Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hey! It's your birthday! We're gonna party...

...like it's my birthday! Today! I'm finally 24! I've changed the sidebar and everything.



After the tiring efforts of the small dinner party on Saturday, I didn't think we were going to do anything special on the day itself, but it turns out that we did!

As per tradition, we were supposed to go out for a family dinner last night. In the days leading up to my birthday, I couldn't think of anywhere I wanted to go, and almost skipped the dinner altogether. However, at the last minute, with everyone asking me, "Where are we going, where are we going, come on decide!", I suddenly thought, duh, my favourite restaurant, Tutto Bene! (Click here for photos from my previous visit).

Luckily enough for us, they had a table for that evening. Here are some highlights of what we enjoyed for dinner.

Bellini

A gorgeous rotolo of mozzarella with bresaola and rocket, served with grissini and warm olives with almonds.

A selection of assaggini: figs stuffed with mozzarella and wrapped in prosciutto, marinated tiger prawns, deep-fried veal-stuffed olives. Everything was delicious, but the figs were incredible!

Risotto of the day: Slippery jack mushroom and saffron.

Boneless crisp roasted duckling with Sicilian marsala scented broth and amarena cherries.


As expected, the food was great, and the service was prompt and friendly. Love it!


So, after that dinner, I expected my actual birthday day (today) to be a quiet one. For lunch, we had mee swa, (birthday noodles), served on the new placemats and napkins that my bro and his girlfriend bought me! (I am totally going down the Colin Cowie route, and now there's no turning back!)



And just after lunch, I got a surprise cheesecake. Good thing I was too lazy to bake!

We demolished half of it after lunch. It's so good, I think that I may be having cheesecake for dinner. Shh.

And finally, that big, red, shiny, beautiful machine you see at the top of the post? That's my new KitchenAid Espresso machine!! Oh my god! It was a massive, way-too-generous surprise from my parents. I was totally floored. Thank-you! Now I won't have to leave the house for good espresso. Which really means I'll be able to spend a greater portion of the day wearing pyjamas. Hurrah!

Check back here and at Coffee of the Week over the next few weeks to see how the new machine goes!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Birthday Dinner

My birthday is coming up this week. Hurrah! I shall be 24! For the celebrations, I decided to eschew the usual drinks party at a bar, (I'm no longer hardcore enough to be drinking to the wee hours of the morning), and instead I invited some good friends over for a special dinner on the weekend.

A still life in passionfruit and pomegranates from our neighbour's tree. This was the centrepiece on the table.

I know, a "centrepiece"! I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be setting out places for dinner parties, let alone arranging fruit-based centrepieces. I mean, usually I just stack the plates in the corner and let everyone get their own. But I seem to have come over all Colin Cowie lately, and am totally getting into table settings, candles, flowers - basically any touches that can make the dining area look more inviting. My table (as you can see below), is quite basic, but that's the way I like it.

Setting the table before your guests get there lets them know they're expected, makes them feel welcome, and gives you one less thing to worry about as people arrive. Plates, cutlery, glasses, centrepiece, sparkling water, salt and pepper, cold side dishes and some nibbly nuts.


Sarah's 24th Birthday Dinner, for 8

The Union Square Cafe's bar nuts (Nigella Bites)
Blinis with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, dill, diced red onions and capers (How to Eat)

Eggplant involtini (How to Eat)
Lentil and Walnut Salad (Nigella Express)
Green Salad

Tarte chocolate au lait, ananas rôti (Foodbeam)



The menu I chose was very laborious - from the yeasted batter for the mini-blinis, to the griddling of the eggplant slices, to the individual chocolate tarts for dessert. For this gorgeous recipe, from Foodbeam, I made my own pâte sucrée, a milk chocolate ganache, and roasted pineapple pieces in a banana caramel. I started 3 days before the actual night, which I know might seem like madness to some, but we all know I love to cook, and enjoyed trying a whole range of new techniques. Having almost everything prepared in advance gave me less stress on the night itself.

