Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Chinese New Year!

Yesterday was Chap Gor Meh, the end of the fifteen-day Chinese New Year period - a time for family, friends, and lots of food! Here's my roundup of CNY 2013!

This year was the first time since I've moved out of home that I've decorated the flat - I guess I'm really an adult now! We displayed the traditional fruits-in-red-ribbon, had cookies in plastic containers and hung the usual firecrackers and lucky pictures on the walls.
Chinese New Year Fruits!
You may remember those delightful peanut cookies I made in the lead-up to CNY - I managed to save some until reunion lunch on CNY Eve! So very good!
Peanut cookies, love letters, kuih bangkit

Reunion dinner (lunch, actually) was at my parents' house on Chinese New Year's eve, and was full of our delicious traditional Nyonya Penang food: curry chicken kapitan, siew yoke (crispy roast pork), loh bak (minced pork wrapped in beancurd skin and deep fried), and kiam chye th'ng (salted vegetable soup). ALL OF THE YUM!
Reunion lunch

I love how Chinese New Year has become more mainstream - have you noticed the CNY-themed Lipton Iced Tea ads, and the "Make Chinese New Year Golden" Ferrero Rocher ads on bus stops and billboards around town? And on that theme, here's a dragon dance that I saw in Melbourne Central shopping centre one day! Pretty cool!
Dragon dance

This meal wasn't strictly for Chinese New Year, but it happened during the period, and it was Chinese, so I'm saying it counts! I made a Gluten-Free Chinese Meal for a good friend of mine who loves Chinese food but is a coeliac. In a cruel twist of fate, she was diagnosed with coeliac disease just shortly after we introduced her to Hills BBQ and the other fab Chinese restaurants in Box Hill! Noooo!

Making gluten-free Chinese food is surprisingly hard - it ALL CONTAINS WHEAT! Soy sauces, hoisin, Chinkiang vinegar, Chinese rice wine. Argh! It took quite a bit of planning, but in the end I managed it, by choosing recipes that were naturally gluten free, (all Fuchsia Dunlop obviously), and using gluten free soy sauce and omitting the Shaoxing wine in the recipes that weren't.
Gluten-Free Chinese Meal

We had beef with cumin, silken tofu with soy, gai laan stir-fried in garlic, and crisp and soft roast duck. Dessert as you can (just!) see in the above photo was simply lychees and vanilla ice-cream. The first three recipes are from Every Grain of Rice, and the roast duck was a bit of a mixture.

For the duck, I amalgamated Nigella's recipe for soft and crispy duck (How to Eat) and Fuchsia Dunlop's crisp and fragrant duck (Sichuan Cookery) - the night before, I marinated a whole duck in a mixture of oil, ginger, spring onions, star anise, cinnamon, 5-spice powder, Sichuan pepper and salt, then steamed it for an hour, let it cool completely and stashed it in the fridge. On the day itself, I roasted it at a very high heat for 30 minutes until crisp and golden. (The Fuchsia recipe instructs you to deep-fry it. Ahem!) My method worked pretty well - crisp skin and tender meat!

I had wanted to make some pancakes for the roast duck, but my attempts at gluten-free pancakes were a huge, sloppy mess! So I just binned them and we ate the dishes all together and they were super tasty!

My friend Adrian cooked a really epic feast to celebrate the end of Chinese New Year, including the biggest yee sang I'd ever seen!
Yee Sang

And finally, for Chap Gor Meh dinner on Sunday night, I cooked a little meal for my parents - the highlights were the sweet-and-sour spare ribs (the secret technique is "deep-frying" and the secret ingredient is "sugar"), and some lau sar tong yuan (little glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste, which I'm pretty sure represent luck). Both Fuchsia Dunlop recipes, both amazing!
Sweet-and-sour spareribs

Lau Sar Tong Yuan

Mmm... black sesame goodness
Happy New Year! I hope that the year of the snake brings you all the love, all the joy, all the great health, all the good income, and everything your heart desires!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Lobster Roll Party!

