Sunday, July 26, 2015

Recipe: Beef and barley soup

It is mid-winter and I'm truly in nesting mode. It is the season for slow cooked braises and soups. The kind of things that bubble away on the stove all day, filling the house with rich, warm, delicious scents.

Soup has been a staple in our house for the last few months. But as the winter gets deeper and the days colder I want something with a bit more substance to keep me going. Warm and hearty is what I'm after and I just don't think that you can beat beef and barley soup for that.

There is nothing particularly revolutionary about my recipe, it is a collation of ideas with chili added but I love it and I thought you might too. This makes a reasonably large amount, but this soup freezes extremely well so it is a great one to make a big batch of for those cold days when you don't want to venture outside or to keep you going all week.

I don't own a slow cooker, so I do this recipe in my cast iron Le Creuset pot on the cook top. If you do have a slow cooker you could do everything from the point where you add the spices and stock in it, however the browning of the meat and veggies at the start is really important as that is where a lot of the flavour comes from. You will note there is quite a range of time frames.

This soup is best the longer you can cook it for but not every day allows for 8 hours of cooking, so you just cook it for as long as you can.

Beef and Barley Soup

800g-1kg chuck steak diced into 2cm cubes
Worcestershire sauce
3 stalks of celery diced
2 carrots diced
1 brown onion diced
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 dried chillies
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
approx 1 tsp thyme leaves
approx 2 tsp ground black pepper
1 litre beef stock
3/4 cup of pearl barley, rinsed and picked through
1 1/2 cups hot water
1/2 bunch kale shredded
2 tbsp chopped parsley

Heat a dutch oven or heavy based saucepan till hot. Add a couple of tablespoons of canola oil and a knob of butter and allow to melt and sizzle. Brown the steak in batches.

When the steak is all browned, add it all back to the pot along with any juices and a good helping of Worcestershire sauce. I use a couple of tablespoons worth but it is a strong flavour so you can start with less. It will all bubble up, cook over the high heat until all the liquid is gone, stirring to keep from sticking. At the end the meat should be dark brown and fragrant.

Add in the celery, carrots and onion and wilt down. Again you want to cook it until there is no liquid left from the veggies - approx 10-15 minutes.

Add in the bay leaves, rosemary, chillies, garlic, thyme and pepper and stir to combine before adding the stock. Bring to the boil, then cover and cook on a low heat for 3-5 hours.

Remove the chillies, bay leaves and rosemary stalks (the leaves will have fallen off), along with any large chunks of garlic left and add in the barley and water. Cover and continue to cook on a low heat for another 2-3 hours.

10 minutes before serving, turn the heat up to medium high and stir in the shredded kale and parsley. Allow to wilt and enjoy a big warm bowl with a crusty loaf of bread.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Restaurant Review: Sushi Hotaru

A misreading of directions and settling for "well we are here now" a year or so ago let me find one of my go-to spots in Melbourne, Sushi Hotaru. It is a sushi train place, but with a difference.

Sushi Hotaru is located in the MidCity Arcade. You head up the escalator, past a very lovely looking Japanese restaurant that I will probably never go to now, past Japan Nails, a lingerie shop, another shop that seems to specialise in Hello Kitty to find Sushi Hotaru right in the middle of the arcade. If you go around lunch or dinner time there will be a bunch of people standing around outside. Stick your head in the door, give the number of people in your party and you will be given a number.

The wait is rarely long before your number is yelled and you are herded inside. The atmosphere is fast and buzzing, with wait staff bustling around. You sit at a long oval bar (there are a few booths too) watching the train go past, but in the centre of the oval, 5-6 people are constantly churning out the sushi.

It is fabulous to watch. Sure the fish has been pre-cut for them, but I love watching them deftly form the rice, top it with the various ingredients including all sorts of interesting sauces. There is definitely quite a bit of non-traditional sushi creativity going on here.

In addition to the ever varying sushi train, each pair of seats has a screen in front of it where you can order specials, from hand rolls to soups, drinks, hot food and more. Pretty much everything costs $3 a plate, even the special orders. The only exception is the gold plates of sashimi which cost $7.90.

