Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Eating Out: Irrewarra Sourdough Cafe

Irrewarra Sourdough Cafe
10 James Street, Geelong
Ph: 03 5221 3909

I decided that this year, to treat myself on my birthday, I'd go to Irrewarra Sourdough cafe in Geelong for breakfast. They're only open Monday to Friday, so this was going to be my only chance for a while.

Sadly, things didn't start out well.

I checked the website this morning before I left to make sure I knew the address, had an idea of what I wanted to eat, and what time they opened: 9am - easy. I rocked up at about 9.45am to find the doors still locked. Umm... I checked the opening times in the window... 9am... Umm... a lady then poked her head out the door to let me know that, since Monday, they don't open until 10am. I said I'd take a walk for a while.

It was so tempting, walking past other, open cafes, with their foody smells wafting through the morning air, to ditch my original plan and eat elsewhere. But no - I'd driven to Geelong for this, and dammit, I was gonna have it. I had eyed off the wholewheat pancakes on the online menu.

So, at a bare few minutes past 10am I was once again at the door, which this time was open.

A selection of goodies were on display as I walked in, and all looked incredibly good. A shame prices here are relatively high, as I'd really like to have sampled a few of these.

The muffins in particular looked good, and I ended up grabbing one on my way out.

Wandering in I was told to take a seat while the lady at the counter finished a coffee order. I grabbed a January '08 copy of Gourmet Traveller and made myself comfortable at a table to peruse the menu... which was a pretty cut-down version of what was on the website. No wholewheat pancakes with honeycomb butter and maple syrup *sigh*

I ended up choosing poached eggs with bacon and tomato on toasted sourdough, a mug of decaf flat white, and orange juice. The eggs were slightly undercooked for my taste (I prefer my white to be all-solid, with still-runny yolks - the white was still a little see-through in one or two places), but aside from that I was very satisfied with the meal, even though it wasn't pancakes. The bread is simply superb, and everyone should try it - there's a list of retailers who stock their breads on the website. Espressino has ruined me for coffee - I would have classed this coffee as excellent, if I didn't get my usual fix from Dino and the gang. As it is, the best I can offer is "really good" for Irrewarra's coffee.

The muffin I bought on my way out sufficed for dinner tonight. And I now have a loaf of their spicy fruit 'n' nut loaf sitting in the freezer, ready for a fix whenever I want it.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Solstice Cake 2008

A few weeks ago I mentioned my intention of baking my family fruit cake for the Solstice, as laid down by AOF over at Confessions of a Food Nazi. And I did it! As I'm off to Canberra this week for several weeks I'm throwing up this post now.

I can't give away all the secrets, otherwise my mother may disown me. I don't like dried peel in my fruitcake, so I modified the fruit ingredients to just be dates, sultanas, currants, and glace cherries. It's a very rich cake, and I think the secret is in the booze - you soak the fruit overnight in a rather nice amount of rum :-) You just have to be careful when you remove the plastic wrap the next day - the alcomohol fumes are impressive. Brown sugar, treacle, a bit of flour, some mixed spices... you build up some impressive muscles folding everything together.

While mum usually ices this cake, she assured me that it wasn't mandatory. She advised putting some whole almonds on top before I baked it, as decoration. Note the brown paper - 3 layers of it wrapped around the tin. This cake is cooked incredibly slowly - for one this size about 30-40 minutes at 180C until it starts rising, then you knock it down to 130C for another couple of hours, until the centre feels firm.

Once it comes out you leave it in the tin until it's completely cooled, then wrap it in cling wrap so it's air tight, then put it in a container. Generally you should leave it for at least a month to cure before you even THINK of eating it, but I didn't have a month! After a mere week and a few days this baby had to come back out into the light of day.

Here's a cross-section. And these two chunks are all that is left! So, while I wasn't 100% happy with it, it seems the punters didn't mind :-)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Eating Out: EightyOne

EightyOne Fine Food & Wine
81 High Street, Berwick
Ph: 03 9768 9555

Strap yourself in, I give you fair warning: this will be a looooong post. Mainly cos of the photos.