I shall save the detailed, technical food talk for another post (and believe me, there is a lot!) and just show you the pictures. I set out the entrée of smoked salmon blinis on the kitchen counter so that we could all share them before we sat down. I put wine and champagne glasses on the counter as well, instead of on the table. Many of my friends my age don't drink very much, especially if they're driving, and whilst I wanted them to feel welcome to drink, I didn't want them to feel obliged to. (I'm still on my P's! I can't have a drop of alcohol when I drive!)

However, we all know that dinner parties are not just about food and table settings. Not the fun ones anyway. They are about catching up for fun with friends, chatting, and champagne! Lovely, lovely champagne!

Real champagne. What a treat. Thank-you to Markii and Tim! And the delicious Australian red wine (thank-you Jessie!) went perfectly with the heavier, tomato-based taste of the involtini.

Now, the food.
Smoked salmon for the blinis, folded in the same manner as those endless salmon platters I used to make when I was a buffet runner at a large hotel. Chef would be proud of me.

Blini station! Woah, I see that my days at the buffet haven't left me! And see what I said about laborious? Dozens of teensy blinis, finely chopped red onions, chives, and de-salted capers. Phew! I do think it's worth it though; I just adore that classic flavour combination.

We moved on to a more rustic main dish - Nigella's anglicised involtini, re-Italianified with provolone instead of the Lancashire that Nigella suggests. It can be made entirely in advance, and shunted into the oven when guests arrive.

Bubbly and crispy cheese...

Being vegetarian, and quite light, I felt that this dish could stand being beefed up with a substantial side dish - I chose Nigella's lentil and walnut salad, from Nigella Express, as well as a plain green salad.

I then brought out the dessert on plates, and brewed some tea and coffee. The dessert was a labour of love for me, literally! I made Fanny from Foodbeam's milk chocolate tarts with roasted pineapple, in heart-shaped tins! It's sweet pastry, filled with milk chocolate ganache, topped with diced pineapple roasted in caramel. I think they turned out quite special, but still looked lovingly homemade.

The only problem with these was that they were incredibly rich! It was difficult to get through them. In Fanny's original recipe, she uses fresh passionfruit in the ganache, which I omitted because I couldn't find enough. I think it would really cut through the sweetness. I'd love to try the original version once passionfruit are back in season.

Finally, for some general amusement and to keep y'all occupied until I finish the post about the long and involved cooking process, here are some things that us hip young things were talking about:

- Kevin Rudd, what's your opinion?
- "Steve Bracks is hot!" (Note the quotation marks, it wasn't me who said that!)
- Plasma screen TVs and output cables
- Best shopping spots in Tokyo
- Why Sex and the City is soo much better than Will and Grace
- Kylie Kwong: What kind of Chinese person eats pao with chopsticks?! And then puts it on the cover of their book? AIYO!

More to come soon...

I am H for Honoured

I woke up this morning (well actually, it was this afternoon... shh, Sarah needs quiet time), to a very nice surprise in my Google Reader - the lovely Lisa at The Chambermaid has awarded this blog, and Sarah Discovers How to Eat with an "E for Excellent" award! Lisa is a super-duper Mom, and an excellent writer with a great sense of humour. Thank-you Lisa, I am honoured!

Photobucket

I'm going to pass this one onto Cindy and Michael at Where's The Beef?, and Mellie and EG at Tummy Rumbles, two of my favourite Melbourne food blogs. Keep it up, guys!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Baci di Ricotta

Bart Simpson is eyeing off that baci di ricotta. But it's mine! All mine! Muahaha.

Nigella's baci di ricotta are incredibly easy to make, and perhaps even better than regular donuts. They're certainly my first choice for home-made deep-fried goodness. Donuts are, I think, better left to the professionals, unless you're very keen and have a lot of time on your hands. These puppies took about 20 minutes from start to finish, and no nerve wracking yeast was involved. All I had to do was stir the ingredients together, then deep fry teaspoonfuls of the mixture in a small saucepan.

