Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Breakfast Gnocchi

After our amazing Quail with Gnocchi dinner the night before, we had enough Gnocchi left to make another meal. So, I decided to use the leftover Gnocchi for breakfast.
This one is simple, simple simple. Just think of Gnocchi for breakfast like a little fluffy Italian Hash Brown.

I simply roasted some vine ripened tomatoes until they were soft.
Fried up some free range bacon and then the Gnocchi in the same pan.
Poach an egg to pop on top of it all and plate it up! Too easy!

Pan-fried Quail with Gnocchi, Roast Pumpkin, Brown Butter and Sage - Masterchef Australia Recipe

Yep, it's that time of the year again, where I yell at the TV on a nightly basis. You guessed it, Masterchef is back on our screens. It's the show that I love to hate. I did apply for Masterchef last year, but failed to impress the executive producers. Apparently I wasn't enthusiastic enough about wanting to win. I think the real problem was that I didn't cry in my audition or mention the word 'cancer.' Unfortunately, I couldn't apply this year, because I had other commitments during the filming period. So, instead, I like to play Masterchef at home.
After watching the episode the other night where Matt Moran challenged a whole bunch of contestants to cooking the Gnocchi and Quail dish, I thought I'd have to give it a go. It looked seriously fantastic on the show, so I thought I'd treat Em to a special dinner and whip it up for her on the weekend, whilst she was at work.

The recipe is relatively easy as far as skill level goes, but it is a bit time consuming to get everything ready for 'service.'
I'd never boned a Quail before, which is half the reason why I wanted to make the dish, to see if I could do it. It's actually not that hard. With a nice, sharp boning knife, you can cut out the spinal cord and rib cage quite easily. It's a little fiddly, but after two or three, you start to get the hang of it.

The finished dish, really is as tasty as it looks and definitely worth a go!

The recipe makes enough for two or maybe three people for a main. I allowed for 1.5 quails per person.

The recipe below is from the Masterchef website

½ butternut pumpkin

750g royal blue potatoes, roasted
75g plain flour
1 egg yolk
salt and pepper
extra virgin olive oil for tossing

1 large quail, each.

quail, boned
30ml vegetable oil
salt and pepper
30g salted butter, diced
20ml olive oil
10g pecorino, grated
20g unsalted butter
chervil, to garnish
100g blanched pumpkin
½ bunch sage, leaves (reserved for garnish)


Step 1: Prepare pumpkin
Peel and deseed the butternut pumpkin and then dice into 1cm cubes. Blanch in salted, boiling water for approximately 3 minutes, refresh in ice water and then drain.

Step 2: Prepare gnocchi
To prepare the gnocchi, scrape out the inside of the potatoes. Mash the potato and then pass through a sieve. Combine the flour, egg and salt with the potato and work into dough. Roll the dough in a sausage shape (approximately 2cm in diameter). Cut the dough into 2cm wide discs. Add the gnocchi to salted, boiling water. Cook until the gnocchi rises to the surface and then scoop out and refresh in iced water. Drain the gnocchi and then toss with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.

Step 3: De-bone quail

To prepare the quail, trim winglets at the second joint. Using a boning knife, slice along the top of the neck; carefully fold back the neck skin, without tearing it, to reveal the top of the breast meat. Slice around the 'wishbone' and remove it. Insert a cook’s knife in the tail-end of the quail up to the neck and carefully cut along both sides of the back bone. Trim off the excess neck skin. Using the boning knife, carefully cut between the rib cage and breast meat, leaving the breast fillets, winglets and legs intact. Trim any excess fat and skin.

Step 4: Cook and serve

Season the quail with salt and pepper. Heat the 20ml olive oil in a fry pan and when hot add the quail skin side down. Cook on a medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown then turn over. Add in the butter then when it begins to turn to a nutty brown baste the quail for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the quail from the pan and leave to rest for 5 minutes before serving. (Please note: quail should be served pink).

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and then add in the pumpkin and seasoning. Cook until the pumpkin is caramelised and then remove. In the same pan, add in the gnocchi and caramelise until golden. Season to taste. Stir in diced butter until it starts to turn into a nutty brown colour. Add in the sage and remove from the heat.

