July 4, 2010

Honey Hotcakes

Sometimes, on occasions like Mother's Day and birthdays, I indulge in spoiling the special someone with golden, hot pancakes for brunch, served with lots of fresh fruit and sweet maple syrup. One of my most used recipes is from a while back - it produces fluffy pancakes, with a hint of honey and random bits of soft ricotta in every bite.. mmmm!

Serves 2:
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs, separated
- ⅓ cup milk
- ½ cup self-raising flour
- 1 tbs honey
- 1 tbsp butter

Place the ricotta, egg yolks and milk into a bowl and mix until combined. Sift the flour into a separate bowl, then stir in the ricotta mixture and honey. In a third bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff, and gently but thoroughly fold them into the ricotta mixture. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat and add half the butter. Place two heaped teaspoons of mixture per hotcake into the pan and cook for two minutes each side or until puffed and golden (I chose to make my pancakes larger). Serve with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.

Honey Hotcakes

Cafe 200

200 High Street,
Lower Templestowe, VIC 3107
(03) 8850 0599
Food: Breakfast, Cafe
Date visited: 24th November 2008

We found ourselves at Cafe 200 one morning, eager to try out their offerings for breakfast. The busy cafe is conveniently situated right by a Medical Centre, so not only were locals dropping in for a quick bite and a friendly chat with the workers, but medical staff could also be seen at tables clutching their coffees in one hand whilst flipping through the day's paper with the other.

I ordered my usual of poached eggs and smoked salmon with hollandaise sauce, and Damian his favourite big breakfast, and, boy, were we content with our meals! Beautifully presented, well-seasoned, and the best part was the relief of seeing creamy, runny egg yolk gushing out of the delicately poached eggs as we cut into them - always the test that sets the best from the rest.

Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon

Poached Eggs with Hash brown, Sausage, Grilled Tomato & Spinach

A few months later, which was actually on 4th May this year, we returned to Cafe 200, excited for what we expected to be yet another delicious breakfast. I am reluctant to admit it, but my heart sunk as I watched our dishes placed in front of us - I could not believe how different they looked.

Each element of Damian's 'Big Breakfast' appeared to be randomly shoved around on the plate - the bacon was tough to chew through,  the scrambled eggs rubbery and bland, the sausages tepid, and what used to be a lush cluster of spinach was now just a few leaves tossed through the mushrooms. My smoked salmon was flaky dry and looked like it had been sitting in the cooler for maybe a week too long. The biggest disappointment for me, though, was the yolks in my flimsily poached eggs, which were both firm to the point of almost being a hard-boiled consistency.

Scrambled Eggs with Bacon, Sausage, Hash Brown, Mushroom, Spinach & Grilled Tomato

Poached Eggs with Smoked Salmon, Hash Brown, Mushroom & Grilled Tomato

Cafe Greco

560 Chapel Street,
South Yarra, VIC 3141
(03) 9826 2888
(Also at Crown Melbourne)
Food: Mediterranean, Italian, Greek
Website: www.cafegreco.com.au
Date visited: April 2008, 1st November 2008

Cafe Greco is open until late and offers Mediterranean cuisine with a Greek emphasis. An enticing array of scrumptious cakes and sweets line the front counter - perfect for satisfying the midnight munchies! Although the menu is full of over-priced dishes, this is a hip place for fueling up after a long day of shopping or perfect for lazying on a cool summer's night with great company.

Half 'n Half Pizza - Gourmet Tomato with Bocconcini and Basil, BBQ Chicken with Cheese and Mushrooms

Tim Tam Cheesecake

Lightly Floured Calamari with Chips and Tartare Sauce; Thick and Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Lightly Floured Calamari on Rocket Salad with Tartare Sauce


308 High Street,
Northcote, VIC 3070
(03) 9489 0218
Food: Modern Mediterranean Cafe, Chocolatier, Brasserie, Breakfast (all day!)
Website: www.cocoinc.com.au
Dates visited: 25th July 2008, 23rd November 2008, 27th January 2009

CocoInc is a trendy cafe with a relaxed atmosphere, serving great Mediterranean food, with Spanish and Asian influences, at a fair price. The place is always brimming with diners, from local workers on their lunch break to families with grandparents and children, so it is best to pre-book a table. They always seem to be understaffed, with plenty of tables needing to be cleared and customers constantly waiting on drinks and cutlery to eat the food that has already been brought out to them. Despite this, I always return because the food is worth the wait!

