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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Daal Makhani - Butter Curried Lentils

This is as about as easy as it gets.  Now I am not one to endorse canned goods over fresh and bottle pastes over homemade ones, but sometimes the exception to the rule’s proof is in the pudding…well in the curry this time around.  Here is a recipe for the quickest lentil curry you are ever going to make.  It goes really well eaten with naans or rotis of any sort.  To add a meat element to the dish, stay tuned and I will post that recipe up soon too.  But let’s go with Daal Makhani and you’re gonna love it.
INGREDIENTS – serves 2-3
2 x tsp Ghee (Butter or Margarine will do)
1 Cinnamon Stick
½ Onion, diced
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp x Tandoori Paste
½ x can (200g) Diced Tomatoes
1 x 400g can Lentils, drained & rinsed
¼ x cup Cream
Coriander, chopped for garnish
Start with 1 tsp of ghee the heating in a heavy saucepan
Crack the stick of cinnamon into two pieces and add to the pan
Place the onion and garlic in the hot pan and stir for a minute, don’t let it burn
Add the tandoori paste and fry for about a minute
Follow this with the diced tomatoes and cook on low for a further 5 minutes
Bring the mixture up to the boil then add the lentils and turn down to simmer
Remove from heat after 2-3 minutes
Allow to cool slightly before adding the cream and stir through
Just before serving add the second tsp of ghee and allow to melt on top
Garnish with a hit of chopped coriander.
Endnotes: Admittedly this is very, very tasty.  It is hard to believe that it is homemade, as it tastes as good as the take away shop. (Maybe they have read my blog…!!!)  I make no apologies for the cheats in the recipe – i.e. canned lentils, bottle tandoori, paste because I think the dish tastes better because of these flavours that pre-develop in sealed containers.  Nevertheless if you wanted to be a little more crafty (as I usually am), then soak your lentils overnight and follow a recipe for tandoori paste and I am sure satisfaction will be yours.  With enough preparation the meal should not take much longer to cook.  My endeavour with this dish was to make something with regular pantry items that essentially tastes good and I tick those boxes on a weeknight when the craving for something Indian is there.

Review: Reddy's Kitchen, Elizabeth St, Melbourne CBD

Reddy's Kitchen on Urbanspoon
The idea of an all you can eat Indian buffet may be quite enticing to a well-rounded smorgasbord enthusiast like myself.  The fact that it is lunch time and you only have an hour (if that?) to sample to your satisfaction may not be so enticing.  Reddy’s Kitchen as it is now known runs a buffet lunch on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  While the idea is great, and of what food I tasted, was decent, there was lack of quantity in the dishes and their rate of replenishment.  Many a bain marie dish was left empty for long periods.  Having said this the however, the variety was abundant if you counted the empty dishes too.  There were plenty of unnamed dishes, so I’m going to call it like I see it – Butter Chicken, Chicken Masala Curry, Beef Curry, Some other chicken dish with just remnants and gravy, Deep Fried Chicken and on the vegetarian side mixed Veg in Butter Chicken Sauce (Makhani), Eggplant Curry, Daal, Dry Veg Bhaji of some sort, Semolina - South Indian Style (Upma), Rotis (Deep Fried and Grilled), Rice, Biryani and Poppadums.  A simple name tag above the dish would have clarified things. I was also very surprised to see a savoury Lassi on offer too. 
The staff (3-4) were quite busy at all times, as they were still running their a la carte menu.  This was obviously why the bain maries were barren.  When you are on a limited lunch break you want food quickly as you don’t have time to waste.  My biggest gripe was the plastic (disposable) dining plate, cup and cutlery that just make you feel you were somewhere cheap.  Regardless of what I pay for a dine in lunch I would still expect that it was on a china plate or even melamine to say the least.    
The restaurant looks like it is in the middle of renovations all the time.  Almost like they were about to change the poster of the previous restaurant’s name (Goldan Fork and Bismi before that) on it, but forgot halfway amidst peeling the sticker off.  The walls are dark and ugly and the buffet is set up in the same walkway as queuing customers.  The Plasma screen playing Bollywood music is positioned in view of only a few patrons and directly in front of the food.   Worst of all, when you get up to get more food you will probably lose your seat as I did…twice!!!
Definitely a lot of remodelling needed.  A fresh coat of paint and some more lighting is definitely on the cards.  An update to the interior signage and restructuring of the seating arrangements and the buffet location would not hurt either.  Reddy’s Kitchen is halfway there with more than decent food well worth a taste.  At $11.90 it is one of the cheapest buffets in Melbourne.  I would go as far as saying if they invest a little more into the cosmetics of the shop they could even get away with a $15 a head charge because the food is GOOD.  
Reddy’s Kitchen is right on par when it comes to taste, with other curry outlets in the city but perhaps being on the far end of Elizabeth Street the owners feel they need not worry about looks.  The foot traffic is still good and the dining seats were quite filled when I was there.  A few changes would definitely boost their patronage and put them up there as a “don’t miss” curry joint.    

