Monday, 28 July 2008

Food bloggers at Abbotsford Convent and two emails

Slow Food Market at Abbottsford Convent

Many thanks to AOF from Confessions of a Food Nazi for organising a Melbourne food blogger lunch at Lentil as Anything on Saturday. I got down to the Convent early and wandered around the Slow Food Market, spending far too much money on all sorts of yummy things, including olive oil in a goon cask, harissa and bresaola (my current obsession du mois following the awesome stuff I had - twice in one week! - at Cumulus Inc).

Rhubarb tartLentil as Anything

Although I was about to have lunch, I couldn't resist chowing down on a stewed rhubarb and cream tart from one of the stalls, following Cindy's plug. SO worth it!

Handsome Steve's House of Refreshment

It was a lovely relaxed lunch, and I was really happy to get to know quite a few bloggers I hadn't met before. After lunch we moseyed up for a couple of drinks at Handsome Steve's House of Refreshment. Handsome Steve was happy to make coffees but explained that there was no skinny milk, no chai, DEFINITELY no soy milk (a newspaper headline "Soy milk linked to low sperm count" was affixed to the wall near the menu), and snorted in derision when one hapless soul asked for a hot chocolate... but he's really not a bad sort once you get to know him. Just DON'T make the mistake I made and ask for a wine list ("It's red or white, darl!")...

Taxi advertising

Later that afternoon my bus was cancelled so I jumped in a cab to get the rest of the way home. Was bemused to see this kind of restaurant advertising in the taxi!

Finally, just wanted to share two emails with you. The first is from my friend M who has sadly just moved up to the 'Berra. It made me laugh, so I thought I'd post a quote:

Just letting you know that I really enjoyed dinner and will miss our after-work catch-ups over a glass of wine or three. Also, a small tidbit of news, if you didn't know it already - everyone's favourite Carlton bar, Il Duce Si Diventa, has reinvented itself. The new iteration is worse than the old. The fairly inoffensive outside signage has been altered to read "Viktor's Bar and Lounge", bizarre and ugly font on blue background, with green and red striped border and, just in case you missed the Italian touch, the words "Italian Quality" in tiny white font in a corner like some kind of fucked-up footnote. Alas the interior remains unchanged. Just plain weird. Swing by one time on your way to somewhere more appealing and check it out.

The second email is from a Melbourne Gastronome reader who wants some Sunday CBD dining advice:

I have a friend in from the west (Perth not Footscray) and we are dining together next Sunday evening. I wanted to go somewhere in the city (as she is staying centrally and it it easy for us to travel in) and that was representative of Melbourne in an awesome food focus, but not overdone, sort of a way. However, it soon came to my attention that a lot of places in the city that fit the bill are closed on Sunday (including Cumulus Inc, Gills Diner, Gingerboy, Seamstress, Bar Lourinha)? So I am considering The Press Club Bar (which wasn't my first choice because I think we may be eating in the main restaurant there the night before) or MoVida, but my mate has already sampled the delights there.

I was wondering if you might have any helpful suggestions?

I appreciate the fact that the reader has taken the trouble to do some preliminary research, and would like to help her out. Maybe it's just because it's Monday and I'm sleep-deprived from staying up watching the Tour de France, but nothing is immediately leaping to mind. Dear blog readers, do you have any suggestions?

Monday, 21 July 2008

Totally gnarly fruit

Kaffir lime

I spotted this crazy-looking fruit nestling in a small wicker basket at Damian Pike's last weekend. Its appearance enchanted me - it looks like the lime equivalent of The Incredible Hulk. Frankenlime. The nice chaps working at the stall threw two of them in for free with my other purchases. :)

Kaffir lime

After years of buying the leaves, slicing them up thinly and adding them to Thai dishes, I had finally come face to face with kaffir limes! They smell AMAZING, especially when you give them a little squeeze to coax out tiny droplets of oil from the rind. These ones are actually looking a bit on the yellow side, because I've been admiring their appearance too much in my fruit bowl to want to use them. But then on Saturday I added one (zest and juice) to a red curry, and tomorrow night I'll probably use the other in a Pad Thai.

