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Friday, July 31, 2009

July Daring Baker's Challenge - Part 2

As promised, here is the final exciting installment in the tale of the July Daring Bakers' Challenge! Thanks again to Nicole at Sweet Tooth for hosting the challenge this month.

Well, I'm sure you've all been on the edges of your collective seats wondering how my new oven was going to perform on its maiden baking voyage. Would I be wishing I'd never let Mr Dodgy Oven go out to pasture? Would I be leaping around the kitchen pumping my fists in the air in joy? If you guessed that my actual reaction fell somewhere between these two then you'd be right, and you've earned yourself a treat. Go and have a mallow. Unless of course you're not like me and don't have FIVE MILLION mallows sitting around in your house. Yes, this recipe lies ever so slightly when it claims to make two dozen cookies. Perhaps two dozen cakies would be more accurate. Or two dozen dozen cookies. In any case, there were more than enough cookies to take into uni for my fortnightly research group meeting, to deliver to a friend on campus, to sample in case they were poisoned (the correct action for any responsible baker), to give to my housemate whose ears were assaulted by my mixer working the pesky marshmallow for ages, and to bestow upon my sister who is staying with me for the weekend.

The recipe itself gets a little technical in that you need to get the marshmallow made properly such that it sets to the right consistency, and you also need to be careful with your chocolate such that it actually sets at all (quite a few Daring Bakers had to keep theirs in the fridge as it simply refused to set without being refrigerated) and ideally it is tempered such that it sets with a nice snap, and without blooming. After reading of everyone's problems they were having in these areas, I was more than a little apprehensive about making these cookies, but looking forward to the challenge. I was determined to succeed! I was sure I would succeed!

I am exceedingly, delightfully happy to say that I did in fact succeed, and surpassed all my expectations at how brilliantly these would turn out! I'm pretty chuffed, really, although I am also quite tired as it was a pretty time consuming process. Just as well I have some sugary treats to get me through the day ahead.

After eyeing off the amazing creations of my fellow Daring Bakers, I came up with five variations on the original recipe. So, I ended up making the following cookies:
  • original,
  • with 100s and 1000s over the marshmallow (plus garnish),
  • with coconut over the marshmallow (plus garnish),
  • with a dollop of nutella between the cookie base and the marshmallow, then hazelnuts over the marshmallow (plus garnish),
  • with sieved black cherry jam mixed through the marshmallow, and garnished with a glace cherry,
  • with mint extract and green colouring mixed through the marshmallow, and garnished with white chocolate.
Yeah, I perhaps got a little carried away, particularly as this recipe actually produced 111 cookies. I did 20 each of the variations, and 11 of the plain.

The verdict from all who sampled my wares was resoundingly positive. Big smiles and happy tummies all round, and my favourite compliments of all - when people think that I must have bought them :D

Mallows(Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies)

Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 10 min
Serves: about 2 dozen cookies

3 cups (375grams/13.23oz) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (112.5grams/3.97oz) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter
3 eggs, whisked together
Homemade marshmallows, recipe follows
Chocolate glaze, recipe follows

Homemade marshmallows
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup (168.76 grams/5.95oz) sugar
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
2 egg whites , room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate glaze
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 ounces cocoa butter or vegetable oil

1. In a mixer with the paddle attachment, blend the dry ingredients.
2. On low speed, add the butter and mix until sandy.
3. Add the eggs and mix until combine.
4. Form the dough into a disk, wrap with clingfilm or parchment and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 days.
5. When ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet or line it with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
7. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness, on a lightly floured surface. Use a 1 to 1 1/2 inches cookie cutter to cut out small rounds of dough.
8. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Let cool to room temperature.

Note: if you don’t want to make your own marshmallows, you can cut a large marshmallow in half and place on the cookie base. Heat in a preheated 350-degree oven to slump the marshmallow slightly, it will expand and brown a little. Let cool, then proceed with the chocolate dipping.

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, corn syrup, and sugar, bring to a boil until “soft-ball” stage, or 235 degrees on a candy thermometer.

2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let dissolve.
3. Remove the syrup from t

he heat, add the gelatin, and mix.
4. Whip the whites until soft peaks form and pour the syrup into the whites.
5. Add the vanilla and continue whipping until stiff.
6. Transfer to a pastry bag.

Cookies, continued..

9. Pipe a “kiss” of marshmallow onto each cookie. Let set at room temperature for 2 hours.
10. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or silicon mat.

Chocolate glaze
1. Melt the 2 ingredients together in the top of a double boiler or a bowl set over barely simmering water.

Cookies, continued..
11. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the hot chocolate glaze.
12. Lift out with a fork and let excess chocolate drip back into the bowl.
13. Place on the prepared pan and let set at room temperature until the coating is firm, about 1 to 2 hours.

My notes and variations to this recipe:
  • Like I said, the cookie dough recipe makes a lot of cookies. I ended up with 111, and consequently needed to do a second batch of marshmallow (which turned out much nicer than the first!) and use a lot more chocolate than the recipe calls for.
  • I made sure to adjust for US measurements with the marshmallow recipe (1/4 cup ~ 59 mL; 1 Tb = 3 tsp). Not sure if this matters, but I did it just to be safe.
  • You have to "continue whipping until stiff" for quite a while! I am SO glad that I finally bit the bullet and got myself my very first stand mixer this week (yay!).
  • To add the flavours to the marshmallow, add it towards the end when it is almost whipped to completion.
  • Don't be a fool and wear nice clothes while doing this. You'll be cursing yourself as you smear sticky marshmallow on everything.
  • You'll need a decent piping bag. I piped the first lot of marshmallow using a standard plastic one, and it busted out! In a way this was a good thing, as it meant I didn't need to wash it and could just throw it away. I did the second lot with a decent canvassy type one, and it worked a treat.
  • I just used straight chocolate for the glaze, melting it in a double boiler and keeping some unmelted chocolate in the mix at all times.
  • See if you can rope someone into doing all your dishes. There is a lot of stickiness to get cleaned up. Perhaps a neighbourhood child would like to earn a nice shiny fifty cent piece and a few cookies for hours of scrubbing with hot, dangerous water?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bella Vista for my sister

My sister's birthday weekend celebrations began in earnest with dinner two Friday's ago (yes, I've taken a while to get this written) at Bella Vista. I've been a fan of this place for a while now, as it delivers the best coffee in Geraldton (using a special Five Senses blend) and I've enjoyed many a delicious meal lunch or dinner here as well (their crab angelhair pasta dish is crabbily angelic). It is very small and pokey inside, and you need to get a key from the staff to use the dodgy toilets next door (not really the type of toilets you want to visit without backup or a taser), but they are gearing up to move to new and improved premises soon so this decor/space/safety issue should be sorted out soon!

We were all looking forward to celebrating my sister's birthday with some great food and nice wine (well, those of us who were not still sick and thus driving). It is BYO, so with wine bottles in hand we scurried in out of the cold and squeezed our way to our table.

As is quite common at Bella Vista, there was a range of "Entrée - share plates" to choose from, in addition to some main dishes. The selection of eleven entrees included quite a few tempting choices, ranging from the $16.50 "rabbit rillette with pickled vegetables and toasted Turkish breads" to the $18 "pumpkin and coconut soup with crisp chicken, chilli and rice noodle dumplings" to "light panfried bread coated scallops with Asian slaw, peanut and pork sauce and candied chilli" for $22.

The mains only offered four choices which all sounded very nice (well, I admit I wasn't tempted by the grilled eye fillet steak). I was sure my sister would go for the "casselout (yes, that's how they spelled it) of duck confit, slow roasted pork, borlotti beans chickpeas, lentils, cacciatora sausage and side of broccolini" ($36), whilst I was tossing up between the "goat tagine with saffron, dates, Israeli couscous with mint yoghurt" ($33) and the "roasted lamb leg with celeriac cream, roasted kipfler potatoes, broad beans, mint jus and spiced tomato jam" ($35).

The first choice to make though was whether to go for two entrees or one main, seeing as both options ended up costing about the same. My sister chose contrarily to my assumption (she's changed since she turned.. um.... older) and went for the "panfried figs wrapped in pancetta with goats cheese, rocket and mint salad" ($18) and the "glazed pork ribs with hoi-sin honey and chickpea wedges" ($18), her friend R also chose the figs in addition to the "seafood roll - whiting fillet, with a mousse of prawns and scallops wrapped in nori paper with soy-ginger bok choy" ($22), her friend A chose only the "panfried chorizo sausage with lemon, fresh tomato and polenta cubes ($16.50), my cousin and I both went for the goat tagine and my sister's friend M asked for something not on the menu - a simple garden salad in line with her strong-willed adherence to reaching her weight loss goal!

