Saturday, 10 December 2011

Review: Debacle revisited - for dinner this time

Last weekend Mr D. and I had a big weekend of mountain biking in the Sydney 24 hour race at the beautiful Australian Botanic Garden at Mt Annan.  We had a team of four and had heaps of fun – think lots of dust and dirt, large rocks to drop off, tree trunks to dodge, big hills to climb, flowing downhill trails, little bright lights at night, plus a few minor spills and thrills along the way, and you get the idea.  All this riding of course leads to a big appetite - we usually crave protein with big savoury flavours after lots of exercise like this. 
Do I look exhausted and hungry to you?  At this point I was thinking thank goodness this was my last lap!
Mr D. told me he had fantasies of burgers and chips on his last lap of the race - but not just any burger, a really good home-cooked style burger.  Luckily we live within stumbling distance of one of our favourite Canberra eating places, Debacle.  So on Sunday evening we hobbled down the street with our tired legs after we had arrived home, showered and snoozed for a bit.  The great thing about Debacle is that it is open long hours and we can usually get a table when we rock up (we’re usually here for breakfast on weekends or take-away pizza).  Plus the service is usually friendly and efficient, which is what you want when you're tired and hungry.
Mr D. was not disappointed when his beef burger arrived.  This is an old favourite on the Debacle menu. Piled high with melted cheese, a fried egg, bacon, onions, barbecue sauce, beetroot, fresh rocket and tomato, Mr D. eventually found the tasty beef patty hidden under there.  He is one of those people that digs out the patty and leaves the rest of the burger untouched on his plate, something that greatly amuses me who likes to eat everything together.

Beef burger - $19.90 - tasty!
As well as the standard menu, Debacle usually has interesting blackboard specials which change every few weeks or so.  It was here that I spied the American-style barbecued pork ribs.  I had wanted to have ribs for ages, after having tried them for the first time many, many years ago in the USA as a wide-eyed teenager.   The ribs came with spicy potato skins and a sweet bourbon sauce.

Barbecued USA ribs - $22.90
A huge serve of ribs arrived in big slabs.  The potato skins were quite delicious, being crisp and well seasoned with a nice amount of chilli cutting through. The bourbon sauce was tasty and sweet, but I was hoping it would be finger-lickingly sticky and coat the ribs with a thick juiciness.  Instead the sauce drowned everything in its liquid at the bottom of the bowl, which meant the ribs didn’t have that intensity of flavour I was after and the spicy potato skins soon became soggy.   I found the dish not quite to my taste because of this.
I’m one of those people that will leave most of the dish on the plate if it is not quite what I’m hoping for, to Mr D.’s slight annoyance, especially when he is footing the bill.  “Why did you order it, then?”, he asks.  “Because I wanted to try something a bit different”, is my reply.  I’m willing to take a chance on most things when it comes to food, because you never know when you might just get the best meal experience of your life.  This obviously wasn’t one of those times, but at least I satisfied my curiosity about pork ribs for a while.
Thankfully a couple of schooners of our favourite Japanese Sapporo beer (which is on tap at Debacle) washed everything down beautifully with its crisp, clean flavour. 

So tell me, do you like to take a chance when ordering restaurant meals?  And what food do you get cravings for?
30 Lonsdale St
Braddon  ACT
Open 7 days for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Debacle on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Yummy banana coconut cupcakes with lime and coconut icing

I was in the mood for cupcakes this weekend just past.  My freezer was piling up with over-ripe bananas, so it was a perfect excuse to do some baking.
These banana coconut cupcakes are very simple to make and utterly delicious.  The bananas and rolled oats provide moisture, while the shredded coconut provides beautiful chewy texture.  The fresh lime juice makes for a magically sweet and tangy icing to set them off, while the toasted coconut on top adds a wonderful nutty taste. 
These little babies are not too naughty either, which is a good thing seeing as I ate so many J.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Banana coconut cupcakes
½ cup rolled oats
2/3 cup milk
11/2 cups plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup shredded coconut
Pinch of salt
1 cup mashed banana (from around 3 medium- sized very ripe bananas)
2 eggs
100 ml canola oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Lime and coconut icing
Juice of 1 lime
11/2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/3 cup shredded coconut

1.        Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and set out 12 paper cupcake cases on a baking tray
2.       Combine the rolled oats and milk in a small bowl and set aside to soak.
3.       Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, coconut and salt in large bowl and stir until evenly combined.
4.       Whisk the banana, eggs, oil and vanilla together in a medium bowl using a fork, then mix in the rolled oats mixture.
5.       Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and fold together with a spoon until just combined.
6.       Spoon the mixture into the cases.  Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and skewer into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.
7.       Once cooked, allow the cupcakes to cool on the tray.
8.       For the icing, mix the icing sugar into the lime juice until it forms a smooth paste.
9.       Cook the shredded coconut in a frypan without oil until golden brown.
10.   Spoon the icing onto the cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with the coconut, ready for serving.

