Eat here: Hoa Anh Dao Sakura Restaurant, Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoa Anh Dao Sakura Restaurant
119-121 Nguyễn Thái Học, Minh An, tp. Hội An
http://www.hoiansakura.com/

Back to Vietnam this morning, to one of the most brilliant restaurant experiences I’ve ever had. On the banks of Hoi An’s Thu Bon River stands a beautiful, golden building. It’s clearly been there for a while, with the peeling and faded yellow paint and those little signs of decay that make buildings like this look so perfect. I would have thought a building like this would house a crappy, touristy restaurant, with a Vietnamese-by-numbers menu and overpriced seafood, but the sight of that little terrace overlooking the river and street below was too much, and we decided to treat ourselves to a “fancy” dinner one night.

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Long story short, great decision. The service was amazing from the moment we stepped up past the entry threshold – the Vietnamese are so friendly and genuine, you never feel like an imposition or that they’re only being nice because they’re employed to do so. Seated up on the terrace, we had the perfect view. And the menu was phenomenal… We over-ordered, obviously, but really couldn’t help ourselves!

White rose dumplings topped with fried shallots and dipping sauce.
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Mixed appetizer platter.
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DIY rice paper rolls with grilled pork skewers, bahn cuon, and salad. We thankfully got a quick crash course in the proper way to layer and wrap these, and they were great!
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Duck salad. This was amazing! So fresh, perfect mid-meal palate cleanser, but it would have made a perfect meal on its own, too.
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Husband’s choice – beef noodles with veggies. He loved it.
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And my choice – prawns cooked in coconut milk. This was magic, pure and simple. The best seafood dish I have ever eaten, my goodness it was good!
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Plus a few beers for husband, and a few coconut waters for me, I think we paid around AUD$60.00 for all of that… we couldn’t believe it! The prices was ridiculously cheap for the amount and quality of the food we had, the view was the best in the city, the service was wonderful, and it was the perfect dinner experience. Don’t let appearances deceive you – add it to the list of places to eat at in Hoi An. And ask for a terrace table!

Cook this (in bulk to stock the freezer): Mississippi Roast

I’ve developed a new habit to make life easier for myself; on weekends, I bulk cook a meal, so I end up with dinner for us both on Sunday night plus 3 or 4 meals each extra, which I freeze. Then, mid week, if I’ve had a stressy few days and the thought of cooking gets me anxious, I just pluck out a zip-lock baggy from the freezer in the morning and dinner is ready for when I get home!


I’ve got a few favourite recipes for my frozen meals, but I wanted to find some new ideas, and in my recent lunch break Googling I came across this recipe from founding editor of New York Times Cooking, Sam Sifton. I love using chuck steak – cooking it low and slow, ending up with soft, tender chunk of beef, it’s perfect cold weather food. And winter is coming. I whipped it up for dinner on Sunday with some changes to Sam’s recipe and my own touches, and it came out surprisingly well – juicy, tender, fall-apart meat with an amazing flavour from the DIY ranch sauce. And SO cheap – the 1.7kg of chuck steak I used to make 12 meals only cost $20! Here’s how to do it…

Ingredients:
– ¼ cup plain flour
– salt & pepper
– 1.5 – 2kg chuck steak, any particularly large chunks of fat removed
– 30g butter
– 4 tbsp mayonnaise (I use low fat)
– 2 tbsp apple cider or white wine vinegar
– 1½ tsp dried dill
– ½ tsp sweet paprika
– 5 large potatoes, diced
– 3 large zucchinis, diced
– 4 large green capsicums, de-seeded and diced
– 500g button mushrooms, quartered
– pasta to serve
Method:
1. Sift the flour into a large bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Add the steak and rub the flour in well to coat.

2. Heat a non-stick frypan over high heat and spray with cooking oil. Add the steak and cook for 5 minutes or so on each side, to form a brown crust. Then, take the piece/s of steak off the pan and place in the bottom of your slow cooker. Add the butter, in chunks, on top of the steak, replace the lid and set to low heat.

3. As the slow cooker heats up, make the dressing by whisking together the mayo, vinegar, dill and paprika in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the steak and pour in a cup of water around the bottom of the steak. Replace the lid, and cook on low heat for 6 – 8 hours – it should easily shred once it’s done!


4. While the meat is cooking, prepare the veggies by placing on 2 large roasting trays, drizzling with a little olive oil, sprinkling with salt, and roasting in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes on high heat.

 

I decided to serve mine with pasta, so I cooked up a few cups and then divided it up between 12 zip-lock bags. I did the same with the veggies and meat (once I’d shredded it), and poured the ranch gravy from the slow cooker over each serve. Easy!

