October 29, 2008

Spooky Halloween Cupcakes

Just for a change, I thought I would do a recipe that didn't involve a restaurant. Since it's Halloween in a couple of days and I have a very intense love of miniature cakes, I thought I would make spooky Halloween cupcakes.

Spooky Halloween Cupcakes


They're so cute, and extremely yummi!! And if you listen really carefully the multi-eyed monsters groan when you bite into them.

So here is the recipe. I'll also explain how I decorated each one.

I thought I would go for a cake that was very dramatic, what better than red velvet cake? I know, I know, its traditionally used for Valentines day, but I thought the intense red would make the cupcakes look like they are bleeding when you bite into them. Just the type of effect I was looking for.


Makes 24 cupcakes

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 180C. Line muffin tray with paper cupcake holders.

1. In a bowl combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

2. In another bowl, whisk together oil, buttermilk, eggs vanilla, vinegar and food colouring.

3. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and mix with a wooden spoon. Continue mixing until a smooth batter is formed.

4. Fill cupcake holders 3/4 full. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until centers spring back when lightly touched.

5. Remove cupcakes from tray and cool completely.

Cupcakes after they come out of the oven



Enough to frost 24 cupcakes, this is the basic frosting recipe. From here you can colour it to your heart content.

150 grams butter (softened)
250 grams pure icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp hot water

1. Combine butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with a hand held mixer until mixture is smooth.

2. Add vanilla and water, continue to beat until icing is fluffy.

Now, onto the little creeps!!

Multi-eyed Blue Monster
You will need:
Blue frosting
Red or pink lollies cut into a tongue
Black food dye for eyes pupils
I choose a blue monster because it reminded me of the cookie monster from sesame street. I used regular marshmallows for the eyes, a really good tip is to dip your scissors/knife in some icing sugar, it will stop the marshmallow from sticking to the blade.
Creepy Red Back Spiders
You will need
Green frosting

Licorice tape
Black food dye for the strip on the spiders back
Red frosting in tubes (can purchase these from the supermarket)

To make the head, take a piece of the licorice tape and cut into a circle. Similar with the legs, cut tape into strips and arrange in a spider "formation"

Volcano airplane crash

You will need:
Orange frosting
Airplane lollies
yellow and red frosting in tubes

To make the volcano, shape the marshmallow into a cone by cutting away an edge. Make a small hole in the top to make a crater.

Blood shot eye balls
You will need:
Basic frosting
marshmallow cut into thirds
Red frosting in a tube
Black food dye for pupil

This one is pretty simple, just arrange all the items and paint on the veins. Looks pretty impressive.


October 27, 2008

Results - Potato and Cabbage Gratin

On the weekend I made Rockpool's potato and cabbage gratin. I must admit it was awesome.

Potato and Cabbage Gratin
Even though my version was great, it was no where near as good as Neil Perry's creation. I've eaten the gratin at rockpool on a couple of occasions, and each time I remember it to be very oily and very rich. Taking this into consideration, I thought I would do the right thing and substitute full fat cream with low fat cream, just so I wouldnt feel really guilty if I ate the entire gratin in one sitting. The end result? Yes, it wasn't as oily but I think this was a negative. The oily-ness adds that little extra flavour that makes the dish what it is.

Adding cream to the potato layer of the gratin

The trick to getting the potatoes really tender and moist is to make sure that the cream goes right in between each of the layers, so its alot of pouring and poking around.

Another improvement, in my opinion, would be to use less cabbage and more potato. I would prefer a much more thicker layer of potato ontop of the cabbage. Only because I love baked potato, in any combination. I decided to accompany the gratin with a really nicely cooked porterhouse steak. The crispy sourdough breadcrumbs ontop of the gratin were perfect for soaking up any juices from the steak. I would definitely recommend using the gratin as a side dish to any steak.

