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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review - Crazy Wing, Russell St, CBD

Crazy Wings on Urbanspoon
Talk about spontaneity and this lunchtime experience comes to mind.  Picture that it is almost time for lunch and an impromptu discussion over another blogger's recount of visiting Crazy Wing in the CBD is in motion.  Like an advertisement pitched at adventurous foodies the seed is sown and without any further deliberation the decision is made to head out to Russell St and seek out this establishment.  On this occasion I was accompanied by two very learned foodie colleagues - all three of us have a palette for the hot and the spicy and Crazy Wing seemed a likely opportunity to exercise our "chilli" appreciation.
A dimly lit place with young waiters in red polo shirts and a possible "chef" behind the counter preparing skewers of all sorts.  The order sheet awaits you at the table and you run through the lists of the menu items on offer.  Everything (besides the rice & noodles) comes on a skewer and is grilled on heat beads for that smoky taste.  Service was not exactly spectacular but this is passable as the expectation is not there on entry.
In honour of the namesake, we had to try the Crazy Wing.  This is a serve of two marinated wingettes on a stick, hot off the grill and ready to blow your head right off.  Seriously, it was like a firecracker had just exploded in your mouth.  One bite in and - Pow!!  We discovered the main ingredient in the dish - Habenero chilli puts the "Crazy" in the wing.  Now you know why there is a large jug of water on the table.
To add to the lunacy, the initial thought of Red Chilli Beef Fried Rice was definitely doable.  This was before we realised just how hot the wings were going to be.  Chilli Rice! and Chilli Wings! Water offering no rescue from the inferno. The best thing to order is Milk Tea - this will provide some healing and it comes served to you in a juice box with a straw. 

Almost reduced to tears (of foodie joy no doubt) and sweat starting to bead on my brow, I tried the Capsicum Skewers, and this had less of a chilli hit.  Many sips of Milk Tea later the mouth is resilient enough to try some more.  Bring on the Lamb Skewers - tender juicy lamb backstraps that melted in your mouth - this got voted the best dish by all.  It had just the right amount of spice and cooked perfectly.  Pork Skin on a stick was less of a hit as it was not crispy as expected but rather rubbery and lacking taste or texture.  And as hard as it may seem they even managed to skewer Enoki Mushrooms, slather them with more of the habenero spice mix and then grill - turned out to be a good combo.  Sweet Potato slivers came off the grill nicely caramelised and the sugary sweetness was welcomed by all.  Lastly but certainly not least was the Grilled Prawn, although we should have had these earlier as they had been resting for too long and had hardened slightly - still very tasty though.  

Definitely an event to undergo again and plans are already in place for our next visit with more heat seeking foodies.  The menu is quite extensive and does contain a variety of offal dishes.  While this is not my cup of "milk tea" I will be definitely trying the Honey Soy and BBQ dishes next time.  The rice servings are generous and plenty to share and the skewers vary in price starting from $1.40 each. Parting advice if you are visiting Crazy Wing - which I shall now refer to as "Torture by Skewer" - make sure you order the Milk Tea. Anyone wishing to earn their Hot and Spicy stripes should at least dine here once to see if you stack up.  If you are the type that cannot handle the heat - definitely stay out of this kitchen.
"Habenero Chillies are ranked as one of the hottest chilli in the world.  Chilli heat is measured in the Scoville scale.  Capsicums and Bell Peppers are rated 0 while Habeneros get a score of 100,000 - 350,000.  This indicates that the hot chemical stimulant that you taste would have to be diluted up to 350,000 times before the heat is untraceable.  Imagine the wonders that little box of Milk Tea does for you"

