Roast Pork Belly with Caramelised Red Cabbage

Fennel Roasted Pork Belly on Parmesan Mash with Caramelised Red Cabbage

Just a quick one because I am terribly behind in a lot of these posts. This was a pretty simply meal I thought up after coming across a great little Chinese butcher called Wing Hong, around the corner from where I work in Northbridge (the studious among you might be able to work out where that is now). They sell more parts of a pig than I knew existed, and so I eventually braved the language barrier, headed in, and managed to buy myself a pork belly. The fact that I was actually asking for chicken is irrevelant, and we’ll all pretend it was a great idea from the start.

Pork Belly is a pretty trendy cut of meat of late, or at least it was up until a year or so ago. So maybe I’m behind the times, but that’s never stopped me from jumping on the bandwagon. So what to do with it…I heard you whispering excitedly… thanks to the bugs I’ve installed in EVERYONES house ! Ahem…

Honey & Fennel Rubbed Pork Belly

Well, for some reason the words “roast pork belly with fennel” jumped into my head… perhaps from a recipe I’d seen before, perhaps from a dream (albeit a sad one) I had once… who knows… but the inspiration was secured.

So after scoring the top of the belly and rubbing a bunch of fennel seeds, salt, pepper, and olive oil into the top, it was time for oven. (oh and some sliced fennel to go with it, but don’t do what I do and leave it in there for 40 minutes to burn unmercifully into little fennel crunchy charcoal chips).

Le red cabbage

The next part was another dream like idea that came to me… Caramelised red cabbage, which had been sitting in the fridge for too long and needed to be given a good home. Fortunately cabbage is a good hardy vegetable, and can withstand the long periods of neglect that it is often forced to endure in the dark recesses of my fridge.

So sliced up into strips and sauteed in a little white wine vinegar and sugar, til nice and soft and caramelisedly looking.

The rest was pretty basic, a garlic mash made by crushing a couple of cloves of garlic into boiled potatoes and mashing with salt, pepper, and cream, for smooth texture and consistency.

Slice the pork belly up into thin pieces and layer daintily on top of the cabbage and mash.

Score one for breaking language barriers the world over. You never know what you might find.

5 things to eat before you die

Originally raised by Melissa of The Travelers Lunchbox, my first thought was “What a morbid sounding idea for a theme…”. But then who am I to shirk my civic duties by listing as many “must try” foods as I can think of, after being tagged by the lovely (I assume) JenJen (see, anyone with a double name must be lovely) of “I love milk and cookies” fame (and don’t we all really).

So… to the list. Which as far as I’m concerned is not the list of foods I would eat if I were about to die, but more a collection of food experiences I think would be nice for most people to try at least once in their lives.

1) Kiwi hot dogs – Being a former Kiwi, I can think of nothing more quintessential divisive to healthy eating than the Kiwi hot dog. It’s basically a thick sausage on a stick, rolled in flour and dipped in batter, then deep fried til golden and crispy. Not happy with the level of fat and oil already present in the sausage and batter, the inventive Kiwi’s then up the ante by soaking the top half of the dog in tomato sauce (ketchup for recalcitrant Americans). I have fond memories of stuffing down several of these bad boys before collapsing onto the couch in a fat induced stupor. Incidentally they also make the list of “Things to eat that will make you die”.

2) Feijoa – Another New Zealand classic, the Feijoa, also known as Pineapple Guava or Guavasteen, is originally from South America, but has now been adopted as New Zealands own. It’s a bizarre little fruit that I can only describe as being sweet, sour, fruity, and savoury, all at the same time. Inventive Kiwi’s have turned it into smoothies, sorbets, and even vodka. In its most basic form, you can just cut it in half and scoop out the middle with a teaspoon as you would a kiwifruit. Definitely something to try.

3) Freshly Shucked Natural Oysters – This may be a good time to introduce my concept of assessing someones commitment to food. A sort of “how gourmet is gourmet” rating scale. It involves many layers of tests and I wouldn’t be the snob I am with out them. Pronouncing Riesling “Rise-ling” is one of them… as is preferring the taste of instant coffee to properly made espresso. A general aversion to any particular fruits or vegetables for no apparent reason other than “I just don’t like them” is also a big draw breaker. Towards the bottom of the list, this one comes in. Natural oysters, straight from the sea, out of the shell and into the mouth, with or without a little lemon juice or salt… are the ultimate in gourmet appreciation. You either hate them, and can’t abide the idea of a slimey thing like that slivering down your throat. Or you tremble in anticipation of the luscious feeling of freshness filling your mouth and shovel as many down as you can before anyone else gets to them.

