Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Review: Oakdene Winery and Restaurant

There is something I find particularly enticing about winery restaurants. We held our wedding at local Yarra Valley gem, Roundstone and find it difficult to book holidays or weekends away in regions that don’t offer great food and wine (if you weren’t impressed before that I have given up alcohol for an entire month, you should be now). There is nothing more intoxicating (pardon the pun) than meeting a passionate vintner committed to sourcing local produce that not only compliments, but enhances the experience of drinking their wines. It is on this front that Oakdene excels. Plugs for local providers of (for example) rabbit, mussels, berries and Angus beef is a little reminiscent of the of Alla Wolf Tasker’s produce outline at The Lake House.

There was a clear consensus (well, there were only two of us, but we were pretty firm about it) that the highlight of the meal was the perfectly seared King scallops, wrapped in Istra pancetta. They were served with an absolutely delicious black truffle butter (let’s just say that had I been at home, I would have licked the plate), and local samphire. My dining partner ordered the lightly battered Port Phillip Bay calamari with lemon, chilli and parsley, which was excellent, but just not in the same league.

At first I was a little disappointed (but on reflection, unsurprised) that the only wines available by the glass were the vineyard’s own, but I recovered as soon as I tasted the lovely 2006 Chardonnay. My only concern was that the wine was a little too chilled for the reported flavours of ‘melon, peach and fig’ flavours to really come out, and I was a little too greedy to give it time to warm up a bit.

After the high calibre entrées, I very eagerly awaited the main course. I am not sure whether it was the fact that my entrée was so outstanding, but I was a little disappointed with my choice. The Siketa pork belly (top) had a delicious flavour but was a bit dry, and its teaming with the polenta crusted, soft shell crab and green papaya salad a little confusing. It was as if (as Gordon Ramsay might say) there was just too much going on the plate (actually, Gordon would probably say that there was, "Too much f***ing sh*te on the f***ing plate", but I am neither that rude, nor that incensed). My partner’s choice was better; the eye fillet was a perfectly cooked, juicy medium rare, and the accompanying mash with red wine sauce (sorry, ‘Shiraz jus’) and wood mushrooms was delicious. I thoroughly enjoyed their 2006 Pinot, and would have ordered another glass, but needed to leave room in my alcohol stomach for an after-dinner Tokay.

Having witnessed several impressive dishes emerge from the kitchen, I was absolutely determined to fit in dessert (despite having eyes considerably bigger than my belly). So, rather ambitiously, we ordered the enormous tasting plate, of which the simple, Wallington strawberries were the absolute star. The strawberry and passionfruit pannacotta was lovely, as was the chocolate fondant, but we just could not polish it all off. Sigh. It pains me to watch a good coffee sorbet melt into oblivion, but it was either that, or recreate a rather unpleasant Monty Python dining scene.

The timing of the service, along with its relaxed and friendly quality, was excellent; the floor staff effectively provided the diners with a floor-show in their efforts to move a large gas heater closer to a chilly guest (ces moi??). We were also rather impressed by the eco-friendly outdoor dining area (fake grass and fairy lights) and the busy, eclectic décor inside. Very welcoming. The prices (between $20 and $30 entrées and up to $42 for a main course) probably ensure that this is a Big Night Out destination for locals, but the restaurant was bustling the night we visited, so maybe this isn’t an issue. Or perhaps its just that Oakdene, along with some fantastic food and wine, offers that special kind of service and atmosphere that makes you want to become a regular customer.

Oakdene Vinyards
Bellarine Peninsula
255 Grubb Street
Wallington (near Ocean Grove)
Restaurant phone: 03 5255 1255

Open for lunch and dinner, Wednesday - Sunday

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Thursday, 7 February 2008

Grow Your Own Roundup

Just a short one to let you all know that the Grow Your Own #6 Roundup has been posted by Andrea. It's very exciting to see home cooks from all over the world sharing their 'food miles' free recipes (buzz words keep my mind off the drink).

PS. Did anyone catch Food Safari last night? Don't you just want to give Charmaine Solomon a cuddle? If you think I'm mental, read this cute interview by George Negus for the ABC in 2003 (try to overlook the obligatory 'George looking pensive' image on the page header).

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Sunday, 3 February 2008

Febfast (aka month of torture) has begun

I am sincerely beginning to question why I decided to embark on this whole non-drinking journey. I am repeating 'Doin' it for the kids' over and over in my head like a crazed, Robbie Williams inspired mantra. For some reason, the image of Corey Delaney keeps popping into my mind; I cling to the hope that the recipients of the drug and alcohol programs I am raising money for are not nearly so aggravatingly smug. Not very charitable, I know. "You're a nice teenager, so you can have my money, whereas you are a git and clearly don't deserve any help".

I put my attitude down to the fact that Febfast has begun and I am feeling its effects; the thought of it hovers around like a nasty puritan waiting to catch me in a sinful act. I am not planning to outline my teetotal experience in great detail here, but if you're interested in a daily update (or would like to donate money for this worthy cause) visit my irritatingly tweely named "Hero Page".

Wish me luck, folks.

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Sunday, 20 January 2008

Grow your Own: Nana's Zucchini Slice

Something new: I have decided to enter a dish into Grow Your Own, run by Andrea of Andrea's Recipes. I stumbled (happily) upon on this event on the Is my Blog Burning site. For those of you unfamiliar with blogging events (as I was, until rather recently), foodie bloggers from all over the globe publish recipes and then submit or link them to a host site, whose author provides a round up of all entries after the event has closed. Cool, huh? I may never have to buy a cookbook again (although to be honest, that is a rather unlikely consequence of this discovery).

