Food highlights 2014

Well here we are again not far off Christmas.  Turkey and panettone beckon!

Thank you so much to everyone who reads, comments, shares, or who I bump into and tells me they enjoy reading my blog – I do appreciate it!  I hope you all have a lovely festive season and all the best for 2015.

These are some of the dishes that stand out from this year – unique, clever, or just plain delicious. Auguri di buone feste and “see” you next year!

Sugar Snaps and Celtuce with Savoury Lemon Curd at Monopole.  Who would have thought lemon curd could work with vegetables?

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Tomato sorbet with a tomato jelly, pistachio and rice crumb, and parmesan custard at Berowra Waters Inn

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The Pedro Ximenez Magnum at Nomad….mmmmmm

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New England Lobster roll from Supernormal…..super good

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Scallop cake with herbs, peanuts and prawn broth at Rockpool.  Neil nails Asian once again.

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Panzerotti at Luini in Milan, my tastiest cheap eat for the year!

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Buffalo milk three ways, at Trattoria Nerino Dieci in Milan….a great little trattoria

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Three milk cake at Spice Temple (still hoping Neil will share the recipe :) )

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Pappardelle with oxtail ragu at Via Alta, fragrant and rich

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Udon noodles with pork and chilli at Cho Cho San, but most of the dishes I had here were great

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An unexpectedly good dessert called the “pavlova cake” at Gardels Bar

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Western Australian scampi scented with Japanese curry, apple, sheep yoghurt, mushroom at three hatted Sepia

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What a year. And so many places on the list for 2015! Enjoy

Almond and Lemon Biscotti

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I was inspired to make these after seeing Silvia Colloca make them on her new SBS show.   However the sugar seemed like an awful lot, so I reduced the quantity, and you could probably go even a little less if you didn’t want them too sweet. Some brandy thrown in would work well too!

Ingredients
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
300 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
450 g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tbsp melted butter
pinch of salt flakes
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
200 g blanched almonds

Making them

  • Preheat your oven to 170°C fan-forced and line a large baking tray with baking paper.
  • Place the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl and beat until pale and creamy. Add the butter, lemon zest and salt and combine.
  • Fold in the flour, then gently fold in the nuts
  • Divide the dough into two and using floured hands form two logs the length of your baking tray. Place the logs on the prepared tray, spaced well apart to allow for spreading, and bake for 30 minutes or until well risen and pale golden.
  • Remove from the oven and cool at room temperature for 3–5 minutes, and using a serrated knife, cut them on an angle into 1–1.5 cm thick slices.
  • Arrange the slices on the lined tray and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Turn them over and toast for a further 5 minutes or until crisp and golden. Cool at room temperature, then eat! Store in an airtight container.

 

In My Kitchen, December 2014

Every month the generous and talented Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial hosts a segment on her blog called In My Kitchen, where food bloggers write about, um, what’s in their kitchen! Here’s what’s currently in mine.

Mangoes! How do I make thee? Let me count the ways. Mango smoothies, mango with yoghurt, mango with crepes, mango tiramisu, mango parfait, mango trifle, the possibilities are endless. It is one of my favourite things about Summer. I am a bit of a mango snob though, I will only eat Kensington Prides.

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Panettone and Pandoro. These arrive from Italy each Christmas and Easter. I read the other day that 180 million are sold each year in Italy alone, quite staggering considering the population of the country is 60 million. Picked up this stash at my regular Italian deli the other day. One is for me to open on Christmas morning to have with my coffee (my Christmas ritual while the kids are in a mad rush of excitement opening their presents), one is to make my torta di verona for a family get together, and others for friends.

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Caramelised balsamic. Also picked this up at the deli. Husband and I recently tried the Pakura one and we loved it. There was none in stock that day so we’re giving this one a go. It is quite pricey,  both brands are around $24 a bottle, but as Joe, my friendly deli hand said, it takes more than 5 litres of balsamic to make one of these bottles.

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Zucchini flowers, courtesy of my father-in-law, who always has a bag of this, a little of that, from his garden to give us. Honestly how can anyone not love the warm months when there is food like this around!

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Rosemary. Our rosemary plant has gotten enormous. Think it will be taller than me soon. Such a great, fragrant, versatile herb.

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Callipo tuna. I discovered on one of our trips to Italy that the Callipo factory is actually quite near my mother’s village. It is our favourite tuna, so flavoursome.

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Recipes, torn from magazines and newspapers.  I will file them in my recipe folders, one day…….

