Saturday, February 26, 2011

An Oeuf Roe Degustation Dinner at Provenance Food and Wine

Last week, I received an invitation to: "An Oeuf Roe: a nine course degustation of eggs and caviar" at Provenance Food and Wine on Smith Street in Collingwood.  After having a quick squiz at Provenance's website to find out what they do, my answer was a very enthusiastic yes!

Provenance Food and Wine
288 Smith Street
Collingwood, VIC 3066
Ph: (03) 8415 0700

Knowing that the menu would be heavily based on seafood, I invited my semi-Pescatarian cousin Catherine to come with me (Hi Cuuuuuuuz!).  We went on a Friday night, and after a mega-hectic week at work, I was totally looking forward to a nice dinner and some wine!


We had a quick chat with Dave the owner, and after checking that neither of us were a designated driver (drink responsibly!), out came the food and wine...

Hiramasa kingfish carpaccio
white nectarine puree, tarragon, avruga caviar and nectarine air
Storm Ridge N.V Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Yarra Valley, Vic

This looked like a very cheffy dish, but tasted clean and fresh.  The kingfish, crunchy nectarine slices and slightly sweet puree matched well.  I'm not sure if the tarragon added anything to the dish, but the salty pearls of avruga caviar balanced out the sweetness of the dish nicely.

Cured ocean trout
horseradish snow, dill, trout roe
2010 Prentice Romato Pinot Gris. Whitlands, Vic

I greatly enjoyed this course (as y'all know, I love cured salmon and ocean trout!).  The fish was soft, and the extra elements - horseradish snow, dill, and trout roe - added interest without detracting from the fish itself.  I also enjoyed the pinot gris; it had a strong caramel aftertaste and complemented the salmon well.

Tuna tartare
cucumber, creme fraiche, citrus tobiko, lemon oil
2008 Alectum Albarinio. Riax Baixas, Spain

Even though I love it, I don't often eat tuna, due to it being overfished.  So it's a very rare treat for me.  The tartare comprised super-fresh cubes of raw tuna, crunchy cucumber and some lemon oil.  The bright citrussy taste of the tobiko perked up the tuna, but I think the creme fraiche masked the delicate flavours of the fish.  The accompanying wine (and remember, I am no wine buff) was very crisp, had what I would describe as a very short palate.

St Helens Oyster
poached quail egg, wasabi tobiko, apple caviar
Step Rd N.V Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot noir. Langhorne Creek, SA

I liked the cute presentation of the oyster!  We were instructed to eat it "all in one go", and the wasabi tobiko was (thankfully) not as hot as I expected it to be, hehe!

Potato fondant
baked prawn, bottarga butter
2008 Domaine Laporte Sauvignon Blanc. Loire Valley, France

The fondant was, undoubtedly, my favourite dish of the night.  (Potatoes plus butter equals good times).  Inside the column of potato was some lovely prawn meat, and the salty bottarga-spiked butter sauce was delicious!  That fluffy flower is actually edible, soaking up the butter sauce.

encased in rice paper, pea soup, salmon roe, salmon crackle
2008 Mommesin Beaujolais Villages. Beaujolais, France

This modern take on the classic pea-and-salmon combo was my cousin's favourite dish of the night.  The salmon fillet was perfectly cooked, and wrapped in rice-paper, sitting in a vibrant pea-soup.  I loved the salmon crackle and the salty pearls of salmon roe.  Our waitress told us that the roe is from the Yarra Valley, and comes from delicately hand-milked salmon (and yes, that process is exactly what it sounds like).

Sea urchin roe
dashi custard, shitake air
Sapporo beer, Japan

And now, our final savoury course.  Inside that hollowed out little egg was a very softly set egg custard (like chawan-mushi), with little pieces of sea urchin roe.  It was deeply savoury, thanks to the shiitake air and dashi, and totally delicious.  It came with a Sapporo beer, which despite all the alcohol preceding it, was all too easy to drink.  Kanpai!

Between the savoury courses and dessert, we received a little palate cleanser of tomato consommé with salmon roe.

Tomato consommé with salmon roe

I was amazed that the liquid was so clear, but had an incredibly intense tomato flavour.

And after a short break, it was time for dessert!

Jaffa chocolate egg
with crostini soldiers
Pedro Ximenez. Jerez, Spain

I liked the whimsical presentation of the jaffa egg - served without cutlery "like when we were kids".  The bigger chocolate egg was made in-house, and filled with a citrus flavoured egg white custard.