Wine was drunk and conversation enjoyed while we waited, not too long, for our dishes to come out. They all looked very nice coming out of the kitchen, and we got stuck in with gusto. Well, as much sticking in with gusto as one can do when you don't have a great deal of elbow room and you're wearing nice clothes that you'd rather not get goat juice all over.

Panfried figs wrapped in pancetta with goats cheese, rocket & mint salad ($18)

These really were very good, as my sister was kind enough to give me a good taste of the cheesy, figgy, piggy goodness. A great combination of flavours that was bound to work, and which I may have to try to recreate at home. I think for $18 it could have done with more than three figs, but then again I guess it was a decent size for an entrée dish.

Glazed pork ribs with hoi sin honey & chickpea wedges ($18)

Again this dish was enjoyed, tasting as rich as it looked. I had a taste of the sauce, and could have wiped the dish clean with some bread. The chickpea "wedges" were curious, I couldn't quite identify them in the dish but could imagine some poor kitchenhand being told to cut up millions of chickpeas into wedges, with a tiny tiny knife.

Seafood roll - whiting fillet with a mousse of prawns & scallops wrapped in nori paper, with soy ginger bok choy ($22)

I didn't taste this dish, but from memory it was enjoyed by R. At least, I don't remember any complaints!

Panfried chorizo sausage with lemon, fresh tomato & polenta cubes ($16.50)

A was a little disappointed with this dish, finding it far too oily and lacking the promised "fresh tomato". I guess she may have been able to tolerate the oiliness a little better if she had ordered it in addition to something else, but I can certainly understand how it would be overwhelming to eat just this dish for dinner. I have to say though that it was quite impressive coming out. Really, I'm like a child sometimes getting excited at seeing a sizzling hot plate being brought out. It's a wonder I don't have to be reminded not to touch the hot plate as it'll give me owies.

Goat tagine with saffron, dates Israeli couscous & mint yoghurt ($33)

Now, onto my dinner! This smelt and tasted divine, it really did. The flavour was rich and hearty and had interesting depth. Unfortunately, there was about two mouthfuls of meat in the entire dish. The rest was bone, fat and connective tissue. Despite the whole lack-of-elbow-room thing, and the desire to leave the restaurant with my clothes free from goat juice, I actually had to get in there with my hands to try and find some more edible parts once I'd eaten all I could find with a knife and fork. Sadly my fingers were no more successful. My cousin's goat was the same, and we both felt quite disappointed at paying $33 for a dish and being left hungry at the end of it.

Oh, and M's salad, how could I forget the salad! Well, I could forget it because it was a garden salad that looked pretty much like most decent garden salads I've seen before. I refrained from photographing it because I was already feeling like a papparazza, and although it looked like a nice fresh mix of greens, tomato and avocado, I figured it was not worth documenting. Apparently however, it was, as the bill revealed that this salad was worth $18.

Sadly, this feeling that we had paid too much for a number of the dishes tarnished our view of the experience at Bella Vista this night. I would love to have left the restaurant with nothing but the amazing flavour of the tagine on my mind, but I was instead thinking of what there was to eat at home.

So, it's a bit of a mixed review really. Happily, Bella Vista still packs a punch with an interesting menu that really delivers on the flavours, but the prices (which seem to have recently increased) are discouraging, particularly when you're not built with the ability to eat bone and cartilage.

I will certainly be going back to Bella Vista for their exceptional coffees and great lunches (although I am unsure if their lunch prices have also increased), and in all honesty I think the flavours will likely draw me back for dinner, but there are a number of other Geraldton restaurants that I'm now thinking are worth a revisit to try and find better value for my money.

Bella Vista
205 Marine Tce, Geraldton
Phone: 08 9964 2681
Opening hours: I'm sorry, I'm not sure as they seem to change a bit. Will update when I get further information!

Monday, July 27, 2009

July Daring Baker's Challenge - Part 1

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network. Thanks for hosting Nicole, and for giving me an excuse to try my hand at making marshmallow (and a reason to use such technical baking language as "soft ball stage").

Yep, it's been a whole month since my very first Daring Bakers' Challenge! Soon we'll all be exclaiming that we can't believe it is August already, possibly followed by a quip about when Christmas decorations will start being seen in the supermarket.

So, this month's challenge was plural - challenges - and thus this post is Part 1 of a gripping two part series. I made the Milan Cookies (which I like to be a little pretentious about and call Milano Cookies) not very long after the challenge was first announced, as that recipe was a little less challenging in terms of technique, and also in terms of shopping, when compared with the marshmallow cookies. The only thing slightly out of the ordinary in terms of ingredients was the lemon extract, easily found in a supermarket, and I had all the necessary tools on hand.

This baking event marked my final experience with my dodgy oven, before it was finally put out to pasture with all the old burnt out blenders (oh the smell of a burning motor), broken fridges with no doors and rusty fondue sets. My only regret is that I was not there to see it being ripped out, though luckily my absence did not mean my oven thermometer met a similar fate. I did get to spend some long intimate moments with the dodgy oven during this final cookie project together, as the Milano Cookies recipe makes a lot of cookies! I was a bit of a machine in the kitchen that night - piping cookie mixture onto trays, putting them in the oven, turning the trays around so they cooked evenly, taking them out at different times depending on whether they were on the top shelf or the bottom, letting them cool long enough on the tray so they firmed up a bit before transferring to a rack and starting the process again and again (and I do believe I was so terribly busy making cookies that I couldn't possibly cook dinner and was forced to have a roo burger from Jus Burgers, oh deary me what a shame).

So, the cookies. Would I make them again? Probably not, to be perfectly honest. They were really a very tasty cookie, and enjoyed by all who ate them, but I think their presentation lets them down. Perhaps if I were more skilled in piping them all perfectly the same shape and size, and perhaps if I tweaked the recipe a little so that they were a little thicker and crisper I would be happier. A lot of other bakers seemed to have these same issues, particularly with the cookies softening too much after being filled. The soft chewiness was pleasant, and the overall texture was reminiscent of a tuille, but I guess my personal preference is to have a bit more crunch to my cookie.

Oh and I haven't made a typo with the recipe - it is actually 2 tablespoons of vanilla and lemon extracts! Seems like madness but it actually works. The flavour is not overpowering, and pairs really nicely with the chocolate ganache.

(This point reminds me of something I would like to point out as some people may not be aware of it - you need to be mindful of the differences between measurements between countries. 1 US tablespoon is equal to 1 UK tablespoon which is equal to 15 mL (3 teaspoons) while 1 Aussie tablespoon is equal to 20 mL (4 teaspoons). 1 US cup is equal to 240 mL (well, 236.59 mL) while 1 Aussie cup is equal to 250 mL and 1 UK cup is 285 mL! While these differences may be totally moot in many recipes, there are others in which it may make noticeable differences to the taste, texture or look of the final product so it's worthwhile bearing these, however subtle, differences in mind.)

While I followed the recipe provided by our month's host, I also made a few variations to the original recipe with the ganache fillings, doing some with mini m&ms, some with roasted/crushed hazelnuts stirred through, and some with a bit of a Cherry Ripe theme with chopped glace cherries and shredded coconut mixed through.

Milan(o) Cookies

Recipe courtesy Gale Gand, from Food Network website

Prep Time: 20 min
Inactive Prep Time: 0 min
Cook Time: 1 hr 0 min
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies


12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon extract
1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour
Cookie filling, recipe follows

Cookie filling
1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 orange, zested


1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

A container of cookies ready to be taken to the footy!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Irish Cupcakes, to be sure

An Australian, a Scotsman and an Irishman all walk into a bar. The Irishman orders a pint of Guinness, the Scotsman orders a Lochan Ora and the Australian orders a cupcake.

I've been wanting to try my hand at making some Guinness cupcakes with Baileys frosting since coming across the recipe numerous times on various blogs a month or two ago, and my sister's birthday celebration weekend was the perfect opportunity to bust them out! My sister is after all a fan of cupcakes (and quite a deft hand at making them, having turned out an impressive selection of 108 cupcakes for our cousin's birthday a couple of weeks ago), chocolate, Guinness and Baileys. When looking for the cupcake recipe however, I hit the jackpot, coming across a variation of the cupcakes that I had seen before but forgotten about. Not only did these babies consist of a Guinness cupcake with a Baileys frosting, but they were filled with a whiskey ganache. Oh yes, the cupcake mother lode.

