Monday, September 28, 2009

Tonkatsu Time - ハ人の和風お昼ご飯

Tonkatsu! (No sauce)

Despite my love for Japan, and many years of study (so many kanji and "未来の夢"の作文!), I very rarely cook Japanese food myself. I used to make oyako-don and sukiyaki occasionally, but that was B.B. (Before Blog), if you can imagine such a time. However, since my bro and his girlfriend Su came back from a holiday to Japan, they have been cooking it quite a bit. Cold soba noodles, full Japanese breakfasts, that sort of thing. Even natto (blergh). Inspired, I decided to make a Japanese-style lunch when we had our friends over last weekend.

A Japanese-Style Lunch for 8

Zaru Soba / ざるそば
Gyoza / 餃子
Tonkatsu with Cabbage and Rice / トンカツ、キャベツサラダ、ご飯
Taiyaki / たい焼

The preparation involved a pretty expensive shop at Fuji-mart, and 2 un-stressful hours before the lunch. In the morning, I cooked and chilled the soba, sliced the cabbage, made the dough/custard for the taiyaki and crumbed the pork (see previous post). Susu came over an hour in advance to assemble her gyoza, and our friends arrived right on time. (With a slab of Sapporo - thank-you to Justin & Megan!)

A very crowded table

We started off eating the soba and gyoza. We had the noodles with soba sauce (bottled) and finely chopped spring onions. Normally you'd have wasabi too, but we'd run out, so people started dipping into the super-hot mustard I'd made for the tonkatsu to get that wasabi-like hit. I love zaru-soba; it is so delicious and refreshing.

Clockwise from front: spring onions, gyoza dipping sauce, mustard sauce for tonkatsu

Mmm... gyoza...

After that, I got up and started a-frying!

The meat is pork loin. Sometimes it's sold as "butterfly pork", and if so you'll need to cut it down the middle to get single pieces.

Whilst I love, love, love deep-fried food (tonkatsu, tempura, even KFC), I rarely deep-fry at home. Obvious health reasons aside, deep-frying is a total pain in the A**. The painful splatters, the huge amount of oil you have to dispose of, the fact that your hair will stink for days afterwards.

There is a wonderful moment when all the meat is fried, and you can turn off the gas and the noisy kitchen exhaust and just appreciate the gorgeousness of the crunchy fried golden-brown goodness.

Letting the pork sit on a rack stops it from going soggy, and gives you maximum crunch. Unfortunately I didn't have those funky individual little grills that you get in restaurants in Japan, so made do with a baking tray and cooling rack.

I sliced each crunchy little piece of pork into strips, and brought the whole lot to the table, so each guest could take a re-assembled chop. Sandra & Su took care of rice-scooping duties. And then it was tonkatsu time!

Tonkatsu, tonkatsu sauce (Bulldog brand, from a bottle), cabbage salad, rice, and mustard sauce.

The only sauce that didn't come out of a bottle (don't judge me, it's the way Japanese housewives do it! :P) was the hot mustard sauce. I seem to remember always having a super-hot mustard sauce with tonkatsu, but couldn't find a recipe for it anywhere. I improvised, mixing together English mustard with finely grated ginger and soy sauce. (Similar to the dipping sauce Nigella suggests to go with her salmon with shitake mushrooms and greens from Nigella Bites). It worked a treat!

The sesame dressing was really delicious, and was very well received by my friend George, who ate more cabbage than the rest of us put together! Mmm.. cabbage.
Sesame dressing. It's hyaku-paasento kin no goma da yo!

After we recovered a bit, it was time for taiyaki. I'd planned on making just redbean and custard, but then got requests for apple, nutella, kaya...

It was so much fun, making the taiyaki and giving them out straight from the pan! (Watch out, that kaya gets SCALDING hot!) Best investment ever.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

How to have a great Japanese lunch party...

Start with a slab of Sapporo beer...

Get Su to make her famous Gyoza...

Get out the taiyaki pan...

And make a whole lot of crumbed pork...

Full post to come soon!!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rainbow Coffee!!

Look what I found at the Asian grocer!!!!!!!!!

Inside door of our bar fridge. Yes, I drink coke zero, and I'll thank you not to judge!

