Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Quince Poacher has moved!

The Quince Poacher blog has moved. Come join me at:

The Quince Poacher

I am still setting things up but there are new blogs as well as the old ones, a cleaner layout and other great things just as soon as I get my head around all that Wordpress has to offer.

See you there!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cold Noodles with a Peanut Sauce - Cookbook Challenge 3

For me, browsing though a cookbook is sometimes more than an exercise in finding a recipe, it often evokes fond memories of people, time and place.

And so it is with the cookbook I used for this fortnight's challenge,
World of the East Vegetarian Cooking (1981). I bought this book second-hand at a sidewalk stall late one autumn afternoon when I lived in Brooklyn, along with a Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway album. Every time I look at this book it takes me back to my mid-20s, when life was a little bit more carefree and I was living a strange adventure in New York City.

It really is a lovely cookbook, published before the advent of
food-porn and hand-illustrated. Each time I look at it I realise I simply don't use it enough. It features an extensive collection of Asian recipes that are very easy to make and particularly good for busy people. So I was glad of the opportunity to use it for this fortnight's cookbook challenge - rice/noodles.

These noodles are a great summer dish, which you can prepare ahead and eat sometime later when it is just too hot to be in the kitchen, and the peanut sauce is delicious. I really recommend that you give this recipe a try.

Recipe: Cold noodles with a peanut sauce
Cookbook: World of the East Vegetarian Cooking (1981)
Author: Madhur Jaffrey

500g thin Chinese egg noodles (I actually used soba)
2 tbls sesame oil
1/4 cup plus 1 tbls shelled, salted roasted peanuts (I used unsalted roasted peanuts - it tasted fine)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tbls peanut oil
1 tbls thin soy sauce
2 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp sugar
Pinch of cayenne pepper
A couple of thinly sliced spring onions

Prepare noodles according to the packet directions. Drain and run cold water over them to rinse and cool, them let them drain for about 5 minutes.

Put the noodles in a serving bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and toss. You can cover and refrigerate the noodles at this stage for a couple of hours.

Combine the 1/4 cup of peanuts, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, garlic, peanut oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, cayenne, and 1/4 cup of water in a food processor or blender. Blend until you have a smooth sauce.

Crush the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanuts to a coarse crumb texture in a spice grinder, mortar, or food processor.

When you are ready to eat, pour the sauce over the noodles and toss. Garnish by putting the spring onion over the noodles and top with the crushed peanuts.

Serves 4.

You can find out what everyone is up to this fortnight

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Local Hero - Cafe Sarabella

Cafe Sarabella is a wonderful little cafe providing home-style Indian meals, a small range of sweet treats, tea, coffee and chai in the Victoria Street Mall. It's been there for nearly five years now, having opened not long after we moved to our current place in Coburg.

There are many good-value Indian restaurants in Brunswick and Coburg however, I think this is one of the best. As well as being very accommodating to special dietary requirements (almost all of her dishes are gluten-free), Sara offers an range of Indian curries and other well-known Indian classics such as Biryani, and sometimes you will find her take on Asian dishes such as laksa. Standard curry dishes such as chicken and lamb curry are generally always available and on the revolving menu you will find salmon, goat and rabbit curry. These are all available in take home packs too.

I think between us we've tried most of Sara's dishes now and they've all been delicious. On our last visit there S tried the lamb curry. This was served with dahl, rice flecked with poppy seeds, and vegetables tossed in cumin and mustard seeds (the vegetables change on a daily basis too). The lamb curry with potatoes was rich and tasty, cooked so that the lamb was succulent and tender. A very satisfying meal.

I'm a big fan of single pan rice dishes such as risotto, paella and biryani. So I almost always find myself ordering her lamb biryani, although I will have the goat curry when it's available. What I particularly like about the biryani is the cloves that are flecked throughout it, providing a lovely warmth to each mouthful of food. Mmmm cloves...they're simply not used enough in cooking these days. It's also spiced with cinnamon sticks - double delicious.

As are most of the meals at Cafe Sarabella, the biryani is served with some yoghurt and home-made chutney on the side. Often Sara's regular customers will provide her with fruit and vegetables that then form part of a meal you may be eating. A box of cumquats received just before Christmas became a delicious chutney to be served with meals and sold to customers. I bought a small jar and yes, it is delicious.

Cafe Sarabella offers a small range of gluten free cakes such as cranberry, sticky date and orange almond. All are made using almond meal and so they are wonderfully moist and dense. At Christmas time gluten free fruit Christmas cakes can be ordered. We've ordered these for the past two years now and they are absolutely delicious, full of plump, brandy soaked fruit in an almond meal cake.

