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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Congee and chili sauce

Noodles and chili sauce

We love spicy food in my house. I've been on the lookout for a good chili sauce/oil recipe for quite some time. I wanted something that wasn't just spicy, but that was also fragrant and tasty. One evening I dedicated a couple of hours on google searching for a recipe that would be similar to what I had in mind. Eventually, I came across this recipe for a Vietnamese-Style Sate Chile Sauce on Viet World Kitchen.

It sounded like what I was envisioning so I cooked up a batch. I ended up with two jars of it - a small one (pictured above) and a larger one.

Well that was less than a fortnight ago, and I'm going to have to make more this weekend. Yes, it was that good! Bro and I have been eating it by the tablespoon - putting it on almost everything.


The day after I made the chili sauce, Bro made congee in my "magic pot". When Mum and Dad visited us recently, they brought with them a thermal pot so we could make congee (you can make congee in a normal pot, but they said it turns out better in a thermal pot as there's no danger of it burning). Bro and I have already had "discussions" about who owns the magic pot (ME!!). We shared our toys when we were younger but we're not sharing this pot!

To go with the congee, I cooked up some noodles, mostly for Alastair as he doesn't like congee. I was happy to make something extra because it meant that I could eat more of the chili sauce - yum!

On congee: I don't have a recipe for congee - it's one of those dishes where there's a basic idea that can be varied as much as you like. This page has some useful tips on the basics. Bro made his congee by soaking the uncooked rice overnight, and then the rice was cooked in chicken stock in the magic pot. He added chicken meat just before serving (he reheated the congee on the stove to cook the meat of course). It was delicious. I also have fond memories of congee flavoured with bacon bones that my Mum used to make. Maybe some of you have a favourite congee recipe/variation?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ladies who lunch: Trunk


Lisa came into the city recently and we had a leisurely Friday lunch. We headed down to Trunk, situated in a lovely red brick building that used to be a synagogue. Upon entering, we found there were two menu options – the bar menu, and the dining room menu. Lisa and I had a quick look at both menus and decided that we would eat in the dining room. Some of the options on the bar menu did look tempting though!


We started with salt cod green chilli fritters ($13). They normally come with three fritters, but the waiter wisely asked us if we would like four. Ummm, yes please! They were very nice – a crispy shell and salty, fishy middle.


We then shared two small serves of pasta. This one was the fresh pappardelle with a rabbit and pancetta ragu and green olives ($22/$27.50). The pasta was lovely and toothsome in the way that fresh pasta is, and the rabbit was savoury and tender.


We also shared the saffron gnocchi with cauliflower, gorgonzola and walnuts ($19/$25). The gnocchi was pretty good, with just a touch of gorgonzola. The cauliflower was nicely soft and sweet and the walnuts added a bit of crunch (despite my non-love for walnuts). While the pappardelle was good, I think we both preferred the gnocchi.


For dessert we shared a honey semifreddo with a chocolate Florentine wafer ($13.50). Definitely one for honey lovers, as it had that unmistakeable honey flavour, it was delicious but rather rich. I was very glad that we were sharing!


We finished off with coffees and received a little morsel to have with them.

Sadly, Lisa has now returned to full time work and there'll be no more lazy weekday lunches for the two of us for a while (I know, how inconsiderate of her!). At least they ended on a good note - we really enjoyed our lunch. Perhaps after work one day we'll return to sample the pizzas on the bar menu!

275 Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9663 7994

Sunday, November 16, 2008



It was my Mum's birthday during their recent visit here, and we headed out to dinner to celebrate. We booked a dinner at Quanjude, a peking duck franchise from Beijing. The first restaurant to bear the name Quanjude was established in 1864, and the one in Melbourne is the first in Australia.

The restaurant itself is (garishly?) decorated in tones of red and gold. We were there early and there seemed to be a lot of staff on board. At one point, we had three staff hovering around our table, which was a bit disconcerting!


Naturally, we had to order a duck ($88 for whole, $45 for half). That came out first, with a chef deftly slicing it up on a trolley next to our table. He sliced off most of the skin first, which was placed on a separate plate (it's the best part!), and then carved up the rest of the meat.


We were all given our own small plates of spring onions and sauce. Then two steamer baskets of pancakes were placed in the middle of the table.