Note: Un-iced cupcakes will freeze beautifully.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Heavenly Meringues

I’ve always been a bit wary about making meringues.  They seem so soft and delicate and, well...mysterious.  A little bit of fear of the unknown has held me back.  Crazy, I know, given how easy they are (as I recently discovered).

I was inspired by the latest issue of Donna Hay Magazine (the 10th anniversary issue), which had an amazingly simple yet brilliant recipe for meringues, including a variation for chocolate ones.

So I whipped these little beauties up, and they were absolutely delicious.  They had a lovely thin, cracking crust on the outside, with a soft and fluffy and wonderfully chewy centre.  I was a little surprised that the plain ones didn't stay snowy white, developing a beautiful light golden colour instread. Mr D. and I greedily devoured them with fresh strawberries and cream.

After experiencing these heavenly little delights, I will never buy those tough supermarket ones again!

Here’s the recipe.  Enjoy!

(adapted from Donna Hay Magazine, Issue 59)
Makes 12

4 eggwhites
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

1.       Preheat oven to 120 degrees C.
2.       Place the eggwhites in the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk until soft peaks form.
3.       Gradually add the sugar and vinegar and whisk until the mixture is thick and glossy.
4.       Place spoonfuls of the mixture on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and bake for 25 minutes.
5.       Turn the oven off and allow meringues to cool in the oven for 1 hour.
6.       Serve with fresh strawberries and cream.

For chocolate meringues, after Step 3 gently fold 100g melted good quality dark chocolate through the mixture to create a swirl, then continue with the recipe.  The chocolate meringues won’t be quite as big and fluffy as the plain ones, and a little more crumbly.

So tell me, is there a food that you were once hesitant to cook, only to realise it was actually really simple?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Herbalicious Sage Burnt Butter Spaghetti

Now is the time of year when all my herb pots start coming to life again.  Having been neglected over winter, my little sage pot in particular just keeps coming back again and again.  The fresh sage leaves have now resprouted like little pieces of soft felt.  A beautiful muted green colour, they smell like menthol when I pick them.

Sage is an ancient herb, apparently with lots of medicinal properties including being good for memory (here's an interesting web page).
It took me a while to give sage burnt butter with pasta a try, mainly because I wasn’t sure I would like the richness of all the butter.  However, the process of cooking the butter until it turns a nutty brown gives it a beautiful depth of flavour.  I like to use just a little bit of butter mixed with extra virgin olive oil to cut the richness.  The fresh sage leaves cooked in it have a delicious, slightly crunchy texture and delicate flavour which also cut the richness beautifully.  I like sage burnt butter sauce best with thin spaghetti, as I find the dish can be a bit stodgy with thicker pasta or gnocchi.

This classic dish has become one of my quick and easy favourites, especially when I can use the fresh sage from my garden.   
The only thing is, this dish on its own doesn’t have the freshness of vegetables which I sometimes crave.  So the last time I made it, I served it with a simple but lovely salad - cherry tomatoes, sprinkled with a little salt and pepper, dressed with some red wine vinegar and more extra virgin olive oil.  
Here is my recipe.
Serves 2
150g thin spaghetti pasta
½ cup fresh sage leaves, loosely packed
25g butter
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated

1.       Place the spaghetti in a large pot of salted boiling water and cook until al dente (about 10 minutes).
2.       While the spaghetti is cooking, place the olive oil and butter in a small saucepan.  Once the butter is melted, add the sage leaves.  Keep cooking until the butter just turns brown (watch it carefully and be careful not to overcook it).
3.       By this time, the spaghetti should be cooked.  Drain it and place it back in the pot to keep warm.  Add the sage burnt butter sauce and mix through the cooked spaghetti.
4.       Serve the spaghetti into two bowls, and scatter with the grated parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately.
5.       Accompany with a simple salad of fresh tomatoes or greens if desired.
So tell me, do you like to grow your own herbs?  And what’s your favourite recipe using them?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Girl's night in - Three tasty little morsels for when you're home alone

