August 31, 2010

Chicken, Mushroom and Brie Pasta Bake

This delicious pasta bake is one of my all-time favourite dishes to make at home as it is no-fuss to prepare and very little can go wrong when cooking. I also love that it acts more like a base recipe and is so versatile that you can omit or substitute in different ingredients, depending on the season and what you have at home in the fridge.

Serves 4:
- 500g dried, baby macaroni
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 300g button mushrooms, sliced
- 10 slices pancetta, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 60g butter
- ⅓ cup plain flour
- 3 cups milk, hot
- 1 regular-sized barbecued chicken, flesh and skin shredded, bones discarded
- 150g double brie, roughly chopped
- ¾ cup parsley, chopped
- 1 cup grated tasty cheese

Note: Experiment with other ingredients like peas, tinned diced tomatoes (which can even replace the butter/flour/milk bechamel sauce for the health conscious), diced carrots (boil at same time with pasta), baby spinach, prosciutto, tuna, fresh thyme leaves, crumbled feta, various spices.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water according to packet instructions. Drain and return to the pot. I find it best to boil the pasta until it is just below al dente, as it still continues to cook from the residual heat and steam when transferred back into the pot.

Here I boiled diced Royal Blue potatoes with the pasta

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large frying pan on high and sauté the mushrooms, pancetta and garlic for 2-3 minutes, until tender.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and blend in the milk, stirring (with a whisk, if possible) until smooth. Return to the heat, and cook, stirring, until the sauce boils and thickens. Simmer for 3 minutes.

Add the pancetta and mushroom mix, shredded chicken, brie and most of the parsley to the pasta in the pot. Carefully mix to combine on medium heat for 2-3 minutes, until heated through.

Here I added a cup of tinned diced tomatoes to the mixture

Spoon mixture into a 10-cup ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the remaining parsley and grated tasty cheese over the top. Grill for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown and heated through. Serve immediately alongside a refreshing salad.

Chicken, Mushroom, Pancetta and Brie Pasta Bake

Fererro Rocher Chocolate Cake

This is a cake (recipe from Ninemsn's Lifestyle Page) that I attempted to bake a couple of years ago and have decided to share the recipe of, because, even though it looks too sickeningly sweet and dense, it is actually quite balanced in flavour and is really delicious, heavenly and full of chocolately goodness.

The cake turned out to feed a lot more people than expected, so the recipe is great for larger groups and will be a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. The secret ingredient is the addition of Fererro Rocher chocolates through the centre, which cut through the creamy richness of the cake with bursts of crisp, salty nuts.

Serves 8:
- ¾ cup good quality cocoa powder
- ¾ cup hot water
- 275g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 ¼ cups caster sugar
- 5 eggs
- 3 cups self-raising flour
- ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 200g block of dark chocolate for curls and gold leaf, to decorate
- 12 Fererro Rocher chocolates

- 800g dark cooking chocolate, chopped (63 per cent Cocoa couverture)
- 600ml thickened cream

Preheat oven 160°C. Grease 2 x 20cm round cake pans and line the bases and sides with baking paper. Place the cocoa powder in a medium bowl and gradually whisk in hot water until smooth.

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Gradually add eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition and occasionally scrapping down the sides of  the bowl. Gradually pour in the cocoa mixture, beating until well combined.

Sift the flour with the bicarbonate of soda, fold into the butter mixture, then stir in the milk. Spoon  the batter evenly between the two prepared pans, smoothing over the tops. Place Fererro Rocher chocolates over top of cakes and push down slightly (most will sink lower when the cake is in the oven).

Cook cakes in the same oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until cooked - when a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Stand cakes in pans for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, stir chocolate and cream over a low heat in a large saucepan until just melted. Remove, and refrigerate until it is a spreadable consistency.

To construct the whole cake, place one cake on a serving plate. Spread the top with one cup of ganache, and top with other cake. Spread  the remaining ganache over the top and side of the whole cake. Decorate with dark chocolate curls and gold leaf. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Note: I've since learnt that to make life easier, before smearing on the ganache, use a pasty brush to gently brush along the surface of the cake to remove all crumbs that will interfere with a smooth and glossy icing.

Instead of creating dark chocolate curls, I chose to decorate my cake with bits of white chocolate, bought from Max Brenner. From memory, I spent a good 6 hours baking, constructing and decorating it!

Fererro Rocher Triple Chocolate Cake

Tarin Thai

71 Burgundy Street,
Heidelberg, VIC 3084
(03) 9457 6250
Food: Thai
Date visited: 16th November 2009

Last night, hungry for a meal of stimulating Thai food, we decided to try Tarin Thai. It sits right on the corner amongst a busy, local shopping strip, and houses a no-frills interior with flowery Thai table cloths under crisp white parchment paper.  I must say, the experience was better than anticipated - our waitress was courteous and the food was great and quick to arrive. I will definitely be back for their Tom Yum Soup with Prawns - it clearly stands out from the ones served at the other Thai eateries we have frequented.