Review - Gogi Korean BBQ Restuarant, Chinatown

GoGi on Urbanspoon
On the corner of Corrs Lane and Little Bourke Street is a new Korean BBQ restaurant “Gogi”.  Now I did not come for the BBQ on this occasion, what looked to be of some appeal was the $10 Lunch Buffet on offer.Now unlike most buffet restaurants, this one is not afraid to poster up a warning to food wasters.  “Please take as much as you can eat otherwise we charge a $5.00 penalty for food left on the plate”.  At first glance you think “That’s kind of abrupt”.  However, it does make sense, if you think of all the food wasted at buffets because people take it literally to have “All You Can Eat” but do not realize they cannot eat it “All”.  So venture cautiously through their selection and don’t take too much of anything on the first serve.  Make your first plate a tasting menu with little morsels of the appetising fare and for the adventurous type some of the not so familiar items. A cold salad bar is well stocked with plenty of Korean vegetarian accompaniments like Kim Chi and Pickled Cucumbers and even a dish labelled Fruit Salad (dessert maybe???). Other less Korean offerings are also to be found here such as sliced Oranges and Iceberg Lettuce – “space fillers” no doubt.   Under a gallery of quaint cloches is a rather generous array of hot menu items.  

A definite entrée would have to be the Spicy Crispy Chicken – although neither spicy nor crispy, but tasty enough when boosted with a selection of the sauces available at the end of the cold buffet. Choose from home-made mayo, chilli sauce, and teriyaki sauce to name a few.  

I was not brave enough to try the Seaweed Soup, although I heard from another diner that it is very appetising and nourishing. 
For the mains the definite highlight is the Kim Chi Fried Rice which is a complete Korean take on rice.  Its dark orange colour makes it look a little spicy but it is a subtle mild flavoured rice with sour notes.   

The Plain Fried Rice is less of a highlight but good as a bed for the more spicy dishes like the Stir Fried Calamari.   By the way the dish names are not very descriptive – simply the meat type – Beef, Lamb and my favourite pick – the Pork dish. There is also Soft Tofu and Korean style Rice Noodles

For a cheap lunch time buffet with a bit of variety that is different to the usual Cantonese “All You Can Eat” joints, Gogi fares quite well.  The dishes are anything but boring and as Korean cuisine is much less known, your plate is bound to have something on it, you have not tasted before.  I would skip the Fruit Salad if you are not a fan of mayonnaise like cream stirred in with chopped carrot, cucumber, sweet potato and apples.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review - Sichuan House, Chinatown

Sichuan House on Urbanspoon
I asked a colleague and fellow Foodie – "M" to suggest a venue for lunch. A short stroll down Chinatown at the end of Corrs Lane, off Little Bourke St was a doorway whose aromas just seemed to beckon with the promise of chilli, spice and something exotic. Here lies "Sichuan House" (formerly known as "Dainty" - I had to put this in as most people at my place of work still refer to this place as "Dainty" - BTW they have moved to South Yarra - I smell a visit in the air)
I had walked past this restaurant many a time but never ventured up the short staircase to the dainty room above.  No points for set up or décor as this was just a basic table and chair affair, but the room was filled with tantalising tang of the dishes being freshly prepared in the busy kitchen behind the counter.  Hectic waitresses bounded across the floor with sizzling plates stacked to the hilt and the “ding” of the service bell kept them returning back to kitchen to pick up another order.
“So what do we order?” A veteran diner to this establishment, M was quick to point out the highlights of the menu. Looking around at what other “lunchers” had ordered I could see, Kung Pao Chicken, Lemon Chicken – the only dish that glows but what caught my eye was the huge stack of pork served up a few tables down.  Bring on the Cumin Pork Ribs.

Wow!!! What an explosive arrangement.  Delicately soft pork ribs – too chunky for chopsticks – double cooked crispy goodness, coated with a very spicy cumin and chilli rub.  This dish is amazing.  From the pyramid of meat perfectly positioned to the piquant sauce that makes your tastebuds bounce. Top Pick!
Not to be carnivores favouring only meat dishes, we ordered a side called Salt Flavoured Eggplant.  Yet again another stack (hardly a side dish), this time of carefully placed eggplant slices.  I think they could have come up with a better name but nevertheless, fish flavour with a strong hint of garlic, chilli and sugar dancing around lightly coated crispy eggplant. 
Till then I had only had eggplant fritters, dip and grilled antipasto style.  This new experience was unexpectedly fantastic.  If all veggies were prepared for me like this you won’t hear any complaints about eating my veggies ever again.
We ran out of belly space and time so we unfortunately missed dessert.  The two dishes we ordered were ample for three to four people sharing and came served with steamed rice. At around $20 a head for quality food Sichuan House would rank very highly on the shared lunch list.  Besides, I would like to see one person go through a stack of pork ribs that big.   Our appetites were truly satisfied and we even had leftovers packed up to take home.  Definitely a place to visit again, and again and again.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Thai Style Pumpkin & Sweet Potato Soup

