Birthday Lunch #35: The French Cafe

We both took the day off work and Selena decided to surprise me with lunch at The French Cafe, we opted to have the chef’s 9 courses tasting menu, with matching wines. It took 3 and a half hours, and was very good.

Gazpacho sorbet. Watermelon and cucumber salad. Curd. Feta.

Marinated kingfish, caviar. Apple and elderflower cider.

This was the only clunker for me, the caviar was overpowering. I felt like perhaps it was past its best, though Selena liked it rather a lot – so perhaps it’s just a question of degree of seafood fandom.

The elderflower cider was delightfully light and refreshing though.

Whitebait “sandwich”. Lemon mayo, cos, watercress. Champalou Vouvray, 2009.

The whitebait was dense – no mean portions here, that’s for sure. Moist, delicious.

Spanner crab risotto. Pearl barley, shellfish foam, mustard sorbet. Sin Palabras Castrovaldes Albarino, 2010.

I found the texture of the pearl barley to be highly satisfying, and the flavour of the mustard and spanner crab was perfect.

Selena wasn’t a fan, but I still think it was exquisite.

Quail B’stila. Poached apricot, pistachio, chickpea, cinnamon, yoghurt. Willy Gisselbrecht, 2009.

Coincidence on the wine, is Sel’s fave, and we usually have a couple of bottles in the fridge at home, though it’s getting quite hard to come by.

Seared duck breast, asian greens, mandarin puree. Vincent Girardin Rouge Cuvee Saint Vincent, 2008.

The mandarin puree was perhaps a little overpowering, its extremely pure flavour brought with it a tad too much bitterness – not a problem as it was served as you can see, so I could have as much or as little as I liked with the duck.

Instead of duck, Sel opted for snapper, toasted almonds, green beans, wild prawns, cauli cream. Domaine Emilian Gillet Quintaine, 2008.

Roasted French goat cheese on fig and beetroot tart, with a red wine syrup and edible borage flower. Greenhough Pinot Noire, 2008. Gorgeous!

Poached strawberries, buttermilk panacotta, raspberry, watermelon & rosewater granita. No wine with this course.

Delicious.

Bitter chocolate mousse, spiced cherry sorbet, chocolate crumb, coconut mousse. Puig-Parahy, 2005. Extraordinary.

The Puig-Parahy is outstanding. Raisins, dates, hazelnut. Perfect match with the chocolate in that last course.

Nine courses and eight wines later and we’re done.

Thank you, French Cafe.

Delicious Vegetarian Chili

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 2 courgettes (call it zucchini if you prefer)
  • 1 capsicum (any colour, but I suggest yellow or red)
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 Tbs oregano
  • 2 Tbs chilli flakes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • vegetable stock
  • a cup of red wine
  • vegetarian burger patties
  • 2 tins red kidney beans
  • 1 tin cannellini beans
  • 2 tins chopped tomato
  • jalapenos (optional, to taste)

ingredients

Get all your bits together.

chopped-vege

Chop all the veges.

saute

Add oil to pot, sauté onions, capsicum, celery, garlic, oregano, and (not pictured) add the remainder of chopped vegetables.

crumble-pattie

Crumble the vegetarian burger patties.

sizzle

Add pattie crumbles to pot.

oh-ho-ho

Add bay leaves, wine, beans, chilli flakes, cumin, and tomatoes. Stir well and bring to the simmer.

simmer

Simmer, stirring occasionally. The longer you can give it the better, I like to give it at least 90 minutes to 2 hours.

oh-god-oh-god-yes-oh-yes-oh-god

I like to serve with rice, cornbread, sour cream, and hot sauce (this recipe isn’t particularly hot, I usually make it for potluck dinners, and unfortunately not all of my friends like it hot).

left-overs-hell-yeah

Great on toast the next day. (Great on everything the next day. Mmm-hmm.)

