Monday, May 28, 2007

Jim's Greek Tavern

Last week, some friends and I headed out to Jim's Greek Tavern to celebrate my good friend Timmy finishing another module of his horrible accountancy certification. (His words, not mine... well actually, his words are "fuckin' shit accounting" but I thought I should clean it up for the blog... and whoops I've gone and cursed. Sorry.)

Anyway... back to the food.

Jim's Greek Tavern
32 Johnston St
Collingwood VIC 3066

Jim's Greek has been around forever, which by Australian standards means longer than 30 years. They serve good standard Greek food in a bustling atmosphere. There isn't a menu; the waiters will simply come up to you and tell you what they've got. I've heard that you've got to be assertive with the waiters, or they might push you to order too much, too expensive options. We did not have this problem. In fact, quite the opposite. Our waiter (who was busy and stressed) basically ignored our table, while pretty much every table around us was getting special treatment. One nearby table held a minor Melbourne celebrity and his demanding friend, another table had some regulars, and the other table near us had 2 young ladies in low cut tops. Ahem. It took ages for him to come over and take our orders, even longer for the food to arrive, our plates got empty and cold before he came over to clear them, and it was a mission trying to get his attention to order the next course.

Thank goodness I'd remembered to bring a bottle of wine (Jim's is BYO). And the food, when it finally arrived, was very good.

Warm bread. (Dips, vegies and pickled octopus pictured above).

Saganaki. Fried cheese. All kinds of delicious.

Fried octopus with garlic and lemon.

We eat the delicious food until it is all gone... there is a half-hour wait... the waiter then asks us what we want for our main meals... he says "scallops, fish, octopus, lamb, lamb, and lamb"... we say "scallops and lamb please"...

...another 30 minutes later...

Lamb. It was so tender and crispy and juicy. Man, it was good.

Fried scallops. Crispy and oily and good. There were 4 of us eating, but only Timmy and I ate the scallops. I managed about a quarter of them, and Timmy "I just really hate to waste food" ate the rest.

Greek Salad. Tastes good, cuts through the grease.

...we eat, get progressively more tipsy... wait a good long time for the waiter to clear our plates... wait longer for him to take our order for desserts and coffee... but we do get it, in the end...

Baklava. Not the best I've ever tasted. I think this one was a bit heavy on the flower water. Most importantly, I think baklava is best in teensy tiny little diamonds, rather than whacking great big pieces.


Greek Coffee.

Timmy: Man, that was good coffee!

So much food...

The bill turned out to be $116, which was a lot cheaper than I expected. The food was good, the company was better, the service was slow, but we left full and happy.

Jim's Greek Tavern on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sarah the Caterer

A couple of weeks ago, my good friends Liam and Alistair told me they were making a short film, and if I would be so kind as to cater for their shoot. Never one to say no to feeding large groups of people, I said yes. It was a 5-day shoot, with with 20 - 32 people on set each night. I had a budget of $100 a day, and had to make a proper meal, a set of nibbly snacks and some sweets. At first, I had big plans of making almost everything from scratch - from pasta sauces, to cakes, quiches and pies.


Disaster struck. One week before the shoot was scheduled to begin, I swiftly (and painfully) threw out my back at the gym, and was bedridden for two days. After that, I slowly got better, but I still couldn't go to work or uni for the rest of the week, and couldn't face the idea of standing in the kitchen for hours on end. I scaled back my cooking plans, for instance, buying jarred sauce and dips from the supermarket instead of making everything myself. For the items that I did make, some were from recipes, and some I just improvised (see below). I enlisted the help of my best friend (thank-you!!) and we still managed to feed the crew.

On an aside - hitting Coles with $500 and a trolley is waay too much fun!

Here is what we ended up making...

Day 1 - 21 people

Penne Bolognese (Beef mince, Coles 'Smart Buy' penne, Dolmio tomato sauce)

Vegetarian Pasta (Dolmio tomato sauce, mushrooms, Coles 'Smart Buy" spiral pasta)

Coca Cola Cupcakes (Nigella Lawson, How to be a Domestic Goddess. I used baking powder instead of bicarb, which made them dense and fudgy. I also used less coke in the icing than the recipe states, so the icing was thicker than usual.)

Anzac Biscuits (Belinda Jeffrey, Mix and Bake. Pictured at the top. It was a very good recipe! Anzacs are highly addictive.)

Dips & Crackers & Bread & Cheeses. And a melon!

Day 2 - 20 people
2 Ham & Cheese quiches (Donna Hay, Modern Classics I. I made the pastry very quickly, and ended up with a couple of holes in the base. Whoops! In order to avert this problem, I layed whole pieces of ham across the base, rather than chopping it up. Brilliant!

Layer over the ham...

Sprinkle over cheese and chopped parsley...

