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Saturday, August 22, 2009

2009 Vendy Awards

I just read about the Vendy Awards on the New York food blog Bromography and thought it was worth sharing with you. I had no idea that New York held these awards, but I guess I'm not really surprised to learn that they exist. Essentially it's a big day of celebrating the street food of New York, culminating in a cook-off between the best street food vendors in the city.

I wonder who the finalists would be if we held such an event in Perth? We can automatically discount the Hare Krishnas with their bargain priced vegetarian wares, as I doubt they'd get into the competitive spirit of it all. I can think of the hotdog guy that sets up in the Hay St mall, and I remember a hotdog guy (maybe the same guy? It's all a little hazy) that could be found after you staggered out of Club Bay View late on a Saturday night after a few too many Midori Illusion shakers, or whatever it was I was drinking in first year uni. Oh, and I guess there is still the occasional Mr Whippy that you see doing the rounds every so often. Doesn't exactly make for a battle of the Titans.

So, here are the slightly more impressive finalists in this year's Vendy Awards. Probably best not to watch these if you're feeling a bit peckish.

Country Boys AKA Martinez Taco Truck

Jamaican Dutchy

Rickshaw Dumpling Truck

The King of Falafel and Shawarma

Biryani Cart

Pretty hot competition I would say! Elle at Bromography plans to sample them all, so I look forward to vicariously enjoying their offerings through her. I don't think I'll console myself with a mall hotdog.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tarting it up

I'd been meaning to get to Tarts for a meal ever since reading a good review on Breakfast in Perth, and realising it was literally a few minutes walk from my apartment. I actually ended up having lunch there a few weeks ago with some friends prior to checking out the Made on the Left market at the Hyde Park Hotel. My friends and I all really enjoyed our meals (tarts and pies with salad) but I was too busy getting stuck into my food to take any photos, I'm sure you understand.

Luckily my sister's visit a couple of weeks ago provided a great excuse to get back there to try out the breakfast menu, and we casually made our way up there on the Saturday morning, admiring the terrace houses on Lake Street during the walk. Tarts is quite nice inside, being a converted old house with all the nooks and crannies still in place. There are gourmet food items and accessories for sale inside, and I picked up a cute birthday card for a friend while we were there.

I actually managed to book for the three of us when we had lunch there, but was told this isn't normally the done thing as they generally only take bookings for groups of 6 or more. At least you've got some pretty things to look at while you wait for a table though I guess! Perhaps that's part of their cunning plan.

You pick up menus from the counter, and you can order off those or from the display case next to the counter. The display case is quite mesmerising, filled with all manner of delicious cakes and tarts and pies and biscuits, and I noticed a few people come in to buy sweets to take away with them. I wonder if they tried to pass them off as their own. Do people do that?

The menu is quite good, starting with $6.90 breads with homemade preserves, honey, cream cheese or vegemite; moving up to dishes such as a $9.90 breakfast trifle and $10.90 "The Italian - slice toast, fresh tomato, feta, avocado with Tarts lemon dressing", a couple of bagel options for $11.90 and then the hot dishes. We noticed that the "bratwurst" part of "bratwurst sausage" had been crossed off the menu and imagined that their relationship with their trusty German smallgoods supplier had gone sour following an unfortunately mistimed joke about socks and sandals. Neither of us went for the sausage options so we'll never know what replaced the bratwurst in their menu. A sausage mystery shall remain.

Our breakfast decisions were not too difficult, choosing our usual long blacks with a little milk on the side and then turning our attentions to the food. No surprises that my sister went for the smoked salmon option, choosing the "Eggs Neptune - 2 poached eggs, smoked salmon, steamed spinach with Tarts' own hollandaise sauce on sour dough toast $17.90" (asking for the sauce on the side). I took a bit more time, settling on the "Mushroom on Toast - mushrooms, fresh ricotta, rocket & pesto $14.90" with some extra poached eggs ($4 for 2).

My sister went and ordered at the counter and I admired the foodstuffs on sale and eavesdropped on the conversation of the table of guys sitting next to us. They were having a really hard time deciding what to order, and I was about ready to weigh into the conversation when my sister returned with our little number on a stick. She was gone for quite a while - you need to be pretty patient if you're here when it is busy, as you have to order and pay at the counter and this can take some time.

Eggs Neptune (with hollandaise on the side, and with the forgotten spinach really on the side) ($17.90)

Our coffees and food came out quite promptly, but something seemed amiss with my sister's breakfast. The spinach was missing! Look at her sad, sans-green plate. Strange item to forget, but they fixed it quickly when she went to ask about it. After getting all the elements, she was happy she stuck to her smoked salmon guns and enjoyed her breakfast.

