Monday, December 17, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Hotspots: Narai Thai Northcote (Restaurant Review)

We were out for dinner with one of my partners, for an early "Xmas function for the families", and the venue of choice was the Narai Thai Northcote, being somewhat central for all three households. We've been here once before, for combined birthday dinner, and this time remembered to bring along the folding high-chair for the baby! This is a cheerful, relaxed suburban Thai restaurant, if perhaps priced higher than I'd have expected for the meals.

Pud bai gapoa: chicken stir fried with garlic, chilli and sweet basil. I really liked this dish, the chicken and egg mix was delightfully blended with the sprouts. The basil was a lighter flavour than I'd hoped but the flavours blended sufficiently that I wasn't disappointed at all.

Pud khing: beef stir fried with ginger, onion and black bean sauce. This was a tender dish, with a light chilli heat, the beans were crisp, the onions sweet and the sauce rich.

Gang Dang; traditional Thai curry made from red curry paste, cooked in coconut milk and vegetables, with duck. We almost didn't get a shot of this one, as it was so delicious but we did manage this quick shot. tender duck, fragrant curry and a nice selection of vegetables.

Narai Thai on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 10, 2012

Family Feasts: Beans, Bangers & Cornbread

Some nights the pressures of a day at work make the prospects of a involved and intricate dinner rather unappealing, and something quick, easy and tasty is the order of the evening. I'm loathe to eat most things "right out of the box, and even when recovering from a crushing day, I still need to do "something" to my meals to save me from "meat and three veg" boiled pap.

I put the oven on, as there was still a chill in the air, and looked in the shelves. cans of baked and "four bean mix" beans stared up at me. Taking one of each, and grabbing the brown sugar, Keens curry powder, and some smoked paprika from the Oasis Bakery, I quickly tossed these together, in a casserole dish, and popped them into the oven.

With Thanksgiving coming up fast, I wanted to try out a variation of corn bread I had thought up whilst relabeling our dry-goods jars and stumbling upon our Spanish corn-flour (made with actual corn, rather than wheeten corn-flour. I quickly whipped up a batch of batter, substituting half the regular flour for corn-flour and plopped it into these cupcake moulds. Throwing this into the oven as well, I looked at the meat portion of the meal, and whilst this was cooking, set to defrosting something from Hoth, our chest freezer.

The addition of the corn-flour added a very new flavour to the muffins, much more reminiscent of tortilla taco-shells than the more familiar, sweet gritty cornbreads I've made with just polenta.

 So, thin supermarket sausages. Not the most appealing of gourmet options, but entirely salvageable with just a few easy additions. I first heated the pan, and ducked out to the veggie patch, and harvested a handful of rosemary sprigs. After a quick rinse, and a dollop of beef-lard in the pan, I sprinkled on the stripped rosemary leaves, and laid the sausages on top. A substantial sloshing of balsamic vinegar, and throwing the lid back on, I reduced the heat and left them to sit, shaking them about from time to time to avoid sticking and to cook them evenly.

When the beans and cornbread were ready, I gave the sausages a burst of heat, and a second slosh of balsamic vinegar, and deglazed the pan to get all the sticky reduction onto them.

All in all a tasty meal, from humble ingredients.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

HotSpots: Ghin Khao Thai Food (Restaurant Review)

We get out and about to lunch in the city at least once a week, usually on a Wednesday, and have the chance to sample many of the tasty treats and quick eats that Melbourne has to offer.

One such spot is Ghin Khao Thai Food, on Swanston St.

One of the things that I really appreciate in my tragically short lunch-breaks are house specials and combinations.  

At Ghin Khao, these consist of the four "Flying Lunch Sets" which are universally set at $11.90

I order the "Set D" and following a short wait, my food arrived in this triskelion (I know, its not, but close) of dishes and a side of rice.

I ordered the mango drink to go alongside my tropical meal. Alas, it was just mango juice with ice, I had hoped for fresh, with pulp, and maybe something else.

The satay chicken skewers were juicy and well crisped, and had a delightful crust of marinade, as well as a generous dollop of peanut sauce, which was likewise tasty, and well textured.

The clear soup was delicious. Salty, crisp and flavorsome, with fresh bean sprouts and coriander to garnish, along with some fried tofu for added substance.

The "main" was chilli basil chicken, which was unfortunately disappointing. this may have been because I specifically ordered mine "without capsicum". I'm allergic to capsicum (bell peppers) which I can assure you, is extremely annoying when dining out. Conversely, I LOVE chillies. 