To serve, cut the quail in half and arrange on a plate with the gnocchi and pumpkin. Drizzle over the nutty butter and then garnish with the sage leaves, freshly grated pecorino and chervil.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Duchess Of Spotswood

87 Hudsons Rd, Spotswood Ph 03 9391 6016
Twitter: @duchesscafe

Finally, the Western Suburbs has a cafe worth crossing the Westgate for! Duchess of Spotswood has been opened for a few months now in the main drag of Spotswood, on Hudson Rd. There's not too many other places along there worth visiting, other than Mies for their great coffee, which is just next door to the Duchess. The two actually opened at very much the same time, which I'm sure was a bit of a shock to the owners of both Mies and Duchess.
This was the third time that we'd visited the Duchess. The first time that we visited, they had just opened and didn't have a full time chef or full menu as yet. The next time we visited, the chef had only just begun and they were just getting into the swing of things. Lots of potential to be seen!
So, this weekend was our 3rd visit to the Duchess and it was our best visit yet!

The first time we visited, the lovely, lovely owner was chatting to us about them getting the place together and where they sourced their equipment and furnishings. The communal table at the front of the room is actually from an old Dance Hall in Yarraville. A story that makes the beautiful recycled wood table, that much more special. She also told us a story about driving all the way out to Daylesford way to pick up their amazing butcher's block, which sits in the middle of the room as their newpaper table. Duchess, is beautifully fitted out with lots of vintage pieces and some new ones that fit in perfectly with the old ones. I absolutely LOVE their yellow oven in the kitchen!

Something I love about Duchess is that they really dig seasonal ingredients and their menu really reflects that. For instance, the special of the day was fresh, foraged mushrooms from Mt Macedon. Knowing that these little beauties have only come into season not too long ago, I was keen to give these a go - fingers crossed that whoever picked them, didn't accidentally throw in a few 'magic' mushrooms for a laugh. Lucky for me they hadn't. All they had picked was damn fine, super tasty, fresh mushies. The mushies came served with bacon, a poached egg, delicious toast and an amazing little cheesy white sauce, which I think was semolina? ($15) Unfortunately, I didn't pay attention to the name of the sauce, but it was great to spread on the toast and then top with the mushies, bacon and egg! I highly recommend getting down there to check out this breakky, while it's on the specials list!

Em ordered the 'simple' breakky, which consisted of Heirloom tomatoes, which due to our extended run of warm weather are still available. The tomatoes are served with goats cheese and a poached egg if you choose. These tomatoes were absolutely delightful. Full of flavour, brilliant colour and perfectly matched with the goats cheese. Such a good way to start the day.

I'm sure you're going to hear lots more about Duchess soon, especially as more and more people realise that they have an amazing cafe right in the backyard. But even if it's not in your backyard, it's definitely worth a trip across the bridge.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hu Tong Dumplings

14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne, Phone 03 9650 8128

It seems that Melbourne is dumpling crazy at the moment. Who can blame us? Who isn't a fan of those steamed little balls of seafood and meat wrapped in those sticky little skins?
I'd only had dumplings a could of times before - once at the Shanghai Dumpling House
in Tattersall's Lane. I have nothing but bad memories of that place. Everything there seemed so dirty and all the Dumplings tasted the same. Not a good initiation into the world of Dumplings!

Other than that, my dumpling repertoire consisted only of Dumplings eaten whilst at Yum Cha. Some amazing dumplings are to be had at Yum Cha places around town. But I'd heard that Hu Tong was the best of them all. Only problem was that there were rumours that the service there was some of the worst that exists in Melbourne and that the staff are apparently rude and unfriendly. Considering some of the reviews that I've read
rate Hu Tong very highly, I'd decided that it was worth trying despite the poor service rumours.