This particularly tempting cupcake recipe comes courtesy of smitten kitchen, and I can't thank Deb enough for the deliciousness. I only wish that I had used her frosting recipe, as I tried out a cream cheese variation on nook & pantry that tasted absolutely delicious but I wasn't happy with the consistency.

These cupcakes were an impressive, delicious, wonderful success with all who tried them, and I shall surely be making these lovelies again. I know for sure I will be making them for a friend who showed enormous resolve and self-control, not touching a single morsel in this her winter of discontent (actually, Jenny Craig), when she reaches her goal weight and can have the occasional naughty treat!

Chocolate Guinness Cupcakes with Baileys Frosting

Recipe from smitten kitchen

Makes 20 - 24 cupcakes


Guinness cupcakes
1 cup Guinness
1 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache filling
230 g (8 ounces) bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (Conor:I went a bit multicultural and actually used Lochan Ora instead of Irish whiskey. Oh and the whiskey is listed as optional in the original recipe but I think it's necessary! Go on, it's not like the cupcake is going to be any healthier without it)

Baileys frosting
(Conor:This is not the frosting recipe I used. I'll add that one in below)
3 to 4 cups icing (powdered) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick or 115 g or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 to 4 tablespoons Baileys (or milk, or heavy cream, or a combination thereof)
(The recipe states that this "makes a smallish amount of frosting — enough to just cover the cupcakes. Because they were so rich and this frosting so sweet, I felt it only needed a little. Double it if you want more of a towering effect.")

Special Equipment
1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work).


Making the cupcakes
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners.
2. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
3. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend.
4. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend.
5. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine.
6. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined.
7. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

Making the ganache filling
1. Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl.
2. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.)
3. Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.

Filling the cupcakes
1. Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes).
2. Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Those are your “tasters”.
3. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

Happy little cupcakes all filled up with ganache

Making the frosting
1. Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy.
2. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time. (This is a fantastic trick I picked up while working on the cupcakes article for Martha Stewart Living; the test kitchen chefs had found that when they added the sugar slowly, quick buttercream frostings got less grainy, and tended to require less sugar to thicken them up.)
3. When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys (or milk) and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.

Ice and decorate the cupcakes.

Do ahead: You can bake the cupcakes a week or two in advance and store them, well wrapped, in the freezer. You can also fill them before you freeze them. They also keep filled — or filled and frosted — in the fridge for a day. (Longer, they will start to get stale.)

The frosting recipe that I actually used is as follows:

Bailey’s Cream Cheese Frosting

Recipe from nook & pantry

340 g cream cheese, softened
170 g unsalted butter, softened
3 C icing (powdered) sugar
6 – 9 Tablespoons of Bailey’s Irish Cream

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, add the cream cheese, butter, and confectioner’s sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
2. Slowly drizzle in the Bailey’s, more or less depending on how boozey you want the frosting, and beat until completely incorporated into the frosting.

Like I said, I wasn't entirely happy with this frosting, as I ended up adding quite a lot of extra icing sugar and it was still too runny for my liking. So, while this frosting was indeed delicious I would recommend either tweaking the recipe to firm it up a bit, or going with the smitten kitchen frosting instead. (Of course, this frosting looks beautiful in the nook & pantry photos so it is entirely possible that I did something silly or just wasn't having a frost-tastic day and it's entirely my fault it doesn't come out as I wanted.)

L'Italiano aka "that new Italian place in town"

I went out for lunch with my Mum last Friday, a treat that I don't often get the chance to do with over 400 km generally stretched between us. I'd like to say I treated my Mum out to lunch, but I think in fact she treated me. One day I'll be a non-student type and have piles of cash to fling around on my family!

There's a new Italian place in Geraldton that Mum has been keen to try out for a few weeks now, but she hasn't really had the opportunity. Dad "doesn't like pizza" (although there are witnesses to him happily scoffing down my sister's gourmet creations) which, despite there being other things available on the menu, has made him somewhat adverse to going there for a meal. So Mum and I took the opportunity to start off my weekend of reviewing Geraldton restaurants, errr... I mean, my weekend of celebrating my sister's birthday, by leaving Dad at home and trying somewhere new for us both.

L'Italiano is located where many restaurants before it have failed. It's a nice corner block overlooking the ocean, and while the decor isn't exactly overly inviting the view makes it a pleasant spot to sit and eat a meal.

The lunch menu is a pared back version of the dinner menu, and doesn't offer a great deal of choice apart from pizza and pasta. In fact, there are five types of pasta, 21 types of pizza, and that is all. We were a little concerned as we were having lunch with a friend of my Mum's who has coeliac disease, but we were relieved to discover they had some gluten-free pasta in the kitchen - either spaghetti or penne. My Mum's friend was a little disappointed as she would have preferred some antipasti over pasta, but after we were told the kitchen wasn't set up to serve such things at lunch time she chose to have Pasta alla Bolognese ($10). I was also a little disappointed with the menu, as I often like to have a little salad with my pizza and it simply wasn't on offer, so I just went with the Pizza all'Ortolana (tomatoes, mozzarella, mushrooms, capsicum, onions, olives, artichokes, asparagus) ($10) and my Mum went traditional with Pizza Margherita (tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil) ($10).

Pasta alla Bolognese - Gluten-free penne with homemade bolognese sauce ($10)

The spaghetti bolognese looked quite nice, but nothing spectacular and would have benefited from at least a little garnish of some basil or extra parmesan. The serving size was small to moderate. It apparently tasted quite nice, but there was no raving about how great it was.

Pizza Margherita - tomatoes, mozzarella, fresh basil ($10)

Pizza all'Ortolana - tomatoes, mozzarella, mushrooms, capsicum, onions, olives, artichokes, asparagus ($10)

The pizzas were a decent size - 11 inches - and again looked quite tasty when they came out. The bases were good, not too doughy nor overcooked, and certainly far better than many pizza bases I've eaten out in Perth, but again nothing spectacular and no better than the pizza bases I make at home. Mum enjoyed her margherita, a testament to the sauce on the pizzas, and although I was a little disappointed at the amount of each topping that was on my pizza, I ended up finding it quite a satisfying meal.

The service was quite good, and our waiter went back into the kitchen to check the gluten-free options with the chef as she wasn't 100% sure. I'd much rather have a waiter disappear for a while to check things as opposed to having to send things back to the kitchen after being given incorrect information. I guess this is particularly important for people with food allergies/intolerances as the fact that my dish came with white bread after being told it came with wholemeal (Van's in Cottesloe, though to be fair they were quite apologetic and quick to fix the mistake) is a little less important than someone being stuck on the toilet for the rest of the day or going into anaphylaxis.

As I said, the menu was a bit of a disappointment. You would think that including a few salad options on the menu would be in their interest, given the huge mark-up on salad items and the fact that many people like to have a little freshness with a carb-heavy lunch. They could even have a lunch special with pizza/pasta, salad and a drink to make it an attractive option and possibly sell more product than they otherwise would. The antipasti dish that is currently on the dinner menu would also be a good inclusion on the lunch menu to give a little more variety to the dishes on offer.

The food was not spectacular but was enjoyable and satisfying, and for $10 per dish it is difficult to complain too much! I wouldn't go out of my way to go back, but I think it is fair to say that L'Italiano offer a tasty, affordable lunch option if you're in the mood for some Italian when in Geraldton. They also have a range of gelati on offer that was quite tempting, but we all resisted the urge so I am unable to comment, sorry!

1 Foreshore Drive, Geraldton
Phone: 08 9964 9291
Hours: Lunch 11am-2pm Wed-Sat; Dinner 5-10pm Tues-Sun

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flying high with hunger pangs

I spent the last weekend in Geraldton to celebrate my sister's birthday, and I actually flew there for a change as I picked up some not-too-ridiculously-priced tickets when Skywest was having a sale a couple of months ago. My e-ticket promised me a meal on both my flights, which seems a little silly as it doesn't take much more than an hour to fly between Perth and Geraldton. Despite the possible silliness, I was of course happy that Skywest would be providing me with blog fodder (though I was not convinced it would be much in the way of stomach fodder).