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Risotto with Chorizo & Asparagus

A lot of people are turned away from making risottos for some reason or another. I must admit I was once one of these people and subsequently I also shyed away from ever ordering a risotto when dining out. The usual gripes are that it is too gluggy, soggy rice, flavourless base and no appeal whatsoever. So when it comes to cooking a risotto I keep these in mind so as to avoid them. My risotto usually takes me a good part of 45 minutes from start to finish, that's including the chopping and cooking. I have heard that a risotto should only take around 20 minutes in cooking time and on timing mine for the first time today I found that it took me probably 30 minutes from the time the oil hit the pan.  That means 15 minutes for prep time.  Not bad! Add this to the weeknight hit list.
The key to a good risotto is a good stock.  This is your flavour base and it will carry the dish from the first mouthful to the last.  Choose a good liquid stock to ensure that blandness is not on the menu.  I don't like to add too much to the risotto when cooking it - that being meats and vegetables.  Any additions can change the temperature of the dish and cause the rice to cook at an uneven rate.  My recommendation is to have these cooking separately on the side and add it too the risotto at the end.
In this recipe the flavour of the risotto is the highlight and then the other elements of asparagus, beans and chorizo are complimentary.  This method also ensures an even coloured risotto not picking up the browns from the meat or the greens from the vegetables.  The only time I would choos to do this is when I want to carry the flavour and colour of the vegie through the dish, such as a spinach infused risotto or an adventurous squid ink risotto in jet black (which I am yet to attempt!)
INGREDIENTS to serve 4-5
1.5ltrs Chicken Stock, kept at a rolling boil so that it hits the rice nice and hot
2 cups of Arborio rice (or if you can get it - Carnaroli Rice)
1 x Onion, diced
2 x Garlic cloves, crushed
180ml x White Wine
A pinch of Saffron Threads (soak in a couple tbsp of stock)
50g Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
100ml Cream
100g Asparagus, cut into 2cm lengths, blanched in the stock for a few minutes then put into a cold water bath
100g Green Beans, cut into 2cm lengths, blanched in the stock for a few minutes then put into a cold water bath
3-4 Chorizo Sausages, sliced on the bias (diagonal slices)
1tbsp Sweet Paprika
1tsp Garlic Powder
1tsp Cracked Pepper
2bsp White Wine Vinegar
Olive Oil
Parsley to garnish
Place a deep pan or skillet on the hob at medium heat and drizzle a little Olive Oil to coat the base
Add the onion and garlic and fry gently for about a minute, do not allow to brown
Stir in the risotto rice and be sure to coat the grains with the oil and onion mixture.  Allow this to gently fry for another minute
Pour in two ladles of boiling stock into the pan.  Stir gently to combine and lift any rice sticking to the base.
When the stock is absorbed completely add another two ladles and stir to combine once again.
Now add the white wine and allow to reduce slightly before adding the next two ladles of stock
Reduce the heat on the risotto and place a frying pan on another hob on medium heat
Cook the chorizo gently in the pan and allow the oil to render out.  This should take about 2-3 minutes
Tip another two ladles of stock into the risotto, it should be starting to thicken with the swelling rice
Into the chorizo pan add the paprika and garlic and allow to toast for a few seconds then splash in the vinegar and stir well to combine and remove from the heat.  Season with a good hit of cracked pepper.
Back to the risotto which is nearing the end as your stock will soon be finished after another couple of sets of ladles into the risotto
At this point add the saffron threads and soaking liquid.  Stir gently and watch the risotto take on the yellow hue from the saffron
After the final ladle of stock is poured in, the risotto should be almost ready.  
Stir in the grated Parmesan and the cream.
Fold in the blanched asparagus and beans.
Place a lid on the pan and remove from the heat.  Allow to stand for 5-6 minutes
Place the chorizo mixture in the centre of the risotto and garnish with a generous amount of parsley.  
Drizzle a little olive oil over the lot and serve immediately with a simple leafy green salad on the side for crunch.
VARIATIONS instead of Chorizo
Cook strips of boneless chicken with sundried tomato, olives and crushed garlic.
Serve risotto with bbq lamb chops or cutlets
Serve with grilled sausages of your choice
Replace chorizo with peeled raw prawns and follow same method 

