The Feast of Christmas Past.

8 Feb

No matter where you live in the world, if you celebrate Christmas, you know it’s “eating season”. Every culture has their own traditional eats and treats, and every family their own way of celebrating through food. Having spent 5 years in the UK, and 3 of them with an English boyfriend, I’ve had my fair share of different Christmas experiences. But in the end I do love coming home to the Australian Christmas, with it’s openness to new ideas, and it’s blend of old and new traditions. As opposed to the UK, there is no right or wrong way of doing Christmas lunch. Some Aussie families do the traditional turkey roast, some do ham, and some seafood. This year we did a bit of everything.

The Ham.


My Mum has always done a Christmas ham. I suppose this has been the one constant over the years. The bloody thing is massive, and the best part is that you can keep eating it all week! Mum generally buys the leg, and bakes it herself. Here is the recipe:

Total: 2 hours, 30 minutes

  • 1  cooked, bone-in half ham (about 7 to 8 lbs.)
  • 15  whole cloves
  • 1/4  cup  dark brown sugar
  • 1/4  cup  maple syrup
  • 2  tablespoons  Dijon mustard

Preheat oven to 325°. Cut off the tough, leatherlike skin from ham (if it has it; some hams will not), and score the fat in a crosshatch pattern. Stud ham all over with cloves, put in a large roasting pan, and loosely tent with foil. Bake until a thermometer inserted in center of thickest part (not touching the bone) registers 135°, about 20 minutes per lb. or 2 to 2 1/2 hours total, basting occasionally with any accumulated juices.

While ham is baking, make the glaze: In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, maple syrup, and mustard. Whisk until smooth. When ham has about 40 minutes left to bake (internal temperature will be 120° to 125°), brush generously on all sides with glaze. Continue baking until ham reaches 135° and glaze is well browned.

The Seafood



Eating fresh seafood is probably one of the few intrinsically Australian things to do at Christmas. I don’t really remember when it came about, but somewhere in my childhood (probably after one too many 40° Christmas Days) a lot of Aussies ditched the turkey roast cos it was just too damned hot. But Christmas is still a special occasion, and what’s more special than a truckload of fresh prawns, oysters, crab and lobster? Nothing, that’s what. I’m salivating a little now just thinking about it!

This year, in addition to the fresh, cold seafood (which is amazing just as it is) I thought I would do something different. Dad and I went to the fish shop  at Gouger St Market, in Adelaide, hoping to get some fresh crab, but the only fresh stuff they had was in the shell. They had a bunch of frozen Western Australian Blue Swimmer crab in packets though. So, although not ideal, I thought buying it pre-shelled would save me a lot of prep time. And a lot of money too, since the shell stuff was being sold by the kilo, which is a lot of money to spend of shell I wasn’t going to use!

I left the crab in the fridge overnight to defrost, and on Christmas morning I used it to make one of my favourite appetisers:

French Style Crab Lettuce Boats

  • 200 – 400 grams Fresh (or Frozen) Crab Meat
  • Sour Cream
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Chives
  • Baby Cos Lettuce (or any small leaf that can make boats)
  • Olive oil (or we used lobster oil)

After you have collected all the ingredients, the whole thing is fairly simple. Cook your crab in a large pan, with just a little oil and some salt and pepper. Mum had some lobster oil, so we used that instead of olive oil. It’s a good idea to do small amounts at a time, so you can make sue it is all cooked properly. Leave it to cool for a while and then just mix the crab with a couple of spoons of sour cream, and dijon mustard. Add your cream and mustard slowly, bit by bit, according to taste. It will make the crab quite rich, so you don’t want to add too much. You also don’t want to make it too wet. Chop your chives and stir those through. Separate your mix into two serving bowls, so you can keep one fresh in the fridge for later (or in case you don’t need it, you can use it the next day for crab cakes). Sprinkle some chives onto the top of the crab mix for decoration. Chop up your lettuce leaves into little boats and place on a platter or plate. Then serve your crab mix and lettuce, allowing guests to spoon the mix into their own lettuce boats.