Eat here: Longhorn Saloon, Melbourne (American)

Longhorn Saloon
118 Elgin St, Carlton
http://www.longhornsaloon.com.au/

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The husband made it through another birthday last week. And while he doesn’t like to celebrate it, he does very much like good American BBQ, so (much like my birthday) we had a bit of an unbirthday dinner at Longhorn. Another brain child of the Balleau (Le Bon Ton) family, it’s got that gorgeous Southern feel to it, which was only helped along by the awesome playlist of Rebirth Brass Band and Trombone Shorty, that homely decor and the loveliest staff.

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The birthday boy chose a few dishes to share and we sang along to Trombone and reminisced about the good times we’d had in New Orleans while we waited (which wasn’t very long). First up were the fried chicken tenders with a cheddar biscuit & cracked pepper white gravy, The chicken was crazy good – tender, white flesh coated in the most delicious crunchy coating. Plus a fluffy biscuit and creamy gravy; it’s really good stuff, and the birthday boy’s favourite.

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Next up was the 5 Points Deli Brisket Reuben (on dark rye, with corned brisket, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing). It was one of the biggest sandwiches I’ve ever seen, and the brisket was delicious, especially the rendered, melty fat pockets in there. There was probably a bit much sauerkraut and dressing for my liking, so I pulled mine apart and ate all the meaty goodness. And the pickle was unreal.

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Last up was the Le Bon Ton Cheeseburger (Wagyu beef patty, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, spicy ketchup, aioli), which I really liked. Good choice with the iceberg lettuce which kept things crunchy, perfectly cooked bacon with molten cheese on top – it’s what you want in a cheeseburger.

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The service was quick and super friendly, the food was delicious, the setting was gorgeous, the tunes were on point – it was the perfect unbirthday dinner  : )  And if you can make it through another Monday today, you can treat yourself to dinner there tomorrow night!

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Longhorn Saloon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cook this: one pot quinoa fish pilaf (from the Simplicious cookbook)

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As promised yesterday, I’m sharing today my Tuesday night fish pilaf dinner, which I cooked from Sarah Wilson’s Simplicious cookbook 🙂 I love this recipe – it was SO easy it’s almost not even a recipe, which is what I like midweek when I’m knackered from work, want something made from scratch, still healthy, but can’t be bothered with anything fancy or complicated with 50 ingredients and steps. Enter Simplicious. 

To save me re-typing, I did follow the recipe in the book below, with my only changes being:


1.  I used vegetable stock from the packet (I know, totally against her theory, but I already had it and it would have been wasteful to throw it out and make it from scratch!
2. I added in some extra veggies in the form of capsicum
3. I used a basa fillet and a squid tube from our local market – they were both enormous so this made 4 serves (yay for leftovers!)
4. For the herbs/spices, I used fresh coriander and mint, and a mix of dried smoky paprika, turmeric and cumin
5. I added toasted almonds at the end so they’d be nice and crunchy

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Changes I’d make next time would be to add some more salt and coriander through the quinoa, and use about a third of the stock the recipe called for. The fresh herbs and lemon juice were an absolute must to give it flavour; I’d probably be using some stronger herbs and spices on the seafood, too, to give it bit more kick. All in all, great quick & easy mid-week meal, and a fantastic way to add seafood to your diet  little more regularly.

Photo essay: our Italian family Christmas Eve tradition… Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!! I hope everyone enjoyed the day with their loved ones and made it onto the “good” list and had a visit from the jolly man 😉

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Seeing as how Christmas is (to me, anyway) more about spending time with the people you love, and also as how this blog is in large part my digital time capsule, I wanted to share something a bit special this morning as we all rush off to open gifts and deliver trays of pavlova to the family lunch table. I wanted to share a few pictures of our most important and enduring family tradition; dinner with dad’s side of the family and his parents’ house. More commonly and affectionately known as “The Feast.”

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Traditionally, Italians don’t eat meat on Christmas Eve; instead, they indulge in seafood. And so every year, Nonno hits the Preston Market, sparing no expense for the freshest prawns, calamari and lobster he can get his hands on (and being a decades old customer, he gets some pretty good stuff).

The Feast happens Christmas Eve, every year, without fail. I’ve only missed one; last year, because we were in Chicago (eating Italian food at Eataly, because anything else on Christmas Eve would be sacreligious). International travel not-withstanding, it’s a given that we’re all there every year. Mum and dad, my auntie and uncle, us three girls plus our other halves, and my cousins. Nonna and Nonno host every year in their big, beautiful house, and whatever else has been going on is forgotten for the night. This year is the first year we’ve done it without mum and dad; it’s their turn to be overseas this year. So I thought I’d capture a bit of the fun for them so that they wouldn’t have to completely miss it 🙂

 

Tradition dictates the following:

– But first, wine. This year’s conversation between Nonno and I:
“Jessica. Wine?”
“Yeah, why not Nonno?! Just a little bit though, I’m driving.”
“No! Let’s get drunk!”

