Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thai Saffron, Auburn

Peter, from Souvlaki for the Soul, and I have been having a discussion about Thai on and off for a little while now. You can get some excellent Thai here in Australia and now more and more people are travelling from Aus to Thailand. So it's no surprise that many people are familiar with really good, really authentic Thai. I've discussed my favourite type of Thai food previously (and here) yet I think I haven't articulated myself very well. Whilst I could sit down and be blown away by authentic Thai (and have elsewhere) with the freshest of ingredients, the Thai I crave when I'm hungover, when I want a quick takeaway meal or when I'm in need of some comforting fare, is far from authentic. Sure the staff and chef are Thai, but the food is aimed at the western market, with an emphasis on get in, eat and get out. It's not necessarily an experience, more a means to fill the belly. I love the gloopy sauces which are both sweet and salty at the same time. I love the smell and taste of starchy rice straight from the rice cooker. It screams warmth and an edible meal to me, as it was where I'd go when I could handle on-campus food no longer.

Sometimes it's hard to pick a difference in taste from one dish to another, the meat is usually thinly sliced to disguise it's dryness, yet I like this. There are times (usually those mentioned above) when I would even pick this cheap style of Thai over authentic. The purists may scream, but that's the way it is with me.

So without further ado, I give you Thai Saffron. Many months ago when I explained to Flatmate what I had been missing in my Thai food down here she said she knew just the place. It's taken us this long to get there,but we tried it last week. This was a regular haunt of Flatmate's when she lived over that way and I can see why. No frills decor, cheap prices and quick service are just the ticket for those nights you can't be bothered to cook.

We ordered Chicken Satay, Pork and vegetables in oyster sauce and Stir-fried tofu with vegetables. The food nearly beat us to the table, which is worrying, but it was piping hot and the vegetables crisp. We remarked that when cooking vegetables at home we clearly cook them for a little too long. For $39.10 we had 3 mains with rice and 3 softdrinks. Not bad considering we wound up more than satisfied, with food still on the plate. I made sort work of stirring the satay sauce into my rice at the end and munching on that for as long as I could hold out. I'd eat rice drenched in satay sauce alone, or coconut curry, for lunch every day if I didn't suspect it could be bad for me.
With my craving satisfied I think I can safely move forward from here, but I'll always no where to turn when I need my "just-like-Newtown_Thai" fix.

Thai Saffron is on the corner of Riversdale and Auburn Roads.

Thai Saffron on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ironchef 2: Veal

So, Ironchef 2 and I am already nearly 2 weeks late in posting it. I should apologise to all, especially Foges, who went to so much effort to prepare a beautiful meal and I have left it undocumented until now.

As I mentioned in my Tom Phat post, the day was beautiful and sunny, then slipped to heavy rain as the afternoon progressed. Perfect for eating slow cooked veal and drinking wine, I say. You can find out how our Ironchef events started here. However I’ll summarise by saying that five of us take turns to host a lunch. Two courses are cooked, with the main according to a selection of designated themes, be it ingredients or chefs, cuisines and so on. The third dish is provided by the person next in line to cook and the previous month’s cook plus any additional guests bring wine. That means 2 out of 5 cooks get a free ride twice!

Foges cooked a beautiful mushroom soup when we dined last month so we knew we were in for a treat. Before we could start on the beautiful smell that was wafting from the kitchen we were provided entrée by McFly (named because an unidentifiable source decided he looks a little like Marty McFly…..). Salmon poached with Kaffir Lime leaves was used to make these delicious Salmon Cakes which we snapped up double time. I’ll have to tell you the exact ingredients of the sides later, but the whole ensemble was delicious. I was starving by this time so when that last cake was sitting on the plate, you know the one everyone’s too polite to take, I took it.

Luckily I was still hungry when mains came out, because it wasn’t a dish to pass up. From Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion Foges had cooked veal brisket stuffed with olives. Apparently veal brisket (a breast of veal) is quite hard to source, so if you’re planning on using it you should order in advance. Foges had just returned from 4 weeks overseas just 5 days earlier so she had little planning time, not enough to order veal brisket. Whilst this makes her lunch even more admirable, it meant she had to use whatever cut the butcher could offer. Instead of one large roll or meat, we each got our own little tender parcel, stuffed with a mix of pork, sourdough, olives, parsley and garlic. All this cooked for 3 hours in stock, with vegetables and bacon. We ate the dish with risoni drenched in the meat juices.

