Friday, 10 June 2011

Tea for Two at the Tea Parlour, Redfern

A splendid high tea for two. I can’t think of a better way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon catching up with one of my most dearest friends, Cee.

 The Menu
Blink and you could miss the Tea Parlour on grungy Elizabeth Street in Redfern. From the front, it looks like any other non-descript shop on the street. However, step into the Parlour and you’ll soon find yourself in a warm cosy space - like you’re in an eclectic great Aunt’s lounge room.

I don’t have an eclectic great Aunt but, if I did, she would have a lounge room lavishly decorated just like the Tea Parlour. Think floral couches, vintage china, quirky tea pots, candelabras and other knick knacks. There’s a bit of a cool Britannia theme as I spot a Union Jack flag on the wall.
Tea Parlour is busy on this Sunday afternoon and the place is filled with a groups of chatty giggling girls. I do spot a few guys here and there, but they are a bit of an endangered species. There are other species (of the stuffed kind) in the room too. Hanging on the walls is a stuffed deer’s head and perched on a nearby cupboard is a peacock on display.
Cee and I settle for the High Tea  at $20 per person.  I think this must be the best value High Tea in this city.  The High Tea spread is very generous and includes a tier of cakes, scones, mini meringues and tartlets, a plate of cucumber sandwiches and endless pots of tea. The tea list is extensive and interesting. Cee goes for the Monk Pear and I choose Wuyi Rock. I'm intrigued at the pot of Tibetan Ceremonial tea you can purchase for $20. The menu describes it as very relaxing. Hmmm...

Three tiers of high tea treats
The thing that I especially like about the High Tea treats at the Tea Parlour are that they are homemade. None of the usual macaroons and upity tarts made by swanky French pastry chefs.  I understand many of the recipes are from the Australian Women’s Weekly – probably just like the cakes and scones that would be whipped up by your nanna or eclectic great aunt (if you have one!).
I mentioned the servings were pretty generous. Despite this, we were still offered refills of tea and, if we wanted, more plates of sandwiches or cakes.
Sweet Treats 
The gorgeous surrounds produce a perfect setting for sipping tea and nibbling on delectable sweets and delicate cucumber sandwiches.  Importantly, it was a great place to catch up on plenty of girly gossip. I wish there were more places like this in Sydney.

Tea Parlour

569 Elizabeth Street


Opening Hours
Thursday - Sunday, 1pm- 8pm
mobile: 0414 335 224

Monday, 25 April 2011

Newcastle Delights

Nobbys Head, Newcastle
To many, Newcastle is best known as being the major coal port in NSW and the gateway to the Hunter Valley. To others, Newcastle is remembered for the infamous Pashabolka incident, birthplace of Silverchair and hometown of Jennifer Hawkins. However, did you know Newcastle was named in the top 10 must-see destinations in the world, according to Lonely Planet's 'Best in Travel 2011' book?
Recently, Mr FBC and I spent a weekend in Newcastle visiting our good Novocastrian friends, Frenchie and the PM. It was a fun filled weekend of eating, chatting and relaxing with our friends who showed us around their hometown and their local haunts. Here are a few of the Newcastle delights that we found: 
 Sprocket Roasters, Newcastle CBD

We started the weekend with a coffee at Sprocket Roasters which is set in an old heritage listed ex-bank building in the heart of the Newcastle CBD. Well, everyone except for Mr FBC who has recently given up coffee. One day he woke up, had a coffee and decided he just didn’t like it anymore.

Our friends hadn’t actually been here before, but were given a recommendation from a couple they met the night before at a Trivia night fundraising for their local Community Garden. Very random. Even more random was bumping into said 'Community Garden Trivia night couple' at the café. 
Sprocket is quirky with a bit of a rockabilly feel to it. It serves its award winning Sprocket Roasters Coffee which according to it's website is "brought to you by a rogue collective - engineers, farmers, lawyers, teachers, winemakers and yoga instructors - who have quit our days jobs as we have a consuming passion for all things coffee".
Frenchie tried ordering his new favourite coffee, a cortado. I had no idea what it was and I’m not sure if the barista knew either. According to Wikipedia, a cortado is an expresso cut with a small amount of warm milk to reduce to acidity. The ratio of milk to coffee is between 1:1 – 1:2 and the milk is added after the expresso. On this occasion, I think Frenchie got a piccolo latte which is probably more well known. It’s also meant to be a shot of espresso topped with steamed milk.