The other thing of special note is that Sara blends, roasts and double grinds her own chai tea. This process takes her six to eight weeks and it results in a superior chai. I'm not a regular drinker of chai but will often order one at Cafe Sarabella because the taste is so good.

Cafe Sarabella is a cheery place enjoy a drink and meal. There's a slightly boho look to it with hand-written daily menus taped up on the counter and the mix and match cushions and table clothes. Sara is a friendly and welcoming host who always has a smile and hello for her customers and a sympathetic ear. The intimacy of the cafe often results in customers engaging in a lively chatter around the two indoor tables, and a smile as you pass them a week or two later as you are walking down the street. With only a very small kitchen behind the retail counter, comprising a four burner hob and a small bench top oven and a strong commitment to using quality meat, fish and produce, Sara is turning out some of the most flavoursome and satisfying dishes around Coburg.

Some other reviews to consider:
Words and Flavours

Cafe Sarabella
1 Victoria Street
9354 5239

Cafe Sarabella on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Friday Evening at the Kent Hotel

On a balmy Melbourne summer evening, such as the one we had last Friday, a drink and a meal at the pub is a pleasant way to end the working week.

Having arranged to pick up a
Flexicar on Friday evening after work, just across the road from the Kent Hotel, I thought it a good opportunity to try dinner there. However after making a booking at the hotel and then reading reviews of it, it was with some trepidation that I approached the hotel. I shouldn't have been. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals.

The menu at the Kent Hotel is quite extensive, offering a large range of entrees and main meals, desserts and specials board listing several extra dishes, including a seafood platter for two ($45) on the night we were there. To start with we ordered chicken polpetti and the fried saganaki with a gherkin and rocket salad and horseradish dressing.

My entree arrived as three large, chunky polpetti studded with pinenuts in a tomato sugo. I liked these but they didn't have the 'wow' factor for me. Don't get me wrong, they were good but I have very high standards when it comes to polpetti and often make them at home. Polpetti need to be absolutely amazing for me to swoon about them.

It's hard to go wrong with fried saganaki with its salty, chewy and squeaky taste and texture. However I found the side salad of gherkin, rocket and horseradish dressing a slightly unusual, even a weird combination (gherkins and horseradish, together?). I think S. enjoyed it though, even if he did say the horseradish dressing was somewhat underwhelming.

Our main meals were the stars of the evening. I ordered the parmesan crumbed veal scallopine and received a generous serve of three pieces of succulent and moist veal, cooked to perfection. These were sitting on a bed of steamed and sliced kipfler potatoes and a colourful mix of fresh, crunchy green and yellow beans, finished with butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Overall, I thought this was very impressive for a pub meal.

S. ordered the beer-battered Rockling with shoestring fries and a pickled onion and chilli salad. He was served two pieces of perfectly cooked Rockling in a crispy, light beer batter (did they use rice flour for the batter?) that was still moist and tender. The shoe string fries were good and crunchy, and the tartare sauce had a delicious tang and a decidedly home-made look about it. The only let down was the ordinary salad said S., but he did not let that get in the way as he tackled the entire plate with relish!

The Kent Hotel is somewhere we wouldn't hesitate to go to again. The meals were delicious, generous sizes and very good value, service was attentive and friendly throughout the evening. With a sunny aspect overlooking Curtain Square, it's a pleasant pub in which to enjoy a meal.

What we had:
Fried saganaki, gherkin, rocket and horseradish dressing $14
Chicken polpetti, tomato sugo $9
Beer battered fish fresh market fish (rockling), shoestring fries, pickled onion and chilli salad $22
Parmesan crumbed veal scallopine, kipfler potato, green & yellow beans, chargrilled lemon $27

The Kent Hotel
370 Rathdowne Street
Carlton North
9347 5672 ‎

Kent Hotel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lime Posset with Lime Confit - Cookbook Challenge 2

The doors are open, and the surfeited grooms
Do mock their charge with snores. I have drugg'd their possets
That death and nature do contend about them,
Whether they live or die.

Macbeth, Act II, Scene ii

Lady Macbeth may have used poisoned possets to drug the guards guarding Duncan's door but this version is only going to win you friends, not do away with them!

'What is a posset?' I hear you ask. In the time of Shakespeare it was a milk drink soured with wine. What we know as posset today is a dessert more akin to syllabub then a curdled or soured milk drink. It is a pudding made of cream and citrus juice, which to acts on the proteins in the cream, causing it to set.