Eggs Salmon - Poached Eggs, Spinach, Smoked Salmon, Hollandaise Sauce & Capers

CocoInc Works - Poached Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, Grilled Tomato, Marinated Mushrooms, Spinach & Hash Browns

Mushroom & Chicken Penne; Grilled Calamari with CocoInc Dressing; Prawn Tempura - the disappointment of the meal was the batter of the tempura, which was extremely gluggy and oily

Prawn Saganaki - The tiger prawns were swimming in this gloppy red capsicum sauce!

Salt & Pepper Calamari with CocoInc Dressing - My favourite! The dressing is so moreish and packed full of flavour! It is tangy, sweet, tart and salty with an extra punch of oomph in it, and is claimed to be the Chef's secret recipe. Mmmmmm :)

Seared Scallops with Basil Dressing - I think we devoured these in less than 30 seconds!

Medallions Beef Salad - the strips of eye fillet were surprisingly tender (sorry, the image is really blurry; I tried to crop it out of a larger photo)

Salt & Pepper Calamari; Seared Scallops - both so finger-licking good we ordered them again another day!

Urban Grooves

99 Grimshaw Street,
Greensborough, VIC 3088
(03) 9434 5444
Food: Modern Australian, Italian, Breakfast, Cafe
Website: www.urbangroovescafe.com.au
Dates visited: 21st July 2008, 22nd November 2008, July 2009, 24th August 2009

A local hotspot favourite of mine for great food and a welcoming atmosphere is Urban Grooves. The servings here are generous, with attractive presentation in the dishes, and the staff are always attentive and friendly. I'm yet to order a dish from their menu that disheartens me from relishing my meal!

Bacon and Eggs on Toast with Avocado, Spinach and Asparagus; Eggs Florentine with Mushrooms; Corn Frittata with Hash Brown and Avocado Chutney

Oven-baked Pizza with Prosciutto, Grana Padano and Dried Figs; Crispy Chips

Hot Chocolate; Traditional Bruschetta with Tomato, Onion, Bocconcini and Basil
Grilled Salt and Pepper Calamari with Baby Spinach Leaves and Sun-dried Tomato

Baked Scallops with a Potato and Pea Veloute

Chicken Caesar Salad

Thai Prawn and Octopus Salad with Mixed Greens

Roast Rack of Lamb on Potato Mash with Seeded Mustard Sauce

Rib Eye Steak on Potato Mash with Broccolini and a Red Wine and Rosemary Jus

Best Lamb Cutlets with Basil and Pinenut Sauce

A while ago, I was intriuged by a recipe in Jamie's Dinners that pairs lamb cutlets with mushrooms and cooks them in the best way on a griddle pan. I love how this dish can be ready in just 5 minutes, where the natural juices from the fresh cutlets and earthy mushrooms create such crisp and mouth-watering flavours when mixed together with such little ingredients. A chunky basil and pinenut sauce can be made to serve alongside the meat, but is not necessary.

Serves 4:
- 12 lamb cutlets
- A small handful of fresh thyme, leaves picked
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 400g mushrooms, brushed clean and torn (wild, field, chestnut and oyster mushrooms work well)
- A small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 lemon

For the Basil Sauce:
- 2 handfuls of pinenuts
- 2 large handfuls of fresh basil
- 3-5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Slap the cutlets with the heel of your hand to flatten them slightly. Bash up the thyme in a mortar and pestle, and add a little olive oil. Mix together, then rub the oil over the cutlets and season both sides. Put to one side.

After that, grill both sides of the mushrooms, dry, on the bars of a hot griddle pan. This may seem unusual, but it gives you a nutty flavour that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Set aside in a large bowl. With the heat still on, place the lamb cutlets on the griddle pan and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side (for a 1.5cm thick meat to be Medium) until golden.

When cooked, put the lamb cutlets into the bowl with the mushrooms and drizzle with a little olive oil. Tear over the parsley, in quite large pieces, and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Season lightly and toss around. Place to one side to rest, to allow all the lovely juices to get sucked up by the mushrooms.

To make the sauce, in a mortar and pestle, pound up the pine nuts until you have a mushy pulp – this will give the sauce a creamy flavour and texture. Remove the mixture to a bowl, then add the basil to the mortar and bash to a pulp with the pestle. Add this to the pine nuts and loosen with extra virgin olive oil so that the sauce easily drops off the end of a spoon. Finally, balance it with enough balsamic vinegar to give it a good zing, almost like a mint sauce.

Give the lamb and mushrooms a final toss and served on a big platter with a simple salad and the basil sauce on the side.

