Monday, October 10, 2011

Perth Royal Show - Cookery Competition

This year I decided to give myself a bit of a challenge, so I entered the Cookery Section of the Perth Royal Show. I had entries in five categories, and unfortunately no wins/places, but I had fun!

My entries all packed up a ready to go!

I entered class 411 - Biscuits, class 426 - Orange Cake, class 436 - Classic Coloured Macarons, class 459 - Jam, Berry and class 468 - Chutney.

The show ended on Saturday, and entry collection day was today. I left work early to head off  to the Claremont showgrounds in time to collect my entries and feedback. Mostly I was after the feedback. Who wants a two week old cake?? I opted to leave the stale bikkies and (very) mouldy orange cake behind, but took home my jam and chutney.

As I said, the feedback was what I was really after. I had a good look at the entries in my classes on opening day, and I wont deny I was a bit sad to see I hadn't got even one highly commended. Its really hard to walk around and see your entries along side others with the 'first place' card on them, and not be able to see much difference between the two. I had a chat to one of the stewards on the day, and she assured me I would get feedback when I came in on collection day; 'How else will you do better next year, love?'.

Unfortunately I didn't get the judging notes on all my entries, the biscuits below being one of those, so I'll just have to give it another go next year and hope that goes better!

Class 412 - Biscuits (mine are bottom row, second from the right)
The comments on my chutney were not that surprising - good presentation, colour/appearance and texture/consistency, but lacking a depth of flavour. Unfortunately I didn't make it when tomatoes are at their peak, which I think has a lot to do with it. I just need more practice!

Class 468 - Chutney (bottom left corner)
Again, no comments on the jam, but having seen the open jar this afternoon, I think it was probably too thick/well set. It had a bit of a 'hospital jelly' consistency.

Class 459 - Jam, Berry (top row, second from right)
The orange cake was my main disappointment - I had been practising that baby for months (not that anyone in the office is complaining!), and the judges comments were good too; good appearance & colour, nice texture, and good flavour; so it's hard to know what went wrong...

Class 426 - Orange Cake (bottom level, back left)
I don't have a photo of the macaron entries (class 436), but it was fairly obvious on the day why mine weren't winners. They were quite bumpy on the surface in comparison to the others, and the piping marks were still visible. The judges notes reflect that; appearance - 'a little uneven, a smooth surface is preferable', texture - 'needs to be more crispy', but a good colour and flavour. I generally make macarons using the French method, but I think it might be time to give the Italian method a try as it seems to give smoother shells.

I also entered a couple of soft toys in the craft competition, with similar results (i.e. none...).

So that's how the show went for me. No real successes, but some things to work on for next year.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Hippo Creek, Hillarys

I have recently jumped on the coupon (groupon/scoupon/star deals/living social etc etc) bandwagon. I know I'm a little late with this, but it all seemed so hard, 'great' deals for some restaurant you've never heard of, located somewhere in the outer suburbs... and it didn't help that I'm still new to the Perth food scene, so I recognised the name of the restaurants less frequently than most.

Then I stumbled upon a coupon for Hippo Creek Hillarys. Now that was a restaurant I'd heard of. The famed South African steakhouse was somewhere I'd heard about, on more than one occasion, but had never made an effort to get to, partly because it's so darn far away, and partly because the whole concept seemed a bit blah. That said, when I spied the coupon, I jumped on it. You can't really say you're a foodie in Perth if you've never been, and I knew Mr Alphie would love it. And, and $59 for three courses for two (midweek), we couldn't really go wrong.

We booked well in advance, as I'd heard these things can get quite busy, so although I bought the coupon in July, we didn't make it to Hippo Creek until September. Mr Alphie had just come of FIFO (and I mean just, we went straight from the airport..) so was very keen for a good meal!