They were perfect when we had some good friends popping in on the weekend for a coffee and a chat. (These friends included my parents' friends, their daughter, and her daughter). I had the mixture prepared just before they were scheduled to arrive, and started deep-frying when they got there.

I love the way the fried baci are irregularly shaped, with small crunchy bits. They look rather like aliens... or little cats... or odd sea creatures. Anyway, they're very cute. Unlike most of Nigella's dessert recipes, these baci weren't very sweet, so they need a good blanket of icing sugar.

I loved them! They were light and crispy, perfect with a cup of tea or coffee. What a great recipe - so easy, yet so delicious. It comes from Nigella's book, Feast, and also appeared in the May 14, 2003 edition of her At My Table column. Please give them a go. Smelling like smoky oil is a small price to pay for such deliciousness.

Below we have the cuter-than-cute Gemma. I don't tend to do a lot of cooking for small children - most of my friends are too young to have their own children, and my young nieces and nephews all live overseas - so I never know what to cook for them. Added to this, I'm told that children are notoriously fussy eaters. What do the kiddies even like these days? Is it still Paddle Pops and Primas? What with their Bratz dolls and their High School Musicals and their fruit at McDonalds (what the?!?!), I just can't keep up.

Little Gemma eyed the ricotta donuts with suspicion - she had never had ricotta before and thought a dessert with cheese might taste weird. She tried one, slowly at first, with a knife and fork. But I think she liked them because she said they were "yumyumyumyum", and "they taste like raisin toast"! (Must be the cinnamon). Then she ate 2 more. Yay!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Steak Sanga

I love a good steak sanga. That's a steak "sandwich" for any non-Aussies out there. Before I made this one, it had been quite a while since I had one, but I was inspired after seeing Bill Granger make it on TV late at night. Totally droolworthy.

I made these this week for a super-yummy family dinner.

Bill's steak sandwich contains fresh crusty sourdough bread, garlic creme, quickly-fried fillet steak, caramelised onion, rocket, and tomato. Ta-dah, perfection.

Fillet steak is expensive,but you only need small slices, which you pound out thinly. I must admit I was quite alarmed when I saw they were $53 a kilo at Rendinas Organic Butcher, but for 5 steak sanga steaks, it only cost $20. Not too bad.

Bill's garlic creme is actually a garlic mayonnaise, which is an absolute pain in the arse to make. You start by whisking up egg yolks, garlic and balsamic vinegar, to which you have to add oil, drop by painful drop.

However, once your mayo is done and everything is creamily emulsified, you end up with the most delicious, creamy, garlicky mayo I have ever eaten! I was so impressed. It is absolutely worth making yourself.

Mmm... fattening.

Caramelised onions, cooked with a touch of balsamic vinegar for extra caramelisation.

The steaks.

I think the finest accompaniment for a steak sanga is chips, but I'm not a fan of oven-baked home chips. (Any suggestions for a good brand available in Australia?) So, I made some crispy crispy roast potatoes.



This was an incredibly delicious dinner, and my whole family loved it. I thought the whole combination was just fantastic, especially the garlic creme. I will definitely be making this again!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Soup. Or "How to get warm without pudding"

Lest you think my life is a never-ending parade of dinner parties, restaurant dinners, baking cakes and glamorous travel, (hah!) let me assure you that I do occasionally stay in and eat healthy food.

Bill Granger's Puy Lentil Soup (Sydney Food)

Case in point: I've really gotten into making vegetable soups lately. It's just right for the colder weather, and for me, is a comforting vehicle for heaps of nutrient-filled veggies which would otherwise be ingested, tediously, in salads. I seem to be rotating 3 different soup recipes at the moment, which are all quite similar and tomato-based. I like to make my soups purely vegetarian, (not a meat stock or ham hock in sight!), usually to balance out the carnivorous excesses of the night before.

