Sunday, November 29, 2009

Birthday lunch number...uhmmm

My dear friend Bee had been planning this outing for such a long time so it was quite exciting when the day finally arrived and I turned up at Newtown station on a really hot day to be met by an exotic looking Bee dressed for the occasion in a Hawaiian shirt! We headed straight for Christopher The's Black Star Pastry to pick up lunch.

Bee had a lamb shank pie (unfortunately, since he was unused to eating with food bloggers, he was mostly done with it by the time I got my camera out!) and the spinach and pinenut pithivier, both of which were rich and tasty (well, at least the initial allow-the-foodblogger-to-taste training took, hehe)!

I selected the serrano ham and basil in an olive roll. It was crusty and chewey and the fragrance of the fresh basil leaves enhanced the saltiness of the ham.

It was almost too much for one person but I managed to finish it knowing that dessert was nearby.
Let me introduce you to my new friends:

Rhubarb and Apple Crumble
Canneles de Bordeaux
Passionfruit and Coconut Macaron
Plum, Fig and Orange Cake
I loved them all, particularly the canneles (can-nu-lay is the way the French speaking Bee pronounces it) which I'd never tried before. According to the Food Network and the Worldwide Gourmet, this little cake has an ancient history but the most interesting part is how particular the recipe is in creating what turns out to be a crunchy, gooey toffee skin covering a creamy custardy interior. Apparently, fluted copper tins and coating the inside of the tins with beeswax (food grade I hope!) is what makes these pastries unique. My favourite of the day however was the orange cake with such a pretty topping, deliciously moist but not too sweet.
And the special cup of Earl Grey tea served up by Bee in gorgeous gold leaf cups inherited from his father. I felt rather privileged to be using this service and Bee went to the effort of getting the tablecloth matching the cup and saucer sets too!
But wait, there's more! Not only did Bee supply a wonderful lunch in the most elegant surroundings, afterwards he presented me with a very heavy parcel which turned out to be a Gateau Breton made to Nigella's own recipe. How lucky can a girl get?
Having read so much about this (and drooled over the photo in my copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess) I am now in possession of one! I couldn't wait to get home and open it up, it's a recipe that I don't think I'll ever make for myself, just reading the ingredients is probably raising my cholesterol level already, so how thoughtful of Bee to give me a little of the experience without the massive guilt, hehe! It was delicious by the way, crumbly and buttery and to be enjoyed a little at a time SLOWLY.

And after lunch, Bee organised a showing of finely bound artists books put together by a private collector.
Food and art, thanks for a gorgeous day Bee, hope your year is turning out to be just as good!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bellinis, Burgers and Bliss

After you've been overawed by the fabulousness of the foyer of the Rockpool Bar & Grill, you need to remember to turn RIGHT so you can enter the more affordable bar section of this gorgeous restaurant. The bar doesn't take reservations so my companion and I decided to turn up at 12pm to take our chances, it was the right strategy as only a few tables were occupied unlike 30 minutes later when the entire place is full.
As it was a special occasion (erm alright, it was another birthday meal for me - look out for more in the coming days) S convinced me to celebrate in style and we started with a classic Bellini cocktail - peach nectar and sparkling white wine.
Like a lot of the other patrons of the bar, the must try dish was the Wagyu burger, its popularity boosting its original price of $18 to the current $22.00. The burger itself was stunning, the pure essence of meatiness and bbq beautifully grilled sitting on a toasted brioche roll, I must admit a little disappointment at the plain lettuce and tomato slices and not having the option of some beetroot on it (Aussie through and through), pickled zucchini in the Zuni Cafe style was nice but not the same!
Had to check out the fat chips (as it was on the menu a couple of weeks ago, checking tonight, they are now known as handcut chips - what's wrong with fat chips I say? The fatter the better.) and they were VERY good. Pity the meat in the burger was so satisfying I couldn't finish the other half of the bun or a good portion of the chips. They may not be the best value for money at $12 but I may just go back for a plate of the chips alone, now that would be the height of decadence if not a nutritionist's nightmare!
S decided on the spanner crab, tomato and chilli with semolina pasta at $29. It being my birthday, S kindly allowed me to sample a bit of the crab!

On the whole, I think the wagyu burger at Plan B is better value for money but if you like meat, you do need to try eating here at least once!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The making of MARMALADE - kidstyle.

