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Saturday, September 27, 2008

A series of brunches: Auction Rooms, Orange and Café Plum

Auction Rooms
103-107 Errol Street, North Melbourne
Phone: 9326 7749

Auction Rooms Auction Rooms

Claire highly recommended Auction Rooms, so a couple of weekends ago we went there for brunch. It's a large, impressive space, all wooden beams, eclecticness and hipsters, and was very busy and bustling when we arrived.

Auction Rooms

After a look at the brief menu, I decided on the chorizo open sanga – a panfried chorizo with roasted red capsicum, mushroom paste and apple sauce on toasted sourdough with rocket salad ($13). I would've liked to have had a spicier chorizo, but I was happy with my brunch. The apple chunks were interesting - at first I couldn't figure out what they were. I thought they may have been pineapple due to the sweetness and appearance, but they also tasted very gingery.

Auction Rooms

Bro had the beans with bacon – Italian slow cooked baked beans, sage, basil, and rosemary infused olive oil served with sourdough toast ($11 without bacon, $13.50 with bacon).

Auction Rooms

And Alastair had the opening bid – poached eggs, roasted cherry tomatoes, bacon and spinach on sourdough toast ($15).

Auction Rooms

Coffees were very, very good. I don't have sugar in mine, but nevertheless I adored the little soup cans on the table that the sugar sat in. Bro was a bit grossed out at them (the cans did look a little rusty around the top...) but they were very, very cute and totally fit the aesthetic of the place.

124-126 Chapel St, Windsor
Phone: 9529 1644

A few weekends ago, Alastair and I made an unusual trip south of the river to have brunch with a friend in Windsor. We do tend to stick to our part of town - not because we're north of the river snobs – the truth is that we're just lazy!


My short mac came with a little jug of extra milk. How cute!


Whenever I see items on a brunch menu that's a bit different to eggs on toast, I tend to gravitate towards them. Which is how I ended up with a grilled kipper with horseradish butter, with a poached egg on sour dough toast ($15). It was a touch salty, and I thought it was a bit expensive, but apart from that I was pleased with it. The watercress was lemony and great with the kipper.


Alastair had the omelette with corn, coriander, chilli, and guacamole ($13.50). I'm sure he didn't care, but I was pleased to see that it was a proper omelette (I don't like open faced omelettes and don't consider them worthy of stomach space).

Cafe Plum
193 Flemington Rd, North Melbourne 3051
Ph: (03) 9329 8867

And of course, it wouldn't be a good brunch post without a couple of brunches at our favourite café!

Cafe Plum

During a visit several weeks ago, there was a new item on the specials board - black sticky rice with caramelised banana, surrounded by a pool of coconut milk. Alastair ordered this for brunch, and a damn good choice it was! Sweet and fragrant with chewy glutinous texture, it's not the kind of thing that I would ever think to have for brunch, but it was delicious.

Cafe Plum

I had a roti wrap filled with scrambled eggs, potatoes and bacon. Yuuuummm... the roti was crispy and jam packed with filling.

Cafe Plum

And Bro had a HUGE serve of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and a bit of chilli oil/sauce on top.

Cafe Plum

On a different occasion, we arrived at Cafe Plum a bit later than usual, so we all ordered lunch. Bro had herby chicken meat balls with linguine ($16.50).


And Alastair and I had shepherd's pie with a rocket salad ($15.90). Underneath the creamy mashed potato were chunks of tender meat and vege in a tasty sauce. The rocket was good too - just the right amount of peppery bitterness.

Previous visits to Cafe Plum can be found here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dinner at ours: Mushroom dumplings, spicy pork in pancakes and almond jelly

The previous weekend, while I was in the middle of Super Flu 08, my pal Jo came over. Before I had succumbed to Super Flu 08, I had invited her over for tech support and dinner. By the time Saturday rolled around I mistakenly thought that I was recovering so opted to keep the date. I felt strong enough to cook, but could barely taste anything. Cooking with no sense of taste was an interesting experience!

Because I had been feeling so crap during the week, I only decided on what to cook when I woke up on Saturday morning. I went for something relatively easy.

Mushroom dumplings

For starters, we had mushroom dumplings. I threw together a rough filling, and sat down to pleat the dumplings (recipe at the end of this post). I watched the video below to learn how to fold them - she works quickly so I watched it a LOT, over and over, until I had figured it out. Mine didn't look as good as hers, but I pretty much had the hang of it by the time I finished wrapping.... 50 dumplings later!.

