Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #30

(Oops, looks like in my hurry to publish post Harvest Monday #31 I totally missed #30. Whoopsie, and here it is)!

Trying to grow loads of different types of veggies on the balcony is turning out to be..challenging. I'm wondering what the point is if growing something like peas or beans that I really only get one meal out of.  And there are carrots + beetroot - once you pull them up that's it.   There's the fun aspect of it I guess, and pottering around on the balcony gives me something to do at home when I'm feeling a bit bored or just want to be outside.  But the effort + cost doesn't equal much return.


That's why herbs such as parsley are really great.  Before I started gardening I NEVER used parsley but now it's something that I use ALL the time, mainly as a garnish.  And the plant just will not die. I'm told a parsley bush has a life of about two years, so by my calculations we've got another 12 months together at least. Not like the beans + peas = one hit wonders!


Although I cannot stand the smell of the basil - it makes me feel quite ill and gives me a killer headache - I've been using it more and more in my cooking (the suffering we go through to cook a meal, hey)? I've found that it's good in red and green Thai curries, pesto (of course) and pasta dishes. Apart from when I use an entire plant to make some pesto I've found that a single basil plant will last for yonks -- I just pick off a few leaves and then a few more leaves grow back. It's never ending. Lately the basil has been trying to "go to seed" but I just snip off the flowers and it keeps on producing leaves.


We usually have a packet of mince in our freezer - usually it's from The Free Range Butcher, but when we run out of that we pick up this King Island Beef from the supermarket (tsk tsk, I know) that is grass fed. I ALWAYS add kalamata olives to my spaghetti and now I also add a good handful of basil free from the balcony farm.



Et voila! Spaghetti Bolognense - now with added greenery.


You can view more Harvest Monday posts on Daphne's Dandelions blog.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Adventures in Sewing #1 - a cushion cover

I recently decided that I needed to find a hobby that didn't involve food...or specifically eating. And whilst the Balcony Garden gets me off the couch there is really only so much I can do on a tiny balcony each weekend. After you get the planting out of the way (which takes just an hour or so) you just...wait, and water. That's it.

I've been inspired to try my hand at sewing, after reading a few sewing blogs and becoming inspired by Sew Amy Sew who is only just learning to sew herself and is already turning out some lovely garments.



So (or Sew) I took myself off to a beginners sewing class at Tessuti which was very good + covered lots of basics.  But I wanted MORE. I wanted to make something other than straight lines on bits of scrap fabrics.  After scouring the internet I found a cute little sewing workshop and creative space in Chippendale called Sew Make Create.


Before the class started I took myself off to Lincraft to try and find some fabric for my cushion cover. Holy world of ugly Batman! That place is SCARY + a total messy schamozzle! I decided to try my luck at Spotlight...I know there are plenty of nice places in Sydney selling fabric but some of them aren't cheap and most of them are not in Western Sydney and I'm too lazy to venture far on the weekend. I was in luck though and found some really nice fabric...made in Japan which is where most of the lovely fabric at Spotlight seems to come from.


At our first 2 hour beginners class at Sew Make Create we learned about the machine, what bits go where, and then spent some time sewing straight and wiggly lines on paper -- just to get the "feel of sewing". This was really useful. Then it was time to thread the machine up and practice with real thread on real fabric. I'm happy to report that nothing went too badly for me and our teacher Melissa had infinite amounts of patience and I think it helped us all that the class was small - only four or five people each time.


Next class it's time to whip out my lovely Japanese fabric under the watchful eye of shopdog, Pepper who spent a lot of time supervising us in-between naps + (loudly) snoring. Pepper has her own Instagram account and she leads a lovely life of shopdog leisure...lucky dog. I really enjoyed having Pepper in the class - patting a puppy when sewing gets a bit stressful is VERY therapeutic.


And here it is, my finished cushion. I'm so proud of this little baby! I learned how to cut out a pattern, sew straight lines, pivot the needle, sew button holes using the machine and do a zig-zag stitch to stop the fabric edges fraying (and in between patting Pepper the shopdog). Nice one Miss Piggy!



