Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Unblogged Files: July

Hello hello! Five days without a new post - that's almost a record for me this year! But I had good reason, as over the weekend we were moving house! It was a super-busy weekend, packing, carrying boxes and bags up and down stairs, driving back and forth, cleaning, setting things up, and a lot of takeaway. Phew! My arms and legs are knackered! But finally, everything has been moved and I can breath a sigh of relief and devote a little time to my beloved blog.

So, here are my unblogged files for July!

I baked scones with Dad, using my favourite scone recipe.

And you know what, it turns out that my dad is a better scone baker than me! It was his first go and he made these light and fluffy little beauties! Good work Dad!!

And I think that his watching all that Lifestyle Food channel has really paid off - this month he also made a fabulous tiramisu, using Ina Garten's recipe. So yum!

And speaking of parents and their amazing culinary skills, check out this pork belly my mum made for us for dinner one night:
Crispy pork belly
The recipe is from the latest issue of MindFood magazine (with Marion Cotillard on the cover), and is rubbed in dry mix of Asian spices (5-spice, chillies, anise etc) before being roasted to crispy perfection. Fabulous!

This month I became obsessed with that English classic: Egg and Chips. (I'm not sure whether people in England actually eat this, or if it is just a culinary stereotype... but either way I always associate it in my mind with England).

I'd never had it before, and only knew of it from Shirley Valentine, and well, articles and shows that deride English cuisine. One day I was starving, and all I had in the pantry were eggs and frozen oven chips, so I decided to give it a go. It was absolutely delicious! So perfect with a cup of tea.
Yolk smash!

A new Cacao Green frogurt shop opened up in my area, and I've been a few times - I really like their plain frozen yogurt. I totally want to try the green tea flavour, but they never seem to have it when I go!
Tropical parfait - $6.90
FYI, buying a parfait is way better value than buying frogurt and adding toppings - the below cup cost $4.50 plus $1 for a teensy spoon of strawberries on top! I still enjoyed it, obviously, but it was a little small for the price.
Small plain frozen yogurt with strawberries - $5.50
I made heaps of waffles this month - funnily enough I made a big batch at the start of the month, putting lots of them in the freezer... only to remember that we were moving house at the end of the month and that I needed to eat All The Waffles. Whoops! (A happy accident!)

First round: brekky waffles with fresh apples, oranges, and vanilla bean mascarpone...
Brekky waffles
One night when my cousin came over I whipped out the frozen waffles and topped them with fresh strawberries, vanilla ice-cream and espresso chocolate sauce.

And finally, a midweek brekky waffle, topped with milo and peanut butter. Truly the food of the gods! (And Malaysians).

Following that big Nigella round-up post, I just had to try a bit more Nigella cooking. Nigella's pasta al forno and vegetarian chilli con carne, both from the Partyfood chapter of Feast, were excellent warming suppers.
Pasta al forno
The pasta al forno is like a lasagne (pasta, meat sauce, bechamel), except that instead of lasagne sheets, you use short pasta. I used my favourite short pasta: mini pennete rigate. So cute! This was incredibly good. My tip: double the amount of bechamel that the recipe asks for and pour more on the top. "More bechamel" is always the answer.

Cornbread-topped vegetarian chilli
The cornbread topped veggie chilli was also a winner, and helped me to use up all the last remaining pulses and polenta that I had in the pantry. With loads of lentils, beans, and cornbread, it was both a healthy (I hope!) and filling meal.
Cornbread topped vegetarian chilli
Being impressed with our lovely dinner at Merchant Osteria Venezia, I decided to visit again for drinks and cicchetti at the bar. I loved the Aperol spritz and the crunchy arancini!
Aperol Spritz - $18

Arancini - $10 for 2
Another day, Sandra surprised me with a bag of biscuits from Merchant - super yay! The fudgy brownie was a highlight, as was the cranberry and pine nut biscuit.
Biscuits from Merchant

After drinks at Merchant, we met some friends for a late dinner at The Aylesbury. Reading the menu, I thought it seemed a little pricey, but when the food came, and it was obvious that a lot of thought and care had been put into it. I'd like to go back to try more from the menu! The peppers and the carrot salad were both excellent, and the gnudi were good, but very heavily salted.
Clockwise from left:
Gnudi (ricotta gnocchi) with burnt butter and sage - $18
Carrot, smokey eggplant, labneh - $11
Fried peppers - $7
After that ginormous lunch at The Merrywell, I couldn't face a big dinner, and made myself an easy little Caesar salad, with cos lettuce, wholegrain croutons and parmesan cheese.
Caesar Salad
Well, there was one more component: my own homemade Caesar dressing! It's just like a mayonnaise, with some anchovies added to the egg yolk at the start. I made it all by hand, with a tiny little hand whisk, and I was very, very proud of the result. (You may remember I struggled to make mayonnaise during my How to Eat Project - so yay for improvements!)
Home-made Caesar dressing

