Monday, November 21, 2011

Ode to my sister's jelly slice

Its afternoon tea on the farm - my sister's dairy farm that is. And in true CWA (Country Women's Association) style the glistening jelly slice has just be removed from its tin and awaits slicing into delicious morsels to accompany our tea - with fresh un-pasteurised milk provided by the girls! I'm sure this one would win a blue sash first price at any rural show but it's just for us and the farmer (my brother in law).

Now I have to say that unlike my mother, and her mother before her (that would be my grandmother and kitchen mentor), my sister has a much more diverse culinary heritage. With a apprenticeship at a city boutique hotel, a stint working from the reknown Walter Bourke, cooking for a major catering outfit, producing gourmet take home diners and hand making chocolates for one of the first Chocolatiers in Melbourne, this is no average farmers wife.

And there in lies one of the fabulous capacities of a cooks life, it takes one on so many journeys and yet sometimes seems to take us right back to where it all started. As my sister and I discuss the tricks of jams, relishes, scones and sponges it is a reminder of a rural childhood cooking with Grandma on the wood burning Aga stove. Not so dissimilar to talking to fellow cooks Greg Malouf about his Middle Eastern heritage or George Calombaris about growing up in a Greek Cypriot household.  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Cheers, Salute, Kanbei, Prost, Campai, Bottoms up or Chin Chin

In whichever language you choose I'll drink to a table or barstool at Chin Chin. Fresh and vibrant dishes with staff to match!!! (More about the cheeky 'as long as you're happy' barman later). Nestled against the wall at the back of the bar watching the world go by, tonight was when dining solo had an advantage. The snaking queue heading down Flinders Lane was being informed that it was a 1 to 2 hour wait for a table, depending on how many friends you were dining with, but for me on my own it was straight in. Occasionally I rather enjoy 'a table for one' and with the trend towards bar dining it seldom ends up a lonely experience.

The major disadvantage kicks in when having to choose just a dish or two with a menu focused on sharing. However not only did I thoroughly enjoy my silken tofu and banana blossom salad and pork "roll ups" I visually devoured the Massaman curry, salt and pepper squid, crispy chicken wings and pat Thai of my bar dining 'neighbours'. Luckily they were sociable so my culinary surveillance didn't get creepy - and a happy 9th anniversary to the 'floral bouquet' couple. 

Now dessert is not normally a big priority but sometimes I can be tempted and my lone dining status was receiving ample enticement. Plenty of banter with the barman/waiter about our respective travels in India combined with a little up-selling. So Layered jellies of coconut milk and passion fruit with slow poached pineapple it was and a good excuse to have a sticky, a rather delightful Frogmore Creek Iced Riesling (and an interesting lesson on the origins of Iced Riesling from my friendly compatriot). Definitely worth it the wine, the chitchat and the oh so creamy and refreshing coconut jelly. Yum

There seems to be a few complaints about the queuing. Well really....... the restaurant game is a tough gig and if it takes a no booking policy and table turn over to make it viable then so be it. The reliance on degustation/set menus or minimum spend or booking months in advance to allow the dining public the quality we seek seems fair. We are so lucky in Melbourne to have so many dining experiences to choose from - so if queuing isn't to your liking dine elsewhere I reckon.

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

There's cake and then there's.....

Macarons! The affair with cupcakes has waned and one can feel the love  - of macarons - in the streets of Melbourne. In amongst busy Hardware Lane, overflowing with eateries, is a whole shop dedicated to just this one French pastry. There is a chic austerity upon entering the pastel palace that is home to arguably some of the city's best - La Belle Miette. The uninitiated peer through the pristine shop window and the first time visitor battles to decide between the Salty Caramel, vibrant Raspberry and the decadent ‘Bastille’ (Moet et Chandon and Blackcurrant) or other 10 or so flavours. Patiently waiting in the queue is the addicted anticipating their next fix. 
Customers are rewarded with beautifully boxed crunchy intense sweet chewiness no matter what their flavour preference and in just the right portion to avoid feelings of guilt. Unless of course one attempts to try too many flavours or the entire selection! I'm glad my addiction to food is broad so I can enjoy just one -  the 'Bastille’ –  and I don't feel compelled to travel around Melbourne tasting each and every flavours on offer. Although LuxBite is on my list next time I'm on that side of town and the Kaffir Lime is inviting - uh oh.....
La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon 

