Monday, 31 January 2011

snapshots: eating out in adelaide

i thought this pig on rundle mall was an appropriate introductory photograph to my eating adventures.

It's been quite a few days since I last updated this blog... but for a good reason. I've been hobnobbing around Adelaide with my family! So here's a quick post to give you a short run-through of what we've been eating and drinking...

Firstly: bubble tea. I've been to Adelaide once before, but I only really noticed their bubble tea shops this time around. I would credit this sudden awakening of my bubble-tea-super-sense to my relationship with Simon, who absolutely adores bubble tea with tapioca pearls. And not only was the bubble tea in Adelaide cheaper than in Melbourne, but they also come in Calpis/Calpico flavour, which also happens to be one of Simon's favourite drinks. Of course I had to buy it - if only so I could send him a gloating text message about how I was relishing this great discovery. Behold this treasure from Qubic Square on Grote Street!

a cold, refreshing calpis-flavoured bubble tea with jelly from qubic square, or qubic 2.

On our first day, we all went for yum cha at T-Chow in Chinatown and ordered a table-full of dim sum. The service was haphazard, and the quality of the food was varied, but we did really like their fried stuffed tofu and their bean curd rolls.

yum cha at T-chow.

This was followed several hours later with a hearty but not too heavy dinner at Mongkok on Gouger Street, which serves up a very pleasant herbal tea and pretty decent Chinese food.

chinese food at Mongkok.

The following night, I caught up with my friend Van who took me to Matsuri on Gouger Street, where we snacked on some edamame before moving on to a massive sushi boat for two. Somehow we still made room for dessert - goma ice cream for him, yokan with green tea for me.

the sushi boat for two at matsuri.

The food at Pira Thai on Unley Road, Parkside took awhile to arrive, but their larb barramundi was particularly popular with all of us - can't go wrong with crispy fish topped with spicy sauce and a handful of herbs!

larb barramundi at pira thai.

Also, I managed to grab another bubble tea from Qubic the day before we left. I had to do what I had to do, right?

iced lychee tea from Qubic's specialities menu.

We're all back in Melbourne now and I am looking forward to spending more time with my family - especially with Chinese New Year looming. Oh yes. I'm not sure if I can make time to post over the next few days, so in advance, I'm wishing you all very happy Chinese New Year celebrations. Eat, drink and be merry - I know I will be!

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Wednesday, 26 January 2011

the snake pit lounge, fitzroy

Edit: The Snake Pit is no longer in business.

The Snake Pit slithered into my consciousness last November as a work in progress. One month later, while strolling down Brunswick Street with Simon, I noticed that it was finally open for business. There was a menu clinging on to one of the windows, and I eagerly peered at it.

Me: 5 dollar pastas! 10 dollar schnitzels! Can we try this place?
Simon, with a shrug: Mmm... maybe.

Now this response was interesting, because Simon is not usually one to turn down a good deal. I could see why he was hesitant, though.

Let's face it, The Snake Pit looks pretty ugly from the outside.

The questionable Snake Pit exterior.

It does make you wonder. But I was willing to part with a measly five dollars for a taste of what The Snake Pit has got to offer, and last week, I finally convinced Simon to meet me there for dinner. Yes!

A complimentary bowl of lightly spiced popcorn arrived cheerily at our table soon after we put in our orders and sat down. Free popcorn is never a bad thing, right?

But let's move on to the main attraction. We both opted for the pastas from the 5-dollar section of the menu.

This was Simon's spaghetti al pesto alla genovese.

spaghetti al pesto alla genovese.

This was my penne primavera.

penne primavera.

We liked the food! The ingredients were fresh and well-prepared; the pasta cooked to al dente perfection. The pesto genovese lacing the strands of spaghetti in Simon's dish was delicate and harmonious. The juicy mushrooms, eggplant and onion in my penne primavera engaged and gratified. And when I suggested that we return again sometime for another meal, I met no resistance. Ten dollar schnitzels, here we come!

Update: Simon and I have returned for the $10 schnitzels, and while the servings were generous and the quality was not bad for the price, neither of us were as impressed as we were with the pasta the first time around. The two pastas mentioned above have also gone up to $8, though there are still a few $5 pasta options available. Moreover, we were told that they have a new chef - though whether this is in addition to or in replacement of the old one, I don't know.

