Friday, August 31, 2012

The Unblogged Files: August

Woah, August has just flown by! There was that little Sydney trip, which I'm still in the process of blogging. Apart from that, I'm happily back to working full time after having taken a much needed and very welcome eight month break. This means I haven't been going out as much (Mama needs her beauty sleep!), but I've still been eating and cooking up a storm.

A few Nigella recipes, of course. I was very proud of this Toad in the Hole (from Kitchen). It's basically a Yorkshire pudding dough with the added deliciousness of sausages. Look how high it rose!
Toad in the Hole

Also from Kitchen, another night I made Nigella's Asian-Braised Shin of Beef with a Hot and Sour Shredded Salad, (recipe here!)
Asian-braised beef shin with a hot and sour shredded salad and chilli radishes
It was the meal I made for my parents the first time they came over to my new place and we all loved it! My mum in particular wolfed down the salad. Yay! I also made Fuchsia Dunlop's chilli radishes as a spicy-crunchy accompaniment (from her new book, Every Grain of Rice, which I can't wait to get!). 

I was invited to the "Dogustation" event at Phat Brats, which was super fun and a lot of yum! It was a degustation of hot dogs, with matching Southern Bay Brew Co. beers. My favourites were the "corn pup" (little sausages dipped in corn batter and deep fried)...
Corn Pup with Beer
 ...and the insane dessert dog: a hotdog "sundae" in a donut bun with double-choc ice-cream, toasted coconut, berry coulis, vanilla bean double cream and pistachios. Zomg! It was matched with a Metal Head Robust Porter (a dark beer) - a winning combination. I love dark beers with chocolate desserts!
Hotdog Sundae: Donut bun, double-choc ice-cream, toasted coconut, berry coulis, vanilla bean double cream and pistachios
This month I made a batch of David Lebovitz' Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, which were incredible! They're basically his ordinary chocolate chip cookies, but made with salted butter and a little extra fleur de sel. The salt really brings out all the other flavours. AMAZEBALLS! (I shared these with my new coworkers for some brownie points...or should that be "cookie points"?)
David Lebovitz' salted butter choc chip cookies

Speaking of baking cookies, I also made a batch of double-matcha matcha sablés, (from the book Okashi) which I made as a gift for the lovely Catty when she came down to Melbourne for a visit. (Full blogpost on the sablés to come!)
Matcha sablés
I passed the cookies to Cat over hotdogs at Snag Stand. (Really Sarah, more hot dogs?).

Swiss Bratwurst - grilled and served on a poppy seed roll w/ sauteed onions, house made sauerkraut & sweet Bavarian mustard

Chilli fries with cheese and beef chilli

I wasn't a huge fan of the Swiss Bratwurst, finding the overall taste a bit plain. (The Currywurst is way better!) But I have to say I liked the fact that their house made Sauerkraut had tiny bits of bacon in it. Very echt und lecker. The chilli fries were totally delicious and were surprisingly spicy.

After the hot dogs, we went to Cupcake Central, because, you know, I had to be a good host to our out-of-town visitor.
Left: Cookie dough
Right: Salted caramel
These cupcakes were both very good, but I especially loved the salted caramel! I actually love Cupcake Central's cupcakes in general - the cake part is always so moist and light, and their icings are soft, smooth and creamy, with none of that unpleasantly hard, sugary texture that you get at lesser cupcake bakeries. (And just to make it super clear, I say this totally independently, as a paying customer!)

I bought some extra cupcakes to bring home - their passionfruit flavour is insanely good, and my favourite out of all the ones that I've tried. (So far!)
Bottom to top: Devils Food Chocolate, Passionfruit, Salted Caramel, Red Velvet

A good thing about working in the city - apart from proximity to cupcake bakeries, of course - is going out for drinks in the city! As I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of just getting smashed with your colleagues of a Friday evening, but I've really enjoyed catching up with my lovely cousin Catherine (also a CBD-worker!) for Friday night drinks! Last week we hit up Tony Starr's Kitten Club for espresso martinis and chicken "satays". I'd never been to the Kitten Club before, but the whole vibe and menu reminded me very much of the venues I used to visit when I was twenty (back in '04) and just discovering Melbourne's bar scene. A little blast from the past!
Left: Espresso Martini
Right: Chicken Satay
Judge me all you want for the espresso martini - they taste amazing and I frikkin love them!