Hopetoun Tea Rooms
And just in case your sugary fetish is not appeased by the simplicity of La Belle Miette then perhaps you'd better head off to another of Melbourne's emporiums of sweetness, The Hopetoun Tea Rooms, where the variety on display looks more like the Myer Christmas windows.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

a glimpse of Loam

Well the first trimester of my Grad Cert in Human Nutrition is complete and the final essay is in the process of being graded. That leaves me with some extra time to indulge in blogging and there are plenty of photo's attesting to my non academic pursuits stored on the camera just waiting to have their stories told. The first a 'field trip' for the culinary obsessed to the Bellarine Peninsula. The day included:

A visit to Sea Bounty Mussels - a family owned business where Lance shared his wealth of knowledge about a life time of commercial fishing in Victoria. Scallops being his first mollusc followed now by the local blue Mussels of Port Phillip Bay. Now that I know spawning around this time of the year decreases the size of the meat I'll wait to Novemberish for my next mussel cook-up. Even the child one is looking forward to a bowl of plump mussels in a garlic infused broth.
Next was feeding and nattering with Corrine and the goats at Drysdale Goats Cheese; the fresh curd cheeses a revelation- but then fresh is .... And there were plenty of nettles in the paddocks for an eager goat or chef.

Loam on UrbanspoonBy then it was time for a spot of
lunch; which was a sneak peak at Loam. The Loam philosophy to forage, fish and hunt, especially locally, was truly reflected in the mini menu we experienced; savoury morsels thoughtfully structured into refined dishes. I look forward to a future degustation dinner.

Beautiful food was the order of the day although there were rumblings of 'lots of protein' (meaning of the animal kind). Perhaps a fruit producer needed to be included to round out the trip although it was bit early in the year for the blueberry farm we drove past. Nonetheless I feel spending time at the source is valuable for young and 'old' cooks alike.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lets eat cake

Strolling along Ackland Street St Kilda, post jazz concert at the nearby Palais, on a chilly Melbourne evening warrants a coffee/hot chocolate and cake. And the institution for cake in this neck of the woods is Monarch Cakes. There are plenty of choices but three stand-out must haves if one is aiming for the items of folklore, they are:
  • Chocolate Kooglhoupf
  • Polish cheesecake
  • Plum cake
Despite the fabulous descriptor provided by the staff for the cheesecake I like a bit of fruit in my cake and for my partner chocolate beats cheese. 'We bake the same way our grandmothers did, using the ingredients in their most natural form. Our cakes are made with the highest grade butter and sugar and we never use substitutes or premixes' reads the speal on the website. As long as the grandmothers used canned plums! That would be one of the major differences between the baking of my grandmother and my mother - grandma never used canned foods. Although on the whole both choices were rich, moist and dense as one would expect of a European cake. So with chills warmed and emotions feed it was time to head back east to the burbs.

Monarch Cakes on Urbanspoon 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

What's in season....

Having just driven through the asparagus growing heart of Victoria, on the way to visit family, I've been looking forward to dishes featuring the first of the fresh Koo-wee-rup spears. And recently I heard Matt Wilkinson (co owner of Pope Joan) talking about the virtues of offering seasonal produce so it was wonderful to see his menu reflecting Spring and of course asparagus when I dined there this week. Eggs and asparagus are such a great combination, so an asparagus omelette was tempting (and I did prong a little of my partners). But another dish took my fancy - smoked tongue with celeriac (also in season) remoulade and crispy toasts and I was not disappointed.                                                 

The tongue was lightly smoked but oh so tender and juicy and the remoulade just as I like -  julienne of celeriac fine but not grated and enough but not too much creamy mayonnaise, finished with picked chervil and very crisp toasts, excellent. I probably should mention the sauce gribiche on the side as it was tasty but I've been trying to ignore it simply because I don't think the dish needed it (a little more salad if anything but no more 'creamy' needed).

And there is more on offer than beautiful seasonl food - affable efficient service staff, interesting decor, clean toilets etc etc. I look forward to my next visit.
Pope Joan on Urbanspoon
And as I like to get 'up close and personal' with my food I stopped for a few little happy snaps for the 'family album' of that luscious asparagus popping up through the rich dark soil. I must try pickling some this year!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Winters End

The days are warming and blossom is beginning to appear - winter's coming to an end. It's at this time each year I find myself heading to the kitchen to embark on a final ditch of hearty cooking. The last weekend of winter 2011 was spent hunting for beef brisket, boning a lamb shoulder and chopping root vegetables.

