A cafe for sweethearts in South Melbourne

Eggs; how many ways can one cook eggs?

Boiled, poached and fried are the usual ways most cafes serve their eggs. Sure, add hollandaise sauce, toast fingers, bacon, baked beans, BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms and maybe a hash brown. But this is all still pretty standard in my opinion. And although most people will probably have their favourite local cafe that they trudge up to on a Saturday or Sunday morning, sunnies firmly fixed over their eyes, snatching the best parts of the cafe’s newspapers to bury their head in, to probably find themselves ordering eggs in some capacity; I say when in Rome, do as Romans do. Or when in Melbourne, do as I do and head to Cafe Sweethearts.

The immediate thought which struck me as I first looked at the menu at Cafe Sweethearts on Coventry Street, South Melbourne was “how extensive is the EGGS menu?” A flipboard style menu introduces you to the many ways that eggs can be served – eggs la mer is my favourite to eat and savour the taste of with the I-must-not-forget-to-tell-you-to-order-the-ROSTI as it is the icing on the cake. As mentioned in a previous post last week in that some ingredients are just meant to be married; Rosti aka fried potato and eggs is a match made in heaven. And I am not just talking about the average hash brown here. But in order to soak up all of the previous night’s sins or to just taste a bit of oily heaven in one’s mouth, it is the outer crunch and soggy middle which gets my tastebuds tingling and just goes perfectly with my choice of poached egg.

Cafe Sweethearts is regularly written up positively in foodie circles so I’m not shouting anything new here but only recalling all of my yummy experiences. You will find when you go to this cafe that it is jam packed and unless you have called ahead and planned prior to have a rosti and egg combo (bookings are available), you may find you need to wait for 15 minutes before taking a seat. The rest of the menu is also mouth-watering and if eggs don’t light your morning fire then their pancakes, muffins and french toast certainly will in addition to the very well made Genovese coffee.

I am a Sydneysider through and through but when I do visit Melbourne which is quite often, namely because of this cafe and often “just because”, no matter if I am racing to the airport or have all the time in the world…a drop in to Cafe Sweethearts is essential.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 8:05 am  Comments (1)  
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Plate licked clean

Physically picking up your plate at the dinner table and licking your plate clean has a certain cheekiness about it; some might call it rude. I look at it as complete satisfaction and I think most cooks that love to cook, deep down would agree with me.

Cooks that love to cook have spent time, big or small preparing the food. A lot of people cook for their loved ones, friends, colleagues or even just themselves and there is nothing more satisfying after you have dished up the meal and may be slightly sweating from standing too close to the stove for so long to see your “guests” in their own way wolfing down their food and not a crumb is left at the end.

Last night I witnessed this moment. The food was a thick, sticky reduced red wine sweet sauce that was remnants of a weekend dessert. It was the accompaniment to a few slices of pineapple. There was enough sauce to go round for five people and then some. It was the then some that tipped my man over the edge and into licking oblivion, because what went from a polite spoon in hand eating the dessert to suddenly a ravenous-have-not-eaten-in-days licking of the plate motion was an incredible sight to see and I was not even the cook.

So, don’t hold back are my words of wisdom. If you are at dinner wherever you may be, put your neck out on the line and lick the plate clean. Forget about the people that are rolling their eyes at you or tsk tsk tsking you because it’s not etiquette to do so. Not only will you ensure that you have eaten every last morsel of the divine meal in front of you but the cook will be left with a feeling of satisfaction that is priceless.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 2:09 am  Comments (2)  
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Go Alfresco

This phrase actually reminds me most of year 9 Italian class with Mrs Rihani when she asked us to think about how many Italian words were actually already immersed in the English language….

Today, however I am actually talking about Alfresco, the wonderful store on Pittwater Road, Collaroy Sydney. Alfresco is a store I regularly go to when I have a spare moment to browse, forget about time and dream about all of the beautiful things that I could buy from Alfresco to have in my home.

From the moment I park my car and go through the side entrance to wander past the fresh flowers, through their corner store where it’s ever so tempting to buy some Barefoot Contessa to stock up the pantry with and into the Emporium of all of their major goodies, time stands still for me and I love this feeling.