Croquembouche Taste Testing
A big drawcard for this particular visit to Newcastle was the invitation to be  official ‘Croquenbouche’ taste testers in selecting a wedding cake for Frenchie and the PM's upcoming nuptials.  
We had planned to visit a few patisseries in the Newcastle area and naively thought each patisserie would miraculously have profiteroles to taste.  Unfortunately, our profiterole miracle didn’t eventuate at our first stop – Snows Patisserie at The Junction - although there was an abundant array of delectable pastries and baked goods available.
In desperation, we thought we could try and estimate the potential quality of a Snow Patisserie profiterole by correlating against tasting quality of a croissant and a blueberry tart. OK - perhaps it's just that we didn't want to leave the place without trying something. Frenchie said the croissant was very flaky and the blueberry tart was tasty. Overall profiterole score: N/A.
Croissant at Snows Patisserie
Blueberry Tart
We were actually in luck at the second patisserie shop - Sweet Poison in Market-town, Newcastle West. The pastry chef was actually preparing a croquembuche for an order and could provide 2 profiteroles to taste test if we were willing to wait for about 10 minutes.
Cakes on display at Sweet Poison
We were actually legitimate with our taste testing quest, but I wonder if people go around to pastry shops pretending to taste test for a potential wedding cake? "Oh, I’d like to try some of the red velvet cake and the..ermmm.. cheese cake… it’s for a ‘wedding’". Don’t get any ideas now!
Profiterole - Ready for  the taste test
After idling  our time looking at the typical surburban shops in Newcastle West Market-town, it was time to taste our pair of profiteroles. 
Profiterole Cross Section
Overall Profiterole Score: Shape = good, Custard = plenty of vanilla creaminess and not too eggy, Toffee= Loved the generous amount of toffee which produced a  lovely crunch. (Note: Frenchie and the PM have decided to go with the profiterole tower at Poisson for their wedding cake).

Newcastle Fishermans Coop (Wickham) 
We’d been tirelessly driving around Newcastle in search of profiteroles and we needed lunch. Frenchie thought it be great to pick up some fresh seafood from the Newcastle Fishermans Coop in Wickham for a tasty BBQ seafood lunch. There was plenty good selection of seafood and I even found lots of local products, including Myall Lakes Prawns. They have an interesting website where you can view the types of seafood available

Fresh Fish
Remnants from our tasty seafood lunch

Longworth House – Cocktails and Tapas

Later in the evening, PM had a great idea of trying out a tapas bar in Newcastle CBD at Longworth House, located in one of Newcastle's most significant heritage buildings and built in 1892. 
Longworth House contains a number of ballrooms which can be used for functions, but it also has an informal lounge area where you can enjoy cocktails and tapas in elegant surrounds. Picture marble fireplaces, murano glass chandeliers, chaise lounges and velvet curtains. It's pretty dark inside -apologies for the really grainy looking photos.

The issue I have with tapas menus is that there is often too much choice and decision making is difficult.  This is usually overcome by making sure you have enough people to order nearly every on the menu.
We started with polenta bites with aoili, which were stacked in a Jenga puzzle like arrangement. They were beautifully crisp and filled with fluffy polenta.
Polenta Bites 10
The stuffed squid with chorizo and fetta was delicious although difficult to share as a tapas item.
Stuffed Squid w/- Chorizo and Fetta 16
A crowd favourite was the mushroom arrancini balls.
Mushroom Arrancini 12
Can you often guess what your husband, wife or partner will order from a menu? I can... Mr FBC likes anything with pork belly in it. Thus, we ordered the confit pork belly.  
Confit Pork Belly 16
We ordered sherry mushrooms for good measure.  I really love the simplicity of sauteed mushrooms, particularly swiss browns.
Sherry Roasted Mushrooms 10
Mr FBC also has a thing for meatballs. These meatballs morsels were delicious and slathered with a thick flavoursome tomato sauce.  To help lap up the sauce, we ordered some grilled flat bread. 
Grilled Flat Bread 5

