Monday, July 30, 2012

Balsamic Roasted Strawberries

This is seriously the easiest dessert to make ever! Simple, yummy and impressive. The addition of balsamic may seem odd, but the vinegar brings our the sweetness and colour of the strawberries and creates a gorgeous coloured sweet but acidic sauce. Just beautiful served with ice-cream or natural yogurt.

To serve two:
1 punnet of strawberries, hulled and sliced in half
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon of sugar, splenda or natvia

Combine ingredients in a foil pouch, closing to keep all the yumminess in! Place in an oven at 180 degrees for 20 minutes. When you open the pouch, you will be hit with the gorgeous aroma of roasted strawberries with the tangy sweetness of the vinegar. Serve with natural yogurt or ice-cream.

Lemon, Prawn and Asparagus Spaghetti

Our 13 week old puppy came down with something this previous Saturday and our plans to attend a birthday gathering involving Moroccan Soup Kitchen and mulled wine had to come to a halt as we looked after him. I guess we finally know what its like to be parents! To ensure we didn't go hungry on this particular cold Saturday evening, I decided to make one of my favourite easy and yummy pasta dishes. The simple combination of prawns with the lemon juice and asparagus is a simple combination that works beautifully.

Lemon, Prawn & Asparagus Spaghetti (serves 2)

250 grams of spaghetti (I used gluten free but it is probably nicer with egg pasta)
12 peeled raw prawns, deveined and tails removed
1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends removed and chopped in large pieces
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Juice of two lemons
1 bunch of parsley, chopped
Parmesan to serve

In a bowl, combine prawns with half of chopped parsley and lemon juice. Leave to sit for ten minutes. Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a pan. Add onion and garlic, saute until tender. Add asparagus and saute for another 3 minutes. Add prawns and saute until pink and tender.

Cook spaghetti as per packet instructions in a large saucepan. Add prawn mixture to spaghetti and using tongs to loosely toss the prawns through, adding remaining parsley. Serve with parmesan cheese and an extra squeeze of lime if you like.

Grasshoppers Feast, CBD

I was immediately attracted to this little hole in wall cafe in The Causeway, CBD when I saw that it had its own little green-house in the middle of the cafe. Grasshoppers Feast aims to use as many home-grown leaves and vegetables in their meals as possible, and with my latest obsession with 'clean eating' this seemed like a really cool place to visit for lunch before seeing Annie on at the Regent this cold Sunday afternoon.

I loved the cosy lay-out of this little cafe, with people literally sitting in cushioned windowsills, the tables sprawling out into the laneway. The inside area is bathed with a greenish light reflecting off the very visually appealing indoor greenhouse.

We started off by sharing some eggplant chips. I am a sucker for interesting chips- polenta, sweet potato, zucchini, eggplant... you name it, I will probably order it. These were big, juicy pieces of eggplant coated in crumbs and fried. Not the healthiest choice, but with some beautiful aioli, they were a yummy choice!

I am really bad at choosing from a menu as extensive as Grasshoppers Feast offers, so its lucky my Mum is always willing to share with me! The feta, tomato and basil baguette sounded too good to pass up, but it wasn't as amazing as it sounded. The baguette was a little chewy and stale (I love crunhcy bread) and the filling quite sparse. I would have liked to see a crunchy roll overflowing with beautiful fresh picked herbs and salty feta, but it didn't have much substance to it at all.

The calamari salad was enjoyable, although the lettuce leaves here were actually the star of the dish. You could tell they were freshly grown and they actually outshined the calamari, which was a tad overcooked and chewy.

One of our other dining friends order the proscuitto pizza, which looked really good. Unfortunately though, it was a little dry. We overheard other customers making the same comments about other pizzas- definitely missing a little cheese!

The last dish ordered at the table was the zucchini fritters with poached eggs. I was lucky enough to have a taste of these and the fritters themselves were chunky, moist and tasty- almost like little zucchini muffins. They definitely needed the poached egg, tomato and guacamole to add more flavour to them.

