Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sea Bounty Mussels, Williamstown.

An afternoon drive down to Williamstown on Sunday afternoon and a wander down the local pier, led us to the freshest and cheapest Mussels in town!
On Gem pier at Nelson Place every Sunday is the 'Sea Bounty' mussel boat. From 10:30 every Sunday this boat sells Mussels which are grown locally in Port Phillip and Westernport bays.
We bought a kilo of the freshest Mussels for $4kg! Usually they're about $7 a kg at the Vic Market. The boat also sells freshly shucked Oysters (I think they were a dollar each) and prawns (can't remember the price).

We took the Mussels home, which were packed with ice, to keep them fresh and decided to cook up some Chilli Mussels with some lovely Italiano pasta from Piedemonte's in Fitzroy. Usually when I cook Mussels, you have to pick through them and throw out the open ones prior to cooking. I had none that were opened! Once we had cooked the Mussels, we were amazed to find that every single Mussel had opened! I've cooked a lot of Mussels before and have never had 100% strike rate. How's that for freshness? The Mussels were big and they tasted great - like the ocean, as you'd expect!

If you're around Williamstown on a Sunday or feel like a drive - make sure you drop by this fantastic little boat and pick up some of the freshest seafood I've tasted. These guys are there until sold out, so you might like to get there early. You can call them directly on the boat on a Sunday if you like to make sure they're still there - I got their number: 0438 520 842.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Totally Addicted to Taste, Dinner Soiree #1

Saturday night I had some friends over for a bit of a dinner party. As with most of my dinner parties I like to go with a bit of a theme. The theme for the night ended up being Ezard - by chance actually. All 3 recipes I picked to cook happened to be out of Teague Ezard's first cook book. This book is definately my favourite of the many cook books I own. There is so many different flavours to be tried inside the pages of that book - more than I could ever afford to try one by one by eating at his restaurant - Ezard's.
Cooking an Ezard inspired dinner party isn't an easy feat - or a cheap one for that matter. There are so many ingredients involved in each recipe, that not only the shopping for the ingredients is time consuming, the cooking of it is too! I think Ezard is the reason that apprentices were invented - the more the better!
After about 4 hours of wandering around Victoria Gardens, Victoria St - Richmond and The Queen Vic Market, Rachel and I made it home to cook up the lovely food you see here.
First course was Grilled Sardines with a chilli, peanut, balsamic and Kecap Manis dressing, with vietnamese mint, coriander and coral leaf salad. The dressing was very unusual, especially mixing the lovely organic Simon and Johnson Balsamic with the super sweet soy, but it was fantastic!

For mains I served up Tempura Battered Flathead Tails, with Taro Chips, Sesame Salt and a sweet soy dipping sauce. I love this recipe and have made it once before. Unless you're handy with a knife, making the Taro chips could be a bit of an effort, but it will help you with your knife skills! You'll be a pro by the time you've finished them all! The tempura batter has lime and lemon juice in it instead of the usual chilled soda water. Only problem was limes were so expensive this weekend - one place in Victoria St was selling them for $3 each!
We even went to the trouble of buying a vietnamese newspaper and some bamboo leaves to present it all on, and we wrapped the lemon halves in Muslin (just like Ezard) to stop pips falling onto the food when they're squeezed.

Dessert time was a chocolate tart, which I made with the good old 70% Lindt Chocolate. The tart is served with a Raspberry Caramel, which is just plain old caramel and just as the sugar starts to colour in the pan, you add your fruit. The berries break apart almost instantly and it turns into a jammy texture. You then strain this and drizzle it on the plate to be served under the tart.

For all the effort that we went to; shopping for everything, preparing the ingredients and cooking it all up, everyone seemed to have a great time and really enjoyed the food. What more could you ask for when hosting a dinner party. Thanks Teague, you've inspired me again!