Not being locals yet, and it being our first trip north of Karrinyup, we arrived at Hillarys Boat Harbour, and wandered around for a good 15 minutes before we actually found Hippo Creek (lucky we had been early!). Once in, we handed over the coupon and booking email, and were shown to our seats. I was a bit nervous as we were seated, as I've heard some horror stories about terrible service to those on coupons, but I had nothing to worry about. The staff at Hippo Creek were fabulous, and explained the coupon to us, and offered to bring out the (set) entrée while we decided on the mains (from a shortened menu), an offer we gratefully accepted, as we were both pretty hungry by that point (one of the conditions of the coupon was a 6pm or 8.30pm seating - due to Mr Alphie's flight, we had chosen 8.30).

The entree included in the coupon was the Mud Huts - Button mushrooms filled with cream cheese, spinach and semi dried tomato, crumbed and fried finished with garlic aioli dipping sauce. We were given one serve each, and while I ate them all, I didn't love these. There just seemed to be something missing.

Mud Huts

Mr Alphie chose the Hunters Assaghai – marinated cubes of rump on a skewer hanging over a bowl of fries with peri peri butter dripping down served with a side salad, as his main. Which he somehow polished off before I had finished my main - I take that as a sign it was delicious!

Hunters Assaghai

While I went with a slightly more reserved option, the Botswana Beef – Beef fillet marinated in beer, soy, chilli, ginger and coriander char grilled to medium served with mash, broccolini and courgettes finished with shiraz butter jus. This was really just a steak, but gosh darn it was a good steak. Meltingly tender, cooked perfectly to medium, with plenty of jus, and a good amount of mash....mmmmm....
Botswana Beef

We finished with a sticky date pudding each, as per the coupon. Sticky date pudding is not one of their standard desert offerings, and I was a bit disappointed we didn't get something from the regular desert menu as some of the offerings look quite interesting. Regardless, the sticky date pudding was good, served with a butterscotch sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Although by this stage Mr Alphie was unable to finish his (I blame the inhalation of the Hunters Assaghai...). I'm not sure I would bother with dessert again, the feature of Hippo Creek being the meat, and they do it so well.

Sticky date pudding

While I enjoyed the meal, and the service was great, I don't think Mr Alphie and I will be going back in a hurry. It's a restaurant better suited to groups than a 'romantic dinner for two', so unless an occasion for a group meal out comes up, I'm not planning to return soon. That said, I would like to try the Subiaco venue - Hippo Creek Meat and Wine Subiaco, as it seems to have a different vibe (and menu) to the Hillarys restaurant.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Jacksons, Highgate

After a number of failed attempts, Mr Alphie and I finally made it to the degustation at Jacksons in Highgate/Mt Lawley. We had had to cancel our first booking as Mr Alphie's roster changed unexpectedly, and I was away on a pre-work-trip jaunt for the rescheduled booking. But, third time lucky! Well, kind of lucky.. I had been struck down by the flu a few days before, so I was a bit groggy, and pumped full of Codral, but there was no way I was missing our third booking!

We opted for the degustation with standard wines ($180pp), with a palate cleanser before the main (+$8pp). As a result of the flu/drugs, I have a hazy (at best) memory of the food, and can't say much about it other than it was all delicious! So this will be a photo-heavy post, but who doesn't love a bit of food porn? (more importantly, why are said people reading a food blog in the first place?)

selection of house made breads

gazpacho something-or-other in a anchovy cone (?)

shark bay crab salad, manjimup truffle dressing, foie gras snow

cambinata yabbies, black pudding, hollandaise & peas

cone bay barramundi, chinese caponata, rhubarb

another amuse bouche/mid-meal tid bit;
beef broth, shitake mushrooms, daikon

parmesan crusted beef short rib, beef tendon, miso

palate cleanser;
lime & lavender sorbet (?)

roast chook, veg, bacon, bread & gravy (Alphie)

sichuan spiced amelia park lamb loin, shoulder & rib (Mr Alphie)

manchego croquetta, onion ice cream

another mid-meal tid-bit;
creme brulee with crushed macarons

date tart, minted orange salad, blood orange & rose water sorbet

coffee and things;
truffles and something else delicious, but I don't remember what...