Spicy Dal

Ingredients

  • 1 & 1/4 cups red lentils. (Brown lentils are a fine substitute, or yellow split peas if you must, but green lentils won’t soften properly.)
  • 3 & 1/3 cups water.
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp salt.
  • 3 tbs butter.
  • 1 tsp ground cumin.
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric.
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon.
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne.
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger.
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander.
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds.
  • 6 whole cloves.

Method

1_rinselentils

Rinse the lentils well in cold water. Drain and repeat once or twice. The first time through you’ll note that the water gets quite milky, you want to wash them until the water is fairly clear.

2_saltedwater

Add to pot with 3 & 1/3rd cups water and the salt.

3_boil

Boil until very soft, the water will be mostly or entirely absorbed.

4_butter

Once the lentils are bubbling away and well on their way to cooking down, melt the butter in a separate pan.

5_spices

Add the spices. Your house will start to smell reallllllly good. (Don’t be mad, I’m not saying it doesn’t now, just that it’ll get even better.)

6_addlentilstospices

Once the lentils are all cooked down (note how much the colour of the red lentils has changed), carefully add them to the spices & butter.

7_mix

Mix the butter & spices well with the lentils.

8_simmeruntilthick

Cook until very thick, stirring frequently.

Serve with rice (I suggest basmati) and a big dollop of yoghurt. This dal can be a bit hot for some people, the yoghurt goes a long way to defusing that – and it’s really delicious, so why wouldn’t you?

I find it a very warming, comforting dish. Particularly great on cold winter nights.

Most Delicious Cornbread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cornflour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup oil (I use olive oil)
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbs baking powder
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups grated cheese
  • 1 cup (or so) capsicum, sliced (I use roasted red peppers)
  • chillies (optional, to taste)
  • 1 can of corn kernels, drained

Method

Preheat oven to 180°C.

3_sourcream

Add eggs, oil, & sour cream to mixing bowl.

4_blend

Blend until smooth.

7_salt

Add corn flour, baking powder, & salt.

8_capsicumandchillies

Add sliced capsicum (and optional chillies).

9_cheese

Add most of the grated cheese (save a little).

10_corn

Add drained corn kernels.

11_bigmix

Mix up well.

12_dish

Add to cake tin or baking dish.

13_sprinklecheese

Sprinkle on remaining cheese.

14_goldenbrown

Bake at 180°C until the top is golden brown and a skewer or sharp knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. In this dish it’s about 45 minutes, in a wider diameter & thin walled baking tin it’d be more like 30.

The corn bread will be very moist and flavourful.

Pear & Vanilla Crumble

Ingredients

  • 3 tins of quartered pears in juice. (You can use fresh pears if you wish, but you’re giving yourself a lot more work for little reward.)
  • 250g raw sugar.
  • 225g self raising flour.
  • 175g butter.
  • ~6-8 teaspoons vanilla extract. (This might seem a lot, but it’s quite a large dish.)

Method

Preheat oven to 180°c.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 0

While the oven warms up, take a large caserole dish…
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 1

… Add drained quartered pears – save the juice. (You can slice them further if you wish, these pears were fairly small though.)
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 2

Add about 1 cup of the juice back over the pears. (This might seem round about, but if you used all the juice you’d end up with a terribly soggy mess.)
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 3

Spoon about 150g of the raw sugar over the mixture.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 4

Drizzle vanilla extract over the pears – the specks you can see here are vanilla seeds. 
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 5

LET’S GET READY TO CRUUUUMMMMMMMMMMMBBBBBLLLLEEEEEEEEE.

Add the flour into a large mixing bowl.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 6

Make a divot in the flour, then add the soft (microwave softened if you’re lazy like me) butter.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 7

Add the remainder of the sugar.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 8

Crumble the mixture. It’s fun to do it with your hands – and I think you end up with a better, slightly more dense, crumble – but it’s also possible to do it with a spoon if you don’t feel like getting your hands coated in this delicious mixture.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 9

Carefully distribute the crumble over the top of the pear mixture.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 10

Until it’s nicely covered. You can press it down a little, but it should be a fairly loose covering. It will be quite a thick layer.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 11

Bake until the crumble is golden brown, and some of the juice has bubbled up around the edges and caramelised. This will take at least 45 minutes. But the longer you can leave it beyond that – just as long as the crumble doesn’t burn – the better the result will be, this one was cooked for about 60 minutes, and I only took it out of the oven because I had to take it to dinner with friends.

