Banana Bread For Housemates

One of the other reasons I haven’t been blogging lately, apart from work as elucidated in my Blog Amnesty post, is the fact that I also recently moved house. After all the requisite box-shifting, followed by questions of “where should I put this?” and “oh god why the hell did I bring this with me?”, I was finally ready to give my new kitchen a proper work out with some baked treats.

I first road-tested my new oven with these triple-choc brownies from Where’s the Beef (which were great, I followed the recipe to the letter – apart from changing the name, as they really are filled with ALL THE KINDS OF CHOCOLATE – and they turned out like little squares of pure chocolate indulgence). Once I ascertained that, yes, it was a halfway decent baking oven, I couldn’t wait to find a reason to start playing around with some more sweet treat baking.

My next chance came quite quickly with a bunch of black bananas coming into my possession via work (no one eats the bananas out of our weekly fruit box delivery, it transpires). With the threat that they would end up in the bin unless someone wanted them to make banana bread with them, I rescued them with the thought that “Yes, yes I CAN make banana bread!”

I started by using a basic banana bread recipe, chanced upon through a quick Google, as a base. Yet both myself and my resourceful co-cook and housemate Emma were quick to notice that the original had no spice, which JUST ISN’T DONE. We added in generous helpings of cinnamon and nutmeg, scaled down to a teapoon each in the ingredients list below, but honestly I am all for spice, don’t measure that shit, just throw it around until your tastebuds explode with happiness.

Ingredients

  • 5 ripe bananas (the more black and squishy the better! You could use less if you don’t have 5, maybe take it down as far as 3, but really you want to have a lot of nice fat seams of banana.)
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 175C. Grease up a loaf tin with the melted butter. I honestly didn’t take note of the measurements of the pan we used. I’m sure you can all peer into your cupboards and find something that looks at though banana bread could emerge from it, I have faith in you.

2. Mash up the bananas with a fork in a big mixing bowl. Leave it a bit chunky so there’s more chance of having those nice banana seams we’ve been talking about.

3. Add in the sugar, egg and vanilla and mix well with a wooden spoon. Then sprinkle over the bicarb, nutmeg, cinnamon and the pinch of salt and mix again.

4. Add the flour in last (no need to sift), and, you guessed it, mix.

5. Pour mixture into your prepared pan. Pop in the oven and bake for 45 mins-1 hour. Keep an eye on it, if it looks like the top might over-brown, take it out of the oven, cover the top with foil and pop it back in. Do a skewer test and once it comes out clean without any batter sticking to it it’s ready to come out.

6. Let it cool for about 5 minutes before turning out onto a cake rack. Now, you COULD wait for it to completely cool before tucking in, but that would be, to my mind, THE WORST THING YOU COULD DO, as piping hot banana bread slathered in butter or your spread of choice is one of life’s great experiences.

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This was honestly one of the best banana breads I’ve ever had, so you better believe that it is going to be a staple of my new kitchen. It’s also the perfect thing to cook with housemates, or to use as an incentive to try and make them believe that they have indeed made the right choice in living with you, even if you do spend a lot of time in your pyjamas watching Top Gear.

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Dainty Sichuan

Finally, a much longed for experience has been crossed off my foodie wish-list: I have finally sampled the vegetarian fish-flavoured eggplant at Dainty Sichuan! Indeed, it was my first visit to Dainty Sichuan entirely.

Jen and I were so keen to get stuck into some eggplant action that we actually showed up to their Toorak Road location before it had even officially opened for the day. Oops! Never mind, five or so minutes of loitering on their doorstep later, we were let in and sat ourselves down as the first customers of the day.

The decor at Dainty is a little rough around the edges, and the tinny orchestral arrangements of 60s pop tunes being piped through leaves a bit to be desired. I’d heard plenty of stories about the waitstaff being brusque, but ours were perfectly fine, if impersonal.

To the food! To start with we had garlic cucumber – sticks of cold cucumber graced with a very simple, slightly warm, minced garlic sauce. This is the sort of dish that I could happily gobble away at every day, the cool crispness of the cucumber contrasting beautifully with the fresh, comforting garlic sauce. This involves A LOT of garlic though, so not a dish to order if you’re on a saucy date, as you will be living in Stinktown afterwards.

