Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Honey, Soy and Mirin Soba Noodles

NOTE: I've had this recipe in my drafts folder for a long time but didn't want to publish it because even though I've made it so many times, I still wasn't happy with any of the photos. I'm always in a hurry when I make these and never have the right lighting, plating, garnishes, etc etc prepared (ugh.. WHATEVER, Winston). I've decided to share them today anyway because my friend Hong Yi recently inspired me when she said that "it is better to have something done, than to have it perfect because you'll never have anything that's perfect". So, hope you enjoy the recipe!


I started work full time for the first time last year, which really changed the way I eat in general. First, I realised how much better I felt (mentally and physically) when I brought my own lunch to work every day as opposed to just buying anything from the shops. I also realised that it doesn't matter whether I'm coming home early or late from work, having a home cooked meal on a weeknight is always, always better than eating out. It gives me joy and comfort each day, even if I have to make it myself. 

I've started cooking at home a heck lot more than when I was in uni, which actually increased my appreciation for the meals that I do have when I eat out on the weekends. Plus, I was saving heaps more money each week too. It really took a while for me to really settle into the routine of working in the day and then coming home to cook at night. It sounds simple and is probably not as much of a difficult transition for most people when they've entered the work force, but it was for me for some reason. Last year, I was always coming home feeling exhausted and brain fried that I could hardly be bothered to do anything.

As a result, I have become almost desperate for recipes that are extra quick, simple, tasty and wholesome. My cooking style has changed a fair bit as well and found that these time restraints sort of forced me to be more creative in my cooking. I've started making these Honey, Soy and Mirin Soba Noodles after my dear friend Sarah sent me a recipe of it. This woman is seriously awesome and one of the best home cooks I know. 

It was exactly what I wanted. No, needed. It takes about 5 minutes (tops) to make these noodles and it was so tasty too. Needless to say these noodles quickly became a staple for my weeknight dinners or leftover lunches at work (as you can tell by how often I make this at home). Lifesaver.

This recipe is perfect for those emergency meals too because they noodles and sauces keep for ages in the pantry so I've always got them handy. Plus, you really can have them with anything you want. 

I always enjoy them with a Crispy Skin Salmon or Trout (using my recipe: here) and some blanched or grilled vegetables on the side. For the blanched veg, you can put them in the same time as the noodles. Otherwise, drizzle a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper on them and just fry them in the same pan as the fish and fry them on both sides until you get the lovely grill marks. Saves time and minimises wash up -- WIN.

Grilled broccoli or asparagus go so well with these noodles

Medium rare flesh...

Sometimes, I make these with Somen noodles as well, which is just as quick and delicious…
And most days I'm so lazy I just chuck some veg to boil with the noodles the same time.

Soba noodles again (a slightly thicker and flatter alternative to Somen)

Trout instead of Salmon...

...With skin just as crispy and delicious...

Egggstra delicious if you have them with soft boiled eggs too!

Honey, Soy and Mirin Soba Noodles Recipe

(adapted from this recipe by Sarah Cooks, serves 2)

200g soba or somen noodles
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp mirin
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp chilli oil (optional)
3 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup chopped spring onions


1. Bring a pot of water to the boil. Add in the noodles and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain and return back to the pot.

2. Stir in all the remaining ingredients and dish to individual portions. Serve with crispy skin salmon (recipe: here) or blanched/grilled veg.

The perfect lazy weeknight dinner...

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Clearing Out My Backlog 7: Krimper Cafe | Pillar of Salt | Pidapipó

Pillar of Salt, Richmond

The Benedict - $17
Poached eggs, braised and shredded cape otway ham hock, smashed peas, apple cider hollandaise, toast

The way the sauce just drapes down the side is just sooo sexy too

Corn Fritters - $17
With a house cured ocean trout, sugar snap pea and tomato salad

Mum and I came to Pillar of Salt when we failed to get a table at Top Paddock on a public holiday. It was a convenient alternative because it was just down the road from Top Paddock. Plus, it looked pretty good on the outside. I was surprised when we got a table right away seeing as everywhere else is pretty much packed to the brim, being the start of Long Weekend and all. The friendly waiter escorted us to the covered courtyard at the back (my seating location of choice at any cafe).

All the food that came out of the kitchen looked good. It had height and generous portions. I must say I was pretty blown away by the eggs benedict I got. The hollandaise had the must luscious and velvety texture and I absolutely love the flavour of apple cider infused into it. It was SO good. Just look at the way it drapes over the egg and spills over to the side… Sooooo sexy. The ham was tasty and complemented the dish too. I'm generally not a fan of eggs benedict at all, not even sure what possessed me to order it but I'm glad I did because it is honestly one of the best ones in Melbourne. 