Rockpool, Melbourne

Recently I've been getting into visiting restaurants that have a cheaper alternative, ie. Cafe Vue @ Vue De Monde, breakfasts @ Pearl, Gingerboy ala Ezard and now Rockpool Bar @ Rockpool Bar and Grill.
For years I've been wanting to visit the culinary home of Mr Neil Perry in Sydney - Rockpool. It seems that every time I saved my pennies and made plans to make my way up to Sydney, something would come up and my plans would fall through. That's when Mr Neil Perry got sick of waiting for me to visit him and decided to come to me!
A couple of weeks ago, Mr Perry opened Rockpool Bar and Grill at Melbourne's Crown Casino. The Casino is normally a place that I would avoid at all costs, but for the opportunity to visit Rockpool, I would happily make an exception. Before visiting I had a quick look at the menu on the Rockpool website. The food choices looked great - but there was no way I was going to be able afford to eat in the proper restaurant without taking out a loan, so we decided to go and sample the bar menu, which was considerably cheaper and looked just as tasty!

Rach and I decided to head down to Rockpool quite early (6:30) to make sure we got a table.
As we walked through the doors and down the hallway towards the restaurant, we passed a couple of windows which showed off their freshly shucked Mussles laying on ice and also a few large chunks of ageing meat.
When we arrived, there was only one other table with people on it. The waitress showed us to our table, which was right next to the main restaurant. The bar itself was actually out of view to us and where we were seated was basically a classy little restaurant all of it's own. The restaurant was very dimly lit, quite large and has big windows which look out over the Yarra, at the Queensbridge St end of the Casino.

Our menus were printed with the picture of a cow on one side, a cow which Neil seemed to be quite fond of, as there was a large picture of it, when you walked through the main entrace. The bar menu was small, but consisted of a couple of pastas, a cheese plate, a burger and some other things, that I've already forgotten. Rach and I both decided on the Best Ever Wood Fired Burger with house made Aioli ($15), plus a serve of chips ($7) share.
The burger arrived with a leaf of lettuce a couple of pieces of tomato on the side - I don't know why, because most people I know prefer their fillings inside their burger. Unlike the burger at Cafe Vue, this burger was the real deal - a full sized meat pattie, in a bun which you need your two hands to be able to eat. Which by the way, I kind of felt weird doing - eating with a burger with my hands in such a posh restaurant. But hey, who has ever eaten a hamburger with a knife and fork?
As Rach and I began eating our burgers, the years of anticipation of wanting to eat at Rockpool were replaced with feelings of disappointment. The burgers weren't great at all. The buns were overcooked and dry, as was the meat. It was meant to be Wagyu, but it was nothing special at all. The burger was cooked in a wood-fired oven, which gave the outside of the meat a nice charcoal crunch, but that was the only positive to this burger. I know we only were spending $15 on a meal at a restaurant who's average prices for a proper meal are about $40, but either way $15 is an expensive hamburger. Give me a $9 Urban Burger or a $6 Danny's Hamburger anyday!

The plain old fries we bought to share were a different story. These golden fingers of potato were cooked to perfection! I'm guessing that they were parboiled and finished off in the oven, rather than the deep fryer, as they were not greasy, yet soft inside and delicately crunchy outside - yum! The tomato 'ketchup' that we asked for, was by no means your standard Heinz tomato ketchup, it was house made and more like a smooth Napoli Sauce - delicious!
As a fan of Neil Perry's books and TV shows, I was pretty disappointed about my meal at his new restaurant. I can only hope that the proper restaurant can cut the mustard a little better than the bar food. Bar food is meant to be simple food and you'd think that a restaurant with a reputation like Rockpool could serve up something a little better than this. Maybe if someone paid for me, I'd head back to try the Rockpool Restaurant, but at the moment, I'm going back to keeping my distance from the casino.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Gourmet Larder, Daylesford

