Monday, October 26, 2009

pet peeves - breakfast

I caught a little of Cam Smith waxing lyrical about breakfasts yesterday on “Eat It” on 3RRRFM. Being on the road I had to restrain myself from phoning in to add to the list of pet peeves about breakfast dining. But it got me thinking…

The Food Nazi’s top 10 breakfast peeves

1. Waiting. I don’t mind being turned away at the door if a café/restaurant is full but I do mind sitting ignored at a table or waiting forever to place or receive an order in an establishment that has more seats than it’s floor or kitchen staff can handle. Though I’d pass in some circles as a morning person, not everyone is at their best til they’ve had their first shot of caffeine or got their blood sugar levels up. Twenty minutes twiddling your thumbs, waiting to give or get an order is way too long.

2. Shit coffee. This is Melbourne – stale beans, burnt coffee or weak espresso just doesn’t make the grade.

3. Frozen bricks pretending to be hash browns. These greasy pieces of crap might be acceptable at the golden arches but we expect better than a drive-through when we eat out.

4. Fried dollops of leftover mashed potato pretending to be hash browns. Slightly less greasy than the maccas variety they tend to be sloppy and dairy ridden. Call them something else and serve them but they aint hash browns either.

5. Non-disclosure of meat in a vegetarian breakfast. Enough said. *shudders*

6. Minimalist servings. This is breakfast. We’re eating out. If we wanted 1 piece of toast and a single mushroom, we’d have stayed at home.

7. Imperfect avocado. Brown, stringy, over-ripe or plain bad fruit and vegetables should not be part of any dining experience, regardless of the time of day.

8. Poached eggs that are too raw, over cooked or dripping with water and make your toast go soggy. If my father can learn to poach a half-decent egg at the age of 82, you’d think a cook could do it right each time.

9. And while we are on the subject of eggs, in this country the term “free range” doesn’t really mean anything at the best of times. If you want to justify charging patrons more for their eggs invest in organic.

10. Supermarket bread, boring menus, tinned baked beans…

I could go on all day but I’d prefer to know what your breakfast peeves are.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

sri lankan inspired cauliflower curry

I loved Malaysia. I gorged on curries of all varieties from the spicy Assam, through to Indian and a mouth-blowingly hot Thai meal. But when I came home I thought it was time to have a rest from chilli for a while.

Within a week I was bored, perhaps I was addicted to our little friend in the capsicum family? I became determined to made a curry that was creamy and flavoursome rather than relying on the heat.

The mildest curry that I eat on a regular basis is a cauliflower and coconut version at my lunchtime haunt, Sheni’s Curries. I set about to make my own version and created the base recipe as follows. Over the past month I’ve made at least 3 versions, from no chilli to moderately hot, each has its merit.

Despite the list of spices this is a deceptively simple curry to make and can be on the table in under an hour. What’s more it’s vegan and gluten-free.

My favourite combination is to serve this with brown rice and some pan-fried firm tofu, splashed with tamari just before turning off the heat or the same method using tempeh and kecap manis.

Sri Lankan inspired cauliflower curry

1/2 cup cashew nuts
2 cups water

Dry spices
3 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (to taste)

Coconut oil
1 clove of garlic
3 cm turmeric root (or a tsp of dried turmeric powder)
3cm ginger root
6 curry leaves
2 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 med onion, diced
1/2 large cauliflower, broken into florettes
1 head of broccoli, broken into florettes
1 tin coconut milk
1 cup vegetable stock
juice of half a lemon

Boil the cashews in water for about 20 minutes – longer if preferred. This makes them softer and easier to digest. I usually put the cashews on then measure some brown rice and get that cooking, toast and grind the spices and prepare the vegetables in the time they take to cook.

Toast the dry spices in a pan, move them around frequently so they don’t burn. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder and bash well.

Heat some coconut oil (or plain vegetable oil) in a heavy based, large pot. On a medium heat add the ground dry spices, garlic, turmeric and ginger and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Stir again, then add the vegetables. Once all the vegetables are coated with the spices add the coconut milk and good quality vegetable stock (I use Marigold organic bouillon). Drain the cashew nuts and add to the curry. Bring to a gentle simmer on low, cover with a lid slightly ajar and give it a stir every now and then. If you need more fluid add some more hot vegetable stock.

After about half an hour check to see if the vegetables are tender. If you want to develop the flavours more cook earlier in the day, leave covered off the heat and reheat before dinner.

When the vegetables are cooked add salt to taste and a decent squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Don’t forget the lemon, it really helps enliven the spices.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

garlic shoots

Pick of the market goodies today.