Best Lamb Cutlets

Sausage Cabonara

This is one of my favourite dishes to cook, because while it is very rustic and requires only basic cooking skills to prepare, the end result is impressive and pleasing to the eyes, as well as the taste buds. There's nothing much like a big bowl of perfectly cooked pasta in a smooth and silky egg sauce. I thank Jamie's Italy for this recipe idea!

Serves 4:
- 4 good-quality Italian sausages
- Olive oil
- 4 slices of thickly cut pancetta, chopped
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- 500g dried linguine
- 4 large free-range egg yolks
- 100ml double cream
- 100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Zest of 1 lemon
- A sprig of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil

With a sharp knife, slit the sausage skins lengthways and pop all the meat out. Using wet hands, roll little balls of sausage meat about the size of large marbles and place them to one side.

Heat a large frying pan and add a good splash of olive oil. Gently fry the sausage meatballs until golden brown all over, then add the pancetta and continue cooking for a couple of minutes, until it’s golden. While this is cooking, bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the linguine, and cook according to the packet instructions.

In a large bowl, whip up the egg yolks, cream, half the Parmesan, the lemon zest and parsley. When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water, and immediately toss it quickly with the egg mixture back in the pasta pan. Add the hot sausage meatballs and toss everything together.

The egg will cook delicately from the heat of the linguine, just enough for it to thicken and not scramble. The sauce should be smooth and silky. If the pasta becomes a little claggy, add a few spoonfuls of the reserved cooking water to loosen it slightly. Sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan, season if necessary, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve. Eat immediately!

Sausage Cabonara

Miyako; Max Brenner

Shop UR2 Upper Level
Southgate Arts & Leisure Precinct
3 Southgate Avenue,
Southbank, VIC 3006
(03) 9699 9201
Food: Traditional Japanese, Teppanyaki
Website: www.miyakocuisine.com.au
Date visited: 26th July 2008

A while back, I booked a table at Miyako for a teppanyaki dinner, but arriving half an hour late, we lost our reservation. Thankfully, there was an available table in the A La Carte dining section. Although the view of the Yarra River was pleasant and pretty from where we sat, it is hard to say the same about the food we ordered. The atmosphere felt very rushed with waiters scurrying from table to table, and not very professional with staff speaking  loudly across the room to each other in Cantonese.

Crispy Duck Leg with Yuzu Chilli Sauce (half eaten), Fresh Oysters with Fruit Chilli & Ponzu Sauce

Prawn Tempura - batter was very thick and oily;
Grilled Eye Fillet of Beef with Sweet Soy Teriyaki Sauce and Mixed Mushrooms - the meat was over-cooked and lost in the thick, rich sauce

Max Brenner
Shop OE5, Menzies Alley
Melbourne Central
300 Lonsdale Street,
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Food: Israeli Chocolate Drinks and Desserts
Website: www.maxbrenner.com.au
Date visited: 26th July 2008

Disappointed with the evening's dinner, we went for a walk across the bridge, over the Yarra River, to Max Brenner for a treat of delectable sweets and heart-warming chocolate drinks. The night suddenly picked up and we were instantly soothed and comforted by the cosy atmosphere and aroma of cocoa wafting around us.

Chocolate Souffle; Belgian Waffle - both can be quite rich to the palate, but taste perfect when devoured with the vanilla ice cream.

Milk Chocolate Suckao (top); White Chocolate Suckao (bottom) - a clever drink where you stir your desired amount of chocolate bits into the milk (warm from the candle underneath) and drink through the metal straw, which doubles as a spoon! Unfortunately, my white chocolate formed clumps at the bottom because the milk wasn't hot enough to melt it completely.

Kobe Jones I, II

Level 1, 427 Docklands Drive,
Waterfront Venues, 
Melbourne Docklands, VIC 3008
(03) 9329 9173
Food: Modern Japanese
Website: www.kobejones.com.au/melbourne
Dates visited: 22nd August 2008, 22nd March 2008

I absolutely adore Japan, its culture and best of all, its delicious food! I am still anticipating the day when I will be able to travel the 'land of the rising sun,' and indulge in all that the country has to offer. However, in the meantime, all I can do in Melbourne is relish in the glory of our abundance of Japanese restaurants, including one of my favourite destinations, Kobe Jones.

Kobe Jones is situated by the harbour at Docklands, and boasts a romantic ambience and spectacular views across the city - I would recommend that you request a window table when making reservations. On many occasions, I have found the service here to be quite clumsy, especially with many of the waiters speaking broken English - which always poses a communication problem.

