Saturday, 17 May 2014

Sake

Happy birthday Dad.

Sake restaurant in The Rocks, Sydney has become a bit of a family favourite, so we were rather excited when we were invited to share Dad's 60th birthday with him there.

White soy snapper topped with sesame seeds, chives, yuzo juice and; white-soy dressing.

The evening was a feast for the eyes and the mouth. Somehow Dad and I have developed the same obsession with miso soup even though our initial Japanese dining experiences were not had together, but the last few times we went to Sake we both ordered the miso soup and wanted to drink the whole pot, so I was chuffed when I saw that it was on the menu. I need to invest some time in learning how to make a good miso, it is such a feel good, healthy drink.

The first course was sashimi white soy snapper and slipped down my throat. It was followed by wagyu new style and by the second dish I discovered that I have a liking for yuzo sauce, after thoroughly enjoying this new flavour in both courses.

Wagyu new style, lightly seared with hot oil and; finished with ginger, chives and; yuzo saucae.

The next dish of glacier 51 toothfish marinated in miso and served in a crispy lettuce leaf was delightful, sadly there was only one cup per person....since we were with company I was on my best behaviour and didn't fight Mark for his, but the thought did cross my mind.

Glacier 51 toothfish was marinated in miso.
Most of us were really looking forward to the prawn dumplings, and when they burst in my mouth my feet did a little dance in excitement. They certainly lived up to the anticipation.

Chinese inspired steamed prawn dumplings (shumai) with spicy ponzu. .
The next dish of pan seared barramundi smelt so good that Lara woke up as it entered the room, no way was she going to miss out on trying it. She devoured this dish, and I think she had more than her fair share-no one else would be able to steal that much food off my plate and get away with it. Sepia needs to take a note from the Sake kitchen on how you are meant to use buckwheat as this dish was a perfect execution of light complex flavours with just the right amount of textures on the plate. Japanese chefs always excel at this, which is probably why it is Mark's and my favourite cuisine. We dream of the day when we get to take our kids to Japan.

Pan seared ocean barramundi finished with butter soy on sweet ponzu buckwheat & tomato salsa.
Lara was a fan of the barramundi.
A Japanese meal is not complete without tempura which is always a treat. The batter was light and crispy and the dipping sauce was so delicious that I think I probably triple dipped.

Scampi tempura with sweet ponzu, coriander and; jalapeno slices.

The chef's selection of nigiri was delightful. Naturally the wasabi was real and had the associated complex flavours that can't be matched by packet stuff. The ginger was perfectly light and fresh and the scallop was seared slightly just to caramelise it. I will definitely be ordering this when we go back.

Chef's selection of nigiri.
Of course, this was Dad's birthday celebration, so there had to be cake, and there is no better cake than a Messina gelato cake. They have well and truly earned their reputation. Luckily Lara had gone back to sleep by the time we were having dessert, because I doubt I would have been very willing to let her share as much of my cake as she would have liked.

Messina gelato cake
Now we wait for an excuse to do it all again.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Paleo Biscuits

Almonds, desicated coconut, honey and coconut oil.

A friend sent me the link to this recipe just before ANZAC day-I guess my attempts at Paleo have been noted, that said I admit that I follow the Paleo lifestyle EXTREMELY loosely these days, regardless of all my good intentions. Sadly I have never had much willpower when I'm sleep deprived, this isn't an excuse, I've just accepted it because I'm so good at giving myself sh!t.

This recipe was appealing as I seriously wanted to bake biscuits for Anzac day as I have done for years, but I'm in the process of trying to work out if it is sugar or grains that my body is having some serious issues with these days....I'm hoping it is only one of them and not both, if given a choice I would ditch sugar because I really want to bake bread and make some fresh pasta. Anyway, I digress, this recipe was also good because I had all the ingredients in the pantry-or could make do.

What were my thoughts on the recipe and how this biscuit turned out? Well the recipe was well written and seemed promising, thus I attempted it. However, to call them Anzac biscuits, even with the word Paleo in front of them should be considered a crime. Admittedly I just blitzed some almonds because I didn't have almond flakes in the pantry so the texture turned out nothing like an Anzac biscuit, or how the biscuits looked in the official photo, but they also tasted nothing like an Anzac biscuit. I think the simple remedy to this would probably be to double the quantity of honey (and maybe reduce the coconut oil), which I may do if I make them again, as a healthy option for a digestive biscuit to enjoy with my hot cacao (which I'm seriously loving at the moment), not as a falsely marketed Anzac biscuit. Whats in a name?

