Culinary Reviews

A World Of Donuts

There are some pretty good things to do on a rainy weekend in Melbourne, and going to a Donut & Beer Festival is one of them!

I arrived at the festival nice and early and did a tour of all the food stalls. There were so many different types of donuts on offer, from cold and filled to fresh cooked hot ones. There were even glow in the dark donuts. There was no way I was going to be trying all of them. Having my partner Paul there to share the “burden” helped. After much thought we narrowed it down to five food trucks offering a range of hot and cold donuts from different countries.

First stop was Honey Dee Loukoumades. We’ve had these warm, honey drenched Greek donuts before and have even made them ourselves.

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There were four flavours to choose from:
Honey Cinnamon Walnuts
Caramel with Artisan Salts
Nutella
Callebaut Milk Chocolate with Dark Chocolate Rocks
Luckily they were offering a tasting platter with all four donuts so we chose that. They were all delicious but our favourite was the traditional cinnamon and walnut one. I really liked the salted caramel one too.

I couldn’t wait to try the South African Koeksister Donuts at the Ostrich and the Egg. I have heard of them but have never had them so I was really looking forward to them.

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They had three offerings:
Traditional – Coconut
Garden Route – Sable Biscuit, Pistachio, Sesame Seeds
North of the River – Cocoa, Coffee Crumble
Happily they too had a tasting platter deal so we got to try all three. I thought I was going to love the coffee crumble one but I think one of the spices was cardamon which I don’t like. Surprisingly Paul, who loves coffee but not coffee flavoured foods, liked it. We both loved the other two donuts. They were moist and flavoursome and really unusual.

When I first saw the sign for Yuzu Donuts I thought it was a Japanese stall. Then I saw the familiar black, red and white decor and knew this was a New Zealand stall. The name Hangi Boys Kiwi Kitchen was also a big clue 🙂 I was very excited as I love New Zealand and have visited the country a couple of times. But I haven’t had Kiwi donuts before!

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They only had one donut flavour to chose from:
Grapefruit & Yuzu Custard with Dried Raspberry
Yum. It was like a cold jam donut but with a tart and creamy centre. We both enjoyed this Kiwi treat.

A real show stopper was the Hungarian Kurtosh Donut Cone at The Hungry Boys stall. They reminded me of Romanian kürtőskalács. Everyone who walked passed had a good look, including me, but I was the first to stop and buy one! There was no way I could resist a donut moulded into the shape of an ice cream cone which is then filled with warm, creamy delights.

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You could choose a banana or an apple filling but as Paul cannot eat bananas we chose:
Mama’s Apple Pie
The cold donut cone was filled with stewed cinnamon apples, toasted granola and heaping scoops of vanilla ice cream. It was topped with whipped cream, caramel sauce and a chocolate biscuit. It took a while to make our way through this enormous donut but we did! Having so much creamy goodness made the task easier, as did the comforting flavours.

With almost no room left in our bellies we made our way to Blondies Doughnuts. Thankfully their specialty is mini doughnuts 🙂

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We chose a tried and true classic:
Mini Cinnamon Sugar
I really think hot cinnamon donuts are the best and these mini morsels were outstanding. I was considering having a second serve but I thought that would be tempting fate. Plus, we hadn’t even started the beer tastings.

After a fortifying coffee we tasted a few Indian Pale Ales. There was also a mulled wine stall which I quickly made my way to. The warm wine was sweetened with molasses and spices and was divine. They were selling jars of their concentrated mulling syrup which I bought. Now when I want a mulled wine I can make an individual cup, adding one or two teaspoons of their Smoking Bishop Syrup. I can’t wait to start mulling 🙂

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Hot & Cold Lemonade

As winter slowly moves into spring, the weather in Melbourne goes topsy turvy. Yesterday was so warm and sunny I was wearing a teeshirt and sandals. This morning I’m rugged up in pyjamas and a dressing gown, listening to the rain pouring outside. That’s change of season time in Melbourne – and I love it!

Last week I celebrated the last nights of winter by visiting the Queen Victoria Winter Night Market. I was pretty excited as there were so many new food stalls and some of them had food I could eat!

