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Tomato Jam | Goodbye summer

>> Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tomato Jam - Preserving summer

My past few weeks have been absolutely crazy. So crazy I barely noticed how quick time was passing by. I realised that the heat of summer was no longer around. And I found myself taking out cardigans, jackets and scarves…. Where has my summer gone? And autumn, too? The maple leaves on my neighbour’s yard has not even turned red yet. Winter seems to be in a hurry this year.

Summer Essential Harvest!

 Last weekend we made an effort to clear out a few tomato bushes. We have been so blessed with heavy crops of juicy tomatoes. We ate them mainly in salad and sandwich. Pleasure, it was so simple. This was our first ever gardening efforts, and it seemed everyone in the house enjoyed it immensely.

 Naturally enough, we had more tomatoes than we needed (I didn’t buy tomatoes for nearly 3 months!). So, time to preserve summer produces. Tomato jam was the perfect choice, since I did not have quite enough tomatoes to make large batches of passata.

 This jam (or chutney?) has a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness. The spices and warmness of ginger, cinnamon and cloves are wonderful. It pairs well with most meats and cold cuts. I personally love this tomato jam with pan-fried haloumi cheese, some fresh tomatoes and fresh baguette.

Tomato Jam

Tomato Jam
Adapted minimally from here.
 makes approximately 1 liter of jam

1600g heirloom tomatoes (with skins and seeds), finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
300g raw sugar
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 red chili pepper, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp ground cumin
pinch of ground cloves
Juice of 2 lemons
1.5 tbsp. salt
4 tbsp. balsamic vinegar


Combine all ingredients, except balsamic vinegar , in a large pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Simmer, stirring regularly, until the juices have evaporated and tomatoes have reduced to a thick and sticky jam. This will take approximately 1 to 1,5 hours, depending on the amount of heat.

 In the end of cooking time add  balsamic vinegar. Adjust the flavors if necessary and remove from heat.

Ladle the hot jam into sterilized jars and twist on the lids.Cool and store in the fridge for about 3-4 months.


{Review} The Commoner | Fitzroy | Melbourne ~ Farm, Feather & Fur Menu

>> Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Commoner | Fitzroy | Melbourne

Let's take a break from my kitchen for a moment, and enjoy a lovely lunch outside. I am not normally doing restaurant review on this blog. Most of the time, I am just too lazy to bring out my camera while enjoying the food and the atmosphere. But what if the place itself is so beautiful; it inspires me to take out my camera?

My friend kept on telling me how lovely that space was before I head out to the Commoner. And it was, with a little surprise. Looking at their website, I envisaged a noisy and edgy bar. But in reality, the restaurant was modern, simple and cosy with beautiful vintage decoration.

The Commoner | Fitzroy | Melbourne

 Something about the Commoner made me feel at home. The small courtyard at the back, with narrow stair reminded me of Hanoi-style cafes. It was different space and different time, but walking ever slowly up those stairs evoked the feeling of nostalgia. Perhaps it was the vintage-like ambiance, the organic arrangement of small potted plants, and the warm sunlight on a cold autumn day made me feel that way.

 Ultimately, the restaurant should be judged by its food and service. I think the Commoner did reasonably well. We sampled the Farm, Feather and Fur, which featured autumn produces. In this case, game meat! All the dishes were well-portioned and cooked beautifully. So even though we sampled a lot of meat (much more than usual), we did not feel over the top at the end of the meal.

The Commoner | Fitzroy | Melbourne

 For starter, we had crudités with anchovy butter. Nice, simple and fresh.

 The next course was Mr. B's favourite: Rare Duck Breast, Pheasant Ballontine, Truffled White Bean and Mustard Fruits. The duck breast had real beautiful smoky flavours, which I feel a bit overpowering to other elements of the dish.

The Commoner | Fitzroy | Melbourne

 Now, my favourite of the day. Venison Loin, Caramelised Apple, Celeriac Puree. The venison was delicious meaty with great texture. This is why I love game meat. The puree was light, creamy with a pleasant celery taste undertone. (You can see that I love simply cook meals!)

The Commoner | Fitzroy | Melbourne

 Next was Rabbit and Prune Pie with Wood Roasted Carrots and Mushroom. We did not eat pork, so the bacon in this dish was replaced by wood roasted mushrooms. The pie was not something I would rave about, but the wood roasted carrots and mushrooms were absolutely winners.

