Mediterranean Stuffed Squid with Tomato Salsa

ImageCooking with seafood is often quite daunting for me, particularly because I’m not overly experienced with it. That being said, my family and I have always loved our Seafood and after a trip to Greece last year I reaffirmed my desire to try my hand at cooking stuffed squid tubes. The only thing I was missing was a great recipe (squid tubes are a tad expensive so I was keen to have a recipe that was tried and tested and that I’d know would be a big hit with my family) and luckily, after watching an episode of My Kitchen Rules I felt inspired. Two of the shows contestants cooked a beautiful Mediterranean style stuffed squid, serving it on a rich tomato salsa and a crisp salad. I knew this would be a great dish to cook for lunch for my mum this past weekend (here in Aus it was Mothers Day!). I did have a few variations on the original recipe which can be found here, so here is my take on the girls recipe! Originally I wasn’t going to make the salsa but in the end i am so glad that i did! It really lifts the dish and looks fantastic for presentation!

Hope you enjoy and happy baking!

What you’ll need:

  1. 5 whole baby squid, cleaned
  2. 1 tbs olive oil

Squid Stuffing:

  1. 120g medium grain rice
  2. 6 Green Prawns, peeled
  3. 2 tsp olive oil
  4. 250g chorizo, chopped
  5. 1 onion, finely chopped
  6. 30g chopped pine nuts, toasted
  7. 30g sultanas
  8. ¼ cup finely chopped parsley

Tomato Salsa

  1. 3 tomatoes diced into large chunks
  2. 2 tsp olive oil
  3. 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  4. 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  5. 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  6. ¼ cup pitted black olives, chopped (I used mixed Olives)

What I did:

To make stuffing:

1. Cook rice in a saucepan of boiling until tender (about 10 mins). Drain and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add chorizo and onion. Fry until onion is soft and brown and then add your peeled prawns (cut into smaller chunks). Cook until prawn is cooked through before adding your cooked rice, pine nuts, sultanas and parsley.

3. Leave to cool completely.

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4. Once cool, spoon mixture into squid tubes, firmly compacting it and then seal the end with a toothpick.

For Salsa:

1. Preheat your oven to 200C. Place your diced tomatoes onto a tray, drizzle with a little oil and roast until tender and slightly collapsing.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook your onion, garlic and chilli until soft. Stir in tomatoes and olives. Season. I also added a little parsley and lemon juice for flavour but thats up to your tastes.

Cooking the Squid:
1. Rub squid all over with oil and season. Meanwhile heat your pan to a very high heat. Add the squid and cook for about 5 minutes, turning so that all sides are cooked through (you can tell that its cooked when it turns from translucent to a white colour). Ensure that you don’t overcook the squid. I found it hard to get the ends to cook as they couldn’t touch the pan due to the toothpicks. To overcome this, remove the toothpicks right at the end of cooking (by now the rice should be cooked and hold in place) and then tilt the ends so that they touch the pan and cook.
2. When serving, make thick cuts in each squid tube so that you can see stuffing, without cutting all the way through. Lay onto plate on top of the salsa

Enjoy!!Image

 

 

Element 6 Cafe

ImageAs a kid, I never really stuck to the whole “3-meals-a-day” thing but sort of spent my days grazing away as I pleased. As I got a bit older and discovered the concept of “brunch” I felt excited at the prospect of having another reason to keep eating away. Nowadays though (and as my trusty metabolism has started to slow down a bit!) I tend to think of brunch as a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family on the weekends over a lovely cup of coffee and a plate of something delicious involving eggs. For me, the best sorts of places are those hidden gems; little local cafes that serve up beautiful homely food at a recent price. The service is friendly and laid back and the decor is warm and inviting. Sadly though, if asked for a local venue that fits this bill I probably wouldn’t be able to think of one. I mean, its not that my immediate local area in Sydney doesn’t have something to cater to this need, but more that I personally am not aware of any such places. Instead, I often venture to places in Rozelle or Alexandria, areas that have sort of made a name for themselves as Sunday brunch venues. Luckily for me though, a friend of mine recommended a fantastic little place thats super close and absolutely stunning, Element 6 at West Ryde.  

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The cafe itself is located amongst an odd collection of old corner and specialty stores on the slightly less pleasant (visually) side of the train station but don’t let that put you off. When you arrive, your greeted by some of the friendliest group of staff I have ever encountered! Literally nothing seems to be too much to ask of them and they somehow always manage to find you a table. The decor is a little unusual, with a collection of random artefacts around the walls but I think they were very much going for an eclectic artsy feel. My mum comments that its a bit like they’ve furnished the cafe with bits and bobs that they found in the op shop two doors down and I’d have to say that I tend to agree with her. That being said, I didn’t really mind that “look”, its comfortable and an inviting.