October 23, 2008

Potato and Cabbage Gratin

Restaurant: Rockpool Bar and Grill (Victoria)

Recipe from Chef Neil Perry (appeared in Australian Gourmet traveler: August 2007)

2009 Rating: Number 15, 2 Stars

I've been to Rockpool in Melbourne a couple of times now, and everytime we go we have the potato and cabbage gratin. It tastes amazing so when I found a recipe for it, I couldnt resist making it. Stay tuned for the results, so here the recipe.

Prep time 1 hur 20 minutes, cook 1 hour 55 minutes
Serves 6 as a side dish

4 medium bintje potatoes, scrubbed and peeled

50 gm Gruyere, coarsely grated

250 mL (1 cup) pouring cream

50 gm parmesan, finely grated

50 gm fine sour dough breadcrumbs


1/4 (500 gm) savoy cabbage, finely sliced

50 mL extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 brown onion, finely chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

750 mL dry white wne

2 tbsp cabernet or red wine vinegar

40 gm caster sugar


1. For braised cabbage, place cabbage in a colander in a large bowl and scatter with 1 tbsp sea salt. Stand for 1 hour to drainand discard liquid. Heat olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, add onion and a pinch of sea salt, cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Add cabbage, wine, vinegar and sugar. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour or until liquid is almost evaporated. Season to taste with sea salt and white pepper. Cool.

2. Preheat oven to 150C. Spoon cabbage into 1 liter capacity gratin dish, spread evenly to cover base and scatter with Gruyere. Using a mondolin, slice potatoes lengthways into 2mm-thick slices. Arrange potatoes over cabbage, overlapping each slice by half until cabbage is covered, season to taste. Cover with another layer of potatoes. Pour over cream, allowing to seep between the layers. Bake for 40 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Remove, scatter with parmesan and breadcrumbs and return to the oven. Bake for another 5-10 minutes or until golden. Serve as a side with grilled meats or fish.

October 21, 2008

Ferran Adria - A day at elBulli

On Sunday I saw Ferran Adria give a talk about his new book 'A day at elBulli' at his sold out appearance at Hamer Hall. Ferran Adria is of course the head chef at the world's number one restaurant, elBulli. His talk covered a range of topics, his views on molecular gastronomy, developing new and creative dishes by inventing a new language in cooking and he also demonstrated some of the techniques used at elBulli through film.

My copy of 'A day at elBulli'


For those who don't know about elBulli (a google search will tell you everything you need to know), it is the worlds number one restaurant located in Roses on the Costa Brava in Catalonia, Spain. Ferran Adria has been head chef there since 1984 and is regarded as one of the most influential chef's in molecular gastronomy. Throughout his 24 years at elBulli, he has spear headed many cutting edge techniques, some of which are now seen commonly in restaurants around the world.

I had purchased a ticket to the talk which included a copy of his new book. When I walked into the foyer of the building a bunch of people had already collected their copy's and were eagerly flipping through the pages of the very thick book. When I picked up my copy, I couldn't resist doing the same myself. I found a small secluded spot and flipped to the very first page. I almost screamed with excitement when I noticed I had an already signed copy in my possession.

Ferran signing someones book and lastly the signed page in my book


I had about an hour to go before the session started. So I made my way down to the door I was to enter and read as much of the book as possible. I say the word "read" very loosely, the book consists of a photographical documentary of a typical day at elBulli. Starting from the very early morning, and ending way after the last guest has left the restaurant. The pictures are beautifully shot and truly capture the atmosphere of the restaurant and the artistry of Ferran's dishes.

The majority of the dishes at elBulli are completely new, where even the very basic technique of preparing them has been completely invented. It is not just a matter of putting two new flavours together, for example squid and raspberries (I hope no one has done this before, it sounds awful!) Its more like putting two new flavours together and doing so in a way that has never been thought of before. Previous techniques seen at elBulli include, foams, flavoured dusts, spherification, airs, freeze drying and the list goes on and on.

For me, there were two stand out moments in his talk. One where he picked up a loaf of bread and described it in a new and eye opening way and the second being his use of liquid nitrogen as a cooking technique.

