Saturday, 16 August 2014

Cooking: Hint of Chili, Mainly Pumpkin Creamy Pasta

Hint of chilli, Mainly Pumpkin creamy Pasta
Date: 12/08/2014

Do you have those nights when all you want is carbs? That’s how I felt last night.

All I had though was a quarter of a pumpkin an auntie had kindly donated. I spent all day at work googling different recipes and there was no matching recipe that: a) suited what I wanted in terms of heartiness, b) was simple enough for a quick after work dinner, c) didn’t require fancy ingredients like fresh herbs. It’s the dead of winter so forgive me my lack of fresh-herbs-on-a-window-sill.

This is what I managed to concoct after a raid of the pantry. Not too shabby if I say so myself.

I love the little kicks of chilli throughout, just to give that little lift to the pumpkin. The creamy, thick sauce, with smooshy chunks of pumpkin. This is the sort of dish that makes me so happy to have leftovers to eat for lunch the next day.

Chilli Pumpkin Creamy Pasta
Serving size: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

- a quarter of a medium sized pumpkin (~1kg)
- ¾ of a head of garlic
- dried herbs (whatever you have out of: basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, mixed italian herbs)
- chili sauce (eg. Sriracha)
- dried chili flakes
- 375ml can of evaporated milk
- parmesan cheese
- olive oil
- salt
- brown sugar
- any type of cured meat (any type: bacon, pancetta, salami, pepperoni, ham)
- linguini pasta (any kind of pasta works and as much of it as you like)

1. Boil water in a saucepan and add two pinches of salt, a few drops of oil [1], drop in your pasta and cook until you’re happy with the consistency. Test by fishing out a piece and squeeze. If it feels too hard keep boiling. You’re looking for al dente pasta, that is cooked but still firm and not mushy.

2. Chop up pumpkin into 2cm by 3cm blocks [2]. Peel and crush cloves of garlic with either the end of your knife or the flat side of your knife and roughly chop, 5mm chunks is fine.

3. Remove pasta from boiling water and drain. Then add pumpkin straight into the already boiling pasta water. When pumpkin cooked, remove and drain.

4. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add chopped garlic, dried herbs, and cured meat. Saute until garlic slightly golden. Adding pine nuts into this step would be amazing if you had some, it’s still good if you don’t.

5. Add cooked pumpkin, two teaspoons of brown sugar, and saute some more until you see the pumpkin start to break down around the edges. Add your evaporated milk and bring to the boil.

6. Add parmesan cheese, chilli sauce, chilli flakes and stir in. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

7. Ladle out some pumpkin sauce onto a portion of pasta. Mix and eat!

Explanatory Footnotes:
1. I recently found out a trick of adding a few drops of oil when boiling pasta. It helps prevent the pasta from sticking together! I tested it out and it actually works!

2. If you think pumpkin is too hard to cook with, I’m here to tell you you’re wrong (sorry!). The hardest part I always found was getting rid of the skin. Use a sharp knife to slice away the skin instead of a peeler. Start from the middle of your chunk aim your knife downwards. Make sure to push the sharp edge away from you and keep your fingers away from where the knife will be going. If need be, flip the pumpkin onto the other side and to continue slicing. At the start you may slice away too much edible pumpkin flesh, but with time you’ll get better at removing just the right amount of skin.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Eating: Steer Bar and Grill, South Yarra


One of my highlights for having to work extra hours, is having rostered days off to plan anything I want or need to do. Might I put an emphasis on want?

This particular Friday we took ourselves to Steer Bar and Grill in South Yarra. A plus because it’s right around the block from scrumptious sweets merchants: Burch & Purchase, and Adriano Zumbo.

This bustling steakery opens for Friday lunches with a special offering of a two or three course meal. We went with the two course, with the intention to leave room for dessert elsewhere.

For entrees we chose the Fried Calamari, after enviously watching another table consume theirs.