Quanjude Quanjude

The pancakes were brilliant - very thin and soft. And the duck? The duck was lovely - the skin was crispy and burnished, and the meat was lean, flavoursome and not too gamey. There was more duck than wraps so we ordered another basket of pancakes.

Mum and Dad ordered the dishes that came after the duck and I must say that they weren't the kind of food that I would order. Mum and Dad had Chinese menus, while the rest of us received English menus. I'm not sure if the items we ordered were on the English menu. I couldn't place them, but it could be that the descriptions translated differently.


First up was a pork belly and chestnut dish. The pork had a good flavour - dark and salty, but it could've been more tender. The chestnuts were nice though. Eating them reminded me of how much I actually enjoy chestnuts in savoury dishes. I don't have them enough – apart from when I'm exploding them in the oven.


Next up was spinach in a thin savoury broth, topped with diced salted egg and thousand year (preserved) egg. Thousand year egg can be quite challenging, and I'm not the greatest fan, but when it's diced in small pieces it's not too bad.


After that was a tofu dish - fried tofu stuffed with fish/shrimp paste and surrounded by steamed broccoli. Inside the fried exterior the tofu was silky and the fish paste was soft and fresh.


I was pretty full by this stage but there was one last dish - a hot pot of sea cucumber, fish maw and shitake mushrooms. Sea cucumber is desired for the texture and is very gelatinous, plus (I feel) it has a muskiness that goes right up the nostrils. Like sea cucumber, fish maw doesn't really have much flavour, but it has a VERY fatty mouth feel that I don't find very pleasant. Since I don't like sea cucumber or fish maw (and I had pretty much stuffed myself) I didn't eat any of the last dish.


We then received small bowls of soup made with the bones of the duck.


After such a large dinner, we finished off with a red bean pancake ($10). The fried pastry was filled with a red bean paste. It was crispy and not too oily. Just a little sweet something to finish off the meal.


Overall it was a good meal. Obviously, the highlight was the duck, and though the duck is somewhat pricey it really was very good. I would go again for that duck, preferably with someone else paying!

299 Queen Street
Phone: (03) 9670 0092

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Leek, pumpkin and sweet potato frittata

Leek, pumpkin & sweet potato frittata

It was so warm today!

At least, that's what I heard. During the past couple of weeks, I've been very bad and have started not leaving the office during the day.

Today was no different. Even though I could see that it was gorgeous outside, and my colleague asked if I wanted to have lunch in the park, I said no because I didn't have time.

Fortunately, after I left work it was still warm. I really wanted to have dinner outside this evening and thought that frittata would be a good alfresco meal.

Leek, pumpkin & sweet potato frittata Leek, pumpkin & sweet potato frittata

This recipe from was perfect for what I had in mind. It was chock full of pumpkin, sweet potato and eggy goodness. I've no doubt that eating outside made it taste even better.

PS: The recipe asks for brown sugar to be added to the butter before sautéing the leeks. Don't bother - I thought that there was enough sweetness from the pumpkin and sweet potato.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ishiya - Japanese Stonegrill

UGH. I've been sick this weekend. Rather than being productive and doing useful stuff, I've been low in energy and moping around. I would've liked to have done some blogging this afternoon, but there was no way I could concentrate. Fortunately, I'm feeling better now (just in time for Monday - wahoo) and feel able to finish off this post that has been sitting in my drafts for a couple of months (!).

Regular readers may recall a meal we had in Wellington earlier in the year, where we had stone grill. When I found out that Ishiya Stonegrill, a Japanese restaurant on Little Bourke St, did something similar, I was keen to try it out. It was the same concept as the one we tried in Wellington (meat cooked to your liking on a hot volcanic stone) but with a Japanese bent.

I had been to Ishiya for lunch before (they do some good lunch specials for $12-$15 – not stone grilling though) and was interested to see what the stone grill meals were like.

Going back on a different occasion, with Bro and some of our friends, we went for dinner one evening specifically for the stone grill meals. The menu has other options with the usual Japanese restaurant classics, such as sashimi, sushi, and udon but we were there for the stonegrill.

When we sat down, we were given a drinks menu, which was explained to us. After our drinks order was taken, the food menu was explained, and mention was also made of the other options that were on separate cards to the menu, such as the wagyu stone grill set. We could've done without so much talk to be honest......

