November 30, 2009

Daylesford Getaway Day 1 - Lakehouse

I was fortunate enough to be whisked away to Daylesford for a pampering weekend of sleeping, shopping, sight-seeing and, of course, eating! Without letting the wet and gloomy weather dampen our spirits, we managed to explore and indulge in the old country town's spectacular scenery, natural mineral springs, award-winning day spas, abundant farm-gate foods and acclaimed cuisine of fresh, seasonal, free range and organic produce.

In preparation for the 90 minute drive ahead of us on Friday afternoon, we fuelled up with a quick brunch at University Hill Town Centre (224 Plenty Road, Bundoora, VIC 3083).

 Crispy Charcoal Chicken from Hot Rock Grill and Burgers;
 Battered Calamari, Scallops, Prawns and Chips (unfortunately soggy) from Flakey Jakes

Arriving in Daylesford, we excitedly settled into Gables Bend Studio, our home for the next 2 nights. I was immediately drawn to the outdoor pool and jacuzzi, open wood fireplace, and the beautiful garden views across the valley - it really felt like we were nestled in our own cozy spot, away from the bustle of the city and everyday worries back at home.

King Street,
Daylesford, VIC 3460
(03) 5348 3329
Food: Modern Australian, French, Regional
Date visited: 27th November 2009

Soon it was time for a much anticipated dinner at Lakehouse. The restaurant glows with elegance and attenton to detail, and it is clear that great dedication went into creating such a tranquilizing and romantic ambience with professional service and modern, pretentious food. Its large expanse of windows open to a lush scenery, perfect for watching the kookaburras fly in to be fed on the outdoor terraces.

Dark cellar of library of wines on offer

The restaurant's menu cover features the infamous painting by Allan Wolf-Tasker, of his wife and Executive Chef, Ella Wolf-Tasker. "Rousseau's Sleeping Chef" represents Ella's passion for food and creativity, so powerful that it invades her dreams, unbewildered by reality's distractions, symbolized by the image of her dog.

 The waiter's station was beautifully arranged in the centre, with a bon bon trolley of house-made sweets, and where the day's baked bread is sliced for you upon arrival.

Delicious, crusty sourdough bread

Salted Cod on Crouton - the cod in this teasing amuse bouche was salted in-house and delicately blended with potato and garlic.

Four Tastes From The Sea - Pan-seared Scallop with Carrot and Black Bean; St.Helens Oyster with Shellfish Jelly; Kinkawooka Mussels; Tuna Sashimi with Pickled Cucumber Asian Salad.

Each element to this dish was absolutely divine in its individual combination of flavours and textures, it would just be too hard to pick a favourite! This entree was my highlight dish of the night.

Four Things With Cheese - Spiced Haloumi with Spinach, Pinenut and Raisin Salad; Ricotta and Spinach Tortellini; Goat Cheese and Carrot Custard with Spiced Carrot and Red Lentil 'Soup'; Parmesan Panisses with Onion and Currant Marmalade.

Sadly, only the presentation of this dish somewhat impressed me. The Tortellini was dry, as was the Parmesan Panisses, which was also tough to bite through.

Spring Lamb - Slow Cooked (it was poached) Loin and Shoulder, 'Cracklings', Ragout of Spring Vegetables, Goat's Curd Fondue, Wild Nettle Puree.

Once again, very artistic, but disappointing in taste. I did, however, enjoy the crispy Crackling and the smooth Goat's Curd, which feature on the bottom left of the plate.

Aromatic Pilaf of Mt Zero Farro - served with my spring lamb, which I gladly devoured

Bitter Greens Salad - served alongside our mains

Mango Puree on Sour Cream Mousse - an amazingly smooth and delectable dessert amuse bouche

Sweet Seasonal Desserts - Panna Cotta with Orange; Yoghurt Sorbet; Vanilla Creme Brulee; Citrus Clafoutis; Watermelon and Vodka Granita; Peanut Butter Parfait with Chocolate.

One of the best brulees I've tasted, beautiful milky panna cotta and surprisingly decadent peanut butter, I wanted more!

 Toasted Soft Meringue, Fromage Frais Mousse, Warm Rhubarb Gelee, Strawberry Soup, Almond Gelato - Rich, velvety mousse, plump gelee with a slight bite, and a soft, refreshing gelato. Mmmmm...

November 26, 2009

Did Ya Know..?

