Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Unblogged Files: September

You know, when I sat down to write this month's Unblogged Files, I didn't think I'd have that much to write... until I started looking through my iPhone pics and realised it was one of my busiest foodie months this year! And all this is in addition to Wonderbao and my Chinese Lunch Feast. Eeep!

For Father's Day, I cooked a Jamaican-themed lunch for my dad: Jerk pork belly with spicy coleslaw and rice and peas. (The rice recipe comes from Nigella's Kitchen, the pork and coleslaw from the September 2012 issue of Delicious magazine). Dessert was a gorgeously light strawberry Swiss roll, filled with strawberry jam, whipped cream and fresh strawberries. So springtime!
Clockwise from top left: Jerk pork belly, rice & peas, spicy coleslaw, strawberry Swiss roll

I tried out the Taco Truck when it came to the CBD one weekday lunchtime.
Taco Truck
I wasn't expecting much, but the tacos were really, really good! I especially liked the fish taco - a super-fresh fish fillet, deep-fried in a light batter and with coleslaw, lime juice and poppyseed mayo. It was so good! The potato tortilla, with jalapeno ricotta and salsa verde in a crisp tortilla, was also good, but the fish taco was insane! $12 was a little pricey for two small tacos with house-made corn chips, but I really enjoyed them.
Taco plate - 2 x tacos with house-made corn chips - $12
Taco 1: FISH - slaw, lime squeeze, poppy mayo
Taco 2: POTATO - jalapeno ricotta, slaw, salsa verde (in crisp tortilla)

We went to Spice Temple twice in September for fab cocktails and spicy Chinese food - I know, addicts!! We tried heaps of different dishes, and actually, I have enough photos for a brand new blog post.. so keep your eyes peeled for that. One of my fave dishes was the caramelised pork spare ribs ($22) - big, messy, sticky, juicy: delicious.
Spice Temple's Caramelized Pork Spare Ribs - $22

We made a last minute, impromptu weekend trip to Mount Martha for some much needed chill-out time. We bought some supplies from the local IGA and hunkered down in the B&B to watch reruns of Seinfeld and mentally switch off. There was the obligatory cheese platter in front of the fireplace...
Cheese platter
...some beautiful views...
View from the Mount Martha B&B

...and of course, a crazy decadent breakfast - croissants filled with fresh strawberries and melted Lindt Cookies chocolate.

On the way home we stopped in at USA Foods in Moorabbin, where I marvelled at the sugary cereals and stocked up on tinned pumpkin.
Cereals at USA Foods
I also bought some Twinkies and Ding Dongs for the first time - I can't believe the "Best By" date is SIX YEARS IN THE FUTURE!! What on earth do they put in those cakes to make them last that long? (Also, they didn't taste very good).
Twinkie, Ding Dong

I was invited along to a blogger/media dinner at the Meatball and Wine Bar on Flinders Lane - I really liked the charcuterie, the meatballs and the aperitifs, but wasn't too keen on their Whoopie Mac desserts (a scoop of ice-cream sandwiched between two giant chewy macaron shells). For me, the highlight of the dinner were these dee-licious chicken meatballs, which had a little pop of sweetness from muscatels, served with creamy white sauce and lovely housemade pasta sheets. They were flat, wide sheets of pasta, somewhere between pappardelle and lasagne. Lovely!
Chicken meatballs (chicken, pistachio, muscatels parmesan) with creamy white sauce and 

When I had a day off work, I went for Yum Cha with the parentals at Tai Pan in Doncaster East. It was great to go on a weekday - they still had trolleys, but there was no rush to get us out of there. (On weekends they're so busy that they have THREE sessions!) My faves are the har gao (prawn dumplings), the woo kok (taro balls formed in a football shape and deep fried), and the lau sar tong yeun (sweet glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste and dipped in ground peanuts). Fuchsia Dunlop has a recipe for something similar in Sichuan Cookery and Every Grain of Rice, so I wanna give them a go at home!
Tai Pan Yum Cha

One weeknight I made Kartoffel Pfannkuchen for dinner. These German potato pancakes go by many names: Kartoffelpuffer, Reibekuchen, and are similar to Jewish latkes. Basically they're just grated potatoes and onions, bound with an egg and a little flour and fried. (Sie mussen im Fett schwimmen!) They took ages and my home and I smelled like deep-fried for ages, but it was totally worth it. I love these!
Making Kartoffelpuffer
We had these with a creamy mushroom sauce, but I prefer these with sour cream and chives, and a little smoked salmon. In Germany these are also served as an accompaniment to soup - all good!
Kartoffel Pfannkuchen
And just to prove that it's not a neverending parade of unhealthy food... I rediscovered DonDon on Swanston Street this month. I really enjoy their SashiDon: sushi rice topped with raw salmon, pickles, ginger, two types of tofu (yeeeah!) and salad. Yum yum!
Sashidon from DonDon

