October 30, 2009

TGI Friday's

Shop 250, Westfield Shoppingtown
Cnr Williamsons & Doncaster Roads,
Doncaster, VIC 3108
(03) 9848 8111
(Also at Epping, Jam Factory, Southland)
Food: American, Steak
Website: www.tgifridays.com.au
Dates visited: 11th September 2008, 29th January 2009, 9th January 2010

TGI Friday's is a great place for a laugh and a fun time with friends and family. The atmosphere is buzzing, staff are vibrant, and the food is typical American style with lots of deep fried options! The prices of many of the dishes can appear to be quite expensive, but are compensated with being larger than usual in size - especially with dessert!

Caesar Salad - served with succulent, grilled shrimps

Sesame Jack Chicken Strips – breadcrumbed chicken breast strips with TGI's famous Jack Daniel’s sauce, Fried Calamari with Parmesan and Marinara Sauce, Housemade Lemonade

Chicken and Shrimp Linguine, with Parmesan, in a fiery Tomato “Diablo” Sauce

Jack Daniel’s Sampler: Golden-fried Shrimp, Sesame Jack Chicken Strips, Baby Back Pork Ribs

Half Roasted Chicken with Buttered Greens and Cheddar Cheese Mashed Potato

Buffalo Wings - Deep-fried and served with a tangy Bleu Cheese dressing

Deep-fried TGI’s Shrimp with Fries, Vegies and Cocktail Sauce

Chicken Fingers - Battered and golden fried tenders with fries, coleslaw and a delicious Honey Mustard dressing

Pearl Cafe

599 Church Street,
Richmond, VIC 3121
(03) 9437 1307
Food: Breakfast, Cafe, Modern Australian
Website: www.pearlrestaurant.com.au/cafe-pearl
Date visited: 14th October 2009

Two weeks ago, we ventured down the street to Pearl's little sister, of more relaxed dining, Cafe Pearl for a satisfying lunch. Once again, mouth-watering dishes braced the menu - we had to restrain ourselves from ordering every one of them! Freshly squeezed juice is on offer all day (apple for me!), and the breakfast menu is available until 11am. Next time, I would love to try the "Golden Chinese Roast Duck Broth with Egg Noodles and Bok Choi."

Heirloom Tomato Pizza with Buffalo Milk Mozzarella, Rocket Salad

Rare Thai Beef Salad with Tomatoes, Rocket, Thai Basil, Hot Mint, Chilli and Lime and Spearmint Nam Jim - absolutely scrumptious! So refreshing and aromatic with a subtle hint of chilli.

Valrhona Chocolate Crackle - a challenge to eat, because it was so hard from being chilled and bits kept falling off with every bite!

Affogato - Pearl's coffee is from Gravity and it's their Six Degrees Darker blend: "smooth, rich, creamy and luscious with chocolate notes"

Pearl Restaurant + Bar

631-633 Church St,
Richmond, VIC 3121
(03) 9421 4599
Food: Modern Australian, with Asian influences
Website: www.pearlrestaurant.com.au
Date visited: 9th May 2009

Excited and hungry, we arrived at Pearl about 10 minutes before our reservation time - luckily, because it took us a while to find a free spot amongst the permit-zone dominated parking spaces. The decor inside is sleek and glamorous, with white leather chairs and bar stools, and smooth linen-draped tables.

Unfortunately, we waited just over ONE HOUR for a table that we had booked, the service was hostile and the waiters seemed a tad on the gruff side. Thankfully, the food was sensational, and immediately lifted our spirits! (when does it not?) While waiting at the bar, we ordered half a dozen fresh oysters with a delicious spicy dressing, but I was so irritated by that stage that I refused to take any photos. I can't believe they charged us for it as well! I shall let these photos speak for themselves:

Watermark Banana Prawns stuffed with Noosa Spanner Crab, Coriander and Coconut Cream, Hot and Sour Sauce with Cucumber

Macleay Valley White Rabbit stuffed with Red Grapes, wrapped in Prosciutto, Verjus Sauce with Chestnut Risotto, Caramelised Shallots and Braised Beetroot Stems

This dish should also include grilled rabbit liver, but the kitchen was said to have run out of it for the night. We chose to order it anyway; the description was just too tempting! We also shared a side of juicy pine mushrooms with our mains.