Lobster Party! It's become a bit of a tradition with some of my friends to do a luxurious lobster roll dinner around the Christmas period - one brings the lobster (and other fab accompaniments), another brings his mad professional cooking skills, and we host!

Lobster roll

A Lobster Roll Dinner for 5 

Dips, bread, crackers, olive oil and dukkah 
Lobster Salad in Challah with potato chips and cornichons
Boiled Corn 
Pomegranate and Raspberry "Eton Mess"

When I blogged our last lobster roll party, I mentioned that I was still working towards my ultimate lobster roll - and now I've got it exactly the way I want it. Yay! Full recipe for the lobster roll is at the bottom of this post. The main differences were that I used a mixture of mayonnaise and Greek yogurt for the lobster salad (mayonnaise alone is too oily), and instead of heavy, dense brioche, I used light and fluffy challah for the rolls. (Totally sacri-licious, I know!)

Plaited loaf

I actually baked my own challah for the recipe - the party was on a Saturday night and obviously all the Jewish bakeries were closed that day. I had high hopes for finding a Glick's loaf at my local supermarket, but they were all sold out. Oh well, there was nothing to do but get baking! I used the challah recipe from Smitten Kitchen, which was quite easy and turned out really well! I probably need to work on my plaiting skills, but I reckon it looked pretty good for a first attempt!

Plaited, glazed challah

Sometimes I have issues with undercooking bread, but Deb's tip of using a meat thermometer took all the guess work out of it.

Baked challah

Super fluffy!

Last year we served Christmas pudding for dessert, but I was in the mood for something light, so I went for a kind of Eton Mess - crushed meringues folded through whipped cream, raspberries and pomegranate seeds. I always have a stash of egg whites in my freezer, so this was quite easy to make.

Meringues before baking

Seeing as this was a collaborative affair, I didn't have much to do that day once the challah was baked and the meringues were made!

Here are some fab dips, breads and dukkah that one of my friends brought to nibble on while we prepared the lobster! (N.B. the olive oil was a lovely peppery frantoio from Chapman Hill that I was gifted at a launch dinner a little while back).

Dips, Dukkah, Bread, Olive oil (and bizarrely, meringues)

Let's have a look at the poaching of the lobster tail - all lobster-poaching tips have been poached (hah!) from my qualified-chef friend Adrian.

You'll note that there's a chopstick in the lobster - you insert this to prevent the tail from curling up when cooked, and you can use it to test if the lobster is cooked. (Pull the skewer out - if it's cold, the lobster needs to be cooked more, if it's warm, you're done!)
Lobster tail
To add extra flavour, we poached the tail in a simple court bouillon, rather than plain boiling water. We added vegetable stock powder (I did say "simple"!), black peppercorns, some bay leaves and a peeled and chopped carrot to the poaching liquid. I'm sure you could use onions or celery as well, if you had them to hand.

Another tip is to hold the thick end in the simmering water for a minute before dropping the whole tail in - as this will help it to cook evenly. Use tongs if you have delicate hands!
Poaching the lobster tail
And cooked!
Cooked lobster tail
The parts of the lobster meat not protected by shell will tend to get a bit dry (obviously using a whole lobster would alleviate this problem, but it's more difficult to prepare), and we were all hungry, so we were glad to take Adrian's suggestion of slicing off the dry meat and snacking on it, drizzled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Tasty times!
Lobster offcuts

Lobster salad, pre-mayo/yogurt
Aaah... lobster salad. (I bet Ina Garten would approve!)
Lobster salad!
And here's dinner!
Lobster roll party
Accompaniments were boiled corn (which we loved), lettuce (which no-one paid any attention to), potato chips and cornichons. Perfect! (The keener-eyed among you will notice that our resident seafood-avoider had a roast chicken that night).

Lobster roll
I guess you could really assemble these any way you like, but I rather liked making pockets with the challah and wodging the salad in. (Rather like my Apple Donut French Toast, come to think of it!)