First, my all-time-favourite, Greg Malouf's chermoula and chickpea soup. (I don't have a photo of that one, but don't worry, all these soups look pretty much the same.) I started making it last year, when I bought a jar of his chermoula, and got a free recipe card with it. I have been making it ever since. It's quite easy; just cook some onions, garlic and green chilli with a spoonful of chermoula, before adding stock, chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes and some herbs and spices. I can't tell you how blown away I was by this soup. He has a similar recipe on his website, with preserved limes in place of the chermoula. (That recipe is here. Enjoy!)

Next up is a padded-out version of Nigella's 'minestrone in minutes', from Nigella Express. Her superexpress version contains a jar of tomato-based pasta sauce, some stock, a tin of beans, and some short pasta, all simmered together. I expanded on this idea by sweating some onions, carrots and herbs first, then adding her ingredients, plus a tin of lentils. It tasted like an idealised version of tinned minestrone. Yum.


Finally, Bill Granger's puy lentil soup. I was scouring his books for healthy recipes when I came across this soup. It requires a LOT of tedious chopping (onions, carrots, celery, leek, parsley, fresh oregano...), but I found it to be a good way to while away a cold and windy afternoon. Just me, the vegetables, my chopping board, and my kickass sharp-as-all-hell santoku knife from Japan.


As with the other soups, you add tomatoes, stock and the legumes (puy lentils in this case) to the sliced-and-diced vegies, and simmer for a good 30 minutes.

Deliciousness and health!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Longrain

Friday night saw us enjoying fresh, modern, creative Thai cuisine in a gorgeous setting. But first, COCKTAILS!

A Golden Triangle at Longrain's Bar

Longrain
44 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9671-3151
Website

Longrain is a funky restaurant and bar located on Little Bourke Street, right opposite Shark Fin. I was extremely lucky to be taken here by 2 of my best friends, Adri and George, for an early-birthday celebration on Friday night. They don't take dinner bookings for groups of less than 6, so we just rocked up at about 8, put our names on the list, and sat down to enjoy a cocktail and check out the place.

Golden Triangle, Spiced Cashews, Apple Juice

The Golden Triangle cocktail was seriously good - muddled ruby grapefruit segments and strawberry pieces sat amongst the alcohol and ice. It was refreshing and slightly sweet, a great pre-dinner drink. There is no way that roasted cashews could not be good, and the salty spice on these ones made them all the more addictive.

The interior is very impressive. As you enter, you turn right into a narrow corridor leading to the bar, which opens onto the general dining area. In the corridor, there are a couple of booths set into the wall with private dining tables. The bar is in the centre of the restaurant, sitting between the dining area on the left, and the cocktail lounge on the right. You can see the open kitchen through the back wall of the restaurant, which doubles as a feature wall, covered in gorgeous shimmering green tiles. It looks like a mermaid's tail. I'd want tiles just like that in the foyer of my imaginary future Venetian villa. Very, very cool.

We had to wait about 30 minutes to get to our table, which wasn't bad going considering that we rocked up at one of their busiest times.

The food came pretty quickly, and is in generous portions, for sharing. We had rice and 3 dishes - soft shell crab, squid salad, and kingfish.

Adri just had to order the soft-shell crab, because her friend Peter said "it's like an orgasm in your mouth!" I actually think her main reason for choosing Longrain as my birthday venue was to sample the infamous soft-shell crab. No complaints here!

Soft-Shell Crab

The dish consisted of 2 crabs, each halved and deep-fried to crispy perfection, served with a sticky-sweet sauce, and some cubes of crunchy, sweetly roasted pork.

Squid Salad

The squid salad contained the elements of a regular Thai, executed with great skill. I adored the combination of the intensely fresh tasting herbs and vegetables, tender squid and the vibrant, sharp, and hot dressing.

Kingfish topped with green curry, eggplant and peas.