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Monday, July 25, 2011

XO Fish - XOXOXO...lent

It could be because I am a Piscean in astrological terms or it could be because I just like the taste of it – Fish…or Pesci, Pescados, Poisson, Maach or Ikan…just to name a few ways to say it.  Now while I favour fish cooked whole as my first choice, I won’t say no to cutlets of bigger fish or even boneless fillets as long as they are cooked with care not to diminish the natural flavour of the fish and take over the dish.  This recipe came from a need to cook with Chinese XO Sauce just because I liked way it sounded…XO Sauce…say it with me…XOXOXO...lent (Bad Black Eyes Peas reference there…for those of you paying attention).  In case you didn’t know the XO does not stand for hugs and kisses as used affectionately in greeting cards and text messages.  Instead it stands for Extra Old and is actually used in identifying fine cognac liquor in Hong Kong and branding a product with an XO meant prestige and luxury.  This has been translated to XO Sauce too and you will regularly see the bottles packaged like fine liquor. 
My brand of choice is the Lin Lin brand that has a Panda as its brand mascot.  Unfortunately, it does not come in a glossy package but a rather humble bottle with a basic label.  Nevertheless,  I have used Lin Lin quite often and it is a wonderful ingredient.  There are plenty of other XO sauce brands out there, but my preference is based on its full flavoured taste and balance.  I have found some XO sauces that work better as a dipping sauce for side of your plate and these are a little too well rounded to cook with as they do not impart any further flavour but are still worthy if all else fails.         
Now it does not take much to get this dish up to the table and have your diners thinking they were at an eatery in downtown Hong Kong – minus the hustle and bustle...and expensive airfare.
INGREDIENTS – to serve 4
600g x White Fish Fillets (the fresher the better)
1tsp x Chinese Five Spice Powder
Sichuan Pepper & Salt (optional)
½ cup x Cornflour
Oil for deep frying
1 small bunch Spring Onions, sliced finely
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
4Tbsp x XO Sauce
1Tbsp x Sambal Olek (Chilli Paste)
2Tbsp Shao Xing Wine
¼ - ½ cup Water
Cut the fish fillets into about 2 cm cubes and dust them with the Chinese five spice powder.
Put the cornflour into a clean plastic bag and season with the pepper and salt
Place enough oil in a deep pan and fry the fish in batches for 4 minutes 
The fish surface should be crispy, remove from the oil and drain well on paper towel
In a wok heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and stir fry half the spring onions and the garlic for a minute
Add the XO Sauce and the sambal olek and stir continuously so that it does not catch for another minute
Pour in the Shao Xing Wine and let it cook out for a few seconds
Add ¼ cup of water and stir through to thin out the sauce
Taste the sauce and add more XO or Chilli if desired, add more water if required
Return the fish to the wok folding gently so that the fish does not break
When the fish is reheated through garnish with the remaining spring onions and remove to a serving plate
XO Fish

