Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Unblogged Files: February

February was a pretty big month for me, not least of all because I spent the first two weeks of February in Malaysia!  (Many, many blogposts to come).

Here's what the rest of my February looked like.

I made a few zillion trips to Axil Coffee Roasters... seems I haven't run out of excuses to drop in!  I've tried enough of the menu now to know that there are a couple of less-than-inspiring dishes on offer. However, it's mostly delicious, and I still think it's the best coffee in the area.

Left: Coconut, Passionfruit & White Chocolate Muffin
Right: Strawberry and Pistachio Tart
The muffin was a little dry and disappointing, whilst the strawberry and pistachio tart was a well-made example of the classic fruit-topped crème pâtissière-filled tart.

Left: Cafe Latte
Right: Bircher Muesli with kiwi/spirulina & dukkah-coated pear
Cute presentation of the muesli!

Top left: Potato hash with bacon and poached eggs
Top right: Veal ragu with gnocchi
Bottom left: Steak sandwich with potato salad
Bottom right: Pappardelle with smoked fish (trout?) and capers
The steak sandwich was huge, and served with a heavy, mayo-based potato salad, which I felt was a poor match.  The other dishes on this visit were uniformly impressive - particularly the richly flavoured, slow-cooked veal ragu.

Inspired by Axil's veal ragu, one night I made my own veal stew with herbed ricotta gnocchi.

I'll blog the meal in detail soon, but just wanted to give a brief description now.  The stew recipe comes from Cook with Jamie, (previously made here), and I adapted the gnocchi recipe from a Donna Hay recipe.  I made the stew extra soupy, and fried the gnocchi in brown butter - very rich but so delicious!

Dessert that night was Nigella's chocolate brownie bowls (from Kitchen).

I've had the special tin for ages but only just got around to making them.  They looked really cute, but were a bit lacking in the taste department, as they need to be quite firm and dry to maintain the bowl shape.  Give me a rich, gooey dark chocolate brownie any time!

Y'all will know that in February we also hosted a massive ice cream party!   And after all that sweetness, I was craving salty food.  It seemed that no-one wanted to do a KFC-run (booo!), so we went to Best Food Gallery in Box Hill for dumplings and other salty goodness.

Yes, we ordered lemon chicken (the most kwai lo of all kwai lo dishes), and I'm not ashamed!  It was deep fried and dee-licious.  The vitamin-rich garlic gai laan and the super-spicy ma-po tofu were much needed after our big sugary arvo.

I tried carbonated coffee for the first time at the South Melbourne Street Fair.  St Ali had set up a little stall at the fair, offering the carbonated coffee, mocktails with cold-drip coffee, iced coffee and regular old espresso.

Looks like coke, huh?  I must be honest and say I really didn't like the carbonated coffee.  It seemed that the carbonation process intensified the coffee's sour, fruity flavours, and I thought the combination of unsweetened coffee with the bubbles was plain weird.  It was great to try something new, but I'm definitely sticking to my usual coffees from now on!   

I also attended one of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra's Sidney Myer free concerts (as did the rest of Melbourne, it would appear!)

We brought a little picnic, all carried in my funky new picnic cooler-bag, complete with plastic wine glasses, plates and proper cutlery!

We brought some breads and other sweet nibbles from the Phillippa's event goody bag (sultana and orange bread, baguette, hot cross buns and biscuits), as well as some cheeses which were given to us at the Yarra Valley Dairy - the Juno and white savourine goats cheese log.  And crackers and fresh figs!

My friend Alaina brought some goodies that she bought at King & Godfree - super-hot salami, a curtain (!) of proscuitto, sun dried tomatoes and lovely marinated olives.

There were also Mrs Fields nibblers (bought by my friend Kristine), which I was super excited about. COOKIES!  You can also see my little gourmet improvisation: a fresh fig filled with goats cheese and wrapped in proscuitto.

Last weekend, we took advantage of the hot weather and made a trip to the Mornington Peninsula with some friends.  (And by the way, what's up with this week's rain?!)

We started off at Rye back beach, where the waves were a little too rough for us to swim comfortably, so we packed up and tried Sorrento back beach.  Whilst calmer than Rye, the waves were still pretty strong, but at least it was a patrolled beach.  We found a couple of calm patches and found relief from the heat in the cold water, whilst enjoying the beautiful views of the coastline. 

No trip to the beach is complete without fish and chips, and we grabbed a late lunch from Shark Shack in Rye.  It was incredibly busy that day, and we had to wait quite a while for our order, which gave me some time to ogle all their deep fryers, hehehe.