For those in the non-oyster or cooked oyster camp… Just give it a go… at least once.

4) Lamb roast with all the trimmings – I’ve blogged previously about my love of a good lamb roast, so I’ll save the in depth explanation. Suffice to say that if you’ve never been bothered to go to the trouble of making a big home cooked meal yourself, with the stuffing, and the mint sauce, and the gravy, and the honeyed carrots, and sparkling grape juice (ok, that’s just my family), then you are really missing out on something.

5) H?ngi – A traditional Maori Hangi is something to be experienced. Common to many Polynesians cultures, but slightly different in each of them, it’s basically the process of cooking food in the earth, by digging a hole and burying the food amongst a pile of hot rocks. The food is typically meat like pork, mutton, and chicken, and vegetables like potato, pumpkin, and the all important kumara. It all gets put into baskets and wrapped in cloths that have been soaked in water, then put into the pit amongst hot rocks and covered for a few hours. There’s something very satisfying and humble about cooking in the earth, so if you ever get the chance, I’d say go for it.

That’s all I can think of for now. I know there are plenty more, but I can’t think of them at the moment. One thing I will add is that where any good food exists, great wine can only serve to highten the experience. So for all those beer drinking, wine haters out there… get off the wagon and give let your tastebuds do some work for once in your life. They’ll thank you for it later.

My First Tajine


First off, lets clear one thing up. I have no clue whether I should be spelling it Tajine, or Tagine. Popular opinion would seem to favour Tajine with a ‘J’, but the labels on the box from one Mr Emile Henry, proud maker of my fancy new “Tagine” beg to differ.
Personally, I only get involved in linguistic battles when I think I can win, and having very little grasp on any other languages other than English (which is a tenuous one at best), I think i’ll stick to trying to cook one.

So, now that the formalities are out of the way, I have anti climatically bought my first Tajine. Yay ! After a long hard day of being dragged through furniture stores looking for a new lounge suite, I finally had enough and did what any well meaning, red blooded Australian male does to relax… head straight to the nearest kitchen supply store and start fondling crockery. I did my usual trick of picking up all the Le Cruseut stuff to see if it’s still as heavy as the last time I picked it up (it is), then casually scoffed at the lame excuses for non-stick frying pans they have, before wondering if I really needed to buy an industrial sized burner for caramelizing the tops of my creme brulee (I don’t, yet).

Finally, after eliminating all the other possible things I could waste my money on, I came across an object of desire that has passed my gaze many times and managed to get away. A Tajine. And not just any Tajine… but a RED one… which everyone knows is WAY more authentic than any other colour… and also goes faster. This particular model was by the aforementioned Emile Henry, and a finer model I’ve not seen.

It’s made from a high grade glazed ceramic that is both heat resistant as well as resilient to sticking, and hardy enough to be scrubbed with abrasive materials and not lose it’s lustre (a great benefit to lazy cooks the world over).

So… my purchase made, and my walk acquiring a new skip that only the knowledge of future dinner experimentation with new toys can bring… it was off home to get cooking.

Now, I know about as much about Moroccan cuisine as I do about Morocco. Thanks to Wikipedia, I do know the capital isn’t Casablanca (which is a movie I have still yet to watch), that it’s been inhabited by more cultures than one of Jerry Springers cocktail parties, and that Morocco ranks among the world’s largest producers and exporters of cannabis… possibly why the food tastes so good.

So to my first foray into Moroccan cooking, and the Tajine.

Moroccan Chicken

  • chicken breasts (I would have used meat on the bone for a more tender texture, but breasts were all I had)
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 1 can tomatoes, plus 4 whole tomatos chopped
  • duck/chicken stock (I had duck stuck left over from earlier experiments)
  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 large carrot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 pack couscous (I’m still yet to fully grasp couscous as a concept)
  • Crushed Spice mix (cumin, clove, cinnamon, saffron, tumeric, fennel, coriander)

How I made mine

Basically put the Tajine over the heat and put a little oil in, fry the onion and garlic together til it’s a little soft and then add the chicken pieces and brown them off a little. Then add in all the other bits and pieces. The chick peas, carrot and potato, the chopped tomatoes and any other vegetables you may want to use. Once all the veges are simmering away, add the can of tomatoes and the stock, enough to almost cover the food, and then mix the spices well through the tajine. When you’re happy with how much liquid you’ve got in, turn the heat right down on the stove, put the lid on, and walk away… thats right… just walk away.

From what I can gather, Tajines gain much of their mythical popularity from the gorgeous flavours and textures you bring out, after slow cooking the food over a long period of time with a bunch of spices. So I left this cooking slowly for around an hour and a half, checking it occasionally to make sure the potatoes and carrots hadn’t completely disintegrated into some kind of unexpected (but totally planned if it tasted ok) Moroccan soup.

