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Friday, September 30, 2011

Dinner at 'Quay'

What can I say my husband really out did himself this year...I could not have asked for a better surprise and experience, dinner at Sydney's number one restaurant 'Quay'!  It was amazing.  He also surprised me by organizing one of my dearest Aussie girl friends to come in from out of town (7 hours away) to be my dinner date.  Sam is a fellow foodie, so this was also a special treat for her.

Sam and I dolled ourselves up and headed out to Sydney's finest... Pete dropped us off and we kicked off the night with two delicious drinks, mine had to be one of the best cocktails I have ever had (some type of vanilla infused martini).  We also had perfect seats right by the window looking out over the water.

Next we chose our four courses...Sam was a fabulous dining partner and was happy to share everything, so we both really got to have eight different things.  For our first course we settled on a 'salad of rhubarb, endive, beetroot, purple carrot, rosa radish, kohlrabi, goat's curd, pomegranate molasses and violet' and the other was a tuna dish which I cannot remember everything in it, but it was very good.  The salad had so many different textures it was just a beautiful sensation of taste and textures in your mouth.  Yummy. (Unfortunately my picture don't do any justice to the food!)

For the second course we chose 'Slow cooked coturnix quail breats, pumpernickel, walnuts, quinoa, truffle, chestnuts and milk skin.'  This was absolutely melt in your mouth amazing...I had never had quail before and was pleasantly surprised, the combination on this plate were perfect.  Our other dish was a little harder to swallow but we managed, it was 'Gently poached southern rock lobster, golden tapioca, shaved squid, lobster velvet and pea flowers'.  I am not a huge seafood fan so was not too surprised that the squid was a little overpowering for my liking, the lobster was melt in your mouth delicious, but sadly we both had to leave the squid on the plate.

Our third course was definitely the favorite (other than dessert).  We had one dish that was a risotto with white asparagus, truffle cream and I can't remember what else I just know it was phenomenal!  I think I could probably say this dish was one of the most incredible things I have ever eaten.  The other dish was 'Berkshire pig jowl, maltose crackling, prunes, cauliflower cream, perfumed with prune kernel oil'  I don't normally eat pork, but on this occasion I thought I better give it a shot.  It was very rich, but all the flavours together really were beautiful.  But the risotto was definitely the winner (I know my picture does not make it look that great, but I promise it was amazing!!)

And alas there was ever awaited moment to try the 'real' Snow Egg!  As you might recall I attempted making this recipe at the end of last year and it was the hardest thing I have ever made.  Peter Gilmour (the chef) apparently changes the Snow Egg based on what fruits are in season, so I got to try the 'Jackfruit Snow Egg'.  The whole dessert experience is pretty incredible with the layers of texture and taste, but I think I would have to say the jackfruit flavor was not my favorite, it was by no means bad, just different and unfamiliar.
Our other dessert was the 'eight texture cake' which was absolutely divine, I think it will have to be my next major recipe attempt...I will keep you posted when I find the time to make this 8 recipe dessert that is seriously a chocolate lovers dream, it was the perfect thing to finish on.

It was an unforgettable evening indeed, so a big thank you to my husband and my dear friend Sam!  What a treat...and we even got to catch a glimpse of the chef himself (he came out to visit the table beside us).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

'The Winery'

I was absolutely spoiled this year for my birthday!  First I headed out to celebrate with 3 of my girlfriends who also have birthdays in the same week, we ended up at a place called 'The Winery' in Surry Hills.

It was absolutely fabulous.  Everything from the ambiance, to the drinks, the food and of course the company!  And it was very reasonably priced which made it even better.  We kicked off the evening with a jug of White Wine Sangria - chardonnay, cointreau, martini bianco, mint, lychee, lemon.  We were quite pleased when later on we realized all the jugs are half price on Sunday, we decided to order another one!  This time we got the Rose Wine Sangria - rose, strawberry, martini bianco, lemon.

For appetizers we shared the Stuffed Mushrooms with Ricotta, Pesto & Pine nuts, they were so good I decided to recreate my own version for tablenosh the following week.  We also shared the 'rock lobster salad' which was exceptional especially for the lobster lovers.
Pumpkin, Ricotta & Sage Ravioli
For mains, we decided to share 3 different things 'Champagne, Grape & Chicken Pie' (it was seriously the best pie I have ever had), 'Pumpkin, Ricotta & Sage Ravioli' and 'Barramundi in a Bag'.  They were all delicious but the pie was definitely my favorite.

