Sunday, 26 February 2012

North Melbourne Boat Noodles

he says:

Thai Boat noodles (kwaytiao reua) are a delicious and intensely flavoured but little known traditional Thai dish. They are associated with central Thailand, and are so called because they used to be sold from small boats along the canals and rivers. These days the vendors have moved onshore and the most famous boat noodle restaurants are found in 'boat noodle' alley near the Victory Monument in Bangkok.

We visited 'boat noodle' alley when we were in Thailand last year and that's where my infatuation began…  From pretty much the day we returned I have been methodically preparing to cook Thai Boat Noodles, there has been lots of researching recipes and searching out ingredients but finally on Saturday it all came together and I successfully cooked my first batch of Thai Boat Noodles. The hardest part is of course the broth, after hours of boiling and simmering and adjusting seasonings I was really pleased with the final taste of my broth. It was luscious and rich with strong notes of beef and undertones of cinnamon, star anise and chinese five spice and an overall well balanced salinity and sweetness.

Unfortunately I don't read Thai so my research has been limited to English descriptions of this wonderful and unique Thai dish. I have tried most of the versions of Thai Boat Noodles that are available in Melbourne, you can read about them in my previous post. While I have really enjoyed the different versions that I tried in Melbourne, none have really matched the noodles I ate in 'boat noodle' alley in Bangkok. Firstly, 'boat noodle' alley serve much smaller bowls and customers are expected to eat multiple bowls to fill their stomachs. Perhaps this could be considered somewhat gimmicky and certainly doesn't seem traditional but I really liked the concept and judging by how busy the 'boat noodle' alley restaurants are, so do the Thai. Secondly the construction of the dish is somewhat simplified, the main difference being that there is no stewed beef shank. The construction is simply, a pork ball, a few shreds of tender steak, some morning glory, rice noodles and of course that delicious broth. I have reached the conclusion that this is a modern, dare I say it 'fast food' Bangkok style interpretation of a traditional dish, and it's wonderful!  It is this Bangkok version that I attempted to make in my backyard on Saturday.

I have a dream of launching a Thai Boat Noodle Pop Up Street Food Cart in Melbourne. It's a bit of a crazy dream but I have a passion for Thai street food and a passion for Melbourne so somehow in my mind it fits perfectly. For me its not really about money, its all about the love of Thai street food and hopefully a bit of fun (or as the Thai say, sanuk). So obviously the first step towards achieving my dream was to actually cook the dish I hope to one day be spruiking around the streets of Melbourne. I took great inspiration from the stories Luke Nguyen and his sister tell in their respective cookbooks about their father endlessly toiling away perfecting his now famous Pho recipe and obviously fostering a passion in Luke that has helped him to become such a great ambassador for Vietnamese cuisine and in turn empowering me to explore my food passion also.  

As these noodle soups require you to cook such large batches (about 15 litres actually) I decided to invite a group of friends around to sample my first effort so that I could cook it in the most authentic way possible. It was also a great opportunity to bring everyone together and at the same time get some feedback on what they thought. To try and make it feel that bit more authentic I built a bit of a makeshift noodle cart from an old table and Tina decorated the backyard with some asian lanterns and umbrellas. 

I thought my noodle cart was pretty cool and certainly functioned well on the day but I'm definitely excited about having a proper cart built! I'm not sure how easy that is going to be but it is Melbourne so there is sure to be someone somewhere how can help. If you know anyone, please let me know!  

The final bowl count was just under 50 bowls which I thought was a pretty good effort. It was helped considerably by my friends Luke and Rupert who took in on themselves to go head to head in battle. Lukey (below left) was the victor and now holds the record with a whopping 11 bowls!!! Rupert wasn't that far behind with an impressive 9 bowls although both of them were definitely the worse for wear and it was only after they both attempted to walk it off with a couple of laps around the block that they started to come good again...  Great effort boys, I really appreciated your enthusiasm. 

One of my favourite descriptions of Thai Boat noodles is that it is a joyous union of Chinese beef noodle soup and Vietnamese Pho, From the Chinese beef noodle soup you have the prominent usage of five spice powder, star anise and cinnamon sticks in a dark soy sauce-tained broth. From the Vietnamese Pho you have the use of the braised beef bones stock, tender slices of beef and of course the rice noodles. One of the special differences from these two classic noodle soups is the use of pig's blood as a thickener. It adds a lovely richness to the consistency of the final soup. Many of my friends asked what the special red sauce was, however I decided to keep this a secret until everyone had had the chance to try it without letting their experience be tainted by the psychological impact of knowing you are are eating blood. When I finally came clean I was a bit surprised that no-one really seemed too bothered about it at all! 

One of the other things that I really like about the Thai way of serving noodle soup is that the diner is provided with a standard set of seasonings which are used to adjust the balance of flavours to your own personal preference. Typically on each table are four seasonings, fish sauce, crushed dried chillies, white sugar and sliced fresh chillies in vinegar. Some people are against self seasoning but I love being able to beef up the sweetness or chilli with a few sprinkles of this or that. My preference is for a splash of fish sauce, a sprinkle of sugar and a nice spoonful of dried chilli. 

