Monday, April 19, 2010

Cos I'm bluffin' with my muffin...

Chocolate Choc-Chip Muffins

Over the past month or so, I got a little bit obsessed with baking muffins. I'd make a batch, have a couple, and freeze the rest. Then, over the next few weeks, I'd take out one at a time and take them to work for a mid-morning snack. Muffins freeze fantastically, and a short burst in the microwave will bring them back to springy goodness. A fabulous little treat to get me through a tough morning at work.

I much prefer homemade muffins to store bought ones, not least of all because store-bought muffins are usually way too big and filling. I've also found that even good cafes can make dodgy muffins. Case in point: Espresso 3121 in East Richmond (or is it Cremorne?) does wicked coffee, but the last time I bought a muffin from them it was cold, dense and dry. Even worse are the muffins which have the filling sprinkled on top and nothing inside. Disappointing!

Here are a few of the muffins I made in March:

Apple Muffins

I chose to make apple muffins because they're not a very common flavour, and I love apples! (I've heard that Cafe Park Lane on Clarendon street does good apple muffins - has anyone tried them?)

Almost all muffins follow the same pattern - pour wet ingredients into dry, and stir lightly to mix. Then you add your add-ins (choc chips, fruit, whatever), and mix lightly. (A lumpy dough makes a light muffin.) If your muffin recipe does not follow this pattern, then what you've got, my friend, is a cupcake!

I adapted the muffin recipe from Donna Hay's Modern Classics II, which uses sour cream as part of the liquid ingredients. I don't know if it was the greatest recipe, as the thick sour cream meant I had to beat the batter a bit more vigorously than I normally would for a muffin. I'd definitely stick to a recipe that uses milk or buttermilk.

Apples! As you can see, we cut them up quite finely. Next time I'd use more apples and use bigger chunks. The more filling the better, I say!

Mmm... fluffy.

Chocolate Chocolate-Chip Muffins

Nigella Lawson's chocolate chocolate-chip muffins are very easy and decadent. Same deelio as the apple muffins, wet ingredients poured into dry. The difference here is that there is cocoa in the batter, and lots and lots of chocolate chips. The recipe is from Feast, and I made it last just over 5 years ago. (I can't believe I've been blogging that long!)

TIP: Use an ice-cream scoop to get even-sized muffins.

Nigella instructs you to sprinkle extra choc chips over the muffins, and who would I be to disagree with her? Normally I use chopped-up chocolate, but I think for these muffins, you really need the cute choc-chip shape.

Mmmmm... I like how the choc chips on top get crunchy and caramelized.

White Chocolate and Raspberry Muffins

White chocolate and raspberry is an absolutely classic combination, and I'd struggle to think of a cafe that doesn't sell this flavour. (Incidentally, I also love Trampoline's raspberry and white choc ice-cream!) The advantage of making it at home is that you can use the best quality white chocolate, and pack as much in as you like!

This time I did use a chopped-up bar of white chocolate. And I am totally obsessed with these Simpsons-designed glad bags. How cute are they?

What are your favourite muffin flavours? Your best-ever muffin recipe? Does anyone know a great cafe or bakery that makes fabulous muffins?

Friday, April 16, 2010

I love Coffee

Those of you following me on twitter will know that I have been on a short-lived, but intense, detox this week. The main thing that I wanted to cut out was coffee. I was successful, but it was very difficult! And it always seems to be the way that you want what you can't have, and this week I've been obsessing about cafes I've visited and different coffees I've tried. These visits were all from a few months ago, so I don't remember exact names and prices, but they are all quite reasonably priced.

I still haven't decided where to have my post-detox celebratory coffee tomorrow, but if any of you are wondering where to go for your weekend brunch and coffee, may I suggest one of these places?

Proud Mary
172 Oxford Street
Collingwood 3066

Everyone's blogged about it, so I guess I'd better too. Coincidentally, I nearly moved into an apartment across the street, but I'm glad I didn't. That would have been disastrous for any detox! I've been twice, and the service was definitely better the first time, but it's still a great cafe, and definitely worth a visit. Coffee is clearly the focus, but there's a good range of cakes, sandwiches and cooked items on the menu too.

