Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Me and my BBQ

I love my BBQ. It is so simple to make dinner and there is very little cleaning up. Growing up in an arabic family with a mother who was scared of gas (?!) we only ever had charcoal bbq's which are so so nice as the meat gets that charcoal wood taste, but is more of a hassle to use and so we didnt have bbqs as often as I would have liked!

The first night we got our BBQ, I BBQ's some king prawns and made them into a thai-style salad as inspired by Jack from the blog 'eating with jack', and also made a bbqed whole barramundi stuffed with ginger, garlic, chilli, lemongrass and lemon. Such a simple dinner and so so good. Fresh flavours, a good mix of salt, sweet, spice and sour, and did I mention minimal cleaning up?

The next day I marinaded some lamb backstraps overnight in olive oil, garlic, lemon, cumin, corriander, a squiz of tomato sauce and some lemon myrtle for that Aussie touch. I served it with a couscous salad, and some BBQ'd eggplant, fennel and corn. To top it off I made a yoghurt dip with mint, cucumber and garlic. Very similar to the BBQ's of my childhood, though a lot simpler...

What I like about this new BBQ is that I have somehow roped Nathan into being the cooker of meat, so all I do is marinade the meat, make a quick salad, and then sit on our new deck chairs and wait for dinner!

The Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld

The first time we went to the Royal Mail Hotel, we were on the way home from nathan's parents place past Hamilton and wanted a quick bite to eat. All we got was the soup of the day with some fantastic bread but we liked the place. The architecture is modern but suits its surrounds, a suprisingly bright space in a very small town, a town which boasts its own lawn bowls which elevates it above some of the nearby towns, but still is a very small town.
So after hearing that it had won the best wine list in the Age good food guide, and then seeing the favourable review in Ed's Blog at http://tomatom.com I became very interested in going back and having dinner at the restaurant. Chef Dan Hunter comes from being head chef in Mugaritz in Spain, and is known for using edible flowers in his dishes.
So finally this weekend my chance to go to dinner came up as we were headed to the in-laws place for the weekend. It started well, we had a 730pm reservation, and after leaving work at 3pm (yes it took that long on a Friday night), we got there just in time. Having to still drive another 90 minutes after dinner, we opted not to go for the full degustation, and chose entrees and mains to start.
I got a Spanish tempranillo which was so fruity that if I closed my eyes, I could imagine I was drinking a white wine. it went well with the food though. First a complimentary fennel salad was brought out which was dressed with flowers and what I think was sumac. It was a good way to ignite my hunger, which I must admitt, was already making itself known in the car trip. We also got a choice of 4 lovely breads, all of which were really lovely, particularly the sourdough and olive.
This is where things went a bit weird. We waited a LONG time for our entrees. In fact we didnt get them till 845pm. That is a long wait when you are me (ie, my favourite style of dining is yumcha, no wait, lots of little dishes). When they finally arrived they were small, but really good. I had the yabbie, artichoke and pork dish, which again was dressed with small artichoke flowers and was in a pork reduction. This was really tasty, the first time I have had yabbies I am embarrassed to admitt, and the pork reduction was incredible, as Nath put it, like liquid crackling. mmmm, I would like some now... nath had the smoked tuna broth with shitake mushrooms which was also really really good.
So then, at 930, after a lot of moaning from me, our mains appeared. I had ordered the snapper, and Nath the lamb. Nathan was presented with the pork though. We mentioned it to the waiter who was very apologetic, and after consultation with the kitchen asked if it was ok if he had the pork cutlet, and then afterward we would both get a 'taste of lamb'. This was quite gracious of them I think and so we agreed to this. I also got a free top up of my wine which was nice. The mains were served with brocollini which was refreshing. The snapper was served with a hazelnut sauce, some flowers which tasted like onion, and jeruselum artichoke. It was a nice piece of fish and the sauce worked well. The pork was served with apples and potato I think, and a chocolate sauce, which though a little strange, worked pretty well. The lamb then appeared and this was quite nice, I particularly liked the baby carrots which were served with it. So, we ended up leaving the restaurant at 1040pm, a 3 hour meal for 2 courses. The desserts looked interesting but there was no way we were waiting for it!
Being the snoop I am, I observed that the tables around us were also having to wait very long times. The table next to us had some issue with their beer arriving warm and so got some on the house, but they didnt look too happy. I also noticed that the guy didnt seem to like his beef. Further away, I noticed a table where the fella was taking notes before eating anything. He looked like a reviewer, which was confirmed as Stephen Downes from the Herald Sun later by Ed from tomatom. He didnt look particularly impressed though, but I think they knew it was him as he got walked out the door (which they didnt do for us!), so maybe his wait for food wasnt as long as ours!
SO... a very long winded way to say nice food, but very long service. I understand that it must be hard to get wait staff in the country, but it looked like the folks at the cafe which ajoined the restaurant were getting their food faster. It also looked quite nice (which i snooped on when I went to the ladies). Next time we are passing through, i think we might just go there instead!