With three family members all having their birthdays within a week, and the partner of one having one too, it's becoming something of a tradition for my family to get together for dinner for our birthdays each year - no mean feat since we live on opposite sides of this wonderful city. The last couple of years it's been over this (ie. west) side of town, so it's only fair that this year we Westies headed east for a change.

My brother had checked out the menu and it met with his approval, so that's where we went. There are several definite dining areas at EightyOne - the front looks straight out of an olde Englishe pub, all dark wood, wooden tables and chairs, and nice relaxed atmosphere. The back dining area is rather more classy, with crisp white table cloths and strategically placed lighting. There was also a first-level dining area that overlooked the back dining, but I didn't get a look up there - maybe next time. Something that struck us all was the lack of reverberate-y-echo-y noise from the large room, but I dare say a feature of heavy red velvet curtain on a wall and soft carpet under foot probably helped a LOT.

The menu, while not huge, seems to have something that will appeal to 99.9% of the population. Even me, a fairly fussy eater, could see several options that I'd happily eat. Between the five of us we managed to cover a fair percentage of the menu. They also have a pretty decent wine list, with a range of beers also available. There are also a bunch of cocktails that I'd love to work my way through - the lychee and strawberry cocktail above was MUCHO nice.

Entrees first. You'll have to forgive me, but I'm a little fuzzy on the details of what we all ate, but I'll do my best. In any case, if you saw the menu you'd easily identify which dishes I'm talking about below.

I ordered the sweet potato chips with a... a... a glaze of some sort to dip them in. I love sweet potato chips, and the sauce to dip them in was lovely - fruity and a perfect accompaniment. Several others sampled, and liked too.

Dad ordered the prawns... he liked. I'm afraid I can't for the life of me remember what they were crumbed in! I promise, one day I'll remember to take a notepad with me.

Bro ordered the southern-style chicken pieces, after ascertaining that there were no bones in them, with a spicy chilli dipping sauce. They were amazing. Imagine KFC, but way less grease, and a way better flavour. I'm half-tempted, if I eat here again, to just order a few plates of these!

We also ordered a couple of garlic breads. I think they also had melted cheese on top. Oh yum. Hm, maybe I'd order the chicken pieces and the garlic bread...

And now we come to mains. This dish was one I very nearly ordered for myself. As it was Dad-Wench ordered it, and I managed to try a little taste. I THINK it was almond-crusted salmon... It was delicious.

Bro ordered the lamb. We happily removed the tomatoes for him. It was cooked a fraction less than he liked. After we'd had a few minutes to taste our food our waitress, Kimberley, asked if everything was ok and offered to take the dish back and get another, more cooked. Bro said nah, it was fine.

My dish was duck risotto with mascarpone, pear and garlic. Droooooooooooooooooooooool. It might not look all that appetising, but this was ridiculously good. I ate far more than I should have, purely because it tasted so good. The pear was a good, interesting, contrasting flavour.

Bro-Wench got the roasted chicken, and this was the one disappointment in the meal. As she was tucking in she came across quite a bit of flesh that was still pink, and a blood clot. Straight away she stopped eating. We called Kimberley over and showed her. She agreed that she wouldn't eat it either, and took it back to the kitchen after asking if B-W wanted a replacement meal: B-W refused and so received another cocktail and her dessert complimentary. Kimberley spoke to the chef, and he advised that the chicken had been poached first, and then roasted, so it was apparently common for the flesh to remain pink and a clot to be found. Regardless, it's chicken - and B-W just couldn't stomach it.

Dad ordered the pork belly. It came out with a wasabi mash and some onion jam, along with some bok choy. He enjoyed the lot (but perhaps the wasabi mash not so much).

And now - desserts!!! D-W ordered this - from memory it was a chocolate and macadamia tart. Very rich, very nice, but hard to get through the whole thing.

Dad and B-W ordered the apple cobbler. It was listed as coming out with a creme anglaise, but on request they also added a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream. It looked good - apparently it tasted good too.

