Thursday, 1 December 2011

Plenty More Where That Came From

I am not dishonest enough to plagiarise myself, but I am lazy enough to write one post only about a cookbook I love (Plenty by Yottam Ottolenghi).  Since I got to it first on my other blog, I have put the link up HERE

It really is a wonderful cookbook!

Edit: hopefully I have now fixed the link so that it, you know, actually LINKS!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Broad Bean and Fennel: A Love Story

Broad Bean came over to cook and eat with me last night and it was FUN!  I don't usually cook with someone, although I love to cook for people.  It probably ended up being a lot more relaxing because it was a shared effort, rather than a presentation that it going to be marked and measured.

Funnily enough, we used neither Fennel nor Broad Bean as ingredients for our meal (it felt a little too much like cannibalism) but there are so many other vegetables to choose from that we were in no way impaired by this restriction.  In the end, Broad Bean worked on the entrĂ©e and I took care of the main.

Both recipes came from my beloved Moro East cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark.  We started with fried spiced cauliflower served with a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice and ate it from a shared plate in the kitchen, with me jumping up now and again to stir….

… the “Courgettes and Almonds” which also contains yellow squash, tomatoes, garlic and shitloads of fresh basil (unlike the mint which the recipe actually suggests).  Because I was busy chatting and eating cauliflower, the C&A was a tad overcooked but still delicious.  We took bowls of this and some rice, along with our “Moppity” merlot, outside and ate in the garden.

Then, back upstairs we listened to Nina Simone and ate cake and drank almond tea and giggled quite a bit.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

We do eat at home...occasionally!

Most of our home cooking is based on simplicity, quickness and the ability to fill-up 2 chickadees with hollow legs. But when on our own SP and I like to mix it up!

Over the last year we have been on a mission to master the humble fried rice. It started when we read Gilbert Lau's recipe for fried rice. He talked about the magic of simple flavours, the right ingredients and taking the time to do it properly - which in the case of fried rice is quickly (you can read the article and recipe here.)

We have made the recipe a number of times over the past year to great acclaim. But each time it has been minus the char siu as it has been too hard to source.

So we decided to make our own.

The first problem was settling on a recipe for the marinade! Google char siu and be swamped by old family recipes, new favourites and everything inbetween.

In the end we found a char siu sauce at the supermarket and topped it up with Chinese five-spice, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, pepper and sesame oil.

We then marinaded the pork fillet for 24 hours.

To cook, we lined a baking tray and sat the pork fillet on a tray. The marinade drips a lot and caramelises - the foil saved us a huge cleaning up job.

The pic to the right looks very wrong I know! But it smelt so good as it was cooking. Every 10 mins or so we turned it and basted it with more marinade.

At the end, we sliced it (& tasted it - mmmm) and got ready to make our special fried rice. The char siu was sweet, sticky and tender. And the fried rice was light, wholesome and extra tasty with all the ingredients finally coming together beautifully.

To say that we were delighted with our end result is an understatement. It was worth the wait; worth the effort and definitely worth doing again.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Almond Bar

A couple of nights ago I went to Almond Bar in Darlinghurst with CC (Cookies and Cream) for a special birthday dinner.  It was a night of delicious food, great service and lovely company in a cozy yet exotic, candlelit cubby house.  We'd been dying to try the place ever since stumbling upon it one evening and finding it promising-looking yet completely empty. We ducked down the road to buy some wine and returned to find the place fully booked for the night! This time we booked ahead and were able to be a part of the crowd taking up every single seat in the place.

Almond Bar is run by two sisters who cook mezze (share plates) based on their Syrian heritage.  After merely reading the menu, I understood why the place is always full; I wanted to try every single thing on it! An unexpected bonus was that all gluten free (and vego, I think) items were clearly marked.  I usually avoid gluten so it was great to be able to know easily and immediately what I could or couldn't eat.

Everything we ate was wonderful - labne, za'tar and babaganouj dips, fried potatoes in coriander and a lamb thing with pomegranates but I will probably chose entirely different stuff next time (and there WILL be a next time let me tell you!) because so many other things look fabulous.

We chose an amazing merlot from the wine list which tasted like mulberries and other yummy, wine-like flavours.  It was a round, juicy flavour with lots of berry notes and a hint of smokiness  (actually CC picked it so I'm not sure what it was called).  It went beautifully with everything.