The result is often that I get "no seasoning" when I make my request, and this seems to have been the case on this occasion.

We also ordered the Chiang Mai Noodle soup, (Khao Soi), which is a spicy, creamy soup base with crispy fried curried noodles to dip in it.

All in all, a quick, tasty bite to eat, close to shops and the hustle and bustle of Melbourne's CBD.

  Ghin Khao on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 23, 2012

Hotspots: Sushi Express Belgrave (Restaurant Review)

Every other Wednesday (or there-abouts), I take my 4 year old daughter out to play in the playground, followed by a trip to dinner, and her choice is invariably "SUSHI TRAIN!!!"

As four year olds go, she is pretty good about eating "funny-looking" things, once she knows they are good or fun to eat, she is hard to convince to try anything else.

Our regular dinner hasn't changed in the last year, which fortunately, is also something that I enjoy as well, and once a fortnight, isn't too frequent to become monotonous.

Probably the most exotic looking thing that we have is the bright orange squid salad. This is a cold, marinated and tasty treat. We occasionally swap this order out for the seaweed salad but recently, this has been the favourite. The occasional flake of chili raises my daughters alarm, but only on principle, this is a very mild dish, and cooling in its own right. In fact, even my baby-girl loves this.

Our second staple is the "crispy chicken hand-rolls" or temaki .Depending on her mood, the roll tends to either be eaten as intended, held in the hand and munched from one end, or in less-pleasing fashion, unraveled to expose the crispy fried chicken strips, cucumber, lettuce and tangy mayonase filling, before gobbling the rice and nori seaweed outer layer. I really enjoy these as well, and am pleased that we can share a nutritious and fun dinner that arrives ON RAILS!

Lastly, no trip to any sushi bar is complete without a serve of gari the sweet pickled Japanese ginger, which my daughter refers to a "the spicy ginger". As a palate cleanser or just a delicious snack, it just can't be beaten, and on the sushi train, it comes in the coal-car!

I really enjoying eating here, the cheerful, friendly staff are always very understanding of me, my daughters, and the inevitable carnage on the floor around us. One day I may even try some of their other fare, but until then, this fast favourite is my go-to place for Japanese food "in the hills" of the Dandenong Ranges.

Sushi Express on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Breakfast mashups: Frittata

Taking a collection of ingredients from the fridge and pantry and turning them into tasty breakfasts for the variety of people we need to feed come weekend mornings leads us to some interesting mashups.

This frittata took eggs from our chickens, milk, oregano and rosemary from the herb garden, rehydrated dried mushrooms and herby soft-cheese. A serving of middle rasher bacon on the side finishes the picture. The first step was to rehydrate the dried mushrooms in a mug with hot water. The liquor was then reserved to add to the mixture.

I then fried the bacon, and put it aside, the rich grease adding to the strong flavour of the mushrooms and herbs which I sauteed in it. I then put them all aside and built this up from the egg and milk base, and fried it in that same pan. When mostly cooked, I returned the mushroom and herb mix to the top, and spooned the soft cheese onto top, and placed the lot under the grill to cook from the top. This is when I applied the reserved mushroom liquor as a sauce.

Served on some lightly toasted buttered bread, we had a very civilized, 20 minute breakfast.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: uTaste Sample Box November 2012

A lovely surprise for a Sunday, the uTaste sample box arrived.

This is a monthly box priced at $29 that sends a selection of gourmet treats.

What's in this month's box?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Family Feasts: Market Day Feast

A fortnight ago, we stopped in at the Mulgrave Farmers Market )Wellington Rd (Jacksons Rd), Mulgrave) and picked up some gorgeous local and fresh produce.

These, combined with more veggies from our front-yard garden came together to make a delicious and wholesome dinner for the family. We love getting to markets, not just for the produce, and social aspects, but also as a chance to find new things to taste and try. We had Tactical Baby along (having been on our way back from dropping Triceratops Girl to her mother's place) and she was likewise delighted to see it all, taste everything we did (apart from the wines) and generally going ballistic over all the dogs being walked.
First up on the menu was Brasserie Bakery Caramelized Galric Pullapart loaf which was a no-brainer when we tried it at their stall. At first we balked at the price. $9 for a loaf of galic bread, but upon tasting it, even cold in the taster-plate, it was stupendous. They also had on offer some delights such as a sour-cherry loaf and a variety of "plain" sourdoughs, rye. We reheated this loaf by just popping it in the oven for a touch, it crisped up and the inside was still delicious and moist. As each other element of dinner was cooked, i popped it into the still warm oven to be ready for table.