This month I finally, finally tried the fried chicken at Gami, along with a big group of friends who were all surprised that I'd never eaten it before. Between twelve of us, we devoured four platters of chicken and two of their Gami kegs of beer! (I liked the garlic flavoured chicken the best).
Mmm... fried chicken.
More scones, this time another round of Steph's fabulous banana scones.
Banana scones
I have mentioned these banana scones here before, but I must admit I just wanted an excuse to show off my fab Market Lane coffee cup! I got it for my birthday from my good friends Georgina and Adri, and I just love it! Somehow it makes my morning coffee taste better (although I'm 100% convinced that's a psychological effect). The sunny yellow colour definitely brightens my mood!

I also had a fun lunch with my parents at Cafe Vue in Heidelberg.
Lunch at Cafe Vue
The standouts were the juicy beef burger, and the healthy (yet still tasty!) salad with pumpkin and Meredith feta. Unfortunately the wagyu pie that I ordered was very dry, and the base pastry was so hard I couldn't cut through it, but had to stab it to break it up and eat it. I wonder if it had been overbaked, or potentially sitting for too long in a warmer? The sweets redeemed themselves though - we all thought the soft amaretti biscuits were fantastic! (I thought it was funny that my short black came out in a Nespresso cup, even though they were using a normal group head coffee machine - i.e. definitely not a Nespresso machine!)

And finally, over the weekend we moved house! I'll try not to bore you with too many details (save that for Twitter, haha) - but I can happily and highly recommend Man with a Van for moving. They did a fantastic job for us! One thing I do want to show you, however, is my collection of cake tins. Whenever did I get that many cake tins?
Cake tins
Over the weekend we ate heaps of takeaway (KFC, Crust, the local Chinese - that sort of thing), but I did eat a proper meal too. Look at this amazing lunch my Dad made for me on the first day that I didn't have any cooking facilities - tau yuu bak (soy sauce pork belly with hardboiled eggs), and assam prawns (stir-fried prawns in tamarind).
Tau yuu bak, Assam prawns
So delicious! Just look at that golden egg yolk. Perfection!!

And that was my July! I'm looking forward to August - we're off to Sydney on the weekend and there are lots of fun and exciting things planned for next month!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Merchant Osteria Venezia

Campari Spritz - Campari, Grossi Prosecco, citrus - $15.00

How cute is the little gondola on the glass? We recently celebrated my mum's birthday with a lovely dinner at Merchant Osteria Venezia. I'm lucky enough to have been to Venice before (see my posts from 2006: Venice, Gelato and Harry's Bar), and absolutely loved it, so I was really keen to try Guy Grossi's take on Venetian regional cuisine.

Merchant Osteria Venezia
495 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9614-7688

It was a celebration, so that means cocktails! As you can see, my family are big Campari drinkers - I love its refreshing bitterness, especially before or with a meal.
Back: Italian Job - Passionfruit, lime, campari - $15.00
Front: Testa Rossa - Campari, Frangelico, aranciata rossa, rosemary syrup, lime - $18.00
The Italian Job cocktail was a special, and not on their normal menu, and when our lovely waitress told us it had passionfruit, lime and campari in it, I had to order it straight away! Cocktail heaven! I was impressed by the quality of the cocktails, and the fresh, citrussy focus of the cocktail list really appealed to me - so much so that, just quietly, I've been back since this dinner for more tasty cicchetti (snacks) and cocktails at the bar

There are a few different areas for seating: at or around the bar; some hidden little booths on a muraled wall (which I think would make a cute spot for a date!); and an open area in full view of the kitchen, which is where we sat.

Open kitchen
Whilst I loved the view, the tables weren't particularly comfortable - my dad found the table a bit cramped, and there was nowhere we could put our bags. (The chairs had curved backs, which meant we couldn't hang our bags on them - this is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, as I don't like putting my handbag on the floor, and keeping it on your lap exacerbates the cramped feeling.)

We started with olive oil and excellent crusty bread, baked in-house - we could see it being baked throughout the night, which I thought was quite cool - and a couple of cicchetti to share.

Fòlpo saorio - marinated octopus - $16.00
I loved the marinated octopus - it was very fresh and tender, without any hint of rubberiness, and a fantastic flavour from the olive oil, chilli, parsley and garlic. Classic and delicious.