The Potatoes

This is the one thing I really learned from my British Christmases. The perfect roast potato. Every year there are loads of Christmas cooking shows on in the UK, and every one of them teaches you how to make the perfect roastie. Here is how I do mine:

  • Potatoes
  • Goose Fat (or we used duck fat this year)
  • Salt

And that’s it! Not a lot to it, but it’s all in the method. First, obviously peel and chop your potatoes. Try and keep them an even size, so they cook at the same rate. If you have a lot you may want to keep the peeled ones in a bowl of water to stop them browning. Remember to use a good roasting potato. King Edward, Maris Piper and Desiree are all great.

Put on a big pot of water to boil. Pre heat your oven, I like it hot (about 200-220° to start with). Put a little bit of the goose fat in a big roasting tray to melt and get super hot. Put your potatoes into the boiling water and leave for about 10 mins or so. The edges of the potatoes should be soft, but not cooked through in the centre. If you have one, get a metal strainer and drain the potatoes through that. Then toss them around a lot, to scuff up all the soft edges. The scuffed bits are where the fat will soak in and make the potatoes crispy and delicious. Once scuffed, put them back in the pot and stir some more of the goose fat through, covering the potatoes. Then pour them into the roasting tray, and leave for about 20 mins before checking them, turning them or adjusting the heat.

After the first 20 mins, keep an eye on your potatoes. Don’t just leave them. You will know they’re done by the colour. You will want to bring them out every now and again (not too often though) to turn them over, and make sure there is lots of fat covering them. The longer you leave them, the crispier they will get. But just watch the heat, and the time you leave them unattended. You don’t want to burn them!

Then just salt them, plate them and serve them with Christmas dinner, and watch the hordes scramble for them. They are always a winner.

The Salads


It is usually good to have a couple of salads to go with the ham and seafood, and everyone seems to have a favourite one they make. My Mum has an Asian salad she makes at every opportunity at the moment, but I’m a big fan of a more Greek style salad with pumpkin, pine nuts and herbs. Here is the recipe:

Pumpkin and Fetta Salad

  • 1/2 pumpkin
  • rocket
  • baby spinach
  • flat leaf parsley
  • fresh mint
  • soft creamy fetta
  • pine nuts
  • lemon
  • olive oil
  • dijon mustard

Cut the pumpkin into small cubes, drizzle with olive oil and pop them in the oven to roast. Toss the spinach, rocket, and herbs all together in a salad bowl. Scatter a handful of pine nuts in a dry fying pan to toast for a couple of minutes, but not too long. As soon as they get some colour, take them off. Chop up the fetta into small cubes and toss through the salad leaves. Check on the pumpkin. It really only takes about ten minutes. Once the pumpkin is soft, it is cooked (although you can leave it longer to get that roasting colour on the edges, if you want). Toss the pumpkin through the salad, and then throw in the pine nuts.

For the dressing, you can mix olive oil, lemon juice, dijon mustard and a bit of salt and pepper. Or you could just use your favourite oil based dressing if you don’t have time. Italian dressing works fine.

—-

Of course, then there was Christmas pudding (with custard, and brandy sauce) and my Mum made a lovely pavlova (I will put the recipe up another day). Then there was cheese, coffee, lots of wine, and our annual Trivial Pursuit match, which my Dad and I won!

So what do your family do for Christmas? Is it traditional? Or do you do something interesting, or different?

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Review – Dench.

6 Dec

Dench, Scotchmer St, Fitzroy North

Brunch is as much a Melbourne institution as wearing black, drinking coffee, getting served boutique beer by someone with a sleeve tattoo, and not remembering the taxi home from Cherry Bar.

Once upon a time though, we were more than happy to staunch our hangover ills, and flick through Beat magazine, over a choice of Eggs Benedict or Florentine. But now we’re not happy unless we can choose between a veritable smorgasbord of fancy toasts (Turkish, sourdough, light rye, dark rye, gluten free, New Guinean magic seed), have our eggs baked with something slightly odd (I once had dim sum baked eggs, it was weird), with a side of gourmet, hand crafted baked beans, fresh guacamole made from Peruvian avocados and/or vegetarian goats cheese chorizo. It’s basically foodie heaven, provided the previous evening’s revelry has rendered you capable of stomaching anything more than eggs on toast.