Pour over a mixture of cream, eggs and mustard...

And bake!

Cheese/spinach/potato pastries. This is the way my mum makes curry puffs. You just make a filling (in this case, boiled potato cubes, chopped cooked spinach and grated cheese). Then, you heat up your old electric jaffle iron, line it with pastry and fill it with your filling. The jaffle iron shapes and cooks the pastry all in one go. My mum is a genius.

Mmm... Pastry town!

Chocolate & Pecan higgledy piggeldys (Belinda Jeffry's Mix and Bake. To make these you crush up McVitie's digestive biscuits, mix them with butter and sugar, press them into a large tray, and bake for 5 minutes. Then you pour over finely chopped chocolate (which melts), sprinkle over chopped pecans, and let it set. Crunchy and compulsive.

Cheese stars (Nigella Lawson, How to Eat. Made on special request for Alistair. His favourite biscuits. Apparently he was scavenging through the food boxes every night, waiting for these to appear.)

Dips & Crackers & Crudités & Fruits

Day 3 - 20 people

Baguettes! We got 6 large baguettes from Laurent, sliced them in half lengthwise, and filled them with all sorts of things - ham, cheese & mustard; chicken, mayo & salad; mixed roasted veggies & feta; salami, tomato & cheese... We got 6 good-sized sandwiches out of each large baguette, and apparently there was enough to even feed the 30 extras.

More dips, crackers, fruits, crudites and cheese

Little sandwiches ready for the jaffle iron. Liam cleverly invested in his own jaffle machine for the film shoot. This worked out well, because some of the bread we'd bought (4 days earlier) had started to go a little bit stale. (It was still well within its use-by date, but was just starting to dry out). I used that bread for ready-made jaffles, and the bread was saved. There was ham and cheese, plain cheese, and pesto & feta.

Day 4 - 21 people

The same pastas as on Day 1

Leftover sweet treats from the previous days
(Apparently I'd overcatered. Me?)

More dips, cheese, crackers etc etc...

Day 5 - 32 people

Baked pastas. For these I cooked pasta until just underdone, and then layered it in a foil tray with jarred pasta sauce and cheese, before baking them until brown and crispy. I made one vegetarian version, one salami version, and one with minced beef. These went down quite well, proving my theory that everything tastes better with cheese.

Again, there were also leftover sweets to go around, and yet another round of dips/cheese/crackers etc.

And after all of that, my back was fine (thank goodness), but I think another weekend stuck in bed was definitely in order.

Monday, May 21, 2007

More adventures with carbon steel...

I read somewhere that the best way to season a pan is simply to cook with it...

On Wednesday night last week, I had a Nigella moment and fashioned a dinner out of leftovers. I cooked the piece of shrink-wrapped kassler that had been sitting, lonely, in my fridge. I'd bought one-too-many pieces the week before for a family dinner and still had to use up the last one. I fried it in my pan for about 15 minutes (greasy food is great for seasoning a pan, don't you know).

Once it was fried, I let it sit in a low oven, and added finely chopped onions and a tin of drained lentils to the pan. Once the onions were cooked and the lentils were warmed, I added a sprinkling of chopped parsley, and dinner was ready.

Possibly not the healthiest meal, but I think it's extremely difficult to make a healthy meal out of what is, essentially, an enormous piece of bacon.

A few nights later I had a quick and delicious supper of scrambled and fried eggs on toasted granary bread.

As for cleaning the pan, I have taken advice from the comments on my last post, and didn't use detergent. When gunky stuff was stuck to the pan, I boiled some water in the pan, which lifted off the food particles, and then wiped it down with a clean sponge. Finally, before storing, I put the pan back on the heat to get it completely dry, and brushed it with a thin layer of vegetable oil.

Monday, May 14, 2007

How to season a black iron / carbon steel pan

I'm sorry that I haven't been posting much lately; I have indeed been cooking, but have been super-busy with work and uni and things like that.

Anyway.. I've just started a mini-culinary project. Nothing too exciting, unfortunately. I've recently bought a carbon steel pan (AKA black iron. I figured out after some long and painful searching on the internet that "black iron" and "carbon steel" are the same thing). I'm going to season the pan, and document the process on my blog. I've never seasoned a pan before (not even a wok; we have a stainless steel one at home), and I've heard that a properly seasoned pan is a joy to cook on, so I thought I'd give it a go.

I picked it up at a homeware store for a mere $15. It was covered in a non-toxic anti rusting oil, and paper. After bringing the shiny beauty home, I spent ages on the internet trying to figure out how to actually season the thing. Pretty much every website I found gave conflicting advice - some said to bake it in an oven, some said to heat it on the stove, some said to clean it with detergent, some said detergent would destroy the pan....

and so on.