Sew, tell me dear reader (LOL, I LOVE saying that)...do you sew? Who taught you or did you teach yourself?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

William Blue Dining, North Sydney

Both of The Boy's nieces studied hospitality at William Blue in North Sydney - which means they've both done their time working in the college's fine dining training restaurant. They were often telling us how great the restaurant is but (yes again) we just never quite made it there - despite the lure of three courses for just $32!


The girls have since graduated from college. One works as a crew member on a luxury private yacht where she travels the world and goes to exotic places like the Galapagos Islands (yes, I'm beyond green with jealousy). The other is working at a five start hotel in Sydney (AND she gets super cheap five star accommodation around the world as a perk - yes, I'm also jealous of this one).



I didn't quite know what to expect when The Boy and I were invited to dine at William Blue Dining. I think I was possibly expecting a TAFE style cafeteria with bright fluro lighting and dodgy laminex tables but this place was anything but that! It's very swish - white tablecloths, etched wine glasses, nice lighting and polished front of house staff (aka the students) dressed smartly in their black and whites.


The commercial cookery students, all looking very professional in their chef whites, have charge of the open kitchen which seems to run smoothly and quietly under the guidance of their head chef, Jason.  Considering the restaurant is fully booked everyone is very calm. No Masterchef style tantrums or meltdowns in this kitchen let me tell you! Impressive.


We kick off our dinner with a drink. I'm quite taken by the mocktail of the night, the "mandarinee", a summery blend of mandarin and berries that is sweet and refreshing. I love the little pieces of fruit that are in the drink. It's a Crowne Larger for The Boy (just one though as he's driving us home). The drinks are delivered to our table by our waiter who does a great job of pouring the beer without causing a great big ice-creamy type foaming glass of beer like I always do.


The little dinner roll is pipping hot - obviously fresh from the oven.  The serve of butter is very generous and the soft, salty butter melts into like bread like a match made in heaven! It's really good bread, really good.



The Boy is rapt with his choice of delicately plated prawn and shitake spring roll with daikon, snow peak tendrils, pickled cucumber and chilli sauce.  I was offered a (very) little morsel and they are not skimpy on the prawn.  The roll is almost bursting with meaty, fresh flavoured prawn meat and the mushrooms add a nice earthy note to the dish.

My choice for entree was the baked goats cheese "en croute" with a pear, witlof and hazelnut salad and I couldn't have been happier with this dish. The presentation was immaculate. The goats cheese was served on a toasted baguette and was just a little melted. The cheese was deliciously salty and had such an earthy "ripe" flavour which I think was enhanced by being served warm. The salad added a fresh counterbalance to the richness of the wonderful cheese and I loved the addition of hazelnuts to the salad - fancy.


I was really happy with my main course of  barramundi served with smoked butter sautĂ©ed mushrooms, celeriac puree, buttered brussel sprouts and chicken jus.  The delicate flakes of fish were hiding under a tile of delicious, crisp skin and I have to say I LOVED the brussel sprouts -- and that's not something I ever thought I'd say. They had a nice mild flavour and were in no way reminiscent of the putrid, stinking sprouts of my childhood dinners! 

The Boy loved his pork saltimbocca with ham hock croquette, sauerkraut and pork garlic jus (and so did I)! The pork was quite smokey, almost tasting like a smoked ham, and the croquettes oozed, delicious metly cheese when we cut into it.


Do you ever order something to share and then wish you hadn't agreed to share after all? Yes, me too! These thick chips were served with a rich garlic aioli (an extra $4 on top of your $32 for three courses) really were too good to share.  The thickly cut chips arrived at our table pre-seasoned to perfection and had a nice crunch on the outside with soft, fluffy innards.


The Boy is so predictable in his dessert ordering! I knew the chocolate molten pudding with Grand Marnier ice-cream and a citrus salad had his name all over it.  The pudding was served warm and a river of chocolate slowly oozed out when we sliced the pudding in half. My choice of lemon curd mousse cake was much lighter in flavour and the cake was so fresh, and zesty in flavour. The ice-cream accompanying had a great citrus flavour. Citrus + citrus = winner!


The Boy and I had a great night at William Blue Dining. We were both so impressed by the quality of the food - the flavours were great and the plating was really something special.  Service was also really lovely - considering that the wait staff had really only had about 10 sessions working in the restaurant since starting their course earlier in the year I think they did a stellar job and were guided really well throughout the night by their restaurant manager, Rebecca. It was really interesting being in a fine dining environment that was also a classroom. I loved hearing little bits of advice and guidance coming through from the kitchen and floor to the students - I may have even learned something myself!