Roast Red Duck Curry, a Crispy Fried Egg, Shallots, Mint, Sweet Fish Sauce and Coconut Rice - Pearl's Signature Dish

Tapioca Crusted Red Snapper, Fried Japanese Eggplant, Spicy Longan and Pomelo Vinaigrette with Forbidden Rice

Back: Persian Fairy Floss (saffron, vanilla, chocolate) and Pistachio Nougat
Front: Selvatica ‘Lush Tropical Rain Forest’ Chocolate Mousse with Nocello Jelly, Chocolate Foam, Nut Crumble and Chocolate Pearls

October 28, 2009

Stain, Stain, Go Away..

If you're anything like me, you hate it when you store tomato-based soups or sauces in plastic containers, and are left with a stubborn red stain, because it means you can't reuse them! Easy solution: Spray the container lightly with cooking oil before you pour in the sauce and it'll wash up like new!

Another trick I use, to remove stains in the microwave, is to put a bowl of water with lemon slices inside it and heat for about 45 seconds. Then simply wipe clean! This also helps to neutralise any food odours :)

This isn't stain-related, but I read it in today's paper and thought I'd share my new-found knowledge: "Parsley, coriander, spearmint, tarragon, eucalyptus, rosemary and cardamom are all good for fighting bad breath. You can chew on fresh herbs or make tonics by steeping them in hot water (as a tea). These herbs make an excellent digestive as well—doubling the benefits of ending a meal this way.” Yay a new way of using up those extra herbs in the fridge!

Chicken Parmigiana

While searching for a chicken parma recipe, I was confronted with so many ways of making this classic!  I finally decided on one from the BBC Food site that wasn't too complicated and worked out really well. The crumbed chicken is alternatively layered with a tomato passata sauce and cheese and then baked in the oven - a twist that produces a real, hearty winter dish that encourages everybody to come back for seconds!

Serves 4:
- 600g chicken thigh fillets
- 2 tbs plain flour, seasoned
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 tbs chopped parsley
- 1 tbs chopped oregano
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 700ml bottle passata
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- ½ cup grated mozzarella

Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a shallow 6-cup ovenproof dish. Toss chicken in flour, shaking off excess. Dip in egg and coat in combined breadcrumbs and herbs. Heat oil in a large frying pan on medium. Cook chicken in batches for 1-2 minutes each side, until browned. Cover base of prepared dish with 3/4 cup (180ml) of passata. Top with half of chicken, 1 cup (250ml) of passata and half of parmesan. Top with remaining chicken, passata, parmesan and mozzarella. Season to taste and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling and cheese is golden. 

Chicken Parmagiana with Toasted Ciabatta and Fresh Salad

Grandma's Tofu and Vegie Soup, Mushroom and Tofu Stuffed Artichokes and Capsicums

This is a delicious soup that my grandma made, using the king oyster mushrooms, left over from Sunday. It was so light, yet extremely flavoursome - I just had to take photos and post em up! She simmered some tomato wedges, sliced tofu (the fried variety, as well as the soft) and king oyster mushrooms in water for about 10-15 minutes.

Then added in roughly chopped silverbeet from the garden, a pinch of salt, dash of sesame oil, cracked white pepper and a few spoonfuls of a broth made from simmering 3 cups of vegetable stock with 1 tbs caster sugar, ¼ cup black vinegar, 1 tbs light soy sauce and a 2cm piece sliced ginger.

Grandma's Tofu and Vegetable Soup :)
I came across these gorgeous global artichokes at the fruit and veg shop down the road from my house, for only 59c each! I bought six, aswell as three bright red capsicums, which I hoped to stuff with the leftover dumpling filling in the fridge.

I learnt the procedure for preparing artichokes from the September issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller: Trim the tops of the artichokes by 3cm with a serrated knife and remove the outer leaves with your fingers until you reach the pale inner heart. Trim the stems to the base of the head, peel the remaining green exterior with a vegie peeler, and remove the inner hairy choke from the artichoke heart with a melon-baller (or a spoon if you don't have one). Then squeeze the juice of one lemon into a bowl, and toss in the artichokes to prevent them from browning. Cook the artichokes in a saucepan of boiling, salted water until they're just tender. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 170°C and prepare your stuffing. In this case, I added about one heaped teaspoon of  chopped continental parsley to 3 cups of dumpling filling, for extra flavour.