Thanks to Mr Alphies sisters (and Mr SIL), for the generous gift voucher that made our visit possible!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Mamasita, Melbourne

Ok, so the blog has, once again, been a little neglected of late. I have been travelling a lot for work, in fact, while I was writing this, I had not been in home in over a week, and it looks like it’ll be like this for a while. The upside though, is that I am spending most of that time in Melbourne, where some of my favourite people reside. One of these, is a great friend of mine from our university days in Sydney, and one of my bridesmaids, Ms Aqua.

The last time I was in Melbourne (about 2 weeks ago...) we tried to get in to Mamasita, but as they don’t take bookings, and we turned up at 7, albeit midweek, we weren’t able to get a table til 9 (yes, on a Wednesday!). So, we took a raincheck and headed off somewhere else. This week, we went in prepared. We arranged to meet at 6, on a Tuesday, and whoever was there first was to get a spot in line ASAP.

I turned up first, at 5 past 6 (eek!) and nabbed a spot second in line! And, when the floor manager/line-keeper-in-order-er made his way over to see what we were after, line-place-holder-no-1 was on the phone, so I got bumped to no 1! It was already looking like a good night. As my dining partner, Ms Aqua, was not yet there, I was seated at the bar with the exhaustive drinks menu to wait. But before I’d had time to find the cocteles section of the menu, Ms Aqua, had arrived and we were shuffled into seats a nearby table.

Ms Aqua sensibly steered me away from the cocteles, given that it was a school night, so I went with a glass (or two) of the house bubbly, a non vintage Vallformosa MVSA Cava (or sparkling) from Catalunya, Spain. Ms Aqua went for the 2009 Bella Ridge Tempranillo from the Swan Valley, WA.

Our friendly and bubbly waitress then explained the menu to us, thankfully, as Ms Aqua and I were seriously struggling trying to decide what we should order – it all sounded so good! The menu is split up into nine categories; primeros (to start), tostaditas, tacos, quesadillas, ceviche, comida para la familia (food for the family), ensaladas, acompanamientos and postres (desserts). I would have loved to try something from each category, but with only two of us, that was never going to happen. So we relied heavily on our lovely waitress to guide us in our choices.

elotes callejeros

We started with the elotes callejeros; street style chargrilled corn, with queso, chipotle mayonnaise and lime, as it came heavily recommended, both by our waitress and a number of reviews.

 tostaditas de carnitas

Closely followed by the tostaditas de carnitas; slow braised pork shoulder with encurtidos and jalapeño; a tiny crispy tortilla, topped with a generous pile of soft pork, some pickles (the encurtidos), jalapeño and a little shard of crackling – delish!

quesadilla de huitlacoche

The last item we chose from the taqueria menu, was the quesadilla de huitlacoche; two soft tortillas encasing huitlacoche, mushrooms, roasted corn, epazote and queso fresco. After a bit of googling, I have discovered that huitlacoche is a type of corn fungus, sometimes referred to as ‘Mexican truffle’ or ‘corn smut’. Call it what you like, but it makes a delicious quesadilla.

buñuelos de garbanzos

From the main/food for the family menu, we went for the buñuelos de garbanzos; chickpea fritters, with field mushrooms, sweet potato and jalapeño herb sauce, and a small serve of the ensalada de quinoa; quinoa, corn, spinach, coriander, chilli and ‘pico de gallo’ salad.

ensalada de quinoa

Suprisingly, the chickpea fritters didn’t really resemble chickpeas, but were delicious none the less (and vegan!) and the quinoa salad was so incredibly moreish I could have eaten the whole serve myself. Crisp and flavoursome, the grains of quinoa popped like pomegranate seeds in your mouth, ahhhhh, I’m getting excited just thinking about it!