So a big thankyou to all of my friends who shared in my first effort at cooking Thai Boat Noodles. I had a great time and was very happy with how everything worked out. 

I am now one step closer to realising my dream of launching a Thai Boat Noodle Pop Up Street Food Cart in Melbourne, stay tuned...  

she says:

Since we came back from Thailand I have been watching Andy slowly pull together his dream of having a boat noodle cart.  To be honest - at first I thought it was a bit of a random and crazy idea, but I do have a soft spot for random, crazy ideas so I was definitely in.

It has taken Andy several months of research, shopping and planning to get to today and I must say he pulled it off in spectacular fashion!    The noodles were extremely yummy - they looked so beautiful in the bowl, you just could not wait to tuck in.  The broth was so full of flavour, the mix of the star anise and cinnamon was very delicious and created such an interesting and very moorish flavour.  The noodles were cooked beautifully, the rump was so lovely and tender, and I am a huge fan of morning glory - it adds a such lovely crunch and freshness!  I was also really excited to hear my friends commenting on how delicious the noodles were, they all seemed to love the flavour of the broth all picking out ingredients and commenting on how much they liked the combination of flavours.  Of course the proof is always in the eating and it was so excellent to see everyone going back for seconds and thirds!

The night was such a success that I cannot wait for our next boat noodle launch.  I am not sure how they can get any better next time but I cannot wait to find out.   So stay tuned........

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Gingerboy Crispy Yellow Curry Marinated Sea Bream

he says:

I'm definitely a protein based cook, that is I usually decide what protein I want then work out a meal to cook with it. I love eating fish and really don't cook it enough, instead I often favour prawns or squid when it comes to cooking seafood. I love cooking whole fried fish too but the other day I decided it was time to try something new. For Christmas my sister gave me the Gingerboy cookbook which is one of those beautifully photographed but quite complicated recipe books that you often end up reading and drooling over more than actually cooking from it. After quite a bit of drooling over the pages I decided to have a go at the Gingerboy Crispy Yellow Curry Marinated Garfish, except that I decided to use Sea Bream instead.

The recipe wasn't as complicated as many of the other recipes in the Gingerboy cookbook which was definitely a deciding factor given that it was a weeknight. I won't go into the recipe in detail but basically it comprised making a yellow curry paste, palm sugar, lime juice and fish sauce marinade the battering the marinated fish with a rice flour batter and deep frying it. I've been quite drawn to deep frying these days, it obviously isn't a healthy option but I really feel its a skill worth developing. Getting the oil temperature right is the tricky thing but once you get a handle on that it is actually a quite easy and very delicious way of preparing chicken and seafood. I use my wok for deep frying and skimp a bit on the oil as it seems so wasteful to pour in two litres of oil just for a meal for two. To make up for the use of less oil I make sure I constantly spoon the oil over the fish as I am frying it. The deep frying produced a lovely crunchy coating that when bitten into yields to the delicious tender fish.

For the salad I tried to reproduce and interpret the chinese cabbage, apple and mint salad I had on my recent visit to Red Spice Road. The salad was very simple to prepare and a deliciously crunchy and refreshing and a perfect accompaniment to the fried fish. Firstly I shredded up some chinese cabbage with my trusty mandolin (if you don't have one, get to Footscray and buy yourself one) to julienne a crunchy green pear. This is then mixed up with some Vietnamese mint, finely sliced shallots and of course a few scud chillies to give it a bit of kick. For dressing I went for my old faithful, Nuoc Mam with a bit of lime juice. The Nuoc Mam works perfectly with the texture of the pear and chinese cabbage, crunchy and zesty with a hit of chilli, just like you expect from a Vietnamese salad. I was really happy with how this salad worked out and will definitely be preparing it again.

The real highlight of the night for me was a bit of a breakthrough moment of cooking my first caramelised vinegar dipping sauce. I had eaten this kind of sauce a few times at different places and was always rapturous about how the sweetness of the caramelised sugar and sourness of the vinegar combined so beautifully. At the time I had no idea how this was achieved but after reading my Gingerboy cookbook a bit more carefully (instead of just drooling over the pictures) I discovered a recipe for Red Vinegar Caramel. Its one of those wonderful asian recipes that is actually very simple but really delivers.