I have only ever made marmalade once in my culinary life, and it ended with me having to call a plumber because the residue from my rinsed out pans left such a thick goop in the drain, it needed a professional to unblock it! So, you can imagine my reservations when the lad asked me what he could cook with grapefruit? Should I suggest marmalade or pretend he never asked me? We have a lovely elderly neighbour, who has a very robust grapefruit tree growing in her backyard. Every year she gives it a very severe pruning in an attempt to keep it under control. It doesn't work as every year it comes back bushier than the last with big, yellow, fat grapefruit on it. She planted the tree around 30 years ago and has enjoyed many fruit over the years. Unfortunately she can no longer see the pips to eat them properly which is a travesty, but she is happy for others to enjoy the fruit and is very generous in sharing them. So, every year, we pick some fruit and juice them. I love grapefruit juice, and so does my husband, but the kids like the juicing process more than the flavour. However, this year, I decided to move forward from my less than positive experience last time, and get the kids involved in a batch of grapefruit marmalade..kid style! The first step was the planning. I had an old recipe, but thought I should try to find a more simple one on the internet that would suit the age group and skills of my "helpers". At 5 and 7 years, they are sometimes more hindrance than help, but I really want to encourage them to think about food and the processes it takes to get food on the table (or in this case, into a jar!). Both kids were GUNG-HO about picking the grapefruit so it was hard to hold them back and talk about recipes and what we should do. After my initial search, I found a great simple recipe on the Cooking Cache website. All I needed was 3 medium grapefruit, 2 medium lemons, 10 cups water and 10 cups of sugar. EEK! 10 cups of sugar!??? This in itself amazed the children, no wonder they love jams but neither of them had tried marmalade before so they were expecting something sweet and sticky after seeing how much sugar went in. It was a great surprise to them when they tasted the result (and highly entertaining for me to watch) to find it was still sour enough to make them squint. I guess they didn't think about the fact that if the fruit is sour, then the end result will be sour too? Funny. OK, so it was time to gather our baskets and visit Phyl to get permission to pick the fruit. She was tickled pink that we still wanted them, and she was also really pleased they weren't going to waste, not to mention that she would get some home made marmalade for her toast at the end of it all! She has always loved it and knew we would come through with a jar or two. What fun we had, picking the best fruit, trying to reach it, twisting it until it came off, and comparing the sizes we all had. When you considered some were the size of a baby's head, no wonder the kids had trouble balancing them while reaching high. It was like a comedy act, watching them drop, juggle and struggle with them, while straining to see the green bug we found on a leaf! So easily distracted. Back to the house to scrub the fruit. This is always important, but more so since we had recently had the worst dust storm since the 1930's! We set up the sink with water and scrubbing brushes. Both kids put to hard labour to get them squeaky clean. Then there was a squabble over who got the biggest knife to cut the fruit. We had to have our safety discussion at this point, because even though both children take the use of knives very seriously, there is always the danger of severed limbs, and that would certainly have interrupted the proceedings somewhat. I was so tempted to go over the slices and re-cut them to make them thinner, but thought that this is the kids marmalade after all and they should be able to feel proud of the fact that they did most of it themselves, so CHUNKY style marmalade it was to be. We got our biggest saucepan out and put the slices of fruit in. The first born was in charge of adding the water cup by cup. The lad was the fruit man. Everyone had an important job to do. Once that was done, we left the fruit overnight to soak. Because I work 3 days a week, this had to be timed on a day I knew I could boil the fruit the following morning. With all of the extra curricular activities, this was a feat in itself, but we managed. The next morning I packed the firstborn off to school, and the lad and I hurried home to begin the next step of our little project. We boiled the fruit with the lid on for about 45 minutes (until rind is soft). Then we measured the mixture, cup by cup. This is important as the usual idea is to mix 1 cup of suger per each cup of fruit mixture. We had 10, so the lad began the filling, tipping and counting of the sugar cups and made a pretty good mess of the kitchen floor in the process. Theres nothing quite like standing in a dust of sugar, crunching and sticking with each step while trying to concentrate on BOILING hot liquid! I guess that's what cooking kid-style is all about (!?). We stirred it over the heat, without boiling, until the sugar was dissoved. Then we brought it to the boil, uncovered, without stirring for about 15 minutes (or until marmalade gels when tested. I'm not sure what happened here, but mine took much longer to gel. I'm thinking that the removing of the seeds (even though the recipe said to earlier in the process) left me without enough pectin? Who knows, but we boiled for longer. There is a few ways to test the gel point of jams, we used the cold plate method. I find it all a bit open-ended, so I've recently bought a new thermometer from Victoria's basement to help me on my next quest. This takes the worry out of the process. We had washed and steralized the jars after we hurriedly did a ring around of the neighbours and friends to GATHER them. Once the lad gets an idea in his head, we have to put it into action pronto so, the call went out, and in no time we had an interesting assortment of jars for our marmalade. We put them in the oven just before it was time to jar up, and we had just enough for the amount of mixture. I did this part as the mixture is SCALDINGLY hot, so there was no way I was letting the lad near the pan. I'm currently sporting a scald on my arm from my tea kettle, so I can't even be trusted with hot things about. He loved watching it gloop into the jars, and we let them cool before wiping them down. Once the first born arrived home from school, we made some labels and lid covers and had fun deciding who would be worthy recipients of our marvellous marmalade. After the official tasting (and the decision that they loved making it but don't like the taste), we farmed jars off to our generous neighbour, one jar went to pre-school for the kids to taste, to the school teacher, to Ya Ya (who promptly marinated chicken wings in it and said they were scrupmtious!), to our friends and family. It was a great experience, and one well worth doing. The kids both learned a bit more about food and the sugar content, and I got some ripper, flavoursome marmalade for my morning toast! Happy days. Happi eating!