From the menu description, we thought that this Kingfish dish would be a regular green curry, but we were mistaken. As you can (sort of) see in the photo, the dish consists of a generously sized kingfish fillet, topped with a flavourful paste of green curry and eggplant, with a few peas as well. The whole lot was blanketed in deep-fried and crunchy basil leaves. Absolutely gorgeous.

Of course, the big cool warehousey bar vibe has its drawbacks. The 3 of us, seated next to each other on a large round communal table, found it hard to talk to each other - I was sitting in the middle, and constantly had to lean back or pass messages between us. This was exacerbated by the incredible noise levels in the place. The large space and hard floors, combined with loud music and general busy atmosphere made it impossible to talk without shouting. By the end of the night I had a sore throat from all the yelling. (And the spicy food!)

Adri: Hey, this soft shell crab is great!
Me: Yeah!
George: What??
Me: ADRI SAYS... this SOFT... SHELL... CRAB... IS GREAT... purple monkey dishwasher!

... and so on.

The service was good and efficient, if a bit perfunctory. But I think that this is because of the nature of the booking system, the sequence of service and the high turnover, and not a fault of the waiters and waitresses themselves.

But apart from the noise levels, the dinner was delicious and we had a great time. The food was amazing. I really want to bring my family here, as I know my parents would love the food, and my brother would love the slick decor. My dad is often disappointed by the quality of Thai restaurants around town. I'd probably bring them for lunch though, as it wouldn't be so noisy, and you can make bookings for lunch.

Massive thanks to Adri and George for a fab evening!! Have an awesome trip guys!

EDIT: Tee-hee-hee! Looks like I'm not the only one who noticed how noisy it is inside Longrain. In today's Epicure (22nd April 2008), they made a list of noisy restaurants, and Longrain was the noisiest of the ones they listed, with a decibel reading of 87.6 at 9:30pm on a Thursday!!

Longrain Melbourne on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 18, 2008

Germany 2008: Breakfast in a Box

If you liked Croissant in a Can, you'll love Breakfast in a Box!

The classic, with Speck and eggs.

Bauern Früstück
, (literally "Farmer's Breakfast"), consists of fried potato slices, bacon, and eggs. I'm not sure if German farmers actually eat it for breakfast, but the image of a big ol' Bavarian farmer (possibly wearing lederhosen or a funky green hat), up at the crack of dawn, tucking into a big plate of Bauern Früstück, is an appealing image, even if it is a caricature.

I would tend to think of such a dish as a hangover cure, or a quick and treaty supper, rather than a daily breakfast. (I certainly hope so; I can't imagine a Bauern Früstück being a daily breakfast for anyone who wants to live past 50).

In that brightly coloured box, there is a foil package, containing the uncooked breakfast. All you gotta do is fry it in a pan until golden brown and heated through. It doesn't look very attractive when you first squelch it out of the packet and drop it onto the waiting pan...

... but turns a nice golden colour once fried.


A big plate of this, beer, TV. Contentment.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Momotaro Ramen

Shoyu Ramen


Momotaro Ramen
392 Bridge Road
Richmond VIC 3121
(03) 9421 1661

Momotaro is the story of the peach boy, Momotaro. He was born when a large peach floated down a river, and a childless old lady found it and took it home to her husband. Momotaro popped out of the peach, and became their son. When he came of age, he set off on an adventure to defeat the demons on Onigashima (Demon's Island), accompanied by his plucky friends - a talking dog, a monkey and a pheasant. He defeated the demons, and returned to his village a hero. Hoorah!

It doesn't say in my picture book whether or not Momotaro ate ramen, but as a strong, vigorous young Japanese demon-killer, I don't see why he wouldn't have.

Momotaro Ramen, the shop, is located on Bridge road, and is a favourite of Melbournians seeking out a ramen fix. It's very cheap too, with most mains under $10.

Gyoza

The ramen are massive, filling, and very very tasty. I was particularly impressed by the quality and quantity of the roast pork in each bowl of noodles.
Wakame Ramen - with extra seaweed! Full of iron for all you growing peach-boys out there.

