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Volunteering at “Lentil as Anything”

>> Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So Lentil as Anything, a Melbourne restaurant, is famous for its philosophy that diners only pay for whichever the amount they think the meal is worth. But it is much more than just a restaurant with unusual hype. By volunteering at Lentil as Anything, I discovered a much more meaningful side of this restaurant, and it truly touched my heart.

Volunteering @ Letil As Anything Restaurant
On a cold Melbourne winter day, Mr. B and I hopped down to Abbotsford area for one day volunteer work at Lentil as Anything (LAA). We arrived, didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as we got there, we got allocated the work based on our preference. I loved cooking so to the kitchen I went. Mr. B opted to learn some front of house tricks and became the restaurant waiter for the day.

The kitchen at LTA was small and by the time I arrived, the chef and a number of volunteers had already begun all the prep work. I soon discovered that almost everyone there were volunteers. They came all parts of life – some were refugees, some were foreign students and some just came along for company. Everyone though seemed to enjoy food and good company. It wasn’t hard to engage in conversations and I felt right at home with most of them.

Back to food, LAA served lots of Indian style vegetarian curry. There were several pots of curry and dhal boiling on the stove when I arrived. I was asked by the chef to select ingredients from the cold room to cook something. And I ended up with a big tray of simple stir-fry noodle dish with lots of vegetables (and sweet soy sauce!). Other volunteers had their chances to cook, too. I tried this delicious authentic Papua curry which was cooked by a refugee the previous day. C., a lovely Australian lady, also served me her delicious rice pudding that perfumed with cardamom, raisin and almonds. The food contributed by volunteers made the menu much more colorful and exciting.

Nevertheless, I truly believe that LAA achieves much more than just food. It was such a down-to-earth place that everyone can enjoy each others’ company. I truly enjoyed engaging in conversations with people there, learning about their stories and struggles in life. In such respect, LAA has succeeded in creating a small environment to celebrate human spirits of sharing and loving.

I would be back to LAA for more volunteer work. Your help would be much appreciated, too. Perhaps one day some of us food bloggers can finally cook in one kitchen together for a good cause? It would be fun, I bet (*)
Purple Shade
(*) Last weekend i joined a food bloggers' meeting at LAA. It was fun meeting a lot of bloggers there :).

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Sher, you will be deeply missed...

>> Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I came home today to unexpected news that Sher, the beautiful and sweet woman behind What Did You Eat, passed away on Sunday. I am still lost in words and sadness. I have never met Sher in person, but she has been a wonderful character who always supports me. I just cannot believe she is no longer here with us. My heart goes to her family and friends.

Rest in peace, Sher. You will always be in our hearts.

Shadow

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Black Treasure

>> Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Black Treasure - fresh black truffles

I don’t think words can capture the joyous moments when I first place my hands on some precious fresh truffles. It is like a child so happy to find out what her Christmas present is after a long long wait. Well, in this case, the arrival of my truffles involves more than time but also a financial factor. Fresh truffles aren’t cheap. And until very recently they are far out of reach for home cook in Australia. Things have changed for the better but of course, truffles always carry a high price tag.

My truffles are from Perigord Truffles of Tasmania. During truffle season (which is right now in Australia), you can order from this company. The products then are sent by express mail in very organized container so that the truffles arrive in your hand in the perfect condition. Alternatively, W.A. truffles are available for purchase at Simon Johnson stores (I have yet to try them out).

My truffles package arrives!

I was extremely nervous cooking with truffles the first time. They were too precious to get wasted! Thus, a little research was done and I settled to use truffles in a simple dishes. Simple ingredients are the best to show case truffles scent. Truffles pair beautifully with light-flavoured fish (barramundi for examples), green vegetables or eggs - ingredients which are not so overwhelming.

Furthermore, truffles need to be used quickly since they lose fragrance over time. So if you order some, plan ahead! Neil from At my tables have some lovely truffles recipes on his blog if anyone needs more reference.

As for me, I opt to a dish from Shannon Bennett, chef/owner of Melbourne famous restaurant Vue de monde. Here, truffles lift the simple risotto to a perfect level. This is undoubtedly the best thing which has come out from my kitchen. It is also the most expensive meal I have ever cooked!

Black Truffles Risotto

I am sending this post to Weekend Herb Blogging. The host of this week is Kelly from Sounding My Barbaric Gulp. WHB is the brainchild of Kalyn’s Kitchen and we have some new rules regarding this event. Make sure you visit both of them!


Black Truffles Risotto

Adapted from a recipe by Shannon Bennett

Ingredients (to serve two or three very happy people)

Chicken mushroom stock (around 5 cups – see note)

Extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

200g risotto rice (I used carnaroli)

100ml dry white wine

30-50g black truffles, shaved

50g Grana Padano Parmesan cheese

50g butter

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Method

  1. Heat the stock in a large sauce pan over low heat.
  2. Heat olive oil in a heavy-based pan. Add onion and stir until the onion is soft. Add rice and cook until all grains are coated with oil. Deglaze with the white wine and cook until evaporated.
  3. Add in ½ cup of hot stock. Stir until the rice absorbs the stock. Keep doing so until the risotto is cooked to your liking. In the final ladle of stock, add in the truffles (save a few slice for garnish).
  4. Remove the rice from heat. Add in the cheese. Season.
  5. Serve immediately on warmed plates. Garnish with truffles shavings.

