Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Caramelised Onion and Roast Capsicum Tart with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts

Caramelised Onion and Roast Capsicum Tart with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts

I was recently gifted a sample of the new range of Yarra Valley Cheese fresh cheeses from the lovely Mel at Squawk Media, and wanted to make something a little special with it. Y'all know I never need an excuse to stuff my face with pastry, and I thought a light and fun springtime tart would be a good use for the cheese.

Caramelised Onion and Roast Capsicum Tart with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts

This tart, whilst being my own recipe, is in a similar vein as the sweet potato galette from the original Ottolenghi cookbook, which is one of my favourite recipes of all time. The final flourish of fresh parsley, chopped chilli, garlic and olive oil is genius! (*Bows to Yotam and Sami!*)

So, back to my tart: buttery puff pastry is covered with sweet caramelised onions...

Sliced red onion

... and slices of roast capsicum (I used jarred, but roast your own if you are feeling energetic!)

Pastry, caramelised onion, roast capsicum

Next comes a sprinkling of pine nuts and your fresh cheese. I used the "Herby Cow" fresh cows milk cheese that Yarra Valley Cheese sent me, which has herbs and garlic mixed through. I believe this cheese will be coming to supermarkets soon, but you could use any fresh cows milk cheese as an alternative. (E.g. quark, queso fresco, Boursin etc.) Of course, you could use chèvre goats cheese, which has a similar texture and is manufactured in the same way, but that is made of goat milk, so it will have that distinct goaty flavour.

Herby Cow!

Ready for the oven

Then bake it until the pastry is all puffed up and cooked through, and the pine nuts and cheese are lightly golden brown. Then you brush it with the garlic / parsley / chilli / olive oil mixture, cut into slices and INHALE.



Whilst being very impressive, it is quite easy to put together, and it's more about assembly than labour-intensive cooking. In fact, I made it for a weeknight dinner for my parents - I prepped the ingredients at my own home after work, then took all the ingredients to their place, assembled the tart and baked it. It was really a low stress affair! I imagine leftovers would be good either cold, or reheated in the oven, but don't count on having any.

Caramelised Onion and Roast Capsicum Tart with Fresh Cheese and Pine Nuts
An original recipe by Sarah Cooks

2 red onions
1 sheet puff pastry (1 x 375 gram packet of Careme pastry)
1 x 450 gram jar roast red capsicum
120 grams fresh cow's milk cheese (I used Yarra Valley Dairy "Herby Cow". Substitute quark, Neufchâtel, queso fresco, Boursin etc.)
2-3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
2 small chillies
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 210C.
Peel and finely slice the red onions (a mandolin is useful here). Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a non stick pan and add the onion slices. Cook on a low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions have cooked down and are soft and golden brown in parts. Set aside to cool.
Place the pastry on a lined baking dish. Using a sharp knife, trace a 1 centimetre border around the edge of the pastry. Within the borders, prick the pastry all over with a fork.
Arrange the caramelised onion over the pastry.
Drain and roughly slice the roast capsicums, and arrange over the caramelised onions.
Crumble the cheese over, followed by the pine nuts.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and cooked through.
Meanwhile, finely chop the garlic, chillies and parsley, and mix with the tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
When the tart is cooked, brush it with the olive oil mixture. Cut into slices to serve.
Serves 4 as a light lunch
Sarah received the Yarra Valley Cheese Herby Cow as a complimentary sample.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Italian Yum Cha at The Grand Dining Room

Italian Yum Cha trolley

The Grand Hotel Dining Room
333 Burnley Street
Richmond, VIC 3121
Ph: (03) 9429-2530
Grand Hotel Dining Room on Urbanspoon

Last weekend I was invited to try Italian Yum Cha at The Grand Hotel in Richmond. Lately I've been trying to limit the number of invitations I accept, not only so that I don't overdo it with rich food and alcohol, but also to give myself some downtime, so that I have energy for family and friends, for work, the gym, and even for cleaning my flat (boring but necessary!) However, the prospect of Italian Yum Cha sounded to good to resist!

