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a bit of change...

...is a good thing when you're running for the bus and rummaging through your pockets.

...is good for you when it means new opportunities and more exposure.

...is wonderfully character building in retrospect.

...can get you a fairly decent meal when the other kind of change is looming.


There is change in the air. It's at work and at home and it creeps into the little nooks and crannies of my life, altering the seemingly permanent and shaking up the settled. So, to adjust, I went to lunch with the boys.

The wagyu beef burger from Plan B by Becasse was deemed "not quite enough by M, so eight fish cocktails and a bag of chips were picked up to keep it company. Between three? Thirteen dollars each and just enough change for a can of coke...

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cream cheese & morello cherry teacakes

mainpictureI remember my final year of high school. It is blurry, but it is there. It was flurry of study, assessment and exams broken only by the occasional minor meltdown. An absolute horror of a year for all involved, but, like stomach, one that came with a tasty lining. No-one really noticed it at first, the odd tray of muffins, the cookies in the jar. But then the family started noticing coffee cake, and banana cake and apple cake. And scones and tarts and crumbles and, yes, more muffins. "Hmmm..." thought the family "I wonder if there's a correlation between..." (the family includes 2x engineers so correlation is truly a word they would use).

And the week after my second-to-last batch of exams, it all became stunningly clear. "Where" said my father, looking around after dinner "is dessert?" My sister looked at him. He looked at mum. She looked at me. I blinked. "I... I... I didn't make any this week." said I. "Ah-hah." said the father. "Ah-hah!" said the mother. "Ah-HAH!" said the sister before whispering "what are we ah-hah-ing about?" "We are ah-hah-ing" explained the father "because she... is a stress-baker".

And to this day, when work has been a little tough and the future is cloudy, when I have little control, when I miss someone, when I have been rained on and stepped on and have the Monday-blues, I come home and bake. I pull out a little book of penciled scratchings and try to decipher them as I beat and mix and fold. I make a small mess, or a big one. I guess quantities where my scratchings are blurred and oven temperatures where I haven't jotted them down. And then I am done.

Scraps are washed out of pots and pans, and with them go my worries... which is how I ended up with these cream cheese and morello cherry teacakes-of-a-sort. They're light and fluffy with a slight tang from the cream cheese. The original recipe calls them "buns" but after messing with it (as I do) I found them to be halfway in between breakfast & dessert. Feel free to use whatever jam you like as well - I had half a jar of morello cherry left over from Aldi and a bread & butter pudding, and supplemented with raspberry. The chunky bits were nicer though.

cream cheese & morello cherry teacakes


230g cream cheese
125g butter
1C sugar
2 eggs
1¾C plain flour
1tsp baking powder
½tsp baking soda
¼ milk
½tsp vanilla
½C jam of your choosing


1. It's time to clear the cobwebs. Yank the fridge door open and do a jam assessment. We're looking for something chunky preferably, and not too sweet either. Raspberry worked okay, but tended to leave a glaze rather than a swirl. Cherry is perfect, ditto chunky apricotty numbers. Don't have quite enough of one flavour? That's ok. Use a combination & see which you end up liking best.

beat the cheese, butter & sugar

2. Get your stand or hand mixer out (this is not something you want to do with a whisk / wooden spoon) and toss the cream cheese in. (There will, conveniently, be 20g missing from the 250g tub from that time you made cream cheese & smoked trout sandwiches. If not, go make some for dinner.) Then toss in the cubed butter and sugar beat, beat, beat until it becomes smooth and light and creamy.

vanilla specks in a creamy mix

3. Toss an egg in and mix thoroughly. Repeat with the other egg, and then the vanilla. I'm using a pure vanilla extract, though essence will work too.

sift the dry ingredients

4. Time to get your dry ingredients sorted. Sift them all together. If you can't be bothered, use an equivalent amount of self-raising flour. This night, I was bothered. Next time? Probably not so much.