Have I just been leading a sheltered existence? Does anyone use k limes (the fruit, not just the leaves) regularly in their cooking? If so, which recipes suit them best?

Kaffir limes

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Floating on a Cumulus Inc. in Flinders Lane

Cumulus Inc.
45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne (map)
9650 1445

Cumulus Inc

"At the risk of sounding completely outrageous, how about we meet up for a fancy dinner tonight at Andrew McConnell's new place in Flinders Lane, Cumulus Inc? Yes, they're open for dinner - apparently they got their liquor licence last Friday. Meet you there in an hour?"

And thus an impromptu Decadent Thursday for two was born. Best-friend-K had already cased the joint for breakfast - she works a block away - and now we were going to see if the new dinner menu matched up. As I walked in, I couldn't help thinking back to the Disastrous Decadent Tuesday we'd had at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons last month. Would this be a similar experience? Are my Decadent Weeknights doomed to fail?

But no - our night at Cumulus Inc last Thursday was a smashing success. The food and drinks were brilliant, the service professional, the restaurant decor and ambiance quietly fabulous. Decadent all over!

Pimms deliciousness

B-f-K and I had both had frustrating days, so decided to start with a drink up on the bar stools while waiting for our table. Listed under Delicious Drinks (a separate (and cheaper) list from the cocktail list) was a concoction that sounded right up my alley, albeit slightly summery considering the season: Pimms, Tanqueray gin, fresh mint, lemonade and dry ginger ale ($9.50). Served in a tall glass and looking positively technicolour, it was refreshing and delicious - loved the slice of blood orange.

Rusty Wire oysters

We started with a half dozen Rusty Wire oysters ($4 each) from Moonlight Flat Oysterage (in Batemans Bay, NSW). The Rusty Wire oysters are a random selection of whatever happen to be the best oysters on the day, and the menu provides a cute little story about how they got their name. To be perfectly honest, this was the one dish that left b-f-K and I a little underwhelmed - the taste of salt water was too strong, so we had to drown the poor things in lemon juice.


Our next dish more than made up for the previous one. The menu has a separate section entitled Charcuterie and from the mouthwatering selection we chose the wagyu bresaola with remoulade and fresh horseradish ($15). Maybe it's the Northern Italian in me, but I just ADORE bresaola and order it whenever I see it. Generally we have it the traditional way (with olive oil, pepper, a few rucola leaves and shaved parmigiano), so I was intrigued to see it with remoulade (which you can see poking out from underneath the meat in the above pic) and fresh horseradish (the little shavings on top). It tasted fantastic - as you might expect, the wagyu bresaola simply fell apart in one's mouth, and the French-style céléri rémoulade was particularly fine. B-f-K had never had bresaola before, but was similarly impressed. Probably my favourite dish of the night.

Beetroot and lentil salad

Next we had a salad of beetroot, shanklish, lentils, raw apple, mint and fromage blanc ($12). I loved the way the raw apple was cut into little matchsticks, just like Ed had had it here for breakfast with smoked salmon and egg. I'm not wild about lentils as a rule (too many bad experiences with bland bland bland dhals during my student days), but puy lentils? Done like this? Yum.

Tuna a la plancha

The tuna a la plancha, served with raw and cooked artichoke and caramelised garlic ($28), was also excellent - the triangles of tuna had been seared on one side only, leaving the sashimiesque side pouting pinkly at us. The caramelised garlic added a gorgeous pungent sweetness to the dish.

Mencia vs Chianti

Did I already mention the top-notch service? One example was when I asked our friendly waitress for advice with the wine list - I wanted a glass of lightish red, but didn't know anything about the 2006 DJ Palacios 'Petalos' Mencia (from Bierzos, Spain, $14). I asked her whether it was lighter or heavier than the Chianti on offer (the 2005 Casa Sola Chianti Classico, $12) and immediately she offered to bring me two glasses with a taste of each... I was impressed (and the Mencia won hands down, by the way - b-f-K agreed an ordered a glass for her too).

