26 February 2008

Food on display. Cafe Greco

"No where is the stomach of the traveller or visitor put in such constant peril as among the cake - inventive housewives and daughters of New England. Such is the universal attention paid to this particular branch of epicurism in these states, that I greatly suspect that some of the Pilgrim Fathers must have come over to the country with the Cookery book under one arm and the Bible under the other."

Charles Joseph Latrobe (1836)

Cafe Greco Crown Casino, Melbourne, Australia.

22 February 2008

Hotel Nest. Bar Food.

Rob Mills was bounding down the stairs at his old stomping ground, the Red Eagle Hotel, when something caught in his throat. As he stopped to clear it he noticed the crowd chanting and screaming below: "Millsy! Millsy!"

"I feel like a rock star," he said, uncertainly. "That's good, isn't it?"

For more than two years Rob Mills had worked this Albert Park pub as frontman for a cover band, the Megamen.

He was used to belting out upbeat covers of FM hits for the regulars; the blonde, buff, sun-kissed 20-somethings who swayed to Angel, by Robbie Williams, and sang along to 3AM, by Matchbox 20.

And even before the instant fame of appearing on Channel Ten's star quest, Australian Idol, Mills had habitually upstaged the other two in the band, Simon Candy and Brook Chivell.

Sometimes the two guitarists jokingly referred to themselves as "the chopped livers", figuring they might as well be chopped liver with all the attention they got playing next to Mills.

By Misha Ketchell - October 27, 2003

The Red Eagle is dead. When I started going there in the eighties it was par for the course because that was where all The Advertising people played, along with The Flower and The Rex in Port Melbourne. Later on The Botanical joined those ranks. When the Ponytail Set moved on it became the spot for the Millsy generation, but when they too left for the modern, renovated The Beach - once The Bleakhouse - the Red Eagle too became chopped liver.

In December it re-opened as Hotel Nest with a celebration marked with pleasant young blonde 'modules' as they're know in Adland and Rent-a-crowd personnel such as Suzy Wilkes. The opening, orchestrated by event company Gorgeous PR - who claim to have done the branding, PR, uniforms etc, as do Ennis & Perry - meant owner Michelle Matthews had her eyes set on a certain calibre of customer. But on two sweltering nights earlier this week it was filled not with the stunners but with locals, many of whom once belonged to the Ponytail Set of the eighties.

I nipped in for a quick bar lunch yesterday, to dip my toe in the water. Buoyed by the fact that Mansion Hotel Executive Chef Paul Raynor was now consulting to the venue and Nick Dodds, ex front of house at MoMo, Ezard and Gingerboy was working with them I expected good things. I wasn't disappointed.

Gone are the raucous bands and the really young crowd. The venue is modelled on places like 'The Bot' and I can see a similar crowd will converge there. It feels a little young for the Lamaro's set, but some may cross over. It is sleek, white, modern and full of expectation. The white marble counter across the bar drives your eye down the guts of the front bar. Quirky childlike touches add a modernity to the scene like a carved wood goat head wall sculpture, a cluster of white dovecotes and low colourful stools that remind me of my Nursery School in Surrey in the early seventies.

At 1pm unlike The Bot it was quite deserted for a venue of this size. But so also was Lord Cardigan further up in Albert Park Village and feted GastroPub, The Montague. In all I think there were ten patrons in the bar during my visit. Four Grey Nomads from the 90 000 tonne cruise liner which berthed momentarily at Station Pier were lured into the dining room. It will just be a matter of time before the St.Kilda Road Business types and cashed up Domestic Godesses of older private school children join the ranks, especially when the latter hear the news that they will be serving High Tea.

The bar menu was a fine example of the Modern casual dining scene and definitely not what had been offered in previous incarnations. Two $20 specials of Mushroom risotto or Penne with sugo, spinach, sausage and olives served with a glass of wine were drawn to our attention, scribbled on a blackboard.

Menu items listed included...

...And a Wagyu burger with blue cheese dressing, Tempura Prawns with Chilli Mayonnaise, Minute Steak Sandwich with caramelised onions and a Ploughman's Platter for two.