The recipe is as follows:

100 g light palm sugar (grated or chopped until fine)
3 tbs water
1 garlic cover (finely chopped)
1 red birds eye chilli (finely chopped)
3 1/2 tbs red vingar
2 tbs rice wine vinegar
2 tbs light soy sauce

Dissolve the palm sugar in the water and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer on a low heat for 8 minutes until the sauce thickens and changes to a golden colour. Stir though the garlic and chilli and then carefully add the remaining liquids and simmer for 3 minutes. Set aside to cool.

nuoc mam on the left and red vinegar caramel sauce on the right 

I really loved this sauce and would recommend everyone give it a go. My first effort was perhaps not quite sweet enough for my personal preference so next time I will adjust the vinegar levels a bit but I was definintely very pleased with how well it complimented the fried fish. I also have a recipe for black vinegar caramel so that's next for sure.

my trust mandolins, these babies get very regular use

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Bourgogne Bonnes Bouches

he says:

I had the extreme pleasure of enjoying some superb Burgundies over the weekend. I am on record as being pretty parochial when it comes to Victorian Pinot but not to the extent that I don't dream of being able to enjoy French Burgundy much more often that I actually do.

We visited some friends for dinner the other night for an amazing Thai feast, for some reason I didn't feel it was appropriate to blog about someone else's cooking (unless I'm paying for it) so regrettably I didn't take any photos.  As well as being an excellent cook, my friend is a very experienced sommelier we were lucky enough to enjoy an impromptu Burgundy tasting with a wonderful explanation of some of the finer points of tasting and Burgundy in general. I was in heaven!

First up was a Gevrey Chambertin 2004 Premier Crus Bel Air. I learned that Burgundy as an area is classified into different areas and each area receives a designation from the monks. The highest designation is Grand Crus, next is Premier Crus then Village. Now I'm pretty sure I have never enjoyed a Grand Crus but now that I know about it, its right up there on my must try list. I think I may need to do a bit of saving first though as I imagine Grand Crus is not cheap. I took my first taste of the 'Premier Crus' and swilled and swished and rolled my eyes back in my head trying to match the gorgeous sensations I was experiencing to some kind of description but nothing came...  Now I did get a bit of help at that point and definitely leaned more about acid and tannins than I hadn't previously understood.

In particular, I'm pretty sure I now understand 'tightness' which is not necessarily a desirable characteristic but the other end of the scale is 'flabby' which you don't want either. The Gevrey Chambertin 2007 Premier Crus was right in the middle of course. I think the wiki decrsiption sums up 'tightness' pretty well. A wine with a significant presence of tannins that is restraining the other qualities of the wine, such as fruit and extract, from being more noticeable.

Next we moved onto the Gevrey Chambertin Bel Air 'Village' which is the next designation down from the 'Premier Crus'. I was shown these two vineyards (Bel Air Premier Crus and Bel Air Village) on a detailed map of Burgundy vineyards and was quite surprised to see how small each vineyard was and also also how close they were to each other. From my somewhat mottled memory that evening I'm pretty sure both of these vineyards were each only the size of a few football fields and they abutted each other.

Despite the almost identical location, I could definitely taste a marked difference between the two wines. The 'Village' had a lot less nose and also noticeably a little tighter. I felt that the best way to identify the tightness was to allow the wine to roll off the sides of the tongue and see how quickly and smoothly the acid dissipated into my mouth. The tighter wine didn't dissipate as smoothly and left a bit of acid tightness right in the centre of the tongue. Needless to say it was also a wonderful drinking experience and markedly different from the Victorian Pinot that I normally drink. I'm not going to say that the Burgundy was better than the Victorian Pinot, its a matter of personal taste but I will definitely admit that the Burgundies were far more refined and probably less fruit heavy. As with most times when I am asked to compare food or wine I have to take the easy option, I love them all!

We finished with the Nuits Saint George 2004 'Village'. By this time I was probably not in the best state to be doing comparing and was actually getting my glasses mixed up and it didn't really matter to me. I was just like a little kid at a party with lots of bowls of lollies in front of me grabbing from each bowl and having a great time.  From memory the Nuits Saint George was quite similar to the Gevrey Chambertin 'Village' although the year was 2004 versus 2007. My more experienced drinking partner that night did point out some of the differences which I'm sure I noticed at the time but cannot remember well enough to repeat them here... Such a great night!  

In my defence we also polished off two bottles of Champagne before we even started on the Burgundies and as our hosts are both from the hospitality industry they have a skill of subtly refilling your glass misleading you into thinking you are still on that first glass. That is, until you walk into the flyscreen door!  Did I mention I had a great night!!!

Saturday, 11 February 2012


he says:

I have never cooked a Rendang curry. There, I said it. But I have a good reason. If I ever feel the need to indulge in the wonderful delight that is Rendang curry I just head down to Tivoli arcade in the Melbourne CBD and see Freddy at Nusantara. Freddy runs a simple but awesome operation that offers a fantastic array of Indonesian cuisine at super cheap prices.

I used to have a food snob rule of not eating from bain maries, that was until I discovered Nusantara. For $9.30 you can choose two meat and one vegetable dish from the bain marie served with a huge pile of fluffy white rice. There is a one meat and one vegetable option too for around $7 but I can never settle on only two dishes from the wide selection of offerings. The selection is constantly varying which makes it even more interesting as you really never know what you are going to get. The changing offerings combined with the wide array of fantastically tasty dishes makes choosing difficult. My approach is to go often so I can slowly work my way through all of them.

