Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Unblogged Files: August 2014

Welcome to my Unblogged Files for August! August was a Super Busy Month for me - so many blog events, restaurant visits, and catchups with friends. This post is going to be pretty long! (And that's not even counting the things that I managed to blog within the month - the English Midwinter dinner at Prix Fixe; the spiral pasta with red kale, feta and pine nuts; and the avocado chocolate marble pound cake!) Here we go:

I started the month with a surprise delivery from Chobani - they gifted me three boxes of the new Chobani flavours (mandarin, banana, and coconut - all 2% fat) for taking part in that market research event thing I told you about in my June Unblogged Files. I don't normally like fruit yogurt, finding it too sweet, but Chobani is so wonderfully tart that it balances out the sweet fruit. I also liked the extra creaminess from the 2% fat yogurt, rather than the 0% that I normally buy in giant tubs.

Chobani Delivery!

So I didn't really make many different breakfasts this month - it was either a tub of Chobani, sliced Barham avocados on toast (see my Avocado Chocolate Marble Pound Cake post for more pics), or the pound cake itself.

I made quite a few restaurant and cafe visits this month...

We went to see Twisted Broadway at the Arts Centre (such a fantastic show!), and I took the opportunity to have dinner at Fatto Bar & Cantina (River Terrace Hamer Hall, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne 3000) beforehand. Pretty views, $7 aperitivi and tasty Italian food - I loved it! Blogpost to come.

Fatto Bar & Cantina

One Friday night, we went to the European Night Market at Madame Brussels Lane, and to be honest it was a pretty disappointing experience: $8 gristly Bratwurst, $8 Glühwein (in tiny cups and not very nice), and cold pretzels from the Brezel Biz stand. (Brezel Biz make good pretzels, but they were cold and barely had any flavours available). The pieroggi with sour cream and bacon from the Polish stand were great though! There was also a flamenco band, who were really good, but not fitting in with the theme at all.

Winter Night Market

I caught up for brunch with the lovely Daisy and Ricky at Stagger Lees (276 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy 3065). The Coco Pop and Salted Caramel French Toast there was amazing! Daisy's actually blogged it today so you can read about the visit at her blog.

Coco Pop and Salted Caramel French Toast - Coco pop creme patisserie, vanilla ice cream, honeycomb and raspberry crumb - $15.50

Another night, I went to The Town Mouse (312 Drummond Street, Carlton 3053) for a group dinner with some food blogger / photographer friends and a lovely visitor from interstate! Between the seven of us, we managed to try most of the menu (including five - count 'em - five cabbage-based dishes). It was a super fun night, and overall the food was very good, so I'll be blogging the dinner soon. I was particularly impressed with this delicate dish of raw, finely shaved calamari, oyster cream, dill and fermented apple juice.

Shaved calamari, oyster cream, dill & fermented apple juice - $15

I did a mid-week dinner with some co-workers at G2 Korean BBQ (301 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne VIC 3000), where we ate All Of The Banchan and pork belly!

G2 Korean BBQ

And the next day, I was still in the mood for Korean, so went for lunch at By Korea (1/222 La Trobe Street, Melbourne VIC 3000). The beef bimbimbap was so amazing! I loved all the crusty rice at the bottom, and despite the gigantic serving I inhaled the entire bowl Rar!

Beef Bimbimbap at By Korea - $14

So like I said, I went to heaps of blog events in August. (Disclosure: these were all complimentary invites). Let me know if any sound especially interesting and I will try to prioritise writing them up!

I took part in St Kilda Food-Focussed Amazing Race: a great event organised on behalf of the St Kilda Tourism Association, where a group of bloggers spent a whole day exploring different food and drink venues in St Kilda, including Di Stasio, Babu Ji, Milk the Cow, Monarch Cakes and more! And we got to travel from place to place in these funky St Kilda Rickshaws. So much fun!

St Kilda Rickshaws

St Kilda - view from the Rickshaw

I was also invited to a dinner at Wagyu-Ya (156 Toorak Road, South Yarra 3141). Their speciality is their Wagyu beef, which customers cook themselves on smokeless charcoal grills, but I was most impressed with their really excellent sushi and sashimi (so fresh!)...