Lets start with the bread. Ferran was quite adamant in dispelling the notion that the dishes he delivers are centered around chemistry and fake flavours. He used bread as his example. He began to describe that there are scientists trying to come up with the very best flour or the most efficient way of proving bread, and in a way this is all experimentation. Where these individuals are using techniques or substances which have not been used in bread making before. So his message was that the humble french stick might not be a basic as we all think, and his quote was "the next time you go to the bakery, you might want to ask for a loaf of the molecular bread". I was always very careful of the use of the term molecular gastronomy, but after Ferran's very interesting analogy, I will be even more aware of the term 'molecular' in regards to food.

Now onto the liquid nitrogen. Having a scientific background, the notion of using liquid nitrogen to cook your food is a little unsettling to me. Yes, I can understand using it to persevere something for a very long time, like storing embryo's or at sperm banks , possibly cooling something very quickly, but to make my lemon sorbet.....hmmm thats different. Speaking of sorbet, one of the dishes explained was a pistachio ice-cream, where the only ingredients used were crushed pistachio's, water and plenty of the nitro. A nice dollop of a pistachio syrup was carefully dunked into the liquid nitrogen, the result was a spherical green lump, once it was cut open it had a wonderful crusty shell with an oozy middle. I must say, it looked divine.

The fact that food was prepared with liquid nitrogen was not the unsettling part to me, it was watching the vision of the chefs using the stuff with no protective gear (gloves at least) and splashing it about like it was water. I guess Ferran did have a point, "You wouldn't put your hand in boiling water, so you wouldn't be careless with liquid nitrogen". I guess I could get used to the idea of a couple of chef's losing a finger or two just to make coconut cream moulded in the shape of a flower.

There was a brief interval which included a glass of Freixenet Cordon Rosado and/or Cordon Negro. The second session was a Q&A with a panel which included Vue de Monde's head chef Shannon Bennett. A couple of things were asked;

If he thought the reservation system at elBulli was adequate? His response was that this was one aspect of the restaurant that they were not proud of, and that if someone could come up with a better system he would be more than willing to implement it.

His involvement at
Documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany. Documenta being a exhibition of modern and contemporary art.

The Q&A session. From left, Lucy Garcia (Ferran's translator), Ferran Adria, The MC (cant remember his name), ABC radio/television presenter Virginia Trioli and Shannon Bennette.


But my favourite was a question from the MC. He started with a statement about Ferran's youth when he played football (soccer), similar to Gordon Ramsay who at one point played for the Glasgow Rangers. If he and Ramsay were to play off against each other, who would win? Ferran went on to describe a particular night in the 90's when Gordon came to visit elBulli with a college. Apparently they got up to no good and the whole event had been filmed. Ferran has a copy of this video in his possession, so Ferran's answer to the question....who would win? "I would, because I would blackmail him". Now the interesting thing about this is that last night while watching an episode of 'Beyond Boiling Point', I noticed that next weeks episode is about Gordon going to Spain and eating at elBulli. I'm sure I'll get an idea of what happened that night from watching that episode.

The talk was not only interesting, but also inspiring. It was nice to see that Ferran Adria, undoubtedely the worlds best chef, had a sense of humour and was not totally engrossed by his own talent, despite being continuously reminded of the fact.

October 17, 2008

Vue de Monde

Dining Date: January 2007
2009 Rating: 4th
2009 Star rating: 3

Chef: Shannon Benette

Location: Normanby Chambers 430 Little Collins Street Melbourne

Website: www.vuedemonde.com.au

Vue de monde is Victoria's number one restaurant, and Melbourne's one and only 3 star holder for the year. Everything about it screams number one. We went here for my partners birthday as a special occasion.

The atmosphere of vue de monde is something I have not experienced before. You are greeted at the door, nothing special or different from any other place, they ask to take your coat....again nothing out of the usual.

Once you are seated, that's when the experience completely sets it apart from other restaurants I have been to. There are no menus per say, it is more like the chef takes you through a journey depending on what you feel like. The waiter and you tailor your meal, so you actually feel like you putting some input into your dining experience.