And just to top off the amzingness of it all we also had dessert: rosewater-flavoured ice cream and pancakes with a cinnamon and almond filling and vanilla ice cream.  Heaven.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The perfect night

It doesn't get better - really!

A lovely dinner - quick and easy - at one of our favourite places in Leichhardt - Martini Bar and Restaurant.
We were running late for the movie, so tonight we shared the Prosciutto e funghi pizza. 
The pizza was heaven - carefully sprinkled with black pepper only on my half. And perfectly complemented by my Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio and sweetpea's Peroni.

We followed this with a choc top each (a glass of bubbles for me!) and Woody Allen - Midnight in Paris.

We both now want to go back to Paris - ASAP!

The movie was quirky, funny, light-hearted. Some might say plotless; but we found it just right for a lazy, sultry, chickadee-free Saturday night.

Walking along Norton St afterwards we could almost imagine ourselves somewhere exotic and foreign. Chatting about what our Golden Age would be to time travel back to and just how long we would really need to stay in Paris to feel like we had done it due justice.

Good food, good wine, great company and a dream - it doesn't get better than that.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Exotic Pleasures

On a recent family holiday to Vanuatu we visited L'Houstalet Restaurant. The write-up in Lonely Planet prepared us for the unusual items on the menu. We had also met a couple at Mele Cascades who had eaten at L'Houstalet the night before and raved about the flying fox.

We decided that we were brave enough to try it too.

The restaurant itself was a little shabby to look at - no French chic here. But everything was clean and all but one staff member was happy and friendly.

Entree was an easy choice - escargot! What else would you order in a French restaurant?
We had already been told by locals that the Ni-Vats imported French shells and inserted the locally bred snails into them as the tourists expected the shells to look a certain way (ie French).

My last escargot experience was in 1991 - also cooked in garlic butter - with the same result. I managed to eat one without really looking at what I was doing. But the second little sucker, slipped off my fork and onto the plate and looked at me exactly like a snail would. End of entree for me!

However sweetpea and both chickadees happily divided the remaining 11 pieces between them.

Big chickadee was determined to have the flying fox. The red wine reduction, rice and vegetables on the side did not deter him.

Sweetpea and I got a taste. It was a huge flavour - very rich and gamey and I'm not sure I could have eaten a whole meal of it.

But chickadee devoured the lot and declared he was still hungry!

Sweetpea went for the wild pigeon in mushroom sauce.

This was rather like a serving of quail and tasted rather like chicken.

I decided to try the local crab - coconut crab in garlic.
It was huge, juicy and messy to eat.

I'm never quite sure that crab is worth the effort involved in extracting it from its shell!

Fortunately big chickadee was more than happy to help me finish it off!

And what did the little chickadee eat, I hear you ask?

With all those wonderful, exotic options to pick from on the menu? After having a go at escargot for the very first time and loving it...what could he possibly choose?

Margharita pizza of course!

This was not one of the best meals we have ever eaten. But it was interesting, exotic and a little bizarre. The kind of experience that overseas holidays are made of.

We all had a memorable night and we'll be dining out on this story for a long, long time to come! Hearing the "ohhhh yuk"s and the "urgghhhh"s from unwarying listeners makes us feel like brave and fearless culinary explorers.

P.S. There were no aubergines to be seen anywhere on the menu!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Qantas Flight QF490 To Sydney

My dinner on this flight home was one of the least enjoyable meals I have eaten for a long time.  Originally I was going to make the entire post consist only of the phrase "no comment" under the picture but then I remembered that I am a self-obsessed show-off who loves to rant and rave so I thought it would be better to discuss the pros and cons of "penne with peas, chicken and pumpkin" at greater length.  I'll do the pros first: 

1. The peas were actually moist and fresh tasting. 

2. It was warm enough to classify as "above tepid".

3. It was free.

Now on to the cons:

1. It tasted like airplane food.  That pretty much sums everything up. You only eat the meal because it is plonked in front of you at no charge and you are physically unable to leave the "restaurant" and find somewhere else to eat.  

I had some delicious snacks and meals while on holiday in Melbs, some of which were photographed and will be written up in the near future but I couldn't resist posting this immediately as a crazy contrast to Aubergine's amazing hatted experience!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Hatted Bliss

We like to celebrate our birthdays with style and spice. They have become special events for us to look forward to - the secret preparations and anticipation on the one hand and the suspense and surprise on the other.