5. Mix about half of your dry ingredients into the cream cheese mix. When it has a cosntant texture, tip your milk in and repeat. Then repeat again with the rest of the flour.

dollop it into a well oiled tray

6. Oil up a couple of cupcake trays with vege oil, and put dollops of the mix in. You'll end up with enough for about 30 cupcake-shaped numbers or, you can do as I did and do one cupcake tray and then dump the rest of the mixture into a silicon tart form. Then you will have 12 cupcake-shaped numbers and one tart-shaped number. Don't ever tell me that maths isn't a strong point of mine...

add the jam

7. Now for the fun part. Dollop half spoonfuls of jam on the top of each bit of mix and then use a knife (or the back of said spoon) to swirl and poke it into the batter. When you get to the larger cake, dollop it all around and go swirl crazy.

out of the oven

8. Crank the oven up to 180C and toss the cakes in. The cupcakes take about 15 minutes and the flan form will take 20 minutes. Check they're cooked by inserting a wooden skewer into the cake. If it comes out clean it's good to go.

9. It's a teacake, so serve it up with some cream and tea. Or just cream. Or you could just pop it into your mouth hot out of the oven and go "Ahhhh..."

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merivale winter feasts: launchparty

the establishmentThere is a queue when we arrive. A line of people that snakes past the red-ribbon barriers and spills down George Street. We hustle past them and up to the door of the Establishment. "We're here to take photos" we say. And like that, we're in. Just past the heavy doors and the bescarfed pig that guards them lies a calm flurry of people. Plating, moving, doing last minute arrangements. "Have fun!" comes a call after us. Oh yes, thought I, we will!

A feast of tiny morsels awaits us. There are, in truth, too many to taste, much less photograph. And as I wander through the Establishment, do a quick circle round the Gin Garden, and then double back to the front of the room, I hear the call "Seven minutes to opening!" and then later "Five minutes!" And I am still hastily photographing the Ocean Trout Sashimi from Sushi E when the first of the crowd come through.

Nothing screams launch party more than a small dose of celebrity, and I'm getting my taste of it in two forms. The first being a VIP pass for me + one to sample the food and wine from the comfort of a cordoned off section with many thanks to Melissa from Merivale. It is a far cry from the elbows and sleeping bags of the March into Merivale launch party and is much appreciated.

clockwise from top left: akira urata, michelle from masterchef, massimo bianchi & dan hong

The clever bunnies at Merivale staggered entry this time around, instead of ushering all and sunder in off the street. And the result? A much calmer atmosphere, a little less harried, and far fewer elbows in faces than the last time around. Still nicely cosy, but only so much as was fitting for the wintery theme. It also made for far cheerier chefs (being the other dose of "celebrity", for those of you who didn't quite pick it). And, despite being urged to "go forth and get friendly" I could only muster up the courage to take a couple of quick snaps before grinning a little stupidly and saying how much I loved the food. Note to self: next time, say hi.

Bistro CBD
head chef: simun dragicevich

duck rilette with beetroot, cornishons en croute

But enough about me and my sometimes-shy ways. You want to know about the food. What it was, where we got it, and who we loved the most. Right? Well here we go then! These little croutons topped with duck rilette, beetroot and cornishons hit the tongue with a savory / sour / sweet combination that was oh-so-comforting with cornishons and beetroot cutting through the fat of the rilette nicely.

gougeres - cheesy choux puffs

Cheesy choux puffs were a rich, mouth sticking favourite amongst some of our party. The choux was lovely and crisp without being dry, and the creamy cheese mix that was piped in the bottom added a punchy hit of flavour.

white chocolate tartlets

My firm favourite out of the Bistro CBD offerings (and indeed, one of my favourites of the evening) was the white chocolate tartlet with a bitter orange gel. Buttery dark chocolate pastry, smooth white chocolate filling and oh! the bitter orange gel with a slight acidity and a lovely pithy bitterness that muted the white chocolate's sometimes-overwhelming sweetness. It was both a boon and a curse that a platter of these was placed jsut next to where we were standing. A boon because it allowed me to eat five or six of them... and a curse because it left me with less room in my stomach for the rest of the tastes on offer.