Again this fortnight's theme, citrus, offered endless possibilities and I struggled to settle on a single recipe. I scoured many recipe books until I spied this one for a lime posset with lime confit from
Maggie's Harvest, which in and of itself is a beautiful book to hold and read because of the gorgeous embroidered cover, superb photography and text. I was intrigued - what was a posset? It looked relatively simple and didn't use too many ingredients and it contained lime. Well, anything with lime in it has got to be good in my book, so I enthusiastically decided on the posset!

Recipe: Lime posset with lime confit
Cookbook: Maggie's Harvest (2007)
Author: Maggie Beer

550ml cream (I used whipping cream)
150g castor sugar
Finely chopped rind of 2 limes
1/2 cup (125ml) lime juice, strained

Lime confit:
660g castor sugar
4 ripe limes, scrubbed and thinly sliced

Combine the cream, sugar and lime rind in a saucepan, then bring to the boil over high heat and boil, stirring, for 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.

Once the cream mixture is cool, whisk in the lime juice to aerate the mixture as much as possible. Continue whipping until the mixture begins to thicken. Pour into six 100ml capacity cups or moulds, then chill in the refrigerator for 4-5 hours or overnight.

Now I have to confess, I made the recipe twice because the first time I over-beat the cream mixture and curdled it! I'm not a fan of whisking, so I decided to beat the mixture using a hand-held beater. Being a little uncertain about how long I should beat the mixture for, and expecting it to whip up to the same consistency as cream, I decided to look for some guidance on the web. As I was beating away at the mixture and tapping away at my iPad trying to get a video to work, I averted my eyes from the cream mixture for 30 seconds...only to look back and see that it had started to curdle. Lesson learnt. I did a bit more research and here are my tips to ensure success:
  • Chill the mixture properly. Once cream has been heated it needs to be completely chilled if it is to whipped successfully.
  • Don't over-beat the mixture. It only needs to be aerated and not whipped! The second time I beat it using the hand-held beaters only until very soft waves could be seen forming behind the beaters. Some recipes don't even whisk or beat the mixture.
  • Plan to make this recipe a day ahead. The you will get a much firmer set by leaving it overnight.
To make the lime confit, preheat the over to 150 degrees celsius. Combine the sugar and 750ml of water in a saucepan to make a sugar syrup, stirring over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency.

You can make the confit with with limes or lemons, just make sure that the lemons are thin skinned (such as Meyer lemons). Maggie Beer recommends using limes that are really ripe with skins that have turned yellow.

Lay the lime slices in a baking dish so they are just overlapping. Pour over the sugar syrup and cover with baking paper, cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour.

Remove the the foil and baking paper and return to the oven until the syrup is reduced and the limes are caramelised; this will take another 30 minutes to 1 hour. Cool and refrigerate.

Serve the lime posset topped with a little of the lime confit. Any leftover lime confit will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 1 month...if it lasts that long! I have to say that I found the lime confit to be absolutely delicious and have been frequently dipping into it. It has the most amazing tang and intensity of flavour that I find absolutely addictive. It's wonderful for drizzling over vanilla ice-cream, a topping just for adults!

You can find out what everyone else is up to this fortnight here .

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Garlic Pork with Sprouts & Noodles - a great recipe for summer

On hot, humid evenings such as those we've been having this Melbourne summer, I want to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen. This dish is one I enjoy making on such nights. It's light and tasty as well as being a doddle to make. The noodles can be softened in cold water, the vegetables are crushed or chopped, quickly stir fried and stirred through the dish and cooking the pork is the most arduous task, you could even cook it outdoors on the BBQ if you liked. By using rice noodles and bean sprouts this dish is light yet surprisingly satisfying and the dressing provides a bit of zing and freshness.

The recipe comes from
Easy Vietnamese Style Cookery (1995), from the Australian Women's Weekly cook book series, before they went all glossy and food pornish. I love the older books in the AWW series. I think many Gen Xers learnt to cook from these. I know I certainly did. The Italian Cooking Class Cookbook was one of my first 'adult' cookbooks, received as a gift when I was a teenager. I still have that cookbook, a bit battered and stained from use. I always return to these books when I want a recipe that is 'do-able' - clear instructions with ingredients I am likely to already have in the pantry or fridge. Did you know that Bill Granger taught himself to cook from the AWW cookbooks? Perhaps that is why his books are so well loved.