And then there was the dessert...double chocolate brownie w/ fairy floss, cheesecake w/lime mascarpone and banana date butterscotch pudding w/ caramel ice cream!  Delicious!  It was indeed a fabulous night with the girls!
 banana date butterscotch pudding

Springtime Tablenosh Re-cap

Last Saturday night brought my second to last tablenosh dinner in Sydney!  I was a bit slower to finalize this menu but the recipes finally came together on the day.  The theme should have been 'S' because that seemed to be the common thread.  It was a family-style meal which worked really well and meant lots of great interaction around the table.

The Aperitif: Strawberry Mint Cocktail

Starters: Spicy Prawn Balls w/Coriander Dipping Sauce
              Stuffed Mushrooms with Ricotta, Pesto & Pinenuts

Mango, Avocado, Tomato & Feta w/ Cos Lettuce & Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
Baby Spinach w/ Caramelized Walnuts, Roasted Capsicum, Goats Cheese & Crispy Proscuitto
Main:  Baked Whole Snapper w/ Garlic & Herbs
            Baked Whole Snapper w/ Cherry Tomatoes, Lemon & Chives
            Garlic, Chili & Coriander Prawns
            Grilled Corn & Avocado Salsa
            Crispy Roasted Potatoes
            Pan-fried Asparagus

Desserts: Strawberry & Rhubarb Crumble
                 Chocolate Truffle Cake
                 Vanilla Bean Mascarpone Custard

I was quite pleased with the fish considering it was only my second time ever really cooking a whole fish, I think the guests were happy too!  They were whole snapper and I basically just stuffed them with different herbs and lemons and some garlic, very simple and easy.  The men at the table did a great job of figuring out how to cut them up, since I had no idea.

The evening was filled with lots of laughter and chatter, it was a great vibe and a great group of people.  I am still amazed it actually came together since I was off to an extremely late start with everything.  Thank goodness for my fabulous sous chef Jen, she was my backbone for the night.

We finished off the evening with tea and coffee and then a splash of dessert wine.  It really was another great tablenosh dinner, I can hardly believe the year will be coming to close soon with my big finale in November.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Food lately...

I decided earlier this week I really needed to take a second and do some blogging on some of my latest food experiences.

I will begin with a few of my recent outings.  A couple of weeks ago I did 3 nights of dining out in a row, which is A LOT for me, seeing as Sydney is not exactly the most affordable city in terms of eating out.

On the Wednesday night I went with a few friends to a place in Surry Hills called 'Table for Twenty' their concept is in many ways very similar to a tablenosh dinner and I heard about it when I was originally investigating the underground dining scene in Sydney. Table for Twenty now operates mainstream, but continues to seat people together at large tables for family-style eating and engaging together.  It was really fabulous time, I had a great night with my friends as well as meeting a few other people at our table.  For a flat fee of 50$ dinner included some organic wine, bread rolls and a delicious mezzanine platter with grilled veggies, home-made cheese and savory meatballs.  The main course was pork cutlets (I had seared tuna) with oven roasted potatoes, wilted spinach and a beautiful salad.  My favorite dish of the evening was the blueberry coconut tart that we had for dessert, it was absolutely divine!

The following evening I headed out to dinner again this time venturing to Concord with fellow foodie friend, Michael Shaffron to test out a Malaysian restaurant called 'Jackie M'.  This was my first time really eating Malaysian food and let me just say it was absolutely delcious!  Rather than re-cap the food experience I will just send you to read what Michael had to say on his blog gosstronomy and his pictures are also heaps better than mine!

The only part Michael doesn't mention is my small drama that occurred at the end of dinner.  We were just about to finish up when my husband called to tell me I needed to 'Go Move the Car' explaining he had just received a phone call from the cops saying I had parked in front of someone's driveway (it was a dark side street and obviously I did not take note of the driveway)!  Before hanging up he also said 'make sure you take someone with you b/c apparently they are pretty upset.'  I grabbed Michael to go with me and as we neared my car I could see about 10 people out on the sidewalk in front of it.  I called out to them saying, 'I am SO SO sorry.'  Well, let's just say before I had even finished my sentence there were at least 3 people screaming obscenities at me and I mean verbal abuse like I had never experienced!  It was unbelievable, I lasted about 30 seconds of getting pelted with the meanest things anyone has ever said to me before I just looked at Michael and said 'let's just get in the car clearly they are not accepting my apology.'  I am SO glad I took him with me and am pretty much thankful my car wasn't smashed in and I didn't get beaten up.  So, as much as I LOVED Jackie M...I am not sure if I will ever make it back to that part of town or at least I won't be driving :).

The next night we headed out again with a couple of friends for dinner in the city, I still pumped up on Malaysian food so we made an attempt to check out Mamak in the city, but the line was way too long for us.  We ended up at Miro tapas bar instead and enjoyed sharing a few plates of tapas along some sangria.  The food was pretty good, but I was mostly just pleased we car pooled and not to have anyone yelling at me by the end of the night!!

