Monthly Archives: March 2010

Giant Pumpkin Arancini

It’s fair to say that I like a good risotto.  In fact, it’s one of my favourite dishes to cook.  But as much as I like risotto, I LOVE arancini.  So when I make risotto, I make lots of risotto, and then I make arancini.  I’ve been pretty short on time lately, and cooking and eating well have been a bit of a struggle.  So making up a big batch of risotto with a view to using the leftovers for arancini was very appealing.  I started with a pumpkin risotto.

Many, many years, I used to work at the Belconnen Fresh Food Markets in Canberra.  I was massively underpaid and my boss was a passive-aggressive, manipulative, micro-managing control freak.  Not my favourite job I’ve ever had.  But the also market had Cooking Coordinates, a kitchenware shop with a pretty decent cooking school attached.  Sometimes I’d get to attend the cooking classes in exchange for waitressing and cleaning.  It was hard work, but there were some great classes.

One of the standouts for me was Matthew Evans‘ risotto class.  We’re talking years ago, way before he was a Tasmanian farmer with his own TV show.  I still have the recipes from all the classes I went to, carefully filed in display folders.  The plastic sleeve holding Matthew Evans’ Zucchini Flower Risotto recipe is covered in splatters.  I don’t think I’ve ever made a zucchini flower risotto, but I’ve used that recipe for a risotto base so many times I don’t need to pull it out any more.  I pulled it out just now because I wanted to make sure I was accurate when I quoted Evens’ description of “creamy grains of short grain rice [that] cling together like long lost lovers”.  I think of that description every time I make risotto.

I don’t adore risotto quite as much as Evans, but like him, I thoroughly enjoy the process of cooking it.  The simplicity, the ‘meditative stirring’, the excuse to open a bottle of wine and savour a glass while cooking.  It’s one of my favourite dishes to make.

Pumpkin Risotto:

1 medium pumpkin (I used butternut)
1 tblspn butter
1 tblspn olive oil
1 onion
1 clove garlic
500g arborio rice
1 glass white wine
4 cups vegetable stock, hot
A good bunch of baby spinach
100g parmesan, grated
Juice of half a lemon
Salt & pepper to taste

Peel and de-seed the pumpkin, and cut into bite-sized pieces.  You need to cook it before you start the rice – I roasted it for about 20 minutes at 200 C, but you could also steam until just tender.

While the pumpkin is cooking, you can start on the risotto.

Put a large pan over low heat and add the butter and oil.

Finely chop the onion and garlic. Cook until translucent and beginning to soften, but not brown.  Add the rice, and stir to coat each grain with oil.  When the rice is translucent, turn up the heat, splosh in the wine, and stir until it is absorbed.  Now start adding the stock, about half a cup at a time.  Turn the heat down, and stir constantly, until each addition is absorbed.  When I say constantly,  you can leave it for a few minutes, but the stirring works to release the starches and develop the creaminess.  Keep adding stock until the rice is almost cooked (when it’s ready, the grains should be soft in the centre, but not mushy).

Roughly mash half the cooked pumpkin.  Add the mashed pumpkin and the chunks to the risotto and stir through.  Stir in the spinach and let it wilt.  Turn off the heat, add the parmesan and the lemon juice.  Stir through, then cover and allow to stand for a few minutes.  Taste and season accordingly.

Serve with a big salad and enjoy.  But make sure you kept plenty of leftovers for arancini.

Leftover Pumpkin Risotto

Giant Pumpkin Arancini

The day after your risotto, gather together the following (quantities will depend on how much leftovers you have):

Leftover pumpkin risotto, cold
Mozzaralla, cut into chunks
Flour, seasoned to taste (I used salt, pepper, and a little bit of chilli powder)
1-2 eggs, beaten with a dash of milk

Grab a handful of the cold risotto and form roughly into ball.  The size is up to you – I usually make my arancini about ping-pong ball size, but decided to go for big ones this time.  If you have big chunks of stuff in your risotto, go bigger; if not, you can go smaller.

Press one or two chunks of cheese into the middle of the ball, covering over with rice.  The cheese should be completely encased in the rice.  Roll between your palms to create a smooth ball.  Keep going until you have used up all the risotto.

Next, the crumbing!

The Crumbing Station

Set up three plates in the following order:

1. Seasoned flour
2. Egg mix
3. Bread crumbs

First, roll the arancini balls in the flour to coat.  Shake off any excess.
Second, dip the floured balls in the egg mix, ensuring they’re wet all over.
Third, roll the balls in the breadcrumbs, making sure they’re evenly covered.