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Brussels sprouts and Tofu

Another recipe from the infamous Yotam Ottolenghi. I am on a bit of a tofu bender at the moment, and after buying my last block, I realised that I wasn't sure how I wanted to cook it. A brief flick through Yotam's Plenty, and I had found the perfect recipe; Brussels sprouts and Tofu. I quite enjoy Brussels sprouts, but I know a lot of people don't feel the same way. I think the key is to sauté them rather than boil them to oblivion (as is often the case). They really need to be just cooked through, overcooking is the enemy of the Brussels sprout.

This is kind of a stir fry and kind of not, but whatever you call it, it's delicious. The marinade really flavours the tofu, which is something I usually find quite hard to do. I didn't have any maple syrup, so I substituted honey, and mis-read the rice wine vinegar amount (I used 1 tbs instead of 1 tsp) but it was still great. If anything, I would cook the sprouts for a little longer next time, some were not quite cooked and a bit tough.

Brussels sprouts and tofu
Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty
Serves 3 
(Yotam says 4, but I didn't get that much - maybe I'm just a big eater...)
  • 2 tbs sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 ½ tbs soy sauce
  • 3 tbs sesame oil (Yotam recommends toasted sesame oil, but I have no idea where you'd find this)
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs rice wine vinegar
  • 150g firm tofu, sliced into 1cm widths, then halved into rough squares
  • 500g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced into longways thirds
  • 6-8 tbs plain oil (rice bran/sunflower etc)
  • 100g spring onions, sliced
  • ½ small red chilli, deseeded and freshly chopped
  • 120g shitake mushrooms, halved or quartered
  • 15g coriander leaves
  • 1 tbs (toasted) sesame seeds (optional)
  • salt

First, marinate the tofu. In a bowl, whisk together the chilli and soy sauces, two tablespoons of the sesame oil, the vinegar and maplr syrup.Gently stir the tofu into the marinade and set aside.
Browning/burning the Brussels sprouts

Take a large, non-stick pan, add two tablespoons of oil and heat up well. Throw in half the sprouts and a little salt, and cook on high heat for two minutes. Don't stir much. You want the sprouts to almost to burn in a few places and cook through but remain crunchy. Remove to a bowl. Repeat with more oil, salt and the rest of the sprouts. Remove all sprouts from the pan

Add two more tablespoons of oil to the pan, heat up and sauté the spring onions, chilli and mushrooms for a minute or two. Transfer to the sprout bowl.

Leave the pan on high heat. Use tongs to lift half the tofu pieces from the marinade and gently lay in the pan (be careful as the oil will spit!), spacing apart and in one layer. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for two minutes on each side, or until they get a nice caramelised colour. Transfer to the sprout bowl and repeat with the rest of the tofu.
Caramelised tofu

Once all the tofu is cooked, remove the pan from the heat and return all the cooked ingredients to it. Add the remaining tofu marinade and half the coriander. Toss together and allow to cool slightly in the pan. Taste and add salt if needed. Stir in the remaining sesame oil (extra, if you like) and serve warm, not hot, garnished with sesame seeds, if using, and the rest of the coriander.

Serve with hot steamed rice.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Black Pepper Tofu

Sadly, my local Borders is closing, but it does mean I was able to pick up a number of great cookbooks for a steal. One of these was Yotam Ottolenghi's book, Plenty. Yotam is most well known for his columns in the UK newspaper the Guardian, as well as number of restaurants/cafes in London. Plenty is the culmination of these columns into a book, with a few other recipes thrown in for good measure. The recipes in the Guardian are primarily vegetarian, although Yotam is famously not vegetarian himself. Mr Alphie and I aren't vegetarian either, but are always looking for great meat-free options, for ourselves and the vegetarians we often cook for.

This recipe jumped out at me in my first flick through the book, and again last night when I was looking for dinner inspiration. Luckily, Mr Alphie is not one to shy away from tofu, and after my stay with SIL & Mr SIL, I have developed quite a soft spot for it.

Mr Alphie and I both loved this, and Mr Alphie was pushing to have it again soon- like, before he heads back north again (in 2 days time!).