Monday, October 29, 2007


Last weekend Melbouorne was hot. Really hot. So our thoughts turned into outdoor life and in this case, our deck which was empty and beckoning to us to fill it with tables and barbeques. So of we went to BBQ's Galore, managed to get very confused with all the different models, but somehow emerged with a Cordon Blue, with wok burner and nice looking trolley. Don't you think it looks nice?

We also got some gorgeous deck chairs, but I am afraid the torment of trying to work out which table would fit best was too much for us in the heat and so we still have to get that. Still we have our bbq so I cant complain.

This weekend we went to nath's parents place for the weekend and for lunch we had a BBQ. But not on your average BBQ...
Aint it great? It was made by Nath's dad by welding two old plough discs and a wok together. Perfect for camping and perfect for home when you dont want to stink the house out with dinner.

Anyway, as you would have guessed, more BBQ recipes to come...

Monday, October 22, 2007

The French Corner Restaurant

493a Highett Rd, Highett VIC 3190

I admit I work in highett, otherwise I probably wouldnt have heard of the French Corner. Last year chef Daniel Airoldi (formerly a chef at Jaques Reymond) took over a corner shop site that has been doomed for the last 4 years, with a change of management every year or so. He had a little deli with french cheese and small goods, homemade jams and chutneys and at Christmas time he made the nicest puddings. They did lunch with baguettes and croque mounsiers and madams, and had dinner some nights of the week with a fairly traditional menu of favourites. He also baked his own bread and pastries which were absolutely devine, apparently his original training was as a pastry chef. Oh and he made the best coffee on the strip.
So I was pretty excited to hear he had expanded his business to include a proper restaurant just down the road (at another doomed site which has held a tapas bar and a moroccan restaraunt in the last few years). On Friday I finally got a chance to go for dinner. There is a degustation menu at $99 but we ordered from the menu. Admittedly we went the fairly traditional ordering route at a frnech restaurant, but that didnt mean it was a boring meal. For entrees we shared some garlic snails and steak tartare, both fresh and flavourful. A house made bread was used to mop up the garlicy sauces and I must admitt we ate a little too much of the bread (it was just so good!). At the waiters recomendation we ordered a french red wine which was similar to a Pinot in colour and taste and which the name of unfortunately I have forgotten.
For mains we ordered a cassoulet which is the specialty of the restaurant, and a mussel dish. The mussels were served with a buttery white wine sauce, pomme frittes and a delightful aoli. The serving size was HUGE, probably the amount I normally make for the two of us. They were tender and sweet. The highlight was the cassoulet, which apparently takes 3 days to make. It consists of pork belly, a duck sausage and a duck leg in a harricot bean stew. The long cooking time gives the stew time for all the flavours to meld and the meats were tender and buttery.
We rolled out of the restaurant a little too full for our own good. It was a great meal, at a good price. By the time we left, the place was full, maybe the curse of the doomed restaurant site is over?!