I almost always order cured fish everywhere I go when having brunch. Even when they don't have it in the dish, I would normally opt to add it in. Most places are pretty good when it comes to cured fish but unfortunately Pillar of Salt wasn't one of them. It was actually really fishy and hard to enjoy. Not fresh at all. The salad was rather unexciting and I don't know if it went well with the rest of the dish. Corn fritters were average.

Overall, I'd say that they hit a home run with the eggs benedict but really missed the mark with the corn fritters and ocean trout. Not sure how the other dishes fair but wouldn't mind coming back to try. I enjoyed sitting at their courtyard so hopefully I'll get to do that again next time. 

Pillar of Salt on Urbanspoon

Krimper Cafe, CBD

Ocean Egg - $16
Beetroot cured Hapuka, poached egg, corn fritter

Came to Krimper one morning with a bunch of friends that I haven't caught up with in ages. Krimper was tucked away in some nook in an unassuming alleyway unbeknownst to the people whether you roam the area often or not. It's like the more frontage value you get, the more cafe owners tend to avoid these places and go for the complete opposite. Something I really love about the cafe culture here because it says a lot when a cafe is thriving at a seemingly bad or unpopular location…. Such is the case for Krimper.

Took me awhile to find the alleyway which almost felt deserted from the outside until I walked in and realised that they had a full house inside. As mentioned earlier, cured fish is almost always my brekkie dish of choice everywhere I go so I went straight for the beetroot cured hapuka with corn fritters.

I love hapuka. When it's at the right size/age, the meat can be very delicate and sweet. The one here was cured beautifully. Corn fritters were a tiny bit on the floury side and could've been a bit more crispier on the outside for my liking but it was a pretty decent dish as a whole. Based on my dish that day, I wouldn't say I'm necessarily blown away the food here but hey, the coffee's good. Ample seating. Nicely spaced out. Comfortable interior. Pretty easy and relaxed place to hangout if you ask me. 

 Krimper on Urbanspoon

Pidapipó, Carlton

I've said this several times, but we are VERY spoilt for choice when it comes to amazing quality gelato shops in Melbourne. The top 5 contenders IMO are n2 gelato, Gelato Messina, Spring St Grocer, Helados Jauja and... the new kid on the block: Pidapipó!

Each of them has got their own style, personality and offerings. I don't normally like to compare but I must say that out of all these great gelaterias, Pidapipó is definitely my favourite. It's not that the others aren't good, but I think this place really is more my style and the overall feel of the place is a huge factor in this decision. In terms of the fitout and ice cream itself, it is modest and humble. Simple and honest. It has a very strong Italian family vibe and I know for a fact that whoever started this place has paid true homage to his or her heritage.

Also, you get your ice cream with a smile and a pleasant conversation, which may not sound like much but it is something that is becoming increasingly rare because most popular places these days are packed full of people with lines out to the streets. I think most of all I appreciate the slow pace of this gelateria. I don't have to feel too absurd waiting in a crowded space and I like that I can truly enjoy my ice cream inside with my friends. If this is a taste of what Italy is like, then I need to book a plane ticket there because it's lovely.

That said, the gelato here is damn good too. These gelatisans really know what they're doing. Each flavour that our friends and I got screamed the true and natural flavours of the ice cream we were getting... Real gelato. Whether it's something as simple as a pear flavoured gelato, the flavours are really pronounced yet refined, which is something that I really like about the ice cream here.

Like I said, each of these top gelato shops are good, don't get me wrong. In fact, I'd be happy with any of their ice creams too. I just can't help but find Pidapipó to be so charming. Plus, it just reminds me of a simpler/happier time and that's exactly how I want to enjoy my ice cream.

Adding this to the books under Wince's faves for sure. 

Pidapipó on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 19, 2014

Clearing Out My Backlog 6: The Last Jar | Aoba Japanese Cafe | Fukuryu Ramen

The Last Jar, North Melbourne

Complimentary bread

Crispy pig's ear - $5

Pot of Sea bounty mussels, cider, parsley and dill - $16

Special of the Day: Fried zucchini flowers

Beer battered fish, chips, tartare sauce and mushy peas - $16

Roasted Milawa chicken, butter roasted potato, ham hock coleslaw - $27

300g Cape Grim grass fed onglet - $26

Dublin coddle - $19

I've developed a strong liking towards The Last Jar after my first visit earlier this year. So much so that I decided to take my Mum and Sister here as well. If you're unfamiliar of this place, The Last Jar is an Irish pub that serves pretty decent food. 

