Culinary Pleasures


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Christmas cooking – glazed ham, smoked salmon frittatas and chocolate macaroons!

I don’t about you but I am sure glad that the Christmas craziness is done for another year! I typically take time off between Christmas and New Year, sometimes even extending it until the week after, to visit my family in Tassie and to relax at home during the quiet time at work. However, as we are embarking on a 3 week skiing holiday in the US next week (excited much?!), I decided to save my precious annual leave days (and $$$) and stay in Melbourne to work the days between the public holidays.

And Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without food! And lots of it!! In this post, I share with you a few recipes of randomly photographed creations over the Christmas period. I wish I had had the time or inclination to take more culinary happy snaps to write up about, but considering the time stresses and immense anxieties of this time of year I am pretty pleased that I even managed this many – I hope you enjoy!

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Simon Johnson’s Glazed Christmas Ham

I was fortunate enough to be given this recipe after asking around at work for the best ham glaze recipe ever (thanks JR!). It really did impress the toughest of critics at Christmas lunch!
I cooked it two days before Christmas day and served it cold. You can also reheat to serve warm, or it is also good at room temperature.

1 cooked 5-6kg traditional ham on the bone
(Simon does not recommend that hams without bone are glazed as this can tend to dry them out)
850ml can unsweetened pineapple juice
¼ cup medium-dry sherry (port or muscat)
500g brown sugar
210g Dijon mustard (Simon recommends his own brand, but I just used Maille)
2 tbs powdered cloves

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Heat the pineapple juice, sherry (port or muscat) and brown sugar to make a syrup (this took me around 10-15 mins). Carefully remove the skin from the ham and discard (leaving the fat). Rub the mustard liberally into the ham. Dust with powdered cloves then pat into the mustard. Put the ham into a large roasting tin and pour the syrup around the base of the ham, not over the top. Cook on the bottom shelf of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and baste generously all over with the hot syrup. Then, basting every 15 minutes, cook for a further 1 hour or until glazed to your liking. Remove from the oven, baste and leave the ham in the tin to drain. Transfer the ham to a large platter or cover with foil and refrigerate. Carve into thin slices when ready to serve.

Serves 15-20 as part of a buffet

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Smoked Salmon Frittatas 

I cooked these little babies for our Christmas breakfast.
Recipe from taste.com.au with a few of my own additions. It is such a versatile recipe so please feel free to experiment and adjust to your taste!

1 leek, thinly sliced
½ red capsicum, diced into small pieces
6 eggs
1/3 cup thickened cream
1/4 cup grated tasty cheese
salt and cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 tablespoons finely chopped flatleaf parsley
200g smoked salmon
1 small tin corn kernels 

Preheat oven to 180°C. Lightly grease four holes in a 1-cup capacity muffin pan.

Add a little oil to a pan and sauté leek and capsicum until soft.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and combine with cream and tasty cheese. Add salt and cracked black pepper, chives and parsley and combine well.

Divide smoked salmon between the prepared holes, lining the base and sides of each one. Spoon a small amount of leek/capsicum & mixture and the corn into each hole, dividing evenly. Pour in the egg mixture.

Bake frittatas for 20 minutes or until firm and golden. Remove from pan. Serve warm.

Notes:
*I used half-cup capacity muffin tin and made 8 frittatas
*I made this recipe a second time and lined the muffin tins with squares of baking paper and chopped up the smoked salmon into the mixture. I found this was better for reheating, as having the smoked salmon lining the outside of the frittata dried it out a little. This method made 12.

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Nigella’s Chocolate Macaroons

After receiving Nigella’s cookbook ‘Nigella Express’ as a Christmas gift (thanks TT!), I whipped up these easy peasy delights and boxed them in cute little noodle boxes to give as gifts to the Christmas hosts. We also left two out for Santa who, going by the tiny crumbs that remained, seemed to really enjoy them!

 2 egg whites
200g ground almonds
30g cocoa powder
175g icing sugar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees and line a baking sheet with baking paper.

Mix egg whites (unbeaten) with ground almonds, cocoa powder and icing sugar until you have a sticky but cohesive mixture.

Fill a large bowl with cold water and dip your hands in to wet them before rolling the mixture into little balls the size of small walnuts. You will probably have to redunk your hands to keep wetting them as you go.