I don't ordinarily like jaffa, but the combo here worked really well.  My only gripe was that it got a little too sweet by the end, especially when paired with the sweet pedro ximenez sherry.  (Incidentally, I'd never had pedro ximinez before, despite how much Nigella raves about it.  I enjoyed it, but my main impression was that it was incredibly intense, like there were a thousand sultanas in every sip.)

Our final course came with a non-alcoholic beverage - probably a good thing, considering how much we'd already drank by that stage!


Mango 'Fried egg'
coconut pannacotta
cold infused peach green tea

Cold infused peach green tea
I thought the green tea was a nice, refreshing way to end a long meal.  My cousin thought it had the aroma of daikon - perhaps this came from the peach skins during the infusion process?

And how cute is this dessert?  The white part is coconut pannacotta, with a mango "yolk", and the black specks of "pepper" are vanilla seeds.

I loved how the "yolk" oozed out like a real egg when I dug my spoon into it...

We had a great time at Provenance.  The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and I thought the meal was very well balanced.  Despite there being 9 courses, there was a good amount of food - not leaving us weighed down or still hungry.  Our waitress was so nice and enthusiastic, and had a very in-depth knowledge of the menu and all the many ingredients.  There were a couple of minor issues, like our wine being brought out slightly after the matching course, and our final course being brought out without a spoon, but overall the service was both professional and friendly.

Provenance Food and Wine will be hosting another An Oeuf Roe degustation evening tomorrow (Sunday 26th Feb), so there's still time to try it out!  It costs $85 per person, with $55 for matching wines.  Degustation starts at 7pm.  Bookings on (03) 8415-0700.

Sarah and Catherine enjoyed An Oeuf Roe as guests of Provenance Food and Wine, with thanks to Dave Hynes for the invitation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cured Salmon

At our mega Christmas parties, (yes, I still have a zillion posts from them!), one of the more popular dishes was Nigella's gravlax.  I've made it before, it's extremely easy, and everyone seemed super-impressed by it.  The recipe is here, on the BBC food website, so I'll just quickly step through the process and we can look at the pretty pictures!

Fresh salmon fillets, loads of fresh dill, and some gin.

The marinading liquid is a mixture of salt, sugar, mustard and gin.

You slather it on the fillets, and blanket them in dill.  (Yes, my fingers, kitchen and fridge reeked of dill for days afterwards!)

Then cover it closely with cling film, weigh it down with cans, and let it cure in the fridge for 2-3 days.  Once it's ready, you'll see that loads of liquid has come out...

... and the fish itself is paler in colour and quite firm!

Then when you're ready to serve, just whack on some gloves (unless you want dill under your fingernails and yellow-stained hands from the mustard!) and slice it as thinly as possible.

Ooh... pretty!

If you're not eating it all at once, you're meant to just cut what you need and leave the rest whole.  Ta-dah!

For the party, we served it with our other dishes-to-be-picked at, with some baguette.  However, if you're serving it as a first course, I think some lovely Irish soda bread and cream cheese would be great.  Or, if you're going totally luxe - freshly made blini, chopped red onion, chives and capers with a swoosh of crème fraiche!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Duchess of Spotswood and A Bunch of Cakes

I generally only have one reason to cross the Westgate - and that reason is Andrew's Choice butcher, who, in my opinion, make the best German smallgoods in Melbourne!  But now I have another reason: a fabulous little cafe by the name of Duchess of Spotswood.

Duchess of Spotswood
87 Hudsons Rd
Spotswood VIC 3015
Ph: (03) 9391 6016

I previously only knew Spotswood for two things: the Scienceworks museum and the film Spotswood.  But after reading Adrian's glowing review of Duchess cafe, I was very keen to go.  We were super pleased (but not the least bit surprised) when Adrian accepted our invitation to go for a Saturday brunch!

Duchess is on a quiet Spotswood street, with a couple of other cafes, an op shop and a florist.  The cafe was full when we arrived at midday, but not crazy busy: we only had to wait about 15 minutes for a table.

I don't think that bread was for sale... but it did look good!  I also liked the cafe's chandelier and retro pale pastel walls.

We started with a round of great coffees.
Cappuccino - $3.00

Latte - $3.00
Funky sugar bowl!  There wasn't a label, but I'm pretty sure it was Rapadura sugar, the same type they serve at Market Lane cafe, and all the other 3rd wave coffee houses.