On my latest visit I was hungry. I had three plates of sushi comprising some very delicious seared salmon around an avocado and I think cheese (?) filling, the same filling but topped with BBQ eel and the most sweet and delicious scallop topped sushi. Next up, I ordered a couple of specials, the soft shell crab hand roll and some crumbed prawns. The crab was delicious, perfectly tempura and wrapped in fresh, slightly crunchy seaweed. The prawns were sweet and served with a great mayo but I probably wouldn't go out of my way to order them again. I finished up with a plate of sashimi because I can never resist it. All up it cost the grand total of $22.90 - you can see why this place is so busy.

If you are after a quiet, relaxed dinner, where you linger over food and conversation, this is not the place for you. But if you want a fresh, tasty meal that is fast and well priced Sushi Hotaru is what you are after. Taking my time I think I'm only ever there 15 or so minutes.

I've never not seen this place busy. The freshness and quality of the food, the great prices, the innovative interpretations of sushi make it a great place to eat. There is absolutely no doubt that I'll be back!

Sushi Hotaru
Shop 118, Level 1, MidCity Arcade
200 Bourke Street, Melbourne

Sushi Hotaru is also located in Sydney at:
Level 1, The Galleries
500 George Street, Sydney


125-129 Bathurst Street

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Random Musings: Keeping Cozy

In news to no-one who lives in Canberra or the east coast of Australia, it is a COLD winter. Ok, winter in this town is always cold but I've really been feeling it the last few weeks and when the snow starts falling in Queensland you know it is a bit out of the ordinary.

So even if it isn't the start of a mini ice age (if you missed that amusing news last week just google it), it is pretty cold and  I'm just craving all the traditional forms of coziness. I can't tell you how many times I've said to S that our next house will have an open fire.

While we may not have an open fire, we have been indulging in all the other traditional forms of winter warmth. I'm blogging while wearing ugg boots and my snuggly dressing gown. There is a pot of potato and leek soup on the stove and I have a steaming cup of tea by my side.

Soup has been the mainstay in the house. I cook up big pots each weekend to keep us fueled for our lunches during the week. My recent foray into bread making also means that each Saturday we have the bonus of oven heat and there is something about the smell of freshly baked bread that just screams cosy.

Our house is strewn with doonas, blankets and cushions, from our deliciously warm bed, to the couch where we snuggle up in front of the telly. And speaking of the telly, the cold weather lends itself perfectly to snug evenings of binge watching all the great shows that are on.

So while I may not love the cold, I do adore this season of cosy. How are you keeping warm this winter?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Restaurant Review: Ona on the Lawns

Another weekend, another brunch! S and I found ourselves in Manuka mid-morning on a Saturday so it seemed only right that we would get something to eat and given that he hadn't managed to have a coffee yet, Ona on the Lawns felt like the right place to head.

In case you haven't heard, back in April, Sasa Sestic the founder of Ona Coffee won the title of world's best barista. Ona Coffee has had a great reputation as brilliant coffee for quite some time now, with many cafes stocking their beans. In addition to stocking the cafes of Canberra with quality coffee, they have three restaurants, Ona Coffee House in Fyshwick, The Cupping Room in the city and Ona on the Lawns in Manuka.

Manuka was buzzing but we were lucky to score a table right away. We sat outside, but they have tented the area with plastic screens and had heaters on so we were quite toasty despite the very wintery weather.

S quickly ordered his coffee but to my disappointment they were out of their hot apple pie drink, so despite the cool day I ordered a dark chocolate and rose milkshake.

The drinks quickly arrived and S immediately got stuck into the coffee which he said was excellent. My milkshake looked gorgeous, a dark brown topped with pink persian fairy floss and the taste was great. I presume they add rose water and they have the proportions down pat. It has a lovely rich dark chocolate taste (complete with flecks of real chocolate) but is lifted with a gorgeous hint of rose. It is sort of what I imagine a chocolate turkish delight would be - no reference to that hideous stuff Cadbury makes. It was very rich though and I was pleased that S helped me finish it.