Arrange the macaroon-balls on the lined baking sheet and put them in the oven to bake for about 11 minutes. It’s hard to tell when they’re ready as they will seem squishy but will harden up as they cool, and they should be damp within; that’s what makes them chewy, so don’t worry if the underneaths of the macaroons look sticky.

Makes about 25

Notes:
*I expected that the balls would flatten, however they kept their round shape. For the second batch, I flattened them down slightly with the back of a spoon.

Thanks for reading!

Bec :-)


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Shanghai Dynasty Restaurant – Melbourne CBD

Shanghai Dynasty Restaurant
Level 1, 206 Bourke St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
(03) 9663 7770
www.dynastyrestaurant.com.au
Shanghai Dynasty on Urbanspoon

As soon as I entered the foyer of Shanghai Dynasty Restaurant, the first word that came to my mind was ‘opulence’. Marble covers the floors and gold stretches as far as the eye can see. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings and provide a warm glow throughout the lavish space. It was soon clear how they were able to spend a cool $3-$4 million on renovations. 

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We were lucky enough to experience this Chinese fine dining restaurant in the ‘deluxe ensuite VIP dining room’ – Hollywood! It was for a birthday celebration and there was a group of around twenty of us divided into two large round tables, overlooking the hustle and bustle of Bourke St. This is a major step up in the world for me, whose recent encounters with Chinese restaurants involve the plastic chairs and erratic service of Chinatown’s cheap and cheerful favourites, Shanghai Village Dumplings & the slightly more expensive, but still crazy, Hutong Dumpling Bar. Our dedicated wait staff didn’t falter to offer us beverages as soon as we arrived – and then ensured our glasses weren’t empty for a second all night (which was dangerous might I add!). Not even 20 seconds after I mentioned to the person next to me that I had ran out of sauce for my peking duck, another dish of plum sauce arrived promptly at the table. This is something I could get used to!

VIP Dining Room

We had the banquet Set Menu C ($98 each) which consisted of 7 courses, the first being the 3 varieties of steamed dim sum. These were quite tasty, however I have to admit that I have had better dumplings at the aforementioned Chinatown establishments. This opinion wasn’t helped by the fact that I was too busy talking to notice that one of the dumplings was shao long bao and I bit it in half. All that soupy goodness fell onto my plate and missed my mouth completely – gutted!!! That will teach me to be a chatterbox :-(

Next up was Chicken Sung Choi Bao. This would have to be my least favourite course of the night. It was a mix of chicken, rice and vegetables, presented in an iceberg lettuce leaf and if I am honest, tasted a bit lackluster. It needed a bit more of…. anything. I doused it in soy & chili sauce and that made it slightly more interesting, but still not enough to alter my disappointment.

Crispy King George Whiting with Spicy Salt & Pepper was next out of the kitchen and certainly made up for the previous dish. The perfectly crispy batter and tender, juicy fish, sprinkled with dried chili was just as you’d expect and hope it would be.

Dynasty

The much anticipated (by me), Peking Duck was put in front of us next and was soon gobbled down before you could say “is there any more?”. The duck was succulent, moist and full of flavour and the pancake light, wafer thin and perfect. I was in duck heaven when they bought around a second serve to everyone!

Sautéed Lobster with Spicy Salt & Pepper soon followed and although I am not much of a lobster eater (crazy, right?!), I did like the little bits of it I did have, and M certainly enjoyed his (as well as the rest of mine!).

The final savoury dish of the night was Eye Fillet Steak with Black Pepper Sauce & the Supreme Dynasty Fried Rice. The eye fillet was mouthwateringly tender but after eating so many courses the sauce seemed too rich to eat too much of. Looking around the table, I realised that all the men had swiftly eaten all of theirs, whilst the ladies all had left at least half on their plates. Must be something about men and meat….

Up until this night, I had never eaten deep-fried ice cream. That must be a crime in some countries surely?! Well I will tell you now, if all deep-fried ice cream is as amazing as this one was, then boy, I sure have been missing out all these years! It was a perfect little crispy crumbed wedge, presented on top of delicious berry coulis. Once attacked by my fork, the creamy vanilla ice cream oozed out on to the plate. I would have easily had a second helping if offered. I noticed all the ladies at the table also had made extra stomach room for their dessert as all plates surrounding me were almost licked clean (and yes I would have had I not been in public!!).

