Friday, December 31, 2010

Suburban Surprise - Bussaracum Thai Cuisine


When people disparage the suburbs and the people who live in them, I always think to myself 'What a wanker'. Most of us come from the suburbs and eventually return there, after a stint of inner city cool and shared housing hell during university and early working life. Restaurants like Bussaracum are a reminder that the suburbs are not the soul-less wasteland that some may think.

Over the Christmas season we have been catching up with family and friends, and the Tuesday evening after Christmas saw us catching up with a friend in Ivanhoe at Bussaracum Thai Restaurant. Bussaracum specialises in a style of Thai cuisine known as 'Royal Thai'. Rosemary Brissenden, in her excellent cookbook
South East Asian Food, tells me that Royal Thai cuisine has its basis in the court of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, an area north of modern day Bangkok, which was open to foreign trade. South Indians and Malays involved in foreign trade settled there, bringing with them the spices of their trade, coconut milk and chilli from the Portuguese.

Bussaracum sits atop the first floor of a brown, institutional-looking brick building on Upper Heidelberg Road that was probably built in the 1970s, quite an unprepossessing location for such a wonderful restaurant. We arrived around 8.30pm for dinner and were treated to views of a beautiful sunset across the Melbourne skyline. The suburbs hide little gems like this and the focus on Royal Thai cuisine lifts Bussaracum above its suburban counterparts.

To begin with we ordered a trio of dumpling-type entrees: Puak Sod Sai, Khao Krieb and money bags.

Puak Sod Sai

Khao Krieb

The taro pastry wrapped around the minced chicken, prawn and mushroom of the Puak Sod Sai was quite delicious and provided an interesting texture that hinted at chewiness as you bit into it. The lurid green colour of the Khao Krieb was both off-putting and mesmerising. Filled with minced pork and crushed peanuts, the outer pastry was soft and sweet from the drizzling of palm sugar. This was our favourite of the three - something very different from what we were expecting that offered interesting flavours and texture. The money bags were a familiar item and while the crispy pouches filled with minced pork and chopped water chestnuts were well prepared, they didn't match the deliciousness of the other two entrees we ordered on the night.

For mains we again ordered three dishes: Cha duck, deep fried squid with spicy salt and Takrai. Given that all three of us were still in a post-Christmas food coma this was perhaps a little ambitious however, we gallantly made our way through the dishes.

Cha duck

I'm a big fan of duck and my choice of the cha duck was a dish composed of boneless duck stir fried with capsicum, wild ginger, young peppercorns and aromatic sweet basil in a purportedly mild chilli sauce. 'Mild' it was not! While quite delicious, the heat was described by my friend as 'hitting you in the face' and continued to build in your mouth long after you had swallowed it down. So be prepared!

Deep fried squid with spicy salt

The deep fried squid with spicy salt also included garlic and chilli, though with no where near as much heat as the cha duck, and was served on a bed of iceberg lettuce. There was a lot going on in this dish and the iceberg lettuch provided a fresh and crisp counterpoint to the saltiness of the squid.

The takrai, sliced chicken with coconut cream, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and aromatic dried chilli was by far the favourite main course for all of us. It was perfectly balanced, showcasing the subtlety of the spices used and not overpowered by the coconut cream. This was the one we all returned to and the first to be finished.

Takrai

I didn't drink alcohol on the night but in retrospect a Singha beer or two would have helped calm the mouth down after the cha duck. Desserts are also available but we were too full to try these. Service was attentive on the night. I was very impressed with Bussaracum and highly recommend it. We are planning our return there already.

Entrees: $8-12
Mains: $16-28

Bussaracum Thai Cuisine
223 Upper Heidelberg Road
Ivanhoe
9497 4650

Bussaracum Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quick and Tasty - Teriyaki Salmon

To state the obvious, I like to eat good, tasty food. However working full-time often means that on week-nights we both arrive home tired and not particularly wanting to cook, or we run out of time to pull something together for lunch of a morning.

The busy festive season has reminded me how important it is to have a couple of quick, delicious meals up my sleeve that I can whip up in a short amount of time to get me through meals over a couple of days. So this will be the first in (another) occasional series, 'quick and tasty', the criteria being a dish that can be made ahead quickly, keep for a couple of days and take more or less 30 minutes to make (by that I mean you're not standing around prepping food for more than 30 minutes, but by marinating or other like process may stretch the time out longer, and you can go off and do something else).

This recipe is simple. It is great for a dinner or lunch served with a salad and some rice (if you have the time to cook it). Make it ahead, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, to give yourself a couple of lunches or mid-week dinners that require minimal preparation.


Ingredients:
400-500g salmon (Ask your fishmonger to cut the fillet into 1.5-2cm wide pieces. You should be able to get about 6 pieces)

Teriyaki sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin*
2 tbsp sugar

Method:
Combine all sauce ingredients in a saucepan. Stir the mixture well. Put it on medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and simmer for a couple of minutes. Stop the heat and cool the mixture (Sauce can be stored sauce in a clean bottle in the refrigerator).

*If you don't have mirin, you can substitute sake and sugar for mirin. The ratio of sake to sugar is 3 to 1. Adjust the amount of sugar to taste, depending on your preference.

This recipe makes a lot of sauce.

Marinate the salmon pieces in the teriyaki sauce for about an hour, in the fridge.