Mushroom on Toast, with extra poached eggs ($14.90 + $4)

I really liked my meal, it was a great combination of textures and flavours. The ricotta was so thick and creamy, the mushrooms earthy and almost meaty, and pesto tasted freshly made and not overly oily, and the rocket was fresh and crisp. Importantly, the eggs were poached to perfection and oozed nicely with the rest of the dish when I busted into them. Every element of the dish worked really well with the rest, and I'd very happily order this again. The only thing I would change would be the toast - I'd prefer a nice grainy wholemeal but the sour dough was quite nice.

Service was good, very friendly despite being quite busy.

I'll be returning to Tarts for breakfast and lunch I'm sure, and I also think a visit during afternoon tea time is required to fully complete my reviewing experience.

Tarts Cafe
212 Lake Street, Northbridge
Phone: 08 9328 6607
Hours: Daily 7am - 6pm (breakfast served until 12 noon)
Tarts Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cupcake Day for the RSPCA 2009

Yes that's right, not only is 17 August the birthday of Davy Crockett, the day Azaria Chamberlain got a little too friendly with a dingo and the day the truly unforgettable Dominican Republic's national anthem Himno Nacional was first performed in public but today was also the Cupcake Day for the RSPCA. An excuse for people around the country to stuff themselves with tasty, tasty cupcakes, all totally calorie-free due to their contribution to charity. Ovens and the willpower of those who live with bakers were pushed to the limit yesterday around Australia as people baked up a storm to take cupcakes into their schools and workplaces today to sell, with all proceeds going to the RSPCA.

I have to admit the whole process was a bit of a struggle for this particular baker, who for one reason or another may possibly have been feeling ever so slightly under the weather yesterday. The couch was calling me to her gentle embrace, and I did allow myself some quality pizza-eating, lame-Sunday-night-TV-watching relaxation time but then was back into baking mode. I made two types of cupcakes, and had made them both before, so at least I could switch my brain off while baking. The decorating took a little more concentration though, as I'd never done such things before, but luckily the engineer in me had risen to the surface and I'd actually drawn up some plans.

The first lot of cupcakes I made were the carrot cupcakes that I'd spoken of before, the recipe coming from the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook. I wanted to decorate these like little bunny faces, given the carrot theme, but they kind of ended up looking a little cat-like or mousey. Call them what you like, just don't call them late for afternoon tea.

I first covered them with the cream cheese frosting recipe recommended in the Crabapple cookbook (I ended up having to add extra icing sugar to get the right consistency.. I didn't want their faces sliding off in the middle of the night as I slept blissfully unaware). I then sprinkled over some shredded coconut to give their faces some furriness. Next came the ears, which I made by slicing white marshmallows in half and then dipping the cut side into pink sugar (which I just made by mixing some food colouring in with some caster sugar). The pink jellybean nose and brown m&m eyes came next, followed by chocolate sprinkle whiskers.

I also made some banana and macadamia cupcakes, again from the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook. I've made these before but not posted about it, so I'll include the recipe below. I planned to decorate these like owls, getting the idea from the book Hello, Cupcake! which I do not own but have coveted for a little while. I varied from their method a little, using yellow jellybeans for the nose instead of banana runts, and I didn't add the "feathers" with extra piped frosting as I thought this looked messy (I can assure you this decision had nothing to do with my couch's siren song).

So, to decorate the owls I first iced them with the chocolate frosting recommended by the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook (recipe below). I then stuck on the Oreo eyes, consisting of two Oreo halves with the white bits still attached. It was surprisingly easy to separate the Oreos, and I just scraped off any obvious bits of chocolate cookie still left on there with a knife. The pupils for the eyes are Junior Mints, stuck on with a little dob of icing. The noses, as mentioned, are yellow jellybeans and the eyebrowy tufty bits are pieces from the piles of leftover plain Oreo pieces you have from needing all the other halves for your eyes.

Similar to the carrot cupcake recipe, the banana macadamia recipe makes a lot more than the cookbook states. I remembered this for the carrot cupcakes, and just did half the recipe (I've already halved it in the recipe I've linked to) but forgot about this for the banana macadamias and ended up with more cupcakes than I was willing to turn into owls. Luckily I had piles of leftover m&ms (sans brown) and leftover chocolate frosting, so I just made some m&ms decorated ones as well.

I sold my cupcakes, as well as the cupcakes of a couple of other fellow bakers, in the foyer of my department at uni. We had five different types of cupcakes, selling each one for $2 to an eager crowd. I was so impressed with the turnout, at the end of the sale had well over $200 in my little money bag, and everyone in the building was simultaneously pinging on sugar. I packed up and quickly retreated home before the inevitable crash.