Ash Street Cellar
head chef: lauren murdoch

duck liver paté on a brioche bun with currant relish

Like at the Merivale Gala Dinner, the dishes offered up by Lauren Murdoch at Ash St Cellar were eye-openers. The duck liver pate with currant relish on brioche garnered mixed reactions - more because of the polarising nature of
pate, and less because of the pairing itself.

But, and here I start to gush, her standout offering (and indeed, the standout offering of the night for me) was the creamed snapper and fennel soup with gremolata. Served in a chinese tea cup, this piping hot, sweetly fishy, slightly aniseedy, wonderfully fragrant soup was an absolute hit. So much so that there were giggles of delight when the lovely Michael from Hemmesphere popped by to ask what our favourite dish was thus far, and sourced a whole 'nuther tray of the teacups for us. And apologies to those around who didn't manage to score a cup, for I think I may have consumed your share. And yours. Oh, and yours too.

filo tartlet with mascarpone realle,
honey quince puree and roasted hazelnuts

Also popular were these shatteringly crisp filo tartlets. They were just the right size for popping into your mouth (and oh-so-pretty with their scalloped edges). Upon popping, there was the quickly dissolving filo, and then the sour, cheesiness of mascarpone and then, suddenly, a sweetness that was all but gone by the time it registered on your tastebuds. Beautiful.

head chef: dan hong

tuna tartare, sweet wasabi

The ever-ingenious Dan Hong carted out three offerings for the hungry crowd, all of which went down an absolute treat. Tuna tartare was served on crisp bread with a sweet and creamy wasabi dressing - the creaminess mellowing out the sinus-clearing wasabi hit and providing a complementary mouth feel to the slippery but firm tuna.

venison tartare on crispbread & vietnamese style chicken croutons

I admit, I tried the venison tartare with slight trepidation. Venison, for me, is one of those meats that I sometimes love and sometimes absolutely detest - and it all comes down to the way in which it is cooked. I needn't have worried. The venison was sliced, not minced, and slid into the mouth and down the throat in a slippery, slightly slimy, but oh-so-satisfying way. Possibly not a canape for the queasy, but I was enamoured. It was, to be honest, very rich, as venison tends to be, but not overpoweringly gamey. And with that, I was thrilled.

The not-quite-as-adventurous Miss Shiny (who attended as my ever-lovely +1) far preferred the vietnamese style chicken croutons, going so far as to dub it her favourite dish of the evening. An unexpectedly spicy kick was noted in the chicken's dressing, which lifted this fragrant, herbalicious morsel from pretty good to (in Miss Shiny's words) "whoah... hey... I like!"

mad cow
head chef: christopher whitehead

"our signature beef tartare"

I missed out on the goat’s curd, pear and rocket mini tart from Mad Cow, but the beef tartare more than made up for it. Unlike the venison from lotus, the beef here was minced finely and hit the tongue with lovely pickled flavours before melting into a clean, slightly-eggy finish.

chocolate brownie

But (and can you tell I love dessert?) it was the chocolate brownie that really had me raving. I heard a call of "This is the last plate we've got!" and hustled. It was only just cooked, so had that beautifully fudgy bottom and a top that was almost like eating chocolate ganache from a bowl. So rich. So gooey. So simply good.

head chef: peter doyle

avocado, king crab and mint on lavosh

There were no surprises at est., where meticulously crafted flavours are to be expected. The king crab came in plump and juicy slivers of sweetness, the lavosh was crisp and the avocado creamy. A hint of mint jolted the tastebuds just enough left a fresh, crisp balance of flavours lingering on my tongue.

tartare of ocean trout, cucumber, ponzu and coriander

The tartare of ocean trout was fresh, and sour and fragrant and highlighted by the briney pop of little balls of roe. Cucumber added another layer of textural difference and added a hint of freshness that set off the rich oiliness of the beautiful trout. It was lovely to see trout used here, as well, instead of the normal salmon. The fish is just a little bit less oily and heavy and its use hinted at that little bit of genius that lifts Peter Doyle's dishes from the crowd.