For the first four Saturday and Sunday lunches in November, The Grand is putting on an Italian Yum Cha (or "bere vino") as part of Good Food Month. They've raided op shops for cute nonna-style crockery, borrowed a steamer trolley, and put together a fun menu of Italian bites to be served yum cha style in their dining room.

The Grand Dining Room

Aperol Spritz Ice Tea

The yum cha started with a pot of Aperol spritz "ice tea", which was a complimentary inclusion for each table. It was low on alcohol, only slightly bitter and very refreshing - it tasted great and I thought it was a cute touch.

So, how does it work? The Grand has created a special yum cha menu - the items come around on trays, but you can also order directly from the menu if you are decisive and don't want to wait! Like regular yum cha, food is charged on consumption. Individual items range from $6.50 to $14.50. The menu is huge, with sixty-three different items available - we did our very best, but only made it through a small selection of what was on offer. My suggestion is to try not to get overwhelmed by the friendly waitstaff and their trays of pretty, pretty food - don't simply accept everything you see (hard, I know!), but have a good look at the menu and order anything that you definitely want to eat so that you don't run out of space before it comes around.

Now, on with the food...

Crudo di cobia - crudo with egg yolk, pickled enoki mushrooms and cress - $10.50

Cobia is a very oily, rich fish (I've seen it called "Wagyu of the sea" before). Here it was served in generous slices, topped with more richness in the form of egg yolk and parmesan cheese, with freshness from pickled enoki mushrooms and cress. Normally I'd think to avoid cheese and fish, but the cobia was robust enough to match the parmesan. Yum.

Baccalà mantecato su bruschetta - creamed codfish on bruschetta - $6.50

I found the creamed codfish a little on the salty side, especially as it was served in such generous quenelles. (I know baccalà is salted cod, but still!)

Roast capsicums - $6.50

Roast capsicums are roast capsicums, so I don't have much to say about these, except that they were very nice, and incidentally, a good way to get some vegetables and a bit of lightness in what was otherwise a carb-and-protein-heavy lunch. (Not that carb-and-protein-heavy meals are necessarily a bad thing!)

Lingue di gatto - le fave, menta e ricotta salata - Cat's tongues - fave, beans, mint & ricotta - $6.50

I can't not order a dish with broad beans - the broad bean and mint puree was light and summery, and I loved the the texture combo of fresh whole beans, smooth puree and crisp biscuit.

Gnocchi al burro e salvia - Potato gnocchi with brown butter and sage - $8.50

The gnocchi came highly recommended by the waitstaff, but I was always going to order this anyway, because brown butter and sage are just The Best. The gnocchi were nice and light, the crispy sage was delightful, and there was an oozy pool of nutty toasty brown butter. Heaven.

Lasagne di cinghiale - wild boar lasagne - $10.50

We didn't see the lasagne di cinghiale (wild boar lasagne) come around on trays, but I saw it on the menu and had to try it. I'm so glad we did, because it was great! It didn't taste too gamey, and had nice layers of creamy bechamel and rich tomato-boar sauce.

Capesante con spaghettini di zucchini - Seared scallops on squid ink spaghettini - $10.50

The scallops were fresh, generously sized, and perfectly cooked - seared on the outside and just cooked within. The little nest of squid ink spaghettini was actually made of julienned zucchini strips (how paleo of us!), which had a nice tender-crisp bite to them.

Polpette di vitello - Veal meat balls with napoli and herbs - $8.50

The polpette di vitello (veal meatballs) were excellent! They were incredibly light and fluffy, and the tomato sauce was rich and delicious. I wish I could make meatballs like this at home!

Costolette d'agnello con puree di carotte - Two-point lamb rack on burnt carrot puree - $14.50

As you can imagine, we were very full by this stage, but we were told we simply had to try the lamb cutlets. These were cooked on the rare side of medium rare (perfect for me!), were super tender and had a lovely salty crust on the outside. The slightly sweet burnt carrot puree and salty eggplant crisp were great complements. Order the lamb chops if you go!

Bombolini - Italian donuts with crema pasticceria - $10.50

The bombolini, mini donuts filled with custard, were very nice. I don't think they really needed the fancy plate decorations - they were nice enough to stand up on their own.