Any tips or recipes for cooking with garlic shoots? Where does using the shoots excel over the bulb?

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Residential - update

Back in May I visited Residential a new kid on the Lygon Street block.

At the time I wrote:
The words that came to mind when I ate a late Sunday breakfast at Residential are “under whelmed”. I arrived at a quiet time and the large café was barely at a quarter capacity, Dur-é was hovering, a barista did his thing in an unhurried manner and two young female wait staff manned the floor. It was a low-pressure hour, yet the service was haphazard and slow. Not only my own meal, but many other patrons within view suffered from mixed up orders and drinks took a minimum of 10 minutes to be delivered.

I'm happy to say that service was not a problem on our return visit. From hurried but inefficient to perhaps a little over anxious and too much attention. Perhaps that was because the place you see was all but empty on a Wednesday evening, with only the owner tending the floor.

On the first visit I also observed:
Before Residential opened last year Dur-é Dara described it in Epicure as “a café”. Part of Residential's problem is that it is a food business that has got an identity crisis. Despite the blank canvases and acres of laminated timber, it could be a friendly neighbourhood cafe.

So has Residential ironed out those stubborn creases and transformed from a gawky cygnet into a graceful swan?

Residential – update

It’s taken awhile for us to go back to Residential, this time for dinner. The mid-week service was even quieter than the weekend brunch had been but there had been changes. It appears that the owners have taken onboard the identity issue. Gone are the weekend buffet lunches and the menu now offers a few pizzas to meet the need for in between sized meals. They are interesting too – the carnivore had pig cheeks, potato and lemon zest and it was a winner. The rest of the menu has stuck to a daily offering of two soups, a handful of entrees, mains and desserts stay.

Residential has clearly got over the “identity crisis” I mentioned earlier. Dur-é is at pains to welcome newcomers and to reiterate it’s a place for locals to pop in and call their own – whether they want an afternoon coffee, a quick pizza or work their way through three courses but something still doesn’t work. Is it the cavernous architecture? Not necessarily. The open warehouse style should work well. The problem is when the place is quiet like it was on our last visit, despite softening the lighting you feel exposed. Fill it with people, jazz up the music and the architecture would clearly not be an issue. So what about the food? The food on offer is good. It is well thought out using seasonal produce and the chef clearly knows how to execute it. The problem for me (and I own this entirely with my unusual diet) is I have so little choice. Nothing "wowed" me but omnivores may not have that issue. For vegetarians, a vegan broccoli soup was a stand out. I toyed with the idea of ordering the vegetable plate - loosely described as some delicious vegetables the chef puts together for you. However "vegetarian" and "vegetable" mean quite different things. It implied that is was only vegetables, no vegetarian proteins, nothing to leave you feeling satisfied.

So, once again I am left under whelmed, yet wanting more. I want it to work. I hope Residential get the formula right. I’m glad it doesn’t bow down to popular food choices – though no matter how excellent the corn bread is, a potato dish on the menu would never go astray. If you are a local, or passing through North Carlton, give it a go and tell me what you make of it.

Read the original post in full.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

the return of the light

Melbourne folk will know that the weather has been a tad dreary round these parts of late.

My body is craving UV, vitamin D or whatever it is that those big dollops of sunshine do to feed our soul.

I have half written recipes to be finished but instead I'm drawn to the light.

Hope you have been feeding your soul what it needs as well.

slowly nibbling our way through the crop of cos lettuces

PS: and thanks to Johanna the excess nettles have been given a new home, am looking forward to reading how she wrangles them into a vegetarian delight.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

quickie - dining in the clouds

Dinner last night at Cumulus Inc. Finally. Don’t know what took me so long? Oh yes I do, all the charcuterie on the menu. Loved the slow cooked octopus with aioli (where about 1:4 morsels packed a powerful chilli hit) and the mackerel and artichoke barigoule. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy the asparagus or the school prawns either. But the star of the meal was the baby carrots with almond cream and harissa. The sexiest carrot dish ever.

Best part of the night? The company. I have a ritual with one particularly busy friend. Twice a year we have a special dinner or lunch together for our birthdays. Friendship, ritual and connection always wins over the food and wine, though they come a close second.

Decided to google "barigoule". Let’s hope there was no bacon in it! (for some reason blogger doesn't want to encode the'_dictionary.htm)

The trick to snagging a table at Cumulus inc.? Skip lunch and meet at 5.30. Nursery dinner hours rule!

Still to post – a mild cauliflower curry I’ve been playing with. Made three versions so far, which one to post? It’s my new favourite vego meal at home.

Plus even more about Malaysia, including the blow-my-mouth-and-my-mind Thai meal in KL. But I figure you’re had enough of my holiday stories by now.