I really loved the concept of Grasshoppers Feast, but unfortunately the food didn't meet the standard I expected. The meals were a little hit and miss, and the eggplant chips (the cheapest dish) was probably the stand-out. A very cool little place to visit, and the salads definitely are enhanced by the indoor greenhouse but on this particular day we enjoyed our meals but were not blown away.

Grasshopper's Feast on Urbanspoon

Homemade Pizza Night @ my House (again)

Once again I put on my 'pizza snob' hat on Friday night and decided rather than eat cheap takeaway pizza, I would make my own gourmet creations for some girlfriends. To me, these pizzas are so much more exciting than your local takeaway joint. You get to choose the amount of toppings you want on them, you know exactly where your produce is from so you can ensure it is healthy and fresh and if you are like me and watching your waist-line, you can easily use low fat cheese. Plus, pizzas are such a simple dish to make... just chuck the toppings on and off you go! I get my bases from Cleo's Deli in Montmorency and they are excellent quality.

Moroccan Vegetable- pizza sauce, low fat cheese, roasted eggplant, roasted pumpkin, capsicum, red onion, mushroom, zucchini, danish feta, olives, sesame seeds.

Pork and Fennel- pizza sauce, low fat cheese, red onion, pork sausage (cooked before being put on pizza), fennel seeds, fresh rocket (after cooked)

Greek Lamb- pizza sauce, low fat cheese, medium cooked lamb marinated in lemon juice and parsley, red onion, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, tzatsiki.

YUM! :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Super easy entree- Proscuitto wrapped Scallops

I had these at La Casalinga last week and loved them. What a perfect, easy entree to serve at my Masterchef finale dinner this week? There is something about cured meat and seafood- for two completely different flavours, they mesh together so well. The smokiness of the meat really compliments the mild flavour and soft texture of the scallops.

To serve four as a small entree you will need:

6 long thin slices of proscuitto
12 scallops
2 teaspoons of garlic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Parsley, to serve

In a small bowl, mix the garlic and olive oil. Cut each slice of proscuitto into two, and lay out flat on a large chopping board or bench. Drizzle a tiny bit of the garlic olive oil onto each piece of proscuitto, then place a scallop in the middle. Roll up and secure with a toothpick.

In a pan, brown off the proscuitto for two mins on each side. Place on a cooking tray and bake for about 7 minutes on 180 degrees. Serve drizzled with some of the garlic oil and scattered with some chopped parsley. So simple and so delicious.

Char-grilled Swordfish on cannellini bean puree

Did everyone watch the Masterchef finale on Wednesday? I am a Masterchef junkie. I don't care how rigged it is, or about the petty advertising. Any kind of show that involves lots and lots of cooking is my kind of show and I get ridiculously attached to the contestents. This year was the first year that someone I have been rooting for has won- Go Andy! I was really happy to see an underdog who has come so far in such a small amount of time become a winner.

In my house, I always try to cook a special meal on Masterchef finale night. Craig and I watch it together every night, so I make a nice meal and we watch it whilst we enjoy the show. This year I was also joined by a good friend turned fellow Masterchef addict so I cooked an extra nice, gluten free meal for her.

Swordfish is such a great fish- firm, tasty and not too fishy. It almost has the same kind of texture as a chicken fillet, but with the great flavour that only comes from the sea. I really love it. The combination of this marinated swordfish with the smoky flavour the pancetta bought into the beans was really beautiful, and filling. Craig was begging for more of the braised beans (which turned out to be more of a mash for me, I probably cooked them too long- still yummy though!)
The recipe was so easy to make also. The only difference I made was to use dried oregano as I couldn't find any fresh, and I added some green beans for some extra veggie goodness. The original recipe is here.

I believe in having fish at least once a week (it is not that expensive these days either, it cost me $12 for these 3 massive fillets at my amazing fish shop at St Helena Marketplace) so why not try this great swordfish recipe this week? :)

Healthy Banana Bread Muffins

I have made these banana bread muffins twice this week and they are simply beautiful for something that is quite healthy. They are gluten free and dairy free and apart from a tiny bit of olive oil, they are pretty much 'clean'! I have used a 'paleo' recipe which is a diet I have been reading a lot about lately, which is basically a caveman diet eating things that could be 'hunted and gathered'. There are SO many great Paleo recipes out there that it is hardly a boring way of living, and I encourage anyone wanting to add some healthier recipes into their diet to do some research on it. This recipe uses almond meal, which is quite high in calories and good fats, however both paleo and 'clean' eating diets recommend that you do up your good fat intakes with things like nuts, avocado and coconut milk.

