Monday, January 31, 2011

Eating from the pantry, fridge & freezer

I have an embarassing problem.

If you're a foodie like me and have touches of the hoarder within, your pantry, fridge & freezer resemble those that would furnish a bunker.  I often find with dismay, that when I return home from grocery shopping that there is stacking-room-only for the newly purchased cans of chick peas & kidney beans beside all the other cans of chick peas & kidney beans (they're healthy in salads, right?); that a complete audit must be conducted on the fridge only to find those beautiful new green beans for the nicoise salad I never made have been hiding at the back of the vegetable crisper and are now self-saucing; and the cooked brown rice in the zip lock bag that has been in the freezer for 7 months needs to be turfed to make room for more important things like meat and fish.

But there is a solution.

It's called "Eating from the pantry".  Or if you want to get more serious: "Eating from the pantry, fridge & freezer".

This is a great idea to clear out the mountains of cans in your cupboards and also save money.  There are websites devoted to this practice and whilst others have implemented differing reasons and rules for taking on the challenge, its a great way to spring clean your kitchen, save money and save the planet a little by minimising food waste.  Some bloggers have reported losing more than 5 lbs and saving hundreds of dollars.  Me: I just want to be able to see into the cupboard.

If you're interested in reading more, just google "eating from the pantry".

I'm going to take the challenge in February, and not because its the shortest month ;-)  However just to break my own rules I'm going to start today, being Monday 31 January.  Apart from starting one day early, my rules will be that I may buy meat, fish, poultry, dairy, fruit, veggies and eggs when they run out, but I must use everything in my fridge and freezer before that happens.  And when I buy these things I must use them.  I'm not sure how I will punish myself if I don't adhere to my rules, but perhaps the public embarassment of reporting the results on this blog will be enough to motivate me to do the right thing.

Anyone care to join in?

A word of warning however.  We have a pretty healthy pantry. We've always shunned junk food in favour of healthy options, but if your pantry looks more like the party aisle of the supermarket, I suggest you actually bring your bin over to the pantry and tip all the rubbish into it.  I'm sure Michelle Bridges fromThe Biggest Loser and the 12 Week Body Transformation would endorse this: and let's face it, you don't want to eat crap for the next month and during January, your waistline could probably do without it if you're planning a trip or two to the beach.  So bin the bikkies; melt the icecream in the sink and donate the extra packet of tim tams to your skinny next door neighbour and concentrate on the food in your pantry.

Tonight's dinner happens to be a Meatless Monday dinner but I'm a little worried it won't be enough for Mr Sixfootfour.  We already happen to have goats cheese, walnuts, a tin of baby beets and heaps of rocket in the house so that will be a yummy and meatless salad for tonight, but it may not fill hubby's hollow legs, so I'm planning a side of quinoa salad as well.

So.... watch this space.  Posts detailing innovative pantry recipes and photos of declining walls of food pending.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Recipe: Corn, zuchinni & coriander hotcakes

For some reason, I always seem to worry I'm going to run out of recipes for Meatless Monday. However, as a veggie lover this fear is quite unfounded. I have heaps of vegetarian recipes and always have loads of veggies in the fridge. Perhaps all I need is a better memory, more organisation and inspiration (or a kick up the patootie)...

So how good did I feel when I was trawling through a recent NW and stumbled across Ben O'Donohoe's recipe for "corn and coriander hotcakes"? Monday night dinner, doneski. Never content with a recipe as-is, I decided to up the veggie content and add some zucchini just for the fun of it.

Corn, zucchini and coriander hotcakes


11/4 cups plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup milk. (low fat can be used)
1 cup ricotta (I used low fat)
2 cobs of corn, cooked and kernels cut off (recipe calls for 1 cup canned corn kernels, drained, but why used anything canned when corn is so sweet in season?)
1 zucchini, grated
bunch of coriander, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
50g butter


Combine flour, baking powder and salt un a bowl. Make a BIG well in the centre and add the egg yolks and milk. Whisk until mixture is smooth, then fold in ricotta, corn, zucchini and coriander.

Whisk egg whites in a separate bill until soft peaks form, then gently fold into the hotcake mix.

Melt some butter in a frypan on medium heat and fry large spoonfuls of hotcake batter. It's quite easy to make them round as they tend to hold their shape nicely on the frypan, but try to ensure the thickness is even.

Depending on the heat of your stove, cook for several minutes on one side and turn when golden brown, cooking for a further 2 minutes or so on the other side.

Keep these little guys in a dish covered with foil and place in a warm oven until ready to serve.

I served them with a tomato and eggplant salsa and a lovely big salad.