Skywest "dinner" - dodgy chicken salad, white roll, butter, Cadbury Dairy Milk, water and tea/coffee

My suspicions proved to be correct, as the meal for Thursday's evening flight to Geraldton was a pretty dodgy chicken salad, white roll, butter, Cadbury Dairy Milk, water and tea/coffee. The chicken was that soft briney stuff that is commonly found in school tuckshops, and the salad was drowned in a creamy dressing. I ate the tomato and egg white with some of the bread to keep me going, and saved the choccy to nibble on later. I also stole the Fresh food section out of the copy of the West Australian they gave me to read.

I was lucky enough to have my Mum take my order for dinner earlier last week, so after my parents picked me up from the airport we enjoyed one of my favourite childhood dishes - Mum's spaghetti chicken. Oh Mum, why couldn't you be in Perth last week when I was immobile on the couch?

Skywest breakfast - Sultana Bran, Devondale milk, BERRI orange juice and tea/coffee

My flight back to Perth on Monday was due to leave at 8:45am, but due to the crazy storms hitting the coast most of the day it was delayed until 10:00am or so. By the time we actually got up above the weather and they served breakfast, I was hoping for something decent as my stomach was more than ready for some morning tea (I had made sure to actually eat a proper breakfast when I got up, in case the Skywest breakfast was leftover chicken salad). We were given some Sultana Bran, milk, orange juice and tea/coffee. I quite enjoyed the Sultana Bran, having not eaten it for years, but I left the orange juice. Something about mixing milk and juice in my stomach just doesn't seem right, particularly when travelling in a small plane through crazy storms.

I think I'd rather Skywest didn't bother feeding anyone and just make the fares more affordable. All that brine and dressing can't be cheap, after all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hot dog! I'm a kreativ weiner!

I was super happy to be nominated by Rilsta of 'My Food Trail' for a Kreativ Blogger Award recently (although if I'm to be perfectly honest, I think I'd rather be a "Creative" Blogger. I can't seem to uncover the reasoning behind the spelling, but I guess we can just be grateful that it's not "Kreativ Blogga"). I only recently discovered Rilsta's blog when I came across one of her articles on WordontheStreet (not while looking for my own articles, I swear) and have been following it ever since. You should check out My Food Trail if you haven't already - she has some great recipes and Melbourne restaurant reviews, and I enjoy her writing style. She also clearly has impecable taste if this nomination is anything to go by.. thanks heaps Rilsta!

(As a side note, I just realised that we have both been blogging for around 3 months, have similar header images on our blogs, and write about similar things. Perhaps we are the same person?)

Now, apparently this nomination isn't entirely a free ride, as you need to adhere to the following rules:

1. You must thank the person who has given you the award.
2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
3. Link to the person who has nominated you for the award.
4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.
5. Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers.
6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
7. Leave a comment on the blogs to let them know they have been nominated.

Reading Rilsta's answers to number 4 reveals that in fact we are not the same person, as I love vegetables and I am reasonably confident I was not born in Singapore.

Onto my potentially interesting things...

1. When I left high school I did just over a year of a medical degree before "withdrawing" (so totally different to dropping out). This in no way means I have any useful medical knowledge, so please don't expect me to perform an emergency tracheotomy if the situation calls for it.

2. I'm somewhat of a gym junkie, though I'm not so sure I like this term. My regular early starts to get to gym classes are a bit of a running joke amongst my friends who tend to think I'm a bit crazy. We'll see who's laughing when they need someone to open the jam jar.

3. I was given my very first LEGO toys when I was 26. They are displayed next to my RC daleks and above my Futurama wind-up tin toys. Make of this what you will.

4. I know the pain of years of orthodontic work. As my sister kindly reminded me last night during a family dinner, I used to look like a shark. Too many teeth, none of which seemed to actually be in the right spot. Thanks to modern dentistry and parents willing to fork out the exorbitant associated costs however, I am able to grin toothily without fear of sparking claims of conehead sightings.

5. I worked at McDonald's for around four years, through high school and during my first summer break from uni. I was actually awarded runner-up for best drive-thru presenter (the person who gives you your food at the last window) in Western Australia in 1999, and was presented my award at Adventure World by Basil Zempilas.

6. I have Morton's Toe (known as "coup dé-toe" on Seinfeld) meaning my second toes are longer than my big toes. This is pretty common in my family. I also have pretty big feet and have been laughed at by saleswomen in at least two Asian countries when I asked if they had any shoes in my size. I'd like to say these two foot features combine to give me amazing ninja skills but instead I'll just move on to number 7...

7. I have donated plasma and will be starting to donate platelets soon! This is actually pretty cool because platelets only last for five days, so I will probably be called in regularly to donate for specific people when they are booked in to get cancer treatment (you can donate plasma or platelets every 2-3 weeks or so, as opposed to whole blood donations which you can only do every 12 weeks as you need to replenish your red cell count). The reason why I am mentioning this fact about myself is because maybe hopefully it might remind one of you that you've been meaning to look into donating blood and spur you on to do it. Or maybe you've done it before and, like me, don't actually get around to doing it as often as you would like to. Check out the Red Cross website for more information. It doesn't take very long, is only as painful as a tiny pin prick and they give you a good feed after! It's also a good opportunity to catch up on trashy magazine reading if you haven't been to a doctor's surgery or the hairdresser lately.

(For those of you at UWA, the mobile donor bus will be parked up next to the Arts Building near Riley Oval on Monday 3rd and Tuesday 4th August from 9:30am to 2:30pm. You can make an appointment by calling 13 14 95 or just rocking up and seeing when they have a timeslot free)

Now, onto my nominations, in alphabetical order:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Playtime at the Sebel

My life changed last Friday in a way that cannot be reversed. I discovered Coffin Bay oysters. Well, to be perfectly honest my brother-in-law introduced me to them a couple of years ago, but clearly the years had somehow inexplicably eroded the magical memory because I should have been dreaming about these babies every night since I first ate one.

The terrible, tragic consequence of having experienced the joy of eating these oysters is that I am now forever ruined to all other oysters. I am an oyster snob.

Friday was our last day in Adelaide, as our flight back to Perth was first thing Saturday morning. We remembered that we hadn't yet used our vouchers for free canapés in the Playford Lounge Bar at the hotel. Never ones to knock back free food, we made sure to get down to the lounge during the cocktail hour to exchange our vouchers for the canapés of the day - Coffin Bay oysters, either natural or kilpatrick. Our vouchers scored us three oysters each, and we both went the natural route, with a little squeeze of lemon and a dash of tabasco in a couple of them as well. My god, they were good. Beautiful, succulent, fresh, meaty, salty, pure, delicious. We were both a little dazed after polishing off our three each, but no sooner had we come to our senses than we were back at the bar ordering more. A plate of three pieces of heaven for $3.50. Bargain. We couldn't get too heady in oyster appreciation however, as the waitstaff were a little too conscientious and one particularly eager guy attempted to clear away one of our "empty" plates that still had a tasty morsel left sitting in its shell waiting to be enjoyed.

After recovering from the magic we decided to head off and have dinner at the nearby Apothecary 1878. The front bar is quite cool, decked out with antique pharmacy cabinets, and I assumed the theme was carried through to the restaurant which I believe is upstairs. Whether or not this is actually the case however remains unknown to me as there were no free tables in the restaurant. Dang. We briefly considered hanging around and ordering off the tapas menu at the bar, but decided to instead head back to the hotel and try the restaurant there. Upon arriving back at the hotel we were told that the earliest we could have a table would be 8:30 (this would never happen at the Hilton! hehe) so we retired back to our rooms where I watched the MasterChef master class until sauntering back downstairs to enjoy dinner.

Ordering was actually incredibly easy for me, as my strange sudden illness of the morning had completely turned me off goat cheese, smoked fish and salmon (luckily this has since proved to be a temporary turn off). I was actually really feeling like some soup and a nice piece of chicken (perfect sicky food, it's amazing I didn't twig that I was turning into a swine infected sicky lala), and thus chose the "tempura tofu hot broth - Japanese style broth, green tea soba noodles, Asian greens, chilli and pickled ginger" ($15.50) to start with and the "porcini infused free range chicken breast with sauteed wild mushrooms, hand pounded carrot and parsnip, porcini foam and roast chicken glaze" ($28.90) for my main course. Still enjoying an untarnished love of salmon, my friend chose to have a starter of "Atlantic salmon tartare, wasabi roe, candied orange zest" ($6), an entrée of "polenta crusted zucchini flowers - Woodcroft mushroom duxelle, Woodside goat's cheese, petite garden greens and tarragon oil" ($15.90) and for his main chose "the grill tasting plate - Murraylands beef fillet, Onkaparinga Valley venison, Clare Valley rabbit, confit garlic, thyme and pancetta sausages, San Jose bacon, potato croquette and eggplant relish" ($32.90). In honour of our vegetable deprived friend from The Brasserie we could not help but complement our dishes with some "steamed seasonal vegetables with lemon myrtle olive oil" ($9.50).

