Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Merry Christmas

consumerism (i God)
consumerism (i God)
by Mike Reed (aka my dad)
(model is my brother)

My house is a mess, my kids are permanently jacked up on sugar and my jeans won't do up - it must be Christmas!  I keep trying to write a post but my eyes glaze over like Christmas ham.  I'm taking a break and will be back in the New Year.

Thanks for reading in 2011 and in particular, thank you very, very much if you took the time to leave a comment, write me an email or even just "like" a post on Facebook.  Stephanie of The Elegant Sufficiency quotes blogger Shuna Fish Lydon:

“We blog, you comment. Your comments are our fuel, our reason to go on posting, our food for blogthought … the salt on our meat, the eggs in our souffles, the chocolate sauce on our ice cream.” 

I know I sometimes suck at replying to comments and emails but they do make blogging so much sweeter and more rewarding.  So please don't ever be shy - even if you completely disagree, your voice is an important part of the conversation.

We have just finalised our Christmas menu today - Sourdough Kitchen croissants for breakfast with Andrew's Choice ham, lots of gorgeous fat prawns, a big free-range pork roast with crispy taters, pumpkin and grilled asparagus, followed by plum pudding with custard and ice cream.  Christmas may be nauseatingly consumerist in the leadup but the day, at least for us, is always such a welcome celebration of fantastic food and family.

See you in 2012!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Okonomiyaki (aka Japanese pancake)

Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake or pizza) is one of my favourite things.  I wish I could say I discovered it at a quaint wayside inn beside a bubbling brook, somewhere beyond Tokyo, but in fact I first ate them at Highpoint.  These thick vegie-rich pancakes are my shopping centre saviour - made daily, sort of healthy and meal-size for about $4.  When Ajitoya opened in Seddon, giving us a western suburbs counterpart to Fuji Mart or Suzuran, I gathered up all the ingredients to make okonomiyaki at home - and you can too!


You will need:

(Makes two pancakes - recipe adapted from Visual Recipes)

* 1 cup okonomiyaki flour (available from Ajitoya).  This is superfine white flour seasoned with dried seafood and other goodies.  You could possibly vegetarian-ise or frugal-ise it by seasoning white flour yourself (with maybe powdered mushroom, garlic powder etc?)
* 3/4 cup dashi (Japanese bonito stock) or water.  I recommend Spiral Foods dashi above (available from KFL Supermarket in Flemington) which does not have MSG.  You really don't need to use dashi as the flour is seasoned, but I love the extra flavour!
* 1 egg
* Roughly 1/4 cabbage, finely shredded (you may need more)
* 1 carrot, grated
* Neutral oil eg rice bran
* Japanese tonkotsu sauce and Kewpie mayo (pictured below)


Whisk dashi and eggs together (ignore the two eggs - I was doubling the recipe)


Add flour.


Whisk till smooth.


Add cabbage and carrot.  You want it really thick - when it goes in the pan, it needs to sit in a clump, not spread out like a regular pancake.  Just keep adding and mixing until it is a good, thick mixture like the above.


Heat a frypan, add oil (about 1 or 2 Tb) and add a big dollop of mixture.  Push the sides in a bit so it's nice and circular.  You could make more pancakes that are less tall, but I like the contrast between crispy ends and soft, doughy middle.


It is hard to get the timing right so you don't burn the sides or end up with an uncooked centre.  I experimented by adding the mixture in on high, cooking for a couple of minutes then turning it down low.  After about 5-10 minutes, flip and repeat.  You need the top and bottom to be crispy but the middle cooked.  I stuck a knife in and if batter was still welling up, I kept cooking.  Eventually a tiny bit of batter still looked wet, but I took it off the heat, left to stand  for 5 mins and it was done upon eating.  Each pancake probably take about 20 minutes total to be done all the way through.  Sorry to be vague - I am really much more an eatie-foodie than a cookie-foodie!


Put pancake on plate and take tonkotsu (fruity BBQ-style) sauce and Japanese Kewpie mayo (sorry about crusty, well-loved bottle)...