I've made corn fritters before, but I must confess that the yum-factor was off the richter due to the large amount of coriander, which works perfectly with the sweet corn, especially at this time of year when it's juicy & delicious.

Makes about 18-20 depending on the size. Serves 4. As it was dinner for 2, hubby took some to work for lunch and we froze the rest for another night.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gold Coast Restaurant Review: Mecca Bah, Broadbeach 8 January 2011

One of our Gold Coast stallholders recommended Mecca Bah which was serendipidous as we were looking for a place to dine on a Saturday night (read: too lazy to cook).

We called that afternoon to book and were advised there was only a 5.30pm or 9.30pm sitting available.  For a restaurant that opened its doors 2 days before Christmas, this was a good sign.....

particularly for a restaurant the size of Mecca Bah.  We calculated it would seat around 150.  In the current retail/hospitality environment the fact that this 2-week-old restaurant was fully booked was a fantastic sign.

The decor was lovely, very Moroccan (funny that) and nice low lighting, but not so low that you can't decipher the menu or recognise your dining companions.

First up were drinks.  We went off piste and ordered a cocktail not on the menu, a caprioska.

It was limey and fresh but could have done with some mint.  Small criticism though.

Despite there not being many people in the restaurant at 5.30pm, we waited a little while to order, although we did have a few visits from different and friendly staff prior to ordering.  We did attract the attention of a waiter eventually who was very helpful with the menu, recommending the mezze entrees of spicy Turkish lamb kofte with yoghurt & mint sauce ($13); chickpea battered mussels, almond skordalia ($15); and Bastilla (Moroccan chicken pastries) ($14).  We ordered a beautiful pinot, a 2009 Central Otago Maude Pinot, which was quite steep at $115.  The Maitre 'd explained to us later that the limited number and range of wines was due to not having the requisite equipment, which would be delivered soon.

In a word, the mezze were all TDF (for the uninitiated: To Die For).  The lamb kofte was very moist and contained delicate middle eastern spices.  The chickpea mussels were the biggest surprise.  Not only were those little guys delicious, but our kids tried them and ordered a plate for themselves after their their kids cheese pizza disappeared.  The final mezze was my favourite of the three: the slightly sweet, lightly spiced shredded chicken Bastilla pastries wrapped in oh-so-light filo pastry. The addition of cinnamon and icing sugar dusting was heaven.

Lamb Kofte

Chickpea battered mussels with almond skordalia

Chicken Bastilla (dusted with icing sugar & cinnamon)

On the recommendation of the aforementioned stallholder, we ordered the spit roasted lamb, rocket, yoghurt & sumac Turkish pizza (422).  The spit roasted lamb was tender and the flavours combined nicely, but in retrospect it might have been more adventurous trying one of the following Turkish pizzas on offer:

  • Pastirma (Turkish cured beef), roast garlic, fennel & goats cheese ($21);
  • Sardine, caramelised onion, roast tomato & olive ($20);
  • Spiced chicken with eggplant, rocket & tahini sauce ($22); or
  • Roast pumpkin, chilli, pomegranate jam & fetta ($21) Pomegranate jam?  OMG! Why didn't we order that??????

And then.... my favourite dish of the night: the Roasted vegetable tangine with eggplant, zucchini, carrot, onion, cous cous and chermoula spices.  The cous cous was sunken in the depths of the tagine and I would have preferred it to be on the side, but the sunken cous cous was forgiven because the flavours from the tangine were so beautifully subtle; the eggplant was soft and had absorbed all of the soupiness of the tagine whilst the other veggies were fine tagine party pals. The tagine was topped with a generous amount of fresh parsley and coriander.  Fresh herbs.  Mmmmm.

We did experience a few service hiccups (20 minutes for the bill, not having a dedicated waiter for our table so therefore lacking some attention, getting the wrong wine glasses for our pinot) however as a new restaurant with excellent food and a lovely ambience, these aspects can be forgiven. We will definitely be back and highly recommend this restaurant.

Mecca Bah
18-26 Charles Ave
Oracle Boulevard, Broadbeach
Ph:  (07) 5504 7754
Web: (the website doesn't do the restaurant justice)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Queensland Restaurant Review: Canteen, Noosa Junction 5-7 January 2011

This unassuming cafe at Noosa Junction is always crowded during the peak summer period and by rights, should always be crowded.  Whilst not on the main drag at Hastings Street, and without the view of Gympie Terrace, it would be easy to over look this little gem at the junction.  However consider this: Canteen serves really fresh, honest food, has a lovely vibe and is littered with attentive but casually friendly staff.