Marinated BBQ Prawns with Seafood Sauce - Smoky, plump prawns with a sweet and sour dressing on the side

  Por Tak - Hot and sour seafood soup with a generous serving of four juicy prawns!

Tom Yum (Lemon Grass Soup) - I preferred this soup over the Por Tak. It has much more of a vibrant flavour from the combination of lemon juice, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves through the soup, and was a bearable level of spiciness.

Gaeng Keow Waan - Traditional Thai green curry, cooked in coconut milk with green curry paste and prawns. Rich, creamy and slightly spicy, this partnered beautifully with the fluffy coconut rice that we ordered (Bonus: the rice is charged per head, so feel free to ask for more if needed)

Look! A warming tea candle underneath!

 Yum Nur (Beef Salad) - Sliced rump beef cooked in lime juice, cucumber, tomato and chilli. The meat was tough and hard to chew through, a shame, because the dressing was delciously tangy and refreshing.

Mario's Cafe

303 Brunswick Street,
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
(03) 9417 3343
Food: Italian, Breakfast, Cafe

I love the fact that Mario's serves breakfast all day. Glorious, unpretentious, arousing-the-senses sort of breakfast. We found this cosy eatery one lazy Sunday, after an indulging day of shopping along Brunswick Street. Mario's fits in perfectly well in this quirky end of Fitzroy, with its cluttered decor and waiters full of character (and slight snootiness, but that all adds to the cafe's eccentricity).

Upon entering, we are greeted with great welcome, smiles and voluptuous hand movements towards a free table. Then are swiftly given menus and orders are taken with such flair and friendliness it is hard not to feel at ease in this gem of a cafe. Each time I visit Mario's, I forget how delightful the food is until I take my first bite into a juicy mushroom or succulent chicken, and only then do I remember why I am drawn back here every time, bringing friends to bask in the glory of delicious food.

Salad of Fresh Figs, Spinach, Semi-dried Tomato, Bocconcini and Prosciutto

Pan-seared Chicken Breast with Cheese and Parma Ham and Creamy Potato Gratin

Eggs Florentine with Smoked Salmon, Mushroom and Grilled Tomato - I can't get enough of Mario's fresh Bearnaise sauce, it is delciously runny, creamy and slightly tangy

Eggs Florentine with Smoked Salmon & Mushrooms - while happily eating my way through the smoked salmon in this dish, my fork fell upon a strand of dark, curled hair, a sight every diner never wants to experience. I alerted the waiter of my discovery, who immediately took the dish back to the kitchen. I was hoping for the whole dish to be replaced, but was given a new floret of salmon, which I reluctantly and carefully devoured.

 Eggs Florentine with Hash Browns

Traditional Porridge with Bananas and Strawberry

The Groove Train

Level 3, Melbourne Central
211 LaTrobe Street,
Melbourne, VIC 3000
(03) 9654 2730
(Also at South Melbourne, Richmond, Doncaster, Plenty Valley, Brighton, Habourtown)
Food: Modern Australian, Cafe
Date visited: 8th April 2010, 7th October 2010

The Groove Train serves classic, cafe food and houses a relaxed atmosphere, emphasised by its funky decor.  I have noticed that I always end up here when I just want a meal that I know will not particularly wow me, but will deliver on generous flavours, simplicity and  be able to satisfy a rumbling tummy.  Although you may be served with the odd disappointment of an under-seasoned pasta dish or overcooked beef strips in a salad, for the price you pay and with such laid back service, one can be forgiven for letting slide such oversights - there could simply be new staff on training or lack thereof.

Bruschetta - Thick, crunchy ciabatta slices with sweet tomatoes, Spanish onion and basil

Traditional Fettuccine Carbonara; Greek Salad with Grilled Lamb

Wood Fired Pizza of Smoked Salmon with Napoli Sauce, Red Onion, Cream Cheese & Capers - Unfortunately the salmon lost its fresh and juicy taste in the oven's strong heat.
Chicken with Napoli Sauce, Mozzarella Cheese, Capsicum, Semi Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Avocado
 Eggplant Chips - Parmesan-crumbed and stacked on a dribble of balsamic reduction

Warm Beef Salad - Beef strips on a bed of mesculin salad with semi-dried tomatoes, cucumber, red capsicum, Spanish onion and black olives and drizzled with a honey, soy and mustard dressing. The beef was extremely dry and tough to chew through.

Club sandwich - 3 layers of bread filled with lettuce, tomato, grilled bacon, fried egg, mayonnaise and chicken, served with chips