In my opinion, the top of the Nusantara tree is the Beef Rendang. I have never had a better Rendang anywhere. Other great dishes available are Chilli Shrimp Paste Beef (I reckon can smell whether this is available as soon as I enter the arcade from Bourke Street), Gado Gado, Stir Fried Tempeh and Vegetables, Green Chilli Chicken, Goat Curry, Udap (Fried Vegetable with Desiccated Coconut), a succulent fried fish dish, a delicious fried potato and bean dish, a very popular eggplant and boiled egg dish, a couple of different superb chicken curries and many more that I don't know what they are called. I was there the other day and tried the Murtabak which was also superb.

Another little secret is that Freddy offers a generous meat only takeaway of a small serve for $6 and large for $9. I often grab a container of the Beef Rendang or the Chilli Shrimp Paste Beef for $6 and take it home to eat with fried roti. I use a fantastic Katoomba frozen roti product that you just fry up straight from the freezer. Its an excellent product but I'll post about them another time.

Here is a few pictures of the Nusantara bain marie to get  you interested.

Somedays I just grab a takeaway container to go back to the office which is what I did on my recent visit. So my meal picture is definitely not one for a glossy food magazine but I can guarantee you that it was absolutely delicious!  Mmmmm Chilli Shrimp Paste Beef, Stir Fried Tempeh and Vegetables and Murtabak with rice and of course Sambal. Guaranteed to fill you up and have your colleagues popping into the lunch room to see what smells so good!

None of the food is cooked onsite (except the rice). My understanding is that Freddy's very talented wife cooks everything at the Nusantara restaurant in Caulfield. I hope to visit there one day but Caulfield is a bit of a mission from where I live so I usually just get my Rendang fix from Freddy in his Tivoli Arcade operation.

In my opinion Rendang is one of those very special dishes that has no peers. Don't get me wrong, I love a Thai curry and could never choose over Mussaman and Rendang, I just choose to enjoy both!  When it comes to describing Rendang I like Rick Stein's explanation, "There's nothing quite like a Rendang: hot and spicy but rich in coconut with a delightful sweet and sourness from tamarind and palm sugar".

If you have never cooked a Rendang, or even worse never tried a Rendang, get yourself to Nusantara! You won't be disappointed, and say hi to Freddy for me.

Nusantara Indonesian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Footscray Vietnamese Snacks (Nem Nuong and Banh Cong)

he says:

After dropping off some photos to Michaels Camera it was time for lunch. We needed something quick and tasty as we had a BBQ to get to that afternoon and Charlie needed a sleep before we left so it was an easy decision.  Nhu Lan in Footscray for Banh Mi (Vietnamese pork and salad roll) . In my opinion Nhu Lan do the best Banh Mi in Melbourne and most of the Vietnamese community agree so it is always madness in there at lunchtimes, especially on the weekends.

So while Tina battled the mayhem that masquerades as the Nhu Lan queueing system I played outside with Charlie. We were both pretty hungry and I knew Tina would be ages in Nhu Lan, she just doesn't have the fight that it takes to get served quickly in there! I decided to duck into the To's Cafe & Hot Bread two doors down as they have a heated display case of delicious goodies that have ofter taken my eye.

I grabbed a Nem Nuong ($3.5) which is sweet pork sausage on a stick and a Banh Cong which is a savoury mung bean fried bun ($1.50) and Charlie and I snuck in a quick snack before Tina returned. Charlie preferred the Nem Nuong but was kind enough to share some with me. I cook this at home sometimes, usually for using in a bun (rice vermicelli) Nem Nuong salad but these were much stickier and sweeter than my version which comes from the Meera Freedman cookbook 'The Flavours of Vietnam'. I bought this at book depository for $12, another bargain! It doesn't have many pictures but the recipe list reads like a Melbourne Vietnamese restaurant menu. If you see it, buy it. I cheat a bit with my version and add some red pork spice mix to try and get a more authentic (artificial) colour.

My adapted recipe is as follows:

500 g coarse pork mince (nice and fatty is you can get it)
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp ground black pepper
4 tbs fish sauce
3 cloves crushed garlic
2tbs red spice pork mix

Throw it all into the food processors and blend until it forms a smooth paste.
Then roll it into balls (moisten your hands with oil or water) to stop it sticking and grill on a griddle plate or charcoal BBQ.

The Banh Cong is usually served with Banh Cuon and Dinh Son Quan in Little Saigon Footscray do my favourite version but this one was just as delicious. I would have liked some Nuoc Mam to dip it in but it was only a sneaky snack so I made do. The outside is wonderful crispy and crunchy with an earthy moist filling of mung bean 'dough like' mix. These ones also had a yummy crispy fried prawn on top, you just can't go wrong with crispy fried prawn!

Oh yeah, Tina finally returned with the Banh Mi and they were awesome! I had Banh Mi Thit (roast pork) but usually also go for Banh Mi Bi (shredded pork skin with spring onion oil) which is another must try. Just be prepared to fight pretty hard or you'll be waiting in line for a long time!