It took a little while for us to decide on our meals, and I was impressed that they offer more creative items than the usual cafe fare of bircher muesli, corn/zucchini fritters, eggs etc.  The Duchess items seem to have a British theme, with ingredients like Stilton and Gentlemen's Relish, and pun-tastic names like Breakfast of Champignons (oh no you didn't!) and Scotch Woodcock (hehehe).

Here's what we ate.

First up, a mix and match breakfast of perfect poached eggs, large buttery mushrooms, thick toast and a potato hash.  Overall it was great, but the hash could have been a little crispier.
Poached eggs - local free range eggs from Villa Verde - $8.50 plus extra mushrooms $3.50 and extra potato hash $4.50
The Simple Pleasures looked stunning!  So fresh and prettily arranged.  The sausage was an extra addition, and I thought it was very cutely presented in a little spiral.
Simple Pleasures - Marinated avocado with goats curd, sourdough toast, heirloom tomatoes and preserved lemons - $17.50 with poached eggs, plus extra Sausage $4.00
I know Duchess is famous for its porky products, but I didn't want to go OTT with the calories, so ordered scrambled eggs for myself.  (I freely admit I was also drawn to this dish for its hilarious name. Hehe, "woodcock").
Scotch Woodcock - Scrambled eggs with Gentlemen's relish and white anchovy fillet - $11
The eggs were nice and soft, and I loved the white anchovy fillet, but I wasn't blown away by the dish.  Turns out I don't like Gentlemen's relish! I assumed I'd love the anchovy/caper sauce, but I found it a bit overpowering.  Oh well, now I've tried it, and next time I'll know.

Adrian had the Duchess of Pork, the description of which sounded like decadence on a plate: crispy pig's jowl with fried egg, rich truffle sauce and sourdough toast.  And very well priced at $17.50!
Duchess of Pork - Crispy pig's jowl with fried egg, rich truffle sauce, and sourdough toast - $17.50
I was looking with piercing envy at Adrian's dish, until he insisted (YAY!) that I try some of the jowl.  Wow! It was incredibly tender, falling apart at the touch of a fork.  So delicious.

The menu seems to change pretty frequently, judging by some other blogposts I hastily googled: Melbourne GastronomeEspresso Melbourne"... it pleases us", and Totally Addicted to Taste have all blogged and been equally rapturous in their descriptions of Duchess.  Definitely worth repeat visits!
Duchess of Spotswood on Urbanspoon

Across the street from Duchess was a cute little bakery/florist called A Bunch of Cakes.

The lovely ladies who run this shop bake cupcakes throughout the day (all day on the day we visited!) and do orders for parties and other occasions.  Adrian picked up a strawberry and a blueberry cupcake. How cuuuuuute!!  They also sell flowers (duh), and had a nice range of cupcake papers and cake decorating bits and pieces.

Strawberry cupcake - $4, Blueberry cupcake - $4

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

3 Dinners: Nigella Salads

I've got a few more Nigella Kitchen recipes to share.  Today's theme: Salads!


I knew I would love Nigella's panzanella (Italian bread salad) as soon as I read the recipe.  The dressing starts with some finely sliced red onions, soaked them in red wine vinegar.  Always delicious.  (Remember?) There are also stale bread cubes, basil leaves and diced tomatoes.  A classic combo of flavours - you couldn't really go wrong!  Nigella's version majors on the bread, and looks rather like a big oil-soused pile of bread cubes, but I tried to keep all the elements a bit chunkier and separate.  I think it looks prettier that way, don't you?

This recipe is included in the Cook it Better chapter, which is focused on using up leftovers productively.  Antithetic, I know, but I really luxed it up, by adding a ball of DOP buffalo mozzarella.  Proper buffalo mozzarella is a world away from those depressing (and surprisingly pricey) little bouncy bocconcini balls they sell in the supermarkets.  Fabulous!

Crisp chicken cutlets with salad on the side

This recipe for crumbed chicken, (from the What's for Tea? chapter), just sneaks into the 'salad' category thanks to the salad on the side.  Schnitzel was one of the first things I learned to cook (along with pancakes and mustard chicken), but I've picked up some tips from Nigella to make it even more tasty.

Here, the chicken is marinated in buttermilk and mustard, and coated in crumbs mixed with oregano, grated parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper.  You could use any breadcrumbs (and I think Nigella recommends panko), but I couldn't resist the brightly coloured box of Cornflake crumbs.

