Sunday, September 21, 2014

Taxi Kitchen

Hey hey! Quick post today - I want to tell y'all about the dinner we had at Taxi Kitchen. This was a slightly impromptu dinner we had in July with my friend D-Slam to meet her new boyfriend. We wanted to go somewhere that was nice enough to feel like a treat on a Friday night, but that wasn't too expensive; a place with nice food that wasn't too challenging or pretentious; that accepted bookings but didn't need to be booked weeks in advance. All boxes ticked!

Taxi Kitchen

Taxi Kitchen
Level 1, Transport Hotel
Federation Square
Cnr. Swanston & Flinders Streets
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9654 8808
Taxi Kitchen on Urbanspoon

I'd never been to Taxi Kitchen before - although I do remember, sort of, having big nights at Transport Bar on the ground level back in my uni days. This was a much more sedate evening! We started with warm bread, butter and sriracha salt. I love sriracha sauce, and the spicy saltiness was a nice addition to the bread and butter.

Bread, butter, sriracha salt

Between us we shared two "small plates", a "medium plate", a "large plate" and a side, which was a good amount of food for four people. Crucially, it also left us room for dessert!

Candied pork with coconut, red chilli dressing – 4 pieces for $15.50

We couldn't not order the famous candied pork belly. The confident flavours enhanced the rich meat - the pork itself was candied and came with lashes of fresh herbs, roast coconut and spicy red chilli dressing. I felt that the pork could have been slightly crisper, but it was still a nice dish overall.

Beef croquettes with shallots & hot mustard dressing – 2 pieces for $9.50

The beef croquettes were also enjoyable - hot and crisp and full of shreds of tender beef. Both this, and the pork, make perfect drinking food. (Although I wasn't drinking that night as I was doing Dry July). Next time I'll splash out on some drinks!

We shared two pasta dishes between us, both of which were impressive.

Pumpkin and almond tortellini with buttermilk purée & crispy sage - $22

The pumpkin and almond tortellini were generously slathered in butter, whole almonds and crisp sage - a nice update on a classic combination. The creamy buttermilk puree added another layer of texture and flavour.

Pan-fried gnocchi, lamb, peas mint & Persian feta - $29

I really enjoyed the gnocchi - the pillowy soft gnocchi had become slightly crisp on the edges, and the sauce was full of tender lamb pieces, a deeply savoury jus, sweet peas and salty creamy feta. I love gnocchi cooked in this way; it reminds me of my beloved Schupfnudeln.

Sarah and Sandra always order chips. Always.

Hand cut chips - $9.50

We initially ordered two desserts to share - the chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice-cream, and the lemon meringue pie. I'd had my eye on the macadamia and honeycomb parfait with hazelnut ice-cream, but I thought that two desserts was enough, and no-one else seemed keen on the parfait, so I just let it go. But then D-Slam saw my forlorn face and quickly flagged down another waiter and ordered the parfait. Yay! Hooray for friendship! (And mutual greed!)

Chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice-cream - $15.50

Ok, so the chocolate fondant was a special at the time, but it seems to have made its way to the full-time menu. And I can see why - the fondant was perfectly cooked with a molten chocolate centre, and the accompanying salted caramel ice-cream was smooth and creamy. (And these days, I imagine that anything with "salted caramel" in the title will continue to fly out of the kitchen!)

Oozy centre

Lemon meringue pie – frozen like Nan’s - $13.50

The lemon meringue pie was seriously good. Beneath the carapace of soft meringue was a confidently sour lemon sorbet, and a crisp shortbready pastry disc. It was refreshing but still felt like a treat - the perfect way to finish off the meal.

Lemon meringue pie innards

And here's the parfait!

Macadamia & honeycomb parfait with hazelnut ice-cream - $14

Any dessert containing two types of ice-cream is my type of dessert. There was a mixture of textures on the plate - creamy soft hazelnut ice-cream, slightly firmer frozen parfait with pieces of hazelnut inside, crunchy honeycomb all over the place, bits of mandarin (dehydrated if memory serves me correctly) and little blobs of citrus sauce. Loved it!