Breakfast at Rolador, Hamilton
For Sunday brunch,  we decided to check out Rolador cafe in Hamilton. It's a favourite of Frenchie and the PM with its great coffee, funky character and smattering of retro knicknacks. The breakfast menu is extensive ranging from bacon and egg rolls to breakfast burritos.
Bacon and Egg Roll
Breakfast Burrito

Newcastle really suprised me with it's array of food delights. I think we only scratched the surface of what Newcastle has to offer. Until next time.....
Big thanks to Frenchie and the PM for showing us all the Newcastle Delights :)

68 Hunter Street (corner Watt Street)
Newcastle NSW
Sweet Poison
Market Town Shopping Centre, Shop 15, Parry St
Newcastle West NSW
Snows Patisserie
144 Union St, The Junction NSW
Newcastle Fishermans Coop
97 Hannell Street
Wickham NSW
Longworth House
129 Scott Street,
Newcastle NSW
Wed - Fri 5pm-12pm
1 Beaumont Street
Hamilton NSW

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Breakfast at Al Aseel, Greenacre

Mr FBC and I have a lot of things in common. But, there is one significant thing in life that we just don’t agree on. It’s not about religion, having kids or political views – it’s the importance (or unimportance) of eating breakfast. I’m a pro-breakfast person and Mr FBC is not. His first ‘meal’ of the day is his morning coffee. He tells me he generally can’t stomach anything until lunch. He’s trained himself over the years to eat something if we go out for ‘breakfast’ (before 10am), but it’s usually not more than toast or banana bread.  On my birthday earlier this year, Mr FBC put aside his issues with breakfast and surprised me by taking me to an early Lebanese breakfast at Al Aseel in Greenacre. Ahh - true love.
We’ve been to Al Aseel, a Lebanese restaurant in Greenacre, many a times for either dinner or lunch. I’ve previously eyed the breakfast section of the menu a coupled of times and have been intrigued ever since. It’s always fascinating to discover the equivalent of vegemite on toast or sultana bran with milk in other cuisines and cultures.
We opted to try a few things from the menu in order to get a good taste of breakfast – Lebanese style. Funnily enough, the waiter tried to reassure us that we could order anything from the menu (including the mixed meat plate etc from the dinner section) but we insisted we were after the breakfast items. I’m not sure if a meaty shish kebab or lamb kofta would sit right with me at that time of the morning.
Just like at dinner time, we were brought out a complimentary dish of tomatoes, olives and picked cucumbers to snack on along with a basket full of fresh Lebanese bread. I always make the mistake of snacking too much on these accompaniments.   
Complimentary tomato, olives and pickled cucumber

Copious amounts of Lebanese bread
First dish to try was Foul (pronouced 'ful'), the Lebanese equivalent to baked beans. This is a hearty breakfast dish of cooked and mashed fava beans mixed with olive oil, onion, garlic and lemon juice with quite a thick consistency. We ordered a small portion which was more than enough. The foul was delicious scooped up with pieces of Lebanese bread.

Next dish to try was Shanglish. This is a dried country style yoghurt served with red onions, diced tomatoes and cucumber. The dried yoghurt pretty much tastes like fetta cheese. It was a lovely combination and worked really well sandwiched between bits of Lebanese bread. We couldn't finish this dish as there was just a bit too much cheese, so we did the remaining portion home. The leftover shanglish worked perfectly for a late afternoon snack with lavosh flatbread.
The last dish to try was a large bowl of Fatteh, which could best be described as the Lebanese equivalent to a bowl of cereal or porridge.  This savoury dish, served warm, is a soupy mixture of chick peas, garlic, creamy yoghurt with a layer of crunchy fried pieces of Lebanese bread. It's topped with a sprinkling of toasted almonds and pine nuts, spring onions, paprika and olive oil. 
Bowl of Fatteh
I'm not sure if I quite managed to convince Mr FBC to join the breakfast club but even for a non-breakfast man he was reasonably impressed with the offering.  The dishes were very tasty and  filling. However, some may say too filling. Not being used to having too many legumes for breakfast, Mr FBC and I were really full for the majority of the day and needed to skip lunch. Best not to start the day with a hearty Lebanese breakfast if you're anticipating a reasonably sized lunch. A lesson for next time!

