Lamingtons for Australia Day

Australia Day just isn’t Australia Day without pavlova or lamingtons. This being a universally understood truth, I decided to make some. Unfortunately my meringue was an epic fail! The egg whites could not be formed into ‘stiff peaks’ no matter how long I beat them for and although they rose when in the oven, by the time the slow cooking and cooling processes had finished, I was left with some sad, cracked, wafer thin looking thing not capable of holding together let alone supporting any fruit or cream.

With one not working, I pinned all my hopes and patriotic dreams on the other. Thankfully my lamingtons turned out perfectly! They were most, spongy and had the perfect proportion of coating to cake. Funnily enough I got the recipe a few years ago from a post on an American food blog trying to explain Australia Day and our traditional foods to Americans. 

And here it is… the secret to any awesome Australia Day gathering.

Ingredients

For the sponge

  • 110g softened butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • pinch of salt

For the icing

  • 45g softened butter
  • 75g icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 cups dessicated or shredded coconut

Method

Preheat oven to 180C (170C fan forced, 350F, gas mark 4). Line a square 20cm cake tin with baking paper and grease any uncovered sides.

To make the cake, sift flours and baking powder into a medium mixing bowl. Add all remaining cake ingredients and beat using an electric mixer on medium high for about 5 minutes. The mixture will become pale and light. Transfer into the tin and bake for 30-35 minutes or until just golden on the top and cooked through.

Allow cake to cool before placing it in the fridge for about 20 minutes and cutting into fingers or squares. I like to remove the side crusts too, it makes the lamingtons even more meltingly soft.

To make the icing, place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix while adding a tablespoon of boiling water at a time. The icing should have the consistency of a slightly runny gravy.

Place coconut on a dessert plate. Dip each cake in the icing turning quickly then drop into the coconut, making sure it sticks and covers the cake well. Repeat with the rest. Keep lamingtons in the fridge until serving time.

Tagines, Pastillas & Bread oh my!

This past Christmas/ New Years break, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel overseas. I love spending my annual leave exploring new places – preferably in regions I’ve never been to before. This time I decided to hit the continent of Africa, visiting the beautiful country of Morocco.

In addition to being the most spectacularly scenic country, the food is delicious!!! What they lack in range of local cuisine, they make up for in flavour, portion size, freshness and healthiness. Excluding breakfast which is a carb-palooza of bread, pastry, crepes and, well, more bread (say hello to the French influence), the Moroccans have quite a balanced diet. They eat lots of fruit and vegetables, good cuts of red and white meat – slow cooked to keep flavour, and  healthy plant based fats. Just don’t drink the tea – that stuff is pure sugar!!

Here is a smorgasbord of some of my favourite meals:

Almond pastries from Tangier

Breakfast buffet – carb central!

Moroccan Salad

Lemon Chicken Tagine – incredible form of cooking!

Dried fruit and nuts sold by weight

Meat options at a local BBQ house

Pasilla- chicken or fish ‘pie’ coated with sugar and almond meal (chicken) or cheese (fish)

Berber Omelette- aka Egg Tagine

Hearty Beef and Vegetable Tagine

Kefta Beef Tagine

Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Prunes

Shrimp Tagine

Pablo & Rusty’s, Sydney CBD

I have often worried that as I have gotten older, I have become less social. I have no scheduled dinner parties, no nights out clubbing – in fact very few evening activities at all. As someone who thrives off social activity, it makes me wonder – am I spending too much time alone? Then I realised, no – I’m still a social butterfly, it’s just that the time that I like to socialise has changed. The new prime real estate in my calendar is now the week day breakfast and working in the city as I have for the pass year gives me easy access to some great week day only breakfast spots.

One such place is Pablo & Rusty’s. Located on Castlereagh Street, this place is a little oasis of strong coffee, delicious pastries and friendly service. When the rest of the world appears to still be asleep, this place is buzzing.