Alfresco is situated on the corner of Pittwater Road and Ocean Grove, Collaroy and looks like a big Hamptons-style house with a large carpark at the front – perfect for impromptu drop-ins! It rivals Peters of Kensington as a superstore of goods offering a wide range of affordable brands; both wide-spread and exclusive. Where it differs from Peters however, is that it is always visually appeasing to the eye so no matter what display they have in the front window, it always transports you immediately to the vision that they have laid out before you. Last week for example, their furniture display was a combination of old-world safari meets tropical island Bahamas; there was a unique leather bar cabinet which I imagined I could use to just whip up a mojito to sip on and home fragrances from Sicilian brand Ortiga to ferry my senses to a faraway place. As you turn and walk a few steps away the mood changes and you find yourself looking at clean, white finishes and texturised fabrics and the style instantly becomes more country home-esque.

Alfresco’s kitchen range is hard to out-do and the owner of the store obviously has a love for baking as their range of bakeware, aprons, mixers, blenders, utensils and specific icing ingredients is extensive. One’s eye can never go past the rainbow of colours that Kitchenaid make their mixers in and the other thing that happened to take my fancy last week were a cute range of aprons titled “Kiss the Cook“.

Alfresco also stocks a terrific range of books, mostly coffee-table types and a noteworthy one for me last week was a book dedicated to A life on Pittwater and its beauty (given my wedding will be located up there in 12 days). There is also a gorgeous range of silver jewelery, lovely smelling candles and staff who are helpful, knowledgeable and care to stop and have a chat. Additional stores are also located in Mona Vale and Cherrybrook, Sydney.

So whether you are buying a gift for someone or spoiling yourself with a “just because”, go to Alfresco and get whisked away and feel time slip on by.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 9:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Moroccan Morning Glory in Surry Hills

OK, yes I realise this is my second Moroccan-inspired post this week and I am feeling a third post coming on as I ate at Souk in the City on Friday night but I will leave that for later.

I love Sundays as more often than not there is time to get creative in the kitchen and make more than a piece of toast before rushing out the door. And I love when I look at a recipe and discover that I don’t have all of the correct ingredients so am able to improvise and see what the result is. Inspired initially by a recipe in Made in Morocco, 20 minutes later and the result was Moroccan morning glory. This recipe serves two lucky ducks.

ingredients

1 cup orange juice

zest of a lemon

1 Tblsp olive oil

2 Tblsp slivered almonds

3 tsp cinnamon and

3 ripe figs sliced thickly

1 cup instant couscous

2 Tblsp greek yoghurt

3 Tblsp honey and more to drizzle

2 slices mountain rye bread

1 Tblsp fresh mint (torn into pieces)

method

Preheat grill to high. Combine orange juice and lemon zest in a small pot and bring to the boil. Add honey, 2 tsp cinnamon and whisk to combine. Put couscous into a small bowl and pour hot liquid over it. Cover bowl immediately with a tea towel and leave for 10 minutes. Put almonds on baking tray and grill for 3 minutes (watch carefully as they can quickly go very brown). Set aside and mix through couscous. Place mountain bread under grill. Spray lightly with cooking oil spray and grill for 2 minutes. Sprinkle remaining cinnamon over grilled bread and break into squares.

Fluff couscous with a fork and put two equal amounts onto each serving dish. Put one dollop each of greek yoghurt on top. Place figs on top of yoghurt and scatter mint over this. Drizzle with remaining honey and serve with mountain bread on the side.

Alisdair scored me a 10/10 on this piece of morning glory…enjoy!

Published in: on March 28, 2010 at 2:03 am  Comments (1)  
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Sami and Sita

A lot of girls have either experienced this moment or witnessed this moment from afar.

You’re out one night at a party or a restaurant or at a wedding. You feel great in your new dress. You love the colour, the style, the detail. It’s a brand new purchase. Across the room you spot the same colour and your initial gaze turns into more of a longing stare. The same colour is on another girl and as she turns around you realise you may as well have a mirror in front of you as you both have the same dress on. Sometimes, this exact moment can be awkward or won’t be much of a bother. Other times, depending on where you are one of you could turn into a bit of a nasty person. No female ever really wants to be in this situation. When you go out, you want to be an individual and be the only one wearing what you have on. It is usually a blessing in disguise when you have spotted a dress in a catalogue or seen it in the window and ask for it in your size, only to be told that style has sold out. Shops like Country Road and Witchery are great for basics but they will make “that gorgeous red dress with the large bow on the right side” at least 500 times and eventually you will see someone else out in it and honestly for me, it’s a bit of a turn off.

I discovered Sami and Sita by chance in 2007. I was on a bit of a hunt to find a dress to wear to a Christmas party so in my mind I was thinking at least red so I looked a bit festive. I left Sami and Sita that day with a purchase and have been back several times most notably last November as I found my bridesmaid dresses there too.