Previous lush* birthday dinners have been at Otto's, Sailor's Thai, The Boathouse and Spice Temple. Very diverse meals, locations and flavours and all hard acts to follow.
The common thread being a SMH Good Food Guide hat (The Spice Temple now has 2 hats but was only a new entry the year we went).

This year one of us turned 45 - which seemed like as good a reason as any to experience a fully-fledged 2 hatted restaurant.

With much anticipation and preparation (how do you pronounce it?) and to general delight this year we went to Guillaume at Bennelong.

It was hard to imagine how enjoying cocktails at the bar whilst looking across the harbour to the bridge and Luna Park could be topped, until we were lead by a friendly waiter to our cosy round table.
Discrete down-lighting allows each table to feel like an island and sweetpea was delighted by the high-backed, cushioned bench seating that curved around our table. 

I have no idea how I'm going to do justice to the menu - perhaps I will simply tell you what we ordered and let the chef's words do their own magic. 

I ordered the oysters with cucumber jelly and yuzu cream for entree and sweetpea ordered the scallops gently sealed and served with pea and smoked ham hock puree, girolle mushrooms and jus gras.

But before they arrived we were presented with a complimentary pre-entree (I'm sure there is some lovely French word for this, but it's beyond me) of tuna tartare with wasabi mayonnaise.
They were only small, but the tang of the wasabi mayonnaise turned out to be a lovely palate cleanser and they complemented the Mornington pinot gris we had moved onto to a tee.

For mains we went for the sealed John Dory served on a bed of carrot and ginger puree, coriander and pommes allumettes and the roasted chicken and yabbies with deglazed celeriac puree, fresh Manjimup truffle and jus gras. The individual flavours swam across your tongue with each mouthful.

And perhaps we should have stopped there!

The bottle of wine was all but empty and although the meals were not large, they were rich and filling.

But it wouldn't be a birthday dinner without dessert (& a little bit of gluttony and over-indulgence!) so we soldiered on.

Each dessert came with its own 60ml glass of dessert wine - and perhaps the sensible thing would have been to share a dessert.
The raspberry mille feuille with white chocolate, elderflower and raspberry sorbet (with a sticky from Bloodwood in Orange) was calling my name, whilst sweetpea was being tantalised by the Valrhona chocolate mousse with mandarin and vanilla bean icecream (and a sticky from NZ).
Instead we asked if we could share the 2 desserts and have 2 glasses with 30mls of each sticky.

To our surprise we were then presented with a pre-dessert dessert - a tiny platter with macaroons, jellies and chocolate treats.

By the time we had polished off all of the above a sense of fullness and silliness had overwhelmed us. Not even the bill could dampen our spirits!

Needless to say, the following day was one of general seediness and malaise. An experience that won't be repeated...until the next birthday!
* I use lush with all its various meanings in mind - tender, juicy, succulent, luxuriant and drinking bout!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Fennel Finally Writes A Post!

I actually wrote this post out a few hours ago only to have it disappear just as I tried to publish it.  Unfortunately, this version probably pales in comparison to my breath-stealing, knee-weakening, astoundingly amazing first draft so the world will never know what genius has been lost. Never mind.

I'm here to talk about fish, and my exciting double-meal-same-ingredient cooking experience. Cookies-and-Cream* and I decided to cook "a whole fish" (ie with the eyes and tail etc still attached) the other day.  While we were standing at the counter at our local fishmonger, we got chatting to a fellow customer who told us her favourite fish to cook was the rainbow trout we were in the process of purchasing. We asked for some tips on what to do with it and she told us not to go overboard with added flavours, and to "listen to the fish".

Back at home, the fish didn't seem in the mood for talking so we covered it in fresh parsley and dill, wrapped it in foil and popped it into the oven.  Meanwhile, I boiled some potatoes and covered them with butter and dill, and made the simplest, sexiest salad known to humankind: tomatoes, basil and bocconcini cheese.  The trout was delicious: a strongly flavoured creamy yet fresh flesh, kind of like the nautical equivalent of Swiss Brown mushrooms.