Atlantic salmon tartare, wasabi roe, candied orange zest ($6)

These looked fantastic, and apparently they tasted pretty fantastic as well, but I just couldn't accept the offer of trying one. Isn't it amazing how quickly your body can turn from loving something to finding it quite repugnant? Thank god I have since re-embraced my love affair with salmon. Phew.

Polenta crusted zucchini flowers - Woodcroft mushroom duxelle, Woodside goat's cheese, petite garden greens and tarragon oil ($15.90)

These looked beautiful and once again I was reminded that I would like to try cooking with zucchini flowers at home. Sadly my new apartment is poorly equipped with garden space and I won't be able to grow my own zucchini flowers, but I am determined to cook with them in the not-too-distant future. I should probably suss out what time of year they are readily available before I get too gung ho with this plan.

Tempura tofu hot broth - Japanese style broth, green tea soba noodles, Asian greens, chilli and pickled ginger ($15.50)

This entrée was just what I was hoping for when I read it on the menu. Hot, quite mild in flavour, a nice bite to the soba noodles and softness to the tofu. It was also served in quite an interesting manner, with the waiter bringing out the plate as you can see in the photo, but sans-liquid. The broth was in a glass teapot, which the waiter then poured into the bowl as it sat before me. A nice touch that I was disinclined to halt mid-process in order to capture on film, so you'll just have to imagine it. Go on, make yourself a nice pot of tea and pretend it is broth. Better still, make yourself a nice pot of broth and dress up like a waiter.

The grill tasting plate - Murraylands beef fillet, Onkaparinga Valley venison, Clare Valley rabbit, confit garlic, thyme and pancetta sausages, San Jose bacon, potato croquette and eggplant relish ($32.90)

The only part of this dish I actually sampled was the eggplant relish, which was packed with flavour and had a lovely silky texture to it. By all accounts the rest of the dish was more than enjoyable.

Steamed seasonal vegetables with lemon myrtle olive oil ($9.50)

The vegetables were nice and fresh and still had a little crunch to them, while the lemon myrtle olive oil added just a hint of flavour.

Porcini infused free range chicken breast with sauteed wild mushrooms, hand pounded carrot and parsnip, porcini foam and roast chicken glaze ($28.90)

This dish was really very impressive and something I'd love to eat again. The chicken was so incredibly moist and juicy, and really a reminder that meat cooked on the bone is invariably superior to the the more convenient skinless/boneless variety. The mushrooms had such a beautiful earthy flavour that was carried through the entire dish. I was intrigued by the claim of the carrots being "hand pounded". What does this mean, exactly? Mashed very firmly by hand? Do they really need to be pounded? They seemed like such nice carrots, and pounding sounds a tad excessive. In any case, they didn't seem to hold a grudge and I enjoyed every last bit of them. I enjoyed every last bit of everything in this dish, in fact, and it's a wonder I didn't lick the plate.

Those who know me, and I guess these days also those who read my blog must be well aware by now of my ability to eat vast quantities of food. This ability is rarely hampered by illness, and is also shared by the friend I was in Adelaide with, and so when the offer of dessert was made it didn't take long for us to agree that the menu should certainly be brought over. There were five dishes in the sweet section of the dessert menu, and one is worth mentioning although neither of us decided to try it. It is called "Quintessence - Pure and concentrated essence of chocolate (for two)". $32 nets you chocolate orange brulee, chocolate almond fudge cake, hazelnut and chocolate ice cream roulade, white chocolate fondant with espresso centre, and finally a caramelised banana and dark coverture mousse. Forgoing the death by chocolate, my friend chose the "steamed treacle pudding with warm caramel sauce, caramelised fig and pomegranate ice cream" ($13.50) and I settled on the "brandied apple crepes with spiced carrot syrup, vanilla bean anglaise and cinnamon ice cream" ($13.50).

Steamed treacle pudding with warm caramel sauce, caramelised fig and pomegranate ice cream ($13.50)

An attractive, and apparently delicious dessert. The sauce was in the little jug in the background which reminded me of the little jugs they like to use in Masterchef. I would like to get some little jugs. They are cute. I have however exhausted my kitchen purchasing budget for a little while, and thus will not allow myself to buy little jugs that may or may not get used.

Brandied apple crepes with spiced carrot syrup, vanilla bean anglaise and cinnamon ice cream ($13.50)

A funny dish, no? I can't quite put my finger on what this structure reminds me of... perhaps you can help me out? This was quite an interesting dish to eat in terms of flavour as well as structure. The spiced carrot syrup was spiced almost to the point of being too overpowering, but was so thin that it didn't have the ability to really get onto your spoon in sufficient quantity to take over. The crepes were nice and thin, and the cinnamon ice cream paired very nicely with their lovely soft apple parcels waiting inside. The umm, tall curvy hard crepe pieces (legs?) had a nice sharp crunch to them and the spun sugar was a nice treat but I didn't finish it as it was just too sticky in my teeth!

A great meal to end our time in Adelaide. Oh, and the service was really good too! Very professional and attentive. Strangely, after talking to our waiter we discovered he had only just started working in the restaurant earlier that week. I say strangely because our overly eager would-be oyster-thieving waiter from earlier in the evening had only just started working in the lounge recently, and our waiter from a previous night who served us coffees in the lounge had also just started there. Coincidence? Perhaps, though it does get the imagination working a little. Not enough to dress up like a waiter with a pot of broth though.

The Playford Restaurant
Sebel Playford Adelaide
120 North Terrace, Adelaide
Phone: 08 8213 8844
Website: http://www.mirvachotels.com/sebel-playford-adelaide/playford-restaurant.html
Hours: Breakfast Monday to Friday 6:30am-10:30am; Breakfast Saturday and Sunday 6:30am-9:00am or 9:30am-11:00am;
Dinner nightly 6:00pm-10:00pm

Friday, July 17, 2009

Market mega-breakfast and a little pub grub

Last Friday was a day of dizzying highs and horrendous lows. Well, the lows were actually dizzying as well, but I'll get to those later. First, we eat!

After a second night of terrible sleep, despite the numerous pillows ordered from the hotel's pillow menu, I dragged myself to check out the hotel's gym facilities and was pleasantly surprised to discover it was actually reasonably equipped. An hour of weight training and a quick shower later, and I was more than ready to get stuck into breakfast. I was also quite excited as today was the day we had decided to hit Adelaide Central Market and I was looking forward to repeating the gorge-fest that was the breakfast my sister and I enjoyed at the Prahran Market in Melbourne earlier this year.

When we arrived at the market, we would have loved to have done a complete bog lap of the stalls to really choose our breakfast items wisely, but by this stage our energy levels were flagging quite a lot and we just started buying up whatever took our fancy.

First stop, one of the fish sellers for some smoked fish. We got a nice big slab of smoked tuna ($24.90/kilo) and some smoked Atlantic salmon pieces ($24.90/kilo).

Assorted smoked fish just asking to be eaten

Cheese was an absolute must, so we stopped by one of the many cheese sellers and asked for some nice local brie and chevre. We ended up with some Limestone Coast Lady Musgrave Brie and a Woodside Chevre log. Some quince paste also grabbed our eye while we were paying, so we got some of that too.

The sad tale of a compulsory cheese-sniffer and her long-suffering children

Onto the meat section, where some salami and ham joined our band of merry foods, soon followed by a container of marinated artichokes and some figs. Finally, some bakery goodies joined the party in the form of two fruit and walnut sourdough rolls and a couple of wholemeal dinner rolls. Unable to carry anything else we thought we'd better stop spending money and find somewhere to sit ourselves down and start eating, preferably with a nice hot coffee to sip.

We soon found a table and I got busy unpacking while my friend made himself useful procuring coffees, plates and knives. I started to realise just how much food we'd bought when I started noticing people staring at our table as they walked pass. Jealousy is a terrible trait.

