Yes Sir! Three Bags Full (Of Breakfast)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sometimes, the prospect of a holiday can be a more powerful motivation than the holiday itself. It's all about anticipation (which might be a point that's reinforced by my family's tendency to open their Christmas presents in, at best, late afternoon - and not just because we're too busy grazing). One of my favourite things to look forward to about a holiday is the very important matter of where to eat. It's where my holiday planning efforts begin and (perhaps to the occasional frustration of the Other Penguin) often where they end, too.

Sticky gingerbread for breakfast at Three Bags Full
Sticky gingerbread with mascarpone, cumquats and pistachios

Time Out's list of the best breakfasts in Melbourne was one of my starting points on the trail for promising restaurants and cafes before a recent long weekend visit. The combination of tea cup light shades and "grungy warehouse chic" at Three Bags Full sounded intriguing, so I popped over to its website. And it had me at Sticky Black Gingerbread. Hook, line and sinker.

The menu at Three Bags Full
The menu at Three Bags Full

It was a good thing I was committed and, perhaps, an even better thing that there aren't too many other brekky options in the vicinity of Three Bags Full on a wide but surprisingly peaceful road in Abbotsford. Because the rest of Melbourne's discovered it too. And when we got there, at a pleasantly civilised hour of mid-morning, they all seemed to be ahead of us in the queue. We fidgeted and chatted, eyeing the rather hardy souls game to sit in the still-rather-nippy fresh air at outside table under the hungry gaze of the waiting hordes, and held out for a table indoors.

The cafe felt comfortably modern and quirky, and rather reminded me of the artfully curated style at Anthropologie. The tea cup lights above the counter added a spark of whimsical colour, while road signs turned into stools and vintage finds brought an industrial edge and hinted at the building's past. I had plenty of time to take it all in as, being so busy, service was a little stretched (but also friendly).

Inside at Three Bags Full in Melbourne
The cosy interior - love the teacup lights

Looking at the menu was a bit of a cursory effort for me - I already knew exactly what I was going to order. Although twice-baked French toast sounded pretty appealing, too. And so did the braised leek and potato omelette with gruyere.

The Other Penguin opted for the big breakfast, which was very true to its name - even after the appetite-whetting queue, it was a bit too big to finish. It included eggs, bacon, tomato, spinach, mushrooms, a rich and slightly obscene looking cheese kransky, relish and toast.

Big breakfast at Three Bags Full

Cheese kransky - part of the big breakfast at Three Bags Full
The (very) big brekky at Three Bags Full

The keenly-anticipated gingerbread initially concerned me with its crunchy-edged appearance. Where was the stickiness I was hoping for? As it turned out, though, toasting the gingerbread was a great move - it gave it a textural contrast to the rich smoothness of the vanilla bean mascarpone and the syrupy tang of the candied cumquats that accompanied it. And the sprinkle of pistachios brought it together. The menu grouped it into the 'Sweet Tooth' section, and it was definitely indulgent - but not tooth-achingly so. Looking forward to a particular dish for a fortnight could have created an almost-insurmountable expectation, but this was the perfect beginning to set up a hungry penguin for a day of pootling across town.

Sticky gingerbread with vanilla mascarpone, candied cumquats and pistachios at Three Bags Full

The menu of reliable favourites plus some more unusual options and the friendly laid-back atmosphere make Three Bags Full worth the wait. Which is lucky, because it could be quite a while before I make it back to Melbourne to have more gingerbread for breakfast... but it all just adds to the anticipation.

Three Bags Full on Urbanspoon


Take An Umbrella In Case There Are Cupcakes

Sunday, November 20, 2011

When it's raining and sunny at the same time, there are rainbows. But if it's raining while you eat a cupcake... does that mean you end up with sprinkles?

Or do you just end up with soggy icing, feeling like you've ended up in MacArthur Park?

With cupcakes like these, you might not even notice it was raining...

Cupcakes with cupcakes on top - eep! These ones are from Baked Perfection

I love this colour combination, too (they're actually truffles, but they're so pretty I'll let them off)...

Cupcake truffles from The Family Kitchen

Or, for something (slightly) more understated, there are these sandwich cookies...