Gluten-Free-Gourmet, who had come for the spontaneous jaunt ordered the Chargrilled Swordfish which was served a touch rare and moist, with an Alsatian style potato salad featuring bacon and grain mustard. I didn't taste, but it appeared to be technically proficient and a very good simple offering. Chardonn-Ange tried the Penne special and gloated about the sausage - as all good women of Germanic descent are want to do after a good feed.

I ordered the Crispy Pork Salad, it was not a fragrant dish but certainly effective in its execution. Small thin, deep fried pieces of belly pork appeared triple fried until the required crunch factor was achieved. They sat atop a bed of cucumber shavings and snow pea sprouts - known as Dow Mui in Cantonese - which had been doused briefly in hot vegetable oil. The lot was garnished with spring onion and dressed in a concoction that seemed to comprise the rock sugar sweet pickling syrup from Asian pickled shallots with a splash of rice vinegar, not soy lime, as described on the menu. All it needed for a truly authentic touch were some sesame seeds and slivers of pickled daikon.

I enjoyed the crunch of the meat combined with the slippery and leafy. I liked the sweet and sour nature of the salad, but as an Oriental this is programmed into the suite of tastes appealing to my palate. For a 'girlie' lunch it was a perfect portion. If you have a larger appetite, perhaps an additional small dish shared between two would hit the spot.

Service was efficient and pleasant. The drinks list includes fourteen wines by the glass, twenty nine beers and - delighting The Coeliac - Little Creatures Cider. With our meals averaging $15 each it was a nice lunchtime diversion. I'm glad this local of mine has been revived and revised, there's something about it which has always felt welcoming and convivial. It is bound yet again to rise to popularity sans Millsy, potentially with an older and wiser league of former ponytail wearing Ad men and with the people who drift in their wake. Now next step, to try their Dining Room.

Hotel Nest, 111 Victoria Avenue, Albert Park, Victoria, Australia.
ph. +61 3 9699 9744

21 February 2008

Regional Producers Day Daylesford

'Every February we hold a Regional Producers Day. Between 50 and 60 local producers set up stalls at Lake House, and offer cheeses, smallgoods, free range pork products, honey, organic vegetables and fruit, every imaginable kind of bread, berries, herbs and so on. It's a snapshot of the great things happening in the region. As many as 2,500 people come along and fill their baskets, we have live music and it's a lovely day.'

ALLA WOLF-TASKER, The Lake House, Daylesford, Victoria

Local Produce in Daylesford & The Macedon Ranges

Events in Daylesford

Apologies to dial up readers for the photo oriented post. I had the urge to showcase some more regional SOLE & Slow Food.

20 February 2008

Out Of The Frying Pan

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire

1. Going from a bad situation to one that is even worse

2. A day of discussion for chefs, restauranteurs, food media and food lovers for this conference on the nexus between food, restaurants and the media
at MFWF‡.

‡ This saying often refers to the necessity of making a choice between equally difficult options.

This is a blatant plug. My Blog friends Ed, Jamie, Lucy and Stephanie are taking part in the gabfest section of The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival on Monday 3rd March 2008, known as Out of The Frying Pan. In Session One there's also an appearance by French Uber Blogger Bénédict Beaugé discussing global food trends with other Fooderati imports. And in another session, one of my culinary heroes David Thompson will appear too.

It's $135 a ticket. In the past I would have considered this a trifling amount, but having stepped off the corporate merry-go-round for a life more Zen, I have wondered whether to part with the lucre. I wondered also about the day long masterclasses, but gagged on the price.

I figured I'd spend less than half of the asking price - for just one day of masterclass - on food in Malaysia in May, and come away just as satisfied with the additional benefit of a swag of new blog posts. Out of the Frying Pan does however include in the ticket price, a showbag, lunch, 4 sessions and two Coffex Coffee 'experiences' (WTF? Now there's Marketing jargon to make you dry retch).

Out of The Frying Pan is tempting though if just to see some of my friends in action, but how does one choose between 'Media Trends 2009-2012' and 'Future Food, Future Media' or 'Recipe Writing, how to do it right, wrong and getting them published' or even 'The Politics of Food and how it works for a successful restaurant'?