Hangover cure

I may or may not have been hungover this weekend... After a late night, there is nothing I like better than to have a fry up. This weekend I found some smoked salmon in the fridge and had some cream, so decided to make salmon eggs. This non-healthy breakfast consists of beating eggs lightly with as much cream as you can get away with, seasoning with nutmeg and pepper (not salt till its cooked) and then cooking on low heat to make buttery scrambled eggs. I sprinkled some gruyere cheese on the eggs after turing of the heat and allowed it to melt from the residual heat. Serve on toasted sourdough spread with avocado. I also fried some mushrooms in some soysauce just because.

Winter Stew

This post is a few weeks too late. Two weekends ago it was cold and rainy and all I felt like was a warming winter stew. This weekend reached 33C and all I wanted to eat was salad! Anyway I want to post the blog anway as I really do enjoy lamb shanks and that was probably the last time I will for the year...
Lamb Shanks

The recipe is simple. Preheat oven to 200C. Dust four lamb shanks in flour and brown on all sides in a frying pan or the casserole dish to be used in the oven. Remove shanks and in the same pot fry up some diced onion, carrot, celery and garlic until soft. Add half a bottle of red, a bay leaf, some fresh thyme and parsley. Return the shanks, add some stock, season, bring to a simmer and then transfer, covered to an oven. Bake for 30 min at 200C then reduce the heat to 160C. bake for another 90 min, turning the shanks once.

The first night I served this with mashed potatoes, buttery peas and silverbeet braised in lemon. The next day was a school night and I heated the leftovers and served with brown rice. Next time I make this dish I might spend the extra 4 dollars and get the shanks pre-trimmed of fat, as this can be quite a fatty dish otherwise. Still, in a cold night, nothing beats a bit of fat!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Asparagus anonymous

I should change the name of my blog to "I love Asparagus". It seems that ever since spring started, i have had asapargus in the fridge, and have been thinking about what to do next with it. I have even been putting it into curries and stirfries, and made the most beautiful omlette on the weekend which I stupidly didnt take a photo of. I will put a brief description in here anyway as it was just so so so good and will definetly be making more appearances on my brakfast repetoire.

This soup is probably the easiest soup I have ever made. i made it slightly more difficult by shelling my own peas, as they are in season and so so beautiful straight from the pod...

Ok this photo does NOT do this soup justice. We had guests over for dinner and i didnt feel comfortable taking photos of my own soup (it somehow seems a bit insane really). It is actaully really green in colour.

Asparagues and Pea Soup

300g Asparagus sliced finely, tips reserved

300g peas

bunch of parsley

1.2L stock or water

Bring stock to the boil. Add asparagus and peas and simmer for 15 minutes. Blend the soup until creamy. At this point, add the parsley and reblend. Season, add a dollop of cream if you want (it doesnt need it) and add the reserved tips and gently reheat for 5 minutes. Serve with olive baguettes (see previous posts)

Asparagus and Gruyere Omelette

serves 2

5 free range eggs

milk or cream

bunch of asparagus, blanched and sliced into 4 cm lengths

grated gruyere

50g Smoked salmon

Beat eggs and milk/ cream until light. Melt butter in a pan on medium heat. Add a pinch of nutmeg to the eggs and some pepper (no salt until cooked as this shrinks the eggs). Carefully pour egg mixture into hot pan and cook on low heat until the top is still wet but the bottom is beginning to turn golden. On one half of the omelette, add the asparagus and gruyere, fold the omelette over and heat very very gently until the cheese melts. Open the omelette carefully, insert the smoked salmon inside the fold, and plate. Serve with toasted sourdough.

Home baked bread

Nathan working the dough

Nathan has dabbled in the world of bread making, and not without some yummy success. Earlier this year driving up the coast we came upon one of those really cute, small coastal bookshops that had really select books, one of them being 'Dough, simple contemporary bread' by Richard Bertinet, a Frenchman, which included a DVD of him making bread. I originally wanted to make the bread, but after seeing just how much kneading was needed, I admitt I was quite happy to let Nath do it. The first bread he made was a classic white loaf, which he fashioned into baguettes and a fougasse. We ate it all straight out of the oven, with butter, in what I should confess was a bit of a overdose, but it was soso good. The really good thing about this bread was that it only contained 4 ingredients - flour, yeast, water and a pinch of salt. No preservatives, no improvers, just real bread. ANd being hot out of the oven helped too.

