Café Plum 4 (closed)

We eat out a lot during the weekend. Often we’ll go out for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, and normally at least one evening meal is eaten out as well. I try not to let us eat out too much because it gets expensive. In addition, when faced with an unhealthy option versus a healthy option, unhealthy will win out 99% of the time (if I cook, it’s easier for me to choose to make something healthy). But on the other hand, it’s something that we enjoy, so I’m not too strict about it.

Speaking of things that we enjoy, we recently went to Café Plum. I was happy that we didn’t have to settle for Café Bland again!

Cafe Plum

I had an omelette, filled with goats cheese, spinach and caramelised onion ($13). I haven’t quite acquired the taste for goat’s cheese yet but I’m close. You know how it has that “goaty” flavour that seems to work it’s way into your nasal passages? I keep trying it and I have no doubt that I will love it eventually, just like I’ve learnt to love blue cheese and very dark, bitter chocolate. I found that the sweetness of the onions helped counteract some of that strong “goatiness” in the cheese, and I really enjoyed this omelette. I was also happy to see that it was a proper omelette – I’m not a fan of the open omelette as they tend to be dry and rubbery.

Cafe Plum

Alastair had the corn fritters, with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and avocado ($15.90). He said that it was good, but not as good as the ones I make (he has been trained well!). It was rather large and filling though, and he couldn’t quite fit it all in.

Previous visits can be read here, here and here.

Cafe Plum
193 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne 3051
Ph: (03) 9329 8867

Hainanese Chicken Rice

Has anyone been watching Food Safari on SBS? I’m really enjoying the series, and have found most episodes fascinating, with the exception of at least one cuisine that didn’t seem very exciting – schnitzel. I love the run down of the common ingredients used in each cuisine, and the segments with the home cooks.

Hainanese chicken rice

The episode on Singaporean cuisine inspired me to make Hainanese chicken rice. If you’ve never had the pleasure, Hainanese chicken rice is a dish that originated in Hainan, China. An entire chicken is poached, and served with rice that has been fried with garlic and ginger (and chicken fat if you want to be really unhealthy), and then cooked in chicken stock. Alongside the rice and chicken are a couple of dipping sauces – normally a ginger and garlic sauce and a chilli one. Often there’ll also be a bowl of soup. It’s nothing fancy, but oh so good.

I have seen recipes where the chicken is simmered in the water, and I liked this one from Food Safari because you just leave the chicken in the hot water for an hour without simmering. For the rice, it’s important to have a well flavoured chicken stock, otherwise it’s just normal rice! The cooking liquid from the chicken doesn’t have enough flavour, unless you want to add more bones after cooking the chicken and simmer for a couple of hours. I had made a big pot of stock in the weekend, so I used that, but of course you could just buy some liquid stock. I wouldn’t bother with powdered stock though.

I made the ginger and garlic sauce, but didn’t like the result, so I’ve taken that off the recipe (check out the link to the Food Safari recipe below if you’re interested). I wanted to make the chilli sauce too, but I ran out of steam. I’m kind of glad though, because looking at the recipe I’m not sure about it. I ended up simply eating the chicken with some extra soy sauce and sesame oil.

So the result – was it good? It was great! The chicken was moist and full of flavour, and the rice was super tasty without being too oily. And another bonus, because I had made it myself, there was no MSG thirst afterwards, which seems to plague bought versions.

Writing this post is making me want chicken rice. Perhaps it’ll be an outside kitchen night!