Cannoli - Fried and stuffed sticks of heaven - $6.50

There were two flavours of cannoli - one plain and one chocolate - both were great, and impressively, didn't taste or feel greasy at all. Rather, they were light and crisp and all too easy to eat.

Semifreddo al torrone - Nougat semifreddo - $8.50

The best of the three desserts, however, was the nougat semifreddo. If you only have room for one dessert, I suggest this one! It was dense and creamy, with little crispy sweet pops of caramel and nougat throughout and generous flecks of vanilla seeds.

Thanks to Barnie from The Grand for the invitation and to the team for a great lunch! Based on the quality of the Yum Cha, I'd definitely want to go back to try their normal menu - lots of the yum cha items appear to be miniature versions of the dishes they serve in the Dining Room. Who's up for an indulgent dinner?

Sarah and Sandra ate as guests of The Grand Dining Room.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Seven days in Siem Reap

Angkor Wat

So, Cambodia time! Yay! I'm super excited to start blogging about our holiday. It was so much fun and it was literally one of the best holidays I've ever been on. It was a bit of a spontaneous decision to visit Siem Reap - neither of us had been to Cambodia before - put simply, we felt like going on a holiday, had a bit of annual leave up our sleeves, and Air Asia was having a sale on flights. Siem Reap seemed to offer a good mix of culture, food and relaxation. To be honest, at first I was on the fence about going overseas at all... but after some googling I realised that you could get five hours of spa treatments for less than $200. I was in!

As the title of this post suggests, our holiday was made up of seven days in Siem Reap. Apparently most people stay for shorter periods of time and visit as part of a larger trip through Cambodia / South East Asia, but I'm really glad we decided to spend the whole holiday in the one spot - it gave us a chance to get to know the city and see lots of tourist sites without getting overwhelmed or exhausted.

We stayed at Shinta Mani Club, which was centrally located in the French Quarter, and quite close to Pub Street and the Old Market. We totally loved the hotel! It was beautiful, the rooms were very comfortable, the in-house restaurant was very impressive (especially the breakfasts!), and they had a fantastic spa. Most importantly, the service was amazing, really conscientious and thoughtful. Full post to come.

The pool at Shinta Mani Club

The main tourist attraction in Siem Reap is the collection of incredible ancient temples of Angkor. The Angkor Archaeological Park is considered one of the most significant sites in South East Asia, and contains the remains of the different temples of the Khmer Empire, built from the 9th to 15th centuries.

Bayon Temple

We were very organised and planned out all the different temples we wanted to see prior to arriving... we devoted a solid two days to temple trekking and saw sixteen temples in that time, and visited two more on two separate days. Phew! Apparently visiting eighteen temples is quite a lot - according to our tour guide and the hotel staff, most people only see the major ones. Either way, I found the temple visits incredibly interesting and we took loads of photos - full blog post to come including temple travel tips!

Baphuon Temple

We were primarily interested in the temples, but there are, of course, other activities for tourists - we found it quite interesting to visit Artisans d'Angkor, a craft workshop whose aim is to preserve traditional Khmer arts and crafts whilst providing professional skills and training to communities with limited educational opportunities.

Workshops at Artisans d'Angkor

They offer guided tours through the craft and silk workshops (the tours are free but you can tip the guide if you like), and of course there is a large gift shop where you can purchase the crafts they make. They had lots of great stuff, but we didn't buy anything at the time because we were worried about suitcase weight, and then really regretted it. So when we flew out, we were thrilled to discover that they sell Artisans d'Angkor goods at Siem Reap airport, and we happily bought a stone Buddha to bring home. Yay!

Workshops at Artisans d'Angkor

We also liked shopping in the Old Market and the Night Market in the centre of town. The markets kinda reminds me of Vic Market here in Melbourne - there are lots of stalls selling knick-knacks and souvenirs to tourists (silk scarves, bags, bowls, jewellery, I Love Cambodia tees, incredibly comfortable elephant pants...)

The Night Market

The Night Market

...but there were also lots of stalls that were geared towards locals - fresh food, kitchenware, even hair salons!