We kept commenting how much more ENJOYABLE our evening was to that disaster at Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons. Cumulus Inc looks like it's been put together with so much love and care (Ed already picked up on details like the finishes on the chairs and bar stools, and Jack mentioned the coat rack and the lighting). For me it was the little touches - the cake fresh out of the oven cooling on the benchtop, the row of cook books stacked neatly on a top shelf in the open plan kitchen, the Aesop Resurrection Aromatique hand wash in the bathrooms (also seen at Auction Rooms and The Press Club), the tables spaced a goodly distance apart...

Cracked wheat and freekeh salad

An extra salad mysteriously arrived at our table with our mains, "compliments of the kitchen" (!!!). I'd been eying off this salad as I'd perused the menu - cracked wheat and freekeh salad with preserved lemon and barberries ($10) - wondering over and over what the hell freekeh was. As a result I got the Alexander Downer "I'm too freak-eh" song from Keating! stuck in my head... :)

Our waitress explained that freekeh was a relatively new grain made from unripe wheat. On its own the freekeh didn't have a particularly strong flavour, but I liked it with the preserved lemon and the little red barberries studding the salad.

Braised wagyu

Our final dish was the braised wagyu with shallots, field mushrooms and nettle ($29). It's funny... a month ago nettles were not even registering on my foodie radar and now I'm seeing them everywhere - on the menu at Mama Ganoush, on the blogs of Stickfingers (Deep Dish Dreams) and Neil (At My Table). Neil in particular seems especially enamoured of nettles this month.

Seeing them on the menu here at Cumulus Inc b-f-K and I decided to take the opportunity to give them a try. B-f-K was not a fan ("they taste like pureed cos lettuce" was her assessment), but they had a difficult-to-define tangy flavour I rather liked. The wagyu beef had been braised to hearty perfection and the field mushrooms were full of flavour.

Bertrand Poire William

Digestivi liqueurs were ordered to follow our meal. B-f-K nursed a glass of All Saints Muscat; I liked the look of the Bertrand Poire Williams ($14); again, our waitress was only too happy upon my inquires to bring forth the bottle for an inspection and a sniff. That eau-de-vie had a kick like an angry mule, but a lovely sweet warm aftertaste.

Madeleines with lemon curd

Although we'd already eaten like royalty I managed to con b-f-K into us ordering a pair of Madeleines ($2.50 each, allow ten minutes as they are made fresh!) - they arrived warm and filled with melty lemon curd. SO GOOD!

Following the success of Circa, the Prince and Three, One, Two, Andrew McConnell is on to another winner here, one that is more accessible and relaxed but still characterised by great food. I'm going there again this week and can't wait!

Cumulus Inc bar

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Mushrooms part deux

King oyster mushrooms

Oh you rascal, Michele Curtis! I open today's Epicure only to find your gushing endorsement of Damian Pike's king oyster mushrooms on page 2, published mere days after I too had waxed lyrical about them here!

At the risk of blogging/media saturation coverage of Damian Pike's king oyster mushrooms, here's what I did with them tonight. :)

Best-friend-K came over for dinner, wine and season 3 West Wing. I had some cream in the fridge I wanted to use up, so we ended up making a simple creamy sauce with chicken, spring onions, garlic, white wine, baby spinach and cracked black pepper to have with farfalle pasta. While b-f-K watched the sauce, I lightly pan-fried the thinly sliced king oyster mushrooms separately in a bit of butter. We draped the slices of mushroom over the pasta to serve.

King oyster mushrooms have a gorgeous firm texture, and the hint of garlic and parmigiano we later grated over the top really helped to bring out their umami flavour. Sensational mushrooms!

King oyster mushrooms

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Mushroom fashion shoot


Phwoar. Check out those mushrooms. How I hated them as a child; how I love them now. Last weekend Mum gave me a call - at my recommendation she'd gone to Damian Pike's gourmet mushroom stall at the Prahran Market and one of the nice young men had helped her select a cornucopia of mushrooms. Would I like to come over for a lunch she was preparing for Nonna and Nonno of wild mushroom ragu on wet polenta?


Serving as Mum's lovely assistant, I sliced up the mushrooms. Here they are in all their glory (clockwise from bottom left): king oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, portobello mushrooms, (rehydrated) porcini mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms and Swiss brown mushrooms.

