Saturday, February 23, 2008

Claypots, St Kilda

It's time for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and unfortunately I'm too busy to participate. Shock and horror I know, but my best friend, N1 is getting married next weekend and there's much to do. Not to mention the 4-day working weeks I've been enjoying as a result of hens trips away and the wedding itself. Every second weekend I seem to take Friday and Monday off so it's a high life.

Between dress fittings, shoe shopping and various other tasks for the bride, there hasn't been much time for food, so I was keenly anticipating a visit to Claypots in St Kilda last night. I am a relative seafood newbie, refusing to eat fish the entire first half of my life and only recently converting to prawns. So Claypots was going to be a challenge. I desperately wanted to go to see the place live up to it's reputation but did this mean I had to eat the slippery things that come from shells?

As I had tennis lessons 'til 8.30 I sent my dining companions along to deal with the stressful event of getting a table. I managed to swan up at 9pm, down half a beer and stroll straight in. Oh what an easy life. However it must be said the others didn't arrive until 8.30 and we were still seated by 9.30 (for those that don't know, Claypots does not take boookings).

The restaurant is a pure festival upon entry. Walk through the bar to see glum faces of people desperately seeking a table then it's straight past the kitchen with the evening's selections staring at you from the display. Continue and you're confronted with tables of noisy people criss-crossing arms to get at the communal seafood plates while jazz blares in the background. We were seated in a booth, carriage style complete with luggage rack overhead. The waitress then went through the complicated process of ordering: all fish comes with potato and bokchoy and is priced according to size, with the famous Claypots ideal as side dishes or entrees.

Now if you think you're happy to eat late and believe turning up at 8.30 for a 9.30/10 table is no problem, be warned that they do run out of fish, a testament to their freshness policy I'm sure. We were able to choose from Snapper and Dory. Not such a big deal when you can still choose citrus roasted snapper to share.

Our fish was preceeded by a giant king prawn each. You might think all king prawns are giant but I now know there are king prawns, and there are king prawns. Served with bread and dripping in garlic oil I think we had the latter. Now I hope I'm not being sacreligious but I wasn't overly taken with the claypots. A mixture of rice, fish, mussels and pippis meant that yes, I did eat the slimy things from shells. I did this in quite a brave fashion after the obligatory chew or swallow jokes but honestly, I couldn't taste much other than the cajun spices of one and the moroccan spices of the other. Not to worry, it was handy filler to supplement our sensational snapper. I honestly believe this rather large snapper had been eating citrus it's whole life such was the intensity of flavour. Eating fish skin has never been so enjoyable. Underneath the pearly flesh had ot be the seafood version of wagyu beef, surely. I've never had such wonderful fish before, not even my parent's neighbour's macadamia and coconut stuffed red emperor.

By the end of the night I may nearly been completely won over to the seafood side of life.

Claypots Seafood & Wine on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Orrechiette with rost peppers, preserved lemon and goat's curd

The observant among you will see that this dish is actually spirals with roast peppers, perserved lemon and goat's curd. I had previously bought the ingredients but not had a chance to get fresh orriechiette. When S-bo and I returned home from a weekend on an Echuca houseboat, we really didn't want to go to the supermarket. That's why I substituted spirals and frankly, it turned out well.

It's been a while since I've cooked a new recipe and this one was really really rewarding. It's effectively a warm tossed salad but the combination of extra virgin olive oil and goats cheese is very satisfying, even if they do take away many of the benefits of "salad". This was my second experience with preserved lemon too, and let me tell you, rinsing the lemon beforehand makes it a lot more palatable. Thanks to whoever gave me that tip. I love many things citrus and couldn't bear the thought that I wouldn't enjoy preserved lemon.

Like many of my "uncooked from the archives" recipes, this one came form an old Good Living clipping, back in the Sydney days. 31st Jan 2006 featured this recipe along with a profile of then-new Andrew Cibej's Surry Hills enoteca, Vini. If only I had've been. Next time Gadget.

This week sees the first round of ironchef for 2008 kicking off, so I've spent all evening researching dessert. Hopefully I can tell you all about it on Friday!

Orrechiette with roast peppers, preserved lemon and goat's curd
500 g orrechiette
240 g fresh goat's curd
1 large roasted, peeled and roughly chopped red pepper
1/4 preserved lemon, finely chopped
1/2 cup of both torn basil leaves and picked continental parsely
1/2 cup wild rocket
1 cup EVOO
60 g parmesan cheese, grated
Sea salt & Pepper
80 g black olive tapenade

Cook pasta in salted boiling water. Drain, reserving a small amount of cooking water. In a large bowl, toss together pasta, water and all other ingredients except tapenade. Place onto plates and top with tapenade.
Serves 4

Monday, January 28, 2008

Footscray Markets

Having lived in London, Sydney, Canberra and now Melbourne since leaving home, not to mention frequent travels throughout Europe at the ages of 18/19, I think of myself as being somewhat worldly. And yet, I know can still be very naive.

This was further reinforced on Saturday, which, funnily enough was Australia Day. Us Australians like to think of ourselves as multicultural but sometimes we rarely scratch the surface. Perhaps we are paracultural instead (yes, I think I just made that up, I mean many cultures running parallel). I am not a racist person but I really can be quite ignorant, perhaps as a result of growing up in the country, far from the multiculturalism of Sydney and Melbourne.