I was super-excited that two awesome cookbooks arrived this month: Nigellissima and Jerusalem!
Nigellissima and Jerusalem
I've spent all my spare time voraciously reading these two gorgeous books!
Reading Nigellissima on my lunch break
The first recipe I tried from Nigellissima was the tortelloni minestrone - a hearty vegetable and pasta soup. I didn't love this one, finding it a little starchy, (especially compared to the vibrant green picture in the book), but there are heaps of enticing recipes in the book that I can't wait to try, particularly the desserts!
Tortelloni Minestrone - Nigellissima
The first recipe I tried from Jerusalem, however, was unequivocally a winner: stuffed aubergines with lamb and pine nuts. (Recipe here). Softly roasted eggplants are topped with a lamb mince mixture, studded with pine nuts, and headily flavoured with spices and tamarind. I'd planned for us to have leftovers to take to work, but it was so good we inhaled it all in the one sitting! Definitely recommend this recipe.
Stuffed aubergines with lamb and pine nuts

Yes, another visit to Beatrix in North Melbourne. We're slowly converting all our East-side friends to this North Melbourne gem! The banana, hazelnut and nut brown butter tart was just beautiful!
Beatrix goodies
This isn't food related, but still worth sharing: we went to the Scissor Sisters' concert! So amazing! I love these guys so, so very much! It was bizarre to see them at Hamer Hall - I've previously only seen orchestras there - but I have to say they totally killed it! And it was great to see them in a venue designed for music performance, rather than where I've seen them before: in a pub (Prince of Wales), sport venue (Vodaphone Arena) or giant shed (Festival Hall). Yes, let us all have a Kiki.
Scissor Sisters poster - that be some shiny red hair, Ms AnaMatronic
The next night, I attended a media dinner at Spoonbill (in The Olsen Hotel), to try out their new Spring menu. I greatly enjoyed it and will be blogging about it shortly, but for now I wanted to show you this beautiful little bunch of flowers that was used as a place setting. Too cute to function! I put the place setting on my lap for this photo: I thought it was pretty cool that it matched my dress! Hehehe.
Second shot of pretty thing on my lap

Plantation Coffee in Melbourne Central have just started doing muffins - the chocolate and raspberry ones are fantastic! Texturally they're very light and moist, but have a deep chocolatey flavour and lots of chocolate chips, countered by the sourness of the raspberries. Total yum-town!
Plantation latte & chocolate raspberry muffin
Finally, today we hosted a little PORKTOBERFEST lunch with some food blogger buddies - I baked pretzels, we had two types of cabbage, bread dumplings and a roast pork shoulder. Lecker! I'll be blogging it in detail soon, but for now: crackling.
Slow-roasted pork shoulder
Hope y'all had a great September too!!! Bring on October!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chinese Lunch Feast

So as I mentioned in my previous, long-winded, post about Sichuan cooking, I finally had the confidence to host a Chinese-themed lunch party last week. Apart from one Japanese lunch party three years ago, my entertaining efforts have usually been European in nature - big hunks of roast meat, crispy roast potatoes, that sort of thing - or even that Middle Eastern-inspired mezze-style of entertaining that was so modish at the start of this century. (It's making a comeback, thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi!)

Here is my Chinese-themed menu:

A Mod-Chinese Feast for Five

Pork Belly Mantou Buns

Silken Tofu with Century Egg
Stir-Fried Mixed Mushrooms
Pan Fried Pork Dumplings
Stir-Fried Gai Laan with Garlic

Salted Butter Caramel Ice-Cream with Peanut Butter Fudge Sauce and Salted Candied Peanuts

A bit of an expansion on my usual theme of dumplings, stir-fried mushrooms and stir-fried greens. Just a bit! I did a lot of the preparation in the evenings the week before (buying the ingredients, making the ice-cream, folding the dumplings, roasting the pork belly), and because I was organised, the actual cooking and prep on the day was unharried and relaxed. Funnily enough, I'd planned the whole menu out, using Sichuan Cookery and online resources, and it was the day before the party that my copy of Every Grain of Rice arrived. I managed to incorporate one recipe from the new book, which was the gai laan. Woohoo!

Here's the prep for the stir-fries, which I did on the morning of the party, all measured out in little bowls and ready to go:

Often cookbooks focus on quick meals for entertaining, which I think is a bit silly - "Friends are turning up unannounced, quick, here's a three-course meal you can make!" It makes me wonder why anyone would feel obliged to provide food for people who rock up unannounced, let alone cook something from scratch. However, I actually enjoy the planning and cooking process, and happily create complex menus to try out new techniques and recipes and share the results with my friends - for me, the longer, more involved process is the whole point of weekend entertaining. Basically I love cooking and any excuse will do! (And now that I have a dishwasher, it's all much, much easier!)