I started with dessert because it’s one of the safest food groups 🙂 for me due to my allergies and sensitivities. (Also the queue was short and I had a feeling it would get longer.) I wasn’t disappointed with my huge serve of apple crumble with granola topping served with custard and ice cream.

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I wasn’t really looking for a drink but a stall selling hot buttered lemonade caught my eye.
Butter in lemonade? I just had to try it. It was as I suspected – fresh lemonade mixed with butter and a surprise hint of cinnamon and it was divine. The butter added a creamy element to the drink and helped balance the sweet acidity of the lemons. I loved that it was served hot. Excited at the new food on offer I continued my culinary journey.

As I wandered the food stalls I stopped and drooled at one serving polenta. A mound of soft, piping hot polenta was just waiting to be scooped up and topped with a choice of delicious accompaniments. My mouth watered as I wondered if any of the toppings had chilli or tomato. And then I saw them; fried polenta chips. My choice was made and my order quickly placed. As I bit into the crispy crust I was rewarded with a mouthful of that soft, creamy polenta. The dipping sauce of lemon myrtle mayonnaise paired beautifully with my buttered lemonade. It was a wonderful way to enjoy the last of our winter nights.

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I couldn’t get the hot buttered lemonade out of my mind so I just had to make some myself. I decided to make another one of my favourite lemonades – pink lemonade – and then turn it into a hot buttered lemonade. The recipe below makes about 3 cups of lemonade so you can have some cold and some hot – just like Melbourne weather!

Pink Lemonade
Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice

Instructions
Place the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan.
Heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Remove from heat. Set aside.
Pour the remaining 1 + 1/2 cups water, lemon juice and cranberry juice into a jug.
Stir in the sugar syrup.
Place in the refrigerator and chill before serving.

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Buttered Pink Lemonade
Ingredients
1 teaspoon butter (or to taste)*
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup Pink Lemonade

Instructions
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Add the cinnamon stick and juice.
Stir until the juice is cloudy and hot.
Pour into a mug or heatproof glass.

*my drink was quite buttery so you may want to experiment with the amount of butter and tailor it to your taste 🙂

Afternoon Tea and Jane Austen

Two hundred years have passed since Jane Austen died on the 18th of July, 1817. I wasn’t sure how I would commemorate the occasion. The one thing I didn’t think I would be doing was attending an afternoon tea hosted by Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece and the last descendant to be raised in the ancestral family home, Chawton House.

Caroline’s talk was informative and engaging. She spoke of so many things but the one thing that struck me most were her Australia connections. I was stunned to realise that Jane Austen’s fifth great niece actually lives in Melbourne and that her mother was born in Australia. Caroline is a renowned business woman and philanthropist. Her main philanthropic focus is promoting literacy around the world.

After the talk Caroline stayed around to chat with guests and sign copies of her book “Jane & Me.” She even brought a piece of the family dinner service. The bespoke Wedgwood service features a pattern commissioned by Jane Austen’s brother Edward. Jane and Caroline both ate from that service and we got to see it!

And speaking of dinner service, Caroline’s fascinating talk was accompanied by an afternoon tea.
For savouries we were served:
Free range egg, truffle and watercress sandwiches
Yorkshire pudding with roast beef and horseradish cream
Ham hock terrine with piccalilli.
For sweets we were served:
Scones with strawberry jam and cream
Lemon meringue tartlet
Sour cranberry Bakewell tart with citrus sherbet sauce
Strawberry Eton mess
A glass of sparkling wine to begin followed by tea and coffee brought an end to a fabulous afternoon.

The recipe I would like to share in honour of Jane Austen is from one of my favourite cookbooks – “Kafka’s Soup” by Mark Crick. Crick not only creates recipes inspired by famous writers, he writes them in the style of the author. When I read his recipe for “Lamb with Dill Sauce à la Raymond Chandler” I was hooked. His description of the leg of lamb feeling “cold and damp, like a coroner’s handshake” had me running to the bookstore counter with money and book in hand!

I think Jane Austen would love Crick’s literary wit. I also think she’d love the eggs Crick created for her. So without further ado here are Mark Crick’s “Tarragon Eggs à la Jane Austen” with edited selections from his text and tweaks by me.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that eggs, kept for too long, go off” begins the recipe.

