Saturday, June 30, 2012

Palookaville... again!

Palookaville really has to be one of my absolute favourite restaurants in Melbourne. Since my last blog post about it way back last year, I have gone back several times and tried many a different dish there and have never been disappointed. It is a great place to take friends as there is nothing worse than recommending a restaurant and having people not like it- and it is pretty much impossible to do that at Palookaville. The meals are good value but not piled high with stuff you don't need, the drinks selection is great and the entrees almost as yummy as the fabulous mains.

So I was more than happy to recommend Palookaville for an end-of-term function for 21 of us last night. The service was quick and friendly, all the meals looked really good (in particular some Persian Lamb Shanks which I must go back for!).

We started with some dips and an antipasto platter, both $9 a plate. The dips were so-so but the Antipasto platter was beautiful. Some great cured meats and wonderful marinated vegetables.

Although I knew I probably should try something new, I went back for the pork belly and wasn't disappointed. Beautiful tender pork with lots of crispy crackling, in a beautiful Asian braise with some sauteed Asian greens and rice. It is everything pork belly should be, and a really nice sized portion so you just have a little bit of naughtiness!

Palookaville just oozes Brunswick St cool. It is casual, hip and funky and the food just rocks. A year later, it is still one of the places I keep going back to.

Palookaville on Urbanspoon

Chicken with Haloumi and Honey

Doesn't that pairing just sound beautiful? Tender chicken, sticky and sweet honey and crispy, salty haloumi. Craig did a great job on this simple Donna Hay dish, and I think it will become a regular dish for his repoitore. He had made it before and sliced the haloumi into thin slices, but after watching the Donna Hay video he left it in beautiful big chunks and it was just amazing with steamed vegetables and proscuitto wrapped potatoes.

This is a really impressive dish but quite simple to make---

Well worth a try. You can see the original recipe here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Introducing... Oliver!

This is a rare non-food related post... mostly because I have had no time to eat or cook this weekend as I have been bonding with my darling new little puppy. Oliver is an eight week old, fluffy and red King Charles Cavalier x Toy Poodle (Cavoodle) and we are just loving him.

So far, he has been a surprisingly easy and chilled out puppy. He is feeding well, has barely cried and has only had one accident in the house in 36 hours. He has had 19 visitors and has been perfectly happy to snuggle and play with every single one of them.

We are just besotted with this beautiful new member of our family so I thought in lieu of food I would share with you some pictures of our little mate Ollie.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder

I think anything that contains a restaurant/cafe AS WELL as a larder and cheese room sounds pretty damn good, doesn't it? I visited Richmond Hill Cafe & Larder for a Sunday lunch with my two cousins (foodie and fussy), their partners and my boy. We are trying to do this triple date lunch or dinner once a month or so which is lovely and we really enjoy their company. And with many varying budgets and tastes, equipped with the handy Entertainment Book, this fancy cafe had something that would suit everybody. They don't take bookings, so we were extremely lucky to walk in a few minutes before a table of six stood up to leave.

The cafe itself it very sophiscated and stylish, much more restaurant than cafe though the menu boasts both. Craig though the atmosphere was a little pretentious but I didn't mind it too much. It was very loud and difficult to hear, and the staff did seem a little rushed because it was so busy.

We were originally not going to have entree's, but I was curious about the 'famous grilled cheesy toast with eggplant and chilli pickle', so we decided to share a serve. What a treat! Not good for the arteries I am sure, but this was the ultimate grilled cheese on toast. The relish went beautiful with the rich melted cheese. I loved this- such a homestyle dish with a fancy twist.

I ummed and aahed over my mains, finding it really hard to choose between the hand cut papparedelle with merino lamb, San Marzano tomatoes and red wine ragu, goats feta and marjoram and the twice cooked pork belly with sage and onion stuffing, caramalised apples, celeriac, dry cured bacon and cider soaked prunes. What a decision! Because I had already had papparedelle this weekend, I decided on the pork belly. Craig got the pasta though, and ended up with extreme food envy of me. Both he and my cousin who ordered the ragu felt it was a bit bland and expected a more meaty and less tomato-y dish. I had a taste and agreed it was nothing all that special.