I think this just goes to show if you want a career in hospitality -- perhaps Masterchef is NOT the way to go.

William Blue Dining is at Level 9, 171 Pacific Highway (Northpoint Tower), North Sydney.  Phone them on: 9492-3299 or book via their website. Bookings are recommended and please note that as the restaurant is part of a college they are not open all year round.


William Blue Dining on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 22, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #33

I don't really have too much happening on my balcony at the moment. I've not planted a lot of the "crops" I'd planned to experiment with over winter (like potatoes + garlic) as The Boy + I are heading away for a month soon (insert *happy dance* here) and I didn't want to leave plants growing on the balcony with noone home to look after them.

That said I have planted a few winter things like carrots, beetroot, beans, peas + bok choi (that sounds like a lot, but for me it's nothing) that I can use before we head away.  Mostly though I am just making use of the herbs I have growing, like my chives.


I think this is the last meal I got out of my chives before the attack of the dreaded black aphids happened.  Such a shame that my chives have basically been eaten alive (not by me, by the aphids) as I love the mild garlic note they add to meals.  Towards the end of their life these chives really looked...disgusting, there's just no other word for it. That black stuff on the chives isn't dirt by the way, it's a SWARM of black aphids *shudder*.


I bought these Dry Porcini Mushrooms from the Adelaide Central Markets last November and they've just sat in the dark recesses of my cupboard until recently.  If I'm telling the truth I was just a bit intimated by them.  I'm not sure what was stopping me from using these little guys -- maybe the thought of food expanding like a sponge when I added water freaked me out? Once rehydrated these guys had quite a pungent, earthy smell that I really liked...and I liked that the soaking water can be used in the cooking too. It adds a real depth of flavour. 


I've always loved risotto but I CANNOT cook it.  My risotto making just ends up with me adding 57 liters of stock and STILL having crunchy rice. WHY? All the stirring of the stock and the rice also really kills my arm.  Risotto is NOT my friend. In fact cooking it makes me quite cross.  So a few weeks ago I abandoned altogether trying to make stove-top risotto as I fail at it every time.



The thing is I still want to eat risotto.  So, I've found a good oven baked version of risotto that I usually make with chicken but this time I wanted something vegetarian - enter the mushrooms.  It's SO simple - you literally chuck everything into an ovenproof dish and bung it in the oven. That's my kinda cooking!  The rice was just a smidgen gluggy (why is that people), but topped with my freshly grown chives it tasted…not too bad.


You can view more Harvest Monday posts on Daphne's Dandelions blog. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kobe Jones, Darling Harbour

Miss Piggy and The Boy dined as guests of Kobe Jones.

When I was invited down to Kobe Jones to try their "winter romance" menu I mentally ran through all my weekday dining buddies and came up empty handed. Everyone was busy, sick, working (sick of working?), studying or out of town. It seemed like I was going to have to give this one a miss which is a shame as I do love Kobe Jones -- it's always been a place I associate with special occasion dining after having celebrated my nieces university graduation there.



You may be wondering why my first choice of dining buddy for a romantic wintertime feast wasn't The Boy? Yes, well...that's a very good question. He generally doesn't like to go out in the big city on a school night so I never think to invite him along to something like this.  BUT when I moved my dinner to a non-school night we had ourselves a ready made romantic dinner for two!


Kobe Jones is SO dark and even though I'd ask for a table under some light I knew I was going to struggle to get photos of our meal.  True, the moody lighting is romantic.  It's also great if you're on a blind date and not so keen on the person you've been set-up with.  It's not so great for photos so apologies for some truly dodgy photos of some truly beautiful food.


Our tasting menu kicks off with the NUMBER ONE SPECIAL (crab salad with avocado wrapped in Hiramasa kingfish and baked in a "secret sauce")  and a beer for The Boy and a fancy blue cocktail for me. Right off the bat I'm really impressed with Kobe Jones' modern Californian take on Japanese food. All the flavours go so well together with nothing jarring or too left of centre in the flavour combinations (I've had some Japanese food recently that is just a little...out there in a "not good" kinda way). The flavour pairings here are quite subtle and everything marries well together.


