Thursday, November 29, 2012

Human Brochure: Rubicon

Dinner on the Saturday night of our Human Brochure adventure was another multi-course meal with matching wines, this time at Rubicon.

6A Barker St
Griffith, ACT 2603
Ph: (02) 6295-9919

Rubicon is a much-lauded fine-dining restaurant, located on an unassuming suburban street in Griffith - it's actually just a few doors down from Aubergine! The menu is best described using that umbrella term: "modern Australian" - rooted in European (i.e. Italian/French) tradition, with some Asian influences thrown in. Let's have a look at the five-courses we enjoyed! (Six courses if you include the bread... well, it came with matching wine so I'm saying it counts!)

Sourdough with basil oil
2012 Nick O'Leary Riesling
The basil oil had a wonderfully fresh, punchy basil flavour, and the bread was crusty on the outside, with a chewy crumb. A good start.

First Course
Pink snapper, gruyere-stuffed diamond clams, pumpkin, kale, pancetta, sage beurre noisette
2011 Collector Lamplit Marsanne

I loved this dish! The fish was meltingly tender and incredibly fresh, perked up with the sweetness of the pumpkin and salty crunch of the pancetta. The highlight for me, though, was the gruyere-stuffed clam. Such cheesy, decadent goodness!

Second Course
Berkshire pork assiette - belly with chilli lime caramel; rolled shin and boudin noir with a crispy ear and herb salad
2011 Eden Road Tumbarumba Chardonnay
Quadruple pork! There was a great contrast between the sweet and tender belly, and the crisply crumbed shin and boudin noir fritter. My main complaint with this dish was the total lack of crackling on the belly. I really enjoyed the accompanying Chardonnay as well, and we were very lucky because our hotel actually gave us a bottle of it as a gift - woohoo! Can't wait to crack into it at home.

Second Course (non-pork option)
Zucchini flower, fetta macadamia stuffing, celeriac rémoulade, pinot noir glaze
We had a non-pork eater on our table, and she was given the crisp fried zucchini flower as an alternative course. I should mention here that the restaurant was very good about adapting the other meals and were very conscientious about pork-based products in the other dishes. (E.g. the fish dish above was done without pancetta; the bacon-studded cabbage in the next dish was replaced with an alternative vegetable - big points for that!)

Third Course
Free range duck breast, confit duck leg and shitake terrine, pommes boulangere, pomegranate molasses 
2010 Mount Majura Tempranillo
Double duck! Confit duck and seared duck breast are both favourites of mine, but the best part of this dish was the little oblong of potatoes. They were cooked perfectly: tender, but with a pleasing bite to them, and wonderfully flavoursome. I couldn't help but imagine the giant tray of potatoes this from which this must have been cut. Mmm... potatoes.

Fourth Course
Grass fed beef rib eye, sauce bearnaise, confit tomato, thyme-roasted kipflers 
2011 Hunting on Sundays Shiraz Cabernet
The beef was one of the most popular dishes of the night. It was cooked rare (to my liking!), with a great charred crust. The lemony bearnaise was also excellent, and despite being quite full by this stage, I made sure to finish the whole dish - lovely! Our waiter was very excited about the accompanying shiraz, but it was actually not to my taste at all - I found it aggressively herbal and thought it didn't work with the steak.

Palate Cleanser
Cranberry, Lime and Gin Sorbet
This palate cleanser was just delicious, so refreshing! I must try and figure out how to make something similar at home.

Fifth Course
Vanilla pannacotta, strawberry, raspberry and rhubarb sorbets, strawberries 
2006 Pizzini Vin Santo
The meal, unfortunately, ended on a slightly negative note. The dessert looked beautiful, and indeed, the three pink sorbets (strawberry, raspberry and rhubarb) were all fantastic - icily creamy and with pure flavours. However, the panna cotta itself had a faint but distinct taste of garlic. Seriously! I wonder if there had been garlic in the fridge while the panna cottas were setting, or if perhaps some of the kitchen utensils had been in contact with garlic earlier. Such a shame for what otherwise was a beautiful dessert! (If I hadn't been dining in such a large group, with people I'd just met that weekend, I would definitely have sent it back).

Overall I greatly enjoyed the meal, despite the hitch with dessert. I thought the service was very good, although chatting to some fellow humans after the meal I realised that not everyone had a similar experience. (You can read Miss Piggy's impressions of the night in her post about Canberra.)