On Sunday I hauled my hungover body out of bed at 10am, to go and meet a friend I had not seen for years at Dench, in Scotchmer St. Having not been there before, I was looking forward to trying something new, and knowing it was in the heart of Fitzroy North, I threw on a black floral maxi dress, and a big old pair of black sunglasses. Once I was rocking my faux-Boho, “I’m so alternative in a the-same-as-everyone-else kind of way” outfit, I strolled from Clifton Hill, past all the nice houses (imagining I was wealthy enough to actually buy one, and mentally refitting the second bedroom as a library) and across Edinburgh Gardens (mentally walking the dog I am yet to own).

For once, the weather was on our side, and we even managed to wrangle a table outside on the street. Pretty soon a funky looking lady in a neck scarf was taking our coffee orders and bringing us menus. As I made a quick trip over the specials board, I did the all important “food envy test”, checking out all the meals other people were eating for maximum potential deliciousness. I spotted a girl who was managing to eat a tasty and hearty looking egg and real ham type dish in a very ladylike way, and decided to give her a run for her money.

My friend Tim ordered the Bircher Muesli with fruit. Undeterred by his undecadent selection, I asked her for the “Toad in the Hole” with ham hock, spinach, and caramelised onion & corn relish. We then proceeded to catch up on 8 years of news (which in the age of Facebook is essentially colouring in the sketchy outlines you already know), reminisced about our days as uni housemates, told a few travel stories, and talked about good restaurants and cafes.

Then our food arrived; Tim’s delicate glass of fruity, yoghurty muesli, and my hog laden trencher, brimming with hangover curing potency. And it didn’t disappoint. Contrary to the British understanding of the term “toad in the hole”, in this case it was not sausage and mash in a giant Yorkshire pudding, but rather toast with the centres removed and replaced with fried egg. On top of this the generous chefs had piled hot chunks of ham hock, with wilted spinach, and a ramekin of cold corn relish on the side. The dish had the potential to be too greasy and a bit rich, but the spinach and the relish helped keep it fresh and light, the ham was lean and perfectly cooked, and the egg yolks deliciously runny.

Tim also assured me that Dench Bakery make the best bread in Melbourne, often used in some of the best restaurants in town. And given the top culinary credentials he exhibited throughout the meal (telling me where to find the best coffees, hangover breakfasts, and wine bars, sharing stories about the Wine Club where he tried the top 100 wines in Australia, and the night he flipped a coin to see who would pay for the Dom Perignon) I’m inclined to believe him.

Of course, as he told me these tales of gastronomic decadence, I marvelled for a moment at how far we’d come since sharing a flat as 21 year olds, when the height of our culinary sophistication was Tim teaching me that his secret to good bolognaise was to put ketchup-style tomato sauce in it.

By the time we had finished, said goodbye and Tim mounted his bike to ride home, I thought I couldn’t feel any more Melbourne. Until I checked my iPhone and listened to a message from my friend saying we should get organised for Meredith next weekend, and made a plan with another friend to have a drink later at the Labour in Vain. Then my borderline wanky, Melbourification was complete.

Or should that be Melburnification?

So good, I cried.

30 Nov

There are a lot of stupid things that make me cry. Dogs dying in movies. Obama speeches. Qantas ads. And I don’t mean balling my eyes out, like I did when Buddy got hit by a train in Fried Green Tomatoes (or frankly, the hot guy dies in any movie). I just mean welling up. Feeling that emotion involuntarily rise up in my throat, and choke me a little.

Sometimes I get that feeling because a moment is so beautiful, and my senses are so overloaded with pleasure that the emotions bubble to the surface, and become little tears of joy. Like what happens to a lot of girls after they have sex with someone they love. Or at least like a lot. Or at least don’t immediately regret. It happens to me when I eat an amazing meal.

Now, I don’t mean every meal. I don’t start blubbing just because I’m shovelling spag bol into my gob, or the local cafe cooked my poached eggs correctly. (Or they didn’t cook them correctly, and the yolk is all hard – which frankly is very sad, and a shameful waste of a good egg.) I mean that perfect moment, where expectation, occasion, company, location, wine and food all come together to create a moment so memorable, that you can almost feel it etching itself into your mental book of great moments.

And as the sublime ambience overwhelms you, or you take a sip of that perfect (albeit mid-priced) wine, or a mouthful of a dish that is so delicious you feel pleasure run through your entire body, or you look into the faces of the family, friend or loved ones across the table, it suddenly becomes too much. You put down your knife and fork, take a deep breath and your eyebrows furrow with emotion. Someone across the table asks “What’s wrong?” And you reply, your voice breaking ever so slightly, “It’s just so good.”