Mmmmmmm, passionfruit parfaaaaaiiiiiit. This was sooo yummy. I was torn between disappointment when I finished it, and gratitude that I'd finished it as I was approaching an uncomfortable level of fullness. The almond brittle that adorned the top was good too.

And finally, Bro ordered the banana semi-Frodo... oops, I mean semi-freddo! He reported that it was good, and the flecks of chocolate through it were "mmuurrrrggglllggggaarrrrggg" (or something similar).

I wasn't allowed to see the total bill. But based on comments I think it ended up being about $300. Sounds like a lot of money, but that's 5 entrees, 5 mains, 4 desserts (as B-W's was complimentary), 2 cocktails (plus 1 complimentary), 1 bottle of red, 2 beers, and a tonic water. And I was completely satisfied with my meal. The service was friendly, attentive, and our waitress adapted well to my family (believe me, not all do - we tend to get a bit rowdy, even before we start drinking).

I'd love to go here again. Maybe Christmas...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Eating In: Lazy Bolognese Pasta Bake

Your head hurts. Your throat hurts. You're coughing and can barely speak. You really can't be bothered, but the thought of toast for another meal REALLY just doesn't do it for you. In desperation you look in the freezer... lo: mince, cheese, vegies... you check the pantry... dried herbs, pasta and a tin of tomatoes... dinner is forthcoming! Times like this I bless my mother's advice to always keep a tin of tomatoes in the cupboard and some meat in the freezer.

So I threw an onion, about a clove-worth of minced garlic and a little oil in a pan. I had found a couple of rashers of bacon in the freezer too... finely diced those and threw them in with the garlic and onion. Sauted until the onion and bacon were cooked, then added about half a kilo of mince (since that's the amount I had). Preheated the oven to 180C. Once the mince was all nicely browned up I added a 425g tin of diced tomatoes, a few pinches of dried herbs, about half a tablespoon full of cornflour (to help the sauce thicken up a bit), and another 1/3 to 1/2 can of water. I also added a handful of frozen beans, and another of frozen peas, carrot and corn. Stirred all that around until it was all combined, and then threw in about 250g of dried penne and stirred it all until the pasta was well mixed in.

I turned it all into a casserole dish and patted it down. Sprinkled grated cheese over the top, and threw the lot in the oven for an hour. Cue meat-y, tomato-y, garlic-y, cheese-y smells throughout the house. It might not be the prettiest meal, but dang it was tasty. And I can't wait to heat up some leftovers to have on toasted muffins tomorrow morning! Next time I think I'll put in a little less pasta, and also remember to add some chilli... but aside from that, it was good!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Eating Out: Red Pepper

Red Pepper Malaysian and Chinese Restaurant
Shop 15, 167-169 Shaws Road, Werribee
Ph: 03 9974 2622

I've been rather disappointed in the eating-out options in and near Werribee. They have consistently failed to impress (to the point where I can't even be bothered blogging them, as it would depress me far to much to write something that negative!!), with the only real exception to date being Nara Thai in Laverton. May I say - there is another, and it will now become my "local".

I've driven past this group of shops so many times, even called in once or twice to the supermarket, and always thought to myself "yes, I MUST try this place at some point". That point came today on my way home, when I needed some good food to cheer me up.

I didn't feel particularly sociable, so ordered the food to take away (so the pics below are my plating up and presentation... ug...) but I think I will definitely be eating in, in the future.

For my entree I chose one of my favourites - satay beef skewers (which come in a serving of 2). While the beef was a little dry for my taste, it tasted lovely, and the satay sauce that accompanied it was incredibly full of flavour and packed a fantastic wallop of spice. I scarfed these two down in next to no time. Brilliant.

I love a good mongolian beef. This one didn't look much like any mongol beef I've ever had before, but the flavour was right on, the meat was tender, and again it served up a real punch on the chilli - it was brilliant. I really can't say any more than that - I was completely happy with my meal and, as I said before, this will now become my "local". I can't wait to go back and work my way through the fairly extensive menu.

