Sunday, 31 October 2010

a beautiful spring day, a little leaf

Sometimes beauty is borne of strife. Sometimes it's the little things that catch your eye. I took this picture on a cool spring day after a night of rain and hail. This pebble path is usually dry and barren. That particular day, it blossomed with tiny bursts of green. Accentuated with the vibrancy of fallen leaves, exquisite even in their final gasps of life, it was a sight to behold.

This little leaf was not the most colourful of them all, but I was enchanted by its delicate, almost pearlescent quality.

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Wednesday, 27 October 2010

avocado banana pancakes

avocado banana pancake with pretty flecks of green
I don't know about anyone else but I really dig the combination of banana and avocado. Muffins, smoothies... these are a couple of examples of where they work well together. The other morning, I came up with a third one: pancakes.

banana, avocado and orange
3/4 cup self-raising flour
1 medium-sized ripe banana
1 small ripe avocado
1 egg
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon raw sugar
butter or oil, for frying

- Mash up banana and avocado flesh together with the orange juice.
- Mix in milk and egg. Mash further.
- Slowly add in flour and sugar and mix thoroughly.
- Heat a little oil or butter in a frying pan, add some of the batter, and cook on both sides.
- Best served hot!

These pale green pancakes can be tricky little critters, especially as I wasn't using a non-stick frying pan - I had to be quite careful when making them as they burn easily, probably due to the naturally high fruit sugar content present in the batter. As you can see, one of my pancakes was quite dangerously close to being overly charred. Though as you can also see, I still had a good chomp! (and finished the rest of it after taking photos...) They are also very soft and moist, which makes them rather fragile and prone to falling apart. After a few failures I got some decent ones by spreading the batter out quite thin and then tenderly flipping them over as soon as possible. I am thinking perhaps I should still try to come up with a more user-friendly version though - more flour, less liquid - that might help?

Yet, if you do manage to get it right, the resulting banana avocado pancakes will be sweet, juicy and delicious, with delightful bits of avocado and banana in every bite. Yum, yum.

banana avocado pancakes - yes, one is a little charred. oops!

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Sunday, 24 October 2010

lavender tang yuan

lavender tang yuan
It's International Incident Party time! This food bloggers' challenge is hosted by Jeroxie at Addictive and Consuming, and the theme this month is lavender. I had so much fun with it! In fact, because I had a surplus of lavender at hand, I made two things - lavender cordial, which I posted about last Sunday, and lavender tang yuan, which is my contribution to the party!

So for this special event, my idea was to make tang yuan with a lavender twist. Tang yuan is a Chinese dessert that is traditionally served during the Winter Solstice Festival, but it's not unusual these days to eat them at any time of the year. Basically glutinous rice balls in a sweet and light ginger syrup, it's a dessert I love, and very easy to make.

glutinous rice balls with lavender bits

My original intention was to have lavender-flavoured glutinous rice balls in a ginger syrup, but after doing a test run, I discovered that, unfortunately, regular lavender infusion or cordial is simply not powerful enough to cut through the blandness of glutinous rice. You would need super-sensitive tastebuds, or super-concentrated lavender extract to pull that off! So I settled for having plain glutinous rice balls in a ginger-lavender syrup instead...and it's all good.

To make the sweet ginger-lavender syrup:

1/4 cup fresh culinary-grade lavender (or 1 tablespoon dried)
1 piece of ginger, sliced (I used around 2 inches)
sugar, to taste (I usually use raw sugar or Chinese yellow rock sugar)

- Steep the lavender in 1/3 cup freshly boiled water with 1 teaspoon sugar, covered. After about half an hour, strain the liquid. (I rolled the glutinous rice balls and then started on other aspects of the syrup while waiting. If you already have lavender cordial, you can skip this step).
- Bring 3 cups water, ginger slices and your desired amount of sugar to boil in a saucepan, then turn down to a simmer.
- After 20 minutes or when the taste is sufficiently gingery, remove from heat and add the strained lavender infusion (or cordial) to your liking.