To's Cafe & Hot Bread on Urbanspoon

Korean Icypole

The other day Tina needed to drop into Michael's Camera to get a few photos printed. She has just started on the journey of learning about photography and already has taken some fantastic shots. My dodgy iphone efforts pale in comparison but hopefully soon she will take all the photos for this blog I'm sure you'll notice a significant improvement in quality. She is pretty lucky to have such a great subject though!

I was looking after Charlie outside the shop while Tina worked the automatic processing machine when I spotted one of my favourite things. A new asian grocer that I didn't know about! I wasn't getting too excited though as I suspected it was a Korean grocer and while I enjoy pretty much all asian food, Korean isn't at the top of my list and to be honest I don't know too much about it or cook it at all really. Anyway, that doesn't stop me wanting to have a bit of a wander around if only to see what they stock in case it comes in handy one day. I pride myself on knowing where I can get most of my favourite asian ingredients.

Charlie has just had a bit of a typical Charlie stack and splatted on the footpath so she needed a bit of a cheer up. It was a pretty hot day again so I thought we should check out the ice cream cabinet. With so many interesting looking options and absolutely no English descriptions on the packets, choosing was a bit of a lucky dip. I settled on a skinny ice pole with a blue and white wrapper that as I was purchasing the girl at the counter told me was soda flavour. That's a new one to me!

Charlie loved it and after a bit of negotiating I managed to swindle a few small bites. It was delicious! I think it was actually ice cream soda flavour. It had an icy lemonade soda flavoured outside with a smooth ice cream filling. And only $1.20!  

When we returned to collect the photos we grabbed two more so Tina and I could each enjoy one properly! I really loved the ice cream soda flavour combination, so refeshing. Perhaps it was a bit of a flash back to those days as a kid when we got the rare chance to enjoy ice cream spiders.

Now I' m left wondering what other hidden gems are lurking in that Korean grocers ice cream cabinet...

Adam D'Sylva's Coda Stir Fried Prawns with Winged Beans

he says:

I first saw Adam D'Sylva on Masterchef last year and was liked him immediately. I just thought he was so entertaining they was he threw the noodles into the wok and spun around while cheering himself on. It wasn't long after seeing him on Masterchef that I noticed a sign at the Victoria Market advertising their Seasonal Starts cooking demonstrations featuring Adam D'Sylva! As even better the cooking demonstrations were free! I immediately put the date in my phone as I often get all excited about these kinds of things only to completely forget the day they are on.

The first demonstration I went to was the Seasonal Stars Winter 2011 and it was bucketing down which was a bit of a shame but also quite good as there weren't many people there so I got to sit right up front and ask lots of questions. Adam did not disappoint and was really friendly and very entertaining but also extremely knowledgeable. I can see why he won The Age 2007 Young Chef of the Year award. The highlight dish of this demonstration for me was the Warm Salad of Chicken, Prawn and Beans. The dressing in particular was so different to anything I had cooked before. Who would have thought coconut milk and chilli powder would combine so well. Another simple technique that I learned and have used many times is poaching a chicken breast for use in salads. Once it is poached it pulls apart into perfect moist pieces. So simple but so good! You can even download Adam's recipes from the link above. I love free chef recipes!

So of course when I saw that Adam was back as part of the Seasonal Starts Summer 2012 I was there in a flash. Being Summer the weather was much better this time and even better it wasn't much more crowded so again I took a seat right up the front to ask as many questions as possible. Adam was great again, (although a few recycled jokes from last time) but with a new list of three great recipes. My favourite of this set was the Coda's Prawn Sizzle. I have cooked this so many times, it is my go to stir fry dish. After the demonstration I went out immdiately and bought myself a sizzle plate, a definite must have. What I took out of this demonstration was that you need to add quite a bit of water to your stir fries so that the ingredients steam as well as fry. But of course the heat needs to be very hot and the wok not overloaded or you will stew rather than stir fry and the result won't anywhere near as good. I have already written about the wonderful Thai chilli jam Nam Prik Pao that we used as a sauce for our Miang. This dish is another completely different use for this wonderful condiment. I have tried a few different brands but  Pantai Norasingh is my preference.

The other thing I learned that day (of many many things learned) was about Winged Beans. I had read about and seen pictures of these but never seen them for sale. Obviously Adam has access to so many exciting and rare ingredients that the rest of us can only dream about. I was in Footscray the other weekend looking for some authentic Vietnamese fish sauce for my fish sauce taste test (blog entry coming soon), I am up to five bottles so far!  Anyway, at the asian grocer just up from Nathan Thai where I often buy scud chillies and holy basil I noticed a small bag of winged beans for $2.50! They were purchased immediately and I knew straight away they were destined for a Coda Sizzle Plate stir fry.

