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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What I've been eating

It's time for another "What I've been eating" post!

Grand Asia
Target Centre Arcade
236 Bourke Street, Melbourne

Curry beef noodle soup ($7.80)

Curry beef noodles

The curry beef noodle soup was hearty, thick and tangy. It was perhaps a touch too sour.

Curry beef noodles

The meat was a tad fatty although tender, and the noodles were thick hokkien noodles (my favourite!).

Haninese chicken rice ($7.50)

Haninese chicken rice

I had been eyeing up the Haninese chicken rice during the prior lunch, so I made a trip back. It was served in a cute little boat shaped dish. Here you can see the chilli sauce and the ginger and garlic sauce.

Haninese chicken rice

The rice was okay. There was a bit of flavour, but also a touch too much msg, judging by the thirst I had afterwards.

Haninese chicken rice

Normally the soup that you get given is similar to flavoured chicken stock. Surprisingly, the soup was very good! As you can see, it even had bok choy in it.

Haninese chicken rice

Here's a shot of the chicken. The chicken was moist and tender and drenched in soy.

Chicken and chips ($5.00)

Chicken and chips

I felt very lazy one evening, and rather than cooking we headed down to the local chicken shop. Mhmmm charcoal chicken and chips. Normally, the chicken is very, very moist and full of flavour, but mine was a bit dry this time. Ahh well, it's good every other time, so I must've been unlucky.

Cafe Bland

Schnitzel foccacia

Our favourite cafe was closed this Sunday, so we went to another. We used to visit Cafe Bland, but stopped when they had a change of management. Recently they had another change of management, so we thought we'd give them a chance. I was feeling a tad seedy and ordered a schnitzel foccacia. It was SO bland - someone needs to learn how to use salt! I could not believe the total lack of flavour in the schitzel. Also, the foccacia had been toasted, and the lettuce inside had become limp and unappetising. The cucumber had also cooked and tasted awful.


I ordered wedges, as I didn't realise the foccacia came with chips. There was no mention of chips on the menu, and the waiter didn't mention it when I ordered the wedges. Grrrr. Oh well, at least the wedges tasted of something! It's hard to screw up wedges (thank goodness).

Noodle Kingdom
175 Russell St, Melbourne 3000
Phone: (03) 9654 2828

Lanzhou beef noodle soup ($7.50)

Lanzhou noodles

I was wandering down Russell Street recently, when I noticed a man in the window of Noodle Kingdom making noodles. It was so exciting! I went back a couple of days later and tried their Lanzhou beef noodle soup.


The noodles were fresh and chewy, and the soup was fragrant and chock full of coriander. There was a lot more beef than I was expecting too. After I had finished all the noodles I kept finding slices of beef in the bottom of my bowl!

And finally, a few things I've been cooking.

Udon noodles

Udon noodles

It seems like I've been eating a lot of noodles recently. I had some chicken stock in the freezer, and dug that out to make a noodle soup. I threw in some fresh enoki, oyster and shitake mushrooms, as well as some silken tofu.

Udon noodles

A bowl full of goodness!

Vegie pattie roll


For dinner one evening I threw together some vegie patties, and popped them in a toasted roll with a yogurt and cucumber sauce.

Soba noodles with enoki and oyster mushrooms

Soba noodles with enoki and oyster mushrooms

And finally, I had some mushrooms left over from the udon noodle soup night. I sauted them with some garlic and onions, then tossed them through soba noodles with mirin and soy sauce. It turned out rather brown (although I do quite like the photo), but it tasted good.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Barbecued marinated marlin steaks with tabouleh

Barbecued marinated marlin steaks with tabouleh

So I'm not as bad a gardener as I thought. My herbs are thriving! I've been collecting water from the shower (the cold water prior to getting into it, not soapy water) and I've actually got more water than plants. Due to this, and since my existing ones are doing so well, I went and purchased a few more in the weekend (oregano, spinach and lettuce).

Thyme was one of the herbs that I planted back in December, and it has grown large enough that I can occasionally pull sprigs off it to use in my cooking. I bought some fish steaks from the market the other week, and cooked them on the barbecue. They were firm and moist, and the fact that the thyme came from my garden just made it taste even better!

(I didn't follow the tabouleh recipe below, but I've typed it up anyway.)

Barbecued marinated marlin steaks with tabouleh

Barbecued marinated marlin steaks with tabouleh

From Neil Perry's Good Food (the recipe in the book is barbecued marinated chicken with tabouleh).

