Friday, January 25, 2013

THE BEST PAVLOVA RECIPE ... EVER!


Earlier this month, my parents took James and me to their very good friends Lynne and Bill's house for dinner. I had never met Lynne before but was very well aware of her reputation as one of the best cooks my mother had ever met. So incredible is her culinary expertise that her husband is usually disappointed when he eats out at restaurants because he knows he would have had a far better meal at home. After dining at their home, I don't blame him. She is one super-skilled woman!

One of the dishes that totally blew me away was her incredible pavlova. There was no sign of the usual strawberries, bananas or passionfruit pulp. And it clearly wasn't a store bought meringue. No, Lynne's creation was the most perfectly crisp pavlova covered in a cream/crème fraiche combination and topped with verjuice soaked apricots, white nectarines, crushed candied almonds and chopped mint leaves. It was groaningly good - sweet, syrupy fruits and cream with crisp meringue made for the perfect combination and there was no way I could resist going back for seconds.

I took to google to find a similar pavlova recipe and found this gorgeous one from the magnificent Maggie Beer. The only difference with mine is I'm adding some white nectarine to the topping. I just know this is going to go down soooooo well for Australia Day tomorrow! Shall we begin?

You will need:

4 free range eggs
1 pinch salt
1 cup caster sugar
1 tbsp corn flour
250g dried apricots
1/2 cup verjuice
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp honey
1/2 cup almond flakes (toasted lightly)
1 cup creme fraiche
1 cup cream, whipped
1 white nectarine

Start by preheating the oven to 160°C (a tad lower if you don't like your meringue too crisp) then place the egg whites into a bowl with a pinch of salt then whisk with an electric mixer until peaks form. Add the sugar gradually, 1/3 of a cup at a time, whisking well until the mixture is stiff and shiny. Make sure the sugar is dissolved by rubbing the mixture between your fingers. If it's grainy, keep whisking.

Add the cornflour and one tablespoon of Verjuice and do a final combine. The mixture should have tripled in volume and will stand up when the beaters are lifted from the bowl. I didn't read the recipe before making mine so my mixture was a tad too liquidy. Oops!



Shape the mixture into a rough circle on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper then place into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 150°C. Leave it in the oven for 45 minutes and then reduce to 120°C for another 45 minutes.


Once it's done, turn the oven off, leave the door ajar and allow the pavlova to cool completely. Mine is a bit cracked but the cream will act as the perfect disguise. No-one's gonna be any the wiser...





Now, pop the dried apricots into a microwave proof bowl and pour over 1/2 cup of Verjuice and 1/2 cup of water and cover with cling flim. Place into the microwave (1100 watts) for 4 minutes on the defrost setting so the apricot will reconstitute, plump up and soften. If you have a lower wattage microwave this time will vary. Remove from the microwave and strain off the Verjuice liquid into a bowl, setting the apricots aside. 

Place the Verjuice liquid and honey into a medium size fry pan over a medium to low heat and allow to gently simmer for 1 to 2 minutes to bring this to a syrupy consistency. Then pop the apricots back into the syrup and cook for 3 minutes over a low gentle heat until the apricots are soft. Remove the apricots from the pan and place into a clean bowl and set aside.





To prepare the cream topping, place the cream into an electric mixer and whip until soft peaks form. Then add the crème fraiche and whip for another 30 seconds. Spoon the cream mixture onto the top of the cooled pavlova and arrange sliced nectarine, apricots and roasted almonds on top.













And voila! The greatest pavlova you're ever likely to taste! Happy Australia Day, folks!

Friday, January 18, 2013

WORLD RESTAURANT AND BAR, MELBOURNE

For a couple who don't drink too frequently, our goings-on in Melbourne were rather out of character. Well, I should only be speaking for myself there because, regardless of the occasion, James is 99.9% of the time a simple "just a Coca Cola, thanks" kinda guy. Because the weather was so fine, the sun stayed out for, like, EVER, and I was seeing my sister for an extended period of time, every single day was a cause for celebration. Cocktails in sharing jugs were always our favourite and these "Holly Higgins" (Finlandia Grapefruit Vodka, Aperol, lemon juice, grapefruit juice) marked the start of our evening at World Restaurant and Bar. Delicioso!


Speaking of delicious - don't you think my sister is a dead ringer for Hollywood cutie Anna Kendrick?

I really want to tell you that the food that night was "pitch perfect" but that would be just be plain cheesy. Because it was the day after the new year holiday, many of the cafe's around town hadn't been able to have their usual deliveries from suppliers, so many items on the menu weren't available. Sure, I was a little sad about that but it forced me to order things I may not have thought of before and gave the chef a chance to really woo us. And woo us he (or she) did! We started with the Pan fried calamari & chorizo in a capsicum and white wine sauce. Oh boy. If I wasn't gluten-avoidant, I'd have used that bread to soak up every last morsel of that sauce. Instead, I actually got a spoon to finish it off. Smoky, chorizo-ey and utterly perfect. One recipe I need to add to my collection!

Then we had the conundrum of figuring out how to share this pulled pork taco between us. We were talking too much and not reading the menu properly so it was totally our fault. We got there in the end, crafty little family we are. And our little morsels had us contemplating skipping the mains so we could keep ordering from the grazing menu for the rest of the night. 

Many carbohydrates were consumed that night. But come on, take a look at that cheese and garlic pizza bread. How could you say no to that pretty little thing?


The stars (though not visible at this stage) seemed to align that night as not only did we have palate-pleasing food and terrific company, we also had the most blissful weather that evening.