Looking at Rubicon's website, a five-course degustation is $75 ($115 with matching wines), which I think is extremely reasonable. I know my friend An is keen to visit Rubicon - let's put it on the list for our next trip!

Sarah and Sandra visited Canberra as part of the Human Brochure campaign. This meal was included as part of the prize.

Rubicon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pumpkin Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze

Pumpkin bread with cream cheese glaze

Pumpkin bread! This moist, headily-spiced cake is such a fab tea-time treat. I got this recipe from my American friend Alaina, whose Mom used to make it on weekends or for sleepovers. (You may remember Alaina brought it to our most recent Yarra Valley weekend - love it!)

I finally made it myself on Saturday when I had friends coming over for a pretty epic "Art and Food Day", (I'll explain more in an upcoming blogpost), and took the remaining slices to a Thanksgiving lunch the next day - I thought the pumpkin-filled cake would be very appropriate for the occasion. (My first Thanksgiving! I'll be sharing some pics of the lunch in my November "Unblogged Files"!)

Making pumpkin bread - recipe on my iPhone, hehe

I fiddled with the pumpkin bread recipe a bit - using two different sugars rather than all white, and measuring out the cinnamon, allspice, ginger and cloves individually, instead of using pre-mixed pumpkin pie spice. (If you do have pumpkin pie spice, then use 3 teaspoons of that, but still add the extra teaspoon of cloves). I managed to find tinned pumpkin at USA foods, but it is pretty expensive here (and only available at specialty shops), so feel free to steam and mash your own pumpkin if you like.

The other obvious addition was the thick blanket of cream cheese glaze. Alaina makes the pumpkin bread unadorned, but the last time she made it, I snuck some cream cheese icing onto a slice and knew it was a match made in heaven. Whilst typing up the recipe below, I had thought of stating that the glaze is optional, but in my heart of hearts, I know that cream cheese is never optional.

Baked pumpkin bread
I've made cream cheese icing a bunch of times, but never a cream cheese glaze. A quick google search revealed hundreds of practically identical recipes - it's basically just cream cheese beaten with vanilla, icing sugar and enough milk to make a drippable consistency. Go easy with the milk - you want a nice thick coating of cream-cheese glaze, not an insipid drizzle. Think: slow-moving glacier, rather than a river. (I saw loads of recipes online where the cream cheese glaze was nothing more than a few liquidy, practically transparent, thin lines on top of a cake/muffin/loaf/whatever - what's the point?)

Cream cheese glaze...


Super moist
The bread (let's be real: it's a cake) is warmingly spicy in a pleasant, not overwhelming way (don't be alarmed by the whole teaspoon of cloves in the recipe!) I added choc chips this time, but I'm told that pecans are a great addition too. (Indeed, just plain is also lovely). Although it is very moist, it tends to dry out quite quickly once sliced, so I'd suggest keeping it in an airtight tin (or in individual, glad-wrapped slices) once you've started cutting into it. I can never resist a bundt tin, but think this could be great in a lot of different shapes: a loaf tin, as muffins, mini-bundts (CUTE!), mini-loaves...

Pumpkin Bread (à la Sven) with Cream Cheese Glaze
Pumpkin bread recipe from Alaina's mom (with some slight adaptations)
Cream Cheese glaze recipe from all over the Internet

For the Bread
1 2/3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1/3 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips or chopped pecans, to taste (optional)

For the Glaze
125 grams cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons milk

To make the bread, preheat the oven to 175C.
Sift the flour, spices and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add in the sugars.
In a separate bowl (or a large measuring jug), whisk together the eggs, pumpkin, baking soda and water, and vegetable oil. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, followed by the choc chips or pecans (if using). Spray a 21cm, non-stick bundt tin with cooking spray. Spoon in the mixture and smooth the top down with the back of a spoon. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the cake is cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the glaze, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Sift in the icing sugar and beat to combine, followed by the vanilla extract. Add in the milk, a tablespoon at a time, until you achieve a drippable consistency. (You may not need all the milk). Set the cake and its wire rack over a tray (to catch the drips), and pour the glaze over the cake. Cut into thick slices to serve.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Human Brochure: Lunch at Grazing

Cnr Cook And Harp St
Gundaroo, NSW 2620
Ph: (02) 6236-8777

Lunch on the second day of our jam packed Human Brochure itinerary was a six-course tasting menu with matching wines at Grazing. I visited Grazing last year, on my last trip to Canberra, and really enjoyed it - I knew we were in for a treat!
Rather than sitting in the restaurant itself, we were seated under a special tent erected behind the cellar door and produce store on site. It looked very impressive!
Food & Wine humans
We were lucky to have gorgeous weather that weekend - perfect for wandering around the gardens.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch: two courses were from Chef Kurt (i.e. these are served in the restaurant), whilst the others were "taste of Canberra", showcasing local produce. Let's have a look!