– Food. Calamari come first. If you arrive early enough, you make your way to the pizza room to “help” fry them (read: eat a few pieces before anyone else). Once served at the dinner table, fights to the death over the golden grilled pieces of deliciousness are not uncommon. My cousin has been known to eat more than the rest of us combined (that kind of behaviour has now been outlawed).

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– Then comes pasta. Because that’s what Nonno wants to eat. Every. Single. Day. There are also those two idiots who have as much freshly grated parmesan in the bowl as pasta – I’m one of them.

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– Next up: giant mutant prawns and lobster. They’re fresh and clean and absolutely enormous, served with lemon wedges, tartare sauce, and a simple salad dressed with olive oil, salt and vinegar. My uncle waits (sometimes) for everyone to take their share of the salad, then proceeds to eat his share straight from the big metal bowl, while laughing maniacally at whatever’s going on around him.

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– Also a few bowls of bocconcini. Nipple jokes are inevitable. They don’t make us giggle any less now that we’re all adults.

– And don’t forget the fruit platters, Lindt balls, coffees and Nonna and Zia’s zeppole – Italian sugar-coated donuts made from the lightest, fluffiest dough. Zia even made a few balls and filled them with Nutella; further proof that Italians are the original hipsters. We’ve been making this stuff for years!

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The only thing missing this year was mum and dad, who are currently enjoying a beautiful, cold Christmas in a little Italian town with mum’s extended family 🙂

So, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Buon Natale! I hope everyone had/has a great weekend 🙂

Eat here: Grazie Woodfire Pizza, Melbourne (pizza)

Grazie Woodfire Pizza e Ristorante
541 High St, Preston
https://www.facebook.com/GrazieWoodfirePizzaAndRistorante

Holy wow it’s December tomorrow. When the hell did that happen?! I feel like every year, once my birthday hits, the few weeks that follow leading up to Christmas absolutely fly; its been two weeks today since my birthday, and it feels like it’s only been a few days! To be fair, we’re also nice and organised this year – our Christmas gifts are already purchased, wrapped and under the tree (which we traditionally put up the day after my birthday, because why the hell not?), Christmas parties are starting to take over weekends, and the general holiday mayhem is in full swing. I feel like it started a little earlier this year; knowing that things were about to get crazy and after the unexpectedly massive weekend that preceded my birthday, I wanted nothing more on that Monday night than to sit at home on the couch in my PJs with my boys and relax with a few pizzas. Fancy pants birthday dinner. That’s how I roll.

I’m a little bit in love with the Menulog app in terms of how easy it makes it for me to be lazy when I so feel the urge. This is actually incredible rare; I grew up in a house where mum had a hot, fresh, home cooked meal on the table every single night. We got McDonald’s four times per year only (once each school holidays), and the only time we ever had take away pizza was at sleep overs or friends’ birthday parties. The idea of ordering take away on a Monday night instead of cooking a good dinner was as likely as Freddie Mercury strolling through the front door and cracking out a delicious rendition of Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy. Generations of good Italian women have ingrained in me that you buy fresh ingredients and cook dinner with them each night, and that’s that. So when I decided that I wanted take away pizza for dinner on my birthday, I felt like a cheeky child instead of a fully grown now 30 year old woman.

But I wasn’t going to be a complete disgrace and order anything too plebeian – it was my birthday, after all! I still wanted a good pizza, wood fired and thin crusted, not too oily or using crappy ingredients. Enter Grazie, opened only a few months ago in June, a welcome addition to the High Street pizza scene in Preston. A lot of the existing ones are same same kinda places – margherita, Hawaiian, capricciosa, meat lovers, vegetarian, and the “special.” There’s nothing exciting there. Grazie’s menu caught my eye immediately – prosciutto instead of just plain shredded ham, buffalo mozzarella instead of the regular supermarket stuff, grilled eggplant and fior di latte cheese and pancetta and artichokes – fantastic!

We ordered the margherita di bufala – napoli sauce base with buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomato and fresh basil. This is one of the two benchmark pizzas against which all others should be measured – if you can’t get something so simple right, you shouldn’t be making pizza. They nailed it.