You can either fry or bake the arancini.  I decided to bake these ones.  Arrange the arancini balls on a greased baking tray so they’re not touching.  Lightly spray each ball all over with olive oil.  Bake for around 20 minutes at 200 C.  The balls should be a lovely golden brown, and full of delicious melty cheese.

Giant Pumpkin Arancini

I served them with a simple salad of lettuce, tomato and fetta dressed with olive oil and balsamic.  Yum!


Camy Shanghi Dumpling Restaurant

Yep, it’s everyone’s favourite cheap ‘n’ dirty laneway restaurant.  The food is cheap and tasty, the service is rude, the decor is ugly, the music is super-kitsch (and ‘Happy Birthday’ is usually played at least once during the meal), and I really fricken’ love this place.  I think of it as a quintessential Melbourne experience.  I hadn’t been for ages, so when The Socialist and I found ourselves in the city around lunchtime on Sunday, that’s where we headed.

I usually have a standard order: Mushroom and vegetable dumplings, Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce, and pumpkin cakes.  Small or large depends on how many people are sharing, but it always comes out at under $10 per person (undoubtedly part of it’s enduring appeal).  But on Sunday, neither of us felt like dumplings (unprecedented!), so I actually read the menu and tried out some new things.

I had the Shanghai Vegetarian Sliced Fried Rice Cake:

It’s basically glutinous rice cake, sliced up and fried with a few mushrooms and some Chinese Broccoli and a salty sauce (perhaps a little too salty).  I absolutely adore glutinous rice cake things, although I’m much more familiar with it in Japanese sweets like mochi.  This dish has a similar texture, only denser (and oiler and saltier and, well, savoury).  I really like the blandness and guzshiness of the rice cake.  I love tamales for the same reason, and when I lived in Canberra, I used to go to the Gorman House Markets nearly every Saturday and get a spinach tamale with chilli sauce and a ginger beer and sit on the grass in the sun to eat them.  Good times.  Anyway, inspired by the memory of yummy-bland-with-spice, I added a little chilli sauce to the rice cake and it really lifted the flavour.

We also got Chinese Broccoli with Garlic Sauce to share:

Oh my goodness, SO MUCH GARLIC.  I love this dish!  Steamed greens!  Little baby corns!  GARLIC!!!  Very tasty.

And to finish, we had the Fried Red Bean Cake:

This was really similar to the taro cake, which I’ve had before, but I think I prefer the red bean.  The filling has that wonderful mild sweetness typical of Asian deserts, and the pastry was crisp and crunchy (although it had started to go soggy by the time we got to the end).

The Socialist ordered the Eggs and Prawns with Noodles:

It which was basically a prawn omelette on noodles.  He seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.  I can’t say for sure, but I suspect everything else we had was vegan.

We ordered way too much food for two people, and it ended up costing around $15 each, which is a shocking! amount! to spend there.  It’s not elegant or refined food by any stretch, but it is cheap, and it is tasty, and it feels like home.  If home were full of rude people who harried you to leave as soon as you finished eating.

Camy Shanghai Dumpling Restaurant
23-25 Tattersalls Lane
Ph: (03) 9663 8555

Two Whole (Cup) Cakes

Today I met up with my lovely friend ess_jay for a long-overdue cake date.  I was already going to be in the city to see Edie and Thea for MQFF (which was really excellent), so I suggested we check out the new cupcake shop at QV, The Cupcake Family.  Yeah, yeah, I know, cupcakes are so whenever.  I don’t care.  I heart them.

I had the Blueberry Cream Cheese and ess_jay had the Lemony Sunshine.  They were both delicious, and properly cakey.  I’ve had a few cupcakes that taste pretty much like packet mix, but these had lovely texture or density.  The Lemony Sunshine was especially delicious, with surprise!lemon curd in the middle.  Yum!

I forgot to take pictures while we were there, but I did get a couple to bring home:

The Coffee Crunch was very delicious, with yummy walnut chunks and a chocolate coated coffee bean on top.

The Lemony Sunshine got a little but smooshed on the journey, but was still very yum!

Awesome Housemate and I had half of each each, and he immediately asked me where they were from, which is something of an endorsement.

After a taste of ess-jay’s strawberry macaroon, I decided I’d have to get some of my own to take home as well.  I got strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and green tea.  They were very sweet and moist and chewy and crunchy and AH and I ate them all before I remembered to take photos.  I particularly liked the strawberry and vanilla.