Banana and Macadamia Cupcakes
Recipe from the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook

The recipe says it makes 24, but I ended up with more like 36

3 1/3 cups plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
250 g softened unsalted butter
3 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups mashed overripe bananas
3/4 cup macadamias, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees C. Line cupcake trays with cupcake papers.
2. Sift together the flour, bicarb of soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice.
3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 1-2 minutes. Add the caster sugar a third at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each addition. After the last addition, beat until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has almost dissolved.
4. Add eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition or until mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
5. Add a third of the flour mixture to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add half of the buttermilk and half of the mashed banana and beat until combined. Repeat this process. Add the remaining third of the flour mixture and beat until thoroughly combined; do not overbeat as this will toughen the mixture.
6. Add the chopped macadamias and beat until evenly combined.
7. Spoon mixture into cupcake papers, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove the cupcakes from the trays immediately and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before frosting.

Chocolate Fudge Frosting
Recipe from the Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook

Makes 4 cups frosting

8 cups icing sugar
1 cup cocoa
200 g softened butter (I used unsalted)
3/4 cup milk
1 Tb vanilla extract

1. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 1-2 minutes. Add the milk, vanilla extract and half of the icing sugar mixture, and beat for at least 3 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
3. Add the remaining icing sugar and beat for a further 3 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy and of a spreadable consistency. Add extra milk if the mixture is too dry or extra icing sugar if the mixture is too wet.
4. You can use this frosting immediately, or keep it for up to one week

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Yum yum dim sum

I have a confession to make. I am 27 years old and only had my first dim sum experience in May of this year. I blame this gaping hole in my culinary appreciation entirely on the fact that I grew up in the country, where this cuisine was found only in the hearts and minds of those who had experienced such delights in the big smoke.

I have to admit the whole dim sum thing intimidated me a little. All those dishes I was unfamiliar with, no menu to tell me anything, not knowing what to do or how to act, and the knowledge that chicken feet were somehow involved.

My sister was in the same boat, really keen to try dim sum but not quite sure how to go about it. We were both therefore very excited (and relieved) when an opportunity came up when she would be in town on a Sunday, and two friends of mine who were seasoned dim sum aficionados were available to join us for a feast and show us the ropes. We were given our instructions on where to meet, and could hardly wait until the big day arrived!

As I've mentioned before, asking people where to go in Perth for dim sum results in no-two-alike answers. Adding to the confusion is the fact that noone really seems to know the name of the places they go to, only vaguely where they are related (generally in relation to well known places in Northbridge).

So on this fateful Sunday, off my sister and I went to 'Jade something' on Francis St opposite the tax office. Turns out it was called Jade Chinese Seafood Restaurant, which made sense when we were greeted with tanks of crabs and fish as we entered. We ended up having an amazing feast, and were incredibly grateful to my friends for completely taking charge of the food selection and leaving us free to gobble and gorge until we felt ready to explode.

Since that day which changed our lives forever, my sister and I have been back to Jade Somethingorother four times, as we liked it there so much and are not quite yet confident enough to try our hand at any other locations. We've been refining our dish selections with each visit, always trying new things but there are also a few dishes which have made it onto our permanent rotation. These are dubbed "every time dishes" and cause our eyes to glaze over whenever they are spoken of.

Feeling like we are now getting the hang of this whole thing, we felt confident in successfully introducing dim sum to my brother-in-law who was also lucky enough to be in Perth this past Sunday. It took a bit of work teaching him that the whole thing was more of a marathon than a race, particularly when you are trying not to get impatient waiting for that particular dish to go past on a trolley, but I think he now realises why my sister and I have declared that every time she is in Perth on a Sunday, she and I will be gorging on dim sum.

Our first dish last Sunday, and one of our "every time dishes" was prawn rice flour rolls. We love these slippery little suckers, and are getting more adept at eating them with every visit. The sauce that accompanies them (some sort of soy mixture?) pairs perfectly. Simple yet delicious.

Prawn rice flour rolls

Another "every time dish" is fried squid tentacles. They are generally a little tough, and can sometimes require the use of molars to bite through, but they more than make up for this with flavour. They're really well seasoned, and are always hot and crispy. I like to dip them in the chilli oil for a bit of extra bite. Tip: there are always at least a few that are attached to another one, so you get two tasty morsels without looking greedy ;)

Fried squid tentacles

The next dish we tried was a new one for us, and I'm really glad we were tempted by the steaming hot crispiness of them! The crispy prawn wontons were packed with delicious, well-cooked prawn meat and the plain mayonnaise served with them added a nice coolness to the hot crunchy wonton.

Crispy prawn wontons

Inside the crispy prawn wonton

Next up was another "every time dish", sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf. It's like Pass the Parcel unwrapping the leaf to reveal the sticky rice present, and then finding the tasty pork meat, and also sometimes sausage, hiding within the rice. Well, it's like Pass the Parcel without the passing bit. And it's not really a parcel.

Sticky rice hiding away

Sticky rice, waiting to be devoured

Another first time dish was next, in the form of scallop dumplings. These were great, being packed with very tasty scallop meat. A potential try again dish for sure.

Scallop dumplings

Next up is the "every time dish" of choy sum in oyster sauce. It's really nice to have some fresh greens to somewhat counteract the fried and doughy dishes, and it is always cooked such that there is still a bit of bite to the stalks.