You can probably tell that I love my cooking equipment and with some thanks to Adam D'Sylva my wok is now one of my favourites. It has seasoned up so perfectly and never (to my knowledge ... Tina) has it been touched with a drop of detergent. I bought it at Footscray of course for $25, another super bargain. If you are in the market for a wok or don't own one (shock horror) ... get down to Footscray now!

This dish is so tasty you will cook it over and over again. It's so easy to cook and quick to prepare plus it's so full of flavour and it really brings out so much of the goodness of asian veggies. I interchange between, snake beans, baby corn, long red and green chillies, carrots, winged beans depending on whatever is available. I also usually always add some enoki mushrooms at the end of the cooking time but I didn't have any in the fridge this time. Enoki mushrooms have a wonderful texture and the sauce coats them perfectly as they soak up all the delicious flavours. We always serve this with Thai Jasmine rice cooked in our indispensable rice cooker. If you don't have one of those then you are really living rough! Get to Footscray immediately!!!

When I was checking the links for writing this blog I noticed that I missed the Seasonal Stars Summer 2012, so devastated... Oh well, at least I have the recipes downloaded, the star of this set for sure is going to be the Barbecued Cuttlefish and Pork Belly!  Make sure you use all the links above to download his recipe cards as until Adam comes out with a cookbook (which I will go and buy the day it is released) these are the best we have.

Char Grilled Chicken - Spirit House

she says:

Exciting news.....I am cooking something worth blogging tonight!  Hold onto your hats people!!!

So a bit of back story........Our extended family generally spends Christmas at Mooloolaba, Sunshine Coast, Qld. This tradition started with Andy's family when he was young and we have continued joining in on this tradition as much as we can, especially now that we have Charlie and we just love it (as long as it is not raining all the time like it was a couple of years ago).

It is always such a food adventure (and I am using that term slightly sarcastically) travelling to the Sunny Coast with Andy especially in the last few years.........I think things have improved somewhat from when we first started trawling the coast looking for Asian ingredients, but initially it was struggle.  It is certainly much harder than travelling down the road to Footscray or the Victoria Markets here in Melbourne.  Of course this always makes me appreciate where we live even more - the sunny coast may have the weather, the beaches and the bronzed beauties....but hey, Melbourne has an abundance of amazing fresh, and packaged ingredients from all over the globe and many of the best restaurants, so I know where I would prefer to be shaking my lilly white buttocks!

So to get to the point - one Christmas we were lucky enough to receive as a present vouchers to Spirit House.  Wow, this place is awesome.  The grounds are so beautiful and the food is just delicious.  We got this gift a few years ago so I am not going to go into detail about the restaurant experience as I don't think that is fair to Spirit House.  When I go there again I will blog about it when it is fresh in my mind.

We have many cookbooks from Spirit House and one of my favourites is 'Hot Plate' (BBQ recipes from Spirit House chefs).  I love this book because I love meat that has been cooked on the BBQ.  Tonight I am cooking Char Grilled Chicken (marinated with lemongrass and chilli).

So, you just pound in a motor and pestle the following:

100 gms white sugar
3 sticks lemongrass (chopped bottoms only - keep the tops for later)
1 tsp white peppercorns
2 birds eye chillies

I pounded these ingredients first to a paste.  Then you add to the motor and pestle:

1 tbsp fish sauce (I used Megachef)
1 tbsp soy sauce (Healthy Boy)
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine

Pound and combine to a marinade paste.  Score the chicken (the recipe calls for 1 medium chicken butterflied but I have gone with just under 1kg of chicken chops instead).  Rub marinade over chicken and leave to marinate (overnight if possible).

*With your saved lemongrass tops - tie them together with some string to make a brush.  I run a knife through the top parts and then fray them out a bit to make a better brush.  You will use this when cooking to baste the chicken with the marinade.

After a few glasses of wine we fired up the BBQ and put the sticky rice on to cook.  Baste the chicken with some oil and put onto the BBQ. The chicken needs to be sealed over medium heat and then cooked for about 30 mins on low.  While you are cooking you need to baste the chicken with the marinade every 5 mins using the saved lemongrass tops.  I found cooking over coals tricky to maintain the right heat.  We use the fan to ramp up the heat for sealing and then let it die down to cook for the 30 mins. This worked a treat but I found that every time you basted the chicken it would cause the flames to fire up.  This is not a problem as long as you are keeping a close eye on it and move the chicken around so that it is not sitting directly under the flames.

While the chicken is cooking chop up on a board 2 tbsp Vietnamese mint, 2 tbsp coriander leaves, 1 red chilli, 1/4 tbsp ginger and chop 1 lime in half.

When the chicken is cooked, chop into pieces and rub with chopped herbs.  Squeeze over lime and serve with sticky rice.