Notes: I made a half recipe, as I don't think it would re-heat well. Also, I only used one chilli, we only had the hot Thai ones (definitely not mild, as suggested), and that combined with the pepper was a fairly hot dish (but not 'blow your head off'), so make your own judgements on the chilli & pepper quantities - keeping in mind that there is supposed to be a lot of pepper, hence 'black pepper tofu'. 

Mr Alphie rates it: 9.5/10 - a true gem!
Black Pepper Tofu
Serves 4
  • 800g firm, fresh tofu
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • cornflour to dust the tofu
  • 150g butter
  • 12 small shallots (350g), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 8 red chillies, thinly sliced
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
  • 5 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
  • 3 tbsp sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 16 small, thin spring onions, cut into 3cm segments

Start with the tofu. Pour enough oil  into a large frying pan or wok to come 5mm up the sides and heat. Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 3cm x 2cm.

Unless, like me, you are wearing your comfy around-the-house trackies, I suggest you wear an apron while coating the tofu - I managed to get cornflour everywhere...

Toss them in some cornflour and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil. (You'll need to fry the tofu in batches).

Fry, turning them around as you go, until they are golden and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer to paper towel to drain.

Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then add in the butter. Once it has melted, add the shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger, and sauté on low to medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the contents of the pan are shiny and totally soft.

Next add the soy sauces and sugar and stir, then add the crushed black pepper.

Add the tofu to warm in the sauce for about a minute, then add the spring onion and stir through. Serve hot with steamed rice. (We also had steamed Asian greens.)


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Highland Restaurant, Cradle Mountain Lodge

The first two nights of our honeymoon (once we were off the Spirit of Tasmania) were spent at Cradle Mountain Lodge, on the fringes of the Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park, in the north-west of Tasmania. We arrived late on the first night, so had a quick dinner in The Tavern, and made a booking for the Highland Restaurant for the following night.

We had planned to start our second day with a walk (after indulging in the hotel breakfast, of course). The weather was cold and drizzly, but we were warned that snow was forecast for the afternoon, so, hesitant to put it off too long, we headed out. For the first half of the 6km Dove Lake loop track we were by ourselves, slogging it out in the wind and freezing cold rain. Then it started to clear, and other walkers seemed to come out of nowhere; school groups, serious trekkers on the start of The Overland Track, and other day walkers like ourselves. Once it cleared, Mr Alphie and I were able to see some of the beautiful scenery we had been walking through. Waterfalls running down the sides of Cradle Mountain, islands in the centre of Dove Lake, and some amazing rock formations.

We made it back to the lodge around lunchtime and relaxed in front of our log fire with the picnic lunch we had collected at breakfast that morning. After lunch, thanks to two very generous (and sneaky) groomsmen we had been booked in for a hot stone massage and milk bath at the Waldheim Spa. Feeling very relaxed, we dashed to the restaurant for a wine and cheese tasting, with a range of Tasmanian wines and cheeses. Then back to the cabin to find our complimentary canapés, and get changed for dinner.

complimentary in-room canapés (and the fire in the background!)

We debated going for the 5 course degustation ($85pp), but after our monster picnic lunch and the cheese tasting, we weren't sure we would be able to enjoy it all. So we opted for 3 courses ($69pp). Mr Alphie started with the twice cooked Tasmanian pork belly with pickled apple and celery and bush pepper paint, while I had a petit oxtail pie with capsicum relish and roasted garlic cream.

Tasmanian pork belly

The pork belly was soft and melt in your mouth, but unfortunately lacking that really crispy skin that you expect from pork belly cubes, Mr Alphie tells me it was delicious anyway! The pie was filled with soft, slow cooked oxtail, and served with two fabulous accompaniments - anything with pastry will always be a winner as far as I am concerned, and this was no exception.

petit oxtail pie

This was followed by Tasmanian venison 'primal' with honey brown mushrooms, squash, white bean puree and quince paste for Mr Alphie, and Tasmanian duck breast with roasted Mediterranean vegetables, buttered barley and roast duck essence for me.