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Biscotti – for Christmas gifts. This is my morning coffee biscuit recipe, I make these all the time and they are always appreciated by friends and at the office.

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Hope you are enjoying whatever is in your kitchen!

Sepia, Sydney

The year was coming to a close, and we’d worked pretty hard. Which was actually no different to any other year. But it was time to mark a big year with a dinner of appropriate gravitas. So one Friday night a bunch of us do a comparatively early runner from the office and head to the much lauded, much awarded Sepia, where I haven’t been for quite a few years.

It’s an oddly shaped dining room – which can happen when you decide to put a fine dining restaurant at the bottom of an office block after the fact – and they’ve made the most of it; the compact bar area is lovely with two small dining areas on either side. The very smooth, professional staff, who through the evening gently try and diffuse our guffaws and high fives and general excitement (we don’t get out much) are knowledgeable and patient. The sommelier is very helpful with Sepia’s well thought out and not too cumbersome wine list, and happily works within the price range we give him.

We are offered some oysters as a start and they are superbly fresh with a tangy lime dressing. The one non oyster eater on the table (being A Tea with the Queen, a slight flaw in her otherwise excellent taste) asks for some bread instead and this perfect sphere of butter is bought to the table with a soft, fluffy bread roll. A discussion about Great Butters ensues (I know I know, very trivial, but that night we needed trivial over complex financing arrangements) – the Tetsuya truffle, the Rockpool creamy, the Guillaume Myrtleford, the Scarpetta mascarpone (though you will have to travel to New York for this last one).002_marked

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What stands out over the course of the twelve dishes we try in particular are two things – firstly, that Martin Benn and his team know not only how to make food look so beautiful that it takes anticipation up a notch; and secondly, they really know how to nail it on texture. Add these to some unique flavour combinations and you end up with a pretty impressive dining experience.

The savoury dishes are below but the scampi dish leaves the table in total (temporary) silence as it is so good we don’t want any disturbance. The waitstaff are hugely relieved at this juncture and probably wondering if they can just bring us another five of these;  and the venison is stellar – this coming from a non-venison eater (some Bambi issues from childhood). Cutting the David Blackmore wagyu is like cutting butter, and I adore the crunch of the pork crackling with the tuna.

Our seven savoury courses are

Seared bonito, roasted chicken cream, sobacha
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Sashimi Yellow Fin tuna, goat milk chevre, avocado, pink beauty radish, pork crackling
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Hokkaido sea scallop, spiced tomato, horseradish, kombu, aged feta, olive oilsepia7

 

Seared smoked Saikou salmon, garlic cream, baby onion, seaweed poweder, momiji leafsepia8
Western Australian scampi scented with Japanese curry, apple, sheep yoghurt, mushroomsepia9
Grilled David Blackmore wagyu, salt pickled cucumber, native sea vegetables, chestnut mushroom, wasabi leaf buttersepia10
Seared Mandagery Creek venison, sansho pepper, roasted pumpkin, miso, artichoke
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We then move on to the desserts. Like with the savoury, there are wonderful textural elements everywhere and clearly some quite incredible skill. None of them are overpoweringly sweet which I like, though we do find the chocolate forest a little too rich when paired with the other desserts we have. We are lucky that evening to try the Pearl and the Japanese Stones, a couple of desserts that aren’t currently on the menu. We look at them in awe. How do they make them? How are those stones so perfect?

The Sepia Pearl is one of Martin Benn’s signatures.  I read that it took him three months to get the shell so fine.  Three months! Tap it gently and it explodes, inside containing finger lime pearls, frozen ginger, lime sherbert and lime cream.033

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Citrus – mandarin, blood orange, yuzu, dai dai, sudachi, thyme flowers045

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Milks – coconut, rice, cow, sheep, goat, soysepia12

 

Spring chocolate forest – soft chocolate, hazelnut and almond, lavender and honey cream, blackberry sorbet, shisho vinegar jellies, green tea, licorice, chocolate twings, bronze fennelsepia14
Sepia Japanese stones.  Made with cocoa butter and frozen with liquid nitrogen, these look like actual stones from the garden.  Ours are filled with chocolate, passionfruit cream, and raspberry jelly061
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The only little let down of the evening? Probably the cocktails. As we are ordering, A Tea with the Queen says, “I hope they bring us beautiful glassware, a cocktail isn’t quite the same in a boring glass”. And the glasses, though probably fine crystal, are indeed boring, and not fitting for a $32 cocktail. Well, nobody’s perfect. In every other sense, this is a meal you should experience at least once.