We also collected some tasty thin, lean beef sausages. These were sourced from Otway Prime Premium Grass Fed Beef who had a variety of happy looking beef on hand, but we had to limit ourselves somewhat (this time). These were very tasty, no-gristle, all-flavour sausages, with a just-right fat content to keep it succulent.
We rounded off our luxury purchases (or at least what I'm showing you here) with this fine vino, from a very encouraging fellow from Folino Estate Wines who plied us with the sweet reds that we delight in. We settled on this light and effervescent Moscato Rosso for dinner, but also tried their Muscat, several other sweet reds and even a taste of their hair-curling but smooth grappa! 
This complemented the meal terrifically.  From the garden, I parboiled these Désirée potatos. Unfortunately you can see that some of them were a bit too close to the surface, and were a touch green and had to be fed to the chookens. The rest were quite tasty, tossed with dried thyme and olive oil. The simple addition of herbs like this can really accent a plain dish, without overwhelming the flavours of home grown produce. Last up is another iteration of my "garlic and greens" This time the top of leek (yes, even the green leaves are edible) was sauteed in butter until soft and sweet, then removed from heat, and the bottom was again sauteed with roughly chopped garlic to form something like a tomato-free sofrito. Once golden, the greens were stirred back through, and the meal was ready! Simple, satisfying and tasty food, done in minutes. Farm or garden fresh ingredients can really add a subtle improvement in taste, especially if one doesn't mask them.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Delightful Desserts: Tapioca Pudding Recipe

A very old-fashioned dessert but new to me - I can't resist a bargain bin, so when a packet of tapioca wound up in there for twenty cents, I took it home, determined to learn how to cook the stuff.

It was easy, and tasty!

First, I combined 1 cup of tapioca and 3 cups of milk and bought that to the boil. I let it simmer for 5 minutes or so until the tapioca looked soft and swollen.  Then, I slowly stirred in half a cup of sugar, and once that had mixed in nicely, I added two beaten eggs. (some of our chooks lay blue eggs, so I used two of these. They're the same on the inside - but like all home-grown stuff taste much nicer than the stuff from the supermarket).
Finally I added a healthy dose of vanilla (I love vanilla so I'm always generous when adding it to things), and I stirred the mixture until it became thick and porridge like.  To serve I added a light sprinkle of cinnamon on top, just because it goes so nicely with vanilla flavoured things.

The result pleased everyone who tried it - it tasted like vanilla custard, with a satisfying chewy texture. It was nice hot, and was enjoyed cold the next day, too.

A word of warning - just like porridge, this will set like concrete if you don't attend to your saucepan and bowls quickly once you're done with them. Pretty sure you could use this to repair your house if you needed to.

This is a really cheap dessert that is very easy to make - just the thing for the hungry hordes who hopefully ask, "Is there dessert?"

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Family Feasts: Lamb with Mougrabieh (Big Couscous)

Here's something I put together the other night that turned out very tasty - Lamb and Mougrabieh (Big Couscous). Couscous is a family favourite, I always pick it up at a bulk foods store in every size they sell it - I love how the texture changes as it gets bigger. The big stuff like this is almost gnocchi-like - a pleasantly chewy texture that makes any meal hearty. 

I remembered to take photos while I was cooking! 

I started by searing the lamb - these are lamb chump chops (one of the cheapest cuts of lamb you can get, I think!), these were pre-marinaded in garlic and lemon. The brand is Campbells - no idea where we got this from, I just fished it out of our chest freezer!

 Then, I looked at what veggies we had on hand - broccoli, leek, carrots and potato as it turned out, so I coarsely chopped these (wanted them to be big chunky bites and not disintegrate, as I intended to let the lamb simmer).

In a second saucepan, I put the couscous on - following the instructions on the packet, I salted the water and let it come to the boil before putting the couscous in. We got this from the Oasis Bakery - so much more than a bakery, I'll talk more about this amazing place in a post soon.

 Then, I added water, stock cubes (Oxo brand) and left it to simmer until the lamb was falling off the bones.

 Just before serving, I strained and added the couscous to the dish, which soaked up all the delicious stock and changed it from a soup to a stew instantly.

This was well received by the hungry hordes, a tasty and filling meal for a cold night.