Archive for the ‘Food and wine’ Category

2016-01-15-15.08.35.jpg.jpeg

Katie and I received a night at the Shores Resort in Daytona Beach as a Christmas present from Kathy and Mac – Katie’s Parents. We’d stayed here for 3 nights after our wedding before flying off to Hawaii for our honeymoon (almost 8 years ago!) so it was really lovey to go back for a night. And let’s not forget – It was nice to have a night off from the baby for once! We both made sure to sleep in the next morning. Ah, uninterrupted sleep…

 

20160112_171321.jpg

We did have a nice view from the room..

Anyway – so the in-house restaurant at the Shores is called Azure – I vaguely recall eating here on our honeymoon and thinking it was ok but it was a long time ago so my memories are somewhat vague. We had toyed around with going somewhere else but then decided it was all too hard and we should just eat in. Since it was very much the off season for Daytona Beach we didn’t worry about a reservation and had the pick of the best tables when we came downstairs around 8pm. Of course Katie made us move a couple of times until we got the right spot…

The first thing that hits you when you open the menu here are the prices – just a warning, they are astronomically high. I guess you have to expect high prices at a resort, but to be honest these seemed very over priced. Being as it was a special occasion we threw caution to the wind and ordered without thought of the prices… Well at least we told ourselves not to worry.
Katie opted for a starter and a side for two as her meal – she chose the lobster mac and cheese which was a side for two ($13) and the small plate of crab cakes ($17).
The Crab cakes were apparently very good – although you only get two – so small plate means small… The lobster mac and cheese was apparently a little fishy – just not that great, although you do get a generous serving – it would be more than enough as a side for two.

I decided to got all out and choose the New York Strip which came with brussel sprouts with bacon lardons and a parsnip puree ($37). I ordered my steak medium rare – although it was probably more on the medium side when it arrived (I’m not that picky if the steak is rested enough it should still be ok). The steak itself was nice – well seasoned and rested – a juicy enough steak, although as with all strip steaks (What we call the porterhouse back home) it is on the tough side. The pay off is that you get a stronger beef flavour and a lovely strip of fat. However, for some reason the chef had removed the best part of the strip – the fat. Coupled with the fact that the steak itself wasn’t the best quality, lacking in intramuscular fat – or marbling – the result was a fairly tame cut, with none of the buttery, sensuous mouth feel that you can get with a New York strip steak. The Brussel sprouts were actually just the leaves separated and toasted through with bacon pieces not lardons, scatted over the top of the steak and the parsnip puree – which itself was quite nice – smooth, rich and buttery. I probably didn’t help maters with my wine selection – the wine that I had ordered, a Californian Zinn, wasn’t great, far too jammy and on the sweet side, no real tannin or length either – just all fruit up front. But either was – at the end of the day the steak just didn’t deliver for the price they were charging. At half the price it would have been fine – just not at $37 before tax and tip!

2016-01-15-15.36.45.jpg.jpeg

So dinner was ok, but nothing to write home about – the problem is that you really don’t have much of a choice down this end of Daytona Beach. It’s probably the only real option to be honest. We did order breakfast to our room the next day and that was actually quite nice and not ridiculously over priced. Look, if you’re here on vacation and staying at the resort, it’s a nice enough restaurant – just be aware of the prices. If you are not staying, then I’d stay away and find somewhere else up the other end of the beach.

Katie and I had the rare opportunity to actually head out on a date – without the little one. Mum had graciously offered to babysit on Saturday day night and so we were in a position to get out of the house. Unfortunately we are also flat broke, and I had to fight off the urge to take the baby free evening and sleep… What a glamorous life this parenting thing is turning out to be… Anyway, Katie was having none of that – in an almost manic state of desperation to get out of the house, she hunted down a nice place to head off to that would also conform to our budget of $50 for the evening. She chose Dudley’s Pizza bar.