Banilla sandwich cookies by Bakers Royale

If I was going to eat cupcakes in the rain, this might be the perfect skirt to wear while I'm out there...

Twinkle Lights pencil skirt from Anthropologie

I think I'd wear it with a simple black top and black patent wellies. It's important to look glamorous when you're out in the rain eating a cupcake, after all.

It's hard not to feel cheerful surrounded by sprinkles (or sparkles). You might even feel like dancing...

Photo by diastema via weheartit

Dancing in the rain with a cupcake? Just perfect...


Sweet Dreams

Friday, November 18, 2011

In the list of trade-offs to try and do seven impossible things before breakfast, sleep is almost always the first thing to go (and that's before reconciling myself to the notion that sometimes, doing two and a bit things by afternoon tea is as good as it's going to get). Sticky Penguin, brought to you by an Awful Lot Of Caffeine - so much that it requires capital letters to convey just how much.

But, even after going to bed, sleep can be elusive. There are things to think about, to worry about, to plan. Terribly pressing matters of global significance, like what sort of filling should go in the next batch of brownies, when on earth I'll get my Daring Bakers done, and whether wearing black to work three days out of five is unimaginative. And the dreams that follow can sometimes be much the same...

Would those dreams be that much sweeter if you went to sleep snuggled in crisp, clean layers of... chocolate?

Chocolate sheets from Bed Toppings 
(not to be confused with bed hopping, which is something else entirely - or so I hear)

The pillows are the same sort of too-cute-for-words as Japanese food erasers (and if you've noticed the new profile picture lately, you might spot a certain weakness there!)...

Chocolate pillow case from Bed Toppings 

Sadly, they're only available for kids - the size of kids that sleep in single beds, that is. Those of us bigger kids who dream of dozing off in more of a family-sized block of chocolate will just have to... keep dreaming.

Bed Toppings was discovered while pottering on - source of all sorts of distractions and covetable (or, in this case, duvetable? Nope, that really doesn't work...), and which hasn't had anything to do with this post - the only sort of sponsoring of penguins happens here.


Not Over The Rainbow Yet

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A sure-fire way to crave a particular food more than ever is when you Just. Can’t. Have. It. Recent hankerings after viennoise au chocolat, crack pie, fondant fancies and (absurdly after all that sugar overload) diet Cherry Coke support this highly scientific allegation based on a gluttonous sample of one.

The difficulty in obtaining some (although by no means all) of the various things to eat that skitter distractedly across the bit of my brain that is permanently devoted to thoughts of food is their belonging to a particular place or a specific point in time. The power of food to transport you somewhere else is simply amazing.

When I came across this photo, it immediately made me think of food...

Rainbow piano photo
Photo via Satellite True

Probably not the reaction you’d expect from a picture like that! But it took me straight back to being a small girl in New Zealand, waiting with my dad for a Friday-night order of fish and chips to be ready. The takeaway shop had walls panelled with wood-printed laminate, and a tank of tropical fish that I never thought to connect with the coming meal. The fish – often shark – was thickly coated with batter that never seemed soggy in the middle and was extra-specially crunchy towards the head and the tail. And the chips were crispy and golden with fluffy middles and a generous sprinkling of salt, in the days before people worried about high blood pressure.

Sometimes, after the fish and chips, there might be the promise of a rainbow bar. Like a bigger, better version of a licorice allsort, rainbow bars were long and thin and came in packs of six, each a different colour. I was convinced the candy exteriors had distinguishable flavours, and whether they really did was maybe less important than your imagining it was true. I almost wonder whether I imagined the rainbow bars themselves, because when I went in search of them, they were nowhere to be found...

That’s a lot of memories to come from a brightly coloured piano. What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve come across that’s made you think of a particular food? I’d love to hear about it...


Comfort Food From Outside The Comfort Zone - South East Asian Food

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What does 1970s food make you think of? Retro dinner party classics like prawn cocktail and beef wellington, perhaps. The sweet nostalgia of blancmange, peach melba, knickerbocker glory and trifle (always trifle). Pot luck dinners and so-uncool-it-never-goes-out-of-style fondue. Leaving for work or school only after a Proper Cooked Breakfast. More pre-packaging – TV dinners and fish fingers anybody? (didn’t think so...).