Cute flat white!

The first time we came here, the coffee was way too strong for Sandra. When we told our waitress, she let us know that they always use a double-shot in their milk-based espresso coffees. A-hah! We'd been wondering why the lattes at coffee temples are always so strong. Sandra would have been happy for them to just bring out a little jug of hot milk, but our waitress said the baristas wouldn't be happy unless the coffee was perfect, so she got them to make a single-shot flat white. Nice! And now we always know to order a single-shot.

Now, espresso is all well and good, but I am totally into filter coffee at the moment. It's less likely to be stuffed up, you get a cleaner flavour and - hurrah - there is less residue in the bottom of the cup. I cannot stand coffee with cloudy residue!

When I asked our waitress for the 'cleanest' black coffee, she got the barista to come out and have a chat with me about the different methods they use. I ended up deciding on a pour-over filter type of coffee. To be totally honest, I didn't pick up everything he said - I hadn't had my coffee yet, he was probably onto his 3rd already, and he was discussing different bean grinds, pressure, how the clover/siphon machines work, how the exact water temperature affects the extraction of the flavours.....

And he also showed me this cool filter!

And then I got my coffee... yum. I love the way the steam is concentrated in these sloped glasses, giving you an intense coffee aroma as you drink.
This visit was actually a few months ago, so I can't remember what exact bean was used, but they change quite frequently, and there's quite a big range.

Chive-flecked scrambled eggs with caramelized onions, rocket and grainy toast.

Peanut butter and toast! This was mine. Sometimes even I am not in the mood for a huge cooked breakfast.

Now, let's all gasp at their huge espresso machine. We tried to take a photo of the machine as we were leaving, but one of the super-friendly guys behind the counter was all like, "Can I take the photo for you?" and took this awesome shot of the grip-heads from the inside. Thanks dude!

Proud Mary on Urbanspoon

Market Lane Coffee
Shop 13 Prahran Market
163 Commercial Road
(Entrance on Elizabeth Street)
South Yarra VIC 3141
Ph: 9804 7434

I've blogged about Market Lane before, and it is still awesome. Fleur rocks! And I know Proud Mary source a lot of their coffee from here too. I still haven't tried any espresso from here yet, as I can never go past their Japanese-style iced pour over! I like it with a touch of (unhomogenised) milk and a sprinkle of (Costa Rican rapadura) sugar.

They had some pretty perfect-looking macarons the last time I went, and in my favourite flavour! Passionfruit and chocolate.

The one in the background is pistachio, and was particularly impressive for its natural, subtle nutty taste. Not a drop of artificial pistachio essence to be found! It's almost impossible to find good macarons in Melbourne. I don't mind the delices at the Lindt cafe, but they can be quite hit or miss.

Market Lane Coffee on Urbanspoon

Liar Liar Cafe
90 Kinkora Rd
Hawthorn 3122
Ph: (03) 9818 8864

Liar Liar is walking distance from my old high school, but don't let that put you off. Compared to Proud Mary and Market Lane, this one seems more focused on the "cafe" than the coffee, and it's a pleasant place to spend a weekend morning, even if it is a little noisy and crowded. From memory, they do have a Clover machine, but the morning I went there, I wanted the familiar comfort of a latte.

Eggs Benedict, with creamy hollandaise and runny egg yolks.

Mushrooms on toast with tahini-yoghurt sauce

I think it's Dench grainy bread (my fave!), and the mushrooms had a satisfying, deeply savoury flavour, which was enhanced by the generous addition of rosemary.

I know that these cafes, and many of the new wave coffee temples that have been super-blogged are very similar - single origin coffees sourced from Fleur, Dench bread, eggs benedict, a Clover machine and so on... Does anyone have a favourite place to get coffee that's off the beaten (blogged) track?

Liar, Liar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


You may remember my awesome cousin Catherine from such posts as "Porque no los dos?". She loves all things Mexican (including her boyfriend Oscar!), so it was only a matter of time before we made our way to Mamasita, the new modern Mexican restaurant and bar that everyone is raving about.