Pork Belly Mantou Buns
I used the Momofuku pork bun recipe, but bought mantou buns rather than making them myself. These mini-buns were $5 for a massive packet in Box Hill, and so adorable!
Mantou Buns steaming in a Luke Nguyen wok

Braised pork belly
My braised pork belly wasn't as pretty or tender as the ones in the actual Momofuku buns, but they still did the trick.

The condiments in question were: fresh coriander, sriracha chilli sauce, hoi sin sauce, sliced cucumber and finely sliced spring onions. Taking a tip from Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals program, I set up all the condiments on a nice board, and let everyone assemble their own buns. Not only did it look pretty, but I also thought it was nice and convivial. (We also got my Vietnamese friend Thanhado to translate the writing on the Sriracha bottle! Apparently it means something like: "this special sauce will make your food taste good and special".)

Pork bun station
What can I say about these buns? Soft fluffy mantou, hot Sriracha, sweet hoisin, crunchy cucumber, spiky coriander, and soft fatty pork belly. Super amazing combination! We also have heaps of those mantou buns leftover... suggestions on what to do with them? We're thinking mini burgers, little nutella sandwiches...

But for now, let me show you each of the main dishes! When we were done with the pork belly buns, I got up and finished assembling and stir-frying the remaining dishes, which, thanks to my pre-prep, didn't take much time at all.

Silken Tofu with Century Egg
Silken tofu with century egg
This is a classic recipe, and there were loads of versions of it online. I adapted a few different sources to suit my tastes, and there it was. I'm going to blog it in more detail soon, with my full version of the recipe! It's so easy, literally open a packet of tofu, and top it with shallots, century egg, some different sauces and coriander. Ta-dah! I made this with my tofu-loving guest Anna in mind, and she said she loved it - success!!

Stir-Fried Mixed Mushrooms
Stir-fried mixed mushrooms
(Sichuan Cookery)
Same dealio as last time, but I used more shiitake and enoki mushrooms and less of the others because they are my favourite of all the exotic Asian mushrooms. They were stir-fried in a little pork fat (taken from the pork belly), and I also added a little spring onion for garnish / flavour - an idea I got from a different mushroom stir-fry recipe in Every Grain of Rice.

Pot-sticker Dumplings with Chicken Stock
These are the same dumplings as I mentioned in my previous post, but here I thought I'd show you them in more detail. I actually made them earlier in the week, and stashed them away in the freezer - they're fiddly to prepare, but very easy to cook from frozen.
Circle of dough

With filling
The filling has a little chicken stock added to it, which I think makes the final product juicier and more moist. (Like xiao long bao but not quite as saucy). If you've got a good jellied meat or chicken stock, this would be the time to use it.

I thought my folding technique was pretty good (and definitely improved from previous attempts), but the pics in Every Grain of Rice put me to shame! There are so many tiny, perfect little pleats on Fuchsia Dunlop's dumplings. I also can't seem to fit too much filling in each dumpling, and had about half the filling leftover by the time I'd gotten through the dough. More practice needed!

Despite that, these are my favourite dumplings right now. And I think Thanhado loved them too - he ate like three of them while they were still hot enough to burn his mouth! (A pain I know all too well...)
Pot-sticker Pork Dumplings
(Sichuan Cookery)

Stir-Fried Gai Laan with Garlic
I had originally intended to stir fry the gai laan in chilli and Sichuan pepper, which is my usual treatment for green veggies, but there was a gai laan recipe in Every Grain of Rice that looked too good to pass up - very restaurant style! It was the "Chinese broccoli in ginger sauce", but I replaced the ginger with the much tastier garlic. I felt it was the right treatment for such a beautiful bunch of gai laan.
Gorgeous gai-laan
I always used to struggle to cook Chinese greens at home, but there were a few tips in the recipe that made it extra tasty. First, you boil the gai laan for one-to-two minutes in water with lots of salt and oil - this bunch needed 2.5 litres of water, and a tablespoon each of oil and salt.
Cooking the gai laan
It made the boiled gai laan so bright and glossy!
Glossy gai laan

To be honest, I'd have been happy to eat the gai laan like that, just drizzled with a little oyster sauce, but the sauce in the recipe is pretty delicious too, and definitely worth the extra effort of stir-frying the gai laan in it. The glossy coat comes from thickening the sauce with a little potato flour. (Thanks to these Fuchsia Dunlop recipes, I've come to realise that potato flour is way better for thickening sauces than cornflour - you need much less and it thickens much faster).
Gai laan in garlic sauce
Adapted from the "Chinese Broccoli in ginger sauce" recipe in Every Grain of Rice

The table was very crowded that day!
The table

Salted Butter Caramel Ice-Cream, Salted Candied Peanuts, Peanut Butter Fudge Sauce
Not a very Chinese dessert (apart from the peanut brittle, I guess), but people seem to love salted caramel right now, and we always order the caramel chocolate and peanut parfait when we go to Spice Temple, so I associate this type of dessert with this type of food. Both the ice-cream and candied peanut recipes come from David Lebovitz' (available on his blog), and the peanut butter fudge sauce is none other than Nigella's (from Nigella Express).