First Course
Cream of tomato soup with Hobbit Farm goat's cheese toast and La Barre lemon infused extra virgin olive oil
Capital Wines 'The Swinger' Sauvignon Blanc 2012

I loved this tomato soup! First, the presentation was incredibly cute - I adore enamel cups! The tomato soup itself was gorgeous, with a rounded tomato flavour and the slight creaminess of the soup cutting through the acidity of the tomatoes. My only complaint: it was too small!

Second Course
Chef Kurt Neumann's "Snowy Mountain rainbow trout house smoked over Kyeema grapevine clippings served with an olive tapenade, almond puree, puffed grains and watercress"
Four Winds Vineyard Riesling 2011

Childish of me, I know, but my favourite element of this dish was the puffed grains - I loved the textural contrast and the crunch!

Non-Seafood Option
Roast beetroot, lentils, grilled halloumi, salad

Third Course
Chef Kurt Neumann's "Kangaroo tail and beetroot tortellini with our garden beetroot relish, goat's cheese and wattle seed burnt butter
Lark Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

I'd tried this dish the last time we visited Grazing, so I was super-pumped to see it on the menu! Burnt butter, hazelnuts, sweet beetroot, tender pasta and rich goat's cheese. Heaven! (Looking at lots of the other tweets that day, this appeared to be the favourite dish of the lot!)

Fourth Course
Bungendore Smoked lamb cutlet with Doodles Creek Aioli
Lambert Vineyards Shiraz 2008

More lambacon! It was surprising just how bacony it tasted - it must all be in the smoking.

Fifth Course
Local free range pork belly 'sliders' with Lynwood onion marmalade
Capital Wines 'The Ambassador' Tempranillo 2011

Pork belly! These sliders were little brioche buns, stuffed with a generous slab of pork belly, onion marmalade and coleslaw served with sweet potato and beetroot chips. The pork was deliciously juicy and meaty, although I must say I would have preferred a cracklier crackling.

Sixth Course
Brulee Tart with new season strawberries
Capital Wines 'The Treasury' Late Picked Riesling 2011

Dessert was a lovely, fresh little tart: shortcrust pastry filled with creme brulee, and topped with wonderfully fresh, intensely berried, strawberries. I should admit that I was hoping for a chocolate-based dessert (greedy!) - but I thought this was perfect for a warm sunny day.

Phew! And that was lunch! Very full and contented, (and slightly tipsy!)we rolled onto the bus and onto the National Gallery...

Thanks to the team at Grazing for putting on an excellent lunch!

Grazing on Urbanspoon

Sarah and Sandra visited Canberra as part of the Human Brochure campaign. This meal was included as part of the prize.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Bottom End

The Bottom End

The Bottom End
579 Little Collins Street
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: (03) 9629-3001

When I joined Instagram back in April, I was told by She Who Takes The Majority of Photos around here, in no uncertain terms, that I was not allowed to start filling my posts with Instagrammed pics. That I shouldn't lazily let the filters do the work for me, whilst ignoring things like Composition, Lighting and that elusive "Rule of Thirds". (Full honesty: I still don't quite get how that rule works, all I know with any certainty is that it's terribly important to understand it before you even think about picking up a camera :P).

Kitchen at The Bottom End

However... we caught up with some friends for burgers and drinks at The Bottom End last Friday after work, and I enjoyed it so much that I just had to whip out my iPhone and take some pics so that I could share it with you, grainy Instagrammed pics be damned! So forgive my dependence on Instagram for this blog post - it was super-dark in there and I had to filter the bejeesus out of most of these pics just to make the items visible. Even if I'd had my SLR and low-light lens with me, there was no way I was going to whip it out to take composed shots, interrupting us while we were drinking, chatting and (maybe) throwing popcorn at each other. (Or more accurately, there was no way I was going to make Sandra whip out the SLR and take composed shots...)

Sometimes having a good time is more important than getting the perfect shot! I trust that these pics will effectively convey the deliciousness and fun we had!