Sushi Sashimi selection at Wagyu Ya

 ...and the really indulgent foie gras and truffle hot pot. It was so aromatic and rich! A wonderful once-in-a-while treat.

Foie gras and truffle hot pot at Wagyu Ya

One sunny weekend, Sandra and I travelled down to Mornington for a Gumboots and Raincoats Long Lunch Party. This long lunch was held at Green Olive in Red Hill, and the menu featured producers from across the region: Montalto wines, La Petanque, Max's at Red Hill Estate, Mornington Peninsula Brewery and more! The food was delicious, and I thought the table setting was just beautiful.

Long lunch at Green Olive

Another event was the Meatmaiden preview dinner (195 Little Collins Street, Melbourne VIC 3000). This is the new restaurant from the owners of Meatmother, with the same passion for all things MEAT, but with a broader menu and a slightly more upmarket offering.

The Meat Fridge

Most of the items we tried were very good, but I particularly liked the O'Connor pasture-fed flat iron steak, which was incredibly juicy and flavourful. I'd happily eat one of those with a small bowl of salad as a meal in its entirety!

O'Connor Pasture-Fed Flat Iron Steak - $22 per 220grams

A fun evening was the launch of Polé Polé (267 Little Collins St, Melbourne VIC 3000) a new African-themed bar in the CBD that's taken over the space where Tony Starr's Kitten Club used to be. At first, in the back of my mind I was worried it might be a bit of a caricature or an example of thoughtless cultural appropriation for profit, (I am uber sensitive to stuff like that), but I'm very glad to say this wasn't the case! The bar theme was inspired by owners Dean and Jeanelle Mariani's travels through East Africa, and whilst chatting to them at the launch, their passion and respect for the people and places they visited were obvious. The African motif is subtle - it's still very much a Melbourne bar, with some African influences. You can get African beers and ciders (my fave: Kenyan Tusker Lager), and the food menu is inspired by Dean and Jeanelle's travels. (The super juicy and tender lamb ribs were a highlight, as were the meaty and crispy pulled pork cigars).

Top row: Cocktails, African beer and cider
Bottom row: lamb ribs, pulled pork cigars, rum and raisin brownies

On a side note, I'm glad someone revamped Tony Starr's - I remember visiting in 2012 (See my August 2012 Unblogged Files), having espresso martinis and chicken "satays", and thinking "Wow, this is a little blast from the past!" Hehe.

And the last event I wanted to tell you about was lunch at Rae's Restaurant at Balgownie Estate in the Yarra Valley. It was a gorgeous day, and we enjoyed a wine tasting (my fave: the 2010 Balgownie Estate Viognier), and a delicious lunch. You can (just) see the smoked salmon tasting platter in the below picture: cold-smoked salmon on buckwheat blini and Yea Dairy crème fraiche; cold-smoked salmon with gravlax soy mayonnaise; and hot smoked salmon with salsa verde. Blogpost to come.

Lunch at Balgownie Estate

So with all those events and dinners, we didn't cook much at home, and even when we were at home, we were sometimes so knackered that we relied on frozen pizzas and oven chips - whoops. There were a few home-cooked meals worth mentioning though!

Top left: Grilled lamb chops, quickled red cabbage, cauliflower & sweet potato mash
Top right: Open-faced grilled sandwich with ham, cherry tomatoes & manchego; rocket & tomato salad
Bottom left: Bacon and feta scrambled eggs, roast cherry tomatoes & light rye toast
Bottom right: Grilled organic lamb; chilli, anchovy & garlic broccolini, grilled eggplant

We also did steamboat at my parents' house one night. Love it.


Finally, tonight we farewelled a coworker who was visiting us from overseas, with dinner at +39 Pizzeria (362 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000). I'd visited once before, a few years ago, and remember enjoying the food, but being really put off by the abrupt service. This time, however, the service was really friendly, and we all had a great time. (The online booking system also worked a treat!) My Diavolo pizza, with Italian tomato salsa, fior di latte, hot salame & chilli ($19.50) was so great!

+39 Pizzeria

September plans? I'm going to try and keep things low-key - work, gym, family, just a couple of events and social engagements, and a very special dinner at one of Australia's most famous restaurants! Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Atlantic

Chef Donovan Cooke

The Atlantic in Crown is one of my favourite restaurants. You may remember I went there for my birthday in 2011, and since then it's become one of the default destinations for special occasion dinners with my friends. I was recently invited to a complimentary bloggers' dinner there, and thought it would be a good excuse to blog about it again! This post will include selected photos from three different visits: my friend An's birthday in October 2012, my friend Adri's birthday in May 2014, and the bloggers' dinner in June this year.