Unlike many gluten free recipes that can be quite dense and crumbly, these muffins are moist and naturally sweetened with honey. You can see the original recipe here.

I didn't have any flaxseed so I added some quinoa flakes instead. I have never cooked with flaxseed before so I have no idea if quinoa flakes add the same texture, but they are yummy and give an oaty texture without using oats! Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly and the result was great.

In fact, I think I might heat one up now and have it with some natural yogurt and honey- almost like banana pudding. How great are guilt free desserts?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Creatures of Habit, Ivanhoe

This morning we visited Creatures of Habit cafe in Ivanhoe for a breakfast date with Craig's family. I can see why people may become creatures of habit going back to this cute little cafe- from the outside eating area, funky iron gates, friendly service and yummy food it is definitely a must visit in Ivanhoe where many of the cafes can be a little hit and miss.

There was a little confusion between Craig and I and his family regarding the booking- we arrived at 10am and they at 10.30. The staff were very accommodating and regularly offered us food and drinks while we were waiting.
The menu features a wide range of brunch treats, from the traditional to the modern. I thought about getting the yummy sounding baked lima beans with poached egg on sourdough but decided to do the right thing for my healthy eating plan and go with the breakfast salad, but chose to replace the bacon with smoked salmon leaving lettuce, roasted capscium, tomato, avocado, feta, smoked salmon and two poached eggs. Craig had this also. It was a fresh and healthy way to enjoy breakfast and I really enjoyed it.

Craig's Mum enjoyed the Eggs Floretine with a side of beautiful looking field mushrooms- I was envious of that yummy looking hollandaise sauce!

Craig's sister enjoyed the ham and cheese omelette which was huge and looked great. She commented that it was a tad peppery for her liking but still enjoyed it.

The remaining two blokes at the table tackled the Big Breakfast, which looked great also.

There was a slightly negative ending to our pleasant breakfast at the cafe. We had asked to swap the bacon in our salad for smoked salmon- now I know you usually pay extra for smoked salmon, but the bacon was listed on the menu as $4 so I assumed that it would be fairly easy to substitute the bacon for the salmon and pay a similar price. However, we were charged an extra $5 for the salmon even though we had omitted the $4 of bacon. Times this by two salads and our bill was $10 more than we thought. I know it is petty to argue these things but we didn't have the bacon so it seemed a bit steep to be paying for it as well as the salmon. The cafe manager was reluctant to do the straight swap but a bit of forceful arguing from Craig had him change his mind, not happily but we did end up getting the $10 off the bill. The salad was great, but hardly worth $20 for the tiny bit of smoked salmon that was in it!

All in all, a very cool little cafe that is perhaps struggling a little to deal with how busy it is at the moment but they will get there. The coffees took a little longer than expected and the poor barista looked completely snowed under but the food was great and the service mostly good apart from that small incident at the end. The lunch menu sounds good so I think I would return and just make sure I find out the cost of substitutions before I make them ;)

Creatures of Habit, Ivanhoe on Urbanspoon

La Casalinga, Camberwell

We visited Rivoli Cinema's Gold Class on Saturday night to see The Dark Knight Rises. I love the Rivoli, its such a beautiful old cinema and the benefit of travelling that little bit further is that it is nowhere near as busy as Doncaster.

Whilst looking for a restaurant to dine in before the movie, I came upon La Casalinga. The reviews and ratings were great and after eating 'clean' most of the week, I was hanging to have a night off my diet and indulge in some beautiful Italian food.

What a charming little restaurant. We were greeted by the friendly staff and seated on a small table in the middle of the small, brightly lit front room. The walls were brightly painted and complimented by traditional Italian photos. The menu features simple, gourmet, rustic style pizzas, tasting plates and pasta dishes.