Choy sum with oyster sauce

The healthy greens were followed by the not so healthy dish of soft shelled crab, which we had not tried before. It was quite nice, particularly with the really flavoursome addition of fried shallots and chillis, but overall was very oily and we probably wouldn't order it again. It also cost $14 which is quite expensive compared to the standard dishes.

Soft shell crab

Up next was my sister's favourite dish - steamed bbq pork buns. These are so soft and light and fluffy and delicious! I also have a new found appreciation for them after seeing how they are made on MasterChef, although seeing just how much sugar is in the buns was quite alarming.

Char Siu Bao - steamed bbq pork buns

Last time we were at Jade we spied the fried whitebait after we were too full to have any, and I was determined to try them at our next visit. So try them we did, and somewhat enjoyed them, but like the soft shelled crab we found them quite oily (especially after having already eaten the crab) and it is unlikely we'll be shelling out the $14 for them again. It was a little strange eating them, as the batter almost entirely overrode the taste of the fish, and it was only a little fishy aftertaste that actually let you know you'd just eaten any fish at all.

Fried whitebait

My next dish is to be found on the "wibbly wobbly trolley", as we've christened it, and made it onto my "every time dish" list after our last visit. Sago pudding with a little tinned fruit. I'm such a sucker for anything coconutty, and I love sago pearls, so this suits me perfectly. No grass jelly with mine though, thank you!

Sago pudding with tinned fruit

My sister also decided to try the mango pudding off the wibbly wobbly trolley this time, and it was also very nice! Chunks of mango ran through the sweet pudding, and I was most upset when I went back for a second spoonful and accidentally flicked it onto the table (which by this stage was showing very clear signs of a feast having taken place). I wasn't quite game enough to apply the 5 second rule, and left the morsel languishing in the grease and crumbs.

Mango pudding with tinned fruit

Keeping with our transition to dessert, we moved onto custard buns, well and truly an "every time dish". Oh yes, these are tasty. When we first tried them we were a little hesitant, as they're not exactly the most attractive of things and look quite doughy and heavy. The trolley girl who offered them said they were a speciality of the restaurant, so we took a punt and tried them. They have remained a solid "every time dish" since that visit. We were surprised upon our first bite, as they are much lighter and softer than they look. Lovely sweet custard baked on top and hiding in the middle, we have to stop ourselves from moving onto dessert too early just to get stuck into these.

Baked custard buns

Our last dish is a sometimes dish of mine, but my sister doesn't share my appreciation. I therefore got to eat one and a half of the three we got on this visit, although we almost didn't get any. After spending some time gazing expectantly around at all the trolleys, I eventually asked one of the girls to get me some, only to be told that they had run out. While discussing my sorrow at this turn of events with my sister and brother-in-law, my sister and I both spied another girl coming out of the kitchen holding a plate of them! While exclaims of "hey! There are some!" were still coming from our mouths she high-tailed it to our table and presented me with their hot sesameness, apologising for the confusion. There's something I really love about the combination of the crispy sesame outer shell with the glutinous inner core.

Sesame balls

The service at Jade is good, although I'm obviously not able to compare it to other dim sum restaurants around town. Food is offered politely, and explanations given if asked for. They are also quite efficient in bringing specially ordered dishes out to you if you can't see what you'd like on any of the trolleys.

We have tended to get there reasonably early on our visits, as my sister tends to be driving back to Geraldton that day and keen to get on the road sooner rather than later. If you arrive earlier than 11am you should not have any problems in getting a table. From around 11:30 onwards it gets quite busy, and when we've left around 12 on some visits there have been hordes of people waiting for tables. Some days have been noticeably busier than others, and there is the trade-off of getting there early to easily secure a table and having to wait for certain dishes to come out, so I guess I'll go no further than to recommend you arrive whenever you feel like it.

On our four visits to dim sum, we've averaged the cost at around $20 per person. Due to the couple of $14 dishes with this particular visit it ended up being substantially more expensive, but at least it was a good learning experience! Our next visit will involve at least one $14 dish, but we are torn about whether we will try the roast pork or the duck. And perhaps we'll try those chicken feet next time too.

Oh and if you do go there, check out the calculator they use to add up your total bill at the end of your meal. Not pocket size, that's for sure.

Jade Chinese Seafood Restaurant
40 Francis Street, Northbridge
Phone: 08 9228 9619
Hours: Mon - Fri 10:30am - 3pm; Sat - Sun 10am-3pm; Daily 5:30pm-10pm
Jade Dynasty Chinese Seafood on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday night eggies

Sunday nights, especially Sunday nights in winter, are great for bringing out the lazy cook in us all. Tinned soup, toasted sandwiches, cereal, frozen whatevers are all fair game for dinner on a Sunday without fear of anyone judging your cuisine creativity. One of my favourite knock-up Sunday dinners (or anyday lunches or breakfasts) is an omelette filled with tasty things.