Noodle shop, Old Market

Old Market

There were lots of nice restaurants in town, ranging from cheap and cheerful to slightly fancy, offering Khmer cuisine, barbecue, Western cuisine and more. Khmer cuisine was pretty new to us, so we tried to eat it as often as possible. I'll write up a post with the different restaurants we visited, but one of the highlights was the Khmer tasting platter at Angkor Palm on Pithnou street. This included fresh spring rolls, papaya salad, green chicken curry, fish amok, morning glory stir-fried in chilli and barbecued pork ribs. So delicious!

Angkor Palm Platter for One - $8.50USD

And, speaking of getting an insight into Khmer cuisine, we took a cooking class run by the River Garden Hotel: "Cooks in TukTuks". This included a visit to Psar Leu market (amazing), and then coming back to the hotel for an interactive cooking demonstration. We made banana flower salad, chicken amok, and a dessert, and got a little booklet of recipes to take home. Of course I'll be blogging the class in full!

Psar Leu Market, Siem Reap

Psar Leu Market, Siem Reap

Me cooking amok

Based on strength of the cooking class, we decided to book in for their Street Food Tour the next night, which I enjoyed even more than the cooking class! We started off at Psar Leu market for some nibbles...

Chive and rice flour cakes at Psar Leu Market - deelicious

...then went to 60 Road - a huge road lined with different food stalls on either side, picnic mats for hire and hundreds and hundreds of locals getting dinner and hanging out. It was so much fun, and I loved being able to get an insight into local life. I was pretty adventurous too - I ate barbecued snake and two barbecued frogs. Rar!

Barbecue Stall, 60 Road

Fruit Stall, 60 Road

Can't wait to share more detail about the holiday in upcoming posts!

Siem Reap Travel Tips

N.B. these tips are all accurate to the best of my knowledge at the time of publishing this post. Make sure you visit SmartTraveller and / or the Cambodian Embassy website for the most up to date information! It is your responsibility to make sure you have the correct visa. If anyone has any tips they'd like to share that I've missed, please leave a comment!

  • Cambodia uses a dual currency - US dollars and Cambodian riels. We only took USD with us and were fine. Try to bring small denominations as things are cheap and it's not always easy to get change. We found that hotels, shops, restaurants and the tourist stalls at the markets all took USD, and would give us change in riels for any amount less than a dollar. Market stalls and shops for locals (e.g. 60 Road) took riels.
  • Australians need a visa for Cambodia - you can get one at Siem Reap airport, just bring some passport photos and some cash. (They were $35USD when I went; it's faster if you bring exact change). You fill in a little form at the airport and they give you a 30 day tourist visa. I'm told you can pre-book the visas online, but I don't know how reliable that process is.
  • You can buy SIM cards at the airport after clearing customs; there are a range of kiosks selling plans from different providers. I bought a Metfone SIM for $4USD, which gave me a week of unlimited data. I found the 3G in Siem Reap to be faster and more reliable than in Melbourne, even in remote areas, and lots of cafes and restaurants in town offered free Wi-Fi.
  • We were there in the last week of October, the end of the rainy season, and were pretty lucky with the weather - it only rained a little bit, in brief downpours. We brought raincoats but didn't need to use them. Most of the time it was hot, hot, hot. The price of our hotel room jumped by $100USD per night from 1 November onwards - so we saved $600USD by staying at the end of the rainy season. Yay!
  • Further to the above point, Siem Reap is hot. Bring sunscreen and a hat. Wear them.
  • I would suggest visiting the travel doctor before you go to make sure all your vaccinations are up to date and to see if you need any medication. On the advice of my doctor, I chose to take malaria medication (Doxylin). Friends who live there tell me that malaria has been pretty uncommon in Cambodia over the last five years, and Siem Reap is a particularly low-risk area. However, I don't get side effects from Doxylin and wanted to be able to visit the more remote temples deeper in the jungle without worrying.
  • Dengue fever is still prevalent in Cambodia but there's not much you can do about that! We brought some pretty heavy duty insect repellant - Bushman's 40% DEET repellant and I didn't get a single mozzie bite - hooray.
  • We travelled around Siem Reap and the temples mainly by tuk-tuk - a scooter with a cabin attached to the rear. We normally took tuk-tuks organised by our hotel, which were about $2USD for a one way trip into the city, but if you take independent tuk-tuks they should be cheaper.