- Tomatoes that are ripened on the vine have far more vitamin C than those that are picked green
- Strawberries are a member of the rose family
- Peaches were once known as Persian apples
- Pecan trees may produce nuts for 300 years
- There are literally thousands of potato varieties
- Egypt produces 90% of the world's oregano and marjoram
- Macadamia nuts are toxic to dogs
- Rats and mice are deterred by mint
- Figs are actually the flowers of the fig tree
- Cayenne Pepper is used to warm feet by being placed inside socks

Moroccan Vegetable Couscous

Ever since I started working at Moroccan restaurant, Canvas, I've grown to embrace the flavours of the Maghreb region, where there is a strong emphasis on the exotic combination of herbs and spices. One of the dishes that we serve is Couscous Royale, which basically comprises of 3 parts - a dish of couscous with ghee, a vegetable ragout and a combination of grilled meats. On many occasions, I've tried to replicate this scrumptious meal at home with my own twist, but I don't think it has come anywhere close to what the chefs produce in the restaurant! Here's what I do:

Serves 4:
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 1 shallot (or brown onion), finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 2½ cups vegetable stock
- 1 carrot
- 1 zucchini
- 420g tin chickpeas
- ¾ cup chopped herbs (coriander, parsley, mint)

Although it may not be traditional, you can use any seasonal vegetables you like. I like to add in button mushrooms (halved), freshly shelled peas instead of chickpeas and celery (cut into finger-like pieces). The celery goes into the pot at the same time as the carrots, and the mushrooms and peas with the zucchini. If you end up with too many vegetables, just double the amount of stock and spices and freeze any extra ragout for another day's meal.

When I don't have coriander or parsley on hand, I like to use fresh spearmint from my grandma's garden!

Prepare your vegetables - quarter the zucchini and carrots lengthways and cut into 4-5cm pieces. For the chickpeas, drain them and put in a large bowl with enough cold water to cover well. Lift up handfuls of chickpeas and rub them between your hands to loosen the skins. Run more water into the bowl, stir well and let the skins float to the top, then skim them off. Repeat until all the skins have been removed, then drain them again.

Heat olive oil in a heavy-based pot, add shallots and cook for a few minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic, cayenne pepper and spices and cook gently for 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, sugar and stock, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Carefully lift the lid and add the carrots (and celery if using). Cover again and simmer for 20 minutes. Then gently add in the zucchini and chickpeas (or freshly shelled green peas and mushrooms) and cook for another 20-25 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Taste the ragout for seasoning. Finally, stir in fresh herbs and serve immediately over couscous, rice, mashed potatoes or use as a dipping sauce for bread!

Moroccan Vegetable Couscous

This was my first attempt at a Moroccan Vegetable Ragout, served with Lamb Chops, Fennel Salad and Couscous. Every cooking experience improves with practice, trial and error, so don't be deterred if at first you don't succeed. I always make mistakes, but am glad I do, because it's the only way for me to learn how to be a better cook!

Fresh Oysters with Preserved Lemon and Shallot Dressing; Vegetable Ragout with Couscous; Steak with Chermoula Dressing

For a special family dinner last night, I bought 3 dozen fresh oysters from Richmond Oysters (437 Church Street, Richmond). They were sourced from St.Helen's in Tasmania and sold for $12 a dozen. I served them two ways - Natural with lemon and with a French shallot dressing. This was followed by a  Moroccan-spiced Vegetable Ragout, ladled over warm Couscous and served with Eye Fillet Steaks, cooked to medium-rare.

Natural Oysters with Fresh Lemon

Preserved Lemon - I removed the pulp, finely chopped the rind and sprinkled onto the oysters before drizzling over the shallot dressing

Fresh Oysters with Preserved Lemon and Shallot Dressing
For the dressing, I combined finely chopped french shallots with red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and cracked pepper

 For symmetrically shaped steaks, wrap the beef fillet tightly into a log with cling wrap and refrigerate until needed

 Leave the cling wrap on when slicing into steaks - Try to cut each slice with a similar thickness so that they will all be ready at the same time when pan-frying together. If some are thinner than others, just add them to the pan a minute or so after the thicker steaks

Chermoula Dressing - I brushed this onto the steaks after they rested. To make, finely chop red radish, shallots, coriander and parsley, and combine well with salt and pepper, ground cumin and sweet paprika, fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.