...quickly squeeze squiggles over in perpendicular fashion.  Serve with greens (preferably dressed with addictive creamy toasted sesame dressing, also from Ajitoya).

oko middle

Yuuuummmmmy....  The cabbage becomes soft but doesn't have any stinky boiled cabbage smell.  The pancake is soft in the middle yet tantalisingly crispy on the edges, while the BBQ sauce and mayo combine to give it creamy, tangy flavour punch.  You can cut it into wedges and sell it to the kids as pizza and mine absolutely love it.

I think really authentic okonomiyaki is a bit different - some have topping cooked onto it while in the pan (hence Japanese pizza) while others have bonito flakes and other goodies on top.  I like my simple version though, and it does beat the Highpoint version!

Local identity Nick Ray (of the Ethical Consumer Guide) is putting together a new project called Local Harvest.  Among other things, it will comprise a directory of sustainable food links such as food co-ops. community gardens, pick-your-own schemes, all aimed at connecting you with your food on a more grass roots level, bypassing the handful of multinational corporations who control a lot of our food.  They need funds at the moment to meet their fundraising target to get off the ground - see widget to the right, or check out the website.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sourdough Kitchen

Sourdough, wood-fired, free range - all these buzzwords have been criticised as being yuppie, floaty concepts that will be gone in the next chew-and-swallow of the food trend cycle.  The thing is, the artisan, slow-food model has been around a lot longer than industrial innovations like quick-rise yeast or factory farming.  Once upon a time, all bread was sourdough.  Home bakers discovered that if they left flour and water to ferment and "catch" wild yeasts, it would produce a risen loaf with a pleasant sour tang.  It was only closer to the industrial revolution that yeast was isolated from its wild form, where every house's sourdough starter would be slightly different, and standardised.


In the news recently, a major bread manufacturer has announced an "innovation" in which new additives will mean bread will remain fresh for up to 14 days.  This makes me want to throw up.  Thank goodness then for all our local bakeries and suppliers - Natural Tucker bread from Footscray Market Deli, Hausfrau (bread from Noisette), Waldie's, good ole Bakers Delight (closet pullapart lovers, hands up) and my personal favourite, Sourdough Kitchen.


This is where the old Bowerbird boutique used to be in Seddon and I love the quiet, cool vibe inside.  The terrazzo floor is quaint and strangely soothing as you lean back against dove-grey walls, accented by peasant chic handmade lace doilies.


Everything here is sourdough, from the white casalinga made with organic flour to vegan tray-baked pizzas, fat fruit buns and (no kidding) sourdough croissants.  The bread range begins with classic casalinga and earnest wholegrain before dallying into spelt, sultana and rosemary, and pepita-studded pumpkin territory.  The more standard loaves are available by the half which is a fantastic way for smaller households to never be out of fresh bread.

Latte, $3.50

Great coffee made with Genovese that rarely disappoints.

Pork and fennel sausage roll, $5

The menu is small but confident.  The generous pork and fennel sausage rolls are truly the best in Melbourne!  Sweet pork mince is augmented by the occasional aniseed zing of fennel seeds, rolled in luscious, buttery puff pastry.  An abundance of sweet homemade chutney arrives alongside.

Pizza, $5.50

Three types of square-cut, tray-baked pizza all get the vegan tick.  Here we have wafer-thin potato and rosemary on a chewy sourdough base.  A scattering of salt flakes could take it to the next level.

Sandwiches, $7.50

Hearty, freshly-made sandwiches on thick-cut bread.  Here, bitey cheese complemented tasty pastrami and tangy baby pickles.  Delicious.  Did you know that Sourdough Kitchen are very community-minded, supplying local food co-ops and donating excess bread to the Western Region Health Centre?


I am hopelessly enamoured with Sourdough Kitchen's pain au chocolat - light croissant dough rolled around a Callebaut dark chocolate stick.  The croissants are also fabulous, the sourdough starter giving them a faint but tantalising sour tang.  Sourdough is healthy, ergo, sourdough croissants are healthy.  Right?  Right?

* Okonomiyaki recipe coming next week!

Sourdough Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sourdough Kitchen (Facebook)
172 Victoria Street, Seddon
Phone:  9687 5662


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Friday, December 2, 2011

Pho Phi Truong

UPDATE:  This restaurant is closed; Nhi Huong (2 Sisters) is now at this location.