We visited Porgie and Mr Jones for the first time this month, a great cafe from the same people who brought you Snow Pony (Balwyn) and Friends of Mine (Richmond) - despite being crazy busy on the weekends, P&MJ's service is friendly, and the food seems to come out within a reasonable time frame. (I've only been there once on a weekend, but don't worry - I'll go back to confirm!)
Top Left: Smashed avocado with poached egg - w/ thyme-buttered mushrooms, marinated feta & torn basil on wholegrain toast - $19.90
Top Right: "Porgie Parma" - parmesan crumbed happy chicken, smoked & roasted tomato, ham hock, three cheese gratin - $21.90
Bottom Centre: Mr Jones' golden 'folded' scrambles - w/ fresh herbs & holy goat's cheese on wholegrain toast - $12.90
It's a little pricey, but that seems expected given the area, and the portions are huge! As per April's enthusiastic suggestion, I tried their house-smoked salmon, and it really is fabulous.

A little further from home - actually, right on the other end of town - is my new favourite cafe: Beatrix in North Melbourne. After drooling over their Facebook page and tweets for months, we finally visited earlier this month, and swiftly returned the next week with my parents in tow because it was that awesome. They're rightly famous for their amazing cakes, but I like their crazy-good ciabattas even better! (Full blogpost on Beatrix to come!)
Beatrix goodies: Ricotta cannoli, coconut layer cake, grapefruit chiffon cake

This month I've also been drinking heaps of bubble tea.
ChaTime Bubble Tea

I was invited on a 'behind the scenes' tour of ChaTime back in July, and was given a whole lot of vouchers to try out their range. I've finally used them all up, and tried a good cross section of their (huge and bewildering!) menu. I'm pretty sure I've figured out how the menu works and will be blogging about it shortly. In the meantime, my tip for you is to just order "Peach QQ, regular size, with ice, half sugar". So good!

Peach QQ, regular size, with ice, half sugar - $5

And that was August! For September I'm planning to take it pretty easy: a little weekend away, some lunch/dinner parties, that sort of thing. I'm so excited for spring and summer! I'm very much over the cold weather and looking forward to longer days, drinks in the sun, picnics, the beach...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Baked Pasta with Eggplant, Beef and Cheese

Can you believe it's almost September?! Where has the year gone? Whilst the first, tentative, signs of Spring seem to be on their way - the nights don't come quite so quickly now, the flowers have started to bloom - the nights can still be bitingly cold, and comfort food is still very much on the menu.

I made this baked pasta dish for dinner the other night, when I wanted something that would provide leftovers for the next few days of work. I actually made it on a weeknight, but it does take quite a while, so I'd suggest making it on the weekend, or when you have a bit of extra time on your hands.

I was inspired, in structure, by Nigella's delicious pasta al forno from Feast - think lasagne, but with penne instead of lasagne sheets. I changed it up to suit my tastes, and used my own recipes for the different components. I made a beef bolognese sauce (I think all the cool kids are calling this a 'ragu' these days), stirred through some cooked penne, layered it in a baking dish with cubes of roasted eggplant, and topped it with lashings of cheesy béchamel sauce. So many of my favourite things, in the one dish. Dee-licious!

Enough words, it's picture time!

Here's the eggplant! Before:
Eggplant Cubes
And after!
Roasted eggplant cubes
Mmm.. I love roasted eggplant, and they're so nice in little cubes, with their squidgy soft interior and slightly burnt, crunchy edges. I kept picking at these as I was making the rest of dinner - so addictive! Eggplants are like sponges, and you can definitely taste the oil that you roast them in, so use an olive oil that you really like.

Beef Ragu, Penne in the background

I. Love. Béchamel. Even more so when you chuck in a handful of grated cheddar cheese!
Phew - busy working area!

So, as I said above, I stirred the penne and meat sauce together, then layered it in a baking dish with the eggplant cubes. You probably could just stir the eggplant pieces through the pasta as well, but I didn't want them to break up or disintegrate.

To finish it off, I just poured over the béchamel, grated some parmesan over and chucked it in a hot oven until it was browned and bubbling and blistering. (I was very hungry by this point, and found myself staring at the dish in the oven, yelling "cook, damn you, cook!", hehehe).

This recipe is quite labour intensive, with all the different components you need to prepare. However, no individual part is too difficult - and it tastes absolutely awesome. Once you bite into that gorgeous tomato-meat-eggplant-cheesy goodness, all that effort and time (and dirty pots & pans!) fade into the distance.

