Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Suwan Thai, Lower Plenty

Suwan Thai has been my local Thai for many years now. In fact, when it used to be across the road and was more a humble little establishment, I used to work at the Mexican restaurant that was in its current site and I used to always get Pad Thai from Suwan and eat it before work (once I got sick of nachos and tacos!) And then my beloved Mexicali Casa closed down and Suwan Thai relocated to the bigger premises and probably hasn't looked back since, as it is always packed to the brim.

The food is always good. The flavours are fresh, flavoursome and balanced. The food is value for money. The service is pretty good. Its just somewhere you can count on to always present the same quality.

Last week I visited with my good friend whom I met whilst waitressing at Mexicali (oh, all those nacho's we ate together!) so we decided to go back to where it all began for our fortnightly dinner.

We started off by sharing some spring rolls and curry puffs. The curry puffs here in particular are super yummy, served with a gorgeous sweet chilli cucumber sauce. Stuffed with a delicious
mince and coated in crunchy pastry, these are my go to entree for sure.

The yellow curry was sweet and creamy with just the right amount of heat. The chicken is not those gristly bits you sometimes find in Thai curries, but instead gorgeous lean bits of breast chicken. Its really enjoyable and served in a lovely tealight candle heated bowl.

My favourite dish is the Nuer-Aroy, stir-fried beef with cashew nuts, vegetables, a 'special sauce' and sesame seeds. The sesame seeds really make the dish different from your typical Thai stirfries, and combined with the balanced yummy sauce its a definite must try. My parents ALWAYS order this one when they go also.

And what Thai feast would be complete without some roti bread with amazing satay dipping sauce?

We helped digest our food with a big pot of peppermint tea, and it was served in this gorgeous elephant tea pot which I thought was so cute.

Although I love gallavanting around to new restaurants in the city, I feel pretty lucky to have such a well-rated and consistent local Thai in the area (its a definite factor in my love for Montmorency/Lower Plenty and my desire to stay living here ;) ) as where are you without good quality Thai take-away? Lost... and hungry!

Suwan Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rump steak with spinach puree and sweet potato

I got the inspiration for this recipe from a dish Craig had at Henry and the Fox recently. There was something so simple about the pairing of gorgeous bright green spinach puree, rare and tender beef and in Henry's case, onion rings. I swapped the onion rings for roast sweet potato with some pine-nuts and goats cheese, and the result was a gorgeous restaurant quality, healthy meal at home.

1 large piece of good quality rump steak (I used organic, grass fed beef) sliced into four long but thick pieces (remove rind/fat)
200 grams of baby spinach leaves
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 a sweet potato, in large cubes
Large handful of pine-nuts, lightly roasted in a pan with some olive oil
Small handful of goats cheese, crumbled
Olive oil

For the puree:
In a frying pan, saute the garlic and spinach in a little olive oil until spinach is wilted. Transfer into a food processor and whiz until pureed.

For the sweet potato:
Spray with a little oil in a tray and sprinkle with some cumin and sea salt, then roast for 20-25 minutes, turning occasionally.

For the rump:
Season rump with salt and pepper. In a fry-pan, heat a little oil and cook on each side for about 5 minutes. I like mine quite rare so increase to 7 minutes on each side if you prefer it more well done. Wrap in foil and rest for ten minutes.

To serve:
Using a spoon, create a layer of spinach puree on one side of the plate. Slice the rump into pieces and gently place on puree. On the other side of the plate, place sweet potato cubes and scatter with pinenuts and goats cheese.


Maedaya, Richmond

When Craig and I were in Malaysia our hotel was within walking distance of this huge franchise Japanese restaurant called Sushi Tei, and the first night we ate there would definitely fit into the category of one of the 'best meals of my life'. We shared a bottle of sake accompanied by some beers, and ate some of the most interesting and unique Japanese food I have ever eaten like salmon carpaccio, tempura sushi rolls and tempura prawn stuffed mushrooms (more about that here...)

Maedaya is the closest thing I have found in Melbourne that gives off the same vibe, value and food as Sushi Tei, and I have a feeling I will become a regular at this Bridge Rd institution. The second rated Japanese restaurant in Melbourne (only second to Izakaya Den, which I am yet to try), Maedaya like many other popular restaurants has a no booking policy. However, we arrived asking for a table for 3 at 7.30pm and were seated by 8pm which was fine with me!