On both visits, I think that the standout dishes are the mussels and roast chook. The mussels hit the spot each time. Plump, juicy and succulent. I know that these 3 adjectives mean the same thing, but it was a point that I'd like to stress. I should mention that the sauce was delicious, too. That aside, the Milawa chicken dish is one of the best chicken dishes in Melbourne IMHO. First, it is seriously succulent and has the crispiest skin. The portions are so massive and it is just a dish that is great, great value for money. Most people that come here and have tried would agree. The other dishes are okay but still had room for improvement.

Overall, I think The Last Jar is a very casual, relaxed and fuss free place to come to in the CBD. Few standout dishes with a few more that could be better. Still, decent gastropub affair that is good value for money too. A pretty good spot to come to on a Friday or when you're not sure where to go in the CBD. 

The Last Jar on Urbanspoon

Aoba Japanese Cafe, Malvern

Salmon Sashimi Platter (10 pieces) - $13

GK Box - $14.50
(Chicken karaage, gyoza, agedeshi tofu, rice and miso soup)

Chef Special - $15.00
(Chicken karaage, spring rolls and fresh sashimi tuna in spicy sauce)

I catch up with my friend A from time to time. What I like about our hangouts is that it is normally pretty spontaneous. It started last year when we found out that we both were working late on a Friday night and decided to grab dinner together since it was about 8pm and neither of us could be bothered to go home to cook. After that, we started doing this more on a regular basis. The other fun thing about this is that we always end up picking a place that neither of us has ever been before.

Aoba was one of those occasions that happened earlier this year. We were due for our occasional catchup so I did some research and suggested that we gave this place a go since it was highly rated on Urbanspoon and also located in Malvern -- a suburb that we don't venture into enough.

Aoba is a really tiny shop with a few tiny  tables squished together. It is solely operated by one waiter and one chef cooking in a tiny kitchen at the back. The setup was very basic, but had a strong personal and inviting touch. It felt as though we were dining in the Japanese couple's home.

As for the food, I think they are quite popular for their bento boxes and rice sets -- which I always enjoy. Food was prepared well and we both enjoyed our meal here. Simple, straight to the point and reasonably priced. Definitely would come back here again.

Aoba on Urbanspoon

Fukuryu Ramen, CBD

Signature Tonkotsu 
(thick and creamy)

Shoyu Ramen
(Tokyo style)

Miso Ramen
(rich and savoury with butter)

Pork Gyoza - $5

Pork Belly Plate - $5

It doesn't take long before word goes around that there's a new ramen joint in town. Dave and Lib first told me about Fukuryu Ramen when they first opened. I was there in the first week because they were selling all ramen for only $6 as part of their promotion for their soft launch.

My first impression was that it was nice and spacious with ample room for comfort. Very quiet and relaxed too. There wasn't anyone in line to order so the staff were beaming at you the moment you walked in. 

The ramen broth was really good. It was really bold, distinct with strong depth of flavour. I was very impressed by this. The ramen noodles could've been a bit more undercooked or el dente for my liking but it was still tasty nonetheless. There wasn't as much ingredients in my bowl but then again, many ramen places aren't generous in this department as well. Plus, we were only paying $6 per bowl at the time. If that was more than $10 for what I was getting, then I'd have something else to say…

Gyoza was disappointing as it had a lacklustre skin and filling but the grilled pork was amazing. So fragrant and charred to perfection, whilst being so moist and tender. Overall, I was quite impressed by the broth of the ramens here. They gave me a side of the chilli soy bean paste to dip my meat in too, which tasted awesome. 

Although, I did come at a really premature stage of the business when barely anyone have heard about them. Ever since then, this place has completely blown up all over the food scene with long lines of people waiting in the streets, running out of ingredients and quality not up to par at times. It sounds rough but I don't blame them one bit. It is very difficult for businesses to keep up with the sudden surge of demand (especially when it hit them all of a sudden) but what I do know is that they try their best. It was good when I went, so I believe they do have potential. I'm sure they still have a bit of a learning curve before they really find their ground but they'll get there. 

The other good thing I do enjoy about this place is that they keep things exciting by always introducing new promotions, side dishes and ramen options for people to enjoy (such as nori fries, dry ramen, vegetarian ramen, pork belly rice, etc etc). Initiatives like these always keep customers like us wanting to come back for more. I know that they've only just started out so I wish them all the best in their endeavours.

Fukuryu Ramen on Urbanspoon