After all of that, I figured that I'd just go back to my Asian roots, and season the pan like a wok. (Googling "How to Season a wok" proved much more productive than "How to season a black iron pan"). The point of seasoning, as far as I can tell, is to create layers of oil in the pan, which increase with each use, eventually forming a "shiny black patina" which is basically non-stick.

Based on my internet research (possibly inaccurate, but time will tell), here is how to season a pan.

How to Season a Black Iron / Carbon Steel Pan

1. Scrub the pan clean in warm soapy water, being careful to remove all the "anti-rust coating", and dry very thoroughly.

2. Coat all internal surfaces of the pan with vegetable oil, (I used a big wad of kitchen paper for ease), and pour a layer of oil to a depth of about half a centimetre in the bottom of the pan.

3. Place the pan over a medium heat and heat for about 10 minutes, until lightly smoking.

4. Let the pan cool down, pour out the oil, and wipe out the excess.

5. Repeat steps 2-4 twice more.

6. Your pan is now seasoned and ready for use. With repeated use, more layers will form in the pan, eventually turning black and becoming virtually non-stick.

7. There are various schools of thought on cleaning the pan - some say to simply wipe the pan out, or scrub gently with a nylon pan to remove any burnt-on food products. Some sources recommend using hot water and a light detergent; others say that simply heating water in the pan until it boils and then pouring it out is sufficient. I guess you should do what you feel comfortable with. It is also important never to leave the pan with any moisture in it, or it will rust. You can just place it on the heat until any water is evaporated, wipe a thin coating of oil on the pan, and the cleaning process is finished.

Here is my first attempt at seasoning... as you will see, the sides went a bit strange. I couldn't tell if that was supposed to happen, or if I just hadn't scrubbed the pan enough, and some anti-rust coating had remained.

See? Looks a bit dodgy, I think. So I started again, this time scrubbing really hard, and then re-seasoned it.

This time it looked much better, and most importantly, started smelling like a wok in a Chinese restaurant would.

Stay tuned for (hopefully) delicious adventures with fried foods!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Happy Birthday to Me!

Check out my birthday cake! It's a melt-and-mix white chocolate cake, with whipped white chocolate icing. The recipes, if you are interested, come from Donna Hay's Wedding magazine that came out some years back. It's also in Modern Classics 2. It's well worth making, because it is delicious! I have to admit that I didn't bake this one - my mum baked it for me, and decorated it with the beautiful ribbon and flowers. Thank-you mum!

For my birthday dinner, we went to what is fast becoming my favourite restaurant - Tutto Bene in Southgate. I've visited there 3 times now, and absolutely love it! It is great for a special dinner, a quick and resonably priced meal, or filling up before the theatre. Chef Simon Humble is widely regarded as the best risotto chef in Australia, having trained in and extensively travelled throughout Italy. He also received the Silver award at Italy's World Intercontinental Risotto competition, held in 1999. Although I'm told that now he serves the restaurant in a promotional capacity, rather than as a full-time chef, he has trained the full-time chefs who work there, and you can be guaranteed a good risotto. Good? What am I saying? An excellent risotto.

Here are the starters, which we shared between the 6 of us.

Lasagne with ham and bechamel, and pesto sauce. Incredible! I would have happily eaten a huge plate of this for my dinner and forgotten the risotto.

Parmigiano Reggiano 2004 con aceto balsamico e grissini (50 grams of aged parmigiano reggiano with balsamic vinegar reduction and grissini)

Mmm... balsamic vinegar reduction...

Deep-fried calamari

E finalmente, i risotti.

Duck, porcini and sage

Granchio con pomodoro e peperoncini - blue swimmer crab with tomato and chilli

Al Presidente - "a unique combination of 2 year old parmigiano and balsamic vinegar, produced from a 1912 mother must, created by [Simon Humble] for the Italian President visiting Australia"

Isola Della Scala (I think.. I can't exactly remember the name and it's not on the website). Anyway, it was a mixture of meats with a strong cinnamon flavour. According to my father, who ordered it, it was lovely but very rich.

Pumpkin and Goats Cheese - and just as fabulous as it sounds.

Our side dishes...

Roast potatoes (mmm... double the carbs...)

Rocket salad

Insalata Caprese - slices of tomato, basil and cute little mozzarella pearls with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic

We didn't try any of their desserts, because there was delicious cake to come! (Actually, I'm embarassed to admit that I've never had them, as I've usually been in a rush. Next time, next time!)

Cutting and serving the cake cost a mere $2 per person, and it looked so pretty. (Unlike some restaurants which charge ridiculous prices just to cut and serve a cake *cough*... Fenix... *cough*...$12???! *cough*)
The manager also gave me a bottle of their yummy olive oil because it was my birthday. Yay!
A lovely latté was a great way to end a lovely meal.

Tutto Bene on Urbanspoon