Or maybe that’s just me…?

Granted, this has only happened to me a few times. You wouldn’t want to break down like Gwyneth Paltrow on Oscar night every time you went out for a meal. For a start your friends would probably suspect you had some deep seated emotional issues, stemming from an unpleasant restaurant experience as a child. And I suppose, not being incredibly wealthy, the chances of eating at a restaurant capable of creating such a perfect moment are certainly reduced. You can eat a good meal on a budget. But a tear-worthy one generally comes at the expense of a fair wad of cash. Which may be the very thing bringing a tear to the eye of the more tightarse amongst us!

Now, I have had some damn tasty meals since I have been back in Australia, but yet to have a truly tear-worthy one – although Bar Lourinha came close. I think one more bottle of wine and I would have been in blub city. But since I’m feeling nostaligic, I thought I would give you a recap of a couple of meals that literally brought tears to my eyes.

Ee Usk – Oban, Scotland.


It’s a fact that white wine makes me cry, for a start. It’s kind of like my kryptonite. I will only drink white wine with food, or when it is really hot and sunny, and even then I need to make sure that all my emotional ducks are in a row. In my early 20s, I used to give my phone to someone else before I even touched the stuff, knowing that I would call or text the cute boy I was trying not to text or call. I almost never drink and dial anymore, but white wine still has the power to turn me from relaxed and cool, to sad and decidedly lame.

So add to that unbelievably fresh seafood, pulled out of Oban Bay (probably that morning) and waterworks were pretty much a certainty on this particular evening. I was also having dinner with three of my favourite people (Fee, Macca and Chris) in the middle of a tour around Scottish Highlands, one of my favourite places in the world. I had first gone to the Highlands on a tour when I was 23, and I always say, in my usual needlessly poignant (and probably drunk on white wine) fashion, that I had left a piece of my heart there I would never get back.

 

Fiona Grant, Andrew Macdonald, Chris Amblin at Ee Usk, Oban

Fiona Grant, Andrew Macdonald, Chris Amblin at Ee Usk, Oban

But back to dinner. Ee Usk has one of the most spectacular views of any restaurant in the world; floor to ceiling windows overlooking the beautiful Oban Bay, the distant blue hills of the Isle of Mull rising from the ocean. I had spent a summer living in Oban five years earlier (in an attempt to find that missing heart-piece, only to lose even more of it), so returning there is always a sentimental experience. As mentioned above, I’m a ridiculously sentimental person at the best of times (if we ever get drunk together, I will probably tell you I love you), so it was no surprise that after fresh oysters so big you couldn’t swallow them whole, two bottles of white wine, one glorious sunset, and about one mouthful of lobster, tears came to my eyes.

York & Albany, London.


One of the best things about living in London is the prevalence of amazing restaurants there are to go to – Claridges, Maze, Fifteen, Nobu, The Ivy, River Cafe just to name a few. One of the worst things is not ever having enough money to go to any of them! I have often referred to living in London as haemorrhaging money. Every time you leave the house £40 seems to evaporate from your wallet, and you have no idea how it happened, and nothing to show for it.

Luckily for all of us, we get one birthday a year, which provides ample excuse for spending all your money in a decadent, food-related manner. Even more luckily for me, while I lived in London, I also had a partner, who also had a birthday, so this meant that I got to go up-market twice a year. Not that our usual romantic meals at Miso and The Real Greek weren’t a treat, but there’s nothing like blowing £250 on a single meal, and then getting a black cab home clutching your stuffed bellies, and passing out from over indulgence the minute your head hits the pillow. Now that’s romance.

On this one particular evening, we were lucky enough to have in insider. A very good friend of mine, Georgia, was an assistant manager at Gordon Ramsay’s relatively new restaurant and boutique hotel the York & Albany, where the esteemed Angela Hartnett was the head chef. She was always telling us about the latest celebrities who had been in, and asking us when we were going to come in for dinner. My partner, Chris’s birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally take her up on the offer.

