Sunday, 28 November 2010

panama dining room, fitzroy

It had been awhile since I last saw my friend Joanne, so we organized to catch up over dinner at the relaxed loft-style Panama Dining Room on Smith St, Fitzroy. We were lucky to get the only table left for Saturday night at 9pm when I called that evening. Quite a late one, but I guess it builds up the anticipation!

Our shared starter was one of the specials they had that night - I don't remember the description exactly but I think it may have been something along the lines of bonito fish on orange marmalade, avocado puree with a witlof and watercress salad. The different tastes and textures here were wonderful when eaten together. Sweet, savoury, tangy. Soft, creamy, crunchy. Definitely an appetizer that left us wanting more.

Our mains arrive. Mine was another special of the night, wagyu beef with potato rosti and spinach puree. While the rosti was decent and I liked the rich verdant taste of the puree, the wagyu was a disappointment. I must've gotten a bad cut of meat because it was stringy and chewy, which made it a struggle to slice and eat. I drowned my sorrows with sweet Spanish sherry, which is the best one can do under such circumstances.

On the other hand, the Kinkawooka mussels with Sardinian cous cous and saffron that Joanne received was excellent. The seafood flavours were beautiful in this one.

After thinking long and hard about which dessert we'd like to share, we enlisted the waitress for her assistance and with her help, settled on the sheep's milk yoghurt cake with rhubarb and ginger beer sorbet and a ginger florentine. This was delicious - the soft, warm and inviting cake was an exquisite match for the refreshing ginger beer sorbet.

I'm finding it a little difficult to conclude my thoughts on Panama Dining Room, due to the major issue with my main marring what would otherwise have been a completely fantastic dinner. I'm definitely open to going back again to give it another shot. If you've been there, let me know what you think!

P.S. Panama Dining Room, along with many other restaurants, are participating in StreetSmart Australia until the 24th of December. Eat out and leave a donation to support small grassroots organisations that help the homeless! Here is a link to the list of restaurants taking part in this event.

Panama Dining Room and Bar on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, 25 November 2010

cauliflower gouda layered baked eggs with tomato and spinach

I first discovered and fell in love with baked eggs last winter, and during those cold months I visited cafe after cafe on the weekends, sampling the myriad of baked egg offerings out there for breakfast and brunch. In the midst of this intense affair, I vowed to make my own baked eggs one day, but it was only recently that this promise was finally consummated. Was it good? You betcha!

I sigh in bliss, for thou art my lovely baked eggs.

A quick aside on how this baked egg recipe came about. A friend introduced me to the delicious gouda some years ago, and it's been one of my favourite cheeses since then. I really wanted to incorporate it into my baked eggs, so I designed a recipe doing just that. What I like about this recipe is that everything is cooked using just the ramekins and the oven, a tribute to my laziness. No separate sautéing of ingredients in pans, no boiling in pots, etcetera, meaning less dishes to wash!

oh my gouda! I worship you with my tummy.

The following are the ingredients I used. The amounts I leave up to you. You might prefer more of one ingredient than another, so create as you wish!

amazing baked eggs layered with cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, gouda, and spinach

Cauliflower, pinch off small florets to use
Cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
Gouda cheese, sliced (I used a mild Dutch gouda. You may substitute with other melting cheese.)
Garlic, finely chopped or crushed
Spinach leaves
Olive oil
Salt and spices (I used Spanish hot smoked paprika)

- Preheat oven to 180C/350F. (I use fan-forced.)

- Create a mixture with extra virgin olive oil, spices and salt.

- Lightly toss the cauliflower florets and cherry tomatoes in the spiced olive oil mixture. Reserve the remaining olive oil mixture for drizzling later.

- Fill ramekins (or small baking dish) with the cauliflower and tomatoes - I filled mine up close to half-full. Place ramekins in oven for approximately 15 minutes or until cauliflower florets are just slightly charred at the tips.

- Remove from oven, and layer with sliced gouda cheese. Then layer with spinach leaves. Try to tuck them so they don't flop around. Otherwise, you may choose to weigh them down a little with more cheese. I didn't, but it's hard to go wrong with more cheese.

- Crack the eggs gently over the spinach leaves. For the small ramekins I used one egg, for the medium ones I used two. At this point I drizzled over some of the remaining spiced olive oil mixture but you can also do that just before serving. If you love the fruity taste of extra virgin olive oil, do this later.