As to what herbs to use, Mrs B thought “Parsley might do … Good-looking, with an easy and unaffected manner.” But Lady Cumberland did not agree. “Too much curl to its leaf, and too often seen in great bunches at fishmongers. It would be a most unhappy connection.” Mrs B spies some tarragon which she does not like. “It refuses to grow here, it refuses to grow there, but fancies itself so very great, disappearing every winter I know not where. I quite detest the plant.” Again Lady Cumberland disagrees. “French tarragon is an aristocrat among herbs, and although I think it too good for your eggs, I cannot deny that it would be a fine match for them.” To avoid offending either lady I have chosen a combination of the two herbs. In deference to Lady Cumberland’s dislike of curly parsley I chose flat leaf.

The instructions for beating the 4 eggs include straining them, which I didn’t do, but I did carefully beat them so as not to create a froth which apparently is “so unsightly.”
I added 1 teaspoon of dried tarragon and 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley to the beaten eggs. I then spread 20g of butter around the pan and added a further 20g of butter in small chunks to the mix. I added salt and pepper to taste. Pouring the eggs into the pan I gently cooked them, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan. I removed them from the heat before they were fully cooked, allowing the residual heat to cook them to my liking. A serving of toast and tea completes the dish.

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Mark’s recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of tarragon either fresh or dried. Parsley, either curly or flat leaf, is not used. Obviously Mark has chosen Lady Cumberland over Mrs B – a brave choice indeed!

I can only hope Mrs B and Lady Cumberland approve of my tweaks 🙂

That Arancini Guy

When I went to the Lara Food and Wine Festival earlier this year, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by a food stall with a fun name – That Arancini Guy 🙂 But when I tasted those deep fried rice balls, served with Japanese mayonnaise, I was hooked. There were four choices but I could only try three as the Beef Ragu with Peas & Mozzarella Arancini contained tomato and other ingredients I am allergic/sensitive to. But three out of four ain’t bad – in fact they were delightful.

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My risotto balls containing Mushroom & Mozzarella, Pumpkin & Mozzarella and Spinach & Mozzarella were so delicious. One bite into the crunchy crust and I was rewarded with the taste of gooey, savoury rice. Each one was distinct and I had a hard time deciding on a favourite. The Japanese mayonnaise added a sharp and creamy note. I could have eaten a bowl of them, with or without mayonnaise.

I couldn’t wait to try making these moreish morsels at home. I went with a basic recipe but added my own unique twist – green tea. Instead of cooking the rice in stock, I thought it would be fun to use tea. I chose green but you could experiment with black teas. Next time I’m going to try Earl Grey 🙂

Green Tea Arancini

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Ingredients
for the tea
3 cups water
2 tablespoons green tea leaves

for the rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup jasmine rice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
6 baby bocconcini, drained and halved

for the crumbing
1/2 cup plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 + 1/4 cups panko crumbs
vegetable oil for frying

Instructions
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat. Add tea leaves. Cover and steep for 5 minutes. Strain. Return tea to the saucepan and simmer until needed.
Heat oil and butter in a medium saucepan. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until soft but not brown. Add rice and stir to coat. Stir in the salt. Add 1/2 a cup of the strained tea and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the remaining tea and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed.
Pour rice into a baking dish and spread out thinly to cool. Add the parmesan cheese and parsley to the rice and stir through until combined. Divide into 12 portions.
Take 1/2 a portion of rice and flatten it in the palm of your hand. Place a halved piece of bocconcini in the centre, cover with remaining 1/2 portion of rice and shape into a ball. Repeat with the remaining rice and cheese.
Roll balls in flour, then dip in the beaten egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
Heat oil in a large pan or deep fryer to 180C / 350F. Deep fry the arancini in batches for 4 – 5 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure the oil comes back to temperature between batches.
Keep warm by placing in the oven until all the arancini are cooked.
Place on paper towels and drain before serving.
Serve with your favourite mayonnaise.

A Day For Gin

World Gin Day is celebrated on the second Saturday in June. This is a day to enjoy all things gin. For some of us, World Gin Day is every day!

I’ve always loved gin. I love the aromatics and the infinite flavours you can play with. The only things gin needs in order to be called gin is distilled alcohol and juniper berries. After that you can add anything else and it’s still a gin. In fact the name gin is derived from juniperus, the Latin word for juniper.