July to Sep 182

My plan of expanding my children's tastebuds is working...sort of.  They have moved on from grilled chicken to pork chop on broken rice, but they are now all so obsessed with it, they all insist they want it.  Unfortunately, the photo-hungry food blogger in me is always trying to convince them to order something else!

July to Sep 179

Pho Phi Truong is a great place in Sunshine to feed their obsession.  It specialises in pho (apparently MSG free?!) but also has a full menu, right up to banquet-style live seafood.  I like the decor - modern but not cold, still with a bit of welcoming kitsch.

July to Sep 168
Grilled pork shop, shredded pork, egg, pate, broken rice $9

A fine example of com tam dac biet - crisp marinated pork chop, a well-fried egg, a slice of pork/noodle "cake", a tangle of bi (shredded pork skin) and a few pickled vegies.  My only complaint was that the pork chop was very thin.  The kids loved it though.

July to Sep 169
Shaking beef red rice $9

Great bo luc lac or "shaking beef".  This is cubes of beef, quickly "shaken" in a searing wok with just a little garlic and soy, maybe a bit of onion or capsicum.  This beef was really tender and tasty and had just a lick of sauce, the way we like it.  Billy wondered if the garlic might be a bit too overpowering, but I liked it.  Garlic fiend, moi?

July to Sep 173
Seafood coleslaw $18

One of the high points of Vietnamese food for me is Vietnamese coleslaw.  It's just heavenly with lightly pickled, sweet vegetables like shredded carrot and white daikon radish, lots of fresh mint and coriander, the crunch of roasted peanuts and golden fried shallots and your choice of protein.  This seafood coleslaw was superb, with fabulous fresh calamari, good prawns and yummy, thinly-sliced fish cake.  Coleslaws are often relatively expensive, sometimes up to $29.  I'm not sure why, maybe they're a sharing thing for a whole table.

July to Sep 176
Salt and pepper chicken ribs, egg rice $10

After disappointing fried chicken recently at Mr Lee in West Melbourne, these chicken ribs were sublime.  The chicken was really fresh and juicy, covered in tongue-tingling, ultra-crispy batter that was just divine.  If you get in quick and pick off any fresh chilli before it soaks in, the kids love these.  They came with white rice cooked with a little egg (not seen this before).

July to Sep 167
Vietnamese white coffee (iced) $3

My fix - Vietnamese iced coffee.  Wakes you up like a cold shower!  Pho Phi Truong have pandan tea as standard in the thermoses on the tables.  It's very floral and a gorgeous South Vietnamese touch.

ppt specials

Ooh, eyeing off that dau hu nhat rang muoi - salt and pepper tofu.  Oh yeah!  Goi ga farm is coleslaw with free range (ie, "farm") chicken.  Bo tai chanh is a great dish, kind of like Vietnamese "crying tiger" salad (a Thai dish) but the beef is cured in lemon juice before being served in a salad like the coleslaw above.  If you can help with any other translations, or if I have my canhs and chanhs confused, let me know!

Pho Phi Truong on Urbanspoon

Pho Pi Truong
255 Hampshire Road, Sunshine
Phone:  9311 6522
Hours:  7 days, 9.30am-9.30pm

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Pho Phi Truong 1

Pho Phi Truong 2

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chilean empanadas at La Morenita


I love backstreet suburban shopping strips.  Like little rockpools, they foster small, unique shops.  On unremarkable, semi-industrial Berkshire Road in North Sunshine, La Morenita is definitely the pearl in the oyster.


The sign on the windows still points to the old occupants, but inside La Morenita remains a hub of the Chilean and wider South American community.  A range of Latin American grocery products are on offer, from yerba mate, a herbal infusion beloved in Uruguay, real paprika-rich chorizo sausages and other smallgoods, and bundles of thick dried seaweed or cochayuyo used to make very rustic Chilean dishes.


Stop in for a surprisingly decent coffee and a caramel-stuffed sweetie or loosen the belt for some homestyle Chilean sandwiches.  Order at the counter and then settle down while your meal is whipped up out the back.


Empanadas can be a light meal or entree.  Their edges lovingly folded up, they can be baked and filled with beef mince, olive and hardboiled egg or mildly-spiced chicken and tomato.  Alternately my favourite are their fried cousins, melty with cheese, the pastry golden, crisp and bubbly.