Our booth

Throughout the week, we were in an email conversation trying to figure out where to go on Friday night when one of our friends said:
There's this place called The Bottom End... that serves BURGERS! which is meant to be awesome. It's underground and shiz.
I'd never heard of the bar before, but any description containing the word "BURGERS!" all in caps and with an exclamation mark is good enough for me. Yup, decision made! The Bottom End serves $10 burgers, as well as American diner food (think: buffalo wings, jalapeno poppers etc.), and cocktails. It's low-key and relaxed, with booths and friendly staff. They also have free popcorn. FREE! Total win! (Apparently there's meant to be free Wi-Fi but I didn't manage to find the connection). Upstairs they host dance nights Poof Doof and Survivor, and seem to have different food and drink specials on all the time. Phew!

Let's have a look at some of the drinks we enjoyed.
Caipirinha - cachaça, lime, sugar - $12
When I ordered this caipirinha, the barman asked me: "Have you had one of these before? Do you know they're quite strong?", to which I replied: "Er yes, that's why I ordered it!" Hehehe. I actually thought caipirinhas were already on the way to being passé - I wouldn't have thought they still need to come with a warning...?

Bloody Mary - vodka, tomato etc. - $14 ($5 during happy hours, between 12-5 every day)
Super cute Bloody Mary cup!

Espresso Martini - vodka, coffee & kahlua - $19
Yeah, so an espresso martini isn't technically a "real martini". Who cares? Real martinis taste terrible! And the fab combo of coffee and alcohol is exactly what I want on a Friday night after a long week.

Texas Panhandler - spiced rum, Dr Pepper, morello cherries, lemon - $12

Fucking Marvellous - raspberry vodka, crème de mure, berry puree, lemon juice, egg white - $18

The F***ing Marvellous tasted a lot more delicate than the name would have you believe - with its raspberry vodka, creme de mure and berry puree, it was a sweet, intensely berried drink.

Ok, so here's what I know you're all interested in: the food! We ordered a bunch of things to share, and they all came out very quickly. (Heads up: a girl I know told me she once waited up an hour for food to come out, so perhaps it varies depending on how busy they are.) Needless to say, the food is all perfect drinking food.
Hot 'n' cheesy jalapeno poppers - $10
These jalapeno poppers were a mix of sliced jalapenos and cream cheese, rolled into balls, crumbed and deep-fried. I can't say I was wildly taken with them, finding them a bit claggy. (And quick internet research reveals that normally jalapeno poppers are actually hollowed-out jalapenos, stuffed with cream cheese and then deep fried.)
Cheesy popper innards

I thought the burgers were great! I loved the fluffy buns and all the juicy, tasty fillings. They were a little smaller than expected, but on the plus side, I didn't feel gross after eating them, like I do when I eat a Grill'd or an Andrew's burger.
Classic Cheesy Bacon - grilled wagyu beef pattie, gruyere, monterey jack, bacon, pickle, tomato, lettuce and fry sauce - $10
I was in the mood for something spicy, and went for the Mexico City Chicken Cheeseburger.
Mexico City Cheese - cheese, jalapeno and corn-stuffed grilled chicken pattie, coriander salsa, lettuce & chipotle mayo - $10
According to the menu, the Mexico City Cheese burger comes with a 'jalapeno and corn-stuffed grilled chicken pattie', but I actually think mine had a potato-chip crumbed chicken pattie, (also on the menu), as it was really crunchy and I couldn't taste any corn. Either way, it was super yum!

House-spiced fries with fry sauce - $8

A nice hot bowl of meatballs - walnut & gorgonzola sauce - $10

Mormon Buffalo Wings - blue cheese sauce & celery - 3 for $9
My fave of all the little snacky things was the mac & cheese balls, which are exactly what they sound like: deep fried balls of mac & cheese. They were intense, but really really good, especially with a lick of garlicky aioli.
Mac 'n' Cheese Balls - garlic aioli - $10
I imagine you make these in much the same way you make arancini (a much more highbrow food!) - i.e. you'd make mac and cheese and let it get cold before rolling it into balls, crumbing and deep-frying it.

So that was The Bottom End! A really fun place to have drinks and snacks - the burgers were especially impressive. I think The Kodiac Club on Brunswick street, which has a similar American diner-style offering, serves food of a much higher quality, whereas The Bottom End's food is a bit more rough and ready. (The Kodiac Club's buffalo wings and house-made tortilla chips - OMG). However, the food at The Bottom End does the trick, the drinks are great and the atmosphere is chillaxed and fun. Win win win!