So, during the week, I decided to tag along with Em' and 11 of her workmates for an evening of chilli and dumplings at Hu Tong.
The place is fairly new and very modern. It's very clean - nothing like the Shanghai Dumpling joint down the road. The ground floor is more of a casual dining area, where you can actually sit and watch the dumpling masters at work in the kitchen behind a big window. It's pretty cool to watch how they make the dumplings and how fast they are. We were seated upstairs on the third floor, which consists of huge tables with Lazy Susans in the middle.

Now I'm not going to even try to pretend that I remember or know any of the names of the dishes or dumplings that we were served. Although using i can tell you that my favourite of the dumplings were the Shao-Long Bao, which are the dumplings that are filled with meat and a little bit of stock on the bottom, which is what gives them that soggy appearance. I did learn the hard way though, that the soup in these things are HOT when they arrive and will mostly burst when you're eating them all over yourself.

One of Em's friend's knew what the menu was all about, so we let her do the ordering. She ordered SO much food, that we literally couldn't fit anymore on the table. I was actually cringing at the thought of how much all this food was going to cost.

Some of the highlights of the meal were obviously - all of the dumplings. I know now why Hu Tong is widely spoken about and why people from interstate come here to try their amazing dumplings. I was a massive fan of the Prawn and Chive dumplings, also.

We also tried a whole bunch of other dishes that I never actually did find out what they were called. Some of them were great - including the simple fried rice. The raspberry red pork belly was deliciously tender too.

If you're not into hot and spicy food, then be very weary of what you're ordering, because some of the dishes here are incredibly hot and spicy (it is a Sichuan inspired restaurant, after all).

Oh, and those rude staff that I've heard so much about were completely non-existent. From the time that we walked in the door and were welcomed by the doorman, we were completely looked after. Everyone was always smiling and happy to accommodate requests. There was always a waiter close by to call on if needed and they were all very pleasant. My only gripe is that because so much of the food is spicy, you would think that they would leave bottles of water on the table for you. But they don't, even when we asked. So, instead, we had to keep calling them over, asking them to fill up our tiny little tea cups for us.

At the end of a long night of eating, I had to practically roll down the stairs, because I couldn't walk from being so full! The meal ended up costing only $30p.h, which I thought was amazing, considering the amount of food that we'd consumed and the amount of food that was left over. They did let people take doggy bags home if they wanted.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Hardware Societe

120 Hardware Lane, Melbourne, 03 9078 5992

I go out for breakfast most weekends, sometimes even twice. Living in Fitzroy, I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by amazing places to have breakfast. Yet, somehow, other than eating a McMuffin at McChucks, I've never actually ventured into the city on the weekend for a proper breakfast.

My first venture into the world of CBD breakfasts was last weekend at The Hardware Societe. I'd heard about this place simply from the constant chatter about it from fellow Twitter peeps. The guys from Hardware Societe are also Twitterers themselves.

The Hardware Societe sits amongst many other restaurants on the famous Hardware Lane strip that like to talk the talk, but cannot walk the walk. Refreshingly, The Hardware Societe can not only walk the walk, but they tap dance all over the faces of those other 'wannabe' restaurants along Hardware Lane!

The cafe is decked out with lots of Yellow, which I'm a huge fan of. If you saw my bedroom, you'd see what I mean! I'm very jealous of their bright yellow bare bulb lights. Despite being a little overused these days, the replica Eames chairs they have chosen are always a safe bet for looks and comfort.

Now, I'm not a coffee drinker, so I was very excited to see my favourite tea in prime position on the tea menu - French Earl Grey. Not enough cafes put interesting teas on their menu, so it's great to see here! Also, they use Tea Cosies on their tea pots! Em' will go to a cafe JUST because they use Tea Cosies. Very cool.

A quick look at the breakfast menu and you know that The Hardware Societe isn't your standard Bacon and poached eggs breakfast place. The menu is interesting, seasonal, different, which makes it very, very difficult to make a decision as to what to order.

What caught both my eye and Em's were our childhood favourite - Boiled eggs with Soldiers. Whilst you might find eggs with soldiers on many a cafe menu, none that I've ever seen have been served like this!