Fluffy and bread, generously filled with big chunks of tender lobster meat in a slightly piquant creamy dressing? Super yum town. I know that lobster rolls are soooo two years ago, but who cares? These taste magnificent!

After a while, we adjourned to the living room for dessert. Although I prefer Eton Mess prepared à la minute so the meringues stay crisp, it's still a super-easy option for entertaining! It literally took three minutes to whip the cream, crush in the meringues and fold through the fruit. (Even easier if you buy the meringues!) And I thought it was quite a nice idea to scoop it out for my friends.
Pomegranate and Raspberry "Eton Mess"
I hadn't served desserts in martini glasses since my Sarah Discovers How to Eat project, and I forgot just how cute it is! Must remember to do this more often.

Raspberry and Pomegranate "Eton Mess"

What are your favourite extravagant ingredients? Do you prefer brioche or challah?

Lobster Rolls
Lobster salad recipe adapted from Gourmet Traveller

1 large lobster tail
1 loaf of challah (I used Smitten Kitchen's recipe)
Cornichons, to serve
Potato chips/crisps, to serve
For the poaching liquid:
Vegetable stock powder, peppercorns, bay leaves, 1 carrot (peeled & roughly chopped)
For the lobster salad:
1 celery stalk, finely sliced
2 teaspoons finely chopped chives, plus extra to serve
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
The zest of half a lemon
2.5 teaspoons Sriracha chilli sauce
2.5 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed

Make the lobster salad by stirring all the ingredients together. (This can be done hours in advance and kept in the refrigerator - only add the celery and chives just before serving).
Stick two wooden skewers through the lobster tail to prevent it from curling up during cooking.
Get a large pot and fill it with water. Make a simple court bouillon by adding the carrot, vegetable stock, peppercorns, bay leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice. Bring to the boil, add the lobster tail and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until just cooked through. (Test by pulling out one of the skewers - it should be warm on the inside and not cold). Set aside to cool.
When it's cool enough to handle, remove the shell and chop the meat into rough cubes. If the end pieces are a little dry (i.e. the parts of the lobster meat that weren't protected by shell during cooking), simply cut them off and eat them drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook's treat!
Stir the remaining lobster pieces through the salad mix and garnish with extra chives.
Serve the lobster salad wodged into challah, with potato chips and cornichons.
Serves 5-6 lucky people

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Grace Cafe, Fitzroy

Grace Cafe, Rose Street

76 Rose Street
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Grace on Urbanspoon

Grace is a cute and quirky little cafe just off Brunswick street. I'd read about it on Michael and Cindy's blog, and seeing that they serve quark-filled crepes (be still, my beating heart!), added it to my list of cafes to visit. We popped in one Saturday with a couple of friends who'd just been to the Rose Street Artists Market and were about to hit up the Lego exhibition.

Cakes at Grace
I love the display of cakes on the counter - it all feels appealingly homemade and rustic. Totally instagrammable!

Cutlery station

Salt and sugar

Old-school cappuccino!
Cappuccino - $3.50

TOAST - Enough toast for a breakfast, buttered. With jam. - $4.50
What can I really say about toast with jam? At only $4.50 you can't really complain, and the bread was toasted well - not hard or unpleasant as can sometimes happen. Good toast!

TOASTED MUESLI - Honeyed oats, almonds & seeds, w/a side of milk, yoghurt & seasonal fruits - $9
My friend Tim went for the "healthy" option: toasted muesli. I liked the retro plate in which it was served, and thought it was cool that it came with interesting fresh fruits: apricots, cherries and kiwi fruit.

Unsurprisingly, Sandra and I both ordered the quark-filled crepes: hers topped with berry compote...
QUARK-FILLED CREPES - Crepes filled w/vanilla-sweetened, organic quark. Served w/cream & berry coulis and cream - $13
... and mine served with lemon curd.
QUARK-FILLED CREPES - Crepes filled w/vanilla-sweetened, organic quark. Served w/ lemon curd and cream - $13
Don't be fooled by the small size; these were actually quite rich and we both struggled to finish. I wonder if we'd have been better off sharing one serving (perhaps paying extra for lemon curd and berry compote), and then potentially having room for some of those cakes on the counter.