The menu gourmand is the middle of the range menu, your waiter asks you how many courses you feel like eating and weather you would like wines matched to your meal. It starts at $150 for 5 courses per person. In this menu only a few premium ingredients are used. At the higher end, and the best available, you can go for the gastronomes menu, which is $250 per person. This menu includes much more premium ingredients like truffles and foie gras.

We chose to go with the menu gourmand. We had 8 courses and each was more amazing than the last. Some dishes were inspired from traditional French fare, where as others were right out their. There was a passion fruit puree delivered in a
pasture pipette and part of another dish was presented in a test tube.

Shannon Benette's dishes have elements of the molecular gastronomy movement, and his presentation doesn't let you forget that.

Here are some of the dishes we had*

Pork Belly with radish and baby carrot


Kiwifruit and Mint lollipops


This was the the most delicious palate cleanser I have ever had. It was frozen kiwi slices dipped in mint jelly and presented in a lollipop form. It was a nice way to break up the courses. After eating them, we wanted more!

We also had a carpaccio of foie gras with fennel. I don't have a picture of this, but it was layered in such a way that it looked like opera cake. The soft foie gras contrasting the fennel was amazing on the palate. And I'm not the biggest fan of fennel in any shape way or form, so I was very surprised that this was my favourite dish of the night.

Pistachio and chocolate creme brulee

The first of two desserts. This was a pistachio and chocolate creme brulee with a sugar layer over the glass lip. It was such a exhilarating thing to break the delicate sugar with your spoon. The creme brulee was so smooth and flavoursome.

Deconstructed pina colada


I was very impressed by this dessert. Starting from the top left, coconut ice cream, in the shape of a coconut no less, pina colada mixture with rum in a test tube, a pineappled fritta (with no batter), a very tasty dehydrated piece of pineapple and lastly (if I remember correctly) a variation of coconut cream. Another stand out dish that blew us away when it arrived at the table.



And lastly to finish the meal we had petits-fours. I cant remember what they all were, but i will attempt to describe them. Starting from the left, blueberry pop-corn, dark chocolate cups, cherry's dipped in a toffee, lemon curd to be eaten with the mini pavlovas sitting next to the lemon curd, and lastly beetroot macaroons. The main reason why I cant remember exactly what all the petits-fours were, is that by this point in the night I had had a few glasses of wine.

Vue de monde's is a definite must visit! I know that the menu has changed completely, so hopefully I can scrap some money together and indulge myself again.

*Photos were taken by a third party

The Results - Spiced Chocolate Mousse

Sunday was a beautifully warm day, and this dessert topped the day off perfectly. Although, everyone was a little too full from the bbq, but the spiciness and lightness of the mousse went down well.

So here is the picture of the great achievement.....

I managed to stuff this recipe up, or so I thought. I used 70% dark chocolate as apposed to the 54% cocoa chocolate suggested in the recipe. This isn’t a problem, I like the bitterness and intenseness of the dark chocolate, but its up to the individual. I suggest tasting the mixture before adding the cream, if its not sweet enough, add a little castor sugar. If you use the 54% cocoa chocolate, this should be sweet enough.

My main problem was when I added the egg yolks to the melted chocolate. You are "supposed" to wait until the chocolate is cooled right down, so when you add the egg yolks you don't scramble them. Because I am so impatient and I wanted to eat the mousse as quickly as possible, I added the eggs when the chocolate was still too warm. And of course I ended up with something that looked alot more like fudge, rather than the glossy chocolate mixture I was expecting. So my first thought was, "stuff it, start again and turn this stuff into some awesome chocolate fudge brownies". So I took my egg whites (that were at room temperature, really important because if they are at room temperature they become really fluffy and keep more air in them), gave them a bit of a beat so they were foamy and added them to the chocolate/cooked egg yolk mixture. I noticed that the mixture was a bit lumpy so I gave it a really good beat, as I was beating the eggs I noticed that they were getting really fluffy and were holding alot of air. So I kept beating until I got a very moussy consistency. Some how I had managed to rescue the whole thing. Then I added my cream and folded the whole lot together.

