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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Zucchini and feta rice tarts

Zucchini and feta rice tarts

I had some cooked rice left over the other week. Normally, I would make fried rice, which is always quick and tasty. I tried something a bit different though, and tried making rice tarts with an eggy filling (like a quiche).

I mixed up the cold rice with an egg and then pressed it into large muffin moulds, using a glass to press it down nice and flat. However, my largest muffin moulds are silicon, so the rice didn't really crisp up the way I was expecting/wanting. Actually, the rice that was next to the silicon (ie the sides and the bottom) stayed completely soft. You may notice that the tart in the background, particularly in the photo below, is a bit wonky - that's because I had trouble getting it out of the mould without damaging it! Oh well, there's my lesson learned - should've used metal moulds/trays.

Despite the soft rice, it tasted okay, although I could've been more generous with the salt.

Zucchini and feta rice tarts

Zucchini and feta rice tarts

Makes 6 small tarts or 1 large one

For the rice tarts

2 cups left over cold rice
1 egg
Salt and pepper

For the filling

1 small zucchini
1/2 small capscium
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Salt & pepper

Preheat your oven to 200°C .

Season your rice very well with salt and pepper, then mix in an egg. Lightly oil a large muffin/tart tin. Divide the rice amongst the muffin moulds and press down well, using a glass to get it nice and flat and to help create the sides. Pop it into the oven and cook for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, grate the zucchini and capscium into a bowl. Add the eggs and mix together. Season well with salt and pepper.

Pour into the baked rice tarts, top with feta and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the egg is set.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Celeriac soup

Celeriac soup

Brrr! It's been cold this week. Perfect weather for soup and sitting on the couch with the heater on.

I don't think I've ever had celeriac before this winter. It's so unattractive with it's brown knobbly surface that I never felt tempted to pick it up. Appearances can be deceiving though, and I'm glad I decided to give it a try.

Celeriac is a kind of celery that's grown for the taproot rather than for the stem and leaves. It has a mild flavour with a cross between celery and parsnip. The first time we ate it, we had it alongside mashed potato, and I kept it separate in case we didn't like it. Fortunately, that wasn't the case, and the following week I picked up a large one (over a kilo!). What to do with such a big lump of celeriac? Soup!!

Celeriac soup

I softened some onion, garlic and diced bacon (probably didn't need the bacon) in a pot, then added the diced celeriac and enough vegetable stock to cover. It all simmered until the celeriac was soft, and then I used my stick blender to puree it. After that, I seasoned it with salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and stirred through some grated parmesan (probably didn't need the cheese).

Here it is served up with a dash of extra virgin olive oil, and some diced celery leaves. My soup was very thick, so I found it quite filling. It was perfect for a meal on the couch!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cafe Vue cocktail night - Christmas in July

Cafe Vue cocktail night

Reading Claire's and Cindy and Michael's posts on the Cafe Vue cocktail evening finally spurred me into making a booking! On Friday evenings, Cafe Vue hosts a cocktail evening, where you get five small dishes paired with five cocktails for $75. There is a different theme each month, and this month's theme is Christmas in July.

Before I start, let me just say that I tried very hard to remember the ingredients of the cocktails and the food that we were served. Despite my best efforts, I may have got some details incorrect. So if I'm wrong about something - please excuse my terrible memory! I did note things down, but by the time the waiters had given their spiel and walked away, I had already forgotten most of what they had said. Doh.

Cafe Vue cocktail night

The first cocktail was the Alfons, a cocktail made of Dubonnet, sparkling wine and a twist of lemon peel to add a citrus note. It was sweet and refreshing - a tasty aperitif to kick off the evening.

Cafe Vue cocktail night

It was paired with two spiced duck and rye cookies. Layers of duck and pea pate were sandwiched between pumpernickel biscuits. There was a nice contrast between the smooth, soft pate and the soft crumbly biscuit. Very, very yummy.

Cafe Vue cocktail night

The next cocktail was the Christmas Punch, made of apple juice, vodka (I think) and a cranberry, cardamom reduction (the red syrup at the bottom). It was sweet, and seriously tasted just like an apple turnover - very uncanny!

Cafe Vue cocktail night

The food dish that it was paired with was a prawn cocktail. At the bottom of the glass was a mixture of mayo, tomato sauce and Worcester sauce, then avocado puree, cos lettuce and a couple of fresh prawns on top. You could taste the quality of the prawns, which were absolutely gorgeous, and the tangy sauce was so moreish. We all loved this. I'm thinking that prawn cocktails should make a comeback!