The Cupcake Family
Shop 22, Red Cape Lane, QV
Ph: 9663 0055

Cupcakes: $3.70ea

Monk Bodhi Dharma

I’ve been wanting to check out Monk Bodhi Dharma since reading Kristy’s post over at In the Mood for Noodles.  Monk is just down the road from my place, but I hadn’t even known it existed until I read that post, because it’s tucked away down an alley behind a carpark next to a supermarket I never go to.  They’ve only been open for about three months, though, and given the abundance of other options on Carlisle Street, it’s not too surprising I hadn’t noticed them.

Other people have.  I was planning to wander down for breakfast with my friends E & D last Sunday, but on the way there I got a call from E & D saying that the queue was so long they couldn’t even get to the door to ask how long the wait for a table was.  I was a bit astonished – I expect to have to wait on the weekend for a table at one of the Carlisle Street favourites Batch or Las Chicas, but for a new place that you can’t even see from the street?  They must be doing something very right!  (I guess reviews in The Age don’t hurt, either.)

So we decided to go around the corner to Monkey on Chapel St, which was an altogether disappointing experience.  The coffee at Monkey was excellent, but the food was a big let-down: supermarket sourdough, average mushrooms, and under-ripe avocado which was served with the excuse “We can’t do anything about it, that’s just how they are right now.”  If I had been told that when I ordered, I would have picked a different side. But for the kitchen to know full well it’s inedible (it was crunchy, for goodness sake) but serve it anyway and make a poor excuse is, well, inexcusable.

After Sunday’s disappointment, I was determined to try Monk on a weekday when I knew I’d be able to get a table.  So I popped in for a late lunch on my way home from uni today.  The space is smallish, but warm and welcoming, with a long communal table, lots of dark wood, and the ubiquitous distressed bricks.  It has some nice touches like the skylights, and the hanging bottles full of daffodils.  I’d happily linger there.

Monk is serious about coffee.  They have three different beans on offer.  I didn’t realise this when I arrived and, hanging out for some caffeine, just ordered my usual soy flat white (kinda like ordering the house red, I guess).  I’m not sure which beans they used, but the coffee was good – strong, serious coffee that was exactly what I wanted.  Apparently they’re also quite serious about their teas, which is definitely something to look forward to next time.

The menu is all vegetarian with no eggs, and they’re happy to vegan-ise where possible.  The no eggs was a bit of a surprise, and the all-day breakfast menu tends toward the sweet more than savoury as a result (though I’m curious about eggless French toast?).  There are also a couple of lunchtime specials (a soup and a curry) which rounded out the savoury options a bit.  I opted for something savoury off the breakfast menu, because breakfast for lunch is just the kind of girl I am.

I had the sweet corn and ricotta hotcakes with basil pesto and roast cherry tomatoes (on the menu as ‘cheery’ tomatoes – a rather happy typo!), and a pot of sour cream on the side.  They were delicious!  I’m a big fan or corn cakes, and there are a lot of excellent versions on offer locally: Batch, Grindhouse, and my own kitchen would be my favourites, but Monk’s corncakes are up to the competition.  They’re deliciously light, and the corn kernals are sweet and bright and flavoursome.  The cheery cherry tomatoes are beautifully cooked, and the basil pesto is really good.  Pesto is one of those things that is so ubiquitous that I’d almost forgotten how fantastic it can be when it’s done right.  All the elements came together beautifully – it was savoury, sweet, and very satisfying.

I’ll definitely be back soon – I want to try that French toast, and the lunchtime specials look pretty tasty too.  But I don’t think I’ll be trying for a table on the weekend.

Monk Bodhi Dharma
Rear, 202 Carlisle St, Balaclava (next to Safeway)Ph: (03) 9534 7250

French Chocolate Cake

This cake is intense!  It’s dark and bitter and rich and more like baked fudge than any cake I’ve ever had.  This is what I imagined mud cake would be like before I ever tried mud cake (when I tried mud cake, it was a sad disappointment).  This cake is only about an inch thick, and has only a tablespoon of flour, and it’s wonderful, and I made it for my Awesome Housemate’s birthday last week.