Spicy pork in pancakes

After dumplings, we had spicy pork in pancakes (recipe below) which is eaten in the same way as peking duck. This was pretty good and I would definitely like to try it again when I'm not sick!

Lychee and ice cream with almond jelly

And for dessert, we had a Chinese restaurant special – canned lychees and ice cream! I had also made some almond jelly (recipe below), but because I couldn't taste anything, I added more almond essence than was desirable. Judging by the way Alastair recoiled when he tried it for me, it was a bit too intensely almond flavoured! So I only served a little bit of the jelly - thank goodness for the ice cream and canned lychees.

Blossom tea

And this is what we ended dinner with - flowering tea. I don't own a clear teapot, so here it's in a coffee plunger. Isn't it gorgeous?

Mushroom dumplings

Mushroom dumplings

Makes about 50 dumplings

1 small onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
6 dried shitake mushrooms, stems removed and soaked in water for at least 30 minutes
220g can whole water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
300g mushrooms
1/2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt & pepper
500g packet of jiaozi wrappers

In a frying pan, cook the onion, garlic and ginger on medium heat for 5-190 minutes until soft and cooked through.

In a food processor, pulse the shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and mushrooms until finely chopped. Tip into a bowl and add the chinese rice wine, soy sauce, egg and season well with salt and pepper. Mix together.

Place a small teaspoon of filling into the middle of each wrapper (don't add too much filling - it makes it hard to fold the dumplings). Wet the edges of the dumpling with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal. Continue with the remainder of the dumplings.

Heat some oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Add dumplings in a single layer (don't over crowd the pan) and cook for 1-2 minutes or until brown underneath. Add enough boiling water to come 1/4 way up the sides of the dumplings, then cover with a lid and cook for a further 4-5 minutes or until water has evaporated. Serve with dumpling vinegar and soy sauce.

Spicy pork in pancakes

Spicy Pork in Pancakes

From Australian Table magazine - Jan/Feb 2007

Serves 6-8

(Note: you end up with quite a lot of meat. I only cooked 1/3 of my meat and had more than enough to serve with one batch of pancakes. So you could either use less pork fillet, or make up more pancakes!)

1/3 cup (80ml) peanut oil
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, crushed
750g pork fillet, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
2 teaspoons sugar
16 Chinese pancakes (see below)
hoisin sauce, green onion, to serve

Heat half of the oil in a wok on medium. Cook ginger and garlic for 2 minutes, until soft. Increase heat to high and cook pork in small batches for 2 minutes, until browned. Remove and set aside.

Add soy sauce, wine, sugar and 1 teaspoon ground pepper to same pan and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes, until syrupy. Add pork and toss to heat through.

Top each pancake with hoisin sauce, green onion and pork and roll to enclose.

Chinese Pancakes

Makes 16

2 cups (300g) plain flour
3/4 cup (180ml) hot water
1 & 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil

Sift flour into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Pour in hot water a little at a time, stirring in flour until dough forms. Knead dough for 5-10 minutes, until elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for 15 minutes.

Divide pancake dough into four. Roll out each piece to 5mm thick. Cut out 16 circles with a 7cm round cutter. Brush each with oil and press oiled surfaces together in pairs so they'll cook without colour. Roll out each pair to 10cm across.

Heat a lightly greased frying pan on low. Cook joined pancakes for 2 minutes each side, until cooked but not brown. Peel apart and stack on a warm plate.

Almond Jelly

From Australian Table magazine - October 2006

Serves 4

1 tablespoon gelatine
1/2 cup (125ml) boiling water
1 & 1/4 cups (310ml) milk
1/4 cup (55g) caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond essence

Lightly spray ice cube trays with cooking oil spray. Combine gelatine and 1/4 cup water in a bowl. Add boiling water and stir to dissolve gelatine. Stir in milk, sugar, and almond essence. Pour into prepared trays. Chill for 2 hours, until set.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Apple pie with custard

Apple pie

This apple pie recipe is from an issue of Delicious and is supposedly Ben O'Donoghue's Grandma's recipe. Now, far be it for me to question a recipe that belongs to someone's gran (respect for your elders and all that), but it did raise a couple of queries. Normally when I make pastry, I add some water to bring the dough together. With this recipe, the pastry was supposed to come together with just the egg yolks (i.e. no water). I was dubious, but was willing to try it. Well, after trying it out, there was no way my dough was going to come together, so I had to add a little bit of iced water. Once I had passed that hurdle, I then found that I had a ton of dough! I had enough dough for two pies. I used half and stashed half in my freezer.