The restaurant aesthetically is very sleek and sophisticated, dark and modern. The minute we walked through the door we were hit by the smell of the yakitori grill, a meaty, smokiness that I loved. I got a laugh out of Craig and his best mate when after a few sakes I sighed and said, "God I hope my clothes smell like this when we leave." Yep, the smell was that good.

We started with some sake which I quite like to drink. Its like sipping on a spirit without the burning in your throat, and it goes well with the food.

We nibbled on some complimentary lotus root chips whilst perusing the colourful menu. I have never had lotus root chips before and they were really great- I would love to know how to make them or where I could buy them.

We decided to share a variety of dishes between the 3 of us.

The Kawari Tuna Sashimi was beautiful- plump pieces of tuna quickly seared and smothered in a wasabi mayonnaise that had just the right amount of kick to it. For $13.80 it was extremely good value with 8 large and thick pieces of tuna.

The tempura prawn was exceptionally good. Our friend is a bit of a Japanese nut and has travelled to Japan and eaten at most of the best little Japanese restaurants in Melbourne, and he claimed it was one of the best he has had. Beautiful plump prawns coated in the lightest and crispiest tempura batter I have tasted, with a gorgeous fish roe dipping sauce- the boys ordered a second serve because they loved it so much! At $13 a serve for 6 good sized prawns, these were good value also.
The fried chicken was a real decadent treat. Tender, melt in your mouth chicken pieces covered in a crispy batter with a creamy mayonnaise. This was the kind of food you should feel guilty about eating but can't because it is just so good!

The gyoza were enjoyable but nothing overly mind-blowing, stuffed with a flavoursome pork mince and grilled nicely so they had a nice char-grilled crisp about them.

The Sukiyaki Grill plate was a great way to try some of the beautiful grilled meats from the yakitori grill. We each tried a little of the pork belly, bean curd, beef and yakitori chicken. The chicken was so amazing that I ordered an extra skewer while the boys munched on their extra tempura prawns. It was so tender and beautifully smoky that I could have easily eaten a whole plate!
With all this food and the bottle of sake, we only ended up paying $40 a head which is extremely good for the quality of the food and sophisticated environment. A far cry from the $40 we paid in Malaysia at Sushi Tei, but who's complaining- how fabulous to find such a great Japanese place in Melbourne to have my 'unique' Japanese fix. A must try in Melbourne for Japanese food lovers!
Maedaya on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Harvest, Daylesford

In all my trips to my beloved Daylesford, I never even knew this gorgeous little cafe existed. Mum and I headed to Daylesford this week for a pampering session and lunch for Mum's birthday. We treated ourselves to a blissful two hours of pampering and then went to seek lunch. My research had found that most of the foodie hotspots in Daylesford close on Tuesdays due to being open on Monday's for the long weekenders. So that meant all of the restaurants I have been dying to try like Sault, The Lake House, Frango's and Frango's, Perfect Drop, Mercato, Kasuki's, Ego's Culinaria were all closed! How annoying. We were pretty happy where we ended up though.

Feeling so blissfully healthy and relaxed after our massage, we saw the words organic and were sold at the Harvest Cafe. We were seated in the little, simple cafe and I ordered a big fresh juice and Mum a coffee. We decided to share the mezze platter and some potato wedges, thinking that at a cafe a mezze platter is likely to be pretty small. Boy, were we wrong! This was the king of antipasto platters! Piled high with gorgeous roast organic vegetables, chorizo, haloumi, salad, some beautiful dips, roti bread and turkish bread, we gorged on this feasting plate and barely touched our potato wedges. Such good value for money and so delicious! I could not recommend it more, for $22 it could easily feed three people.

We then dragged our full tummies for a walk around beautiful Lake Daylesford and I thought more and more about how one day I would love a country house in the Daylesford/Hepburn/Macedon region where I can come on the weekends and enjoy nature and eat amazing food... and try all of those wishlist restaurants above! One day...