XO Pork
XO Chicken
The variations on this dish are plenty, once you have your basic XO flavour foundation:
Increase the dish with the addition of steamed vegatables like beans, snow peas, broccoli, asparagus.  Add these in just after the fish as they do not need any further cooking.
Replace the Fish with 500g peeled raw prawns
Replace fish with boneless chicken thigh fillets and fry for 6-7 minutes
Stir through cooked noodles for an saucy XO Noodle Box style dish 

Thai Chili Basil Chicken

Normally I would associate my creations in Thai cuisine to be built on a coconut base. Many a Thai Red or Green curry has made its way from my wok, to my plate, to my belly. This time however, I embarked on a different side of my Thai culinary repertoire - Chili Basil Chicken.
Surprisingly, I only discovered this dish at the beginning of 2011, whilst on holidays in sunny Queensland. On the Sunshine Coast, I found that there was no shortage of Thai eateries. It seems like the balmy weather makes the taste buds of Queenslanders crave (and tolerate!) the hot and the spicy. Needless to say my meal time decisions were now pretty much made for me quite instantly and Thai food was the clear winner.
I ordered a plate of Chili Basil Chicken at a hawker style street-side shop with limited outdoor seating shared with the adjoining pizzeria. The combination of flavours is what hit me for six as it was totally unexpected that a Thai dish, without coconut milk, tasted so good. And like most good stir fries - the simple ingredients are what give this dish both its exuberance and balance. Oh! And it is ready in minutes, so ideal weeknight fare.  Try it out.  You will be pleasantly surprised, as I was.
INGREDIENTS - to serve 5-6
3 x 400g Chicken Breasts, skin removed
2tbsp x Vegetable Oil
4 x Garlic Cloves, sliced thinly
2 x Medium Onions, diced finely
400g x Capsicum, sliced into strips
60ml x Soy Sauce (Light Soy gives the dish more zing, Dark Soy makes it more choose)
60ml x Oyster Sauce
2tbsp x Sweet Soy (Kecap Manis)
125ml x Water 
4 x Red Chillies, sliced finely (adjust the amount depending how hot you like it)
1 x bunch Thai Basil - regular Basil can be substituted but it lacks the punchy flavour of it's Asian cousin
4 Kaffir Lime leaves, vein removed then sliced into fine strands
Combine the sauces and taste for sweet and salty balance.  Remember this sauce will be diluted with the water and cooking juices so it will develop more flavour.
Slice chicken into stir fry strips
Heat a wok on medium and add half the oil and garlic.  Sautee gently do not allow garlic to burn
Turn heat up to high and add half the chicken strips.  Stir continuously until the meat is sealed all over. 
Remove the chicken and keep aside.  Repeat process with remaining oil, garlic and chicken.
Return all chicken to the wok and add the onion.  Stir fry for 4 minutes.
Pour in the combined sauces and combine well to coat the chicken.
Add the water a little at a time, tasting the sauce with each addition for a balance of flavours.
Stir through the basil leaves and chilli slices
Cook for a minute or two then remove from heat.
Garnish with the slivers of kaffir lime leaves.
Serve immediately with Thai Jasmine Rice
"When I serve this up at family dinners it always gets rave reviews and it is one of my favourite dishes to cook. For me it is not quite the same as that shop in the Sunshine Coast but it comes close and definitely brings back fond holiday memories...."  
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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Cruzao Arepa Bar, Brunswick St. Fitzroy

Cruzao Arepa Bar on Urbanspoon
Recently the daily deal coupon I receive in my Inbox was for a $19 all you can eat Venezuelan feast in Fitzroy.  Now, I am not well versed in the cuisine of South America, so this was the perfect opportunity to acquire some Latino culture.  Now a feat like this is not one that I would dare endure on my own so I rounded up a gang of bandidos from work and we headed to Cruzao Arepa Bar on a rainy Wednesday night in July.
My colleagues braved the cold and walked from our office in the CBD to Fitzroy. This turned out to be quite a rewarding stroll, without the issues of traffic jams and parking that I faced as I had brought my car into the city that day.  Needless to say they arrived before me and another work mate who decided to keep me company as I cursed at slow moving traffic and red lights all the way there.

