Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rabbit Ragoût with Pan Fried Gnocchi and Green Olive Tapenade

I heart French food. 

It's actually a cuisine that I've always been particularly motivated to cook at home. Why? Because I love the food so much but it almost seems like everywhere that serves French food in Melbourne is too expensive for me to enjoy, as often as I'd like to. I don't think French food needs to be as complex as what you'd get at many French restaurants in Australia. I know that for myself, I was actually surprised by how simple/delicious it was to make it at home. Take for example the Beaurre Blanc Sauce (French butter sauce) and Creme Brulee recipe that I've shared in the past.

I haven't cooked French in a while so I was especially thrilled when we decided to have a French potluck at Agnes' house on Bastille Day last week.

I immediately turned to this cookbook that I received from my dear friend Jade on my 21st a couple of years ago. There's so many great French bistro recipes in there that I've been meaning to try and this recipe was definitely one of them. 

It looked like a dish that I would actually pay to eat at a restaurant and enjoy. Oh and of course, the rabbit. I've only had them about a handful of times so I thought it'd be interesting to cook it at home for the first time. And even though there were quite a few of them, but the steps were rather straightforward... Sweet. 

I won't lie by saying it was a quick dish to make, because it wasn't. But I do like to cook something completely different than what I normally would, despite taking longer than usual. And cooking for people whose company you enjoy is always a great excuse/motivator to provide that extra labour of love in the kitchen. Without that, you would just be stuck with cooking the same, old, boring thing every day like me, wouldn't you?

The green olive tapenade was definitely a great addition to the dish

As for the taste, I thought it was pretty delicious and well worth the hard work. Even though the rabbit, on its own, was a very tasteless meat, but I was surprised by how nice the dish tasted overall. The sauce was thick and flavourful and the rabbit was more tender than I thought. Plus, I absolutely LOVE the dollops of Green Olive Tapenade in the dish. Completely lifts the whole dish and gives it an interesting twist and finish to each bite. Completes the dish and really recommend you make it too.

So, if you've got an occasion coming up and looking for a recipe that's slightly out of the ordinary to try, I'd definitely suggest you give this a go. It's a tasty dish and fun to serve rabbit to your friends because it's different for a change. My advice is that if you're going to make this dish, make a big portion of it like I did, since you're going through all the effort anyway.

Anyway, hope you enjoy and wishing all of you a smashing start to the week! =)


Rabbit Ragoût with Pan Fried Gnocchi and Green Olive Tapenade
(serves 8, adapted from the book "Must Eat by Russell Blaikie")


For the Rabbit Ragoût:

5 tbsp olive oil
2 whole rabbits (about 750g each) *
2 onions (chopped)
5 gloves of garlic (minced)
2 celery sticks (chopped)
2 large carrots (chopped)
5 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 tsp white peppercorns
500ml white wine
700g truss tomatoes (chopped)
2 litres chicken stock

* Note: Get the butcher to cut to joints for you

For the Pan Fried Gnocchi:

6 tbsp butter
2 packets of gnocchi (500g each)
3 large tomatoes (deseeded and diced)
Freshly ground salt and pepper
Parsley to garnish

Photo taken from my Instagram (@winceeee)

For the Green Olive Tapenade:

15g salted capers
200g green olives (pitted)
40g cornichons
1 tbsp chopped parlsey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
50ml extra virgin olive oil
1 hard boiled egg (peeled)
Freshly ground black pepper

All ingredients readily accessible at most delis. I got all these from Victoria Market


1. To make the rabbit ragoût, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan/dutch oven and sear the rabbit in batches until golden on both sides. Remove.

2. Drop in the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, herbs, peppercorns and saute for 5 minutes. Add the wine, increase the heat and cook for 5 minutes.

3. Add in the tomato and chicken stock. Once boiling, return rabbit to the pot, bring heat to low and allow to simmer (covered) for 2 hours.

4. Remove the rabbit and allow to cool. Strain the cooking liquid, separating it from the vegetables. 

5. Pick out as much of the peppercorns and herbs as you can from the vegetables and blitz in a food processor to a fine puree. Place the liquid back into a pot and reduce on a stove on medium - high heat until liquid is thickened and reduces by slightly more than half. Switch off heat.

