Friday, February 26, 2010

Duck and sweet nostalgia

Between the ages of 20 and 26 I had an on/off relationship with V, a chivalrous young man from Coburg of Greek descent. Part of the attraction was our shared passion for good, fresh food. He introduced me to travel - my first overseas trip was to Greece - and the many wonderful food experiences to be had by venturing to other countries and cultures.

Seven years since our last meeting, we caught up last night over a meal in Melbourne's Chinatown to reminisce about old times and do what we always did best together: eat.

The evening was split into two venues; City BBQ (Lt Bourke) & Mekong (Swanston). City BBQ's crispy skin bbq duck was ordered for me (sans menu) by V - who has lately become a connoisseur of asian cuisine. It arrived sliced into manageable pieces, arranged over a huge plate of steaming fried rice with a slightly "charred" flavour (the non greasy kind). Both were extremely tasty and also a good leveller - you have to basically pick up a piece of duck with chopsticks and somehow tear it, along with the delicious sweet and salty skin, off the bone - at the same time attempting to maintain a semi-dignified conversation with your dining companion. I abandoned all the good table manners I'd been taught and got into it with a combination of fingers, chopsticks and spoon. The texture and sweet/salty flavours of the crispy skin as you bite down, then giving way to melt in the mouth duckfat and tasty meat was beyond any peking duck experience I could remember.

Then I was led to Mekong on Swanston - which has the dodgy claim posted in their window "Clinton ate two bowls (of Pho) - how many can you eat?" - for something called "three colour drink" (pictured, along with "four colour drink"). A complete mystery to me, V explained it's a vietnamese sweet staple, consisting of things like green jelly, red kidney & mung(?) beans, coconut, topped with shaved ice and served with spoon and straw. The idea is that you stir the flavours together a little and sip/eat. I was trying to get my head around eating red kidney beans as a sweet, when I realised I had enjoyed yum cha dishes before with sweet bean paste. The texture and flavours were interesting and I am lover of all things coconut so it ticked all the boxes there, but it was a "once in a while" thing rather than something I'm dying to go back for. I was assured though, that their lemon/lime 'sorbet' is a winner - and various restaurant reviews rave about the pho, so I will venture back soon.
I awoke refreshed this morning realising two very important things:
  1. It's good to forgive and let go of the past
  2. Beans make me fart

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Prawn and Mango salad

Thrown together today in about three minutes, with almost zero mental function left after a challenging day at work:

Thai prawn and mango salad

Ingredients: mango, cooked prawns, snow peas, garlic, chilli, ginger, coriander, sesame oil, fish sauce, lime, lemon.

Method: peel & devein prawns, toss together with snow peas. Slice mango and arrange over the top. In a mortar and pestle, grind together garlic, ginger, coriander and add sesame oil, fish sauce, and fresh lemon and lime juice together, tasting as you go to get the right flavour. Chop chilli and add to mix. Drizzle over the salad.

The verdict: Not bad, I think next time I'll marinade the prawns in half of the mixture and grill them first.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ginger Girls

Today I finally lunched at Gingerboy with a friend after our weekly habit of frequenting the same cheap-ass dumpling place in Little Bourke. As much as we love Dumpling King, the dark neon lure of Gingerboy finally drew us down grungy old Crossley St for an unforgettable dining experience. First impressions: dark and clean, black and red, clear perspex seating, bamboo and string lined walls, fairy lights reflected in huge mirrors, immaculate and efficient staff.

Not exactly a cheap lunch at just under $50 each (and we drank tap water only!), but to us, a small price to pay for asian food heaven. We had:
  • prawn and ginger dumplings with peanut/sesame/chilli dipping sauce
  • roasted kingfish wrapped in banana leaf
  • asian chicken, coriander, and coconut salad
  • salt and pepper cuttlefish
  • chilli jam, wok tossed asian greens, jasmine rice
I could ramble on and on about the amazing flavours of chilli, salt, fish, coriander, lime, coconut and ginger which permeated from our bowls, wafting around the restaurant and out the front door. But all you really need to know is that you should pay Gingerboy a visit. Soon. If you love asian food, you won't regret it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Welcome to my Kitchen!

Perhaps it's not the healthiest thing; but my life tends to revolve around food. What to eat, when, how, where - the why is not necessarily important (even if not particularly hungry I can still be coaxed into eating, especially if it involves a new experience, and I just can't say no to something spicy). A good meal - shared among friends, family, or even strangers - can inspire conversation, passion, laughter, affection.

Amazing food doesn't have to be gourmet or expensive. Sometimes the most enjoyable food experiences I've had involved two to three basic ingredients and five minutes' preparation. My only 'rule' in making every day a great "foodie" day is variety. Oh, and NO fast food chains or pre-packaged junk. I have been known to occasionally indulge in both of these things, especially when arriving home from a long day at the office, mentally exhausted and starving. But when you can just as easily grab a decent tom yum soup from the local noodle franchise - piping hot, spicy and tangy with lemon and herbs - for the same price as a happy meal, should there really be any dilemma?

Thinking back over the years since moving to Melbourne (I hailed from a small Victorian country town when I was 18, bought up on meat 'n' three veg my whole life), I realise I've since been fortunate enough to have some wonderfully diverse and amazing food experiences. I now actively seek out ways to enjoy different foods daily and excitedly discuss them with other foodie friends - and wondered if anyone else would be interested to read about them?

So. My undertaking is to log food experiences - dining in or out - with fellow amateur foodies and share the journey (good or bad). So, thanks for reading, and please feel free to comment or provide suggestions along the way.

A grown up taste of childhood...

When I was a little girl, I would often stay at my grandparents' house and in the morning my grandpa Ted - an ex orchardist - would slice fresh, home grown tomatoes over hot buttered toast, sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper, and we'd eat this for breakfast with strong white tea.

Some years later, long after Grandpa Ted passed away, I met Tim - also an ex-orchardist - who wooed me with fresh stonefruit from his family's orchard, New Zealand wine, and outings to some of Melbourne's finest restaurants. It was only after we married that I realised Tim hated tomatoes ... and anchovies. Two matches made in heaven, but something we could simply never enjoy together as husband and wife.

This week I hit the jackpot. My mother in law sent down some home grown tomatoes and leeks; at the same time Tim departed for a week long camping excursion.

2-3 home grown tomatoes
1 leek
crushed garlic
2-3 tinned anchovies

Splash a little good quality olive oil into a pan and throw in thinly sliced leek, crushed garlic and anchovies. Fry off for a minute, stirring, then add finely chopped tomatoes. Shake pan and simmer for about a minute until mixture thickens slightly and tomatoes cook.

On a thick slice of toasted sourdough, sprinkled with a little olive oil, seasalt and freshly ground pepper.