After the big week of dining out I slowed down a bit and was back in the kitchen again working on my wheat-free, low-dairy and sugarless cooking.  This was of course impossible to maintain while practicing wedding cakes.  But the other day I created a date slice with a carob glaze and other than the butter had no dairy and was wheat free and used no refined sugar.  I was very pleased and I think my afternoon tea guest was also satisfied with such a healthy little treat.

Then there was the Risotto I made the other night, which turned out to be a real winner.  I primarily used pearl barley mixed with a little bit of arborio rice.  I love using the pearl barley because it is heaps healthier and has a lot more texture.  I had roasted some red peppers earlier in the day and thought I would those would go well along with some baby spinach, goats cheese and a splash of black truffle oil (this alone make any risotto taste so good!).  I grilled a few chicken breasts to serve alongside.  It was indeed probably the best risotto I have ever made, Pete and I both agreed.  A wheat-free, dairy-free, sugar-free dinner delight indeed.

So, just to finish with some 'coffee-talk'...which is not really about me and our own recent experiments with coffee (we just had our first roasting lesson yesterday!).  I have realized it is one thing to make a good coffee and to be a cafe that is proud of your coffee, but is another thing to be SO worried about YOUR coffee reputation that you cannot handle anyone in your cafe with a coffee from a different place.  Let me recap my latest cafe experience in Newtown this past Saturday.

I headed over to Newtown to catch up with my friend Nikki for brunch on Saturday and while I was waiting ordered a coffee at a lovely little cafe called 'Foodarama'.  Once Nikki showed up we decided to head up to another cafe called 'Martini', so I got my coffee to go and we headed up the street.  There was a table just inside and as we decided whether to sit inside or outside, the barista called out 'not with that you won't.'  Nikki and I both looked at each other not quite sure what he was talking about and then he said it again a bit louder and bit a ruder 'not with that you won't, can't you see I am trying to run a coffee shop.'  It was at this stage he was referring to the coffee I was holding in my hand! Basically this man was SO concerned about someone seeing me with a coffee cup that had a different label on it that he RUDELY told us to get out!  Nikki and I were absolutely stunned, we conferred on the sidewalk and I went back in to explain 'we just left another cafe to come to yours and eat your food and you are asking us to leave because of my coffee?', he handed me a different coffee cup to place my cup in, I took the cup walked out the door and Nikki and I decided there is NO way we will ever be back to his cafe.  When did the customer become the enemy and service go OUT the window...I felt like saying buddy you need to GET A GRIP!  (ps. I was holding a 'campos' coffee cup...maybe that was the problem, he felt seriously threatened...)

That's enough food chat for now from me.  My fingers are starting to hurt and if anyone is reading this you might also be ready for a break :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More Cake Tasting!

Yes, it is true I have taken on making another 'wedding cake' for a dear friend.  I tested two new recipes over the weekend and had the bride and groom do a taste test to choose which one they liked best.  These were the choices.

Cake # 1
Lemon Cake with lemon curd, triple cream and grand-marnier buttercream icing.

The bad news was I am still getting used to my new oven and I pretty much over-baked both cakes!  Ugh, it was rather disappointing but what could I do.  The lemon cake was an egg based cake very similar to a chiffon cake, or at least was an attempt at chiffon, I have a feeling I over mixed the batter!  Then I made a cream filled with whipping cream and mascarpone.   The syrup was just sugar, lemon and water boiled down to create a syrup, I mixed it with the lemon curd and brushed the cake with that first before spreading the cream on.  As for the buttercream frosting, I made a standard buttercream meringue frosting and then added some grand marnier a some of the lemon syrup bringing a nice subtle flavor through it.

Cake #2
Vanilla Bean Cake with passion-fruit custard cream and swiss meringue buttercream icing.

The vanilla cake was my favorite even though it was also a little dry, for me a butter based cake always wins.  The passion-fruit custard cream was so good I think I could have eaten the whole bowl!  I brushed the cake with a passion fruit syrup first and then did the layer of custard.  For the tester cake I did four layers which was probably a bit too high, I also made it square which I have now realized makes icing the cake incredibly difficult.

The final cake will be round with three layers I hope.  And after much analysis we decided to try and merge the concepts.  So the goal is to give the vanilla cake some lemon zing and stuff it with the lemon curd and rather than a passion fruit custard fill it with vanilla custard cream and do the same grand marnier buttercream frosting.  The wedding is in October so I still have a bit of time to practice!

Here are some smaller versions I did with the extra cake batter for a friend's morning tea.  So yummy!