One of my favourite ingredients is Thai curry pastes. Although once hard to find, these are available in abundance from local supermarkets now. I have attempted to make my own pastes before, but they never have the same taste of the Thai ones. So I definitely recommend getting your hands on some shop bought paste.  It has a long life if kept in the fridge and can be used in many dishes.
I keep a tub each of Thai Green and Thai Red Curry paste on hand always. These along with a can of coconut milk can take a simple dish to an exotic level.
Take the old humble pumpkin soup in this recipe for example. It's so easy to make and really packs a punch of flavour to tingle those taste buds.
500g x Pumpkin, peeled and roughly chopped
1 x medium Sweet Potato, peeled and chopped
1 x large Onion, peeled and quartered
500ml water
3 x tsp Thai Red Curry Paste
100ml Coconut Milk
Fish Sauce to taste
Spring Onions & Chilli sliced to garnish
Splash of Lime or Lemon juice
Add the vegetables and water to a large saucepan and bring to the boil then simmer covered for about 20 minutes.
When vegetables are soft add the curry paste one teaspoon at a time, tasting as you go depending on how hot you want it.
Using a Stick Blender mix all ingredients into a smooth thick soup.
Stir in the coconut milk leaving about a tablespoon for garnishing.
Add a few drops of fish sauce, adjusting saltiness to taste.
Serve in soup bowls and garnish with a drizzle of coconut milk and sliced spring onion and chilli.
Finish off with a splash of lime or lemon juice.
Serve hot with crusty bread if desired.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Quick Lunch

Ok I have to give some credit to my buddy MH from working at Telstra Dome days for this one.  Recently he was on a health kick and his lunches were simply Avocado, Fetta and Tuna - which he said he mashed and ate in the name of weight loss. I think it even worked for him. Then he went for a holiday in the US and put all the weight back on....Mmm Fried Chicken...
So I decided to adapt Marcus' ingredients and came up with a pretty tasty lunch time roll.
Take one split bread roll and generously lay sliced Avocado on the base. Then a good helping of canned Tuna - the plain kind in olive oil is best. Now top it off with some crumbled Fetta - or slices if you want it to look neat. A drizzle of good whole egg mayo, and to end, close the roll and eat away. 
I can't believe people actually pay for sandwiches when they are probably the easiest things anyone can make for lunch.
BTW Thanks MH

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thai Style Sauce

There are hundreds of Thai Style Sauce recipes around and this is my take on a sauce that I tasted, on more than one occasion at a Thai restaurant in the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, earlier this year. This sauce is great to have alongside dryer Asian dishes like fried rice or noodles, although it was also a great addition to a Penang Beef Curry. I love dishing up this sauce simply with some plain jasmine rice and a serve of Asian style chicken wings - too easy! It captures all those elements found in so many Asian dishes "Hot", "Sweet", "Sour" and "Salty". The trick to making this sauce is getting that balance right so that it all just dances on your taste buds. So when making this feel free to add more or less of the ingredients to get your own balance. Trust your taste buds - they don't lie.
4 x tbsp Light Soy Sauce
1 x tsp Fish Sauce
2 tsp Brown Sugar
2-3 Thai Birdseye Chillies (chopped)
1 x Lime or Thin Skin Lemon
2 x tbsp of Lemon or Lime Juice
Water (to dilute as required)
Combine the sauces, sugar and lemon juice.
Taste the mix and add water as required to get a mellow balance
Now add the chopped chillies
Chop the lemon in half and then cut one half into fine slices
Then dice the lemon slices including the rind and segments and combine with sauce
Lastly add the juice of the lemon or lime
Taste and add water to dilute if necessary
Sauce is ready to serve immediately although it most definitely tastes better the next day.