Dynasty food 2

Overall, it a great night of food, wine and laughter. This definitely wasn’t my favourite Chinese restaurant and it is quite expensive – especially if you eat à la carte. However, it was a unique experience and the fit out is quite amazing to see. The staff were extremely attentive and have a way of making you feel like you are a VIP – which I guess is what you would expect in a VIP room! I won’t be back in a hurry, but nonetheless I am glad to have done it once.

Cafe Gaia - chicken salad & pork belly sandwich


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Cafe Gaia – South Yarra

Cafe Gaia
Shop 3/4 Avoca St
South Yarra, VIC 3141
03 9866 7522
cafegaia.com.au

Cafe Gaia on Urbanspoon

 

Whilst over 100,000 punters were at Flemington Racecourse on the first Tuesday in November, their hopes pinned on backing a winner in the Melbourne Cup, M & I enjoyed a lazy lunch in our new hood. Well, it’s our new hood together (I used to live here for years before I moved in with him just up the road in Windsor) & we are keen to check out as many local spots as possible and take advantage of everything we could ever want being within walking distance.

Cafe Gaia is tucked away, just off Toorak Road (between Punt Rd & Chapel St) and is a perfect haven for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle. Creeping vines cover the front of an open deck which is sheltered from the elements, while the interior is fresh, modern and offers an inviting place to relax with a newspaper and a coffee.

When I first came across Cafe Gaia I had intended on going there for brunch, and although they offer late brunches on weekends (and on public holidays it seemed), we had already eaten breakkie and wanted a proper lunch. M glanced at the menu and his mind was made up within seconds….. Pork Belly Sandwich ($16.50). I don’t think he even continued to look at other options as soon as his eyes locked on that. We saw other sandwiches being brought out from the kitchen and I could definitely see the appeal! I was lucky enough to be allowed a bite of the porky gold and was immediately struck down with a severe case of menu envy. The thick slices of toasted, buttery bread! The sweet, moreish beetroot relish & crunchy apple slaw! And of course, the tender shavings of juicy, succulent, deliciously delectable pork belly!!!! I am going to go as far as saying this was THE.BEST.SANDWICH.EVER. I knew at that moment that my healthy choice of salad was sure to disappoint.

And so as was expected, my salad was a little underwhelming by comparison. “Gaia’s Famous Chicken Salad” ($19.50) was probably the healthiest option on the menu and consisted of rocket, shaved zucchini, squash, pinenuts, seeds and free-range chicken. It was a pretty good salad and I did enjoy it, but there was a certain flavour through it that I wasn’t entirely keen on. I am not 100% sure, but it could have been the aged sherry vinaigrette. Either way, I don’t think that the king of salads could have cured me from the acute menu envy I was suffering.

 

 

As I had been so good with my healthier choice, I decided to splurge on dessert and opted for the pear, prune, blueberry and fig crumble ($12). The crumble was made up of a variety of chopped nuts (mainly pistachio) and had a delicate, not-too-sweet flavour. I really enjoyed the combination of fruit but was a bit perplexed that there was not a single blueberry to be found.

Overall: It was a lovely experience sitting on a deck, surrounded by vines and trees in the middle of South Yarra. The wait staff were friendly and attentive and even got into the spirit of cup day and wore hats and fascinators on their heads. The food was fresh, tasty and not overpriced considering the location.  I cannot wait to go back and try out the brunch menu….and another pork belly sandwich!!

Thanks for reading!

Bec :-)


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Spring chicken, rice, lentil and spinach soup

Despite being November in the southern hemisphere, in typical Melbourne fashion we have been going from 34 degrees one day to a top of 14 the next.  No matter how long I live here I will never get used to weather that is more unpredictable than the Metro train timetable! This, along with the cold from hell that has its grips on me (despite avoiding any illness for the whole of winter!) has left me craving a warming, hearty soup. All my fave lunch spots have long finished their soup season, so what to do but to spend my Sunday morning cooking up my own big pot of wholesome goodness (and yes, today it was 28 degrees!!).

My inspiration came from a weekly email subscription from ‘The Age Cuisine’, which featured a spring chicken and veg soup. I have my own ‘go-to’ chicken soup that I cook about 50 times over winter but in the spirit of trying new things, I decided to give this one a go. Some parts of it were a little fiddly (I am used to soup where you can just throw all the ingredients in the pot and leave it!), but I must say the end result was quite impressive – even M asked for seconds!

