Friday, May 15, 2009

An autumn day at Sunnybrae

Our first wedding anniversary was in late March. To celebrate, Nathan decided to actually listen to my complaining for once, and booked us in for a weekend lunch followed the next day by a class at Sunnybrae restaurant and cooking school in Birregurra.

George Biron reopened his cooking school/ restaurant a year ago, after having being closed for 9 years. I am not old enough to have been in the old days, but I had read enough on his blog and by other food bloggers to know that he cooks my kind of food. His emphasis on using local produce, as well as growing his own vegetables (including olive trees from which olive oil is made, a bee hive, and in the future some oak trees with truffle spores!) struck a chord with Nathan and I and our crazy garden experiment, so it was with great excitement that we headed to Birregurra for the weekend.

And what a glorious autumn weekend it was. Wonderful sunny days filled with food. I really could not ask for more! We had a lunch booked for the Sunday and a class on the Monday…

The menu at Sunnybrae is mostly a set menu with very few decisions, starting with an individual entrée, two shared entrees, a main and a dessert, punctuated throughout with the fabulous potato bread. Decisions can be made on the main, and dessert. And at 66 dollars, I consider this an absolute bargain! We were eating from 1230-430ish, punctuated with a couple of walks around the property to build up more room for the next course, and to check out how the vegetable garden was going. This is such a lovely way to spend a Sunday, relaxing and eating and talking with friends and/ or lovers.

When we were travelling in Europe, Nathan had a saying – ‘you can tell how good a restaurant is by the bread they serve’. This potato bread was just beautiful. And we made it the next day at the class. And then Nathan made it the next weekend. Nath made three loaves! So we must have liked it. Nathans version was a rye based version, but George’s white potato bread was crusty yet soft inside, and though not officially a sourdough, had some sour taste and a nice structure.

We had chosen a local pinot noir to drink with lunch and it was perfect for the food – not too strong in flavour – it supported the food rather than overwhelmed it.

As for the food, I won’t go through each course as I did forget to take photos of everything. I did love the use of edible succulents though, such as in this garden salad.

And Nathan (in the middle of a weird succulent obsession at the moment) did get a cutting of this succulent which is doing well in a pot at home.

Seasonal use of pomegranates which I am loving at the moment at home too. And the jamon in this dish was spectacular.

Comfit of duck with ratatouille

Rabbit fillet in hare sausage with a porcini based sauce (I can’t exactly remember the description of this dish but it was fabulous)

Hungarian pancake with poppy seeds

The food at Sunnybrae involves fresh seasonal produce with simple, fresh flavours that really highlight each ingredient. The use of fruit gelato in the desserts was inspired (and I am jealous of the big ice cream maker he has in the kitchen).

We were seated facing the garden and light was streaming into the dining room. A large book case full of cook books made Nathan a little uncomfortable as he saw me getting excited about all the books (he has currently banned me from buying any more cook books until I start using the ones I have more).
We did not need dinner after this lunch. We stayed the night at nearby Forrest, which is in the Otway’s national park area, and has the delightful Lake Elizabeth – home to platypus and other wildlife. There are also 50km of mountain bike trails which we are yet to sample but another trip to this part of Victoria is definitely on the cards, and not just to eat at Sunnybrae again!

The next morning we were back at Sunnybrae at 930am. George made us an expresso and we were introduced to the other folk taking the course that day. It was great speaking to other people who were basically all there because of a love of food.

The class involved making a 4 course lunch which we all ate together at the end of the class. We started with the bread in order to give it enough resting time. George also showed us how he made his tomato passata using tomatoes from his vegie garden, and some preserved cumquats. The class involved George taking us through the techniques but sharing out the actual work which was a good way to try out what he was saying and to build camaraderie between the participants.

We were also directed to plate our own courses in order to get a feel for presentation. I think mine needs a bit more work…

Though the star anise cured ocean trout was beautiful and well matched with an apple and green pawpaw based salad.

The wood fire had been lit the night before and the oven was at the right temperature for us to bake our potato bread- enough loaves for us to take one home and to eat one with our shared lunch that day too.