After about 15 minutes of boiling in water, I drained the artichokes, cooled them for a few minutes, and gently separated their leaves with my fingers, keeping the heads intact. Then I stuffed the heart and between the leaves of the artichokes with filling, sprinkled over some bread crumbs and grated parmesan, and tied each one with kitchen string to secure. I placed them on an ovenproof dish, poured in about half a cup of vegetable stock, drizzled over some olive oil, covered the dish with foil, and baked it for just over 1 hour.

30 minutes in, I halved the capsicums, scraped the seeds out, filled each half with the stuffing, grated over cheese, and transferred them to the oven so that they would be ready at the same time as the artichokes.

 Mushroom and Tofu Stuffed Capsicums with Gremolata (I combined ½ cup coarsely chopped parsley with the grated rind of 1 lemon, then seasoned to taste)

Mushroom and Tofu Stuffed Artichokes with Gremolata

October 27, 2009

Mushroom and Tofu Dumplings with Ginger and Vinegar Dressing

On a quest to find the perfect filling for vegetarian dumplings, I spent the majority of my Sunday preparing for and cooking some tofu and mushroom ones. I bought a bunch of ingredients from an Asian grocery store in Preston Market:

- Beanshoots
- 2 bunches of coriander
- Ginger
- Firm tofu
- Assorted mushrooms (shitake, shimeji, oyster, enoki, king oyster)
- 2 tins of sliced water chestnuts
- Dried black fungus
- Gyoza wrappers

After coming home and unpacking everything, I realised that I may have gotten a bit too excited about the idea of vegetarian dumplings, and ended up buying too much, so I put one packet of the shitake and half of the king oyster mushrooms in the fridge to use another day.

To begin, wash the coriander, drain the water chestnuts and tofu, and dip the mushrooms in some cold water before wiping clean with a paper towel. After that, chop all the mushrooms (except a small handful of enoki), tofu, water chestnuts, two thirds of the soaked and drained black fungus, coriander leaves (except a few sprigs) and half of the ginger. Thankfully, I had my dear food chopper on hand, which helped so much with the water chestnuts, tofu and ginger!

Combine all the chopped ingredients in a large bowl and added plenty of seasoning - light soy sauce, shao xing wine, vegetarian oyster mushroom sauce, white sugar, sesame oil and white pepper.

To create the dumplings, place a small amount of filling in the centre of a gyoza wrapper, smear water around half of the edge, fold the wrapper in half over the filling, and make small pleats with your fingers.

I used both packets of gyoza wrappers, which produced 3 large plates of dumplings. There was still more than half of the filling left over! - I stored it in the fridge to use for dinner the next day.

To cook the dumplings, heat a few lugs of olive oil in a large pan, add the dumplings (pleat side up) and let them fry for a couple of minutes to brown and crisp up at the base. Then pour in boiling water (about 1cm from the base of the pan), cover the pan and steam the dumplings for about 5 minutes, or until the water  has evaporated.

Meanwhile, blanch the enoki mushrooms and black fungus, that was set aside earlier, and your desired amount of beanshoots, to serve. Make a sauce for the dumplings (I used Kylie Kwong's Ginger and Vinegar Dressing recipe):

- 2½ tbs Light Soy Sauce
- 2 tbs finely sliced Coriander roots and stems
- 2 tbs finely diced Ginger
- 2 tbs finely sliced Spring Onions scallions (I omitted these)
- 2 tbs Kecap Manis
- 2 tbs Malt Vinegar
- ¼ tsp Chilli Oil
- Sesame Oil

To serve, I placed the dumplings over a small handful of bean shoots, followed by some enoki mushrooms, black fungus, coriander sprigs and a drizzle of the delicious dressing!

Mushroom and Tofu Dumplings with Ginger and Vinegar Dressing

October 23, 2009

Did ya know..?

 - Apples, onions and potatoes all have the same taste. Pinch your nose and take a bite out of each!
- Celery requires more calories to eat and digest than it contains
- Eggplants are actually fruits, and classified botanically as berries
- Strawberries are the only fruit with their seeds on the outer skin
- Cabbage is 91% water
- Mayonnaise will kill lice and also condition your hair
- Peanuts are one of the ingredients in dynamite
- Pizaa toppings of squid are the most popular variety in Japan
- Honey is the only edible food for humans that won't go off
- Margerine was first called Butterine in England when it was introduced

October 22, 2009

Waterfront Seafood Restaurant - Now Closed

Riverside at Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman Street,
Southbank VIC 3006
(03) 9686 9766
Food: Seafood
Website: www.waterfrontfishmarket.com.au

Date visited: 14th May 2008

Mid-last year, I dropped by Waterfront Seafood Restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat, before watching Ironman on the big screen. We were promptly seated on arrival, glad that we made a booking, as there was a long queue for available tables. Unfortunately, we were situated in a corner off to the side, with a large pole covering the gorgeous view of the Yarra outside - I can't help but think that it is because we were dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt, unlike the other "posh" diners.