The Bottom End on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lil Boy Blue

Pikelets with poached Beurre Bosc pear, cinnamon ice cream & pistachio praline - $12

Lil Boy Blue
309 High St
Kew, VIC 3101
Ph: (03) 9853-5003

Throughout school, high school and uni, I used to spend heaps of time on High street, Kew - the swimming pool, the music store, the beauty salon, the KFC (hah!), the Leo's supermarket - I even had a part time job at one of the (now-defunct) cafes in the area. However, it's been a few years since I've hung out in my old 'hood, and it seems that loads of new cafes and businesses have been popping up all over High street!

It was this post on Ashlee's blog that alerted me to the presence of new-ish High Street cafe Lil Boy Blue, and shortly after, I arranged to have a weekend brunch there with my family!

Lil Boy Blue is a small cafe, with exposed brick walls, funky eclectic decorations and a low-key feel - we sat at the large communal table in the centre.

We started with a round of coffees. I loved the cute serving cups and spoons! Now, whilst these were well made (you can see the dense creaminess of the frothed milk in the below pic), none of us particularly liked the taste of the coffees. There wasn't anything explicitly wrong with them, but perhaps it was the milk itself or the type of bean that didn't suit our palates. Oh well!
Cafe Latte, Cappuccino

My dad couldn't resist the BLT's displayed on the counter: fat little brioche buns stuffed with crispy bacon, lettuce, tomato and cheese. At first I thought seemed a little small, but with all those rich flavours going on, it turned out to be the perfect size, even for my dad!
BLT on brioche bun - $12
My mum's dish of crumbed poached eggs with salsa verde, mushrooms, pickled capsicum, goats cheese and toast "soldiers" was also very good. (And very filling!) I don't think it quite reached the heady heights of the amazing panko-crumbed eggs at Goldilocks, but it was a solid dish, and definitely worth ordering if those ingredients tickle your fancy!
Poached & crumbed eggs with trio of mushrooms, soldiers, salsa verde, pickled capsicum & goat’s curd - $16
Sandra wasn't in the mood for a big breakfast, and just ordered toast. Unfortunately the toast was rock hard, all the way through, to the point of hurting her mouth whenever she took a bite. Not pleasant at all! Personally, I would have sent it back if it had been mine, but I guess customers aren't always in the mood to cause a fuss.
Noisette bread toasted with chocolate & hazelnut spread, jam - $5

I clearly made the best choice of everyone though, with the pikelets with poached beurre bosc pear, cinnamon ice cream and pistachio praline. This was just incredible!
Pikelets - $12
The pikelets were warm, thick and fluffy, with a nice hint of sweetness from the poached pears, the accompanying syrup, and the pistachio praline. (Although looking at the above picture, I'm wondering if it was a different nut that day - no matter, it was delicious). The standout element on the plate, however, was definitely the cinnamon ice-cream. It was smooth and creamy with a pure cinnamon flavour. All the elements on the plate combined perfectly, and I wolfed it down happily. A fabulous dish!

I think I must have been going on about the pikelets quite loudly, because apparently my loud praise of the dish encouraged another girl on the communal table to order them! And who was that girl but fellow food-blogger Daisy from Never Too Sweet For Me! I thought she might have been a food blogger, when I saw her snapping away at her brunch with her phone and camera (just like me, haha), and it was confirmed when she commented on a picture I took inside the cafe that I posted on Instagram, and we both looked up and were like: "HI!!" Too funny!

Daisy - it was lovely to meet you in person, even if it was brief!! (Don't forget to check out Daisy's post on Lil Boy Blue!)

And finally, I just wanted to show you the little blueberry tart my dad ordered, again, after seeing it on the counter - he must be a very visual person! He loved it! And I loved the insane ratio of whipped cream-to-tart, hehe.
Blueberry tart with whipped cream

Even though Lil Boy Blue very much feels like a cafe, they're also a fully licensed restaurant, serving dinner Tuesdays to Saturdays. I had a look through the dinner menu, and it seems very expensive, especially given the casual cafe feel of the venue. At about $20 for an entree and $25 to $41 for mains, dinner prices are comparable to hatted restaurants in the CBD, not to mention local counterparts: EstivoCentonove and St Katherine's. Whilst the breakfast items were generally good, the quality was variable, and based on our visit, I'm not convinced that it would be worth paying the higher prices to visit for dinner. My suggestion? Go for breakfast, and definitely go for those pikelets!

Lil Boy Blue on Urbanspoon