Last week Nathan decided to try an olive oil bread. The basic recipe was 500g strong flour, 20 g course semolina, 15g yeast, 10g salt, 50g extravirgin olive oil and 320g water. The bread flour, semolina and yeast were rubbed together to make a crumble. The salt, olive oil and water were added. The dough was 'worked' until it came together from the bench without leaving any part of it behind. The dough is then rested for an hour until it is roughly doubled in volume. the dough is then fashioned into whatever shape is desired, and then left to prove for 30 minutes before baking.

The unrested dough

The rested dugh doubled in size

Nathan then did two things with the dough. He made olive and parmasen sticks with half the batch, and olive baguettes with the other half. We ate them with a pea and asaparagus soup (will blog the recipe to this later...) and was just perfect.

The final product. I want some more now!

I wont lie to you. Making bread in this way is time consuming and it isnt something we can do every day at the moment. It is however such a natural, healthy way to eat bread, I have really found myself not enjoying commercially bought bread (especially presliced) recently, and hope that one day when we gat more time we can start making this an everyday thing. Till that day, once in a blue moon will have to do!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Broad beans the Arabic Way...

I love fresh broadbeans. They remind me of my childhood. In spring my aunt would invite us all over for 'fool' the arabic word for broadbeans. It was cooked with the pod and all, with garlic, onions and lots of lemon. Served with flat bread, raw onion, a chilli and parsley oil and usually a salad or two. Lots of relatives, noise, and eating till ones belly was so full breathing becamea problem.

And that was breakfast!

I dont eat broadbeans for breakfast anymore, but when they are in season, I do buy them and cook them the traditional way. I never understood all those recipes that double pod the beans - the pod is so delicious, all it needs is a bit longer to cook through. Basically, striing the beans and cut off the top and bottom ends, cut into pieces, and fry in olive oil with onions and garlic for a few minutes. Add some lemon juice, a little water, salt, pepper, cumin and corriander and leave to bubble away for around 20 minutes. These days I serve it more in bruschetta style - piled onto sourdough or rye bread (toasted) some parmasen on top, and with a dressed salad, it makes the prefect spring lunch...

Guilty Pleasures

We have been eating a lot of this. It is so so creamy and better than icecream. We have been eating it with strawberries for dessert. There is really no justification for this, it is just nice. Curses to my friend who put me on to it

King Island Yoghurt

Spring time is here...

There are several things that signify the beginning of spring and the end of a bitter and cold winter. Firstly the flowers and birds that have been hiding somewhere for months all come out and give our sense of sight and smell a little nudge. More importantly, the appearance of broadbeans and asparagus at the green grocer, is THE definitive sign that spring is finally with us. And when asaparagus hits a dollar a bunch, I know it is time to cook some sweet, in-season asparagus.

During the week it is just too hard to try anything too complicated and sometimes, the only thing I can make myself whip up is a simple pasta. Luckily asparagus doesnt need a long time to cook and really shines in pasta dishes. Coupled with in-season peas, preferably from the pod if you can find it, this pasta is quick and satisfying...
Pasta with Asparagus, pancetta and peas

1 pack of fettucini (next time i think i would use a smaller pasta like orriechette or spirals)

300g mushrooms, sliced

2 bunches asaparagus, washed, woody end snapped off, and cut into 2 cm pieces

250g peas

8 rashers of pancetta, sliced finiely

white wine

thin cream (I used low fat but I dont like overly creamy pastas)

1 red onion, sliced


pouring cream

Cook the pasta in lots of boiling water until cooked. Drain.

Meanwhile, fry garlic, red onion, and chopped pancetta in olive oil for a few minutes until fragrant. Add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes. Add white wine, turn up heat and let sizzle for a minute. Add asparagus, peas and cream, bring to a simmer, and cook until asparagus is cooked, only a few minutes. Season, add to drained pasta, mix well and serve with parmasen cheese.