This particular omelette contained roasted red capsicum (pepper), sautéed button mushrooms, sandwich ham (lightly fried first to give it some colour and get rid of that 'wetness' that sandwich ham tends to have), low-fat ricotta, mixed herbs, pepper and a little shaved parmesan.

I also sauteed some grape tomatoes and asparagus so that they were almost ready, before starting on cooking the omelette.

Although your standard omelette generally uses whole eggs, this one was made using one whole egg and two egg whites so I had a nice amount of egg mix while keeping the calorie content down (somewhat necessary given that lately my Sunday mornings have involved vast quantities of dim sum). I lightly beat the eggs with a fork and add a splash of water to the mix, before putting it into a fairly hot non-stick or greased pan. Using a spatula, I gently move the mix around a little, bringing in the edges to create a thicker layer that doesn't extend all the way to the edge of the pan. I then add all my fillings (I always go overboard with fillings and tend to have a blowout as my poor eggs can't hold my greediness) and then once the egg underside is cooked enough to have a decent solidity to it, flip one half over the other (use another slice to help if you need to!).

(If I go super crazy with fillings and the omelette is a big fatty boombah, sometimes I flip it over to let it cook through from the other side a little as well, but this is generally not necessary.)

I then put the tomatoes and asparagus back into the pan, on the side that was now empty, heating them back up while toasting a wholemeal muffin. When everything was almost ready I added some baby spinach to the pan to wilt it, and then slid everything onto my plate! Of course, my filling greediness did in fact lead to a blowout, but I simply used the other side of the omelette as my presentation side, and noone was the wiser. Well, except all of you.

(I have to ask myself... before I started this blog, would I have bothered flipping the omelette over to improve its presentation?)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ooh I get full with a little help from my friends

I've noticed a few little changes to eating out at friend's houses since I started this blog. There's the questions of whether I will be bringing my camera (mais oui!), arguments by my hosts over which chop is the most photogenic, the use of special crockery and of course trying to get the best lighting to show off the food.

Here is just a small selection of the deliciousness I've had served to me over the past couple of months.

Goat chops, stuffed capsicum and Greek salad

First up, one of many dinners at my sister's table. Not one of her typical gourmet extravaganzas, but a very tasty, well balanced meal. Goat chops in a spiced crust, red capsicum stuffed with couscous and other yummy things (can't quite remember what else was in there? Can you enlighten us?) and a Greek salad. Most enjoyable.

Tempura kingfish with a persimmon salsa and radish salad

Next up we're heading to my friend's house for a starter of tempura fish (I think it was possibly kingfish though I could be wrong), with sliced radish and an experimentation salsa using persimmon (fuyu fruit). The combination of flavours was right on the money, and perfect for me as I'd recently discovered the joys of persimmon.

Pork chops!

Pork chop, stewed quince, a chestnutty sauerkraut and Asian greens

He then served up a mains of beautiful meaty pork chops, with a dollop of what I assumed was some sort of apple sauce. When he asked what I thought it was, I however knew immediately that it was going to be something strange, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Turned out to be stewed quince, and it worked so well with the pork! In fact, I was given a little container of it to take home in my doggy bag, and it also works well with ice cream and yoghurt. The sauerkraut with chestnuts had a lovely acidity that cut through the fat of the pork and sweetness of the quince, and the Asian greens (can't remember which particular greens.. you know, the green ones!) were just plain tasty.

Tomato and basil spaghetti

Our final stop today is at another friend's house, where we are starting with a nice glass of West Australian white wine and a simple, flavoursome dish of spaghetti with tomato and basil. Perfectly cooked spaghetti with nice fresh flavours, a great start to the meal.

Leek and ricotta tart

Mmmm this was a tasty tart, with beautiful flaky buttery pastry and an inner treasure of soft, braised leeks and warm ricotta. Again, beautiful simple flavours that worked perfectly together. These tarts were pretty big but of course I managed to finish mine off without too much trouble.

Mixed salad with vinaigrette

This salad was brought by another friend who was also lucky enough to be dining on spaghetti and tarts with me, and was a great accompaniment to the meal.

Gingerbread cupcakes

My contribution to the meal was some gingerbread cupcakes, taken from my Crabapple Cupcakes cookbook. Certainly not my favourite cupcakes from the book so far, but still quite nice (especially the chunks of crystallised ginger inside) and they look pretty cute.

Hooray for friends, hooray for food!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Merchant of Venison

(Disclaimer: this review may or may not actually include any venison)

I seem to have a recurring theme with my friend C that we decide to go out for dinner at the last minute on a Saturday night, and then can't actually get a table at anywhere we feel like eating. We went through this familiar process a couple of weeks ago, with the opening line of my phone calls getting more and more pathetic.. "Oh yes hello there, I'm sure there is no chance but I was wondering if you might possibly have a table free for dinner tonight?". Some places probably did have a table free but didn't want to serve such a meek sap. Just when almost all hope was lost we tried our luck with the Beaufort Street Merchant and easily secured a table at the exact time we were hoping for. I tried not to let this make me suspicious.