Each of the three toasts served with the boiled eggs have their own delicious little topping.
First was White Asparagus with Blue Cheese. Awesome! Everybody knows egg goes perfectly with asparagus and the Blue cheese was the perfect little seasoning to go with it.
Second was Salmon Tartare with little baby capers.
Third from memory was Roasted Tomato with crispy Pancetta. The tomato was deliciously sweet and the Pancetta perfectly salty. Wow.

Eating this baby is a bit of a challenge - well for me anyway. I wasn't exactly sure where to even start with this one. I went with taking the top off the perfectly soft boiled eggs with my knife and scooping out the insides of the eggs and adding them to the tops of the little toasted soldiers.
A little messy, but lots and lots of fun! It bought back lots of childhood memories of eggs and soldiers. At least this time most of it ended up in my mouth and not thrown across the table at my little sister when I was a kid!

This is by far the most interesting, imaginative and fun breakfast I've had in ages. I'm looking forward to heading into the city on weekends for many more breakfasts at The Hardware Societe. Hopefully I can get down there at lunchtime during the work week also, because reading their tweets, the lunches sound absolutely amazing! How many lunch places in the city have snails as a special? If you haven't been to The Hardware Societe, you should definately check it out - it's a refreshing change to all of the warehouse-esque cafes of Fitzroy and Collingwood, etc.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Best Ever Italian Meatballs with Simple Tomato Sauce

Ok, I'm sure all of you Italians would argue that these aren't the best Meatballs ever at all. I'm sure you're going to tell me that the ones that your Nonna makes are a million times better. Well, this time I'm putting my foot down. I can honestly say that I have never eaten meatballs as good as these and if you have a better recipe, I would love to hear from you and I promise I'll give it a go to compare.
Since the SBS food website is focusing on Italian food over the next few weeks and I am their 'featured foodie' for that time - I thought I'd share with you this amazing recipe. It's really very easy - it doesn't take hours of simmering away on the stove and can be ready in just over an hour or so. This is perfect food for the coming cooler months!

185 ml Olive Oil
1 Onion
100g Pine Nuts
3 Garlic Cloves
40g Parsley
5g Rosemary
2 Teaspoons of Fennel Seeds
55g fresh or dried breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
300g Ricotta
40g Parmesan Cheese
Zest of 1 Large Lemon
1 Free Range Egg
500 Mince Free Range Pork (you can use beef or a mixture of both if you prefer)

Sauce 2 x 400g tins of whole peeled tomatoes
125ml Red Wine (I've used white many times when that's all I've had in the cupboard)

Heat half of the olive oil in a saucepan and cook the onion and pine nuts until onion is soft and the pine nuts are light golden brown. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for a few minutes more - making sure you don't overcook the pine nuts. They won't taste very nice if they're burnt.

Place the parsley, crushed fennel seeds, breadcrumbs, ricotta, Parmesan, lemon zest and egg in a bowl and add the mince. Add the cooled onion and pine nuts, season with salt and pepper and mix briefly until all of the ingredients are combined. Test for seasoning by frying one small meatball and tasting for flavour. Leave the mixture to rest in the fridge for at least 30 mins. This will help the meatballs hold their shape whilst cooking.

To make the meatballs, roll about 50g of mixture into a ball about the size of a golf ball and then flatten slightly to make it easier to cook both sides. 50g may seem like quite a big meatball, but I assure you that it's the perfect size. At this point you could put on your water for your pasta - to get it boiling.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the meatballs until golden brown on both sides. You will probably need to cook these in a couple of batches to avoid overcrowding the frying pan - which will lower the heat of your frypan - make them take longer to cook and harder to turn over. A non-stick frypan is best to use for this recipe as the meatballs can easily stick on a regular pan. Once browned on both sides, remove the meatballs from the pan. Don't worry about cooking them through - we'll do this later. By just searing them each side for some colour and texture, you will keep the meatballs moist inside.

To make the sauce, you just need to pour your wine into a clean frying pan or wide saucepan and simmer it for a few minutes - just to remove that strong alcohol taste. Then you can add your tins of tomatoes. Simmer this sauce for about 10 minutes. The tomatoes which were whole, should start to break down. You can help this along by using your wooden spoon.