Serves 4

2 blue marlin steaks,
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon
Freshly ground pepper

100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 small red chillies, roughly chopped
3 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
sea salt

140g (5 oz/heaped 3/4 cup) coarse bulghur
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
1 Lebanese (short) cucumber, seeds removed and chopped
6 spring onions, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley, stalks only, about 75tg (2 1/2 oz), chopped
1 large handful flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 small handful mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
100ml (3 1/2 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Process all the marinade ingredients together until well combined. Add the fish to the marinade, mix well and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Meanwhile, to make the tabouleh, soak the bulghur in a bwol with enough water to cover for at least 1 hour. Drain and squeeze out the excess water. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Heat a barbecue to hot, then place the fish on. Cook for 5 minutes and turn, cook for a couple more minutes until cooked to your liking. Cut the steaks in half so you have 4 pieces.

Spoon the tabouleh onto each of four plates, and place a piece of fish on each plate. Drizzle with oil, squeeze over some lemon and give a generous grind of fresh pepper.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Mini cheesecakes

Mini cheesecakes

I made these little cheesecakes for a gathering at a friend's place. They taste quite light, despite the ingredients, and they're not too sweet and rich. The fruit on the top helps give a bit of tartness. They were very popular! I don't think they would have been as impressed if they had known how easy they were to make.

The recipe came from a book that I bought at a book fair for $2. It's a recipe book put out by Kraft with recipes for cooking with Philadelphia cream cheese. This is the only recipe I've made from it so far, probably because we rarely have cream cheese in the fridge. Now that I've had another look through it, there seems to be some interesting savoury recipes. I might have to stock up on cream cheese more often and try some out.

Mini cheesecakes

Mini cheesecakes

Adapted from Heavenly Moments: cooking with Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Makes 24 mini cakes, or 12 larger ones

2 x 250 g block of cream cheese, softened
1 cup (225g) caster sugar
2 eggs
150g almondmeal
1/2 cup (125ml) sour cream
2 tablespoons custard powder
Fresh fruit (I used strawberries and blueberries)
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Line the bases of a muffin pan.
Beat the cream cheese and sugar in a medium bowl until just combined. Add the eggs, ground almonds, sour cream and custard powder, beating until smooth. Spoon in the the prepared pan. Top the mixture with fruit and drizzle with maple syrup.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until set and golden (if you're making small cakes, it may take less time).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Palmerston Hotel: Chicken parma

The Palmerston Hotel: Chicken parma

A friend of my Bro's came to visit over New Years, and during his visit we gave him many good eating experiences. One of those was to experience the wonder of a parma, as he had never eaten one before. Those who read (sadly, it looks like the domain hasn't been renewed) will recognise the Palmerston Hotel, a pub that held the #1 spot for a while.

The Palmerston Hotel: Chicken parma

The key to a good chicken parmagiana is a juicy chicken breast, topped with ham, a flavoursome sauce and melted cheese. At the Palmerston, a large crumbed chicken breast is topped with Virginian ham, Napoli sauce and melted mozzarella ($16). You can choose between chips and salad or mash and vege.

The Palmerston Hotel: Chicken parma

The parma is gigantic! The chicken breast was juicy, and the Napoli sauce, although there wasn't much, was decent and even had real basil in it. The edges of the parma that weren't underneath sauce or cheese went nice and crispy. The mash was good too – mostly smooth and buttery, and the boiled vegetables were acceptable. I didn't eat much of the sides though, because I was trying to focus my efforts on the large slab of chicken in front of me (ultimately I was defeated). The boys had chips with their parmas, and these were good pub chips, thick and crispy.

There was some debate among us as to whether this was the #1 parma in Victoria due to the lack of sauciness. However, #1 or not, it would be hard to go home hungry or unhappy after eating this parma.

Palmerston Hotel
51 Palmerston Crescent
South Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9690 5749

Peanut butter topped brownies

There are some foods that work so well together. One combination that I adore is peanut butter and chocolate. With my tastes tending to savoury items, I don't generally eat much chocolate, but I do make an exception for these brownies (and Reese's peanut butter cups... YUM).

This recipe is very simple although mine took a while to bake (probably because I was using a deeper, narrower pan). I've made these brownies before and they are always very popular with their slightly salty layer of peanut butter. This time it came out very rich and fudgey, and even though the slices were small, it was pretty sweet. Next time I make them I will reduce the sugar, but I've left the recipe as is below.