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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Breakfast Blog - Basil Cream Eggs

Here is an easy breakfast dish that its very much cafe style. The cheese I used its available in supermarkets. It's by Mersey Valley Cheeses. It is a vintage infused with Basil and Garlic. A little too much Basil in it for my liking, as a cracker cheese, but worked great as a sauce additive.
125g Mersey Valley Cheese - Basil & Garlic
1/2 cup Thickened Cream
Poached eggs
English Muffins
Salt & Pepper
Baby Spinach
Heat the cheese in a heavy non stick sauce pan on the lowest heat.
Gradually add the cream stirring at all times so that it does not catch.
When combined and runny remove from heat and place in a pouring cup.
Arrange eggs on warm toasted muffins and drizzle generously with the Basil Cream sauce.
Garnish with salt to taste and heaps of cracked pepper.
Serve with a handful of Baby Spinach
Cafe style breakfast without even having to change out of your PJs!

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Foodie's Introduction

So really, I am no food critic...but I can cook! I have a lot to say about food and I have had a big mouth since I was a kid (or so my mother tells me!). It seems only appropriate that I make use of my gift and use it for the good of food.

Melbourne, Australia is where I call home, and I have been here for some time now. I work in the city and live in the western suburbs about 30 kms out (not that far really!!). While Melbourne has its fair share of celebrity chef’s restaurants, I am definitely not one of those who are well financed enough to dine regularly at these establishments. Instead, I look for good value for money and above all “taste explosions” in my food. I fully appreciate the top notch fine dining establishments and have only really eaten at a few. I recognise the journey taken by the chefs to craft their works of art on a plate and the freshness and quality of the ingredients. If my budget allowed I would be having some more of that - for sure! 
For me satisfaction on a plate can come in many forms – piping hot noodles that make you salivate while you wait for them to cool down before you can dive in; a fiery curry that makes your eyes water; a hearty serve of lamb shank stew on a bed of cous-cous or a really "special" fried rice.

I am a family man with young children and nothing motivates me more than gathering around the dining table over a meal. Breakfast, lunch or dinner just wouldn't be the same without family and/or friends. I regard that time most special because in everyone's busy lives, young or old, this meeting over a meal is a regular occasion that we can all be at the same place, at the same time, doing the same thing - brought together by food.

I don't know when it was that I took to cooking and I am not even sure when the inclination ignited into a true passion. I have been quite frustratingly meticulous when it comes to cooking. Whether it be researching different cooking techniques and trying my hand at worldly cuisines, to following the guidance of another or creating my own piece of culinary art; I do it all with the utmost respect to the food in it's every state. This blog explores many of these areas of my newly acquired repertoire and I can quite confidently say that I am an accomplished “home cook”. 
Those that have sampled my creations – recipe or self invented – have had good things to say (unless they were just being nice!!). I think the biggest critic to my food is me and I will not shy away from declaring when something that I have created has failed to hit the mark. So it must pass the first test -ME- but I still maintain that I am no food critic. 

So this here blog will be mainly about me cooking and eating in and around Melbourne. I will give my own take on some pretty delicious recipes ranging from everyday stuff to the exquisite. I will also give my 2 cents worth and review some of the places that serve up some great food (and some that may not!). I plan on making this a good critique for the everyday person’s dining budget – from $1.50 char siew pork buns (yum!) to the most exquisite delectable pastry that I dare indulge in, but it's not a full blown review. Rather, it is a recollection of my foodie adventures. After all, if I was to review the whole restaurant, I would probably have to sample more than one or two dishes an besides, I am no food critic. I hope you find something new to try to cook in your own kitchen or even a great eatery to visit on my recommendation. Leave me a comment too, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

- Neil