Hainanese chicken rice

Hainanese chicken rice

From Food Safari

Chicken
1 fresh, free range chicken (mine was 1.3kg, which should serve 3-4 people)
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
6 slices fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, slightly bruised
2 shallots, chopped in a few pieces
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tsp salt

Chicken Rice
3 cups long grain rice
2 tbsp chicken or pork fat (this tastes great, but peanut oil can be used instead)
2-3cm ginger, grated
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped very finely or grated
1-2 tsp salt (to taste)
3 ½ cups chicken stock
2 pandan leaves (optional)

For the chicken:
1. Bring a pot (large enough to fit the whole chicken) of water to the boil. While the water is heating, rub chicken inside with rice wine and soy sauce. Roughly chop three pieces of ginger, garlic and one shallot and then blend in a food processor. Place mixture inside chicken.
2. When the water boils, turn heat off and place the chicken, and the remaining three pieces of ginger and shallot in the water. Stand for five minutes, then lift up the chicken, draining the water from the stomach cavity. After the water has drained, put the chicken back in the water and cover with the lid. Repeat this process two or three times during the cooking period to make sure the chicken cooks inside as well as outside. The chicken will stand in the water for a total of one hour.
3. After 30 minutes, turn on the heat to bring the water back to almost boiling point, then turn the heat off (don’t let the water boil so the chicken stays tender and juicy). At the end of the hour, remove the chicken and brush the surface with the remaining soy sauce combined with sesame oil and salt. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces with a sharp cleaver.

For the rice:
5. Wash the rice and drain well. In a wok, fry chicken fat (or peanut oil) until oil is released and then add the ginger and garlic and fry well.
6. Remove from heat and discard the chicken fat and skin. Add the rice and salt and stir fry briskly for about 1-2 minutes. Transfer rice into an electric rice cooker or pot and add the chicken stock and pandan leaves. Follow normal instructions for cooking rice. If you’re using a pot, put the rice on a high heat until it comes to the boil. Then lower the heat until it becomes a gentle simmer. Let it cook until all the water has been absorbed, and you can see steam holes in the rice. Take it off the heat and let the rice sit for 10 minutes to finish absorbing the rest of the liquid before eating.

Roasted snapper

Roasted snapper

It’s interesting what people search for to arrive at my blog. Mostly, people seem to be looking for Jamie Oliver recipes. Well, when I cooked this snapper, I took a bit of a Jamie approach. A bit of this, a bit of that, throw it all together – lovely (jubbly)!

For this meal I just used what I had at hand. I had bought a snapper, obviously, but didn’t have any idea of what I was going to do with it until I got home. Unusually, I had no lemons in the house, and couldn’t be bothered going to get some. So I pulled some herbs from the garden, sliced up some onions, stuffed them into the fish and bingo! Dinner!

The end result was superb – the flesh was sweet, moist and delicately flavoured with the onions and herbs. In all honesty though, it was such a lovely piece of fish that I could’ve just sprinkled some salt on it, and it still would’ve been great. I had asked the fishmonger for a fish that would feed three people, and he sold me one that was almost 2 kilos (!) so there were leftovers that I took to lunch the next day. Normally I find that left over fish isn’t terribly great but this was an exception. I was happy that it stretched to another meal so I could prolong the enjoyment!

Roasted snapper

Roasted snapper

One whole snapper
Handful of thyme sprigs
Handful of oregano
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced
Salt
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220 degree C

Clean the snapper, and give it a rinse. Take a bit of salt and rub it inside the cavity. Crush the herbs in your hands, and then stuff into the cavity with half of the onions. Place the rest of the onions on to a baking tray and lie the fish on top. Give it a drizzle with the oil.

Place into the oven and bake until it’s just cooked through (I didn’t note down what time my fish went in, but I think it was about 30-40 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.

Portuguese-style chicken curry, daal and cabbage slaw

I’m having difficulty with food blogging at the moment. It’s not due to lack of time or energy. It isn’t because I’m not eating well, or not cooking good food, or not photographing meals. My issue is with the whole stringing words into coherent sentences thing. It seems that food blogging involves more than just food, it also involves writing. I know! Who’d thought!

However, I am pushing through and making an effort!

The other week, I cooked a meal from a Indian cookbook I had received over Christmas. I made a chicken curry, a daal, and an interesting cabbage slaw that I’d never tried before.

