Thursday, 27 September 2012

globe artichokes, & a vegetable medley stew

young globe artichokes.

Here's something I've never prepared before: globe artichokes. I've just always found them a little daunting in demeanour. How in the world do I make those tough-looking buds toothsome and edible? Yet, as they say, you can only conquer your doubts and fears by facing them. Moreover, Simon has always seemed keen on getting artichoke dishes whenever he sees them on a restaurant menu - I thought it would be nice to learn how to cook artichokes for him, too. So, recently, when I found some baby artichokes, I took them on. The babies, with their tender innocence, would be easier to deal with, and serve as a stepping stone, I figured.

I found a simple guide on preparing globe artichokes here, by Taste, and away I went. As my stash comprised mainly of small young artichokes only a little bigger than golf balls, they merely required some trimming of both ends and the removing of the darker, tougher outer leaves. No need to deal with the (as yet non-existent) furry chokes within. Easy! (I've since come across this guide by Saveur geared specifically at preparing baby artichokes, so have a read there too.)

cross section of a baby artichoke and its teenage sibling, sliced in half.

With my new-found knowledge, plus some odds and ends at Simon's place, I ended up making a sort of stewed vegetable melange, adapted from a recipe that his ex-Italian-housemate Anthony (who was previously featured here, two years ago) once taught me. Here, drenched in a rich sea of diced tomatoes and sliced onions, my darling baby artichoke halves rub shoulders with juicy chunks of zucchini and eggplant. Feel free to experiment with any vegetables you like. Mushrooms, capsicums, and potatoes would be great here as well, for example. With some types of vegetables cooking faster or slower than others, you might want to adjust the order and times if you're after a certain texture, but other than that, it's pretty straightforward.

To my delight, Simon immensely enjoyed this tangy, chunky vegetable stew, likening it to ratatouille. So I conquered the globe artichoke AND won my boyfriend's heart. Savoury, savoury victory!

stewed vegetable medley / vegetable ragout with eggplant, zucchini and artichoke
(serves 2)

1 tablespoon butter (or vegetable oil, to make this vegan)
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups prepared assorted chopped vegetables (I used artichoke, eggplant, zucchini)
1 can peeled diced tomatoes (approximately 400g/14oz)
salt, black pepper, spices, herbs to taste*

Using a pot or pan that will accomodate all the vegetables, fry onions over medium heat with butter or oil for about 2 minutes until slightly softened and translucent, then add garlic and fry for another 30 seconds, stirring.
Add artichokes and fry for 1 minute. Add eggplant and zucchini and continue to fry for another 1 minute.
Add diced tomatoes along with all the juices in the tin. Add pinches of salt, black pepper, and other seasonings, such as spices and herbs, if desired. Stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until all vegetables are tender. Check and stir every now and then, adding a little water or stock if the mixture starts to dry out excessively.
Taste and season with more salt and pepper if required. Serve warm. Makes a nice side, or accompany with rice or crusty bread to make a main meal.

*Pinches of dried herbs such as oregano, marjoram, basil and thyme will work well here. If using fresh herbs, add them towards the last 5 minutes of cooking. Pinches of spices such as chilli flakes, smoked paprika, nutmeg or cinnamon will also add good flavour. The stronger or more distinctive a herb or spice is, the less you need. For my version here, only chilli was used, but I plan to flick in some mixed dried herbs, too, next time.

stewed vegetable ragout with artichokes, eggplant and zucchini in an oniony tomato base.

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Thursday, 20 September 2012

d.o.c. pizza and mozzarella bar, carlton

A few weeks ago Simon and I went out for dinner at D.O.C Pizza and Mozzarella Bar (295 Drummond St, Carlton) with fellow blogger friends Bryan (+ Fakegf), Winston, Daisy (+ Mr. Bao), and Yasmeen. It was great fun. We chatted, we ate, we ate, we ate, we chatted, we ate some more... and finally left with very, very full bellies.

Now as a disclaimer, I tend to struggle a little as a food blogger when I have to keep track of and pay attention to more than a few dishes in one sitting, and have even given up on processing such posts in the past, so bear with me if this one is not quite up to scratch!

Let's start with an easy one - drinks. The Baladin range of soft drinks on the menu caught our eyes. I got the Spuma and Simon had the Ginger. On paper, both sounded similar, stating ingredients such as orange peel, vanilla and spices. Upon drinking both, we discovered the differences. Spuma had a more bittersweet herbal quality to it, probably due to the use of Chinese rhubarb, while Ginger had sweetly seductive honeyed notes that melted upon the tongue.