tuscan bean stew and braised beef cheek tarts

A final offering of tuscan bean stew and braised beef cheek tart was gladly recieved by my not-so-fish-friendly-friend. It was heavier and more wintery, though the beef appeared to be cooked right down and almost unapparent in amongst the robust beans and tomatoey sauce. Either that, or I simply missed it in amongst the beans.

head chef: massimo bianchi

prosciutto san daniele and grissini (uccello)

Massimo Bianchi sated the hungry hordes with prosciutto on grissini, and try as we may, we were unable to sample the pork goodness on its own. Not that I had any complaints about the grissini - lovely and dry and shattering between the teeth, it provided a subtle foil to the rich, fatty meat.

I am horrified to admit that I missed out on the lasagne. Not for want of trying, mind you. I did try, dear friends, to score a box for myself, but by this stage, I ws filing up, and the distance between myself and the boxes was too great (also the number of people who were hovering with hopes of getting their hands on a box). I could smell it though... *sigh*.

tiramisu (uccello)

I did not, however, miss out on the tiramisu. And to make up for lasagne disappointment, I did not miss out on the tiramisu twice. (Both times courtesy the ever-lovely Anthony who battled crowds and shoo-ed away over eager hands in order to bring us a tray for photography and consumption. Twice.) Ensconsed in a chocolate cup, it was everything a tiramisu ought to be. Boozy, moist cake. Light-as-anything marscapone. Lovely rich, dark chocolate powder. Bliss!

head chef: akira urata

akira urata plating king fish skewers with asian salsa

You are tiring of reading, I know. But there are four more chefs from three more establishments and a call for dining companions at the end. One of my favourite nibbles from the March into Merivale launch was the kingfish with jalapeno, and I was ever-so-glad to see Akira plating up this variation. Thick slabs of kingfish were topped with a salsa of tomato and coriander (amongst other unidentifiables) and were simply lovely. Not the mouth kick of the jalapeno, but lovely nonetheless.

Wagyu penny burgers were also offered up, and whilst I didn't manage to snap a pic, I did manage to get my teeth into one. Well, half of one. And only because Miss Shiny was gracious enough to let me take a chunk out of the otherwise-fiercely guarded morsel.

beijing duck ‘ivy style’

Beijing Duck 'ivy style' was a little like Peking duck pancakes gone classy. Gone were the wheaten pancakes and crisp duck skin (which I actually quite like) and, in their place, rice paper and duck meat. A tasty treat in itself, more so if you aren't hoping for Peking Duck pancakes.

sushi e
head chef: nobuyuki ura

ocean trout sashimi

And finally, and only finally because they are not participating in the $35 winter feasts offer, is Sushi E. They are, however, participating in a $20 all you can eat sushi deal, so get your bodies in there while you still can.

On offer, ocean trout sashimi with a segment of ruby grapefruit hidden under the folds (a top five of the evening canape for me - the sweet-and-bitter flavours of the grapefruit doing lovely things for the trout), lotus root and king prawn sandwich (which was crisp and containing whole prawns and hiding the unmistakeable density of lotus root - bliss!) and salmon and avocado inside out rolls, which were gone before I could say boo.

merivale functions & events
head chefs: carlos justo & richard johnson

And, in amongst all of that, were floating platters from Carlos & Richard of merivale functions and events. And while the others produced beautiful, eye opening creations, these were the canapes that kept us going, and going strong. The pecorino and porcini mushroom arancini were crisp on the outside and pillowy on the inner, and the goan spiced chicken skewer with preserved lime was chicken breast done to perfection - tender and succulent.

Also on offer were caramelised onion and gorgonzola tarts; smoked salmon, pesto roulade with lemon fraiche; salt cod croquettes with chilli, lime aioli and game rillettes with fresh fig and currant relish - but alas! I either found them not, or had not the stomach to try them by the time they coursed my way.

"But oh! Dear girl!" you are exclaiming "It's a recession! And I can't afford to eat at all of these spots, much as I want to." And "Oh, darling!" I am exclaiming, right back at you "Just wait til you hear!"