Chorizo and cheese empanada, $3

Hello sailor!  Gorgeous little morsels of rich, smoky chorizo sausage with golden stringy cheese in a crackly pastry shell.

Sandwich #9, $5 ($5!!!!)

This sandwich was unreal - great bread filled with wafer-thin, tasty steak, lightly-cooked emerald-green beans, gooey cheese, tomato, mayo and extra green chilli relish.  The mayo mixed with the meaty juice, soaking into the tender bun, while the chilli gave a tangy, delicious kick.


If you can bargain with your stomach to find some room, try the fabulous house-made sweets.  The alfajores are shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with deep brown caramel sauce then rolled in coconut.  Or try the ones filled with more caramel and spread all over with glossy white meringue.

Viva La Morenita!

La Morenita Latin Cuisine on Urbanspoon

67 Berkshire Road, North Sunshine
Phone:  9311 2911
Hours:  Tues-Wed 11am-5pm, Thurs-Fri 8am-5.30pm, Sat 8am-5pm, Sun 8am-3pm

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chilli India

Billy and I got very excited recently about the "Supper Market" opening in the basement of the new Westville Central development.  We began daydreaming of the clang of wok sang on huge, blackened wok, great licks of flame being thrown in the air lighting up the faces of the hawkers, the scent of wok hei rising up the escalators.  After a minute I raised my eyebrow though.  "Um...  I reckon they mean supermarket."

July to Sep 089

Well, at least I have Chilli India.  Tables crammed into the tiny passageway leading into Melbourne Central, buzzing late at night, it's as close to an authentic hawker centre I'm gonna get anytime soon!

CP queue

The only eat-in area at Chilli India is sort of outside, yet under the covered walkway.  It's packed with students, smoochy couples and big families tucking into silver-trayed thalis.  As we sat, there was a non-stop, steady stream of hungry people queuing to order at the register.  You can still have friendly, efficient table service and they will bring you booze from the main Chillipadi next door.

July to Sep 102

Right next to the register is a huge flat-plate BBQ where this rockstar chef whips up dosa and freshly-made roti before your beady eyes.  MMMMMMM!

The drawcard here is not only the freshly-made Malaysian-Indian street food but the biryani.  Commenter Make Best West had informed me that the biryani at Dosa Hut is far from the real deal and indeed "the worst biryani I ever had.  I can say that because I hail from the land of biryani (Hyderabad) and this place is making a mockery of such a beautiful cuisine. Authentic biryani is light in spices and has a nice balance of important ingredients such as yoghurt, mint, lime and golden-coloured fried onions - none of them could be found in this version.  This lame version was floating with chillies, cloves, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and less-meat-more-bone cheap meat."

July to Sep 094
Special Hyderabadi dum biryani (chicken)

I am always up for being corrected and when the suggestion is this good, I am profoundly grateful.  This was a very special biryani.  The rice grains are totally separate, non-greasy and underneath are pieces of supremely tender marinated chicken.  I still detected hints of spice but it did indeed have a lemony fragrance.  It came with pots of sweet raita and an almost peanutty sauce.  As we sat, waiters brought out brass pot after brass pot of this obvious crowd favourite.  The chicken could get a bit bony but the flavours were all there.

July to Sep 093
Chilli chicken

I love Indian-Chinese food - it is a total mindf**k.  Confronted with battered meat or vegies in sauce that looks like bland suburban Chinese food, your head says no, but your heart asks, "Why does it taste so bloody good then?"  Indian-Chinese takes the battered nuggets and thick sauce of "bad Chinese" and switches it up with heaps of chilli, tang and spice in true Indian style.  This was delicious, really spicy and zingy with green onion and ginger.

July to Sep 095
Vegetable avial with plain roti and roti Chenai

Avial is a very southern-style curry with fresh vegetables, coconut and yoghurt.  This was delicious with fresh, tender broccoli, beans and carrot.  The sauce was thick and creamy but not naively, suburbanly so and highlighted with curry leaves and mustard seeds.  The breads were fantastic - the Chenai was flakier, more pastry like while the plain was like a well-fried chapati.  I find it very hard to eat roti now unless it has been made fresh in house.