The crumble will end up tasting something like shortbread, and the fruit, juice, & sugar will cook together into a wonderful peary caramel.

It’s that delicious fruity caramel that requires the longer cooking time, it takes quite a while for the mixture to heat up and start to cook through – the longer you give the sugars in the fruit & juice the more they’ll change into caramel. The best result I’ve had was after about 80 minutes of baking, and I assure you that it was worth the wait – unfortunately there’s seldom time to cook for that long.

It’s optional, but preferable, to serve it with custard – and perhaps even a little scoop of nice French vanilla ice cream as well.

Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 12

Serves 10 lovely people, who will happily gobble it all up.
Pear & Vanilla Crumble - Step 13

Enjoy.

Pear & Vanilla Crumble

Pear and vanilla crumble

Stewed pears and vanilla seed, only have a shot of the pre-crumbling version, as things got quite busy (I made an apple & boysenberry, and apple & apricot at the same time). All of the delicious pear juice (and a hefty measure of raw sugar) cooked up into a deliciously decadent caramel flavour  bomb.

Will put together a recipe next week, when I’ll probbaly be making a fullsize version. (Only made a strange little 1/4 size one this time, so not yet certain about ideal quantities or cooking time.)

The crumble was about as perfect as it can be in a gas oven, I think – almost like a shortbread.

If people knew how much butter went into it, well let’s just say they might savour it even more.

But no one can resist.

A Truly Delightful Spore Creature

* UPDATE: The video was taken down by YouTube, I’ll see if I have it cached in the office – if so, I’ll put up a copy somewhere that isn’t run by damn fools.

Spore hasn’t been released yet, but a Spore creature creator has, and people are being delightfully creative. This one, entitled “WHAT THE HELL OH GOD” is my favourite one so far.

Birthday Dinner at The Engine Room

We were at a bit of a loose end as to what to do for my birthday, it’s not a significant number, so a quiet night out seemed appropriate, we decided to roll on over to the 2007 Metro Restaurant of the Year Supreme Award Winner: The Engine Room.
Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle, $18

I started with the Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle (a bargain at $18), and let me just say that this is simply the best souffle (goat cheese or not) I’ve ever had.  With a brilliant balance of crispy and creamy, and a simply divine melt in your mouthness, it was so good I wanted another one.  Or two.

(Actually, I started with a glass of Craggy Range sauvignon blanc – made with grapes from a relative’s Marlborough vineyard.)

‘Freedom Farm’ Pork Chop with harricot beans, fennel, & salsa verde. $29

On the the main, which in this instance is a Freedom Farm pork chop with harricot beans, fennel, & salsa verde.  I don’t think it’s going too far to say this is the best pork chop I’ve ever had in a restaurant.  Everything was right.  Delicious.

Poached peach with vanilla rice pudding and amaretto. $14

At this point the wheels fell off.  Poached peach with vanilla rice pudding & amaretto.   But it was ruined as the rice pudding was completely undercooked, very disappointing.

So I replaced it with…

Wild berry tart with pannacotta and all that.  $14

A delicious wild berry tart – that was as good as the poached peach should have been.

The service was wonderful, location is great, and so on, so it’s very disappointing that they filled up my dessert with fail.  Ignoring the dessert, this was one of my top 10 dining experiences.  But I can’t ignore the dessert.

It was still a wonderful evening on the Shore, and I recommend this place strongly to anyone – well, anyone with a good palate.  Reserve well in advance, even several days out we had a little trouble getting a table.

One of everything.

Sometimes when you’re confronted with a lot of choice, you just have to choose ‘everything’. When you do that and it still fits on your plate? Well, then you know you did the right thing. Definitely the right thing.

Sometimes you have to just go ‘one of everything’.

Don’t you agree?