One of the more interesting gins I have recently discovered is and Australian gin called Ink. It was the deep blue/purple colour that drew me to the bottle. I then discovered that this blue/purple colour changes to a light purple/pink when you add tonic water. I was entranced! I was also very happy that this gin was not just a gimmick, but a beautiful tasting one as well.

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Ink is infused with 14 different botanicals including butterfly pea flowers. It is these flowers that give the gin its bright colour as well as its colour changing properties. Butterfly pea flowers are considered an aphrodisiac as the flowers resemble female genitalia. Not surprisingly their scientific name is derived from the Latin for clitoris – Clitoria ternatea.

With that in mind I started thinking of a way of showcasing this delicious and unusual gin while adding a feminine touch 🙂 After much thought I really couldn’t go past a classic gin and tonic with the addition of strawberries. Strawberries are associated with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, after whom aphrodisiacs are named.

Strawberry Gin and Tonic

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Ingredients
60ml gin
1 strawberry, sliced lengthways
90ml tonic water

Instructions
Pour the gin into a glass.
Add the sliced strawberry.
Allow to marinate for 10 minutes.
Add the tonic water.
Enjoy!
Makes one mixed drink.

For more gin drinks, check out my recipes for Glow In The Dark Gin & Tonic, Gin Alexander and Sage Mulled Wine.

Halloween High Tea

A few weeks ago I celebrated Halloween with a high tea at The Austen Tea Room. The decor and crockery were delightful. There were four of us taking tea and we had a room all to ourselves. We were in the Elizabeth Bennet room, which we thought most appropriate 🙂

We were quite excited as we waited for our tiered plates of savoury and sweet treats. We weren’t disappointed! Our first plate arrived filled with mouthwatering finger sandwiches, mini pies and quiches. Then a towering plate of sweets came. We started with the meringues with cream followed by little cakes and macarons. We ended with scones, jam and cream. Pots of tea flowed smoothly throughout the service. It was a wonderful experience and one we would do again.

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As I have never been to a high tea before, I started thinking about the difference between an afternoon tea, a cream tea and a high tea. After researching the subject I made a fascinating discovery – what many of us think of as a high tea isn’t really a high tea. Rather than dainty little morsels served on delicate crockery in the afternoon, a high tea is really a hearty meal served late in the evening at the end of the working day.

During the Industrial Revolution, workers would arrive home late and hungry. This led to the tradition of sitting around a table and eating an evening meal. Hot and cold food would be served including meat, fish, pies, tarts, breads and cakes. Food was accompanied with cupfuls of strong tea. These hearty dishes were served on sturdy crockery and cups, not the delicate plates, sauces and teacups we associate with a modern high tea. This evening meal came to be known as high tea, meat tea and later simply as tea.

There are two theories as to why this evening meal was called high tea:
High tea was eaten sitting at a kitchen table or high table while afternoon tea, also called low tea, was eaten sitting on low sofas and chairs, with food served on lower lounge tables.
High tea was taken later in the day when the day was well advanced or “higher” in the day whereas afternoon tea was served earlier or “lower” in the day.

If the high tea I enjoyed at The Austen Tea Room wasn’t really a high tea, then what was it? Using the term high tea for afternoon tea appears to have occurred due to a misunderstanding as to what the term “high” meant. At some point the term “high” was thought to mean formal. So high teas are now a fancy form of afternoon tea. Whatever their origin, one thing is definite – they are delicious 🙂

Pies are popular in both afternoon and high teas. While dainty little party pies may grace an afternoon tea party, these hearty stout, beef and smoked oyster pot pies would be welcome on any high tea table.