Am shocked by how much food is left in the fridge this week. Maybe I’d better read 50 Ways to Never Waste Food Again. Or perhaps eating at Ciccolina, Flor and Cumulus Inc all in the same week is a little too much.

The garden is thriving with the spring rain. Still have an outrageous crop of nettles, with self-seeded patches of green appearing everyday. Any Melbourne food friends want a bunch to experiment with? The upside is fresh nettle tea is great for hayfever, something both of us in this house have at the moment. Nature’s very clever sometimes.

Grapevine is bursting with leaves - must make dolmades next month!

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

eating Melaka: little India

While the streets of the Indian quarter are not as old or charming as Jonkers, there are still pleasures for the visitor who takes a detour through the area. Men sit outside shops making wreaths of bright yellow flowers, gaudy saris and over-saccharined toothpaste are displayed side by side in mini-supermarkets and then there is the food.

Depending on the time of day there is dosai and roti for sale. However when we hit a packed Southern Indian diner at lunchtime these treats were reserved for breakfast and later in the day. Undeterred we sat down at one of the long tables and waited to see what happened.

First a large rectangular banana leaf was plonked down in front of us. Next another server dumped a portion of rice. Then a man came by with three pots welded together and slopped a serving of each on the leaf, fortunately each of the curries was vegetarian. Then sauce appeared on the rice. There was a salad too. I was beginning to loose track of what came from where in some neat orchestrated waiters dance, when a young man deposited a pappadam.

At this point we began to tuck in.

But wait there is more !

We’d yet to receive the main course, usually a meat curry but fortunately I stopped that in the nick of time. Being vegetarian was not a problem and I was given a dish of soy “chicken” mildly spiced but tasty. We tucked back in. But wait there’s more. Two small metal cups appeared beside me, one a dhal soup, the other a lassi (dairy alas but that was the only offering to come from a cow, how I love Southern Indian food!). When we thought our banana leaf could take no more, a slice of watermelon was offered.

While the lunchtime crowd was almost exclusively Indian, sitting next to us was a Chinese Malay man who owned a shop nearby. Like most people we’d met in Melaka, he was friendly and happy to chat but not in that intrusive kind of way you sometimes encounter in other Asian cities. Eating lunch here was his weekly treat, certainly a great recommendation for the place.

The meal cost a grand total of RM7 (about AU$2.30) and we’d have happily gone back if we’d been in the neighbourhood with an empty tummy.

Melaka’s “little India” is centred around Jln Bendahara. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the name of the eatery but can give you clear directions. From near the river where the street begins, walk up the right side of the street. It is within the first block and “South Indian” is included in the sign. If you get to the Indian Hawker market you have gone to far (by about twice the distance).

We didn’t get much of a look at the hawker market on Jln Bendahara. By comparison to the glitz of Jonkers it is decidedly third world. But it was more timing and location that deterred us from eating there, never getting there at night.

We came across Southern Indian food on the other side of the old city to Little India. In fact Indian food is jotted around the old and new town (though largely absent in the heart of the tourist district), as you’d expect in a city where approximately a third of the population are originally from all parts of India.

Near the end of our stay a local told us about the food markets and small restaurants frequented by the residents, behind Hereen Street away from Jonkers. We stumbled through a hole in the wall off the busy street, jumped over puddles left by the previous night’s downpour, zig zagged through a few side streets and landed at an Indian tandoori eatery with chairs and tables set up on the street. Mangy cats came begging for food, the service was haphazard but the food ok. Given my preference for cuisine from the South of the continent, I’d recommend sticking to little India.

I wish I’d had more time for dosai, roti and the other Indian treats on offer. One of the delights of Malaysia is its multiculturalism, especially when it comes to food.

We’d only just got a handle on the edible offerings in the old town when on our last night we headed off the map so to speak. The most recent Lonely Planet guide was published in early 2007 but most of the research appears to have been done in 2005, resulting in many inaccuracies. Sadly the Melaka chapter lacked any sense of adventure. It ignores the modern city encircling the old town and I suspect that is where some of the most interesting food is on offer.

Heading away from the river we walked up Hereen Street passing a large service station and a couple of big intersections with traffic lights. The street was dotted with small eateries, Mum and Dad shopfronts offering home style cooking. A fabled mee stall is amongst them. I have no idea if we found it but we did eat a passable seafood mee at a bustling family run eatery. As we wandered back to our hotel in the dark we saw a different side to the city than the one offered by the Lonely Planet. This section of Melaka may not be World Heritage Listed but I’d certainly spend more time exploring on a future visit.
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