The Portuguese-style chicken curry (aka mungh vindaloo) wasn’t as spicy as it usually is in restaurants, although I did try to up the heat factor. Originally, vindaloo wasn’t particularly spicy and the cookbook tells me that vindaloo actually means “vinegary”. Other sources (internets!) say that vindaloo is a derivative of the Portuguese “vinho de alho” which literally means wine (vinho) and garlic (alho). Vindaloo was bought to Goa by the Portuguese and was traditionally cooked with pork. I used chicken drumsticks in my version. They took ages to cook, but were very succulent.

The daal was good, but a bit overshadowed by the vindaloo and the cabbage. My daal was quite soupy at first, but after standing for a while (I had to wait for the curry to finish cooking) it thickened up. I was rather heavy handed with the ginger!

But on to the cabbage. The cabbage slaw was a real surprise! The coconut gave it a lovely fragrance, and the cabbage was sweet, slightly nutty and spicy. If you like coconut (and cabbage) give it a try. It was very different from how I normally cook cabbage and we really enjoyed it.

Gujarati Cabbage Slaw

Gujarati Cabbage Slaw

From Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking

Serves 6

1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon asafetida (hing)
1 cup dry-roasted unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 medium head green cabbage (1 1/2 pounds), finely shredded (8 cups)
1 cup shredded fresh coconut or 1/2 cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander
3 fresh Thai, serrano or cayenne chillies, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground tumeric
Juice of 1 medium lime (2 tablespoons)

Heat oil in wok or pan over medium-high heat. Add asafetida and peanuts; sizzle 30 seconds.

Add remaining ingredients except lime juice, stir fry about 5 minutes or until cabbage is hot; remove from heat. Stir in lime juice.

Moong daal

Moong daal

From Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking

Serves 6

1 cup dried whole green lentils (sabud mung), sorted, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon asafetida (hing) or garlic powder
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 medium tomato, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
2 fresh Thai, serrano or cayenne chillies, cut lengthwise in half
1 teaspoon salt

Place lentils, water and turmeric in a saucepan. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Partially cover and simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until lentils are tender.

While lentils are simmering, heat ghee/oil and mustard seed in a a pan over medium-high heat. Once seed begins to pop, cover skillet and wait until popping stops.

Add asafetida and ginger to mustard seed; stir fry about 30 seconds or until ginger is partially brown. Add tomato and chillies, stir fry 3-5 minutes or until tomato is softened.

Stir tomato mixture and salt into lentils. Partially cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

Portuguese-style chicken curry

Portuguese-style chicken curry / Mungh vindaloo

From Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking

Serves 4

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped ginger
5 medium cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup tomato sauce (I think this is tomato puree, I used a can of whole tomatoes)
1 tablespoon coriander seed, ground
1 teaspoon cumin seed, ground
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch strips (I used drumsticks instead)
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup plain yoghurt

Heat in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions, ginger and garlic; stir fry about 5 minutes or until onions and garlic are golden brown.

Stir in tomato sauce, ground coriander, ground cumin, salt, cayenne pepper and turmeric, reduce heat. Partially cover and simmer around 5 minutes or until a thin film of oil starts to form on surface of sauce. Remove from heat; cool 3 to 4 minutes.

Place sauce in blender (or use a stick blender). Cover and blend on medium speed until smooth. Return sauce to saucepan.

Stir chicken into sauce. Simmer uncovered 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is partially cooked.

Stir in vinegar and coconut milk. Simmer uncovered 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink in centre.

Beat yoghurt with wire whisk until smooth; stir into chicken mixture. Cook uncovered for 1 minute, stirring occasionally, just until yoghurt is warm. Serve with rice.

The Abyssinian

Recently, to celebrate a friend getting older and wiser, we had a meal at an Ethiopian restaurant located in Flemington, the Abyssinian.