Using a griddle-style pan, cook the salmon for approximately 5 minutes each side. The exact time will depend on the thickness of the salmon piece however, I look to cook it until the teriyaki marinade has taken on a thick, dark, caramelised appearance. Right at the end of the cooking process I pour some of the remaining marinade over the salmon in the pan and let it bubble up and thicken. The salmon should be well-done but not dry.


The cooked salmon fillets will keep in the fridge for the next couple of days. I quite like the salmon for lunch with some rice, salad/s and slices of lemon. It reminds of fabulous
bento boxes we enjoyed on our travels through Japan.

Enjoy!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ramen - yeah!

When we were planning our first trip to Japan one of our friends said to me 'Promise me you'll slurp ramen at the train station'.

At
Matsumoto Station, I fulfilled that promise. With my limited recognition of Hiragana, beginners level spoken Japanese, a bit of pointing and help from the bevy of welcoming mama-sans working in the small platform restaurant I bought myself a 500 yen bowl of ramen and quickly slurped it down in the company of mostly suited fellow train travellers, with a couple of minutes to spare before we boarded the train to Kyoto.

We've travelled around Japan several times now, each time in early spring when the air is still cold and there's still a little snow on the ground. For a quick meal to get us through a busy afternoon of sightseeing, or at the end of the long, cold day when we are tired, there is nothing more enjoyable then a bowl of warm, steaming and nourishing ramen. It's a staple on our travels, and generally good value too.

Ramen is Chinese in its origins and
regional varieties abound across Japan. Stock is the basis of ramen and hence a good stock is essential to its success. There's a cheesy film that I quite like called 'Ramen Girl' starring Brittany Murphy as an over-priviledged, aimless American woman in Tokyo who manages to get herself apprenticed to a Chef Maezumi at her local ramen restaurant. His memorable line from the film sums up what a good ramen is all about:

A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountain and the earth all existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is the essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen.

As there are many regional varieties, there are a variety of broths available. My favourite is the tonkotsu broth, which is made from pork bones, resulting in a rich, thick, milky white stock. This type of ramen is associated with Fukuoka/Hakata. The best ramen we have ever had has been on the island of Kyushu and our favourite restaurant is Komurasaki in the city of Kagoshima, where you sit at the counter watching the stock master at work as you eat your ramen - it's mesmorising.


Not the best photograph but you get the idea

But I'm not really here to regale you with tales of our travels or film reviews. I'm here to review Ramen-Ya, a ramen restaurant tucked away down a laneway at the back of the GPO. We've been going here since they opened in late 2008, when they used to offer table service, and although we found the quality of the tonkotsu stock a bit disappointing late last year (I have found its quality to be a bit inconsistent over time), things are back on track and I have to say that I think it's one of the better ramen restaurants in Melbourne.

Ramen-Ya prides itself on offering authentic Fukuoka/Hakata-style ramen. Three types of stock are available to choose from - miso, shoya (soy) and tonkotsu, and four toppings to choose from- char siu, minced chicken, gyoza and seafood gyoza. My preferred combinations are the miso stock with minced chicken and the tonkotsu with char siu, which is my favourite and the one I always go back to. The standard price is $10 a bowl however I order some extra char siu which adds a couple of dollars to the cost. Still good value in my book.

The ramen is served in a large bowl with a generous amount of chewy, tangled noodles, topped with spring onions, bamboo shoots, fish cake, pickled ginger (yes, the bright red stuff), pickled seaweed and a boiled egg (not as soft as it could be but I'm not complaining), all nestled in their proper place. The stock was lovely and rich on the night that we went and flecked with pork fat, coating the noodles as you slurped them up. All very tasty and welcome on a cold night.

We often find ourselves at Ramen-Ya on cold and wet Melbourne evenings, when the rain dripping over the awnings, the tea lights casting a dim glow over the tables and the dankness of the laneway makes for a melancholy atmosphere. A bowl of ramen on nights like this is comfort indeed. I recommend you try it too.

Ramen and bento boxes available from $10

Ramen-Ya
Shop 25G
Melbourne GPO
350 Bourke Street

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I like my local pub but really... The Quince Poacher bites back

It's been a while since my last entry but I've not not been busy, oh no! There's been recipes cooked, restaurants dined at and cookbooks read, in between finishing off this semester's uni subject and a busy period at work.

During this hiatus I spied this article in M magazine, one of the Sunday Age magazines, announcing their second annual M-ie awards. And the best pub award goes to...Post Office Hotel. How exciting, I thought, it's only around the corner from us.

As I continued to read this article I thought 'This is odd. Didn't I read a review of this hotel week or so ago in The Age's Epicure, which said something about a journalist being married to one of the co-owners'? If you can't be bothered clicking through and reading the whole article, let me draw your attention to the disclaimer at the bottom of it:

A co-owner of the Post Office Hotel is married to an Age journalist

Don't get me wrong. I like the revitalised Post Office Hotel. I enjoy having a pub within a five minute walk from my home that serves great food and drinks, has a fantastic atmosphere and attentive staff, and is welcoming (in a very authentic way, not just of an 'alternative' crowd) of a diverse group of people. It's much more preferable to what it was before - a faded, once bright yellow blob on the corner of Reynard and Sydney Roads, Coburg's own version of 'The Vault' (aka 'the yellow peril) that many women were afraid to go into, where you could only buy three types of beer, VB, Melbourne or Fosters, from the bottle shop and you were served by barmen with prison tatts.

