A hidden piece of Sydney

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Owning a motorcycle means that you are more likely than most people to just go out cruising around without actually needing to go somewhere. The benefit of this is that you end up exploring some wonderful roads and areas that you would normally never think to visit.

One of the places that I discovered was Church Point, up the northern end of Sydney. After a ride through the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park to the West Head Lookout to check out its lovely views over Pittwater and to Palm Beach, a lunch at the Waterfront Cafe at Church Point is a nice way to enjoy a sunny Sydney weekend.

Church Point

Sitting on the deck at the cafe makes you feel like you a thousand miles from the city, when you’re only 32km away. Boats bobbing about on their moorings, and you can enjoy the views to Scotland Island and the Pittwater activity.

Church Point waterfront cafe

The menu here is pretty extensive, which is usually a bit of a red flag. It spans Italian classics such as veal saltimbocca, pizzas and pastas, to burgers and steak sandwiches, fish and chips, a mezze plate, and seafood platters. At least there will be something for everyone!

The mezze plate comes with 5 generously proportioned servings of dip (beetroot, eggplant, olive, roast capsicum and avocado) and is served with a cheesy, garlic pizza.

Meze plate

The bouillabaisse is a delicious serve of seafood in a tomato-based broth. Be prepared to get your hands dirty working through that crab.

Boullabaise

The burger comes stacked pretty high, which can make it a challenge to get your mouth around. The bread is thick and crusty, which is a change from the soft, brioche buns that are the latest trend.

Beef burger with chips

The fish special is pan fried dory, which was served with wilted baby spinach, roasted potatoes and a fresh tomato sauce.

Pan fried dory

Sadly we were pretty stuffed and didn’t have room for dessert (who would’ve thought this possible?) I can’t even explain the pain of regretfully turning down a sweet finish when the selection which came out on a long paddle to tempt us. However, despite our early misgivings, the food here is decent and it’s well worth the trek up here to enjoy a relaxing lunch with friends, family and the spectacular views.

Waterfront Cafe on Urbanspoon

Experimental Sundays: cheese soufflé

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I always thought that soufflé was really difficult to make. It has a reputation for requiring considerable care and attention, lest the thing collapses and causes embarrassment in front of your dinner guests. Having said all that, a soufflé is just wondrous. Whether it’s a savoury or sweet, it’s like eating scented, flavoured air.

The first time I made a soufflé was at a dessert class a few years ago. I was struck by two things mainly: how incredibly easy it was to make this classic French dish; and how whisking egg whites to stiff peaks by hand is very effective at giving you a dead arm. In the spirit of Experimental Sunday, I thought I’d try whipping up a savoury cheesy soufflé.

Cheese souffleSearching for a recipe, I found this simple one which was incredibly light yet rich. I actually halved the recipe to cater for the two of us, and ended up with perfect results.

Cheese soufflé
Recipe from SBS Food
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
60g butter
60g flour
500ml milk
200g grated gruyere
6 eggs, separated
Salt and pepper to season
Freshly grated nutmeg

Step 1
Move oven rack to the centre of the oven and preheat it to 200C. Butter either a large soufflé dish or 4-6 smaller dishes, depending on their size.

Step 2
Make a roux by melting butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir around for a few minutes. The mixture becomes a nice nutty brown colour. Using a whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk together until it thickens into a smooth consistency, and then remove from the heat.

Step 3
Whisk in the grated cheese, which will slowly melt into the mixture. Then add salt and pepper to taste, grate in some nutmeg, and finally add the egg yolks.

Making cheese souffleStep 4
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. If you fancy an upper body work out, do it by hand by whisking side to side really quickly. Swap arms if necessary, and confident in your wrong arm coordination!

Whisking egg whites to stiff peaksStep 5
Spoon a little of the egg white mixture into the cheese mixture and fold through to loosen it a bit, and then tip it back into the bowl with the rest of the egg whites and fold together. Spoon the combined mixture into the soufflé dish(es), smooth the top, and immediately put into the hot oven. Bake in the centre for 10 minutes before turning the oven down to 180C and baking for another 25-30 minutes for a large soufflé or 15-20 minutes for the smaller soufflés. They should be well risen and golden brown on top.

