in Spring on Sunday, which called for a Family Lunch. I thought I'd invite the parents over for a quick lunch and then I could head out for a game of golf afterwards. By the time I'd finished shopping down at Victoria St, Richmond, I was already running late and I realised, it wasn't going to be such a quick lunch!

First up I served a Papaya and Chicken Salad from Marie Claire's 'Kitchen' Magazine. I couldn't actually find Papaya in Victoria St, so I used few sweet, ripe mangoes instead. A delicious replacement and so cheap too! This salad has summer written all over it. The spring onions make it crunchy, the roast chicken breasts are soft and the mango slippery. The dressing consists of tamarind, soy sauce, palm sugar, ginger, chilli and cumin. A few crushed peanuts, some fried shallots and chopped mint thrown into the salad and there you go - summer salad!

For the main course, I bought everyone a whole Snapper each. I bought 6 of them in Victoria St, and they totalled $25. Not bad considering a whole Snapper at a reputable restaurant would set you back at least $40. I cut slashes in the side the fish, then I marinated the Snapper in chilli, garlic, ginger, soy and olive oil. I then deep fried each Snapper until they became golden and crunchy. Once ready I dressed the fish with a mixture of Soy, Lime, Coriander, Peanut Oil and Palm Sugar. Served simply with some steamed asian greens and some lemon.

Finally, dessert. The ultimate Summer fruit. Peaches. Soft ripe, sweet Peaches! I could eat these things all day long. For lunch, I poached them in a vanilla sugar syrup. I used vanilla bean paste, which still gives you those little black dots, but ends up working out much cheaper than buying beans. 1 tsp = 1 bean. After about 5 minutes I took them out and left them to cool a bit, so I could remove their skins, leaving that gorgeous yellow/pink flesh exposed. Continue to simmer the sugar syrup until it's thickened and then add juice from 1 lemon. Leave the syrup to cool. Pour over the peaches and serve with some mint and ice cream. Unfortunately the 36c heat melted my ice cream before I could take the photo.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Chicken, Spinach and Lemon risotto with Yea Dairy Cheddar

Ok, so risotto isn't exactly summer food, especially on a 36c day, but I love it anytime. I guess it's the ingredients you add to it that can 'summer' it up.
Risotto was the first 'real' type of food that I ever learnt to cook. Once I learnt to cook it, I became obsessed with it for ages and still am!
Over time, I've learnt a few little tricks to making a good risotto. Some are plain obvious, but it suprising how many of my friends dont know them. So, here they are for your cooking pleasure;

  • Use proper risotto rice, ie Aborio, Carnaroli, etc. These grains are used because they have a high starch content, which is what makes a good risotto creamy. You really don't ever need to add cream, unless the recipe calls for it. I hate the fact that at I now have to ask restaurants what rice they use, because so many times I get risotto made with plain white rice. It's disgusting. I dont even consider that to be risotto.
  • Lightly dry fry your risotto rice, which will absorb the butter and olive oil in your fry pan after cooking your onion, garlic, etc. It will also help the rice to release it's starch, to make that lovely creamy risotto.
  • Use the best stock you can. Most of the flavour in risotto comes from your stock, so use home made or if you have to buy it, try to buy a gourmet version or at the very least the liquid stock. Powdered stock is usually full of MSG and salt, however vegetarians I know like to use Vegeta.
  • Keep your stock hot in a separate pot. This is so that when you add the stock to the rice, it doesn't lower the temperature of your pan and rice - making it take longer to cook and can often make the risotto gluggy.
  • Add the stock a ladle at a time, dont pour it all in at once.
  • Keep stirring. Some chefs say only stir occasionally, others say stir constantly. I say keep stirring for a couple of reasons. It helps release the starch from the grains, again giving you a creamier finished dish. It will also prevent your rice from catching on the bottom of the pan.
  • Cook your rice to Al Dente, meaning it's ever so slightly crunchy in the middle. When you rest your risotto, it will continue cooking slightly, and because you cooked it to al dente, this will ensure a perfectly cooked risotto.
  • When your risotto is done, drop some parmesan and a couple of knobs of butter and leave it to rest with the lid on for a few minutes. This helps to make your risotto less gluggy. Ideally you want a risotto that still has movement to it and will creep across the plate, rather than sitting in a big lump.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My Pad Thai

We're two weeks out of summer here in Melbourne and it's snowing in the outer suburbs! Well, even if the weather is terrible outside, there's no reason not to eat like the sun is shining. Nothing says freshness to me more than Thai food. Tonight I was late home from work, after riding my scooter home in the rain, so I thought I'd whip up a quick Pad Thai. For those of you who don't know, Pad Thai is basically a stir fry with rice noodles, but with that familiar Thai zing.

Like any good stir fry, it pays to be prepared. So get your noodles on the boil - probably about half a pack of rice stick noodles. These will take about 8 mins to cook - just enough time to cook the rest of the dish.