By this stage we were well past our 3rd bottle of wine and ready for the lemon tart prepared for dessert. I’m a big fan of citrus tarts and this one was particularly creamy. I must remember to ask Foges what recipe she used.

Four bottles of wine later (including a strange Slovakian red) we had cleaned up and were ready to declare Ironchef 2 a success. Who knows, soon enough we may start our very Zingara Cucina….

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Tom Phat, Brunswick

Oh Blog, how rude am I to leave you repeatedly for a week at a time without posting. I promise to try harder. I think I am suffering from Blogger's Block. I have little inspiration at the moment to document the great food I've been eating. I'm not worried by this. Other bloggers seem to go through the same ebbs and flows and always come back out on top. There's a few of us around who are toning down the writing a bit, and I think it's because of the weather. Sitting behind a computer is not my favourite thing to do when it's sunny outside. Then again, it might not be blogger's block, perhaps just poor time management. It's already past 10 pm and I am hoping to get up bright and early for the gym tomorrow morning. As I write this I still need to pack some clothes for such madness and pack a lunch for work. Ok, so that's no big deal in the scheme of life, I know the mother's out there are tut tutting and wondering how I would ever survive time management as a parent. I'm sure you're probably right, but it's not really a worry as I don't intend on having a family anytime soon.
So from writers blog to time management to kids (?) I seem to have strayed off the topic of food. Since my last post I have participated in our 2nd Ironchef lunch, dined here at Tom Phat, feasted at Bar Lourinha and made some little free-form lemon curd tartlets. I can only hope to recap over the next few days. Other delights include marinated, butterflied leg of lamb at G&Ts house, a picnic at Point Lonsdale and an icecream in Queenscliff.

I won't start with Ironchef because, frankly I can't remember the proper name of what Foges cooked. And I can't get it wrong now can I? I can tell you how it was a delightful late lunch which started in sunshine and ended in rain. The rain came right about the time S-bo and I realised we needed to be at Sydney Road for dinner. Nothing a rude exit and a quick cab ride couldn't fix.
Here's where the bottle of wine consumed over lunch starts to cloud my memory. We ate duck spring rolls, salt and pepper calamari, Panang curry and two other stir fries. How's that for detail huh? I can say with some certainty that I enjoyed out little visit to Tom Phat. Here is something close to the Thai of my uni days, dressed up in stylish surroundings. On a rainy night such as our visit, Tom Phat's dimly lit decor is quite enveloping and I would have been very comfortable on my bench seat for quite some time.

Tom Phat on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Cream Cafe Bar, Canberra

Back to Canberra for a visit last weekend and a group of us had dinner at a new restaurant, Cream. I was a litle taken aback upon entry with the bright flourescent lights but realised once seated that whilst it was different, it did work. My initial impression is that Cream tries to cover too many bases: Restaurant, Bar and Cafe all in one, instead of doing one thing well. However I later reaslied that Canberra needs somewhere like this to lift the profile of dining in Canberra. Whilst they are not raising the bar in quality by any stretch, they are re-setting the bar in terms of style. Canberra's nightlife has always been questionned and as far as I know this is the first place where you can enjoy a good meal or just have a couple of drinks.

Unfortunately Cream already has a reputation for particularly slow staff. The organiser of our dinner opted for a banquet because she thought it might mean our meals arrived at the table in a more timely fashion. No such luck. We were all seated within 30 minutes of our 7.30 pm booking. The waitress kindly came and opened our bottles of wine but we then sat there for 5-10 minutes longer before someone realised that wine glasses might come in handy. I'm not sure whether it was because the wait staff weren't very good or because they were understaffed, but attention to detail was not a focus.
The first half of our banquet was inspiring. Delicious dips with pita and garlic turkish bread filled the growing hunger until the tapas plates arrived. Marinated olives sat alongside rocket and parmesan salad. Prawn wontons were crisply fried and tasted of lime, however the chilli balsamic dipping sauce was nowhere to be seen. Salt and pepper marinated quail was flavoursome and a pleasure to eat whilst the roma tomatoes stuffed with goats cheese with red wine balsamic syrup were definitely something new for Canberra.

