Thursday, March 18, 2010

leftover pizza

No, I don't mean I had pizza last night and ate the last two slices this morning. As if, in my home, there would be any pizza left for breakfast.

Tonight, despite being Thursday, is the start of my weekend and I wanted Friday Food. (No Andy you do not have the copyright on this...). For the uninitiated, our Melbourne take on Friday food is that is has to be special, it has to be something you don't normally eat on a school night, it has to be comfort food, it has to be something you like to end the week with but doesn't take a Cordon Bleu chef to pull off.

I rode home from the city on the scooter in a strange high-temperature, high-humidity fog (really, is this still March?) and focused on pizza and red wine, my ultimate comfort food.

When I got home the Stanton and Killeen shiraz durif was hitting the spot and it was all I could do to call Pizza Hut - my favourite non-pizza pizza hit. (Let's face it: Pizza Hut is not pizza but it is tasty). As it was March, the month of Slow Food, I focused hard and changed my mind. I would have home-made pizza with toppings made of all the leftovers in the fridge.

Two mini pita breads. Two teaspoons of tomato base from a tub (OK, it was not all slow food sourced from the land, but give me a break). A stray rasher of streaky bacon from a Paddy's Butchers Sunday breakfast that just got too big. Some baby bocconcini from a weekend pasta dish, with about a week until sell-by date. Five cherry tomatoes and half an onion and a green chilli from the vegie drawer in the fridge. The heads off half a bunch of rapidly-failing broccolini. Spicy Italian herbs. All set.

Divine Thursday night dinner, nine points (Weight Watchers) instead of minimum 15 if I'd ordered in. OK, I would have ordered something meat-lovers and it would have been a train wreck - maybe 20 points which is more than I'm supposed to eat in a full day. But my dinner was a lot tastier and exactly to my taste.

And the fridge is a little emptier tonight because of me.

I thank you.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

mammy dinner

A routine trip to the hospital and a dose of anaesthetic yesterday meant I needed chaperoning overnight. Lee and Mena came to visit, the former to stay over and play nursemaid, and the latter to cook dinner for us.

I was feeling perfectly fine and totally compos mentis, except Lee said I wasn't really: apparently my intelligence level seemed to have decreased somewhat. Now and again I made a declaration which elicited a puzzled response from her, because apparently I was making no sense whatsoever and even getting simple sums wrong. Horrifying.

Meanwhile Mena arrived and set to work cooking the exact menu that was served in our family home for decades on a Tuesday (and still is). Eggs, beans and chips. Perfect comfort food. I added sausages to the menu, having been to Paddy's the Irish butcher last week and so having a plethora of pork products to hand.

Nothing fancy: real Heinz beans, two eggs dry-fried sunny side up, and potatoes chipped by hand and oven-cooked with a little spray oil. Irish-recipe pork sausages fried in the pan (they are really low fat and dry-frying them gives a much better browning effect than grilling). The only thing was that I only had regular malt vinegar. A nice onion vinegar would have gone down well with the chips. A good dollop of tomato sauce for dipping (sorry, Andy, it was shop-bought) and it was just the perfect Mammy Food.

I probably shouldn't have, but instead of washing it down with a nice strong cup of tea, I indulged in a cheeky glass of two of a nice Langhorne Creek shiraz cabernet. Not strictly Irish kosher, but on the eve of St. Patrick's Day I reckon that was forgivable.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Labour Weekend Foodie Style - Monday

Labour Day Monday saw a convoy driving down to the Yarra Valley for a lazy afternoon. Seven adults, two kids and a baby headed east through cloudy skies, past the end of the freeway and into wine country. As Lilydale ended and the vines began, it appeared most of the grapes have already been picked which is just as well given all the storms and rain we've had.

The surrounding hills had little sign of the devastating fires the area experienced last year: the forests have all but filled out with green now, and the destroyed vines have grown back. The memories will take longer to fade.

Past Domaine Chandon, Beaver's Brook (venue for last year's legendary Winter Solstice lunch), Rochford (home the previous evening to a Tom Jones concert if he didn't get rained out) and into Healesville which was buzzing as usual.

Innocent Bystander winery is a great casual place for food, wine, aged cheese, artisan bread, excellent coffee, homemade desserts.... you name it. They take the quality and provenance of the food they serve very seriously, which makes it a lovely place to eat.

Their two wine labels, Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps, are pretty respectable but my clear favourite is Harry's Monster, a heady mix of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. As I hadn't eaten yet in the day, I essentially had a glass of The Monster for breakfast. Marvellous.