The side salad is made of tomatoes, spinach leaves and parmesan shavings, with a dressing of red wine vinegar and olive oil.  Come to think of it, the crispy chicken and salad is rather like her crunchy pork chops, from the Ultimate Feasts chapter of Feast.  Equally wonderful.

Chicken, Bacon and Avocado Salad

This salad is suggested as a way of using up leftover chicken meat from the praised chicken.  Simple: chicken meat, lettuce, avocado, crispy fried bacon pieces, chives. It's dressed with a punchy mixture of mustard, vinegar and the unfortunately named, but undeniably delicious, rapeseed oil.  It made for incredibly tasty, compulsive eating.  The BLT sandwich is so ubiquitous in cafes here, but can be so greasy and heavy, especially if you take the BLAT option.  I think the strong flavours work so much better as a salad.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day Double-Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!  Whether you're single, attached, in love, cynical, or a busy florist or restaurateur charging exorbitant prices, I hope you have a great day!

For me, Valentine's Day is an excuse to get stuck into some good ol' fashioned heart-shaped baking.  I briefly considered making Smitten Kitchen's fabulicious white and dark hearted brownies (OMG CUTE!), but then I found baking inspiration in the most unlikely of places: a Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies magazine (see the bottom of this post for some pics and a description).

The cookies I made were Martha's Double-Chocolate Chunk Cookies. (Recipe here!) In the magazine they have Christmas shapes stenciled on them; I clearly went for hearts.  They were very quick and easy to make - I went out to buy ingredients around 10:45pm, started baking as soon as I got back, and we were tucking into freshly baked cookies at midnight.  (Yes, this is what I do on a Saturday night!)

I love how dark and glossy the mixture is.

Once the cookies are baked, it's a simple matter of dusting over icing sugar through a baking-paper stencil (and indeed, you could use any cookie recipe you like).  It's easy if you choose a simple shape like a heart, but if you are more dexterous and imaginative than I am, I suppose the sky is the limit!


The cookies had a light crunch around the edges, but were soft and melting on the inside.

If you're going all the way with the heart motif, then you could serve these adorable little heart-shaped sugar cubes with your accompanying tea or coffee.

Or alternatively, a nice sensible glass of cold milk.

These cookies were delicious!  Nice and crunchy and not too sweet, with a deep, rich chocolate taste, thanks to generous amounts of cocoa and dark chocolate.  Rather an adult taste, I must say.  Ordinarily I find American baking recipes too sweet, but I didn't adjust any of the quantities while baking - Martha strikes me as someone whose recipes you must follow to the letter. And they turned out perfect, so I'm glad I didn't adjust anything.  We packed up the leftover cookies in an airtight container with baking paper in between each layer, and took them to share with some friends the next day.  I was also pleased that the icing-sugar hearts stayed in place.

Next, I'd like to try the dark-chocolate espresso cookies, which are the cover recipe (see pic below), and pretty similar to the double-chocolate chunk cookies.  They have the same ingredients with an extra tablespoon of espresso powder and a slightly different method.  I think the coffee would really complement the dark chocolate taste.

And as I promised, here are some pics from the Martha Stewart Holiday Cookies magazine.  I've never found Martha particularly appealing - she seems so anal-retentive and perfectionist - so I was surprised by how much I loved the magazine!  I saw it in the local newsagent, had a quick flick through it, and just had to buy it.  Lovely photography and styling, and fabulous recipes that were (surprisingly) relevant and topical!  I know Martha's not too big in Australia, but perhaps a little look-see inside the magazine will persuade you?
Mag cover - Zimtsterne and Dark Chocolate-Espresso Cookies
The mag is divided into categories depending on who's eating them: for traditionalists, for trendsetters, for little ones, for hedonists etc.  There are loads of classics, as well as some more exciting ones - smoky bacon-ginger cookies or peppercorn shortbread, anyone?  I'm thinking of buying her Cookies book, but I think there are quite enough recipes in this magazine to keep me going for a while.
Pepita Spice Cookies, Indian-Spiced Cashew-Lime Cookies; Gingersnap Ice-Cream Sandwiches; Slice-and-Bake Bull's-Eye and Spiral Cookies

Almond macarons, Biscotti

Chocolate-Caramel Sandwich Cookies; Mice Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day everybody!