My pork belly however, was amazing. Beautiful crispy crackling, tender pork, a beautiful sauce, soft and creamy celeriac puree. It was everything pork belly should be. And for a dish that can be so easily hit and miss, they have done a beautiful job on this one. The presentation was stunning also, like a little piece of food artwork.

My cousin's boyfriend enjoyed the special pasta, an oriechiatte (is that how it is spelt?) with chicken and bacon in a creamy sauce.

My other cousins husband decided it was a soup day, and ordered a mushroom soup that looked rich, creamy and delicious. It was complimented by some cheesy toast- what a combination!

The pan roasted snapper with spring bay mussels, diamond clams, fennel, olives, apple and citrus (ordered by my adventurous foodie cousin, of course) was another dish that really caught my eye so it was great to be able to taste hers. It was presented beautifully and was perfectly cooked with gorgeous citrus flavors. Probably more of a summery dish than a winter lunch menu dish, but it was lovely and light and fresh.

Overall, a pleasant dining experience at Richmond Hill Cafe and Larder. Its a sophisticated and upmarket take on your typical cafe and the prices reflect this. I would definitely go back, perhaps for breakfast next time.

Richmond Hill Café and Larder on Urbanspoon

Roast Pumpkin Parpadelle

I am trying to eat more vegetarian dishes these days, both to save money and because of some reading I have been doing on some of the gross stuff that gets injected into animals before they hit our dinner plates. I am by no means becoming a vegetarian, and still love meat, but I am generally trying to create some really nice vegetarian dishes a few times a week. This one was definitely a winner, and I will be cooking it again for sure. Parpadelle is one of my favourite pasta's, I just love the soft texture and the way the sauce just clings to it. This beautiful pumpkin sauce does that very well.

Roast Pumpkin Parpadelle (serves 4)

2 cups of butternut pumpkin, chopped into 2 cm cubes
2 garlic cloves
Teaspoon of cumin
Teaspoon of ground sage or fresh sage leaves if available
100 mls of light cream
Red onion, sliced
Large handful of spinach
Small handful basil leaves
1/4 chopped feta
Olive oil
Store-bought, preferably fresh parpadelle.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. In a casserole dish combine a dash of olive oil, pumpkin, garlic, cumin and sage. Bake for 45 mins or until pumpkin is soft. Allow to cool a little.

In a saucepan with a little oil, saute sliced red onion until soft (5 minutes or so).

Place cooled pumpkin in a food processer (alternatively you could use a barmix). Process until smooth, gradually adding cream to mix. Pour creamy sauce in with the red onion and add the chopped feta.

In a large saucepan, heat enough water to boil the parpadelle and salt. Cook pasta according to instructions and drain. Pour sauce over the parpadelle and toss spinach and basil through until wilted.

Serve with fresh parmesan cheese.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Piccolo Meccanico

My Mum and I came upon this tiny, grungey little cafe whilst looking for a coffee and a bite to eat on a Saturday afternoon. Staff were friendly, the menu simple but wholesome and the deco very relaxed and inviting, kind of like a messy, vintage living room.

Mum ordered coffee and a muffin, me a chai latte and a smoked salmon and brie toasted sandwich.

Her coffee looked so beautiful when it arrived that she felt bad drinking it!

When my sandwich arrived, at first I thought wow, $8.50 for that? But it was actually the yummiest sandwich I have ever had. The combination of amazing multigrain bread with beautiful smoked salmon, spinach and creamy melted brie cheese had me very impressed. I would go back just for this sandwich.

My Chai Latte took FOREVER to come out, and in the end we decided to just leave... When I asked about it the barista explained they actually make their own chai tea, so he had to go and make some up. I agreed to have it takeaway and it was really really nice, actual chai tea with frothy soy milk and a dash of honey. Probably worth the wait.

This is a really funky little cafe that I imagine probably has quite a few regular customers. I will definitely be going back there next time I am craving a toasted sandwich!

Piccolo Meccanico on Urbanspoon

Mixed Mushrooms on Sourdough

I have been dreaming about this dish since having breakfast at Tanck's Corner a couple of months ago. Their mixed mushroom breakfast was SO good that this morning I decided I just had to recreate it, and I think I did a half decent job- although mine didn't end up looking half as good as theirs, it tasted really good.