To make the glutinous rice balls:

1 cup glutinous rice flour
1/2 cup hot water (As mentioned, I did a test run using lavender water - but it didn't seem to make any discernible difference to the taste, so you can save your lavender and just use plain hot water!)

- Put the flour in a bowl and slowly pour in the hot water.
- Knead until it turns into a soft dough that is neither sticky nor crumbly. Adjust ingredients if you need to, a little at a time.
- Break off small pieces of dough and roll between the palms of your hands to form smooth and round little dumplings about the size of marbles.
- For visual effect, you can poke in bits of lavender as you roll the dumplings. I used the soft bits from the lavender heads that had been steeped in hot water.
- Bring some water to boil in a saucepan, and put the glutinous rice balls in one by one.
- Soon after they float to the surface, drain and serve in the sweet ginger-lavender syrup. You can serve it hot or cold - I think I prefer it hot.

tang yuan with a lavender twist
The lavender and ginger married happily in this creation, the spicy floral flavour complementing the glutinous rice balls nicely. It's cute and just a little different to the regular tang yuan. After making this, I suddenly had another idea - too late - of stuffing the glutinous rice balls with lavender jam or jelly. I'm thinking that could be pretty awesome! But it would also be a lot more work, and right now, I'm all lavender-ed out. Another time, perhaps!

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Friday, 22 October 2010

malaymas, fitzroy north: a little piece of malaysia

It's always great to find a place that serves authentic Malaysian food in Melbourne, so I'm very happy that I found Malaymas. Located on St Georges Rd in North Fitzroy, it's a fairly unassuming little restaurant that serves up great hawker-style dishes, mostly around the 10-dollar mark. I've been there twice now, and I'm definitely planning on a third visit.

The first time we went, I got the fried kueh teow and Simon had the nasi lemak special with beef rendang curry. Simon took the liberty of tasting the fried kueh teow while I was taking photos and commented on the smoky flavour. It was at this point I knew we were on to something good. And they are: one taste of these sultry wok-fried rice noodles and I was sold. The only thing that was missing was the crispy lard - the fried pork fat that I do so adore. Then there was the nasi lemak special, which Simon thought was alright but not excellent. They did forget the peanuts - an oversight he picked up on before I did. That boy is learning fast about Malaysian food. I am so proud of him. He is, however, still immune to the awesomeness that is sambal (spicy savoury chilli paste), something I happily excused that night, as Malaymas does a mean sambal, and it was mine, all mine! I didn't get to sample much else from his plate but hey, I think I got the best bit anyway.

fried kueh teow
nasi lemak special with beef rendang
For drinks, I had the sour plum (which was probably more salty than sour) and Simon had the longan. These were cool and refreshing, a nice complement to our food.

sour plum drink and longan drink
Just over one week later, we were off to Malaymas again. Simon was keen on more fried kueh teow, so we got that. But I wanted to try at least a couple of things different to what we had last time, so we ordered hainanese chicken rice and har mee (noodles in spicy prawn broth) as well. It turned out to be quite a lot of food for the two of us!

The hainanese chicken rice was pretty good - the chicken was succulent and the chilli-ginger dip was a decent version. However, the rice was slightly on the dry side - I remedied this by spooning some of the flavourful soup over it. Meanwhile, the har mee was prawny and pleasing. I can also report that the fried kueh teow was as delicious as we remembered from the first time.

hainanese chicken rice
har mee
As you can probably tell, I'm suitably impressed with Malaymas. Not quite Malaysian perfection in all the dishes, perhaps, but where they get it right, it's splendid! It shouldn't be too long before I return for round three, and I do hope it continues to impress.

