stir it up

We are on our last jar of jerk seasoning, and I’ve promised a friend a taste of the Caribbean. It has to be home made.

It’s handy when you’ve posted the recipe yourself! I check my blog in the greengrocer’s for the recipe, and pick up a batch of habañero and cassette chillis, just to mix things up.

Lemon thyme is on sale so I choose that over regular thyme.

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I’m not cooking with onion much these days so I pick up a bunch of Chinese leek flowers and some celery instead of the usual spring onions or scallions as we call them in Ireland.

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This is going to be the quickest batch ever, I tell myself. At home, I pull out the Allspice and nutmeg from the back of the cupboard and pulverise the little black peppers in my pestle and mortar.

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I get to chopping and soon I have the blender on the go.

I find some sage in the freezer and throw that in as well. Lemon thyme? Why not. We’re in Australia.

As usual, I use a mix of white vinegar and water to loosen things up when the blender struggles. I poke around with a chopstick in between times, and throw in a few spoonfuls of salt and brown sugar.

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The result is pretty pungent stuff, but even now I can smell the aromas mixing. It’s going to be a good batch, I hope.

Lastly, I squeeze a fresh lime into the mixture and stir it in. I like to leave the lime till last, as I find the blender changes the flavour.

That’ll sit in the fridge now for a day or so to settle, then I will pour into sterilised glass jars to keep for longer.

We’re in business!

 

 

 

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nuevo latino los rodriguez

553 Barkly St
Footscray, Victoria, Australia
03 9995 1198
This place used to be a video store. Nestled between Indian eateries and grocery stores, brothers Sal and Juan Rodriguez dared to buck the WeFo trend and open a Latin American restaurant in this drab-looking premises. And what a treat we’ve been given.
Our first visit was on a steaming hot Sunday afternoon in late November, when the restaurant was not long open. The decor was a little haphazard but homely enough. Electric fans tried in vain to help with air circulation. We were virtually the only people in the place. Sal came and welcomed us, bringing sangria and fruit punch to cool us down, with a sampler size of “Latin pho” as he called it: a casserole of vegetables and offal which tasted far better than it looked.
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The stereo was pumping out some good salsa music, so after ordering we got up to practise our newly-learned salsa moves. Sal immediately turned up the music, announcing that they were “chefs by day and salseros by night”. He and brother Juan, the chef, run this place – although their mum was also on the premises and looked pretty much in charge to me.
I got the sense that I was going to like this place, despite its basic look.
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We focused on meat. The twice cooked pork belly came on a bed of fresh salad and a generous dollop of guacamole. The secret, we are told, is that they marinate the meat for at least twenty-four hours in rum. Right. All I know is that it was some of the best pork belly I’ve eaten, and a huge portion too.
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The carne asada was served with a flourish on a steel skewer. Lighted cured in brine, it was delicious, although I would have liked it to be a little more “asada”. The salad was beautifully fresh.
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Sal came and chatted to us, giving us salsa tips alongside the history of the family. Originally from El Salvador, the Rodriguez family migrated to Australia in the eighties and have always lived in the western suburbs. They wanted to bring to West Footscray a taste of home, some real Latin American cooking, live music and a sense of community.
Three months later we finally make it back to Nuevo Latino. It’s another steamy Sunday but we get down there just as the kitchen in closing and the band is packing up. The place is pretty busy this time and the decor has changed, with whitewashed walls, Latin American flags and the leftover balloons and flowers from yesterday’s Valentine’s banquet giving the place a festive feel. There’s nothing for it but to order a margarita.
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We are greeted like old friends, Juan waving madly from the kitchen. Are they mixing us up with somebody else, I wonder? Nope. Sal calls to the DJ to change the music to something more danceable, and calls to us to move the furniture if there isn’t enough room for us to salsa.
I couldn’t help but order the pork belly again. It was too delicious last time. Orlando went with a steak special. This time the meat was beautifully cooked, seared on the outside and perfectly pink on the inside.
We watched the waiter bust a few serious salsa moves with a friend and decided there was no way we’d be dancing this time.
Later Sal came and chatted, telling us all the news. They’d been a late invitee to that weekend’s Footscray Latin Dance festival, but they have been doing their own thing every weekend anyway, showcasing the cruising of different countries with guest chefs, and live music every Sunday. This weekend it was Colombian. Orlando chatted to the guest chef whilst Juan emerged from the kitchen to dance with me.
How can you not love a place like this?
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bax food co.

