Sunday, January 25, 2015

Prix Fixe: Seven Deadly Sins

First restaurant post of the year! Surprise, surprise... Prix Fixe again! I swear I'm not obsessed...

Prix Fixe
Alfred Place
90 Collins Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Prix Fixe on Urbanspoon

The theme at Prix Fixe for January and February is "Seven Deadly Sins", and I was super excited when the menu arrived in my inbox back in December - it looked fantastic, and importantly, it seemed like this was finally a menu that Sandra would be able to enjoy too. You see, for this menu, Philippa has created a course for each of the seven sins, and in order to fit these into Prix Fixe's four course structure, diners are given a choice between two options for courses two to four. It looked like it would be easy for Sandra her to avoid things she doesn't eat (seafood, pâté etc). I forwarded her the menu, and - yay! - she was keen. We decided to make it a special night out - we booked for dinner on a Friday night, I pulled out one of my favourite dresses from my wardrobe, and got my make-up done at Napoleon beforehand. (Any excuse!)

Speaking of making it a special night out... cocktails. I've always been very impressed by the cocktails at Prix Fixe, and the Luxuria was no exception - fun and fizzy from the prosecco, but pleasantly bitter from the Campari and grapefruit bitters. It was really great as an aperitif!

Luxuria - Plymouth gin, Campari, lemon, cane sugar syrup, grapefruit bitters, prosecco - shaken, served up - $20

Bread

The first course, Envy, was a cold stinging nettle soup, with a sweet and crunchy pine nut and nigella seed praline, a quenelle of Holy Goat "silk" goats curd, "tender, virginal young greens", and asparagus. It sounded good, but I was surprised by just how delicious this was. I literally think this was the best course I've ever had at Prix Fixe. I loved the smooth, pure green soup, the pops of sweetness from the praline, the creamy goats curd and the fresh and tender greens - all the elements complimented each other perfectly, and I inelegantly used the (also excellent) bread to mop up every last drop.

Envy
“The grass is always greener…”
Stinging nettle soup, the most tender, virginal young greens; Holy Goat “silk”, pine nut and nigella praline…

The second course was a choice between Wrath and Sloth - no surprise that I chose sloth!

The Sloth came out presented as a single piece of toast...

Sloth
“Toast” (if we can be bothered...)
Foie gras parfait and boozy raisins

... and hidden inside was a treasure trove of boozy raisins...

Boozy raisins...

...and a ridiculous amount of foie gras parfait. Totally decadent!

Foie gras parfait

The Wrath course was completely different to Sloth, in appearance, taste, texture, everything! This "fist of fury" was made up of slow-roasted eggplant, an egg tofu "fist", and "hellfire hot harissa", which was, impressively, actually hot. (I wondered if it might be toned down to match the European style of the rest of the dishes, but it was not). The textures in this dish were great - the eggplant was soft and slightly smoky, and the egg tofu was super smooth on the inside and crisp on the outside. Sandra commented that she thought the dish was a little undersalted, but other than that it was very good.

Wrath
“Fist of Fury!”

Slow roasted sleeve of eggplant, hell-fire hot harissa, sweet peppers and an egg tofu fist…grrrrr!

The third course was a choice between Greed and Gluttony, and again, we chose one each.

How fabulous does Greed look! I loved the slick of truffle mustard and the dusting of gold. This was one of the more unusual dishes I've ever had. The John Dory was perfectly cooked, and served on a bed of tapioca pearls (yes, the same thing as sago and the pearls in Bubble Tea!), with samphire, oyster mushrooms and diamond clams.

Greed
“Diamonds and Pearls”

John Dory, diamond clams, rich tapioca, oyster mushrooms, salsify, gold… (“divine decadence darling”)

The Gluttony dish really lived up to its name - it was huge! Sandra actually couldn't finish it, which meant I got to have some too (muahaha!) A blushing pink lamb cutlet was served on a generous mound of white wine risotto with lamb neck, borlotti beans and tomatoes folded through, with a crumbed and fried clove of confit garlic on the side. Wow! I loved the graininess of the borlotti beans against the toothsome rice grains, and the sweet lamb meat was cooked perfectly. (The lamb neck pieces had that particular strong lamb taste - definitely a dish for those of you who love lamb!)

Gluttony
“Too much is never enough lamb”
Chubby cutlet, risotto of white wine braised lamb neck, belly and shank…tarragon, tomato and loads of garlic

Salad is, of course, not as exciting as gold-dusted John Dory, or lamb-on-lamb action, but it was a very good salad nonetheless.

Salad!

For dessert, we both chose Lust (make of that what you will...). Initially, I thought we'd order one Lust, and one "fruity as @#*k!!” Pride (a rainbow of sorbets), so that we could try the whole menu between us, but neither of us wanted to back down from having our own chocolate dessert! I know that Philippa is famous for her ice-creams and sorbets, but I think we made the right choice.

So pretty...

Lust
“Sexual Chocolate”
Caramel parfait glace, deep dark mousse, salted macadamia caramel, popped cherries, flogged cream…ouch…

Inside that crisp collar were a caramel parfait, dark chocolate mousse, salted crunchy macadamia caramel, flogged cream and a few "popped" cherries. It was rich, but perfectly balanced - I particularly liked the natural-tasting cherries and salty bursts of macadamia caramel.

I love how in this picture, Sandra's fork is poised, ready to attack that dessert!

Lust!

It was a great evening, and the menu certainly lived up to expectations. Hooray!


Read about my previous experiences at Prix Fixe:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Summer Lunch for Four

Lunch

It's been a while since I've done a post on a lunch or dinner party, hasn't it? We had some friends over for lunch on the weekend, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to do some menu planning and put a little something special together! I wanted a crowd-pleasing menu that would let me flex my culinary creativity (I haven't been cooking or baking that much lately), that still wasn't too difficult or time consuming to put together. I'm pleased to say the following meal was the result!