Malaymas on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, 20 October 2010

baked pumpkin jam-mash with toasted almonds

I bought a slice of grey pumpkin on the weekend. I'm not sure exactly which variety it is, but I suspect it may be a Jarrahdale. I rarely cook with pumpkin - I've made pumpkin soup maybe two or three times, and that's it. It's fabulous stuff, but what with making the stock from scratch and all, it can take up hours of the day. So I decided to try something different this time.

a slice of grey pumpkin
Ideas were running through my head. I considered pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin scones and pumpkin pudding. But in the midst of it all I suddenly felt a craving for some good ol' homestyle chunky pumpkin jam on a slice of crispy toast. I don't even know where that came from, as I'm pretty sure I've not had anything like that before. But the weather has been a little temperamental lately (it's springtime here, and I got caught in hail last week!) and the idea of some mushy pumpkin goodness just seemed, well, comforting. So I came up with my own recipe to fulfill my vision of this imaginary pumpkin jam I had in my head.

approximately 500g pumpkin, cubed (the smaller the cubes, the faster it will cook)
2 tablespoons raw sugar
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1 tablespoon butter (optional - omit for a lighter and vegan version)
juice of 1 small lemon
toasted almond flakes, for mixing in or sprinkling on top
spices, to taste (I only had cinnamon, but other popular spices that go with pumpkin are nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice)

- Put pumpkin cubes, butter, raw sugar, blackstrap molasses, lemon juice and spices together in a pot.
- Bring to a simmer and cover, stirring occasionally.
- When the pumpkin is soft enough, mash it up with a fork or puree in a blender or food processor.
- The pumpkin jam is ready to eat now if you like! Or you can continue along with the following steps...
- Preheat oven to 190c/375F.
- Put pumpkin mixture in a baking dish and bake, uncovered, for about 15 minutes.
- Mix in the toasted almond flakes or sprinkle on top of the jam before serving.
- It's best served hot!

use like pumpkin jam and spread on toast...
So I got my baked pumpkin almond jam, which is probably more like a sweet pumpkin mash than your typical jam, and I am quite pleased with it. Because it's not too sugary, it's something I would eat even on its own as a warm dessert. I snuck in a few spoonfuls before spreading it on toast for brunch. If you're feeling omnivorous and craving a savoury touch, you can top it with some fried bacon as well!

or treat it as pumpkin mash with crispy fried bacon on top!

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Sunday, 17 October 2010

pretty in pink: lavender cordial

Last week I pre-ordered approximately 200 grams of fresh culinary-grade lavender from one of my favourite provedores, The Vegetable Connection, so I could create something for the International Incident Lavender Party hosted by Jeroxie, which is coming up soon, and when I turned up to the store to collect them I was pleasantly surprised by how much lavender that was.

the lavender was beautiful.
Since I had more lavender than I needed for my virtual party dish idea, I decided to make lavender cordial as a warm-up to the actual event. There are lots of lavender cordial recipes out there on the internet, and I settled on this lavender cordial-syrup recipe as a guide just because it looked very easy to follow.

This is how I went about it...

11/2 cups water
1/2 cup fresh edible lavender flowers (may be substituted with 2 tablespoons dried)
1 small lemon
sugar (the recipe I consulted says 1/2 cup granulated sugar, but I substituted instead with just a small lump of chinese yellow rock sugar for a milder sweetness)

- Shake the flowers and rinse with water to clean them.
- Boil sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar has completely dissolved.
- Turn off the heat and add the lavender flowers.
- Cover and let it steep for 45 minutes.
- Strain the liquid and add lemon juice. With the addition of lemon juice, the colour turned into a gorgeous sunset pink!
- Pour into clean jars (I sterilized mine with very hot water) and store in the fridge.

a sweet lavender infusion
Before tasting, I had my concerns that lavender cordial might be a bit too floral for my liking, but I found this to be really quite charming. I tried it with iced water at first and that was refreshing. I then offered some to Simon. He liked it too and, with the weather being cold and rainy that day, was soon asking me if I could make him a hot lavender tea. This I did, simply by adding the cordial to freshly boiled water, and we both enjoyed that as well. Nice and soothing!