The Atlantic
Crown Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank, VIC 3006
Ph: (03) 9698-8888
The Atlantic on Urbanspoon

So, we took my friend An for his birthday back in October 2012. We started with drinks in The Den bar downstairs - I love the bar for its cosy atmosphere, plush couches, occasional live piano music and fab cocktails. The Bluegrass Blazer we tried that night tasted like Christmas, and was served ON FIRE!

Bluegrass Blazer - Woodford Reserve bourbon, Grand Marnier, cinnamon syrup, bitters and fire - $24

I know The Atlantic is famous for its seafood offering, but I've always been impressed by their desserts (especially their different flavoured ice-creams). This particular dessert isn't on the menu any more, but gives you an idea of the type and standard of desserts that are on offer. It was their "peanut butter and jelly sandwich" - raspberry jelly, salted peanuts, Valrhona chocolate fudge and croissant ice-cream. Croissant ice-cream! (I grilled the waiter and he said they make it by infusing cream with stale croissants and using the croissant-flavoured cream as the base for the ice-cream.) Woah.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich - raspberry jelly, salty peanut and Valrhona chocolate fudge, croissant ice-cream - $21

When we visited in May this year for my friend Adri's birthday, The Den was closed for a private function, so we just had a drink in The Oyster Bar (more casual than the restaurant) before heading to our table in the restaurant.

Pianist - Tanqueray gin, raspberry pure, sparkling wine - $19; Glass of sherry 

On this occasion, we were in a group of four people - we each had an entree, and then shared The Atlantic Seafood Platter (for two!) between three of us. (N.B. Non-seafood eater Sandra ordered off the "From the Land" section of the menu, as she always does - they do great non-seafood dishes too!)

It was a good thing we shared the platter for two between three of us - it was a huge amount of food, and we struggled to finish it! In addition to this two-tiered stand of seafood, a dozen oysters were included.

The Atlantic Seafood Platter (for two)- Served chilled with condiments. Selection of freshly shucked oysters, whole prawns, Moreton bay bugs, scallops in the shell, Alaskan King crab leg, spring bay mussels - $105 per person, $210 in total

Oysters Kilpatrick (included in the seafood platter)

I'm not a fan of oysters Kilpatrick, preferring my oysters natural, but the birthday girl likes them, and the birthday girl gets what she wants! She really enjoyed the oysters, so I was glad! I have to be honest though and say we weren't really wowed by the Seafood Platter overall - whilst most of the items were very fresh (the prawns were a standout!), on this occasion the crab legs were a little mushy, and we found some of the other items a little overcooked for our liking. I think we might have been better off ordering individual dishes - not only would that have been cheaper than the platter, but based on previous experience, they've also always been excellent.

As I mentioned above, I've always greatly enjoyed the ice-creams at The Atlantic, and we ordered a few different ones to try on this night. The "selection of seasonal sorbets" included blackcurrant, white peach and apricot, and they were all very impressive. The fruit flavours were all very strong and pure. Gorgeous!

Selection of Seasonal Sorbets - blackcurrant, white peach and apricot - $16

One of the desserts on the menu came with cheesecake ice-cream, and we were all really wanted to try the ice-cream, but weren't interested in the dessert itself, haha. We asked our waiter, and he kindly checked with the kitchen and said we could order a single scoop of the cheesecake ice-cream! Yay. From memory, I think they charged about $5 for it, similar to the per-scoop price of the selection of sorbets on the menu. It was beautifully smooth and had a nice prominent cream cheese flavour.

Single scoop of cheesecake ice-cream

And now onto the bloggers' dinner in June! We began with champagne and cocktails in The Den...

Red Blush Julep - Maker’s Mark infused with strawberry & vanilla, Orange Bitters, Mint
NV Laurent-Perrier Brut - Tours-sur-Marne

... before moving upstairs for dinner.