A Summer Lunch for Four

Herb and Mustard Roast Chicken
Petits Pois à la Française
Roast Cherry Tomatoes

Classic French Strawberry Tart


I've blogged the bacon-wrapped dates before, and can highly recommend them as an easy and delicious starter. They've got a bit of a retro-chic vibe going on, making them a bit unusual, bit still super tasty! The herb and mustard roast chicken was an amalgamation of two recipes - a Donna Hay marinade and Nigella's method of a 2-hour slow-braise followed by a blast in a hot oven for tender meat and crisp skin. It turned out really well, and I'll be blogging the recipe shortly. The creamy potato gratin and petits pois à la française are Nigella recipes from Nigella Bites and Feast respectively, both old favourites that I've made dozens of times and can highly recommend. The roast cherry tomatoes I made because pretty. I chose a classic French strawberry tart for dessert (crisp almond pastry, crème pâtissière, fresh strawberries), because I knew it was the favourite dessert of one of our guests. Again, recipe to come!

It wasn't difficult cooking the whole menu - the night before, I baked the almond pastry tart case, ready to fill, and pitted the dates and wrapped them in their bacon blankets, ready to bake. On the morning of the lunch, I started by marinating the chicken and putting it in the oven for its slow roast, then used that time to make the crème pâtissière and assemble the tart, and make the potato gratin and peas. Twenty minutes before our friends were due to arrive, I put the dates and tomatoes in the oven to roast, and when they got here, I finished off the dates with the chives, aioli and pine nuts and served them. While we were eating the dates, I reheated the peas, and put the chicken and potato gratin in the oven to brown up and heat through. Boom. Lunch!

Wow, I really love scheduling activities! Enough words, picture time!

Tomatoes and Bacon-Wrapped Dates ready for the oven

Not that you really need a recipe for roast cherry tomatoes, but by way of instruction, I drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and roasted at 200C until they were soft and the skin was blistered. Gah, I love those dates - sweet, soft Medjool dates, and Peter Bouchier dry cured streaky bacon. Best.

Ingredients for the Creamy Potato Gratin

Thick slices of potatoes, salt, garlic, onion, full-cream milk. Yes.

Petits Pois à la Française

More often than not, I omit the little gem (baby cos) lettuce from this pea recipe, because you only need a little bit, and I always end up chucking out the remaining limp lettuce leaves a week later. I don't really think they add much to the finished dish anyway. For me, it's all about the combo of sweet peas, softened spring onions and chicken stock!

Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Aioli, Chives and Pine Nuts

I generally use lunch or dinner parties as an excuse to try out new things, so I rarely repeat recipes. However, these dates always go down a treat, and I love them so much that I couldn't not make them again! I guess they're the closest thing I have to a signature dish right now, hehe.

Herb and Mustard Roast Chicken

I was really pleased with how the chicken turned out. Even though the pieces weren't uniformly sized (I used a whole chicken, chopped up), they cooked through evenly, without any dry patches. Hooray. The thighs were especially tender and juicy (heh). The skin was nice and crispy too - winner!

And here's dessert! Forgive my immodesty, but I was really, really proud of it!

Classic French Strawberry Tart

As I mentioned above, I chose to make a classic French strawberry tart as I knew it was a favourite dessert of one of our friends. It's soooo nice to have one freshly made, even if it's a little less perfect looking than the ones you get in pâtisseries - the fresh berries squishing messily into the vanilla-flecked crème pâtissière and through the crumbly pastry is just beyond. I'll be publishing the full recipe soon, so definitely give it a go if you come across some beautiful berries!

And that was lunch! Such fun! Do you like to cook new recipes when you have friends over? Or do you like to stick to tried and tested recipes?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Oma's Nusskuchen, or Grandma's Nutcake

Oma's Nusskuchen

First recipe of the year! I baked this cake last week, and we loved it so much that I baked it again last night! I adapted this recipe for Oma's Nusskuchen ("Grandma's Nutcake") from one on the Dr. Oetker website - essentially it's a butter cake, with added almond meal and chopped chocolate.

Chopped chocolate

Batter in the loaf tin

It's a lovely, simple cake, with a light vanilla fragrance. It's slightly dense, quite like a pound cake, with a moist nuttiness from the almond meal. It's the type of thing you can leave on the counter and keep going back to throughout the week.

Omas Nusskuchen

The first time I baked it, I accidentally took it out too soon, so it was crazy moist in the centre - oops. It tends to brown before it's cooked all the way through, so I suggest covering it with foil halfway through the cooking time.

Super Moist

It's nice for afternoon tea, or even for breakfast, if you're the type of person who eats cake for breakfast. (Spoiler alert: I am totally the type of person who eats cake for breakfast).

Breakfast!

Enjoy!
Omas Nusskuchen, or Grandma's Nutcake
Adapted from Dr. Oetker

Ingredients
250 grams unsalted butter, softened
175 grams caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
200 grams plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
100 grams chocolate (milk or dark, as you prefer), finely chopped
200 grams almond meal

Method
Preheat the oven to 180C, and line a loaf tin with baking paper. (My loaf tin is 29cm x 14cm x 7.5cm).
Beat the butter in an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the caster sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract and salt.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, and scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go. (The mixture may look curdled but will come together after you add the flour).
Speaking of which... sift together the flour and baking powder, and mix into the butter mixture using a wooden spoon.
Stir in the chopped chocolate and almond meal.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth out the top.
Bake for 60-75 minutes, or until cooked when tested with a skewer. (Check the cake at 45 minutes, and cover with foil if it is browning too quickly).
Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.