On a more pleasant note, to start, we devoured a serving of delicately coated salt and pepper calamari with freshly squeezed lime juice and harissa mayonnaise. This was followed by a main of Tempura Udon Noodle Soup (sorry, don't have a photo), which was unexpectedly.. different. The broth was the colour of dark brown soya sauce and tasted too fishy and very salty. Upon ordering, we questioned whether a non-Japanese restaurant would be able to produce a decent tempura noodle soup, but decided that even if it tasted okay, at least the prawns should be succulent in the seafood restaurant - alas it wasn't. Next time, I would most likely just opt for the more popular seafood platters.

Salt and Pepper Calamari with Harissa Mayonnaise

Beef 101 - Marbling and Wagyu

Marbling, or intramuscular fat, refers to the fine veins of fat in beef that spread throughout the meat itself, which keep it juicy during cooking. It should be very pale to white, and have a soft, mild flavour - different to the fat found on the outside of the average steak (extramuscular). The more marbling there is within a cut of meat, the more flavourful and tender it will be. Marbling is obtained by grain feeding the cattle for long periods, of up to 500 days.

Wagyu is a treasured, Japanese breed of cattle that is highly marbled. The Japanese word Wagyu can be translated to mean Japanese beef - as "wa" means Japanese and "gyu" means beef. It is characterised by great veins and specks of pure-white fat that intersect throughout its meat. When cooked, the marbling dissolves and gives Wagyu its tenderness, flavour and "melt in the mouth" moisture.

"Marble score" refers to the grading of intramuscular fat in Wagyu beef - in Australia, the marble score starts at 1 and goes to 9+. The higher the marble score, the better the Wagyu and the higher the price it can achieve. Top Australian Wagyu with a marble score of 9 or higher can fetch $150 a kilogram wholesale. This price is set by the top international chefs from countries like Macau and Hong Kong.

The world famous "Kobe" beef brand is Wagyu beef that comes from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan. Kobe is beef produced from male cattle, while the "Matsuzaka" beef brand (even more exclusive) is produced from female cattle. The bloodlines used to produce this beef are called Tajima.

With the prestigious Wagyu beef selling for such high prices, you need be careful of counterfeits. There is a great deal of ordinary beef being falsely labelled as "Wagyu," and sold in restaurants, pubs and cafes for an extremely low price - they are not Wagyu and taste nothing like the real thing! If the price seems to good to be true, then it is. If you're suspicious, ask to see a raw piece to check the marbling - it should be pure white.

Well-known brands of Wagyu beef , their marble score and wholesale price:
- Blackmore Wagyu: Marble score 9+, $200/kg
- Master Kobe: Marble score 9+, $130/kg
- Sher Wagyu: Marble score 9, $135/kg
- Moondarra grass-fed Wagyu: Marble score 8, $120/kg
- Kobe Cuisine: Marble score 6+, $70/kg

Wagyu Beef - "the fat melts on the tongue and coats the mouth with a moist, clean and nutty sensation that disappears quickly to leave a lingering beefy flavour" mmmmm...

Want to know more?: The Age Epicure, Blackmore Wagyu Beef

Beef 101 - Grass vs. Grain, Dry vs. Wet

The genetics of cattle and their age, diet, location and the manner and length of time that their meat is aged all have an impact on the qualities of meat produced. Beef is available all year round, whereas veal (young beef) is seasonal and best eaten between May and September.

Grain-feeding cattle (includes a diet of silage from wheat, barley, sorghum, canola and corn) adds richness and marbling (intramuscular fat) to meat, while grass-feeding (or pasture-feeding) produces meat  that is lower in saturated fat with a more distinct flavour. Some argue that grain is not a natural food for cattle and that you can taste it in the meat, but it really comes down to personal preference!

Grain-feeding is considered a more efficient way of raising beef, offering much more control over the finished meat for the grower than pasture-fed beef. Therefore, most grass-fed beef is finished on grain, where cattle are shipped to feed lots and fed grain in their final months to fatten them up, which is believed to improve their flavor. Unfortunately, while most feedlots are spacious and well-shaded, there are still a great number that are crowded and very uncomfortable places for cattle to be in.