We set off early on the drive up into the Dandenong’s – it’s such a lovely part of the world. Olinda can be a bit of a tourist trap, but we don’t mind since the drive is so picturesque.  Considering the huge amount of tourists parked out the front of Cuckoo just down the road, I was worried we might have needed to book, but thankfully Dudley’s wasn’t totally full – although it was quite busy. Looking at the menu, prices weren’t cheap – around $22+ for a pizza, and $24+ for the pasta. I looked at Katie and thought we might have to head elsewhere – but then we spied the table next to us sharing out the pizza, it was huge – enough for two. This meant we could order one to share and then something else on the side. So we opted for a huge Pizza Salsiccia, with delicious Italian sausage and mushrooms, and then a lovely salad with buffalo mozzarella, baby spinach,  pine nuts, roasted capsicum, basil, and a balsamic dressing. With a $50 budget – the choice was drinks or dessert. Katie won that argument and we ordered the hazelnut mudcake. Being a date night – no phones were allowed – however, Katie did let me take a photo of the dessert at the end.

wpid-wp-1445733507409.jpeg

We managed to pull it all off for $50.50 (I also got a coke – blew the budget!), and we walked out feeling pretty satisfied. I was reasonably impressed with the quality and would definitely come back when not so broke so I could really enjoy their offerings.

Chicken with forty cloves of garlic is a classic casserole dish that is just made for the middle of winter. As we are coming up to the winter solstice I thought it would be appropriate to serve up this amazing dish. Actually I should credit Kathy, my Mother-in-law for this one – she’s a big time foodie and an inspirational cook. She’s the kind of cook that start’s planning for the main meal the night before, and she’s not the type to just throw together something bland and uninteresting. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad meal cooked by Kathy.

20150617_173748

Not quite there…

I think Kathy made this on my first trip over to Florida with Katie when we first got engaged about 9 years ago. I was dubious about a dish that contained 40 actual cloves of garlic – I mean I like garlic – but that sounded like some crazy future mother-in-law move to keep Katie and I from making out – for the next 10 years… But being new, I played along. Kathy served the meal with green beans, mashed potato and fresh bread. And of course some pretty good wine as is always the case at the Steen table.It took about two bites of this dish for it to go straight into my top meals of all time. It really is that good. It’s a pretty old recipe and the version that Kathy uses is based on a James Beard recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 4 celery stalks chopped
  • 2 medium-size onions, diced
  • 6 sprigs parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
  • cup olive oil
  • 2 medium sized chickens, cut up into quarters
    • I keep the breast on the bone with the skin on and the wing drumette attached
  • ½ cup dry vermouth (I Use martini Brand – Vermouth is only good for two things, and both need the good stuff…)
  • 2 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated nutmeg
  • 40 cloves garlic peeled

Yep – there really is 40 cloves of garlic. I think the original recipe calls for unpeeled garlic – I’ve never had it that way but if you really can’t be bothered peeling 40 cloves, (And you can’t buy there already peeled) I’m sure it’s great with the garlic unpeeled…

20150617_173756

Put all the herbs and chopped veg into the bottom and then the chicken on top

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 190c
  2. Chop the celery and the onions and cover the bottom of a heavy casserole dish – I use my Le Creuset French Oven
  3. Sprinkle in the parsley and chopped tarragon
  4. Rub some of the oil over the chicken pieces and place in the casserole dish
  5. Pour the remaining oil (Kathy often uses less oil – I throw it all in) and the Vermouth over the chicken
  6. Sprinkle the salt, pepper and nutmeg over the dish and tuck the garlic around and under the chicken (You can put in half before you put the chicken in the dish)
  7. Cover the top of the casserole dish tightly with aluminium foil and place lid over the top to create an airtight seal.
  8. Place in the oven for 1 hour and 20 minutes without removing the cover.

20150617_180621

You will be amazed at how much liquid is created – and this is the best part of the dish… The fished product really doesn’t look all that flash. And if it were a restaurant, I’m sure they would pan off the chicken pieces a bit like confit duck, and then serve it with the sauce. Don’t bother, leave it as is – it tastes a good as it smells – not as it looks.