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I’ve hit up Pablo’s twice in the last six weeks and both times have been wonderful. Although I was in the door before 7.30am on both occasions, I found myself still having to wait for a table.  It wasn’t terrible though. The staff are on the ball and with the quick breakfast service, within five minutes I was seated and ready to order. While you are at a table, they don’t rush you which is so nice. They seem to have hit that perfect balance between efficiency and courtesy – something that is really hard to do.

And the food is beautiful, pretty as a picture – and I did take a picture. If you can tear yourself away from the drool worth display case of muffins, tarts, croissants and danishes, the menu items are so worth it. From toast piled high with eggs, greens, mushrooms and other goodies to creamy porridge and muesli chock full of nuts and fruit, there is not a disappointing item on the menu.  You won’t experience FOMO no matter what you order – something I often suffer from.

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If you’re in a rush, or feeling greedy, most items are available take away. That way you can have your eggs, and your cake… and eat it too. I’ve never been for lunch but I’ve heard it’s pretty spectacular. If the breakfasts are anything to go by, I can well believe it.

After several happy catch ups here, my friend and I have decided the Pablo’s is now our special place and there is nothing better than basking in the glow of an awesome friendship while filling your tummy with awesome food.

Eveleigh Markets

For someone who claims to love food as much as I do, it’s taken me years to hit up what is widely proclaimed as the king of all markets. 

  

Every since I moved across the bridge, I’ve been told that I have to check out the Eveleigh Markets and yet, somehow, it just hasn’t happened. First, I didn’t know where Eveleigh was. Then, I found Saturdays inconvenient. Then life just got too busy. But finally, on Saturday, all that changed. Despite a hectic week and late Friday night, I dragged myself out of bed and went to experience the wonder. And I wasn’t disappointed!!
  
Smaller than I imagined and far less crowded, it was heavenly meandering up and down the one centre aisle, staring at awe at the gorgeous wares on sale. 

  

Cheap it isn’t but fantastic quality it most certainly is! Cheeses and coffee and produce oh my! And the pastries, don’t get me started on the pastries. I purposely went without breakky this morning so I could indulge and so I did, splitting the largest, most decedent pistachio, pear and rhubarb croissant with my dad. It was the best bought pastry I’ve eaten in forever!! 

  
We spent the next hour sampling our way round in a manner dad has termed a ‘degustation’. It was such a great morning. The sun was shining, the bacon was sizzling and everyone was friendly. Cannot wait to repeat the experience! 

   

May Kwai Chinese Restaurant, Rose Bay

There is nothing more Australian than a BBQ on a public holiday – unless it’s a Chinese dinner. Finding ourselves hungry on a public holiday night and with limited dining out options, we decided to take the opportunity to check out May Kwai, a popular Chinese restaurant in Rose Bay. I’d heard a lot about this little gem, and had been wanting to check it out for a while. The slightly inattentive service notwithstanding, I wasn’t disappointed.

In comparison to many other restaurants serving traditional Chinese food, May Kwai is small in terms of space, but the portion sizes and options available are anything but. The menu is divided up into sections according to the protein used, or to the style of dish. If you like your scallops five different ways, or something different for dinner like an omelette; this is the place for you.

As we settled in, I could see that the San Choy Bow was a very popular menu. A vast number of lettuce cups sailed past our table, and I have to say, they looked very tempting; but after family negotiations, we decided on something else.

For starters, we ordered the Gow Gee ($11). Perfectly steamed they were very tasty – not at all rubbery, and each contained a substantial amount of prawn meat.

We then moved on to the mixed king prawn stir fry ($25.80) – a combination of delicious, plump prawns and scallops stir fried with mushrooms and shallots served on a sizzling serving dish. This was my favourite main. I felt like the whole ocean was sitting in front of me on a plate.

Back on land, our next dish was the the half duck served with plum sauce ($20.80). Again there was lots of meat in this dish. The skin was golden and crispy, and the sauce plentiful.

Our third main was the fillet of honey pepper chicken which was sweet and tasty, but did have a an after kick which required a glass of water on standby.