Cafe Vue cocktail night

Next up was the Flight of the Silver Fizz. This one was a change from the two previous cocktails that had been quite sweet. The Flight of the Silver Fizz was made with gin, maraschino cherry liqueur, lemon juice and topped with foamed egg whites. It was sour with a hint of lavender.

Cafe Vue cocktail night

It was paired with a turkey and vegetable broth. The turkey had been cooked for 12 hours before being cubed and served in the savoury broth with diced vegetables and a couple of mint leaves. On top was a lid of pastry. We were advised to break the pastry into the broth and make it all bready.

Cafe Vue cocktail night

Next was a Port Cobbler, made of port, cab sav, bitters and topped with a foam of clove syrup. It had a strong port flavour scented with cloves. We were advised not to eat the clove foam as it was quite bitter and just there for the aroma. This drink felt like something you should be drinking on a snowy evening while sitting next to a roaring fire.

Cafe Vue cocktail night

The dish with the Port Cobbler was a ham croque monsieur. Some of us had been hoping for bread, to soak up some of the alcohol, but instead it was a deconstructed version of a ham croque monsieur. On the bottom was cheese foam, then lettuce, gruyere cheese and ham sandwiched in a pistachio tuile. Unfortunate that there was no bread, but it was delicious! The crispy tuile, the cheese foam, good quality ham - yum!

Cafe Vue cocktail night

Naturally, we couldn't finish the evening without egg nog. Very apt for the theme. The bottom layer was made from brandy and egg yolks while the top, white layer was rum, vanilla sugar syrup, and egg whites foamed up and topped with a bit of grated nutmeg. We all started by tasting the top layer, which was sweet and light. Then we tasted the bottom layer - "heeeellooo brandy!!". The egg nog had a pretty strong kick!

Cafe Vue cocktail nightCafe Vue cocktail night

The last dish was dessert - a plum pudding souffle. It came in two parts, a tube of creme anglaise (thanks to the lovely Dany for holding it) and the main souffle.

Cafe Vue cocktail night

We were instructed to poke a hole in the souffle and pour in the creme anglaise. Look! Here's me pouring in the anglaise AND taking a photo at the same time. After four cocktails! Hopefully you're as impressed as I was. The souffle tasted just like a plum pudding, but as light and fluffy as you'd expect a souffle to be. It was delectable and sweet, and rather boozy by the end of it.

Ah, it was a fun evening. The theme was great, and I felt that the cocktails were particularly good for Christmas in July. Some cocktails and dishes stood out more than others, but there wasn't anything that I really disliked. We will definitely go again in the future!

Cafe Vue
430 Little Collins St, Melbourne
Phone: 9691 3888

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


It's good to have friends who go with the flow. We know people who, when we've taken them out for a meal and start walking through a food court, haven't batted an eye.

Now normally, I wouldn't be recommending that you take your friends to a food court (not in Australia anyway). But there is always the exception and ecpot is it.

ecpot is a little restaurant that opens out to the food court in the QV building (it's next to Officeworks and across from Dan Murphys). If you're lucky, you get to sit in the restaurant. If you're unlucky, then you sit in the food court! Despite the location, it's not food court food.

There's quite an extensive menu, but we go mostly for the clay pots. Clay pot cooking is a traditional Chinese way of cooking where clay pots are lined with raw rice and then ingredients are added on top. These are then cooked on a low heat. They take a bit of time to cook (a minimum of 15 minutes) but are well worth the wait. And if you order a couple of non clay pot dishes, you can request for these to come out first.

On our last meal there, we had several clay pots, plus other dishes off the menu.


This was the stir fried rockling fillet with chinese broccoli ($15.80). The fish was tender and flakey, and the chinese broccoli still had a pleasing crunch.


The stir fried kung po chicken ($15.80) was packed full of dried chilli and onions. With all the chillies, it looked like this dish was going to blow our heads off. Fortunately, it wasn't too spicy and gave the chicken a slight kick.


The chinese sausage on glutinous rice clay pot ($10.80) is one of my favourites. Chinese sausage (lap cheung) is a dried, hard sausage that is normally made from pork. It has a high fat content, is normally smoked and is sweeter than a normal sausage. This dish does benefit from some soy sauce. Sometimes the staff will automatically bring soy sauce, but sometimes you have to ask.


The curry beef on rice clay pot ($10.10) is beef and potatoes on top of rice in a mild Japanese style curry. It's so fragrant and moreish.