Again I did not take photos of everything, though we also made a mussel and blue eye stew, a rabbit stew served with a rice pilaf (the rice pilaf was the winner with us and we have been making it at home since), and dessert, a bay leaf scented rice pudding, which I think I plated up a bit better… (and I was impressed with my sugar burning attempt too)…

I love capturing Nathan flaming food up –

And amusingly enough it involved a rather large blow torch (now that we have a small one at home after I complained against the use of large propane burners in the kitchen!).

I spend a lot of my time thinking about food, reading about food and cooking, but I did pick up a lot of tricks from George during this class, and it was good to use unfamiliar ingredients. I had asked George if we could cook game in the class as I have an un-based fear of cooking unfamiliar meats. Since this course I have cooked up a rabbit at home so it did help. Nathan especially picked up some good ways of shaping bread (Nathan being the master bread maker in our household) and we are super jealous of the wood fired oven.

The class is wonderfully informal, and I asked many questions during the day on anything I could think of. Eating the food with some wine and some conversation at the end of the class is a great way to end it. I think I will be back to Sunnybrae during truffle season! And maybe in asparagus season, there was a very impressive asparagus bed in the garden which I am a bit jealous of. Thankyou to George, Angela and Di for a great weekend.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Creatures from the Deep... or not, Yabbies!

Growing up in Sydney I never had anything to do with yabbies. Country kids seem to all have some memory of fishing for yabbies, usually involving some sort of meat on a stick/ line and often a disappointing wait for nothing. And this is what I had last year when my husband tried to show me what yabbying was like at his parents property and we got a big fat NOTHING.
Fast forward a year and the west of Victoria did not get any of that rain that Melbourne was enjoying last month, that filled our water tank plus some. It is so dry west of Geelong in this state, we drove past many empty dams, and big fields of brown. All I can say it that is is disappointing and very depressing (even more so for those who live out that way).
On Easter Saturday, I was having a lounge around at my in laws when my mother-in-law told me to grab some wellies and head down to the (empty) dam. Father-in-law had a couple of buckets full of yabbies!
We got two monster yabbies and many little ones (and left many behind- hopefully they dig their way into the mud and wait for the rains).
We soaked them in buckets of fresh water for half a day and then plunged them in boiling water for under a minute. Eaten unadorned, they were very tasty. Not sure I liked the plunging them into their deaths bit but sometimes I guess we need to face the fact we really do eat (once) living creatures. Some people find their taste a bit muddy (hence the need to soak them in fresh water first), but I find it very sweet and juicy. It is rather strange that yabbies have never really been taken seriously as a commercial food stock in this country, when i think they are on par with sea cray and similar. Oh well, all the more for me!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Collingwood Childrens Farm Cafe

We have gone to the Abbotsford convent precinct quite a few times and have ridden around the Yarra river near the children's farm but I have never actually gone in or eaten there.

A couple of weekends ago we were in the neighbourhood and so we strolled down to check out how the community gardens were doing (quite well! better than ours by the looks of things), when we noticed the cafe. It seemed busy and not having had breakfast yet (and it being 12:30pm) we decided to stop in for that favourite Melbourne meal, 'Brunch'. I have to admit, since discovering how to poach our own eggs, we have not been going out for breakfast very much on weekends, but this was very enjoyable.

The seating consists of some big wooden tables, some smaller tables, and some logs scattered throughout the farm (some quite close to the chickens). Ordering is done at the coffee bar and the menu consists of the usual brunchy items like eggs, pancakes and some other items like salads and a plough mans platter. Being big egg fiends we focused on the egg menu. We decided on some slowly baked beans with a poached egg on top and some oven roasted mushrooms with balsamic, thyme, feta, cherry tomatoes, basil, and a poached egg on top. These were served with some lovely toasted and buttered sourdough which we admired (and compared to Nathans latest sourdough attempts). The winning dish was the mushroom dish (which we then tried to replicate the next day, though i think our feta let us down a bit, see photo at end). The coffees were brilliant and the setting just lovely looking out over the paddocks and the free ranging chickens (and one must admit children running around chasing the geese as they do. Everyone has to learn that geese are evil and will steal your food as soon as look at you. Or is that just me and an unfortunate ice cream misadventure when I was 8?). It is difficult to remember you are actually only about 7km from the Melbourne CBD sitting there on a sunny Saturday. Highly recommended.