The next day I made a stock using the odds and sods of the fish, lots of fresh basil, parsley and dill, and all the slightly sad and wan looking vegetables left over from the week.  This happened to be: French shallot, fennel, and purple and orange carrots.  I just love making stock from scratch as it makes me feel like the craftiest, frugal-iest Earth Mother on the block.  Having never made fish stock before I was really pleased with how it turned out.  I now have 5 cups of lovely, purply, slightly sweet stock in the freezer waiting to be used at some point in the future.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Bushwalking with Benefits

Today sweetpea and I set out to explore Sydney.
We had decided to do the walk from Taronga Zoo, around Bradley's Head and Middle Head to Balmoral (click here to view map).

We planned ahead - we printed off the map a few days ago and we went to bed at a reasonable time the night before so we could be out the door by 9am.

The first change of plan was walking out the door at 10am. With the vagaries of Sydney transport plus the Sydney Marathon chaos it was 11:15 before we were actually heading out of the Taronga Zoo ferry terminal with our backpacks on and walking feet rearing to go.

It was very warm - dare I say, even hot. The secluded beaches in Athol Bay below us looked very inviting, but we were on a mission - to do the walk in good time so sweetpea could get home in time to watch the end of the V8 Supercar race!

The National Park and Wildlife folk were out as well. Asking walkers to do a survey of the walk and wear a watch to time their particular walk. We happily joined in.

The walk was peaceful and well kept. We saw dragonflies, rainbow lorrikeets, blue tongue lizards, magpies and kookaburras. The views back across the harbour were stunning.

But as were neared Bradley's Head a great big southerly buster blew in. Bringing with it dust and a cooler change.

After exploring the old military sites we continued around to Chowder Bay, holding onto our hats. At 12.30pm we reached a critical turning point. A sign - onwards to Clifton Gardens & Chowder Bay or a little detour to the left to Athol Hall were there was food and toilets.

Refreshments won!

Athol Hall is delightful. But as we walked around the corner we realised we could see the Taronga Zoo ferry terminal off to the right and all we had done was walk a big circle around the perimeter of Bradley's Head. Oh well, perhaps refreshments would give us the energy to power onto Balmoral.
Sadly, the menu arrived with a drinks menu and somehow we convinced ourselves it would be a good idea to have a glass of wine with lunch!

The setting was divine and deserved to be treated accordingly!

We shared a plate of Turkish bread with 3 dips (feta and pumpkin, olive tapenade and hommus) followed by a mixed plate of fishcakes, salt and pepper squid and spring rolls. The feta and pumpkin dip and fishcakes were particularly tasty.

And the rest is history. Of course the wine made us sleepy. So we walked back down the hill to the Taronga Zoo ferry - completing a 2km round trip with refreshment stop in just over 2 hours!

The map I printed out is tucked away safely in my backpack for next time.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Morning tea

This morning I went back to school to help one of the chickadees with their classroom art project.

It ended up being a 3 hour adventure with a morning tea stop at The Revolver Cafe in Annandale.

The coffee is always great, but usually in a take away cup. Today I had the time to sit inside and savour a proper mug of coffee. Revolver is always busy and can be quite noisy. The discreet nooks and crannies around the walls provide a little privacy and there are throw rugs available for the brave people who chose to sit outside.

The banana bread was not available today, so I ordered the pear and cinnamon loaf instead - toasted & buttered of course!
The smell was divine although the bread was a little soft and difficult to eat gracefully. It was presented on a lovely old floral china plate just like Grandma used to have and was thoroughly delicious.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Food for the Soul

Yesterday sweet pea suggested we have lunch at True Religion Espresso Cafe in Balmain.

He had recently read a review about how wonderful their egg and bacon rolls were and he had been salivating ever since.

We were lucky and got a table outside against the wall. We promptly ordered 2 flat whites and 2 bacon and egg rolls (his with tomato sauce; mine without).

Just as we polished off our flat whites, the bacon and egg rolls arrived at the table. OMG! Who would have thought that a humble bacon and egg roll could be a divine visitation!

The roll was light, soft and warm. It nestled neatly into our hands. Inside the egg and bacon layers jostled for our attention. The bacon was not too fatty - kept soft with just the smallest hint of firmness around the edges. Oh! And the egg! Cooked to absolute perfection with the yolk just beginning to harden, so that only a discreet amount of soft yolk dribbled along the cut edges.

Silenced reigned at our table for the next 5 minutes, only interrupted by the occassional heartfelt "mmmmmmmmmmmmm".

I am now a convert - a true believer - and I'll be knocking on your door soon to spread the good word!