In light of these new developments, and acknowledging that this is a new business that is still finding its feet, I think I may need a few more dinners to make up my mind properly about the Snake Pit!

Snake Pit on Urbanspoon

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Sunday, 23 January 2011

longans... and longan rum

A few weeks ago, I spied, to my delight, some longans in the supermarket. I get excited about longans even in Malaysia, my home country, where they are plentiful, but even more so now that I live in Australia, where they are scarce.

Longan is actually a transliteration of "dragon's eye" as it is known in many Asian languages. Looking at the fruit itself, you can see how the longan got its name!

fresh longans, aka dragon's eye fruit.

The typical longan has pearly, translucent flesh that gives way with just a little wobble and crunch as you bite down upon it. It then fills your mouth with sweet juices suggestive of earthy notes and just a slight floral hint.

I devoured most of the longans, but I saved a few so I could make some longan-infused rum. My recipe below makes a pitiful two shots (60ml), so I would definitely recommend you multiply that by several times. Seriously, what was I thinking? Oh right, I wasn't. I was too busy gobbling down those fresh and delicious longans...

4 longans
1/4 cup rum
a pinch of Chinese yellow rock sugar

Peel the longans and discard the seeds. Place the longans and sugar in a clean glass jar, and pour rum over them. Close the jar tightly with its lid and store in a cool, dark place for a month or so.

After about four weeks, I opened it up for a taste, and voilà, it was longan rum! The longans still looked so sweet and innocent, but I tasted one and it was like pure alcohol, so into the bin they went. (Sorry, my little beauties.) I am pleased to say that the rum itself was beautifully infused with longan flavours, and with its edge taken off by the Chinese yellow rock sugar, this resulted in a fruity, mellow liqueur. I really do wish I'd made more.

So now I need your help, my dear readers. Since I have precious little supply of this, I need to use it wisely. I thought about just having it on the rocks, perhaps with a dash of honey. Simon isn't a fan of rum on the rocks, and prefers it mixed with something like Coke, but I'm concerned that such a combination would hinder rather than highlight the longan flavours. What do you think would go well? Do you have any suggestions? Bring them on!

 fruity, tasty longan-infused rum.

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Wednesday, 19 January 2011

spicy spanish-mexican black bean stew

spicy spanish-mexican black bean stew

After discovering black turtle beans some months ago at a restaurant, Simon took an instant liking to them and wanted to utilize them for our home-cooked meals. Not long after, we made a trip to the local grocery store and got ourselves a bag of dried black turtle beans. For some reason, though, I never got around to using them until recently, when he asked if I could make a Mexican-style black bean stew for him.

black turtle beans, known as frijol negro in Spanish, feijão preto in Portuguese.

When I drafted out my idea for the recipe, I saw this as an opportunity to use my beloved Spanish hot smoked paprika, but I also took inspiration from the Mexican mole sauce and added some cocoa powder. The following recipe makes 2 servings - or 4 if you bulk it up with a side of rice or bread.

spanish-mexican black bean stew, reminiscent of a vegetarian chili con carne.

spicy spanish-mexican black bean stew

1 cup dried black turtle beans
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 chilli, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 teaspoons Spanish hot smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
2 bay leaves
a little oil, for frying
salt, to taste

- Soak the dried black beans overnight in a large bowl of water.

- The next day, drain well, rinse and transfer to a pot with 4 cups water, bring to boil and turn down to a simmer.

- Meanwhile, sauté garlic, onion and chilli in about one teaspoon oil until soft. Add in the chopped tomatoes and hot smoked paprika and lightly sauté for a few more minutes. Stir the mixture into the pot with black beans. Add in the bay leaves and cocoa powder.

- Simmer until the liquid is thick and reduced, and the beans are tender. Mine took just under 2 hours of uncovered simmering. If you like, you can lightly puree half the beans for a creamier soup/stew.

- Season with salt to taste. Garnish with fresh tomatoes and a sprinkling of herbs such as parsley, if desired. Retrieve bay leaves before eating.