And that was our dinner at Taxi! It was a fun evening and we enjoyed the food. It's a good option for a relaxed yet special meal.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Profiteroles with Vanilla-Bean Crème Pâtissière and Chocolate Espresso Sauce

Profiteroles with Vanilla-Bean Crème Pâtissière and Chocolate Espresso Sauce

And now we come to the final recipe I wanted to share with you from my Father's Day Lunch - this showstopper of a dessert: Profiteroles with Vanilla-Bean Crème Pâtissière and Chocolate Espresso Sauce. What a mouthful - both literally and figuratively! Profiteroles are one of Dad's favourite desserts (the others being crème brûlée and creme caramel), and I'm pleased to say he really enjoyed these. Yay!

They do take a bit of time and effort to make, but none of it is especially difficult or fiddly, and you can make it easier by splitting up the work. I made the choux puffs the night before and let them sit on a cooling rack overnight (any longer than that and I think they'd need to go in an airtight container to prevent them going stale); I made the crème pâtissière and chocolate espresso sauce in the morning after the pork had gone into the oven; and I filled the balls (heh) after lunch, just before we ate them! Apparently you can't fill choux pastry too far in advance, but I think a couple of hours or even half a day would be fine - leftover balls the next day tasted fine to me!

Ok, here's the choux pastry!

Choux pastry

Golden balls! I'm not a particularly good piper, but they seemed to puff up nicely. (Two tips: if you get weird nipply shapes when you pipe them, dip your finger in cold water and pat them down to smooth them down. Secondly, once you bring them out of the oven, poke each one with a skewer and leave them on a wire rack to cool. This allows the steam to escape and prevents them from going soggy).

Baked choux puffs

The chocolate espresso sauce is very easy - I used the chocolate sauce recipe from the Poires belle Hélène in How to Eat: fresh espresso, chocolate, sugar and cream, all melted together. I love how the bitter espresso counteracts the sweetness of the chocolate and sugar. Gorgeous!


Making the chocolate sauce

Unlike the ridiculous croquembouche I made for my mum's birthday party in 2008, I kept things low key this time, and simply piled the filled balls into a deep plate. I still think they looked pretty impressive like that!

Filled choux puffs

Don't forget the chocolate sauce!

Profiteroles with Vanilla-Bean Crème Pâtissière and Chocolate Espresso Sauce



Yum! I definitely made too many for four people - I sent Mum and Dad home with a little container full of them, gave some to friends, and I also had them as dessert for the next couple of days.

Hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

Profiteroles with Vanilla-Bean Crème Pâtissière and Chocolate Espresso Sauce
Choux puff and crème pâtissière recipes adapted from The Roux Brothers on Pâtisserie, Chocolate espresso sauce recipe adapted from How to Eat.

N.B. If you want to split up the work, the choux puffs can be made the day before and kept in an airtight container. The crème pâtissière can be made the day before and kept, covered, in the fridge. The chocolate sauce can be made two or three days in advance, and reheated just before serving. Try to fill and assemble the balls as close to serving time as possible.

Choux Puffs
125 ml water
125 ml milk
100 grams butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
150 grams flour, sifted
4 eggs
Preheat the oven to 220C, and line two baking trays with baking paper.
Put the water, milk, diced butter, salt and sugar in a saucepan. Place on a high heat and boil for a minute, stirring all the while. Remove the pan from the heat and add quickly add the sifted flour, stirring well until the mixture is very smooth and the mixture is coming away from the sides of the pan.
Place the pan back onto the heat and stir for a minute. (This dries out the mixture and allows some of the water to evaporate). Tip the mixture into a bowl of a stand mixer.
Immediately beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is very smooth.
Place the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm nozzle. Pipe the mixture into circles on the prepared trays.
Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 10-12 minutes, or until well risen and golden brown.
Place the baked puffs on a wire rack to cool, and prick each puff with a skewer. (This allows the steam to escape and prevents soggy balls.)

Vanilla-Bean Crème Pâtissière
6 egg yolks
125 grams caster sugar
40 grams flour
500 millilitres full-cream milk
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped
Place the egg yolks and 25 grams of the sugar in a bowl and whisk until pale and thickened. Sift in the flour and whisk to combine.
Place the milk, remaining sugar, vanilla pod and seeds in a saucepan and bring to the boil. As soon as the mixture bubble, pour approximately 1/3 onto the egg mixture, whisking to combine. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over a gentle heat, stirring continuously. Boil for 2 minutes or until nice and thick. Remove the vanilla pod, and place the crème pâtissière into a bowl to cool completely. Place a piece of greaseproof paper directly onto the surface of the crème to prevent it forming a skin.