Our next course - A TANTALISING TASTING PLATE - arrives on a l-o-n-g slate platter and my trusty lighting director whips out his phone to provide a bit of light for my photos...this didn't seem to bother anyone sitting near us and our waitress was OK with it too. Phew!

We get to try a morsel of lots of tasty things during this course: SPICY EBI NIGRI (poached sweet Japanese prawn nigri topped with chilli sauce and + black caviar); The Boy's favourite on the platter is the LOLLIPOP SUSHI (fresh tuna, kingfish, salmon, crab salad, asparagus and burdock root, wrapped in thinly-peeled cucumber + topped with smelt roe, ponzu vinaigrette); WAGYU TATAKI (seared rare and iced wagyu on a bed of seaweed, topped with winter herbs and soy onion vinaigrette); SPIDER ROLL (crunchy soft shell crab with avocado, crab salad and cucumber, with smelt roe and chopped chives); and a dish we tried on our honeymoon, SALMON AND SEAFOOD POKE (Hawaiian style freshly marinated sashimi cubes in poke sauce with shallots and roasted garlic, topped with fresh alfalfa sprouts).


The Boy and I are VERY big on everything being "even Stevens" when it comes to food (yes, we're greedy guts) so a big thumbs up to Kobe Jones for providing everything in an even number of pieces for this menu.

I adored the JALAPENO SALMON TATAKI (flamed sashimi salmon served with jalapeno dressing and garnished with salmon roe and slivers of fresh jalapeno). The crunch of the spicy jalapeno was a nice textural counterbalance to the soft salmon.  The dressing was quite zesty which cut down on any overwhelming heat coming through from the jalapeno.  Next is the PACIFIC CALAMARI FRITTO (Pacific line caught, pineapple cut calamari in a special panko, lightly fried and served with roasted shallot mayonnaise, smelt roe and marinated yellow radish). 


If you've been to Kobe Jones chances are you're a fan of the VOLCANO ROLL (oven-baked Hokkaido scallops layered on a crab salad and avocado roll with a special cream sauce, roasted sesame seed, smelt roe, shallots and drizzled with bitter sweet soy glaze). I've heard a lot about this dish and I'm glad to have tried it...it's very good.  We both enjoyed the SPICY SEAFOOD TOBANYAKI  that came under a delicate nest of air-dried tuna shavings that danced atop the dish (prawns, scallops, squid, mussels and wild mushroom tossed with seaweed butter on a bed of rice, then baked with a special cream sauce and topped with shallot and air-dried tuna shavings).



We had to really work hard for each morsel of the ALASKAN CRAB which is grilled robata style and served in the shell with fresh lime and ponzu sauce (ponzu sauce is quite sweet + acidic on its own and I prefer when it's served as part of the overall, integrated flavour of a dish).  Things got a bit messy by the end of this dish, with fingers being used to extract every morsel of the crab from it's spiky legs. Waste not, want not.



The final savoury course of the night - LOBSTER HOT ROCK - arrives at our table with a bit of theatre along with it.   Our waitress starts by melting a pad of butter on the scorching hot slab of rock. Next up morsels of sweet slipper lobster meat go on to the rock along with the mushrooms that accompany the dish.  Once we're shown what to do we're left to cook the rest of the meat ourselves which is quite fun.  The lobster + mushrooms are served with a garlic seaweed butter (my favourite accompaniment to the lobster), ponzu sauce and motoyaki sauce .


Our first dessert arrives at out table literally on fire!  Once the flames abate we get stuck in and enjoy every last skerrick of our FLAMING ANKO (Japanese sweet red bean and + green tea brulee served with flaming vanilla liqueur). I enjoyed this dessert and I liked that the flavour of the red beans didn't overwhelm the delicateness of the green tea brulee.  The KJ TIRAMISU was also really delicious and we both enjoyed the Japanese twist on this traditional Italian dessert.  The tiramisu was infused with green tea + sake infused and served semifreddo (that means a little bit frozen in Italian folks) and topped with fresh strawberries.  I'm not usually a fan of tiramisu as I don't enjoy the strong espresso flavour, but this was great -- mild flavoured, moist without being wet. A great end to a great, and delicious night. 