Sake and Grill Maedaya, Richmond

The first time we tried getting into Maedaya we had just done a yoga class and were starving, and the place was packed, with a half hour wait. So we walked on to the Vegetarian Nirvana down the road instead(which is always a good meal).
Next time lucky it was a Wednesday night and we got bar seats right in front of the grill. Action view!
Maedaya does 'izakaya' rather than the more common Melbourne Japanese model of sushi/ sashimi and noodles/ rice. This means most dishes are cooked on a charcoal grill and consists of marinaded meats and vegetables. Generally you order per skewer. The menu is a big laminated photo type menu (not unlike the TGI Friday menu!) which is useful for seeing what you are getting (but I could not help wondering if this means that this place is similar to TGIF for authentic Japanese?)
To begin with they placed a selection of dipping sauces on the table with some flat bread and told us to taste each one and if we particularly like one we could get it in a larger size. The wasabi mayonnaise was my favourite and though I do not remember the other 4 well, we found that the meats were generally well marinated as it was and did not really need more sauce.
From memory (sorry no photos) we ordered some edamane to start and a wakame and rocket salad (which had just the right chilli kick for me and was really tasty). These came from a 'special tapas' menu that the waitress gave us as a little paper specials menu (and then took away which was a bit annoying as i wanted to try more of this stuff).
We then had pork belly skewers which were naughty but tasty, asparagus rolled with pork belly (similar to pancetta rolled asparagus), marinated tofu skewers, shitake mushrooms, eggplant with miso and soft shell crab (not done on the grill - was deep fried). We also got some rice ($2 each). The cost of each item was between $2-4 with the crab being $6 (my memory might not be super accurate here). What I do know is that the entire meal with some green tea cost about $40 (no Sake for us tonight on a school night, though the list was impressive).
Overall I enjoyed dining here. The dining room fit out is interesting, with dark timbers and some random ropes hanging down one wall. The extraction system over the charcoal is quite impressive as at no point did we feel smokey. Sitting at the bar meant we got food straight from the chef as he cooked it which was nice. There were a few blips with the service and the rice came out a bit slowly but in general it was a really pleasant meal. Just a shame that it is usually so crowded or I would go there more! There is more to the menu than we tried, including some noodle dishes and some more 'main meal' style dishes but I think the grill is the way to go here.
Can someone please explain to me why blogger wont let me have spaces between each paragraph? It is very frustrating!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Announcing the arrival of our first born pumpkin!

Born 4th april
weight 7.5kg
variety unknown (Diggers variety heirloom seed pack)

So, my qustion to you is... what do I do with it?! It is too big for much other than soup i am thinking...

And for pumpkin birthing pros - do i have to age it or harden it or something before i can eat it/ store it?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I did a bad bad thing...

Tinned corn. red onion, capsicum. a little cheese. red wine vinegar and a dollop of yoghurt.

This was my dinner after a game of netball last night. I had been craving TINNED corn for a little while. it has to be tinned, not frozen, not fresh.

This, after I grew and harvested the sweetest corn I have ever eaten in my life this year. What is wrong with me?

I think the changing of the seasons is doing strange things to my eating habbits. I am craving potatoes, meat pies (?) and really stodgy, dodgy, bad for me food. I just want it to stop so I can just eat soups and vegies from the garden.

what are you craving at the moment that you shouldn't be?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Spring vegetable soup (in autumn)

There have been a few rather cold and rainy days this March. A little different to the searing heat of February and to last March's heat wave. I am sitting in the dark cold of a Saturday night (maybe I need a life?), with hail outside and me very worried about the vegie garden!

A couple of weeks ago, I made a soup with many of the ingredients from my garden. It is based on a Bill Granger recipe, though I have changed it to suit my garden!

I should also point out that the success of this soup -apart from home grown vegies, is home made chicken stock. Whenever I roast a chook (usually a barossa chook) I use the carcass to make a stock and then freeze it to use in soups, risottos etc. Play around with quantities to suit.