Arriving to find C and her partner L already at our table (actually, he was off checking out the wine collection out the back) I blamed my tardiness on having to head up to the heart of the Mt Lawley part of Beaufort St to get some cash out, then having to get my car back down to Inglewood whilst successfully avoiding all the drunken human chicanes already spilling out of the Flying Scotsman and the Queens.

After finally getting around to checking out the menu, we ordered the grazing platter to start with, consisting of Danish feta, chorizo, kalamatas, hommus, Catalan tomato and crusty baguette ($22). L was disappointed to discover that the special (which I can't remember) wasn't actually available anymore and decided to try "the pie - 5 hour braised beef, mushroom, Guinness, potato gratin, savoy cabbage" ($22), which was really asking to be tried with that name. You can't italicise a menu item in such a way without it actually delivering the goods, or so we hoped. Despite the best efforts of L and I to convince her to branch out, C just couldn't go past the "pumpkin tart - with caramelised onion, Danish feta, rocket" ($16). After considering the Thai chicken salad which I read good reports about on another local food blog I decided to try and make up for my recent tagine disappointment and opted for the "tajine - Moroccan chicken, preserved lemon & olive tajine with almond cous cous" ($26).

Grazing platter - Danish feta, chorizo, kalamatas, hommus, Catalan tomato, crusty baguette ($22)

Hopefully your retinas can recover from the blinding feta in this shot to look at the rest of the elements, all of which were very nice. The feta had a pleasant tartness to it, the hommus was nice and creamy, the oil was absolutely delicious (dang, I forgot to ask what type of oil it was), the bread was perfectly fresh yet crusty and the kalamatas were really cute!

Pumpkin tart - with caramelised onion, Danish feta, rocket ($16)

C's pumpkin tart delivered yet again, and I fear she will continue to order it when she returns. We did however notice a sign informing of an impending menu change, so the future of her beloved tart may be in jeopardy!

The pie - 5 hour braised beef, mushroom, Guinness, potato gratin, savoy cabbage ($22)

It turns out the pie, sorry, the pie, may in fact be deserving of italics after all. Thank god for that.

Tajine - Moroccan chicken, preserved lemon & olive tajine with almond cous cous ($26)

Hooray, my meal was absolutely filled with a generous serving of perfectly cooked chicken! Moist and succulent, it was a struggle but I managed to finish off every last morsel of it, and I also polished off most of the soft, well seasoned couscous whilst mopping up the delicious sauce.

I certainly had the lion's share of food in terms of size of mains, so although I was very curious to try the "nectarine sticks - roasted nectarine strudel sticks and creme anglaise" ($9.50) I instead ordered a long black. L however chose the "very lemon tart - lemon curd filled sweet pastry case served with double cream" ($6.50) and C went for the very tempting "sticky date pudding - toffee sauce and vanilla bean icecream" ($9.50).

Sticky date pudding - toffee sauce and vanilla bean icecream ($9.50)

This was beautifully dense and sticky and warm, perfect for the cold winter's night awaiting us outside the warm restaurant.

Very lemon tart - lemon curd filled sweet pastry case served with double cream ($6.50)

Wow, another dish that certainly lived up to its name! This was incredibly lemony, and conjured up images of various MasterChef personalities calling it "gutsy". Perfectly matched with the sweet pastry and cream, the lemon curd packed a delicious punch.

After finishing off our meals, we spent quite a while wandering through the aisles of the produce section in the rear of the restaurant. I spied some dark chocolate coated prunes that I was going to buy for my Dad, as he really enjoys the chocolate coated dried apricots done by the same company, but then I checked the use by date and found it to be some time ago and I'm not so sure that he would be thanking me after polishing off a generous amount of too-old prunes, hehe. I managed to console myself however by picking up a container of quince paste, which is still sitting in my pantry waiting for me to pair with something tasty. I resisted the urge to spend piles of money on piles of Gianduiotti which I was introduced to by my Piedmontese friends whilst staying with them a few years ago, and sometimes still think about with a soft smile on my face and a grumbling in my belly.

So be warned - whilst The Beaufort Street Merchant offers lovely meals at quite an affordable price, with excellent service and warm, comfortable surrounds, you may find yourself leaving with bags full of verjuice, buffalo mozzarella and squid ink, wondering when exactly you are going to have time for the dinner party menu you've just planned in your head.