Peanut butter topped brownies

Peanut butter topped brownies

Adapted from Should You Eat That

Makes 12-18

150g dark chocolate, chopped
100g unsalted butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
215g (1 cup) caster sugar
75g (½ cup) plain flour
2Tbsp cocoa powder
200g (¾ cup) crunchy peanut butter
½ cup crushed peanuts

1. Preheat oven to 160ÂșC and line the base of a 16 x 26cm pan with baking paper. Let the paper hang over the ends so it is easier to get the brownies out once they are cooked.

2. Put the chocolate and butter in a medium to large mixing bowl and microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Then microwave in 15 or 30 second bursts until just melted. Stir til all melted and smooth. Add eggs and sugar to the chocolate mixture along with combined caster sugar, and give a brief stir. Add plain flour & cocoa powder and stir until just combined (don't overmix). It makes quite a stiff batter.

3. Spoon the mixture into prepared pan. If your peanut butter is quite stiff, microwave it until it's fairly runny. Spread the peanut butter over the brownie mixture.

4. Sprinkle the crushed peanuts over the top of the peanut butter, pressing it in slightly into the mixture.

5. Bake for 35-40 minutes. It is ok if slightly undercooked. Cool slightly before removing from pan. Let it cool before cutting into slices.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Gold Leaf: yum cha

Gold Leaf: yum cha

Yum cha early on a Sunday afternoon was a common occurrence for our family. Wellington may be a terribly long way from Hong Kong, but there is a Cantonese community, as well as several good yum cha restaurants. Yum cha was always a busy, bustling affair with trolleys full of steaming baskets being squeezed past packed tables. Ordering dim sum off a menu and cooking to order may ensure fresher food, but the atmosphere just can't compare.

Yum cha in Cantonese literally means "drinking tea". It's the custom of eating small servings of food, dim sum, and is a tradition on weekend mornings. By the way, dim sim, is different from dim sum! In Australia, a dim sim is a Chinese inspired dumpling style snack. Dim sum is the Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes served alongside Chinese tea, and yum cha is the term that is used to describe the dining session.

In the years we have been in Melbourne, we have been on the hunt for good yum cha. Gold Leaf was recommended by a friend of my Bro's, and it turned out to be a good recommendation. I booked a table for 11am, and when we rocked up around 10 minutes before this time, they hadn't started seating guests yet. We waited in the entrance with a couple of other groups, where live seafood gulped unhappily in tanks off to the side. Above us was a huge crystal chandelier suspended below the gold ceiling that Alastair contrarily said looked like the chandelier at my parents' house.

Not long after we were seated at a table, trolleys full of food started coming past and our table filled up quickly with plates of steamer baskets.

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Chicken feet / fung zao

In this dish, chicken feet are fried, marinated and then stewed. The end result are feet that are puffy, rich and the sauce is generally a slightly spicy, black bean sauce. The texture is very gelatinous. There's not much meat on chicken feet and it's mostly skin and tendons. The trick to eating them is to take the foot into your mouth and slurp the skin off the numerous small bones, spitting them out as you go.

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Scallops on bean curd

This looks like minced scallop meat sitting on tofu. I'm sure I ate a piece, but I don't actually recall it!

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Deep-fried crescent dumplings / ham sui gok

In these dumplings, seasoned ground pork is covered in a wrapper made with sweet glutinous rice They are then deep fried, resulting in a crispy, sweet and salty morsel.

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Shanghai pork buns / xiao long boa

I've spoken about Shanghai pork buns before. Traditionally the bao are eaten with ginger infused vinegar, so we received a little dish of vinegar as well. There didn't seem to be much liquid inside the bao but the filling was tasty.

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Fried pork buns

The buns were pan-fried crisp on the outside with a soft layer of meat underneath. We got another little dish of vinegar to eat with these as well.

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Beef rice noodle / cheong fun

These are thin rolls made from a wide strip of rice noodles, that are usually filled with shrimp, pork, beef, and occasionally, fried dough. The rice noodle sheets are made from rice flour and water, which is then steamed. Sweet soy sauce is then poured over the dish upon serving. I always order the beef version. There's also a fried version of cheong fun that I like where rice noodle sheets with shrimp are pan fried, and then covered with a thick, hoisin type sauce.

Gold Leaf: yum cha

My Bro said yes to a bowl of tripe. I think we were the only ones at the table who ate it! It was flavoursome and not too chewy.

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Prawn dumplings / har gow

Har gow are a very standard yum cha dish and I reckon that if a restaurant's har gow are good, then the rest will be good too. These dumplings have a thin, translucent rice-flour skin cloaking baby shrimp and some minced meat. The wrapping should be tender and silky, and the filling should taste fresh. These were good.

