Everyone loves and knows how to cook lasagna. It’s the ubiquitous staple of many Australian households. I too enjoy a good lasagna, especially in the colder months. Unfortunately I’ve never been that good at making it. This might be partially explained by the fact that I’ve never followed a recipe, but then I’m sure many people don’t.

I decided that this lasagna was going to be excellent. I looked at a few recipes online and my eyes were opened to a world of new ingredients like nutmeg, bay leaves, mozzarella, cloves and red wine. I wasn’t ready for this level of complication however, so I just took some mental notes and had a go at making it myself. I did use bay leaves though.

It turned out really great actually. I might play around with adding other ingredients in the future if I feel like putting in the time and effort, but at least I have a method for making good lasagna now. I brought some to work for my friend Erin who is a bit of a lasagna queen, and she declared it a success. I also liked that it held it’s shape after being cut. The photo above is of the first slice cut, right after it came out of the oven. The first slice never comes out so well!

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Published in: on June 30, 2011 at 7:54 pm  Comments (2)  
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Chocolate Orange Mud Cake with Candied Orange Peel

I bought a bag of oranges last week but wasn’t too impressed with their sweetness. Being in a baking mood this weekend, I decided to use them in a dessert of some sort. I settled on my favourite chocolate mud cake recipe, but with a new twist.

I posted another variation of this mud cake here. The recipe calls for quite a lot of water, which I substituted for freshly squeezed orange juice. I also added less sugar because of the natural sugars in the juice and it turned out the perfect level of sweetness for me.

Not wanting to waste the peel from all the oranges I’d juiced, I also decided to make candied orange peel as a garnish. The peel is boiled to remove most of the bitterness, and then cooked in sugar syrup, and rolled in sugar. I also used leftover rind to infuse the cream for my ganache frosting. I didn’t expect the cake to taste very orangey on it’s own so I wanted the ganache to have a lot of flavour, which it certainly did.

I filled the cake with two layers of whipped ganache, and covered it with a thinner, more glossy ganache. I have made a lot of ganache before, and whilst it is essentially very easy to make, it can be difficult to get the consistency just right. I wasn’t 100% happy with the ganache coating because it ended up having very small pieces of orange peel through it even though I strained it. It tasted good but the smooth finish I was after didn’t really work out. Overall though, I was very happy with the result. I can’t wait to try some other variations of this chocolate mud cake.

I also dipped some candied orange peel in dark chocolate which can be served with the cake, or eaten alone.

Edit: I made this again for my Dad’s birthday. I halved the ingredients to make a smaller cake and decorated it with Terry’s Chocolate Orange segments. It didn’t look as polished as I wanted but the family raved about how it tasted. It’s a definite crowd-pleaser, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favourite cakes.

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Published in: on June 26, 2011 at 1:00 pm  Comments (22)  
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Turkey Schnitzel with Asparagus and Camembert Cream Sauce

Our local supermarket has a very small section for free range meats, usually just chicken cuts and sometimes marinated things if you’re lucky. The other day they also had free range turkey schnitzels which I’ve never seen before, so I grabbed them. I instantly knew that I wanted to eat them with asparagus and camembert – that’s just how my mind works.

So, for dinner tonight I pan fried two schnitzels in butter and whipped up a couple of sides. I must say, I cooked the asparagus perfectly tonight for probably the first time. The secret, I think, is to lightly salt boiling water and just drop them in for a few minutes until they bend slightly when picked up in the middle. They should stay bright green and be slightly pliable, but not limp. I used a quarter of a camembert round and just melted it in a bain-marie above the same pot of water that the asparagus was cooking in. I would recommend cutting off the outer edge though because that doesn’t melt too well, which I found out. To this I added a bit of cream, salt and pepper. I also served it with some packet carbonara just for the carbs. Sweet potato fries would have been a delicious alternative in hindsight.


