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.