I'm not sure whether it's my age or rural upbringing but I was quite surprised at how difficult it was to find the brisket I wanted to make a Matthew Evans recipe for beef and barley soup. I understand why its not popular, being the breast it is rather fatty, but trimmed the meat flakes so wonderfully when it has been slowly cooked for hours. Just perfect in soup.

Giving up on the local butchers Little Creek Cattle Company have an online service with pick up at many farmers markets so that meant I could get the other vegetables and the Swiss brown mushrooms I needed at the same time. Definitely worth the effort of procuring the brisket, the outcome, a rich flavoursome soup/stew with meatiness from the beef, barley and mushrooms.

The lamb shoulder was easier to come by but the butcher was reluctant to believe that I was going to have the ability to bone it successfully even after I explained my professional capacity. His diatribe started with 'chef's these days.....', I admit a shoulder is a little challenging and there are plenty of young cooks who would baulk at the task. However I like to 'keep my hand in' now that I spend more time in a classroom than a kitchen. The resulting diced lamb (and the bones) were then sealed in seasoned flour, added to the softened veg, bathed in dark ale and left to simmer in the oven for the afternoon. A little tomato paste, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, bay-leaf and s & p making for a sticky dense braise which as you can see was enjoyed with crispy mustard & Gruyere toasts, roasted pumpkin and steamed greens, yum. Good-bye winter and hello spring!

Friday, August 5, 2011

On the food trail

As a child much of what our family ate came from my father and grandfathers gardens, all manner of freshly harvested seasonal vegetables and fruits. My grandfather was able to butcher sheep so we ate lamb and all its bits. Now and then grandma killed one of the chickens that was not providing us with eggs. Being a 'country lass' we also sourced neighbouring commercially grown crops and local beef. I now realise how fortunate I was growing up with such wonderfully fresh foods. And even more so having survived the growth of canning - most Aussies my age have probably eaten more pickled beetroot from a can than they will ever eat in any other form!

So with the constant hunt for fresh food in mind (as well as always seeking out the diverse), I'd heard Dandenong Market had been re-developed. As I was heading in that direction anyway for one of my regular visits to Roma Deli to stock up on a few Mediterranean staples I thought I'd check it out. Arriving at the market just in time for a snack, there was ample to choose from with an array of cuisines represented in the prepared food section, a little takeaway spinach and cheese gozleme was perfect to tide me over while I poked around.

The Verdict:
A reasonable selection of fruit and veg, baked goods, butchers and deli's with plenty of variety from a broad array of cuisines including Mediterranean, Middle Eastern &  Asian. It certainly looks like there's more development still to come, a bit of a construction site here and there. So whilst not in the same league as Queen Victoria Market definitely a solid option for those close by on the hunt for an alternative to buying fresh food from a supermarket and perhaps more improvements to come. And no problems buying fresh beetroot!

Friday, July 15, 2011

A week of dislikes!

I'd like to think of myself as 'broad-palated', willing to have a go at whatever is offered and I am able to scoff at the ever increasingly uttered phrase 'do you have any special dietary needs?'. (I hope I don't develop any nasty food intolerances/allergies in the future). But recently I seemed to hear myself saying, 'I don't like that’ far too often. What’s more this occurred in the workplace where I am frequently striving to encourage students to try something new.

It all started with a traditional Indonesian salad. An otherwise excellent Gado Gado (well done Vivien), which featured a wonderfully balanced satay sauce, included some fried tempeh. Made from soy beans much like my beloved beancurd, tempeh with its whole bean texture and fermented 'twist' is just plain nasty to my taste. It didn't make it on to my Love 'em or hate 'em list last time probably because it is so far off my radar but is definitely one more to add. Often described as having an earthy flavour - all well and good if you like to eat dirt! When I heard a Nutritionist suggesting that she might modify Hestor Blummenthals 'Masterchef' burger with a tempeh pattie - really!!!! Good luck with that!

The next in my week of "I don't really like that", was a canapé on a base of pumpernickel, perhaps equally one could describe this too as having an earthy taste and with the added bonus of a dry cardboardy texture! Perhaps I just haven't had good pumpernickel yet. I do like all sorts of fungi and truffles in case you're going down the anti-earthy road.

And to finish the week a student bought to class some Zongzi he had made for us to share (thanks Roy). Traditional Chinese steamed glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves each with a different filling including pork, Chinese dates and red bean paste. And there it was red bean paste - it's the texture I struggle with when it comes to red bean paste - claggy.

I feel purged now having exposed more of my dislikes. Given the range of cuisines I indulge in I still think my list of dislikes is minimal and I can continue to proudly take my place amongst the food lovers of the world. Besides at times it is the simplist of foods that can provide the greatest of pleasure.