6. Shred the rabbit meat from the bones with your fingers. Meat attached to the outer epidermal skin of the rabbit may be discarded as it can be quite tough. Place shredded meat back into the pot with the reduced/thickened liquid and set aside until ready. 

7. To make the tapenade, soak the salted capers for 30 minutes in warm water. Rise in cold water and drain.

8. Combine all ingredients (except the egg) into a food processor and blitz until well combined. Remove and place into a bowl.

9. Press the egg through a mesh sieve into the bowl of tapenade and stir through to combine. Season with black pepper to taste. Reserve in refrigerator until needed.

10. Heat up a large saucepan and add the butter. Once melted, add the gnocchi and fry in batches until golden and crisp on both sides. Set aside in a large tray/pot.

11. Stir through the gnocchi with the diced tomatoes and pureed vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to large pasta bowls or individual plates.

12. Spoon the rabbit and sauce on each bowl/plate. Top with a few dollops of green olive tapenade and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve warm.

A lengthy recipe but well worth the effort. Great, tasty dish to share with friends on a special occasion. 


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Eating Korean Chilli Cheese Chicken Around Town

Korean food in still one of the better cuisines to eat in the CBD when you're on a budget. One of the more popular Korean dishes, especially amongst the uni students (myself once included) has definitely got to be the Korean Chilli Cheese Chicken. A dish my friends and I crave from time to time when I was in uni. 

Essentially, it is grilled/fried chicken pieces served on a hot plate and topped with a mountain of gooey tasty mozzarella cheese. Never tasted it? Like I said, you'll be surprised by how damn popular it is, especially amongst the students. It ain't about gourmet eating when we were students...

Let's start off by Melbourne's most famous place for this dish: CJ Lunch Bar, before heading to a more recent establishment that's been gaining popularity for the same dish: Mook Ji Bar. Both are located in the CBD.

1) CJ Lunch Bar

The famous CJ Lunch Bar Cheese Chicken Bulgogi -- $16.50

Good but a tad oily, especially at the bottom

Budae Jjigae (or "Army Stew") -- $25.00

Most people struggle to comprehend the appeal in Army Stew. A kimchi based stew with a whole bunch of perishable foods, such as instant noodles, spam, hotdogs, macaroni, canned beans and even has sliced processed cheese too. It goes back to when this dish was created during the Korean War. Hence, the name, "Army Stew".

As much as people are repulsed by the very notion of this, I LOVE it. I like that it's got history. I like how it's a nice big dish to share. I like kimchi based soups. And I especially like that it's essentially got all the things that I secretly love (but really seldom eat) chucked into one. 

For me, it comes down to the soup base, and the one here was delicious. Look, it really is a dish that you either love, or you don't. Question is, which side are you on?

2) Mook Ji Bar

Suun Du Bu Jjiage (or Spicy Seafood and Soft Tofu Stew) -- $15

Soup base was not bad but no ingredients besides tofu in this one lol

Chicken Bulgogi with Cheese -- $15

Slightly different version than the rest, where the ones here uses fried chicken wings instead of grilled chicken pieces

Tteokbokki -- $15

Dumpling Soup -- $12

I LOVE this dish here!! The dumplings were so silky and slippery and had a tasty, tender filling. The soup was light but peppery, highly addictive. Plus, it was a massive bowl too with so many dumplings. Very value for money. Will come back to order this again

3. Darac Grill & Bar

This picture was taken from my previous blog post on Darac a while ago. Full post: here 

As for my overall thoughts on eating the beloved (to some) Chilli Cheese Chicken or Chicken Bulgogi with Cheese around Melbourne, I can see why CJ Lunch Bar is still most people's favourite go to place for this dish (including many of my friends). Tender and delicious, but I found it to be too oily. I can also see why Mook Ji Bar has got most people talking, especially with the use of fried chicken wings (who doens't love fried chicky wings?). 

But, I thought the wings were so tiny and didn't like that the sauce was so thick and jam like that I couldn't help but be reminded of coagulated blood when I eat it. In the end, Darac is still my favourite. I like that it wasn't so overbearing with the cheese and that the chicken is grilled so perfectly that it's just so fragrant and delicious. I actually ate this dish at another Korean place in the CBD called Yumi Yumi (can you tell I eat a lot of Korean?) but I can't recall what it was like, so I'm guessing it's fairly average. 