Soft drinks from Italian brewery Le Baladin. Here, the Spuma Nera.

We had a long rectangular table, so for the main savoury meals, we divided into two parts of four - thus, Winston, Yasmeen, Simon and I shared a few pizzas amongst ourselves, while Bryan, Fakegf, Daisy and Mr. Bao in turn had their own selections.

Winston had been to D.O.C. before and he suggested we get the antipasto platter - a daily assortment of selected ingredients. I'm not sure if I can identify everything properly, but my favourites here would be the bresaola (air cured beef) and smoked Scamorza (a smoky mozzarella in the fior di latte style). There was also a very strong, crumbly cheese which was too pungent for a few of us to handle, and even those who liked it could only have a little bit at a time. Made for good fun passing it around and checking out everyone's expressions as they tasted it for the first time!

antipasto platter.

For pizzas, we had:

Pizza Tiger Prawns with tomato, mozzarella, endive, fresh chilli. It's a nice, fresh combination of flavours. I would've liked there to be more than one prawn on each slice, though... am I greedy?

tiger prawn pizza.

Pizza San Daniele with San Marzano tomato, fresh DOP buffalo mozzarella, DOP San Daniele Prosciutto. I've actually never been too keen on prosciutto as it's generally a bit too funky for me, but the prosciutto in this pizza is quite subtle and delicate.

San Daniele prosciutto pizza.

Pizza ai Porcini with wild mushrooms, truffle oil in bianco with grated DOP pecorino. Mushroomy, earthy, and creamy, this is my favourite out of the three.

wild mushroom pizza.

While the pizzas were enjoyable, and they are what D.O.C. is famous for, I also really liked their desserts. Here's what we had:

Sweet goats cheese, tiramisu with pavesini and montenegro. I'm not big on tiramisu desserts and wouldn't have gotten this if I was by myself, but I was surprised by how much I adored this one. It's light, it's sophisticated, it had me going back for more.

tiramisu dessert.

Coppa gelato - a delectable cup of mixed gelati. The chocolate one was easy to identify; the pinkish one was suggested by the others to be strawberry, though for some reason it tasted more like blood orange to me; and then there was one that was reminiscent of eggnog, which in retrospect was probably zabaglione.

mixed gelati dessert.

Nutella calzoncino with vanilla bean ice cream. With that classic chocolate hazelnut filling, the little calzone, along with the ice cream, made for sticky, sinful comfort food.

nutella dessert.

Sweet pizza with Belgian white chocolate, fresh strawberries, vanilla bean ice cream. Even though I don't usually go for white chocolate, I really looked forward to this one, because it sounded absolutely lush, and it did not disappoint. So satisfying!

sweet pizza dessert.

All in all, I had a very positive first impression of D.O.C, and I would return again as I am quite interested in trying some of the other pizzas. Simon did feel that it was a bit pricey, however, with each pizza clinking in at around the 20-dollar mark, so we'll have to see how we go!

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Thursday, 13 September 2012

lime curd, filo pastry, vanilla salt...
(or how a tiny portion of lime curd found meaning in its brief, glorious existence)

I whipped up this dessert a few months ago on the fly, one late weekend afternoon, and since then I had been sitting on this post in draft for ages. The combination of lime curd, filo pastry and vanilla salt was absolutely divine, but I put everything together quite carelessly - the presentation was shoddy and I only took a couple of photographs, both of which could've been better. I'm now moving past those quibbles. It tasted fabulous, after all.

This recipe came about as I had one lonely egg yolk in the fridge. I was at the beginning of a curd-crazy phase so it was a no-brainer. That egg yolk was to find a new home in a tangy lime curd. And then, and then - the lime curd found a lovely new home on a bed of filo pastry, and found itself bejewelled with little gems of vanilla salt... and found meaning in its brief, glorious existence.

lime curd spread on toasted olive oil filo pastry, sprinkled with tahitian vanilla salt.

a tiny, tiny serving of lime curd

1 egg yolk
1.5 - 2 tablespoons sugar, depending on how sweet you like it
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon lime zest (optional)
1/2 tablespoon butter

Prepare a saucepan with about 3 - 4 centimetres (1.5 inches) water. Bring it to boil, then lower the heat to a gentler boil.
Whisk egg yolks, sugar, lime juice and zest (if using) together in a bowl until well combined. This bowl should be of a good size for fitting on top the saucepan so that it just hovers above the water.
Place the bowl on top of the simmering water. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Add butter and continue stirring and cooking until the butter is completely melted and becomes one with the mixture.
You'll know the curd is ready when it is thick enough to coat a spoon dipped into the mixture. Also remember that the curd will continue to thicken as it cools down.