For merivale is offering up a winter feasts menu right through winter. For the grand price of $35, you can land yourself with either one, two or three courses (depending on the restaurant) along with a glass of wine or a James Squire beer.

Most places are offering up the additional course(s) for a small extra, so it's very worthwhile. As for me? I'm booked into lotus for dinner already, and am searching for fellow friends to hit up uccello with (if not some other joints) before the winter is up. Join me?

(And as a sidenote, book now. And I mean now. Because on calling to make my reservation at lotus a whole 2 weeks in advance, I was told that there were only two tables left - one at 7pm and one at 9pm. So c'mon. Hustle.)

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shanghai noodles with pork mince

shanghai noodles with pork minceWinter is well and truly upon us, and oh! how the days grow short and the nights cold. And on such days (which are destined to continue for at least the next couple of months) the thought of trudging home to cook up a meal after a long day and a stinkin' bus trip does not hold quite the same appeal as it did back in Summer. The upside? Winter comfort food, and quick qinter comfort food at that. Don't reach for the phone and call for take out noodles, because in 25 or so minutes (15 if you have an assistant handy), you can be plated and ready for a quick, tasty and nutritionally balanced(ish) dinner in front of whatever you deem worthy of watching.

Enter Shanghai Noodles with a beany minced pork topping and lashings of crunchy cucumber. More texturally interesting than your average microwave meal and twice as good for you. Also tasty. Did I mention how tasty these were? The family went fairly nuts for it (and, I'm proud to say, ate the lot - which is not bad at all).

noodles & spring onion
noodles & spring onion

Note: Shanghai noodles are long, thin eggless noodles with a flour base. You should be able to find a packet in most asian grocery stores. If not, you can substitute with udon noodles (which will be thicker, but equally tasty).

shanghai noodles with pork mince


for the sauce:

2 tbsp brown bean sauce
1 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
375 ml (1½ cups)chicken stock

for the rest of it:

80 ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil
5 green onions, finely chopped, white and green parts separated
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
300g minced pork
1 tsp white sugar, or to taste
1 tsp tapioca starch
500gm fresh Shanghai noodles
1 Lebanese cucumber


1. First things first. Take off your coat, shake your umbrella out and get into a pair of slippers. Turn the heating on and rouse the family. "We're having noodles for dinner!" you will say. "Oh, ok." they will reply. Don't worry about the lack of reaction. They'll come around once they start to smell it.

mix the sauce up
mix the sauce up

2. Now get to sauce making. Dump it all in whatever is deemed worthy and stir around. It can be tricky measuring out some of the ingredients, mainly because the lid of your jar will be this big and your tablespoon measure will be just that little bit wider. No matter. Guess-timate. Use your sense of smell to see what you think it should be like.

chop the spring onion & cucumber
chop the spring onion & cucumber

3. Hopefully by now you will have found a hungry hovering hippo to give you a hand. If not, you can do it yourself. It's not so bad, truly. Chop up the spring onion and cucumber. Three bowls please. One for the white part of the spring onion, one for the green, and another for the cucumber. I've done my spring onion in rounds (straight across it) and my cucumber in little matchsticky pieces.

4. While they're at it, get them to chop the garlic. That way their fingers will smell of garlic all night, and not yours.

cooking it all up
cooking it all up

5. We're almost there! Truly! Tip the oil in a wok and wait til it gets hot. Toss the white part of the spring onion and the garlic in and fry until fragrant (but not brown). About half a minute will do nicely.

6. Toss the mince in and stir fry it until it becomes opaque and each bit of meat separates from the others.

7. Now toss your sauce mix in and simmer. After about five minutes, mix your starch with about 3 tablespoons of water and toss that in too. Bring it to the boil, then back to a simmer for another five minutes. Toss the green part of the spring onion in and stir just before serving.

8. In the meantime, cook your noodles in a separate pot of boiling water for about 3 minutes.

9. All done? Ladle a serve of noodles into a bowl, top with your nicely thickened meaty sauce, a good handful of cucumber and you're good to go. Now, where was that remote...

good to go
good to go

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