Other than that, the food is yet to fail on delivering beautiful, traditional Japanese flavours, with a refreshing, modern twist. The desserts appear to be quite mouth-watering, but once tasted, don't do the presentation much justice. I would much rather order an extra entree than save room for sweets at the end.

Agedashi Tofu - Tempura silken tofu with tuna shavings;
Tiger Prawn Tempura with Ponzu Dipping Sauce;
Salad of Crispy Skin Salmon and Ponzu Sauce - This salad is absolutely scrumptious, I love the crispy salmon bits!

Shallow Fried Soft Shell Crab - Panko soft shell crab with teriyaki potatoes

Number One Special - Crab salad with avocado wrapped in snapper and baked with Kobe Jones secret sauce. These literally melt in your mouth!

Wagyu Tenderloin Tataki - Perfectly seared beef tenderloin served with garlic, ginger and ponzu sauce;
Crispy Salmon Skin Salad- This time the salad was served with too many purple oak lettuce leaves instead of rocket, which unfortunately overpowered the dish. We struggled to find many crispy salmon bits inside;
Lolly Pop Sushi - Tuna, snapper, salmon, crab salad, asparagus and smelt roe wrapped in thinly peeled cucumber with soy sauce vinaigrette;
Mangalo Mocktail - Fresh mangoes blended with orange and crushed pineapple juice with a dash of grenadine

Tajima Wagyu - Tajima beef is regarded as the best quality meat in all of Japan with a marble score of 9+. The wagyu was served on a hot rock, where we enjoyed watching it sizzle and cook, then happily savoured the flavour, mixed with the vegetables, dipping sauces, salt and pepper.

 Wafu Style King Prawn Thermidor - The prawns were served on a bed of rice and lathered in a creamy, velvety thermidor sauce. The dish was just rich enough to make you drool for more after each spoonful.

Crispy Skin Salmon Roll; Lychee-Mi Mocktail - Pineapple juice, chopped honeydew melon and lime juice blended with ice

 Ama Ozen - a selection of Kobe Jones' desserts

Right: Green Tea Creme Brulee

July 3, 2010

Grilled Ox Tongue

Ox tongue is the tongue of a cow and can be roasted, braised, boiled or pickled. In Japanese cuisine, it is served in a grilled dish called "gyūtan," which literally translates to "beef tongue." They can be found, pre-sliced, in the frozen section at most Korean or Japanese foodstores and are extremely easy to prepare.

I bought a packet from a Korean grocery store, in the "BBQ foods" frozen section, and thawed the meat for a couple of hours (you can even cook them from frozen, however it is harder to separate the slices). To cook, I simply placed each slice straight onto a pre-heated, non-stick frying pan. They only took about 2 minutes to curl up and brown, releasing sweet, natural juices and a wonderful barbecued aroma. I simply served with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice and cracked white pepper.

Ox Tongue with Lemon Juice - so flavoursome with a slight resistance to the bite

Cantonese Style Fried Rice

While mum was away, I made my first fried rice, inspired by recipes from my well-used Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking. The combination of ingredients create such an incredibly tasty and satisfying meal, full of wonderful flavours and textures - the salty lup cheong, the sweet carrot, the fragrant sesame oil and shao hsing wine, the delicate egg and the crisp bean shoots. This is my edited version that includes shitake mushrooms, carrot, bean shoots and lup cheong:

Serves 4-6:
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 4 free-range eggs
- 1 white onion, finely diced
- 1 tbs finely diced ginger
- 2 cups finely sliced lup cheong sausage
- 1 carrot, julienned
- 150g shitake mushrooms, stems discarded and finely sliced
- 3 tsp white sugar
- 3 tbs shao hsing wine or dry sherry
- 5 cups steamed rice (Hot or cold is fine, as long as it isn't gluggly. Yesterday's rice is always best. To achieve a similar effect, I steamed rice, then let it cool down with the lid off)
- ⅔ cup finely sliced spring onions (scallions)
- 3 tbs light soy sauce
- ½ tsp sesame oil

Break eggs into a bowl and beat lightly. Heat half the oil in a hot wok until the surface seems to shimmer slightly. Pour beaten eggs into wok and leave to cook on the base of the wok for 10 seconds before folding egg mixture over onto itself with a spatula and lightly scrambling for about 1 minute or until almost cooked through. Carefully remove omelette from wok with a spatula and drain on kitchen paper. Set aside.