Level 1/11 Collins St
Melbourne 3000
(03) 9650-3821

To be honest, we actually tried coming a couple of weeks earlier, on a Friday night at 7pm. HAH! When we were told we'd have to wait about 2 hours, we gave up and went around the corner to the City Wine Shop. This time, we were strategic about it: we arrived at 6pm on a Monday night and got a table straight away. Hah! We also brought Oscar with us for authentication purposes.

Sandra got there before the rest of us, and ordered some tortilla chips for us to nibble on as we perused the menu. It came with "los dos", salsa AND guacamole. Cue fits of giggles from my cousin and I, as we repeated "Porque no los dos?", and hummed the Old El Paso song, haha. Yeah, we have a weird sense of humour.

Topotos los dos - Tortilla chips with guacamole and salsa - $8

The guac was fresh and tasty, but the chips needed a lot more salt, and we all agreed that the salsa tasted like it came out of a jar.

It took us a little longer to decide than we expected, so we ordered some corn to keep us going.

Elotes callejeros - "Street Style" chargilled corn with queso, chipotle mayonnaise & lime - $3.80 each

I loved the corn! Under the mountain of parmesan was a smear of a delicious spicy mayo and the corn itself had a wonderful smoky taste. Catherine found the parmesan a bit strong - in fact, I think she used the word "offensive" - but I love parmesan, so that wasn't a problem for me.

It took us a bit longer to get our heads around the rest of the menu - there was a selection of ceviche, tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, ensaladas and some comida para la familia (main meals). We saw a few tables around us ordering the tostadas - little corn crisps with various toppings - but at $12 for 4 we didn't feel that they would be very filling, or good value. Perhaps better with a drink than as part of a meal.
The menu has the Mexico City metro map on the back, which was a really cute touch. Oscar wanted to take the menu with him because it reminded him of home!

For starters: Cuz got ceviche, Oscar ordered 2 meat-filled tacos, and Sandra and I shared a bean taco. Some condiments were brought to the table as well - 2 bottles of hot sauce, and a bowl of a dark-green oily sauce that the waitress told us was pico de gallo, but didn't look like any pico de gallo that any of us had ever seen! It tasted good, but as Oscar confirmed, it just wasn't pico de gallo.
Ceviche de Yucatan - Market fish with green tomatoes, mint, lime & coconut milk - $12

I tasted the ceviche, and loved its tangy freshness. Cuz, however, was disappointed at the lack of promised coconut milk. When we asked our waitress, she informed us that it was actually a mix of coconut water and coconut milk, not thick coconut milk.

From back to front:
Al Pastor: Roasted pork with pineapple, coriander & white onion
de Cordero: Pulled lamb with shallots & mojo verde
Frijoles con nopales: Baked black beans, cactus, 'pico de gailo' & queso fresco

I enjoyed the soft, warm tortillas, but Oscar commented that they weren't handmade, and weren't "real" tacos because they were made of corn, not flour. Or maybe they were made of flour, and "real" tacos are made of corn? I'm not sure.
He didn't care too much for the pork one, but thought the lamb ones tasted like the ones back home. Fantastic!
The bean filling was great - hearty but not stodgy, and it had some chilli and slices of cactus inside. I put some of that green hot sauce on my half of the bean taco, and boy, was it hot!!! Go cautiously.
So, on to the mains:
Chilli relleno - Bullhorn chiles stuffed with wild mushrooms, pepitas, epazote and pumpkin sauce - $16
Sandra enjoyed the chilli relleno, and don't you just love the bright colours?
Cuz and Oscar shared the prawns, which looked quite impressive. The green almond sauce had a very subtle, fresh flavour. Again, however, Oscar commented that it didn't taste Mexican at all, and that he'd never seen or heard of a dish like this back in Mexico.
Camarones gigante a la ajillo - grilled prawns with toasted garlic, & green almond sauce - $28

I think I made the best choice of the night, ordering this big bowl of juicy, crispy ribs.