Aranzini de zafferan - saffron arancini - $10 per serve (2 serves pictured, 2 balls per serve)
Similarly delicious were the saffron arancini - big balls (heh) of saffron-infused risotto, with a lovely crisp breadcrumb crust. However, I must admit that I wasn't too happy that we were given two servings without being asked beforehand, when we'd ordered "one serve of arancini". The menu didn't specify the number of arancini per serve, and didn't realise that we had been given two servings until we saw the charge on the bill at the end of the evening.

On a more positive note, let's have a look at the mains!
Polastrèlo a la diavola in piastra - grilled spatchcock, chilli, garlic - $28.00
My  mum loved the grilled spatchcock: it was tender, juicy, and had a nicely charred crust.

Conejo a la vecia - braised rabbit, pine nuts, sultanas - $35.00
I saw "pine nuts" and "sultanas", and had to order the braised rabbit. I thought the presentation and the plate were really pretty too! I love the combination of dried fruit and meat, and would have liked even more sultanas, but other than that, it was a great dish.

Fritto smissioto - fried fish, seafood and vegetables - $32.00
The fritto smissioto was, as the name suggests, a mixture of fish, seafood and vegetables, battered and fried. Whilst all the items were very fresh, well fried and not overly greasy (the paper underneath had a few oil stains, but wasn't soaked through), it was quite a large portion and the overall effect was rather heavy. Probably best to order this one without having an entree beforehand!

Tortellini Di Carne - Veal tortellini - $20.00
When the tortellini was brought out, we thought it looked a little small compared to the other mains (although being priced at $20, it clearly is intended as an entree or a light meal), but the veal filling was quite rich, and it turned out to be a perfectly-sized meal!

Patate alla Veneziana - sautéed potatoes - $9.50
As those of you who've followed my blog for a while will know, I can't resist ordering crispy potatoes as a side at restaurants, no matter how much else I've ordered - I think I might have a problem! These potatoes were very good, with a crisp exterior, fluffy insides and a nice hint of rosemary.

Salata tridà - Venetian chopped salad - $12.00
And finally, the salata tridà, with chopped tomatoes, onions, lettuce celery and borlotti beans, was a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of our meals. I don't ordinarily like raw celery, but it worked very well here. On less celebratory occasions, this would be the type of salad I'd like to eat for lunch in its entirety.

We were pretty full, and weren't sure whether or not to order dessert - but knowing that we were there to celebrate a birthday, our waitress strongly suggested we order one. We decided to share one between the four of us, and it was brought out complete with sparkler and a team of waitstaff singing "Happy Birthday to beautiful Mama!" Cue giggles galore from our table - such fun!

Crema brusà - Vanilla crème brûlée, saffron ice-cream - $14.50
The crème brûlée was well-made, with a smooth creamy custard and thin crackly sugar crust... but I was more taken with the smoothly textured and intriguingly flavoured saffron ice-cream, sitting in a crisp little biscuit basket. It's occurred to me that saffron ice-cream would be quite simple to make at home: does anyone have any ideas for how to serve it? (Apart from with a crème brûlée, of course!)

Crostoli - Thin, puffed biscuits - $3.50
Thrillingly, Merchant serve a variety of biscuits, and I ordered a little plate of crostoli. I was worried that they might be stale (I've had bad versions at other places before), but these were gorgeous - crisp all the way through, and clearly fried in fresh oil. Our (Italian) waitress told us that in her region, crostoli are eaten for good luck, which I felt was rather fortuitous!

Cafè Latte - $3.50
Being a restaurant, I had expected the coffee to be expensive, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was only $3.50. I imagine they can't put the prices of the coffee up too high as they cater to the office workers in the Rialto building upstairs, and compete with the other cafes in the area during the day.

Cakes and biscuits

We had a great night at Merchant and, arancini notwithstanding, we all thought the service was very good: warm, friendly and welcoming. It had a really pleasant, fun atmosphere, and I'd happily go back again. Our dinner worked out to be about sixty dollars a head (including drinks), which felt well priced. Merchant seems to have quite a bit going on - the restaurant menu itself is wide-ranging, with cicchetti, cured meats, risotti, pastas, polenta, fish, meats and desserts all making an appearance. And in addition to being a restaurant and bar, they are a cafe too, serving breakfasts, coffees, biscuits (yay!) and cakes. Phew!

Happy birthday Mum!!!

Merchant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lunch at The Merrywell

The Merrywell
Corner of Clarendon St & Crown Riverside
Southbank, VIC 3006
Ph: (03) 9292-7468

Last week I attended a fun bloggers' lunch at The Merrywell in Crown. Located on the Clarendon street side of the complex, and boasting some pretty sweet river and city views, The Merrywell is a big venue, with its two storeys housing a restaurant, burger bar, rooftop terrace and bar.