Chocolate Espresso Sauce
150 grams dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
60 ml espresso (or coffee made with 1 teaspoon instant coffee and 60 millilitres water)
75 grams caster sugar
90 millilitres cream
For the chocolate sauce, break up the chocolate and place it in a thick-bottomed saucepan. Add the espresso and sugar. Place on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth. Stir in the cream and then take off the heat. (This can be made a few hours in advance and gently reheated just before you serve).

To Assemble
Place the crème pâtissière into a piping bag fitted with a thin nozzle. Fill each puff with crème pâtissière. Pile the balls onto a deep plate. Pour the hot chocolate sauce over the top to serve. Makes approx. 30 filled choux puffs (you may have some crème pâtissière leftover), feeds 10-15 depending on your appetite for balls.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Rocket, Manchego and Pear Salad with Maple-Glazed Walnuts

Rocket, Manchego & Pear Salad with Maple-Glazed Walnuts

Continuing the recipe posts from my Father's Day Feast... here is the salad I made! Rocket, manchego and pear salad with maple-glazed walnuts. In the lead-up to the lunch, I was emailing my friend Lisa, asking if she had any suggestions for dishes - and she suggested a "fresh pear, Manchego cheese, and arugula salad with caramelized walnuts and warm walnut vinaigrette", from the rather fabulous-sounding book: Caramel, by Trish Deseine.

The recipe looked delicious, but was quite long and complicated (you had to make a caramel from scratch to coat the walnuts), and had expensive / obscure ingredients like walnut vinegar and walnut liqueur. With so many other dishes to make that day, I didn't want the salad to drive me over the edge, so I simplified it heaps - I used the base ingredients as my inspiration, but didn't bother with the caramel or the vinaigrette. Instead, I used a too-easy dressing of lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, and toasted the walnuts in maple syrup.

Toasting nuts in maple syrup is really easy and so wonderful - it's a method I first heard about from Nigella's pumpkin pancakes with sticky maple pecans, and one that I use often. You simply toast the nuts in a dry pan, add some maple syrup...

Maple-glazing the walnuts

...and keep cooking and stirring until the maple syrup is all caramelised and crunchy. They're so addictive! And so much easier than David Lebovitz' equally fabulous candied peanuts. They're good in the salad, but also make a totally compulsive snack. I imagine they'd be great on top of vanilla ice-cream too!

Sweet crunchy crystallised maple goodness

The salad was so fantastic! I loved the combination of peppery rocket, crunchy sweet walnuts, juicy sweet pear and the nutty, creamy manchego. The mixture of sweet and pepperiness complimented the rich pork well, and I imagine the salad would do well against any rich meat - pork, goose, duck, anything like that. Enjoy!

Rocket, Manchego and Pear Salad with Maple-Glazed Walnuts
An Original Recipe by Sarah Cooks, ingredient-combination inspired by a recipe in Trish Deseine's Caramel

1/2 cup walnuts
1 tablespoon maple syrup
A few handfuls rocket
1/2 ripe pear
Manchego cheese, as much or as little as you like
Salt & pepper
Lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, for the dressing

To make the maple-glazed walnuts, place the walnuts into a dry frying pan and toast over a medium heat until fragrant. Pour over the maple syrup and continue to cook, stirring, until the maple syrup coats the walnuts completely and has crystallised. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over and stir to combine. Tip into a cold bowl to cool completely. (They'll be very hot, so don't try any until they've cooled down. And then try not to eat them all before you've made the salad!)
Place the rocket in a large bowl. Finely slice the pear and add the slices to the bowl. Using a clean vegetable peeler, slice up the Manchego and add it to the bowl. (Save a few slices for decoration).
Squeeze in some lemon juice and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss everything together to coat. Add the maple glazed walnuts (saving some for the top) and toss again.
Tip the salad into a serving bowl or plate, and top with the remaining shavings of Manchego and the remaining walnuts.
Serves 4 as a side dish.