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Spring chicken, rice, lentil and spinach soup

60ml extra virgin olive oil
1 brown onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 celery stalk, finely sliced
1 fennel, diced
5 dutch carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds
120g rice (short or long grain)
100g small green lentils
4 medium zucchini, diced
1lt quality chicken stock, boiling
300ml boiling water
1 vegetable stock cube
200g baby spinach
5 sprigs tarragon, stripped from the stem
½ cup frozen peas
½ barbecued chicken, flesh removed and shredded
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon, to serve 

1. Place a large pot over a medium heat, add oil, onion, garlic and fennel seeds and cook, stirring, for four minutes.

2. Add celery, fennel and carrot, cook for a further 25 minutes, allowing the vegetables to caramelise. 

3. Add rice, lentils and zucchini and stir to combine, then add the hot stock, water and stock cube and cook for 20 minutes to allow rice and lentils to thicken the soup.

4. Add spinach, tarragon, peas and shredded chicken meat. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a further 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to sit for a while. Serve with bread and a squeeze of lemon.

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Notes:
*I found I needed to add at least double the amount of suggested water and about 15-20 mins more cooking time after adding the rice and lentils. This may be because I used brown rice, which takes longer to cook than white.
*I added some corn kernels, which I had handy and used only about ¾ of the fennel. I substituted this with an extra celery stalk. I also added some chopped parsley along with the tarragon.


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Banana, Raspberry & Walnut Muffins

Baking and I share a love-hate relationship. Mostly because I really want to love it, but end up hating the fastidiousness of it. When cooking, I like to improvise and you just CANNOT do this with baking!

Anyway despite this, I really am trying to force a love of baking upon myself and as some bananas were looking pretty miserable in the fruit bowl after a couple of days of neglect, I took it upon myself to create some kind of banana muffins.

It took a while to find a recipe that I liked the sound of and even then, I made a few adjustments. The end result was what I thought to be deliciously moist, sweet banana muffins, with the occasional tartness of raspberry smattered throughout. The crunchy streusel on top was so delightful and really makes the muffin extra special!

Despite following the cooking instructions to the minute, I think they were slightly overdone – but I am putting that down to the fact that the oven in our new place and I are only at the ‘getting-to-know-each-other’ stage of our relationship. This will be worked on over time I am sure.

Banana, Raspberry & Walnut Muffins

For Muffins:

2 1/2 cups self raising flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
8 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup frozen raspberries (or berries of your choice)

For Butter Streusel Topping:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 tbs butter, softened

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Coat muffin pans generously with cooking spray, or line with paper cupcake liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt in a bowl &  add walnuts, set aside. Whisk the butter and dark brown sugar in a large bowl, then whisk in the eggs. Add the bananas, milk and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients all at once, stirring just until wet and dry ingredients are incorporated. Quickly fold in the berries. Divide into prepared muffin cups and sprinkle with butter streusel. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in centre of muffin comes out clean. Cool for about 5 minutes, and then remove from pan.

Notes:
*The recipe said to sprinkle the streusel over each muffin, however I found that the consistency was more of a paste so I just scooped it on top. I think I would add some more flour (or less butter) next time to give it a more of a crumbly texture to allow it to cover the entire muffin top.
*The recipe I used said it made twelve regular sized muffins, however I filled the twelve and then went on to fill half my 24-capacity mini muffin tray as well!

Thanks for reading!

Bec :-)


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Short & sweet (and savoury)

M and I are moving in less than a week and it never fails to surprise me how expensive this exercise can be! The moving truck is going to take 5 hours (and more than $700) to move the meagre contents of our two bedroom flat approx. 1.5 kms down the road into another 2 bedroom apartment. On top of that there’s the cost of relocating the internet and all the utilities, the bond and first month’s rent that is payable upfront and not to mention the obligatory housewarming party to cater for!

Needless to say, the cash-flow situation is in a rather dire state right now and the luxury of eating out has been put on hold for a while :-(

Ok, so we’re not total hermits – we did grab a quick bite at our favourite fish bar, Hooked (Chapel St, Windsor) on Friday night and I took some fantastic pictures of the interior of the place.  However, I was so ravenous and excited about trying their new fish and prawn tacos (which were delicious by the way), that I devoured the entire thing before realising I didn’t take any photos of the food!!

Bad blogger!!!