 Dessert course! Orange blossom crème brûlée with spiced biscuits and poached rhubarb. Again, the restaurant was so accommodating to change the dessert to a non-alcoholic one for us.  Crème brûlée  for dessert could feel old, but we both loved the fresh aroma of orange blossom water here. I'm doing a copy-cat version at home soon!

The Commoner | Fitzroy | Melbourne

 The Commoner is a place which perhaps I will be returning again and again. The food is not glorious or adventurous but it tastes good and honest. The natural flavours of produces shine through, and it is a plus point in my book. The service is warm and attentive. A solid recommendation from me.

 The Commoner Restaurant
122 Johnston Street Melbourne VIC 3065
(03) 9415 6876

 Disclaimer: Anh and her husband, Mr B, dined at the guest of the Commoner. The reviews are our own, and reflect our experience at the restaurant.
  The Commoner on Urbanspoon


{Salad days} Viet-Russian Potato Salad & Chicken cabbage salad with tamarind dressing

>> Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Did I tell you my discovery this summer? Salad! Yeap, the simple, humble salads. I used to dislike salads.

Growing up in Vietnamese food culture, I was spoiled with the choices of veggies for meals. But most of the veggies are cooked, and we just did not embrace salad much.

 This (already gone, technically) summer, I made a switch and developed a "thing" for main meal salads. Initially, the effort was to get 5 serves of vegetables in my diet. Since then, I have developed a love for the refreshing and light flavours and texture of different kinds of salad. My favourites are chickpeas and cabbage coleslaw, wrapped with a warm tortilla for lunch. It is delicious and filling without making me feel sleepy after lunch.


 Gardening, too, has made me appreciate vegetables even more. Home-grown tomatoes, oh my god. How sweet, juicy and pretty are they? My summer staple has been quinoa, toasted bread cubes and chopped tomato salad. We have enjoyed it almost every summer lunch.

 Unfortunately, main meal salads are still a no go at our family dinner table. It must come from habits. But certain someone regards fresh vegetables as raw and dull *sigh*. (This comes from a household when even lettuce is cooked to dead!!) I have sneaked in salad here or there though. Tomato salad with pasta, burghul salad with grilled meat, zucchini "carpaccio" ... It is getting there, somewhere. I just hope vegetables will get more love as time goes by.

 So, here they are. My two favourite salads. The first one is a crowd pleaser, a creamy potato salad. I've sneaked in some blanched broccoli for good measure. The second one, chicken cabbage salad with tamarind dressing, is my staple. I love the natural sweetness and tartness of tamarind here. A departure from the much loved Vietnamese cabbage chicken salad (goi ga), but in a good way.

Potato & broccoli salad. For our summer dinner

Viet-Russian Potato Salad 
 Salad Nga (Russian salad), as we call it in Vietnam. This is a favourite when I grew up. You won't find a party without it. I've change the recipe a bit, adding broccoli and edible petals from my garden. Light, creamy, tasty and inspiring
5 large potatoes (I used a creamy flesh variety) 
5 small gherkins, finely diced 
Kernels from a corn cob, lightly boiled 
½ red capsicum, de-seeded and diced finely 
4 tablespoon mayonnaise (low-fat works fine)
 4 tablespoon sour cream (low-fat works fine) 
½ teaspoon salt 
½ teaspoon paprika 
 100g brocolli, cut into florets, blanched 
(optional) 60g of Vietnamese style meat loaf, diced 
 Peel the potato and boil them in salted water until soft. Drain and mash. 
 Combine the mashed potatoes with cooked corn kernels, diced gherkins, diced Vietnamese meat loaf (optional), mayonnaise and sour cream, salt and paprika. Adjust seasoning to your taste. 
Mount the potato mixture onto a serving plate. Decorate with blanched broccoli and edible petals if you have any. 

 Chicken, cabbage and pear salad with tamarind dressing 
 I ate this for lunch very often. They make great filling for rice paper rolls, too. 
 Ingredients (serve 2-3) 
¼ small purple cabbage 
1 pear 
60g sesame seeds, toasted lightly 
100g cooked chicken breast, shredded 
 Tamarind dressing 
2 tablespoon tamarind paste (found in Asian shops) 
4 tablespoons warm chicken broth or water 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 teaspoon honey grain mustard 
1-2 teaspoons raw sugar 
2tsp salt 
 Herbs – chopped coriander, parsley etc. 
 Clean the cabbage, and shred finely. Slice the pear (peel the skin beforehand if it bothers you). 
Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients together. Whisk to combine. Taste to see if it needs adjustment. 
 Toss the cabbage, chicken and pear with the dressing mixture. Just before serving, mix in the herbs and toasted sesame seeds.

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