These little pies are from my second batch. They didn't turn out very attractive - the pastry shrunk A LOT in the oven - but at least they tasted good! The pastry was crumbly and buttery, and somehow slightly flakey at the bottom of my pies. Maybe gran does know best after all.

Apple pie

Ben's Gran's apple pie with custard

From Delicious magazine August 2008

Serves 6

1 kg Granny Smith apples
1 cup (220g) caster sugar, plus extra to sprinkle
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 cloves
1 star anise


3 cups (450g) plain flour
1/3 cup (40g) custard powder
1 cup (150g) caster sugar
350g chilled unsalted butter, chopped
3 egg yolks, plus 1 lightly beaten egg to brush


300ml each milk and pure (thin) cream
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar

For pastry, place flour, custard powder, sugar and a pinch of salt in a food processor. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add yolks and process until pastry comes together into a smooth ball. (Add a couple of tablespoons of iced water if the pastry doesn't come together.) Divide into 2, then knead each into flat discs. Enclose in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel and core apples. Place in a pan over medium heat with sugar, juice and spices. Cook fo 10 minutes or until fruit is tender but still holds its shape. Cool, then discard spices.

For custard, place milk, cream, vanilla pod and seeds in a pan over medium heat. Bring to just below boiling point then set aside for 15 minutes to infuse. Meanwhile, whisk yolks and sugar in a bowl until thick and pale, then gradually whisk in warm cream mixture to combine (discard the vanilla pod). REturn mixture to pan over low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon for approx 6 minutes or until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain through a sieve. Cool, then cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Chill until needed.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Divide one of the pastry discs in half, and roll each half to 3mm thick, 28mm circles (the other pastry disc can be frozen for later use). Place 1 circle on a lined baking tray. Pile the apple mixture into the centre, leaving a 3cm border, then brush border with egg. Top with remaining pastry, press down border, then trim edges into a neat circle. Pinch edges with your fingers to seal. Brush top with beaten egg, then bake for 30 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with caster sugar, then bake for a further 10 minutes until golden. Serve with the custard.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Arcadia Gastronomique

Oh, my friends. On Wednesday I was struck down with the lergy that has been plaguing my office and I have been ILL. I've spent a couple of days in a snotty, feverish haze and even today I'm still leaving masses of used tissues in my wake. My head has been so foggy that thinking has been difficult and my taste buds have gone on strike. This Friday I spent on the couch watching a crappy chick flick (the most taxing thing that my poor overheated brain could take), but on a previous Friday, Alastair and I went out to dinner.

We went to Arcadia Gastronomique, located on Union Road in Ascot Vale. Arcadia is small but nicely fitted out, with the lower walls a dark wood panel, highlighted by a deep emerald green on the top. It felt very calm and serene – lovely for a quiet dinner for two.

Arcadia Gastronomique

We shared a starter of middle eastern spiced tiger prawns, served sizzling with garlic ($15) and some bread ($6.50). The prawns had some lovely flavour from the spices, but was let down because of a lack of salt (it didn't taste like there was any, to be honest). As there wasn't any salt on the table it wasn't easily rectified. Anyhoo, it wasn't that big a deal and fortunately our mains didn't have seasoning issues.

After the prawns, Alastair and I both had seafood mains. We obviously hadn't thought about our food choices very carefully!

Arcadia Gastronomique

I had the ragout of mixed seafood braised in a sauvignon velouté with soft herbs, served in a case of puff pastry ($25). Pretty good. Creamy seafood, crispy puff pastry... Yum.

Arcadia Gastronomique

Alastair had the seafood linguini, which came with wild olives, spinach, prawns, calamari, shellfish, and mussels tossed in a lemon olive oil emulsion ($24). It was rather good – the fresh pasta was toothsome and the whole thing was tied together with the tangy oil.

Arcadia Gastronomique

And for dessert, we shared the flourless chocolate slice, with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream ($9.90). It was served warm and was a slice of chocolatety goodness.

Reasonable prices, and a nice setting made for a good evening out. I can't wait for my sense of taste to return so I can enjoy eating again!

Arcadia Gastronomique
152 Union Road,
Ascot Vale
Phone : 03 9375 2751

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dinner at ours: Twice baked cheese soufflé, spinach stuffed chicken roulade and coconut panna cotta.

Mr Cauliflower

The other weekend, we invited Benisa, Dany and Dany's father over for some food and a catch up.