Taking a look at the menu, I really struggled to decide what to choose because there were so many delicious sounding options. In the end I went for the Moroccan Spiced baked Eggs with haloumi cheese and chickpeas and wow I wasn’t dissapointed. I was presented with a huge moroccan ceramic dish filled with two perfectly cooked eggs (runny in the centre) baked in a rich tomato sauce throughout which were loads of chickpeas and capsicum. On top were two lovely pieces of crisp haloumi cheese, which added a perfect level of saltiness and a fantastic spice blend similar to a dukkah! Every mouthful was heaven! to soak up all the goodness, a soft Egyptian bread was baked and placed on the side of the board. Now I don’t often eat bread but when I do its only if I know its a good one and wow was this bread good! So soft and fluffy and just perfect in every way! I was stuck in a weird position of not wanting it to end but being super full so in the end…i ate it all! To wash it all down I had the HoneyBee Smoothy which was a rich and thick combination of fresh banana, yogurt, honey and cinnamon! You can’t go wrong with that combination!

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My sister also ordered the N6 Eggs which included two huge pieces of organic sourdough bread topped with a mound of buttery, garlicy mushrooms, haloumi cheese, spinach, roast tomato and two perfectly poached eggs! Another divine dish, which I can safely support, considering I had it a couple of days later when we returned! My mum also commented on the coffee, which was nice and hot and very flavoursome!

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Overall, i would highly recommend a visit to this local favourite! A friend of mine eats there weekly and can not stop raving about it! Next time I think the french toast with mascarpone, seasonal poached fruit and pistachio praline will need a definite look in, I mean how can you resist that!! Yum Yum!!

Macarons with the Master…Adriano Zumbo

ImageIf you’re a resident of Sydney (or maybe even Australia) then you’ve probably heard of Adriano Zumbo. For those of you that haven’t though, Zumbo is like Australia’s answer to Heston Blumenthal. Essentially, he made the humble French Macaron a household name here in Australia, opening several cafes throughout both Sydney and more recently Melbourne. His specialties include desserts and pastries, but not just your humble croissant or mousse cake, no Zumbo is famous for his experimental flavours and whacky combinations! He has always been a great favourite of mine as a chef, I think mostly because his recipes are quite complex but always look spectacular and as a result, I always want to conquer the challenge. Recently, he started a cooking school at his Rozelle premises and I was lucky to receive a class for Christmas!!  

So off I went, feeling slightly nervous at the prospect of meeting a culinary icon but also at the thought of having to successfully cook macarons in front of him! Now to be honest I have made macarons many many times before and each time to a varying level of success. I have come close to perfection quite a few times, but when attempted with the same recipe a second time, I sadly fail. Whether its French meringue or Italian, these things have a mind of their own! As a result I couldn’t successfully tell you which recipe is best or even how to make them properly to guarantee success. Despite that though I (of course) keep on trying (even though every time it ends in disaster I promise myself Never Again!)  

When I arrived I was directed to a room above the Rozelle Cafe (where you can watch the chefs at work while you fill your belly with delicious sweets) where I met the rest of my class. Altogether there were 12 of us, all women except for one brave man and I was quite surprised to hear that some of the group had travelled from inter-state just to take the class! There’s dedication! We received our recipe book and an apron before heading into Zumbo’s test kitchen, where the class would take place.

 

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The room itself was quite large (particularly considering it was sort of like one mans office) and filled with all kinds of equipment. Four moveable benches were set up down the centre of the room and the ingredients were placed on a side bench. We all washed our hands before finding a place at a bench with two others who we would be working with. Co-incidentally I found my way to a bench with two lovely ladies who were also school teachers! Needless to say team teacher worked very well together throughout the day! Then it was time to meet Adriano, who I must say is very very lovely and slightly shy. But a master none-the-less. He explained that each bench would make two flavours of macarons (about 60 macarons of each flavour) and then at the end we would split them all up amongst us. We would start with each group making their fillings, requiring us to measure out the specific ingredients that we needed. It was very much like being in a real kitchen. Everything was available to us but it was up to each group to collect their specific ingredients, in the right quantities as well as with the right equipment. I really liked that actually, as it felt more independant. It wasn’t like someone had measured it all and set it all out in front of me, but more similar to a real cooking environment at home. It seemed more realistic in the end, although I think some people were a little shocked that we got free range. 