Al Aseel
Shop 4, 173 Waterloo Rd

Greenacre NSW 2190
Phone (02) 9758 6744
Sun-Thurs 9am-9pm; Fri-Sat 9am-10pm

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Fondling the Fondue - Bringing in the New Year with a Fondue Party

I’m a big fan of cheese, especially melted cheese. So it’s natural that I would be very attracted to the thought of a large pot of melted gooey oozy cheese - a la “fondue”.
Oddly enough, Mr FBC and I once went to a Swiss restaurant in Sydney* which listed cheese fondue on its menu. We tried ordering it but the waiter actually strongly recommended us against ordering it as he didn’t think we (as Fondue virgins) could handle the intensity of the cheese and wine flavour.
We’ve always regretted our decision (and lack of assertiveness) so we were pretty excited when a fondue opportunity arises when our close friends, Doctor J  and  the Pizza Man, decide to host a Fondue Party to welcome in the New Year.  I think I may have contributed to the idea with some subtle coaxing at an earlier dinner party when we were coming up with ideas (he, he!). Ok.. I may have just screamed out. FONDUE PARTY. 
Prior to the day, we all scoured the cupboards of our parents and various op shops for fondue party essentials. This arduous search resulted in the following finds: 
1. A large 70’s crockpot - the fascade sort looked like lobster shell. Do you see the similarity? 
2. Authentic Fondue sticks
3. An original 1970's Fondue Cookbook - 'Fondue Cookery' by Alison Burt
The Fondue Cookery cookbook was an absolute gem and provided all the necessary info on making the perfect fondue and plenty of fondue recipes. I think I saw a Curry Fondue recipe ?
We used the Traditional Fondue Recipe (see below) which used a mixture of Gruyere and Emmenthal cheese, plus some wine, lemon and cornflour. You were also meant to have kirsch, a cherry liqueur, but we didn’t have any to use.
The End Result
As for our dipping weapons of choice? We had a variety of fondue accompaniments ranging from typical, such as cubes of cut up French breadstick and vegetables to the more unusual such as cornichorns and chorizo. For future reference I would recommend using quite hard bread as the soft bread tends to drown in the cheese. And if you were wondering how the chorizo went. Well… it was really a salty cheesy explosion in your mouth!
If you really like your cheese then I’m pretty sure you could dip anything into the fondue. One thing I might try for next time is cooked potato (as recommended by the Fondue Cookbook).
Mr FBC displaying Fondue dipping action
It was so much fun to dip our fondue sticks into the pot of cheesy fondue. Truly a cheese lover’s heaven and I could have continued devouring melted cheese coated items all night. However, be warned – the fondue is quite heavy with an overpowering flavour so it’s not for the light hearted. Most people at the party could only manage a few cheese coated items.
Later in the evening and continuing on the fondue theme, we moved from melted cheese to melted chocolate. Consulting the ever informative ‘Fondue Cookery' cookbook again, we opted for the ‘Milk Chocolate Fondue’ (see recipe below). This fondue was relatively easy to make – milk chocolate and cream. Using our trusty fondue forks, we eagerly dipped an array of marshmallows, strawberries and cherries into the sweet, luscious chocolate.
At one stage, I nearly lost a marshmallow to the depths of the chocolate fondue. Supposedly, I was told that if a girl loses something in the fondue then she has to kiss all the guys in the room? Luckily, a nearby girlfriend helped me rescue my drowning marshmallow with our collective fondue fork – phew!
Chocolate Fondue
This was a wonderful way to bring in the New Year – fondue stick in one hand and a glass of champagne in the other:)  Now that Mr FBC and I are fondue connoisseurs, I’m wondering if we should venture back to the Swiss Restaurant* and order Fondue safely in the knowledge that we can absolutely positively handle the CHEESE.