All of these were accompanied by a large serve of the vegetarian fried rice ($10), which was the only dish that fell flat for me. I found it too salty but my family liked it.

It was a great family night out. May Kwai could become our new public holiday tradition.

Rating: 7/10

Where: 710 New South Head Road Rose Bay NSW
Why: Lots of options and big portions.
Cost: $10-$30
When: 7 days, lunch and dinner.

Good for kids: Yes
Take away: Yes

Burnt Orange, Mosman

love getting spoilt, and on my birthday this year, two of my besties spoilt me rotten by taking me to Burnt Orange cafe in Mosman.

Located in the back of Mosman, as far away from Military road as you can get while still on land, making your way down the bush path; intuitively you know something special is waiting at the end.

How people first found out about Burnt Orange and then located it on a map I have no clue, but they definitely did. Looking around at my fellow diners, they’re young, they’re gorgeous, and there are a lot of them. Coming here on this particular Saturday morning; the sun is shining; the view is spectacular, and it’s a full house.

Formerly a residence, the beautiful plantation style house has been transformed into a restaurant/cafe serving breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea to its hungry guests. A multitude of white washed wooden tables are situated along the large, wrap around, wooden balcony; and the vine patterned cream and green wall paper emphasises the country manor feel. We could be ladies brunching in a bygone era.

We were lucky to secure a table In the sun and with a light breeze. It’s bliss.

All being self-proclaimed foodies, we had all studied the menu online, so ordering with the courteous waiter was a quick affair.

The pancakes with ricotta and strawberries ($16) were a delectable dish. Also coming with a bacon option, they were stacked three fluffy disks high, and they were very generous in size.

The fetta, tomato and mushroom toast ($15) was also delicious. A deceptively simple dish, the mushrooms were perfectly grilled and not at all greasy; and the herb infused feta was it’s star. Served with two massive pieces of sourdough, I was in heaven.

The only disappointment was the breakfast board ($19) – a very small dish, particularly in comparison to the size of the board on which it was served. The majority of the elements present were nice, but they just didn’t seem to go together. Most of this dish was left behind.

After eating, I discovered the fun wasn’t over. The entire two story house interior has been transformed into a boutique shop where one can purchase anything from handmade jewellery, clothing and blankets to decorative items and home wares. Expensive but gorgeous.

It was a great start to the weekend, and an even better start to a new year. Makes me it excited for what’s yet to come!

Rating: 9/10

Where: 1108/1109 Middle Head Road Mosman NSW.
Why: great location, food and shopping.
Cost: $15-$21
When: 7 days from 8.30am

Good for kids: Yes
Take away: No

Bay Tinh Vietnamese Restaurant, Crows Nest

The newest in a restaurant chain, Bay Tinh is a gem of a restaurant, located on busy Falcon street in Crows Nest. The food served is Traditional Vietnamese with a modern twist. Worried we might not get in on a Saturday night, we made a booking. Probably wise as although it’s a large restaurant, it was very busy with only a few free tables. It’s made up of three dining areas: a small front section, an upstairs area for large groups, and past the kitchen is a third dining area which is where we found our table. White brick walls have been lined with a bamboo style mat covering. Wall arches around the room contain inset silk cushions or frescos of Vietnamese landscapes giving the room a plush and colorful vibe. Red lanterns dangling from the ceiling, and the real potted palms lining the back wall finish off the look and transport you overseas to Saigon.

The number of patrons here for a Saturday night feed suggests that a delicious dinner is coming. The only negative being so many people means a lot of noise, making conversation a touch difficult.

the great preamble

The menu has a ridiculous number of options. It is a multiple paged booklet, and I love the preamble on the first couple of pages describing the restaurant’s origins, and the instructions on how guests should order. Individual dishes are a no no. Sharing Is a must. It’s a good thing too, because I want to try everything, and this way I get to taste few of the taste buds tempting options.

inside the bonfire, a house specialty.