Lightly crumbed calamari, still tender without any chewiness, lay atop a tomato based sauce. The hearty spice laden sauce contained chunks of tender pork that had been pan fried to leave a slight crunch on the surface. The accompanying refreshing yoghurt sauce, I felt was a nice but non-essential touch. The calamari was deliciousness enough in itself that I didn’t need to be smothered in yoghurt, but I may be biased since calamari is one of my favourite seafoods.

This finally leads me to the main star of the meal, the Black Angus Scotch Fillet.

Unbelievably tender with a smoky charred flavour, the muscle fibers in some sections came away with a gentle pull. It excelled in what it was, an amazingly melty hunk of aged beef with it’s slight mellow salty undertones.  A range of sauces were offered, but in my opinion the steak didn’t need it. For others, the sauces would help cut through the fatty pockets that are spotted throughout the steak. For me, those fatty sections were the best, the melding of fat and muscle in each well portioned bite. I still marvel at how well the staff at Steer know how to cook their steaks considering how thin the cut was.

In conclusion:
For a great steak, but with a cheaper price tag than that of La Luna Bistro, definitely give this place a try. We experienced average service, with the main objection being sedate service. We don’t know if it was mainly was due to the busy Friday lunch service or because they simply did not see us.

This place really do know their steaks well. Sides were well done, but the stand out still remains the steak. A warning to those intending to take advantage of the friday lunch special, the entertainment card cannot be used in conjunction with this deal.

Steer Bar and Grill
641 Chapel St
South Yarra, Vic 3141
(03) 9040 1188

Steer Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Eating: Follow the Leader, Ripponlea


Once upon a wintry Saturday in Elsternwick Melbourne, the first of Mel’s and mine plans for winter adventure took a turn. Instead of our original plans for a self-guided tour of Melbourne University we decided to stay closer to home, where we launched our day at Follow the Leader on Glen Eira Road.

It’s bright simple decor provided the setting for a hearty morning start. I enjoyed the Macchiato, since I’m not a huge milk drinker. It was strong and fortifying, and with my limited expertise, I knew it wasn’t burnt and that it was strong enough to wake me up with a gentle shake on shoulder.

I partook of the Corn fritters with bacon.

There was something about the texture of the corn fritters that bespoke of comfort yet was so fresh and lively at the same time. the more I ate of the fritter the more I found to love about it. What you get is a plate with corn fritter, goats cheese, tomato jam, and watercress.

What made this dish, was the little things like the way it was cooked with even consistency. The fritter composed of corn, zucchini and what I think was a slight hint of a no-heat pepper. It was soft and gooey on the inside but a slight crunch on the outside. The bacon was of a good thickness, that tasted like bacon and not just salt, which helped to balance the sweetness of the tomato jam. The goats cheese was thoughtfully spread over each fritter, so that with each bite you got a good balance of pungent cheese, sweet jam, salty bacon, and fresh watercress that had a slight wilt to it.

The thing I really appreciated about this dish was the basil infused oil around the edge of the dish. It helped give the whole dish a lift as the aroma of the basil fed your sense of smell while the fritter fed your sense of taste.

We noticed the same basil infused oil on Mel’s dish of Sweet Potato Hash, with feta, eggs and, tomato jam. She too commented on how fresh her dish felt. Just because they were fresh and light did not mean they weren’t filling. It was a wonderful way to start our Ripponlea adventure.

I normally don’t get heavy milk drinks for brunch, due in part to my tummy’s occasional fisticuffs with milk, but mainly because what I feared would happen, happened to Mel. In that she got so full from all the cream in the milk that she had hardly enough space for lunch. Whereas I, being the younger and taller one, was able to fill my tummy aplenty with delicious pork belly. But that is another story for another post.

In conclusion:
Great little brunch location, with a short wait time and friendly staff. Good solid selection of your classic brunch favourites with a few special gems like the corn fritters and sweet potato hash, finished with a little extra basil sparkle. I would definitely recommend you visit here if you’re doing something in the area. Not sure it’s a go-out-of-your-way to visit, but if you enjoy exploring different areas in your spare time, here’s a good place as any to spend your hard earned relaxed hours.

Follow the Leader
65 Glen Eira Road
(03) 9530 0415

Follow the Leader Cafe on Urbanspoon