Cheese souffle before ovenStep 6
Serve it immediately with a salad and enjoy!

Cheese souffle with spoon

Japan ski adventures

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For any food-loving Aussie skier, the mere thought of Japan is enough to get one salivating. There is an abundance of light fluffy powder, it’s less than 11 hours away (that’s on the doorstep from our perspective!), and even the Japanese food is worth a visit alone.

I know it must seem crazy to some to take flight from a gorgeous Australian summer to seek winter cold in Niseko, but passionate skiers and boarders know that it’s worthwhile. There are pretty much guaranteed snowy conditions, fantastic off-piste skiing, and of course, the food. And compared to the predictably icy Australian snow conditions and extortionate lift ticket prices, it ends up being much better value than a week at Thredbo.

View of Mt Yotei

On the mountain at NisekoIt snowed every day, which meant that every morning was filled with the excitement and anticipation of getting on the mountain. The weather was very cold, with temperatures of around -8C in the village and -15C on the summit, but you didn’t really notice too much until you were sitting high up on a lift, a slave to the elements. All I can say is thank god for the gondolas and the hooded lifts!

My favourite ski area was the Hanazono area, where there were some fun off-piste runs through the trees. It was my first time skiing through trees so I wasn’t game enough to go hardcore through the gates and outside the resort boundary and patrolled area, and Strawberry Fields area in particular had some narrow steep drops with some nice powder stashes, as well as wider open areas through the trees.

Niseko Hirafu

Hanazono ski signThe best thing about visiting Japan (right up there with the snow!) is all the delicious food. They take such pride with the serving and presentation of their food, that you can even get tasty snacks in their convenience stores. It’s fine dining compared to the dry sausage rolls or tasteless egg sandwiches in the Australian convenience stores.

We sampled a range of Japanese food throughout our visit, including sashimi, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, soba, and lots of ramen. It was cool to see that food vans were a thing in Niseko too.

Sukiyaki

Soba noodles

Ramen with snow crab legs

Potato ramen

Potato ramen

Peace out!

Deep fried oysters

Gyoza at Little Red Mimoji

Fresh sashimi

Niseko food vanWith so many Aussies in Niseko, the bar scene is hip and happening. The most trendy bar would probably be the Fridge Door Bar, properly called Bar Gyu+ but known for it’s distinctive front door.

Fridge door bar NisekoInside it’s a cosy European feel with warm wood panelling and wooden furniture. The menus are hand illustrated, and there is a great selection of whiskies, as well as hot alcoholic drinks and my first ever absinthe (the stuff knocks your socks off).

Niseko fridge door bar menu

Ev with a drink

AbsintheSkiing and eating aside, we managed to find some time to squeeze in some karaoke. For the equivalent of around A$20 for two hours of singing and all-you-can-drink, you can be assured to hear some high quality vocal performances. Oh well, when in Rome, or Japan…

Karaoke

Hooded up in the snowDid you take off for any snow adventures this winter? Or are you looking forward to the upcoming Southern Hemisphere winter for some snow action?

Learning to snowboard…and crash…indoors

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I’ve been a longtime ski enthusiast, but I’ve often fantasised about the idea of being able to crossover to snowboarding. I’ve tried my hand at it a couple of times, but I haven’t committed to serious time to improve my boarding. The thought of spending precious snow and ski time battling with beginner lessons and spending half my time on my arse seriously turned me off.

However, after the amazing powder days on my Japan trip recently, I thought that having the ability to pick up the board on the deep powder days and then choosing the skis when I just want to carve some serious turns.

Coinciding with the excitement of the Sochi Olympics, a new indoor ski slope has opened in Sydney. In2ski features three Maxxtracks slopes, which are basically like giant treadmills, and can be set at different gradients to simulate different levels of difficulty.