The Beaufort Street Merchant
488 - 492 Beaufort Street, Highgate 6003
Phone: 08 9328 6299
Website: http://www.beaufortmerchant.com
Hours: 7 days, 8am - late (Public holidays 8am - 5pm, with 10% surcharge)

The Beaufort Street Merchant on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sunday night pizza special

I have mentioned this before but my sister makes a mean pizza, with a beautiful crisp base and well selected fresh toppings. I was therefore very conscious of turning out some tasty creations when I decided to make pizza for dinner last Sunday when she was staying at my house. I already had a trump card - smoked salmon - which she absolutely loves but had not had on pizza before. I could probably have bought just served her a piece of smoked salmon on top of another piece of smoked salmon and called it a smoked salmon pizza and she would have been happy, but where is the challenge in that? It was decided, I was going gourmet. A Sunday night version of gourmet, anyway. No truffles here.

First things first, I decided to caramelise some Spanish onion, which I had not done before. I just sliced some up, very slowly fried it in olive oil for 30 minutes or so, then added some brown sugar and balsamic vinegar and continued to slowly fry it while I prepared the rest of the ingredients. It ended up being lovely and sweet and quite moreish.

I also roasted a red capsicum (pepper) using my grill, peeling off the crispy black skin and slicing it into strips. Finally, I sliced some eggplant and fried it in a hot pan until light brown and soft.

The rest of the ingredients I simply chopped up.

I made three pizzas, and was incredibly glad that I finally remembered to buy myself a second pizza stone the day before, so there was minimal waiting around between pizza varieties! This is a good idea for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it means you spend less time in the kitchen (and more time lounging around on the sofa yelling at annoying characters on DVDs of shows your sister has recorded for you), and secondly it means that people won't prematurely fill themselves up on the first pizza you make and then kick themselves for having less stomach room for the rest of the varieties.

Pizza number one was a vegetarian option, consisting of tomato base, eggplant, mushrooms, roasted red capsicum, marinated olives stuffed with chilli, grape tomatoes and bocconcini. I was a bit artistic with placing the ingredients on this pizza, but then it got a little busy on there and it's a little hard to see my handiwork. I wanted to put some salty fishy goodness on here too, but just ended up putting some on my slices afterwards. Oh and I also put some of the Spanish onion on top after it all came out of the oven, but I forgot to capture the result on camera.

When my non-vegetarian housemate helped me eat the leftovers last night for dinner she declared that the vegetarian pizza was her favourite so I must have done something right here. It's funny how this is often the case with pizzas, actually. Quite often you'll find that if pizzas are served at an event, the token one or two vegetarian options disappear very quickly (to the dismay of anyone who actually is vegetarian).

Having never made a smoked salmon pizza before, I wasn't quite sure how to approach it. Should I bake the base first and then put on the toppings? Or just cook it like normal? I ended up doing a mixture of the two, by brushing the base with a little olive oil and baking until it was turning brown. The middle puffed up like a pita, and I had to pop it and kind of squash the middle back down. I then smeared the top with cream cheese and sprinkled over capers, layered the smoked salmon and then covered in the Spanish onions I'd prepared before. Finally I dolloped on little pieces of goat cheese before sticking it back in the oven to heat through. Once done I added some baby spinach on top.

The resulting pizza had a super crisp base, and all the flavours worked really nicely together. I'll be making this again for sure, and don't think I'll be making any changes to my technique as it all worked quite well! Hooray for successful kitchen experimentation!

Pizza number three had proscuitto, mushroom, roasted red capsicum and bocconcini, and was very tasty but I think I would have preferred the base to be ever so slightly thinner.

Conor's Sunday Night Pizza Special was declared a success and may return next weekend, providing the smoked salmon can survive in my fridge until then. It's calling to me.

One hump or two?

The Camel Bar has been open in Geraldton since 2005 but I only recently had my first meal there while in town for my sister's birthday. I've actually tried to eat there before on previous Gero sojourns but have been turned away as the kitchen was closing (how outrageous of me to try and eat lunch at 2pm) or haven't been able to get a table (apparently quite a difficult task on Mondays or Tuesdays as all meals are 20% off). I was therefore not really counting on actually eating there when us five girls turned up for a leisurely Saturday lunch, and was readying myself to run the Gero gauntlet of trying to find somewhere for lunch that is both willing to offer a table and the kitchen is still serving. Happily however The Camel Bar ticked both of these boxes when we got there, so we took a seat and perused the menu under the watchful eyes of many camel statues, toys and figurines.

As well as this somewhat disconcerting camel collection, The Camel Bar has an incredibly impressive beer selection, offering fifty or sixty different brews from around the world. I would have loved to suck down a nice cold La Fin du Monde with my lunch, but instead looked after my flu-recovering body with some nice healthy water for hydration and a not-so-healthy Pepsi Max for some fizzy carcinogenic energy. Given that I was driving it was probably wise to not enjoy a nice cold La Fin du Monde anyway since it is 9% (yep, those Quebecois know how to brew a strong ale).