Then in Session 3 I suppose it has to be 'Web 2 how to blog and how not to blog' over the 'So you want to write about food, a session for Chefs, foodies and the next AA Gill' option. Though for some this will be a hard decision. In Session 4 as in Session 1 there is just one presentation and this one is about the Future of Drinking, hopefully with a drink at hand.

Another dilemma. Why doesn't the program list the speakers in each session, surely some people's decisions would be influenced by that? Oh well, pot luck I suppose is the order of the day.

Out of The Frying Pan details can be found here.

Tickets can be booked via Ticketmaster.

With any luck this post may score me a freebie. Fingers crossed.

17 February 2008

WTF? Kickapoo to you too.

The Kickapoos (Kickapoo: Kiikaapoa or Kiikaapoi) are one of the Algonquian speaking Native American tribes. According to the Anishinaabeg, the name "Kickapoo" (Giiwigaabaw in the Anishinaabe language and its Kickapoo cognate Kiwikapawa) means "Stands Here and there" and refers to the tribes migratory patterns. This interpretation is contested and generally believed to be a folk etymology.

There are three recognized Kickapoo tribes remaining in the United States: the Kickapoo of Kansas, the Kickapoo of Oklahoma, and the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. There is another band in the Mexican state of Coahuila. There is also a large group in Arizona. Thus far the former two groups have been politically lumped with the Texas band. Additionally, Kickapoos live in small groups throughout the western United States. Around 3,000 people claim to be tribal members.

As we settled in for another Malaysian style Lunar New Year Feed, I looked at the word Kickapoo on the menu at Lim's Nonya Hut in Syndal and wondered WTF? My dear friend Y2 told me it was a drink like Sprite so I ordered one and hung onto the can for this blog post. Although
not very cold, it was refreshing, but not overly sweet or too fizzy.

The Chinese characters and 'Product of Singapore' on the can made me think that it was a kooky Asian product, but as it turns out its origins lie in Columbus, Georgia, USA. It is a product of the Monarch Beverage Company which was started by an Advertising man, Frank Armstrong, in 1965.

Their website claims the following:

"Armstrong’s experience opened his eyes to an untapped market of smaller, regional soft drink brands, each of which had a distinct personality and a loyal following. He envisioned a beverage company that would capitalize on this market – and The Monarch Beverage Company was born.

The company’s first soft drink offering was Kickapoo Joy Juice®, a citrus-flavored soda inspired by the tonic of the same name in Al Capp’s comic strip “Li’l Abner,” which appeared in newspapers from 1934 to 1977.

The next year, Monarch acquired Moxie®, a cola with a loyal New England customer base, from German beverage giant Eckes. Introduced in Maine in 1884, Moxie was the first soft drink in the United States, and still boasts an army of devotees who celebrate the drink at an annual “Moxie Festival” in Lisbon, Maine. Moxie’s rich history and almost cult following, combined with the personality of Kickapoo, set the tone for Monarch’s expanding portfolio."

Apparently it is pronounced kick-a-poe aand is now only distributed in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei and Bangladesh. Other Monarch products are available in fifty three countries including the developing economies of South Africa, Guinea, Nigeria, Angola, Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal, Mexico, Brazil, France and China.

But what of the crazy illustration on the can? It looks like a Cave Man and an Native American Indian roasting their butts over a barrel. But apparently they are also from Lil' Abner, the characters on the label are "Hairless Joe"(the hairy one) and "Lonesome Polecat" the Indian, rising stiff from a barrel of moonshine. I read that this was the reference for the picture: "A liquor of such stupefying potency that the hardiest citizens of Dogpatch, after the first burning sip, rose into the air, stiff as frozen codfish."

Well, I didn't end up stiff as a codfish. No, I was warmed. I think I can attribute that to the milder version of the Nonya chilly fish(sic) and Balanchan Kankung served at Lim's than we had previously at Jade Kingdom - rather than the drink. Just like the Algonquian Indians we had wandered here and there, traversing great distances across Melbourne to eat the same thing - made by different hands - but to also discover the pleasure of Kickapoo.