- Bake until eggs are cooked to your liking. For runny eggs take them out at 10 minutes or even earlier. If you prefer them fully cooked, it may take up to 15 minutes. Mine was somewhere in between – cooked on the outermost part, with a bit of liquid gold right in the centre.

- Now they are ready to eat! If you want, you can top it with more fresh spinach and cherry tomatoes, herbs, and lemon juice to lighten it up.

a simple step-by-step picture guide!

step 1: toss cauliflower and tomato in seasonings, bake in oven.
step 2: retrieve roasted cauliflower and tomato from oven.
step 3: layer with cheese.
step 4: layer with spinach leaves.
step 5: crack eggs gently over the spinach leaves.
step 6: season further (if you like - or wait to do it just before serving), put back into the oven.

The ramekins and its contents will be very hot after you take them out from the oven, be careful! Also, remember that the eggs will continue to cook in the residual heat of the dish.
Some ovens have their little quirks. I’m still getting acquainted to the one I use. My times are an estimate so you might need to experiment a little to get your baked eggs just the way you like.

For a first attempt, I was delighted with how well this turned out! Though I give props to my gouda, I wouldn't say there was a singular element that was the star of this dish - the ingredients worked as a team, the layers all coming together to a scrumptious final product. I had my baked eggs with a nice cold glass of fruit juice - a suitably refreshing complement to this warm, comforting dish. What a great start to the weekend!

the final and crucial step for baked eggs: eating them.

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Sunday, 21 November 2010

preserved mandarin sorbet

preserved mandarin sorbet

If you are familiar with Chinese sweets, you may know about preserved mandarin/tangerine peel. It's similar to what some call crack seed snacks. This sweet and salty preserved fruit candy is a childhood favourite of mine. For November's salt-themed International Incident Party hosted by Jeroxie, I decided to go with this preserved mandarin peel idea. I thought about just making the sweet itself, but midway through, changed my mind, skipped the drying process and made a sorbet instead!

The brand of preserved mandarin peel I grew up with is Jiabao, so I had a look at their list of ingredients first to check what I would need to reproduce a similar flavour. I then came up with the following recipe(s)...

mandarin peels in salt solution. this was before the addition of sugar and licorice root powder.

Note: If mandarins aren't in season, oranges should be a serviceable substitute.

preserved mandarin peel

- thin pieces of peel from one big mandarin/tangerine
- 1/2 tablespoon coarse salt (I used coarse sea salt with no additives)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 to 4 tablespoons mandarin juice
- 1 teaspoon licorice root powder

Pack mandarin peel in a small jar. (take care to use jars that won't corrode with acid and salt. I used a glass jar with a plastic lid.)

Add salt to the peels, then mandarin juice. The peels should be all submerged in the liquid. Shake to dissolve some of the salt.

Leave in a cool dark place at room temperature and shake the jar a couple times a day (or more often if you like!).

After a few days, retrieve peel from jar, still leaving the salt solution in the jar.

Bring to boil then simmer the peel in 1/2 cup water, 1 teaspoon licorice root powder and 1 tablespoon sugar until the liquid is reduced to approximately a quarter, i.e. 1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons of thick syrup.

Add the peel and licorice sugar syrup back to the jar with the salt solution. I let it cool before putting the lid back on and then stored it for several more days in the fridge, letting the flavours seep in.

So that's my very small portion of preserved mandarin peel. You can probably even use the syrup like a cordial and make iced drinks with it. Or, continue on like I did, and make the sorbet!

this refreshing mandarin sorbet will even replenish your electrolytes!

salted mandarin sorbet with preserved mandarin peel

1 + 1/2 cups mandarin juice
1/4 cup caster sugar
the salty-sweet peels and syrup from the recipe above
1 tablespoon triple sec (optional)

In a saucepan combine 1/2 cup mandarin juice and all the sugar and simmer, stirring until all dissolved, and remove from heat. Add to the rest of the mandarin juice.

Blend/process/chop the salty-sweet peels until they are tiny pieces. Add into the sugary mandarin juice.
Add 1 tablespoon triple sec as well, if using.

Slowly add in the salty-sweet preserving syrup, stirring, until the balance of sweet and salty flavours are to your liking - you can use just some of it, or you can use it all.

Freeze the concoction in an ice cream maker, if you have one. I didn't, so went the old-fashion route by beating the mixture up every few hours. I'm yet to perfect the art of making a smooth sorbet without an ice cream maker, as you can see from the pictures. However, I'm still patting myself on the back for this creation. The sorbet does have that preserved mandarin peel flavour to it and it was sweet, salty and refreshing. Mission accomplished!

salted mandarin sorbet with preserved mandarin peel

my fellow salt partiers!

