Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Back to Life.....

Back to reality!

Strange how certain lyrics keep playing in your head....but that refrain just kept resonating in my mind since A and I arrived home.

It's been over a month since I had the luxury of time to sit down and upload a post - it's been a whirlwind of activities from the hubbub of our last week before leaving Melbourne, the long drive to Sydney (with some drama on our departure day when the car wouldn't start but that's another story altogether), the usual Christmas and New Year festivities to finally coming back to Singapore and settling back in. A and I have been running on a lot of adrenaline and sleepless nights in the last month!

Because our last month has seen us in 3 different locations, it's taken a while for reality to sink in that I'm back for good; well, it's come and knocked me on the head when I got back to work last week with quite a few projects (all urgent) and meetings scheduled. Leisure time in Melbourne now seems so far away!

Now that I have a little down time at work after completing one mad deal involving an over-nighter towards the end, it seemed the perfect opportunity to re-visit this blog which kept me endlessly amused in Melbourne and which will hopefully see my imput now that I'm back home.

I don't foresee that many of my posts are going to be food-related, given that I haven't made it to the kitchen at all since I got back but we'll see. There's some interesting events in the pipeline such as a girlfriend's wedding shower which my pal, G and I will be catering for, which I hope will take me out of the office a lot more. And after 6 months away, there's a whole slew of new restaurants that I've yet to check out.

So keep checking in from time to time....


Friday, December 15, 2006


Now that we're just a week away from leaving Melbourne for good, I find myself in a nostalgic mood reading my past posts and the places we've visited, the experiences we've had, the people we've met here and the friends we've made. I guess at the beginning, 6 months here sounded just about right. From where I am right now at the wrong end of those 6 months, it's simply not enough time...

The past few weeks saw me mooching about feeling all sad and sorry that our time here is nearly at an end. And this is when Melbourne is at its best - a couple of weeks ago, the tail-end of spring heralded warmer days and the promise of a hot Indian summer - now that summer has started, I'm enjoying the long light-filled days to the fullest. I'd still like to be here when summer goes into full swing - I think about the fun events like movies in the park yet to happen in the Botanic Gardens, the food produce that summer brings and which I'll see appearing over the next few weeks in the local market, and the Christmas and New Year celebrations here which A and I will miss. We're somewhat consoled that we'll be spending Christmas with A's family (our first together in our years as a couple) and ushering in the New Year in Sydney.

Part of this sad moping about the house was brought on by a culmination of missing family and friends in the run-up to Christmas and the thrill (and slight guilt of not being home at this time) of experiencing Christmas somewhere else other than in Singapore. And being the sentimental sniffy person I am, I've been moping about leaving a place which has been the source of much personal happiness for A and I this year.

I suppose the bright side of our short stint here is that this is just the beginning of many more trips back here in future, A's office being reassuringly forthcoming with dates for trips down next year. For now, it's time to pack up the apartment, enjoy the rest of our days here and have fun at all our farewell parties and look forward to coming home in January 2007.

I've always believed that a lot of the fun in life derives from treasuring the past, enjoying the present to the fullest and anticipating what the future brings. I'm looking forward to coming home and seeing what 2007 brings both of us - our 6 months here has served its purpose in letting me recharge myself fully and face work and given me ample time to indulge my interests. To all our friends and family who have been checking in on us periodically through this blog, thanks for keeping us updated on everyday life in Singapore (such that we feel we haven't really been away!) and for keeping up the contact. We've missed you hugely and we're coming back soon!!

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Clearing out the fridge isn't easy!!

I read once here about a certain food blogger's difficulty in finishing up his lasagne sheets. With just a week to go before we leave Melbourne for good after our 6 months here, I am faced with the same problem with the dates still lurking in my fridge after 2 rounds of Sticky Toffee Puddings and my attempt at Date Scones the other day. And what I have left isn't quite enough for another pudding for the Christmas gathering at Allan's folks next week in Sydney and I don't fancy making anymore goodies to stuff our face with this week!! *SCREAM*

With all the boxes and bags we have to load the car with next Saturday when we leave for Sydney, I'm sure we'll find room for yet another small bag but it vexes me no end that I can't seem to finish these dates. It's no solution telling me to eat them plain (as I hate the taste of plain dates if not masked with other flavours) - that'll be A's job.

Back to Date Scones. It's a simple recipe, perfect for Saturday morning brekkies when it's pulled out fresh and steaming hot from the oven. Alright, who are we kidding here? No one I know who reads this blog gets up early on Saturday, much less to bake! But honestly, if you do happen to have any leftover dates in the fridge, set the alarm clock and give this recipe a go. Although these scones keep relatively well, they are definitely best fresh and hot, with the aroma of sweet dates mingling with the freshly ground nutmeg. I had one smothered with butter as soon as it came out of the oven and it was oh so yummy....

This recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander's lovely cook book, The Cook's Companion.

Date Scones
(makes about 10 - 11)


150g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (this is essential, do not skip!)
pinch of salt
20g unsalted butter
2 tbsp sugar
150g dates, stoned and chopped
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup water


1. Preheat oven to 210'C and grease a baking tray.
2. Sift flour, nutmeg and salt together, then rub in butter. Add sugar and dates.
3. Combine milk and water and mix into flour to form a soft but firm dough. Knead together quickly, then press out on a floured surface and cut into squares or use a cutter to cut out rounds.
4. Bake for 7 minutes then reduce heat to 180'C and cook for a further 8 minutes until golden.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pie for a Guy

Perhaps this is too much of a generalisation but I've rarely met a guy who doesn't like pies/tarts or anything with pastry in it. There's probably something about the combination of crusty pastry and oozing filling that makes for a sublime 'party in your mouth' (I got this off one of the celebrity chefs, Jason Roberts, on ReadySteadyCook...yes one of those cooking programmes I catch over here).

A, being a true Aussie at heart, loves pies much to my horror ("Sweetie, there's a ton of FAT in that meat pie you're chowing down..."). I'm not a big fan of pastry, both making it or eating it. Making it - it always seems that the weather in Singapore is never condusive to making it although my efforts here have met more success. Eating it - I find that most commercial pies have way too much pastry, making for a tough chewing experience and thenafter, sitting like a lump of lard in your tummy.

I've always wished I had a light hand with pastry; so do most cooks I know. I recall back in school days, my classmates in the cooking class would shudder with horror when we learnt that the lesson for that day was "Sausage Rolls" or "Strawberry Pie" or anything related to pastry. These days, I've taken a more relaxed approach to making pastry instead of stressing over getting the dough to bind and find that this seems to be the best way to making a successful pie! Probably because one doesn't handle the dough as much!

Looking back on my posts, I've done a whole gamut of cakes, biscuits and the likes but very little pastry of late. So I thought it was time to change that and set aside an afternoon to make a Roast Tomato, Bacon and Spinach Tart, one of my preferred choices at cafes I frequent. Made well, this tart will be a nice light lunch for hot afternoons when you don't feel like cooking! This is a slight modification from the recipe in one of my reliable cookbooks, Everyday Cooking.

Roast Tomato, Bacon and Spinach Tart (serves 8)


1 x 25cm Shortcrust pastry shell (using your own recipe or ready-made)
4 Roma tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chilli powder (optional)
1 onion, diced
6 bacon slices, diced
4 eggs
125ml (1/2 cup) cream
3 tbsp grated parmigiano
chopped parsley
80g spinach, blanched and chopped
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, sprinkled over the cooked spinach

1. Preheat oven to 180'C.
2. Cut the tomatoes into wedges and place on a baking tray. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and chilli (if using). Roast in a preheated oven for 20 - 30 minutes until the tomatoes are soft and golden brown.
3. Heat a small saucepan over a medium heat. Add a generous splash of oil, the onion and bacon. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring often to prevent the bacon from catching.
4. Whisk the eggs together with the cream, grated parmigiano, parsley, spinach and salt and pepper.
5. Arrange the tomato wedges in the base of the cooked pastry shell, add the onion and pancetta mix and pour in the egg custard.
6. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the egg custard is set.

Some comments:
  • The shortcrust pastry should be blind-baked before the fillings are added. To prevent the egg custard from seeping into the pastry and toughening it, brush the shortcrust pastry with egg yolk before blind baking to seal. This may be repeated once during the baking process.
  • You'll probably have pastry left over, as with the fillings. Don't waste them - make mini tartlets by using a muffin pan as your base instead!

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's begining to look a lot like Christmas!

I must say that a pudding for dessert isn't the best idea after an indulgent weekend away in Daylesford and eating at the Lake House or when the weather is in the high 30's as its been this week. Still, we're looking at the run-up to Christmas and what better way then to get into the mood with a pre-Christmas pudding! I missed out on getting some beautifully produced puddings from A Pud for All Seasons, both at the Slow Food Market (at the Abbotsford Convent a couple of weekends ago) as well as when we went up country for the weekend and passed by their factory at Elphinstone. So I decided to make my own seeing that I had a bag of dates in the pantry and a recipe flagged for some time to try!

A and I both have a fond weakness for sweet sticky desserts and sticky date pudding happens to be one of our favourites. I've always thought that there was something Christmassy about having a date pudding – with all that lovely caramelized and slightly spicy overtones it connotes!

I thought dates and it's lovely sweet nuances would definitely put us in the mood for all the gift-wrapping after dinner and happily set to making it seeing I had just 16 more days till we leave Melbourne and a whole bag-ful to finish up. Yummy goodness and perfect comfort food, it's perhaps a tad heavy for a summer evening seeing that all the berries and stone fruits have come into season. But making a sticky date pudding is also an exercise in simplicity and will keep nicely in the fridge for those tricky moments between meals when one's tummy craves for a little sustenance.

A is of course thrilled that I have finally decided to make a sticky date pudding and that must have been the reason why he returned earlier than expected with a "Pudding...where's the pudding?" instead of the expected kiss on the cheek!

This recipe comes from a fabulous cookbook, The Cook's Companion, by Melbourne's doyen of cooking, Stephanie Alexander.

Sticky Toffee Pudding
(serves 8)

170g dates, stoned and chopped
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
300ml boiling water
60g unsalted butter
¾ cup castor or brown sugar
2 eggs
170g self-raising flour
½ tsp pure vanilla
** 100g dark chocolate chips/ chopped bittersweet chocolate (optional)

400g brown sugar
1 cup thick cream
250g unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean, split

1. Preheat oven to 180'C and butter an 18cm square cake tin.
2. Mix dates and bicarbonate of sofa. Pour over water and leave to stand.
3. Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Fold flour in gently, then stir in date mixture and vanilla and pour into prepared tin.
4. Bake in centre of oven for 30 – 40 minutes until cooked when tested with a sker.
5. To make the sauce, bring all the ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove vanilla bean.
6. Pour a little sauce over warm pudding and return it to oven for 2-3 minutes so sauce soaks in.
7. Cut pudding into squares and pass extra sauce.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Cookie Monster

That's A's alter-ego. Actually, A's alter-ego should now rightfully be named the Big Bump (think really hard why...), what with all the happy munching that's been going on in this apartment of late. It's gotten to the state of "now you see it.... now you don't" with the boxes of cookies, sliced cakes and muffins I have around the apartment. A, as one can tell by now, really loves his sweet stuff and is always delighted to come home to the smell of freshly baked goodies in all forms.


But what A can't resist most of all are Krispy Kreme donuts - the 8 we had left after giving some away to our friends, Jackson and Michelle, has disappeared in a flash of an eye. A loves donuts in all forms and donuts have a sentimental place in our history; when we first started dating, as we were at opposite ends of the Singapore CBD and couldn't meet for a quick morning coffee, we used to send an email mid-morning to say hi and accompanying our short email conversation would be a donut from Starbucks with our coffee. It became a ritual for a while until my skirt started getting tighter!


So imagine our delight when we discovered that the legendary US Krispy Kreme donuts were available at Sydney's international airport (the first outlet outside the US opened in Sydney in 2003) and we used to lug boxes of these sugar delights back home every new year after the holidays. Krispy Kreme has since made it to Melbourne with the fourth outlet set to open at Melbourne Central Station in December 2006 after outlets at Fountain Gate Shopping Centre, Chadstone Shopping Centre and one in the CBD at the western end of Collins Street. Right now, when an attack of the munchies comes on, A just needs to walk to the other end of Collins Street from his office to get his sugar boost - a fair walk I'd say for a growing cookie monster and certainly easier than lugging a box on the plane!


Monday, November 27, 2006

Another lazy weekend away

The lovely view from a lookout on Arthur's Seat of the Mornington
Peninsula - Sorrento where we are headed is located around the curve

A couple of weekends ago, A and I drove down to the Mornington Peninsula to spend part of the weekend with friends from Singapore. As always, we will happily take up any excuse to see a different part of Victoria and this is a lovely one indeed. It has many wineries, great restaurants, lovely sea views, quaint townships that straddle the divide between country and city very well (since they are mostly well-equipped with fantastic bakeries, coffee joints and boutiques).

Since our friends were staying at Rye, we decide to stay close by at Sorrento, which has a lovely beach-side location, plenty of interesting shops and a long beach front for walks. Unfortunately, by the time we reach Sorrento, I'm scarcely fit to walk anywhere much less check out any shops! It was as much as I could do to make some small talk with our host, John, at Dougal's B&B while A attends to all the checking-in matters and when I could finally crawl into bed for a snooze, I slept blessedly for an hour. All this because of a splendid afternoon lunch at the Vines of Red Hill....

Vines of Red Hill

Lunch at the Vines was the big highlight of our weekend, other than catching up with our friends of course! One of my invaluable resources here has been the 2007 Age's Good Food Guide (to Melbourne and regional Victoria); it's helped us plan our trips around Victoria, taking into account which restaurants are along the way. I would also have bought the Foodie's Guide to Melbourne & Regional Victoria 2007 but on flipping through, realised that I already knew many of these shops. We've been quite fortunate that our neighbourhood has many of the great food places/shops/purveyors listed inside. So when the Good Food Guide listed Vines as the only Chef's Hat rated restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula, we decided a visit should be on the cards.

The view from the restaurant terrace

Situated in the vineyard area of Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula, the Vines overlooks neat rows of hanging vines and is ringed with wild lavendar. It's a lovely place for lunch especially out on the terrace on a sunny day and I can imagine it would look beautiful at night with lots of candles flickering. Unfortunately, the Vines was booked out for a wedding the day we got in so we had to settle for lunch, which worked out quite well with our plans in any event since we would only be meeting Val and Justyn on Sunday instead. Certainly, it would have been quite perilous to drive back to Sorrento after dinner since we had to traverse windy roads past Arthur's Seat (the kind with near 360' pinturns!!) and these are roads for clearheaded drivers, which we weren't well... not after we had such a wonderful lunch at the Vines!

From the word "go", lunch was a close to 3 hour long session of indulgence. Chef Steve Davidson's food is beautifully presented, in generous but not overflowing portions, and delights with every mouthful. However, because the portions looked just right and each bite wasn't cloying or overly rich, we had underestimated the capacity of our stomachs! After finishing the entrees and the mains, we thought we could manage a dessert each and that was the absolute killer leaving both of us a little glassy-eyed albeit nicely sated. Here's what we had:


After we order, our server brought out a bowl of freshly baked bread (really yummy stuff!) and a trio of salted butter, olive tapenade and light fruity olive oil, the latter being locally grown in the Mornington Peninsula.

That day was turning out to be a rather hot day so we decided to skip the soup on the menu(although butternut pumpkin soup is a favourite of mine) and order something else.

A decided on the spatchcock, which came with its roasted breast with livers, foie gras and herbed brioche gratin and rolled leg ballotine with rocket, together with truffle infused polenta and port-reduced shallots. This was simply yummy - the smell of the truffle subtly whets one's appetite for the spatchcock, which is very nicely done (not too dry as smaller fowls tend to be if overcooked). The polenta had the nice texture and almost similar taste to very good whipped potatoes and was perfect sopping up the jus on the dish. A of course, was delighted by the generous nugget of foie gras nestled in the polenta and just as I thought he was going to polish it off, had the presence of mind to leave me half of it to try. That took some self-control since he simply loves foie gras (to the horror of my mom)! A had the Vines' house label shiraz, which robust flavours was the perfect complement to the intense flavours of his entree.

My dish seemed rather simple in comparison, certainly with none of the complex flavours that A's had. However, executed well, oysters are the perfect starting point for any meal and the chef definitely got this dish right. While I'm not usually a fan of oysters (preferring to have just 1 or 2 and not half a dozen), this dish sounded light and cool for the hot afternoon. Freshly shucked, the 6 Coffin Bay oysters were served with lime marinated yellow fin tuna, Yarra Valley salmon caviar and avocado and herb salsa. The accompaniments to the oysters didn't overpower its natural briny taste and instead added depth and interest to each bite - each caviar roe bursting with flavour as you chew the oyster, the lime adding a slight tart taste to the overall sweetness of the avocado and tuna. The Vines house label Gewurtztraminer, being light, fruity and slightly sweet, was a lovely accompaniment to the oysters.

By now, A and I have these slightly blissed out looks on our faces, and when our server comes over, she smiles when she sees we have mopped up every scrap of our dishes and receives our effusive praises graciously. Thankfully, she allows some time to lapse before bringing out our mains so A and I have time to take in the scenic views of rolling vineyards, wildflowers and lavendar bushes and catch up on the events of the week.


When our server brings forth the mains, A is almost hopping with delight at the supremely large portion of the rib eye on his plate. Generously portioned, his char-grilled Mornington Peninsula grain fed rib eye came with a double potato and prosciutto stack, green beans, local horseradish cream and a light shiraz reduction. Simply done, but very effective on the taste scale, a lot of the credit must go to the chef for using fresh local produce and bringing out the best of each item.

I had decided earlier to order the duck breast, which would be served pink and comes with baby beetroot, cress and walnut salad, butter beans, corn and duck leg pancake and a Jasmine tea reduction. This is superb - ordinarily, my appetite for very rich dishes is a small one and I don't always eat the entire duck breast, preferring just to pick off someone's plate or have it as an appetizer instead. This time, I polish off my plate (with the exception of several pieces of duck reluctantly surrendered to A) and mopped up every scrap of jus with the flavourful duck slices. Although it comes slightly overdone, the pieces of duck breast are tender and juicy and sop up the Jasmine tea reduction perfectly well. I liked the reduction in particular (a not unusual combination with duck given that there is the classic Chinese tea-smoked duck) and how the reduction only had a faint hint of Jasmine tea.


By the time we finish off our mains, we are both slightly stuffed and definitely pondering if dessert is a good idea. One look at the menu and greed takes over prudence - I can't resist trying the slow baked chocolate tart with passion fruit ice cream and pistachio biscuit and since I refused to share mine with A, he chooses the local apple and puff pastry tart with malt cream and Red Hill honey ice cream. Both are the perfect end to our lovely meal. The dark chocolate tart in particular, gives an intense shock to the system with each mouthful and the slightly tart passionfruit ice cream offsets the richness of the chocolate.

A's apple puff pastry tart is really good as well and lends credence to the saying that sometimes, the simplest things turn out the best. I often wish my puff pastry would turn out as nice and flaky as this one, but I guess that's why there are pastry chefs and there are home cooks like me! We leave the Vines with some reluctance to dispel the magic woven by the food, the peaceful setting and the perfect weather - too often, we have been caught out by the weather on our trips out, which mars slightly an otherwise lovely experience, but today, we are lucky on all counts.

Owing to our heavy lunch, dinner that night is a simple fish and chips from the chippie shop in Sorrento after spending the evening walking the Sorrento foreshore and catching the sunset. We play Trivial Pursuit in our B&B after and retire early for the night.

The next day, we enjoy a lovely breakfast and have a good time chatting with the other couples at the breakfast table. In what is becoming a common occurrence so far, we rose from the table quite late at 11 am (and A and I had been the first ones at 830am too!) and quickly clear off to meet Val and Justyn for lunch at Stillwater at Crittendon in Dromana.

Again another lazy afternoon, but this time, we go easy on the food (mainly just entrees and desserts) and instead polish off 3 bottles of very good sauvignon blanc. After all, the focus this time was on catching up with our friends and 3 hours go by really quickly before they have to scoot off to view a house down at Portsea and we arrange to meet at the National Golf Club at Cape Schank for coffee with ocean views later on in the afternoon.

With a couple of hours free, A and I go check out the various produce places and load up on locally produced apple juice, first harvest cherries and Desiree potatoes. Visiting produce farms and sampling their wares in each region we visit is one of my favourite activities, and recalls to mind my childhood holidays with my parents spent picking strawberries and visiting orchards. We also visit the Gordon Studio Glassblowers with very lovely sculptural glass pieces and with very little time remaining before we have to drive to Cape Schank, we stop by the Red Hill Art Gallery to browse the pieces. The friendly owner offers to show us his farm and before we know it, we are taken to see his very very cute alpacas and A has a go at feeding them. One alpaca in particular catches our eye, it looking very much like an Ewok and for the most part, they are docile and relatively friendly (with A at least who is holding the feed) although they do occasionally spit and hiss and kick at each other.

We end off a lovely weekend trip taking coffee with Val and Justyn at the National's clubhouse overlooking the putting greens with the spectacular ocean views in the background playing off the setting sun.

The all-important contact details:

Vines of Red Hill
150 Red Hill Road, Red Hill Mornington Peninsula
Tel: (03) 5989 2977

Chef's Hat - 1 with a rating of 15/20
Definitely call ahead (suggest at least 1 or 2 weeks in advance) to reserve a spot as this place seats just 80 and fills up quickly for the prime Saturday night bookings. I had called the week before and was told that Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon were fully booked. Also, as this is a popular wedding venue, there may be nights which the restaurant does not open to the public either. The dishes we had were from the menu for the 17th to 19th November so next time you visit, there is likely to be something new!

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