14 February 2008

Beautiful Stench and Bum Hummers

As I strode from the Market I swung my bag gaily and in my wake I left a foul stench. On the tram a woman checked her baby's nappy thinking that the poor child was creating the malodour that filled the carriage. But I was the culprit. Me, trying to look invisible with a really stinky washed rind cheese in my bag, giving off it's pungent scent of dirty, mouldy bacteria strewn milky deliciousness.

And so I brought home the Millawa King River Gold washed rind cheese from North Eastern Victoria. After hearing mention of it from The Gobbler, I sought it out on our trip to Beechworth, Rutherglen and Albury. Failing to secure myself a piece I went the following week to Queen Victoria Market to procure some.

In spite of the strong smell it was not robust in flavour. I found it pleasant but mild for a washed rind, and after cutting into it I wondered whether it was a little immature as there was no ooze. But on reading up on it, I found that this was the intention as a milder, smooth washed rind.

It was vaguely smokey with a salty finish indicative of the brine it is washed in. On comparison, I much prefer the
Barossa Cheese Company's washed rind, being much closer to a Pont L'Eveque in form, crust and texture, not to mention a more pronounced flavour.

I laid it out with some Bum Hummers bought in Albury, for the label boldly pronounced, "1000 farts in a jar". They were crisp, spicy and delicious pickled onions, a great textural balance for the cheese. The two items sat very well with some soft artisanal wood fired bread from Daylesford and a glass of Chambers Amontillado - a very dry sherry in the Spanish style - from Rutherglen which goes down well with Tapas.

Happy as a pig in mud wallowing in fetid stench was I. And proud of the fact that it all was low on food miles and high on ingenuity, passion and care, it left a smug
wonderment in all who ate of it.

12 February 2008

Lunar New Year at Jade Kingdom

The Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendar. The corresponding date in the solar calendar varies from as early as January 21st to as late as February 19th. Chinese New Year traditionally signifies turning over a new leaf. To celebrate getting through the past year, to then put the past behind you as look optimistically into the future.

Socially, it is a time for family reunions, and for visiting friends and relatives. This holiday, more than any other Chinese holiday, stresses the importance of family ties. The Chinese New Year's Eve dinner gathering is the most important family occasion of the year. In the days to come the new year is ushered in with a succession of family feasts and the gathering of friends.

I am the first to admit that the Hong Kong Chinese side of my family is eccentric. Lunar New Year is our big annual celebration which usually nullifies Christmas and Birthdays, but this year it passed as more of a whimper. We did not hook up with my parents until the fifth day of the year of The Rat as they were busy with friends. And Dad decided when we did celebrate, we'd be eating Malaysian food. Here goes nothing, I thought.

But I was wrong.

My parents are mad keen Tai Chi enthusiasts and Dad is rapidly becoming a born again Buddhist - go figure? After many years of practice, my Grandfather had reached such a high level of Tai Chi expertise that he could apparently bring on a self induced coma when he was unwell, in order to recover. I suspect my father is aiming to tread the same path and is seeking Buddhist enlightenment. So he has immersed himself in the culture with a group of like minded retirees.

Enter into the picture a Buddhist who according to his friends is quite enlightened, and who magnificently toppled a battle with cancer. This man also happens to be a gifted Baba - Malay Chinese - Chef hailing from Kuala Lumpur. His name is Bill and he met my parents at their Tai Chi group.

So last night, Mr Stickyfingers and I beat a path to the unknown reaches of Heidelberg Heights - getting a little lost enroute - to Bill's unpretentious little venue. Had we not stopped at the traffic lights outside, we would have missed the place entirely. As it happened I noticed another Malaysian restaurant next door that had a roller door firmly shut over the facade and instantly presumed the owners must have gone back to the old country for a holiday. And then my eyes moved across to Jade Kingdom. Bingo!

We were greeted by my parents inside with cries of "Kung Hei Fat Choy!" and were introduced to Bill, the owner and occasional Chef of Jade Kingdom. Resplendent in a blue Batik shirt, he was fit and tanned. This is not the first of his ventures, my parents recall that they were also regulars at his place in Springvale Road, Glen Waverley, years before they met him.

In a sea of wood grain veneer, Melamine and vinyl, a Chinese Dragon puppet sat decorously in a corner. Gaudy modern Chinese
paper decorations were festively suspended from the ceiling. At our table my folks were snacking on achar - spicy pickled vegetables and candied walnuts. It was a good start. Both dishes had the required amount of crunch.