Harvest Cafe on Urbanspoon

Little Deer Tracks, Coburg

I spontaneously ended up at Little Deer Tracks this week whilst on route to visit some of my students on work experience. It was way past lunchtime and after having a few meals out this week I wanted to find something organic and wholesome. A quick Google search alerted me that this vegetarian cafe was 7 minutes away and so off I went.

There is something slightly liberating about eating in a cafe alone. Obviously it is much more enjoyable to have some friends to giggle with (and share food with!) but I also think there is something really special about being comfortable enough with your own company to be able to sit in a cafe, sip coffee, read a book and have a meal alone.

Obviously, it helps when the cafe is as funky as Little Deer Tracks. Almost unrecognizable from the front apart from a very small sign, it is cosy, hip and at 2.30pm on a Thursday, very much alive and buzzing. I was led by friendly staff to a cosy little table up the back where I sipped a soy latte and perused the menu, bopping along to the vibrant music playing. It was difficult to decide what to eat as this was my kind of vegetarian food- different, unique, inventive, wholesome, nurturing, interesting. No tofu or tempeh here, but a celebration of vegetables and lentils. I decided to go for one of the blackboard specials- Cauliflower Schnitzel with braised kale, brown rice and lemon.

What a ripper of a vegetarian dish! I am not sure how they have managed to make cauliflowe into a firm almost eggplant like consistency but it tastes great with the light crumb and beautifully flavored brown rice. And the kale... Oh the kale!

Kale is a superfood that I have been trying to eat more of lately, adding it to green smoothies, stirfries and even making kale chips. You can read more about the many benefits of this leafy green vegetable here. This braised kale was amazingly tasty, and I will definitely attempt cooking it like this at home.

Little Deer Tracks is the perfect place to have a tasty vegetarian meal and good coffee, with friends or even on your lonesome. A hidden gem away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney Rd.

Little Deer Tracks on Urbanspoon

Luna 1878 Market

The Luna 1878 Market at the Queen Vic pretty much flips the bird at winter. Under the shelter of the market, 100's of people gather on Wednesday nights in Winter listening to some cool music, drinking mulled wine by the fire and eating exotic street food from the many stalls braving the cold. Of course, I had to be a part of this! So last Wednesday night, I dragged my girlfriends into the city to tell Winter to shove it and have a nice evening.

I was somewhat hoping that unlike the crazy popularity of the Suzuki Night Market (I remember going when it took five minutes to be served food- last summer I waited up to 45 minutes!) that not many people would venture out there on a cold night... I underestimated the bravery of Melbournians as it was PACKED. Like the summer version, it was impossible to get a table and there were huge waits at the popular stalls.

We started with a cup of hot mulled wine to take the chill off the air. I had never tried mulled wine before, though it has always fascinated me. The taste reminded me of hot raisin bread, or Christmas, and being a lover of those strong aromatic spices, I loved it. My friends didn't feel the same! Once again, I was the crazy one who loves those unique and different things (and proud of it!)

The food stalls offered SO much variety. From memory we saw- Tibetan, Russian, Polish, Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, South American, Tex Mex, French, Belgian and Italian stalls. As well as that, hot soups served in cob loaves, macaroons and pretzels were among the food offerings. Two of my girlfriends settled down with some soup whilst my other friend and I became very indecisive and walked around for ages trying to decide what cuisine we wanted. There was just SO much variety. One stall that fascinated me was the meatball stand, with these huge vats of different kinds of meatballs that they stuffed into crusty rolls.

After much deliberation, I decided to go for something that I had never ever tried- Polish. I got the Polish tasting platter, a combination of saurkraut (pickled cabbage), pierogi (mashed potato stuffed dumplings), potato fritters, polish sausage and a shot cup of borscht (beetroot cold soup). We waited 45 minutes amongst a packed crowd of others wanting Polish and watched the guys cooking away.

Overall, I wasn't overly impressed with the platter. The soup was a little bland and watery, the cabbage cold, the potato fritter nice but I could make it at home and the sausage a bit cooked up. But oh, those potato dumplings. I could eat a whole bowl of these amazing comforting little dumplings. In fact, I have even researched other places that sell pierogi in Melbourne! So even though the dinner wasn't amazing, being introduced to a new food was worthwhile.