While that was going I made up the couscous. Now I have a bad history with couscous. It was a dish my sister used to butcher mercilessly when we lived together. Putting it in the microwave and a bit of water and nuking it to death until it turned into a fluffy cardboard tasting mess. So it was with much fear that I decided to give it another go.

Chicken Tagine

This time I simply put it into a pan on the stove with a bunch of butter, and simmered it slowly over low heat while adding more duck stock. Towards the end, sprinkling a little fresh chopped coriander into it. I won’t say that it was great. But it was at least good enough to use as a liquid absorber for the tajine… So we’ll call Matt vs Couscous round 1 a draw.

So after waiting longer than my meagre patience can normally stand, it was ready to go. Normally tajines are served straight to the table and people use their hands and bread to dip in and share the meal, but opting for the polite refinement of western disconnectedness, I served it into some big plates with the couscous, more fresh coriander, and some toasted turkish bread (I couldn’t find Moroccan bread).

It was a definite success, rich flavours, beautiful textures, and the subtle elements of each spice coming through just nicely. I think I’ve found something to occupy myself with for at least the next month. Mo-rock-on :)

First & Last Night at Il Pasto

A week or two ago, late on a Sunday night in Perth (about 8pm), Sharon and I were doing our usual trick of finding restaurants to be turned away from due to the kitchen being closed. Having not been turned away from many restaurants in Mt Hawthorn recently, we thought we’d try there for a change.

So cruising down to the end of the ubiquitously named Oxford St, we happened across a little pizza bar called Il Pasto. Finding out that yes indeed it was still open, we headed inside for a pizza, and possibly the strangest experience I’ve had in a restaurant for a while.

Arriving at the counter, we were slightly suprised to see the chef sitting out in the restaurant eating a pizza, while people were packing boxes around him. He quickly explained that this was actually the last night that Il Pasto was going to be in operation. They had recently sold the business to another operator, who was going to be opening up a Japanese restaurant at the site. He also explained that we were welcome to stay as long as we didn’t mind people packing boxes around us, and that there was only one pizza left. I took that to mean that there was only one type of pizza left, because they’d packed all the ingredients away…but soon realised it meant that there was literally one piece of pizza dough left from which it they could make us a pizza. So we literally had the last pizza ever in that restaurant.

So straight away the atmosphere was strange. Instead of customers we felt like we were friends who had somehow been roped into helping someone move. In part because they were so friendly. Carlo (the chef) and Sandra (his girlfriend) chatted away to us like we were old mates. We ordered a quattro with cacciatore sausage, sun dried tomatoes, mushroom, and artichoke, and bought a bottle of Pizzini Sangiovese, which was a steal at $20 (which is very likely cheaper than retail).

That was the other thing… everything was for sale… and cheap. The chairs, the tables, the book case, the olive oil, the wine, all of it. Carlo’s Dad was chatting to Sharon about how we was a bit sad the restaurant was closing… “but ahh these Japanesey” he said… “they makea good offer”. He was pottering around the store, packing things into boxes, at one point showing me into the store room to ask me if i’d like to buy any of the white wine or champagne in there.

So our pizza came, in amongst chatting, and we wandered around the shop picking things up, asking prices of this and that, drinking amazingly good and extremely cheap wine, and basically acting like we weren’t customers who had just walked off the street.

So in the end, we ended up getting the pizza, a salad, the wine, some extra virgin olive oil, some chilli infused olive oil, some truffle extract flavoured oil, and another 3 bottles of excellent wine (including a Montepulciano d’Abrusso). It was like a closing down sale meets restaurant in a Red Dot “everything must go!” extravaganza.

As for the food, it was nice. The pizza was tasty, the garden salad was as tasty as a garden salad can be, and the wine was phenominal. It’s only a shame that the first time we managed to get to the place, it just happened to be the very night it was closing down for good.

Still, I gave Carlo my email and said to be sure to let me know if he starts another restaurant up in the future, because if they can make people feel so welcome when they are in the middle of closing for good, then I would love to see them at the height of service. That kind of genuine friendly attitude and love of food is something that you just can’t buy, and you can’t fake, so hopefully Perth hasn’t seen the last of these guys yet.

Il Pasto *was* located at:
401 Oxford St,
Mount Hawthorn

Spiced Duck with Cauliflower Puree

Spiced Duck with Cauliflower Puree and Kipfler Potatoes

Every now and then I get a fancy idea in my head, and for whatever reason I decide to run with it. Last Friday night was just such an occasion.