If you're planning to have your meal take away, and you're eating with a friend, I'd recommend choosing one dish you want and sharing it - the amount of rice and beef I was given is more than enough to do me for a couple more meals! For $17.90 I don't think I could get much happier. Bloody tasty food, reasonable price, only 5 minutes from home... bliss :-)

Stay tuned for my adventures in their dining room.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Eating Out: PJs Pasta

727 Burke Road, Camberwell

Ph: 03 9882 1143

I decided before going to PJs on Saturday that I wasn't going to blog it. But after thinking about it, and chatting about it to a friend, I decided I'd write it up. But of course there are no pictures.

PJs is a favourite place of L and J when they're in town, so we met up, a party of five of us, at about 7pm on Saturday night. Water was provided for us all, then we were left to choose our drinks and food.

First up we ordered some bruschetta to share. A rather longish wait later an immaculately arranged plate arrived... with four tiny slices of bread topped with glistening tomato. Um... five people, four pieces... when we asked the waitress she said that that's the way it's presented, but she'd fix that. We said "yes, please". Another longish wait (but not quite so long as the first one) and another immaculately arranged plate arrived... again with only four pieces. We gave up. Aside from that, it was superb bruschetta - fresh tomato, crisp flavours - lovely. We cleaned it all up in no time.

Another long wait followed before our mains arrived, one or two at a time over the course of about 5 minutes. The menu offers a good selection of dishes, but I only saw a couple of vegetarian options. I ordered a chorizo and chicken with pappadelle in a creamy pesto sauce. The only thing stopping this dish being really good was the amount of chorizo - there was simply too much, and it overpowered the rest of the ingredients. I couldn't finish it all, but the boys cleaned it all up when they'd done with their meals.

DW ordered a linguini marina in what looked like a tomato-based sauce that was apparently quite nice, but she couldn't finish the meal. I was at the other end of the table so didn't see much of what it contained. Again, the boys cleaned up the leftovers.

J ordered Atlantic salmon on a bed of mashed potato and various other odds and ends from the specials board... I feel bad, I would have paid more attention to what everyone had, if I'd thought I was going to blog it! In any case, it looked great and apparently tasted the same.

D and L both ordered the veal shank. I wish I could remember what it was served with... I might ask D and update this later. Again, it looked great, and the meat literally fell off the bone. Both were most impressed with their meal.

After asking for the dessert menu twice we finally got a couple of copies, and would you believe, between the five of us we ended up ordering only two different desserts. D and I both ordered the apple, cinnamon and raisin pie. It came out with an artistic swirl of raspberry sauce (oh, sorry, I should say "coulis") on the plate, and a dollop of vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. I'd been eyeing it off in the dessert case since we'd first walked in. And it was goooooood.

DW, J and L all ordered the New York baked cheesecake with an apricot glaze. J is a self-confessed cheesecake-fanatic, and even she didn't enjoy it. Apparently it tasted and felt more like a ricotta cheesecake, which would have been fine, but there was just something that "wasn't nice". The two ladies left plenty on their plate: only L finished his serving.

A round of coffees had been ordered and came out at the same time as the desserts. The coffee drinkers seemed happy with their brews, however the two of us who ordered hot chocolate with marshmallows weren't quite so happy... firstly, the marshmallows weren't there - but when we pointed out the lack of marshies to our waitress she quickly provided us with a small bowl of them. And, in a rather small cup, about half of it was froth. The remaining drink was lukewarm at best.

Overall it was a night of hits and misses... the bruschetta, the veal and the apple pie were hits. The waitress was also lovely. The number of serves of bruschetta, the amount of chorizo and the cheesecake were misses, as were the long waits. Don't get me wrong - I like to take my time over a meal, but only to a certain point. If the place had been packed I could have understood waiting a little bit longer, but come on - it's Saturday night! Surely you'd have to plan for that to be a little busier.

The total bill for 2 entrees, 5 mains, 5 desserts, 2 soft drinks, 2 bottles of red, 1 glass of white, 3 coffees and 2 hot chocolates came in a fraction under $240, which is pretty good value - more so if it had been a more positive experience. Would I go there again? Hm, probably not. Should you give it a go? Sure - there are plenty of things to try on the menu, and I did hear other diners saying good things about their food.