With so many unique items on the menu, this is not a place to play it safe. Items like pork stuffed whole calamari and caramelised, claypot salmon are tempting; but we decided to order the seafood and vegetable soup $30, bonfire prawns and beef $28 and the quarter (Also served as a half) of deboned chicken stuffed with prawn mince, served with plum sauce $18.50.

the big communal soup pot

The service was excellent. Courteous, efficient and friendly. Napkins were placed on laps, water poured, and dishes served so fast there was no time to think ‘I’m hungry.’ The first course, seafood soup was placed on the table in a large communal pot and then served for us in to our individual bowls. It didn’t disappoint. This dish is hot, full of flavour, with the right amount of salt and chock full of seafood and fresh veggies. Perfect to warm you up on a drizzly night.

Bonfire beef and prawn

The second course was a house specialty, beef and prawn bonfire, one of the four meat options available. A pot of meat was placed on the table next to a large plate of stir-fry cut vegetables, and then the pot was set on fire. The waitress told us to wait a few minutes, and then departed with the promise to return to show us what to do. Thankfully, 10 minutes later she did. First came the rice paper disk. On it the fresh vegetables were placed, and then a small pile of the beef and prawn mixture before a drizzle of spicy peanut sauce. The whole concoction was then rolled. The trick, not to put too much filling in. It was delicious. Light, fresh and enough spice to leave a tingle in the mouth.

the assembly process

 

Our final dish, the boneless chicken quarter was also a house specialty, and it was a great way to end the meal. The chicken was sweet and tender, and was presented as a delectable fan drizzled in a silky sauce. Beautiful.

the delicious fan of meat

Using the restaurant’s entertainment book voucher, it was a delicious and excellent value meal. Can’t wait to return to try more.

a Vietnamese dinner is not complete without a pot of green tea

Rating: 9/10

Where: 16 Falcon street Crows Nest NSW
Why: great, unique Vietnamese food.
Cost: around $35 per person
When: Lunch Friday to Sunday. Dinner Tuesday to Sunday.

Good for kids: Yes, there is room for a pram but it is loud.
Take away: Yes, through menu log.

Cucina Italiana Cooking School, Annandale

Ever wanted to experience Venice, Italy but don’t have the time and/or money to get there? Well now all you have to do is travel to Annandale and book in for a class at Cucina Italiana Cooking School.

The beautiful house

Held in a private house, the owner Luciana has converted the lower level to a demonstration kitchen and dining/tasting area. The family photos and trinkets scattered around the counter tops, on the walls and on top of the range hood though, indicates this house is still very much a lived in family home.

The décor

 

Personal touches

Luciana is a very passionate teacher who made the lesson interesting and fun. A big believer in quality Italian goods, she makes all her egg pastas at home.

Two cracked eggs – the beginnings of pasta

She began by assigning us to pasta making stations, and by explaining about how the weather greatly affects the pasta making process. The amount of moisture in the area has a direct impact on the amount of flour that needs to be used. As such, every recipe given is therefore just a guide, and flour quantities must be adjusted accordingly.

Items required for pasta making

Then we began. Create a ring of flour on your bench top, leaving some off to the side. Crack two eggs in the centre and slowly start mixing the flour in with a fork until the egg stops moving. Then mix the whole lot together to form a thick dough. Now came the fun part, the kneading.

The dough dance

By Luciana’s definition, kneading is a dance. A whole body movement requiring swaying to and from the bench to avoid arm cramps. Boy did we dance. Back and forth for well over 10 minutes. It got to a stage that we thought she had forgotten about us. Finally though, we had achieved a dough to her satisfaction, and it was placed aside to rest. We were then moved to the dining area. Here we were treated to some more of Luciana’s unique views: Jamie Oliver has ruined Italian food, and that he is the food terrorist. And flat parsley should only be used in butchers as decoration, and never for cooking, and olives are like cherries – they should burst in the mouth with flavour. Her vibrant personality is what set this cooking class apart from all others.