We had a lovely evening braving the cold and the crowds and the cold, even if there was not enough seating for the crowds there. It never ceases to amaze me the kinds of festivals, markets and events Melbourne manages to put on- this foodie definitely lives in the right city! Now, if only half of the population of Melbourne would forget about the Suzuki Market by Summer so that I have at least a small chance of getting served there next time?! ;)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Citrus Impossible Pie

I stepped out of my comfort zone this weekend, and moved away from my savoury safe place and delved into the world of desserts. Now, don't get too excited. I went for a fail-safe Impossible Pie, and some raspberry and almond cakes. Simple, but yummy. And of course, as a gourmet, I couldn't go for your regular Impossible Pie so I decided to attempt this recipe with some beautiful orange and lemon rind and juice, and coconut milk. The result was a moist and delicious pie with a gorgeous coconut crust and a slight citrus flavour.
Maybe I should venture out of my comfort zone more often!

So good that I have made it for my Mum's birthday cake the other night also... but forgot the sugar. I guess it is possible to stuff up impossible pie ;)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sesame Crusted Salmon

My regular readers should be well aware of my love affair with atlantic salmon. It is just the most beautiful and versatile fish, and I love to eat it raw, poached, grilled, steamed, crumbed, smoked... just give me salmon!

This is a really simple but yummy way to cook salmon- it also looks a lot harder than it is to make, so is a sure dish to impress guests. The best kind of fillets to use are large thicker pieces, because you need to cut them into large cube shaped pieces. The sesame coating gives it a beautiful crunch, and if you cook it correctly, the salmon stays moist and tender underneath.

I used a combination of white and black sesame seeds because it looks great; you could simply use just white sesame seeds also.

Sesame Crusted Salmon (serves 2)

2 medium sized thick salmon pieces (skinned if possible)
1/2 cup white sesame seeds
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
salt and pepper to taste
Large splash of olive oil

If your salmon pieces have skin, carefully remove them by gently using a knife to lever the skin off the salmon. Cut each piece of salmon into large cube size pieces (each fillet should be cut into 4-5 pieces).

Combine sesame seeds and salt and pepper in a bowl, then pour onto a flat plate.

In a pan, heat the olive oil.

Next to the stove, firmly coat the salmon pieces in the sesame seed mixture- I find pressing it onto it gives it a better coating rather than just rolling the salmon pieces in it.

Drop into hot oil. Using tongs, cook until all sides are lightly browned. Be sure not to overcook, the salmon should probably take less than ten minutes all up.

Serve with salad, stirfried vegetables or steamed rice.

Beef Kofta with Spicy Tomato Sauce

In my world, the best kind of winter meal is the one where it warms up the entire house with a beautiful smell. This is one of those meals. These kofta with spicy tomato sauce had me salivating and feeling completely warm and nourished- and that was before I even ate them.

Wandering Spice is one of my favourite blogs, and seeing as Middle Eastern food is probably my least tried and tested, I find it exciting to see the plethora of amazing new recipes I will be able to work my way through.

Her kofta's certainly warmed me up on a cold winter evening, and I have another batch in the freezer for another evening. The kofta's were beautifully spiced and melt in your mouth, and the spicy tomato sauce had just enough heat. In combination with the yogurt and coriander, it was a gorgeous dish.

The full recipe is here.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lambs, Northcote

Craig and I ventured out late on Saturday night in search of a feed. Because we had no idea what we felt like (a miracle for me, I know) we decided to head to High St, Northcote where there is a bounty of restaurants and cuisines to choose from. I tried for Japanese, Italian and Sri Lankan but Craig kept mentioning Lambs so even though it isn't my favourite kind of place to eat at, I decided to for once let him have choice of dinner.

If you are after cheap Greek, Lambs is the go to place. Famous for its signature kebabs, for years I didn't even realise it had an eat-in menu. But it does have a nice little dining room at the back where you can order value for money souvlaki platters and Greek mezze dishes.