From the Field - Plymouth Gin infused with Lavender, Honey, Lemon, served over ice
2012 Kooyong Pinot Gris - Beurrot Mornington Peninsula

There was quite a big group of us, and we were split up over a few tables and were free to order from the menu. Between the five of us at my table, we managed to cover a good selection of the menu, starting with oysters! We got them natural (yay), and they were super fresh, briney and creamy. Love!

Smoky Bay SA; Wallis Lake from NSW; Moulting Bay from Tasmania

I ordered the Alaskan King Crab for my entree - and it was so, so pretty! Look at that perfect rectangle! I loved the combination of fresh crab meat against the creamy mascarpone and slightly spicy red capsicum coulis.

Alaskan King Crab -  red capsicum coulis, crab mascarpone, balsamic gel, smoked paprika - $26

Thanh graciously shared some of his scallops and calamari with me - they were cooked perfectly, slightly charred on the outside and quiveringly soft on the inside, and without even a hint of rubberiness.

Pan Seared Scallops and Calamari - celeriac and apple remoulade, squid ink mascarpone, salmon roe - $26

I'm glad I-Hua ordered the seafood cocktail, so I could get a photo of it. It's one of my favourite dishes at The Atlantic, and I've ordered it on pretty much all of my visits (except this one as I felt like trying something new!) As I've had it so many times before, I declined I-Hua's generous offer to try some, but I can tell you I love the generous amount and variety of seafood in it - scallop, crayfish, prawn and crab - as well as the refreshing cubes of fresh fruit and the lightly creamy sauce.

Atlantic Seafood Cocktail - crab meat, scallop, Moreton bay bug, prawn, iceberg, rockmelon, apple, basil, soft boiled quail egg - $30

I didn't taste the Moreton Bay bug spaghettini, but wanted to share the photo with you because it looked great, and it smelled fantastic when they brought it to the table!

Moreton Bay Bug Spaghettini - olive oil, garlic, chilli, parsley - $29

For our mains I ordered the lightly smoked confit Ora King salmon, which I totally loved! The salmon was incredibly tender and melting, and I enjoyed the rather wintry addition of grilled smoked bacon and braised baby savoy cabbage. It was quite intense, with all the smoky salty flavours, and the fattiness of the salmon and bacon, but I'm really into that.

Lightly Smoked Confit Ora King Salmon (NZ) - braised baby savoy cabbage, grilled smoked bacon, baby carrot and jus gras - $40

The Boy (from The Chronicles of Ms I-Hua and The Boy) ordered the pan-fried hapuka, which came with an aromatic pile of prawn-scented risoni and shellfish foam. He said it was very good, and I loved the sunny yellow colours.

Pan-Fried Hapuka (Portland, VIC) - risoni scented with prawns and aromatic vegetables, fennel salad, shellfish foam - $44

Two in our group ordered simple grilled fish - one baby snapper on the bone, another the wood-fired grilled barramundi off the bone. Both were done very well, but I personally prefer the cheffier dishes (like the confit salmon or hapuka above) - they're at a similar price point, but with the cheffier dishes you get to try something a bit more interesting and creative, with lots of different elements. Obviously the simple grilled fish dishes are great if you really want to appreciate the fish itself!

Baby Snapper (Port Phillip Bay, VIC) - delicate, soft textured, white fleshed fish with chilli and anchovy sauce - $41

Wood Fire Grilled Barramundi (WA) - mixed leaf salad, lemon - $39

One person on our table got a steak - I told you they do non-seafood dishes well too!

250g Sher Wagyu Sirloin Marble Score 8+ - sea salt, olive oil, lemon - $58 with Bordelaise sauce - $3

We also got a couple of sides to share - the thrice-cooked russet potatoes were quite nice, although I felt they could have been more crisp (especially with the "thrice-cooked" name).

Thrice Cooked Russet Potatoes - rosemary, garlic, sea salt - $11

The potatoes were quite nice, but the cauliflower was amazing! I love cauliflower in general, but here it was roasted in brown butter for extra deliciousness, and had capers, chopped hardboiled eggs, onion and garlic. I totally want the recipe!

Brown Butter Roast Cauliflower - chopped egg, capers, onion, garlic - $12

And then it was time for dessert. First up was a chocolate delice, which had a hint of spice from the chilli chocolate soup, and the tangy flavour of passionfruit. It was both rich and refreshing.