The Winter Romance menu is $145 per person. Drinks are extra.

Kobe Jones is at 29 Lime Street, Sydney (King Street Wharf). Phone them on 9299 5290.

Kobe Jones on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sweet Swap (or Miss Piggy's Meltdown)

Firstly let me start off by apologizing to the three people who drew me as the person to make them a sweetie as part of the inaugural Sweet Swap.


I am pretty much the worst cook in the world when it comes to sweet things. When I first decided to sign up to the Sweet Swap I thought that I’d be able to make biscuits. Actually, I had The Boy (our households “master baker”) all lined up to make Snickerdoodle Cookies. I know that's kind of cheating to get him to make my Sweet Swap treat but he really is a great baker!  Of course, all of that cheating aside  my main reason for signing up to the Sweet Swap was because it was a fundraiser for Child Fund Australia - a good cause I'd say.

Alas, biscuits were not allowed so I tried my hand at what I was told is a FAIL PROOF sweetie, Rocky Road. It wasn’t fail proof.  My first attempt at melting the chocolate was a disaster and after a trip to the supermarket (and some tears) to buy new chocolate The Boy was put in charge of melting duties!


My Rocky Road (which I’m now calling Miss Piggy’s Meltdown) is a little bit different to traditional Rocky Road.  It contains dark chocolate, crystallised ginger, toasted almonds, cranberries and tears (and maybe one of my fingernails, but let's not talk about that).


Miss Piggy's "Meltdown"


Ingredients
  • 2 x bags of milk chocolate "things" for melting
  • Tissues (for when you start crying at above burnt chocolate)
  • Car (for unplanned trip to the supermarket)
  • 2 more bags of dark chocolate "things" (for melting after you burn the first lot)
  • 1 x packet of mini marshmallows (though in hindsight I think bigger ones would be better)
  • 1 x packet of crystallised ginger
  • 1 x packet of toasted almonds
  • 1 x packet of craisins

Steps
  1. Install visiting cat in the MOST inconvenient place in the kitchen. 
  2. Trip over aforementioned cat. 
  3. Swear.
  4. Chop up crystallised ginger into smaller chunks.
  5. Mix chopped up crystallised ginger in a bowl with marshmallows, toasted almonds and craisins.
  6. Melt chocolate.
  7. Comment to the cat that "things" don't seem to be going according to the plan.
  8. Burn chocolate (or just basically render it totally inedible).
  9. Swear.
  10. Swear (again).
  11. Husband comes in to try and rectify the damage stating "I KNEW this would happen" (yes, so did I).
  12. Depart kitchen (trip over cat).
  13. Have an epic thrown-down tantrum in the hall way (yes, that REALLY happened).
  14. Cry.
  15. Consult twitter for what the heck has gone wrong with the chocolate (everything it seems).
  16. Force husband to come to Coles to buy MORE chocolate, dark this time cos why the heck not?
  17. Return home with emergency chocolate supplies.
  18. Have husband melt chocolate whilst being told to get out of the kitchen (but hovering close by with camera annoyingly in hand).
  19. Allowed back into the kitchen to supervise mixing of melted chocolate and dry ingredients.
  20. Place chocolate mix into a shallow pan and place in the fridge overnight.
  21. Remove chocolate from the pan (surely this should be easier than it was).
  22. Attempt to chop chocolate into quarters (three for them and one for me).
  23. Nearly severe finger.
  24. Swear.
  25. Husband comes in to do the cutting as he doesn't want to spend the day in the emergency room.
  26. Tell husband he rocks.
  27. Wrap the buggers up + post them out of your life FOREVER!
  28. Cat goes back to napping in the lounge room now that his annoyance factor is no longer required. 
Let's review that in pictures shall we?

 
 
 
 

The end (do not try this at home)!

Oh, so do you want to know what I received from my fellow sweet swappers? So far I've received two sweet parcels (one has gone M.I.A somewhere along the way). My first treat was from Rachel at TLC and she made me Lavender "Twix". My second treat was "popping candy" Brownies from the lovely Flick at Flick your Food.



Thanks for my treats Flick + Rachel - very yummy!

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