Sepia, 201 Sussex St Sydney, Phone 02 9283 1990
http://www.sepiarestaurant.com.au

Sepia on Urbanspoon

Product review: My Food Bag

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Growing up I remember Mamma Rosa frequently saying “what should I make for dinner tonight?”. I took it for granted that there was quite a lot of effort involved in putting together a dinner for six people seven nights a week; it was never just one course, and invariably delicious. Fast forward and I often find myself asking my husband and boys “what would you like me to make tonight?” (and sometimes quietly crossing my fingers that they won’t suggest something that is hugely time intensive, because once I’ve offered them the choice, I can’t really say no to what they ask for).

So along came My Food Bag, which takes all the angst out of deciding what to cook, opens your eyes to possibilities, saves you a lot of time, and is fun to boot. Launching in New Zealand in March 2013, where it has been hugely successful, it launched in Sydney in July 2014, Melbourne this month, and is soon to launch in other Australian cities. My Food Bag delivers to your home a selection of recipes, AND everything you need to make them (minus a few pantry staples). There are three different Food Bags on offer, delivered on a Sunday so you’re all set for the week ahead:

- The Family Bag, designed for a family with 2-3 young children ($169 for 5 people for 5 days)
The Classic Bag, designed for a family of 4 with two older children or 4 adults ($129 for 4 people for 5 days)
The Gourmet Bag, designed for two people ($149 for 2 people for 4 days)

They also have a great Christmas Bag available at the moment, which caters for a feast for 8-10 people, and have just launched some personalised cookbooks. Fruit bags are available too.

The website is full of information, telling you what kitchen equipment and pantry staples you’ll need – and the average home cook would pretty much have all they list. No sous-vide machines required here.

foodbag8I realise quickly that it’s a well run operation. On Friday I get an email telling me what recipes I’ll be cooking next week. They all look delicious and I can’t wait to get started. On Saturday they send me a text telling me the two hour window for my delivery. And on Sunday it arrives as promised. Its feels a bit like Christmas as my husband and I unpack all our beautiful goodies. My husband’s family owned a fruit and vegetable business for many years, so he is quite critical of quality, and declares everything to be “top notch”. The proteins look great – organic meat and free range chicken – and everything is meticulously labelled. The tinned tomatoes are Mutti which is a Mamma Rosa approved brand, and the cannelloni shells are Barilla which is approved by all 200 of my cousins in Italy.

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Your first delivery will also come with a little folder where you can store your recipe cards. It is all too easy. The seasonally based recipes are developed by their head Chef, Miguel Maestre (from Channel 10’s The Living Room), in consultation with the team in their test kitchen. You can give feedback on the recipes on the website or on their Facebook page; each week the team behind My Food Bag pour over the client comments to see what the response has been to that week’s dishes and putting them together.

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That week I cooked chorizo, kale and ricotta cannelloni, macadamia crusted snapper with asparagus, seared beef with pumpkin and beetroot salad, and prosciutto wrapped chicken with pistachio stuffing, corn salsa and watercress salad.  I can’t plate up like Miguel, but you get the drift!

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The recipes vary in time and complexity, some are all done in 25 minutes, but the cannelloni took closer to an hour. I would cast my eyes over the recipe for that night in the morning, and see if there was any prep that would be easy to do before work. So for the cannelloni I prepared my filling in the morning and put it in the fridge, ready to assemble that evening. But the fish dish was all done and on the table in 25 minutes, and with the potatoes, fish and asparagus being prepared in the oven, clean up was minimal which was an added bonus. They even tell you the calorie and fat count for dishes, as well as suggesting a wine paring.

Here are the things I really liked:

Little food waste. Food waste upsets me, and Australia, the Land of Plenty, is one of the world’s worst culprits. We throw away an estimated $8 billion of food each year (this is more that the entire GDP of several countries). Over the last few years I’ve made a very conscious effort to buy only what I’m fairly certain we will use or on an “as needed” basis (Mamma Rosa often looks very alarmed at the relatively bare state of my fridge and thinks I may be starving my children). My Food Bag, by giving you the exact ingredients that you need, really cuts down on waste.

It makes you more adventurous. There were some great salad combinations, and ingredients I don’t normally use like radish, or poppy seeds thrown in for texture. The team behind My Food Bag are committed to variety – in the first 15 months of operation, they never once repeated a recipe, and are only now doing the occasional recipe repeat based purely on customer demand

It teaches you that great food can be quick. Most meals probably take an average 35 minutes, and it’s really quite surprising what you can get on the table in that time when you don’t have to think about it, someone has thought of it for you.