Twice baked cheese souffle

We started with a twice baked cheese soufflé, taken from this month's issue of Delicious. In the magazine, it's a goat's cheese soufflé and served as a main (with salad), but as I'm still unsure about goat's cheese I substituted with a sharp cheddar. Also, as we were having it as a starter, I made smaller serves.

The recipe instructs you to turn out the soufflé after the first baking. When I turned one out though, it looked terribly unattractive, so I kept them in the ramekins to serve. By the way, you should've seen them in the oven! They rose very high but deflated quickly on cooling. It was a shame that they didn't reach the glorious heights on the second baking, but they were still delicious. And so cheesy.

Spinach stuffed chicken roulade

For the spinach stuffed chicken roulade, I had an idea about what I wanted to cook, so went searching for a recipe that was similar to what I had in my head. I ended up adapting this recipe from Inglewood Farms (see my recipe at the end of this post). And, am I allowed to say that it was rather good? Well, I won't lie. It was! (Gee, the modesty.)

Coconut panna cotta

And for dessert, we had coconut panna cotta with fresh strawberries. The coconut panna cotta recipe was from and not only was it a cinch to make, but it was delicious – smooth, creamy and fragrant. I was tempted to do some caramelised banana instead of the strawberries, but decided that it would be too rich and sweet. (I tried unmoulding one a few hours before dinner to make sure that I could turn them out okay – and since it was already unmolded it would've been a waste not to eat it....).

Mr Onion

Despite the expression on Mr Onion's face, dinner was a success. Don't mind him, he's such a crybaby. After dinner, Mr Onion and Mr Cauliflower came to the table for an impromptu photo shoot. Remember our visit to Blenheim a couple of months ago? I saw these in the window of a souvenir shop when we stopped in Kaikoura for some food. I'm not really a knick knack person, but I was strangely taken by them. Why? I really have no idea. I admit that they are ridiculous and kitsch! But I liked them for some reason, so on our way back down to Christchurch, we stopped in Kaikoura just so I could buy them. There were other fruits and vegetables - strawberries, watermelon, broccoli, but Mr Cauliflower and Mr Onion were my favourites. They're very silly but they make me laugh!

Twice-baked cheese soufflé

From Delicious magazine September 2008

Serves 6 (or 8 as a starter)

You can bake these in advance and reheat before serving.

60g unsalted butter
60g plain flour
350ml hot milk
100g cheese (I used cheddar, the original recipe had goat's cheese)
1/2 tsp paprika
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup (125ml) pure (thin( cream
1/2 cup (40g) freshly grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease six 1 cup (250ml) ramekins or eight 1/2 cup ramekins (if serving as a starter). Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat for about a minute until foaming. Remove from the heat, then stir in the flour with a wooden spoon until well combined. Return pan to medium-low heat and stir constantly for 1 minute until it is a smooth paste.

Gradually add the hot milk, stirring constantly for two minutes, until smooth. Bring to the boil, then pour into a large bowl. Add the cheese and paprika, then season with salt and pepper and stir until smooth.

Using a balloon whisk, beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. In a separate bowl, whisk egg whites with an electric beater to soft peaks. Using a large metal spoon, gently fold one-third of the eggwhites into the cheese mixture (trying not to loose too much volume). Gently fold in another third of the eggwhites, then finally fold in the reminder.

Fill each ramekin with the mixture so that it is three-quarters full. Place in a roasting pan and fill the pan with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the moulds. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20 minutes or until golden and risen, then remove from the pan and cool.

When ready to serve, increase the oven to 220°C. If you don't want to serve them in the ramekins, line a tray with baking paper. Run a knife around the edges of the soufflé and invert them on to the tray. Pour about 1tbs cream over the top of each one, scatter with parmesan, and bake for 8-10 minutes until the cheese is golden and the cream is bubbling.

Spinach stuffed chicken roulade

Adapted from this recipe here

Serves at least 8

1 bunch english spinach
1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
30 grams melted butter
Small handful of basil, chopped
8 chicken breasts, skin on
6 slices prosciutto

Preheat oven to 220ºC.

Wash the fresh spinach well. Place the spinach in a large pan/pot and cook for about 4 minutes, until wilted. Squeeze the excess water from the cooked spinach and chop finely.

Place the spinach in a bowl with the pine nuts, garlic, butter, basil, and season with salt and pepper. Mix together well.

"Butterfly" cut each chicken breast. Lay a piece of plastic wrap over each chicken breast and pound it with a mallet or rolling pin until it is thin and flat.