After making the curd, I riffled through the freezer and found some frozen filo pastry (aka phyllo pastry). I broke off a few rectangular sections, brushed them lightly on both sides with olive oil, stacked them on top of each other and baked them in a moderately hot oven for several minutes till crisp and golden. The lime curd went on top of that. I then scoured the pantry and found some Tahitian vanilla salt that was just begging to be used, so those beguiling little crystals were scattered over. The vanilla salt was an impulse purchase at a shop, but you can easily make your own by mixing half a cup of salt with the seeds from a vanilla bean and storing it in a jar. Otherwise, some good quality salt will be nearly as good. Enjoy!

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Thursday, 6 September 2012

cookbook review: vietnamese street food

For my birthday last year, I received a bunch of cookbooks from a Hardie Grant sale (thanks Simon!), and as befitting my nature, I've had fun reading them but have barely taken the time to follow any of the recipes.

They are interesting books, though, so today we'll talk about Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl, which is a very pleasant cookbook to look at. Spacious layout, attractive design, easy-to-read font, approachable photos.

Vietnamese Street Food, a cookbook by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl.

As is evident from the title, the subject is that of street cuisine in Vietnam. It is a stimulating mix - with some inclusions that are not typically served in the Vietnamese restaurants in Australia, such as duck rice porridge and eel salad, to name a couple. Some recipes call for more exotic ingredients that I imagine I would have difficulty procuring in Australia - green rice or frog's legs, for example; and I feel that in some cases, additional photos or clarification would've been helpful. But for the most part, I've found the recipes to look quite user-friendly - mind you, I do have an Asian background, which probably helps. I also like the handy reference pages on sauces and condiments - simple, basic recipes which form the luscious notes to so many Vietnamese dishes.

So far, I've tried two recipes from the book - one savoury, and one sweet. Both were easy, which, let's face it, is always a draw card for lazy ol' me.

Earlier this year, I tried the ca kho to - caramel fish with galangal. I knew from the moment I saw the photo that I wanted to try this. The beautiful, burnished caramel sauce looked simply amazing.

Ca kho to, caramel fish with galangal, as seen in the cookbook Vietnamese Street Food.

I have mixed feelings about the results, however. It was very tasty (reminiscent of a lighter version of Thai green curry, we thought), but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. The coconut milk called for in the recipe muted the intense caramelised flavour and appearance it might otherwise have had, and further research (i.e. looking up other ca kho to recipes online) suggests that, most likely, the recipe should've called for coconut water instead. I might try that next time.

A questionable ca kho to, as attempted with the recipe from the cookbook, Vietnamese Street Food.

Then, a few weeks ago, I tried out the tao pho - silken tofu in ginger syrup. This is a type of dessert I'm familiar with, as they are commonly sold in Malaysian markets and growing up I would often have them as a sweet breakfast on the weekends. The version in the book has an interesting difference, though - the addition of mandarin juice and jasmine flowers.

Tao pho, silken tofu in ginger syrup, as seen in the Vietnamese Street Food cookbook.

This imparts a fruity, floral dimension to the dessert, and a pretty fragrance. I did play with the recipe a little. Not having much of a sweet tooth, I greatly reduced the amount of sugar. I couldn't find jasmine flowers, either, so I substituted some good quality jasmine green tea instead. Not quite the same, but close enough. The end result was simple, comforting, and delicious.

A successfully adapted Vietnamese-style tao pho - silken tofu in ginger syrup, scented with mandarin and jasmine.

Despite the hiccup with the ca kho to, and a lack of a more comprehensive glossary to explain the ingredients that are not-so-familiar in the Western world, I have to say that I do still like Vietnamese Street Food as a cookbook. There's a leisurely, comfortable quality to it, with the recipe headnotes giving you happy ideas of what it would be like to live and eat in Vietnam. As someone with a keen curiosity towards regional cuisine, it's just the sort I enjoy flipping through, daydreaming about how good each dish would be. When I get around to it, I'll be trying more of the recipes - perhaps some of the more well-known Vietnamese favourites, like the pho, the spring rolls, and the banh mi... but you know, the barbecued pork and the fried rice cakes with egg are also calling out to me. We'll see!

You may purchase Vietnamese Street Food on Fishpond and also on Amazon.

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