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Adriano instructed each group as to what flavours they would be making, with all the recipes included in our cookbooks. My group would be making Lavender Macarons and also Chocolate which excited me greatly as I have never made either of those flavours! And then it was all systems go! The kitchen tentatively started moving into a whirring pace, with everyone moving about collecting what they needed. Our group didn’t have too much to collect incidentally, as our fillings were quite simple (that and we were an excellent group if I do say so myself!) so we finished quite quickly.

Adriano then explained that whilst there were instructions in our cook books, he also wanted to show us different ways/processes to achieve the same filling so he wouldn’t necessarily be going off the written recipe. At this point I got my pen ready, I didn’t want to miss a second. He then worked with each group individually to demonstrate how to create the fillings. This part was really fun as we got to be involved but also learn how to create wonderful flavours with relative ease. Most of the recipes involved a ganache base, with additional things incorporated for variation. My favourite was the rice pudding, which (believe it or not) required the group to make a beautiful creamy rice pudding and mix it with a white chocolate ganache. All the while we also received little tips and tricks, my favourite being to keep the vanilla bean pod once the seeds are scraped, the dry it out in the oven and grind it up to a fine powder. This can then be used in recipes for a more intense flavour with hints of coffee! Adriano also reminded us that its the filling that makes a difference!

Once all the groups fillings were made we moved onto the shells. This was the bit I was most interested to see as this is where I always feel most uncertain. Adriano demonstrated how to make a beautiful vanilla shell which was actually so simple to make. I was really surprised! It was fantastic because I was able to iron out some of the uncertainties that I had about it and also see the consistency of a correct mixture (which is a lot more fluid then I have always thought). Overall I feel that what I am missing is the use of an electric thermometer for precise measure and also the non-stick mat that we used when piping it out.

ImageAgain it was time for us to take the reigns and move onto the making! We broke off into our groups and set about following our recipes. Everyone was working away in their teams, adding egg whites here and heating sugar there, it was so much fun! And then within a matter of moments we were all done and they looked great! I really couldn’t believe that we had done what we did so successfully. Sadly they still had to cook and form the foot so the proof of success was still yet to come. We left them to rest and form a skin while we sat down to lunch!

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Whenever I go to these cooking classes I am always surprised at the fact that we get lunch, not to mention the beautiful food that was on offer. We had two salads (a Greek salad and a chicken pesto pasta salad) and then a choice of two Quiches. Mmm yum!! it was fantastic! I would of had more but I didn’t want to look like a piggy. There was also a beautiful coffee machine inside the kitchen which we were able to use at any stage throughout the day!

ImageAfter lunch we re-entered the room to find our benches covered with beautifully cooked macarons! Everyone was so surprised by the level of success! Not one group had any dodgy ones! Fantastic! We paired the shapes up and then started to fill them all and wow, it was such a feeling of excitement for me! I finally succeeded in making proper macarons! Yes! 

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Each group then plated up 6 of their best for a photo opportunity and they all looked spectacular. I loved the range of colours and flavours! One of the ladies asked for a photo with Adriano, which was possibly a mistake as then we all wanted one. I was clever enough to remember my cookbook which he very nicely signed. Seriously, he was so lovely and nothing was ever a trouble!

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The last part of the day was the best! We each received a box and then were let loose to collect whatever we liked and wow did we all take home a lot of macarons! Check out my box, I couldn’t close the lid!

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Overall, I had the most wonderful day and would gladly do another class! I highly recommend this class to anyone who has a love for baking, trust me, you won’t be disappointed!!

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Mouelleux au Chocolate

ImageAs I’ve mentioned before, Rachel Khoo is one of my cooking idols. I love love love her recipes, which are rich and decadent and make me feel like a real Parisian! Yum! About six months ago, I watched an episode of her show, The Little Paris Kitchen where she made the most mouthwatering dessert I have ever seen. Sadly, I was so distracted by the beautiful food that I forgot to write half of the recipe down!! So when I found her recipe online for Mouelleux au Chocolate (or to us non-french speaking cooks) Chocolate Lava Cakes I knew it was the perfect dessert for my families Easter lunch. Whilst the original recipe can be found on Rachel’s website (link above), I found it reproduced on another beautiful blog called Paris loves Pastry! And I’m so glad I discovered it too because there are so many recipes there that I will be making very shortly. Definitely one for you to check out!

What is great about this dessert is that it is actually super simple to make (I almost couldn’t believe it) but looks spectacular when served. Aside from that, this is no ordinary chocolate lava cake! The centre is actually filled with beautiful rich salted caramel, which spills out of the centre when cut. Yum! I served mine with the homemade vanilla bean Ice-cream that I posted earlier last week but you could easily serve with a scoop of good quality store bought ice cream. Cream would work also but I feel with a hot dessert, the cold creamy ice cream is just perfect!