In the scale of things the M-ie awards mean very, very little. But this example of working editorial connections annoys me. It's journalism that is condescending towards its readership. It does credit to neither the venue, by not allowing it to rise or fall on its own merits and diminishes the reputation of the fourth estate, which is already precarious in the post-print media world.

Update 16 Feb 2011 - I stand admonished. The Age journalist has contacted me to set the record straight and clarify that no undue editorial influence has been exercised in relation to The Age articles in which the Post Office Hotel features. However, I stand by my decision to have a healthy scepticism about things that I read.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cookbook Challenge Week 50 - Picnic


Recipe: Turkey & sweetcorn meatballs with roasted pepper sauce
Cookbook: Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (2008)

Ottolenghi is the London restaurant of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Their cooking is influenced by their childhoods in Jerusalem and shows the influence of the Middle East, the Levant and France.

This cookbook precedes 'Plenty', which was recently featured in 'Delicious' magazine. I picked up my copy from lay-by a couple of weeks ago and this is the first recipe I have made from it. I am very impressed with the flavours of this dish and plan to dip into this book often. It won't be one that gathers dust on the shelf.

Ingredients:
Meatballs
100g sweetcorn
3 slices of stale white bread, crusts removed
500g minced turkey breast (I actually used minced turkey thigh and combined it with chicken mince)
1 egg
4 spring onions
2 tbls finely chopped parsley
2 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 crushed garlic clove
sunflower oil for frying

Roasted pepper sauce
4 red peppers (I used capsicums)
3 tbls olive oil
1 tsp salt
25g coriander, leaves and stalks
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 small mild chilli, de-seeded
2 tbls sweet chilli sauce
2 tbls cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200oC.

Prepare the peppers for the sauce by quartering them, shaving off the white parts & seeds with a sharp knife. Put them in a roasting tray, toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes or until soft.

Transfer the hot peppers to a bowl and cover with cling film. Once they have cooled down a little, peel them (although this isn't essential for this sauce - I didn't) and then blitz them in a blender or food processor with their juices from the roasting pan and the rest of the sauce ingredients. Blend until smooth, salt to taste and set aside.

For the meatballs, place a heavy, non-stick frying pan over a high heat and throw in the corn kernels. Toss them in the pan for 2-3 minutes until lightly blackened. Remove and leave to cool.

Soak the bread into cold water for a minute, then squeeze well and crumble into a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients except the sunflower oil and mix well with your hands. With wet hands, shape the mince mix into balls about the size of golf balls.

Meatballs ready to be cooked.

Pour 5mm depth of sunflower oil (or other vegetable based oil) into the heavy frying pan. Allow it to heat up well and then fry about a teaspoonful of the mince mix in it. Remove, let cool and then taste. Adjust the amount of salt and pepper in the mince mix if necessary.

Cook the meatballs in small batches in the hot oil, turning them around in the pan until they are golden brown all over. Transfer to an oven tray, place in the pre-heated oven at 200oC and cook for about 5 minutes. When you press one with your finger, the meat should bounce back. If unsure, you can always break one open and taste it to be sure!

Serve with the pepper sauce on the side.

These turkey and sweetcorn meatballs with roasted pepper sauce would add colour and spice to any picnic spread. It was too wet to eat them outside last Sunday, so we plated them up with salad and enjoyed them for lunch. Hot or cold, these meatballs are flavoursome. The cooked sweetcorn provides a delicious, sweet pop in your mouth as you bite into them. I really liked the sauce in this recipe. It is full of flavour, rich, sweet and spicy without being cloying. It would be the perfect accompaniment to meat or seafood dishes on a hot, summers day.

I would recommend making them the day before, as they are little bit time consuming to prepare. This would also allow the flavours to develop and intensify even further!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

No. 96: A new era...Breakfast at Milkwood


The
Route 96 tram terminus in East Brunswick sits at an intersection that has been 'deep cool' in waiting. Over the years, a motley collection of shops have stood either vacant or variously housed an eclectic assortment of businesses: the silver top taxi club, 'psychic rainbow', the museum of experimental art, a pizza shop and a tattoo parlour. It always looked a little forlorn and forgotten to me when I passed through on the 508 bus. But that was many years ago and times have changed. There are now three cafes, the Lomond Hotel seems busier than ever and 3RRR sits on the corner of Blyth and Nicholson Streets. The renaissance has begun in earnest.

Milkwood sits directly across from this terminus. It was with some excitement that I went there last Sunday for breakfast, as S. has been riding his bike over to the Route 96 of a morning and grabbing a coffee (and occasionally a cake) at Milkwood before jumping on the tram to go to work. He's been singing its praises for weeks now.

First, let me get out the way the things that I didn't like, because there's actually a lot to like about Milkwood:

- My knife and fork being set back to front. Etiquette dictates a correct way to set tables and position the cutlery. I wish this was adhered to more regularly.

- A hair in my food.

- The noise levels. The white-washed brick walls look fab. But with no sound insulation, a high ceiling and wood floors the noise level made it difficult to hear others.