Surf and Turf Pot Pies

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Ingredients
1kg stewing beef, cubed
2 tablespoons plain flour
olive oil for browning
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 cup stout
1 cup beef stock
2 bay leaves
120g button mushrooms, quartered
2 x 85g tin of smoked oysters
1-2 sheets ready rolled frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten
sesame seeds

Instructions
Toss the cubed meat through the flour until coated.
Heat oil in a large saucepan.
Add meat in batches and cook over a high heat until browned. Add more oil as needed. Remove browned meat and set aside.
Add a splash of oil to the pan, add the onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft.
Add the salt and basil and stir through.
Return the meat to pan.
Add the stout and stock and stir through.
Add the bay leaves and bring to the boil.
Once boiling, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 1 + 1/2 hours.
Add the mushrooms and simmer, uncovered, for a further 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaves.
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Distribute the smoked oysters evenly between four 12cm x 6cm oven-proof bowls or ramekins.
Pour stew evenly into the ramekins.
Cut puff pastry lids slightly bigger than the bowls.
Cover bowls with puff pastry, pressing the edges down around the rim of the ramekins to seal the pies.
Brush tops with beaten egg.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

Note – check the liquid during the cooking process and add more stout, stock or water if needed.

The Austen Tea Room

A Tale Of Two Valentines, my first post about Valentine’s Day, was about love and death and the history of the day. As we move toward another Valentine’s Day, the shadow of death moves with me.

Someone very dear to me passed away just after xmas. Although neither of us were Eastern Orthodox any more, we were both born into that religion and some of the traditions still have special significance for me. One such tradition is the ritual performed on or around the 40th day after a death.

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In Orthodox theology, the soul of the departed stays on earth for 40 days after death. The soul wanders around, visiting their home and places of personal importance. Many rituals are performed during this period to help the soul on its journey. On the 40th day, the soul leaves the earth. This final departure is celebrated with family and friends. Rituals are performed culminating in a meal, usually eaten at the grave or at the home of the departed. Traditional funeral foods and the favourite foods of the departed are served. It is a time of celebration and the ending of the official mourning period for most involved.

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As the 40th day approached, I wondered what I would to do to honour this ritual. A visit to her grave was a must. But what about food? It was an important part of our relationship. We loved going out to eat and we spent most of our visits together talking about food and recipes. I thought about making one of her favourite dishes and bringing it to the grave but it didn’t feel right. Then, while doing research for an unrelated event, I found the perfect solution – The Austen Tea Room – a tearoom honouring the late and great romantic writer Jane Austen. Located halfway between my home and the cemetery, it was the perfect place to have a a celebratory funeral meal.

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The Austen Tea Room brings us right back to Valentine’s Day. What could be more romantic than dining under the watchful gaze of the creator of Mr Darcy! I had a toasted cheese and ham sandwich with coffee followed by scones with jam and cream and a pot of tea. The surroundings in the cafe section were informal but the rooms where the high teas are served were incredible. I am definitely going back for high tea.

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I must admit that I have read only one of her books – Northanger Abbey – but I do love the television and movie versions of Pride and Prejudice – especially Pride, Prejudice and Zombies! I also own the Tarot of Jane Austen 🙂

The scone recipe below is not traditional, but you can serve it with traditional jam and cream. I wanted something different so I went with butter and maple syrup which works really well with sparkling wine.

Sparkling Scones

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Ingredients
2 + 1/2 cups self raising flour
200ml cream
200ml sparkling wine
butter for serving
pure maple syrup for serving

Method
Preheat oven to 225C / 440F.
Line a baking tray with baking paper.
Sift flour into a medium sized bowl. Add cream and sparkling wine. Mix together until just combined.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead into a 4cm thick square. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares.
Place scones so they are just touching on baking tray.
Bake for 12 – 15mins or until golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with butter and maple syrup or your choice of accompaniments.

 

Learning About Lammas

I had always assumed that Lammas, Halloween, Imbolc and Beltane were fixed date celebrations while the Solstices and Equinoxes were moveable dates. It’s a bit like Xmas being a fixed date and Easter being a moveable one. I thought it was the same for our eight witchy holidays – four are fixed and four are moveable. Well, that’s not quite the case.

Realising Lammas was upon me I googled to see what was happening for Aussie Lammas. That is when I got a surprise. Some were celebrating on the traditional date of February 2nd while others were celebrating on February 4th. Why the discrepancy? Lammas is meant to be the mid point between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox, but if the dates of the Solstices and Equinoxes change, then so too would the midpoint. It makes sense, but does it feel right? I’m not sure. It’s something I will think on. One thing I do know – I won’t be celebrating Halloween on May 5th. When it comes to Halloween I’m a traditionalist – I celebrate on April 30th and October 31st 🙂

Lammas, also known as Lughnasadh, is the first Autumn festival of the year. Lughnasadh is derived from the name of the Celtic God Lugh while Lammas is derived from an Old English term for “loaf mass.” While I am into Gods, I am way more into bread, so to celebrate Loaf Mass Day, or Lammas, I went to one of my favourite places for jaffles – Bad Frankie.