Next came Yu Sang also known in Mandarin as Yee Sheng. The name is a Homonym for the Chinese words for good luck and it is a sweet, sour, raw fish salad made up of many elements including daikon, shredded raw yam died to be colourful, carrot, pickled ginger and shallot, coriander, sesame, crispy flat noodles, pomelo, peanuts and sashimi grade salmon. I think this one also featured jellyfish. (If you want to make it yourself here's a recipe)

Now the popularity of this dish hails from its presentation as Lucky Raw Fish Salad
in 1963, in a restaurant in Singapore. It is said to have principally originated in Guangzhou, Southern China - aka the rice bowl of China - where raw fish salads were regularly made with fresh water fish such as carp. Although the fashion for the serving of the dish quickly migrated to Malaysia as a feature of New Years celebrations, it never made it to Hong Kong, where the locals considered that the waters were not clean enough to risk eating raw carp.

It is the tradition that the elements that make up the dish be piled up at the table with certain sayings pronounced at each stage. Then all at the table must dip in with their chopsticks to toss it together. It is said to be throwing luck up into the air, which is considered good fortune. It's a bit of contemporary hocus pocus, but there is obviously comfort in certain rituals. I just couldn't wait to dive in and eat it.

The flavours and textures of this dish present as a mouthful of fine citrus sweet and tangy string with the soft sliver of salmon wrapping itself around the palate while nuts and noodle chips provide crunch. It's very satisfying, especially with the slight heat you get from the sticky pickled ginger and shallots.

The next jaw dropping dish was a Fu Pei Goon. Fu Pei is a sheet of tofu which is skimmed off the top of a vat of beancurd and left to dry. Goon means roll, as in Spring Roll (Chun goon). The Fu Pei had been wrapped around fish paste and seaweed and carrot, then deep fried. Sliced on the diagonal, it was served with more pickles and a sweet dipping sauce.

The comfort factor was provided by a huge mound of Sambal Balanchan KangKung. Kang Kung is the Water Convulvulous plant with long leaves and a hollow stem. In this dish it is tossed at high heat in a blend of garlic, dried, fermented shrimp paste and chilli. It is said that a good Malaysian restaurant can be judged by the quality of their Balanchan. This was certainly a ripper!

For me the dish of the night was the Nonya Fish. On the plate, all I could see was lettuce, decorative spring onion shreds and coriander supporting a yellow sauce flecked with red chilli. And then I noticed a fin. A succulent whole fish was buried in this thick, rich tamarind based sauce, made fiery with the chilli. The nose dripping factor was high as we broke into a sweat and chugged down mouthful after mouthful of this slippery sour hot concoction.

As I nursed a bulging stomach, more Tai Chi friends arrived and lurid pink coconut and lychee jellies were served. Dad was spoilt however, with a single serve of cold, sweet snow ear fungus soup with lotus seeds. I slurped the cool jelly happily and wondered whether I would ever eat again after feeling so magnificently full.

Jade Kingdom 233 Waiora Road, Heidelberg Heights, Victoria.
Ph. 03
9458 3188

07 February 2008

Comfort Food 1. Hungary

Nostalgia equals comfort.
The rosy hues of memories are often brought back by the waft of a smell and consequently everyone identifies certain dishes nostalgically as their comfort food. When eaten, these dishes nurture us and provide solace in such a unique way. Sometimes these favourites are also a guilty pleasure, which puts a number of our favourites in the ‘Break Glass in case of Emergency’ category.

Having had an eclectic upbringing my comfort foods are a mixed bag. Recently Food Writer and Blogger Pat Churchill suggested that she would like to read about mine on the blog, and some time earlier Ed Charles had suggested I write about one of my favourites - the proper way to make steamed fish in the Chinese manner.

So, this will be the first of a regular series of posts about my comfort foods. Other dishes I may write about - aside from Steamed fish - include Pho Bo, Congee, Gon Chow Ngow Hor, Csirkepaprikás, Cha Sui, Banh Xeo, Green Curry, Crab Custard, Rakott Krumpli, Liptauer, Gorgonzola Gnocchi, Yorkshire Pudding, Golden Syrup Dumplings, Kugelhopf (George - mine’s probably more like Kugler Csokoládés Maktortája), Chocolate Cognac Ice Cream.