Place a small amount of the spinach mixture on to the chicken, and roll up tightly. You should be able to roll it so the skin is on the outside. Lay a slice of prosciutto on the chicken where it is not covered by skin, and secure with cooking twine.

Heat some oil in a non-stick frying pan on a medium high heat. Sear each parcel on all sides, and then place in an oven-proof dish and finish cooking in the oven for 20-30 minutes or until cooked through.

When ready to serve, remove the cooking twine and slice into rounds. Serve with vegetables/salad.

Friday, September 5, 2008


The other weekend we headed to Tonik with our regular dining pals, Benisa (Ben + Lisa) plus Nathan. Tonik is a bar located in Kensington Village, which does some rather good food. It feels very cosy inside, with couches and an open fire place on one side of the room and tables on the other. At the back is the bar, along with a staircase that leads upstairs where more tables are located.


We started with the Tonik Tasting Plate – "a selection of delicately prepared morsels designed to share" ($12.50 per person with a minimum of 2 people). Menu descriptions makes me chortle sometimes! Anyhoo, sometimes when I order a "tasting plate" I get disappointed because what comes out is mostly dips and bread. This wasn't the case with this one! I was quite impressed by what we received. There were two little cups of a curried lentil soup, two beef skewers, polenta chips, calamari, roasted mushrooms, pita bread and tzatziki. The calamari, polenta chips and mushrooms were particularly good.


For mains, Ben and I both had the potato gnocchi covered in a creamy blue cheese and broccoli sauce finished with rocket and toasted walnuts ($17.90). I've been in a gnocchi mood lately – and the gnocchi at Tonik were pretty good. It was a mild blue cheese sauce, creamy and rather tasty. But I got a bit tired of the rocket after a while, it was fairly bitter and I had loads!


Alastair had the other gnocchi option – the pork and veal meatballs, cooked in a spicy tomato ragout ($17.90). It's hard to go wrong with meatballs in a tomato sauce!


Lisa had the chicken mushroom, leek & juniper berry 'pot pie' with sour cream flaky pastry and iceberg salad ($21.00). Lisa's meal was massive – almost bigger than her!


After our meals, Alastair and I shared a dessert. I know how much he loves sticky date pudding, so that's what we had, a big slab of it sitting in butterscotch sauce ($10.50). I let him eat most of it.


Benisa shared the self saucing chocolate pudding laced with brandy and accompanied with ice cream and fresh cream ($10.50). It looked super pleasingly gooey inside.

During the week, Tonik does some bargain dinners. On Mondays there's $6 pizzas, and Wednesdays is steak and a beer for $12. I can recommend the steak and beer evening - it's a good, inexpensive way of celebrating the middle of the working week.

524 Macaulay Road
Phone: (03) 9376 9928

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


A couple of weeks ago, through the power of the internets, a high school friend of Alastair's got in contact. Alastair hadn't seen or spoken to this person for over ten years, but when we found out he was visiting Melbourne, we caught up with him over dinner.

He picked Montezumas on Bridge Road so we headed there for some probably not very authentic Mexican food.


After looking at the menu, I opted for something I'd never eaten before - the Mole Pablano ($18.95). The menu said that it was a centuries old chicken dish which was invented by nuns of Puebla for the Bishop's visit. It was served with a spicy-ish sauce that contained 32 herbs and spices, rice, and coconut covered banana and pineapple.

When it arrived the fruit had me stumped. I wasn't sure about how to eat it – was I supposed to eat the banana and pineapple with the chicken? Should I keep the fruit separate and eat it after finishing the savoury stuff? Was it wrong for me to be confused? Was it obvious? Do I have enough questions in this paragraph? I don't think so? Back to the food - I tried some of the chicken with the banana and pineapple, but ended up leaving the fruit behind and eating it afterwards. I have no idea what a good mole pablano should taste like, but I enjoyed it. The meat was tender, and the sauce was rich and smooth, with a hint of heat.


Alastair had the Gringo ($19.95) a platter with a beef enchilada, beef burrito and rice. It's a bit hard to tell from this photo, but it was a massive serve.


Bro had one of the combination platters ($17.95), which came with chilli con carne, chicken taco, chicken and sour cream enchilada and rice.

Montezuma's was fairly cheap and cheerful. It was an unassuming place, with large serves, and a casual atmosphere - good for a low key catch up. It was just a shame it was a school night, it would've been fun to kick back with beer or margaritas!

464 Bridge Road, Richmond
Tel: 03 9429 7133

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