20150617_195925

You can see here just how much liquid is created – these pan juices are delicious

Spoon over as much of the sauce as you can – it’s delicious to sop up with some fresh French bread – baguette. It’s also great if you serve it with gnocchi, or mashed potato. You can also spread the tender garlic cloves onto the bread, it really is quite delicious.

This really is one of my favourite meals to make and eat at home, and apart from the peeling of the garlic, it’s a pretty easy meal to make.

 

 

 

 

 wpid-img_20150102_203601.jpg

I love French food. I love to cook it, I love to read about it, I love to watch people cooking it and talking about it on TV, it’s a cuisine the just resonates with me. Particularly the provincial-style cuisine – French peasant food. God I love butter, cream, duck fat, wine and garlic and all those good things that go into French cooking. I find it pretty difficult to pass up an opportunity to gorge myself on a good confit duck or a tasty cassoulet… So when my Step Mum, Penny texted to say that she would be in town from her quick trip over to look after Granny in New Zealand, and suggested that we all catch up at A La Bouffe in Toorak for dinner – well, lets just say that I didn’t need any convincing. I’ve been to A La Bouffe a few times now and always enjoyed their approach. The menu is a collection of the classics, with a few interesting twists – generally executed exceptionally well, and the service is always friendly yet professional – not pretentious. Overall I feel they have the balance just right here. Generally I’ll start with the French onion soup, order one of the classic peasant style dishes or of course some form of Duck confit matched to a nice Côtes-Du-Rhône or Burgundy… I might even finish with their delicious tarte tatin. Of course, that’s if it’s not 40 degrees Celsius. The problem I faced on the last trip was that none of the usual food sounded appealing considering it was so bloody hot. I mean, Hell probably would have been a few degrees cooler on the day we met up. Opening the door of the car to walk to the restaurant was like opening the door to an oven.

Katie and I arrived early, and even though the restaurant is air conditioned, it’s hard to cool off completely – I sort of felt sick from being so hot all day. Looking though the menu, none of my usual French favourites really appealed. I was certainly not in the mood for soup. After much discussion and some refreshing beverages, I decided to opt for the steak. Jo, Penny and Taz had joined us by this stage and Jo had suggested the Eye Filet steak with Béarnaise. Since I love Béarnaise, this seemed like an appropriate choice. I ordered my steak medium rare and it came perfectly cooked, a really simple approach to the meat, no seasoning other than the necessary salt and pepper. The Béarnaise was amazing. There something about the buttery tarragon richness that I just love with steak. I don’t know why I don’t have it more often… Oh, that’s right – you either have to make it fresh yourself which isn’t all that easy, or find a restaurant that offers it – which is increasingly difficult… Jo felt that she could have done with a little more sauce, but then she was slathering it all over her steak – I felt there was more than enough. The lightly dressed green salad on the side was refreshing and the dressing tangy and bowl of French fries as always the perfect accompaniment.

Jo and I both decided to order Crêpes Suzette for dessert, I love the sauce and the theatre of the Flambé at the table. On this occasion though it felt a little more dangerous than usual. I almost felt like the waiter could just take the dish outside and wait for it to spontaneously combust in the heat!

Oh no - my dessert is on fire - oh wait - it's supposed to be...

Oh no – my dessert is on fire – oh wait – it’s supposed to be… That’s totally ok then.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals and the waitstaff were fun and friendly. I’d highly recommend A La Bouffe Bar & Bistro if you want good quality, and great tasting French cuisine.

 

A La Bouffe Bar & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Yet another foodie gem on the Mornington Peninsula wine trail. Stillwater at Crittenden as the name suggests, is located at Crittenden estate, which is technically in Dromana, halfway between the beach and the foothills of Merricks North. It’s a lovely location, and we – that’s Katie and her best friend from the States, Melissa and of course yours truly –  were lucky enough to visit on an amazing day, perfect clear sky’s, beautifully warm, but not too hot at 27C. The Peninsula was certainly turning it on for our overseas guest. The restaurant is nestled between the vineyard and a picturesque lake, and since we got a table out on the deck we were treated to some lovely views. On the way to the restaurant, you walk pass the wine tasting venue which looks fantastic. Unfortunately for me Katie was quite hungry as we were running a little late after picking Melissa up from the Phillip Island ferry. This meant I didn’t get a chance to sample any of the wines before lunch – I had to tried a few from the menu without any prior knowledge… such a tragedy I know!
On weekends, Stillwater has a two or three course menu for $60 of $75, not bad value considering the quality and size of the options. We opted for the three course menu which in hindsight was probably a little bit piggish but who cares – a long lunch in the sunshine with good food, wine and company – Yep, it’s a hard life but someone has to live it.