I imagine this lavender cordial would be great in other types of beverages too - a cocktail, perhaps? - and with a wide assortment of desserts. Possibly even savoury foods, if you are feeling a little adventurous! So if you have lots of lavender, this could be something worth trying. It looks so pretty, too!

 lovely lavender cordial

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Friday, 15 October 2010

naked for satan, fitzroy: pintxos & vodka

It was a cold and rainy spring afternoon when we decided to get Naked for Satan...

naked for satan

But for 50-cent pintxos, it's worth the trouble. Hell yeah.

introductory lunchtime special - 50 cents per pintxo. how good is that!
The curious name is an ode to Russian immigrant Leon Satanovich, who, legend has it, operated a vodka distillery in this very building during the Great Depression, and would strip down to just his underwear when working under extreme temperatures. For those in on this clandestine operation, the code phrase "Let's get Naked for Satan" was born. Good story, hey?

So what are pintxos? Apparently they're Spanish bar snacks - think mini tapas, but (usually) served on bread. These are secured with a toothpick, hence the name pintxo, or pincho, which literally means spike. You select the ones you want, buffet-style, and pay at the end of the meal according to the number of toothpicks collected. Drinks are ordered and paid for separately at the bar.

There was a good variety of cold pintxos at the counter - scallop on green pea puree, rice ball, mussels, crumbed eggplant on blue vein cheese, smoked salmon, field mushroom on carrot mash and more. From time to time the staff would also come by our table to offer us hot pintxos such as cheese and chorizo croquette (the only pintxo we had that came without bread), whitebait with aioli, and chilli and fennel sausage. We got ourselves a generous assortment of pintxos, all of which were packed with flavour, and I also tried a delectable green apple and cherry infused vodka. Yum!

pintxos and vodka at naked for satan
The pintxos here are normally $2 a pop, which I would say is a reasonable price in Melbourne, and at 50 cents they are a steal. Simon declared that if it were possible, he'd buy fifty dollars' worth of pintxos to bring home and eat them over the next three days! We also liked the decor of the place - adorned with the recovered distillery equipment, it was very industrial chic. Naked for Satan left us both very satisfied and I am sure we will return again for more.

Naked For Satan on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, 12 October 2010

spicy dried shrimp relish + congee

I have a lovely bag of dried shrimp sitting in my fridge which I don't use nearly as often as I should.
I remember how enamoured my parents were with the quality of these dried shrimps when we stumbled upon them in a small fishing village in Malaysia last year - I was promptly advised to bring some back to Australia and I didn't need a lot of encouragement; these were definitely dried shrimps of outstanding calibre.

dried shrimp, after toasting
So I decided to rescue them from neglect and make a Malaysian-style spicy dried shrimp relish, using a recipe from my mum which I think is both simple and sensational...

The following made just one small serving for my breakfast, so multiply if you wish:

2 tablespoons dried shrimp (you should be able to find this at Asian grocery stores)
1 shallot, chopped
1 hot red chilli, chopped
1/2 a small lime

- Soak dried shrimps in warm water, rinse well, then lightly toast in a pan. (Soaking time is dependent on the traits of the dried shrimp you have - mine were so light and flaky that they didn't require much soaking at all.)
- Remove and place in a bowl, mix in shallots, chilli and squeezes of half a lime to taste. Toss everything together thoroughly. Leave to sit a little for flavours to develop further, if desired.

served on congee - a well-balanced mix of dried shrimps, chillies, shallots, and lime juice
This also makes a great little salad or side dish and I love it on plain rice porridge - perhaps better known to some as congee. Soothing and easy to digest, congee is a common comfort food in many parts of Asia. Remember to prepare it in advance if you plan to eat it with the relish!

To make congee, simply bring rice and water to boil in a pot, then simmer, partly covered and stirring occasionally, until it reaches your ideal texture and consistency. I usually have mine with still a bit of a bite to them, while others simmer it till it almost resembles a thick soup. This can take awhile - make sure that there is always enough water so it doesn’t dry out. Traditionally congee is made with white rice, but I used brown rice on this occasion.

As far as I'm concerned, the softness and blandness of plain congee provides the perfect foil for this spicy, flavoursome dried shrimp, shallot, chilli and lime relish. And here it is, ready to tuck in and enjoy...

spicy dried shrimp relish on congee

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Sunday, 10 October 2010

strawberry grapefruit thyme compote

strawberries, grapefruit and thyme - bought on a whim at the market because they were so cheap!
Who knew making compote was so ridiculously easy? Certainly not me, until recently when I discovered how little time and effort it took, and actually gave it a go myself. The following is the recipe for a strawberry, grapefruit and thyme compote, because those were the ingredients I happened to have sitting around, but feel free to create your own special concoction!