The convenience factor. It really can’t get much easier than this.

Flexibility. You can have a standing “subscription” where it is delivered every week, suspend it during holidays, or just order it on an as desired basis

Quality – great stuff!

Good portion size. I found the portions to be generous, they were probably just right for my husband and a little too big for me.

My Food Bag
http://www.myfoodbag.com.au

Disclosure: Napoli Restaurant Alert was given a sample of My Food Bag’s Gourmet Bag. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, Circular Quay

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There’s never any argument that we have one of the world’s most stunning harbours, even on a grey day. And it’s even better to sit right beside it and enjoy a meal. But on many occasions there has been a food-view trade off – great view, not so good food (places like Ormeggio, Berowra Waters Inn and Pilu are an exception, with a great showing on both fronts). One day Mamma Rosa and The Sisters get the ferry into the Big Smoke, and I walk down from my office to Circular Quay to meet them. Our last get together was at Via Alta.

Today we are heading to Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, as Mamma Rosa is a big oyster fan, a taste I inherited from her. We are warmly welcomed and the staff that day were absolutely lovely – friendly, warm, helpful – nothing was too much trouble.

We start with sea scallops with pork belly and shemiji mushroom – fat scallops, well caramelised, and we enjoy it.

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We then go for the Ultimate Oyster Bar Indulgence Platter ($225) and it looks great on the table, accompanied by various (somewhat pedestrian) sauces. The oysters though sadly are disappointing, and just don’t have the beautiful freshness I’ve found elsewhere (for instance the previous week at Gardels the oysters seemed like they’d just been plucked from the sea) and the mussels we have to send back. The best parts for me are the crab and the lobster, fresh and sweet and we enjoy every bit of them. The battered seafood is good too. It’s a bit of a shame about the oysters given the location (and the name of the place!), but maybe we just caught them on an off day.

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oysterbar4Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, Circular Quay East, Sydney, Ph (02) 9427 2937
http://www.sydneycoveoysterbar.com

Sydney Cove Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Gardels Bar, Surry Hills

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One Saturday night, a group of Cool Chicks descended on a bar in Surry Hills. (For the purposes of this review, I will temporarily be classified as a Cool Chick). Nestled above Porteno and run by the same crew, Gardels Bar – named after tango king Carlos Gardel – is a grown up bar. Sophisticated, moody and dimly lit, it is about more than just the looks, being a bar that also serves some clever food, earning it Best Bar For Good Food in this year’s 2015 Good Food Guide Awards. There is some great house made charcuterie on offer, among other things.

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The Cool Chicks opt for one of the “bar banquet” menus, by the end of which we are totally stuffed. But of course we also want some drinks to go with it, and at 8.30pm on a Saturday night, they have “run out of glasses”. Say again? “ummm, yes, your drinks will be here as soon as we clean some glasses”. And, half of the (quite compact and not overly complicated) cocktail menu is “not available”. Well, they did win Best Bar for their food, not for their drinks. Oops. They were very apologetic though, and did send over some free champagne later in the evening (once glassware supplies were restored).

So what did we have? There certainly was some interesting food going on, and is a good one for those on the 5:2 diet where you can throw caution (and hopefully cholesterol) to the wind.

Oysters Sangrita – wonderfully fresh – and a Broccoli & Ricotta Empanada, a delicious little mouthful.
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Piquillo Pepper filled with Rice, Pine Nuts, Currants & Marinated Fetta; and house cured salmon (yum) on a little brioche toast
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Crumbed ricotta and spinach balls and stuffed zucchini flowers – both delicious
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Beef empanada – wasn’t keen, there was too much of a spice, was it cumin?
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Next, house made Mortadella & Fontina Cheese Sandwich (the Italians at the table like their mortadella cut paper thin, and this was a bit thick); and Chorizo Porteño with Romesco Sauce BBQ. It was a big chunk of chorizo, would have been good if it was grilled or rendered in some fashion.
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The Brussel sprouts with sweet lentils we weren’t keen on either, the sprouts were quite tough.
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But then came the lamb Ribs with Chimichurri; yes they were fatty, but oh, they were good.
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And then in probably the biggest surprise of the evening – a knock out desert! This is what they call their “pavlova cake” – there is a layer of biscuit, dulce du leche, poached strawberries, a meringue, a cream layer then honeycomb and pistachios on the top. Wow!
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Gardels Bar, 358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills, Ph (02) 8399 1440
http://www.gardelsbar.com

Gardel's Bar at Porteño on Urbanspoon