We started with the scallops wrapped in proscuitto. This was a beautiful, simple looking dish and the focus was really on making that crispy proscuitto the star of the dish. Craig and I both agreed that the scallop did not have a lot of flavour compared to the saltiness of the cured meat, but texturally it was a great match to the crispy meat and we really enjoyed these as a small starter.

We shared two medium pizzas (yes, we definitely pigged out) and they were exactly the kind of pizzas I love. Those of you who read regularly will know how much of a pizza snob I am. Thin crust, only a little cheese, just enough topping, quality ingredients... the more 'rustic' the better. These ticked all those boxes. I was pleased to see they didn't use the traditional cheese on the base and instead topped the pizzas with good quality beautiful cheeses.

One pizza was topped with gorgeous wild mushrooms and truffle oil- this was our favourite, it was absolutely delicious.

The other pizza was also really good, topped with breasola (cured scotch fillet) and truss tomatoes. The meat was really yummy though we both agreed that this needed some kind of green on it like some basil or rocket- we added some from our salad!

As a side we shared a fresh and tasty rocket, pancetta and parmesan salad which was also really good.

Overall, a really lovely experience at La Casalinga. The food was wonderful and the service just as good- attentive but not over the top, really warm and genuine. I would definitely love to go back and work my way through some of the other pizzas on offer!

La Casalinga on Urbanspoon

Healthy Lasagne

This was a complete fluke of a recipe. Lately I have used thinly sliced zucchini instead of pasta for a low carb alternative and I wondered how it would work with lasagne. With some extra lean mince in the fridge, I decided to give the lasagne a try. The result was a yummy, filling and guilt free lasagne that was really easy to throw toegther. I used a small casserole dish for two people but the recipe could easily be doubled and made in a larger casserole dish.

Healthy Beef Lasagne (serves 2)

500 grams of extra lean beef mince
2 zucchini's (sliced extra thin using a potato peeler)
1 carrot (sliced extra thin in the same way)
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 jar of tomato pasta sauce (I used an organic amatriciana)
Large handful of spinach leaves
1cup of grated mozzarella (I used organic)
Olive oil to cook mince

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Heat a little oil in a pan, and saute onion and garlic until soft. Add beef mince and saute, breaking up mince as you go. After a few minutes once mince has turned brown, add pasta sauce, reserving about 1/4 of a cup for the top of the lasagne. Simmer until mince is cooked through. Toss through spinach and wait for it to wilt.

Meanwhile in a lasagne or casserole dish, carefully layer the bottom of the dish with the zucchini, ensuring there is a thick enough layer to support the lasagne.
Add a few slices of carrot also. Pour in one third of the mince mixture in an even layer. Add a sprinkle of mozzarella. Repeat 3 layers (zucchini, mince. cheese). Cover the top layer of zucchini with the remaining pasta sauce and the remaining mozzarella. Place in the oven for 20 minutes or until cheese is browned off.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Steamed rockling in a ginger broth

My poor boyfriend has been feeling sickly in the last few days with an upset stomach. He is on the mend but still requested something 'simple' for dinner tonight so as not to upset his tummy too much. However, I don't really do 'simple'. So instead, I decided to cook a nourishing ginger broth with healthy fish to calm his stomach and lots of veggies to boost his immune system. The result was a gorgeous, healthy soup with tons of flavour that was quite simple to prepare.

Steamed Rockling in a ginger broth (serves 2)

One large fillet of rockling, cut into four pieces
Carton of chicken consomme
2 cups of water
1 large knob of ginger, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
2 tablespoons gluten free soy sauce
1/2 bunch of brocollini, halved
1/4 of a red capsicum, sliced very thin
1 small carrot, sliced very thin
2 sprigs of spring onion, thinly sliced
2 handfuls of vermicilli noodles, prepared as per packet instructions
1/2 a lemon, sliced

Pour consomme and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil. Add ginger, garlic and soy sauce, simmer for 15 minutes. Season with some pepper to taste.

I use a bamboo steamer to steam the fish and the vegetables. These are really cheap from a Chinese grocery store- I use two on top of each other. You could probably use a different kind of steamer but the best thing about the Chinese bamboo ones is that they allow you steam directly over the broth so you infuse the fish with the flavours. Line your steamers with baking paper. In one, place the rockling with the lemon slices. In the other steamer, add the veggies apart from the spring onion.