Heat remaining oil in hot wok and stir-fry onion, ginger and lup cheong for 1 minute. Add carrot and mushrooms and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add sugar and stir-fry for a further 30 seconds. Pour in wine or sherry and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add rice to wok with spring onions, soy sauce, sesame oil and reserved omelette and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until well combined and rice is heated through. use a spatula to break up the omelette into smaller pieces while cooking. Transfer rice to a bowl and serve.

Cantonese Style Fried Rice

Chinese Vegetable Noodle Soup

On the eve before mum went on a mini holiday, I cooked her this light and delicate noodle dish, inspired by a recipe from Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking. An enthused noodle-lover, mum seemed very satisfied upon finishing the extravagant bowl of noodles and vegies I served her!

Serves 4-6:
- 1 small cucumber
- 1 medium-sized carrot, peeled
- 220 g packet fresh noodles (I used fresh Shanghai noodles. Hokkien also works well)
- 6 cups Chinese Vegetable Stock
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 1 tbs ginger julienne
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 2 sticks of celery, finely sliced on the diagonal
- 200g baby corn, sliced lengthways 
- 100 g oyster mushrooms, stems discarded and caps sliced
- 150 g shiitake mushrooms stems discarded and caps sliced
- 100g enoki mushrooms
- 150 g snow peas, trimmed and finely sliced
- 2⅓ cups finely shredded Chinese cabbage
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
- ⅓ cup mint leaves, finely chopped
- 2 red banana chillies, finely sliced on the diagonal (optional)

Using a vegetable peeler, finely slice cucumber and carrot lengthways into ribbons. Cut slices into a fine julienne and set aside. Place noodles in a colander and rinse well under hot running water, then drain.

Bring stock to the boil in a large heavy-based pot. Add soy sauce, ginger and sugar and stir to combine. Reduce heat, add drained noodles, celery and baby corn and simmer for 1 minute. Toss in reserved carrots, mushrooms, snow peas and cabbage and simmer for a further minute or until noodles are just tender. Remove pot from stove. Ladle soup into large bowls. Place reserved cucumber, bean sprouts, mint and chilli in small separate bowls and serve alongside soup.

Chinese Vegetable Noodle Soup

Chinese Vegetable Stock

To make a basic Chinese Vegetable Stock, you will need:

- 1 tbs vegetable oil
- 2 medium-sized red onions, finely diced
- 15 slices ginger
- 10 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tbs sea salt
- 3 medium-sized carrots, peeled and sliced
- 6 sticks of celery, sliced
- 10 spring onions (scallions), trimmed and cut into 5cm lengths
- ¾ cup finely sliced coriander roots and stems
- 6 litres cold water
*Try experimenting with different vegetable combinations by adding cobs of corn for a sweeter stock, fresh tomato wedges for a refreshing twist, or dried mushrooms/fresh mushroom stems for a more earthy flavour.

Heat oil in a large stockpot, add onions, ginger, garlic and salt, and saute over high heat for 1 minute. Add carrots, celery, spring onions and coriander, reduce heat and saute, stirring often, for a further 3 minutes or until vegetables are very lightly browned.

Add water to the pot and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer, skimming the surface with a ladle to remove any impurities. Turn down heat until surface of the stock is barely moving and cook for 1 hour, skimming as required.

Remove stock from stove, strain through a muslin (or a clean Chux cloth. I used a fine sieve) and store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for 2-3 months.

Chinese Vegetable Stock

Glazed Miso Salmon


When I don't have much time to prepare dinner, I make this easy salmon dish. The miso sauce keeps the salmon flesh nice and moist and imparts a lovely, salty and smokey flavour when grilled. Keep your eye on the fish, to ensure that it does not overcook. Balance the flavours with some greens, such as spinach, broccoli, asparagus or bok choy, depending on what is fresh and in season!

Serves 4:
- ⅓ cup mirin
- ¼ cup white miso
- 1 tsp sugar
- 4 x 125g salmon fillets
- Steamed rice, to serve

Combine mirin, miso and sugar in a shallow bowl. Add salmon fillets and turn to coat. Meanwhile, preheat a grill on medium and line a grill or roasting tray with foil. Drain the salmon fillets, arrange on the foil in a single layer and grill for 5-10 minutes, turning once and basting with any extra glaze, until tender and fish flakes easily. Serve with steamed rice.

Glazed Miso Salmon with Prosciutto-wrapped Asparagus

Chunky Miso Salmon Salad - Leftovers for lunch the next day!