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Friday, 19 November 2010

oven-baked spinach chips

light and crispy spinach chips

You know how sometimes one idea leads to another? This always seems to happen to me. I'd have one thing in mind, then in a turn of events, decide to do something else. I was going to roast some carrots but when I opened up the fridge there was this bag of leftover spinach staring at me. So of course, I ended up making spinach chips!

spinach leaves, rinse and shake off excess water
extra virgin olive oil, a little goes a long way (may be omitted for a fat-free version?)
spices (I used garlic salt and chilli flakes)

- Preheat oven to 120C/250F, fan-forced.
- Toss spinach leaves in olive oil, garlic salt and chilli flakes, then lay them out (slightly apart, not overlapping) on a baking sheet/pan. (Grease or line the sheet with baking paper to make it easier for you to pick off the spinach leaves later.)
- Bake for approximately 10 minutes.

Quick and easy, what's not to love? I could pick most of the spinach chips off the pan without any trouble - some were slightly stuck but came off easily with the help of a butter knife. You could possibly circumvent this with a lining of baking paper. The spinach chips turned out really light and crispy with a lovely hint of garlic salt, chilli and olive oil. I have to say, it makes quite the addictive snack...

mmm, savoury spinach crisps.

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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

breizoz french creperies, fitzroy

Where to go for dinner on a Tuesday night? Simon had said he was going to cook some fish but at half past eight there was no kitchen action yet and I was getting really hungry. Fortunately, we are spoilt for choices in Fitzroy. It had been a long time since we had crepes, so I suggested Breizoz French Creperies, located near the corner of Gertrude and Brunswick Street. I've heard good things about them via crepe threads on food forums, and it had since drifted about in my mental list of places I'd like to try. Also, one of our first non-dates was at a creperie, and I thought it would be nice to re-visit that memory, albeit at a different one.

We were greeted by the wonderful smell of buttery crepes the moment we walked in the door and I couldn't wait to sample the goods. At around nine on a weeknight, it was pretty quiet and thankfully we got our food and drinks very quickly.

This is Simon's egg, ham and cheese crepe. Simple and yummy.

egg, ham and cheese crepe ($11)

I got the Provençale, which had egg and cheese layered inside the crepe and a topping of ratatouille. The richness of the filled crepe is offset by the lightness of the ratatouille and it went nicely with the cool cider I had.

provençale crepe (egg, cheese and ratatouille) ($11)

For dessert, I went for a basic butter and sugar crepe and decided to get a house-made mango sorbet as well. I'm not really sure if crepes and sorbet go together, but they were really excellent separately. The crepe had an intense butter flavour which was seriously droolworthy, and the mango sorbet was fresh, fruity and not too sweet.

beurre sucre crepe (butter and sugar) ($5.50) with mango sorbet ($2.50)

In conclusion, the crepes at Breizoz are truly luscious. Definitely a place I would love to return to the next time I have a craving for crepes!

Other notes: Eat your crepes as soon as you get them, they are best when freshly cooked. Cider is a traditional accompaniment to crepes. They have gluten-free and vegetarian options available. 

Breizoz French Creperie on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, 14 November 2010

homemade bbq sauce + grilled chicken wings

A couple of weekends ago, I decided to make my own bbq sauce. While I've thrown together quick marinades and dressings before, I've never actually made an American-style bbq sauce. I think perhaps I should have simmered it down... as it was, it ended up being still just more like a marinade after all. I'm posting it up because I'm still pretty happy with it!

the fresh ingredients for bbq sauce

Looking at the ingredients of several bbq sauces, they vary quite wildly but what I gathered was that generally you want something sour, something sweet, something salty and something savoury/spicy. With that in mind, I came up with this...

homemade barbecue sauce/marinade

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
1 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 chilli, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 a single celery stalk, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ginger powder

- Process all ingredients (except tomato sauce, blackstrap molasses and ginger powder) in a blender until smooth.
- Place blended mixture in a bowl and stir in tomato sauce, blackstrap molasses and ginger powder until fully combined.
- Let stand for a few hours, OR simmer it down in a saucepan until thick and sticky (read further for more of my thoughts on this).