“Plain fresh bread, its crust shatteringly crisp. Sweet cold butter. There is magic in the way they come together in your mouth to make a single perfect bite.
- Ruth Reichl

Thursday, July 14, 2011

I confess.....

I've been reading all the hype about St Katherine's since it finally opened in May and its a very mixed bag of comments. Wanting to to give a new venture, especially such a huge one, a fair go to get up and running I've waited for a bit. But there still seems to be what I see as teething issues and I have to confess (that's a pun!) that I'm in two camps. Yes I'd go back, because I like the fact that it's close by and saves the usual drive to inner city/city establishments to enjoy that cosmopolitan feel and on the whole the food is good. BUT not all the dishes hit the mark and neither does all the service.

Here's a little insight of my experience - After enjoying a range of shared savoury dishes the table was cleared in the most ungainly of manners reminiscent of the local 'ladies' who staff the pub in the small country town of my raising. And all before all of the ordered dishes had been served. When our original waiter invited us to order dessert and coffee we inquired about the quail, which he checked on, came back to ask 'if we were sure we hadn't received it' and then promptly returned with said quail. It was a little dry - perhaps because it had been sitting under lights for awhile and a serve of 'leaves' (salad) never eventuated. The later baklava also a little dry and chewy. St Katherine's labels itself as a blend of Greek, Turkish and Middle Eastern so dishes such as Vietnamese style duck spring rolls are a tad surprising on the menu. If you like a little theatre then the food is fun, bread in a bag, mini buggers, KFC, Mr Whippy style ice-cream and all manner of service plates/trays/platters. The hummus is creamy, the pide excellent and coca-cola lamb ribs tasty and moist.

In response to the some of the many criticisms - I don't mind the cutlery in the tin on the table, I might be able to get cheaper pide in Sydney Road but I won't have the diversity of fillings and I too dislike 'I'm too cool for my waiters apron' attitude. So it may well be all about customers preferences although I am curious as to whether anyone thinks aloof service is suitable in a service industry??

One would expect there to be changes over time. Are the 'faults' part of the casual style or will they be remedied or will the customers just accept things as they are? I have many questions. No doubt time will be telling on whether St Katherine's is the success of the groups other ventures.

St Katherine's, 26 Cotham Road, Kew
 St Katherine's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bloggers Block!!!!!

Help me, I have bloggers block! There are 20 drafts sitting in my posts awaiting completion and I just keep adding more and posting few. They vary in state of production, some just a title and a few ideas. Others a mere series of pics from the last few dining experiences. And no that’s not why the last post (Attica) was so minimalist re text – I felt the pictures informed the occasion, leaving me just a few supplementary observations to add. One draft is all but complete just waiting for the pics then it's ready to go.

A friend suggested that possibly it's just the dreary winter weather impacting on my capacity to get things finished. Nah, I love winter, it is my preferred season. Nothing better than settling in at a cosy eatery or a long afternoon in a steamy kitchen. After all it is the season for slow cooked beef cheeks, root veg mash and hearty puddings. So it's not the weather.

I mused over what else may be impeding my usual enthusiastic undertaking to upload yet another of my perhaps self-indulgent views on subjects pertaining to the culinary world. Maybe I just don’t have sufficient to do right now while I’m on semester break, admittedly the biggest incentive to blog or cook or knit for that matter is usually to facilitate procrastination of paid tasks or domestic drudgery that should be winning priority. Well holidays pass quickly and all too soon I shall return to the typical plenitude of responsibilities. In the mean time I'll just bake a batch of Anzac biscuits (take a pic for the blog – lol) have a cup of tea and wait for the bloggers block to pass.....

Friday, June 24, 2011


It went like this........ 

Well done team Attica!

Fabulous food - seasonally focused menu, ingredient integrity, technically masterful, clever flavour harmonies, textural variety, visually stimulating and just a bit playful

Excellent service - especially knowledgeable, calmly proficient and unpretentious (I enjoyed swapping stories about aunties and tongue!)

Shinning stars:
  • 'A simple dish of potato cooked in the earth it was grown' - just because I'd heard/read so much about it.
  • 'Raw Chestnuts, salt baked Celeriac, Pyengana' - because WOW and I adore Pyengana cheddar.
  • 'Beef Tongue, Vanilla, Myrtus, Lettuce stems' - mmmmm tongue.
Details @ 
Attica on Urbanspoon