It's finally here! My beloved Boss Coffee Rainbow Mountain Blend!! (You may remember it from my '07 trip to Japan, where it came out of vending machines WARM!) Saw it at a Korean grocery today, and had to snap up 6 cans. What an impulse buy. At $3.79 a pop they are expensive, more expensive than my morning latte, but I just couldn't resist. And they look so much cooler than the red bulls/V's that my co-workers drink.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nigella Lawson's Spinach, Ricotta and Bulgur Wheat Pie

A homemade pie just screams domestic goddess. This was my vegetarian offering for the lunch we hosted on Sunday, and I was incredibly pleased with how it turned out, especially considering that I was so distracted and making a zillion other things at once. It's kinda like a vegetarian version of a pork pie - all crumbly pastry and high sides.

It comes from Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess, one of my favourite baking books. It's more well-known for its sweet recipes, but deserves equal attention for its delectable savouries (e.g. lamachun, courgette and chickpea filo pie, garlic and parsley hearthbreads...)

For this pie, you start by making shortcrust pastry (using Nigella's super-easy freezer method), and then lazily stir together all the ingredients for the filling. The most strenuous part of the whole process is squeezing all the excess liquid out of the defrosted (frozen) spinach and soaked bulgar wheat. It's a pain, but it's got to be done, otherwise you'll have a soggy-bottomed pie.

I was pleasantly surprised by the texture of the filling - it was firm and not soggy at all.

I think it could look quite smart without a separate piece of pastry on top - just by folding over the excess base pastry around the sides. (You'd probably need a larger piece than I used though; I think a one-inch border would look best). Anyway, this time I followed the recipe to the letter, placing a smaller disc of pastry on top, folding the edges over and sealing them down with a fork. Then brush with eggwash, and bake!

Nigella writes that she likes this pie best 25 minutes after it's come out of the oven, and with all the hustle and bustle of Sunday, it was about that much time before I managed to slice into it.

It was a little crumbly, but each slice held its shape really well. The pastry also tasted great and had a wonderful short texture (I love Nigella's pastry method!). My only issue with the pie is that it was a little bland - I forgot ricotta is like a black hole for flavour, absorbing the flavour of anything near it. When I make this again, I'll definitely double all the seasoning ingredients (salt, pepper, cayenne, lemon zest, thyme), and fold through some cubes of feta. I wouldn't go so far as to replace all the ricotta with feta, as it might affect the texture of the finished pie.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Fun Sunday Lunch for 15

Woah. I cannot believe we cooked so much. What started as a casual Sunday lunch for a few friends turned into a 2-day cooking extravaganza. Typical. Well, I didn't expect everyone to actually say yes! (But I'm very glad they all did.) Sandra and I planned the menu a week in advance, did the big shop on Saturday arvo, and we cooked all Saturday night and Sunday morning.

A Fun Sunday Lunch for 15

Aubergine, Yoghurt and Saffron Dip (Nigella's Feast)
Pita Bread, Crackers

Chicken Wings with Curry-lime Butter (Tyler Florence's Tyler's Ultimate)
Juicy Beef Skewers with Sour-cream, Chive & Horseradish Dip (Nigella Express)
Spinach, Ricotta and Bulgar Wheat Pie (How to be a Domestic Goddess)

German Potato Salad
Chickpea Salad (Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries)
Superfood Salad

Mille Feuille

Let's go through the menu item by item...

Dips and Crackers
Left: Tzatziki. Right: Aubergine, Saffron and Yoghurt Dip

I've made that eggplant dip quite a few times, and find it a delicious and interesting alternative to babaganoush. (Even eggplant-haters like this, so I'm very happy with it). We got a bag of 4 big eggplants for $1 at Vic market. Tzatziki was made with excess ingredients from the other recipes - Greek yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and coriander.

Superfood Salad
Have made it before, repeatedly, and will make it again. This time we omitted the feta, because the chickpea salad also contains it. I've noticed that trendy young things like this salad a lot. Must be all the antioxidants.

German Potato Salad (Chickpea Salad in background)
The secret ingredient is bacon fat. I used kipfler potatoes this time (only $2.50 a kilo at Vic Market!!!!), which were perfect, as they cooked all the way through without getting the least bit mushy. If budget and time permits, I will use kipflers for all my future potato salads.