I'm sure you will all be shocked and amazed to discover that S had the Ona Roll. They do actually have traditional burgers on the menu but we were in brunch mode so he went for their version of an egg and bacon roll. Two eggs, plenty of great bacon, cheese, a delicious BBQ type sauce and avocado which he scrapped onto my plate as he doesn't like it.

In contrast to the roll at Mood Food & Co last week, this one ticked all his boxes as a great roll. Generous tasty fillings which balanced each other well - but did up the eating difficulty. His fatal words were "lets see if I can eat this without getting it all over me" before he bit into it and promptly shot egg yolk all over his hand and sleeve. If you order this, consider your yolk location to ensure the bun catches the perfectly cooked, still runny yolk!

I ordered the Mexican Avocado. It was two pieces of sourdough toast topped with smashed avocado, two perfectly poached eggs, a chargrilled corn salsa and a side of bacon. Again in contrast to last week this was a fantastically balanced meal. The corn salsa was deliciously dressed with a tangy dressing. The poached eggs were topped with grated parmesan and the whole dish just held together. There was the perfect amount of avocado, to corn, to eggs. The bacon was delicious, but it was a BIG meal when accompanied by the filling milkshake, so S ended up eating the last of it with my second slice of toast.

We both loved our meals, the service was great and both our food and drinks arrived promptly despite the packed cafe. We also really liked the 80's themed sound track. I'm sure we will be back!

Ona on the Lawns
Shop 4 Palmerston Lane

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Random Musings: The world through an outsider's eyes

I'm travelling a lot for work at the moment. It sounds far more glamorous than it is. Generally its long days of work, before an evening of more work as I try to get through the email that doesn't stop coming even when I'm not in the office to deal with it.

A room with a king bed is great because it means I have space to lay out materials as I pack up satchels or participant packs and the key things I first look for are the ironing board to get my work clothes presentable and if they have decent tea in the mini bar.

But between the hubbub of long days of busy work, one of the things I love is the moments I spend by myself in cafes. I try to find a window seat where I can watch the world go by.

Trams full of early morning commuters. People walking dogs. Mothers with prams on a mid- morning outing. Uniformed teenagers getting an after school coffee (when did that start, I don't think we ever did that in my time). Busses filled with tired workers heading home. The strange pauses and spaces that need to be filled in during a day of work travel lets me see people at all stages of their day and view them with an outsider's eyes.

Travel for work is very different from being on a holiday. It isn't just that your purpose and attitude is different - work not play - holidays for me revolve much more about who I'm with. The solitude of work travel provides an opportunity to sit back and observe. Work travel also usually places me in the business district or office parks, not your typical holiday destination. Instead it is home of the natives going about their everyday business.

As with anyone who travels a lot for work, the glamour rubbed off a long time ago. However I do love the opportunities it gives for professional growth, the inspirational people I meet, the conversations I have. And of course the opportunity for a little extra people watching.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Resturant Review: Mood Food & Co

I love brunch. I know what you are thinking, this girl loves every meal. But brunch is a real favourite of mine. I think it is the combination of the opportunity to eat things that I don't usually make, with the inevitable catch up with friends that brunch heralds and the fact that it makes the day seem longer because by lunch I've already socialised and eaten out.

On a freezing Canberra morning we headed to Braddon to meet friends at Mood Food & Co. It was full, but we agreed to wait outside under their heaters for the next available table and 10 minutes later as our friends with impeccable timing arrived, we were beckoned into the warmth.

Drinks orders were quickly taken and it wasn't long before we were ready to order.

S, true to his burger roots, ordered the breaky roll. While the filling was tasty, good bacon, nice egg, delicious onion relish, he said that the bun was wrong. Too big, so the balance was out and not the kind of soft bread that easily soaks up the egg yolk and bacon grease so that it doesn't drip.