The next time you’re in Paddington, Sydney go to William Street. It’s a little street that runs off Oxford Street and currently the Paddington Inn pub and French Connection are the landmarks on the corner. Not far down on the right hand side is the boutique Sami and Sita. They will often have dresses blowing in the wind that hang from the door to entice you in. I love going to Sami and Sita to buy dresses because they rarely make more than one size of each style so it minimises the risk of running into your twin out there. They have dresses in beautiful fabrics, prints and colours. There are minis, maxis and dresses to wear to the races, weddings, a night out with the girls, a hot date or dresses just to wear to make you look and feel great! Their prices are reasonable and on par with the larger retailers so if you have bought a dress in Cue or Country Road you can afford to buy a dress at Sami and Sita. This is me in the “Christmas dress” and you will notice it’s not a wallflower dress but a pretty bold red and white stripe print. It certainly fit the bill as I felt more than a bit festive that night and most importantly I still have yet to come across my twin in red and white.

Published in: on March 27, 2010 at 11:41 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A marriage of flavours

Short post but need to share…

Salt and vinegar. Meat pie and tomato sauce. Vanilla ice-cream and chocolate topping. Rare roast beef and horseradish.

Some ingredients just go together; compliment and encourage their respective individual flavours. You wouldn’t really have one without the other as it wouldn’t taste quite right.

Thursday night, I ate at the Lord Dudley restaurant and came across a surprising marriage of flavours. Situated on Jersey Road, Woollahra it’s such a pretty, quaint English-style pub from the exterior and as you go down the winding stairs (making sure you don’t bump your head on the beams) you suddenly find yourself in a dining room with several hanging pot plants where people are busy talking, eating and having a mad old time. The menu is written out on a big blackboard and roves around the restaurant. At first glance I wouldn’t have necessarily thrown these ingredients together. I actually thought twice and nearly went with the herb crusted lamb chops but then ordered this at the last minute…

Snapper fillet with cauliflower mash and asparagus.

I am usually a lamb over beef over chicken over fish kind of girl but I just have to put it out there in saying that my dinner on Thursday was the best fish I have had for a long time. The snapper was melt-in-your-mouth snapper. The mash was velvety and the flavour was subtle and not overwhelming. And the asparagus as a final touch was the key.

Go to The Lord Dudley this weekend and order this meal; you won’t regret it. Happy Friday!

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 5:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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Live like a local in Manhattan

42 West 69 Street, Apt.4B.

An old Brownstone of four levels complete with the quirky ground-floor neighbour who left his front door slightly ajar with a sign attached to the doorknob completely visible to all tenants “I’m watching you and you’re not welcome”. Great first impression when I moved in.

But that was my address. And for six lovely, jam-packed days I lived like a local in Manhattan; upper west side, one block from the park. I even had a rare rooftop garden where I ate fresh bagels with philly and jam most mornings. It’s almost been three years since my passport was stamped at JFK yet memories of a city like New York are hard to shake off and forget.

Accommodation on any holiday be it backpacker, 5-star Westin or staying on the couch with your long-lost great aunt is a necessary spend. For some, it’s difficult to justify spending copious amounts on accommodation as more often than not, you’re not even in the room for long periods and it becomes a place just to sleep. Others want the options of room service, in-house dry cleaning, an on-call concierge and the bed turned down and are prepared to pay for it. For me, it was somewhere in between. But finding accommodation that’s nice accommodation which doesn’t resemble a 1m x 1m shoebox is hard to find in Manhattan. Back then, it was hard to pay less than US$350 a night and that wasn’t even four stars.

Perusing in a book store holed up in the travel section, I was flicking through one of those Fodors-Lonely Planet books and came across the following lines of if you’re game, up for a new experience and not a Holiday Inn type where continental breakfast is an essential visit www.affordablenewyorkcity.com.

Enter my experience quite similar to the movie The Holiday where Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet’s characters go for a holiday in someone else’s home. While I wasn’t exchanging my home with someone else, that in essence was the experience this site was offering. I entered my dates and choice for a 1 bedroom place, please. I looked at Downtown, Upper West side, Times Square, Greenwich, SoHo and Meatpacker’s District. Places looked homely, quirky, minimalistic and hoarder-central but very livable. Prices were affordable ranging from $150 – 280 per night for my specific preferences. My search narrowed down to two potential places and I started emailing back and forth with a Kelsey who I imagined was somewhere in Manhattan answering my constant questions. The process was seamless and easy. I made my choice quickly, going with an Upper West side place with close proximity to the park over a SoHo pad and the price of $180 per night was quite unbelievable. Kelsey emailed me a detailed information pack on 42 West 69 Street, Apt.4B. The owner was an ex-editor of a major home decorating interiors magazine who had furnished her home with a combination of modern and antiques and the photos showed a clean, comfortable and central home. The deposit was sent, the balance paid on arrival and in my hot little hands were the keys to my first Manhattan address.