Antipasto

While sharing her pearls of wisdom with us, she demonstrated her famous bruschetta recipe; olives, borlotti beans, red onion, parsley, and a ton of olive oil. Simple and delicious.

The pasta machine

After our snack, It was then back to the kitchen to roll out the pasta. For the first time ever, I used a pasta machine, and It was surprisingly easy. You roll your dough ball out into a small rectangle, and then feed it through your pasta machine. Begin with it set on one, and then keep threading it through, each time putting the setting higher and higher until you reach a thin, flat sheet. We were then ready to make – wait for it: Ravioli!!!

pre-made fillings

Everything was prepared for us. All we had to do was scoop some pre-made filling (beetroot and pumpkin) into balls along the length of our pasta; fold it in half, and then cut it into sections using a pasta cutter. Of great importance was squeezing all the air out of each little pocket, and putting in enough filling so they weren’t miserable. They were then placed on drying racks.

Frying fish

 

Preparing dessert

While all this was happening, small side tutorials were being run on the art if making fish scaloppine and semifreddo. Once we had all joined together again, there was some quick instruction into the art of making a pasta sauce (oh the butter, oil and cream) – and then it was time to eat.

Entree is served: ravioli

What a feast it was! In typical Italian style, the pasta we all slaved over formed our first course. This was my favourite. That rich, creamy sauce highlighted the delicate flavours of the filling in what proved to be a light and tasty dish. We then moved on to the second course of fish scaloppini; a juicy fillet of barramundi lightly floured and fried before being finished off in a white wine and butter sauce. It was served with a caramelised walnut and lettuce salad.

The main

Finally, we finished off with a caffeine addicts dream – the beautiful rich semifreddo. What a way to end a meal.

DessertI undertook this cooking course as part of a staff development day, and it was such fun! I can’t wait to come back for one of the regular classes Luciana runs in Italian cooking. Soon I’ll be a connoisseur of Italian cuisine, nothing like that famous food terrorist….

Non-miserable ravioli

Rating: 10/10

Where: 84 Johnston Street Annandale NSW
Why: Learn to make beautiful Italian food from an enigmatic teacher.
Cost: $130- $155 per person
When: Wed & Thurs evening, or Sat & Sun day classes. Alternatively you can book a private group.

Good for kids: Yes, she runs family classes.
Take away: N/A

Sydney Fish Markets Cooking School

Special occasions deserve special treats, and in my family, that usually means something food related. Last weekend. I was very excited to attend the Sydney Fish Markets cooking school to celebrate a wonderful family member’s birthday. It was an interesting and very fun Saturday night out.

We entered the fish markets in what felt like the dead of night. They were deserted, and I must say, I felt like I was getting a behind the scenes look at a Sydney icon. We were met at the entrance by one of the kitchen hands and ushered upstairs into an area most visitors would never know existed; a massive, multi purpose venue above what during the day is a hustling and bustling marketplace.

The dinner to come

We were all here tonight to learn how to barbecue with seafood, and we learnt that it’s not as hard as it seems. The menu consisted of two main dishes – orange marinated swordfish steaks and seared mussels served with mango salsa. These were accompanied by freshly made hummus on grilled Turkish bread and a green leaf salad.

Creating our side dish

A bit like a progressive dinner, the experience took place in three interconnected rooms: the auditorium, the kitchen, and the dining room.

The demonstration bench

We began the night with a 1 hour demonstration in the auditorium. The room, seated theatre style was ideal. It wasn’t so large as to feel like a university lecture hall, but the tiered seating ensured there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. There were also TV screens set up above a large preparation counter, and a stove area streaming up close footage of the cooking process, which meant that everyone could see everything. All attendees were also provided with their own recipe book to follow, along with and a pen to make notes.

The demonstration was great. We were walked through the entire process, from fish preparation to marinating times, grilling heats to plating niceties, all at an easy to follow pace. Then it was time to try it for ourselves.