Cruzao Arepa Bar is a lot smaller than I had imagined.  A quaint little Fitzroy bar style restaurant with a backdrop of bare-faced brick walls with a dimly lit ambience.  Despite making a booking they had not set up a table for our group of 8 and from the floor layout it seemed quite daunting to configure a table for eight without constraining thoroughfare for the service staff and toilet goers.  Somehow we squeezed in and it was clear that it was going to be a fairly intimate affair. 
Dining service is split into two sessions and on this occasion we were on the 6pm slot.  The next one would have been an 8pm start but this would have been too late to wait and way too many alcoholic beverages before it would have been dinner time.  The all you can eat feast was due to be served to our tables soon, so what better way to kill time but to indulge in Cruzao's alcoholic concoctions served by the jug.  The thirsty bunch, parched after a tough day in the office indulged in jugs of the good stuff: Cuba Libre – where dark rum was the hero; Mojito – classic minty fresh; and Mango Bajito – something tropical and very mangoey!!  These delicious cocktails could have probably been washed down by the jug, each by the very competent aficionados seated at our table.  Moderation, however  needed to be exercised as it was a work night and the meal had not arrived yet.  Also at $34 a jug it may get pricey

After a rather long wait the first entrée came out – Arepitas is what our frantically busy host called them – these were deep-fried versions of the corn and cheese Arepa which we were to meet in the main course.  These fritters were served with a small bowl of Guasacaca – spicy avocado salsa (not Guacamole!!!) The mini arepas had a great crispy texture with a soft cornmeal centre.  The avocado salsa was almost the perfect accompianment until our table was presented with a canister of chilli salsa – Oh yeah! Now it was a real party!!!

Round 2 of the entrée bout was a selection of Venezuelan tapas – now these were quite different to any tapas of the Spanish kind that I had tasted before.  There definitely was an emphasis on potatoes and their other starchy cousins.  Yuca Frita – chunky fat chips made from cassava.  Papita Criolla - bite size whole roasted sweetish Chats (baby potatoes!).  Tostones - Plantain fritters with a fetta and aioli crumble – and knowing that bananas were a highly priced fruit in our markets – these were eaten with delicate respect.  To finish off the platter, a nice bowl of Chorizo, Venezuelan style with salsa de maiz (corn) – not as spicy as the Spanish variety but definitely worthy.  Tapas does translate to morsels, and morsels do get quickly quickly devoured by our crew.  Pretty soon we were eating the chilli salsa by itself.  Our host asked if we wanted another round of tapas, which we thought was a rhetorical question.  Bring it on…again!!

Ok entrées aside and tastebuds very much satisfied the thirst kicks in and the next jug of something something is brought out with an exotic name like Guarapita – you know it’s gonna be good. Dark Rum, passionfruit and Grenadine makes for a good combo. It was time for the mains and what better way to start than with an introduction to the Arepa from our resident Venezuelan host.  Arepas are gluten free corn pockets – although most of us found it hard to create a pocket from them and ended up breaking them or splitting them much like an English Muffin. 

Nevertheless the bread was in motion and now to the fillings.  Cruzao has an extensive menu of fillings ranging from clasicas – shredded beef, sweet chilli chicken, grated cheese; to especiales – pork leg with tomato and haloumi, black bean with avocado and plantain.  They come in little ramekins and you fill your arepas with these, to your best ability.  There was more of the Guacacasa and yes…more chilli salsa. I think we went through two canisters much to the waiting staff's surprise. 
Keeping in mind that it was an all you can eat offer we were sure to indulge in another smaller serve of the above, just to be sure.