The menu isn't huge but has a number of yummy-sounding breakfast and lunch options.  We made at least 3 visits over 3 days to this little beauty, having tried many others on Hastings Street.  By why queue for something inferior?

Over the course of the 3 visits we ordered several breakfast and lunch dishes:

Bircher muesli trifle.  I'm not sure why I don't make this for myself at home BUT I AM GOING TO START! Awesomeness disguised as a healthy, tasty treat:

Poached eggs with mushrooms, rocket & goats curd:

Big breakfast of poached eggs, bacon, chorizo, mushrooms, rocket, roasted tomato & tomato chutney. Heavenly flavours, although my dining companion noted the tomatoes were a little overdone.  We could overlook the overdone when the rest was so good:

Fried eggs with bacon, rocket & tomato:

[I am pleased to report that all the eggs were soft & runny]

Tomato tart tartin with goats cheese and caramelised onion (although truthfully, I couldn't taste any goats curd in the dish) which was beautifully presented and contained gorgeous, dark green rocket which was bursting with peppery-freshness (unlike some other recent destinations who chose to serve the older, yellowing variety):

Thai beef salad with cucumber, snow peas, coriander, tomato, cashews & nam jim dressing... A party of flavours and textures in one divine salad:

The kids shared the calamari with aioli (and I ate their orange & fennel salad):

and slurped chocolate milkshakes which contained illegal amounts of vanilla icecream & chockie sauce:

We all shared the chippies which were crunchy on the outside, soft & fluffy on the inside:

Oh.  And the coffee.  Very good indeed.  Apparently if you buy a coffee or juice you also get 1 hour of free internet too. 

Our visit to Noosa this year was short but personally I'm very glad we spent so much time at Canteen.  We'll definitely return next time we're in Noosa.

Canteen Cafe

Shop 24-6 Sunshine Beach Road
Noosa Heads, 4567
Ph:  07 5447 5400
Open 7 days: 7.30am-5.30pm, Closed Xmas Day and New Years Day

Sydney Restaurant Review: Cafe Sopra, Walsh Bay: 7 December 2010

This is one of my favourite restaurants, full stop.  I love everything about Cafe Sopra.  I love the big blackboard, the seemingly endless menu and the range of choices, including salads.  I love that unless you're seated right near it you need to stand up and move closer just to see what's in store for that day and by necessity, to give a polite smile to the diners near the blackboard.  I love the small deli-come-fresh-food grocer on the other side of the restaurant which provides much of the fresh produce for the restaurant (or is that the other way around?).  I love that occasionally you can indulge in some celeb-spotting. And I love the food and wine.

We sat down, pre-theatre, and ordered caprioskas.  They were sweet, limey and not at all alcoholic tasting, which is just about perfect (and dangerous) in the mild weather that day.  Like drinking summer.

Quite often I have trouble choosing something from the blackboard, as there are so many delicious-sounding dishes. Tried and true or new?  Talk about first world problems!

In order to achieve a win-win situation with my other two dining companions (who are large, fit men with decent appetites) we decided to order a few entrees and share.  First cab off the rank was the parma ham with fresh figs to celebrate summer.  The figs were sweet and honey-like, the ham deliciously soft, salty and creamy.  We were off to a perfect start.

Then came the stuffed zucchini flowers with Italian cheeses.  OMG!  I failed to ask what cheeses those babies were stuffed with but I suspect one of Sopra's current faves, gorgonzola, was invited to the cheese-stuffing party.

We also opted to share the salad of shaved baby cabbage with reggiano & aged balsamic on the recommendation of our very charming waiter.  And he was right, despite its lacklustre look.  It was simple but oh-so-good.  The crunch of the baby cabbage was a perfect marriage with the salty reggiano & sweet balsamic.  When my dinner guests weren't looking I reckon I scoffed half of this salad.

As were were sharing starters (and some were high in cals), the dish I chose for my main was an old fave: the white anchovy salad with asparagus, tomato & vino cotto.  It was, as always, perfect.  The salty but comparatively creamy white anchovies, the fresh slightly acidic, but ripe tomatoes and the sweetness of the vino cotto and the asparagus, capers and touch of basil all combined into the perfect summer salad (okay, okay, I exorcised the raw onion).  I felt like I was eating summer.

My companions ordered the smoked chicken & sweet corn risotto with pecorino.  It tasted fantastic, its just a pity the presentation was a little lacking.  Cafe Sopra do food so well I was surprised by the look of this dish, especially since we eat with not only our mouths, but our eyes:

My mate did polish off the whole dish however so I guess that the proof is in the eating.