Now for the really good part: the mains! Rachel and Dan both went for the 300g char grilled Porterhouse with onion rings, mustard and chips:

We all know that you can't stop at just two onion rings so I took the initiative and ordered a whole bucket of them. I think I ate most of them to myself...

James chose the twice cooked pork belly with green apple & celeriac remoulade and fondant. Come to papa!

As for me, I figured these guys knew what they were doing with their calamari (and deep fryer) so I went for the crisp calamari with iceberg, coriander, fried shallots, sesame and lime. They absolutely nailed this one!

When I found out my sister got in to uni in Adelaide (seriously HUGE pat on the back to her!), a part of me was a little sad because it might mean less trips to the foodie paradise that is Melbourne. But there's a slight chance one of my brothers might end up living there so pleeeeeease keep your fingers crossed for him!

If you'd like to visit World Restaurant & Bar, their details are here. And be sure to have a cocktail for me!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

LUDLOW BAR & DINING ROOM

Usually the words "bar food" have a negative connotation for me. Too tough or fatty steaks, oversized chicken parmagianas and horribly chunky chips are what I have come to expect when it comes to eating in most bars. Our trip to Melbourne in the new year totally obliterated all my ideas about what constitutes pub food these days. We ate in a number of bars across the city and every single time were more than pleasantly surprised at what was on offer. The bar at Ludlow Bar & Dining Room was one of my favourite dining experiences in the Garden State and should be an example to other bars who want to offer a food menu as inspired as the cocktail menu! It was just about to turn dark when we left the apartment to walk to the riverside...
  

We settled in at a seat by the open windows and soaked up the atmosphere created by a truly talented band that was busking outside. Don't you love a summer night when live music is involved?


We perused the menu and decided on the Eggplant Chips and House Dips as starters. Now, you should know that normally I steer clear of house dips (because they are usually so boring they send me straight to sleep) and my sister has an aversion to the very idea of eggplant. Both of us discovered a brand new love that night at Ludlow! While I skipped the bread (and instead used the dips for my perfectly fried eggplant chips), the rest of the crew were bowled over by the freshly baked flat bread. The fresh hummus and baba ghanoush were that good I used my finger to scrape the bowl at the end, classy girl I am!






We also tucked in to a couple of Pimms Jugs but it's well known that the cocktail menu is not-to-be-missed!




For dinner, I chose a lighter option - a delicious chopped salad - but had a few bites of James' incredible fish and chips!


Alex ordered the lamb skewers which were so succulent and tender I know next time I will be ordering them for myself. Thankfully my little brother is very generous when it comes to sharing food, so I got to enjoy a decent portion that night!

Let's talk about the dessert... Marshmallows and Spanish Doughnuts with a chocolate sauce no-one could blame you for drinking straight from the jug. Food porn that tastes as good as it looks!

We took a walk along the river after dessert because, as some of you will know, Melbourne at night is nothing short of magical...




Those fairy lights make me want to start waltzing in the street!  

Have you been to Melbourne? Isn't it just dreamy?! Did you eat your way around the city like we did?

Monday, January 14, 2013

A NIGHT AT THE BARN

After a glorious trip to the beach with Alex and Harry, we made our way back to my parents to get ready for dinner - mum and dad had booked a table at one of their favourite local restaurants in celebration of our recent news. When I was growing up in regional Australia, good restaurants like you find in major capital cities were pretty much non-existent. But this is certainly not the case anymore. 

The Barn lies on the outskirts of Mount Gambier and hosts one of the finest steak restaurants you're likely to visit. Run by the Cleves family - who have heritage on the property dating back to 1877 - the steak that is served in the restaurant comes from cattle that's bred and finished on the families local farms. It's details like this that I just love, especially when the experience turns out to be such a positive one. 

You can tell that a great deal of pride and care has gone into this place and our meal, along with the charming decor and ambience, tops the list for me when it comes to out-of-town dining experiences. And believe me, I've had too many to count! (A rule of thumb for me is: if it's not worth raving about to friends, it's not worth a mention on my blog!) Let's get moo-ving with the pictures, shall we?

The Barn is surrounded by magnificent lawns and also hosts a recently revamped hotel and function spaces. I was so impressed I suggested my sister have her wedding reception here!







Once we'd settled at our table, Alex and I decided we'd be the lone drinkers that night. Alex went for the Mojito, I had a Caprioska:





When I reviewed my pictures from the night, most of them turned out too blurry to even contemplate posting here! We started with bruschetta (the chef imagines up a new recipe for the topping each day) and deliciously fresh Smoky Bay oysters. Pretty much everyone ordered steak that night - it was a sure thing and pleased everyone enormously. Here's Dad's plate - with a bunch of trimmings. (That cabbage salad was incredible!)

I bucked the trend and ordered prosciutto wrapped chicken. Stuffed with spinach and fetta, it was finished with a gorgeous white wine, herb and dijon sauce and served with creamy mash and asparagus. Mmm Mmm!

Now, this is the part where you have to find it in your heart to forgive me for posting such a poor quality picture. You'll thank me for it, though - this is a seriously gooey chocolate pudding! This is the best thing that has ever been served in teacup and I need to make this at home one day!

James was conservative and went for the Affogato. The espresso and frangelico came in separate glasses so you could tailor it to your own tastes. 


After our meal, we had a short stroll through the property before heading home. 


We were hideously (and uncharacteristically) good that night, changing into our exercise clothes and going for a long walk around the Blue Lake (it's the bluest lake you'll ever set eyes upon) to work off our dinner. 

So, tell me, have you had any delightful out-of-town dining experiences? Anything I might like to visit as part of a weekend away?