If we thought that there was not much left to eat, we were wrong as we had forgotten about dessert.  Cruzao delivers with its after dinner sweet menu unlike some unmentionable places - does not let you down with tinned fruit and store bought ice cream.  Of the dishes that we tried the Quesillo was a favourite – a delicate flan made with corn, it had a grainy texture and you could taste the fresh ground corn in it. 
Crema Tropical was fruit mousse de Venezuala and the Arroz Con Leche was reminiscent of a rice pudding with cinnamon garnish.  These were of different tropical flavours and were light and well balanced. 

Most intriguing was the Tres Leches, which was a sponge cake soaked in three types of milk.  Disputing whether it was cow’s, goat’s and some other domesticated herd animal, we were set straight by the waitress revealing to us that the three milks were, full cream, condensed and evaporated…”Oh I see those milks”.

All in all the Cruzao experience was well enjoyed by all.  Although they are not set up for big groups, they will still squeeze you in.  The cuisine and atmosphere however, is better enjoyed in a group.  If you are there on a weekend or even the 8pm services you may be lucky enough to be entertained by a variety of different music acts that they feature on selected nights.  How they fit a stage in that tiny front of house is amazing!  But it all is characteristic of the charm in the hustle and bustle and crazy shenanigans of Cruzao Arepa Bar.
Whilst we dined with coupons entitling us to all you can eat for a mere $19, the standard price is $55 – which can be deemed as somewhat steep but it is all you can eat.  In this case, rather, it is all you can eat, that can be possibly served to your table, within the time you have allocated (2 hours), for your dinner service.  A better option may be to order a la carte, which is available, and stick to dishes that you know.  Of the food that we sampled there was not a single one that got a bad review from our group of diners, so rest assured, you won’t be at a loss.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

De-constructed Chicken Avocado Wrap

I am not too fond of boring sandwiches and fancy filled wraps.  Sure they are convenient and healthy, but at best of times they just lack that certain something that gives me the foodie satisfaction I need from the food I eat.  The idea of de-constructing the dish into something different appeals to me and with sandwiches and wraps it has greater appeal as I like being able to control the amount of any particular ingredient.
Everyone must have had some form of chicken combined with avocado - admittedly they are a great duo on any plate - unless you have a dislike to chicken and/or avocado (in which case read another section of my blog). Having visited an avocado plantation in Queensland and eaten the ripe fruit from the tree, I have garnered a greater appreciation for them and when I find them in the markets I buy heaps and use them in regularly.
Now this is a fairly easy recipe and is hardly noteworthy, once tried you should just be able to whip this up in no time.  Think on the lines of Nachos - you know corn chips drizzled with salsa and melted cheese...yes your there! (Reminder to self - Post Chili Con Carne and Nachos recipe on blog soon)
Take your ordinary bread wrap - this can be the corn style, whole wheat, pita, Lebanese, mountain or even tortillas - depending on how much of the carb you want to eat chop the loaves roughly.  I used corn tortillas and in the way of nachos I cut them into triangles.  Pop these on a baking tray and bake for 5-8 minutes in a preheated 200 degree oven.  Check them regularly so that they do not burn and take them out when they are as crisp as you like it.
Now get your would be chicken filling - My suggestion is leftover chicken breast from the big rottisserie chook from yesterday - in my home the bony bits get precedence and the dryer white breast meat always remains untouched.  Slice the chicken up as you desire - thick or thin your choice.  If you prefer too warm the chicken do so now or if you are in a hurry - just leave it cold, it's just as good.
Get your lovely ripe avacado and cut into slices - the texture should be firm yet creamy and deliciously green. 
For the dressing combine a couple of tablespoons of good whole egg mayo and sour cream with a teaspoon or two of your favourite chili sauce and mix well.  Season with a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.
Now create your plate, bread chips first then the sliced chicken and avocado pieces and then drizzle the sauce generously all over.  If you wanted to you could dress the plate up even more with some salad greens  - rocket and watercress are my favourites.  (I also pinched a couple of slices of leftover garlic bread to add to the carb factor - this is optional)   You now have very delicious sandwich - deconstructed...or if you wanted to linger on the side of boring - just make a constructed 'proper' sandwich...but you are not boring...are you???    
"When you have had enough of beaches and sand in the Gold Coast - head on up to Tropical Fruit World for something fruity and different - definite foodie pleaser"

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Parma Times...good times @ Palmerston Hotel, Sth Melbourne.