A bright blue sky and the sun shining through my bedroom window, was all that it took to inspire me to take the day off work. A day of self indulgence was in order and a drive to Hepburn Springs Spa Resort was just the medicine.
After a few hours, of relaxing, lying in the sun, swimming in mineral enriched water and being massaged, one can work up quite an appetite. As there isn't all that much in the way of food in Hepburn Springs, we drove back a few minutes down the road to Dayleford - a decent sized country town with lots of restaurants, retail shops and pubs.
We chose to feed our hunger at the Gourmet Larder Delicatessen. It was such a nice day we chose to sit outside. The menu was based on things that required minimal cooking and tended to feature some local produce. As it's a deli, as expected, there are lots of meats, cheeses and antipasto types dishes.
I went with the Ploughman's lunch ($14.95), which was a huge chunk of Watsonia Cheddar, which was wonderfully creamy, rolled seasoned ham, which reminded me of Christmas time, little pickles, crusty bread, rocket and some feta stuffed peppers. I loved putting together my own sandwiches with all the bits and pieces, the only problem was that I didnt get enough bread! I ran out pretty quickly, with still lots of ingredients left on the plate.

Rachel got the Tuki Lamb chipolata salad ($14.95), which was a warm salad, with very tasty pieces of Lamb sausage and golden slices of potato. A nice match with the Lamb Chipolatas was the addition of mint leaves in the salad, not too many, but just enough. The staff here are lovely and are most welcoming. Being a deli, if you like what you have for lunch, you can of course take home some of the ingredients for yourself to enjoy later. I wish I had of bought some of that cheese! This was the perfect country meal to end our perfect day in Spa Country.

Healesville Harvest. The place I dream of.

Healesville Harvest, 256 Maroondah Hwy Healesville 3777

Ok, so I love food, I love cooking, I love eating, but never had I even really contemplated owning my own cafe or restaurant until I visited the Healesville Harvest Cafe. If I opened a Cafe, I'd want it to be exactly like this place, in the same position, with the same food, staff, coffee and furniture. Looks like I'm a little too late. Because someone has already done a great job of it!
That someone is in fact Michael Kennedy and Kylie Balharrie who own some of my other favourite places in Healesville - Harvest House, Healesville Hotel and their soon to open Butcher / Providore Style Store, which will be just down the road from the Cafe.
The Harvest Cafe, has Yarra Valley written all over it. Their retail area down the back of the cafe stocks mainly Yarra Valley produce such as Olive Oils, Wines, Yarra Valley Pasta, Cunliffe and Waters Jams and Preserves (if you get the chance try the Cunliffe and Waters Raspberry Jam - it's absolutely amazing!!), they even stock their own herbs, which are grown on the owner's farm.

This farm from what I understand grows a lot of the ingredients which are used in both the cafe itself and at the famed Healesville Hotel restaurant next door. The cafe also stocks their own breads as well as the popular Philippa's brand. 2 large communal tables are inside or you can sit in the little laneway between the Cafe and Hotel and have your own table. There is no table service as far as ordering goes- you have to go up to the counter to place your order, but of course the lovely wait staff will bring the food over to you when it's ready.
The menu is quite simple and is predominantly based on the fine local produce available in the area. The breakfasts here are as to be expected- fantastic, although I have had the occassional over poached egg, but hey, I drive from Fitzroy to come here - can't be too bad! The bacon used here is the best bacon I have tasted by far... ever! I'm not 100% sure, but I assume the bacon used is from the butcher's across the road, which has won awards for the best bacon in Victoria.

The cafe also has it's own pastry chef working there. I haven't tried any of his tasty creations as yet, but the cakes and pastries on display look delicious! I don't know whether it's the food or simply the fact that I like to sit there and daydream about owning a place like this, but I'm always looking forward to my next meal at Healesville Harvest!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Best Bruschetta

How good is Bruschetta? You get bread, toast it and put stuff on top. Simple as that. Anyone can make Bruschetta, it's just the quality of the ingredients that you put on top that make the difference.
Here is one of my favourites, which is great as a snack or can be eaten as a starter. Adjust the ingredients to make as many or as little as you like.