Maxxtracks indoor skiing

The centre claims that one hour of practice on the indoor slope is equivalent to eight hours on the mountain. I’m not sure whether this is true, but you do certainly waste a fair bit of an on-mountain lesson on lifts and waiting around for the slower students.

The best thing about the indoor slope is that it is in Sydney! No more driving for six hours each way, paying through the nose for petrol, accommodation, lift passes and crap food just to improve your skills. It’s a really cost effective way of improving your technique without the massive time commitment of a weekend.

The format of a group lesson is to be on the slope for 10 minutes, then off for 10 minutes while the other half of the group is on, and alternating until the end of the lesson. Each 10 minute interval is tough though, since it’s pretty much non-stop. Falling over on the slope, which happens often when you’re learning, is a bit of a shock the first time, and not as nice as falling into soft snow. My battle scars at the end of the day included bruised knees, a tender bum, a sore neck, and slight carpet burn on one elbow. At the end of my hour lesson, I had gone from feeling my way going straight on a flat board, to learning turns and going side to side while holding onto the bar. Not a bad progression in an hour, I thought!

My intention now is to get to a decent level snowboarding on the indoor slope, where I can confidently link turns together. I’m also keen to fine-tune my skiing skills too, and hopefully get rid of some terribly bad habits before hitting the slopes for real next time!

Here’s a taster of my experience – look how lovely my turns are until I hit the ground!

Note: I paid for my own lesson and this post was in no way endorsed or sponsored by In2ski.
Photo courtesy of In2ski

Dive 292: Camp Cove, Watsons Bay (NSW)

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Dive time: 00:47:00
Max depth: 5.8 metres
Temperature: 22 C
Visibility: 5 metres
Buddy: Lisa Godden

It has been almost two years since my last shore dive in Sydney. In that time I’ve dived in Thailand and the Philippines, forgetting that we have such easy and accessible diving right in our own city. Especially if you have all your own gear, it’s a matter of driving to the designated site, getting geared up, and just walking in off the beach or diving in off rocks!

Today’s dive at Camp Cove was the first Sydney dive in a while for myself and Lisa, and the first time in a long time that we’d dived together. Thankfully we arrived before 9am to score a parking spot in the car park because it quickly filled up. After minor mishaps for us both with our gear (I must remember to keep an allen key in my kit!), we waded off the beach into the water.

We swam across the sandy bottom and patches of sea grass, spotting a very cute little baby cuttlefish along the way, before we came across the reef. The reef is a series of long wedges of rock jutting up from the sand about a metre high. We saw a common stingray, a few big toadfish, red goatfish, large red morwong, a fat chromodoris nudibranch, quite a few small silver bream, schools of eastern pomfrets, mado, cute juvenile leather jacket, and a green moray eel that came out for a swim. I almost landed on top of a scorpionfish when I saw a boat going overhead and attempted to flatten myself on the bottom.

My mask kept fogging up, which meant that I was leaking water in it every 5 minutes to swish it around before having to clear it. We popped up inside the northern sea wall but a bit too early, so swam around the old Sydney Water Police wharf back to the beach. It was a nice relaxing dive and it felt great just to get back in the water.

Experimental Sundays: home made pizzas

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Sprinkling cheese on pizza

When we’re after a quick and easy weeknight dinner, “home made” pizzas are always popular. The White Russian’s daughter always goes for her favourite ham and pineapple topping, and we load up delicious salami, artichokes, olives, ham, and feta. Our usual cheat is to use pre-made Lebanese bread as the base, which makes a super crisp, thin base pizza, but in the name of Experimental Sundays, I tried making the dough from scratch.

I didn’t have a pizza stone, so cooked the pizzas on oiled trays in my gas oven on the hottest setting. The result was a light, crisp base that didn’t go soggy in the middle, however I couldn’t help but wish I had a wood fired oven where I could get some nice charred and smoky crust!

We had dough left over after feeding three adults and a child, which we wrapped up in cling film and froze. A week later, we defrosted some of the dough to make pizzas again, with the same great result. Not a bad idea to keep some dough on hand in the freezer, and despite it taking considerably longer than pulling Lebanese bread straight out of the packet, it was well worth the effort!