I’m one of those people who loves their own company.  When Mr D. is out, this usually means making dinner for myself and luxuriating on the couch watching my favourite cooking shows on TV (the ones that bore Mr D. to tears J).  I have to confess I’m quite lazy sometimes on these occasions.  I have been known to dig into a bowl of cereal or two-minute noodles to avoid having to cook for myself  - terrible, I know.  So in an effort for redemption, here’s some ideas for a few little dishes that are quick and easy, with minimum shopping, minimum fuss and minimum washing up.  You can whip them up in around 10-15 minutes and have them all to yourself! 
Eggs on toast
Split and toast an English muffin, top with a couple of slices of premium leg ham and two softly poached eggs (ones that are runny in the middle still), squirt with barbecue sauce (or tomato or whatever) and scatter with baby spinach leaves.

Haloumi with salad
Take slices of haloumi and lightly fry until golden brown, sprinkle with heaps of freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Serve with a quick salad of rocket/baby spinach leaves, cherry tomatoes and pumpkin seeds (pepitas), dressed with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Add some toasted bread and hommus if you feel like it.

Crepes with blueberries
Take some frozen French crepes heated in the microwave (these are one of my favourite convenience products), add some thick natural yoghurt, scatter with fresh blueberries and drizzle with real maple syrup.

So tell me, what’s your favourite thing to cook for yourself?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Review: Mojo Rising – Lonsdale St Roasters, Braddon

What is it about a little cafe that draws people in and keeps them coming back, again and again?  Good food?  Good coffee?  A little bit of magic, or mojo, perhaps?  Whatever it is, there is something about Lonsdale St Roasters in Braddon.  This place is ultra-hip, ultra-cool and very, very trendy.
Every weekday morning I walk past Lonsdale St Roasters on my way to work, longingly looking inside as I go by.  I envy all those hip, trendy people inside who can luxuriate over breakfast and a coffee during the week, while the rest of us mere mortals have to be in the office by 9am. 
Every now and again, when I make a special effort to get going early, I manage to squeeze inside Lonsdale St Roasters (and some mornings it really is a squeeze, but the service is quick).  The heady aroma of roasting coffee beans jolts all my senses awake.  And I am glad, for the coffee is good and the coffee is strong! (So strong it will grow hairs on your chest!). It is the best coffee I’ve had in Canberra.
Every so often, I grab breakfast on the run from this tiny cafe.  I love the raisin toast with oh-so-sweet-and-delicious cinnamon butter served in a little tub on the side.  Once in a while, if I am lucky, on a weekend morning I can sit down and eat breakfast and drink coffee and hang out, just like all those trendy, hip things I have envied during the week.  Then it’s the gorgeous waffles with honey butter that make my heart sing.  The music box plays cool, sultry blues like Billie Holiday, melding with the coffee aroma like a couple embraced in a slow dance. The darkened cave-like room hums with energy and I just mellow out and relax, absorbing it all and recharging my tired soul.
Waffles with honey butter - $7
Once in a while, I also venture to Lonsdale St Roasters for lunch.  The energy buzzes as I catch up with good friends and family.   Packed to overflowing as usual with beautiful, trendy people, the little cafe opens its windows and the people all tumble onto the pavement, sitting in the sun on upturned milk crates and tiny stools, among all the bicycles parked out the front.  If only there could be proper chairs and tables and umbrellas!  I guess shabby-chic is part of the quirky charm, but still! 
The panini are a lunch-time specialty, and Lonsdale St Roasters has got them down to a fine art, along with the kitsch artwork on the walls.  Slow roasted meats with chilli and spice, cransky, chorizo and roasted portabello mushrooms are the stars, arriving in beautiful, crusty toasted bread rolls with other tasty fillings like rich, melted cheese and tasty relish.  However, while this food is good, it is very heavy going.  I would love to see some fresher, lighter meals as well.
Panini with roasted portabello mushrooms and melted gorgonzola cheese - $11
Panini with cransky and sauerkraut - $12
I walk by Lonsdale St Roasters on my way home again every evening.  The little cafe is dark and quiet now – it’s well past closing time.  I look through the window as I pass, thinking when I might come in again.  The mojo keeps drawing me back.  And the great coffee.
So tell me, what keeps you coming back to a place again and again?  And do you believe in mojo?