Valrhona Chocolate Delice - passionfruit centre, coconut foam, chilli chocolate soup - $23 

The next two desserts are ones I'd already tried on Adri's birthday, so I knew I'd like them. The champagne and strawberry parfait was very summery, and I liked the savoury, herbaceous, addition of the basil and orange ice-cream.

Champagne and Strawberry Parfait - basil and orange ice-cream, strawberry salad - $22

The pistachio cassonade was a rich pistachio cream, topped with pistachio praline and a scoop of wonderfully dark and bitter chocolate sorbet, and with crisp espresso crackers on the side. I'm usually wary of pistachio desserts - I hate that artificial pistachio essence taste - but this one was beautiful and had a very mild, natural pistachio flavour.

Pistachio Cassonade - Valrhona bitter chocolate sorbet, pistachio praline, coffee chocolate crackers - $20

Wow, writing up this post has made me really want to visit The Atlantic again. Ok, whose birthday is next???

Sarah visited The Atlantic twice as an anonymous paying customer, and once on a bloggers' dinner as a non-paying guest.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Spiral Pasta with Red Kale, Feta and Pine Nuts

Spiral pasta with red kale, feta and pine nuts

Okidoki, so I know this purple-stained pasta isn't the world's most attractive dish, but bear with me because it tastes so good! I made it dish for dinner last Sunday, with lots of leftovers for weekday lunches. I just wanted to use up ingredients I had in the fridge, and was not expecting it to be any good, but it was actually totally awesome! I couldn't stop eating it and thought I wouldn't have any left for the week!

The story goes like this: I'd planned on making Nigella's curly pasta with feta, (frozen) spinach and pine nuts - simple but classic combo - but discovered half a bunch of wilting red kale in my vegetable crisper, and thought I should make use of it rather than chucking it out. We'd bought it ages ago with grand plans of making kale chips, but never got around to it.

Shredded red kale

Raw red kale kinda looks and smells like silverbeet and chard (two vegetables that I detest), and I was worried the end result would be a bitter mess that I'd be self-sacrificingly eating throughout the week to save money, when what I'd really want would be Nando's or ramen. Luckily, this wasn't the case. I thought I only liked kale when roasted or deep-fried, but turns out that it's nice when sauteed in a pan too! Upon cooking, the red kale goes soft and sweet, marrying fantastically with the creamy melted feta and slightly crunchy buttery pine nuts. (Indeed, if you had some currants I think you could chuck them in once the kale is cooked to amplify the sweetness). Grated parmesan adds a deeply savoury touch. I made the original version once, when I first bought Kitchen, but I think it's even nicer with red kale. I found red kale at my local supermarket, but I'm sure green kale would work well too. As for the pasta, I used this Vetta High Fibre rollini that a PR company sent me - tastes just like regular pasta to me, which is a good thing!

With the high fibre pasta and loads of vitamin-rich red kale, I'm thinking this is a pretty nutritious option for weekday lunches that still feels comforting and can be inhaled with a spoon at your desk. (It's just as nice cold, by the way). I thought of calling it: "Purple Pasta Salad" (ooh, alliteration!), but the title I've gone with is more descriptive, so it won. Enjoy!

Spiral Pasta with Red Kale, Feta and Pine Nuts
Adapted from Nigella's Curly Pasta with Feta, Spinach and Pine Nuts (Kitchen)

1/3 cup pine nuts
250 grams spiral pasta (I used Vetta High Fibre rollini, but any one you like will do)
1 teaspoon garlic-infused olive oil
1 small onion
1/2 bunch red kale
100 grams feta cheese
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan until golden brown and fragrant, then tip onto a cold plate and set aside.
Put a large pan of water onto boil, salt generously and add the pasta. Boil according to packet directions. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat the garlic oil in a large frying pan. Finely chop the onion and cook it in the pan with a pinch of salt until softened and translucent.
Peel the kale leaves off the stems. Discard the stems and finely shred the leaves. Add the shredded kale to the fry pan, and cook, stirring often, until wilted down and cooked through. Add some hot water from the kettle if the pan gets too dry.
Crumble in the feta, stirring until it is melted and combined with the sauce.
Off the heat, stir in the grated parmesan cheese and pasta. Taste and add salt, pepper or extra parmesan cheese as necessary. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Serves approx. 4 as a light meal