In preparation, I barely ate all day, and wore an empire line dress with plenty of opportunity for the pending expanding belly-line (top tip). When we arrived Georgia sat us in the bar, got us complimentary cocktails and macadamia nuts, and pointed to the Harley Davidson outside the window that Keanu Reeves had hired. Disappointingly Keanu was closeted away in his room upstairs, but Darren Aronofsky and Rachel Weiss were just across the bar.

She had reserved us a table in these beautiful red velvet bankettes, just opposite the open kitchen, and had recommended a few things we had to try. I remember having the most delicious salmon ravioli, which I inhaled in about two blissful mouthfuls, and probably ran my finger across the empty plate in a most uncivilised manner, to make sure I got every drop. Then, on Georgia’s recommendation, we had the Cote du Beouf. If you have never had one, it is basically an enormous rib of beef, usually served for more than one person. Even thinking about it now, my back teeth ache, and my mouth waters.

I’ll be honest. I’m an unashamed carnivore. I went to a music festival in Sweden once, where all the food was vegan and cooked by these excruciatingly slow hippies around campfires. After four days of this uninspiring and frankly insufficient food, I found myself camped on the footpath outside the first supermarket we could find, eating Swedish meatballs wrapped in salami, covered in barbeque sauce.

So for me, the sight of a slab of perfectly cooked, top shelf red meat, served on a big wooden board, two wedges of the inner pink flesh tantalisingly sliced to give you just a hint of the sublime meaty goodness which awaits you, was frankly enough to make me weep open tears of joy. And that’s before I even tasted it, and the meat just melted away in my mouth. Then add to this the house speciality side, creamy dauphinoise potatoes with truffle and bone marrow, and the most delicious buttery beans and spinach, and I had no chance. The wine, that beef, those potatoes and those greens…. Even now I feel emotional. Hands down, the most delicious, moreish, beautiful thing I have ever eaten.

And that’s before our dessert, free cheese, and dessert wine! I will never forget that meal. Truly tear-jerking.

Have you ever had a meal so good it made you cry? Where was it? Tell me about it…

Review – Longrain

28 Oct

Some friends of mine put together a bit of a group last year – it’s called Eating Team Action Force. And they’re a bit like the A Team, except they mostly just go to nice restaurants and eat stuff. Sometimes they drink stuff too. Upon my return to Melbourne, I was lucky enough to be added to this elite squadron of diners, and invited to the next Eating Team event. After a few suggestions were bandied about, it was decided that we would go to Longrain, a modern Thai restaurant in Little Bourke St, with a big reputation. A date was chosen, a table was booked, and on the evening itself the team assembled.

I arrived first (I had a good book and I fancied a bit of a read with a nice cocktail). I was struck by the modern sleekness of the restaurant and bar, and the space they had – a big open hall, with long tables, big round light fixtures, and the obligatory fish tank so synonymous with Asian restaurants. Except unlike old school Asian eateries, this had the edgy sophistication of a modern bar too, and a DJ spinning relaxed dance music in the corner. I ordered a Singapore Sling from the charming barman, feeling like I could have been at the bar of a trendy New York restaurant.

Not long after the gang arrived, and began ordering cocktails with fervour. There were Martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, it was all very classy. We then took our seat at our table, the prime round table in the window under the biggest of all the round light fixtures. In true “big group ordering sharing food” fashion, there was some discussion on how ordering was going to be done, and how many dishes we needed, but as the team were so well practiced at this by now, it all seemed to go pretty smoothly, and our dishes were ordered. There was a little discussion over my choice of the Salt and Pepper Tofu, but I assured everyone that we would have sufficient meat, and that I was sure it would be tasty. After all, it’s not like I’m a vegetarian! I just like fried tofu!

Our waitress was very helpful, telling us how many dishes we needed, running to the kitchen to find out about certain ingredients in a dish for the table’s allergy sufferer. When she returned from the kitchen I was poised with the wine menu, and ordered a mid-priced white and red (when ordering for a group, you don’t want to order something crap, but you also don’t want to make them all stump up for a $70 bottle of wine!). I drank the red, which was a Cote du Rhone, my favourite French region, and at $31 a bottle, it was a bit of a bargain. Luckily the other red drinkers were happy with my selection.