Fluffy Couscous - For one serving, boil ½ cup water in a pot, add 1 tsp salt and 1 tbs olive oil, turn off the heat, pour in ½ cup couscous and quickly stir it together. Cover with a lid for about 3 minutes, then turn the heat back on and mix in 1 tsp butter and cracked pepper to taste (ensure the bottom of the pot doesn't burn). Finally, stir in finely chopped herbs of your choice and fluff it all up with a fork (I used coriander, parsley and spearmint)

Moroccan Vegetable Ragout with Couscous and Chermoula Eye Fillet Steak


30 Jacka Boulevard,
St Kilda, VIC 3182
(03) 9525 5555
Food: Modern Australian, Mediterranean
Date visited: 22nd November 2009

A few days ago, we visited the upstairs formal dining area of Stokehouse for an indulging, Sunday night's dinner. We arrived just before sunset, and settled in for the breathtaking hues of orange and violet to seep through the floor to ceiling glass windows, reflecting the sparkling ocean underneath. The fresh and high-quality food on offer blended well into the relaxed, sea-breeze atmosphere. The staff are friendly, but the service that night was slack and absent-minded - I had to go and find my own jacket from the coat rack when leaving!

The Specials Board - placed near our table and swiftly removed after we ordered our food.

Celebratory Drinks of Bubbly

Tasmanian Oysters with Chilli Dipping Sauce and Shallot Cabernet Vinegar

Ocean Trout Confit with Chilled Tomato Consomme, Shaved Fennel, Sesame, Cucumber & Flying Fish Roe - The consomme was refreshing and amazingly light, sweet and aromatic
Spiced Pork Belly and Garlic Prawns, Almond Skordalia, Radish Salad & Dark Moscavado Dressing - The pork was juicy and ultra tasty, but could have done with a crispier skin.

Roasted Milk Fed Veal Tenderloin in Pancetta with Wild French Mushrooms, Grilled Baby Leeks and Truffle Cream - The leeks were stringy and left an unpleasant, pungent aftertaste in my mouth, but this was easily forgiven by the heavenly truffle cream... mmm

Snapper Fillet with Marron & Bug Tail Cassoulet, Chorizo, Fennel, Olives and Rouille - I love how the seafood partners so well with chorizo, but was not a fan of the mushy lentil-y texture of the cassoulet

Shaved Cabbage and Fennel with Parmesan Cream

'The Bombe' - Frozen White Chocolate Parfait with Strawberry Sorbet and Toasted Meringue. I'm so glad we shared this, the serving was very generous! My favourite dish of the night by far, the beautiful combination of textures from the gooey meringue and creamy parfait, to the refreshing sorbet and sweet strawberries was to-die-for!

We figured the outer layer was the meringue and the inner one was the parfait, but where was the sorbet?!

Ahh... Well-hidden behind the strawberries!

Short Macchiato with Cinnamon Cookie

Little Cupcakes

Shop 7, Degraves Street,
Melbourne, VIC 3000
(03) 9077 0413
(Also at: TG06, Ground Floor, Goldsbrough Lane, Melbourne VIC)
Food: Cupcakes, Coffee
Date visited: 18th November 2009

Sorry about the delay in posts - I've been very busy lately, but will be blogging back to normal next week! Here's a quickie about some sweet treats I bought for a couple of friends last week. With so many cupcake bakeries popping up in Melbourne, I couldn't help but fall into the craze and found myself at Little Cupcakes. There is just something so tempting and delectable about each perfect little cupcake, resting so innocently in its neat row within the glass cabinet. At only $2.50c for a miniature sized one, I feel very proud to have resisted from buying every flavour on offer!

Cute Box of Little Cupcakes, Big on Flavour!

Tiny Teddy with White Chocolate; Cookies and Cream; White Chocolate and Raspberry; Belgian Chocolate; Chocolate with Vanilla Cheese Cream

November 20, 2009

Christmas Slaw

A few sweltering days ago, I wanted to make a refreshing, summery salad to bring to work. It was too hot to even move, which meant going down to the local shops for some fresh greens was out of the question. Instead, I decided to raid our fridge to make do with what we already had at home. The end result was not a green salad, but what closely resembled a Christmas-coloured coleslaw... ho ho ho!