For two people, I used three chopped (into eighths) normal button mushrooms, three chopped (into eighths) swiss mushrooms, a large handful of shredded oyster mushrooms and a handful of enoki. Melt a little butter in a fry-pan and add a teaspoon of garlic, the mushrooms and a pinch of dried thyme. Saute until mushrooms are soft (about five minutes).

Turn off heat and sprinkle about 1/4 cup of fetta over the top.

Serve on your desired toast (we used rye sourdough) and enjoy! Mushrooms are so meaty that they are a filling breakfast to have and the combination of the mixed mushrooms with fetta is so yummy.

Bhoj, Templestowe

Even though over the last year or so I have become an Urbanspoon snob, only visited restaurants that generally have a 75% rating or higher, there are some restaurants I still give a go regardless of poorer ratings on the website. I gave Bhoj a go on Friday night mostly because of sentimental reasons- it is the first place I ever ate Indian at, and where I fell in love with the food for the very first time. I am not sure why it took so long for us to really give Indian a go. We were always happy to try new things, but for some reason Indian scared us... maybe we thought it would be too spicy or something, who knows. But once we did try it, we never turned back. And now, Indian is my ultimate comfort food. Whenever I am feeling down or flat, I know the heady aroma's of Indian food and the warm comfort of a butter chicken or rogan josh with some naan will nourish me and lift the spirits. Forget any other kind of conventional comfort food- get me some Indian food ASAP!

So on Friday night we decided to revisit Bhoj since we had an Entertainment Book anyway. Having eaten much more Indian food since our last visit there, we now know that it probably isn't the best value or the best quality food Indian food around. Last night in particular, it was not the best we have had from there. But, it was very enjoyable and a great way to spend a cold Friday evening.

For entree we had some marinated lamb fillets and onion bhaji's. The lamb fillet was definitely the stand out dish- it was soooo good, perfectly cooked, melt in your mouth tender. The onion bhaji's are always enjoyable there, and I have decided it is time for me to learn how to cook them. Such a yummy little treat.

Our mains were pretty ordinary. The vegetable korma was nice but nothing outstanding. I usually love the chicken tikka here but today it was a little dry and bland, and wasn't presented all that well either. I don't think any Indian restaurant can go wrong with naan, there is not better way to soak up the curry sauce than with some warm, oily naan bread!

So overall, Bhoj is a fairly decent Indian restaurant... however, it is not the best in the area. I personally thought my dinner at Namaste in Bundoora a couple of months ago really outshined the food at Bhoj. However, I don't think I will ever stop having a soft spot for this quiet Templestowe restaurant after it first opened my eyes to the joys of Indian food!

Bhoj Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Perfect Poached Eggs at Home

It took me SO long to figure out how to poach and egg, and since my cousin showed me this handy little trick about a year and a half ago they are now my go-to weekend breakfast dish. None of this nonsense about swirling the water (I have tried that and failed so many times) this process might not produce the best looking poached eggs ever but they definitely taste good for a home effort.

First you need a fry-pan filled with boiling water. Bring to a gentle simmer and add about a tablespoon of white vinegar. The vinegar helps the whites to stick to the egg yolk. Once simmering, gently crack your eggs into the water.

Although they will start off looking like fried eggs in water, generally the whites will begin to cling to the yolk. Whilst you won't have the whites 'hiding' the yolk like a cafe style poached egg, you do end up with the same consistency. I usually let mine poach for about 3-4 minutes or until the whites are firm, then use a slotted spoon to serve them. My favourite way to serve poached eggs is with some smoked salmon, spinach, hollandaise and asparagus. This is such a great way to start the day and beats the breakfasts I have had at most cafes!

Cooking Classes

One of my best girlfriends decided to host a pot luck style girls dinner party where we each brought a dish. Cue my other bestie having a minor freak out because she isn't really into cooking, as much as she would love to be... Never fear, your food-loving friend is here! We made a Saturday afternoon of it, cooking up a storm in my kitchen, with me teaching her how to make two different kinds of Spanish tapas balls- beef and chorizo, and chickpea with romesco sauce.