Getting all our goodies set out for our breakfast, whilst waiting for our coffees

Of course we ate and ate until we could eat no more, but here are a couple of shots of our starting plates.

Starter Plate 1 - Smoked tuna, artichokes, ham, spiced figs, chevre and smoked salmon

Starter Plate 2 - Quince paste, brie, smoked salmon, chunk of wholemeal bread roll and smoked tuna

Everything tasted as good as it looked. It was also a good reminder of how much I like quince paste, and made me wonder, not for the first time, if it is worth making up a batch myself. I'm sure I'll forget all about this endeavour until the next time I eat quince paste somewhere.

Now to the dizzying lows. Towards the end of my breakfast I developed a sudden, terrible headache and starting feeling a bit 'off' in a number of other ways but I'll spare you the details apart from saying my eyes went really red. So not only was a feeling very poorly but I was looking super dodgy as well. Brilliant. After finding some ibuprofen for the headache, drinking some water and washing my face I felt a little better (though looking at myself in the bathroom mirror did nothing for my recovery) but ended up having to get back to the hotel and have a rest before I started feeling a bit more normal. Methinks this was the beginnings of what turned into the dreaded influenza, though I didn't realise this until the next day when many more symptoms made themselves painfully known.

Thinking I just had a strange reaction to something I ate, and possibly was suffering also from the effects of having slept badly for the past two nights, once I was feeling a bit better in the afternoon we went for a stroll up Rundle Mall. It was depressingly similar to the Hay St or Murray St Mall in Perth, though admittedly we didn't do a lot of snooping down alleys and up side streets. Perhaps we should have done some alley snooping, we might have been able to get a good deal on some knockoff verjuice, hehe. We did however come across a vintage clothing store that was having a significant closing down sale, and I scored a really nice summer dress and a long woollen jacket for around 80% off. Woo! Bring on summer!

By this stage in the afternoon we were getting a bit thirsty and peckish, having finally digested our impressive breakfasts, so we ducked into The Austral Hotel for some refreshments. I figured that people who mysteriously develop red eyes should not get stuck into the booze for a while, so I had a lime and soda while my friend got stuck into the SA spirit and had a Coopers green. We also ordered some fried whitebait and fried prawns (funnily, I ordered the prawns, after having trouble deciding between the prawns and the whitebait, while my friend ordered the whitebait, after having trouble deciding between the whitebait and the prawns. Perfect, we could happily share!).

Fried Whitebait, Grilled Lemon & Mayonnaise ($11)

Pint of Fried Prawns, Curry Dipping Sauce ($12)

I really liked the idea of having the fried lemon to squeeze over the seafood. I might have to steal this idea. The whitebait were a little sandy but delicious, and the prawns were lovely and crunchy and tasty. The curry dipping sauce was actually really nice as well, and I was surprised by how well it went with both the prawns and the whitebait. It wasn't too overpowering at all.

I must have been feeling better that night judging by the size of my dinner. Post to follow...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Buffet snobbery begone!

I think sadly that it's far to say that food cooked for large groups of people tends to fall short of the quality we like to see in meals when dining out. I'm sure we've all been at a wedding or ball where the food cost a bomb and tasted like one too. I for one have scored a worm in my salad at my high school graduation dinner, a beach worth of sand in my lettuce at a friend's wedding, was at a conference earlier this year that ran out of vegetables and salads half way through service and refused to supply any more, and had a number of incredibly disappointing vegetarian dishes that basically consisted of the normal meat dish but with the meat part taken off the plate.

Such group feeding is often in the form of a buffet, which can either go very well or very badly. Very badly may involve having the person in front of you take the last piece of chicken, not being able to actually identify any of the other food, and then getting lightheaded over a combination of hunger and overpowering bain marie fumes. Very well would generally involve a wide variety of interesting and delicious dishes on offer (cold and hot), attentive staff who continually top up stocks as they get low, and of course an opportunity to go back for seconds and possibly thirds!

To my delight I experienced two very well run buffets while in Adelaide. The first was not exactly a huge surprise, being the breakfast buffet at our hotel, the Sebel Playford. It really was one of the best hotel breakfast buffets I've ever seen, and I wish I'd been more awake and up for more photography to show it off a little better.

The continental side of things was really well taken care of, with an amazing selection of organic fruits - sliced bananas with honey and nuts; berry compotes; sliced peaches, pears, kiwis and pineapples; beautiful fresh cherries; berry parfait; and a couple of different types of fruit salad - a good range of cereals (with many different milks and yoghurts), bircher muesli, porridge with honey and cinnamon, great breads and conserves, very nice fresh danishes and pastries and a nice choice of cold meats and antipasti. There was also a PANCAKE MACHINE. You got to press the button and it made you pancakes!! A button! And pancakes!

The hot selection was quite nice too, with eggs to order, scrambled eggs with feta, lamb chops, gourmet sausages, bacon, house baked beans, herbed tomatoes, baked mushrooms and I'm sure some other things I can't remember. Actually, writing these down doesn't really make it sound that amazing. Wow, eggs? And bacon? My god, how incredible! All the dishes were done really well though, even though the hot selection wasn't quite so impressive as the continental choices.

We did the buffet breakfast for two of the mornings we were there. The first time was due to us having little time prior to getting over to the conference, and thus just choosing to eat at the hotel, and the second time was because we enjoyed the first breakfast so much (and needed to eat at 6:30am in order to catch our plane). I only captured a few of our multiple plates during these breakfasts..

Breakfast Round 1 - bircher muesli, berries, apricot, peach, cinnamon & honey porridge, juicy cherry and natural yoghurt

Breakfast Round 2 - olives, pickles, caper berries, tangy tomato relish, baby capsicum and smoked salmon

Breakfast Round 3 - poached egg, toasted grainy bread, freshly made baked beans, herbed tomatoes and mushrooms topped with chopped capsicum

The day of the conference seemed to be a special day, as my bulk-feeding prejudices were questioned multiple times. A standout dish during the breaks were the snacks served at afternoon tea. They were little individual servings of yoghurt, with a dollop of fruit/fruit coulis (blueberry, passionfruit or citrus) sitting at the bottom of the glass. It certainly made a nice break from the usual conference snack fare of pastries/danishes/muffins/biscuits!

What really blew us away though was the conference dinner that night. For starters, the room was decorated quite cutely with large silk inflated things hanging from the ceiling - they seemed to be going for a marine theme but it was a little difficult to identify what the big things were exactly meant to be. Secondly, the people were great and we had a lot of fun at our table. Thirdly, the food was fantastic! A really nice entree (Tandoori chicken breast with sweet mango chutney and onion salad) that was brought to the table (sorry, no photo! I blame the champagne!) and a perfect example of how good buffet dining can be for the mains and dessert. And fourthly, the alcohol was quite nice and very free flowing.

The cold buffet menu was as follows:
  • Poached seafood salad with capsicum emulsion
  • Roasted beef fillet slices with whole grain mustard dressing
  • Assorted poultry platter - includes chicken char sui, Aldinga turkey and five spiced duck
  • Black Forest ham with pineapple and chilli relish
  • Antipasto of pickled vegetables
the salads were:
  • Mesclun, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, Spanish onion with French dressing
  • Roasted baby potato salad with light curry flavour
  • Baby spinach, sweet potato and eggs with mustard dressing
  • Crispy noodle salad with Chinese cabbage and roasted pine nuts
the hot buffet:
  • Slow roasted sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding
  • Poached market fish with lime, minted butter and wilted greens
There was also a great selection of desserts (not just some stock standard cheesecake!) that of course I can't remember now, but wished I had an extra stomach to try all of at the time (well, apart from my usual extra dessert stomach).

Mains Round 2 - poached seafood salad with capsicum emulsion, poached market fish with lime and minted butter, crispy noodle salad with Chinese cabbage and roasted pine nuts, chicken char sui and assorted grilled vegetables

Dessert Round 1 (and only) - fresh fruits, cream-filled chocolate cup with toasted pistachios and an apricot pudding with creme anglaise

Now I'm wondering why I thought writing this post at dessert o'clock was a good idea... I could really go an apricot pudding right now. It's a good thing I saved a couple of the Ferrero Rochers that were placed on my pillow each morning in the hotel (not while my head was still there).