Spring Vegie Soup
serves 4 i guess. we freeze leftovers for later.

big handful of barley (about 150-200g) boiled in water for around 30 minutes until tender, rinsed and drained
2 zucchini diced
1 carrots sliced
1-2 onions diced
cup of peas
1L chicken stock (or vegie stock)
tin of cannelini beans or other similar beans
2 red potatoes diced (i dont peel but you can)
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 bunch silver beet
bunch of green/ purple or rattle snake beans

salt, pepper and basil, lemon thyme or parsley to top soup
Parmesan cheese to serve

Fry onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add potato, zucchini, garlic, silver beet, and cook for 5 minutes until the silver beet has wilted. Add the stock plus 1L water, and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the rinsed barley, beans, cannelini beans and peas and simmer for another 10 minutes. Season and serve with herbs and Parmesan.

Good for cold wintry nights at any time of the year.


Last weekend we went home to Sydney for a cousins wedding. What was unusual about it was that all my siblings returned for this wedding. We haven't all been together since my wedding early last year and before that about 2 years ago. And we haven't all lived together since I moved out about 7 years ago. My sister is now in London and my brother in remote country NSW...

The crazy thing was, us siblings decided to act like we did about 15 years ago. Talk about regression! It was like we had never left home, or aged. The highlight was the car trip to the airport with the three of us crammed in the back, fighting noisily before all falling asleep. Things never change!

And to celebrate, my mother went into crazy cooking mood. For 5 of us she made this many dishes, most of them Arabic dishes. I forgot to take photos of all the savoury pastries she made as well. Apologies for the photos - I was hungry!

Left -molkeyah and right- bamia. Molkeyah is a green leafy vegetable -leaves pulled of the plant 'jute' (also makes hessian!). This is cooked with lamb and lemon and too much garlic, served over rice. I have found it impossible to get this vegetable fresh in Melbourne (though I am sure you can probably find it in Dandenong somewhere) so have settled for the far inferior frozen product. Bamia is an okra and lamb stew which i have blogged about here

and here we have a pasta bake and kefta bil tahini, which I have blogged previously here. I wish I had a Pyrex dish as big as this though - mum has had it for 30 years.

Too much food was had on this trip leading to a week of vegetarianism (is that a word?). Luckily my garden is still overproducing so that has not been a problem. Arabic food often has a lot of meat in it which i can only really handle in small doses. The food and family though, were great! Hopefully it will not be as long between family get togethers.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stuffin’ Time

It is that time of the year when the vegie plot has been yielding its treasures and making it difficult to keep up with cooking things as I pick them. A couple of weekends ago, I decided to celebrate the fact that my white zucchini plant had finally fruited by stuffing them, as well as a few other things I could get my hands on! Now this did take me a while but it was a pleasant way to spend the day and it definitely tasted good!

I wanted to do the Arabic traditional vine leaves and stuffed zucchini (warrah and koosa siami) but did not have enough vine leaves. My mother suggested on the phone from Sydney that I could use silver beet instead if I had any. Had any? I have 5 plants in the backyard! I had never eaten these silver beet rolls before but they were really lovely – difficult to say if it is better or not to the vine leaves…

I originally posted on the way to make vineleaves the Arabic way here . I basically used the same rice mix, but this time threw in some currents and pine nuts. I think these were a really nice addition, adding something sweet to the already sweet silver beet.

These photos show the rolling up process for the silver beet. They need to be blanched briefly in boiling water to make it easier to roll. One thing to note is that the stems need to be cut away or else it makes it very difficult to roll. Large silver beet can be cut into two (or three). Place the silver beet rolls tightly into a pot as shown in the last photo. Make a sauce out of tomato paste, water, lemon and oil and pour over the top. Cook on a low heat on the stove. The silver beet rolls don’t take as long as the vine leaves – I think 30 minutes was probably enough.

And don’t throw away those stems! Cut them up rather small, throw them into some boiling water, cook until tender. Then toss them with a sauce made from tahina, lemon and garlic. This makes a really nice side salad to the stuffed goodies.

I also stuffed some white zucchinis from the garden...

This photo shows the hollowed out zucchini. The hollowing out tool can be purchased from Arabic grocery stores (such as in Coburg) or I guess you can try using a knife, though I think it would be very difficult to not cut the shell. I dont believe that the normal dark green zucce variety can be substituted in this dish, as it does not have the nice thick sweet skin.