As my regular readers know, we are currently experiencing what can only be described as a zucchini glut, and I have been working feverishly to concoct delicious recipes to reduce the abundant supply. This one is actually an old family favourite; my Nan passed it on to me several years ago, and it continues to grace our table with considerable regularity. I've fiddled with the original a bit, I hope to its benefit.

400g grated zucchini (excess juice squeezed out) *
1 cup of grated cheddar
4 eggs
1 cup SR flour
just under 1/2 cup olive oil
100g (couple of rashers) of good, smokey bacon, diced
1 onion, diced
seasonal fresh or dried herbs - couple of teaspoons, or to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

To serve:
Tomato Passata (with sautéed garlic and mushrooms - mmm)
shaved parmesan

Preheat oven to 190˚c. Grease a large ovenproof dish with olive oil.

Fry off the onion and the bacon until the onion is soft and the bacon a little crispy. Stir through herbs. I like to use dried oregano, but fresh basil works very well. Allow to cool.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl, add flour and oil and stir vigorously (the mix should resemble a thick cake batter). Fold through cheese, onion mixture, grated zucchini and season to taste.

Pour into the dish and place in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, or until the top is golden and cake is cooked through. I prefer to use a high sided casserole or cake tin, but If you are using a shallow dish, reduce the cooking time.

Allow to cool slightly before serving with tomato passata and shaved parmesan.

* This is also delicious with a little bit of grated pumpkin (say, half a cup), which can be cooked off slightly with the onion and bacon.

Serves 4.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2008

A Month without Alcohol

So I have decided to bite the bullet and try to go for one month (February, being the shortest, of course) without consuming any alcohol. This will be no easy task. I'm doing it for a couple of different reasons; the most important one is that I feel like I should probably drink less, as, incidentally, do many of my friends.
Actually, to clarify that, they don't think I should drink less (although they might after the antics of Kris Kringle Day; now there's an event best forgotten by alcohol-induced amnesia), they think that they themselves should also drink less.

I know it's a killjoy kind of attitude, but I keep having these niggling worries, like the fact that liver damage, not to mention the dreaded alcoholism, can creep up on you, and that each glass of wine kills thousands of my finite number of brain cells... just minor concerns, really.

Being a person of extremely limited willpower, I decided that it would be really hard to commit to this decision unless I added another element. So I've signed up to Febfast, a fund raising campaign tackling teenage alcohol and drug addiction. Participants pay a registration fee (there's my commitment) and seek sponsors to encourage their abstinence efforts. I figure the more sponsors I attract, the less likely I am to succumb to the power of a nice bottle of red. Or white. Or beer. Etc.

If you would like to support my efforts (or to sign up for Febfast yourself) click this link.

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Saturday, 5 January 2008

Beef Stroganoff

Okay, so I know that it’s not really Beef Stroganoff weather (or ‘Beef Strongenough’, so named by one reader of the Jamie Oliver forum) right now, but just before Christmas, Melbourne threw down one of those characteristic wet and cold patches that make you want to yank the Le Creuset out of hibernation and crank up the electric blanky.

It was during this wild week that I happened to catch an autumn episode of Jamie at Home, and found myself salivating as he prepared a fetchingly dark and succulent Beef Strog. Big chunks of meat, garlic, onions, mushrooms and the seemingly out of place pickled gherkins to go with the usual sour cream and parsley sauce. I wasn’t sure about the gherkins, but I was prepared to give it a crack, especially given that years ago, Jamie put me on to anchovies in stew, and I’ve never looked back. I may well complain about him a lot, but it’s definitely thinly disguised jealousy, because I will ogle his food and his garden at any opportunity. It’s practically stalking. Lucky he lives in the UK.

So, despite Channel Ten’s advertisements claiming that Jamie at Home recipes were available on their website, there were none to be found. As a matter of fact, the blurb on the program page still says ‘not currently showing – new episodes coming soon’. Might I tactfully suggest that the PR Ho-Ho-Hoes at Network Serious get their shite together? Anyhoo, I googled the recipe, found afore-mentioned Jamie forum, which contained recipe queries from several similarly inspired Australian viewers. I also happened upon this old thread on Kitchen Wench’s blog. If you don’t have time for a look, let’s just say that there is a lot of anti-gherkin sentiment out there. In fact, the recipe itself did not receive rave reviews. In the end I decided to go with a combination of Rich Stein’s recipe (thanks Wench-reader-Mellie) and the Bill Granger version from the August '04 Delicious. (does anyone else find that full stop annoying?) that I have been using faithfully for the last couple of years.

As you can see, it’s still not the most photogenic of dishes, however I do think the tomato paste adds a bit of richness to the colour (and flavour). This one we ate with steamed rice (because that is what Mini Chef requested), but it is lovely with fresh buttered noodles.

6oog beef fillet or rump steak, trimmed and cut into thick strips
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoons of Hungarian paprika
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
400g mushrooms - I prefer swiss browns, but whatever takes your fancy
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
fresh pepper and sea salt

fresh lemon and hot buttered noodles, to serve

Melt butter in a large heavy-based frying pan and cook onion and paprika until onion is soft and sweet. Add garlic, thyme and mushrooms and fry gently for a few minutes. Remove to plate.

Heat olive oil in the same pan and add the meat in batches, seasoning with pepper and sea salt as you go. Brown the meat quickly on all sides, remove to a plate and add the next batch until all of it is done.

Turn down the heat, return the meat to the pan and add the tomato paste and mustard, cooking for about a minute. Add the mushroom mixture, stir, then add the sour cream and parsley. Stir through and simmer for no more than a minute, then remove from the heat. Season if necessary.

Serve with the hot buttered noodles, a squeeze of lemon juice and a blob of sour cream.

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