One of our friends ordered the french toast which came with caramlised pecans and a banana marscapone. If it wasn't for the banana I might have gone for it but I just don't like banana. She does though and really enjoyed her dish.

The other friend had fried eggs with avocado and mushrooms. He didn't have much to comment about it, I guess there isn't much anyone can really do with an order that simple.

I ordered the "one pan". In my pan was herbed potatoes, Italian sausage, chorizo and tomato topped with a poached egg. Each of the elements was delicious BUT it didn't hang together. Maybe if there had been a second egg so there was more gooey yolk, or more tomatoes to create a kind of sauce it would have worked but it just ended up being a random pan of stuff rather than a complete dish. It was accompanied by two lovely pieces of sourdough toast but with no sauce to soak it up I had to get some butter to enjoy it.

By the time we finished eating the restaurant had quietened down and the staff were happy to let us sit talking for probably another hour. It is always nice to not feel rushed out of a restaurant or hounded to order more.

Overall there were some great elements and we had a lovely morning but each dish just seemed to lack a final finesse that would have taken it to the next level.

Mood Food and Co
132/24 Lonsdale Street

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Review: Chocolab custom chocolate bars

A couple of weeks ago, a lot of rain, combined with a little oil and a roundabout meant that my car and a concrete barrier got to know each other rather better than one would normally like. It was all a bit dramatic, and while everything has turned out alright, I have to admit I was really very shaky that evening.

And that, I am going to say, completely explains how I came to order a whole bunch of custom made chocolate. Let’s just leave out the reality where I probably would have ordered the chocolate anyway once the images of the bars created by Chocolab started arriving in my Instagram feed, I am totally blaming my little splurge on shock.

One of the things I most love about ordering stuff on the internet is the delayed gratification. You choose something, part with money and … nothing happens. By the time the parcel arrives the spending of the money is so far in the past it is almost like a present arriving and honestly I do buy the best presents.

So about a week later a box containing my order/present arrived. After the initial surprise of the flavours I had ordered (I honestly couldn't remember, I was in shock I tell you) came the excitement of tasting my creations. Chocolab lets you choose from quality white, milk or dark Belgium chocolate and then top it with an almost endless array of nuts, confectionery, biscuits, spices, fruit and more.

Now I’m no professional chocolate taster - although S reckons I'm in constant training. I’m much more of a shove it in my gob and say yum kind of gal, but here are my thoughts.

Dark chocolate with coffee beans and Oreos
I don't eat/drink coffee but S is a coffee fan. The coffee is freshly roasted and the scent of it as you open the cellophane is intense. S really liked it and thought it was a good combination but would have liked a greater proportion of Oreo.

Dark chocolate with caramel fudge, butterscotch toffee bits
The dark Belgium chocolate is really rich and intense and possibly a little bit too much for the toppings I chose. The butterscotch toffee bits adds a nice texture and the fudge was lovely when I nibbled it but it just got a bit lost in the intensity of the dark chocolate.

Dark chocolate with raspberry and sherbet
Can you tell we like dark chocolate? Ok, so this one was a little out there - but in such a good way. The zingy sweetness of the sherbet is a great contrast to the rich dark chocolate and the little bursts of freshness from the freeze dried raspberries. I could definitely see a repeat order of this one happening.

Nutella Chocolate Bar
I was also lucky enough to be one of the first people to try the brand new Nutella bar. Milk chocolate filled with nutella and wafer. With the milk chocolate and wafer it is vaguely reminiscent of a kit kat in texture, but the quality creamy chocolate combined with the deliciousness of Nutella makes it a taste sensation. I have a terrible feeling this is the bar I could scoff in one session.

My parcel also arrived with the cutest gift of a double dipped Oreo. That is right, an Oreo biscuit dipped first in white chocolate, then in milk chocolate. It is a Tim Tam on steroids and completely moreish. I'm pretty happy they only gave me one because I don't think I would have the self control to limit myself if a whole pack had turned up.

Chocolab is definitely a fun and tasty concept. I can imagine many bars yet to come. Head on over and check them out at: