Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nigella's Kitchen

Weeeeeeeeee!  I have it, I have it!  The new Nigella book!  Kitchen!  I haven't been this excited about a new cookbook since, well, Nigella Christmas!  I've actually had Kitchen for a couple of weeks now (pre-ordered from the UK, thank-you!), and I'd love to share with y'all what I've been cooking so far!  I am absolutely loving the book, and just quietly, I was really, really tempted to do another project and cook every single recipe... but you know, with a full time job I don't think it would have been totally achievable.  (Although, now that I re-read the book jacket, I see Kitchen only has 190 recipes, and it is quite likely I'll end up cooking everything anyway!)

Kitchen is a big heaving compendium, or as I think of it... 487 pages of pure awesome!  There are loads of pretty pictures - how is it that Nigella never seems to age? - and reams and reams of Nigella's fabulous prose too.  Fans will love it!  It's divided into 2 sections: Kitchen Quandaries (express-style recipes) and Kitchen Comforts, which include longer, more involved (but not complicated) recipes.  There's a good mixture between sweet and savoury, with the sweet recipes looking particularly tempting - sweet and salty crunch nut bars, treacle slice, grasshopper pie, and blondies, just to name a few.  So far I've been cooking mainly from the Quandaries section, but hopefully this will change over the next few weekends.

So, without further ado I present to you...

Egg and Bacon Salad

The first recipe I made, was the egg and bacon salad, when I was in the mood for a light lunch.  (Light in taste, not in calories obviously!)  Nigella suggests frisée or endive, but I chose plain' old cos lettuce, because it was cheaper, and it reminds me of Caesar salad.  The salad consists of hardboiled eggs, fried bacon (I chopped up a lovely piece of speck), the lettuce, parsley, and a light dressing.  Easy and delicious.

Tarragon Chicken

The tarragon chicken is, hands down, my favourite recipe from the book so far.  I've already made it twice!  Tarragon used to be a very hard-to-find ingredient, but it seems to be available at most Woolworths these days.
Fresh tarragon
It only takes about 20 minutes all up - cook spring onions in a pan, brown the chicken, pour some wine over, clamp on a lid and let it cook through.  Stir some cream and chopped tarragon into the sauce, and it's done!  I served it with rice and green veg, rescued from the depths of my freezer.

It was incredibly delicious, and even the skinless chicken breast was tender thanks to the poaching/steaming method.  So fabulous.  Note to self: always triple the sauce!

Mexican Lasagne with Avocado Salsa

This is a "lasagne" in terms of structure, not flavour.  Layers of tortillas, a jalapeño-ed tomato sauce, and a bean/corn/cheese mixture.  There are a lot of ingredients, but it's pretty simple to put together and cheap!  As per Nigella's suggestion I made the avocado salsa, which was like a chunky un-mushed guacamole, the sharp limey flavour of which contrasted well with the rich lasagne.

Speedy Scallopine with Rapid Roastini

So obviously, the below aren't scallopine (thin fillets of meat that cook quickly), but look how beautiful these pork chops are!  They're free range Otway pork - lovely!  I coated them in spiced flour and panfried them.

Hehe... look how crispy the edges got!  Unfortunately my griller is broken, so I couldn't peel off the rind and make proper crackling.  But that was probably for the best.

The rapid roastini are simply gnocchi, which are fried or roasted in a pan.  Rather like Schupfnudeln, but without having to make them from scratch. Although, apparently in Germany you can buy Schupfnudeln in packets in the supermarket, much like we buy gnocchi here.  Lucky!

I roasted them in the oven for ease, but I think they'd be even nicer fried in a pan.  It's a quick and easy way to get potatoes on the table for a midweek meal.  The pork chops, the roastini, plus a tin of my favourite beans made a wonderful dinner.

"My Mother's Praised Chicken"

Nigella devotes a whole chapter to "Chicken and its place in my kitchen", the first recipe of which is a lovely chicken soup.  Being big chicken soup eaters at my house, I've already made this twice, and I think it will be my default chicken soup recipe from now on.  It's extremely easy, and lends itself to any number of variations.  In fact, tonight for dinner we had this soup with our beloved Markklöβchen.  I think you know you've found a good recipe when it becomes part of your repertoire, and when you feel comfortable altering it depending on your mood.

I like the fact that you use a whole chicken for the recipe, rather than a carcass or wings, as it gives more meat for later, yum yum.  At the moment it takes me about 20 minutes to set everything ready and in the pot for its 2-hour simmering time, but I reckon the more I make it the faster I'll get.

The first time I made the praised chicken was last week, for my parents after they came back from an indulgent 10-day holiday in Japan, as I thought they'd appreciate a nice light and cleansing dinner (or cheng, as we say in Hokkien).  Let's just ignore the fact that we inhaled a whole lotta Pierre Hermé macarons straight after, hehehe.

Curly Pasta with Feta, Spinach and Pine Nuts

This pasta recipe comes from the Off the Cuff chapter, which is based on storecupboard recipes.  I did need to buy frozen spinach and feta, but had everything else lying around the kitchen (I used macaroni instead of the cavatappi Nigella suggests.)  The sauce is rich with spinach and feta, and I prefer my pasta a bit saucier than Nigella's (ooer!), so I might reduce the amount of pasta next time.

So now that I've compiled my Kitchen photos, I see I've started with the more practical, express-style recipes, but trustez-moi, I have my eye on some rather fabulously impressive recipes too!  Watch this space.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Oriental Spoon

I will admit that I am a total noob when it comes to Korean food or culture.  In fact, my Korea-related knowledge is limited to having watched Winter Sonata (but dubbed in Japanese - oh Yon-sama!) and My Sassy Girl, which made me cry like a baby!  As an erstwhile language student, I always found listening to Korean frustrating, but only because I always used to think it was Japanese at first... until I realised I didn't understand a single word!  D'oh!  I don't think I'll be able to pick up Korean any time soon, but I certainly want to learn more about the cuisine!  And I was very happy when the lovely Duncan suggested Oriental Spoon for a cheap-and-cheerful catch-up dinner.

Oriental Spoon
254 LaTrobe St
Melbourne 3000
Ph: (03) 9654-9930

Oriental Spoon is just opposite Melbourne Central, and I think it's been refurbished recently, hence the fancy looking interior above.  It was relatively quiet when we got there at about 6:30 on a Monday night, but it slowly got busier as the evening progressed.
Honey & Citron Tea - $3.70
Front: beanshoots, Back Right: Kim Chi, Back Left: Some sort of noodle/mayo thing
The above condiments are provided free on every table.  I'm still not a huge fan of kimchi - it's an acquired taste I haven't quite acquired yet - but I loved the beanshoots!  Tau Geh is one of my fave things to eat.  The bowl at the back on the left was some sort of cold noodle thing with a thick mayo sauce.  I didn't mind it, but I don't think anyone else on the table was too crazy about it.

Sandra had a spicy chicken bulgogi, which came in a huge portion!  It could have easily been shared between 2 people.  You can order it in a varying levels of chilli-intensity - I believe this was "hot". It wasn't mind-blowingly hot, but just a nice comfortable level of chilli.  (Although I do realise that chilli-heat is a subjective thing!)
Spicy Chicken Bulgogi - $16.90

Duncan and I each ordered the stone-bowl beef bim bim bap, which came with a bowl of soup.  I'm not quite sure what it was - it looked like miso, but didn't have that fishy dashi-broth taste to it.
Beef Stone Bowl Bim Bim Bap - $16.90

I quite liked the bim bim bap, especially the combination of all the different veggies (and more of those fab bean shoots!)  Even though it was a huge serve, it didn't seem too heavy or rich.  However, whilst I did enjoy the dish, Duncan mentioned that it was missing the expected crunchy rice on the bottom of the stone bowl.

I think Oriental Spoon was a pretty good find - cheerful, reasonably efficient service and tasty food, all in a central location.  However, at $16.90 for individual dishes, I think it's quite expensive, and I'm sure there are cheaper (and probably better) options around.

So speaking of which... what are your favourite Korean restaurants in Melbourne? Do you have a favourite Korean dish?

Oriental Spoon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fancy Weekday Breakfast

Hello peeps! Just a really quick post tonight - I wanted to share this breakfast I had last week.  I am the type of person who always wakes up ravenous, but can never manage to actually eat breakfast at home during the week.  Usually I just inhale a quick bowl of cereal at my desk.  Depressing, much?  Sometimes, however, I do get myself organised and prepare something proper.  The above was a cross between avocado on toast and guacamole.  I mashed up a small avocado with a large spoonful of Greek yoghurt, a good squeeze of lime juice, salt, pepper, some chopped coriander and spring onion.  This gloopy green mixture was then turned into a small tupperware container, and taken to work with a few slices of Noisette grainy bread.  Ta-dah! 10 minutes of preparation one night, and I had a quick, healthy and substantial breakfast for the next couple of days.  (The yoghurt and lime juice in the mixture prevented the avocado from going brown; although I wouldn't want to leave it for more than 2 days).  It sure beat cereal or a quickly snatched muesli bar!

What do you eat for breakfast during the week?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Apple Pie

Slice of Pie

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted about anything I've made or baked myself, even though I've definitely been cooking!  FYI guys, last week I got the new Nigella book, Kitchen, and it is frikkin' awesome!  A massive thank-you to Sandra for pre-ordering it for me!  I've been absolutely loving it and cooking heaps of recipes.  I have to stop myself from writing too much about it right now, but as you can tell, I'm really excited, and can't wait to post about it in more detail!  (It sure has been ages since I cooked heaps out of a Nigella book.  Does anyone still remember my project?)

Now, obviously this recipe is not from Kitchen, but one I cobbled together myself, after some insistent requests at my house for an apple dessert.  Who was I to refuse?

I used the pastry recipe from Nigella's cherry pie (How to Eat), which I've also used recently for a cherry and apple pie.  Made it all by hand, thank-you very much, because I don't have a processor at my new place. (Yet!)  It was actually a lot easier to work with than my previous attempts and didn't fall apart or break on me - perhaps because I did it by hand rather than processor I didn't overwork it?  Either way, I was able to roll it out thinly with no problems.

Filled with almond meal
I got the filling from Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2, which I chose mainly for its pretty appearance and simple recipe.  I lined a shallow 20cm pie tin with the pastry, and sprinkled it with almond meal to prevent it from going soggy.  I peeled, cored and chopped a few granny smiths, and cooked them in a pan with butter and water until slightly softened.  Then I added a bit of sugar and cinnamon, and arranged them in the pie tin.

Filled pie!

I probably could have gone a bit higher with the apples - in Donna's book she fills it up super-high, almost triple the height of the pie, but I think this is more for cosmetic reasons than for taste.

Then it was a matter of putting on the pastry lid, sealing the edges and trimming it nicely!
Topping the pie
In the oven for a short while, sprinkled it with castor sugar, and then it was time for pie. *Bow-chicka-wow-wow!*

I love the billowing top of the pie.  My edges were a bit wonky, but I think it adds to the rustic charm.  I actually found it quite hard to seal the pastry because I rolled it out so thinly and it was in a shallow tin.  You'll see the first time I made a pie with this pastry, I used the same tin but had the pastry much thicker.  It not only looked prettier, but I thought it tasted better the first time.  Y'all know I'm a biscuit / pastry fiend!  The more crunchy pastry goodness, the better!  The second time I made a pie this pastry, it was a larger tin, but still thinly rolled, which I think worked well apart from the dodgy looking edges!

I served the pie with vanilla ice-cream sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar.  (Got the idea from seeing the Löwenbräu "Christmas in July" dinner on ChocolateSuze's and Helen's blogs.) I double checked with Ze German, she confirmed that they do it back home in Germany - approved!

Cinnamon sprinkled vanilla ice-cream

And let's have a look inside the pie: mega apple chunks, light flaky pastry and a hint of cinnamon.  (Or a "tinge" of cinnamon, as my Malaysian mum would say!)