Serves 4-6:
- ½ Savoy cabbage, shredded
- ¼ Iceberg lettuce, shredded
- 2 large carrots, grated
- 1 red capsicum, seeds removed and sliced thinly
- 2 tbs sea salt
- 300g frozen cooked prawns, thawed
- Cracked black pepper
- 1 lemon
- ½ cup dressing, mustard, mayonnaise or a combination of all three (I used my Kenko Sesame Miso Dressing)

Combine cabbage, lettuce, carrot, capsicum and sea salt in a bowl. Stand for at least 30 minutes, or until wilted. Drain and squeeze excess liquid from the vegetables, and transfer to a serving bowl. Halve the prawns, cutting through the spine and add it to the vegies. Squeeze over juice from the lemon, crack in some pepper, and finish off with a generous drizzle of the dressing of your choice. Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed.

Christmas Coleslaw with Prawns

November 18, 2009

Perfect Roast Vegies

There is just something so scrumptious about a simple and rustic dish of roasted vegetables, steaming hot and fresh out of the oven. Not only can roasting vegetables be healthy, but it gives them a more smoky, rich and mellow flavour with the oven doing all the work. Natural sugars caramelize and the vegetables become sweeter, more palatable and mouth-watering, even for devoted carnivores!

It is a dish that you can toss together using just about any vegetable you have on hand, and there is no need to make things more difficult than necessary. A bonus is that all vegetables can be roasted unpeeled (which actually imparts more flavour) and you can roast them whole if there is no time for chopping! I’ve prepared a basic guide on how I usually roast my vegetables at home, learning from trial and error, to create the most golden brown, crisp and tender batch of roasted vegies :-)

Roast Desiree Potato, Capsicum, Mushroom and Whole Garlic Clove with Dried Thyme

- Combine a variety of seasonal vegetables such as corn, fennel, beetroot, onions, capsicum, asparagus, mushrooms, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, garlic, eggplant, zucchini, pumpkin, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, swedes, broccoli etc.

- Don’t be afraid to try different combinations. You’d be surprised by the vegies that take on a surprisingly delicious flavour when roasted. For example, pungent garlic becomes juicy and sweet when roasted unpeeled, and the sharp aniseed flavours of fennel softly caramelise into sweetness.

- Harder root vegetables such as potatoes can be parboiled for 10-15 minutes before roasting to ensure a fluffy centre.

- Try to incorporate fresh herbs and spices – they carry a heap of health benefits and pack lots of aromatic flavours into vegetables when roasted together. Herbs can be left whole as sprigs or roughly chopped.

- A few ideas: Dill goes well with tomatoes, potatoes and beetroot. Mint is nice with corn, asparagus, fennel, zucchini and capsicum. Rosemary is a good complement to onions, potatoes, carrot and turnips, as Thyme is to eggplant, pumpkin, mushrooms and garlic.

- A rough guide on cooking times (this obviously depends on how big the vegetables are, how many you use and how well-done you prefer them):
60 minutes - Beetroot, Potatoes (If not parboiled)
50 minutes - Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoes
25-30 minutes - Zucchini, Eggplant, Capsicum, Fennel, Carrots, Tomatoes, Shallots/Onions, Potatoes (Parboiled)
10-15 minutes - Asparagus, Corn (after soaking for an hour in water), Mushrooms

- Try to roast your vegetables in a single layer to ensure even cooking and to allow them to crisp up.

- Duck fat produces the best, most crispy and flavoursome roast potatoes.

- Olive oil is the best all-rounder. Try to avoid using vegetable fat, because it is loaded with transfatty acids – not good for you!

- Don’t use butter, because it will burn at the high temperatures you are using.

Roast Pumpkin, Eggplant, Capsicum, Asparagus and Mushrooms with Rosemary and Thyme

1. Preheat your oven to 200°C.
2. Cut the vegetables so that they are all roughly the same size.
3. Put about 1 tablespoon of olive oil or animal fat into a roasting tray (sometimes I line it with foil when I'm lazy to wash the tray afterwards) and place it in the oven until it becomes runny, hot and spits.
4. Carefully take the tray out of the oven, add the vegetables that take the longest to cook and turn them to coat all over with the oil/fat.
5. Transfer the tray back into the oven and roast on a higher rack, taking it out to add vegetables when needed so that they will all finish cooking at the same time. Remember to turn the vegies while doing so to ensure that they are all coated in the oil. Drizzle with more if necessary.
6. When there is about 25 minutes left, add in your preferred herbs and spices, along with lots of sea salt and cracked pepper.
7. After removing the roasting tray from the oven, finish with a generous squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of balsamic vinegar (the secret ingredient!) to boost the flavours and balance the smokiness and sweetness of the vegetables.

 Roast Fennel, Potato and Capsicum