Monday, November 29, 2010

Love 'em or hate 'em......

It appears some ingredients and dishes are an acquired taste - taste often steeped in cultural upbringing. No amount of family meetups over yumcha will ever be enough to convince my 'Aussie' dad that gelatinous chicken feet might be worth trying.

Oysters with Tetsuya's Rice Wine Vinaigrette
There seems to be no middle ground on some foods, no take it or leave philosphy, when mentioned they illicit one of two simple responses, love it  - hate it! Here's a few of the love/hates I've found over the years and my own personnal feelings towards these polarising products:

  • chicken feet - eat them but just don't think about them
  • 'stinky bean curd' - the adjective says it all!
  • pumperknickel - dry cardboard!
  • eel - the Shira Nui way everytime!
  • donuts- doughy for some but heaven for me
  • brussel sprouts - really does depend on how they're cooked
  • kidneys - mmm, an organ that filters urine - what more can I say
  • vegemite - Aussie or not, its usually that simple, hot buttery vegemite toast - yes please
  • blue and washed rind cheeses - unlike stinky bean curd, stinky but good
  • anchovies - gorgeous hairy little salt punches
  • chocolate - well I suppose I don't actually hate it but I'm not a chocolate lover 
  • oysters - a taste of the sea

Tomatoes used to be on my list of hates now I love them. There was certainly the seasonal 'over' abundance issue which applied to the diet of my childhood - is it possible to overdose on tomatoes or pumpkin or field mushrooms? Followed by the sinful breading of vegetables and fruit that were great to transport but lacked flavour, dad still refers to most strawberries as 'appleberries' because of there firm texture and insipid taste. So it would seem there's always the possibility to shift from one camp to another.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A bit of crud, a plate of greens and fabulous duck!

Stir Fried Snow Pea Leaves

The Macquarie Dictionary defines crud as anything or anyone regarded as inferior. Despite an entire section on the menu featuring inferior items (all except the braised bean curd in chilli sauce!), there was nothing inferior about Glen Waverley BBQ Restaurant, in fact it was quite the opposite. Our selection of dishes were pleasingly flavoursome and the service efficient and professional, the later something which can be somewhat lacking when dinning at the 'local'. The stir fried snow pea leaves and steamed rice a fitting accompaniment to the aromatic & splendidly moist roasted duck. A dish of steamed eel in XO sauce divided the table but all agreed the sauce was a winner – poor old eel, it seems to be one of the commodities that diners have a love or hate relationship with.

Crab Claw
I noticed that there is no crud to be seen on the take away menu; perhaps a kindly printer has provided some editorial advice. I also observed that although this little treasure is listed in the The Age Cheap Eats Guide there is no signifying sticker on the door. On asking, our host said…’The Age didn’t send me one this year’. No matter the place was full.  

Glen Waverley BBQ Restaurant, 31 Railway Parade North, Glen Waverely

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Gado Gado Butty!

I awoke this morning with a desire for hot buttery toast with peanut butter. Given that this is not a completely foreign occurrence, I gave it little thought until it dawned on me that the yearn may well have been fostered by a foodie story from the previous day.

Once upon a time..... an eclectic cluster of dinners shared food stories over morsels of delectableness called YumCha. Despite my instinctive Anglo aversion to eating chicken feet I've learnt to push through the 'yuck' barrier and indulge anyway but I must say  it was enlightening to learn the process of preparing these little guys. First deep fried to remove the skin then slowly braised to all their gelatinous glory. They are a typical example of the fabulous result achieved by the technique of  'twice cooking' often applied in the Chinese kitchen.

But the tale of the day that typified not just the diversity of our dinning party but the rich tapestry of Melbourne cuisine was the anecdote of the humble sandwich or butty as our English companion would say. The request for a simple peanut butter sandwich, not at all unusual in a food court. The addition of lettuce was not too peculiar, however the subsequent fillings where a most curious combination. To the customers delight this sandwich maker, of Chinese birth, was no food slouch and instantly recognised the traditional ingredients of the Indonesian salad Gado Gado. Of course traditionally served with peanut sauce not butter and definitely not served between 2 slices of bread. But there you go.. a mixed marriage! A classic Indonesian salad in a sandwich, here in our culinary melting pot called Melbourne!

Just in case you were wondering where to have YumCha, we were at TaiPan Restaurant - one of my favourites in the east.  TaiPan Restaurant, 237-239 Blackburn Road, Doncaster East
Tai Pan on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 19, 2010

Making Risotto.......

In an era of fancy 'high-falutin' cookin' I think it's the simple dishes that are worth perfecting first. So what's to making a wonderful risotto?