King Oyster Mushrooms

The king oysters were the only ones we pre-prepared separately - I sliced them thinly then pan fried them in a small amount of butter. I just ADORE the taste of them, so much so that I went back to the gourmet mushroom guy yesterday and bought a few more. Any suggestions as to what I should do with them?

The recipe for the wild mushroom ragu was a Karen Martini one taken from an old Sunday Life magazine clipping. We used different mushrooms, and Mum added the mascarpone into the polenta rather than serving it on top. Despite my Northern Italian heritage, I can normally take or leave polenta... but this dish was MAGNIFICO, the best meal I've had in weeks!

Wild mushroom ragu on wet polenta


80mL extra version olive oil
100g butter
4 eschalots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs thyme
10g dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water, drained and chopped
250g field mushrooms, chopped
50g enoki mushrooms
250g cepe mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
250g pine mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
100mL white wine
300mL chicken stock (or porcini stock if you want your dish to be vegetarian)
1 cup instant polenta
150g grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
100g mascarpone

Heat the EVOO and half the butter in a large pan over high heat. Add eschalots and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Add bay leaf and thyme and cook for 5 minutes. Add porcini, field, enoki, cepe and pine mushrooms, then add wine and stir. Add stock and simmer for ten minutes.
Heat 750mL water in a large saucepan over high heat until boiling. Sprinkle in polenta, whisking constantly for 6-8 minutes or until polenta is thick and cooked. Add remaining butter and parmesan and season. To serve, spoon polenta into bowls and make a well in each. Spoon mushrooms into well and add a dollop of mascarpone. Pass around extra parmesan separately.

West Australian prosciutto and marinated olivesMarinated fetta

The polenta dish was preceded by antipasti of West Australian prosciutto (SO GOOD - my Nonno couldn't believe it wasn't Italian!) and olives, and marinated fetta. After the polenta we had a simple salad of radicchio and lettuce, and a variety of formaggi.


No meal with my nonni would be complete without these extra courses! :)

Nonno e Nonna

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The Shouting Box, and hooray for Connies

Xiao-Ting Box
371 Victoria Street, Richmond (map)
9428 9588
Cash only

Shouting Box

My love for dumplings - particularly Shanghai-style dumplings in chilli oil soup - is already well documented. Whenever I'm at Camy Shanghai Dumpling, Chinatown Dumpling or Shanghai Village, I simply cannot resist them. When I went to Chinatown in San Francisco last year (largest Chinatown outside of Asia - whoo hoo!) I practically wore my shoes out traipsing the streets trying to find Shanghai-style dumplings.

If you've got that chilli oil dumpling craving but want to get out of the CBD, another nearby place that does tasty and very cheap dumplings is nestled coyly right in the middle of Pho Town (Victoria Street, Richmond). It's called Xiao-Ting Box (when we first discovered the restaurant years ago, my family and I promptly dubbed it 'The Shouting Box') - can anyone translate the name for me? I know 'Xiao' means small, but what does 'Ting' mean?

It may not be the crème de la crème of Shanghai cuisine, but I just love going up there with mates on a Sunday afternoon for a spicy hangover cure - and best of all it's just a short tram ride from my house. :)

Chilli oil dumplings at the Shouting Box

Last weekend I met up with Mum and Birdie (after buying huge quantities of kangkung at Huy Huy - thanks for the tip, Sticky!) and we yummed up some chilli oil dumplings and some steamed pork and veggie dumplings (less than $7 for each dish). Soooo good....

Shouting Box steamed pork and veggie dumplings

On the way home, something lovely happened. I boarded a number 79 W Class tram on Church Street and felt like I'd stepped back in time to my schooldays, as standing before me was a tram conductor! A wave of nostalgia washed over me as the gentleman approached me, the familiar brown leather bag slung over one shoulder.