Jaffles are one of my favourites forms of toasted sandwich. Two pieces of bread filled with savoury or sweet ingredients, buttered on the outside and then cooked in a special sandwich maker known by a few names such as pie iron, toastie iron or jaffle iron. The key to a jaffle is that the bread is toasted while the filling is heated and sealed between the slices of bread. It’s the sealing that makes it different to a toasted sandwich.

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Round Jaffle Iron

Rather than give a recipe for a jaffle, I’m going to share some photos of the different jaffles I have enjoyed from Bad Frankie and my other favourite jaffle place, Windmills and Waffles – a great place to break your trip from Melbourne to Adelaide when visiting the pandas 🙂

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Bangers & Mash from Bad Frankie – pork sausage and onion jam sandwiched between one slice of bread and one layer of cheesy mashed potato! And served with gravy!!

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The Chook from Bad Frankie – poached chicken, celery and pine nuts. Served with mayonnaise. My favourite 🙂

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Classic Ham & Cheese from Windmills and Waffles – served with tomato sauce and pickles on the side.

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Lamington from Bad Frankie – sponge cake soaked in chocolate, rolled in coconut and filled with jam. Served with cream.

Feeling inspired?
Let me know what your favourite jaffle fillings and creations are 🙂

Mixing It With The Locals

My partner Paul and I were talking recently about the concept of a local bar. Growing up watching tv shows, “the local” was a place you could drop in after work, have a drink, catch up with friends and generally unwind before going home. Cheers is a perfect example. Not only does everyone know your name, but they also know your drink!

The closest either of us had come to a local bar was when we were at University. Our uni was the only one that had an actual bar on campus. I lived on campus, so it really was my local. I loved going there. No matter what time of day or night, I was bound to bump into someone I knew. I’d drop in for a beer before a lecture or pop in afterward for a couple of rounds. Lunchtime was great, as we all caught up around plates of chips and gravy. I later discovered that the Canadians have a similar dish – poutine. While the staff didn’t know our names or our drinks, it was still a great place to unwind before hitting the books for a long night of study.

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After leaving uni, we never really found a favourite place to drink. The closest we came recently was our local cafe, Corinthians. With great food and great coffee, combined with wonderful staff, it soon became our favourite coffee place. The staff are friendly, they know our names and, very importantly, they know how we take our coffee! But it’s not a local bar, and not just because it doesn’t sell alcohol. While the staff are great they are always on the run and don’t have time to sit down for for a chat. Nor are there other regular patrons there we know, so there is no communal catching up. It’s just Paul and me having a damn good coffee – and it is damn good coffee! Occasionally we may catch up with a friend or bump into one but that is not the norm.

And then it happened. Last year a craft beer bar opened just down the road from us. Could this be the local we so dearly desired?

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The moment we walked into Hopheads we loved it. From the graffiti style logo on the wall, to the 8 beers on tap, to the shelves stocked with interesting and tantalising libations, we knew we had found a gem. And we weren’t the only ones! Over the year, a steady group of regulars have come together to drink and catch up with each other. I never thought I would be as excited to see friends as I was to drink beer 🙂 But that’s what Hopheads is like – it’s not just the drinking, but the socialising.

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Part of what makes Hopheads so wonderful are the owners – Adrian & Wai Lee. We have never been made to feel so welcome in an establishment than we have here. We hit it off with them straight away and were delighted we shared similar views on politics and life in general. Many an afternoon and evening has been pleasantly spent drinking and engaging in riveting conversation. They not only welcomed us, but our dogs too 🙂

We didn’t know what to expect when Hopheads opened. We expected great beers and we got them (the beer is excellent). We hoped it would be a place where locals would congregate and have a good time and we got that too. We didn’t expect to meet people we genuinely care about and to form deep friendships, but we have. What we really didn’t expect was the depth of friendship that blossomed between the owners and us. Adrian and Wai Lee are more than just publicans who know our names and know what we drink. They are dear and cherished friends with whom we have shared a turbulent year. We look forward to sharing many more years of friendship – and many many more beers!