I’m going to start off with the pancakes I made for Shrove Tuesday. It’s a Hungarian stuffed pancake dish and comes from the Hortobágy steppes, a World Heritage Listed plain, where horseman herded and grazed cattle for centuries. Historically the diet there was very heavy in meat.

The dish usually requires veal or a mix of different ground meats, but I had some venison set aside, which works well on its own but chose to add Kaiserfleisch because venison is so lean. The flavours of smoked meats are also common to many dishes from this area, so it was not inappropriate.

It is said that the Hortobágy cattlemen would carry smoked meat and salamis with them to snack on and chew, on long rides. In a small cauldron, they would flavour a stew with these and throw in some caraway and onion. This is in fact also the origin of many traditional dishes such as Gulyás, Pörkölt & Tokány (Goulash/Stew).

You’ll find this particular pancake dish served as an entrée in Hungarian restaurants, but we eat it as a main with some shredded red cabbage simply braised in apple juice with caraway seeds.

It brings the memories flooding back of my Aunty Susi and her family yelling at each other boisterously in a Robin Boyd Mid-Century Modern house furnished uncomfortably with heirloom Featherstone furniture, while I struggled to make sense of my place in the world. And finding comfort in the cooking of an odd-bod collection of extended family, consisting of unrelated, sympathetic Mittle European Holocaust survivors, I gave thanks just to be alive.

Húsos Palacsinta a Hortobágyról
Hortobagy style Venison and Paprika stuffed pancakes
Makes 3 servings

(filling & sauce)
250g Ground Venison
50g diced Kaiserfleisch
1 finely diced medium sized onion
1 smashed clove of garlic
Pinch of salt and pepper
2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
1 cup of sour cream
½ cup Tokay
3 table spoons mild paprika relish
1 table spoon cornflour

Sauté Onions with Kaiserfleisch in a little olive oil (Hungarians use lard, goose or duck fat). Add venison and garlic, brown, season then cook covered on medium heat for a few minutes.

Strain off any pan juices, if there are any, and reserve. Add smoked paprika and a tablespoon of the sour cream and simmer for another few minutes until the smell is rich and fragrant. Remove from pan and rest before placing into crêpes and rolling up.

Deglaze the pan with Tokay (or Muscat/Sherry/Port). Add pan juices. Mix the paprika relish and corn flour into the sour cream; it should turn orange. Add to pan and simmer until the sauce has thickened, then pour over the rolled, filled crêpes.

My parents got me making pancakes and crepes when I was eight years old. This is my original recipe, which I alter according to the application. Though these days I no longer need to follow the recipe. I pull it together adding the quantities based on sight, texture and demand. For the dish above I would make the mixture a little thicker than the basic quantity with some extra flour.
Because I originally took the recipe from a cookbook in the UK in the seventies, the measurements are imperial, but I have converted them for you.

Stickyfingers Crêpes

5oz/140g sifted Plain Flour
2 Eggs
1 Dessert Spoon Castor Sugar (omit for savoury dishes)
½ pint/300ml milk
Grated rind of a lemon (can omit for savoury dishes)
1 tablespoon melted butter

In a jug add eggs to flour and sugar; whisk. Gradually add milk and butter in a stream as you beat and when the mixture is smooth add the lemon rind. Rest until the batter is the consistency of thickened cream. The Batter can be thinned further with water if required.

*TIP: To make a waffle batter add 1½ tsp baking powder

Pour a little batter into a lightly greased sauté pan and rotate until the base is coated with the mix. When the edges are a little crisp and air pockets start forming under the centre, loosen the edges of the pancake and flip or toss.

Paul Bocuse once said that the first crepe always goes to the dog. This is generally because the first one is heavier and the pan needs to lose a little of the fat for a perfect result in rolling the mix around the base of the pan.

**BTW Happy Chinese New Year - Kung Hei Fat Choy!
As celebrations last 15 days, I will endeavour to give you a run down on the food and its links to Chinese New Year traditions in posts to come.