Finely chop an onion, 2 garlic cloves, a thumb size piece of ginger, and a chilli. Finely slice about 400g of pork, have about 100g of prawns peeled, crack a couple of eggs into a bowl and beat. Cut some firm tofu, about 3/4 block of stir fry tofu into blocks.

Heat up the some peanut oil in your wok and fry the eggs like an omlette, then remove and cut into strips and set aside.

Fry off some onion in the wok until softened and then add your pork. Once the pork has browned, add your garlic, chilli and ginger. Cook for another 30 seconds.

Add your prawns, bean shoots and tofu. In a bowl mix about 1/4 cup of fish sauce and 1/4 cup of lime juice with some palm sugar to sweeten. Pour this mixture into your wok. Keep tossing the food in the wok. Add your drained noodles and a couple of handfuls of chopped coriander.

Serve on a warm plate scattered with some chopped cashew nuts and some more fresh coriander.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Bimbo Deluxe

In most cases, I agree witht the saying 'you get what you pay for.' However, in the case of Bimbo Deluxe, I must disagree. $4 gets you a plate sized pizza, topped with various 'gourmet' toppings. Think about the other meals you can get for $4. A McDonalds happy meal, a toasted cheese sandwich or maybe some minimum chips.
Between 7pm - 11pm Sunday to Thursday Bimbo deluxe will serve you some of the best thin crusted pizza in town. It may not be quite as good as I Carusi, but it's up there and for $4, you can't complain!

There's about 15 different pizzas available, with various cheeses like Gorgonzola, Mozzarella, Soy Cheese and even Taleggio (beware the Taleggio gives you strange dreams- it's not a myth! If you don't believe it, try it for yourself)
The pizza has a thin base, not perfectly round, slightly crunchy in places and soft in others. It looks truly rustic and is a pleasure to eat.
On this occasion we had the Lamb with spices, rocket and lemon. Very tasty - almost like a open Souvlaki - Italian Style. The rocket and lemon cuts through the meatiness of the lamb and makes for a delicious mouthful.

We also got the Organico Pizza. This is topped with pine nuts, pumpkin, soy cheese and garlic. I also requested that pesto be drizzled on the top as I have previously found that even though the pizza is tasty, it's missing something. The pesto is what it's missing - I highly recommend getting the pesto.
When visiting Bimbo, I recommend getting there at least 20 - 30 mins before the start of 'pizza happy hours.' If you're late, you'll be waiting a while for a seat. Even a few minutes late could mean you miss out on a seat in the dining area and have to eat amongst the smokers and the doof doof in the nightclub room.
Bimbo's also have dessert pizzas which are fantastic! There's a mixed berry version, banana one and there's also a chocolate pizza too.... $4 as well!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Roast Duck in Red Curry

A few months ago I was reading one of those liftouts from The Age which had lots of Melbourne's "best of's". One of the things that caught my eye and seemed to stick in my mind was the 'Melbourne's best Curry' selection. It was the Roast Duck in Red Curry from Pearl. After reading the review on this dish, I wanted to try the curry there and then. But after getting onto Pearl's website and finding that the curry was $40, I decided to do what any good cook in my (broke) position would do. Cook it myself!

A quick trip to the North Melbourne library and I managed to find Geoff Lindsay's book (now out of print - I confirmed this with Pearl directly) 'Chow Down'. I had a quick look at the book and lucky for me- the recipe for the Duck Curry was there. However it seems someone liked the recipe that much, that they ripped out the page for the Red Curry paste for themselves. So, I improvised and jumped on the net and found an easy red curry paste recipe.
I'd never cooked duck before, or really eaten it for that matter. I had really eaten it once, but it was about 3am at China Bar in Russell St, in the City. I was a bit worse for wear and I think the duck was too.
I got a small sized duck from the Vic Market, which cost about $12. The lady behind the counter told me it would easily feed 2 people.
Geoff's recipe called for the duck legs to be taken off the carcass and cooked seperately. Having never cooked or dealt with a dead duck before, I had to assume taking one apart was like dismantling a chicken. It wasn't too different and I don't think I did too bad a job.

Apparently, the breasts were meant to be kept attached to the carcass while being cooked and the drumsticks cooked in another tray. Both were to be cooked for 20 mins at 180c and then the breasts were meant to be removed and the oven turned down to 160c. The drumsticks should continue to be cooked for another 40 mins.

I did this, but because I'd never cooked duck before, I wasn't sure, but it didnt look like it was cooked to me. I decided to change the roast duck recipe to a pan fried recipe. I cut the breasts from the carcass and fried them for a couple of minutes until they were golden, in a frypan, with a little butter.

I then fried the red curry paste which I had previously bashed up in a mortar a pestle for a couple of minutes with a little olive oil.

Once the paste was toasting nicely and was fragrant, I added a tin of coconut milk and let it simmer slowly for about 10 minutes, just to let it reduce a little. It's at that point you can taste it for seasoning, adding a little fish sauce if needed for saltiness or maybe some crushed palm sugar for sweetness.

I then took the curry sauce out of the pan and sautee'd some yellow capsicum and some ginger until the capsicum has softened.