The Palmerston Hotel on Urbanspoon

The Parma or Chicken Parmagiana - is probably one of the best pub grub items that is recommended to any discerning diner looking for a good counter meal. Noted as one of the best places to feast on a good parma in Melbourne is the Palmerston Hotel. Located on the corner of the busy Kingsway strip and Palmerston Crescent, it is only fitting that their signature dish be the Parma, and they even do their own variation with a twist called the Palmie.
It's Saturday night and with some time to kill before meeting up with some friends for a night on the town, my buddy MH mentioned he had a hankering for a Parma. I knew of the Palmerston but had not eaten a Parma there so just a short drive out of the city alongside the bustling traffic of other Saturday night 'out on the towners' and we're there.
A family friendly pub greets you with the warmth of dark cedar furniture and fittings. Big screens showing the current football match at the MCG and mesmerised footy devotees feeding their faces with their eyes fixated on the match.
We're seated quite promptly and the large blackboards reveal the extensive menu which ranges from Steaks and Curries to a most intriguing Chicken Wellington. Gastro-pub style menu much appreciated but we knew what we wanted, so bring it on and to be adventurous, make mine a 'Palmie'
Up until now I'm assuming you, my reader, knows what a Parma is - but if you don't it's simply a crumbed chicken breast topped with ham, napoli tomato sauce and melted cheese.
Caution: Although simple as it sounds, it is very, very easy to be recipient of a terrible Parma... Yes it is possible to get it horribly wrong. I'm talking about dry tasteless chicken, overpowering sauce and/or not enough cheese resulting in burning the surface. Potential for disaster!!!
Mulling over a cheeky pot of the cold amber stuff known as beer, we have a short but reasonable wait for the parmas. When they are delivered to us, the look and the aroma in the air tells you - it's gonna be a good one. And it certainly is. Chicken breast cooked perfectly, still moist and tender and well flavoured. No second rate chooks were put into this ensemble. The sauce had the right amount of tang and complemented the warm blanket of ham most justifiably. The final layer of cheese also lived up to expectations, with just the right amount of molten goodness oozing as you cut into this fine work of art. The twist on my 'Palmie' was that the tomato sauce is replaced with bolognaise sauce - Bellisimmo! Great idea and while certain Parma variations can go of the rails somewhat, this one is right on track.
Noticeable, is the smallish serve of chips you receive alongside a carefree salad of basic veg. I think the kitchen does not want to take your focus away from the star of the show, and it succeeds quite remarkably. Besides, as a wise animated man once sang 'You don't make friends with salad'.
All in all, a meal well worth the visit and I'm glad to say that the Palmerston Hotel holds its signature dish in good stride.
I reckon I am going to have to put their top ten list to the test.  Let me know if you are up for a "Parma Crawl"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: Cafe Little Hut - Russell St, CBD