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The other benchmark pizza for us is the prosciutto – this one came with fior di latte cheese, prosciutto di parma, basil pesto, fresh tomato, shaved parmesan and rocket. It also usually comes with a napoli sauce base, but we opted out of that, because it’s better without it. This was a really, really good pizza . They were clever enough to put the parmesan cheese and rocket in a separate tub when it was delivered so we could add it on when we received it, instead of getting half melted parmesan and wilted rocket, which was much appreciated! Quality prosciutto and plenty of it, too!

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For a little neighbourhood pizza place, Grazie was such a pleasant surprise; the bases were deliciously light, and at the same time perfectly crisp underneath – no soggy bottoms. The ingredients were fresh and of great quality.  They weren’t the slightest bit oily, which meant we weren’t heavy or sickening at all. The delivery was bang on time, and the prices are pretty reasonable considering just how good they are. If you live out in these parts, I’d really highly recommend jumping on Menulog tonight and ordering yourself a pizza for dinner. Go on, it’s Monday, no doubt the next few weeks are about to get hectic for you, too, and cooking dinner means you’ll just have to do dishes… be a little bit naughty (don’t tell mum) and treat yourself to a bit of a gourmet dinner tonight 😉

 

Grazie Woodfire Pizza e Ristorante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cook this: quick & healthy – citrus & coriander snapper on baked corn & pineapple rice (gluten free/low FODMAP)

After our crazy busy Saturday of Christmas shopping, normal people would have spent Sunday chilling out. But we’re not normal people; we’re idiots. After crawling into bed just before midnight, we set the alarm for 7am so we could get a work out in before heading back to the shopping centres to find some Christmas decorations for the tree and the house. The alarm went off, we both groaned and rolled around not wanting to move too far, but we dragged ourselves out of bed anyway. We decided to make it a big walk with Marley so he could get his walk in too, and so we could enjoy the sunshine while it was out. We laughed at the idea that normal people wouldn’t be doing this to themselves – normal people would be sleeping in on a Sunday, enjoying a lazy breaky, making no concrete commitments to doing anything much. But there we were.

On reflection, the pursuit of being fit and healthy has always been there for me. I always checked out magazine articles that had the little workout tips or healthy eating ideas in them. I researched exercise plans online when we got the internet (around when I started high school). I studied calorie counts when the Calorie King website got popular. Despite the fact that I’ve always been at a healthy weight, my family has always been healthy, we were never fed anything but fruit and veggies and home cooked, balanced meals as kids (thanks, mum!), and none of us have ever been close to overweight, it’s always been a bit of a preoccupation of mine. I guess that’s why setting my alarm for 7am on a Sunday to exercise doesn’t really strike me as odd. As kids, we were always active. Basketball training, tennis lessons, dance classes, taekwondo. Whatever it was, it wasn’t questioned. Time to go to basketball? Sweet, let’s go. There was never the option of “nah, I can’t be bothered, I’d rather sleep in, play video games for 3 hours and eat 4 bags of chips while I’m doing it.” We just got on with it.

So, we got up, we got moving, we got a little overenthusiastic and may or may not have started decorating the house in red and green already… But at the end of it all, we still needed dinner. It needed to be quick, healthy, nothing too heavy, fructose free, and use the snapper fillets we’d bought at the market on Friday night. I have a few notebooks in the kitchen with recipes I’ve cut out of magazines and collected over the years – in  the one with the seafood recipes in it, I found a recipe from an old Women’s Health magazine from years ago, and it looked just about perfect. As usual, I messed about with it to make it more tummy friendly and quick and simple, so here’s my take on their Costa Rican snapper!

Ingredients (makes 4 serves):
– juice of 1 small orange
– juice of half a lemon or lime
– 2 tbsp oil (I used garlic infused oil)
– 1 clove garlic minced (leave it out if you’re a low FODMAPper)
– 4 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
– 1 tsp caster sugar
– salt and pepper
– 4 snapper fillets, approx 120g each
– 2 cups cooked brown rice
– 2 green capsicums, diced
– 1 ear of corn kernels
– small tin diced pineapple
– 2 tomatoes, diced

Method:
1. Combine the orange and lemon or lime juices, the oil, garlic, coriander, sugar and a little salt and pepper in a large tub. Add the fish fillets and shake the tub to coat well. Marinate for 15 minutes.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C and grab a large baking dish out.

3. In a large bowl, combine the rice, green capsicum, corn kernels and pineapple (I left the pineapple out because husband and I both like cold pineapple more than having it warmed up, but you can go either way), and spread it over the baking dish.

4. Lay the fish fillets on top of the rice and spoon the rest of the marinating mixture over the top.

5. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the rice is cooked through – serve fresh out of the oven with fresh diced tomatoes (and the pineapple if you didn’t put it in the rice).