Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Unblogged Files: January 2015

Hey hey! Unblogged Files time! January didn't feel like a super busy month, but looking back, there was a lot of food. Yay!

Let's start by looking at some breakfasts! I put a lot of effort into my breakfasts this month, it seems. We are right in the middle of the Reed avocado season...

Avocados!

Eggs are awesome.

Left: Scrambled eggs, sautéed mushrooms, buttered toast, bacon and chive garnish
Top right: Scrambled eggs, bacon, roast cherry tomatoes, corn tortilla
Bottom right: Masala-spiced omelette, avocado, buttered rye toast, espresso

And here are some yogurty oatmeal type creations.

Top left: Raspberry oatmeal swirl
Top right: Peaches and cream oatmeal
Bottom left: Mango, yogurt, crushed digestive biscuit
Bottom right: Yogurt, raspberries, grated chocolate

I was perhaps most proud of this French toast I made early in the month while we were still on holidays. Thick slices of stale brioche, dipped in a mixture of beaten eggs, milk and vanilla extract, fried in butter and then coated in caster sugar and cinnamon. I served them with fresh raspberries, fior di latte gelato and raspberry sauce. Yum!

Donut French Toast, Raspberries, Fior Di Latte Gelato, Raspberry Sauce

So this summer has been a bit crap so far, hasn't it? We did have a couple of days of really hot weather though, where some cold relief was required! Here's a green tea and mint drink, a raspberry smoothie, and some peanut butter banana gelato. (Whizz together a frozen banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter in a blender for a sweet, creamy, icy treat).

Left: banana and peanut butter gelato
Top right: Jasmine Green tea, mint and soda water
Bottom right: Raspberry smoothie

Throughout January, we were trying to make an effort to eat out less and cook more. Here are some homecooked meals!

Top left: Steak, rocket pine nut and parmesan salad
Top right: Beef kway teow
Bottom left: Grilled salmon and soba salad
Bottom right: Beef bulgogi and black rice

Top left: Spaghettini with chilli pesto and pork meatballs
Top right: Herbed mustard chicken w roast cherry tomatoes & mash
Bottom left: Feuertopf (spicy minced beef & veggies)
Bottom right: Spaghetti with roast chicken pan juices

Top left: Mushroom, chorizo and haloumi tacos
Top right: Bacon, chicken and avocado salad
Bottom left: Chicken with mushrooms and bacon, mashed potato, brocollini
Bottom right: Mashed potato waffles

I did treat myself to a couple of cafe visits though. I'm currently loving Little Rogue, and was really impressed by the asparagus and cocotte eggs at Krimper Cafe.

Top left: Magics at Little Rogue (12 Drewery Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000)
Bottom left: Pain au Raisin and Magic at Plantation (Level 2, Melbourne Central 300 La Trobe Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000)
Top and Bottom Right: Breakfast at Krimper (20 Guilford Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000)
Asparagus and Cocotte Eggs Boiled eggs, asparagus cream, green bruschetta with asparagus, broad bean, broccolini and pecorino
Duck in Pan House made sliced duck prosciutto, duck egg, spinach, mushroom ragout, potato espuma

I'm currently limiting myself to buying lunch just once a week at work, so have been trying to eat different things when I do buy lunch. I can't stay away from Nando's for too long though, haha!

Top left: Nando's!
Top right: Mixed grain salad, roasted pumpkin, broad beans, spinach, harissa whipped feta at Captain Melville (34 Franklin Street Melbourne VIC 3000)
Bottom left: Pork belly on rice, Pho Nom (Emporium, 287 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000)
Bottom left: Curries and Roti at Zam Zam (364 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne VIC 3000)

We had a little party to watch the Miranda finale! Such a fantastic show, I totally bawled my eyes out! We had pizza, guacamole and Veuve Cliquot (thanks to my friend Kim for bringing the champagne!)...

Pizza, Guac, Veuve Cliquot

...and I made a pavlova!

Pavlova!

We reorganised our pantry. Boom.

Pantry!

We also finally checked out 8-Bit (8 Droop Street, Footscray Melbourne 3011). The burgers were decent, but we certainly weren't blown away. I enjoyed my After Burner burger, but the onion rings were a little bland, and Sandra's Altered Beast burger had heaps of unpleasant jiggly undercooked bacon fat. On the plus side, the buns were great (not messy at all), packaging is fantastic, the service was friendly and the food came out really quickly.

Eat-8-Bit

Most importantly, the peanut butter milkshake was incredible. Seriously. Just hook it up to my vein!

#shakeselfie #nosharing

My friend Kim got her PR - hooray! - so I baked her a chocolate raspberry pavlova. It's a Nigella recipe, from Forever Summer, which I baked for the last time nine years ago (!). It's seriously amazing - I won't leave it that long before I bake it again!

Chocolate raspberry pavlova

And speaking of Nigella recipes, I also whipped up a batch of her chocolate chocolate chip muffins (from the Children's chapter in Feast) for a treat of a breakfast throughout the work week.

Nigella's Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

Finally, yesterday we went on a little hike through Sherbrooke Forest with some friends, which started with a decadent picnic at Grant's picnic ground! We had washed rind brie, double cream brie, salty prosciutto, saucisson sec, peaches, pickles and epi bread.

Picnic at Grant's Picnic Ground

After our hike, we took a little drive to Burnham Beeches for afternoon tea. It was a cold day and we'd been walking for hours - their Valrhona hot chocolate totally hit the spot! I loved the chocolate tart too, with its super rich cocoa-y filling and crisp pastry. Yum.

Piggery Cafe Afternoon Tea

Plans for February: more of the same, catch-ups with friends, one blog event I'm really looking forward to (Hint: vodka will be involved), and a weekend trip to Jervis Bay! Yay!

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?