This tiny little cafe on Russell St, near the corner of Little Lonsdale St. greets you with the tagline "Beyond Expectations". On entry you see that it can only seat a few people and from speaking to its owner it's success relies on its regular patronage, who have obviously had their expectations meet. 
We were there at around 1pm which turned out to be not the best time to dine as we had missed out on seeing the bain maries full of food.  Of the remaining morsels in the servery was enough to make up two full sized plates for our lunch meal. 
The owner-operator, who was quite welcoming and friendly gave us a bit of history on her endeavour with Cafe Little Hut. When acquired three years ago in 2008 it read simply Cafe 294, and served coffee to the regulars. Not being on the busier end of Russell St, the need to expand the menu to include lunch items was quickly realised. The result is a bain marie laden with home-cooked style Sri Lankan goodness. 
Our plates came served to our tables with a timbale of rice on the centre of a square plate surrounded by small serves of various dishes akin to a plate you would be served at your auntie's house. There was a small serve of chicken curry and a dryer style beef curry. A couple of vegetable dishes and a nice serve of homemade chutney.
Whilst the plate set-up is that more of a tasting plate rather than the regular rice and curry affair, it does give you trip through the Sri Lankan menu. The curries are well seasoned and spiced with just the right amount of heat for my trained palate. The definite highlight is the chutney which is reminiscent of South East Asian sambals, and it complements each mouthful very nicely.
For home-style cooking that you know is from the heart Cafe Little Hut definitely delivers. I do recommend an earlier lunch visit to ensure you can get more of the dish you like, although the tasting plate with rice that we had was also quite pleasing.

Malaysian Style Sambal Recipes

I love Sambal - I could probably eat it with a plate of steamed rice alone, because it is so flavoursome. The main Sambals that I create have a Malaysian influence and I am yet to create those from Indonesia. They all seem to have similar ingredients - covering the usual hot - from the chillies, sour from the tamarind, sweet from the sugar and salt from the shrimp paste. Try the two fairly easy ones I have posted. They go great with just about any Asian dish.
Basic Sambal Paste
This is a simple, easy to make Malaysian style sambal paste and does not take very long to make and even quicker to eat. These simple condiments pack a blast of flavour and will leave your taste buds wanting more and more.
In a small food processor blend the following ingredients to a thick paste:
2 Tbsp Chilli Paste (Sambal Olek)
1 x Red Onion, roughly chopped
1 Garlic cloves, chopped
2tsp of Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp Tamarind Concentrate (or ½ cup of Tamarind puree)
1 x cup of chopped Dried Prawns or 2Tbsp of Belachan
Add water if necessary to achieve right consistency
Turn out paste into a wok
Cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes then add a few drops of Sunflower Oil to give the sambal a glossy sheen.
Now this basic sambal is ready add zing to some pretty bland staples. Stir through steamed vegetables such as Asparagus, Beans, Broccoli, Cauliflower and even Boiled Eggs to create a great accompaniment to a mains dish. If you double the ingredients you could make enough to stir through cooked prawns or even on pan fried fillets of your favourite white fish - and serve it as a main meal.
The sambal will keep if refrigerated, in a airtight jar for about 2 weeks - But really!!! It has never even made it that long without being eaten.

Sambal Ikan Bilis
This is a recipe for a more traditional style sambal made with dried anchovies or Ikan Bilis. You can blend the paste ingredients in a food processor but grinding it by hand has a much better consistency - and more satisfaction for the cook. Use dried chillies and soak them in warm water before preparing the mix.
1 x cup of Ikan Bilis, rinsed in cold water
8-10 Dried Chillies, stalks and seeds removed and roughly chopped
½ Red Onion, finely diced, (finely slice other half for use later in the recipe)
2 Garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp of Belachan 
Shallow fry the Ikan Bilis in batches, in a skillet on medium heat, be careful not to burn the tiny dried fish
Drain on paper towels and keep aside
Reserve any remaining oil
In a mortar and pestle grind the remaining ingredients to a smooth paste
Place skillet on medium heat again and add remaining onion slices and a sprinkle of salt 
Cook the onions down to a golden brown, do not allow these to burn
Turn out the sambal mix into the skillet and stir fry for 1-2 minutes
Add the fried Ikan Bilis to the dish and fold through to combine
Add 1Tbsp of Brown Sugar and stir through
Season with Salt to taste
Serve as an accompaniment to a mains dish or if you must – feel free to eat it with a plate of steamed rice and a fried egg - I do!.
This sambal has a longer shelf life of up to 4 weeks in the fridge but once again - why would you want to keep it so lonely in your fridge for so long.