To begin we chose our starters and Melissa and I chose some wine by the glass. Katie opted for water and the Crispy fried pork belly with green papaya slaw, chilli caramel.

wpid-20141228_144744.jpg

Although Katie was pleased with her choice she looked a little miffed that she couldn’t indulge in a glass of wine – well, there’s only 10 weeks until our baby girl greets the world so Mum will just have to hold tights and live vicariously through others.

Anyway, I digress, Melissa chose a Rose which I didn’t see on the menu to go with her Poached Crystal Bay prawns with mizuna & shaved cucumber salad and wasabi mayonnaise. Melissa was impressed with her choice and quite enjoyed the freshness of the seafood – as a New York foodie, she has high standards so I’ll take her word that the first course was quite good.

wpid-20141228_144738.jpg

For some reason I wasn’t that hungry and so I opted to go for lighter options throughout the lunch, for starters I ordered the tempura fried zucchini flowers stuffed with goats curd, with
mizuna, olive tapenade & herb dressing. The zucchini flowers were lovely, and the sharp and creamy goats curd paired really well with the olive tapenade. The mizuna is a little bit peperary and reminds me of roquette. A really lovely course to start with. Since I love Mornington Peninsula Pinot’s, I had decided from the start that I would try a couple – I started with  the 2012 Crittenden “Kangerong”  Pinot Noir which was lovely, and great example of a peninsula style Pinot.

wpid-1420359741685.jpg

For the main course the girls decided to go for the lamb and the steak, whist I opted for the market fish, which was a lovely fillet of Barramundi, served over cous cous, with snow peas and pistachios. I really enjoyed my meal and both Melissa and Katie quite enjoyed there’s, although I had to help them finish them as they both felt it best to save some room for dessert. The bowl of chips and aioli that we decided to get to share wasn’t necessary as all the meals were quite generously proportioned. I had picked the 2012 Crittenden Estate “The Zumma” Pinot Noir as my second wine and whilst it wasn’t the ideal match for the fish, it was really a lovely wine, and matched really well with Katie’s lamb, which I had to sample of course, and Melisss’s eye filet, which I kindly finished for her.

wpid-20141228_151429.jpg

Finally, we all ordered our desserts, although I was struggling to work out exactly where I was going to fit mine in. We had to shift tables as the sun had moved and we no longer had any shade –  Katie and I were getting the full force of the sunshine, which was just a little too much at 4pm in the middle of the Australian summer. Thankfully there was a table in the shade on the deck and we finished our long lazy lunch there. I had the Vanilla Crème Brulée and poached pear, Katie ordered the strawberry cheesecake which had strawberry coulis and sorbet with a crumble thing on the side which was delicious, and Melissa got the selection of house made ice cream – also outstanding

I’d have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable winery restaurant experiences I’ve had not just on the Peninsula, but anywhere in Australia. Crittenden have the experience and location to deliver a fantastic food and wine experience which lives up to the expectations and price. I’d highly recommend stopping here for lunch if you are on a tour in the area.

Stillwater at Crittenden on Urbanspoon

wpid-1411957936299.jpg

I’ve been to Whispering Vines Café a couple of times now, and on each occasion I’ve had a lovely meal – they often have really interesting specials – the beef wellington I had here as a special was outstanding. It’s also a really lovely spot, weather depending, outside is really nice, but I’ve been here when it was blowing a gale and the rain was pouring, inside it was nice and cosy and it was fun to watch the rain clouds roll over the countryside.

On the latest visit to Whispering Vines, we were lucky to actually get a table! Mum, for some unknown reason, had decided that there was no need to book… Well of course the place was packed on such a sunny spring day, and we were told there would be a 30min wait – there were a few of us, Mum, Katie, Jo and Sharron. Katie was not happy with the idea of having to wait for so long as she was not feeling well – thankfully we were only waiting for 15minutes before we were lead to a table out the back, in a nice shaded spot outside. Crisis averted!

wpid-1411958043660.jpg

Once everyone was seated, Jo and I decided to go off and do a tasting of their wines to find one to match with out meal – I had decided to order the special – Eye filet with potato dauphinoise, I think from memory it was $38. Jo was not being very creative and ordered the Pork belly again – sure it’s really good, but why not try something different (Says the bloke that orders burgers all the time…). Anyway, Jo focused on the whites and I had a sample of the reds. I wouldn’t say I’m a regular wine drinker, but I do enjoy a well matched glass with a meal. Generally speaking, I’m a fan of Mornington Peninsula Pinots – I like their juicy, berry driven style, and the boldness of what they produce them down here.  They’re not soft and boring – the Mornington Pinot is different from other regions and I like that. It’s also probably because I like the fact that I grew up on the peninsula and I kind of feel that I should support the region… Anyway, I chose their 2012 Trofeo Estate Pinot Noir which I thought would hold up to the steak, and Jo went with their 2013 Trofeo Chardonnay to match with her pork belly.

The food by the way was lovely as usual, although my steak wasn’t the best cut of meat I’ve had – it just lacked for flavour – everything else was quite good. Mum enjoyed her duck and Sharron’s lamb looked good. Katie was being a little weird, which is fine, she’s pregnant so she can do what she likes – she decided to have an almond croissant and some chips… Interesting combo, but apparently very tasty. We also got an extra bowl of the fries with the smokey chilli mayo.

As far as a winery café goes, it’s a lovely spot, that’s got very good, reasonably priced food (Especially for the peninsula, for some reason it’s quite often exhorbantly expensive down here!). The winery’s own wine by the glass is also good value. However, I would point out that the cellar door prices for their wine is a bit much – $32 for a starting price? I can get better Mornington Pinots cheaper elsewhere. I guess the fact that you can really only get it at the cellar door makes it more expensive as it’s exclusive? Personally,  I’d stick to picking your favourite from the tasting and then enjoying a glass with a nice meal. A great spot of a long lunch on a warm spring weekend afternoon.

Note: I actually went to Trofeo’s a few weeks back, I just haven’t had to the time to write this lovely place up. I think their menu seems to change quite a bit so I’d check online first, but also keep in mine that their specials are usually pretty good.

Whispering Vines Cafe on Urbanspoon

cooking 2 Coles now sells burgers patties made by Heston himself… Hmmm… Chris and I decided to make them and eat them. They were good. OK, It’s more complicated than that, and since I am clearly lazy, my good friend and fellow burger adventurer Chris – who also happens to have a cool blog http://allsignificantbattles.wordpress.com/ has decided to write the whole thing up and thus record the event for posterity. Below is his take on events – I’m might have edited a little bit here or there… Still think my burger was the best.. The Heston Burger Challenge Andrew says that he likes burgers as much as the next guy, as I’m often the next guy I have to agree. I love a good burger but I have to say that until Andrew started this challenge, my life was in a barren landscape where my burger experience was sorely lacking. I had tried all the supposedly good burger places, Grilled, Urban burger, Babu’s Ball Burgers on Chapel and they had all turned to ashes in my mouth. Especially Babu’s ball burgers…terrible and I was starting to feel that maybe burgers were something that I would never really enjoy again. But Andrew showed me there was a better burger way and he has been responsible for some of the best burger experiences of my life (Rockpool I’m looking at you). So I have thoroughly enjoyed going to some of the most rated burger places in Victoria. But given both Andrew and I are fairly handy in the kitchen we often talk about making our own burgers at home. What would our ultimate burger be like? What would you put on it? What cuts of meat would you use for the patty? What sauce would you use? What kind of bun would be perfect for your burger? Pretzel? Milk? Brioche? Well on Monday (The Queen’s Birthday) we decided to go halfway there. I say halfway because I had been taken with the new Heston range from Coles. Now I’ve been a Heston fan for a long time and was excited about him putting food that I might actually be able to eat into a supermarket I could potentially go to. But would it be any good? Could you make a truly great mass produced burger patty without sacrificing flavour or quality? The Heston range seems to be geared to for you making burgers; they have Heston’s specially prepared burger patty which is a steak patty that proudly boasts itself to be 97% “Angus beef seasoned with Pink Lake Salt, minced one way then cut against the strands for a juicy burger with a big flavour.” This is the same as the burger that Heston made in his TV series “In search of perfection”. You can also get a “Brioche dough makes a bun that’s soft and rich with a touch of buttery sweetness” And a Ketchup that is “Rich in umami it’s the perfect balance of savoury, sweet and acidity, with just a hint of a fiery kick.” So off to Coles I went and purchased the patties, the buns the sauce and some other odds and ends. Lettuce, Onions, cheese, mushrooms, dried porcini, and importantly a patty to compare. I chose Coles Wagyu beef patties which are according to Coles “Gourmet burgers made with finely ground Wagyu beef sourced from one of Australia’s best breeders, then lightly seasoned with Murray River rock salt.” I chose this because it was basically the same price, was the same weight: 320gms (160gms per patty) and was supposedly a quality burger patty. Cooking 1 First Impressions: The Buns look a little stale despite being baked the day before, the patties look enemic and bland although the sauce seems to have great flavour. The Coles Wagyu beef patty however looks the right size and the right colour. The Test: We decide to make four burgers for the test. One will be a plain burger with minimal ingredients with the Coles Wagyu patty on it. One will be my dream burger using the Heston patty, one will be Andrews dream burger with the Heston Patty and one will be a control using the Heston Patty, all burgers will use the same basic sauce and the same bun. Andrew makes an amazing basic burger sauce that was frankly so good I’m going to share it with you. cooking 3 Ingredients:

  • Heston’s Burger sauce
  • Best Foods Mayonnaise
  • American Mustard
  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Cayenne Pepper

Add ingredients according to taste. Or get Andrew to do it. I make a porcini mushroom duxcell and caramelise some onions whilst Andrew is manning the flame grill. We settle on the closest thing we can find to American cheese on a public holiday and Polish pickles. 20140609_122949   cooking 4 The Results: The first burger just had sauce, lettuce, tomato, caramelised onion, cheese, pickles and the Coles Wagyu patty. It’s fine. A fine burger, the patty is a little rissoley a quick read of the ingredients reveal it to have 10% “filler” which we assume is mostly circus animal and sawdust. But it’s not terrible. The bun is very good, refreshing it on the grill made it come to life. Burger cut The next burger is mine; I have mushroom duxcell, caramelised onions, cheese, lettuce, sauce, tomato and the Heston Patty. Wow! That patty is pretty good, it’s doesn’t have that aged steaky flavour that we were both hoping but it is a prime beef burger patty without a hint of “sausage” flavour too it which in retrospect the Wagyu Patty certainly had. The only criticism is that it’s massive, 160gms? Yeah… I don’t think so. More like 200gms. Doesn’t quite fit the bun. Which is odd because that’s the bun it was made for. burger chris Andrews burger is almost the same as mine but he nixes the mushroom and the onion adds some raw onion and some bacon. Mnnnnnn, yep these are some good burgers. The control is eaten by our test subject who was bought in to support our findings. Apart from deciding that my combination of flavours was nowhere near as good as Andrews (although as he’s editing this he’ll probably change the results – *edited) she agreed Heston’s patty was WAY better than the alternative. Burger me 1 Conclusion: If you want a burger and it’s a toss-up between heading out and eating in. Go out, there are tons a great burger places that do at least as good a burger if not better with much less hassle. However if you are making burgers for people that are coming over? Or you just really want to cook a burger and eat it in front of the TV? There’s no way you wouldn’t get this over any mass produced burger patty, bun, sauce combination on the market. Come BBQ season these are going to fly off the shelves.