Both menus (upstairs: restaurant, downstairs: burger bar) focus on that style of hearty American comfort food that seems so popular in Melbourne right now - you know, burgers, fries, sandwiches, fried chicken and waffles, lobster rolls, buffalo wings...  This reminds me: I need to get some fried chicken and waffles in my life!

We were treated to a selection of food and drinks from the Downstairs Burger Bar menu, starting with some rather massive floats!

Spiders! From front to back:
Cherry Coke Float - Vanilla ice-cream, cherries - $7
The Merrywell Spider - Root beer, vanilla ice-cream - $7
Wake Up -  4 Pines stout, Espresso ice-cream - $12
These floats took me right back to my childhood. (Secret shame: I used to love those massive Blue Heaven Ice-Cream sodas from Pancake Parlour!) You can add vodka to the non-alcoholic ones for $5, but I thought that my Cherry Coke Float, with its masses of whipped cream, was already decadent enough for a Friday arvo! I don't normally go for cherry coke, but I really liked this float - it didn't taste like medicine or Dr Pepper at all. Win!  Fellow blogger I-Hua let me have a sip of her aptly titled Wake Up float, which contained stout and espresso ice-cream. Woah - delicious but really intense stuff. Strictly for grown-ups!

First up, foodwise, were three salads: Ceasar, Greek and Mexican Cobb.
Left to right: Caesar Salad, Greek Salad, Mexican Cobb Salad
With the exception of the Greek salad, (which intriguingly, contained dried figs), these were quite crisp, clean salads, which provided a welcome refreshing contrast to the heavy burgers.

And speaking of burgers... like most people on the table, I chose the Merrywell burger: a classic beef burger with lettuce, cheese, pickles, caramelised onion, tomato and a "special sauce". I thought the paper wrappers were quite cute, again tapping into a feeling of nostalgia with me.
The Merrywell - Lettuce, Cheese, Pickles, Onions, Tomato, Special Sauce, Bacon, Fries - $20
I soon realised, however, that the papers weren't just for aesthetic purposes, but practical ones too! The burger was super juicy and the paper helped to hold everything together.

It was such a tasty burger! I loved the juicy patty, the salty bacon, the sweet onions - it was all good! The only negative thing I can say is that the burger was so juicy that the bun got a bit soaked and it was tricky to eat (hence the need for the paper wrapper). Yes, my hands smelled of burger for the rest of the day, but it was so worth it.

Non-beef eater I-Hua didn't seem to have any such issues with her chicken burger though!
K.F. Club - Chicken, Bacon, Cheddar, Tomato, Mayo - $15
Also on the table were baskets of onion rings. I am a committed potato lover and never order onion rings myself, but I think I'd be able to make an exception for these. Crisp, hot, salty: they were good onion rings.
Onion Rings - $5

And not that we really needed more food at this point, but out came a huge platter of fish tacos!
Fish tacos - $14 each
I was pretty full, but bravely persevered and tried a fish taco, sharing it with one of the gang from the Bar Amigo blog. I wasn't particularly wowed by the taco - the tortilla didn't have that distinctive masa de maíz flavour that I love, and the fish itself was a bit mealy. It's not something I'd order myself.

And finally, desserts.  The Merrywell's shtick is that they serve their desserts in jars, and we got to try three of their range.
Lamington Trifle - $10
I really liked the lamington trifle, much more than I expected to! In amongst little cubes of moist lamington were a vanilla custard, whipped cream, a berry sauce, and strawberries. It was a lovely combination of flavours, and I loved the pop of the fresh berries. Definitely want to steal this idea for a future dinner party! 

Chai Creme Brulee - $10
The chai "crème brûlée" was a smooth custard infused with spicy chai flavours, and topped with a crackly disc of dark chocolate. I must admit it wasn't really my thing, but the chai-loving bloggers at my table really enjoyed it.

Chocolate Mousse - $10
The final dessert we tried was the chocolate mousse, which was very impressive.  It was incredibly smooth and creamy, intensely chocolatey but not too heavy. I loved it!
Chocolate Mousse
Needless to say I was absolutely stuffed after this massive lunch - I literally ate a bowl of lettuce for dinner, hehe. It was a fun afternoon, and it was really nice to catch up with bloggers and meet some new ones. Thanks to the team at The Merrywell and Chef Grant MacPherson for a great lunch!

Sarah dined as a guest of The Merrywell.

The Merrywell on Urbanspoon