This was so yummy.  I may have slightly overcooked the chicken (I blame bad lighting and a tricky BBQ) but it was still delicious!  I will be making this one again.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Red Spice Road Pork Belly

he says:

I have a bit of a issue with expensive Thai restaurants, or should I say I used to. I always thought why should I pay $30 for a Thai meal that I can get in the suburbs for $10. So even though Red Spice Road is the closest Thai restaurant to my work I had always passed on checking it out. People always had good things to say about it but I just wasn't interested. But recently we were taking some clients out for a work lunch and my colleague asked where we should go. As I am obsessed with asian food to the point of shunning almost all other cuisines I decided that seeing I wasn't paying it would be a good time to try Red Spice Road. It was a work lunch so I foolishly didn't take any photos and the food was so good I really regretted it. in particular one dish really stood out, the pork belly. Did I mention that I love pork belly?

I went home that night raving about it to Tina and was secretly trying to come up with an excuse to return so I could eat that pork belly again and this time take photos. As luck would have it a week later Charlie started day care and Tina come into the city to visit me for lunch. I seized the opportunity and suggested Red Spice Road. Of course Tina agreed.  The pork belly dish is quite large and we are not huge portion eaters so I thought it would be perfect for us to share.  We started with another dish that I love, miang. Red Spice Road do a couple of miangs but the best is the spanner crab. We are still pretty green when it comes to blogging and so may times we have dived right into a meal as soon as it arrives then about halfway through we look at each other and realise that we didn't take any photos. Yep, so that's what happened with the miang but I was certainly not going to make the same mistake with the pork belly.

Red Spice Road is a very efficient operation and the restaurant probably seats around 100 so the meals are obviously well thought out when it comes to speed of preparation as well as deliciousness. The pork belly came out very quickly which is great when you are on a lunch break. The menu describes it as Pork Belly with Chilli Caramel, Black Vinegar, Cabbage and Mint Salad. The pork was wonderfully crispy and crunchy on the outside and then contrastingly yielding inside with juicy flesh that pulls apart easily and melts in the mouth. I am guessing that the pork is poached to get that beautiful tender fall apart texture then deep fried to crisp up the outside. It is served topped with a lovely light chinese cabbage, shredded apple, vietnamese mint and perilla salad. All of this is wonderful but the highlight for me is once again the amazing sauce. Its another one for my "I wish I had the recipe for this sauce" list. Oh how to describe it? I don't know where to start. Its very sweet with an almost honey like consistency but at the same time beautifully balanced with a bit of sourness that you wold expect from a Thai sauce. The menu description says chilli however I didn't find it particularly spicy.

So if you're like I was and have an issue with expensive asian cuisine I can understand, but trust me its worth making an exception to try this deliciously sweet succulent pork belly from Red Spice Road. At $31 for a meal that two people can share it actually isn't that expensive anyway.

Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Durian Ice Cream

he says:

I love durian!  My favourite durian dessert is David Thompson's durian sticky rice that we ate in his Nahm restaurant in Bangkok. I have cooked my own version a few times and have been extremely happy with it. Its a polarising fruit that they say you either love or hate. As I have already said, I'm a lover not a hater.

After a huge morning at the Footscray festival we returned home and all crashed out exhausted. When we finally woke we decided we should keep the gluttony going and get more treats for dessert. Dinner was more charcoal grilled chicken ribs as I still had some left from lunch the day before. But what for dessert? It was getting late and we were stuck for an idea that would do justice to such a fantastic day of eating.

Then I remembered a post about a new ice cream place in Carlton called helados jauja that I had read on Mel: Hot or Not. I specifically remember that Mel mentioned that they have a few asian flavours coconut, black sesame and pandan. Tina checked the blog for details and jumped in the car to check it out. I was pretty hopeful but there was no way I was expecting her to return home with durian ice cream. Oh yeah! How could this day get even better? Yep, durian ice cream that's how.  She also got some white sesame and black sesame ice cream to try and these were great but the durian was the star.

There is no easy way to describe the taste of durian, you really just have to try it.  The closest I can get to describing it is more to talk about the sensation of tasting it. I have written before about those special strong pungent yet addictively moreish flavours like oysters, blue cheese and a great funky pinot. Well obviously durian doesn't taste like oysters, cheese or pinot but the sensation is something similar. Does that help? probably not. You'll just have to go out and try it for yourself. I suggest starting with durian ice cream at helados jauja and then if you need another durian fix, head down the road to Pad Thai in Midtown Plaza and order a bowl of their durian sticky rice.

At the back is the banana fritter from the Footscray Festival, what an great way to end an awesome day!

Helados Jauja on Urbanspoon

Footscray Festival

he says:

I was so excited when I saw the poster for the Footscray Vietnamese New Year Festival on the tram on my way home.  I was a bit sad that I missed the Richmond Festival the previous week but as I spend much more time in Footscray I would have been devastated if I'd missed that one.  It was a scorchingly hot morning and Tina and I were both a bit tender after enjoying a few wines the previous evening with our guests but there was no way we were going to miss it so we dragged ourselves out of bed comforting ourselves with the thought of all the wonderful food we were about to gorge ourselves with.