200g rice vermicelli noodles
2 tbls peanut oil
450g pork fillets
5 cloves of crushed garlic
3 spring onions, sliced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh lemon grass
3 cups (250g) bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped Thai basil (I sometimes substitute regular basil)

1 1/2 tbls sugar
2 tbls fish sauce
1 tbls soy sauce
1/4 cup (60ml) lemon juice
1 small fresh red chilli, seeded & sliced

Cook the noodles according to packet directions or alternatively place them in a heatproof bowl, cover with boiling water and stand for 5 minutes. Rinse noodles under hot water and drain well.

Heat half the oil in a griddle or frying pan, add the pork and cook until browned all over and cooked as preferred, turning occasionally. Remove from the pan and cool, then slice thinly.

Heat the remaining oil in a wok or pan, add the garlic, shallots, lemon grass and sprouts, stir-fry until fragrant. Remove from the wok and cool. Combine noodles, pork, bean sprout mixture in a bowl and mix well.

For the dressing, combine the all the ingredients in a jar and shake well. Stir through the salad.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Local Hero - the Abruzzo Club

When friends visit us in Melbourne and want to eat Italian, we steer them away from Lygon Street, as they generally suggest, and take them to the Abruzzo Club in East Brunswick. It's a gem. We like it so much that we held our wedding reception there! It may not have the glitz and newness of its larger sister in Epping but it has the heart and soul of an old-style Italian restaurant and serves exceptionally good Italian food with an Abruzzese influence.

The 'Gran Sasso Restaurant' at the Abruzzo Club is one of our favourite local restaurants and we enjoyed a very fine meal there last Tuesday. One dish we always order when we go there is the home-made gnocchi.
It's the best in Melbourne. Yes, that's a big call but I stand by it. Light and fluffy, it's like eating clouds. I first tasted their gnocchi when I pinched a piece off my then three year old niece's plate. An ignoble action to be sure but it was the start of a love affair that hasn't ended yet.

A close up picture to show the deliciousness of the gnocchi!

The lady who used to make the gnocchi retired nearly two years ago. Apparently she had arms of steel. She would come in weekly and make a huge batch for the restaurant. We only found out because we had a run of visits to the restaurant in which every time we tried to order it we were told 'they had run out'. Then one day a waiter let it slip that the gnocchi maker had retired. We were nervous. When would it return? Would it be as good? Finally it returned and while I have to say while there is a slight difference in the quality, it's still good, damned good. It's still the best.

On Tuesday we shared an entree serve of the gnocchi with napoli sauce. The gnocchi were as light as ever, covered in rich and smooth sauce that was without any acidity. A great start to the meal.

Just so you understand how delicious the gnocchi is - it's all gone

For my main meal I ordered the Coniglio, rabbit braised in a white wine sauce served with steamed broccolini, potatoes and polenta. This was a generous serve of rabbit covered in a vegetable reduction. It was delicious and flavoursome, a reduction of finely chopped vegetables that was a perfect complement to the rabbit, which itself was tender although surprisingly the meat got a bit chewier closer to the bone. I enjoyed this dish very much.


There's always selection of specials available at the Abruzzo Club. How many will depend on the day you dine there. As we were there early on in the week there was just a couple and S. chose one of these, the rib-eye steak cooked medium rare. It came out with the standard range of vegetables, including the delicious baked potatoes. The steak was cooked to perfection with the monster piece of rib eye tender and succulent, helped no doubt by having the bone left in.

Rib-eye steak

We really enjoyed our meal, as always, and will be back again in the near future. The outside of the Abruzzo Club itself is unattractive, a squat non-descript two storey building constructed some in 1970s (I think). However do step inside, you won't be disappointed. There is a moderate wine list, mostly from the Taylor Ferguson range and some Italian wines. The menu has recently been simplified and I am a little bit disappointed by this as some of my favourite dishes, such as the spatchcock, have gone but the quality of the food has not suffered in anyway. The restaurant offers authentic and very good quality Italian dishes that you should be finding on Lygon Street, Carlton, but won't.

The Gran Sasso Restaurant is often host to large family gatherings although you are just as likely to find a solitaire diner there being attended to by one of the friendly waiting staff. If Aldo is working he is sure to amuse the kids with his range of tricks and funny noises. I haven't seen him for while though, I hope he hasn't retired.

Entree size gnocchi with napoli sauce $18.90
Coniglio $30
Rib-eye steak $28.50

Abruzzo Club
377 Lygon Street, East Brunswick
9387 5955

Abruzzo Club on Urbanspoon