Costillas de cerdo al cipotle - Chipotle glazed pork ribs, pickled onions & coriander - $18

Apart from tasting great, I think these ribs were the best value dish of the night. $12 for 4 little tostadas or $18 for a big bowl of ribs? The ribs WIN! The meat was tender and had small crispy pockets of fat - delicious. There was also heaps of sauce, perfect for scooping up with a tortilla or soaking into rice.
I ordered some plantains on the side, not because they matched, but because I am fascinated with island food - you know, plantains, yams, taros etc. (Other examples include the food in Vanuatu, or the Carribbean food I had in London).

Platanos Machos - Fried plantains, salsa & queso freso - $4.50
These plantains were thinly sliced and deep fried with the skin on, and were delicious! They didn't have a banana-y flavour at all, but tasted like soggy fried potatoes. (And y'all know how I feel about soggy chips!) They didn't seem to be seasoned very strongly, if at all, and needed a lot of salt. For some reason, there was no salt provided on the tables, but it was quickly brought out when requested.
I didn't get photos of them, but we also ordered a bowl of plain rice, some frijoles and 2 serves of tortillas. Apparently tortillas and beans is about as Mexican as you can get, and Oscar was wolfing them down!

So, you might think all that food was enough, but not for us.

Catherine and I ordered a dessert of arroz con leche to share, whilst Oscar ordered another 2 lamb tacos. I find it interesting how people can always eat huge amounts of the food they've grown up with. You can see how much Oscar was eating on this occasion, Sandra can always eat heaps of schnitzel and potatoes, and put me in front of a Chinese banquet and it will be demolished!
Arroz con leche - Rice pudding with cinnamon, coconut & agave nectar - $10

The arroz was topped with Persian fairy floss, and interestingly, there was a crumbed base, much like a cheesecake. I don't think it quite worked - the arroz was already quite dry, and the crumbly biscuit base just exacerbated the dryness, making it catch in our throats. Not counting the crumbs though, the pudding itself was quite good.

Overall we enjoyed the meal at Mamasita, and I probably would go back again, especially to try out their drinks. The service was good too, with our waitress being very knowledgeable about the whole menu. The food came out at a reasonable pace, despite the ever-increasing number of customers. However, it was a little expensive, and definitely not authentically Mexican. Not that I'm that fussy, I mean, I eat POCHACHOES! But Cuz and Oscar were a little disappointed with the authenticity of the food as a whole. I'd be more inclined to call it modern Mexican, with the reinterpretations of traditional favourites like pico de gallo, arroz con leche and so on.

The search for authentic Mexican food in Australia still continues. I am trying to get Oscar to lend me his sister's tortilla-maker and organise some sort of Mexican fiesta, so watch this space!

Mamasita on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Claypot King, Glen Waverley

Brrr... how cold has it gotten lately? Today is the first day of the year we have officially turned the heater on. I had grand plans to go walking around Albert Park today, but the cold, the wind and the rain had other ideas. Instead, we went shopping and then went in search of some warming food.

Claypot King
72 Kingsway
Glen Waverley
(03) 9561-8884

Claypot King is near the Village cinema on Kingsway in Glenny, and Su recommended it, having been there a few times before. I was up for anything as warming as a claypot! I was impressed by the menu, as it had a lot more than the usual claypots and fried noodle dishes that I expected. They had heaps of herbal soups and other invigorating dishes.

Out of the 3 of us, Sandra was the only one who got an actual claypot - beef in pepper sauce.

Beef in Pepper Sauce Claypot Rice - $11.50

The sauce had a good spiciness to it, and the beef was tender. The only problem with the dish is that it was huge! It could have easily fed 2 people.

Su and I stuck to the soups. Su's fishhead noodle soup (how Malaysian can you get!) had a thick, white broth. It looked to me like tonkotsu ramen, but was very fishy and not oily.
Fishhead Noodle Soup - $10.50

I chose herbal duck soup, partly because I love herbal soup, partly because it's hard to find. Check out the pools of melted fat on top. Delicious. Apparently a bit of melted poultry fat (chicken, duck, goose, whatever), is very good when you've got a cold. Explains why chicken soup is so popular in winter!