I had previously purchased a whole duck from the butcher, and had been waiting and thinking about what I was going to do with it, when I finally gave up and decided to make it up as I went along. I had invited friends over with the promise of duck for dinner, and now I had to pony up the goods (note to self… never promise anyone anything).

So after a quick search of the internet on how to debone a chicken (or duck, or other object with bones and meat shaped like a chicken or duck), I put my trusty Wusthof to work and portioned the duck off into it’s various bits and pieces. Seperated legs and thighs, wings, and breasts into sections, and collected all the bones togther in a slightly macabre little pile.

Still having no idea what I was going to make, I decided that I wasn’t going to waste the duck bones, so into the pan they went, with a little olive oil to help them brown, once done, into a pot of water with a carrot, onion, leek, fennel, and mushrooms to turn into duck stock. Having then discovered that we did in fact have a whole bag of dried Shitake mushrooms, another idea came to mind. Whatever I was going to make would be dressed with a shitake mushroom and red wine jus.

Now at the same time as the stock was boiling away, I had another idea. Having been titillated by Jules use of duck fat to roast Jerusalem artichokes, I figured I’d get down with the duck fat action myself. So I harvested as much of the precious goop as I could from the skin and bits of duck I had seperated, it was all thrown into a pot over a low heat to render down into delicious fatty ducky goodness.

Ok, so now I knew I was cooking duck… making shitake mushroom sauce, and cooking something in duck fat. Next… check fridge for other vegetables and it uncovered a cauliflower. Now there was no way I was going to serve steamed cauliflower, and so the next logical step was cauliflower puree. Into a pot it went along with a little leek and some milk to gently poach until it was nice and soft. At which point I seasoned it well and threw it all in the blender.

Now it was all turning into a meal. I had cauliflower puree, I had duck, I had sauce… Next choice, something to sit under the duck. A quick check of the pantry uncovered just what I wanted, my much loved Kipfler potatoes. Perfect for sauteeing. I did cheat a little and par boiled them in salted water to start with, just to make life easier… and when they were a little soft, into a hot pan with the duck fat to sautee away until nice and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Now to the duck. Inspiration still wasn’t striking me and so I went back to basics. A spice rub containing fennel seeds, coriander seeds, black pepper, salt, and cloves… I would have used star anise as well, but I’d run out. I had four portions to cook, the individual breasts (with skin on) and the maryland pieces (drumsticks with thighs attached). A smothering in olive oil and then into the pan they went, breasts skin side down. Once they were cooking away, I put a good sized knob of butter into the pan and basted the pieces in butter and the juices a little, giving each piece a poke every now and then to see how done it was.

Duck is quite a dark meat, something that turns some people off when they compare it to chicken. It has a much richer and meatier flavour however, and hence if you’re cooking a breast fillet you should try and get it a nice medium so it doesn’t dry out and go rubbery.

Once the duck was just cooked but still lovely and moist, I took it out of the pan and left it to rest, while making the sauce. Basically a red wine jus using pinot noir to deglaze and the duck stock I’d made earlier. Adding in a couple of handfuls of shitake mushrooms that had been soaking in warm water. Some cornflour to thicken slightly, and a knob of butter to finish.

Spiced Duck with Cauliflower Puree and Kipfler Potatoes

So now I was basically done. I poured the cauliflower puree onto each place, stacked a little mound of the sauteed potatoes in the middle, sliced the duck into relatively uniform sized pieces and layered them on top, and casually (read: sloppily) drizzled the mushroom jus over the top.

Served with a side of garlic infused steamed beans and bok choy.

Our guests were kind enough to bring along a tasty bottle of Shiraz Cabernet that went just nicely with the richness of the duck and the earthy shitake mushrooms.

Not bad for a “throw it all together at the last minute” recipe… Not bad at all.

Cafe Banca

I make perhaps the worst restaurant reviewer in history. That is unless anyone wants to read a bunch of reviews about which restaurants are the best places to go to on a complete whim shortly before they close and still hope to get a decent meal.

It was a Thursday night, we’d been out shopping, leaving it too late as we always do, by the time the shopping was done (read: I got hungry and cranky), it was around 9pm. Now to most of you reading this post from the Eastern States or overseas, this might not be such a problem. If you’re in Perth however, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that the situation was dire. On a Thursday night, at 9pm, you’ve got a slim chance of finding anywhere to eat that isn’t a) Closed b) About to close c) McDonalds, or d) Primarily inhabited by drug addicts.