I had read that Leeds street and Hopkins street would be closed of and as it can be difficult to get a park in Footscray at the best of times we decided to catch the train.  We arrived pretty early to ry and avoid the heat but this was futile as it must have been 30 degrees plus at 10 in the morning. The steaming heat combines with the smoky smell of all the wonderful food being fried, and grilled really made us fell like we were back in Vietnam. The Festival was really quite a grand affair, so much more impressive than our North Melbourne Spring Fling. Aside from all the wonderful food the carnies were out in force with all the games and rides and even a massive ferris wheel in the Little Saigon carpark. But we were there for a single purpose... food!

The first thing I saw was one of my absolute favourites, Banh Khot. These are delicious little mini fried cakes kind of similar to Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake). The best version is from Quan Viet in Braybrook. I was always a bit confused about these as I had them in Hoi An Vietnam (below) where they were called Banh Can Nem Cha (not Banh Canh which is a noodle soup), very confusing!  I spoke to the lady who I get my coffee from as she is Vietnamese and she told me that it the same dish is sometimes called something different in different regions. Anyway, regardless of what they are called, they are delicious.

They are pretty simple to make if you have the right pan, the batter is poured in and then a small prawn is added and the lid put on until they are cooked with lovely crispy edges. Then you just add some Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese dipping sauce) and stuff them into you mouth as quickly as possible.  From memore these were $6, bargain!

While we were waiting for our Banh Khot I noticed the same stall was setting up for Bot Chien, also $6, super bargain!  Bot Chien is another less common vietnamese dish made with steamed rice cakes cooked into a kind of omelette with egg and an amazing dipping sauce that is on my "I wish I had the recipe for this sauce" list. It is usually served with some shredded green papaya which adds a wonderful crunch but  for me the sauce is what makes this dish so special. Please send the recipe if you have it, please!!!

Just like a delicious work of art!

Next it was time for something sweet. I spotted these awesome looking grilled lumps of sticky rice and after enquiring with the stall owner I learned that they were filled with a banana, brilliant! For $3 (mega bargain) I ordered a serve immediately. The stall owner chopped it into pieces then added a sweet coconut sauce with what I am guessing was tapioca pearls. This was fantastic, I have never had it before and have no idea what it's called but if you ever see it for sale, buy it. I don't know of any vietnamese restaurants that serve this so it looks like I'll be waiting until next year's Footscray festival until I get to enjoy it again.

Charlie was starting to feel the heat by this stage, we all were actually. Sadly, while the Festival was really well organised with lots going on, there wasn't much seating and even less shaded seating so we found ourselves venturing out into the sun to get food and then retreating back to the shade to stand and enjoy it. As well as the many food vendors, there were also the usual local businesses handing out balloons and other showbags filled with promotional material. Charlie scored herself a helium ballon which kept her happy for long enough for us to search for more food, even though by this stage we were both uncomfortably full. It was a bit like the last day of an overseas holiday when you're rushing around trying to cram as much in as you can before you go home.  

There was quite a good variety of Vietnamese food on offer but I am always drawn to things that I haven't eaten before or food that is rarely seen on restaurant menu's so when I saw another different version of Banh Khot I had to try it. this one was definitely different to what I am used to as Banh Khot as the batter is more orange than the usual yellow and it contains more spring onion, no prawn and a few other things that I was too hot and too full to think about.  It's also cooked on different equipment that is made of material similar to a claypot rather than the usual steel. I'm pretty sure these are cooked over charcoal too.

Come to think about it, i'm actually not even sure they were Banh Khot. They were quite nice and perhaps if I wasn't so full by this stage I would have enjoyed them more but my vote goes to the first Banh Khot. I just can't go past the lovely crispiness of the batter combined with the indescribably superb taste sensation that is Nuoc Mam.  Between Nuoc Man and Nam Prik I just can't decide, please don't make me choose.  I love you both!

By this stage we were totally done and ready to head home and crash out for an afternoon nap. Then I spotted something that brought back wonderful memories for me.  These are Vietnamese banane fritters and they are something special. When we were in Dalat Vietnam we spotted a lady sitting behind a large wok of oil over a charcoal burner. Next to her she had a tub of smooth creamy looking batter with a large spoon in it. Of course we had to find out what was going on and for probably 20 cents, we both ordered whatever she was making. It turned out to be sweet a banana batter that she dipped a large spoon in and then placed the spoon into the hot oil and carefully slid it out leaving behind a perfectly oval shape of the batter which then fried to delicious crispiness on the outside with a smooth custardy banana filling, amazing! It was then folded up in a piece of newspaper and handed to us. We ignored the pain of our burning mouths and immediately devoured it.  So you can image how pleased I was to see these available in Melbourne looking exactly the same as what we enjoyed so much in Dalat. I own at least 10 Vietnamese cookbooks and none of them has a recipe for this dish, anyone?

Footscray festival was pretty easily my food highlight of the year so far and its going to be hard to beat.

Its so typical of Melbourne to make you think that you know a place, then have it reveal itself and show another wonderful layer that leaves you so pleased to be living in such a special city.

Now I'm left counting the days until next years Festival...