We served it all in martini glasses for added cuteness (and because they were the only appropriately-sized vessels we had!)
Little sundae
...and here comes the sauce.
Peanut butter fudge sauce
Woah... it was a big creamy salted caramel overload! I think perhaps this would have been better with plain vanilla ice-cream, but that didn't stop me from polishing off my whole portion... and sneaking back for a little extra sauce!
More salted caramel!
I previously made David Lebovitz' (salted) caramel ice-cream (Ready for Dessert) at my ice-cream party, where it was the runaway hit, and I was keen to try his salted butter caramel ice-cream. The key difference is that the salted butter caramel version has a little salted butter added (duh), and an extra ribbon of caramel folded through it. I was happy to try it, but I actually prefer the plain caramel ice-cream - it has such a wonderful smooth texture, and I think that making the caramel ribbon is more trouble than it's worth. But in the interest of fairness, I should go reconfirm my opinion of the salted butter caramel ice-cream... I still have a tiny container left in my freezer...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Matcha Sablés

Matcha Sablés
When I met up with Catty from The Catty Life for lunch last month, I thought "Hey, what a good excuse to bake something!" Knowing that she's a bit of a matcha fiend, I turned to my copy of the gorgeous Japanese baking book: Okashi, by Keiko Ishida. I love the Japanese style of French patisserie, and this book is so super-cute! I totally want to make the pound cake, the green tea tiramisu, the mont blanc, the beancurd cheesecake, the dark brown sugar Swiss roll... 

But for this occasion, the matcha sablés seemed like the perfect choice: super cute, easily transportable, and full of matcha! (N.B. in the book they're titled: "Green Tea Sablé Cookies" - my adapted recipe is included below).

I made a few little adaptations to Keiko's recipe, first of which was that I doubled the matcha powder!
Flour and matcha powder
I also used salted butter - I had some Président La Motte salted butter in the fridge (I'd just bought it at the supermarket), and really like it for baking! (And eating...) I think it's quite cute that little water droplets come out when you slice into it.
President La Motte butter with fleur de sel
As you can see, it creams up beautifully!
Creamed butter

With everything mixed up, the dough became a rather serious, malevolent dark green.
Matcha log!
The finished biscuits are prettified by rolling the edge of the log in caster sugar, slicing it into even rounds....
Raw Sablés 

...and pressing a few little green tea leaves into each one. It takes a bit of time, but looks so pretty! Totally worth the effort, especially if you already have some green tea leaves lying around.
Decorated with green tea leaves
And here they are, baked!
Matcha Sablés

Matcha Sablés
They had a lovely short texture, and were nice and buttery. Perfect with a cup of coffee, or a cup of green tea if you just can't get enough! I personally found the matcha flavour a little overwhelming (although Catty said she liked it, as did my friend Amelia), so I've included a range of quantities for the matcha in the recipe below. Start with 7 grams if you like matcha, and go up to the full amount of 15 grams if you really, really love it!

Matcha Sablés
(Slightly) adapted from Okashi by Keiko Ishida

120 grams plain four
7-15 grams matcha powder
75 grams butter (unsalted or salted, depending on your taste), at room temperature
65 grams icing sugar
A pinch of salt
1 egg, separated
Extra caster sugar for rolling
Green tea leaves for decorating

Sift flour and matcha powder together. Set aside.
Cream the butter, icing sugar and salt until soft and creamy. Add egg yolk and mix well. Fold in the matcha powder and flour. Cover dough with cling wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes or so.
Place the dough onto a large sheet of cling wrap, and form into a log 3.5 centimetres in diameter. Wrap the log in the cling wrap, and refrigerate until firm.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Sprinkle the caster sugar onto a chopping board or other flat surface. Place the log on the sugar and roll to coat the edge of the log in the sugar. Slice into rounds about 7 millimetres thick. Place the rounds onto a lined baking tray. Brush with the reserved egg white, and press a few green tea leaves into each biscuit. Bake for about 25 minutes, then allow to cool on a wire rack to firm up before serving.
Makes about 25