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Chive dumplings

I didn't try any of these, so can't comment on what they were like. Like the prawn dumplings, they had a rice flour skin, but with a different filling.

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Dessert tofu / dou fu fa – silky tofu

After all this food, we were starting to get full. But when the cart with the wooden bucket of dessert tofu / dou fu fa came past, I knew I could fit a bowl in! Dessert tofu is a silky tofu served with a sweet ginger flavoured syrup. Silken tofu has a high moisture content and the texture is similar to a custard. It's delicious!

Gold Leaf: yum cha
Egg tart / dan tart

We waited for ages for the egg tarts and basically we weren't leaving until we got them! After waiting all that time, the tarts were just okay. The pastry was very puffy and flakey, but the egg custard wasn't as sweet and eggy as I like.

There was also other desserts on offer - a whole cart was dedicated to items like mango jelly and coconut jelly.

Unfortunately we missed out one of my most favourite dishes – lou mai gai / sticky rice and chicken wrapped in a lotus leaf. I don't recall it being on offer, but it may have come past at a time when we had a lot of dishes on our table. We kept waving stuff away so we could eat what we already had.

Prices of the dishes ranged from $4.30 for small, $5.40 for medium, and $6.40 for deluxe. Reasonable prices, along with the best dim sum we've had in Melbourne so far, might make yum cha a more regular occurence for us.

Gold Leaf
491 Ballarat Road
Phone: (03) 9311 1863

Singapore: Newton Food Centre

Singapore: Newton Food Centre

Newton Food Centre is a major food centre that was first opened in 1971, and is widely promoted by the Singapore Tourist Board. Apparently it has a reputation for being touristy and expensive. We went there for dinner on our last night in Singapore, solely because I discovered that our hotel was just down the road.

The food stalls are set up in a horseshoe configuration, around a plaza full of table and chairs. We were obviously tourists, so pretty much as soon as we entered stallholders descended upon us, showing us pictures of their food. It was fairly confronting, but no match for some of the souvenir markets that we perused in Africa. For example, when we were at Victoria Falls, market holders kept putting items in our hands, almost begging us to buy them. "I haven't sold anything in three days!" was a common plea. Annoying, but kind of funny, were the stallholders at Victoria Falls who asked, "Have you got anything to trade? Your shirt? Hat? Pens?" They seemed desperate for anything, to the point where one of our group traded his socks for a souvenir – socks that he had been wearing at the time.

After doing one lap of the centre (brushing off touts the whole time), it was time to decide what to eat! So we decided – and boy, did we get sold. I blame Alastair and his weakness for seafood. Seafood was a lot more expensive than everything else, and subsequently, it wasn't a cheap meal. But what the hell. It was our last night and we enjoyed it!

Singapore: Newton Food Centre

Out came 2 HUGE garlic prawns. These prawns were beasts! The green balls near the head of the prawns were little limes. The prawns were nice and garlicky, and we washed them down with a big mug of beer.

Singapore: Newton Food Centre

We had chilli lobster, which were the smallest lobsters I've ever seen. They were about the size of the prawns! The chilli sauce wasn't particularly spicy, and had a touch too much tomato sauce, but otherwise good.

Singapore: Newton Food Centre

We also had a $4 plate of char kway teo, because I wasn't going to leave the country without eating some! Traditionally, char kway teo is fried in pork fat, and it tasted so fatty and delicious I would be surprised if pork fat wasn't used.

Singapore: Newton Food Centre

After all this, Alastair still wasn't done eating, so he bought some chicken and beef satay. When he returned to the table saying that he had to order a minimum of 10 sticks, I was worried that we wouldn't be able to eat them all. Fortunately, they were just little bite size skewers. Nicely done too, smokey and a bit charred. Mhhhmm.

Oh, Singapore, so much food, so little stomach space.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Singapore food: random Japanese

On one of our evenings in Singapore, we caught up with a friend who lives there. We met him near his workplace, and ended up in a random Japanese restaurant in one of Singapore's many malls. We had been starved of seafood during our trip, so I was looking forward to having some sashimi.

Singapore: random Japanese

We ordered some edamame to share. It's kinda fun stripping the soybeans from the pod with your teeth.

Singapore: random Japanese

I had a beef and tofu meal. Mhmmm, it was good to eat tofu again. The meal set came came with the main tofu dish, plus a cup of savoury egg custard and watermelon.