Be warned, this will smell fairly strong! But it will mellow down after you let it stand for a few hours. This bbq sauce can be used to marinate your meat of choice, or even vegetables. The above yielded enough for about half a dozen generously sized chicken wings. As I didn't simmer it down, the sauce wasn't very thick and sticky so instead of saving some to keep for serving with the wings later like a proper bbq sauce, I just used it all up as a marinade. Hmm... now I'm thinking perhaps that would've been worth a try after all. Even though the consistency wasn't that of a traditional bbq sauce, I still liked the taste - and it had a freshness that a cooked version wouldn't have.

I used it all as a marinade. Wish I'd saved some to use as a dip for later!

After letting my chicken wings soak up the marinade for a few hours, I grilled them and they turned out golden brown and succulent, with a sweet, savoury, spicy hint from the bbq marinade. So my bbq sauce adventure may not have turned out quite the way I wanted, but it still had a nice ending after all.

the grilled chicken wings had a nice touch of flavour from the bbq marinade, and were very juicy!

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Friday, 12 November 2010

of loquats and tea

a lone loquat

I do not come by loquats very often, so when I discovered a stall selling them at the market last weekend I immediately pounced. Generally appearing in springtime, fresh loquats are delicate and refreshing, and to me, they are like a cross between plums and pears in both taste and texture. A little tart, a little sweet. The riper they are, the sweeter.

I prefer them peeled, but the skin is edible too, and is actually not bad - similar to the skin of apricots. There isn't a lot of flesh, as they have seeds inside which take up quite a bit of room. I love the sweet ones just as they are, and for the ones that are a little more acidic, I think they work well simply poached in syrup, or stewed into a jam.

a peeled loquat

The weather has started to warm up in the last few weeks of spring here in Australia, so I decided to make a simple loquat tea just to see what it would be like.

iced loquat tea

freshly brewed tea (I used white tea)
honey, to taste

Simply whiz the loquats in a blender and add it along with some honey to freshly brewed tea. You can have it hot, or chill for a few hours and serve cold. I also added a few little chunks of loquat as well for a bit of bite. I made the tea a fairly mild brew so as not to overpower the taste of the loquats, and as an estimate I used the juice/puree of two loquats for approximately every 250ml cup's worth of brewed tea.

iced loquat tea with little chunks of loquat

While it didn't blow me away, I thought this made a pleasant and refreshing drink. The healthy combination of loquats and tea had a surprisingly distinct taste which reminds me of sweet Chinese herbal beverages. It was a warm sunny evening when I had this, and it really cooled me down!

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Tuesday, 9 November 2010

twice cooked corn with Spanish hot smoked paprika and extra virgin olive oil

Hola! Why, if it isn't hot smoked paprika mucking about with his pal, extra virgin olive oil.

Hot smoked paprika, meet oven roasted sweet corn. Oven roasted sweet corn, meet hot smoked paprika.

Extra virgin olive oil, you make sure they get along.

Vamos a ser amigos!

My tin of Spanish hot smoked paprika has been getting a good workout ever since I purchased it. It added quite a bit of flair to my spicy coffee toffees, and now it's getting down and dirty with this super-simple corn dish. So easy, so good!

twice cooked corn with Spanish hot smoked paprika and extra virgin olive oil

sweet corn, still in husks
hot smoked paprika (pimentón de La Vera picante)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and lime juice (optional)

- Preheat oven to 180C (360F).
- Rinse sweet corn with water until the husks are moist and roast them whole on the oven rack, husks intact. If the corn you have has already had their husks removed, steam them instead.
- After 25 minutes, retrieve from the oven. The corn should be perfectly cooked in their own husks.
- Discard the silk. Strip down the husks and tie them at the stem. Brush the corn kernels with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and hot smoked paprika. The ratio of the ingredients is up to you. I like mine with lots of spice.
- Finish the sweet corn on the grill to char it up. Some of the kernels may pop loudly, this is normal.
- Eat as is with a sprinkle of salt and if you like, add a drizzle of lime juice as well. (I can't decide whether I prefer it with or without - depends on whether you want it tangy and smoky, or just seriously smoky! )

Either way, the pimentón and the sweet corn made a great match - the charred finish really completing the dish. Mmmmmm, hot and smoky nirvana!

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Sunday, 7 November 2010

pimentón de la vera picante

pimentón de La Vera picante - Spanish hot smoked paprika from the La Vera region

The latest addition to my pantry is a tin of hot smoked paprika from the La Vera Region in Spain (pimentón de La Vera picante) and it's my new favourite condiment. This gorgeous, flavoursome spice is made by drying and smoking peppers over smouldering oak for two weeks, turning daily, and then stone-milling to a finely ground powder. Sounds pretty darn delicious! I couldn't wait to experience it...