This is the clay pot with beef in black pepper sauce ($10.10). The tender slices of beef and snow peas come covered in a peppery sauce on top of the rice.

The best part about clay pots is the layer of rice that cooks on the very bottom. It crisps up and becomes a crunchy rice cake. When you've reached the bottom, you must pry off the crunchy rice - it's delicious!


This was the deep fried calamari and scallops in spicy salt ($18.80). It's hard to go wrong with anything deep fried and covered with a spicy salt! The calamari and scallops were tender and with a right amount of salt - not too much, not too little.


Char kway teoh ($9.20) is one of my favourite things to eat. The version at ecpot is full of chinese sausage, prawns, fish cake, squid and bean shoots and normally it's a fairly decent version. The one we had on this occasion wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. I found it a bit lacking in spice and seasoning when normally it's pretty spicy and tasty with the smokiness from the wok.

There's no desserts, but there are some fancy (or odd) drinks (pictures of them are above the counter). We always finish off the meal with a mango sago drink, which is made with mango nectar, coconut milk/cream and sago which is a better combination than it sounds. Although, it has been remarked by others that it resembles frog spawn, so I think you need to like bubble drinks. Or else you enjoy sucking down frog spawn after a meal!

QV Urban Market, Shop 7, Level 1, 210 Lonsdale Street
Phone: 9663 8319

Monday, July 14, 2008

Chicken roasted with red wine & grapes

Chicken roasted with red wine and grapes

I am normally a bit suspicious of fruit with meat. But when I invited my friend Emily and her partner Mark over for lunch a while ago, I decided to test out this recipe on them. They had no idea they were being my guinea pigs. Fortunately, despite my general aversion to the fruit and meat combo, it was delicious! Maybe I could be a fruit and meat convert after all.

Roasted grapes may sound strange but I can now vouch for their tastiness. They become tender and sweet in the oven, and also a bit tangy from the balsamic vinegar in the recipe. I served the dish with mashed potato and mashed celeriac. See the pink petal like things at the back of the plate? They were a failed attempt on beetroot chips (as they were mostly burnt).

If you're going to try this recipe, do use a relatively good quality balsamic vinegar (though obviously not one of the highest quality!). The vinegar affects the flavour in the final dish so you don't want to use something that tastes cheap and nasty.

Chicken roasted with red wine and grapes

Chicken roasted with red wine & grapes

From Delicious magazine - March 2008

Serves 4

2 red onions, cut into wedges
350g large seedless red grapes, cut into small bunches
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, plus extra to drizzle
4 rosemary sprigs
2 tbs olive oil
3 chicken thigh culets (with skin on and bone in)
200ml light red wine (such as pinor noir or merlot)
2 fresh bay leaves
creamy mashed potato, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Scatter the onion wedges and grapes in a lightly oiled roasting pan, then toss with the balsamic vinegar, rosemary, 1 tablespoon of the oil, and sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for 20 minutes or until the onions are tinged golden and the grapes have wilted.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a heavy-based frypan over high heat and brown the chicken skin-side down for 15 minutes or until deep golden.

Add the chicken, skin up, to the roasting pan with the onion and grapes. Add the red wine and bay leaves and roast for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and tender.

Serve the chicken, grapes and onion with mash, drizzled with the pan juices and a little extra balsamic vinegar.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Waffles with cinnamon poached pears

Waffles with cinnamon poached pear
Mhmmmm maple syrup...

We had an indulgent breakfast on Sunday. I should've let us sleep in later to make it super indulgent. Instead, I made us get up early so I could make waffles!

Unlike the last time I made waffles, I used a recipe that had baking powder instead of yeast. It was quick, easy, and actually pretty good! I don't think I'll bother with a yeast batter again, not with this particular waffle maker.

I googled for a recipe that used baking powder, and settled on this one. The only thing that I did differently was to add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon to my batter.

The waffles were quite light, and also a bit sensitive to being overcooked. They were best when they were golden and not too well done. They weren't very sweet, but it was perfect with icing sugar and maple syrup.

I served the waffles with half a poached pear. I had a lonely corella pear sitting around that I knew I wasn't going to eat. Rather than waste it, I poached it in a sugar syrup with a cinnamon quill and a couple of pieces of lemon peel. Below is the recipe that I used - increase the amount of sugar and water if making more than one pear.

If a breakfast like this isn't worth getting out of bed for, I don't know what is.