The ingredients:
  • Aborio rice
  • Stock and a little wine
  • Flavourings
  • And plenty of practice
The method: 250g of Aborio rice will need about 1 litre of stock - depending on how 'wet' & 'firm' you like your risotto. The better the rice the better the risotto, the better the stock the better the risotto. If you're in the area (also worth a special trip) Roma Deli has Aborio rice and all things Italian at fabulous prices. If  you're not making your own stock you could be, if you don't know please ask.Once you've sauteed some onions in olive oil with the rice and any flavourings e.g. garlic, saffron, vegetables etc add a little wine. The 'trick'is to stir consistently to stop the rice from sticking and add more liquid (stock) in small amounts (about 200ml) once the last lot is absorbed. That's it really - add any pre-prepared meats/fish/poultry towards the end (these can also be sauteed in the pan at the beginning, then removed before adding the rice, leaving behind the flavours to enhance your risotto) season well, add a touch more oil or a little butter and probably some shaved parmesan or pecorino.

Roma Deli, Shop2/32 Gladstone Rd Dandenong

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What colour is a carrot?

Carrots are orange right? Typically the carrots we get in Australia are orange but much has been made of late of the more varied hues of the humble carrot - white, yellow, red, and now purple. The Age newspaper, August 8 2010 focused on a study suggesting "purple carrots ....being positioned as the next superfood .... high in anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants." Just for the record eating a broad variety of different coloured vegetables and fruits and including plenty in the daily diet is a much sounder health choice than focusing on a few 'superfoods'. And of course there are many countries around the world where white, yellow, red and purple carrots are not exotic but rather the ‘norm’. I’m sure this must create bemusement for visitors who see us seeking out and paying premium prices for their ‘everyday’ vegetables.

It is wonderful to see some of Melbourne’s excellent restaurants including a balanced approach to menu composition with dishes that embrace vegetables and fruits as the feature rather than just the second rate accessory. Cutler & Co's winter menu featured a raw, cooked and pickled carrot salad with walnut cream and shanklish (shanklish is a herbed, dried and aged cheese made from cows or sheep’s milk used in Middle eastern cuisine). And Embrasses meli melo’ a ‘mishmash’ of cooked buttered vegetables accompanied by vegetable/herb emulsions and purees, flowers, stems and leaves may well have become a signature dish.

These dishes are generating lots of discussion in the blogger community with one blogger voting the carrot salad as “clearly my favourite of the night” and at the same time another listing it as the least favourite thus far at about course 6 into the 11 course degustation menu. With a dining community accustomed to animal protein based dishes such varied dialogue is not surprising.

P.S. Cutler & Co’s carrot salad has a wonderful  treat hidden amongst the carrots, little explosions with a mouth feel like rice bubbles; on asking these are overcooked fregula pasta which is then dried and deep fried! – Yum!

Cutler & Co, 55 – 57 Gertrude Street Fitzroy
Cutler & Co on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Upstairs, downstairs

Well its 25 years since I graced the kitchen at Kew's Restaurant in Kew, working with some enthusiastic young uns who now run their own successful establishments and occasionally star on the small screen - celebrity chef's that is! These days Kew's is Estivo and I thought I should go visit. And of course after so many years the faces are not those of colleagues but another generation of talented hospitality devotees slaving over 'a hot stove' and passionately plying the craft.

Estivo could almost be two different restaurants, one walks off the street into a busy modern dining area, lots of glass, a few seats at the bar, contemporary decor and a modern vibe. Climbing the stairs one enters a very different space - more conservative perhaps a touch of the romantic. I'm normally watching EVERYTHING - the dishes other tables have ordered, the wait staff and even the kitchen operations if that’s on view, so I felt a little isolated.  But upstairs in the 'attic' I was able to focus on the conversation; only occasionally distracted by the arrival of each course - each worthy of the attention, delicious duck & beautiful beef. I'm sure my dining companion appreciated my attention for a change!
The menu reflects the trends with not just entree's, mains (& sides) and dessert but a selection of smaller 'starters' - offered as a selection also; which is how we started. Mains where the aforementioned duck and beef  - I’m a sucker for duck every time – and a stunning side of green beans with white anchovies; sometimes it’s the simplest dishes that are the standout! The flavours of all the dishes were adeptly balanced and the components skilfully prepared; the service professional - Estivo ticks the boxes particularily for a 'night out' rather than casul dining but I think I'd prefer to dine downstairs.
Estivo, 330 High Street, Kew.  
Estivo on Urbanspoon