Lots of those things have a rather stodgy waft of comfortable familiarity. Some are rib-sticking and hearty and even dishes that once seemed the height of sophistication (devils on horseback and duck a l’orange?) are something to be tucked into and enjoyed, rather than a delicate morsel artfully arranged on a plate.  They can evoke feelings of childhood and a sense of innocent – even naive? – pleasure in food, even in people who didn’t grow up in the 70s. But not all the recipes from back conjure up images of Kath & Kim crossed with Enid Blyton.

South East Asian Food by Rosemary Brissenden
South East Asian Food by Rosemary Brissenden

The idea of what was exotic was very different to now. Unless they were part of your native culture, things as simple as espresso, pumpernickel, souvlaki and felafel were curiosities that didn’t lurk on every corner (although 20 odd years later, I used to get funny looks eating pate sandwiches for lunch at school…). Chinese food was likely to begin with spring rolls and end with sweet and sour pork. But some people had a broader frame of reference…

Rosemary Brissenden first visited South East Asia in 1957 when she was a student at Melbourne University. South East Asian cuisine was largely unknown beyond those who’d experienced it first-hand and Australian food at that time was yet to stake out its territory as a global pick-n-mix held together with something of its own. Brissenden set to and wrote South East Asian Food, which was first published in 1969 and was the definitive guide to food from that region.

Over forty years later, a substantial new edition of the book has been released. In the cluttered and growing cookbook market full of next big things and toqued experts, South East Asian Food has become an enduring classic while staying relevant and up to date. It can be described as a seminal work without a trace of hyperbole – an assertion supported by Elizabeth David providing a ringing endorsement on the book’s warm chartreuse cover.

A book that every serious cook should possess - Elizabeth David
"A book that every serious cook should possess" - Elizabeth David"

I first approached South East Asian Food with a degree of caution; its initial impression is of a Book That Means Business. Its heft reminded me of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion which, I learned to my surprise, was only published in 1996.

South East Asian Food isn’t like the majority of modern recipe books. It isn’t a glossy coffee table book designed for show (or showing off) as much as for cooking. Nor is it a magazine-style format to flick lazily through on a weekend afternoon before, with a rumbling tummy, pottering into the kitchen to try out whatever caught your eye. It has more in common with a textbook – investing some time reading carefully and planning your approach will reward you by unlocking flavours that – for me, at least – I’d not imagined being able to recreate at home.

Lamb and spinach curry - it tastes more exotic than it sounds
Lamb and spinach curry - its not-so-exotic name belies its depth of flavour

The book’s authoritativeness and detail could make it initially a bit intimidating for readers who are new to recipes from the region, or who favour cookbooks full of glossy pictures showing the finished product. However, Brissenden is a patient teacher. Her style is instructive and no-nonsense, a little like being taught by a slightly stern but very wise and generous aunty. The instructions are direct and clear, and explain why things are done a certain way (satisfying both my curiosity and my ignorance). A touch of lightness is provided by Daniella Germain’s illustrations (now taking centre stage of their own accord in My Abuela’s Table).

Daniella Germain's illustrations in South East Asian Food
Daniella Germain's illustrations in South East Asian Food
A couple of Daniella Germain's illustrations in South East Asian Food

South East Asian Food traverses a culinary journey from Indonesia to Vietnam, passing through Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia along the way. The recipes are arranged by country and then into categories – grills and barbecues, braises, fried dishes, curries of almost every sort and persuasion. Brissenden gives an insight into each country’s culinary history and traditions, important ingredients and how meals are served. This follows a meaty introduction to ingredients and techniques, which instructs on everything from ‘making prawns crunchy’ to the uses of fresh coconut and making your own Javanese soya sauce.

If the 1970s are, at first glance, all about comfort food, South East Asian Food took me far outside of my comfort zone. I can safely confess to being a complete novice in relation to cooking Asian food of any variety and most of my experiments tend firmly towards sweet rather than spicy. The first recipe I tried was a lamb and spinach curry from Malaysia, and involved making my own curry powder. The finished dish had a depth of flavour that grew on the Other Penguin and me with each mouthful. It was quite mild, but had a subtle intensity – the freshly made curry powder made a noticeable and refreshing difference. As it turns out, this recipe was comfort food - just perhaps not the kind I'd first think of...