Published in: on June 25, 2011 at 12:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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5 Rivers, Woodvale

A few curries with an onion bhaji, rice and garlic naan

5 Rivers is one of the best Indian restaurants in the northern suburbs for takeaway. The restaurant itself is part of a mediocre local shopping centre in the same complex as the Woodvale Tavern. It has nice enough tables, each with a cute little candle-holder, but it’s very small and cramped. I dined there once and was very impressed by the food, but the restaurant itself was quite plain and not very comfortable. It’s definitely a popular place though, which might account for the number of tables crammed into such a small shopfront.

The owners of 5 Rivers are originally from the UK and the menu reflects the styles of curry from this region. One curry on the menu in particular, the balti, was actually created and popularised in Britain. I’m not sure how traditionally Indian the rest of the food is, but all the dishes I’ve tried have been flavoursome and well spiced.

There are many different items on the menu including a myriad of curries, tandoor oven dishes, and vegetarian options. Unlike many Indian restaurants, 5 Rivers serve beef. Most curries come with a choice of 3 or more meats including beef, chicken, prawn, lamb and fish. There are some excellent vegetarian curries as well with potato, chickpeas, lentils or paneer (curd cheese).

On this particular night we ordered onion bhajis with mint raita (deep fried onion balls), jeera allo (potatoes cooked with cumin, herbs and spices), lamb saag (spinach curry), butter chicken and garlic naan (flatbread). We get the bhajis every time because they are so tasty, especially with the mint chutney that comes with them. Jeera allo is another favourite that we order a lot. It’s very spicy and flavoursome considering it’s mostly just potatoes. The saag at 5 Rivers is one of the best I’ve tried. Don’t be put off by it’s unappealing green colour, it is actually very tasty and the lamb is always cooked beautifully. The butter chicken we haven’t had before but it was good too. Not the best butter chicken I’ve ever had, but it’s up there. I have also tried the balti, madras, bhuna and vindaloo, and would recommend them all.

Menu (pdf)

The 5 Rivers Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Published in: on June 19, 2011 at 1:36 pm  Comments (7)  
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Nando’s Chicken Burger

This is what I ate for dinner at work. A supremo chicken burger with swiss cheese and caramelised onions. This is pretty much the only thing I order from Nando’s, because it is the best. The bread they use is amazing, I would buy rolls from them if they sold them alone. The mayonnaise and tomato relish in this burger is also really good. Don’t even think about getting it without cheese or onion – it’s just not the same experience.

Usually I have a very specific method for eating these: I take off the top to save for later (the best bit) and cut wedges from the rest with a knife and fork to get a little bit of everything. I didn’t have utensils tonight though so I had to resort to using my hands like some sort of primitive animal (or, like most people). It was still good.

Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Sticky Date Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce

I love sticky date pudding. It reminds me of my childhood.

I’ve eaten a fair few of those store-bought-aluminium-foil versions, but it somehow didn’t occur to me until recently that I could actually make one, probably. At first I thought it might be hard, but the recipes I looked at all seemed simple enough. I chose a promising looking recipe (they were all very similar, bar the sauce) and gave it a shot.

Now most recipes call for baking soda (bicarb) which is used to break down the dates as they soak in water, or at least I presume that’s the purpose of it. I went to the supermarket to get dried dates and butter and things thinking I had plenty of bicarb at home in the pantry, so I didn’t buy any. I came home to discover that I had used most of it to clean a vase. Not also was it extremely frustrating, but it was also the gayest reason possible for not having bicarb.

I used the tiny amount that was left in the box, but it wasn’t quite enough. I don’t know if that had much effect on the outcome, but the cake part came out a little denser than I was expecting, although it had risen a fair bit in the oven. I don’t know if that was a bad thing or not though really, because it still tasted amazing. I think it tasted better than store-bought. It’s more ‘datey’ for one.

Muffy loved it, and so did Natalia (her txt reads: “Omg you must bring us more. That pudding is so so good”). I have not been able to stop eating it myself! Now that the weather is getting colder, this is the perfect dessert to warm you up. But you should also eat it with icecream.