So here it is; Rachel Khoo’s Mouelleux au Chocolate:

(This recipe will make about 5 individual puddings)

What I used:

For the salted caramel filling:
– 150g white sugar 
– 150ml double cream 
– 1 teaspoon salt, preferably fleur de sel but if not available salt flakes are fine

For the cake:
– 150g dark chocolate
– 85g unsalted butter (⅓ cup)
– 170g brown sugar (¾ cup)
– 85g plain flour (¾ cup)
– 6 eggs

What I Did:

1. First off you need to make the caramel sauce, as it needs to cool before you can use it. In a small saucepan, heat your cream so that it is warm but not boiling. Meanwhile, using another saucepan, cook your sugar until it begins to caramelise. Remember not to make it too dark as it will continue to colour once removed from the heat. Add your cream and continue to stir. Often, when you add the cream to the hot sugar, it can seize up and form a hard ball of toffee, but don’t worry, continue to stir it over a medium/low heat until it re-melts into a beautiful caramel. Stir in your salt and then leave to cool completely in the fridge.  

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2. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter. Then combine the flour and brown sugar in a medium bowl.

3.Slightly beat the eggs (just to break the yolks) before adding them to chocolate mixture and stirring vigorously. Then add the eggy chocolate mixture to the flour/sugar and mix well.

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4. Lightly spray your ramekins with a non-stick spray or butter before filling them 2/3 full with the chocolate mixture. Pop them into the fridge for about 45 mins to firm up a bit.

5. Fill a piping bag with your salted caramel mixture and pipe a decent dollup into the center of each ramekin. This part can be a bit messy so be prepared to lick your fingers!

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6. Bake at about 180degreesC for 15-20 minutes (my oven actually needed 20mins at 200C so just keep an eye on them). They should be firm to touch on the outside but slightly wobbly in the center.

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7. Turn the ramekins upside down onto a plate and serve immediately and be prepared for this to happen….

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Enjoy and happy Baking!!

 

Baked Ricotta Cheesecake with a Nutella Surprise!

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Baked Ricotta cheesecake is a beautiful thing and up until recently I have only ever enjoyed it at Sydney’s Pasticceria Papa (where I might add, they make the best ricotta cheesecake you will ever taste!). For Easter though, I really wanted to bake something special for my family for dessert and after a little bit of googling I came across The Wholesome Cook, a beautiful food blog with a recipe based on the very cake that I love to eat!! Jackpot!

Now, as it is Easter I had to incorporate some form of chocolate into this recipe (but by all means you can leave it out) and as my family loves Nutella (who doesn’t!) I felt it was only appropriate to make my cheesecake a ricotta and Nutella flavoured one. I also had a few difficulties with the recipe so I have made a few changes/adaptations to the original (which can be found here at The Wholesome Cook’s Blog). Overall, this cake is beautifully moist and creamy and the Nutella hit is subtle and well balanced. Its a very light mixture, which I love and is encased in a crumbly, buttery pastry! I’m getting hungry just remembering it. If thats not enough to convince you to give it a go then let me add that my aunty (who hates dessert and never ever eats anything sweet) ate a huge piece in complete silence, occasionally omitting Oooh’s and mmm’s every so often. At the end of it she told me that she loved it! So it’s pretty safe to say its a winner of a dish! I will certainly be making this again especially after I’ve now ironed out some of my original problems.

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I think that the most difficult part of this recipe is getting the pastry into the tin without having messy join marks. Now mine was far from perfect, but I think if you were just making a plain ricotta cheesecake then the best way to achieve this would be to roll out one big piece of pastry (with overhang) that you would lay into your cake tin, fill with mixture and then fold over the top (to join the side walls on the opposite side of the cheesecake). Because we are piping Nutella into it however, the cake needs to be baked without a lid, otherwise it cracks when you press the piping bag into it. The original recipe also only calls for 45mins of baking time, which I initially did. When I went to transfer it onto a plate on Easter morning however, I noticed that the base had gone all soggy, a sign that the cake was not cooked through properly. When I removed the lid I was faced with a nasty surprise, the creamy filling was entirely raw still! Luckily there was still time to pop it back into the oven. Somehow though, I lost my marbles right at that moment and put the cake back into the oven without a tin to support it. Great choice there by me, the walls collapsed onto it! It was at this moment that I went into panic mode but luckily my dad was around to save the day. He managed to push the whole thing back into the tin!! It then baked through for about an hour and once cooled held its shape! What a relief!! But all the difficulties were totally worth it to see the looks of enjoyment on my families faces! I hope you enjoy this one as much as my family did!