Fondue Neuchatel (Traditional Cheese Fondue Recipe)
From Fondue Cookbook by Alison Burt
This recipe serves 4 (but in reality it could probably serve as many as 10 if people are only have a few fondue bits and pieces)
1 clove garlic1 ½ cups dry white wine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups grated Emmenthal cheese
2 cups rgated Gruyere cheese
1 tablespoon cornflour
2 tablespsoons kirsch
White pepper, grated nutmeg and paprika to taste
French bread, for serving (or whatever takes your fancy)
1. Rub the inside of the fondue pot with a clove of garlic
2. Heat the wine with the lemon juice carefully
3. Add the cheese gradually stirring continuously in a 'figure of eight' motion (I assume this just helps to prevent the cheese from clumping?)
'Figure of Eight' Stirring Action
4. When mixture is bubbling, add the kirsch and cornflour, blended together.
5. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and then season to taste
6. Serve with French bread cut into 1 inch cubes or whatever takes your fancy
Milk Chocolate Fondue
Also from 'Fondue Cookery' by Alison Burt
Serves 4
230g milk chocolate (we used Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate)
½ Cup cream
2 tablespoons kirsch
Marshmallows, strawberries and cherries. The Fondue Cookery also recommends using cake and biscuits (I like the sound of that!)
1.Grate chocolate and place into fondue pot with the cream
2. Stir well and heat gently, stirring until chocolate is melted
3. Add the kirsh and mix in
4. Serve with marshmallows etc

* it was the Eiger Swiss Restaurant if you were wondering. Btw, I had a look at the menu online and they even have a warning about the fondue on their website.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Easy Peasy Cooking - Shortbread Lemon Tarlets

There are many people in the world who enjoy the art of cooking or baking and find it to be most satisfying to be able to create elaborate dishes. Some people say cooking helps them destress and mentally unwind from the chaos of the day. Unfortunately, I'm not one of those people. I absolutely adore food and but I'd much rather someone else made the food for me toe eat.
When it comes to cooking, my style could best be described as 'easy peasy'. Recipes with minimal steps and minimal fuss will win me over - every time.
So, when it came to picking a dish to bring along to the recent Sydney Foodbloggers Picnic, I thought my shortbread lemon tartlets would do the trick.
It's a really easy recipe which I found from the Joy of Baking and it feels like your eating mini cheesecakes. You can make the tart shells a few days in advance or you could make a double batch and freeze them. I recommend making the lemon filling a day in advance so that it has time to thicken.
Easy Peasy Shortbread Lemon Tartlets Recipe

Shortbread Tarts:
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup pure icing sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cream Cheese Filling:
250g Philadelphia cream cheese - softened
1 can (395g) can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
p.s I always end up with heaps of leftover filling so you can always try halving the filling quantities.
Toppings: Whichever berry takes your fancy...Strawberries, Raspberries or Blueberries.

Easy Peasey Instructions
Makes 36 mini tarts... but I always find I have quite a bit of filling leftover.

For the Shortbread tarts:
Lightly spray with a nonstick canola spray a 36 miniature muffin tins
• Preheat oven to 170 degrees C.
• Beat the butter and sugar together (approximately two minutes) with an eletric mixer. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the flour, cornstarch and salt and mix just together. It might be a bit sticky to start with but it will firm up.
• Divide the dough mixture into 36 even pieces and place one ball of dough in the centre of each muffin tin. Press the dough up the sides of each muffin tin
• Place muffin tin with the unbaked shells into the freezer for about 10 minutes. This will help to prevent the shells puffing up too much in the oven.
• Take out of freezer and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until the shells are lightly browned. At about the 10 minutes into baking, take the shells out and lightly prick each shell to prevent the shell from puffing. Prick the shells again after 5 minutes if they still look like they are puffing up.
• Take out from oven and cool. Once cooled, remove from the pan.

To make the cream cheese filling:
• With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the condensed milk, lemon juice, zest, and vanilla and mix until just until smooth.
• Place filling to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until serving time. For the best results, try and make the filling at least a day in advance to allow it to firm up and to let all the lemony flavours mix together.
To make your easy peasey shortbread tartlet creations:
• Using two tea spoons, fill each of tart shells with the filling and then top with a berry of your choice. I've used strawberries and blueberries before but I find raspberries make the cutest looking tartlets.

I've made these tartlets a few times and found they are perfectly bite sized for a girly afternoon tea and look fabulous placed on a 3 tiered cake stand. Easy peasey!