The dishes soon started arriving, and we started with some little Freshly Shucked Oysters with Red Chilli, Lime Juice & Crispy Shallots. Although they were over in a quick swallow, they were very tasty, fresh and zingy, but not too spicy. Because if you’re having oysters, you want to taste the oyster! Next, two enormous fried Flounders were brought out (one especially for our allergic sister) and they looked amazing. Eagerly I cracked my fork through the crispy coating and found the white flesh underneath soft and tender. With the sauce on the side it was a real treat, and I must admit I probably ate way more than my share!


Then came out my tofu, and to my delight, it was delicious, and quickly snapped up by those with quick forks. In fact it was such a hit (and also quite a small dish) that we ordered more. We also had Green Papaya Salad (which was a bit spicy for me), and Caramelized Pork Belly with Chilli Vinegar (which went very quickly, and I only got a small taste of – but I wish I’d had more because it was lovely). There were a couple of other dishes (a lamb, and some greens)  that I didn’t get to taste because I kept eating the Flounder, and then rice with the Flounder sauce on it. I wish I had written down what the sauce was, because it was delicious! (Does anyone remember?)

Soon, the plates were cleared, the desserts menu came out, and a few of us decided that we would have booze-ert instead. Andy quizzed the waitress about their ports and dessert wines. Although she didn’t know the answers to our questions (I think she might have been quite new) she was happy to ask the bar and check for us. We ended up ordering glasses of Tokaji, which we contentedly sipped while our sweet toothed compatriots ate their delicious looking creations. (Guys, if you want to tell me about your desserts, leave a comment!)

The bill (including cocktails, wine, tokaji and desserts) only came to $80 each, including tip, which was very reasonable for the level of decadence, quality and service. It seems the Longrain reputation is well deserved, and I would highly recommend a visit.

Bastions of Melbourne.

21 Oct

I recently heard they were shutting down The Vineyard, in Acland St. It made me sad to hear it, even though I have only ever been there once. I guess it’s because it is one of those places you just feel like should always be there, just in case. That kind of continuity is important, especially in a town as ever-changing, and ever-gentrifying as Melbourne. One minute everyone wants to live in Fitzroy, or Williamstown, and then Northcote or Yarraville, and then Thornbury and who knows where… Seaford? And while it’s nice that there is always a new hip bar, or cafe, a new trendy pocket to explore, and a new hot restaurant to queue up for, there is something comforting about those places that are always there, and never change.

These places became especially clear to me because I spent so many years living out of Melbourne, out of the country (hemisphere) in fact. I would get to come back to my hometown once a year, if I was lucky. The last two times I brought an Englishman with me, and felt it was my responsibility to take him to all the places I felt truly defined Melbourne. The bastions of Melbourne dining, if you will.

These will be different for everyone. But for me, these are the places that I will keep going back to when I am in the neighbourhood, and in a way, I hope they never change.

Retro Cafe, Brunswick St.

Retro Cafe

Image by red-scooter

I don’t know why, with so many amazing cafes in a kilometre (even hundred metre) radius, I always go here. It is often packed, and hard to get a seat. I have sometimes sat in there and waited 2o mins (hungover and dying for a coke and some eggs) for someone to come and take my order, my poached eggs are sometimes hard in the middle (gasp!) and they have served tea the same way for as long as I’ve gone there, in a little metal pot which is often over brewed before it even gets to me (but bad tea is an entirely different post – I could go on all day!). And yet, I keep returning there. Maybe it is the memories of long brunches with my old friend Megs, eating our poached eggs, reading the new Beat or Inpress, planning the next stage of our plans for cultural domination. Maybe it is the simple, old school brunch menu. No baked eggs with cumin and cabbage, no mexican eggs with choizo rosti. Just plain and simple – Eggs Benedict, Poached Eggs with your choice of side – type of stuff. Whatever the reason, when I go to Brunswick St, I will always head to Retro first, and if it’s full then head somewhere else.

Yuriya Japanese, Lt Bourke St.

Yuriya Japanese

Image from aussietrueblue.com

I first went to Yuriya a long time ago. Before Japanese noodle cafes were popping up on every corner, and the humble sushi handroll had become a more common sight than the sandwich. It was the first Japanese place I went to in the city, and I used to just take myself there for dinner after uni or before heading out somewhere. I think I was drawn to it because it has that bright coloured, high tech Tokyo look on the outside but the traditional Japanese look inside. The staff have always been lovely and attentive, and the food excellent. This is not your cheap Japanese eatery, there are plenty of those around the corner on Swanston St. If you are going to eat here, it is going to be a full meal price, but it will be worth it. I recommend the Yakiniku Beef, and the amazingly fresh Salmon Skin Handrolls.