We crammed into a huge booth right beside the winery section of the building: a barricade of barrels were behind a glass wall. The sign told us that vintage had begun: pinot gris, pinot noir and chardonnay on its way.

We ordered fresh pizza, made according to their house rules:
- Genuine, wood fire oven
- Crispy-thin, handmade sourdough base
- Imported San Marzano tomatoes and local oven dried Roma and Cherry tomatoes
- Murray River salt
- Shaw River buffalo mozzarella
- Fresh, local basil and extra virgin olive oil

The spicy pork pizza was served without tomatoes but with an extremely generous serving of garlic. The prosciutto pizza was a little over-garnished with flat-leaf parsley but that's about all the complaining I could hear.
The girls sipped on an ice-cold pinot rose whilst Lenford had a White Rabbit beer from the micro-brewery next door and Ossie had a cold glass of local Punt Road cider. Orlando went all International on us and had a glass of French bubbly.

A trip to the loo brought me past their impossible-to-resist cheese larder, where Irish Coolea cheese rubbed shoulders with a Victorian "Holy Goat" and a couple of lovely-looking French sheep's cheeses amongst others. I am not sure how I managed to get out of there without spending up to $100 on a few hundred grams of cheese.... but somehow I did.

Later, back at Lenford's, our host didn't quail at an extra ten mouths to feed for supper (yes, we ate a second time that day). He fired up the barbie and enlisted his new army to prepare a feast. Freshly made bruschetta laced with garlic (made by my own fair hand), lumps of pork and beef marinated to perfection, traditional Aussie snags, chicken of course, a bok choi and dry noodle salad, egg fried rice and far too many bottles of wine. We actually drank the man dry.

A veritable feast shared with friends in Lenford's country house surrounded by trees, people hanging out on the balcony, the daybed and the hot tub, good music and great conversation, home cooked food made with love. What a way to end the perfect friends' weekend.

(the man himself)

Labour Weekend Foodie Style - Sunday

Labour Day Sunday was time for brunch in Babble On Babylon, the venue for the boys' cycling lunch most Sundays. Marty runs the only West Indian cafe in town, and his Jamaican breakfasts, stamp'n'go salad and curried goat are excellent.
We crammed into the back room while the kids played in alley. Nina's rice and peas and chicken looked excellent - well-seasoned and well-cooked chicken which Orlando manfully helped her polish off.
My Jamaican breakfast was just perfect: chilli eggs on toasted sourdough, plaintain, ackee and saltfish, with a side of roasted tomatoes. I never have the johnny cakes because I find them too heavy.

Eric's big bowl of curried goat (no bones, plenty of spice) went down a treat too.

Charmaine's dhal

On a chilly autumn evening after a power walk I was ready for comfort food. Still trying to lose one more kilo before our trip to Laos, the healthy option was also necessary.

The decision: Charmaine's dhal, the perfect spicy healthy food. Charmaine, a colleague at Red Cross and a food writer, is an Indian food expert and lover. She has written a few books on Indian cookery, several of which were published in India, and has just come back from another four-month stint collecting more recipes and stories.

Her dhal recipe is perfect every time.


400g dry lentils of any colour (I do a mix of 3/4 brown, 1/4 red)
1 medium onion finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
1 green chilli finely chopped
1 tbs olive oil
2-3 medium tomatoes finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black mustard seeds

Rinse lentils a few times then cook in boiling water for at least 45 minutes.
Meanwhile add the olive oil and black mustard seeds to a frying pan and wait until the seeds start to explode. Then add the chopped chilli and fry vigorously for a minute or two.
Add the onion, garlic and other spices and fry until the onion is soft and brown. Add the chopped tomato and stir in. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and breaking down.

When lentils are cooked tip them into the frying pan - don't bother draining all the water off them. Stir in and cook further until desired consistency is reached (I prefer my dhal a little bit runny) or add a little more water as required.

Serve on steamed white rice with a little chopped coriander or kasuri mehti as a garnish.

Serves 6

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Station Hotel Footscray

59 Napier Street Footscray

A table at the Station Hotel is a hard thing to come by on a Saturday night. A few years ago Sean Donovan, he of the Botanical and various Michelin-starred establishments in France and London, headed way out west to craft the sort of gastro-pub he always dreamed of. Nobody thought it would fly, but they were wrong.

Located off the beaten track, near the police station and town hall on the outskirts of Footscray, you would drive past it a hundred times without glancing. The bar is still a regular old bar, although a lot more gentrified than the last time I visited over a year ago. The pool table is still there but no longer in pride of place, and the diners have spilled over into the bar on more casually-set tables. The only people sitting at the bar were also eating, and this time I believe Adam would have been quite happy waiting for me on a barstool, cheeky glass of red in hand.