Sadly the quality stopped here. Considering we had a 7.30pm booking, the long wait between our tapas plates and main course started to drain us. One diner who had to leave at 10pm missed her mains altogether. Just after 10 large bowls of pasta and pad thai arrived almost as an afterthought. The website states "served in tradition banquet fashion" so I can only assume they were aiming for the current trend of communal eating. Instead, given the wait, I felt like the chef had forgotten us then thrown something together at the last minute. The Conchiglie Putanesca seemed like something I would whip up on a Sunday night with a tin of tomatoes and some frozen veges. The Pappardelle however was something different. Piping hot lamb sat amongst the pasta ribbons and simply fell apart on the fork, nevermind melt in your mouth. Perhaps we waited so long because they were slow-cooking the lamb to order. I would almost say the wait was worth it.
Overall I would say don't go to Cream to experience new heights in Dining. But do go to lift the profile of eating in Canberra. If this restaurant does well hopefully more of it's kind will open, which is exactly what Canberra's eating scene needs. We can only hope the quality will follow shortly after.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Free-form Cherry Cheesecakes

I had some friends over for dinner last night and couldn't quite decide what to make for dessert. Everything I decided on required baking but the oven was occupied by a 5 hour leg of lamb. After a big feed of roast it's hard to turn around and eat a heavy dessert, so I wanted something that was still decadent, but light. S-bo suggested fruit salad but I found all the chopping a bit daunting. This recipe came from a recipe scrapbook I started when I was about 18. I haven't attempted many of the recipes in there. Not sure why I even kept half of them.

Still, waiting so long to cook this one is quite a shame as it was delicious. If you're very organised you can prepare it before your guests arrive. I, on the other hand, was not organised and so ended up whizzing biscuits whilst my guests enjoyed cheese. I was then mixing cream cheese etc. whilst everyone else let their mains settle over a few glasses of wine. If only I had one of those huge kitchens with a big wooden table, where it's "cool" to cook as you go because everyone can join in. My kitchen is not terribly small as renters go, but it's not quite interactive.

The cream cheese/mascarpone mixture is great and make sure you don't skip the lemon zest. You could make a low-fat version by using reduced fat cream cheese, but what's the point really? If you can't handle the fat, don't have dessert! No, I'm kidding, what I really mean to say is everything in moderation is fine. I used mascarpone from the supermarket and got a great, creamy result, so I can only imagine how improved it'd be with some good "deli-grade". For a super quick dessert you could probably use some good full-cream vanilla or natural yoghurt and spoon the cherries straight from the can. My cherry syrup didn't thicken that much anyway!

The Recipe:
100 g amaretti biscuits (I used arnott's buttersnap), crushed
250 g cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
250 g mascarpone
400 g can black cherries in syrup
1 tbsp cornflour, dissolved in 1/4 cup water

Drain cherries from syrup and set cherries aside. In a saucepan combine syrup with the cornflour mixture. Place over medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes until mixture thickens. Remove mixture to a bowl, stir in cherries, then refrigerate.

Divide crushed biscuits between 6 small glasses, dessert bowls or ramekins.
Beat cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in lemon zest and juice, then mascarpone. Divide mixture evenly between the glasses - but don't worry about smoothing the surface. Spoon a little cooled cherry mixture over each cheesecake.

Serves 6, however this recipe could easily be stretched out to 8.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Having grown up in the country I often fall into the trap that Chinese food is not particularly extravagant or special. Now before you blow your trumpets and think I am being unfair, you must realise that Chinese restaurants exist in nearly all NSW country towns and are as cheap and cheerful as your next-door fish and chip shop. There was never anything wrong with the food, and it was always a treat to have takeaway on a Friday night, regardless of what you were eating, but special dinners involved trips to other local restaurants. Usually a birthday treat for someone in the family. The humble Cantonese restaurants of my childhood served the MSG versions of sweet and sour pork, beef and cashew and honey chicken, always preceded by a serve of spring rolls.

Leaving my country town heritage and moving to Sydney I discovered Thai restaurants. I’ve mentioned my love of Thai previously but I also specify what sort of Thai: cheap. And no, this is not because I am a scrooge, it is because it’s exactly the sort of Thai that I became used to. Cheap Thai replaced my Friday night Chinese meals of childhood. $10 meals on Newtown’s King St became a staple weekly treat. Now when I eat Thai I look for those familiar tastes and smells. When I don’t get them I am disappointed because my expectations aren’t met. That’s not because my expectations are high, they are just specific.