- Snow pea shoots used to garnish my dish. Why do people persist in using these? They're fibrous, chewy and tasteless. And so...90s.

Now, to what I did like - the food. I had a special, smashed peas & broad beans with mint & pecorino on sourdough with poached eggs. What a wonderful spring breakfast dish! So flavoursome and fresh, I could simply have had the peas, broad beans and mint mixture on toast and I would have been happy. I wanted more, I wanted to keep eating it and eating it, rapturous in its simplicity and flavour. The poached eggs had rich, golden yolks. Perhaps they could have been a little more runny, but this is a small quibble.

S. had the ricotta pancakes with coconut, banana & honey yoghurt. These were served as a generous stack of three, large and flecked with toasted coconut. The yoghurt provided a tangy contrast to the fluffy, light pancakes and the sweetness provided by the honey and bananas.


The service at Milkwood was attentive and friendly. Coffee orders were taken the moment we sat down (the coffee used is Coffee Supreme). A query from me about their gluten-free bread was followed up immediately and I was informed that it was an artisan bread. In a conversation after our meal with another staff member, querying whether we had enjoyed it, we were told that it came from Fatto a Mano on Gertrude Street, Collingwood. It was delicious. I'll be visiting this bakery sometime in the coming week!


Despite the noise, the space at Milkwood is bright and airy. It is a small space and can get busy on the weekend (I think I counted six tables inside, some bench space and a couple of tables outside). The food makes the most of seasonal produce in a very small kitchen. The staff are welcoming and service is attentive. Importantly for me, they offer gluten-free options so I can enjoy a wheat-free meal or sweet treat. It is a very enjoyable cafe in which to enjoy breakfast or lunch, or grab a coffee and snack before getting on the tram to the city.

If you go, do the right thing and catch the tram there. Parking is difficult in the area. And don't forget that the Route 96 is one of National Geographic's Top 10 tram journeys of the world. We will definitely be going back to try some more of their breakfast offerings.

Smashed peas & broad beans with mint & pecorino on sourdough with poached eggs - $15
Ricotta pancakes with coconut, bananas & honey yoghurt - $13.50
Coffee - $3.20

Milkwood
120 Nicholson Street
East Brunswick
9380 4062

Milkwood on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Cookbook Challenge: Week 49 - Ice

Recipe: Raspberry Semifreddo (Semifreddo al Lampone)
Cookbook: The Silver Spoon (2005)


Yes, I know. Week 48 is missing. I'm working on that and should have something up soon. Bread is a bit of a challenge for me as I can't eat wheat.

This week's cookbook challenge recipe is from The Silver Spoon, something of a publishing sensation when the first English edition was published in 2005. It made available an Italian cookbook classic to the English-speaking world for the first time, and I think it was Phaidon Press' first foray into cookbook publishing.

Ingredients:
6 eggs
250g caster sugar
250g raspberries (I used frozen)
750ml double cream

Method:
This recipe begins by making a sabayon. Whisk the eggs with the sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water until thickened. The eggs will turn the colour of straw during the process and the mixture will become aerated. Then remove from the heat and continue whisking the mixture until it is completely cool. This step will take about 20-30 minutes, at least.

The sabayon once it is taken off the heat

My arms turned red and felt swollen at the end of this step. Although maybe they were red from gardening yesterday. But they definitely felt swollen. It's a lot of whisking.
I managed to unintentionally listen to most of News Radio's 'Weekend Halftime' (their sports report) this morning while whisking. If you've got the radio on in the kitchen while doing this step, make sure it's on a station you enjoy or a programme you actually want to hear. You are not going to move from the stove.


Mash the raspberries (I left some whole) in a shallow dish. Stiffly whip the cream and stir in the egg mixture and mashed raspberries. (I didn't whip the cream, as the double cream I purchased contained no gelatine).


Line a rectangular loaf tin with cling film, pour in the mixture and smooth the surface. Put in the freezer overnight or for at least 4 hours. To serve, turn out and remove the cling film.
This was the first time I've made a semi-freddo and it was delicious. Creamy but not overly sweet with the tang of raspberries, it was the perfect end to a meal. I'm definitely going to make this again and I've been inspired to try the over semi-freddo recipes in the The Silver Spoon

.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Cookbook Challenge: Week 47 - Italian

Recipe: Farsomagro (stuffed Sicilian beef roll)
Cookbook: My Cousin Rosa: Rosa Mitchell's Sicilian Kitchen (2009), Rosa Mitchell

This is a cookbook I often use. The recipes are easily 'do-able' and can often be pulled together with ingredients on hand, and quite quickly too.

A particular favourite in our house is her recipe for polpette (meatballs in tomato sauce), which apparently serves six but I find we get at least 16-20 serves from it. We make a batch at the beginning of winter and find ourselves eating it for the rest of the season. It's such a tasty recipe though, that this is in no way a burden.

However, I'm not making that recipe this week. I wanted to use my first week of participating in the cookbook challenge (albeit a week late) to make something different, something that I wouldn't normally try. And so I chose 'Farsomagro'. About this dish Rosa Mitchell writes 'this is a traditional Sicilian favourite - every family has its own version'. The end result was absolutely delicious, well worth the effort and just perfect for a cold and rainy weekend.