Waffles with cinnamon poached pear
Thanks to Alastair for being my patient syrup pourer. :)

Cinnamon poached pear

1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
1 cinnamon quill
2 pieces of lemon peel
1 large pear, peeled and cut in half

Mix together the sugar and water in a saucepan, and place on to a low heat.

Stir until the sugar dissolves.

Add the cinnamon quill, lemon peel and pear.

Simmer until the pear is soft and tender (about 10 minutes). Turn the pear over half way through if it isn't fully submerged.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chocolate cake


Yet another cake post. It's starting to look like all I do is eat cake! I assure you it's not the case.

These cakes were for a special occasion – one of my "pod mates" at work had a birthday recently. Not just any birthday, but his 65th birthday! He is the loveliest person, so I couldn't let his birthday go by without cake. Everybody deserves cake for their birthday - particularly for such an important one!

Chocolate cakeLime and poppyseed syrup cake

I had thought that the chocolate cake would be more popular, but surprisingly, the rather large lime and poppy seed syrup cake disappeared first. The recipe for the lime and poppy seed syrup cake came from (surprise surprise) the Australian Women's Weekly's "Bake". It has become my baking go to book, but I'm making a resolution to use some different books for a while.

The chocolate cake recipe came from a colleague at my previous job. The recipe is brilliant because it's the easiest cake in the world. All the ingredients are mixed up in a bowl, and then it goes into the oven. The only thing you need to be aware of is that it can take a while to bake as the batter. But for so little effort, it's a great cake. It looks like it might be dry, but it's surprisingly moist and with a light texture. It's also not too sweet, which I really like.

With the cake pictured, I topped it with chocolate ganache, but it's just as good with just icing sugar sifted over.

Chocolate cake

Easy peasy chocolate cake

200g self raising flour
5 tablespoons cocoa powder
250g brown sugar
125g butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
160mls water

Preheat oven to 170°C. Brush tin with butter and line 20cm round cake pan.

Place all ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 2-4 minutes or until mixture is pale and smooth. (I'm not sure whether the butter should be melted, or just softened - I normally melt it and it turns out okay).

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Zealand: Wairau River Wines, Blenheim

As mentioned previously, our weekend was spent in New Zealand for my father in law's 60th birthday. Alastair's sisters had organised the weekend, and had kept the fact that we were coming along a surprise. Malcolm was very moved when we showed up, which made the trip completely worth it. :)

View from a random winery

Alastair's sisters had booked Macolm's birthday lunch at a local winery – Wairau River Wines in Blenheim. Blenheim is located near the top of the South Island, in the Marlborough region, which is the largest wine area in New Zealand. Marlborough produces about half of New Zealand wines, with (surprise surprise) Sauvignon blanc being the predominant wine produced.

Wairau River Winery

Lunch was a three course meal with two choices for each course. For entree, Alastair had the Marlborough mussel chowder and toasted herb bread. I stole a taste (as per usual) - it was creamy with chunks of fennel, potatoes and of course, mussels! But I thought that it was just a touch on the salty side.

Wairau River Winery

I had the cauliflower and blue cheese soup with toasted herb bread. Ooooh boy, this was good! It was definitely the better of the two soups. It was super creamy, with a lovely smooth texture, and just a hint of cauliflower and blue cheese. I completely cleaned my bowl!

Wairau River Winery

For mains, Alastair had the individual chicken, leek and tarragon pie with a mixed green leaf salad. Under the pastry lid were large chunks of chicken in a pale sauce. Does anyone else think that the best part of a pie is that skin between the lid and the filling? When Alastair pried off the pastry, he found that skin! Yummo.

Wairau River Winery

I had the smoked fish and potato cakes with a soft boiled egg, proscuitto, caper and parsley salsa and watercress. The fish and potato cakes were soft inside, and slightly crusty on the outside. There was a distinct "smoked fish" flavour and I particularly liked eating the fish cake with a bit of boiled egg.

Wairau River Winery

The desserts were a rhubarb and apple crumble with vanilla ice cream or a crème brulee with poached plums. Both Alastair and I had the crème brulee. It was perfect – the caramel on top cracked under my spoon and the custard underneath was smooth and creamy with specks of vanilla seeds.

Wairau River Winery

Strangely though, other people found all the vanilla seeds all at the bottom of the custard while mine were scattered through the custard. The poached plums were very tart, but good eaten with a bit of custard. I noticed that most people left their plums behind (I ate mine because I'm a glutton).

It was a very pleasant lunch and very filling. So filling that there was no need to eat dinner that evening. And I'm not usually the type to skip dinner (glutton).