Tasmanian venison primal

I am struggling to remember back this far ( I need to keep a notebook!), but Mr Alphie tells me his venison was superb. Quite rare, but beautifully soft and game-y.

Tasmanian duck breast

After a short break, chatting by the fire, we were ready to tackle dessert. Mr Alphie was having a lot of trouble deciding, but finally settled on the vanilla pavlova with lavender ice cream, red wine jelly, lavender shortbread and vanilla sauce, after seeing it on its way to someone else's table. I opted for a classic - chocolate fondant with raspberry sherbet and  chocolate paint.

chocolate fondant

The fondant was to die for, perfectly cakey outside with a gorgeous gooey inside, pared with tangy raspberry sorbet, just to make sure you don't suffer from a chocolate overload (not that that would be a bad thing!). The pavlova was exactly the way Mr Alphie likes them, lots of meringue and not much topping, or as he would say, 'lots of pav-, hardly any -lova'. The ice cream and shortbread were very fragrant, but didn't have overpowering lavender flavours, which I think is preferable, lavender flavour always runs the risk of being too room deodoriser-like if it's too strong.

vanilla pavlova

The meal was outstanding, and coupled with the beautiful rooms, day spa and gorgeous scenery, Mr Alphie and I were talking about when we could be back, before we'd even left!


Friday, May 20, 2011

The Lettuce Shop

I arrived home on this wet and woolly Friday, to find a carefully wrapped box of goodies on my doorstep. On Monday I ordered a seasonal fruit & veg box from The Lettuce Shop, and I had been waiting excitedly all week for Friday afternoon to arrive (not your usual reason I know!).

I rushed inside, cleared space on the bench and set to work unpacking the box. Along with the seasonal fruit & veg I had ordered 1L of milk, 2L of juice and a dozen free-range eggs. The Lettuce Shop pride themselves on using WA produce wherever possible, and only Australian if WA produce is not availible. So, the milk and juice were both from Harvey Fresh (located in the states south-west, and wholly WA owned), and the eggs were from Chittering Valley.

Yay! Delish fruit & veggies!

But it was the mixed fruit and veg box that I was most excited about. I went with the smallest box ($35), since Mr Alphie works FIFO (which for the non-WA readers is fly-in fly-out, not first-in, first-out, which is what google seems to think it means...) so is not home for dinners much.

Included in the box was;
  • 1 large cos lettuce
  • 3 large bok choy
  • 2 zucchinis
  • 4 carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 8 new (baby) potatoes
  • half a bag of mushrooms
  • 2 tomatoes
  • 3 granny smith apples
  • 3 royal gala apples
  • 6 jewel plums
  • 3 imperial manderins
  • half a rockmelon

My only gripe is the lack of garlic. Mr Alphie and I easily use a whole clove in a week, so I'll still need to head to a greengrocer to pick some up. And nextime I think I'll order a bigger box, as we eat a lot of fruit and veg in our house - it always makes up most of our trolley!

I obviously can't comment yet on freshness/shelf life, but I'll let you know how it goes!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mr and Mrs Alphie

Ok, so I know I said a while ago that I'd keep up the posting, but it slipped again.

That said, I have had a valid excuse I promise. FH Alphie has (finally) moved across the country, and we have moved into a little rental property in Perth.

And, for the big one, FH Alphie and I are now Mr and Mrs Alphie!

We were married on April 30, at Brown Brothers Epicurean Centre at Milawa, near where I grew up, and Mum and Dad still live.

We followed that up with two weeks driving and eating our way around Tassie, so there are a lot of restaurant reviews to come, I promise!

And, because I know everyone loves a good stickybeak at wedding photos, I have included some of my favourites...

Mr & Mrs Alphie

Me, with Ms Red in the background

The Bridal Party - a few blog characters in there...

Mr Alphie and his Mum, getting ready to walk down the aisle

Dad and I

The ceremony

The tables for the reception

Mr Alphie and I, at our 'sweetheart table'

Sorry for the small sizes, and strange borders - I had to do some dubious things to get them off the photog's website.... Which if you're interested, is