What you need:

For the Pastry:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • ¼ cup caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup fresh cream (35% fat)
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder

For the Filling:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 250g cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup fresh cream
  • 500g full-fat ricotta
  • Small tub of Nutella

What I did:

1. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.

2. The first step is to make your pastry. Put butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy then add your egg and cream and mix on a low speed to combine. Add your flour and baking powder to the mixer and mix on a low speed until combined into a dough. Kneed this lightly until just combined and set aside in the fridge for about 10mins.Image

3. In this time, make your filling by putting eggs and half the sugar into a bowl and mix with an electric mixer on high until pale and fluffy. In a separate bowl beat the cream cheese and remaining sugar on a medium speed until combined.

4. Combine the two mixtures with the vanilla extract and ricotta and mix on a low speed.

Assembling the Cake:

1. Greece your round cake tin with either butter or spray (I lined mine with baking paper which I think was unnecessary).

2. On a well floured surface, roll out your pastry to your desired thickness (don’t roll it too thin or it wont hold up with the filling. It should be about 4mm). Cut out a base first and place into your tin, then the side walls which you need to press into the base. Make sure there are no gaps or your cake will leak! Also cut out a lid which we will place on top later and prick this with a fork.

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3. Pour your filling into the tin carefully and smooth out the top.

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4. Put both pieces (the cake and the separate lid) into the oven and bake for about 1hr 45mins. The lid may be ready before this time so I would check on it at around 50mins and if cooked, remove to cool.

5. Once the cheesecake is cooked, it should have a slight wobble in the centre but be firm around the edges and have formed a nice “seal” on top. Turn the oven off and leave it to cool inside for 20mins with the door slightly open.

6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before chilling in the fridge.

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7. Using the nozzle of your piping bag, poke holes into the filling, piping Nutella into these as you go. You ca

n have as much or as little as you like then, when your happy pop the lid on top and trim off any extra pastry.

8. Dust the whole cake liberally with icing sugar and cinnamon and then serve and enjoy!

Happy Baking!!

 

Magical Messina and the Golden Egg

If your a resident of Sydney then you will be well familiar with Gelato Messina. For those of you that aren’t, Messina is a bit like Willy Wonka’s chocolate Factory, only this time with Gelato. The company produce a wide variety of unique gelato flavours that are made daily in store. Some of my personal favourites include Italian Nougat (a honey based gelato with roasted nuts, egg whites and Italian nougat), Salted Caramel & White Chocolate (salted caramel gelato with white chocolate chip) and Pannacotta with Fig Jam and Amaretti Biscuit! Yum!! You really can’t go wrong whatever you choose. Aside from gelato though, Messina is very well known for their Gelato cakes and this Easter was no exception. 

This year, the team at Messina created “Veruca Salt” ($28) and I was lucky enough to snatch up one of the few that were being sold, and boy-oh-boy was it well worth it!!

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The “cake” (if that’s what you call it) was encased in a crisp white chocolate shell, dusted with gold and shimmering along. Inside, we discovered a creamy salted caramel gelato with, would you believe it a gooey orange yolk centre. Between all of us eating it, we felt that the centre was a cross between a subtle lemon curd/passionfruit/pineapple flavour that surprisingly worked perfectly with the salted caramel flavoured gelato. What I love in general about Messina Gelato is that whilst they create unique and unusual flavoured products, all gelato is of a high standard, tasting just like they make in Italy. Now if the egg wasn’t enough already the whole thing rested on a base of milk chocolate hazelnut mousse, filled with a soft vanilla marshmallow placed on top of an amaretti crunch. My boyfriend described this bit as a wagon wheel on steroids but put more eloquently, the mousse was rich and fluffy, while the amaretti crunch added a beautiful crumbly texture. Finally, the egg was nestled in a web of crisp, glossy spun sugar that reminded me of gourmet fairy floss!

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Wow! the whole this was an amazing experience to eat, with every single component working harmoniously with the next. I kind of wish I bought two! Nonetheless, if your in Sydney, be sure to go and give them a visit!! For more info on their many store locations or the test your taste buds with their phenomenal range of flavours, check out their website here.

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Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream

Today marks the start of my Easter Baking preparations and the first thing on my list is Vanilla Ice Cream! To make this recipe I use an ice cream machine but I have heard of people using a still freezing method (where you alternate between freezer time and beating with an electric mixer). Believe it or not, my machine is from Aldi (yep good old Aldi!) and cost me about $50! One of the best pieces of machinery that I have ever bought I feel. Anyway, what is great about home made ice cream is that it is surprisingly simple to make but tastes a thousand times better then the store bought kind. The recipe below is a basic vanilla recipe but you could alter and flavour it in any way that you liked. I’ve made a cookies and cream flavour by adding smashed Oreo cookies during the freezing process. Either way, you won’t be disappointed by the rich, creamy, silky results. For Easter, I plan to serve this with self saucing chocolate puddings with a salted caramel surprise centre! The recipe will be posted early next week! The ice cream will keep in the freezer for ages (making it great for entertaining as you can get it out of the way early) or at least as long as its resisted by you and your family!