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Published in: on June 16, 2011 at 1:52 am  Comments (2)  
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Hippo Creek, Subiaco

Last night I was invited to join Natalia and her family for a birthday dinner at Hippo Creek. I had been wanting to try it out ever since seeing the new one open up at Sorrento Quay in Hillarys. I knew that it was an African style restaurant with an emphasis on meat, but I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I had a look at the menu beforehand, and that’s when I realised I was going to be eating steak. There are some slight differences between the three venues at Subiaco, Hillarys and the original in Scarborough; but they are all, without a doubt, steak houses.

The exterior of the building was a little underwhelming in comparison to Hillarys, but inside it is decorated beautifully with lots of wood, gnarly twisted grapevines, and slightly intimate lighting. It was obvious that considerable thought had been given to providing a comfortable, beautiful and luxurious setting for diners, whilst maintaining the rustic African theme that makes Hippo Creek what it is. The owners had even gone to the effort of installing what appeared to be accoustic panels on the ceiling to reduce noise, but despite this it was still a tad noisy.

I am not a big steak eater to be honest, but I quickly got in the mood whilst reading the ‘meat menu’. The steaks are described in extensive detail including breed, what the cow was fed, where it came from, and it’s marble score which indicates how much intramuscular fat is in the meat. There are some rather interesting items on the food menu such as crocodile roulade, oxtail croquette, pork belly, and snail pastries; but also several chicken, fish, lamb and beef dishes for the less adventurous. I quickly settled on the 600 day grain fed wagyu rump, and most other people at our table also went for steak.

Garlic bread ($8)

We ordered garlic bread as an appetiser, but there was a mix up and our bread went to the table next to us. The staff quickly realised this mistake without us saying anything, and promised they would make some more and we wouldn’t be charged for it. It’s nice to see wait staff take this sort of initiative and it certainly improved our experience. What made it even better though, was the quality of the garlic bread once it arrived. It was absolutely incredible! They used a deliciously soft sourdough long roll which was  baked whole, with garlicy butter-filled slices. Considering how simple garlic bread should be, I’ve been served a lot of very poor attempts at it in my time. But this was probably the best I’ve ever had. Big call, I know.

Linen napkin with a hardcore steak knife.

The mains came out not long after, in quick succession. The plating was simple but beautiful with nice tableware and heavy duty cutlery. The steaks came with a choice of two-root mash (parsnip & potato), fries, baked potato or sadza (cooked corn meal) and a choice of sauce. There were also several options of cut for each type of beef but we all went with the cheaper rump, which is a good cut if it is cooked well.

Certified Australian Angus Beef 120 Day Grain Fed Angus Beef Marble score of +1, from NSW. 500g rump ($35)

Natalia went for the fries and garlic butter with her Angus. It was more fatty around the edges than my steak but it had an excellent flavour. She asked for well done (which is just wrong!) and it came out with a slight pink centre in the thickest part, which she would have preferred not to have been there. I thought it was a tad overdone though.

Cape Grim Beef 120 Day Grass Fed Angus Beef Marble score +1, from Tasmania. 500g rump ($38)

Neco and Amy both had the Cape Grim served medium-rare with mash. There was plenty of red on the plate by the time they were done and they both enjoyed their steaks immensely.

600 Day Grain Fed F1 Wagyu Marble Score +5, from QLD, NSW and VIC. 300g rump ($46)

My medium cooked wagyu came out on a Japanese style slate board which I liked (Wagyu literally means ‘Japanese cow’). It had fine veins of marbled fat all through it which, for the most part, was soft and juicy. There were a few bits that bordered on chewy, but the meat itself was butter-soft and cooked to perfection. It was my first time trying wagyu and it has a very different flavour to angus. I asked for the blue cheese sauce which was pretty good too. The mash was amazing, but I couldn’t finish it all.

Assegai; 400g marinated Angus rump served on a skewer hanging over a bowl of fries with peri-peri butter ($40)

The bithday boy Paul ordered the assegai which was an impressive sight. The peri butter at the top melted from the rising heat of the steak and dripped down over everything (as intended). He managed to finish every last bit.