The Abynissian

The food is based on recipes from the Horn of Africa. The menu was rather long, so we took the easy option and ordered the meat combination platter. The platter comes with slow cooked stews: chicken, lamb, fish and vegetables, on a large enamel tray lined with injera bread. The cost is $25 for one person, $45 for two and then $22 for each additional person. There is also a wholly vegetarian platter.

The Abynissian

Injera is a spongy, sour flatbread. Traditionally, it is made with a small round grain called teff. The flour is mixed with water and left to ferment for a few days, which gives it a slight sourness and an airy, bubbly texture. At the Abynissian, the bread is made with self raising rice and corn flours. You rip off a piece of injera, roll it around a bit of stew and eat.

The Abynissian

We’ve been to a different Ethiopian restaurant before, and found that the injera was too sour for our tastes. The injera at the Abyssinian was much nicer – very soft and not too sour. However, the parts of the injera that sat under the stews soaked up the sauces and became too soggy to pick up. Thankfully, even though cutlery isn’t traditional, we had also been given spoons, which helped us scoop up every last bit of stew and injera.

The Abynissian

Dotted around the tray on the injera were several different stews. There were several diffferent vegetable stews: lentils cooked in a light sauce, cabbage and carrots, spinach and beans, and pumpkin. They were all pretty tasty. For the meat stews, we had some lovely tender goat, a rather spicy (and therefore awesome!) lamb, a chicken stew and the last was a mixture shrimp and nile perch in a slightly spicy and tangy sauce.

Being a little group of gluttons, we polished off the lot and really could have eaten more. There were five of us, and I think that if there had been one more person, we might’ve gotten another platter (I was eyeing up other tables to see what they got).

It was a good place to celebrate a birthday. The atmosphere is casual and lively, and the service is friendly, although a little sporadic.

The Abyssinian
277 Racecourse Road, Flemington
Phone: (03) 9376 8754

Spicy eggplant and garlic shoots

Spicy eggplant and garlic shoots

Remember encyclopedias? Do you remember how those big books took up several shelves? This is a very nerdy thing to admit, but when my parents bought us a set of encyclopedias, I read most of the volumes. Nowadays, with Wikigoogle at our fingertips, who needs encyclopedias filling up the bookshelf?

Wikipedia in particular is great. Now, I know there are problems with it: anyone can edit it (gasp), plus it’s on the internets and we all know that everything on the internet is a lie. But since I don’t look at it when I need 100% accuracy, I reckon it’s fab!

For example, if it wasn’t for Wiki, I never would have known that:

“Eggplant is richer in nicotine than any other edible plant, with a concentration of 100 ng/g (or 0.01mg/100g). However, the amount of nicotine from eggplant or any other food is negligible compared to passive smoking.”

Put that in your aubergine and smoke it…..!

Righto, enough of the bad puns and useless trivia, how about a recipe? I made this dish to use up the second half of the bunch of garlic shoots that I cooked previously. I think that the eggplant worked nicely with the garlic shoots – they were soft against the crunchy shoots and the eggplant also absorbed some of the flavour.

Despite the amount of chilli in the recipe, and the extremely hot vapours that will come out of the wok, the end result isn’t actually that spicy. But you’re not supposed to eat the chillis. Those little babies will be hot!

Spicy eggplant and garlic shoots

Spicy eggplant and garlic shoots

Serves 4 as part of a multi dish meal

4-5 small eggplants (or a couple of large ones)
1/2 bunch garlic shoots, sliced into 3cm lengths
150g bean sprouts
1 tablespoon peanut oil
A handful of dried whole chillis
Soy sauce

Slice the eggplants into 2-3cm pieces. Steam over a pot of boiling water for approximately 10 minutes, or until they are tender.

Give the garlic shoots and bean sprouts a good rinse, and drain well.

Heat the oil in a hot wok. When the oil is hot, throw in the chillis. They will darken quickly, so watch them! Add the garlic shoots and stir fry for a couple of minutes, until they are tender and start to darken in spots.

Add the bean sprouts and eggplant and swish around for another minute.