- This can be eaten by itself or accompanied with salad, rice or bread. It also benefits from an addition of fresh-tasting and/or slightly acidic elements. We kept it super-simple and had it with sliced tomatoes, yoghurt and pita bread. Next time, I'd like to try it with guacamole and feta cheese as well! I imagine it would also go well with this lemongrass yoghurt dip.

So there you have it, a bold, earthy Spanish-Mexican inspired black bean stew. We had this for lunch and dinner and I believe it tasted even better the second time around, as the sauce thickened and the flavours developed further. Simon liked it a lot and wanted to know more about the ingredients in the dish. I gladly obliged - here's hoping next time he'll be cooking this for me!

thick, rich and earthy black bean stew.

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Sunday, 16 January 2011

crispy rice cake + chinese sausage canapes

hot dog inspired mini sandwiches, made with pan-fried eggy crispy rice cakes and steamed lap cheong.

Hot dogs! That's the theme for January's International Incident Party, hosted, as always, by the lovely Jeroxie. It's been quite the messy situation organising myself for this month's party, and I had a few hiccups along the way - but I got something done. It's certainly not the traditional hot dog - more a hot-dog-inspired canapé or pintxo re-interpreted with a strong Chinese twist. I present to you my eggy crispy rice sandwiches with lap cheong!

If you're not familiar with lap cheong, it is a sweet chinese sausage, usually made of pork, and as is typical of Asian goodies, does not seem to have an official or universal English spelling. On my packet, for example, it is spelt "lup chong". Either way, have a look at my photographs and if you see something that looks like those in your local Asian grocery, you should be on the right track. I do recommend that you try these sweet, savoury, fatty bundles of deliciousness: they are fantastic in dishes such as congee and fried rice.

a packet of lap cheong, plus a Lebanese cucumber I forgot to use.

cross section shots of the sweet chinese sausage usually labelled as lap cheong or lup chong.

Since lap cheong goes so well with fried rice, I decided to make eggy, crispy rice cakes to use as mini sandwiches. The concept of these, in some ways, is quite similar to my flourless potato pancake-omelettes, except instead of potatoes, rice is used here, and instead of keeping them soft and fluffy, I pan-fried them till crispy on the outside.

The first thing I did was steam some rice, together with chopped up Chinese chives, red chilli, ginger, salt and pepper. I also steamed the lap cheong. I then mixed the cooked rice with egg. Finally, I assembled the mini sandwiches, which is basically just putting the crispy rice omelette-cakes together with the steamed lap cheong. I had planned to add cucumber for a cool, refreshing contrast, but I forgot. It still turned out well.

chinese chives, red chilli and ginger.

the mixture of steamed rice and egg.

hot dog inspired canapés: crispy rice cakes with lap cheong

From memory, this made about a dozen little canapés.

2/3 cup cooked rice with seasonings of your choice and to your taste (I used chopped Chinese chives, red chilli and ginger, salt and white pepper)
1 large egg
1 medium lap cheong, steamed whole for 10 minutes, then sliced
cucumber slices (my forgotten ingredient!)
oil, for frying

- Lightly beat the egg, then add the seasoned cooked rice and mix well.
- Heat up a little oil in the frying pan and spoon the mixture into the hot pan, frying it like you would an omelette or pancake. Press the mixture down to help it fry faster and hold its shape, and cook on both sides until crispy on the outside.
- Remove the crispy egg-rice omelette-pancake from the pan, and cut into little squares.
- Place the lap cheong onto one crispy rice cake, and top it with another crispy rice cake. Secure with toothpicks. If you want a higher ratio of lap cheong joy, do it open-sandwich-style and omit the crispy rice cake on top. Remember to steam an extra lap cheong in that case!
- If you do use cucumber, you can incorporate them into the mini sandwiches, or serve them on the side.
- Serve immediately, while they are still warm and crispy.

appetizing bite-sized finger food: part sandwich, part pintxo, part canapé.

the hot dog buffet is on!