In the photos below, you can also see my tiny little kitchen- yes, this is where the magic happens! As you can guess, an amazing, new, hi-tech kitchen is pretty high on my lifes wish list.

My gluten-intolerant friend was also attending the aforementioned dinner party, so we adapted the recipes to ensure they were gluten free. In the Beef and Chorizo meatballs, we used gluten free breadcrumbs. Also, instead of making the sauce in the recipe, we used the same yummy romesco sauce in the other recipe. The balls were super yummy, the chorizo gave them a lovely little kick. We served them with melted cheese on top too and with crusty pane de casa bread. (Excuse the dodgy photos...)

Another dinner party guest is 'practically' vegetarian, so the chickpea balls were an addition for her. They were like little balls of hummus, and so much easier to make than I expected. My friend suggested that next time I could actually mould the balls around the sauce (freeze the sauce into ice cubes first) so that when you cut into the ball the sauce pours out. It is something I will have to try. For the chickpea balls, we used this recipe, but used gluten free flour and breadcrumbs. The romesco sauce was a real hit, so much more interesting than your stock standard tomato sauce. The capsicum really added something!

Good little finger food dishes to have in your repoitore... I hope to have my friend serving them up to me sometime soon having cooked them all by herself!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Table, St Kilda

Do you remember last year when Catch of the Day, Scoopon, Living Social etc became all the rage? At 12pm every day I would jump online and check the latest deal, and I ended up buying way too many. Since then I have avoided those websites as much as I can, simply because I spend too much money on them. And lets face it, the places that need these vouchers to attract customers can be a little hit and miss. When you think about it, most good restaurants especially shouldn't need to offer super cheap deals to attract customers. But, every now and then there are real little gems on there. Luckily, my cousin alerted me to this amazing deal at The Table restaurant in St Kilda, rated 87% on Urbanspoon so clearly not really needing all that much advertising. So, after paying $50 for two entrees, two mains and two drinks each, we headed on down to St Kilda for a modern Mexican inspired feast.

What we found was a small, beautifully decorated restaurant. It was ambient but at the same time had a funky vibe. The entire kitchen is located within the restaurant, so you can see the chefs cooking away. It is amazing the quality of food that came out of this tiny little cooking space. The lone waitress on this evening was lovely and completely capable of handling the 10-15 people that were in the restaurant this evening. She really provided service with a smile and was genuinely interested in feedback about the food.

And the food? Well, lets just say that the voucher was really good value. The serving sizes were small but it was really clean food with a strong emphasis on flavour combinations and presentation. In fact, the presentation was so beautiful I actually felt bad destroying the artwork to eat the dishes.

For the first course we got to choose a taco each from the extensive list. Now, at this restaurant you aren't going to find a simple corn taco with shredded beef. It was a dificult decision with options such as corn battered snapper with pico de gallo, avocado and coriander or field mushroom, goats cheese and charred pumpkin with salsa rojo, or charred chipotle steak, grilled onion, salsa rojo, coriander and pumpkin seeds. Yep, gourmet taco's... right up my alley! Those of you who know me would have probably predicted that I couldn't go past the anejo glazed pork belly, jalapeno with creme fraiche and chipotle salsa. This was amazing, the tinest taco I have ever seen but two bites of pure awesomeness. I could have easily eaten five... and intend to go back to do this in the future.

Second selection was from the extensive list of ceviche, which is traditionally raw fish cured in some kind of acidic salsa or seasoning. This list included more than just fish though, offering ceviche of duck, beef, prawns, swordfish or mussels. We chose the ceviche of scallops with preserved lime, agave, jalapeno, toasted almond and coriander. Another beautiful dish, my only complaint was that between the two of us it was gone within two bites. Tender, zesty pieces of scallop served on crispy corn chips with lots of seasonings, and another absolutely beautifully served dish. Yummo!