S-bo has recently moved in with me and we needed a vacuum cleaner. We also needed groceries for an Australia Day BBQ. Searching the location of Godfreys (an Australian vacuum cleaner shop) we saw that there is a Godfreys situated quite close to Footscray market. I know little of Melbourne's suburbs (in that sense I may be worldly but I'm not victorian-ly) but I did know that Footscray was, in a sense, similar to Sydney's Cabramatta. So I prepared myself for an exciting trip to Melbourne's pocket of South East Asia. I had visions of exotic fruit and vegetables with stallholders eager to explain the best ways to cook them. My naivety comes through here. I was expecting a market selling ethnic goods for the westerner. Instead I found a market catering to it's market: Australians of many different backgrounds, mostly ethnic. Perhaps some would not publicly admit to being so narrow minded, but I think if you're prepared to air your views on the internet then you should be honest.

I'd like to think that if I wasn't in a hurry I would have taken my time to explore the goods on offer and patiently caught the attention of the stallholder to ask questions. Instead I was looking for the familiar in unfamiliar territory and I wanted it quickly. What on earth is in Chinese Sausages? I just want skinny beef snags for the BBQ. Who in their right mind would buy those fish heads in the first place, Let alone sitting out in the open like that? And can people puh-lease stop pushing and shoving. All of this surrounded by people speaking different languages. Not one language, but many different languages. I'm sure this combines to make Footscray Markets great markets indeed, but at the end of the day, I admit I was out of my comfort zone and I panicked. I'm sure it's like any other market...don't make your first visit when you're in a hurry. I got fed up with South Melbourne market first time because I didn't know which places were "good" and felt I had to know exactly what I wanted before stepping up to the frantic deli counter. I'll know next time, thanks to the Foodies Guide to Melbourne, that T.H. Butcher has one of the broadest ranges, whilst Pelekand Deli could have sorted me out with Goat's curd. I'll be sure to not waste my next trip there and allow myself plenty of time.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Christmas feasting wrap-up

Christmas has come and gone just as quickly as it does every year. No doubt gyms across the country are having a surge in membership applications as people reflect on all the goodness that they ate. I declared to Mum that she shouldn’t have to cook for only 3 people again and so we treated ourselves to a Christmas lunch outing (well, Mum and Dad treated me). We all decided that 3 people or 30, the cleaning up would be the same so lets just not. Mum still got into the spirit and cooked a rolled loin of pork two days before as well as chicken breast stuffed with fetta and wrapped in proscuitto. Yummo.

Christmas eve saw us pack up the presents and head to Opal Cove in Coffs Harbour and the next day we ate ourselves silly at the Christmas Buffet. There are a few photos which I hope to post soon but they don’t do the spread justice. We started with prawns, oysters, smoked salmon, smoked trout, calamari, crab and snapper. Mum was so impressed with the prawns that I’m not sure she made it to the turkey. There was a vast array of cold meats and pates and of course the traditional roast Christmas lunch. Of everything I was particularly taken by the smoked trout, the calamari and the turkey with a thyme jus, whilst Dad raved about the roast beef. Still, it didn’t end there. We had the obligatory piece of warm pudding with a great brandy kick, covered in custard and a myriad of other desserts. As it was a buffet, and a Christmas Buffet at that, we decided we really should sample all the desserts, which is exactly what we did. French Christmas log, chocolate mudcake, lemon meringue pie and cheesecake all landed on our table for just a little nibble.

All this food was then followed by wine and cheese on the terrace, overlooking the resort pool. If it wasn’t Christmas we would’ve shown much more restraint. Honest. I knew I was in trouble when I decided to have a dip at 5 pm and had to leave the pool because I felt I’d sink.

But that wasn’t all for my Christmas feasting. Two weeks earlier it was my turn to host the 5th and final Ironchef for the year. Between us we decided it had to be a bit of a Christmas celebration. As one of my themes was French I thought it a perfect time to cook Buche de Noel.

Whilst mine wasn’t as perfectly rolled as our buffet version, I was quite proud of it. I write about dessert first because that’s what I had to make first. This was actually a frozen Buche de Noel and therefore had to be made the day before. I’ve never rolled sponge before and I didn’t consider the implications of this until the sponge broke and softend ice cream oozed out everywhere. What can one do? I simply squished it together as best I could and shoved it back in the freezer. I’m not sure if I broke any rules doing this but the very next day I pushed chunks of ice cream into the sponge by hand, just to give it more of a rounded appearance.

Of course we ate entrée and main before dessert. Westie produced a mouth-watering mushroom lasagna to start. Honestly we probably could’ve skipped straight from entrée to dessert, not to mention the cheese our guest V brought, but in true Christmas style we had to eat our absolute limits.

Lamb cutlets on the bbq formed the basis for strawberry, lamb and feta salad, with sides of kumera crumble and warm zucchini and almond salad. So overall lunch went pretty smoothly, something tells me I wouldn’t be so lucky if I tried turkey. I find something comical about the idea of such a big bird fitting into any of the small baking trays I own. Next year maybe…..