Now don’t get me wrong as I am the first to admit I am the type of person to use the little hotel shampoos and put the white terry towelling robe and matching slippers on after I arrive at a hotel so I was not expecting there to be any of the niceties when I arrived at the apartment. So it was to my surprise when I found one basket of tea and coffee, sugar, biscuits, chips and other snacks and another basket full of local maps, walking trails, current Time Out and New Yorker magazines and the essential Zagat guide. There was fresh milk in the fridge, neatly folded towels and soap on the bed and a gorgeous note from the owner explaining everything else.

The six days went by quickly and I covered all of the usual suspects one goes to in New York and in the end it was the discovery of a completely random and unexpected one as I loved the simple feeling of being a temporary local and having a home to go home to in a city like Manhattan.

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 8:32 am  Comments (1)  
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Moroccan salad splendour

Given the first part of my blog is dedicated to EAT; be it the art of eating, the food I eat or what I eat with I thought it timely to post my first recipe that is dressed to impress, takes no time at all to whip up and place on the table and is so flavoursome and colourful that it requires one post directly dedicated to it.

For Christmas last year, my niece gave me a book titled Made in Morocco; a journey of exotic tastes and places by Julie Le Clerc and John Bougen. Prior to the gift and apart from eating couscous here and there, Moroccan food was not a type of food that regularly graced my menu nor did I own a tagine. It’s a very beautiful book and on the front cover mounds of red and orange spices and purple and red flowers catch your initial eye. As I flicked through the book the first time I discovered that the ingredients were not too foreign or dissimilar and most were in my pantry already.

However it was having friends over recently that led me to this particular recipe as a request was put in for a vegetarian dinner. After confirming that some white fish could be eaten and some chicken here and there I didn’t want to have to settle with just a tofu dish so set about finding a main that was full of flavour yet still met the criteria. This recipe caught my eye because of the simple ingredients that were somehow placed together in an equation that resulted in a complex explosion of taste and instant salivation. It is great warm, cold, served as a side or as the solo bright-star main. Since the first time when the salad was literally licked clean from its bowl, I have made it a couple more times and the results have increasingly gotten better and better.

And the final clincher that confirmed that this couscous salad was an absolute winner was when I was at a recent cocktail party and the mother of my initial guest pointed at me from the other side of the room whilst simultaneously walking towards me with great purpose. It honestly felt like my hand was stuck in the cookie jar. I had never met her before so as she made sure I was the right person she was looking for and then questioned me in an interrogating but absolutely friendly manner albeit quite loudly “was that you who made the pumpkin couscous salad for my son? The one with those delectable raisins and almonds? Was that you?”

“Uh…..yes that was me,” I replied.

couscous with roast pumpkin, raisins and almonds – serves 6 lucky ducks

ingredients

half large pumpkin or butternut, seeds and skin removed

olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

one and a half cups  chicken or vegetable stock

one and a half cups instant couscous

half cup raisins

half cup toasted almonds

third cup chopped fresh coriander

method

Preheat oven to 200 deg C. Cut pumpkin into 2cm cubes and place in an oven pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing once during cooking, until pumpkin is tender and brown.

Meanwhile heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in large saucepan and cook onion and garlic over a moderate heat for 5-10 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add stock and bring to the boil. Stir in couscous then remove pan from heat, cover and leave to steam for 10 minutes to soften. Remove covering and fluff up couscous with a fork. Season well with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine couscous with raisins, toasted almonds, coriander and hot pumpkin and toss well to serve.

smell, salivate, taste, savour and enjoy!


the missing purple ingredient

So, for the last 9 weeks, I’ve been on what I’ve renamed the Wonder Bride Diet but more commonly known as the Australian Womens Weekly 21-Day Wonder Diet. First up, I had never had skim milk before and I’ve also never been on a fully fledged diet before (thanks to Mum’s genes) and therefore had misconceptions about the value of them and questioned if they really worked? Inspired by wanting to look my best in Vera but by no means in a sacrificial mood or wanting to commit to lent of not eating tasty food altogether, I came across this so-called diet-book at a friend’s house. Her mum had purchased the book at the local shops because first and foremost she thought that the recipes looked good. Flicking through the book, it quickly engulfed me and the next day I bought the book on ebay.