To make chicken mushroom stock: I improvise from Shannon Bennett’s idea and make an easier version: Put 500g chicken neck (bone), 700g sliced fresh mushrooms, one peeled onion (left whole), sprigs of thyme, 1 bay leave, some peppercorn and water (6-7 cups) in a slow cooker. Cook over night. Next day, discard all the solids and get the stock to a saucepan. Bring to the boil and reduce until you have 4-5 cups (or until you are happy with the concentrated mushroom flavours).

Black Truffles Risotto

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A Moment in Life #22

>> Monday, July 14, 2008

I have decided to continue the series with a vibrant photo. :)

Colorful leaf
Vibrant colors for my winter days...
Have a great week ahead for all of you!

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A Little Green Can Brighten Up Your Day

>> Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mustard Cabbage

A question I am often asked is “What do you normally eat Springvales, a so-called Vietnamese suburb in Melbourne?” My answer surely surprises a lot of you guys. I don’t normally eat there since I don’t really like MSG loaded food. But I love all the Asian groceries in Springvales. They have tons of fresh Asian vegetables and herbs on offer at very reasonable price. Some of the seafood there is excellent, too, although you need to be very careful to correctly choose the Australian products…

This Mustard Cabbage must be one of my favourite Asian greens ever. In Vietnamese cooking, the thick ribs are widely used in pickling (it’s then called Dưa cải muối). The pickling products are then served as condiment or used in stir-fry or soup.

In fresh form, mustard cabbage has the mustardy tang that some do not like. I, however, love such flavorful taste so I don’t normally blanch them before cooking. The best way to enjoy mustard cabbage, in my opinion, is quickly stir-frying them with garlic and light soy sauce. This way of cooking really captures the flavours of the veg, while maintaining the crispiness of the stalks.

Stuffed pasta with Mustard Cabbage, Cheese and Tomato Sauce

Today however I decide to use mustard cabbage in a rather non-Asian way. I pair it with fresh ricotta cheese! Here in my stuffed pasta dish, mustard green is used in replacement of the usual spinach. While some of the crunchiness and flavours are kind of lost after blanching the leaves, I reserve some of the diced ribs and only add them towards the final steps. This adds the crispiness texture to the final dish, which I think it is rather pleasant.

Of course the same technique can be used if you get your hand on similar greens, like broccoli rabe for instance.

Pasta Shell Stuffed with Mustard Cabbage and Ricotta Cheese

Stuffed pasta with Mustard Cabbage, Cheese and Tomato Sauce

Ingredients (for four portions)

1 bunch of mustard cabbage, separate stalks and wash

1clove garlic

300g fresh ricotta cheese

About 25 large pasta shells

1 bottle (600g) of good quality passata

1 cup vegetable or chicken stock

Finely grated parmesan cheese

Chopped roasted pistachio (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C, Oil shallow ovenproof dish.
  2. Cook pasta in large saucepan of salted boiling water fir 3 mins. Drain and cool for 10 mins.
  3. Reserve some large stalks. Quickly blanch the mustard cabbage then drained. Chopped and combine with ricotta cheese. Dice the reserved stalks and garlic, and add to the ricotta mixture. Check seasoning.
  4. Stuff the mixture into the pasta shells.
  5. Combine the stock with the sauce, pour into the ovenproof dish. Place the pasta shells on top, sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake, covered, for about 1 hour until the pasta is tender. Serve hot with some chopped pistachio.

***

I am submitting this dish to Weekend Herb Blogging, an event created by Kalyn. This week, our host is Simona from Briciole. Head to their blogs for a fabulous roundup!

Mustard Cabbage

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I am still alive & an announcement to make…!

>> Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Missing my summer days

I know I have been neglecting my blog for the longest time. But I am still here, well and happy as always… And I have an announcement to make! I am getting married in September! Some of you have already been informed but yes, I have been really busy with work and preparing for the trip since our wedding ceremony is going to be in Hanoi. I can’t ask for more really. September is autumn in Hanoi which is undoubtedly the most beautiful time of the year and all my family members are going to be there. Looking forward to it!

I have just had a fantastic trip to Sydney. There, I had the chance to meet two fantastic bloggers, Nora and Eva. These two are definitely the sweetest ladies I have encountered. Our meeting was short but sweet and enjoyable. And they were the first bloggers to meet the lucky Mr. B, the man of my life. ;)

Anyway, I will be returning to the blogging world soon with cooking and some new ideas here and there. I have been extremely lazy lately so a huge apology for that. Now I am looking to go around and catch up with my favourite food blogs. See ya soon!

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