Fresh Ciabatta
Ripe Tomatoes, peeled and seeded
Garlic Clove
Buffalo Mozzarella
Finely Chopped Basil
Lemon Zest
Medium Size Chillies


First place your chillies directly onto the hob of the stove, making sure you prick the skin of the chillies first, so they dont explode.
Turn the chillies until the skins are blackened all over.
Place the chillies in a small bowl and cover with glad wrap and leave for 5 - 10 mins, this will sweat the chillies and the skins will be super easy to remove.
Run the chillies under cold water and the blackened skin should basically just fall off, leaving the soft, sweet roasted flesh underneath.
It's best to split the chillies now and scrape out the seeds.
Slice this chillies thinly- longways and set aside.
Slice the ciabatta and place on a griddle pan, until you get those dark stripes that look and taste so good. (if you dont have a griddle pan, just toast under a grill)
Once toasted on both sides, cut a Garlic Clove in half and wipe it across one side of the Ciabatta.
Now smell the bread - the garlic smell will be so strong - love it!
Now you can start assembling your Bruschetta.
Start with your chopped tomatoes, then break some pieces of mozarella from the ball and place on top of the tomatoes.
Drape the chillis over the top of the cheese and sprinkle over some of the fresh basil.
Grate some lemon zest over the top of it all, drizzle some Olive Oil and season with Sea Salt and Black pepper. Easy huh?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Braised Veal With Melt In Your Mouth Gnocchi

This is one of those dishes I like to cook when I'm not in a hurry to do anything in particular and I've got all afternoon to do nothing but cook and enjoy putting this slow cooked Veal dish together. When you slow cook the meat like this, it literally falls apart and off the bone.

The secret to light and fluffy Gnocchi, is to bake the potatoes and not boil them, because the more moisture in the potatoes, the more flour you'll need to add to bring it all together - making for a heavier, more stodgy Gnocchi.

This dish doesn't have to be made with Veal, you could do it equally as good with Rabbit, Lamb or even Venison.

Serves 4


Veal Sauce:

4 sticks of Celery, finely sliced
1 Leek, chopped in half lengthwise and then finely sliced - white part only
1 Onion, finely diced
1 Carrot, cut into quarters and then sliced
2 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
400g Tin Chopped Tomatoes
500ml Chicken Stock
1 Glass of Red or White Wine (your choice)
700g Veal Osso Bucco or Shanks
1 Handful of Plain Flour to coat Veal
Finely chopped Italian Parsley
Salt and Pepper to Season

1Kg Whole Baked Potatoes
2 Egg Yolks
Plain flour as needed

Veal Method:

Prepare all your vegetables and garlic as required and put to one side.
Coat the Veal in the flour and fry off in a heavy based pan in some Olive oil or Butter, until it's coloured on both sides.

Remove Veal from pan and place on a plate, while you cook your vegies in the same pan.
When cooking your vegetables, start with the bigger, thicker vegies like the carrots and celery and cook for a couple of minutes as these will take longer. Then add your leek and onion and again fry for a couple of minutes over a medium heat until they begin to soften. Once soft add your garlic and give it another minute.

Now you can add your liquid - your tomatoes, wine and stock.
Bring this all to the boil and add the meat back to the pot.
Turn the heat down to a simmer and uncovered. Leave to cook for 30 mins, giving it a stir a couple of times.
After the 30 mins has past, replace the lid and leave to simmer over a very low heat for another hour and a half, occassionally stirring the pot.
The meat will be cooked when it is soft and tender, it should come away from the bone very easily. Once cooked, remove the veal pieces from the sauce and place on your chopping board. Using two forks, pull the meat off the bones and tear the meat apart so that you have nice little broken up chunks of meat. Return the meat to the sauce, stir through the chopped parsley and keep warm.

Gnocchi Method:
Preheat oven to 200c
Pierce the potatoes with a fork, otherwise the potatoes may explode!
Place potatoes on a baking tray and bake for approximately 1 hour or until soft in the middle.
Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove their skins and place the skinless potato into a bowl.
Using a masher or ricer, mash the potatoes until smooth - it's easier to do this while the potatoes are still warm.
Add your egg yolks and mix through the mash.
Slowly add flour to the mix - just enough to make the mixture into a very light light dough.
Once you've brought the mixture together, seperate it into 4 pieces and roll each one on a lightly floured surface to look like a long sausage.
Line the 4 dough 'sausages' up and cut the Gnocchi into little pillow shapes. Lining them up help keeps them a similar shape.
Plunge the Gnocchi into some salted boiling water and cook until it floats and then for another minute or so.
Lift the Gnocchi out of the water with a slotted spoon and drain well.
Place the gnocchi on a warmed plate and top with a couple of spoonfuls of your meat sauce.
Grate some parmesan or similar cheese over the top and maybe sprinkle some more parsley and Bob's your Uncle!