We then had a choice of a main each, and decided to share because there was too much to choose from. We decided to share the Charred Swordfish, Tamarind and Agave Chutney, Smoked Bacon, Green Beans, Brandade and Salsa Verde and the Grilled Beef Eye Fillet, Chili Rellenos Filled with Braised Ox Tail, Baked Mushroom Tamale and Salsa Roja Jus. Both were beautiful, but the beef was absolutely the stand out dish. We both had food envy when the other person had their half of that dish. Perfectly cooked medium rare melt in your mouth beef, with a gorgeous jus and a yummy mushroom stuffed tamale... it was just one of those meals where everything goes together so perfectly and you never ever want it to end. The swordfish was really enjoyable- the fish was tender and the chutney beautiful, sweet and zesty. However, the beef was just so awesome that it was very difficult to part with the other half.

The voucher didn't include dessert, but we had room so decided to have a coffee and share the Mexican Spiced Chocolate Tart, Orange and Tequila Flan, Chocolate Truffle Fritters
with Vanilla Ice Cream. I thought the presentation of this dish was a little boring compared to the amazing presentation of the mains, but it all tasted really good anyway. The tart was a little too much on the spicy side for us, and the flan was very alcoholic tasting... but the chocolate truffle fritter- yum! It was like a little chocolate churro with a melted chocolate centre.

Overall, an extremely pleasant dining experience at The Table. I really love Mexican food, but since I have been dieting and as dairy isn't really my friend anymore, I just cannot handle the huge amounts of cheese and sour cream in your normal Mexican feast anymore. I find myself feeling ill afterwards and regretting the meal. But, this modern Mexican inspired type of food allows me to enjoy the beautiful flavors, spices and textures I love about Mexican cuisine but I can still walk away afterwards feeling relatively healthy and nourished. I am already planning when I will revisit this lovely St Kilda eatery (it is in the Entertainment Book also) again and work my way through the rest of the menu. It also features a very reasonable lunch menu with some yummy Mexican style salad, wraps, sandwiches, burrito's etc for about $14-$17 bucks a pop. Not too bad value at all! It is a very small restaurant, so if you plan on visiting, I would advise booking for sure.

Next week I am going to my special birthday present dinner from Craig, an 8 course degustation at Ezard... so watch out for some more amazing food photos next week.

Until then,

L x

The Table Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Moroccan Lamb Meatballs with Couscous Salad & Beetroot Relish

Whilst at the Taste of Sorrento festival on the weekend, I tasted and bought this beautiful beetroot relish from Green Olive (located in Red Hill). I don't know about you, but beetroot relish to me just makes me think of lamb. It is the perfect partner to something nice and meaty!

So, this week I decided to use my new jar of relish and whipped up some Moroccan Lamb meatballs. I served it with a recipe very similar to my Vegetable and Corn Couscous from the Gluten Free challenge last week. Staying true to my 'you can chuck any vegie you have in it', tonight I used squash, carrot, green capsicum, eggplant and tomato. Because of the spices already in the meatballs (recipe below) I changed the recipe a bit so have included the altered version below.

For the meatballs (serves 2 with leftovers)

500 grams lamb mince
1 egg
1/2 a cup of multigrain bread-crumbs
1/2 white onion chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon of ground coriander
Pinch chilli powder
Salt & pepper, to taste
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. In a bowl, combine all ingredients using a wooden spoon. When combined, using your hands, shape meatballs into golf-ball sized balls. Heat a little olive oil in a fry-pan brown the meatballs off evenly.

Transfer to an oiled tray and bake in the oven for another 10 minutes. Meatballs should still be slightly pink in the middle.

For the cous-cous salad:
Corn cous-cous (gluten free) prepared as per packet instructions
2 cups of chopped mixed vegies (I used eggplant, green capsicum, squash, carrot, tomato)
1 teaspoon crushed garlic
Olive oil
Handful of fresh mint, chopped
Juice of one lemon
2 cups of mixed lettuce leaves

In a saucepan, heat a little olive oil and add crushed garlic. Saute for one minute, then add vegetables. Gently fry, stirring every minute or so, for five minutes or until soft. Add prepared cous-cous, mint and lemon juice. Combine. Place lettuce leaves in a large bowl. Add cous-cous, and toss gently until cous-cous is somewhat combined with lettuce.

Arrange in bowls (I put majority lettuce on bottom then cous-cous over it) and arrange meatballs on top. Place a few teaspoons of store bought beetroot relish on top of meatballs (I used the Green Olive one from Red Hill) and serve!

Enjoy! x