In light of that error, I decided to take a few pictures at home over the weekend as I wanted to post something (and it’s also good practice for me!) so here you are:

 

 

If you have any questions on any of the recipes featured in this image then please send me a comment/email. I would love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Bec :-)

 


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Snow Pony – Balwyn

Snow Pony
95 Whitehorse Rd
Deepdene, VIC 3103
03 9816 8911
snowpony.com.au

Snow Pony on Urbanspoon

Another Sunday, another brunch-day. Brunch would probably have to be my most favourite meal (long Sunday lunches come in at a very close second), and brunch with two of my favourite girls is even better!

As I am now the resident blogger of the group, the choice of where to scoff down some delicious eggs was left up to me. Unfortunately, I am not that great at choosing new brunch places as my most absolute FAVOURITE place in Melbourne is only just down the road from where I live (Dukes on Chapel St, Windsor), and I can rarely bring myself to deviate from their mouth-watering baked eggs, baked beans w/ poached egg or smashed avocado & hummus toast. Their service is almost always perfect and they can never get it wrong in my eyes *gushes*.

Anyway, I digress – this isn’t a blog about Dukes. I just get a little excited – sorry!

One other breakfast food establishment I have frequented a handful of times, when I manage to drag myself away from Dukes, is Friends of Mine (FoM) in Richmond. Seeing that I am a huge fan of theirs, I thought we could try another place from the same owners called Snow Pony (SP) in Balwyn (they also have Porgie & Mr Jones in Hawthorn). As SP (and FoM) have a strict CASH ONLY policy, I made sure to warn the girls in advance to avoid any embarrassing situations!

So, out past the inner city limits we drove and eventually we found ourselves in a pretty run-of-the-mill street in Balywn. We arrived at the peak brunch time of 10.30am, although I was hoping everyone forgot to put their clocks forward an hour so it wouldn’t be as busy! But alas, there was a 15 minute wait for a table for three and so we all agreed that on this miserably cold Melbourne morning we would wait in the warm car until our table was ready.

Once 15 long minutes were up, we waltzed back inside and eagerly awaited to be seated in the warm cosy café….. however, when we were led to a door suspiciously looking as though it would take us back out to the cold I think our faces said it all! There was only one small heater in the middle of the outdoor section and we were nowhere near it! After some negotiation with the maître d’, he agreed to try and find us a seat where our toes wouldn’t fall off our feet – call me weak but I just cannot sit outside and enjoy my brunch in temperatures of single digits!!!

So again we shuffled back inside and waited, our tummy’s rumbling every time a scrumptious smelling eggy feast went by under our noses. Finally when three stools at the bench along the window became available, we pounced before the poor sods that were leaving even had a chance to stand all the way up!!

Once we ordered (which didn’t take very long at all by this stage), the coffee and juices flowed and some girly banter saw that the time passed quickly before our breakfast chow arrived.

N was served her Smashed avocado w/ thyme buttered mushrooms, marinated feta + torn basil on wholegrain toast ($16,9 w/ poached egg $18,9), and dug in quite merrily. I don’t blame her – I LOVE smashed avo!

J was presented with her (colourful and beautifully presented) choice of ‘Bang Bang’ eggs – poached on toasted grain bread w/ fresh spinach, roasted pepper salad, hazelnut dukkah ($14,9). 1 word – YUMMO!!!!

I really had a craving for bacon and as I had been eating so healthy of late, I surrendered to my inner carnivore and opted for the Giddy Up – poached eggs, bacon, slow roasted tomato, avocado + thyme buttered mushies ($18,9). My only complaint was that one of my pieces of toast was quite burnt. Luckily, I can never eat all my toast anyway and my other (not burnt) piece was sufficient enough.

We all tried a bit of one another’s fare and concurred that each one was very delectable & well presented. We lingered over our coffees for a good while after we finished eating and weren’t in any way rushed by the staff, despite the queue of people eyeballing us through the window from the cold, whilst they waited for a table!

Overall: The service was ok, but I didn’t find it as outstanding as I have done at FoM. The fact that we were initially seated out in the freezing cold was probably in the forefront of my mind when forming this opinion though!

All the food was great and the menu was very similar to FoM (although maybe not as extensive). I love that they source local and organic produce and that their eggs are ‘from happy chickens’ (cute!!).

Would I be back? If I happened to find myself out in the Balwyn area around brunch time then yes. Otherwise I will just continue my patronage at FoM if I have a hankering for some ‘happy chicken’ eggs!

Thanks for reading!

Bec :-)

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