Either way, they were good pancakes - I loved the slightly grainy, wholesome texture of the quark, which was served warm. The cold, fattily rich double cream and the sharp lemon curd were fantastic accompaniments. (Although looking at Cindy and Michael's post, the crepes looked a lot darker and crisper on their visit). This also reminds me that I've been meaning to make Nigella's blueberry blintzes for aaages. Must really get onto that!

After eating, we hung around for a little while, chatting and generally catching up. I liked Grace - it has a pleasant atmosphere, the food is well-priced, and the service had a good balance between efficiency and chillaxed friendliness. Orders were taken and food came out quite promptly, but we weren't rushed out afterwards, which was nice. Worth a visit!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Chinese Meal for Four

Hey hey! I'm planning a Chinese New Year-themed round-up post once the New Year period is finished (it goes for fifteen days), but for now I wanted to share this Chinese meal that I made for my parents a little while ago, shortly after I got Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice. All the recipes are from this book - which is fantastic, and which I highly recommend!

Speaking of Fuchsia Dunlop, I recently tried to get tickets for the Fuchsia Dunlop dinner at Dainty Sichuan, but unfortunately they sold out before I could snaffle them. Boo! Oh well, I'm optimistic that she'll come down again in future!

A Chinese Meal for Four

Silken Tofu with Avocado (E'Li Dou Fu)
Sichuanese Wontons in Chilli Oil Sauce (Hong You Chao Shou)
Red Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou)
Fish Fragrant Aubergines (Yu Xiang Qie Zi)
Rice (of course)

I don't think you quite need four dishes for four people, but I really wanted to try a few different recipes from the book. I actually made this dinner on a weeknight after work - I prepared the red braised pork the night before, and the remaining dishes are reasonably quick to make, as long as you're organised. (Before starting each recipe I measured out all the different sauces/potato flour/spices in little bowls ready to go, and found that this really sped things up).

I got home at 5:30 that afternoon, and dinner was on the table by 7:30, which I think is pretty good going for a multi-course meal! Let's look at each of the dishes individually:

Silken Tofu with Avocado (E'Li Dou Fu)

Silken tofu with avocado
I love tofu, and right now I'm totally into cold silken tofu - delicious! As I mentioned in my "Silken Tofu with Century Egg" post, cold tofu dishes are an easy way to add another dish to a meal without a lot of effort or cleaning up. This avocado dish is quite unusual, but we loved the flavour combination. It's quite impressive for something so easy - just slice the tofu and avocado, arrange on a plate and pour a mix of different sauces over. 

Sichuanese Wontons in Chilli Oil Sauce (Hong You Chao Shou)

Sichuanese Chilli Wontons

I remember when I first got Every Grain of Rice, this was one of the first recipes to catch my eye - and I was surprised by how easy this was, given how "restauranty" they look. Essentially you're just sitting the cooked pork wontons in a pungent mixture of chilli oil, minced garlic, soy sauce and Chinkiang vinegar. Totally addictive!

Folding wontons
I suppose the hardest part of the whole procedure is folding the wontons, although it's not really difficult, just time-consuming. (Try not to make them too far in advance of boiling them, as the skins soak up the moisture from the filling if left to sit and can easily tear).

I followed the instructions in the book to fold them "water caltrop" style, but I guess it doesn't really matter how you fold them, as long as you seal them up properly by moistening the edges and pinching them together - you can't really tell once they're boiled and doused in chilli oil.

Red Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou)

Red braised pork
I chose to make this dish because I knew my dad would love it - with its soy sauce base and spicy aromatics, I thought it would be similar to the tau yuu bak (pork belly braised in soy) that my dad often makes. I was originally going to replace the suggested pork belly with some pork shoulder (more meat, less fat to scrape off!), but I found this fabulously meaty piece of pork belly at the butcher and thought: "Yes!"