Baked Pasta with Eggplant, Beef and Cheese
An original Sarah Cooks recipe, inspired in structure by Nigella's rigatoni al forno from Feast

Extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper
1 eggplant
250g short pasta (e.g. penne, penne rigate, macaroni, rigatoni)
For the Tomato Meat Sauce
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
500g minced beef
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
For the Béchamel
40 grams butter
40 grams plain flour
700 millilitres milk
1 handful grated cheddar or tasty cheese
Parmesan cheese, for topping

Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut the eggplant into approx 1cm cubes. Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil and toss to coat. Spread the eggplant pieces in an even layer onto a tray, and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned and soft. Season generously with salt and pepper, and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to packet directions. Drain and set aside.
For the tomato meat sauce, heat some oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onions, garlic and a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the minced beef, stirring to break it up. Once the meat is browned, add in the chopped tomatoes. Bring to the boil, turn down to a robust simmer and allow to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
For the béchamel, melt the butter in a wide frying pan. (Any saucepan will do, but a wide and shallow cooking vessel means the sauce will cook faster). Add the flour and stir to combine. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring all the while. Gradually whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring, until the sauce is thickened and creamy. Off the heat, throw in the grated cheddar cheese, and stir to combine.
Now, you are ready to assemble! Tip the cooked pasta into the tomato and meat sauce, and stir to mix evenly. Layer the saucy pasta with the eggplants in a large baking dish. Pour over the béchamel. Grate the parmesan cheese over the top. Bake for 10 minutes or so, until the entire thing is heated through and the top has browned in places. (Put it under the grill to speed things up a bit!) Allow to sit for 5 minutes before digging in.

Serves 6

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sydney 2012: White Hart, Neutral Bay

How cute is that? Little patch of astroturf, a mini watering can with "the aroma of freshly cut grass", and a little pile of chocolate cookie "dirt" with little jelly worms inside. This was part of the "British Summer Garden Martini" at White Hart in Neutral Bay, where we took advantage of Sydney's great late-winter weather by enjoying drinks and a light lunch in the sun.

White Hart
19-21 Grosvenor Street
Neutral Bay, NSW
Ph: (02) 8021 2115

I'd read about White Hart and their crazy cocktails on ChocolateSuze's blog, and thought it looked like a lot of fun! It was a little far from our hotel (near Hyde Park), so we took a cab to Neutral Bay, and I had a little touristy squeee moment when I realised we were crossing the Harbour Bridge and I could see the Opera House from the cab! But my enthusiasm was a bit dented when I realised that Sydney cabs charge you three bucks to cross the Harbour Bridge! THREE BUCKS! Oh well!

I wasn't sure if we'd need to make a booking for lunch - I called earlier that day, shortly after they opened, to check, but it went straight to a recorded message explaining how to book online. However, but it seemed to be a pretty chillaxed place, and we easily got a prime outdoor seat in the sunshine.

Some yummy brown bread to soak up all the upcoming alcohol...

We all ordered drinks from the "Just Plain Strange..." section of the cocktail list. An and Sandra shared the rather malevolent looking Breakfast Mojito.
Breakfast Mojito - homemade mojito toothpaste + imbibe of rum + mouthwash + candied mint - a deconstructed mojito with an invigorating-morning-feel (serves 2) - $20
You start by brushing your teeth with the mojito "toothpaste" (I shudder to think how sugary that "toothpaste" must be!), drink the blue mouthwash, crunch on the little candied mint, drink the pure rum (!) from the syringe and, finally, suck on the lime. It was pretty strong, but they both liked it, and I thought it was pretty good value for $20!