Post Script:
Lonsdale St Roasters now has umbrellas set up outside.  Yay!
Lonsdale St Roasters
7 Lonsdale St
Braddon  ACT
Open Monday – Sat for breakfast and lunch.  Closed on Sundays. L
Lonsdale St Roasters Facebook page

Lonsdale Street Roasters on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Beer Degustation at the Durham Arms, Kingston

Beer degustation?  Sounds interesting, I thought when I was invited to lunch to celebrate my little brother’s birthday recently. 
I was surprised to learn that the Durham Arms pub in Kingston was the venue (fondly known as the “Dirty Durham” and a renowned Canberra weekend watering hole).  It turns out the Durham is a bit sophisticated these days, putting on special events once every few months which are worth keeping an eye out for on their web site.
So how do you match beer and food?  What I learned was that what goes for food and wine also goes for food and beer– subtle flavours go best with light-flavoured beer; strong flavours go best with full-bodied beer. 
For this particular event, beers from the Little Creatures Brewery in Western Australia and White Rabbit Brewery in Victoria were showcased with some simple but lovely food – six courses and six beers in total.  The Durham was pretty well packed to capacity, with around 100 people gathered for the event.  A couple of the brewers from the White Rabbit Brewery were there to talk to the group, introducing the beers as we went through the different courses. 
I absolutely love degustation meals because you can try so many dishes.  The six-course menu was carefully planned to bring the best out of six different beers.  Here’s what we had.

Course 1:  Cheese soufflé with rocket and hazelnuts, paired with Little Creatures Pilsner
The gentle flavour of the cheese soufflé, complete with a rich and creamy cheese sauce, was really set off by the very light-flavoured beer.  The toasted hazelnuts were delicious with this dish.
Course 2:  Moroccan lamb cutlet with pumpkin mash, paired with White Rabbit White Ale
The tasty cumin-spiced lamb was complemented by the almost herby ale. The beer’s tasting notes say there are hints of coriander, juniper berry and orange peel flavours from the brewing process.  I loved the sweet and crunchy, ruby red pomegranate seeds that came with this dish.
Course 3:  Chargrilled prawns marinated in lime and herbs, paired with Little Creatures Pale Ale
The delicious prawns went beautifully with this clean flavoured beer with hints of citrus.
Course 4:  Roast beef with roast potatoes, tomatoes and beans, paired with White Rabbit Dark Ale
The stronger flavours started coming out with the beef.  This traditional dish was gorgeous paired with the full-bodied ale.
Course 5:  Mango tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream and toasted coconut, paired with Little Creatures Pipsqueak Cider
The apple cider had just the right balance between sweet and dry – a real palate cleanser.  The crisp, clean flavour of the cider went beautifully with the sweet fruity dessert and rich ice cream.  This one was my favourite.
Course 6:  Cheese platter paired with Little Creatures Rogers Ale
The beer was interesting – I could really taste coffee.  The tasting notes say roasted hazelnuts, toffee and caramel malt.  The very strong flavour went well with the cheese platter, although not my favourite.

Top left: Key ingredients for beer making - four types of barley and some malt pellets (the green ones in the middle, which looked and smelled a bit like rabbit food!)
Top right: Beers (left to right) Little Creatures Pilsner, White Rabbit White Ale, Little Creatures Pale Ale
Bottom right: Beers (left to right): White Rabbit Dark Ale, Little Creatures Pipsqueak Cider, Little Creatures Rogers Ale

I was really impressed with the Durham kitchen.  They were very accommodating to Mr D., who has serious fish and nut allergies, making him his own special versions of the dishes so he could it enjoy the lunch as much as everyone else.  We made sure we gave them plenty of notice about it when we booked and they were great.

We’ll definitely look out for future Durham food events as a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Of course, the nice thing about going out for a huge boozy lunch on a Sunday is being able to go home to snooze on the couch for the rest of the afternoon, which is exactly what I did. J

So tell me, what’s your favourite beer and food combination?

The Durham Arms
Green Square, Kingston  ACT
The advertised cost of the degustation lunch event was $59 per person.