Ingredients:

1.5 kg girello roast or a piece of beef shoulder, boned and flattened as much as possible (I used beef shoulder)
2 tbls grated parmeson cheese
5 slices of mortadella
large leaves from 1/2 bunch of spinach (I used baby spinach leaves and it was fine)
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled but left whole
125 ml of olive oil

For the sauce:
3 tbls olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
2.5 kg tin or 4 x 500ml bottles of pureed tomatoes (I used passata)
2 bay leaves

Method:

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan that is big enough to hold all the meat. Cook the onion, celery and carrot over a low heat until soft and golden, then add the tomato puree and bay leaves, season with salt and pepper and leave to simmer while you prepare the meat.


Lay the meat on a flat surface, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the parmesan. Lay the slices of mortadella down the centre of the meat. Lay the spinach leaves over the mortadella. Arrange the eggs lengthways in a line down the centre of meat. Season again with salt and pepper. You can see from the photos I worked with two pieces of meat, which made it easier to fit into the saucepan.


The tricky part, as Rosa points out, is rolling up the meat. It helps to have a second pair of hands around at this point.

Start to roll from one long side, tying with kitchen string at intervals of about 8cms. Make sure the ends are tied very tightly or you will lose the eggs.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan and brown the farsomagro on all sides, then add to the sauce in the pan. Cover the pan and cook over a very low heat for 1-1 1/2 hours, turning occasionally. Remove from the sauce and leave to cool slightly. Remove the string before slicing. Spoon some of the sauce onto a large serving plate then arrange the slices on top and serve.

Serves 8.

This cooking method produced a meltingly moist meat that was full of well-balanced flavours. A great thing about this recipe is that there will be a lot of sauce left over and you will get more than one meal from it. The sauce that the meat is cooked in is full of flavour and can be used for a couple of quick pasta meals.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

While you see a chance, take it...breakfast at Pope Joan


It almost didn't happen, for a couple of reasons. First, we weren't intending to go to Pope Joan for breakfast. We were driving down Nicholson Street on our way to somewhere else when we passed by and saw there was only one table occupied. One table occupied in the hottest cafe to open in the last 12 months. Ok, I exaggerate. There were two tables occupied and that was it.

Second, there were milk crates out the front. Bloody milk crates! I'm not sure when it became acceptable to expect people to sit on milk crates and pay for their meals, but I'm not having any of that designer feral palaver. I used milk crates for furniture when I was a poor student. I'm not paying to eat on them now I'm earning a decent income (and hence I will not go to 'A Minor Place' while milk crates continue to be used for seating).

On closer inspection it was clear that the milk crates were being used for tables, and topped with 'marble', no less. Well, as long as I don't have to subject my delicate derriere to such indignity that's ok then.

Now, enough of the ranting and to the food.


S. had the Corned beef bubble and squeak with celeriac remoulade, toast and fried egg. He said "...inside the beautifully crumbed croquette, the filling was soft, salty and tender. It contained pumpkin, carrot, potato and (he thinks) parsnip. The creamy remoulade tempered the saltiness nicely". The egg and toast were, of course, delicious.


Excited to see a rice dish on the menu, I ordered the kedgeree. I must say I thought it was slightly lacklustre. While the high quality of the ingredients was apparent, it didn't have the spicy 'bang' I was looking for. The rice was generously flecked with salmon and mackerel and topped with creme fraiche, fried onion and mint. Mixed into the dish the mint lifted the dish but not enough to give it the 'wow' factor I was looking for.

'Where's the egg?' I wondered. A kedgeree should have boiled egg. I'm sure it said 'egg' on the menu, but maybe not. Bad note taking. Mea culpa.



The hummingbird cake was a treat to behold. The pale lemon icing provided the perfect backdrop for the light green pistachios and the toasted coconut to dance upon. Moist as a good hummingbird cake should be but not stodgy as they sometimes can be, the fruit flavours were perfectly balanced and not overpowered by a sugary sweetness. One of the best hummingbird cakes we have ever eaten, with this category of cake being a special interest of S.


The soft chocolate tart was superb. It had a mild bitter chocolate taste, was sweet but not cloying and the consistency of a brownie. However, it wasn't heavy or stodgy as brownies can sometimes be, it was light and satisfying with just enough 'goo' in the middle to make it moist and a little bit chewy. It was, and this is a big call, the best chocolate cake/tart I have ever had. Yes indeed. I'll stand by that statement. It was perfect.

Pope Joan we thought you were over-hyped but now we love you. With one blip to report (being the kedgeree) we can't find much else to fault. The service was attentive and friendly, the British-Anglo focussed breakfast menu evoked comforting memories of childhood and the coffee was good. The cakes were a standout. The quality of the ingredients is high and we spied a veggie garden down the back. Ample seating indoor and outdoor is available. Enough has been said about its industrial setting so I will say no more. We will definitely be going back.

Kedgeree - $17
Corned beef bubble & squeak - $17
Coffee - $3.50
Cakes - $4.50 to $5.50

Pope Joan
77-79 Nicholson Street
East Brunswick
T: 9388 8858

Pope Joan on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Weekend Soup! Chicken & vegetable brodo

This recipe comes from Karen Martini's Cooking at Home (2008). This is her second cookbook, written after the birth of her first child. As I find the recipes a little less complicated in Cooking at Home than those in Where the Heart Is (2006), I tend to use it more. However, I think they are both excellent cookbooks. I particularly like her style of combining Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours and techniques.