It's at this point that you can put on your pasta, as it should only take about 10 minutes to cook.

Gently place the meatballs into the pan, sitting in the tomato sauce. Place a lid over the top and simmer for 10 mins. Give the pan a little gentle shake every so often, just to make sure that the sauce or the meatballs haven't stuck to the bottom, as this will cause them to burn. You want the sauce to be on a gentle simmer.

Your pasta should be ready after 10 mins, as should your meatballs. Drain the pasta - I like to use Calabresi pasta, but you could really use whatever pasta you like.

The pine nuts give the meatballs a bit of texture, while the ricotta keeps the balls soft. The lemon is really nice in there - as is the fennel, which really goes well with the pork (if you're using it). I often like to add even more parmesan for a really cheesy meatball.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hellenic Republic


I've been to Hellenic Republic a couple of times before - for breakfast. It's safe to say they didn't win me over. However, I still hadn't been for dinner or lunch, so this week I thought I'd give it a go.

I called up during the day to make a booking for that night (a Thursday) but was told there were no tables available until 8:45pm. So, with that, I sent a message out to the Twitterverse, asking for alternate restaurant suggestions. A fellow Twitter person suggested that I just drop into Hellenic without a booking, in the hope that they could squeeze me in. So, that's just what we did. We arrived at 6:30pm and the place was choccas already. However, the waiter told us we could sit anywhere at the bar that we liked. Happy days! I don't have a problem with sitting at the bar - as long as it's comfortable. Usually it's away from the noisy people on the floor - so we were happy with that. The added bonus to our bar seats were that we could watch the barman and the kitchen operate, which is more entertaining to me than listening to other people's conversations on the main floor.

We started off with some Greek Mixed Olives (local and Hellenic) $8.50
The small olives were particularly tasty with a good texture. Some of the larger olives were a bit on the soft side, which I'm not such a fan of. I prefer the firmer olives.

Next was our kind of main courses, which at Hellenic are all made for sharing. They consisted of a plate of mixed meats, of which we chose the chicken and the lamb ($24.50). The chicken was tender and delicious - even better with lemon drizzled over the top. I'd heard much about the lamb and about how delicious, tender and juicy it is, but unfortunately, I was a little disappointed. It definately wasn't juicy and was even a little dry. I fear we may have been served a bit that had been going around on the spit for some time. The actual taste of the lamb was great though. One thing that was missing from the meat was some type of sauce. we got no aioli, no tzatziki ($8.50 extra) or anything like that to dip it in, which probably made the 'dryness' a little worse.

With the meat we ordered the most delicious little salad! Cypriot ancient grain salad, raisins and yoghurt ($10). The salad was garnished with tiny little pomegranate capsules, that perfectly topped off the salad. This salad went really well with the meat.

We also ordered the Tiganites patates - hand cut potatoes cooked in olive oil, oregano ($8.50)- these are the most delicious chips I've ever eaten. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive to us until they were just warm, but they were delicious all the same.

With our dinner we had the warm pita bread ($4.50)

The best part of the meal was yet to come - dessert!

For dessert, I ordered Rothakina - vanilla saffron roasted peaches, Greek yoghurt ($13). These were simply amazing - probably one of the most excellent desserts I have had in ages! I love fruit in dessert and this was so simple. But it was so tasty. I haven't had a good peach dessert all summer, so it looks like I had one just in time - before they go out of season.

Em ordered the Bougatsa - semolina custard, filo pastry ($12). In Em's own words 'this is like the best Vanilla Slice I've ever tasted!" And it was. The custard was thick and smooth - the pastry thin and crispy with a hint of Cinammon dusting.

Our food arrived very, very quickly, despite them being really, really busy. Which seems strange considering some of the food came out - not so hot. Despite that, we had an excellent evening, the staff were particularly polite and friendly. Would I go back? Yes, I probably would. Their dinners are far better than their breakfasts. However, if I had the choice, I would most definately choose The Press Club, over Hellenic Republic.