I know the Chillipadi brand often divides opinion quite sharply but I thought this meal was fab.  Everything was fresh, cheap and tasty, it had a real buzz and we had great, friendly service.  I might be cynical about the soon-to-open "Supper Market" but Chilli India is a great street-style option in the meantime.

Chilli India on Urbanspoon

Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central
Phone:  9669 3866
Hours:  Mon-Tues 11am-3.30pm, Wed-Sat 11am-3.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Oriental Charcoal BBQ


A friend of mine has a trick of how to make her kids eat anything - chop it up small and stick a toothpick in it.  There's something about eating food off a tiny stick that kids just love.  It extends to adults too, I guess - satays, kebabs, devils on horseback and Dagwood Dogs!  Oriental Charcoal BBQ has just opened in Footscray, poised to capitalise on our love for meat on a stick.

bbq int

There's still some remnants of the old Vivid Star here like a forlorn star mobile hanging from the ceiling, but the space is now watched over by huge, festive red hangings featuring traditional motifs.


The range of BBQ choices is mouthwateringly vast - BBQ sausage, garfish and chicken heart.  Vegetarians can choose from lots of different vegies including two types of mushroom and mantou, Northern Chinese-style steamed bread.

Veggies combination

An interesting range of cold salad dishes are on offer.  The menu has pictures which is fantastic, as it can help you get a sense of a dish and try more interesting things.  This variation on the classic cucumber salad included cucumber, boiled peanuts and tofu skin in a sweet, chilli hot, vinegar dressing.  It was quite good but I think I prefer the classic cucumber-only dish.

Platycodon salad

We chatted to the owner about this intriguing vegetable.  He said it was a type of root and that he got "platycodon" from the Oxford dictionary.  Investigating further I believe it is also known as Chinese bellflower root or in Korean as doraji.  It was traditionally a foraged food, dug up in the fields and has a place in herbal lore as an anti-inflammatory used for coughs and colds.  It was delicious, the dressing thick, spicy and very tasty, reminiscent of Korean chilli paste.  The sesame seeds and coriander provided delicious angles for the hot flavours to bounce off.

Lamb skewer, $1.50

If you order one or two BBQ items, be aware that they come out one by one.  I couldn't help but thinking they looked like surgical specimens on their silver tray lined with plastic!  The lamb was great, juicy and smoky and the cumin flavour was actually quite mild.  A table nearby were literally ordering these by the two dozen.

Enoki mushrooms, $2

Pleasantly stringy enoki mushrooms, threaded and lightly dusted with cumin - yummy.

Squid, $2.50 and "green beans", $2

Tender and tasty squid and seasoned, crunchy snow peas were also delicious.

BBQ chicken bone, $5

The menu read, "Charcoal BBQ chicken bone is the most popular BBQ food in Northern China.  For those like traditional Chinese BBQ food and drink beers, this is absolutely a good choice".  Sounds like my kind of thing!  Unfortunately though, it's not a mistranslation - it literally is chicken bones!  I have no doubt this is traditional and well-loved but it took a lot of determination to prise off the tiny slivers of meat and suck all the sauce off.  Not one for this gweilo family (although Grandpa ate it all) but the skewer-hungry table ordered this and attacked it with gusto.  Unless you are hardcore, go for the "softbone with meat" on the same page which I think is boneless chicken.

Eggplants in Sichuan sauce, $10

I thought this might be spicy eggplant with a sticky, jammy sauce a la Dainty Sichuan but it was a more homestyle dish of silky fried eggplant and tasty slivers of pork.  It wasn't spicy at all but was soothing and comforting.  Although I think it is traditional to have this much oil, it wasn't my favourite part of the dish.

Boiling pork dumplings, $8/15 pieces

Unfortunately these were rather overcooked - the skins had lost that lovely al dente texture and had become mushy and gluggy.  Fried are the go for next time.

If you are curious about mainland Chinese food, Oriental Charcoal BBQ is a good place to start.  The skewers are yummy and a variety with some salads would make a great meal.  The menu is small and easy to navigate with a few braised dishes, noodles with helpful photos and various very traditional stir-fried dishes like beef with bitter melon or pork belly with pickled vegetables.  I would be interested to hear how you find it!

Oriental Charcoal BBQ
110 Hopkins Street, Footscray
Phone:  9687 0421

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