Then return the sauce to the pan, add the meat and add your Thai Basil and some Vietnamese mint. Bring to the simmer and heat until the meat is heated through.

Now you can plate up your duck, maybe with some coconut rice and garnish with some Thai Basil leaves and flowers. A very tasty dish indeed. I'd always heard that duck was fatty, but never realised quite how true that is. As much as I liked the Duck Curry, I'm sure it was nowhere near as good as the one served at Pearl. Hopefully I get to try the real version soon! Can't wait!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Thai Viet, Collingwood

Everyone seems to have their own local Thai place that they love and that they recommend to friends - mine is Thai Viet. On Smith St, just near Johnston, is this fantastic place that is so cheap - you wonder how they manage to make any profit at all. The restaurant itself, is glowing with barely lit neon lights and asian inspired artwork hangs from the walls, which looks like it was purchased back in the 80's. Specials are stuck up on the walls, handwritten on paper and most are spelt incorrectly. I've never been to Thailand, but Thai Viet is exactly the type of restaurant I imagine to find in the main streets, only filled with people. For some reason on a few locals seem to have cottoned on to the fantastic food that comes out of this kitchen and the super cheap prices they charge for it.

If you decide to visit Thai Viet, I recommend getting the banquet meal. 8 courses for $16! That's the price for two people, but the more people that you bring, the cheaper the price for the banquet - I think 4 people is $12.

First up is the Tom Yum soup. You have a choice of prawn or chicken. I love it when you get Tom Yum and you can see the oil and the chilli floating and shimmering in the light on the surface of the soup. You just know it's going to have that kick to it. The soup does have a bit of heat to it, but only enough to warm your lips and give you a bit of a tickle in the back of your throat. The fresh lime juice in the soup kind of helps to balance this out. The crunch of the fresh Coriander and Bean Shoots, adds that little bit of freshness to each mouthful; perfect.

The next courses are served together - Satay Skewers and Spring Rolls. Everything at here at Thai Viet appears to be homemade, from the curry pastes to the satay sauce. The chicken satay isn't like I've had at other restaurants, it's a little more dry and less creamy, but so much more tasty. The satay sticks are threaded with barbequed Carrots, Onions and your choice of Beef or Chicken. On this same plate comes the home made spring rolls which admittedly are similar to those I've had at other asian restaurants and unfortunately aren't served with lettuce cups or Vietnamese mint. As the Spring Rolls are part of the banquet though, these extras aren't really needed - just the sweet / sour dipping sauce served on the side.

Next is the Thai Salad. This is without a doubt, the best Thai Salad I've ever tasted. It is the definition of what I've learnt Thai cooking to be. It's the perfect balance of sweet, sour, hot and salty. This crunchy salad is more like a coleslaw, scattered with chopped peanuts. It's so fresh with carrot, red onions, fresh coriander, thai basil, vietnamese mint, shredded chicken and bean shoots. I'm determined to attempt to copy this salad at home myself. It shouldn't be too hard, the ingredients are quite simple, however getting that dressing just right, might be a challenge.

Next course was the Beef Stir fry, with sesame seeds. A good stir-fry needs fresh vegies, tender meat and a tasty sauce. This dish has them all. It's quite a basic stir fry, but is done quite well, finished with a good sprinkling of Sesame Seeds.

Our final course, is my favourite of them all. The Thai Yellow Curry. I'd never tasted Yellow Curry before I had visited Thai Viet, but after tasting this deliciously spicy treat, it's now one of my favourite meals! The bright yellow sauce, the tender cooked chicken thighs, the almost chewy fried potatoes - which have the best texture and the zig zag cut carrots, can only be described as fantastic. Whenever I get this banquet I tend to make sure I save room for the Yellow Curry.

Now, you may have noticed that I only mentioned 6 courses here, out of the 8 course banquet. Well, it seems that steamed rice is actually counted as a course. Fair enough I guess seeing the food is so cheap. The final course is actually supposed to be a fruit platter with tea or coffee. I have had this banquet many times and not once has the fruit platter been brought out. Even after waiting around for about 20 minutes after the final plates have been taken away. Admittedly, I've never actually asked where the platter was and why we weren't offered it, simply because most times I've been too full to even bother!

The service at Thai Viet is interesting to say the least. Often the waitress will wait at your table while you decide and you actually have to ask them to give you a few minutes to look at the menu. Occasionally, I've seen the owner's kids skate boarding or rollerblading around the restaurant. But hey, it's all part of the atmosphere - like I said - exactly the type of place I imagine to find in Thailand itself.

It might be worth mentioning also, that the beer and alcohol here is SO cheap! I think a stubby of VB (or similar) was about $2.50 (I dont drink, so can't remember exactly). Apparently it's retail prices. You drinkers would have to love that!

Overall, Thai Viet is fantastic for what it is - a cheap, good value, tasty, local Thai joint, worth visiting - especially if you're hungry enough to order the banquet! I'd like to hear about other people's favourite local Thai places if anyone has any. And if you happen to visit or have been to Thai Viet and had the banquet - let me know if you have got that Fruit Platter!