Juicy Beef Skewers with Sour Cream and Chives Dipping Sauce
Duncan really liked these skewers, even though I told him they were a Nigella recipe, hehe. You marinate cubes of rump steak overnight (horseradish, port, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, oil, red wine vinegar), then skewer them and grill.

The amazingly delicious dip that went with was super-easy - stir together sour cream, chives, spring onions, horseradish and dijon. Delish! We have a bit of that dipping sauce leftover, and I would LOVE eat it on a baked potato.

The Ultimate Chicken Wings with Curry-Lime Butter
If it's a self-proclaimed "Ultimate" recipe, you know it's gotta be Tyler. You bake chicken wings until crispy, and toss them in a mixture of softened butter, yellow Thai curry paste, lime juice, honey and soy. (Use wingettes unless you want people gnawing at them messily).

Spinach, Ricotta and Bulgur Wheat Pie
We had one confirmed veggo coming, and although he's really easy-going about it, I love any excuse to bake a pie. I was so pleased with it I will be writing a separate post about it this week! Nigella rules.

Everyone who RSVP'd turned up, and even more importantly, came hungry. (This included one of our maybes, Wes, and I was thrilled that he came!)

Midway through the arvo.

The weather was quite nice, so a few of us were able to sit outside (Yay, Winter is over!).

My plate:
I found it interesting that most people arranged their plate in the same way: beef skewer in the middle, salads on one side, pie and chicken on the other.

Mille Feuille

You've seen it before: here. This time I couldn't be bothered making my own pastry, so bought 2 packets of Carême brand. It was pretty good, but very very buttery (some might say greasy) and rose way too much, even though I docked the pastry like crazy.

Apparently you can avoid the super-high rising by baking the pastry with a tray on top to weigh it down. It was too late for that, so I split the pastry in half lengthways.

I made the crème pâtissière in the morning. I wanted to assemble the whole thing before my friends arrived so that it would all look pretty and perfect, but ran out of time. Oops. I just whacked it all together when everyone was there and we were hanging around talking. Relaxed! And massive bowls of custard seem to provide a good talking point, I've found. Lots of people just really like custard.

On a side note: it's good not to get too stressed out about making everything perfect, as something (even something small) is bound to go wrong when you're cooking for a group. If you have friends who will judge you, well, you need to find new friends, hehe.

Sandra baked this, using her German mama's recipe, and a sachet of Tortenguss to glaze it. I've made this before, using a Victoria sponge as the base. However, the echt version is a Biskuitteig, i.e. a plain sponge, which is lighter and less buttery than a Vic sponge. It's rather like a softer version of a savoiardi biscuit. Best cake for summer lunches!

Duncan brought these delicious little hazelnut shortbreads, each of which encased a whole hazelnut. I would have eaten them all if I weren't already full of potatoes and chicken. A tiny hint of saltiness in them really enhanced the flavour. They would be great with coffee.

We don't t have too many leftovers (YAY!), mainly thanks to 3 of my friends who have massive appetites (really Rugare, I was impressed!!!), and one friend of mine who was hungover and needed all the bacony carbs he could get. The only foods I grossly misjudged were the beef skewers (not enough), and the eggplant dip (way too much). Note to self: stop doubling the quantity of dip! No-one eats more than a few mouthfuls!

Big thanks to everyone for the wonderful company, and to my bro and Su for doing so much cleaning (and the much-needed mid-morning lattes!). With all these leftovers, I won't need to cook for days, weeeeeeee!

There are still a few dishes left, so off I go! Goodnight everybody.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mid-week Dinner Party

When we catch up with my good friend Adri, we usually end up somewhere like Glenny or Box Hill for dodgy dumplings and fried noodles. Last week, however, I felt like something altogether more special, so decided to cook dinner at my house.

I wanted to make something relaxed and simple (no spinning sugar or boning pheasants for me!), but still a bit different from what I've been cooking lately.

A relaxed, yet special mid-week supper for 3

Lemon and Thyme Roast Chicken
Lemon-roasted potatoes
Petits Pois à La Française
Heavenly Cheesecake with Balsamic strawberries

The chicken and potato recipe are from Tyler Florence's Dinner at My Place. I picked up a super-cheap (remaindered) copy at a discount bookstore the other day. I find it strange that Tyler never really took off here in Australia - his recipes are great! His shows are pretty good too, although he does talk a lot. And loudly.