The end result was really yummy. Yes, if I had started again I would have gotten a much more airy mousse, but my version tasted so good that I don’t care. So if you manage to cook your egg yolks like me, don’t worry, just add the eggwhites (only slightly beaten) to the mixture and continue from there. It worked a treat for me. I will definitely be doing this recipe again, but maybe next time I will try nutmeg only.....just to spice things up a little.

October 10, 2008

Spiced Chocolate Mousse

Restaurant: Bar Lourinha (Victoria)

Recipe from Chef Matt McConnel (appeared in Australian Gourmet traveler: October 2007)

2009 Rating: Number 93, 1 Star

This weekend we're having a bunch of friends over for a nice and relaxing bbq in the sunshine. As the temperature is set to hit 28C, I thought I might prepare a nice light dessert. Considering there will be alot of meat on offer, it might serve as a welcomed end to the day.

So here is the recipe:

Prep time 5 mins, cook 10 mins (plus setting)

Serves 6


180 gm dark chocolate (54% coccoa solids), coarsely chopped
3 eggs, at room temperature, separated
1/4 tsp each of ground cinnamon, ground allspice and chilli powder
224 mL thickened cream, lightly whipped


100 gm hazelnuts, roasted and skins removed
100 gm caster sugar


1. Melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, turn off heat and cool, add yolks and stir to combine, then add spices. Add cream and fold through to combine. In a separate bowl, beat eggwhites until soft peaks form, then add to chocolate mixture and fold to combine. The mousse should be smooth and even in colour. Spoon into six 1/2 cup capacity moulds and refrigerated for 3 hours or until set.

2. For hazelnut praline, place hazel nuts on baking paper-lined oven tray. Combine sugar and 2 tbsp water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat for 5-10 minutes or until light caramel in colour, then pour over hazelnuts and cool completely. Coarsely chop.

3. To serve, scatter mousse with praline and serve immediately.

Results here

October 7, 2008

Results - Slow-Cooked Duck with Braised Red Cabbage and Hazelnuts

And now for the results, drum roll please........... ta dah!

I am very pleased with myself. On the weekend I attempted the slow-cooked duck, and the results were good! Visually, the meal was impressive, on a sensory level, smell = awesome and taste = good but not great. Mainly because my jus was a little salty.

But now to break it down. How did I find the experience and any hints or pointers I can add?
Firstly, the duck fat. The recipe called for 850 grams of duck fat, my first reaction was, where the hell am I going to find a duck fat enough to yield that much fat. Then I did a bit of searching on the net. You can buy "fresh" duck fat from a local poultry seller and render your own clarified duck fat, or you can buy duck fat already in a rendered form. I was hoping to buy my own fresh fat so I could do my own rendering; it seemed like a fun thing to do. And besides I had heard that already rendered duck fat was fairly expensive. So I set off to find my own little piece of white gold. I visited so many shops, and every time I asked the question, “do you have any duck fat?”, I got the same quizzical look. It was as if I was asking for some unknown material in a foreign language no less.

In the end I went to a poultry shop at Queen Victoria Market that sells large quantities of duck meat. When I asked for fresh duck fat, I was handed already clarified duck fat. I was a little disappointed. When I asked the sales person how much it was, I was expecting to hear an ungodly price, but in the end it was $6 for 220grams. Not bad. Since I was only going to make a half portion (I needed 425 grams), it seemed reasonable.

I still have a very strong desire to render my own fat. Some people have a desire to go for long walks, help people in need, me? to melt fat! I don’t think I'm normal. So I’m not going to give up on my quest of finding some fresh fat. I just think I need to look a little harder.

Now, the jus. Like I said earlier, it was a little salty for my liking, but I know exactly where Iwent wrong. I did not use salt free stock, I used a salt reduced stock. So after reducing, it was a little salty. Not intolerable, I just think it would have been better with less salt. I cooked the jus at 10pm at night, and I must say the smell from it was intoxicating. It filled my house and made all of us hungry. I was ready to forget about it all and just eat it with some fresh bread like a soup, but my better judgement stepped in. I did however keep the shallots after straining and made the most awesome spinach and cheese omelette in the morning. The spice and sweetness from the shallots set it off perfectly.