My cocktail was pretty trippy too, with all the elements designed to recreate an English summer. First came a slab of astroturf, with a watering can filled with the scent of cut grass, mini garden utensils and a pile of chocolate cookie crumbs and absinthe jelly worms... there was even an eye mask, and an iPod playing the sounds of a cricket match to add to the atmosphere. Such fun! (I saved the cookie crumbs and jelly for dessert!)
British Summer Garden Martini - london dry gin + fresh pressed cucumbers + devonshire cider + camomille tea syrup + elderflower cordial - served straight up in a vintage coupet on turf slate with edible soil, absinth warms, cut grass "fog", mini garden tools, cider flagon and the smells and sounds of summer - all the ingredients of an English country garden - $19
The cocktail itself was a refreshing mixture of gin, cucumber, elderflower, cider and camomille tea syrup. I loved it!
 london dry gin + fresh preshed cucumbers + devonshire cider + camomille tea syrup + elderflower cordial - served straight up in a vintage coupet 
Seeing as we'd had a big breakfast at Flour and Stone, and that we were due at Testuya's for the full degustation later that night, we only went for a light lunch. In keeping with the British theme, I had a Ploughman's for lunch - it was a solid, but not spectacular version. I particularly liked the different cheeses, the fatty salami and the sharp pickled onions.
Ploughman's and Cider Platter - a classic ploughman's with English cheeses, brown bread roll, pickle and onion, served with a cider - $25
The platter also comes with a flagon of cider - super cute! I did find it interesting though, that the Ploughman's is listed as a dish "to share", but you only get one cider with it.
An had a couple of seafood-based dishes. The first was a lovely, light kingfish ceviche with a little pop of sweetness from watermelon. I wouldn't have thought to pair fish with watermelon, but it worked really well!
Kingfish ceviche, lime, chilli, coriander & watermelon - $10
The oysters were very fresh, and complimented, but not overpowered, by the light cucumber and mint salsa.
Freshly shucked oysters with cucumber and mint salsa - $10 for 3
Ok, I did say "light lunch", but I think "light lunch" must be a relative term! Sandra ordered a wagyu burger, which looked heart-stoppingly delicious! I stole a few chips (to ensure a fair critique for the blog, you see) and they were fantastic!
"White Hart Wagyu Burger", confit tomatoes, beetroot, pickled onions & lettuce - $23
The burger itself was charred and juicy, on a light and fluffy toasted bun. This was definitely the best dish that we ordered, and I must admit I had a serious case of dish-envy when I saw it!

The White Hart was a great spot to spend a leisurely afternoon. They have a good range of different foods, ranging from little snacks to full on meals. The "weird" cocktails were a lot of fun, and from what I saw on their menu, they serve quite a few tempting "normal" cocktails too! It's worth the three dollars to venture across the bridge!

This is the fourth post in my 2012 Sydney Trip series.

The White Hart on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Here are the first things I baked in the new house! Amerikaner! I felt like something sweet and light, and above all, easy to bake. Amerikaner are a vanilla-flavoured soft cookie, decorated with white icing and melted chocolate. I'm told that they were brought over to Germany by American GI's at the end of WWII - hence the name Amerikaner - but now sit steadfastly in Germany's culinary canon. They're popularly given to kids as a snack after school or at birthday parties, and are guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of any homesick German! I think of them as a being kinda like a Neenish Tart, but without that gross fake cream in the middle to ruin it. (Or, of course, like an American Black and White cookie).

I only had one egg in the house, so I halved the recipe below. With the small quantity, I found that a wooden spoon and a small whisk were sufficient to make the dough, but if you're making the recipe in full quantities, I'd recommend using an electric mixer.
Amerikaner dough
As it's a German recipe, obviously you'll need some German baking flavourings - this recipe calls for vanilla sugar (aka Vanille Zucker) and butter-vanille aroma. I find these pretty easily available at Continental delis, but you could always substitute vanilla extract if you're not up for specialty shopping.

To get even sized cookies, I used a piping bag with a 1.5 centimetre nozzle - every time I pipe dough I get those strange nipple shapes on the dough, hehe.
Piped Amerikaners - pointy

... all you need to do is dip your finger in water and smooth them down and - ta-dah! - smooth biscuits.
Piped Amerikaners - smooth
They only need a very short time baking - remember, you want moist and cakey cookies, not hard and dry ones!
Baked Amerikaners
You need to let them cool sightly before decorating with icing, melted chocolate (and perhaps sprinkles, nuts or coconut if you feel like being creative!) Don't let them cool for too long though - these tender, vanilla-scented little cakelets are best when fresh. Enjoy!

Recipe adapted and translated from Dr. Oetker's Backen Macht Freude

65 grams softened butter
90 grams sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar
5 drops butter-vanilla aroma
1 pinch salt
2 eggs
250 grams flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
100 millilitres milk

For the icing
200 grams icing sugar
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Optional: melted chocolate, pistachio slivers, sprinkles, dried coconut etc. for decoration

For the biscuits
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a tray with baking paper.
Beat the butter with an electric mixer until soft and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, vanilla sugar, butter-vanilla aroma and salt, and beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for approx. 30 seconds after each addition.
Sieve the flour and baking powder, and add to the butter mixture in two batches, alternately with the milk.
Place the mixture in a piping bag fitted with a 1.5 centimetre nozzle. Pipe the dough into circles onto the prepared baking tray. Dip your finger in water smooth down any pointy tops. Bake for 10-20 minutes, until just cooked. (Amerikaner can turn dry very easily, so keep an eye on them!)
Allow to cool slightly on a cooling rack before decorating.