Blenheim seemed like a nice town and I'm astounded that I lived in NZ for 20 years and had never been there before. Isn't that always the way - seeing the country you live in isn't as attractive as seeing other countries? Fortunately some of Alastair's family live in Blenheim so I'm sure there will be reason to visit again in the near future!

Wairau River Wines
Rapaura Road, RD3, Blenheim, Marlborough, New Zealand
Phone: +64 3 572 7950

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

New Zealand: Blenheim

We got back yesterday from a very brief three day visit to New Zealand. We were there for a special occasion - to attend Alastair's father, Malcolm's, 60th birthday party.

We flew Jetstar (a budget airline) so there's no plane food to show you, but I do have some random bits from our trip. The flights were okay, but the plane felt very, very cramped. Fortunately it was only a few hours across the ditch and I had freecell and ABC vodcasts to entertain me.

We flew to Christchurch on Saturday morning and had breakfast at Melbourne airport. Once you pass customs, the food options are very limited. It was rather disappointing.

Melbourne airport breakfast

I had a bacon, egg and cheese foccacia ($6.50). Not a very healthy breakfast but it tasted okay and was reasonably priced (for airport food, that is).

Melbourne airport breakfast

Alastair had a chicken pie ($6.50). A pie for breakfast!

Once we reached Christchurch, we picked up a rental car and headed to Blenheim. On the journey there, we stopped in Kaikoura for a late lunch/early dinner.

It was 5.30pm when we reached Kaikoura - and the town was dead. Admittedly, it was wet and cold, so perhaps it was quieter than it would normally be. We decided to eat at a pub called The Whaler, as it was the first one we came across. There was no one in there apart from us and the staff! I imagine that it would be much busier in the warmer months. It was quite a nice place – all dark wood and a blazing fireplace in the middle of the room.

The Whaler

Alastair had the lamb shanks which were braised and served with a sweet pea potato mash with caramelised onion, green beans and jus ($27). It was a whopper of a meal, with two large shanks that had been cooked until the flesh was falling off the bone.

The Whaler

I choose a smaller meal and had the baked catch of the day served on an onion potato cake with a blue cheese and avocado sauce ($15). I don't know what the fish was (and I didn't ask) but I wasn't that taken with it - it had a very firm, heavy flesh, which wasn't overcooked or dried out but still really solid. It had a strong fishy flavour. Now I wish that I had asked what it was so I can steer clear of it in the future! Anyway, the avocado and blue cheese sauce was good, creamy and with only a hint of blue cheese flavour. The pink stripey thing in the salad had me stumped, but the little salad was good with a sweetish, tangy dressing. (Oh! Google tells me that the pink stripey thing is a Chioggia beet. Gosh I love the internets.)

The Whaler
49-51 West End, Kaikoura 7300, New Zealand
Phone: +64 3 319 3333


The next day was Malcolm's birthday lunch at a winery (post to come), so Alastair and I only had a small breakfast. We opted for a savoury muffin, which was full of bacon, capsicum, cheese and corn. Mhmm tasty. It was pretty good, but would've been even better if it had been warm. The red sauce on top was a tangy chutney.


The coffees came with a little biscuit mushroom. Cute!

71 High St, Blenheim, New Zealand
Phone: +64 3 578 3828


We left Blenheim the next day, getting up early as we had to drive back to Christchurch. When we got into the car at 7ish, the temperature was -2°C. Brrrr! We went into town and had breakfast at the first open cafe we came across.


Alastair had the open omelette with tomato, rocket and mozzarella ($15).


I had the scrambled eggs with a corn fritter and bavarian sausage ($16). The eggs were fairly light and not overcooked.


The coffee was really very good - the initial taste was quite sour, but it had a aftertaste that was smooth and very pleasant. I had two....

Raupo Riverside Café
2 Symons St, Blenheim, New Zealand
Phone: +64 3 577 8822

After breakfast we headed back to Christchurch. The road out of Blenheim was quite twisty, and as we drove back on the inside of the mountain I felt the effect of the windiness more than the drive in. The winding road, along with the coffees, and a full stomach from breakfast meant that soon I was feeling a lot less than average. After fighting it for a while, eventually I asked Alastair to pull over - and let's just say that breakfast tasted a lot worse coming up than it had going down!


It was a shame I was feeling so car sick because the drive back to Christchurch was beautiful, with snow capped mountains and ocean views along the way. We stopped in Kaikoura briefly on the way back to Christchurch. Not a great pic - I blame the car sickness. I was obviously feeling better though because I wanted to take a photo!

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