It is a hearty soup, perhaps a bit to hearty for this time of year, but as the nights are still cool I think it can be enjoyed during the spring. It is satisfying without weighing you down and is full of veggie goodness.

Ingredients:

1 kg of chicken wings (I used wingettes, which I found much easier as the tip had been removed)
4 tbls of olive oil
2 litres of chicken stock
1 litre of water
2 chopped onions
4 cloves of chopped garlic
4 sprigs of oregano
4 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 bulb of fennel, trimmed and sliced.
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1/2 bunch of celery, chopped
1/2 cup of arborio rice
50g of spaghetti, broken into 6 cm pieces
2 chopped zucchini
1/2 cup of frozen peas
1/2 cup of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
crusty bread and parmesan to serve (optional, of course).

Method:

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees. Toss chicken wings in 1tbls of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a baking tray and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.

Once cooked, place wings in a large stock pot, cover with stock and water and boil over a medium heat. Then simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Strain, reserving the stock and set aside. Leave to cool slightly then remove the meat and about half the skin (I just removed the meat).

Heat 2tbls of olive oil in the stockpot over medium heat. Cook onion, garlic, oregano. thyme and bay leaf for 2-3 minutes, then add the fennel, carrots and celery and cook for a further 10 minutes.


Add chicken meat, reserved stock, rice and spaghetti and bring to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 5-8 minutes. Stir in zucchini, peas and parsley and simmer for a further five minutes until the rice and pasta are cooked. Add the remaining olive oil and serve with some crusty bread and parmesan cheese.

Serves 10.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Local Heroes - Trivelli Patisserie. First in an occasional series

'Local Heroes' is the first in an occasional series aimed at showcasing local food and produce suppliers in the suburb where I live - Coburg.

It's intended to be an antidote to continual focus on eastern suburbs in food articles such as
this. Honestly, with writing and research such like this you'd think only people living in the inner north (Fitzroy) and the eastern suburbs of Melbourne have access to good food suppliers. Oh, except when it's Epicure's Middle Eastern special, then Brunswick and Coburg get a tokenistic guernsey.

Ok, enough seriousness. The first local hero I am going to feature is Trivelli Patisserie.

Trivelli Patisserie celebrated their 35th birthday last month with a cannolo festival. The special price of 70 cents each generated such demand that all seating was removed from the shop to accommodate the customers crowded into it. The queue for cannoli stretched down Sydney Road (I wish I had've had my camera with me to capture the madness but I don't carry it with me when I'm doing my weekly food and grocery shop!).

I regularly stop into Trivelli for a coffee and sweet treat. They carry a wonderful range of Italian-style sweet biscuits, pastries and cakes. Their Italian style biscuits made from pistachio and almond meal are a wheat free treat I can enjoy.


I'd love to show you a photo of their gleaming counter bulging with goodies but unfortunately they don't like photos of the shop interior to be taken. So it's a shot of their rather fast fading exterior. But don't let that put you off from stepping inside. You won't be disappointed.
It's not a glamorous exterior but don't let that put you off

What I would like to feature here is their cakes. Trivelli has become our patisserie of choice when it comes to celebration cakes for a number of reasons. First, their cakes are absolutely delicious and excellent value for money. Secondly, the service is fantastic. The staff will take their time to talk through the many options available with you until you are completely satisfied. Finally, they provide an excellent product I can purchase locally without having to traipse all over town.

Picking up your finished cake from Trivelli is an experience in and of itself. First, the shop ladies get on the walkie-talkies to contact the bakers across the road. A couple of minutes later, a baker can be seen weaving his way through the chaotic traffic on Munro Street bound for the shop with cakes balanced in each arm. A final check inside the box and it's ready to take home.



Our wedding cake. This was a traditional fruit cake with a royal icing finish. The flowers were hand-painted. Trivelli bakers reproduced from an image in a magazine. It was big hit! Absolutely delicious.

Yes, it was very nice and very pretty. I was so overwhelmed when the bakers brought it out to me I almost cried.



A recent birthday cake ordered from Trivelli. Vanilla sponge cake layered with hazelnut and vanilla custard and finished with profiteroles. The waiter at Hellenic Republic was so impressed he asked us where it was from so he could order one. This cake is a small size and serves approximately 15 people. It's a little bit over-the-top but fun. For $70, I thought it was very good value.

So there you have it. Trivelli Patisserie. My first local hero.

Trivelli Patisserie
369 Sydney Road
Coburg
9354-5165

Trivelli Cakes on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hot off the press - Filou's to reopen

It started with a text on Saturday morning:

'OMG! Filou's reopens on 7 Oct!'

That turned into a bike ride.


When we arrived we were greeted by a passing fellow cyclist who punched the air with joy and called out to us:

'Opens next week!'

Here is the proof:


And all of inner northern Melbourne rejoices at the news that Filou's Patisserie is reopening!

Filou's has been closed for the best part of a year after a car crashed into the shopfront. It seems like it's been much longer, but soon we can all enjoy delicious French pastries again!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A simple recipe for asparagus

Asparagus, one of the harbingers of spring, has started appearing in the shops. Asparagus is a cold weather crop, thought to come from the Mediterranean. Keith Smith (1995) tells me that frescos on Egyptian tombs dated to 3000BC depict asparagus 'bunched and tied for market just as it is today'.