Bax Food Co.
83 Gamon Street, Yarraville
0402 751 108
https://www.facebook.com/baxfoodco
http://bossmanfood.com.au

It was opening night at Bax Food Co., the newest venture from Bossman Foods. Roderick is pretty well known by the small West Indian community in Melbourne for his Caribbean food wholesale business and his event catering, so a new Caribbean restaurant with his name behind it is of great interest.

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the alderman

134 Lygon St, Brunswick East
+61 3 9380 9003

If you ever wondered what the touristy end of Lygon Street used to be before it got all honky-tonk, wander north past Brunswick Road to Lygon Street in East Brunswick. There, custom furniture shops sit alongside funky hairdressers and neighbourhood bars flourish next door to old school social clubs.

Just north of the vibrant Brunswick Road – Edward Street precinct sits The Alderman, a quiet, unassuming place with a handful of tables and bar stools in the front bar and a scattering of seats through the back rooms. The dark wood panelling and simple bar area are inviting on a chilly late summer’s evening, when a deep purple shiraz seems more the order of the day than a cool gin and tonic.

I sit at a barstool by the window and watch the hipsters stroll by and roll by. I’ve just come from work and I feel deeply out of place in my corporate wear. Perhaps it’s not too late to pop next door to Rhubarb and get an interesting asymmetric bob or something?

The Alderman is mostly a modest drinking hole, but they serve a small list of snack-sized plates from the Sicilian place next door. A plate of salami sprinkled with EVOO looks tame enough, but there is a bite to the sausage that goes very well with my shiraz. The chickpea chips sound interesting, and out they come in an old-fashioned wooden bowl, perfect right-angled triangles of deep-fried loveliness drizzled with a tangy lemon mayonnaise.  We order seconds. I am not a huge lover of arancini: I think it’s because they are reminiscent of a Scotch egg and no amount of perfectly sculpted rice will ever trump a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage meat and deep-fried. However this one is the nicest I’ve had in a while, and big enough for two to share.

There is a decent list of wines by the glass and the beer list is, I am told, a good one.  A pretty good place for a quiet drink alone, a catch-up with friends or a rainy afternoon with a mulled wine and a good book.

 

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sahara

Level 1, 301 Swanston Street, Melbourne

03 9663 8477

www.saharamelbourne.com.au

My former work colleagues invited me to dinner the other night. I was so excited I turned up half an hour early.

Sahara is up a creaky flight of stairs off Swanston Street, a bejeweled, dark wood oasis with a rooftop bar to top it off. Inexplicably, on a cold August night, the over-sized restaurant door was propped open and no radiant heater could counter the cold current of air permeating the space. The server told me that they intended to leave the door open all evening, and they did. It beggars belief that so many Melbourne eateries defiantly ignore the winter months, leaving so many of their diners eating indoors in their overcoats.

Sahara’s rich Moroccan ambience turned out to be a good indicator of the richness of the food, but it ocurred to me that the seating was not designed to encourage a relaxed dining pace: most of the seats were either high bar stools or hard wooden benches with no backs and cushions that slid away from you. Between that and the Arctic breeze blowing through the room, I was often more aware of my physical discomfort than the quality or otherwise of the food.

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Despite the chill in the air, the food was enjoyable: bread, dips and bruschetta to start, with most people choosing a tagine of sorts for main course. The chicken salad sounded like a tame choice by one of my fellow diners, but the dish was plentiful, delicious and full of flavour. The lamb and beef tagines were rich in colour and aroma. My Moroccan fish masala tagine was reminiscent of a good fish korma, all creaminess and almonds. Just divine.

Sahara are happy to cater for gluten-free types, and the servers are by and large a friendly bunch – up to a point. At just past 9pm on a Wednesday we were the last people in the place, and (perhaps  because our BYO wine was not making any money for them) we were given ten minutes to finish and go.

I wouldn’t mind heading back to Sahara another time, but it wouldn’t my first choice. The food is decent but the physical environment just takes the edge off it for me. Maybe I’m just getting old.

 

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