Dry-ageing is where whole or parts of carcasses of cattle are hung or set on racks in temperature and humidity controlled cold rooms for days or weeks. Over time, natural enzymes break down the fibres of the meat, making it tender. It also loses moisture through evaporation, and gains intensity of flavour.

Wet-ageing is where cuts of beef are vacuum-sealed and refrigerated to retain moisture. The meat you buy in the supermarket will typically have been slaughtered at 16-20 months and wet-aged for three to six weeks after that.

Wet aged beef usually requires only a matter of days with no loss of weight, and doesn't need much precision in cooling. In contrast, dry-ageing takes several weeks, with a significant portion of the meat mass lost due to evaporation and the cutting off of pieces on the outside of the meat which have succumbed to freezer burn or bacteria - therefore the finished product costs more than wet-aged beef. Most beef lovers prefer the texture and flavour of dry-aged meat, because of its richness and complexity.

Many Australian beef producers are becoming well-known for their particular style:

- David Blackmore produces 100% full-blood wagyu beef from the Japanese breeds of Tajima and Fujiyoshi, which have been adapted to the Australian climate and environment

- Sher Wagyu is from Victoria and also fetches top-dollar for its well-marbled meat

- John Dee produces Black Angus, Murray Grey and cross-Hereford cattle breeds and is a choice of many top chefs

- Certified Australian Black Angus, is the quintessential Australian product from a controlled brand and produces quality beef with excellent marbling.

October 21, 2009

Cooking Reflections

Cabbage and Parmesan Salad - This was my attempt at replicating the one we ate at Rockpool.

Finely shred one small green cabbage or half a large Savoy cabbage. Put in a large bowl and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar at a ratio of three parts oil to one part vinegar. Start to toss the cabbage. Don’t add so much dressing that it becomes wet, it should be just enough to moisten. Toss through freshly shaved parmesan, to taste.

Gyoza Noodle Soup - served with lettuce, enoki mushrooms, black cloud ear fungus and dried lily buds (soaked, then tied into knots). The Gyoza is stuffed with pork mince, wombok (Chinese cabbage), green onion, egg, light soy, sugar, sake and sesame oil

Prosciutto, Cherry Tomato and Mushroom Pizza - I love my black pepper!

 Salad of Rocket, Grated Mozzarella, Sauteed Mushrooms and Prosciutto - the dressing is made from three parts olive oil to one part balsamic vinegar, with a generous amount of salt and pepper.

Crunchy Parmesan-crumbed Chicken

Moroccan-spiced Lamb with Pan-fried Potatoes; Baked Asparagus, Goats Feta and Preserved Lemon

Last night's dinner consisted of lamb rump steaks, served on a bed of pan-fried Desiree potatoes with a refreshing asparagus salad - all cooked and ready to serve in about 45 minutes.

You Will Need:
- Lamb Rump Steaks
- Olive Oil
- Ground Cumin
- Sweet Paprika
- Cayenne Pepper
- Desiree Potatoes

Create a marinade for the lamb with olive oil, cumin, paprika and cayenne (the ratio I used for the spices was 3:2:1, respectively) and rub well into the steaks. Set aside.

Peel Desiree potatoes, add to a pot of salted water and bring to the boil, cooking for 10-15 minutes, until a toothpick can be easily inserted through them. Drain, then thickly slice each potato. Set aside.

Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat, add the marinated lamb rump steaks and cook for approximately 2 minutes on each side, depending on the size, until your desired core temperature is reached. Remove from the pan and rest on a plate, covered with foil for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, add your slices of potato in a single layer to the pan and fry in the lamb's juices on high heat until crispy and golden on both sides. Season to taste. Serve immediately with the spiced lamb steaks.

Moroccan-Spiced Lamb Steaks with Pan-Fried Potatoes

You Will Need:
- Asparagus
- Olive Oil
- Cracked Black Pepper
- Fresh mint leaves
- Goat's Feta (I used Dodoni Goats Feta)
- Preserved Lemon
- Lemon

For the asparagus salad, drizzle olive oil over asparagus spears, season with cracked black pepper and place under a hot grill for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Transfer to a serving dish, scatter over fresh baby mint leaves, crumbled feta and finely chopped preserved lemon. Finish off with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Grilled Asparagus, Goats Feta and Preserved Lemon