Steam over the broth for 5-7 minutes or until fish is firm and white (no longer translucent).

In a bowl, arrange the vermicilli noodles. Place the rockling fillets on the noodles, then carefully arrange the steamed vegetables around them. Strain the ginger and garlic out of the broth, and ladle the broth over the noodles and fish. Garnish with spring onion (chilli also if you are in the mood!)


Problogger Event at Maha

When I saw the Problogger event advertised at one of my favourite restaurants, Maha (see my blog post on my last experience there here) I thought, Maha and blogging? Yes please! So my cousin and I picked up two tickets to see a line-up of food and wine writing experts and eat some yummy food. We had a pleasant evening surrounded by like-minded foodies who love to write about their eating experiences, and enjoyed a really wonderful three course meal from the Maha chefs (including a sighting of newly recruited Tregan, of Masterchef fame!).

I walked away from the event feeling full, inspired and a little overwhelmed. We met some powerhouse bloggers who seemed to be so much further down the blogging track than me. I felt VERY amateur. Although, its only up for here and I learned a few new tips of the trade that will help me develop this blog more and more and hopefully in a few years I will be as successful and self assured as some of the bloggers there last night.

In regards to the speakers, they were all interesting in their own way. To be honest, I didn't learn as much as I had hoped but I think that is mostly due to me being a mad Googler and having done so much research about improving my blog that they were preaching to the converted. I think I would have got a lot more out of it six months ago. In saying that though, each of the speakers taught me something I didn't know.

I really enjoyed Dan Sims easy and simple approach to wine. It was nice to hear an award winning sommelier talk to us in 'real person speak' about wine, and reassured me that I don't need to know about oaks and tannins to know what goes well with my meal. He was entertaining and easy-going, and his passion for the field of food and wine was really wonderful to see. I particularly loved his motto of, "lets just not be a bloody wanka about it!"

Joyce from the very successful blog 'MEL: Hot or Not' was a real inspiration. Learning she is also a lawyer and a mother, and has one of the hottest Melbourne food blogs was really amazing. She offered some really good, practical tips that I intend to use, in particularly about staying faithful to the niche you can chosen to write in and not letting anything sway you from that.

Food journalist Hilary McNevin reiterated the importance of seeing our writing as a craft, which as an English teacher I can wholeheartedly agree with. Her passion for food writing was clear and it was really great to get advice from a paid professional in the industry.

I also got to meet one of my food idols, Maha's Shane Delia... and yes, I got a corny photo with him like a starstruck fan! He provided the comic relief during the night with his 'kitchen' language and had us all in laughing out loud.

Now, onto the important part- the food! The sharing style menu was perfect because it features some of my favourite dishes from when I had the soufra at Maha, and some new dishes I hadn't tried before.

First course featured some mezze style dishes:

Black cardamon broth, braised beef and shimiji mushrooms
Local olives in fel fel
Roasted apricot kernels, aleppo pepper and laban
Shaved salad of broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and tahini mayonnaise

I absolutely loved the broth, served sophisticatedly in a little shot glass- the rich broth with those beautiful woody mushrooms was just beautiful and I would have loved a whole bowl. The salad was also really enjoyable.

Second course featured two of my favourite dishes from my last visit, and a few differents ones:

Pan fried trumpeter, freekah, crunchy quinoa with chargrilled spring onions and paprika vinaigrette
Corn fed chicken tagine, broken egg, corn bread, saffron, iranian figs, sujuk soil
12 hour roasted Mt. Leura lamb shoulder, pistachio and green olive tabouleh

Lentils and spinach, burghul pilaf
Fattoush, lebanese bread salad

I absolutely loved the chicken tagine last time I visited- beautiful melt in the mouth pieces of chicken, runny egg mixed with gorgeous spices and mopped up with dense and tasty cornbread.

The 12 hour lamb is famous (you may remember I attempted it a few months ago for a Mothers Day dinner- if not, see my attempt here) and it is just melt in your mouth delicious.