Pork belly, aromatics
So as I said above, I prepared this the night before, allowing it to cook slowly in the oven for a few hours to get really tender. (Not very Chinese, but Fuchsia suggested it and it worked brilliantly).

And like when my parents make tau yuu bak, I thought I'd add some hardboiled eggs to the dish, which I cooked and added to the pot the next day. I didn't cook the eggs for long with the pork itself, as I was worried they'd overcook and get tough - hence the pale white colour of the eggs. My mum says you can brush the eggs with dark soy sauce before adding them to the pork, to give them some colour - so I'll try that next time.

The dish went down a treat! Tender pork pieces in a rich soy-broth, with the warming hint of cinnamon and star anise - winner winner.

Fish Fragrant Aubergines (Yu Xiang Qie Zi)

Fish Fragrant Eggplant

This one is a classic Sichuan dish and traditionally the eggplant pieces are deep fried before being tossed through the spicy sauce - but to make it easier I just brushed the eggplant pieces in oil and roasted them in the oven. I imagine the texture would be silkier if you deep fried them, but it's so much easier roasting them! (And they tasted good to us!)

Fab recipes all around, although my favourite has to be the chilli wontons. I loved them so much, in fact, that I'll be making them for our upcoming chap goh meh dinner to celebrate the end of the Chinese New Year period. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fig and Yogurt Pancakes

Fig and Yogurt Pancakes, Troy and Abed In The Morning mug

Morning y'all and happy Pancake Day! Nope, this isn't a really well-organised, pre-planned post that I had sitting in my drafts, just waiting for February 12 to roll around... I literally set my alarm 45 minutes early today and got up to make pancakes and blog them. Crazy? Maybe. But who cares!

Fig and Yogurt Pancakes

I'm used to getting up slightly early and preparing myself breakfasts - it's been a kind of new year's resolution of mine to make sure I eat a proper breakfast at home - although usually it's simpler things like yogurt and fruit, or toast.

Sliced figs

You see, I bought a box of figs on the weekend, and after using them in a couple of delicious breakfasts (both duly instagrammed), I started to think they'd be nice with some pancakes. Then I realised that today, Tuesday, would bePancake Day. Decision made! Pancakes it had to be.

I based mine on the peach and sour cream pancakes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, where the fruit is cooked in the pancakes, swapping Deb's peaches for figs (duh), and her sour cream for Greek yogurt. I measured out all the ingredients last night, keeping the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. Then, today, I whisked them together and got frying.

Frying up
I also ground some coffee last night so that I could make a nice batch of chemex coffee for myself when I got up. Double treat!
Chemex, Hario Grinder

It's obviously quite a bit of work for an early Tuesday morning, and I wouldn't recommend getting up super early every weekday to do it, but once in a while - what a lovely treat! These are fluffy and doughy (which is my preference for pancakes), with a nice crisp caramelised exterior.

Fluffy pancake goodness
Fig and Yogurt Pancakes

Are you eating pancakes today? If so, will you be buying or making them? What are your favourite kind?

Fig and Yogurt Pancakes
Adapted from the Peach and Sour Cream pancakes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

1 large egg
1 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup milk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons castor sugar
A pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch of ground nutmeg
3/4 cup plain flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
Butter, for frying
2 figs, sliced as thinly as possible

Whisk together the egg, yogurt, milk and vanilla extract and set aside.
Into a separate bowl, sift the sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour and baking powder.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, mixing until just combined. (Lumps are ok!)
Preheat the oven to 120C and place a baking tray in the oven.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over a medium-low heat. Melt a little butter in the pan. Ladle in quarter-cup measures of the batter, and lightly press a fig slice (or two, depending on size!) into each pancake. When the pancake is bubbling and the bottom is dry, flip it over and cook for another few minutes, or until the figs are caramelised and the pancake is cooked through. Repeat with the remaining batter until all the batter is used up. Place the cooked pancakes into the oven as you go to keep them warm and help them firm up.
Serve with honey.
Makes 8, serves 2-3