Pizza dough
Adapted from SBS’s perfect pizza dough and Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough recipes
Makes 6-8 medium sized pizzas

Ingredients
1kg Tipo ’00′ flour
2 x 7g dried yeast sachets
1 tsp salt
1 tbs sugar
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
650ml lukewarm water

Step 1
Combine the warm water, yeast, sugar, salt and olive oil in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn the mixer onto a slow to medium speed until these bits are combined.

Pizza dough in mixer

Step 2
Slowly add the flour, saving a little of the flour to dust the bench and your hands later. Keep mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Step 3
Flour the top of the dough and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Leave the dough to rest at room temperature for at least a couple of hours. The SBS recipe recommends leaving the dough to prove for 24 hours!
Pizza dough

Step 4
When you are ready to cook, tip out the dough onto a well floured bench. Flour your hands and knock back the excess air out of the dough. Divide it into 6 to 8 smaller balls of dough.

Pizza dough balls

Step 5
Roll or press out the dough on well oiled trays or pizza stone. Top with your favourite toppings and pop into your oven until the cheese has browned and the crust is crisp.

Pizza dough flattening

Home made pizza result    Enjoy!

Taipei’s Shilin night markets

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On our recent trip to Japan, we stopped over in Taipei for a night of feasting at the famous Shilin night markets. The markets first opened in 1899 and has a huge variety of delicious Taiwanese street food and snacks. During the day, the streets are empty and quiet, devoid of food carts, but come nighttime, it’s jam-packed with hungry people throughout the night.

Reuben Hills and THAT fried chicken

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Reuben Hills

Weekend mornings in Sydney are synonymous cafes. Whether it’s an early morning coffee run or a lazy brunch where you linger with the newspaper, cafes are part of Sydney’s lifeblood.

The inner city suburb of Surry Hills is spoilt for choice when it comes to weekend brunching establishments, and one of these is Reuben Hills. The White Russian and I arrived with our two dogs to meet with our mate Mr S. The staff were very accommodating, allowing us to walk around to sit out the back in the sunshine, without having to traipse through the cafe and therefore preventing the dogs causing havoc, sniffing every diner’s table.

When I looked at the menu, my eyes were instantly drawn to the hard sell that is the fried chicken ($18). Who could refuse?

Reuben Hills menu

Reuben Hills really great fried chicken

The chicken was served with a chilli salsa and chipotle mayo, with whole pickled chillies and a wedge of lime. While each piece had lovely golden crisp skin and was juicy, the expectations were super high and we couldn’t help but think that it had nothing on the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices.

The torta ahogada, or Mexican drowned sandwich ($18), was filled with smoky, tender lamb, pickled strips of cucumber, and topped with a sweet beetroot mole. It’s obviously very saucy, making it a very messy meal. Make sure you have lots of serviettes handy.

Reuben Hills drowned sandwich

The bruschetta ($16) is a pile of juicy cherry tomatoes, peppery rocket, kalamata olives and roasted capsicum on a slice of sourdough spread with labne.

Bruschetta

I’m a sucker for trying weird things on menus. It backfired on me spectacularly once when I ordered a squid ink rice pudding. Who on earth thought that a fishy dessert was a good idea? Anyway, I couldn’t go past the vegemite and butterscotch shake ($8.50). I was a little hesitant at first, since it had the potential to go the way of the rice pudding and be completely inedible. I shouldn’t have worried. The vegemite was quite subtle, and the shake was not unlike a salted caramel variety. The lemon, mint and orange soda ($5.50) was light and refreshing.

Reuben Hills is a great destination for coffee, with a great selection of house and special roasts. The food is good but not cheap, and the fried chicken is not really that fucking great, however it’s a relaxed and fun place to welcome the weekend.

Reuben Hills really great fried chicken

Reuben Hills on Urbanspoon

Adriano Zumbo’s Australia Day pop-up

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One of my favourite memories of childhood in Australia was the occasional pastry treat from the school tuckshop.