This recipe is also wicked served with some Parpadelle or other thick pasta in place of the Gnocchi. You could even whip up some polenta and serve with that. Or, you could try something I had at Pelligrini's the other day - toast some bread and place on your plate - cover the bread with ham, this is to protect it from the sauce and keep it crunchy. Spoon your sauce over the top and there you go! Molto Italiano! Bellisimo!!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Room with a Vue...A not so expensive one...

How often do you get to eat out at a really fancy restaurant? Well, if you're like me, maybe once or twice every couple of months. Those places aren't cheap and no matter how good the food is, not many people could afford to eat there every week, let alone every day. That's where Vue De Monde- the plush fine dining restaurant in the middle of the city, had a bright idea. They opened a little cafe just next door to the regular restaurant called Cafe Vue, which doesn't leave you wondering at the end of the month how you're going to pay that credit card bill. In fact the food is quite cheap, the prices generally range between $6 - $10. Cheap enough for us inner city working folk to get some Vue love everyday... If we really wanted to that is.
There aren't many tables at Cafe Vue, just a few inside and a couple outside where the fence between you and the lane way has a grid of herb pots built across it. If you sit outside, you can look through the window and watch the corporate high flyers eating their business lunches in the bigger restaurant.... or are they looking at you....kind of makes me think of that Four n Twenty commercial "i wonder if they know what they're missing out on"....we choose to sit inside.
Cafe Vue mainly does old lunchtime faves, but they do them with the best ingredients. Offerings like Croque Monsieur, the Vue Burger, Baguettes with fillings of ingredients like tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella or the Club Sandwich. They also offer some new twists on the old lunch time faves, like:a Jaffle with Baked Bean and Duck Confit and Yorkshire pudding with creamy mash and wagyu beef, which is what I ordered.

Now, if you're mega hungry, don't expect to leave here feeling satisfied, because the servings aren't that big, but hey - how much Wagyu do you want for $6? More on that later. The yorkie is as big as my fist, slightly crunchy in parts, and soft and spongey in others. on top of which rests the very creamy and almost cheesy potato puree. Draped over this sculpture of tastiness is the prized Wagyu which is sooo, so tasty and literally falls apart when you pull at it with your wooden disposable utensils. I still wonder though, how do they afford to sell Wagyu beef for $6, is it possibly the offcuts from the good stuff in the restaurant? Last time I checked it sells for approximately $150kg. Oh well, what do I care, whether it's real or not, the meat was gorgeous.
Now, I've been to Cafe Vue before and had the Yorkie, but not presented quite like this. On this occasion, the gravy was served to us in a drug lab type of vial and stuck deeply into the yorkshire pud! As I was unwrapping my wooden utensils, from the napkin, i noticed 2 little deal bags drop onto the table.

Upon further inspection, these contained my salt and pepper! Now, I've heard of some different ways of serving up food, but lunch time food with a druggie twist? Who knew? When we asked the waiter "why the vial?" he simply replied - "it's heroin." Clearly a new way of dealing heroin - over the counter and hidden in a yorkshire pudding disguised as gravy!
Now like I said, the meals aren't that big, so I decided to order myself a Vue De Monde Burger ($10). Again, the burger was about the size of my fist, which was served with French fries and a little cup of sauce. The burger was delicious, soft, perfectly seasoned meat, squashed between two buns with half a small peeled tomato, some cheese and some tasty aioli type sauce.
Cafe Vue has to be one of the best lunch places I've found in the city and by far the best value. Not for the size of the meals, but for the quality of ingredients and the great presentation. I'm looking forward to getting up early enough to drop in for one of their breakfasts too. If it's as good as lunch, then I can't wait to start my day at Cafe Vue. Let's just hope that I don't find a syringe full of honey in my porridge!