Lamb and spinach curry
Lamb and spinach curry

Being in such new territory, I tried to minimise my tinkering with the recipe. There were a few items where I used some pre-ground spices because they were what I had to hand, but I was keen to stay true to the instructions to get a good sense of the intended flavours.

The recipe, with my extra notes and comments, is as follows:

Meat Curry Powder
(The quantities below are for a quarter of the recipe shown in the book – the original recipe makes a substantial amount, and I thought it was worth seeing how it tasted before making a giant batch (especially as the Other Penguin has quite a low chilli threshold))

What you need
25 g coriander seeds
8 g cumin seeds (I used ground cumin)
8 g fennel seeds (I used ground fennel seeds)
3 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black peppercorns
9 dried chillies (or more to taste – even twice as many if you like it hot…)

What to do
1.     Roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and turmeric lightly in a dry pan for around a minute and a half.
2.     Remove the spices from the heat and place in a mortar or the bowl of a small food processor (I used the attachment for a stick blender), add the peppercorns and dried chillies and whizz (or grind with a pestle) to a powder. 

Making lamb and spinach curry
Making lamb and spinach curry

Lamb and Spinach Curry

What you need

1 tbsp grapeseed oil (the recipe uses ghee or other vegetable oil)
1 large brown onion, cut in half across and then sliced finely
1 cardamom pod, broken open
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped finely
1 tbsp meat curry powder, from the recipe above
500 g very lean lamb, cut into 2 cm cubes (I used two lamb backstraps, which felt a little extravagant, but gave a tender and juicy result)
2 tomatoes, skinned and chopped or 2 tbsp yogurt (I used half a tin of peeled plum tomatoes, roughly chopped, and opted to not include yogurt)
Salt to taste
1 packet (which is a mysteriously unspecified quantity) of frozen spinach, or 500 g fresh spinach (I used 150 g of fresh baby spinach – a bit more would’ve been good, but my local shop was running out in a big way… terrible excuse, I know!)
A little chopped mint (optional, and I can’t stand it, so I left this out)
Pinch of ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala, or to taste (I also left this out as, having been positive there was some in the cupboard, I discovered I was mistaken – gah!)

What to do
1.     Heat the oil (or ghee) in a pan. Add the onion, cardamom and cinnamon, and fry until the onion is deep golden (and enticing smells have suffused the kitchen).
2.     Mix the garlic and curry powder with a little water (to add enough moisture for it not to burn) and add with the lamb to the pan. Stir well to combine.
3.     Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned all over and the spices smell “cooked and fragrant”. (The scent develops a bit more complexity as this happens).
4.     Add the tomatoes or yogurt and stir well. Check for seasoning, and add salt if needed. Then, add the spinach, a splash of water if the consistency is getting a little dry. Add the mint now, too, if using it.
5.     Simmer until the meat is cooked through and the sauce and flavours are smooth. Add the cumin and garam masala before serving.

Served with jasmine rice, the recipe serves two for dinner, with enough leftovers for two (or one very hungry Other Penguin) for lunch.

Lamb and spinach curry from South East Asian Food

There are lots of other recipes I’m keen to try out in South East Asian Food after such a successful first experience. Some of these are…

- Ayam Semur Jawa (chicken in soya sauce)
- Dadar Jawa (Javanese omelette)
- Abon Daging (tasty meat floss… I’ve seen pork floss rolls in Chinese bakeries and am intrigued by the idea of trying to make meat floss – this one is an Indonesian recipe)
- Hainanese Chicken Rice
- Roti Canai (because I’ve read so much about it on other food blogs!)
- Khao Tom Kai (chicken rice porridge)
- Bubur Ketan Hitam (black rice pudding – because desserts are thin on the ground in this book, so I’d love to try at least one of those that are included)

South East Asian Food - a few desserts
A few more desserts - though I'd love to learn more about making Asian sweet treats

Brissenden explains that desserts “are few because main meals in South East Asia traditionally do not include them. Sweets are usually enjoyed as snacks and between-meal indulgences and warrant a book of their own”. Now there’s something to wish for…


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