We don't normally have desserts when eating out for lunch, but my dad was just craving green tea ice-cream. It was a good thing he ordered it too, because it was fantastic! It was less sweet than most green-tea ice-creams, with a lovely deep matcha flavour.

Green Tea Ice-cream

Momotaro Ramen has been around for years, and now that I've finally visited, I'm not sure what kept me away from it all this time! I'll definitely be back. Oishii ramen!

Momotaro Rahmen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Germany 2008: Was habe ich gebacken?

Molten Chocolate Babycakes, baked all-together in one dish. Not quite so baby-like.

In Germany in January, it was prohibitively cold. And the shops were all closed on Sundays. We often stayed in, shopping online, baking, eating, and watching Deutschland sucht den Superstar or Ich bin ein Star - Holt mich hier raus! It's quite interesting (and depressing) to discover that all these reality shows are almost exactly the same all over the world.


Chocolate Molten Babycakes

In the first photo we have Nigella Lawson's molten chocolate babycakes, from How to be a Domestic Goddess. The recipe is supposed to serve 6, and I halved the recipe for 2 of us. (The original recipe has 4 eggs, so I couldn't make only a third of the mixture). We baked it in one large dish as we didn't have little ramekins. Beneath the crackly top lay an incredibly gooey chocolate overload. Woah.

We ate it with crème fraîche. It's easily available in Germany, and good quality versions can be bought very cheaply. What a treat! Here in Australia, I have crème fraîche very rarely - not only is it heart-stoppingly unhealthy, but it's also quite a bit more expensive than regular cream or sour cream.


Nigella's Coca-Cola Cake
I have made Nigella's coca-cola cake numerous times before, always as cupcakes. However, I'd just bought a Kaiser 16cm bundt tin, (for a mere 4,99€ at Woolworths!) and really wanted to try it out! I halved the recipe to fill this small tin. My host mother loved it, and the whole family liked the novelty of the cola kuchen.


Irish Tiramisu

This tiramisu, from Nigella Express was a surprise hit with my host father. I first made it for New Year's Eve, then again for his birthday, and at his insistent request, once more for a work party he was having. Success!


Kiwi Cheesecake
This is actually Nigella's Cherry Cheesecake, from the Retro Rapido chapter of Nigella Express. It is a biscuit base, covered in a softly set cream-cheese mixture. Unlike most of Nigella's cheesecake, it isn't a baked cheesecake, but a refrigerated one. It is densely creamy, with a soft and smooth texture. However, I would have preferred a higher ratio of biscuit base to filling. I love the biscuit base of cheesecakes! I should also add that our kiwi topping, whilst very pretty, wasn't the best choice. The cheesecake is very soft, you see, and when we sliced through the kiwis, we squished the cheesecake most unattractively. I think that the original topping of cherry conserve would be best, or failing that, any very soft fruit.


Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

I have made this cake before, but never with much success. It's from How to be a Domestic Goddess, but a similar cake features in Feast, under the name Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake. I've tried that one too, on recommendation from friends, but didn't love it. For some reason, I could never get the icing to be smooth and luscious like in the book (or like Paola's gorgeous version!), and the cake would always turn out dense and dry.

However, at the first bloggers' banquet last year, Vida brought along a sour cream chocolate cake, made with milk chocolate in the icing. It was delicious! So, when we had 4 tubs of sour cream that needed using up, I thought I'd give her version a go. Nigella's recipe says to use 2 20cm sandwich tins for the cake, but I'd bought a baking tray of cute mini-heart shapes at Aldi, as well as a 20cm heart-shaped cake tin, so I used those. I also thought that by making smaller cakes, instead of one mama sandwich cake, we could avoid a chocolate overload! It turned out to be a good move.



I loved the milk chocolate in the icing! As you can probably see, my icing was still a bit grainy, but it tasted fantastic. I suppose practice makes perfect. I'd love to try this cake again, next time there's a celebration, and see if I can get the soft, smooth, swirly peaks that it's supposed to have!