The braised cabbage was a little too acidic. With the duck I think the acidity was a little over powering. Some people enjoy that sharp flavour, but I found it a little too in your face. If I was to make it again I would use a little less red wine vinegar. But, on the next night we had some of the left over cabbage with continental sausages, and the acidity was great! They went together perfectly. I just think the duck flavour might have been a bit too subtle for the cabbage.

Overall, the meal was great. It is definitely on my 'cook again' list. Well done Massimo!

October 2, 2008

Slow-Cooked Duck with Braised Red Cabbage and Hazelnuts

Restaurant: Mub Bar and Restaurant (Tasmania)

Recipe from Chef Massimo Mele (appeared in Australian Gourmet traveller: August 2008)

2009 Rating: Did not make top 100

For my first attempt at a recipe from a restaurant, I’m trying Mud Bar and Restaurant’s Slow-Cooked Duck. This year Mud Bar did not make the top 100, and was not ranked in the top 10 of its State (TAS). However, last year it had a strong placing. I’ve chosen this recipe because a lot of restaurants have their own version of duck confit. I’ve never attempted to make confit before, so this will be an interesting learning curve for me.

Before I post about my failure or success, I thought I would make a posting about the recipe itself, so you will get an idea of what I’m facing in the kitchen. So here goes.

Begin this recipe a day ahead.

Prep time 25 mins, cook 4 hours 45 min (plus salting)

Serves 4


500 gm rock sea salt

Rind from 1 orange and 1 lemon, removed with a peeler

6 star anise

10 cm piece of ginger, thickly sliced

6 garlic cloves, bruised

4 duck Marylands (about 300 gm each)

1 tbsp Chinese five spice

850 gm (4 cups) duck fat

Baby rocket and coarsely chopped roast hazelnuts, to serve


25 mL olive oil

4 golden shallots, thinly sliced

2 tsp honey

½ tsp Chinese five spice

300 mL old tawny Port

25 mL red wine vinegar

500 mL (2 cups) each of duck or brown chicken stock and beef stock


50 mL olive oil

1 onion, thingly sliced

110 gm (1/2 cup, firmly packed) brown sugar

½ red cabbage (about 700 gm) thingly sliced

125 mL (1/2 cup) red wine vinegar


1. Combine salt, rind, star anise, ginger and garlic in a non-reactive dish. Place duck, skin side down on top of salt mix and rub flesh with five spice. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Meanwhile, for duck jus, heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add shallot, honey and five spice and cook over medium heat until caramelised and sticky (7-10 minutes). Add Port and vinegar. Bring to the boil and cook until reduced by half (5-7 minutes). Add stocks, return to the boil and cook until reduced by half (30-45 minutes). Season to taste. Cool, strain through a muslin-lined sieve (discard solids) and refrigerate overnight. Remove fat from the top of jus and discard.

3. Preheat oven to 120C. Warm duck fat in a small roasting pan over medium heat. Remove duck from salt, brush off excess salt and place in warmed fat, ensuring duck is completely submerged. Cook in oven until meat is tender and almost falls off the bone (3-3 ½ hours). Remove duck and reserve 500 mL duck fat. Keep remaining fat for roasting vegetables.

4. Meanwhile, from braised red cabbage, heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and garlic and stir occasionally over medium heat until soft (7-10 minutes). Add cabbage and stir occasionally until soft (8-10 minutes). Add vinegar and salt, stir to combine and cook until liquid is almost evaporated (20-25 minutes). Season to taste and keep warm.

5. Increase oven to 200C. Place a piece of baking paper in a large frying pan, add reserved duck fat, add duck skin-side down (take care as duck will spit) and cook over medium-high heat until skin is crisp (3-5 minutes). Remove duck from fat, blot with absorbent kitchen paper and serve immediately with braised cabbage and rocket leaves, scattered with hazelnuts and drizzled with jus.

The recipe looks like its going to take a long time, considering the long cooking time. But hopefully it will be very tasty. Stay tuned for the victorious results (fingers crossed).