Herbal Duck Drumstick Noodle Soup - $10.80

Apart from the duck drumstick, the soup had very fine white noodles, some greens, coriander, and a bunch of awesome Chinesey herby things.

I have no idea what any of that is called, but they're all edible and I'm sure they all aid vitality and chi, and are possibly aphrodisiacs, haha. (Don't all Chinese herbs do that?) I'm not a big fan of the big grape-looking thing, but I enjoy the rest. I didn't get a photo of them, but there were also slices of a yam/taro-type thing inside.

Su told us we had to order the butter-fried chicken wings, and who was I to refuse?
Fried butter chicken wings - $6.00

I love the Chinese style of fried food that includes fried oats as well. In the past, I've had them on prawns and on boneless chicken too. Fabulous. The oats blanketing the wings were garlicky and crunchy.
Mmm... crispy. Ands yes, I have freaky short Megan Fox-style thumbs.

Claypot King was great! I'm sure I'll be heading back next time I'm down in Glenny.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

3 Dinners: Meat

Hello my lovelies! Now that Easter, and therefore Lent, is over, I thought it was time for a meaty meat-filled post! Not that I was going through any self-denial before Easter- far from it! - but I know a couple of my carnivorous Catholic chums were suffering some serious meat withdrawal symptoms during those 40 days and 40 nights. (Read into that what you will. Can I get a holla?)

Pork Wellington

First up is a dish I actually made up myself! Well, I say made up, but what I actually did was to combine a couple of recipes.

I layed out some prosciutto, and rolled it out to get it even flatter. Then I wrapped the prosciutto around a pork fillet, and seared it off in a frying pan. As you can see, I used the same pan to fry off some mushrooms until soft (this was for a creamy mushroom sauce!). I then wrapped up the seared pork log in puff pastry (home made, naturally). I baked it in a very hot oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.

I served it in slices (you can see a cross section at the top of this post), with bratkartoffeln and creamy mushroom sauce. I used mainly button mushrooms in the sauce, but boosted the flavour with some porcini powder and dried chanterelles.

For something I made up on the fly, it was quite a success! I thought the prosciutto added great flavour to an otherwise bland cut of meat, and I loved the way the creamy mushroom sauce soaked into the pastry.

Maple Chicken 'n' Ribs

The recipe for Maple Chicken 'n' Ribs comes from Nigella Express, and is very simple to make. Just marinate chicken pieces and ribs (I used pork) in a mixture of apple juice, maple syrup, oil, soy and some spices. Leave it overnight and bake rost it the next day. Ta-dah!

They were tender and juicy, but were rather lacking in the flavour and colour department. I prefer my ribs sticky and burnished and covered in awesome barbecue sauce, like Hurricane's ribs, or those standard "Chinese" chicken wings that Elizabeth Chong made throughout the 80's.

Oxtail with Mackeson and Marjoram

I love oxtail stew, and this is the same recipe that I first made 4 and a half years ago (!!) from Nigella's How to Eat. Now, oxtail is pretty hard to come by, and when I saw some beautiful oxtail at my local butcher, all wrapped up on a little tray with a parsley sprig garnish, I just had to buy it.

Nigella says you should aim to get oxtail pieces that are all roughly the same size - hah! - that is being very optimistic. If you are lucky enough to find oxtail at your butcher, it will most likely come from the same actual tail and thus will vary in size, from the thick top part, tapering down to the tiny end pieces. I highly doubt they'll have enough tails in for you to be able to chose enough similar-sized pieces to make a whole stew.

Of course, if you happen to know of a kick-ass butcher who always has heaps of oxtail in, please let me know about it!!

I love the deep red colour of the sauce, and how thick the sauce gets thanks to all the gelatinous goodness in the oxtail. Totally fabulous. I've blogged this stew in more detail here, if you're interested. It's definitely one of my favourite stews of all time.

If I'm not eating it with mashed potatoes, I like oxtail (and osso buco) with short round pasta, to echo the shape of the meat.