Add a splash of soy sauce and mix well to coat the vegetables. Taste – you may want to add more seasoning, but I found that the soy sauce was enough.

Serve with rice.

A stew of mussels

A stew of mussels

I’m currently watching Rick Stein on telly, so perhaps it’s fitting that I’m about to post one of his recipes!

I love mussels, and they are so easy to cook. We bought two kilos, and the three of us scoffed them all! The tomato stew was very tasty, although a tad too salty. I added some salt to the sauce before adding the mussels sd I didn’t realise how salty the mussel juices would be. The fault is all mine.

I didn’t follow the recipe below exactly but I’ve posted it unadapted (you’ll see by the pictures that I didn’t have any clams nor did I bother toasting the bread). “A stew of mussels” didn’t sound quite as tasty!

A stew of mussels

Zuppa di cozze e arselle: A stew of mussels and clams scattered over chargrilled bread

From Rick Stein’s Mediterranean Escapes

Serves 4

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
5 fat garlic cloves, 4 finely chopped and one left whole
A pinch of peperoncino or crushed dried chillies
400g can chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons caster sugar
500g mussels, cleaned
500g clams, washed
50ml dry white wine
4 large slices rustic white bread, taken from a large round loaf
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Put the olive oil, chopped garlic and peperoncino into a large flameproof casserole and place it over a medium heat. As soon as it begins to sizzle, add the tomatoes and 150ml water and leave to simmer gently for 10 minutes until reduced and thickened. Meanwhile, put the vinegar and sugar into a small pan and boil until reduced to 1 teaspoon. Stir into the tomato sauce and keep hot.

Place another large pan over a high heat and when hot, add the mussels, clams and white wine, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes until the shellfish have just opened. Tip the mussels, clams and all but the last tablepsoon or two of the cooking juices (which might be a bit gritty) into the tomato sauce and stir together well.

Toast the slices of bread on both sides and then singe over a naked gas flame for a slightly smoky taste. Rub one side of each slice of toast with the peeled garlic clove, put the slices of toast into the base of 4 warmed bistro-style plates and drizzle with a little olive oil. Stir the parsley into the stew, spoon the stew on top of the bread and serve straight away.

Bottega: Ladies who Lunch

My friend Emily and I just managed to sneak the next instalment of Ladies who Lunch into January. The restaurant of choice this time was Bottega, which is located at the top end of Bourke Street, not too far from Parliament.

We were offered bread to begin. Really Good Bread. Sometimes it’s the very simple things that make me happy and the bread certainly did! The bread had a lovely chewy crust and moist, soft centre. The friendly and professional waiter came back later to offer us another piece, which I gratefully took because the bread was divine. (Another simple thing at Bottega that made me happy? Good quality wine glasses.)

Bottega

We started off with the Silician sugar cured kingfish carpaccio with lemon, sherry, currants, radicchio and pinenuts ($18). Look at it. It was so beautiful it was a shame to eat it.

BottegaBottega

My main was the romesco crusted barramundi fillet with roasted eggplant shown on the left ($31.50). My dish was stunning. It seems like such a simple dish, but it was totally amazing. The fish was cooked perfectly – moist and just flaking under my fork. The eggplant was meltingly tender (and y’know how much I love eggplant). The romesco was full of flavour and garlic. The garlic didn’t totally dominate though, and I didn’t really notice the amount of garlic until I realised I was sucking down glasses of water like crazy.

Em had the nettle tagliatelle with fresh spanner crab ($21). I’m told that it was delicious and rather filling.

Bottega

We shared a side of broccolini with lemon anchovy dressing ($6). Again, something relatively simple, but done so well. The still slightly crunchy broccolini was dressed in a salty, buttery, lemon dressing. Breadcrumbs provided a bit of textural difference to the dressing. So freaking gorgeous.

Bottega

We didn’t leave without having dessert. I had the cannoli filled with ricotta, hazelnut and chocolate candied orange with bitter chocolate icecream ($14.50).

