Winter is coming

Bistro Molines interior
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Game of Thrones has a lot to answer for. The last 6 weeks of my life has been a repeat of eat, sleep, work, GoT, eat, sleep, work, GoT. The downside of having completely caught up with the latest aired episode is that I now have to wait a very long, anxious week before I can watch the next episode rather than just flicking it over. I just might DIE!

But now that I’m completely caught up and am waiting for the next episode, I suddenly have time to do other stuff than just eating, sleeping, working, and GoT-ing. This freeing up of my schedule just happens to coincide with a lovely warm, dry spell here in Sydney. It’s well and truly autumn (as the Starks would say, winter is coming) and temperatures are still in the mid-20s, around mid-70s℉.

Taking advantage of the blue skies and warm weather, this weekend the White Russian and I rode our motorbikes up to the Hunter Valley, around 2 hours north of Sydney. We found a few twisty roads, and also found ourselves on a dirt, unsealed road, which made me feel a bit nervous.

While we were in the area, we dropped into Bistro Molines, which shares a scenic spot with Tallavera Grove wineries. If you’re lucky and book ahead, you can snare a table on the verandah which overlooks the valley, marked with rows upon rows of vines. Or if you aren’t so fortunate, the tables inside still have the beautiful panorama thanks to the open dining area, which is filled with lovely fresh cut flowers and warm, rustic decor.

Bistro Molines view

Bistro Molines verandah

 

Bistro Molines pass

We were served a simple but delicious taster of cherry tomato, olive and buffalo mozzarella, and the bread was served with a rich aioli, an interesting but slightly strange change from the usual butter or olive oil.

Bistro Molines - cherry tomato and mozzarella snack

As a starter, we shared the charcuterie platter of a rich, creamy duck liver pate and a delicious rabbit rillettes served with a garden of pickled treats.

Bistro Molines charcuterie

Bistro Molines charcuterie close

The White Russian had the special of roasted rabbit served with speck and white bean puree. I may have encouraged him to order it since, when do we ever have rabbit at home? He said it tasted like chicken. My baked figs with gorgonzola and prosciutto were a nice combination of sweet and salty, soft and crisp.

Bistro Molines rabbit

Bistro Molines roasted figs

Unfortunately we couldn’t fit in dessert without risking a food coma on the long 2 hour ride back to Sydney, so we gave it a miss. Instead we ordered a caffeine hit and scored some bittersweet chocolate tartlets to finish a splendid lunch date.

Bistro Molines chocolate tarts

Bistro Molines exterior

Bistro Molines on Urbanspoon

A hidden piece of Sydney

Church Point
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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.

 

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

Cheese souffle
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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.

Searching 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

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

Reuben Hills
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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!

Porteño’s parrilla and asado

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I had been hanging to try out Porteño for the longest time. The thought of devouring their juicy and succulent fire-roasted meats would make my mouth water just thinking about it. However, I’d heard that you would only be able to snag a table after queuing in the street for a couple of hours, which completely put me off.

So I was very grateful for Good Food Month festivities recently, when the restaurant put on a special Spring lunch and were taking reservations! No standing around, waiting, and making small talk with your dining companions while your stomach eats itself!

Our menus informed us that each of the dishes that we would be trying were made in-house especially for the lunch. This obviously meant that we missed out on their famous crisp brussels sprouts on this visit. I guess that means I will just have to suck it up and join the queue next time!

 

Our meal started off on the right foot with a boozy pork paté, olives, crusty ciabatta slices, and this lovely bresaola, a spiced cured wagyu eye round which has been aged for 6 months.

porteno 01

Despite being a terrible patron and failing to inform the good folk at Porteño that one of my girlfriends was pregnant (it had just completely slipped my mind!), they were completely obliging and kindly offered chipotle stuffed zucchini flowers in place of the bresaola. The ash beetroot was my favourite of the starters, with the creamy and slightly tart curd complementing the earthy beets.

porteno 02

porteno 03

porteno 04Porteño is best known for its asado, a scorching fire pit with whole lambs splayed out on racks. Alongside the barbecue is a shiny stainless steel and dark brick kitchen with hot grills and trays of smoky meat. It’s enough to give a vegetarian heart palpitations.

porteno 05

porteno 06

porteno lamb

The Mirool Creek spring lamb is sweet, salty and tender, served with crisp skin and a fresh chopped salad and barbecued eggplant and peppers. The marbled meat is cooked for 8 hours and melts in your mouth.

Our meal was rounded off by a not-too-sweet burnt milk fruit tart and the softest, crumbliest shortbread with dulce de leche sandwiched inside. These guys must have the surgeon’s touch to put these babies together without the biscuit falling apart.

porteno 08

porteno 09

It’s all a bit of theatre seeing your meal being roasted in front of you, but the food here was faultless and the service was helpful and polite. The waitstaff were very accommodating after dropping the last-minute pregnancy bomb, and they also recommended some delicious wine choices.

Now to brave the queue next time so that I give their pork and brussels sprouts a crack. However, tables of six or more can make a reservation so…who wants to come with me?

Porteño on Urbanspoon

A taste of Canton at Mr Wong

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October is one of my favourite months of the year. It’s spring, the weather is warming up, and the days are getting longer. Best of all, it’s Good Food Month, which means lots of special food events, and an excuse to taste lots of different foods all around Sydney.

Most of the events are in the city, and it’s a shame that I don’t work in town to take advantage of all the lunch specials. Regardless, I managed to make it to a couple of restaurants that I have been meaning to try, including Mr Wong.

This funky Cantonese-style restaurant has had an amazing year, being crowned Best New Restaurant by both the Good Food Guide and Time Out, and winning two chef’s hats in the Guide. The decor transports you to an old Chinese opium den, with exposed brick and timber, and dim lighting. The service is friendly and eager to ensure a seamless experience. The bar staff are also very handy at dishing up some delicious cocktails too, if that’s what you want with your dim sum!mr wong bar

The menu for this “surprise” lunch was a mix of treats from their existing menu, but some special guest appearances as well. We started with a leafy salad of cucumber, fennel, woodear mushroom with chewy glass noodles, before each of us received our individual mini bamboo steamers with plump dim sum.

mr wong dim sumThe dim sum here are exquisite, and you would expect no less from the master himself, Eric Koh, from the globally successful Hakkasan and Yauatcha. Succulent and juicy, and left us wanting more.

mr wong

Stir fried corn kernels were a surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen corn in a Chinese restaurant, except for those tinned baby corn spears, but this was very good. Then again, anything with lap cheong, the deliciously fatty Chinese sausage, is guaranteed to be a winner.

mr wong mr wong mr wongThe mains were a lot more familiar, with lovely, delicate steamed fish with ginger and shallots, stir fried king prawns with black pepper and garlic, and a fantastic crisp-skinned Shandong chicken, which is twice cooked with a black vinegar sauce.

mr wongThe perfect finish to our meal was a light and refreshing lychee sorbet with raspberries.

We had a wonderful time here, thanks to the stream of surprise dishes (we hadn’t seen a menu), the attentive service, and the fantastic atmosphere. For $55 a head, I thought it was very good value, since we were well and truly stuffed, although I think that the a la carte menu could get way out of hand pretty easily. Having said that, I’m looking forward to coming back here one lunchtime to take the dim sum menu out for a spin.

mr wong

Mr Wong on Urbanspoon