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Thursday, 13 January 2011

roasted dandelion root coffee and tea

My aunt has a never-ending battle with the dandelions in her garden. She occasionally makes the best of it by using their leaves for salads, but I somehow doubt a peaceful harmony will ever be achieved. I figured we might as well make the most of it while it's there, and I knew that a caffeine-free, coffee-like drink could be made out of roasting dandelion roots, so when I visited recently, I decided to try my luck with those pesky dandelions.

First I struggled with the dandelion plants in the garden. These tough little critters have strong, stubborn roots and will fight to their bitter end. I gave up soon after, as you can probably tell by my meagre harvest.

dandelion roots, washed but not yet trimmed.

After cleaning and trimming the dandelion roots, I placed them in the oven, and gleefully zapped them with the dry heat. Roasted dandelion roots are toasty and nutty in aroma. Beautiful. However, I was a bit hasty in getting them out of the oven, so as you can see, they are not as dark as they can be, and some are still very pale inside. (Note: I roasted them at 160C/320F for only about half an hour - they would definitely benefit from more time in the oven to bring them to a deep coffee colour.)

oven-roasted dandelion roots

Still, they were sufficiently fragrant and brittle so I decided to just go ahead and use them. At this point, you can actually brew them like a tea, or grind them into a coffee-like powder. I opted for the latter, using a mortar and pestle, which resulted in this dandelion "coffee" powder!

dandelion root coffee powder

Okay, so this barely made a quarter cup of beverage. It was, as expected, fairly bitter, so I added a pinch of raw sugar as well. I offered most to my uncle as he likes coffee and I wanted to know what he thought - he was pleasantly surprised at how coffee-like it was.

I fumbled my way through this without any guidance. I did hop online afterwards, though, and found some ideas that would come in helpful if I should make this again, such as dehydrating the dandelion roots at a lower heat first, and then cranking up the temperature, stirring perhaps once or twice for a more uniform roast, and to prevent them from getting burnt. Some people also add spices, which I imagine would go wonderfully well, and give it a chai-tea-like quality.

I would love to improve upon my first attempt - but that would mean doing battle with the dandelions once more. Better start working on those biceps...

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Monday, 10 January 2011

thai wild lime cafe, south yarra

thai fish cakes

There are quite a few Thai restaurants in South Yarra, but Thai Wild Lime Cafe, tucked away on 69 Davis Avenue, near the corner of Toorak Road, is the one I go to most often for a quick bite or takeaway. Nothing fancy, but it has good food at good prices (under $15 for mains) - what more could you ask from your local Thai? Okay, the seating options aren't so great, and I've had one case of miscommunication where I said I was eating in but ended up with takeaway instead. Still, that is hardly enough to deter me, and it's nice to see it buzz along cheerfully with loyal support from those who live and work around the area.

I went there for lunch a few weeks ago with my parents while they were in Melbourne, and we ordered the following...

For entrée, fish cakes with sweet chilli sauce. My dad was impressed with how beautifully made the sweet chilli sauce was, I found the delicately spiced fish cakes charming, and even mum, who was saying earlier that she wasn't a big fan of fish cakes, decided they were quite nice!

inside the fish cake

Dad's cashew nut and dried chilli chicken stir-fry arrives. The cashew nuts had a nice roasted flavour and crunch to them and the sun-dried chilli added a relaxed hint of heat.

cashew nut and dried chilli chicken stir-fry

This is mum's beef massaman curry. If you like sweet Thai curries, this one - thick with coconut milk and peanuts - would be a good choice. My dad has a sweet tooth and he was happily helping himself to the sauce by the spoonful.

beef massaman curry

I had chicken stir-fried with kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass sauce. This was a fresh and aromatic dish, pleasing to the tastebuds.

kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass chicken stir-fry

Other dishes I've sampled at Thai Wild Lime Cafe include classics such as pad thai, larb gai, and the one dessert they offer - coconut ice cream with sweet sticky rice. All were pleasantly down-to-earth and well executed. If you're after a friendly little Thai place that skips the MSG and makes their sauces from scratch, you could do worse than to give this place a go!

Thai Wild Lime Cafe & Takeaway on Urbanspoon

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Friday, 7 January 2011

tzatziki-inspired lemongrass yoghurt dip

lemongrass yoghurt dip, garnished with a lemongrass stirrer and a pinch of lemongrass-garlic paste.