Friday, November 13, 2009


The second I heard that magnificent clap of thunder, I knew all wasn't going to go my way! What a rain storm! After a hot and humid day, something had to give, and the heavens did in fine style. Of course, this was lovely, but as I made my way through crowded city streets at peak hour, I wasn't so pleased about mother nature's intervention. I was on my way last night to the book launch of fellow food-blogger "Jenius'" at the Global Gallery in Paddington. I cursed my open sandals as I sloshed through puddles, and hurriedly snapped up a new umbrella at the 7-eleven on my way to the bus stop. As I arrived, I realised that at peak hour, you needed to pre-pay, so back I sloshed to the 7-eleven to buy my ticket. My prediction was beginning to come true. Finally, back I went and found a bus that I thought was on my route, but of course I had run out of the office in a cloud of perfume and had left the all-important travel details on my desk! Happily I sms'd my fellow blogger YaYa so we could track our progress towards the gallery but I didn't realise the bus had taken a right turn and was heading off towards the showground! EEK?! As it was getting dark, and very very wet, I decided to stay on the bus until I reached a safe spot....hello Royal Randwick. Hmmm....20 stressful minutes later, a taxi finally slowed down and finally took me to Paddington (I DID have to look up Comber Street in the directory for him, but he was so soothingly calm, I wasn't worried that he may well have NO IDEA of where I was going. I couldn't complain really as neither did I?). As we backtracked, I tried to salvage my hairstyle and now falling apart sandals so I could at least walk in to the launch with a modicum of dignity. It really wasn't the entrance I had hoped for, but once I arrived, the cosy little crowded gallery was so welcoming, and the cute little boy (who we found out later in the night was Jennifer's younger brother) shyly pushed a colourful flyer into my hand and I found myself with a big smile and a change of demeanour. My next mission was to find YaYa, my partner in crime, in the crowd. Not exactly easy as she is quite vertically challenged (tee hee he..sorry YaYa). After quickly perusing the crowd, I squished across the room towards the drinks waiter, and found her in animated conversation with the delightful owner of Saigon Saigon Restaurant and her equally delightful sister who was the "hired help" for the night, gathering business cards, spreading the word about Saigon Saigon, and making sure we all got to sample the food as it came out of the kitchen. It was really tasty and was practically INHALED the second it exited the kitchen, so you had to be quick. What fun it all was, and what nice people we connected with tonight. So, now I had found YaYa, next was a quick chat to the author herself, the lovely Jennifer Lam. What a sweet girl she was, totally unaffected by the hoo-hah of the launch in her honour. She does a great blog, is a gifted photographer and is very obviously well grounded. All this talent, and still able to chat to strangers and friends, followers and family with grace. Tonight she was launching her book "I ate my way through Singapore and Vietnam", the first in a series of delectable food inspired books. Although Australian born, Jennifer has family connections with Vietnam, and it was on a trip there she became inspired to put this book together. I'm glad she did. It's bright, beautiful, interesting, and desirable (Jennifer tells us emphatically that it isn't a coffee table book, but a bed side table book as she lovingly hugs a copy to her chest) and the most fabulous thing is that a percentage of the sales of each book goes directly to KOTO International. KOTO is a non profit organisation that assists street kids in Vietnam to better their chances in life by giving them skills in the hospitality industry. The cause has surpassed its original goals and is now placing kids in scholarships around Australia. A quick chat with Lorette Brown, a director of KOTO gave us insight into what KOTO do, and it is a great tribute to Jennifer that she feels she can give something back to the country she feels she gained so much from. During her speech, Jennifer told of her supportive family and partner, of her food inspirations, and spoke passionately about KOTO. Her younger brother was both reticent yet intrigued by all the photos being taken, so it was quite entertaining to see him handing out the books while trying to hide behind them! It was not only a fun evening, but an inspiring one too. Once we secured our copy of the book ($49.95) and had it signed, it was time to concentrate on capturing the event. Trays of Saigon Saigon finger food emerged from the kitchen. We enjoyed deep fried spring rolls, prawns in wonton skins and delicious summer rolls. All extremely appetising! Saigon Saigon has been in Glebe for many years, and has recently been refurbished and enlarged. I, for one, am looking forward to visiting and will definitely be taking my fellow bloggers with me. I snaffled a takeaway menu, and plan to work my way through the mains with my foodie friends in the not too distant future. By this time, the crowd had thinned a bit, leaving some breathing room in the hot and sticky rooms. We had a chance to look at the art for sale (large format photos from Jennifer's book available for $250), and enjoy the wines on offer. Another sponsor of the night was Aja (pronounced Asia) wines which were specifically blended to work well with Asian food. Well, it was my absolute DUTY to try both the blush and the white. Both were great and the waiters were very accommodating being students from a hospitality college. Soon, it was time to go, and we reluctantly left the crowd spilling on to the street to make our way along Oxford street on our way home. Thankfully our trip home was less "interesting" than my trip in and we enjoyed soaking in the glossy pages of the book all the way home. Best of luck to Jennifer, I am sure with the solid support team you have behind you, all good things will come to you. Happi Eating!