Singapore: random Japanese

The savoury custard was quite good, if you like that kind of thing. My eyes were bigger than my stomach though, and I didn't finish my meal set because I had to save room for sashimi!

Singapore: random Japanese

The sashimi came out last. On the plate was salmon, tuna and some other random fish that I can't recall. The salmon was good, the white fish was okay, but the tuna was awful. So, so disappointing! The texture was all wrong, all gritty and strange. Ahh well. The evening was more about the company than the food, and at least that was good.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Laksa Me

Another hot Friday night lead us wandering the streets of Melbourne in search of Laksa Me. I had a vague idea of where I was going, but unfortunately it was a bit too vague. We overshot the laneway that Laska Me resides in, which meant wandering around in the heat for longer than necessary. Damned Melbourne and its laneways!

After a bit of backtracking, we found Liverpool Street and the restaurant. I was a tad disappointed to find that there was no air conditioning in the small room. Instead, several fans whirred busily away to keep diners cool, which admittedly did an okay job. Our table was directly outside the kitchen, under the gaze of a maneki neko and giving us glimpses of the chefs through a cut out in the wall.

Service seemed a bit confused, but quite sweet. We ordered beer and water, and only the beer showed up. Rather than laksa, we opted for starters and shared mains. We started with three items, ordering two portions of each and sharing them.

Laksa Me
Sliver of Beef Wrapped in Wild Betel Leaves ($3.50 each)

This starter was a sliver of beef, pan fried with peppercorn infused olive oil, and then dressed with coriander and roasted coconut vinaigrette, wrapped in a betel leaf. We found the beef slightly chewy but it was okay. I was quite amused by the flower garnish, which was actually made from a chili.

Laksa Me
Vegetarian Triangle ($2.50 each)

The triangles were filled with wok tossed shredded daikon, crunchy yam bean and Asian chives, then folded in a Chinese white pastry. These were then pan fried and then drizzled with a dark sweet soy sauce.

Laksa Me
Succulent Grilled Thai Sausage ($3.50 each)

The thai sausage was minced pork mixed with rice wrapped in a cornhusk, then grilled and served with diced cucumber and crushed peanuts in a tangy Chinese salted plum sauce. The sausage was the best of the three starters - heavy with garlic and flavour. We found the starters slightly underwhelming but this was most likely due to us sharing and only having a small bit of each.

Laksa Me
Nonya Pork Ribs - stewed Asian style pork ribs in a complex sweet, spicy and sour reduction. Served with Jasmine rice. ($22.00)

We perked up when the mains started arriving. The first to come out was the pork ribs. The tender meat swam in a dark, sweet caramelish sauce with a small hint of spiciness. The pork was delicious, but the sauce... I would've been happy to push the meat aside and just eat the sauce over a steaming bowl of hot rice!

Laksa Me
Khao Soi Gai - Burmese influenced Northern Thai curry noodles ($9.00)

The next two mains arrived almost at the same time. The khao soi gai was a dish of thin, slightly crisp egg noodles topped with chicken in a rich, creamy, red curry gravy. The sauce was fairly spicy and had strong Thai flavours and fish sauce.

Laksa Me
Dry chicken curry noodles - a hot and spicy dry creamy chicken curry on Hokkien noodles ($10.00)

We all loved the dry chicken curry noodles. A Malaysian style curry sauce smothered the thick egg noodles and boneless chicken. It was the spiciest dish on the table, and we couldn't get enough! Another round of beer was necessary after this came out.

Laksa Me
Sonny's fish curry - fish of the day slow poached with green bean, eggplants and okra in Sonny's secret curry recipe. Served with Indian pickle, yoghurt and Jasmine rice. ($22.00)

The last main was Sonny's fish curry. The fish curry was a large slab of salmon was smothered in a tangy, sourish curry that was flavoured with Indian spices and topped with yoghurt. In the context of the meal, this dish felt a bit strange. All the flavours of the other mains felt complementary, and this dish just didn't seem to fit with everything else that we had eaten. This isn't an actual complaint about the dish - the fish and vegetables were cooked well and the sauce was tasty.

After our hearty and sweat inducing meal we peeled ourselves off our chairs to pay our bill at the counter. The monetary damage was a reasonable $33 per person, (if sticking to laksa the bill could be much lower). We had an enjoyable meal and one day I will need to return to check out the laksa!

Laksa Me
Shop 1 / 16 Liverpool Street
Melbourne 3000
Phone: (03) 9639 9885

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