The most ugly things I've baked in a long time.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Checkout what we've done this fortnight

Mark and I aren't really what you would call "doers", we have grand plans and think things out for ages, and rarely ever get anywhere because our plans are too optimistic. But lately we have been getting this under control, and I must confess that I'm rather chuffed with what we have achieved...yes, there is a collective we there even though Mark has done most of the hard work-don't tell him I said that.

The new chicken gate and feeding station.

The two life changing things Mark has made for me in the last two weeks are a new gateway and feeding station for the chickens, and a new clothesline. The new chicken run set up means that I can give the girls fresh food and water in a matter of seconds and give them the freedom to free-range around the garden without having to worry about them struggling to get back in to their coop at night as their last escape root involved them jumping on top of their coop. Whilst Mark was installing the new gate frame he added a gas strop to the lid of the coop which means that Lara and I can gather the eggs together without worrying about the roof falling on our heads-this wouldn't be a problem if Holly wasn't such a bird brain and laid her eggs in the nesting box. The new clothesline is such genius that I'm joking with Mark that he should patent the design. Basically I now have a clothesline under cover that is on a pulley system so I can easily put washing on the line at shoulder level and then pull the line up nice and high for drying under the pergola, and it is on a clip so it is easy to take down when we are entertaining. Genius. Not to mention that I can now do three loads of washing in one day, so I feel ready to take on winter.

What, doesn't your clothesline have a pulley system?

Surely every clothesline has a cleat right?

We have also made one existing garden bed look more respectable, which makes me proud when I stand at our kitchen sink doing the dishes and look at it. We have also added a new garden bed to the front yard in order to give our bedroom some privacy from the street...but it is going to take some commitment from me to fertilise the trees on a regular basis for them to achieve that goal any time soon.

Canna Lillies, Hibiscus, varigated Cordylines and  a Philodendron
have completed this once empty corner in the backyard.

Viburnum and Canna Lillies create a new garden bed in the front yard
that will hopefully give us privacy soon-read blinds open and naked.

My solo achievements in the last fortnight have included knitting Lara some mittens, chicken proofing the veggie patch, sorting out compost, raising seedlings and baking, all whilst being a sleep deprived Mum with a baby that has had a cold, is teething and is getting rid of her lunch time nap. I seem to very easily forget all of this when at the end of the day I look at the state of the house and feel bad, but you just can't do everything all the time. I'm either proud of my gardening and craft achievements, or proud of the state of my house, and honestly, watching my garden grow, and creating things brings me much more joy than not having a layer of dust on my TV unit for forty eight hours until it builds up again. I digress, I made Lara's mittens to match the beanie that I made her before she was born. That project felt really good because I didn't make the mittens because I felt like knitting, I made them because Lara gets cold hands (just like her Mum). She likes them, and I'm biased but I think she does look rather cute in her matching accessories-even though they are obviously hand made by a novice.

Lara's handmade beanie and mittens-she is just too cute.

Only parts of my veggie patch are chicken proofed at the moment, partly because I want them to air rate the soil and get rid of the bad bugs, and partly because I don't have enough materials to completely shut them out, and that would make my veggie garden look ugly. That said, I am now using the pet pen (that I got to harden off my young chicks outside before introducing them to the old girls) to fence in my eggplant, snow peas and string beans, and I've dug in chicken wire to protect my bok choy seedlings. Once they have outgrown the recycled piece of chicken wire that I threw over them in two minutes flat I will probably protect two thirds of the crop with some other DIY structure and see how the remaining plants stand up to the chickens. Why am I so keen to protect these plants? Because they give us delicious veggies like the beans below.

Just a little bean harvest from the veggie garden.
The purple bean looks great in the garden but loses its colour when cooked. Bean salad anyone?

It feels good to be doing things around the place that make day to day living so much easier and enjoyable....so the next few days are set aside for tidying and cleaning, which is obviously something that makes life easier but there is no joy for me in those jobs. Oh, to be one of those people who enjoys the process of cleaning, I just want to click my fingers and everything be done. What's the bet I lose myself out in the garden and turn in to a crazy lady on Sunday desperately trying to prepare for my guests on Monday?


Sunday, 27 April 2014

Papi Chulo

Prawn and scallop ceviche-a treat for the eyes and tastebuds.

Mark's birthday celebrations are still continuing and we were lucky to be taken out for a lovely lunch today. Whilst the weather put a bit of a dampner on things the ambiance at Papi Chulo on Manly wharf made a grey day seem bright. The venue was bright and friendly, as were the welcoming staff.