It was a quiet Saturday night, our waiter said. A big bear of a man, he hit a perfect balance between friendly service, formality and knowledge of the menu. This place is famous for its steaks and we both gravitated to the listing. Our waiter patiently explained the difference between wagyu and Angus, grain-fed and grass-fed, Bavette and rostbiff, and the varying degrees of ageing.

The longest-aged steak on offer is a 450-day Sher Wagyu rostbiff, which is what I chose, with a terrine de campagne to start. Nothing like the gourmet equivalent of good 1970s food on a wet autumn night. Orlando chose the provencal fish soup to start, followed by a Gippsland dry-aged grass fed lump of Black Angus rump. I started with a glass of Mitchell's Peppertree shiraz, which was served to me before I saw the Torbreck's GSM on the listing. Never mind.

The fish soup was sensational. Dark red and smooth like tomato ketchup, it had the very essence of the sea in there, along with obscene amounts of garlic and good after-kick. I really need that recipe. Mystarter was also divine, but huge: it was a pleasure to wade through this hunk of ham terrine aided by some toasted sourdough, but towards the end I was not sure where I was going to fit my main course. The Peppertree shiraz went down like a dream and before I knew it my glass was empty. On to the Torbreck's. Marvellous.

Our steaks were served simply with a handful of chunky hand-cut chips and a simple but delicious green salad which I devoured for once in my life. My rostbiff (which is a portion of the rump) was out of this world, like the last time I ate here. A good strong flavour and a texture that cut like butter. It was cooked medium-rare, perfectly seared outside and a deep pink inside. Orlando's Angus was similarly beautifully-cooked to medium, another lovely steak but with a gentler flavour. We ate slowly.

The restaurant was still quite loud like last time, and could do with a few more wall hangings or other upholstery to soak up some of the noise. The clientele was a mixed bunch: a Vietnamese family at the next table with a single white man amongst them (probably the daughter's boyfriend), two large tables of young people celebrating birthdays or some such, a couple of well-heeled foursomes of a certain age with Melbourne intelligentsia haircuts and avant-garde outfits, and a few local couples like ourselves out for a quiet dinner.

Overall a great evening's food, and the change of vibe in the bar would certainly entice me down for a counter meal or two mid-week now I know you can eat at the bar in reasonably pleasant surroundings.

Thursday, March 04, 2010


St. Kilda Beach

Dinner with workmates from across the country after a two-day planning session led us to St. Kilda beach on a beautiful late summer evening. We'd spent the previous couple of days staring out to sea ourselves from the local surf lifesaving club, and as the sun started dipping in the sky we found our way back to St. Kilda beach. The place was still buzzing, with every restaurant busy and the beach volleyball in full swing. The sailing boats flew by and a few brave ones went for their evening swim. A live DJ added to the buzz.

We had one coeliac with us but it wasn't a problem. There was a little "g" against almost half the items on the menu meaning those dishes were gluten-free. We shared a really good charcuterie board and some dips as a starter. Even in a pretty casual place like Republica it was good to hear they made everything including the bread and dips themselves from fresh ingredients. Even the prosciutto and thinly-sliced beef were aged and cured in-house. Impressive. The board was completed by an excellent ham-hock terrine, a handful of white anchovies, some good chorizo, a beautiful washed-rind soft cheese, the tiniest, sweetest Ligurian olives and a pig's ear salad.

Gluten-free Sally had butterflied whole king prawns, chargrilled with smoked pimiento butter, and shared a summer salad of tomatoes, shallots and Thai basil with Catherine, who opted for a baby arrowhead squid stuffed with mussels, spinach and piperade on squid-ink risotto. Both seafood options looked and tasted divine, although the risotto was incredibly rich and beat us all in the end.

Pieter and I both went for the 300g sirloin with confit kipfler potatoes and lardons. One was served rare and one medium-rare. Both were sensational: one of the best steaks I have had in a long time and I've been craving one for a few days now. They were perfectly cooked inside and chargrilled to perfection on the outside. I ate slowly and savoured every mouthful. Our lardons were stolen with impunity by our dining companions - who can resist deep-fried pork belly?

The seafood was all washed down with a lovely young chilled Marlborough sauvignon blanc from Angel Cove, whilst Pieter and I (partners in red wine as always) went local and enjoyed a Heathcote shiraz malbec from Wild Duck Creek Estate: a little older and just perfect with the steak.

Overall a grand total of $275, so $70 a head. With the quality of food we enjoyed and the spectacular sunset, well worth it.