Monday, July 13, 2009

It ain't a party without party eggs

I interrupt this series of Adelaide posts with a little overdue update on our latest bookclub meeting. Our last book was 'Revolutionary Road' by Richard Yates, which has apparently been a popular bookclub choice lately judging by the difficulty in finding a copy anywhere! Although I can't say I found reading the book an enjoyable experience, I'm glad that I did and it was a great book to discuss. I haven't seen the recent film, and I'm not entirely sure that I want to. I am however curious to see how well the book translates to film so perhaps when I'm feeling a little less woeful I will check it out (I made the mistake of reading The Kite Runner when I was in hospital a couple of years ago and now realise when you're poorly you should stick to happy tales of sunshine and rainbows and puppies).

Just some of the tasty delights at our last bookclub meeting

Holding true to our wonderful bookclub tradition we had a fine feast to accompany our lively discussion. Sadly I dropped the ball a little in documenting all the great dishes, but here you can see a few of them. Our lovely host provided homemade sausage rolls and super cute cheesymite pinwheels. Hiding behind the wine is a plate holding soft cheese (I think it was brie?), semi dried tomatoes, olives and a lovely rich smoked fish. I certainly polished off more than my fair share of the fish. Also hiding, this time behind the cordial, are Kez's Gluten Free Florentine biscuits, available at Coles Supermarkets. These are really nice nutty, fruity biscuits (and belie their supermarket lineage). Also enjoyed, but sadly not photographed, were some lovely chewy lemon biscuits, a moist lemon cake and a selection of chocolate coated fruits. Oh, and a packet of Tim Tams! I hope I didn't forget any dishes, I'll be sure to be a better photographer next time.

Party eggs and stuffed smoked salmon parcels

My contribution to the feast was a combination of party eggs and stuffed smoked salmon parcels, presented on possibly my favourite dish, given to me by friends for my birthday last year (friends who have been partial to the occasional party egg in the past). The dish has 24 egg-shaped indentations, perfect for the making of party eggs from a straight dozen! I've also used the dish in the past to hold a combination of party eggs, marinated olives, and tomato/bocconcini/basil morsels.

My party eggs were given their name by my friend Jo, and I'm forever grateful to her that I don't have to call them 'eggs that you scoop the yolk out of and mix with stuff and then put back in the white bit' anymore. I often make these babies to bring along to a BBQ and they're always well received. I've never actually measured anything when making them, but here is a recipe of sorts...

Party Eggs

Whole egg mayonnaise
Curry powder
Salt and pepper

1. Cook eggs in salted water until hard-boiled. If your eggs are kept in the fridge, allow them to warm up a little in water in the pot before bringing the water to the boil to prevent them from cracking while cooking. It is also a little easier to peel the eggs if your eggs aren't super fresh.
2. Allow eggs to fully cool, then peel, chop in half and scoop out the yolks, reserving in a bowl.
3. Mash the yolks with a fork. Add a little salt and pepper, mixing through. Add enough mayo so that the mixture holds itself together easily and has a somewhat creamy consistency.
4. Add curry powder to taste. You'll probably need to add more than you think, as I'm always surprised by how much I have to put in before I'm happy with the taste.
5. Check the consistency and add more mayo if necessary.
6. Spoon or pipe the yolk mixture back into the poor lonely whites.
7. Chop the chives and sprinkle over the eggs.
8. Before the days of my amazing eggy dish, I liked to serve them on a bed of shredded lettuce.

So yeah, not exactly the most useful of recipes in terms of quantities but it gives you the basic idea! I'm sure you could spice it up with more ingredients but I've had such good reports from this recipe that I've not been game to get too adventurous with it.

The smoked salmon parcels, I'm afraid to say, were a bit of an invention and thus I don't have a real recipe for them either. Here's a rough guide...

Stuffed Smoked Salmon Parcel, with some party eggs friends

Stuffed Smoked Salmon Parcels

200 g smoked salmon
100 g goat cheese
2 good spoonfuls of cream cheese
small bunch chives, chopped
zest of half a lemon

1. Mix together the goat cheese, cream cheese, chopped chives, pepper and zest.
2. Cut the salmon into strips.
3. Place spoonfuls of the cheese mixture onto the end of each salmon strip then roll them up.
4. Secure the parcels with a toothpick speared through a couple of capers.

I think next time I make these I might try them with some very finely diced red onion added to the cheese mixture, and perhaps a little lemon juice as well.

So, another bookclub meeting, another great discussion and pile of satisfied tummies. Our new book is the recently released Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, and given the subject matter our next meeting may see us chowing down on brawn, roast tongue and pigeon pie, washed down with ale.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Chef and our Bellies

There aren't a huge number of really great cooking shows available to those of us Aussies restricted to free-to-air TV. One that I do like to watch, on the rare occasions I am home when it is on, is The Cook and the Chef on ABC. Sure, the voices of Maggie Beer (the cook) and Simon Bryant (the chef) may be a little irritating at first and heaven help you if you happen to not be a fan of verjuice, but they have an interesting dynamic, their enthusiasm for using local produce is contagious and they produce some great dishes.

Simon Bryant is also the Executive Chef at the Hilton in Adelaide, and after one look at his menu at The Brasserie restaurant I knew I had to have a meal there during my stay in Adelaide. The website and menu use the phrase "Seriously South Australian" and this really sums up their approach. The origins of major components of each dish are described, and The Brasserie seemed like the perfect place to explore many aspects of the local produce of South Australia at the one location.

After getting all excited over the menu, and checking with my fellow Adelaide visitor that he'd be happy to have a meal there, I contacted The Brasserie through their online form to organise booking a table for Wednesday night. I received quite a prompt reply saying "we regret to inform you that we are unable to accommodate your booking on this occasion due to high occupancy levels and the restaurant at full capacity". Not taking no for an answer, I then decided to ring to see if there were any time at all during our stay in Adelaide that a table could be available for us. After checking with the restaurant manager, the very friendly man who answered my call informed me that they could in fact give us a table on Wednesday night at the time I requested, despite the fact that the hotel was quite full and they like to reserve a certain number of tables specifically for guests of the hotel (which we were not). Success!

So on Wednesday night we followed the "smart-casual" dress code and wandered down to the Hilton, arriving a little early to allow us time to enjoy a cocktail in the lounge bar. Service here was a little too casual for my liking. It took over 10 minutes for our drinks to be made, and after this time one of them was brought over with the muttered claim "the other is coming", which proved to be true a few more minutes later. We chose similar cocktails, mine being the Champagne Smash ("fresh mint and pineapple lend this champagne cocktail a zesty and fresh finish. It's given a bit of punch with gin and Cointreau") whilst the other was the Kandaha Marmalade ("A base of gin, cointreau, lemon and lime makes a refreshing start for this short drink however it's the marmalade that really gives it a taste of its own").

Hilton Lounge - Kandaha Marmalade and Champagne Smash cocktails ($17 each)

The cocktails were very fresh and zesty, and I was glad not to have any spillage from my martini glass. I find martini glasses give lovely presentation to a cocktail, dessert or even a starter dish, but god they're impractical to drink out of. You find yourself drinking the first half far too quickly so that you can walk around safely with it, and next thing you know you've polished off 5 cosmopolitans and wondering why you feel a little pissy. I guess this particular cocktail avoided this issue by having a reasonable layer of top foam giving you some spillage buffering room.

Given how long our cocktails took to come out, we took them into the restaurant with us as we were concerned about arriving late to our table given the difficulty in securing the reservation. We needn't have worried, as the restaurant was barely a third full. In fact, during our time in there is barely reached half-capacity, so I guess they take the notion of reserving tables for potential hungry hotel guests a little too seriously.

We were disappointed to discover that The Brasserie, like The Grange (the other main Hilton restaurant, run by Chef Cheong Liew) is currently undergoing renovation work and thus the restaurant is currently in a temporary location (unlike The Grange, which is simply closed until 5 August). We were therefore unable to enjoy the "open kitchen and lively atmosphere" of the restaurant as promised on the website, and instead were sat in a restaurant that had more of an upmarket cafeteria style vibe to it.

Although I had already had a scan through the menu on their website, we both took a nice long while to consider our options before choosing our dishes. We eventually decided to share half a dozen oysters to start with ("Seafood Logistics Eyre & Yorke Peninsula pacific oysters with shallot vinegar and lemon wedge" $16) and then I chose the trout for my entrée ("Mt Barker Springs house cured lemon myrtle ocean trout, avocado mousse and Australian Caper berry" $18) and roo for my main ("Pepper berry & bush tomato rubbed Macro Meats roo saddle, bush banana salad, quandong & desert lime glaze, crispy saltbush" $30). I was interested and pleased to read that the bush tucker of my main dish was supplied by Outback Pride, which seems like a fantastic venture involving indigenous Australians and one that I am very happy to support.