And don’t throw out the inside of the zucces! I sauté it slowly with onion and garlic for a long time until it breaks down and then add lemon, salt and pepper and cumin and coriander. This is delicious hot or cold, served as a dip with extra olive oil or as brushcetta topping. Really really good!

I also stuffed these – alas not from the garden but how cute is that pumpkin! I roasted these rather than cooked on the stove and added the rice mixture already cooked (for the silver beet and zucces the rice was added uncooked).

This is a close up of the cooked zucchini and long eggplants. So good!!!

This yoghurt dip is essential with stuffed goodies. Yoghurt, salt, garlic, cucumber and mint (all from the garden!).

As is this salad! Fatoush – basically tomato, cucumber, spring onions, parsley, mint, radish, toasted pita bread and a dressing of oil, lemon, sumac and garlic. We positively reeked after this meal from all the raw garlic but it was worth it!

And my final dinner plate (minus the pumpkin and capsicum – do you think I may have cooked too many things?).

Wow, that was a long post. But if you find yourselves with a glut of any of these vegies – give this a go, you will not be disappointed!

Note: All these vegies were stuffed ‘siami’ which means without meat. There is a meat version, which I personally do not like as much, but if anyone is interested I can post my mothers recipe.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Swimming in tomatoes

In early January I was moping around the garden wondering why I didn't have any ripe tomatoes yet.

Fast forward to the end of February and I am drowning in tomatoes. We are picking buckets this big every couple of days! Not bad for a first time gardener. I am wondering if maybe I planted too many cherry toms but I have started eating them as snacks and for almost every meal!

The mission to use all our tomatoes began this week. So far we have made a tomato sauce/ passata, a tomato relish, a gazpacho soup, and tomato and basil sorbet. We have also unfortunately started to become inundated with zucchinis (a few we didn't notice in the garden got to 900g!!!). So the pickling adventures also begin!
The gazpacho was a revelation. I have never made it before and didn't realise how easy it was! I had some left over home made spelt bread which I whizzed up to bread crumbs in a food processor. I then processed about 700g tomatoes, 150g of cucumbers (also from the garden), added 150g of the bread crumbs and then added 2 cloves of garlic, a cup of water, salt, pepper and Tabasco sauce. Leave in the fridge for an hour (or overnight - I am still eating it and it is beautiful), add some good quality olive oil to serve and enjoy! I think I will try serving it with some tomato sorbet next time.

We made a batch of passatta earlier in the week. I haven't tried the results yet (as we have so many fresh ones still!) but I followed a recipe by Maggie Beer. I am a little concerned with shelf life as I have not made preserves of any kind before - any information from worldly bloggers reading this would be appreciated!

And this is the latest preserve -tomato relish based on a Stephanie Alexander recipe. It seems a bit thinner than I am used to but I haven't tried it yet. I was also thinking a tomato jam might be nice but cannot find a recipe I am happy with.

Of I go to make some zucchini bread and butter pickles. Happy eating everyone!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Seasonal at its best

Melbourne has been too hot to eat or think about food. And i have been a very tardy blogger. It is hard to be enthused about food when you have heat stroke (and yes I realise playing soccer in the middle of the day in 40C heat was not my smartest move).
Somehow my garden seems to have made it through the heat, with some burnt ferns that should bounce back, and a couple of burnt tomatoes but not too many. We even got our first couple of ripe toms on the weekend which was pretty exciting. The seedlings of leek and celery that i put in the weekend before have mostly died though.
And for cooking? It has mostly revolved around salads, BBQ, and for one dinner, just icecream. Luckily having all the makings of a salad in the garden makes life a bit easier and the grocery bills down.