For the icing
Sieve the icing sugar in a bowl. Gradually add in as much lemon juice as needed to form an opaque icing. Decorate the flat side of the Amerikaners as desired, with the lemon icing, melted chocolate... anything you like!

Makes 25-30, depending on size

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sydney 2012: Flour & Stone, Woolloomooloo

In my last post about our Sydney trip (Adriano Zumbo at The Star), I told you that I love rustic, home-style cakes - so you can imagine my delight when I walked into Flour and Stone the next morning and saw this gorgeous spread! Mismatched cake stands, wooden boards, beautiful handmade cakes, donuts, cookies and tarts. Gorgeous!

Flour and Stone
53 Riley Street
Woolloomooloo, NSW 2011
Ph: (02) 8068-8818

I heard about Flour and Stone a few months ago, when I saw super-blogger Penny from Jeroxie upload a picture of their chocolate and salted caramel tart to Instagram. Zomg! I swiftly googled Flour and Stone, saw it was in walking distance from our hotel and added it to our Sydney itinerary!

We arrived at about 11 on a Saturday morning. I was worried they'd be crazy busy, but luckily we were able to get a table and there was still heaps of cake left. Phew! (N.B. they're not open on Sundays!)

Flour and Stone, Woolloomooloo
In addition to those cakes, they sell cute iced cookies (yay for rainbows!), breads, savoury tarts and sandwiches, as well as breakfasty items like eggs and soldiers, granola, and toast. However, it appeared that we were all in the mood for coffee and cake.

Breakfast at Flour and Stone, Woolloomooloo

Cafe Latte - $3.00
The coffees were a little hotter than I usually like, but other than that it was a good, rich latte.

Check out their amazing apple tart!
Fine apple tart - $5.00
It's just puff pastry and very thinly sliced apples, packed in nice and close in a pretty pattern. A simple idea, executed perfectly. I thought the caramelised edges of apple pieces looked so beautiful, and beneath them the apples had cooked to a tender filling. Love! (It looked so much nicer than my previous attempt at a tarte fine aux pommes, so I reckon I better get practising!)

Lemon Capri Torte - $5.00
After much indecision, I decided on a lemon Capri torte: a gluten-free polenta and almond meal cake, with a sharp hit of lemon. The cake was lovely and moist, and I particularly liked the gritty texture that the polenta provided. The icing sugar on top also made a pleasing thin crust - I think it the cake must have been dusted with icing sugar whilst still hot. I'm totally on the lookout for a similar recipe - if anyone has a good lemon polenta cake recipe that looks like the one above, please share!

Pear Bran Muffin - $4.50
An's bran muffin was also a winner. The name "Bran muffin" gives the impression of a dry, virtuous snack, but this was really delicious. It was both moist and toothsome, with a nice texture from the bran. It also contained a couple of juicy pear slices, some crunchy sunflower seeds and a white cheese (I'm thinking ricotta or fromage frais?). Very nice!

And finally... I know we didn't really need another cake, but I just had to try the panna cotta lamington, after having read rave reviews about it on both Lorraine and Penny's blogs.
Panna Cotta Lamington - $5.50
Unlike your regular, dry, supermarket lamginton, the sponge cakes for these lamingtons are soaked in a panna-cotta flavoured mixture before being sandwiched with jam, dipped in chocolate and covered in coconut shavings. It was so good! If you like lamingtons then this is a must order!
Mmm... lamington

I thought Flour and Stone was an excellent cafe, and I was so glad that we put it on our eating itinerary! We did struggle to eat four cakes between the three of us, but there were still so many more cakes and goodies I wanted to try! I'll have to come back on my next visit to Sydney. And although there's a common perception that Sydney is very expensive, the prices at Flour and Stone were very reasonable - cheap, even! I'd struggle to think of a cafe in Melbourne of a similar quality that sells coffee for $3 and cakes for $5!

Flour and Stone on Urbanspoon

This is the fourth post in my 2012 Sydney Trip series.