One of my favourite ways of cooking with beer is Beer Can Chicken. I’m allergic to chilli so I use a mild spice rub. You can make your own spice rub based on what you like. If you have room and want something sweet afterwards, you can make these Beer and Bacon Cupcakes!

Beer Can Chicken

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Ingredients
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric
1 tablespoon mixed dried herbs
1 free-range chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can of beer

Method
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Position the oven rack low enough to accommodate the height of the chicken on the beer can.
In a small bowl mix together the salt, turmeric and mixed herbs. Set aside.
Remove any giblets from inside the chicken and pat dry with paper towels.
Rub the chicken all over with olive oil. Using the spice rub, season the inside cavity of the chicken, and the outside of the chicken, rubbing well into the skin.
Drink half the beer.
Place the beer can in the middle of the baking tray. Carefully place the chicken on the beer can so it is sitting upright and the can is inserted into the chicken. Position the chicken legs so they help stabilise the chicken on the can. You want the can to hold the majority of the weight and the legs to stop it from falling over.
Place the chicken in the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes per 500g plus an extra 20 minutes. Check every 20 minutes and baste if there are any juices.
The best way to check if the chicken is cooked is by placing a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh or the breast without touching the bone. It should be approximately 82C / 180F.
Allow to rest for 10 minutes before removing from beer can.
To remove the chicken, hold the chicken upright with one hand and a pair of tongs then use your other hand to carefully wiggle the can free using another pair of tongs or by wearing a heat-proof glove. Work over a sink or in the baking tray being very careful of the hot liquid inside the can.

Drinks To Drive For

Gemelli, a great new food place, recently opened up near us. We’ve been there a few times trying out the menu. They have some great food but the standout favourites have to be their milkshakes. Four flavours range from Berry Cheesecake, Cara-Malt Popcorn, Chocolate – Chocolate – Chocolate to Vanilla Brulee. It took a while, but I tried them all 🙂 Choosing a favourite is difficult, as each has something unusual and delicious to tempt you.

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the wobbly jelly pieces in the Berry Cheesecake

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the caramel popcorn floating crunchily in the Cara-Malt Popcorn

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the chocolate filled wafers poking out of the Chocolate – Chocolate – Chocolate

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the bruleed marshmallow sitting in a mini ice cream cone, poking out of the Vanilla Brulee

I did not think there was a drink to match these in beauty and flavour but I was wrong. After conquering the milkshake challenge I turned to one of my favourite drinks – the Affogato.

What is not to love about cold ice cream served with a shot of hot coffee to pour over it? Affogato means “drowned” in Italian and refers to the ice cream being drowned by the coffee. When the hot coffee meets the cold ice cream a battle begins between the two. Will the heat of the coffee melt the ice cream or will the cold ice cream cool down the coffee? Both things actually happen. What you are left with is a warm, creamy, melting coffee flavoured ice cream which you both drink and eat with a spoon!

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Can it get any better? Yes! By the additional of alcohol. Affogato can be served with a shot of Amaretto, a sweet, almond flavoured liqueur. But the affogato here is served with Frangelico, a sublime hazelnut flavoured liqueur. It was a very pleasant surprise. While you are meant to pour both the coffee and the liqueur over the ice cream, I kept some Frangelico back for the end. Finishing my affogato with a final sip of warming Frangelico was the perfect end to a perfect drink.

I loved the affogato so much I decided to make my own version with vanilla and raspberry ice cream, served with a shot of hot coffee and a shot of Turkish Delight liqueur. The raspberry ice cream almost overpowered the coffee, but the coffee bravely fought back. The raspberry and Turkish Delight liqueur complemented each other beautifully and I was left with an intriguing mix of flavours which I liked.

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If you are happy to stray from the traditional flavours of an affogato, you can have heaps of fun experimenting. I’m wondering what coconut ice cream and coffee would taste like and what liqueur to pair them with and … I could go on but it’s time to have a coffee – without ice cream! 🙂