The menu offers a good selection of pub grub at a reasonable price, which was particularly relevant given how some of us were still feeling somewhat ripped off from our Bella Vista experience the previous night. All the usual suspects are there (steak sandwich, chicken parma, fish and chips etc) as well as a good range of salads that serve as mains. They also have a wood fired pizza oven, and offer a range of pizza choices which I have heard good things about.

Knowing that I would be enjoying my sister's delicious homemade pizzas for dinner that night, I didn't even consider this option and got busy sussing out the rest of the menu. We were all feeling quite indecisive and took our sweet time choosing our dishes, but it was a nice day and there were some interesting bogans and hoons walking and driving past so we were kept entertained during our decision making.

Decisions were finally reached, with both my sister and I choosing the Chicken and Mediterranean Salad "tossed with roasted capsicum, Spanish onion, pumpkin, semi-dried tomato, kalamata olives, bocconcini and honey grain mustard dressing on a mixed lettuce bed" ($19), our cousin M going for the a meatless version of the pizza special of the day with "chargrilled eggplant, roasted onion, capsicum and pumpkin, salami, pepperoni and feta" ($16), M choosing the Grilled Lamb Salad "tossed with mixed lettuces, coriander, tomato, Spanish onion, beansprouts, capsicum and cucumber with a Thai style dressing" ($19) and R getting the Scallop and Spinach Salad of "seared scallops on a bed of spinach, red capsicum, beansprouts with sweet chilli, ginger, coriander and plum sauce" ($21) and also some garlic, herb and cheese pizza ($9) for the table to share.

Garlic, herb and cheese pizza ($9)

Although I didn't try any of this pizza, the mmmms coming from those who did would suggest that it was very tasty. It certainly looked and smelt like a nice simple plate of cheesy, garlicky goodness.

Chicken and Mediterranean Salad "tossed with roasted capsicum, Spanish onion, pumpkin, semi-dried tomato, kalamata olives, bocconcini and honey grain mustard dressing on a mixed lettuce bed" ($19)

The Chicken Mediterranean Salad served with the dressing on the side

My sister and I both enjoyed our salads. There was a generous amount of tender chicken pieces, and the rest of the salad was very fresh. I tend to eat around fresh onion in salads as I can find it a bit overpowering and am concerned at inflicting onion breath on all and sundry, but the sweated onions in this salad were quite sweet and I gobbled them down. I also tend to order my salads with the dressing on the side, as too often I've had an otherwise lovely salad ruined by an overzealous dressing application. I was really impressed by the way in which this was done here, as both the honey mustard dressing (which was delicious) and the balsamic glaze used to finish off the dish were given to me on the side, as well as a little jug of a standard vinaigrette (I had a sniff and promptly replaced the lid... it was a little uh..camelly).

A meatless version of the pizza special of the day with "chargrilled eggplant, roasted onion, capsicum and pumpkin, salami, pepperoni and feta" ($16)

By all accounts the pizza was fresh and tasty on a good, crisp base.

Dressing-free version of the Grilled Lamb Salad "tossed with mixed lettuces, coriander, tomato, Spanish onion, beansprouts, capsicum and cucumber with a Thai style dressing" ($19)

Another fresh, tasty salad. I was lucky enough to have a few of the lamb morsels, and agreed with M that they were both flavoursome and tender. It was surprising that she got so many pieces of lamb in this salad, given that it only cost $1 more than her Bella Vista green salad of the previous night and yet also included coriander, onion, beansprouts, capsicum, cucumber and the lamb. Perhaps the Camel Bar has a little vegie garden and lambery (pretty sure such a word doesn't exist, but it conjures up nice lamby images) out the back. I'm sure camels and lambs could live together in harmony.

Scallop and Spinach Salad of "seared scallops on a bed of spinach, red capsicum, beansprouts with sweet chilli, ginger, coriander and plum sauce" ($21)

In a recurring theme of our lunch, this was a fresh salad with a generous amount of scallops and a well balanced dressing.

So, I'm happy to say that we all enjoyed our meals as well as each others' fabulous company, and can recommend The Camel Bar restaurant for a good, fresh meal at an affordable price.

We had all actually been at The Camel Bar the previous night following our meal at Bella Vista and prior to the rest of the girls hitting the nightclub (I got myself home to a post-goat snack, my fleecy pyjamas and a nice, warm bed) and I can also recommend the actual bar if you're into bad cover bands and feeling like you're a hundred years old as you're surrounded by people you think should be tucked in tight after Fat Cat tells them it's bedtime.

The Camel Bar
20 Chapman Road, Geraldton
Phone: 08 9965 5500
Fax: 08 9965 5588
Email: thecamelbar@westnet.com.au
Hours: Lunch 12-2 pm; Dinner 6-9 pm (20% discount Mondays and Tuesdays)

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About Me

My love of cooking is surpassed only by my love of eating, though I never quite recovered from the beef I was served at college. I'll try almost anything once, but it takes a very special piece of offal or beef to get me to try it again.

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