The menu suggested in the book is entitled "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner", and contains a rotisserie roast chicken (I don't own a rotisserie, so a normal roast chicken it was), with roasted potatoes and a butter lettuce/pea salad. I wasn't too sure about the salad, so I ended up making the always-pleasing petits pois à la française.

For dessert, I took the opportunity to make a dessert I've wanted to for ages - Joanna Weinberg's deconstructed cheesecake from the book Relish. Like me, Adri is a big fan of crunchy cheesecake bases, so I knew it would be perfect.

It was all quite straightforward to make - I did the shopping the day before, and started cooking when I got home (luckily I had an early finish, and was home by 5!), and had time to set the table and have a shower before Adri arrived just after 8.

A tip from Joanna Weinberg - set the table first, so your guest(s) feel welcome even if the food is not ready. Work has been pretty stressful lately, so I wanted to create a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere. (Placemats and napkins were a gift from my bro and Su for my birthday last year.)

But back to the food. I started in the arvo by making the cheesecake. The base is just crushed digestive biscuits (McVities rule!), mixed with melted butter. I always add a dash of cinnamon to cheesecake bases for a lovely homely aroma. You bake it for 10 minutes, and then let it cool and set in the fridge.
I made the topping at this time too - beating together equal weights of Greek yoghurt and cream cheese (the recipe calls for mascarpone, but that was way too expensive), and some castor sugar. I added the seeds of a vanilla bean as well. I waited 'til the last minute to assemble it though, to make sure the base stayed lovely and crisp.

For the fruity topping I chopped up a punnet of strawberries, added some balsamic vinegar and castor sugar, and let it sit in the fridge to enhance their glowing rubied shine.

The chicken, when not made on a rotisserie, is your regular roast chicken - stuffed with garlic, thyme, bay leaves and lemon, and roasted right on top of the potatoes. The potatoes themselves had rosemary, oil, thyme and a few lemon wedges added. After the 1.5 hours roasting (which gave me much-needed time to relax!), the potatoes that were sitting directly under the chicken were quite soggy, and there was a lot of fat in the bottom of the tray. So while the chicken was resting, I put the potatoes in a separate tray, and then back in the oven to crisp up.

Peas! Cooked with sliced lettuce, spring onions and stock. Yum yum.

And here we have the winner winner chicken dinner:

(Playing with the new SLR - focused at the front, fuzzy at the back - yay!)

After dinner and much chitchat we got up to prepare the cheesecake. Adri described the cheesecake as "heavenly", and I much preferred that description to the wanky "deconstructed cheesecake", hehe.

It does look quite heavenly, with the billowing clouds of vanilla cream.

We then piled the juicy strawberry pieces on top and dug in.

Wow, wow, wow! It was amazing! The crunchy base, the rich creamy topping, the sharp strawberries. I'm glad we assembled it at the last minute, as the strawberries started bleeding into the cream, making it look rather unattractive. It was so easy to make, and rather elegant, in a messy and relaxed kinda way.

All up the ingredients for the dinner cost $40, which was pretty good going considering we'd easily spend that much if the 3 of us were to go out for dinner.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

3 Dinners: Healthy (again)

Been a while since I did one of these "3 Dinners" posts. But then, it's been a while since I cooked at home consistently. (Oven chips don't count). This post's theme is "healthy".

Vegetable Jalfreezi

This one is from Jamie's Ministry of Food, and seemed like one of the healthier curries we could enjoy - no coconut milk or cream involved. I found the Curries chapter of this book really useful. Jamie suggests using bought curry pastes (good for time-poor or beginners, but also has recipes for making curry pastes from scratch).

As you'll see from the first picture in this post, I went for the more laborious version. (I also couldn't find Jalfreezi curry paste at the supermarket. I got a jar of Jalfreezi simmer sauce, but I'll save that for a time when I need a quick quick dinner).

Even if you do make the curry paste from scratch, it's pretty easy, especially if you already have all the spices (y'all know I do, haha) - just a lot of chopping and stirring. It smells a-mazing when you're frying off the paste and the onion/garlic/chilli mix.

Simmer those veggies with stock and tomatoes for an hour or so, cook some rice, and dinner is ready.

Because we happened to use yellow peppers (cheaper at the market), the finished product was a gorgeous Mika-style Golden Golden curry. Fabulous.