We decided to share two of the small platters, one vegetarian and one mixed beef and chicken. The service is so-so but its one of those places that you don't really expect anything more. The food is really good- the meat fresh off the spit, served with home-made dips and crisp Greek salad with some of the yummiest toasted pita bread I have tasted.

The mixed meat platter was actually huge and great value for money. It is definitely the ideal meal for a hardcore carnivore like Craig.

The vegetarian platter had some falafels and dolmades in place of the meat. They were not the greatest falafels or dolmades I have ever tasted, and I think Lambs really excells in the Lamb (would you believe it?!) and the chicken dishes. The dolmades didn't have much flavour and the falafels seemed a bit dense like they had been sitting there for a while. Still an enjoyable change from the massive pile of meat on the other plate as yummy as it was!

Lambs is definitely a great place to go for a quality kebab, or some cheap and quick Greek food. I can highly recommend it as a place to take your carnivore man-friend for a feed! It probably won't blow your mind, and if you are looking for a special Greek meal out I would look no further than somewhere like Hellenic Republic rather than here... but for a cheap and easy feed... look no further than Lambs!

Lambs on Urbanspoon

Chengs Kitchen, Preston

We enjoyed a Sunday lunch at this little High St Chinese eatery this weekend. The decor was a little bit fancier than the neighboring restaurants and the price a little higher, but it was an enjoyable meal and the food of good quality. The service, from an older Chinese gentleman, was also very attentive and helpful, something we haven't experienced at other Asian eateries in the same area.

The dumplings we shared for entree were probably the highlights of the meal. All of them were plump and full of flavour.

The dim sum serving came with one vegetarian, one scallop and one prawn. I was only lucky enough to try a prawn one but it was gorgeous, filled with one plump prawn.

The shumai were also pleasing both texturally and taste-wise.

The fried pork dumplings were generous in size and flavour. Unlike some pork dumplings that are sometimes filled with just a bland mince, these had chives and garlic and pork, plus a crispy pastry. Yummo!

The spicy calamari was exceptionally good. I love this style of calamari- tender, crispy pieces of squid with a gorgeous chilli and onion coating. Just beautiful.

After gorging on these entrees, I decided to be good and just have some stir-fried vegies and steamed rice for lunch and let the others share some of the richer mains. Asian is probably the only cuisine that I am happy to do this- the vegetables are always beautifully cooked, fresh with a nice crunch and a flavorsome sauce.

The other mains also looked really great. The chicken and cashews was a very generous serve, and whilst the chicken was thigh which I am not a fan of, it looked quite lean.

The sizzling Mongolian beef was a little spicy for some of the tastes at the table, but also looked yummy with nice large, lean pieces of beef.

Overall, an enjoyable lunch at Cheng's Kitchen. Whilst a little more expensive than your standard Asian eatery in the same area, but the service was overly good which I think made up for the price.

Cheang's kitchen on Urbanspoon

Spinach & Feta Stuffed Mushrooms

I love shopping at markets, browsing the produce and decided what to eat during the week based on whats available. Whilst braving the crowds at Preston Market last week, we bought lots of yummy things like these gorgeous arancini-

and this amazing CHOCOLATE COVERED baklava! What a great idea!

All of our yummy fresh food made a welcome addition at a dinner party with some of my girlfriends where we put together quite the impressive spread-

We also bought some gorgeous huge mushrooms so decided what better dinner to have than some spinach and feta stuffed mushrooms. This recipe makes about 4 large mushrooms and 4 little mushrooms (to take for lunches!) Super filling and yummy!

Spinach and Feta Stuffed Mushrooms

4 large mushrooms, plus extra small ones, peeled with stems removed
About 2-3 cups of baby spinach
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
1/4 cup of pinenuts
200 grams of feta (I used goats feta)
1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (I used sourdough)
2 eggs

In a frypan, heat a little olive oil and add garlic, onion and pinenuts. Saute until garlic and onion is soft and pinenuts start to brown. Add spinach and allow to wilt. Take off heat.

In a large bowl, mix onion, garlic, pinenuts, spinach, feta, breadcrumbs and eggs. Mix until combined and season with some salt and pepper.

Using your hands and press the mixture into the mushroom middles firmly. I used about a handful per large mushroom and half of that for the small ones.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, and enjoy!