The menu is inspired by South American food and as such everything is served as a share plate, which is my favourite way of eating. You get to try lots of delicious things and talk about how they taste with your loved ones. We started with empanadas which were brought to our table by Head Chef Patrick Friesen which was a lovely unexpected surprise. The crunchy empanadas were stuffed with wild greens and raclette, and had a sweet chilli tomato jam to dip them in. I do love a good chilli jam. They looked and smelt so good that Lara screamed at her Dad until he gave her some, and then she decided that they tasted so nice that she kept asking for more. Are we raising a food critic?


Empanadas filled with wild greens and raclette, dipped in tomato jam.

Our next two dishes to arrive were prawn and scallop cevich, and BBQ baby octopus. The whole party enjoyed the octopus, but it took a little convincing to get Grandma to try the prawn and scallop ceviche. I found this dish to be so pleasing to the eye with its beautiful colours and layers, and was intrigued by how they got the crunchy texture in the quinoa, so I will be attempting that in the kitchen soon. I'm glad I tried cevich prawns, but they were no where near as enjoyable as the scallops. I've also been inspired by the use of fruit (persimmon) in a starter. I think I might have to start playing with persimmons too. I love it when a meal out inspires you to think and try new things.

Prawn and scallop ceviche, persimmon, habanero, quinoa.

Naturally our main courses had to come from the BBQ menu, and since we are a family of meat lovers we got the Papi Chulo BBQ platter which was served with mixed pickles (which I almost got all to myself since Mark and I are the only ones that like pickles. Score!) and sweet breadrolls; and smoked pork ribs with Papi's BBQ sauce. My favourite was probably the wagyu brisket which I almost dropped in my lap when picking it up off the share plate as it was so tender it was falling apart.

It would have been a crime not to order coleslaw and curly fries for our sides, and the fact that Lara got so many curly fries was evidence of how much we all loved them and wanted to share the love with our special little person who is ever so spoilt....oh, and I doubt she would have let us get away with not giving her any.

Lara thoroughly enjoying the sliced pork and curly fries.
Seven month old food critic.

Since I'm coming to the sad acceptance that my body doesn't respond kindly to sugar or grains I decided to only have one mouthful of Mark's dessert. He chose the special which consisted of lemon curd, crispy meringues, kiwi fruit and berries. One mouthful was all I needed as it was deliciously sweet with just enough flavour combinations to create a little dance in my mouth. Yes, it tasted as good as it looks.

Todays dessert special.
I would recommend Papi Chulo to anyone looking for a restaurant in Manly, or the Northern Beaches for that matter. It is a little on the pricey side, but for flavours so unique, paired with the view I was impressed.

Sepia

Sepia menu and matching wine list (for the night we dined).

For years now Mark and I have gone for a fancy dinner out for our birthdays and anniversaries instead of giving each other gifts. We find the experience more valuable than a token item, and sitting over a degustation menu for hours, with matching wines indulges our passion for food and our joy of talking about flavours and textures of dishes together. That said, my appreciation of the matching wines has had to become much more refined over the past year and a bit since I was making a baby and now breastfeeding a baby, but I'm pretty chuffed by the satisfaction that I can get out of one mouth full of an amazing wine.

This year Mark not so subtly hinted that he wanted to go to Sepia for his birthday, so I made the reservation (that is another story). The evening started off with a bang as we savoured every bite of Hiramasa kingfish, tonburi, citrus soy these flavours were so light and fresh. They got our taste buds dancing and eagerly awaiting what was to come. It was followed by an equally enjoyable dish of sashimi Yellow Fin tuna which melted in your mouth whilst the crackling provided a perfect contrast.


Sashimi Yellow Fin tuna, Jamon Iberico cream, Hatsuka radish, ponzu, crackling.

The next dish looked lovely and colourful, and quite unlike anything we had eaten before, yet after a few mouth fulls Mark and I rather comically glanced at each other sideways and discreetly mentioned that we weren't impressed. A sip of the Gruner Veltiner saved the dish and yet again re-established our respect in our cheerful and knowledgeable Sommelier, Rodney Setter. Many a time we have experienced the benefits of food making wine take on a new characteristic, but this was the first time a wine had so significantly improved a dish for us. We finished the dish and remarked that we were left with bits in our teeth.

House made chevre, rhubarb, beetroot, rye, native violets.

Our next course was butter poached Murray Cod, kabu and chrysantemum, daikon, baby gem, nori, again it was  a lovely light dish with well balanced flavours and textures. It was Mark's favourite course of the evening.

Butter poached Murray Cod, kabu and chrysanthemum, daikon, baby gem, nori.