Next was the mushroom threads served with a dome of white rice. This was a reasonably plain dish (I assume it’s more often ordered as a leavener against some of the more chilli-drenched dishes) but I’m such a happy mushroom fan that I was quite contented with it. If you like the sound of lightly stir-fried mushroom lengths with a light soy sauce that you can moosh around with rice, this for you.

We had to wait a bit for the fabled eggplant to reach the table (we’d nearly finished our first pot of chrysanthemum tea!). The eggplant is cut into wedges, basted in sweet, chilli-ish sauce, and fried. Fresh out of the fryer, the eggplant is molten, soft and delicious – although I’m still not sure what it is exactly that makes it “fish-flavoured”. It does seem to be the type of dish you should order and eat first, though – having already filled ourselves with cucumber and mushrooms, we were already struggling a little, and once the eggplant starts to cool the wedges start getting soggy and stick to each other. The flavour build up also gets very sweet after a few pieces, there not being as much chilli heat involved as you might expect to balance out the sweet. From reading other blog posts about the dish, it seems as if it’s best enjoyed shared among a big group, so you can devour a few pieces each when it’s still nice and hot and at optimum tastiness. Shared between two (who are already a bit stuffed) it does tend to outstay its welcome.

My first Dainty experience wasn’t awe-inspiring, but nor was it a disappointment. I’d really like to go back and explore the menu a bit further; I had my eye on a black fungus and chilli dish, and in general I’d like to find out whether there are more vegetarian dishes that employ scads of chilli so I can have more of a fiery flavour experience. There’s also their new outpost in Box Hill that is devoted to hotpot that has definitely made me keen for more Sichuan food times. It may not quite meet the hype, but Dainty Sichuan definitely deserves it’s well-known place on Melbourne’s culinary map.

Dainty Sichuan

176 Toorak Road, South Yarra

Ph: 9078 1686

Blog Amnesty: The Beaufort, Baby, and ShanDong MaMa

As you may have noticed, posts have been thin on the ground here at Ballroom Blintz lately, as my life has been comprehensively taken over by my day job (speaking of my day job, EVERYONE COME SEE ALL THE FILMS AT MIFF!). Despairing slightly at my backlog of posts, I decided to take a leaf out of Claire from Melbourne Gastronome’s book and declare blog amnesty and do a few quick round ups of places I’ve recently visited before they completely slip out of my mind.

THE BEAUFORT

I’ve been wanting to visit The Beaufort for basically forever since hearing about it’s American-inspired pub food and the high level of friendly service from it’s staff. I popped along with a large group of friends (we were able to book a table, which is always nice these days), and we were all pretty impressed with the nautical fit out, and the fact that a place that had all the hallmarks of too-cool-for-schoolness was actually enormously welcoming.

Drinks-wise, there’s a lot of cocktails and mixes that are a bit of fun and won’t burn holes through your pockets in terms of price. I enjoyed both my Jerry ‘n’ cherry – Sailor Jerry with cherry coke and a slice of lime – and my Perfect Storm – Sailor Jerry with ginger beer and lime (honestly, name a drink after a film and I will order it every time no matter what’s in it).

For savoury I had the portobello mushroom burger, which I remember as being slightly a bit too sloppy for my liking due to the chefs going to town on the sauces, but otherwise it was enormously tasty, very American diner reminiscent. It’s also worth noting that The Beaufort do a lot of vegie and vegan dishes, so no one has to miss out on deep-fried treats.