The trumpeter was really good as well, delicately flavoured,  beautifully presented and really well paired with that crunchy quinoa.

The sides are hits as well, and it was nice to try a different pilaf than last time. The lentils and the spinach were a great combination, something I will try at home instead of the traditional almond pilaf I usually make.

And then came dessert... ahhh, dessert. What amazing little treats they had prepared for us:

Sticky date pudding, peanut icecream truffle, roasted peanut nougatine with salted caramel sauce
Coconut milk and water jelly, coconut foam, spiced strawberry and sumac pearls, strawberry powder
Turkish delight filled doughnuts, rosewater honey, candied almonds

I have wanted to try Maha's famous turkish delight filled doughnuts for quite a while now, and have read about them on many a blog and review. They were nice, but I think I had built them up too much in my head as I wasn't as blown away as expected. They were a little doughy and didn't have as much turkish delight in them as expected. The rosewater honey was beautiful.

I think the doughnuts were topped by the absolutely perfect sticky date pudding- best I have ever tasted. Moist, sweet, gorgeous sticky date accompanied by delicious peanut ice-cream truffles- what more could a girl ask for?!

I wasn't as keen on the coconut foam, as beautiful as they looked. I think as a stand-alone dessert they would be lovely but compared to the richness and sweetness of the accompanying desserts, they tasted a little too fresh and summery for me.

One of the queries bought up by one of the guests last evening was whether or not a blogger can form a fair opinion of a restaurant after only one visit. Well, after a second visit to Maha I can only reiterate how truly beautiful I think the food there is. The presentation, attention to detail and subtle flavours are so impressive as well as the service. It is definitely the epitomy of a special occasion restaurant for me and I would not hesitate in recommending it.

Maha Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tanck's Corner, again!

I know I have already blogged about Tanck's Corner in Yarrambat, but I just love it so much that I feel I have to do it again. It is also such a popular post so I thought I would give more insight into the kind of 'lunch' food they offer there.

See my original post here to see the background of how much I love this gorgeous little cafe, and for this post I will just focus on the food. My photo's aren't amazing because of the light flooding through the beautiful big windows, but you will get the point from them anyway!

We visited Tanck's for a Sunday brunch with my partners family including my gorgeous little nephew. They hadn't been there before but I was confident that Tancks would be suitable as it has simpler food for the fussier eaters but some different things for people like me who want a more gourmet fix.

Craig's Mum had a beautiful porridge with labne, rhubarb and pomegranate seeds (see, simple but gourmet at the same time!) She really enjoyed it.

Craig's Dad had the Club Sandwich which looked very impressive, I think Craig definitely had food envy of it. So tall and stacked with yumminess!

Craig had the BRAT with bacon, rocket, avocado and tomato- his personal favourite for breakfast. He wasn't blown away but wasn't feeling 100% this morning which may have explained it, as I have had something similar for breakfast there before and really loved it.

My chicken schnitzel sandwich with tasty cheese and crunchy slaw wasn't exactly clean, but was really awesome- best chicken schnitzel sandwich I have ever had. The chicken was tender and not fried up or greasy, the cheese melted to the point of that beautiful crispiness and the crunchy slaw fresh and crunchy on beautiful sourdough bread.

Even though today was supposed to be a healthy day, I couldn't resist ordering a raspberry and white chocolate muffin to share. The muffins here are my weakness... many a morning I have been tempted into getting one with my coffee as I see them being freshly taken out of the oven. They are so fresh and packed with flavour and whilst this wasn't as good as one freshly out of the oven, it was beautiful.

Do yourself a favour and go here for your next breakfast, lunch or brunch. It is my favourite in our area- make sure you book though, as lots and lots of other people have also discovered this local gem.

UPDATE: New menu item!

I went back to Tanck's again this weekend and ate something so indulgent and yummy that I just had to share it. The Croque Monsieur, with gypsy ham, cheese, mustard, conichons and bechamal sauce, served on beautiful sourdough bread and with a fried egg on top. It was such a treat and the owner assured me that it would become part of the menu very soon.

Tancks Corner on Urbanspoon