I felt really sorry for the staff in the shop - it was boiling hot in there, there were queues and queues of people, and loads of massive phone orders.  (The guy in front of us carried his order out in a crate!)  But, we got our food in the end and it was very fresh and very tasty, despite the volume of customers.

Mmm... salty and oily.  The perfect beach-day treat!

And that was my unblogged February!

March is shaping up to be a busy month for me - I've got a little trip to the Goulburn Valley coming up, as well as a couple of MFWF events, some birthdays and some family celebrations too.  Blog-wise, I'm gonna start blogging my trip to Malaysia very soon - yay! Can't wait to share my Malaysian foodie adventures with y'all!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ice Cream Party!!!

When I received the Cuisinart 2 Lt Frozen Yoghurt, Sorbet & Ice Cream Maker to review from Kitchenware Direct, I could have said: "I'll make an ice cream", but what I actually said was: "Let's have a party!"  You may remember that I had an ice-cream party back in the summer of '07 - that was five years ago and it was well overdue for another one!

In the week leading up to the party, we made eight different ice creams with loads of accompaniments for our sixteen guests.  It was a big blur of custard making, chilling, churning and freezing.

The Machine

Here's the ice-cream maker, in a snazzy metallic red.  My old ice-cream maker is a one-litre Breville Scoop Factory ice-cream maker (it's about ten years old now, I think, and still chugging along!)  Both work the same way: you have a chiller bowl (kept in the freezer between churns), which rotates in the machine with a paddle to churn the ice-cream.  Because the bowl needs to be completely frozen before churning, you can only make one ice-cream at a time.  Although if you happen to have two machines, you can make two at once!  Wahey!  

Because the machines are both so similar, I didn't see a huge difference in the quality or results.  The main bonus of the Cuisinart is that it has a 2-litre bowl, so I can churn more mixture at once.  The downside of this, though, is that it seems to take quite a bit longer than the smaller Breville Scoop Factory to churn the ice cream - about twenty minutes as opposed to ten.  (This wasn't a huge deal, as churned ice-creams need to sit in the freezer for a good few hours to firm up before eating anyway).

The Ice Creams

Vanilla Ice Cream
Chocolate Ice Cream
Strawberry Ice Cream
Cheesecake Ice Cream
Chestnut Ice Cream
Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Mango Sorbet
Pandan and Toasted Coconut Sherbert

Of the eight ice-creams, we tried to get a mix of classic flavours and some more exotic ones, whilst also trying to make sure they'd match well together.  (Recipe sources are listed as a caption underneath each picture.)

Vanilla Ice Cream - Nigella Lawson's How to Eat
I used a very large, very fresh, vanilla pod for this one, which resulted in a super-speckly, very-vanilla vanilla ice cream.  Delicious!  I could have probably used just half the vanilla pod and it still would have been good.

"The World's Best Chocolate Ice-Cream" - Nigella Lawson's How to Eat
I love this dark, creamy chocolate ice cream, with smoky hints from the addition of burnt caramel.  (I've made it once before, as part of my How to Eat project!)  This is like a slightly lighter version of Fergus Henderson's dark chocolate ice cream, which, although delicious, is so dark and intense that I can only eat tiny amounts of it.

Strawberry Ice Cream - Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer

I'm always impressed by how vibrantly Nigella's strawberry ice cream actually tastes of strawberries, and tends to scoop pretty easily, despite being a fruit-based ice cream.  (As a general rule: fruits = water = an icy hard result).  The strawberries in questions were actually ones we picked by hand at Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm about a month ago - I'd carefully cleaned, hulled and measured them out, and stashed them in the freezer for just this purpose.

Cheesecake Ice Cream - Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer
This is one of my faves, which I've made twice before (here and here).  It's so easy to make, is always smooth and creamy, and really tastes like cheesecake.

Chestnut Ice Cream - BBC Good Food website
I wasn't a huge fan of the chestnut ice cream - despite using unsweetened chestnut puree, the finished product was very sweet.  It was also incredibly difficult to scoop, staying rock solid long after the other ice creams were already melting.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream - David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert
David Lebovitz' salted caramel was easily the most popular ice cream out of all of them.  I loved how creamy and soft it was, right out of the freezer.  I was afraid that the dark, almost burnt caramel would be too intense for my friends, but they absolutely loved it!  (N.B. the salted caramel ice cream from Ready for Dessert doesn't contain any butter, and is thus different from the salted butter caramel ice cream on David's wonderful blog.  I'm sure the butter version would also be delicious!)