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Enjoy and Happy Baking!

You’ll Need:

1 cup Milk

2 cups Cream

1 Vanilla Bean (seeds scraped)

6 Egg Yolks (freeze the whites to use for meringues or Macarons)

2/3 cup Caster Sugar

What I did:

1. Heat the milk, cream and vanilla bean seeds in a saucepan over a medium heat until its hot (but not boiling). Test it by putting your finger into it, if its just too hot to touch then its ready. Remove from the heat

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2. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl and whisk until thick and pale in colour. Slowly add the hot cream mixture, whisking continuously.

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3. Pour the mixture back into a saucepan and stir over a low heat for four minutes or until the mixture is thickened slightly (you can test this by coating the back of a spoon with the mixture and drawing a line through it with your finger. It should leave a clean path). 

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(Notice how it coats the back of the spoon evenly and has a rich, creamy consistency)

4. Transfer to a container or tray and refrigerate until chilled. 

5. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine, following the manufacturers instructions until it is firm, then freeze until ready to serve.

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Enjoy!!

Death By Chocolate

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Last night my friends and I went on what we like to call a “Food Safari”! Basically, we all have a huge passion for food (eating it and cooking it of course!) and so spend hours catching up every few months at a different eatery around Sydney. Despite the fact that we all live in the same area, we are more then happy to travel for great food, which is exactly what we did last night! Of course, as it is Easter, what better opportunity to venture to Brighton Le Sands to make a visit to Bay Vista, a chocolate cafe (who really needs an excuse anyway!)

Luckily, two of my friends had been before, so they were able to advise on whats what and thank goodness they did because the menu choices are HUGE!! Thankfully, I was also encouraged to go with an empty belly so as to leave optimum room for dessert, which is exactly what I did!

When you arrive at Bay Vista, you enter a warm chocolate coloured room with low lighting that provides a nice intimate feeling. A perfect location for eating rich chocolatey desserts. I could honestly smell the chocolate from the moment I entered the room, and not in a sickly way that was overpowering, but more in a subtle way that was warming and a little exciting. If that didn’t get my taste buds watering then the huge chocolate fountain filtering silky, shiny milk chocolate most certainly did! mmm yum! As I mentioned earlier, the menu is absolutely HUGE! Who would have realised that there were so many ways to eat and serve chocolate! Additionally, there is a savoury menu but hey, who has time for that! Cleverly, the owners have divided the menu for your convenience into areas including Crepes, Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt, Drinks, Pancakes, Waffles and Ice Cream Bowls (and yes all of these are on offer for you to choose from!) Of course, for someone as indecisive as me this proved a huge problem…where do I even start! Never fear though because I had a plan. I firstly agreed with myself that I wanted 

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something with chocolate, preferably including ice cream and with something hot like a crepe or waffles. As my sister was with me we also agreed to share two things (that way you get the best of both worlds) and then finally eliminated waffles based on the idea that after past experiences at other venues, waffles can be a bit doughy (although they did look amazing and I think next time I go, I’ll give them a try). And there you have my fail-proof process of elimination! The only step was now to decide which crepe and ice-cream bowl we wanted (trust me, this then took a while) but eventually we agreed on the Snickers Crepe ($16) and the 5th Avenue New York Ice Cream Bowl ($24).

To be honest, the Snickers Crepe was my favourite of the two! A huge, thinly cooked crepe filled with Snickers pieces and roasted peanuts, then drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce! The dish was served with a nice big scoop of vanilla ice cream and dusted with icing sugar! Wow! This was soooo tasty I could have eaten it all day! I loved discovering little pieces of chewy nougat throughout my crepe and the roasted peanuts added a nice little crunch. A very tasty option which I would highly recommend.