My other companion ordered the whole baked trout with mint and marjoram.  It was declared to be one of the best fish he has ever tasted.  I loved my salad but had immediate dish-envy.

After all that food we were, to coin a phrase, as full as a fat lady's shoe.  However, I'm so glad we ordered the dessert of lemon sorbet with strawberry puree and prosecco.  It was like heaven in a glass and would also make an entirely wicked cocktail.  All those bubbles. All that pink!  Frothy strawberry-lemony perfection. How could you not be happy with this to finish the meal? 

I thought our night couldn't get much better, but as we said a fond farewell to one of my favourite Sydney restaurants and waddled over to the Sydney Theatre, a limo passed us and the occupants emerged just as we entered Sydney Theatre.  Jake, next time I recommend you skip room service and dine at Cafe Sopra at Walsh Bay instead.......

Cafe Sopra @ Fratelli Fresh
16 Hickson Rd
Walsh Bay 
ph. 8243 2777 (no bookings, so we recommend getting there early to avoid queuing)

Monday - Friday 11am - 7pm
Saturday, Sunday 10am - 7pm

Monday, January 3, 2011

Gold Coast Restaurant Review: Little Beans, Nobbys Beach 2 January 2011

I was a teensy bit excited about discovering some of the cafes in the Naked Guide given my initial success with Vintage Espresso.  Even though technically I discovered Vintage Espresso all by myself, without the Naked Guide.  Whatevs....  The Naked Guide promised a whole lot of hidden gems in tucked away places on the Goldie that only the locals would be lucky enough to know about and I was keen to try them out.

The take away Merlo coffee I bought from Little Beans earlier that day was piping hot and promised proprietors who knew their stuff.

I arrived with my good friend and 2 slightly sick & cranky kids who desperately needed a change of scenery away from the tv & nintendo screens. 

We sat on a lounge with a coffee table between us and the vibe was relaxed and friendly.  A nice start.

The lunch menu was a bit sparse and didn't offer anything I was interested in, so I went the Vego Nosh, comprising poached eggs, avocado, mushroom, roast tomato, potato rosti & toast.  I figured since this cafe was listed in the Naked Guide the toast situation would be higher than the usual standard.  The kids both ordered bacon & eggs. My mate ordered the Little Beans Special Salad with roasted beetroot, baby beets, roasted walnuts, fetta, baby watercress, mustard greens & house dressing.  That would have been my second choice.

Bacon & eggs was fairly basic:

...however only one out of 4 eggs was runny.  Shame.  And the packet butter was molten.

Next came the Vego Nosh (with a strawberry on top. What the?).  I was relieved by the sight of my half roasted tomato.  Excitedly, I cut into my poached eggs and BOTH yolks were hard.  Gah!  I had to trade a soft poached egg with a generous child in exchange for post-breakfast gelato. The things I do.

Sadly, the packet potato rosti also disappointed.  It was so deep fried that it there was no soft potato on the inside, it was oily and crunchy all the way through.  Like a big, fat, oily, packet hash brown.  Wait a minute.  It was a big, fat oily, packet hash brown. More potato crisp than potato rosti.

The mushies, spinach and avocado were all fine so I concentrated on those.  My toast was also sub-par due to the fact that it was merely bread whacked on the grill so lacked the necessary crunch that toast should have (in my opinion anyway).  It was just like bread popped on the grill for a minute or two.  Funny that.

My friend's salad was lacking in the volume of baby watercress that she had expected and the bed of mustard greens (rocket) had seen better days and was starting to yellow (as was the watercress).  I know that it's really hard to keep lettuces perky for more than a day in the heat of summer in Queensland, but I don't think food businesses should use this as an excuse, particularly when we're paying $17.50 for the privilege of the salad.  More disappointment unfortunately.

The atmosphere was relaxed & friendly as was the service, however I don't think I'll return. Maybe for a take away coffee. Or I noticed that the cafe is now open some nights and has live music, so perhaps with its relaxed vibe its a better spot for a few drinks & some late night groovin'....

Little Beans Cafe & Lounge Bar
5/ 2215 Gold Coast Highway
Nobbys Beach
Ph: (07) 5572 0844

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Gold Coast Restaurant Review: Yellowfin Restaurant, Broadbeach 30 December 2010

If this restaurant wasn't on twitter and I hadn't tweeted with Staci, then I probably wouldn't have tried it.  Yellowfin Restaurant is just around the corner from the main restaurant drag at Broadbeach and looks somewhat less dressed up than some of it's swankier neighbours.  However, you should never judge a book by its cover and before arriving I had checked out their website and seen the seafood that was on offer, which looked fresh, generous and tasty.