Mango Sorbet; Toasted Coconut & Pandan Sherbert
(both adapted from recipes in David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert)
Finally we have a couple of fruity ices, both adapted from recipes in Ready for Dessert.  The mango sorbet simply contained mango, sugar and a little rum - refreshing and gorgeously bright yellow.  I adapted David's toasted coconut sherbert recipe to make the Malaysian-style pandan sherbert, and I was so pleased with the results that I'll give it its own blog post this week!

The Serving Bowls

I got to use all the funky ice cream paraphernalia that I'd gotten for Christmas - I love the pastel-coloured metal bowls especially, but the stripey paper cups and sundae glasses were pretty awesome too!

The Accompaniments

Meringues (plain, cocoa, blue)
Toasted Pecans
Lindt Chocolate Flakes
Salted Candied Peanuts (David Lebovitz recipe)
Blueberries, Strawberries
Coconut Flakes
Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Sauce (Nigella recipe)
Whipped Cream

Toasted Pecans, Shredded Coconut, Lindt Chocolate Flakes

Most of the ice creams we made were based on egg-yolk custards... which meant lots of leftover egg whites!  So I made a massive batch of meringues the night before - I divided the mixture into three, and made plain ones, cocoa ones, and baby blue ones.
Meringues - cocoa, plain

Blue Meringues
I thought the cocoa-swirled ones were especially pretty, but I must say I quite liked the plain ones too!  (I was pretty proud that I could pipe decent-looking stars, hehe!)  The baby blue meringues seemed to crack and weep a bit - I wonder if it was because of the extra liquid from the colouring, or if the mixture was mixed too vigorously when the colouring was added?  Either way, they turned out a lovely shade of blue so I was happy with them.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Sauce - Nigella Express

The chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce from Nigella Express (recipe here) is insanely delicious!  Very rich, sweet and decadent - but still compulsive.  (Towards the end of the day, I even saw one of my friends dip meringues into the sauce to eat it!  Woah - sugar overload!)  Nigella suggests serving the sauce with ice-cream and salted peanuts, but why just have salted peanuts, when you can have...

David Lebovitz' truly amazing salted candied peanuts!  I cannot overemphasize how good they are!  I made them the night before, and it was so hard not eating them all before the party started!  (I've previously made them with macadamias - also fabulous).  I can't believe I only made one cup of peanuts - despite the huge amount of other sweet treats on offer, people couldn't seem to get enough of these and they were the first thing to finish up.  The next day, we even made a double batch of these to give to my dad and my aunt who only managed to have a little bit at the party.

I found it really interesting seeing how everyone approached the ice cream buffet.  (Are there three more beautiful words in the English language?)  Most people tried a spoon of each one and then went back for their favourites; some carefully considered the labels and then carefully selected their flavours - and all the while there was lots of discussion of the different flavours and toppings. Yay!

The Sundaes

Although most people just made up little bowls of mixed flavours for themselves, we did make some 'proper' sundaes too - let's check them out!
Neapolitan - chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice-creams with whipped cream and chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce 

Mont Blanc - Crushed meringues, chestnut ice-cream, whipped cream and chocolate flakes 

Eton Mess - Whipped cream, crushed meringues, strawberries, chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce
No ice-cream in this one - as the party drew to a close and only a few people remained, I realised that we had whipped cream, meringues and strawberries, and swiftly made myself an Eton Mess.

The "Georgina" Special - Salted caramel ice-cream, chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce, salted candied peanuts 

Perhaps the most on-trend ice-cream sundae of the day!

Affogato - Vanilla bean ice-cream and espresso 

The "I Can't Decide" - Vanilla, salted caramel, chocolate and cheesecake ice-creams with chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce and salted candied peanuts 

Everything tastes better with whipped cream
Left: topped with crushed meringues
Right: topped with chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce & chocolate flakes

What a super-fun day!  Big thanks to my friends and family for being so enthusiastic about the ice creams!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Phillippa's Evening of Easter Treats

Phillippa's hot cross buns and candied orange peel

15 Howey Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9671-4030

Last night I attended an evening event at Phillipa's CBD store in Howey Place, showcasing her well-regarded breads and Easter treats.