Our second dish was the Ice Cream Bowl which was served in the biggest parfait glass I have ever seen! Inside the bowl we had a scoop each of peanut butter, chocolate and boysenberry ice cream topped with another scoop of soft serve vanilla ice cream and some whipped cream (if there Imagewasn’t enough cream for you yet!). Scattered throughout were pieces of chocolate brownie and new york cheesecake before being drizzled in chocolate fudge sauce! Wow what a dish! Now I know that that sounds irrisitable on paper, and trust me it was, I had a few reservations about it. Firstly, if your ordering this then I would certainly share it with a friend and order something on the side like we did. Also make sure that you like cream, not ice cream but cream, because they put an awful lot of it on the top, which there’s nothing at all wrong with, I’m just not a huge fan of cream. My other sense of confusion was the inclusion of boysenberry ice cream, which didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the flavours included. Perhaps it should be replaced with something more caramel-like? Despite that thought, the chocolate fudge sauce was rich and gooey and the brownie pieces with the ice cream was just delish! I loved the peanut butter ice cream, in fact I wish they had given us a bigger scoop of that one, which had a very subtle peanut butter flavour (so don’t worry about it being too rich) and fantastic creamy consistency. Although we shared ours, I did see lots of people finish a whole one on their own so I’m sure if you’ve got a sweet tooth you would be able to manage! Overall, so much yummy-ness in one big bowl!

After a good rest we all got a hot chocolate ($6) which I would very much recommend as almost a meal in itself! Three cute little serving dishes were presented to me; one empty mug, one filled with warm frothy milk and the last with rich, silky milk chocolate. Then, if that wasn’t enticing enough, a skewer was placed across my cup with alternating waffle pieces and marshmallows! It was like a chocolate fondu AND hot chocolate in one! Great value! I decided to use mine for that exact purpose but in the end couldn’t quite finish it off as I slowly slipped into a food coma (a fact that I deeply regret now!)

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Overall, I would highly recommend a visit to Sydney’s Bay Vista! Be prepared for beautiful rich dessert dishes which will take you quite some time to decide upon. You may even need to have a little system like I did before you go!! Either way, you won’t be disappointed! I’m already counting down until I go again!!

PS. Check out their website here!!

Enjoy!!

Dude Food – Sydney Steakhouses

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So today marks my first ever blog-rant! And what else to write about then the recent diner obsession with steakhouse style dining in Sydney! I’m hoping that I’m not judged severely as some sort of food snob for saying this, but these sorts of “restaurants” annoy me to no end with their overpriced, under value food and after a more then a few poor experiences I felt like it was time to share my frustrations. I had never really noticed the growing trend of places such as Hurricanes Bar and Grill, Outback Jacks, Outback Steakhouse and Ribs and Rumps, popping up around Sydney and perhaps its because my boyfriend LOVES meat, but had never really frequented them until recently either. I guess the opening of so many must reflect Sydney’s desire for such food; American style diners that serve up huge portions of steaks, ribs, chips and burgers and are renowned for their irresistible marinades and sauces! Now something like that sounds really very appealing to me! It’s definitely not something that we have a lot of in Sydney, so acts as a nice option for couples and families looking for a nice meal. But alas! It seems it was all too good to be true…or maybe its just me who’s had a bad experience?

I suppose the purpose of this rant is partly as a means for me to express my frustration, but also possibly to see where it all goes wrong. When it comes to dining at any of these venues I am always sure to make a booking. For some reason unknown to me, they are always fully booked on weekends, so I have learnt to book well in advance. Despite that though, I have never arrived to be told that my table is ready to go. Literally every single time I have dined at any of these restaurants I have been directed to the bar and asked to wait for periods of between 10-20minutes while my table is prepared. Perhaps it’s a ploy to buy one of their highly overpriced drinks (Rekorderling Cider for $12) or maybe it’s me thats confused with thinking that the purpose of making a reservation is so that you can be assured a table at a certain time. This past weekend, my boyfriend and I dined at restaurant X (lets keep it unnamed) after making a booking a few days prior for 7:30pm. Sadly, were running about 15mins late as we couldn’t manage to find anywhere to park. Upon arrival however, we were greeted by a very rude member of staff who told me that as I was late she had given our table away and that it was our fault that we would now have to wait an additional 20mins for another to be made ready! Aside from her rude manner (which is another point of frustration) I was never informed when making the booking that there was a time limit on holding the table. If I had been I certainly would have called to let them know. Additionally, most restaurants tend to give you a courtesy call to see if your still coming, but again that wasn’t afforded us. So, we diligently waited for our table.

In general, service at these sorts of places is always very very poor, which I wouldn’t mind entirely if the food was of a high standard or the prices were not so high. On another past occasion, my boyfriend and I were served a cold entrée of chicken wings (6 wings for $15.95!) which we had not finished eating before our (again) cold mains were plonked in front of us by a hurried staff member. On this occasion, I had ordered a steak (300g for $34.95) which was served with chips. Thankfully, I was able to change the chips to vegetables, which was really nice as often you have to pay extra for that service (again, what a joke!). Now, quite obviously to me, but evidently not this restaurant, I ordered steamed vegetables with the premise of being a little bit healthier, which makes me wonder why they were drenched in butter, a fact not shared with me when ordering or anywhere on the menu. At the time though, I thought thats ok, a little butter (well a whole lot in this case) never hurt anyone. So I proceeded to eat my meal. I had also tried earlier to order a drink off the menu, only to be told that “they actually don’t sell that here”. Then why is it on your menu? When the waitstaff realised that we had no plans to order any dessert (and thus not spend anymore money there) he quickly brought over our bill, on which he had highlighted and circled the tip line! I almost couldn’t believe it!