At the end of the day, it really does come down to preference. Is it a dish I am particularly a fan of? Probably not as much as my friends. I prefer something healthier. But it's nice to go to places that others enjoy and seeing them feel so happy from eating a dish they like is always a good thing for me. 

So tell me, what are YOUR thoughts on this Korean dish? Yay or Nay? Let me know! =)

Mook Ji Bar on Urbanspoon

CJ Lunch Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Modern Australian Dining in Melbourne CBD

1. Henry and The Fox:

Chicken liver parfait, celery, apple and chive salad, croutons -- $16

Fried calamari, five spice, coriander puree -- $14

Roasted moreton bay bug tails, cauliflower puree, spiced cauliflower -- $24.90

Char-grilled rump cap, spinach puree, onion rings, boderlaise sauce -- $31.50

Pan-fried rock flathead, smoked eel, quail egg, potato, parsley -- $29.90

Poached chicken breast, chicken & veal sausage, broccoli, celeriac, sorrel -- $29.90

Spaghetti, blue swimmer crab, cherry tomato, chilli basil -- $26.50

Came here one night when my dear, dear friend Sally was over in Melbourne for a short trip. The dishes I had that night were the roasted moreton bay bug entree and the blue swimmer crab pasta.

The bay bugs were crunchy, yet delicate and sweet. Great. However, the spiced cauliflower were quite strong and overpowering the fresh bugs. Still, not a bad dish to eat. The pasta were just okay, nothing exciting. The sauce was quite bland, tasteless and rather watery for my liking. Maybe that was intentional to let the crabs shine through in the dish? I don't know. What I enjoyed was that there was crab in every bite that I had, so I found myself happily tucking away even though I wasn't particularly a fan of the taste overall.

All in all, not the most exciting dishes we've tasted. Still, good place to catchup. We've really missed our friend Sally so it was really good to be able to hangout like old times =)

Henry and the Fox on Urbanspoon

2. Hare & Grace:

I like the island/beach interior...

1/2 shelled scallops, garlic mayonnaise, herbed breadcrumbs -- $24

Roasted king mushroom, parmesan jam, coffee leaves -- $18

Yabbies, lemon, burnt cinnamon artichoke -- $18

Seared kingfish, roast cucumber, green almonds, almond curd, grapes -- $39

Grass fed premium black angus sirloin, 300grm, Clare Valley Gold, SA -- $39

French fries -- $9

Baby cos, anchovy curd, fried onions -- $10

Milk fed lamb rump, rhubarb, raspberries, sheep's curd, broken potato -- $38

Milawa roast duck, eggplant "faux gras", blood plum -- $38

Another meal that we came to earlier this year, when my other friend Carmen was visiting all the way from Perth just so we could go to the Big Day Out Festival together (which was EPIC).

Since she was here for only one weekend, it was my duty to pick a place to have dinner with her and 2 other friends of ours. And, as we all know, it is QUITE difficult to make a reservation for dinner on a Friday night at last minute. Choices being quite limited as it was Thursday night at the time, decided to try my luck at Hare & Grace. A place that I've been meaning to try but never got to until then.

First, I was really happy that they could take bookings for a Friday night in such short notice. Second, the interior was quite cool. Very island/resort-ey, felt very down to earth. Also, I noticed that it was actually really empty there that night. Although, I know that despite this, it is actually quite packed at lunch times due to the work crowd.

We gazed through the menu and there were a number of dishes that jumped out from the page. I must say that I was very, very happy with the Food that was served that night. The dishes here were WAY more interesting than the ones we had at Henry & The Fox. There were a much more creative play of flavours and ingredients, which we all found to be downright delicious. If we were paying for something more than we normally would for a meal, a little creativity wouldn't hurt. Plus, the portions were very generous IMO. For example, I've never seen that many scallops in an entree than that plate there and it was DELICIOUS.

My favourite has got to be the king mushroom entree (DIVINE) and I really enjoyed my roast duck main with the "faux gras" made of eggplant. Plus, the anchovy curd in the fried onion salad was AMAZING. I had a taste of all of my friends' dishes too and was thoroughly impressed. Even though it was slightly more expensive, I enjoyed my meal here WAY more than Henry & The Fox. 