Sometimes I just have days when I feel pretty lazy and unmotivated. New Year's Day was one of them. Luckily, the supermarket was open and I managed to pick up some great bargains for a quick lunch - a pack of garlic naan bread and a tub of lentil salad from the Indian deli section for $1 each!

Even though I wasn't in a cooking mood, I thought I'd still put in a little effort somehow, so whilst at the supermarket I also picked up a few fresh ingredients, thinking that perhaps I would make a quick and easy dip to go with lunch - tzatziki, in particular, was on my mind. But when I got home, I started to think about a stalk of leftover lemongrass I had tucked away in the fridge.

You know what that means - it's time for another one of my spontaneous creations!

grinding the chopped green parts of the lemongrass stalk into a paste.

I love lemongrass. What I don't love is how the green part of the stalk is so often neglected and discarded. Yes, it's a little tougher, and a little less fragrant... but it's a big, big world. There's gotta be a place for it, right? So I came up with the following recipe. The white parts should also work nicely, and you can use a mix of the two, but I only used the green parts of the stalk here. Try it! You may be pleasantly surprised.

adding the garlic, lemongrass and lime juice to the yoghurt.

seasoning my lemongrass garlic yoghurt dip with salt and pepper medley.

tzatziki-inspired lemongrass yoghurt dip

1/2 cup natural or greek yoghurt
the green part of one lemongrass stalk, tough outer husk removed
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tablespoon lime juice
salt and pepper, to taste

- Chop up the green parts of the lemongrass stalk, and grind with a mortar and pestle, breaking down the fibres until it forms a green paste. You may add a few drops of water or lime juice to assist the process.
- Add the chopped garlic and continue grinding. This should create a juicy and pungent pale green mixture.
- Combine this into the yoghurt along with the lime juice, then add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
- Use this as you would tzatziki - as a dip, sauce or salad dressing - with lamb, pita, crackers, or fresh vegetables such as carrot and cucumber.
- If you make it in advance you can cover and place it in the fridge for several hours or overnight. The flavours will develop even further.

This healthy, zingy lemongrass yoghurt dip was lovely, tangy and aromatic. But the important question is, how did it go with that garlic naan?

Well. This was how it went:

Garlic Naan: You... complete me.
Lemongrass Yoghurt Dip: Shut up. Just - shut up. You had me at hello.

I had my lemongrass yoghurt dip with garlic naan, lentil salad and fresh Lebanese cucumbers.

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Monday, 3 January 2011

easy slow braised pork spare ribs

slow braised pork spare ribs with bok choy

You've probably done this before. You buy some meat that was on special at the supermarket, chuck it into the freezer, and the next thing you know it's a few months on before you finally rescue them from the cold. In my case, I had these pork spare ribs and I had left them languishing in their lonesome for so long that they had developed marked hints of freezer burn. Oh dear. But I thought if I slow braised them in a broth, they could still turn out alright. I thus set The Plan in motion. The following recipe, thrown together with some bits and pieces I had in the fridge and pantry, made one serving. Read on for the results...

slow-braised pork spare ribs for one

200g pork spare ribs (note - I did not defrost mine)
1 tablespoon fish sauce (or substitute with soy sauce)
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1 small bunch asian greens, such as bok choy
white pepper, to taste (you may add this at the beginning or towards the end)

- Place all ingredients except for the asian greens in saucepan. Pour in enough water to cover the meat.
- Bring to boil, then let it simmer, partially covered, between an hour to an hour and a half until the liquid is reduced and slightly thickened.
- Add the asian greens (I used bok choy) and continue to simmer for a minute or two until just cooked.
- Serve with steamed rice.

I really wasn't sure what to expect. I've had my good times with pork; I've had my bad times. And these spare ribs in particular weren't exactly a pretty sight when they emerged from their deep freeze. But my concerns were allayed upon the first bite, the tender morsel releasing its meaty goodness with juicy abandon. Freezer burn? Not a trace in the taste...

One bite reveals the sweet, succulent insides.

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Saturday, 1 January 2011

happy new year! love and fireworks from melbourne, australia.

the fireworks begin... 

more fireworks...

... and there it is. 2011 has arrived.

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