I flipped open the lid of the spice tin, and shook out a little onto my hands. The colour was a deep, sensual red - I can see why they call it the red gold from Spain. I breathed in deeply. The smell was sultry and intoxicating. There's definitely smokiness and heat, and it's rich and complex. I licked it off my fingers for a little taste. Mmm, piquant. Those who have eaten good spicy Spanish chorizo will have some idea of what this smells and tastes like. If you're interested in getting some, fine food stores with a selection of gourmet items should stock them. The brand I have is La Dalia. There is also a sweet, mild version (dulce) and medium, bittersweet (agridulce) - these I am yet to try.

I recently applied this to my spicy coffee toffees... and I have made another simple dish since then which I shall post soon, with more in the works - I'm so enamoured with this I think it's going to be difficult to restrain myself from adding a pinch here and there, everywhere! Stay tuned!!

Are you familiar with Spanish hot smoked paprika? What do you like it with?

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Friday, 5 November 2010

mr natural vegetarian pizza, fitzroy north

Bean sprouts on pizza? Curry sauce?

Let's get it out of the way right from the beginning, Mr Natural Vegetarian Pizza on the quiet end of Brunswick St, North Fitzroy is not a place for pizza purists. Their pizzas are so loaded with toppings that the crust almost drowns under the juicy weight of all those ingredients - some of which can be quite unorthodox. However, if that's how you like your pizzas, or if you don't mind either way (I fall into this latter category) then read on to assess whether you may find them worth checking out if you're in the neighbourhood, especially for those after gluten-free or vegan options.

It's the Razorback!

On yet another rainy spring day we called to make a pick-up order for two medium pizzas. Simon, who has had their pizzas before, decided on one that he is familiar with, the Razorback, and I, the newbie, went with the Natural for the obligatory eponymous introduction to their pizzas...

The Razorback, to me, sounds like haphazard Chinese takeaway on a pizza. Beanshoots, corn, tofu? Really? And with cheese? But surprisingly, I liked the combination.

The Natural, on the other hand, is an odd mix of spicy Indian (potatoes, vindaloo curry sauce) and Mediterranean (olives, feta). Yet again, it somehow worked for me.

And here's the Natural.

The pizzas here are very hearty and filling, with interesting flavour combinations. However, they can be quite wet and/or greasy, which makes them less appealing than they would be otherwise. It's a mix of pros and cons and personally I still feel undecided on my verdict. Don't you just hate when that happens!

Other notes: Pick-up orders are approximately a 20-minute wait, they're open only in the evenings, certain deals are available on different days (check the website), and there's also a store in St Kilda. 

Mr Natural Vegetarian Pizza on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

spicy coffee toffee

spicy coffee toffee
Sweets, candies, lollies. Whatever you call them, these sugary treats are much loved by many all over the world. I think the first one I ever made might've been toffee, when I discovered a recipe in a children's encyclopedia as a kid. Last night I decided to revisit it and make a more adult version, with a bit of spice and a bit of coffee...

To be honest, I threw the ingredients together without really measuring, so the following are just estimates. But I find toffee recipes quite forgiving! Just remember to be alert and quick when assessing and handling the mixture!

Mmmmmm, toffee crumbs.

1 cup raw sugar
1/3 cup salted butter
1 tablespoon vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar)
1 tablespoon instant coffee
3 tablespoons water
hot spice of your choice, to taste (e.g. chilli powder, hot paprika, cayenne)
pinch of salt

- Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan, and stir over low heat till dissolved.
- Increase to medium heat and let it boil without stirring.
- When the mixture starts to look thick and rich, test by dropping a little of the mixture into a glass of cold water. If it turns into brittle strings, then it's ready to go.
- Pour into a buttered pan. When it sets, cut into bite-sized pieces.
- If you like, sprinkle and dust with a little more spice!

I don't drink a lot of coffee, because, unfortunately, it doesn't always agree with me. But in little doses, like a few pieces of this crunchy toffee, it feeds me the flavour in a quantity that doesn't disturb my constitution, hooray. The spice I chose to use for this is hot smoked paprika, which I recently procured (and I can assure you I will be telling you more about it in future posts). It lent a nice touch of smoky heat to the toffee candy. Because I didn't use very fine sugar for this, not all of it dissolved entirely - but it still turned out to my satisfaction. A friend likened the taste to the crispy caramel topping of crème brûlée, while Simon sampled one and asked, "do you have any more?" I'm happy with that!

you can wrap these spicy coffee toffees up to give as gifts... or eat them all yourself!

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