250g strawberries, hulled and halved (I quartered the massive ones)
segments of one small grapefruit (remove pith before using, as they can be quite bitter - I removed the membranes as well)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon mead (optional)
a few sprigs fresh thyme

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. That's pretty much it!

The scent of strawberries and thyme when I made this was intoxicating. I was happy with the end result too - the sweetness of the strawberries was wonderful, as was the perfume from the thyme, and there was just a hint of tartness from the grapefruit.

You can serve this warm or cool, with crepes, pancakes, toast, muesli, yoghurt, waffles, ice cream and more. I stored my strawberry compote in a jar in the fridge and for the next few days I gave it a good workout - I first had it on French toast for breakfast, and on subsequent days paired it with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. Yum!

my strawberry grapefruit thyme compote

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Wednesday, 6 October 2010

shoya, melbourne: a refined affair

Earlier in the week I spent a day with my cousin Daniel, who was visiting from Sydney. I suggested going to one-hat Japanese restaurant Shoya in Market Lane, Melbourne CBD, of which I've heard many positive things, and he was happy to go along with the idea.

We were seated on the first floor with the traditional horigotatsu style tables, which I always find to be an enjoyable experience. But let's get to the main reason we're there - the food: We were both hungry, so it didn't take long to decide. I pick the Shoya set ($28) and Daniel settles on the Ume set ($32).

We start with the savoury egg custard (chawanmushi), which wins us over with its incredibly soft texture. The sashimi arrives next, perched thoughtfully on a creative frozen platform to keep them cool. Daniel and I are both big fans of sashimi and the ones here have a lovely clean taste, leaving us wanting more.

sashimi and chawanmushi

We both get a small green salad with sesame dressing (spinach goma-ae), and I also receive my chilled bean curd (hiya-yakko), topped with bonito shavings and sitting in a soy broth. It's good, simple stuff.

hiya-yakko and spinach goma-ae
The tempura is light and crispy.

There is a marvellous crunch as I bite into my grilled salmon (salmon shio-yaki) with its perfectly cooked skin, and Daniel’s grilled eel (unagi kabayaki), tenderly cooked and smothered in a sweet sauce, is also superb.

salmon shio-yaki
unagi kabayaki
My mini udon: the noodles are supple; the dashi broth mild and elegant.

mini udon
Daniel’s wagyu beef took a little longer to get to the table, but finally turns up with miso soup and a very pleasant mixed steamed rice. I did think the wagyu was a bit chewier than I would’ve liked, but it's still quite nice and as part of a thirty-two dollar set you’ll hear no objections.

wagyu steak
mixed steamed rice
Last but not least, dessert! It was the standard fare of green tea ice cream, but again this is done very well. You can really taste the matcha in it.

green tea ice cream
I enjoyed lunch at Shoya immensely – the service was attentive, the food delicate and pleasing - almost every time a dish came out, Daniel would take a bite and declare, “this is really good!” and I would agree. We walked out of the place full, content and ready for our next adventure.

Shoya Nouvelle Wafu Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, 3 October 2010

rosemary garlic fried egg

I had some rosemary left over from the bunch I bought to make my elderflower, cucumber and rosemary granita, and I had been giving a lot of thought to what I would do with it. In the end, on a fine Saturday morning, I came up with the idea of making fried eggs with rosemary and garlic infused olive oil.

garlic and rosemary olive oil
This dish may be simple in concept and easy to make, but it is so good! Here's how I did it...

Recipe (for two):
4 eggs
4 medium/large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
a 3-inch sprig's worth of fresh rosemary leaves, separated but not chopped for a nice crunch
olive oil (approximately 2 tablespoons)
salt and pepper to taste

Throw the garlic, rosemary and olive oil into the mortar, and proceed to crush the garlic and bruise the rosemary leaves with the pestle. When it looks like the picture above, it is ready to use. Ladle into the pan, spread it out and fry lightly until the garlic is soft, then fry the eggs as per normal. When they are done, season with salt and pepper.