My friend wanted to try the soufflé entrée ("Udder Delights twice baked Heyson blue cheese soufflé, Foster’s baby herbs, Harding’s almond paste, sour cherries" $16) but after being told that it was not available due to supplier issues he opted for the rabbit ("Bushmin braised rabbit, Haighs bittersweet chocolate & Nino proscuitto, soft white polenta" $17) and for his main dish chose the duck ("M.M Waechter confit duck leg & seared rare breast, Ingy’s orange, soubise, buttered quince" $31).

After taking these orders, our waiter asked if we would also like to order some salad or vegetables to go with our main dishes, as they did not come with anything other than what is described in the menu. Given the amount of food we had just ordered, we hesitated for a minute to order anything else, only to be interrupted from our thinking by the gentleman sitting at the table next to us. He very strongly recommended that we order salad or vegetables to accompany our mains, as he and his wife were very disappointed to see that their main meals came out with nothing. He actually said something like "We read the menu, and they told us when we ordered, but we didn't realise they wouldn't come with anything else at all". Now, I agree that it is not ideal to have to order additional dishes if you want to have vegetables or salad with your main dish, but it's not entirely uncommon and you can't really kick up a stink if this is made very clear to you when ordering. We decided to get some salad ("Dressed leaves, tomato, red onion & cucumber tossed with Coriole Barbera verjuice or Beerenberg grain mustard & Diana olive oil" $7), choosing the mustard dressing over the verjuice (sorry Maggie).

After our (friendly and somewhat sarcastic) waiter left, the vegetable deprived man and his wife had another go at the lack of sides and although we would have liked to say "Perhaps your wife would not still be hungry if she actually ate the beautiful duck breast she was served instead of screwing her nose up at it for not being 'her idea of well done' and perhaps you should have realised your waiter wasn't simply making conversation when he suggested you order vegetables or salad to accompany your main as it was not going to come with anything apart from the fish and chips written on the menu" but we simply politely smiled and nodded and had another sip of wine.

Olives, Lucilla EVOO and Murray River pink salt to go with our crusty bread (comp)

Complimentary bread, olives, olive oil and salt were brought to our table, and we were soon exclaiming over the aromatic Lucilla oil and the beautiful Murray River pink salt flakes. I'm not a huge fan of added salt, apart from seasoning dishes that really need it, and will very rarely add salt to a dish before eating it. I have to say though that this salt was surprisingly tasty and I found myself going back for quite a few dunks in the olive followed by a little dunk in the salt with my bread. My friend was also very pleased to see a restaurant proudly using Australian salt instead of fleur de sel.

Seafood Logistics Eyre & Yorke Peninsula pacific oysters with shallot vinegar and lemon wedge ($16)

A little time later our oysters arrived, and they certainly tasted like they were "shucked by our chefs" as claimed on the menu. Beautifully fresh, you could taste the Southern Ocean in them and they went down a treat with a little squeeze of the lemon and a splash of the shallot vinegar. My only complaint is that they were so nice and meaty that they were a little difficult to eat with elegance. I'm certainly not one to let elegance get in the way of enjoying food but perhaps these giant beauties aren't the best choice for those out there with small mouths or on first dates.

Bushmin braised rabbit, Haighs bittersweet chocolate & Nino proscuitto on a soft white polenta bed ($17)

After allowing us sufficient time to enjoy the oysters our entrees then arrived, and we both couldn't help but remark on the presentation and very generous size of the rabbit dish. It really could be served as a main ("make sure you order salad with it!" I can hear vegetable-deprived man crying). The rabbit had been braised until it had achieved a melt-in-the-mouth tenderness, but had more bite to it than the soft white polenta which in turn had more texture than the slightly sticky, creamy chocolate. The crunch of the fried sage leaves and proscuitto atop the dish contrasted well with this gradation in soft textures. I found the combination of flavours so interesting and unique, as I have little experience eating rabbit and savoury dishes with chocolate, and no experience eating white polenta. I did however find it as rich as it looks, and am not sure I could have finished such a large serving despite the enjoyment of the small amount I tried. I find the use of chocolate in savoury dishes really interesting, and something I'd like to explore in my own kitchen. I can't help but think that real chocoholics would be disappointed with it, as it is a surprise just how nicely it works in a savoury setting and doesn't have that real classic chocolate taste to it.

Mt Barker Springs house cured lemon myrtle ocean trout, avocado mousse and Australian Caper berry ($18)

My trout was fantastic, with a subtle smokiness and lovely soft texture. The avocado mousse, caper berry and finely diced Spanish onion were the perfect accompaniment and allowed the flavour of the trout to remain dominant. I was particularly taken with the little garnish that you can't really see very well in this photo - a tiny sliver of trout skin, curled like a little piggy's tail and fried until super crisp.

M.M Waechter confit duck leg and seared rare breast, Ingy’s orange, soubise, buttered quince ($31)

Again we were given a decent amount of digesting time before our next dishes were brought out. I can't comment a great deal on the duck dish given that I did not taste it and can't recall specific adjectives that were used to describe it apart from it being "fabulous". Let's just leave it at that, then.

Pepper berry & bush tomato rubbed Macro Meats roo saddle, bush banana salad, quandong & desert lime glaze, crispy saltbush ($30)

Wow, this was an impressively sized, deliciously flavoured and really interesting bush tucker dish! Such a generous amount of succulently cooked roo saddle, and whilst the meat was not overly rich, the richness that was apparent was cut nicely with the really tangy sauce. The crispy saltbush was great - our answer to the fried sage leaf - and is something I would like to do at home. In fact, this dish has really inspired me to seriously investigate the use of bush tucker in my home cooking and I'm determined to do so once I'm healthy and allowed back into the wider community (still holed up at home with flu).

I forgot to photograph the salad but it was nice and fresh, although a little difficult to serve and eat with very large salad leaves. We were happy that we chose the mustard dressing over Maggie's verjuice, it had a great bite.

After another nice digestion period we were asked if we wanted to peruse the dessert options, and although quite frankly we had eaten more than our fair share of dinner we couldn't help but at least have a look at the menu (knowing full well that this would almost guarantee we would order something). In addition to a number of dessert options ranging from $14-$17 there are also two "bite size" desserts - a $10 affogato ("White Russian affogato, Tierra fair trade coffee") and $5 panna cotta ("Beach Organics palm sugar panna cotta"). Whilst my friend chose the panna cotta, I was a little greedier and ordered from the non-bite size section, choosing the cake ("Willabrand Fig & walnut Greek syrup cake, KIS fennel liqueur, lemon mascarpone sherbet $16").

Beach Organics Palm sugar panna cotta ($5)

The panna cotta was indeed bite size, cute and creamy.

Willabrand fig & walnut Greek syrup cake, KIS fennel liqueur, lemon mascarpone sherbet ($16)

The cake was indeed not bite size, which turned out to be for the best as it was delicious. The cake itself was not overly sweet so the parts of it that were really syrupy reached an enjoyable sweetness level, particularly as it was offset by the light aniseed flavours of the fennel liqueur (coming from something who isn't an anise-lover). A lovely, if not entirely necessary, end to a wonderful meal.

So, I think it's pretty clear that we really enjoyed this entire meal. Improvements could certainly be made by having more attentive service (water glasses left low a little too long, a request for something having to be made twice) and obviously the experience is likely to be far superior in the renovated restaurant but with food this interesting and well executed you are willing to overlook certain things. Our visit to The Brasserie wasn't exactly a cheap night out, but this is due more to our gluttony and not so much to a particularly expensive menu. The most expensive main is the Coorong Black Angus T-bone for $36 which gives you an idea of the price range of the dishes.

I can really recommend The Brasserie for a great introduction to South Australian cuisine but don't get your hopes up about discussing the merits of seasonal, regional cooking with The Chef over a glass of muscat.

The Brasserie
Adelaide Hilton, 233 Victoria Square, Adelaide City
Phone: (08) 8237 0697
Website: http://www.thebrasserie.com.au/home
Hours: Breakfast 7 days from 6:30am
Buffet lunch Monday - Friday from 12:00 noon
Dinner 7 nights from 6:00pm

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