As you will know, I love entertaining and cooking for friends, (really Sarah, really?), and one of my favourite aspects of attending these bloggery/media events - apart from tasting new foods, of course - is seeing a party come together, and being inspired by the little touches that go towards making an event special and unique.

The table was set up in a rustic fashion, complete with wooden boards and charmingly mis-matched crockery, old-fashioned tea towels, vibrantly purple irises, tealights and beeswax candles.  I loved the bounteousness of the spread - whole boules and loaves of bread; a giant hunk of gorgonzola; big pyramids of bread and butter, all cut up and ready to be eaten; and piles of hot cross buns and chocolate truffles.

These rather gigantic round loaves (boules), inspired by the loaves at Poilâne in Paris, take longer to rise than a smaller loaf, which, according to Phillippa, means the finished product has more complex flavours.

Soft Paris Creek butter with organic sourdough boule? Don't mind if I do!

I must admit that prior to this event, I wasn't too familiar with Phillippa's breads, and appreciated the opportunity to try out the range.  When I was younger I often ate the green olive pane Toscano (a rustic white loaf studded with green olives), but seem to have stopped eating it over the years as I developed a taste for darker, more toothsome, hearty breads.

The boules were delicious, as was the 100% rye sourdough, which got the "It-tastes-like-real-bread" tick of approval from German Sandra.  I also liked the fig and anise sourdough, which, whilst a little too intense for me to eat on its own, would be great on a cheese platter. 

As it was an evening event, drinks were on hand, poured by Bress' winemaker Adam Marks.

Now that I'm a cider afficionado (hee-hee), I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try a new one, and I really enjoyed the refreshing Harcourt Valley Cider Brut.  Phillippa partnered with Bress for the evening because they share a similar outlook and philosophy on food and winemaking - focusing on traditional, age-old methods.

Some delicious canapes were on offer that night, each one using a different bread from the Phillipa's range as a crostini-style base.  I thought this was a rather elegant way of showcasing the breads - letting everyone try the different varieties, without filling up on bread, as it were!

Vinefruit & Rosemary bread - duck rillettes, cornichons & apple chutney

Olive Toscano bread - steak tartare & fried baby capers
I often find the intensity of steak tartare overwhelming as a whole dish, but in bite-sized canapes on a crispy base, it was just perfect.

Organic Sourdough - scallop ceviche, roast pear & red endive

Wheatmeal Bread - salt cod brandade, preserved lemon & fried basil

Fig & Anise Sourdough - whipped goat's fetta, fig, orange & mint

Pane Francese Naturale - truffled cannellini beans, shimeji mushrooms & fried sage
Fried sage!!  I thought the tiny wedge of candied orange was an unusual addition, but it really perked up the earthy flavours of the mushrooms and truffled beans.

Pane Francese Rye - crab spiced hummus, bacon crumbs & rock chives
I wouldn't have thought to add crabmeat to hummus, but they matched well, with the graininess of both chickpeas and crabmeat complimenting each other.  Bacon crumbs and chives were a (huge) bonus.

Mini Phillippa's Hot Cross Bun puddings
These puddings, whilst small, were very decadent, with a layer of rich, smooth custard underneath the hot cross bun.  I'd love to have a go making these - but I never, ever, have leftover hot cross buns!

Here's that hunk of gorgonzola I mentioned earlier, to be slathered on the pain d'épices (gingerbread) and drizzled with gorgeous chestnut honey.  (It was also pretty delicious spread generously with that Paris Creek butter!)

Pain d'épices, gorgonzola, chestnut honey

Simnel Cakes
The very traditional Simnel Cake - a fruit cake topped with 11 marzipan balls to represent the true disciples of Jesus.  As far as I'm aware, Phillippa's is the only commercial producer of these cakes in Melbourne.  In fact, the only other place I've seen them is in books.  (Nigella's Feast, to be precise.)

Chocolate truffles

Honey Bunny biscuits

Below we have the very passionate and dedicated Phillippa Grogan herself, speaking about the Easter range and the Phillippa's philosophy.  She was really lovely in person, and a great host - making time to talk to everyone, making introductions, and ensuring sure we were all well fed.  (And as you can see from the above pictures, we definitely were!)

Incidentally, I found a interesting interview with Phillippa and her husband Andrew on breadmaster Dan Lepard's website, which gives some insight into the trials and tribulations that Phillippa and Andrew have faced in growing and developing the business - a great read.

Thanks to Phillippa and the team for putting on a great night!

Phillippa's on Urbanspoon

Sarah attended Phillipa's Easter event as a guest.