Chicken ceasar salad ($23)

Despite being very full, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for dessert, and I’m so glad that we did. There were 5 or 6 options which each sounded delicious and a little bit different.

Chocolate trio to share: Belgian chocolate brownie, white chocolate brulee and choc mint gelato ($18)

Neco and I shared the chocolate trio. Each element was very good, but I didn’t find it that cohesive as an overall dish and it wasn’t very chocolately – the name was a bit deceptive really. I was probably just a bit jealous of the other desserts which were spectacularly presented.

Steamed brown ale pudding with butterscotch sauce and pecan icecream ($13)

Icecream with mars bar sauce ($8)

Profiteroles with peanut butter icecream and chocolate sauce ($13)

Overall, the service was excellent. Our water was topped up regularly, until someone at our table asked if the decanter could just be left with us, which was no problem. There was a slight language barrier with the french sounding waitress who took our orders (she didn’t know how to pronounce wagyu) but she was very attentive and friendly. We did have to ask for dessert menus after our table was cleared, but they were happy to bring them out despite it being almost 10pm and the restaurant being mostly empty. We even had a group photo taken cheerfully by one of the waiters at the end of the night.

If you like to eat meat, you will like Hippo Creek. Be prepared to pay quite a bit though because it isn’t cheap. The Subiaco restaurant also has an extensive wine list and a variety of cheeses if you’re into that sort of thing. Bookings are essential most nights.


Hippo Creek Meat and Wine on Urbanspoon

Published in: on June 11, 2011 at 10:54 pm  Comments (6)  
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Baked Cheesecake with Passionfruit Syrup and Fruit Salad

Okay I admit it. I am completely addicted to this season of MasterChef Australia. I barely paid attention to the show in the past, but this time around I’ve been well and truly sucked in. It’s a great source of inspiration and I also find myself learning quite a bit.

Recently on the show, Donna Hay showed us how to make a classic baked cheesecake. Now I’ve tried a few different cheesecakes in my time, both baked and unbaked, but this one looked more promising than anything I had made before. I am generally not a fan of Donna Hay’s recipes because I find them to be almost too simple; she is a food stylist afterall, not a chef. But a cheesecake is essentially quite simple, and she demonstrated some good tips on the show which I was eager to try out – plus Muffy demanded cheesecake after catching a glimpse of what was happening on the tv.

The original recipe can be found here. I changed it a little because I didn’t want to use ricotta, but essentially it is the same. I substituted the ricotta for mascarpone which is an Italian style triple-cream cheese. It’s probably not as good for you as ricotta, but then that’s kind of the point. You could also use sour cream or creme fraiche instead, it really doesn’t matter too much with cheesecake.

I served it with a simple fruit salad of pineapple, strawberries and kiwi which did a good job of balancing out the richness of the cake. I also made a quick syrup to pour over using tinned passionfruit pulp and sugar, reduced down a bit in a saucepan.

Unfortunately the cheesecake itself didn’t turn out as good as I was hoping. I know the recipe is not the problem though, because I tasted the uncooked mixture and it was pretty amazing. I have suspected for a while now that my oven runs too hot, and after this cheesecake I am more sure than ever. It rose a lot more than I was expecting (at 150C) and cracked on top towards the end of cooking. Those are the typical signs of an oven being too hot, and baked cheesecake is particularly susceptible to cracking.

I will definitely make this again, but in a cooler oven if I decide to bake it. Or I might just take out the eggs, add some gelatin and turn it into an unbaked cheesecake. The mixture is seriously SO GOOD. You could easily halve the recipe for the filling as it makes a very tall cake, but adjust the cooking time accordingly. I really liked the base of this cheesecake as well. So many recipes call for crushed biscuits but this had a much nicer texture and flavour.

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Published in: on June 5, 2011 at 9:53 pm  Comments (4)  
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