Our amazing teacher

Almost magically, a section of the auditorium wall slid open to reveal a large, stainless steel equipped, professional kitchen, one any cooking show contestant would be delighted to work in. Just like an episode of MasterChef, we were split into teams of five to cook both of the dishes presented. Unlike the show though, the prize we were all working for was getting to eat a delicious dinner.

Preparing the bread

After we divided up the jobs required (this included setting the table), we got down to work. These dishes weren’t just made to look easy to cook, they were easy to cook. Soon the air was filled with delicious smells, and everyone was busy madly marinating, pureeing and grilling. The beauty of seafood is how fast it is to cook, and we were all getting pretty hungry.

Grilling the seafood

Throughout the whole process, the highly competent kitchen hands wandered around the kitchen giving friendly advice or assistance where needed. It was really considerate. It ensured we all were on track to end up with an edible feast that we could be proud of making ourselves.

Once each team was done, we made our way through to the dining room. This room was just gorgeous. Set up for fine dining, it was decorated nautical style with fishing nets strung from the ceiling containing hundreds of glowing light bulbs. The bright red walls gave the place life, and the atmosphere of being somewhere truly unique and special.

The spectacular dining room

Each team was assigned their own table, and we sat down together to enjoy the products of our labour, while the staff served us a choice of white or red wine to accompany our meal. It was delicious. The seafood was light, fresh and beautifully flavoured; particularly the swordfish which had really soaked up all the flavours of the marinade used. We were all so impressed with how tasty it all was; how little time it took to achieve, and the fact that it was us who had made it!

Our feast

After a complimentary Lindt ball (or two) and an after dinner coffee, we were all satisfied and ready to go.

We ended the night with a bang. The experience ending just in time for us to wander over to enjoy the fireworks display at Darling Harbour. An awesome end to an awesome night.

Rating: 10/10

Where: Corner Bank St & Pyrmont Bridge Rd, Pyrmont NSW.
Why: Learn to make delicious seafood at home
Cost: $80 per person for a private class of around 30 people
When: Around six times a month on Friday and Saturday nights, or you can schedule your own function.

Good for kids: No
Take away: No

Boon Chocolate Cafe, Darlinghurst

It was such a cold day that I had the most massive craving for something comforting like tea and chocolate. Good thing I organised an after work catch up at Boon – The Chocolate Experience in Darlinghurst.

Just down the road from the Victoria Street dessert Mecca Messina and Strawberry Cream, Boon is the perfect place to treat yourself to something delicious and chocolatey. Owned by a brother and sister team, the range of constantly changing gourmet chocolates are made in house and feature quality ingredients. An additional bonus, they’re kosher and halal certified too.

You can choose a selection to take away with you, or to gift to a very special friend. Alternatively, you can do as we did today and venture to the upper level of the shop, set up as an intimate lounge style cafe, and order something to have in house.

There are four different types of drinking sets. Each comes with a hot beverage as well as your choice of Boon praline, and a chocolate mousse shot. They are the Connoisseur hot chocolate drink set; the Belgian Style hot chocolate drink set; the Coffee set, and the Boon tea set. Soy milk is available for those who need or prefer, and all hot chocolates have a minimum of 65% cocoa. There are a couple of cold drinks listed too.

My friend ordered the Belgian style milk hot chocolate ($8.50), while I went for the pot of peppermint tea ($9); a tame option but a good one. Since they were out of chocolate mousse, we got the choice of two chocolates each. My friend chose the peppermint and ginger, while I picked the peppermint and the coffee chocolates.

Everything was delicious. Finally, for the first time that day I was warm and cosy. I can’t wait to try more of their range. I just need to find someone to buy me a box, or a reason to buy them for myself!

Rating: 9/10

Where: 251 Victoria Street Darlinghurst NSW.
Why: A great gourmet chocolate experience in a friendly and intimate environment.
Cost: $7.50-$10
When: Tuesday to Friday, 10am-7pm; Saturday, 10am-8pm; Sunday, 11am-6pm.

Good for kids: Yes
Take away: Yes