French Chocolate Cake

250g dark chocolate, cut into small pieces
225g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup castor sugar
2 tblsp vanilla
5 eggs
1 tblsp flour
icing sugar, for dusting
raspberry couli and icecream for serving

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Grease a springform pan.  Line the bottom with baking paper and grease.  Wrap the base and sides in foil to prevent water getting in.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate, butter and sugar together, stirring until smooth.  Cool slightly and add the vanilla.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs for about a minute.  Mix in the flour, then slowly add the chocolate mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin.  Place the tin in a baking pan and add enough boiling water to come up the sides of the cake tin.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the edge of the cake is set (the centre will still be soft).  Remove from oven, remove the foil, and allow to cool slightly.  It will sink in the middle as it cools.

Remove the springform tin, and turn onto a wire rack.  Peel back the baking paper.

When the cake is completely cool, dust with icing sugar, and serve with a tart raspberry coulis and some good vanilla icecream.

I could only eat a small piece at a time, but Awesome Housemate went back for thirds!

Raspberry Coulis

This is one of the easiest things in the world to make!

1 cup of raspberries (frozen is fine)
1-2 tblspns sugar (you want it to be tart to match the richness of the cake)
a TINY bit of water (just to get things started – the raspberries will release heaps of liquid)

Put everything in a saucepan over medium heat, and allow to cook down for 15-ish minutes, stirring occasionally.  You may need to reduce the heat, and keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t burn.

Chickpeas, two ways

Along with being busy and sick, I’ve also been a bit financially, well, challenged of late.  The following is a pantry-raid dish which ended up making two different and rather delicious meals.

The first incarnation was inspired by a tapas dish I’ve had a few times at various restaurants:

Garbanzos con Espinacas (chickpeas and spinach)

1 onion, finely sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
smallish chunck of ginger, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp (or more to taste) harissa paste
2 tins chickpeas, rinsed
1 tin tomatoes
big bunch of spinach, washed and picked over

Saute the onions, garlic and ginger in a little olive oil for a few minutes until translucent.  Add the cumin and harissa paste and fry for a few minutes more.  Add the chickpeas and stir to coat with the oil and spices.  Stir through the tomatoes, and a little water if needed.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for around 15 minutes.  The sauce should reduce a little, and the flavours come together.

Add the spinach, cover and allow to wilt, then stir through.  I forgot to take pictures of this, but it was excellent served with some good chewy bread and a squeeze of lemon.

Chickpeas: Redux

The second incarnation used the leftovers, and was inspired both by some Morrocan-style dishes I’ve enjoyed, and the memory of the Chicken Provencale I used to make years ago, before I became vego (obvs!).

Basically, I just took the leftover chickpeas and spinach, added big chunks of par-boiled dutch cream potatoes, and a handful of pitted kalamata olives, and let it stew for around 20 minutes.  The saltiness of the olives and the starchiness of the potatoes made for an incredible savouriness and heartiness, which is perfect as we come in to cooler weather.  I’ll definitely be making this again!

Noodle Soup

A few weeks ago, in the midst of stress about getting my confirmation report ready in time, and thinking I might need to move, I got a wee bit sick.  Just a cold, but I am a total sook about sickness, so I took to moping on the couch and eating comfort food for a couple of days.  Best medicine I know of.  The best comfort food for sickness is, of course, soup.  This soup is also full of all those things which are supposed to be good for helping you get better, like garlic and ginger and chilli.

First up, make the stock:


2 onions, quartered
1 bulb of garlic, smashed
2 red chillies, halved,
2 stalks of lemongrass, smashed
a biggish chunk of ginger, smashed
3 Kaffir lime leaves
Teaspoon of whole black peppercorns

Chuck everything into your largest saucepan, and allow to colour slightly.  Fill 3/4 full with water, bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover, and allow to simmer for at least an hour or two (preferably longer).

Go watch a couple of episodes of something not-too-demanding until you feel up for the next bit.

Noodle Soup

Noodles of your choice
Tofu of your choice (I like silken in this recipe because it fits with the comforting theme)
Mushroom of your choice
Greens of your choice (I used broccoli because that’s what I had, but bok choy, choy sum, or plain old spinach would work just fine)
1 egg per bowl (optional)
Chilli sauce or oil (optional)

Put the noodles in a bowl, cover with boiling water, and soak until soft.  Drain.

Cut the eggplant into bite-size pieces and fry in a little oil until soft.

Lightly steam the greens (I way overdid mine, as you can see from the picture).

Slice the mushrooms finely.

Cube the tofu.

Poach the egg.

To serve, put the noodles in the bowl, add the tofu and veggies, and pour hot stock over the top.  Top with the poached egg and chilli sauce if desired.  Cover with a plate and let sit for a few minutes to warm everything through, then nom and feel much, much better!