Greasy Joe’s, Acland St.

Greasy Joes

Image from Greasy Joe's website

I am rarely down south of the river these days. But when I do get down to St Kilda (like when I took the Englishman on the Melbourne tourist route, including Luna Park) I still like to head to Greasy Joe’s for a big old hamburger and fries. Last time I went they had done it up, added the obligatory courtyard, and replaced the old mountain landscape wallpaper with a big mural, but the food and vibe was still the same. Growing up in that neck of the woods, some of my very early hangover lunches were at those old booths, squeezing tomato sauce from those retro tomato shaped squeezy bottles onto my fries. And it also always seemed to be where ex-soap stars went to work between acting jobs as I was served at different times by both Mal from Neighbours (Benjamin McNair) and Cathy Godbold.

Papa Gino’s, Lygon St.

Papa Gino's

Image by Bazzin Production House.

I don’t really know how I came to get a favourite Italian on Lygon St. Over my many years as a student of Melbourne University, I suppose (as a creature of habit) I just ended up gravitating to one place where I knew the menu. Given that I was a student at the time, the initial reasons my have been that it was cheap, and north of Grattan St, so not too much of a trek from campus. Whatever the reason, I have had more bowls of their Fettucine Primavera than I care to mention. Throw in a glass of house red and “mwah” *kisses fingers italian style* “Delizioso!”

There are probably more, but that will do for now. We’ve all got jobs to do, and I’m getting hungry just thinking about all this great food!

What are your old school favourite places to eat in Melbourne?

Recipe – Home-made udon!

12 Oct

If you read my post about searching for the perfect udon, you will know how I feel about this greatest of Japanese noodle soups. I guess I always felt that if it was so delicious, there must be some Japanese secret recipe that I could only learn by reading ancient scrolls, guarded fiercely in the mountains by ninjas, and those monkeys that sit in the hot springs.

But the other week I found myself finishing work early, after an afternoon meeting, in Prahran. It had been so long since I had been down that way (after living there in my early 20s) I got all nostalgic and decided to take a wander through my old hood. Surprisingly little had changed, which was quite refreshing. So much of Melbourne has been overhauled in the last 10 years that it was quite a thrill to pop into Prahran Central, head over to the food court, and buy three pieces of Agedashi Tofu for $1.50, just like I had done as a poor student living in a house on High St, with an outside toilet, all those years ago.

After scoffing my tofu, I found myself strolling down the backstreets towards the Market (which was closed) and I stumbled across a little Japanese supermarket. Preparing myself to decipher countless Japanese labels, I went in. But I was thrilled to find everything a Japanese food lover could want, and all with English translation on the shelf below the amazingly bright and fun Japanese packages.

Meandering around what could only be described as Japanese heaven, I came across “Udon Sauce”. “Is it cheating to buy the sauce?” I thought. But I looked on the label and discovered it was a mix of soy, mirin and some other ingredients. It would have broken the bank to buy them all, and I wouldn’t have known the amounts to use of each anyway. I also picked up some bonito flakes and seaweed strips, and then stopped past the regular supermarket on the way to get the rest of my ingredients.

The rest was simple! Here’s how you do it.

  • 2 – 4 chicken thighs (depending on how much you want to make)
  • Packet of udon noodles (soft)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Spinach
  • Spring onions
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Udon sauce
  • Chicken stock
  • 2 -3 cups of boiling water
  • Sesame seeds
  • 1 egg per person
  • Seaweed strips

Firstly, pop your kettle on, and then heat up your saucepan (a big deep one for making soup in is best), and toss a handful of sesame seeds in there to toast. No need to put any oil in there yet. When you can smell that lovely toasted sesame flavour, take them off the heat, pour them onto a plate, and set aside.

Put your pan back on the heat, add some oil and let heat up. Add some chopped spring onions, and your whole chicken thighs. When the thighs have browned, add your mushrooms. A couple of minutes later add a splash of udon sauce, and then shortly after a couple of cups of boiling water (including your chicken stock). Allow to simmer for a while. Taste the broth after 5-10 mins of simmering. Add more udon sauce to taste.