As I mentioned earlier, food is expensive and of a very low quality, although on a bonus the sizes are generally very big (so there is a silver lining if your into that sort of thing!) At a third restaurant (which we can name restaurant Y) I again ordered a 300g rump steak ($24.95) served with chips and salad. Again, I asked for no chips and just salad which to me then means replace the chips with the salad, I mean I’m still paying exactly the same price (I had asked to change the chips to vegtables but was told that would cost me extra, to remove something and replace it with something else? Are you serious?). Perhaps the kitchen staff thought it was a funny joke (I didn’t see the humour there) but when my meal was served I received the normal salad serve and in place of the chips a single piece of lettuce. Wow! Across from me, my boyfriend was looking just as puzzled after having ordered the steak and ribs combo ($39.95) and being presented with a tiny portion of steak and three baby ribs! Considering this was a combo and the price payed I was just as disappointed as he was. Aside from that, I have eaten at plenty of fine dining restaurants (where fantastic food is coupled with outstanding service) and payed a lot less for a lot more! Truly, how do people accept this sort of thing. On top of that, both our steaks were dry and stringy, which is confusing considering they are supposed to specialise in the cooking of such things!

Reading this back to myself, I am really starting to sound like the world’s biggest food snob and I promise I am not, I have just had enough of overpriced food at sub-par standard. How can people charge you $49.95 for a rack of ribs that I know costs about a quarter of the price and then not even follow through on decent service. Have we really come to a time when consumers will willingly accept this? Perhaps we have, because diners continue to flock to American-style eateries all around Sydney and I really still can not work out the appeal. Maybe its because there is so little competition, or that people have come to associate the chains to the product that they are not willing to give anything else a go. Either way, I am starting to think that I am in the wrong profession because owning a Steakhouse seems like an easy way to make a fast dollar! That or I have been very unlucky to have a bad experience every single time that I have ever eaten at a Steakhouse…somehow I am doubtful! On what can possibly be the only positive note, they always seem to have rather large portion sizes, and men in general seem to love them. So if you’re looking for a way to please a male and you don’t mind paying a fortune to do so, then without a doubt go for it! If not, then I would certainly (and somewhat sadly) give it a miss!

Cheeky Tiramisu

ImageTiramisu is a classic Italian Dessert and one of my absolute favourites to make because it is just so damn easy! When it’s made properly, its a light creaming dessert that combines a subtle coffee flavour with soft, sponge-like biscotti! How can you go wrong with that!

Personally, I would really recommend this recipe for a dinner party where you want to impress your friends or family. The reason that I say this is because you can make the entire dessert the day before (it actually tastes better if you do this), meaning that you get to spend more time with your guests and less glued to the kitchen! Aside from that, most people tend to think that something that tastes as good as this does is really tricky to make! Thankfully for us home-cooks it is truly one of the simplest desserts to make. Now if that wasn’t enough to entice you, my recipe is kiddy friendly (I didn’t have any alcohol to add to the coffee mixture, but you of course could). PS Recipe serves 4

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What You Need:

1 Cup Cold Espresso Coffee (use better quality for a better taste and please avoid using instant coffee granules if you can!)

200 grams savoiardi biscuits

2 large eggs

75 grams caster sugar

500 grams mascarpone cheese

Cocoa powder (to dust)

What I Did:

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1. Break your eggs into a bowl, keeping only one of the whites. Add the sugar together and whisk together until thick and a paler yellow.

2. Fold in the mascarpone to make a moussy mixture.

3. Pour your cold coffee into a bowl (add alcohol here if you choose) and quickly dip one biscuit into the mixture at a time. Remember it should just be a quick dip on either side of the biscuit as they are very delicate and you don’t want the flavour to be overpowering. As you dip one biscuit into the coffee quickly transfer it to your serving dish (I’ve gone with individual wine glasses but anything with be fine. For my dish, I had to break the biscuit once soaked).

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4. Pour your cream/mousse mixture over the top and spread it smoothly using a spatula (or if presenting like me add some to your glass, continuing the layering process until you have enough). 

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5. Using a sieve, dust liberally with cocoa

6. Put into the fridge to set for at least 4 hours. Serve and enjoy!

Happy Baking!!