Roast Monkfish with Steamed Kipflers, Mint Salsa and Superfood Salad

Just because it's healthy doesn't mean it can't be glamorous. I found some lovely fresh monkfish at Vic Market one day, and had to snap it up. I'd never seen it here, but read about it in lots of European cookbooks. Even during my How To Eat project, the one time I cooked it, I had to substitute different fish. (And I can't believe that dinner was over 4 years ago!!!!!!!)

Ooh... fresh.

I fried the fish on both sides to get it brown, drizzled with oil and lemon zest, and finished it off in the oven. In the meantime I steamed some kipflers, sliced them, and drizzled them with a mint salsa (mint, parsley, capers, cornichons, olive oil, white wine vinegar) whilst still warm so they could soak up all the flavours. Yum yum. Served with leftover superfood salad.

Lamb Cutlets, Brown Rice with Caramelized onions and Semi-Superfood Salad

We had a couple of rack-of-lamb leftover from Father's Day dinner (still to be blogged), so in the interest of thrift, later that week I sliced them into individual lamb cutlets, and grilled them on both sides. We served it with a kinda cross between the Superfood Salad and Jamie Oliver's chop salad - i.e. put all ingredients on a board and chop chop chop until it's mixed. The chopped ingredients included spring onions, cucumber, parsley, mint, and cos lettuce. I added a few tablespoons of red quinoa, mixed seeds, pine nuts and avocado, and dressed it with a mixture of lemon juice and buttery rapeseed oil. (Horrible name, lovely oil - tastes like popcorn but full of healthy-heart oils). With that, I made brown rice, and topped it with finely-sliced red onions, cooked until soft and sweet. Asian parents don't like non-white rice, so I had to make it at least a little interesting for them!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Seven Seeds

I think I must be the last Melbourne foodblogger to visit Seven Seeds...

Seven Seeds
114 Berkeley St
Carlton, VIC 3053
Ph: (03) 9347-8664
Open Monday to Saturday 7am-5pm and Sunday 8:00am-4pm. (& pub. holidays)

We decided to finally visit Seven Seeds today, after finding that Tofu Shop is unfortunately closed on Sundays. It's on a nondescript street off Queensberry st, right behind the new (and hideous!) Economics and Commerce building at Melbourne uni. Given the warehouse vibe and obsessive focus on coffee, it comes as no surprise that Seven Seeds is run by the same crew who brought you St. Ali.

When we arrived at 2pm on a Sunday, there were some tables free, but lots of people were lining up for takeaways. (It's table service if you're eating in).

Funky red light skirt thingo.

As we sat at our table, smelling the gorgeous aroma of the coffee, I couldn't help but wish that this place had been here back when I was at uni! Doing Arts/Commerce. *Sigh* Which reminds me of a song! "I wish I could go back to college", from my other favourite musical, Avenue Q...

I wish I could go back to college.
Life was so simple back then.
What would I give to go back and live in a dorm with a meal plan again!

But if I were to go back to college,
Think what a loser I'd be-
I'd walk through the quad,
And think "Oh my God...
...These kids are so much younger than me."

So true. Avenue Q rocks. And for your amusement, here's a link to the Broadway version. I also found a Swedish version, here! It's called Jag längtar tillbaka till college. (Duncan please correct me if I spelled that wrong!)

Anyhoo... onto the food.
We both ordered lattes, which were as creamy and strong and delicious as you'd expect. Next time I'll try one of those funky Clover coffees.

The menu is a bit more limited than at St. Ali, mainly consisting of pastries, breakfasts (toast, muesli, French toast), and toasted sandwiches. The sandwiches come on super-thick grainy bread and are incredibly filling. Just half a sandwich would have been enough for me. Would it be too embarrassingly T.A. to order one to share?

Toasted sandwich with fontina, sardines and onion relish - $10.50

I liked the salad that came with it too - a very astringently dressed cabbage and parsley salad.
Toasted sandwich with ham and Gruyère cheese - $10.50

After lunch, I tweeted that I was at Seven Seeds... and who should come up and say hi but Jackie! Hehe, I knew we'd run into another Melbourne foodblogger there!

Great lunch. I'll be bringing my foodie (non-foodblogger) friends here in future to impress them with my knowledge of funky coffee places.

Seven Seeds on Urbanspoon