I don’t think that the same pastries are available in today’s healthy school canteens. Instead of yoghurt and carrot sticks with hummus, back in my day our tuckshop was stocked with deliciousness in the form of beloved Australian treats like finger buns (a sweet, sultana-dotted bun topped with pink icing, preferably slathered with butter inside), lamingtons (cubes of soft sponge cake, dipped in chocolate and rolled through desiccated coconut), and custard tarts (with the mandatory sprinkle of nutmeg).

Zumbo Australia Day popup

For Australia Day, select Adriano Zumbo stores have turned into Fluffy’s Aussie Bakery popups. Zumbo has given our favourite treats his own twist. Gone is the bright yellow, firm custard of the vanilla slices of yesterday, and hello creamy, proper vanilla custard ($6).

Adriano Zumbo Australia Day popup - vanilla slice

There are also a few twists on the traditional lamington, including a double chocolate lamington and a salted caramel one, which was more like a cube of caramel mud cake with caramel fudge rather than the light as air sponge that I remember ($4).

Adriano Zumbo Australia Day popup - salted caramel lamington

There are also other goodies such as neenish tarts, cream buns, pavlova, jam rolls, and hamburger pies. Fluffy’s Aussie Bakery popup is at Zumbo’s Rozelle and Waverley patisseries until Australia Day, the 26th of January.

Adriano Zumbo Fluffy's Aussie Bakery popup

Adriano Zumbo Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Experimental Sundays: the most indulgent macaroni cheese

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Macaroni cheese with salad

It’s a new year and I have a few food-related new years resolutions. The ultimate outcome of all these resolutions is that I eat more, but hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

One of these ties in with wanting to cook more. I love being in the kitchen but don’t make time to cook as much as I’d like. This year I’m starting Experimental Sundays. It will be the one day of the week that I will try making something completely new to me, from scratch. On the shortlist I already have pasta, jam, a tarte Tatin, sausages, and beef rendang.

To ease myself into the year slowly, I made an easy but very rich and indulgent macaroni cheese. Mac and cheese is one of those things that might be a staple for some people, particularly if it’s the quick stuff out of a box. However, it’s one of those things that has never really appealed to me, despite my adoration of both pasta and cheese. It just always seemed a bit…simple.

So I thought I’d try making and eating it, combined into the one first time occasion. Be warned that this recipe is super rich, so go easy on it!

Macaroni cheese
Adapted from a recipe from Australian Good Taste magazine
Serves 6

Ingredients
280g (2 cups) dried straight macaroni
150g speck, diced, or prosciutto if preferred
60mls (1/4 cup) olive oil
2 large brown onions, finely chopped
2 tsp caster sugar
60g (3 tbs) butter
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour
625mls (2 1/2 cups) milk
300ml thickened cream
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt & ground white pepper, to taste
2 cups grated vintage cheddar
¼ cup grated parmesan
50g (1 cup) fresh breadcrumbs

Step 1
Cook macaroni in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, following packet directions, until al dente. Drain and set aside. It’s better to undercook the pasta since it will continue cooking in the oven.

Step 2
Over a medium heat, add 2 tbs of the olive oil to the frying pan along with the onions and sugar. Cook for a minute while stirring. Add the speck and cook until onions are soft and speck is golden. Remove and set aside.

speck and grated cheese

Step 3
Preheat oven to 200°C. Combine the milk and cream in a jug.

Step 4
Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes or until melted and foaming. Add the flour and stir with a whisk for 1 minute or until the mixture bubbles. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add 125mls (1/2 cup) of the milk mixture at a time, whisking constantly between additions to prevent lumps from forming.

Step 5
Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce comes to the boil and thickens. Remove from the heat, add the mustard and cheeses and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Add the drained macaroni, speck and onions and stir to combine.

Step 6
Combine the breadcrumbs, parsley and remaining olive oil in a medium bowl.

Step 7
Spoon macaroni mixture into baking dish. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Place on a baking tray and bake in oven for 20 minutes or until the top is golden and edges are bubbling.

Macaroni cheese before and after baking

Buon appetito!