I like to prepare asparagus simply to highlight its delicate flavour. This recipe is a Japanese style hollandaise sauce. It is a bit lighter than the classic hollandaise recipe because it omits the butter. It has a lovely, light texture with a tang that doesn't overpower the asparagus.

This recipe is from
A Little Taste of Japan by Jane Lawson. It really is simple, so give it a try.

Sauce ingredients
3 egg yolks
60ml (1/4 cup) Japanese rice vinegar
1 tbls mirin
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tbls dashi (I substituted 2 tbls salted water for dashi)

Method
Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk to combine well. Sit the pan over a low heat and stir the sauce constantly for 3-4 minutes, or until smooth and thickened slightly. Remove from the heat. Put the pan on top of a bowl of ice and stir until cold.

The asparagus only needs to be cooked for a couple of minutes. For a cold dish, plunge it into cold water to stop the cooking process.

Arranged steamed or lightly boiled asparagus on a plate then pour over the sauce.

And that's it! Simple.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Alvin's invention test recipe - Caramelised pork belly with chilli vinegar and saffron rice

I gave up eating pork in my early 20s. 'Why?" I ask myself now. It has become one of my favourite meats. When properly cooked it is moist, succulent and full of flavour. I absolutely love it! I find pork chops a great quick, weekday meal and really enjoy a rolled roast pork cooked on the BBQ. I particularly like Black Berkshire pork, also known as Kurobota, which produces a very rich and sweet meat due to it's higher fat content. I first tried this in Japan a few years ago, and it is becoming increasingly available here.

Now onto pork belly, which is seen more frequently on restaurant menus. More often than not it is the other half's dish of choice if it's available when we eat out. Having never cooked it before I was inspired by to give it a try by Alvin's invention test recipe on MasterChef - Caramelised pork belly with chilli vinegar and saffron rice

This is the second time I've made this recipe and I have mixed feelings about it. Firstly, let's talk about the MasterChef effect and gouging. I'll start by stating that I think MasterChef is great for getting people to try new dishes and cook with ingredients that aren't normally on their radar. My favourite local butcher shop shows episodes of the show and seem to watch it when it's on. I can go into the shop the with a vague recollection of a cut of meat cooked with the previous night and they will know what it is.

When I first made this recipe it was at the height of the MasterChef frenzy. I paid $20 a kilogram for unboned pork belly at a butchers I don't normally shop at. The second time I bought the boned pork belly at Coles and paid $12.50 a kilogram. Today I went into my local butcher and they had Otway organic pork belly for $10.99 a kilogram. Yep, I was gouged that first time.

Secondly it takes a long time. It takes me over 3 hours by the time I've prepped everything, cooked and assembled the dish.

Thirdly, it makes a bit of a mess, a lot actually, particularly when you fry the pork cubes in the peanut oil - watch out! The oil splatters everywhere when the pork is added. It's a war-zone. And I'm not that convinced that this step should be included at all. How does it add value to the dish, except for calorific value? The pork to me is perfectly delicious just after it has been braised, at the end of step one. Why fry it? I'm interested to know the reason for this. If anyone knows drop me a line.


Perfectly cooked at the end of a good braising - just right for a Cuban sandwich

In the episode when Alvin made this recipe, Gary Mehigan picked up the dish and pretended to steal it away from the other judges. I'm not sure why. The end result was tasty but it didn't have the 'wow' factor for me. Not enough to make it again. I will keep searching for and trying out pork belly recipes. Even though I don't think I will make this recipe again, it has given me the the confidence to cook with this cut of meat. And that is a plus.



The braising has given me an idea though for preparing a rolled piece of pork for barbecuing, by braising it in the stock first and then using the caramel sauce for as a marinade to be brushed on as it's being cooked.

If you make this recipe and can't find all the ingredients, here a couple of possible substitutes:

shaoxing wine - sherry
karamel masakan - dark corn syrup
black sesame seeds - toasted sesame seeds

Any pork belly recipes welcome!


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Weekend Soup! - Pumpkin Soup

This weekend's soup is nothing too complicated. For pumpkin soup I don't think a strict recipe is really necessary, so what I am going to give you are some approximations, for you to adjust as you please.

Ingredients:

1-2 tbls. of olive oil
1.5 kg of pumpkin
1 stick of celery
About a 1/4 of a capsicum
Some garlic - couple of cloves or teaspoon of crushed garlic
(or an onion in lieu of the celery and capsicum. I use these because I am meant to avoid onions due to my fructan intolerance).
Approx. 1 litre of chicken stock (you may need more)
salt and pepper

Chop the pumpkin into small pieces, approximately 3 to 4 cms in diameter. Now pop the pumpkin into the oven to roast. This technique is used by Beverley Sutherland-Smith, which I really like because it intensifies the flavour.

Chop the celery and capsicum, crush the garlic and cook these off in the olive oil for a few minutes. Now, I was going to add a slug of vermouth at this point a la Nigella, but forgot to. But you can. Cook it off if you do.

Add the pumpkin and stock. I like my pumpkin soup quite thick so just cover the pumpkin with the stock. Add more if you like it a bit looser.