It seems that many people like their fried eggs in the form of a pristine sunny side up, but I love it the way my mum makes it - cooked on one side, then flipped over to cook briefly on the other side. To me, it's the abundance of golden, crispy bits that makes a fried egg exciting and delicious, both in texture and taste. And as you can see, you can still have a runny yolk with this method! I am also very pleased with how both the garlic and rosemary performed in this dish - they gave the fried egg a beautiful aroma and flavour. I'm not even sure how I managed it, but the garlic melted in the mouth, while the rosemary was wonderfully crisp. I gorged on this, then washed it all down with a glass of iced elderflower water. Bliss.

rosemary and garlic fried egg

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Friday, 1 October 2010

elderflower, cucumber & rosemary granita

When I went to Tasmania last year, I chanced upon elderflower cordial at Salamanca Market. I purchased a hot elderflower tea to go and instantly fell in love with the delicate floral taste of elderflowers, which, to me, is also reminiscent of lychees, one of my favourite fruits. Recently I have been thinking about revisiting elderflower cordial again, and in a stroke of glorious serendipity, the grocery store I frequent started stocking it. Yay!

Elderflower cordial is lovely in a simple drink with just iced or hot water, and I've drank several glasses since I procured myself a bottle. But I wanted to do something a little fancy with it as well, while still keeping things fairly uncomplicated, so I decided to try making an elderflower granita. Having recently discovered the cool, clean taste of cucumber in cocktails, I thought that a cucumber element could work very nicely here. I was keen to throw in some rosemary too, because I love its fragrance, and I don't use it nearly often enough in my kitchen adventures. So that settles it: a light and refreshing elderflower, cucumber and rosemary granita, perfect as a palate cleanser or a light dessert.

elderflower, cucumber and rosemary granita

A few notes on the following recipe. Cordials can vary by the brand, so do a taste test and adjust ingredients if necessary. The brand I used was Ashbolt, which isn't too sweet, and tastes very fresh, probably thanks to the lemon in the ingredients. With the cucumber, I used purée, but if you want your ice crystals pure and clear, use juice. I actually didn't use the optional lime/lemon or gin - they were just possibilities I thought could be worth exploring. Finally, opt for a shallow container as that will make the mixture easier to freeze and scrape, but also remember the ice crystals will end up requiring almost twice the space of the liquid, so accommodate for that.

elderflower, cucumber and rosemary granita recipe:

11/2 cups elderflower cordial
1 cup cucumber purée or juice
1/2 cup rosemary infusion (this requires 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, or 1 teaspoon dried)
squeezes of lime or lemon juice, to taste (optional)
a few dashes of gin (optional)

- Make the rosemary infusion: bring 1/2 cup water to boil, add two sprigs of fresh rosemary, remove from heat and leave to steep for half an hour. I also bruised the rosemary sprigs with a spoon to release more flavour.
- Meanwhile, juice or blend the cucumber with the elderflower cordial. I threw in a few rosemary leaves here to blend as well for added visual effect.
- Combine elderflower cordial, cucumber juice, rosemary infusion (sprigs removed), and the optional gin and lime/lemon juice (if using) in a container.
- Cover container and place in the freezer. When it starts setting, break up the ice crystals with a fork every couple of hours to produce chunky little ice crystals, guiding them towards the centre. Do this until completely frozen. Alternatively, if you don't mind a slushier texture and have a food processor, an easier method would be to freeze the mixture as ice cubes, and process them the next day.

The result? An elegant, pale green granita that is sweet, subtle, and surprisingly soothing to the senses... sublime, even.

elderflower, cucumber and rosemary granita in a mini cucumber bowl

Additional note: I had more from the freezer in the following days and I'm still in love with this. Even as an icy dessert, it smells amazing the moment I open it up. I think this could be my most favourite creation so far!

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