Tram Conductor

"Where are you traveling to today, Miss?" he asked. I told him, with a goofy smile. "Ah, so a ticket for three sections. In the old days that would've cost forty cents. Here's a ticket from that era, here's a swapcard with some facts about these W class trams, and here's your change - a 1956 penny. It's all free today, Miss." Surprised and enchanted, I accepted the items he gave me with another goofy smile. I looked around the tram and everyone was smiling at the conductor and at each other. As the old tram trundled up Richmond Hill, the conductor chatted cheerfully to other passengers about the history of the tram network and the continuing work of the Connies. Thank you, Mister Tram Conductor: that warm fuzzy feeling stayed with me all afternoon.

Give me a Connie over an Gestapo-coat-wearing Connex Inspektor ANYTIME!

Tram Conductor

Monday, 7 July 2008

Chrystal Risotto and Cheat's Galette

Chrystal Risotto

Over the last few weeks I've been trying to experiment a little more in the kitchen, testing a few new simple recipes. I rarely have the motivation on a weeknight to try anything too complex, but I wanted to add a few more quick dishes to my repertoire. Before trotting down to the Prahran Market last week, I sat down with Nigella Express for some inspiration and found a recipe for Chorizo and Scallops. "Hmmmmm....." I thought, and dutifully bought the requisite ingredients.

The next day I was having lunch with my friend Chrystal and mentioned the whole chorizo and scallops idea. I'd decided to incorporate them into a quick risotto (as opposed to a full-on paella), together with the oyster mushrooms I'd picked up from the gourmet mushroom guy. Chrystal was intrigued, so I invited her to come round the following night to be my taste tester.

Chrystal Risotto

CHRYSTAL RISOTTO (Chorizo and Scallops recipe by Nigella; the rest of it made up as I went along)

Chorizo and Scallops
Chorizo sausage, thinly sliced
Small scallops (as many as you feel like... if too thick, slice to make two thinner discs)
Juice of a lemon
Chopped fresh parsley

Oyster Mushroom Risotto
1 brown onion, finely chopped
A goodly quantity of oyster mushrooms, chopped roughly
2 cups arborio rice
1 litre vegetable stock
1 cup white wine
Pepper to taste

Heat the combined stock and wine in a small saucepan and leave on a gentle simmer.

Fry up the onion in good quality olive oil over a medium flame, adding the mushrooms a minute later. When the onion turns translucent, add the rice and stir so that the grains are coated in oil and warm up.

Add a third of the stock/wine, stir then cover and leave to absorb over a very low heat. Once the liquid is all but absorbed, add the remaining thirds one at a time (I can never be bothered stirring constantly - adding the liquid a third at a time always gives me good results in my Le Creuset) until the rice is al dente.

While the rice is cooking, dry fry the chorizo (it'll ooze out plenty of oil as it cooks) for about two minutes, until crispy on both sides (yes mine got a bit burnt while we were chatting). Remove the chorizo and fry the scallops in the chorizo oil for about a minute on each side. Return the chorizo to the pan and when heated add the lemon juice, allowing to bubble for a few seconds (Nigella suggests only half a lemon, but I added a whole lemon because I wanted the lemon flavour to permeate all of the risotto) before removing from heat.

When the rice is nearly ready, stir in the chorizo, scallops and lemon and continue to cook on low heat for another few minutes. Just prior to serving, add the parsley.

Chrystal Risotto

We were extremely happy with the result! I followed up the risotto with an insanely easy galette, also inspired from Nigella Express.

Cheat's galette

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 tablespoons of double cream
2 tablespoons of jam (I used my Nonna's sensational homemade raspberry jam)
1 pear, cut into thin slices
2 teaspoons of Demerara sugar

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celcius. Lay the puff pastry sheet out on a lined baking tray and use a sharp knife to score a frame around the edge.

Mix the jam and cream in a small bowl and then spread the mixture on to the pastry.

Arrange the fruit on top (NB: Nigella suggests apricot conserve, and nectarines and blueberries instead of pear, but just about any fruit works well... next time I'll add berries too).

Sprinkle with Demerara sugar and bake for 15 mins.

Serve and eat! It really is that easy, and as long as you have the cream and fancy sugar (which has a wonderful butterscotchy taste) you can throw it together at the drop of a hat with pastry from the freezer and whatever fruit is lying around. True patissiers may shudder, but after a hard day's slog at work this galette goes down a treat. :)

Cheat's galette