Now here’s the really impressive part of the evening – the service. I am always interested to see what a venue’s staff do when things go wrong; I always figure it’s the best indication of a place’s real worth. So when we all initially ordered our dinners everything came out very promptly, except Schaefer’s meal (who incidentally spent the whole evening saying increasingly outrageous things in the hopes of getting quoted on this here blog. I AM NOT REPEATING ANY OF THE TERRIBLE THINGS YOU SAID, YOUNG MAN, I CARE TOO MUCH ABOUT YOUR FUTURE EMPLOYABILITY VIA GOOGLE SEARCHES!). Once staff were made aware that a meal was missing, the dish swiftly made it to the table, no dramas. Then we ordered dessert. I initially went with the ice cream sandwich. Soon enough, the same staff member who’d helped us retrieve Schaefer’s meal approached me wearing a facial expression that, as a table of seasoned hospitality workers, we all knew too well: “ohh shit something’s already gone wrong with this table and I don’t want to have to tell them something else is wrong!” They had unfortunately run out of ice cream sandwiches. I wasn’t unduly fussed, and asked if I could have the rhubarb and apple crumble instead. The enormously apologetic staff member wouldn’t even take the extra few dollars difference in price from me, and the crumble was such a deliciously comforting expanse of spicy stewed fruit and oaty topping that I was well pleased.

And then the staff brought us all a round of free tequila shots.

Yep, we’ll all be back.

The Beaufort

421 Rathdowne Street, Carlton

Ph: 9347 8171

thebeaufort.com.au

BABY

For some reason I was unduly prejudiced against Baby since it launched. Not even the connection with my beloved Chin Chin could shake from me the impression that it all sounded a bit wanky – it probably had to do with hearing about the genitalia-shaped neon signs decorating the restaurant (SERIOUSLY JUST DEAR GOD WHY).

While I still stand by the opinion that wang lights are wanky as all get out, luckily the food was amazing enough to turn my doubting Thomas frown upside down. This had a lot of to with the fact that they have a PAN-FRIED PIZZA!

Seriously, don’t even bother looking any further past the buttata pan-fried with fiore di latte and cherry tomato quarters, this needs to be the very first thing you order. As it is pan-fried the dough ends up having this smoky, charred tang to it that ticked all my tastebud fancies. Throw in tons of oozing fiore di latte and this results in a happily moaning Hayley passed out under the table with a food coma.

In non-fried goodness, I also sampled the funghi pizza, which could have used a little more funghi to be honest, it was a bit sparse for my mushroom-loving liking, but otherwise thin, crispy and cheesy. I also insisted on a side of the green beans with tomato sauce as a vegetable-leavener, and ended up reveling in the fact that they were basically delicious tomato crack. Seriously, if you can even look past pizza when you go here, order the beans. Sweet, tomato-laden goodness.

Baby

631-633 Church Street, Richmond

Ph: 9421 4599

www.babypizza.com.au

SHANDONG MAMA

If you are expecting a dumplings gush-fest right now, well, that’s sort of what you’re going to get. As while I really like the vegan dumplings on offer here, it’s a very different dish that has actually stolen my heart.

Everyone across town seems to adore ShangDong MaMa, and after a couple of visits now I’m certainly in the camp of having quite a bit of affection for this wee, unpretentious dumpling house hidden away down a Chinatown arcade. The vegan zucchini steamed dumplings are the only vegie dumplings on offer, but they are definitely well worth sampling, filled to bursting with shreds of zucchini and herbs. Mix your own dipping sauce from the pots of soy, vinegar and chilli on the tables and get dumpling dunking.

I’ve had a couple of other vegetarian dishes, too, with varying levels of success. The garlic broccoli, as I was warned by a waiter, does indeed come out “European style”, with little boiled florets covered in minced garlic. Nice if you like your greens with garlic (which I do), but very basic. The sesame noodles were similarly quite rustic, with soft, handmade noodles served with shredded zucchini and carrot, and topped with a sesame paste that you mix through to coat the noodles and vegetables. Quite tasty and nicely unusual, but definitely the sort of thing that is best to share, as it gets a bit samey when tackled by yourself.

But the dish that now haunts my dreams is the scallion pancake. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as it is less a pancake than two bulky pyramids of potato strands twisted together with splashes of spring onion rounds dotted through it. The strands are crisp on the outside, and as you pull at them (this is very much a fingers dish, good table manners be damned), you uncover the soft centre where the hot potato literally melts in your mouth. It’s a textural wonderland, and deceptively flavour-packed, and if it was a person I would marry it and be contently entranced with its simple, home-crafted charms.

ShanDong MaMa

Midcity Arcade, Shop 7, 200 Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD

Ph: 9650 3818

www.facebook.com/shandongmama