Give everything a stir and cook until the pumpkin is very soft and starts to break up. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the soup is cooked let it cool down. Blitz it in a food processor, use a stick blender or you can even mash it.

S. likes a bit of bulk to his soups, so I added a can of chickpeas prior to reheating the soup. You could add some small pasta or risoni instead if you like. Just make sure to cook these off properly - add some more stock if needed.


Enjoy!


Monday, September 6, 2010

I've got a confession...

Last week Myf Warhurst wrote in The Age on that most recent of social phenomena, lining up at the latest 'hot' cafe for breakfast.

I must confess to doing this once, and once only. It was for the king of breakfasts, Bills. It was worth it. My breakfast of sweet corn fritters with roast tomato, spinach and bacon was sublime. S. describes his choice of ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter as 'Magnificent. If I was going to be shot at dawn, I would ask for Bill's ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter and a tot of rum as my last meal'. Plus I got to see Bill Grainger in person, hanging out in the kitchen for a while helping his staff. I nearly wet my pants with excitement.

I've never waited in line again and I don't think I will. You see, when I go out to eat I'm usually hungry and not at all inclined to wait more fifteen minutes for a table, if it was worth it. No more. I'd get too tetchy, quite possibly a bit stabby with hunger (Although S. has just pointed out to me that we did wait in line for a western style table at the oyster restaurant on Miyajima Island. But we've only waited this once, nothing else since. And it was worth it - hot, crumbed fried oysters with Japanese-style curry on rice on a wet, wet day. Just the thing). I'm interested to know what others think:

Do you wait in line for breakfast?

Would you wait in line for breakfast?

Is it always worth the wait?

Don't be shy to start a discussion!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

You will have Peking Duck only - or how I learnt to trust the waiter at the American Restaurant

With its wood panelling, octagon mirrors, tiled floor and Chinese landscape print on the wall, the American Restaurant could be a restaurant on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne the decor is so familiar. But it's not, it's in Wan Chai in Hong Kong.

Lonely Planet's Hong Kong & Macau City Guide (2010) tells me that the American Restaurant was so named to attract American soldiers in Wan Chai on R&R during the Vietnam War. It attracts the rich and famous, like Robbie Coltrane who was spied by a work colleague getting impatient with the slow service offered by the elderly wait staff, the expatriate community, the local Hong Kong Chinese community and people like us - tourists.

The American Restaurant specialises in Northern Chinese cuisine, and according to my trusty Lonely Planet book offers a Northern speciality rarely seen - pigs throat stir fried with parsley. Now I think I was at that point of our trip where I would have been prepared to be a bit adventurous and try a dish like this. It was dinner on day two of our trip and while our meals had been delicious they had been familiar and tame. However, I was not going to have this opportunity, oh no.

The first dish I chose from the menu was the half serve of Peking Duck. Now, expecting this to be served to us as a couple of pancakes, duck slices, cucumber and spring onion for garnish I went to point to another dish on the menu.

"No half Peking Duck. You will have whole Peking Duck only" I was told, 'that is enough. Forty-five minutes, ok?"

Now, I was a little bit shocked at being told this. What was going on? Whole Peking Duck? I'm not used to being told what to do. I'm the eldest child in the family, I tell people what to do, not vice versa. And I was paying for this too.

"Oh" was my crestfallen response. "But what does it come with?" I asked anxiously. I couldn't have only meat for dinner.

"Cucumbers and spring onion".

"That's it?"

"Yes. Plenty for you both".

Who was I too argue. With a collective waiting experience of at least 500 hundred years between the ten elderly, male waiting staff working that night, what did I know? Nothing. They knew better than me how much and what I needed to eat.

I was a bit peckish though and wasn't sure I could wait 45 minutes without becoming a bit tetchy. So we ordered some fried spring rolls.


We should have given these a miss. They tasted like they were filled with the kai see ming of my childhood - minced beef and cabbage. We drank some Tsing Tao beer, ate a couple and wondered why we bothered - the duck arrived in 30 minutes. And what a spectacular dish it was.

The whole duck was brought out and cut before our eyes, then presented to us on a platter that bulged with juicy, tender, slices of roast duck.

The Peking Duck was served with a mountain of lovely, light, thin pancakes, rich hoisin sauce, juicy sliced cucumber and spring onions (which to my mind were a bit chewy). We think we had at least a dozen pancakes each, probably more. It was a feast, and our waiter was right - the whole Peking Duck was enough for us.


We had to compose the pancake our selves, which was a bit of a disappointment to me. None of the flourish experienced at BBQ King in Sydney where they do it for you. Oh well, a small disappointment.


American Restaurant is an institution in Hong Kong and has been around for over 40 years. Apparently it can get very busy on the weekends. It was quiet the night we were there, which was Thursday, but soon filled to about half its capacity. Despite what other reviews say, we found the service to be attentive and prompt, perhaps because it was only half full.

As we left and walked out into the still humid Hong Kong evening, we felt very satisfied after eating our whole Peking Duck. It wasn't the best we've eaten but it was still tasty. It's probably the most Peking Duck we've ever consumed (and are ever likely to consume again) in one sitting.

Conclusion?
The atmosphere was enjoyable and we had fun. We would definitely go back to try some of their other dishes.

American Restaurant
Ground Floor, Golden Star Building
20 Lockhart Road
Wan Chai
Hong Kong