I think it looks quite good with the big chunks of apple and billowing top (like a pastry version of Southern Cross railway station, hehe), but after eating the pie, I must say I prefer a grated or pureed filling.  And as mentioned above, I'd prefer a thicker pastry.  Doughy goodness - yes please!  I had half of the pastry leftover, so I could easily have gone for thicker pastry.  But despite all my nitpicking, it was actually a rather fabulous pie, and was ecstactically received.

I'm sure no-one will complain, however, if I start working on perfecting my apple pie.  Any volunteer tasters?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Organic Matters Food & Wine Store

Organic Matters Food & Wine Store
403 Riversdale Rd
Hawthorn East 3123
Ph: (03) 9882-7889

I'm not particularly into organics, and was drawn to Organic Matters more for its good location and nice menu than for the fact that they serve organic food. I love free range meats and eggs, but for example, I wouldn't spend $6 on a packet of organic tortilla chips, just because they're organic. I'd known about the cafe for a while, but only went when I realised they serve Wessex Saddleback bacon! (You may remember this noble breed from the ri-donk-ulously expensive and delicious pulled pork shoulder I made twice a few months ago.) April was keen on going as well, so we went together on a sunny Sunday morning to try it out.

Apart from all the usual cafe stuff, and Friday night fish & chips, they sell a range of organic groceries - wine, sugar, pasta, bread etc...

...and have cakes, biscuits and salads too. The biscuits and cakes look delicate, pretty and appetising, unlike the heavy, carob-and-grain laden varieties (Nigella would describe them as "hessian-weave") that I've seen at other veggo and organic cafes around town.

I didn't feel like coffee (gasp, really?!), so went for a soy hot chocolate, my non-coffee beverage of choice. They don't charge extra for soy either, yay!
Weak latte, Soy Hot Chocolate - $4

Organic brown sugar - THE item of 2010 cafes in Melbourne.

Sandra had scrambled eggs with mushrooms. The eggs were soft and creamy, and the mushrooms had a lovely strong mushroom taste.

Scrambled eggs on Zeally Bay sourdough toast with buttered mushrooms - $16.50

April also went for scrambled eggs, but had a side of bacon with hers. (Haha, probably because she'd patiently listened to me blab on about it for ages!)
Scrambled eggs on Zeally Bay sourdough toast with grilled Wessex saddleback streaky bacon - $16.50

I wasn't super-hungry, so I ordered soft-boiled eggs with toast soldiers with bacon. It was the same price as the scrambled eggs, and felt like less value-for-money, but I guess there's no point forcing yourself to eat more just because it's a cheaper option! (God, I'm so not Asian right now!)
Boiled eggs & Zeally bay sourdough toasted soldiers with grilled Wessex saddleback streaky bacon - $16.50

And in fact, I am so glad I ordered the soft-boiled eggs - they were just what I wanted! Check out how gooey and soft they were!

And the bacon? It was delicious. It was quite a fatty cut, with only a few strips of actual meat on them, but it was so intensely salty and bacony that I couldn't have eaten much more. I loved that they came in thick slices, so much nicer than the depressing shrinkwrapped bacon rashers in supermarkets.

Overall Organic Matters is a pleasant enough place for a breakfast or brunch. I haven't been for the fish & chips nights or the special Saturday night dinners so I can't comment on those. It was on the expensive side - $12 for eggs, and $4.50 extra for bacon - but this is to be expected given that it's mainly (95%) organic. But actually, seeing as other cafes in the local Camberwell / East Hawthorn area charge similar prices for less reputable eggs and bacon, I think Organic Matters is a good option if you are in the area.

Organic Matters on Urbanspoon

GIVEAWAY ANNOUNCEMENT: I'm pleased to announce the winner of my Nuffnang giveaway!  A big congratulations to Agnes for her funny and creative comment!  Please email me your details so the peeps at Nuffnang can send you your prize!  I hope you have lots of... um... fun with your chocolate!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Il Fornaio

I think I must be the last Melbourne food blogger to visit Il Fornaio - nope, I never went in its pre-Phillipa Sibley incarnation, and I totally missed all the buzz surrounding its recent re-opening. Oops! Bad blogger! I sure made up for it last Sunday though, with not one, but two visits!