Overall, we felt like even though the food was on the pricier end, it was still very value for money. It's not a meal I will bring myself to eat every day but I'm glad that if I had to pick a place for Modern Australian in the CBD, it would be Hare & Grace any day. No questions asked. Good food, good wine and great ambience to have a nice, quiet dinner with friends. Plus, it's easy to make bookings too. 

Hare & Grace on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Eating Malaysian in Melbourne: Masak Masak & PappaRich

1) Masak Masak, Collingwood:

Mixed Satay with Condiments -- $14

Otak Otak -- $9
(fish mousse, kaffir lime leaves, wrapped in banana leaf)

Charcoal grilled beef ribs, sambal oelek -- $19

Lemongrass lamb belly, green papaya salad -- $19

Kon low mee, prawn wontons (dried egg noodle) -- $8

My meal here at Masak Masak took place a month back with Bryan and Leaf

I think my meal here was a mixture of both good and bad. The food, I must admit was very good. Flavours were true and bold, very much like what you would get back home. Delicious.

However, what I really had trouble coming to terms with that night was just the price and portion of the food I was getting. I thought that the friggin' Satay and Otak Otak was SOOOO expensive for such tiny portions, even in Melbourne. Also, I really didn't like how even with each main dish, it was honestly just a few bites of food and the whole dish was gone. Too small. I felt that even if we had ordered more mains, we would've ended up paying way more and still got nowhere near to being full. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely the type that's willing to spend on Food, only if I feel it's worth it. My biggest gripe is that I knew that I was paying for food that's more expensive than usual (for me and most people I know, at least) but still left feeling SO hungry!! This alone left a slightly sour taste in my mouth. I'm not a cheap skate, but it really is all about the Value for Money for me. And I do think that I'm quite objective as I do share my thoughts to the everyday person, from an everyday person's point of view. So, I do think that this is probably what most people on an everyday budget like me would feel.

Sad to say that despite the good food, it did come down to the overall feeling of the place. Paid above average price but still left feeling hungry? We ended up spending $18 here (but I was nowhere near to being full). Take this in comparison to my $17 meal at Chang Go where I had an amazing array of food and was full to the brim. No prizes for guessing which one I'll pick any day.

P.s. I must say that I preferred the Otak Otak I made (as seen on this Instagram photo I posted). The one here had flavour but if you make it from scratch like I did, you'll definitely have more. Also, the texture was quite funny as it was almost like fish cake and pounded too much probably. Not the soft, moist texture you'd expect in most Otak Otaks. Will share a recipe soon.

I did like the food, don't get me wrong. But I don't know if I'll be back. 

If you like, you can also check out my buddy Bryan's post on Masak Masak: here

Masak Masak on Urbanspoon

2) PappaRich, Chadstone:

Nasi Lemak

Deep Fried Chicken Skin -- $5.90

The chicken skin was not crispy and in fact was quite chewy and had LOTS of hair that day. Erm.......

Ipoh Hor Fun -- $11.50
(Ipoh koay teow soup with chicken and prawns)

One of my favourite and most comforting Malaysian dishes to eat, by far. However, I didn't really enjoy the one here. First, my noodles were lukewarm and had a thick layer of fats that had cooled down to form a disgusting film as you can see. Erm... Also, I found the broth lacked flavour and the amount of ingredients incredibly little and almost pathetic.

There you go, my first visit to PappaRich.

Although the weird thing about PappaRich is that despite the very average food, you can bet that there's a perpetual line of people waiting to get a table every day that they're open. And you will probably see me joining in the queue sometime in the future too.

Why? PappaRich thrives in Australia by offering a wide selection of food at an average price at the most strategic of locations. They tug on the heartstrings of people (or suckers) like me who misses the taste of home and get so excited by flipping through endless selections of their flashy and perfectly picture menu items that remind us of Malaysia. 

And I have a feeling that they know that they're not pumping out the best quality and authentic Malaysian food, but who cares? It really is reminiscent to the shopping mall food chains in KL that serves very average food, but still have incredible business nonetheless (being in Chadstone and all). Just the 64% Urbanspoon rating shows that most of Melbourne would agree.

Most people like me don't get disappointed because we go with a very medium-low expectation of the place anyway. To sum up: It's not the best, but it's good enough.

Also, do check out the ever lovely I-Hua's blog post of PappaRich too in the link: here

PappaRich Chadstone on Urbanspoon