The cannoli was a good way to finish off the lunch – not too rich or too sweet. The pastry tubes were slightly crunchy and firm, providing a nice contrast to the soft filling. I did find it a bit hard to eat with a spoon and a fork – too bad it wasn’t the kind of place where I could just pick it up with my hands!. While I’m not that into candied orange or orange flavours (I have no problems with the fruit or juice though) I still found myself gobbling the little chocolate candied pieces up. They gave a little zing to the creamy ricotta. The ice cream was a deep, dark chocolate and my only complaint is that it melted too quickly!

Bottega

Em had the bittersweet chocolate tart with morello cherries and creme fraiche ($15). It looked very decadent!

Bottega is comfy and stylish, and on the day we were there, much quieter than I was expecting (perhaps the rain that day had kept people in their offices).
It was a wonderful lunch to finish off January. The next restaurant in the Ladies who Lunch series will have to be pretty good to compete with this meal!

Bottega
74 Bourke St, Melbourne
Phone: 03 9654 2252

Garlic shoots and steamed tofu

Firstly, happy Chinese New Year/Lunar New Year! I’ve always liked Chinese New Year, mostly because of the red envelopes that are given out (who doesn’t love a bit of extra pocket money?). Now that I live in a different country to my family, I don’t get many red envelopes anymore. However, a phone call to my parents revealed that Grandma had given our red envelopes to mum. So there are some traditions that you can always rely on Grandma for!

Garlic shoot and mushroom stir-fy

The last couple of nights I’ve been cooking some rather Chinese inspired meals. I was doing some random food shopping and came across a bunch of garlic shoots. I first read about garlic shoots in someone’s blog (can’t remember which one now) so I bought some to try out. Garlic shoots are the young shoots that come off a garlic plant, prior to the bulb maturing. They look similar to spring onions, except that they’re not hollow. They have a gentle, sweet, garlic flavour.

The garlic shoots went into a stir fry with shimeji and oyster mushrooms plus some bean sprouts. Yummo.

Steamed tofu with chilli and ginger

We also had some steamed tofu with the stir fry. There are lots of different kinds of tofu available but my favourite is silken firm tofu. It has a wonderful silky texture that shines when it’s prepared very simply.

Stir-fried mushrooms and garlic shoots

Stir-fried mushrooms and garlic shoots

1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin matchsticks
1 fresh chilli, seeds removed (if desired) and sliced thinly
½ bunch garlic shoots, roughly chopped into 3cm lengths
150 g shimeji mushrooms, separated or cut into small clumps
150 g oyster mushrooms
150 g bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
Salt and sugar

(I know that generally mushrooms don’t need to be washed, but I think there are some kinds that do need a rinse. I don’t know if shimeji and oyster mushrooms need it but I gave them a quick dunking anyway.)

Add the oil to a wok on high heat. When the oil is hot, throw in the chilli and ginger and swish around for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic shoots and stir-fry for a couple of minutes, until they start to become tender and brown in spots. Keep the garlic shoots moving.

Add the shimeji and oyster mushrooms as well as the bean sprouts and stir-fry for another minute. Add the oyster sauce and mix well to coat all the vegetables. Taste before deciding whether you need to add more salt and perhaps a touch of sugar (I added about ½ teaspoon of each). Serve with rice.

Steamed tofu with chilli and ginger


Steamed silken tofu with ginger and chilli

1 block silken firm tofu
2cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into thin matchsticks
1 fresh chilli, seeds removed (if desired) and sliced thinly
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Carefully pop the block of tofu out of its container and on to a heatproof plate/bowl.
Bring a wok or saucepan of water to the boil. Put the plate of tofu in a bamboo steamer.
Place the sliced chilli and ginger on top and pour over the soy sauce and peanut oil.
Place a lid on the bamboo steamer and steam the tofu over boiling water for 10 minutes.
Carefully remove the hot plate from the steamer and serve immediately.