Fill your kettle, and boil it again. Start preparing your sugar snaps by removing the strings and ends.

After 20-30 mins of simmering, add your sugar snaps and allow to cook for 5 mins. While this is boiling away, pour your fresh boiling water into another small saucepan. Put one egg into the pan for each person. Allow to cook for about 30 secs to a minute. Take the eggs out and set aside.

Add the udon noodles and some spinach to your soup and cook until noodles are ready. Should only take about 3 minutes.

Get your bowls ready. By now your chicken should be breaking up in the soup. Use a fork and knife to help this process, pulling the chicken apart into smaller, bite-sized pieces.

Serve your noodles, getting enough chicken, mushrooms, sugar snaps, spinach and broth into each bowl. While the soup is still piping hot, break an egg into each one. The small amount of time the eggs spent cooking should have given them a headstart, but they should still be soft enough to crack into the soup, and will finish cooking in the bowl. Add a couple of strips of seaweed, leaving one crunchy end sticking out. Sprinkle over the top the toasted sesame seeds, and the bonito flakes.

Leave for a couple of minutes, so the egg can finish cooking (and so you don’t burn your mouth) and serve!

Delicious!

Now, I forgot to take a picture of my udon before I ate it, so instead of a stock picture of udon, I thought I would give you another monkey shot instead!

Enjoy!

Recipe – Greek-style Lamb Wraps

12 Oct

This is a good thing to make when you’re cooking for one, as left-overs are perfect for lunch the next day. But it’s also just as easy to make for a large group, as everything can be put in the middle of the table, and everyone can dig and serve themselves.

There is a little preparation time, but it’s pretty simple, fresh and fun. The recipe below is for one person, but just multiply the amounts by the number of people you are serving.

  • 2 lamb chops or 1 lamb steak (per person).
  • 1/2 clove of garlic
  • Handful of flat-leaf parsley
  • Handful of fresh mint
  • Pinch of paprika
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Rocket and spinach salad
  • Fetta cheese (but frankly any cheese will do)
  • 1/2 small pumpkin
  • Tortilla wraps/Mountain bread/Pitta bread
  • Pine nuts (optional)

Get yourself some lamb chops (the big, flat ones with plenty of meat, rather than the little cutlet type ones), or lamb steaks. Take them out of the fridge and set them aside.

Grab your garlic, parsely and mint and chop them well. Pop them all in a mortar and pestle with a glug of olive oil, paprika and the lemon juice. Give it all a good mash together, until the garlic is no longer in chunks. It will help to add traction if you put a bit of salt and pepper in too. Add enough liquid (oil and lemon juice) to ensure that the garlic/herb mixture will cover your lamb well. Pour marinade all over your lamb, rub it in with your fingers, and make sure the lamb is well covered.

Turn the oven on. Cut up the pumpkin into chunks (roughly thumb-sized), put in an oven tray and cover with olive oil and salt & pepper. Pop them in the oven.

Heat a fry pan with some olive oil (and maybe a small knob of butter – for flavour!). Make sure the pan is really hot, so that when you put the lamb in it will sizzle. If you are cooking a lot of lamb, don’t overcrowd the pan. You want the meat to brown and caramelise rather than boil.

Fry the lamb for 2-3 minutes on each side. It should be medium; nicely browned on the outside and still a little pink in the middle. (Unless you like it well done, that is up to you. But I find overcooked lamb a bit tough.) Take the lamb off and leave it to rest.

Toss your spinach and rocket together with your fetta (or other cheese) and a little lemon and olive oil. Get your wraps ready (you can heat them if you like, by chucking them in the microwave for 30 seconds, or putting them in the oven for a couple of minutes, with the pumpkin).

Once the pumpkin is cooked, take it out of the oven. Slice up your lamb (removing it from the bone if you used chops). Put your cheese and salad into your wrap, then a few slices of the lamb and a couple of pieces of pumpkin.

If serving a group, pop your salad, sliced lamb, wraps and pumpkin directly on the table, and let people serve themselves.

You could also always add some toasted pine nuts to the salad for a bit of extra crunch.

Then, eat it! Yum!