Il Fornaio
2 Acland St
St Kilda 3182
(03) 9534-2922

I'm not normally down in St Kilda, but we had to run some errands down there, and thought we'd grab some lunch. During the day Il Fornaio don't serve their famous desserts, but offer a range of interesting and upmarket cafe foods - baguettes, savoury pies, pastries, cakes and so on. They also sell bread from Noisette, and I picked up a multigrain loaf. (I was very happy to see this, as we'd just come from Baker D. Chirico and they'd completely sold out!)

I was impressed by the coffees - they were rich and creamy. As you can see I went wild and ordered a cappuccino. (And it wasn't even skinny - gasp!)
Latte, Cappuccino (single rosetta pattern, pretty!) - $3.80 each

Funky sugar almost makes me wish I took sugar in my coffee.

I got a baguette from the cabinet - country terrine with pear and ginger chutney and cornichons. From memory it was about $12.

It was absolutely fantastic! The terrine was studded with pistachios, and I really liked the sharp and sweet chutney and cornichons. But what really made this baguette work for me was the thick smear of good butter, which prevented the chutney from being overpowering. Mmm.. butter.

Sandra was slightly more healthy and chose the ham hock and lentil soup. It was full of lentilly meaty goodness.

All in all, a pleasant little lunch, which came to about $40, if you include the loaf of bread, which was $7.50. I totally wanted to order a slice of carrot cake - it looked amazing! - but was really full.

Later that evening, we had dinner with my parents at Dainty Szechuan in South Yarra (blogpost to come soon, hopefully!), and whilst we were recovering from a chilli overload and lamenting the lack of dessert options, I had a bright idea and suggested we take a drive down to St Kilda! Luckily my dad was totally up for it. As soon as I explained what was in the Snickers dessert he was sold!

Il Fornaio looks really different at night. We got there at about 9pm, and it was very quiet and dark inside. I almost thought it was closed, until we noticed there were a few tables of people inside.

The waiters were really nice, chatting with us and explaining all the different desserts. Barista Daniel was especially friendly, and made great coffees, according to my parents. I do love my coffee, but 2 in one day and I'd be buzzing all night. So, a nice soothing cup of English Breakfast Tea it was.
English Breakfast Tea - $3.50

Su and I shared the Poires belle Hélène "my way", which looked very different from the version I made at home 4 years ago, haha. Traditionally Poires belle Hélène is made up of pears poached in sugar syrup, served with vanilla ice-cream, chocolate sauce and crystallised violets. Phillipa's version, on the other hand, has a poached pear filled with vanilla ice-cream, and a big chocolate fondant pudding.

Poires belle Hélène "my way" - $19.00

Dig into the pudding with a spoon and watch the molten chocolate pudding innards ooze out...

And there's the ice-cream inside the pear.

It was beautiful, but very rich. I'm glad that I was sharing it! And just quietly, I would have loved more vanilla ice-cream with it - there wasn't nearly enough for me inside that pear!

And what trip to Il Fornaio is complete without a mention of the famous Snickers dessert? We ordered 2 for the table: one to be shared by my parents, and one for Sandra.

'Snickers' - $19

As anyone who's read a newspaper or food blog in the past few months will know, the Snickers dessert is made of peanut dacquoise, caramel parfait glace, salted peanut caramel and milk chocolate mousse, with 2 plaques of milk chocolate. ZOMG. It really is one of those "Can't talk, eating!" moments.

And if that wasn't enough, we were surprised with a plate of super-soft rose marshmallows!

And yes, the next day saw a welcome return to the gym!

My folks and I loved Il Fornaio, and had a really pleasant evening. Great service, a nice atmosphere and incredible desserts. I definitely recommend it if you are in the area, or if you can think of a good enough excuse, hehe. At $19 a pop, the desserts are quite expensive, (but given the amount of work that goes into one Snickers, I can see why!), and if you were paying attention, you'd see that it came to $75.10 for 3 desserts and 5 coffees/teas. I probably wouldn't go back regularly, but just as a special treat.

Il Fornaio on Urbanspoon