We arrived with kids, ordered the food and didn't have to wait long.  Our American waitress (whose name I have now since forgotten, sorry!) was breezy, smiley and helpful.  Sadly Staci was on cocktail duty at 1two3 Restaurant that night, which sounds like an excellent excuse to try 1two3! 

It didn't take long for our our entree (and kids meals) to arrive.  Ace, I love that.

The dozen Hervey Bay scallops were plump & juicy and the sun dried tomato topping was a lovely accompaniment and didn't overwhelm the flavour of the scallop.  Our 8 year old even declared them to be delicious.

I ordered wild barramundi with a chickpea salad whilst hubby ordered battered squire with balsamic salad.  We asked what a squire was and our lovely waitress informed us it was like a baby snapper.  Hubby apparently heard "snapper" and ignored the "battered" bit.

The barra was wonderfully moist with the crispiest skin I've ever eaten and I'm a big fan of crispy skin fish.  The chicpea salad (with tomato and eggplant) was lovely with hints of cumin & other middle eastern spices.  Although I love my greens, I think the dish could have done without the broccoli, or at least been served on the side.  The greens were a little overwhelming and the flavour didn't really marry with any of the other flavours in the dish.  So I'm going to say that a little bowl of broccoli on the side would have been preferable. 

When hubby's dish arrived he was surprised that it was battered, but as I mentioned, the waitress had described it as being battered.  It's not something I'd ever order in a restaurant.  Too much battery batter, too much like fish & chip shop fare for me.

However once hubby could peel back some of the batter and dig into the bed of balsamic salad, he was swooning.  Swooning! 

The kids ordered calamari & chips and neither could finish their serves.  They were generous and the calamari was fresh and piled high.

So: never judge a book by its cover.  Yellow Fin Dining may not be as glitzy or cool as some other Broadbeach restaurants, but it does serve beautifully fresh, well cooked seafood, with generous portion sizes and lovely service.  A good honest Gold Coast Restaurant that I'd be happy to return to with the family.

Yellowfin Seafood Restaurant

6/20 Queensland Ave.
Broadbeach Q 4218

Ph: 07 5504 5335
Fax: 07 5504 5336
Function enquiries -

Gold Coast Restaurant Review: Crema Espresso, Main Beach 1 January 2011

 The morning of 1 January is traditionally not a time when I'd get up and "seize the day", however I was keen to embrace the New Year with energy, enthusiasm and a healthy attitude.  3 months on the Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation program also helped with a positive mindset and eliminating excuses not to exercise or be healthy.

JFDI was the mantra of the day. Just Friggin Do It!

So despite the wind, the rain and the special fine sand that was whipped up by the rain to land with a *sting* on ones lower legs, we walked for 40 mins in the rain before we could take no more.  We were drenched and in search of food, water & shelter.

We ducked into Crema Espresso on Tedder Avenue, Main Beach. We'd had good coffee there before  and were keen to repeat our previous, positive experience.

I ordered poached eggs, tomato, toast with a side order of spinach, whilst hubby ordered eggs benedict with smoked salmon.  It was too late in the day for coffee for me, but hubby ordered a latte.  It almost never seems to late in the day for him to drink coffee.

My eggs tasted a little like the vinegar they'd been poached in.  And a few words on the tomato.  When the menu says "Eggs poached...with tomato and toast" I had imagined my tomato being a plump little half tomato (at least), either cooked on the grill or roasted.  Even a whole, halved cooked tomato perhaps.  But a slice? Granted, it was cooked.  But what was on the plate was a stingy portion (garnish?) and certainly not enough to warrant a mention on the menu.  Pfft.  It's not like tomatoes are $20 a kilo around these parts.  I think they're $4 a kilo, retail at the moment. Double pfft.  And I know it's nit-picky, but my spinach had a slightly dodgy yellowish bit in it.  Don't the staff see that?

The toast was simply toasted multigrain with butter already on it.  I like to butter my own toast, if at all, but perhaps I should have thought of that when ordering.   The choice was white or multigrain, which is a bit ordinoire.  It would be nice to have turkish or a little sourdough to get the toast party started.

The eggs benedict was better. No complaints there.  But see in the photo?  There is a garnish of tomato.

The latte, was apparently a thumbs up.

Would we rush back?  Hmm.  The coffee is good so we may grab a take away coffee there again, however I think there are some other cafes on Tedder that we'll try first before we hurry back.  Or maybe we'll just take a flick through the Naked City Guide to the Gold Coast and discover a few more hidden gems.

Crema Espresso
27 Tedder Avenue
Ph: 07 5526 4858