Sowly, slowly my perception of Asian foods, and Chinese in particular, are changing. Yes, a trip to Flower Drum definitely contributed but the kick start was on a work trip to Melbourne before relocating last year. We went to a restaurant in Chinatown called Kun Ming. All of a sudden Chinese restaurants offered polished service. I crossed out good here because there was nothing wrong with service in other restaurants, it just wasn’t polished. Battered dishes such as honey chicken and salt and pepper squid were no longer oily and stodgy, but light and salty and perfect for bringing out the underlying flavour.

In a sense I have been falling into good Chinese, the same way I practically fell into Kun Ming and Flower Drum. A drink with a friend at the Beach Hotel in Albert Park, before heading out to a movie, on the weekend turned into a need for some food. A hop, skip and a jump up the road and I fell into Asiana. Now this restaurant isn’t Chinese as such, more a selection of flavours from Asia. What’s more it puts in a regular appearance in The Age Good Food Guide.

We had no booking but there was no problem seating 2 of us. And when we explained our time constraints that was no problem either. Being in a bit of a hurry I spent very little time reading the menu. There is a large selection so I honed in on one or two things that I wanted to try and away we went. For future reference I did notice specials which appear on the menu and the blackboard as well as house specialties in the menu, which are very enticing. There’s also a large selection of entrees so if you felt like picking and choosing you’d be well positioned to do so. There’s a good range of wine by the glass but expect to pay about $10/glass. Alternatively BYO for $10 corkage.

Between the two of us we ordered salt and pepper calamari (entrée size), Vietnamese inspired lemongrass chicken and Singapore noodles. We had asked for all dishes to arrive together and the food was beautifully presented at our table and then whisked away for serving. Perhaps the food appeared a little too quickly but we had mentioned timeframes and it did seem hot and fresh. The calamari was delicious with just the right amount of chilli garnish to give a kick if you chose. Appearance-wise the lemongrass chicken was quite plain, sliced chicken meat with only a small amount of garnish, no vegetables. Unfortunately the plainness extended to the taste, I would have preferred the lemongrass to be a little stronger but this didn’t prevent the chicken from being tender and succulent. That’s succulent in the moist way, not the KFC advertisement way. And for future reference, the Singapore noodle dish was HUGE for 2 people. All up $75 for 2 glasses of wine and 3 dishes which, whilst not quite $10 Thai standard, is not bad I guess. On top of that there is a great feel to this restaurant. Low lighting and mute décor seem to absorb noise so the packed restaurant had a buzz which made you feel that yes, you were in a good, popular restaurant and yet you could still hear the diner across from you.

181 Victoria Ave
Albert Park

Asiana on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The oven strikes again: Chocolate Brownies

I made chocolate brownies the other day to take to work. After repeated oven woes I still haven't gone out and bought myself an oven thermometer, although I really should.

The brownies were made on Tuesday night, the same night I made the turkish pizzas, so it's a great surprise that the oven was my only worry. What with eating the pizza and checking out the lunar eclispe at the same time, I was bound to leave an ingredient out, as I so often do. Luckily I fluked it.

I did the normal trick of turning the oven 10 degrees lower than recommended but it didn't seem to work. The brownies still had 15 minutes to go and they were smelling burnt. Sure enough my reliable oven had left a black burnt crisp around the edges. Surprisingly the actually still tasted ok. Good, even. Nice and sweet and chocolately with just the right amount of gooey-ness in the centre. They're not a very rich brownie although I did use milk chocolate not dark. I have a few brownie recipes floating around so I might have to test and compare. Just another excuse to eat brownies right?

Chocolate Brownies (From a Family Circle cookbook I think)
150 g butter, chopped
125 g dark chocolate, Chopped
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
icing sugar, to dust

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and grease a 20 cm square tin. Line the base with baking paper (it's great to extend the paper over the side to make it easy to take out the brownie)
Melt butter and chocolate in a double saucepan then cool slightly.
Use a whisk to beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla together in a large bowl. Add the melted chocolate mixture and whisk together. Stir in the combined sifted flour and cocoa. Do not overbeat. Pour into tin and bake for 40 minutes or until slightly risen and just firm. Leave to cool in the tin (the brownie will sink a little), cut into squares and dust with icing sugar.