So it was a lovely surprise when we wandered into Cafe Banca at 9:15pm, and (after a quick consultation with the kitchen) were given a seat. Noted, we did have to order within 5 minutes, and asked to only order certain things because most of the stuff had been put away already… but we were so overjoyed at getting to eat at all it didn’t seem to matter.

Cafe Banca is a well appointed restaurant on Wanneroo Rd in Tuart Hill. It could be my local if I was one of those people who have locals, but I’m not, so it isn’t. It’s almost a little too funky for the spot that it’s in, which has lead me to question just how well they do there, but from the looks on the faces of the diners that were there (not being the kind of people who leave it too late to go out for dinner) it’s doing just fine.

We were initially seated next to the kitchen, but then moved to a comfy booth in the middle of the restaurant, one of the few booths i’ve been in that are actually comfortable and practical (I’m a big booth fan, but not when it means you’re sliding off the seat and have trouble reaching the plate because you’re slouched backwards in a highly trendy but utterly impractical way).

So, not wanting to overstep the mark of the already lovely service and hospitality we were shown, I promptly ordered the black and white prawn linguini, and Sharon picked the lamb shanks with mash potato, which I immediately wished I had ordered for myself. We also decided on a bottle of cheap wine to wash it all down, $15 for a bottle of Murphy’s Lore Shiraz Cabernet, crazy cheap, and a nice quaffing wine.

The meals arrived fast… a little too fast, but not surprisingly fast, if that makes any sense. By the time we got in and had ordered, the rest of the people in the place were ordering coffees or finishing off what was left in their glasses of wine before slinking back off into the night to their beds (like all good Perthites should). So there was nary an order coming into the kitchen except ours.

My meal was great, prawns were tasty and fresh, and the linguini had a chilli through it that gave it a nice kick. Sharon’s lamb shanks were so tender they fell of the bones before she could get to it herself (which I’m hoping was because they’d been slow cooked all day up until that point). The wine flowed freely and went down easily, to the point where we suitably rosey by the end.

At the end the owner was there to ask our how the meal was and generally made us feel like he was really happy we had decided to stop by, which was great. So you never know, it may just end up becoming my local after all.

Cafe Banca
75 Wanneroo Road, Tuart Hill
Phone: 9344 7007


Vanilla Bean Pancakes

Pancake stack glory

There are few quintessentially drool inspiring scenes to rival the humble pancake stack. Topped with cream, honey/mapel syrup flowing down the sides like a slow moving volcano of sweetness. It is the kind of breakfast (or dessert) that makes you feel glad you put in the effort to cook it, rather than lying in bed those few extra hours, waiting for the throbbing headache of the night before to subside.

My earliest memories of pancakes (or to be specific pikelets) was Mum cooking up big batches of them on a Saturday morning, using the top of our Kent wood fire back in NZ. It would get so hot that you could literally cook on top of it, so on would go a pan and batch after batch of pikelets would be poured, flipped, and devoured just as fast as Mum could make them.

So these pancakes follow in my great tradition of never eating a proper breakfast except for the weekend. There really just isn’t enough time or patience on my part during the working week to be able to give the meal the love and attention it so richly deserves.

The recipe is a little tarted up from Mum’s original, but stays true enough to the simple home cooking philosophy.

  • 300g plain flour
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 cup fine sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 vanilla bean (I used 1 tsp of vanilla bean extract)

How I made them
Couldn’t be too much simpler really. Basically sift the dry ingredients together and mix well, then add the wet stuff. The eggs add the nice golden colour, and the vanilla bean extract adds a lovely mottled effect in the batter from the little seeds. Stir it all around and get rid of any lumps until you get a nice smooth creamy consistency.

Let the batter sit for a little while so the baking powder can do it’s magic, and then start to pour the batter into a hot buttered pan. The trick to getting nice round shapes is to always pour into the centre point of the pancake, and let the batter settle itself in the pan.

Then away you go… Watch the batter for signs of bubbles starting to appear, and you’ll know when they’re ready to flip. I highly recommend using a good flat spatula and a nonstick pan to save yourself some hassle. Once your pan is hot, it will take literally seconds for the pancakes to start bubbling… most taking a maximum of a minute or so to be completely cooked.

This is why they call them hotcakesI got a bit excited with the honey

The most important thing about pancakes as far as I’m concerned, is eating them while they’re hot.
If you have to wait to get them onto a plate, then be sure and lather generously with maple/golden syrup/honey, fresh berries, cream, ice cream… anything you can think of really…personally straight out of the pan and into the mouth is ideal, do what I do and take a mouthful of cream and honey beforehand so you’re not wasting valuable seconds while transferring them from spoon to mouth :) (Nb: this is not encouraged behaviour for polite social gatherings).