Most of the recipes are fabulous, so tasty you wouldn’t even know they were “diet” food.  I had some girlfriends over for dinner and cooked a fish dish and had them asking me “have you taken a break tonight from the bride diet as this can’t be in the book? !” The basic premise is for 21 days you only eat 20 grams of fat per day with three regular meals and two snacks and the claim is you can lose up to 10 kilos. 30 minutes of exercise per day is encouraged to aid weight loss but is not described as essential. You do need to be somewhat organised to cook the three meals a day as it’s by no means a lite ‘n’ easy route with frozen meals and breakfast in a clear packet but a diet with an abundance of fresh fruit and vegies, a good source of protein and even a bit of carbs as it allows you both pasta and bread albeit it’s rye.

Now, I pride myself on having an extremely well-stocked fridge and pantry most weeks as pre-wonder-bride-diet I often liked to stand in front of the fridge at the end of a weekday and drum up a meal on the spot from the assortment of food available. My man would sometimes roll his eyes as we pushed the trolley around Coles and I placed (what I termed “basics”) in it which could include Plaistowe Dark Cooking Chocolate (in case I wanted to make spur of the moment Caramel slice) or vanilla and chocolate mini meringues (in case people popped around for dinner and an Eton mess dessert was needed). Given my love of cooking I also felt that I had a quite thorough knowledge of most ingredients be it spices, flours, pastas, herbs, sauces or cheese.

So did I feel stumped Week 1 when looking over my shopping list I noticed the word sumac. At first I thought it may have been like semolina or then like a pistachio. Enlightened after a google search I realised that my hunt was to find a purple spice often used in Middle Eastern cooking. My man and I hit up Coles then Woolies scouring the spice aisle trying to find this thing called sumac. We asked bewildered store assistants who queried “is it like cumin” or “is it like basil” and all this left me was feeling even more stumped than before. The recipe said it wasn’t an essential ingredient and could be substituted for something else but this just made me want to hunt it down even more.

It was in a tiny grocer store in Chatswood on a little shelf in a small bag that I finally discovered sumac. It tastes a bit like poppy seed and has a very faint taste but I feel very satisfied that I can now add sumac to my cooking repertoire.

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 12:06 pm  Comments (3)  
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Time in a bottle

It’s no secret that I’m in countdown mode as in 18 days, I will be saying “I do”. A couple of people ask me everyday, “How’s the organisation going?” or “What have you got left to plan?” and the truth is zero. I am a known organiser, a quasi-event planner some would describe me as, who loves to organise anything and everything and in 7 months with my man, I have planned a 100 person Sydney based wedding with not one bridezilla moment or really even breaking a sweat. And all that’s left to do now is to mark each day off with my blue texta on my calendar and look forward to the day with excitement and anticipation.

I looked back on the 7 months today and reflected on one of the parts that I really loved doing and that was finding one of the readings that would be read out in the ceremony on the day. I had already chosen one of my sisters to do the reading and began my research quite early on as I wanted to find something that was well written, unique but personal, not long-winded or soppy and bottom line about love.

It seemed like an easy task to do as there was plenty of wedding readings, love quotes, love lyrics and love letters around. I read poetry by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, looked at sonnets by Shakespeare, heard lyrics written by John Lennon but all in all, I could not find the reading that felt just right. I visited abebooks – a site dedicated to rare books and looked at love letters that men had written to their loved ones in the 17th century while they were away at sea and I even looked at the Oxford dictionary meaning of love to see if the reading I was searching for was to be derived from the most basic meaning.

I finally narrowed my search down to three potential readings; one from a well known book, one which I discovered from watching a movie and one randomly found from a google search. All three readings had purpose and in two minutes were each able to give meaning and translate to the love that was shared between my man and I.
One night, we sat together on the couch and read and re-read out loud each one trying to decide which one it was to be.

This isn’t the reading we have decided to go with but I feel it is necessary to end this post by sharing it with you as regardless it is still a reading that I love. It’s called Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce.

“If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do is to save every day ’til eternity passes away, just to spend them with you. If I could make days last forever; if words could make wishes come true; I’d save every day like a treasure and then, again, I would spend them with you. If I had a box just for wishes and dreams that had never come true; the box would be empty, except for the memory of how they were answered by you. But there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do, once you find them. I’ve looked around enough to know that you’re the one I want to go through time with.”

Published in: on March 23, 2010 at 7:35 am  Comments (1)  
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