Along with being very talky, service was a little muddled. We ordered warm sake to share, along with other drinks, and only received one glass! We asked for more glasses, but this request got lost, and it took about 10 minutes before we could wave someone down to request more glasses. The warm sake had cooled quite a bit in this time! But apart from that, there were no major issues although it did feel like there was pressure to up sell items. When we mentioned casually to the waiter as she removed the sake glasses that we didn't really like it, she suggested trying a different one. We took her up on her recommendation and tried a "spicier" one that she suggested. This was a touch nicer than the first one we tried, but still had that slight mushroomy sake flavour – or is it that just me?

We all ordered stonegrill meals. There is a selection of sets, ranging in price from about $26 to $36. Options are for beef, chicken, shrimp, seafood or lobster. I had the Porterhouse and Prawn set ($29.90) and Alastair had the Ishiya Deluxe ($33.90) which had a bit of everything. We also ordered rice for an extra $3.50 a bowl.

The sets include a small plate of sushi/sashimi, the protein of choice, and 5 dipping sauces.

Ishiya Stonegrill

First out was a small plate of sushi/sashimi, which came with the set. It was okay. Not amazing, but not terrible either.

Ishiya Stonegrill

Next came the five dipping sauces, all rather cute little bowls. The sauces were ponzu; sesame, tofu and crab roe; garlic butter and miso; wasabi and black pepper; and teriyaki.

Ishiya Stonegrill
My porterhouse and prawn set

There was a bit of a wait before the main part of the meal came out. When it did, the staff explained how to cook on the stones (pretty obvious!) and the stones with the meat on top were set in front of us.

Ishiya Stonegrill
Alastair's Deluxe set

The stones, being volcanic rock heated to 400°C for several hours, had the meat sizzling on top as we got them. A couple of people ordered seafood sets, and there had been discussion about how the seafood might overcook in the time taken to get to the table. So it was good to see that the seafood was presented separately on a plate rather than the hot stone.

Ishiya Stonegrill

We probably had enough food to not need the rice. The rice had a fishy, salty furikake on top and it was very moreish. I love rice at the best of times, and the furikake was super tasty.

Ishiya Stonegrill

It was interesting to contrast this meal with the stone grill meal we had back in New Zealand. It still seems quite gimmicky, so if you're after a meal that's a bit different, then it's a good thing to do.

Ishiya - Japanese Stonegrill
152 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9650 9510

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Melbourne Cup

How we spent Melbourne Cup day yesterday... with beer, bubbles, and sunshine. Thanks to the always lovely Dany for the food and company.

Melbourne Cup BBQ

Melbourne Cup BBQ

Dips, cheese, and mystery meat! (Kabana).

Melbourne Cup BBQ

Four different kinds of meat! (Not pictured are ribs and chicken wings. They're not pictured because focussing becomes very difficult when I've had a drink.)

Melbourne Cup BBQ

Melbourne Cup BBQ

Melbourne Cup BBQ

Nom nom nom.

Melbourne Cup BBQ

Meringue, ice cream and strawberries.

Melbourne Cup BBQ

If one's in the sun, one must have sunscreen. But... ummm... toddler milk??

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Pics from Hobart

Mum and dad went home yesterday morning. We have been exceptionally spoilt during their stay with us so yes, I was sad to see them go, although it was for purely selfish reasons! I've had to start doing housework again. Sigh.

Before they left, I considered confiscating their passports, but I'm pretty sure that's frowned upon in this country.

Still, even though they're no longer here, we're still reaping the benefits of their stay. The past couple of nights, dinner has been left overs that they made. Additionally, my freezers are full to bursting with food - containers of dumplings, meat, and more left overs. I will start cooking and baking again soon, but for now I'll leave you with some of my favourite photos from Hobart.

Kelly steps

Mum about to walk up Kelly's Steps. These steps were built in 1839 by the adventurer James Kelly to connect Salamanca Place with Battery Point.


Taken in the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. The gardens were lovely. I took A LOT of flower photos.

On the edge

Like this one.

Take off!

We went on an "eco adventure cruise" around Tasman Island. (Yeah, I don't know what that's supposed to mean either.) I snapped this Australian gannet taking off after we got too close and disturbed it.

Port Arthur

This is at the Port Arthur Historical site. Port Arthur was established as a convict settlement and soon became Australia's largest, in operation from 1833 until 1877.

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