My fave salad is still the beetroot salad. We have some amazing heirloom beetroot that just need a shave, some lemon and oil and seasoning, and damn that is a good salad. In this case served with salmon, my mother-in-laws potatos in a salad, and the steamed beetroot leaves and some beans from the garden

I havent downloaded all my photos so dont have pics of the tomatoes, zucchinis and cucumbers or the amazing sweet corn. The 6 different varieties of basil are doing really well though and the cinnamon and lemon basils are really adding that special something to slads, sandwiches and basically any meal! The real quantities have come from my beans and my rocket. i just love the purple colour and have been adding it to everything, even sambos!
We went to a Day on the Green staring Leonard Cohen a few weekends back. The show was amazing as was Paul Kelly in support! The best thing though is that you get to relax on picnic rugs and bring your own food. I am just getting too old to go stand at gigs all night (and my back never forgives me). I went with the garden theme and made a quiche using stuff from the garden pictured below. From memory it had onion, zucchini, beans, beetroot leaves and silverbeet and tomatoes. It was bloody good! All the salads were garden specials too ;) Oh and the eggs came from the inlaws and are the best eggs I have ever eaten. Real, fresh, free-range eggs. A bit of babaganoug in the corner there too.

And lastly for today I want to talk about this wildrice salad. Basically I cooked up some brown and wildrice. I drained and rinsed the rice until cold and then added spring onions, a lot of basil and mint, some pepitas, sunflower seeds and raisins. A little bit of red capsicum and dressed with orange rind, olive oil, honey and lemon juice. Oh and some cumin and corriander spice. This salad was absolutely a winner, my husband fought me for the leftovers the next day.

Am waiting for my tomatoes to really start ripening, I have many ideas awaiting!

What are you guys eating in this hot weather?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Kangaroo Recipes part 2; stir fries

Happy New Year to all! Hope the break was restful, not too stressful, and full of fabulous food… and unlike me eaten in moderation ;)

I finally have a chance to finish off my posts about kangaroo. Over the break we were fed many other types of meat and different functions and I struggled to eat them as they seemed so much heavier than roo. I was nice to come home and have a simple BBQ of marinated roo and salads made from vegies from the garden. More to come on our lovely garden and the vegetables it had waiting for us after 10 days away.

The following pictures are of stir fries I have made several months ago so I won’t endeavour to put up exact recipes. To be honest it would be guessing anyway, as I never follow recipes for my stir fries anyway. As long as the basic principles are followed, tender tasty roo should be the result. I have used both the fillet and the steak that are available from supermarkets in Australia, and while the fillet is marginally better, there is not a noticeable difference.

I found Kylie Kwong’s ‘Simple Chinese cooking’ to be a great resource for simple stir fries and techniques and now use it as a guide only. The basics need to be there – good seasoned wok, peanut oil, metal spatula, very short cooking times and never overcrowding the wok. I also find marinading the meat, particularly for roo which is very lean, to be important.

This dish was a black bean based roo dish. I used Lee Kum Kee Black bean and garlic sauce, which I used to marinade the meat in (mixed with soy and sesame oil). Any vegies you like can be used, cook the meat first for about 1.5 minutes, in batches until seared but tender. Remove meat, then fry vegetables, again in batches and not for long. Return all ingredients to the wok and pour over a sauce made with black bean, soy and sugar. This dish is repeated often in our house as it is so quick and tasty.

This extreme close up is of my take on sweet and sour kangaroo. The sweet was in the form of fresh pineapple and the sour from the sauce based on lemon, malt vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger and fresh tomatoes. Coriander is a good final addition, and again, marinade the meat in either the sweet and sour sauce or just some soy/ vinegar/ water/ cornflour mix. The meat I sliced very thinly across the grain. I found the meat broke up a little in this dish, I may have over marinaded the meat, but Nathan liked the texture of the shredded tender meat.

This was Sichuan salt and pepper roo, served with steamed Asian veg, rice and pickled radish from the yard. This was an absolute winner. I used the recipe for Sichuan beef from Kylie Kwong and served the Sichuan pepper and salt separately so everyone could put as much as they liked. The meat was super tender and as it had been stir fried on its own, really quick.

The pickled radish was pickled in salt and sugar for 40 minutes, the liquid drained and then tamari and sesame oil sprinkled over the top. I have done this with daikon too and I absolutely love it.

If you would like more specific recipes for the sauces, leave a comment but the idea is to make the sauces to taste with whatever you have on hand. I just love the versatility of Kangaroo; so far I haven’t made a bad dish with it.

And no I do not work for a Kangaroo meat company ;)