Then along came the New Zealand scampi grilled over charcoal, sudachi, mitsuba, fried battera kombu. It was life changing, the delicious smell of a good cigar wafted up towards my nose and I couldn't wait to taste the dish. The scampi was cooked to perfection with the outside skin being lightly crispy whilst the inside flesh was gooey and melted in my mouth. I wanted more of this dish.

New Zealand scampi grilled over charcoal,
sudachi, mitsuba, fried battera kombu.

As our Somellier brought Mark his next glass of wine we knew we were moving in to red meat category and were looking forward to a dish with some substance (we were feeling a little pecky). What we got was juicy duck that had been sous-vide to perfection but was missing the distinct flavour of grilled meat.

Roasted Aylesbury duck breast, blood plum umeboshi, pickled cucumbers, sansho.

Then along came the wagyu and our thought was 'this is going to be good'. But when they say layered wagyu it means they have stripped the meat apart and haven't really added anything to the flavour, we would have been happy with a simple piece of meat. The best part of this dish was the fried garlic chips which was sweet and crispy.

Layered David Blackmore wagyu beef, great ghost mushroom,
Tasmanian wasabi miso mustard, fried garlic.

The cheese course was an optional one, and since we were still seriously hungry (and I can't say no to cheese) we opted for it. Our waitress told us that it wasn't a typical cheese plate and that it was in fact a cheese course, so I was intrigued. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish, as unique as it was, the closest I can get to describing it would be cheese soup, yet that does not sound tempting at all. However, Mark made a very valid point, a quality cheddar is his favourite cheese, mostly because of the way it crumbles in your mouth, so by grating this cheese to make this dish the chef had destroyed the best thing about cheddar....a bit of a reoccurring factor here after having a dish of layered wagyu. Please, just let the quality ingredients speak for themselves, don't over complicate things. It was becoming very apparent to us that this menu was a classic display of style over substance.

Pyengana cheddar plum wine and apple pctin, sheep yoghurt and pear cream.

After our cheese course came pre-dessert, a light peach cream dish that was perfectly sweet and smooth with the mandatory crumbly bits. I thought I had an obsession with crunch, but obviously the chef has more of an obsession. This dish was a treasure to look at and savour, and was just the right portion size, I thoroughly enjoyed every fluffy mouthful.

Peach cream, raspberry, yukari, shiso.

The first dessert course arrived at the table, looking and smelling divine as the sweet caramel aroma drifted in the air. The little 'sails' on top gave the dish a lovely height and visual balance, but that was all they did as they tasted like plastic and the texture wasn't any better. The pumpkin and miso caramel ice cream was deliciously smooth and creamy, I could have eaten a whole tub of it. And the popcorn had such a unique texture, it was thoroughly enjoyable. However, I don't ever want to try buckwheat with my dessert ever again, it was so, so wrong, blurgh! That said, Mark enjoyed it.

Pumpkin and miso caramel ice cream, buckwheat cream, popcorn, yuba, sorrel.

By the time the final course of the night came I was feeling full and finished. This is the first time that I've sat down for a degustation menu and haven't eagerly awaited every dish and still longed to taste more deliciousness even after the meal was finished. The Autumn Chocolate Forest dish was delivered to our table and announced as "our famous dessert" yet it was another exercise in combining too many flavours with too many textures-you can't forget the mandatory crunch. I'd describe myself as a sweet tooth, but even this dessert was too much for me and I simply couldn't finish it.

Autumn Chocolate Forest.

All in all Mark and I had an enjoyable evening, sitting side by side on a bench seat, chatting away and watching the buzzing scene of the waiters and somelliers going about their business. Perhaps the sommeliers were so much happier and friendlier than the waitstaff because they needed to taste test their products frequently, and the three of them obviously enjoyed discussing the flavours of different wines together. The food was enjoyable, but after the first three courses it flat lined and simply didn't get us excited, it became rather repetitive and the dessert was just too much. Out of all the fancy restaurants we've dined at and all the degustation menus we have enjoyed, this is the only place we aren't interested in going back to. I'm sad because I was really looking forward to spoiling Mark with a lovely birthday dinner with lots of delicious memories and inspiration for him to cook new things. What we got was a lovely date night which we could have gotten at many other venues for a quarter of the price. For years we have questioned the Good Food Guide judging panel as we compare restaurants at similar price points and cuisine and have often found that we enjoy the lower rated restaurants more. After dining at Sepia, which they have awarded best restaurant of 2014, we will be taking their recommendations with a grain of salt. If you regularly splash that much cash on dinner then by all means try Sepia, but if your budget means that that night out is a special occasion that you savour, there are plenty of better options.