Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Food bites

With some free time on my hands as I prepare for a big house move, it's been nice to indulge in some foodie past-times recently. Packing up all my food magazines has taken quite a bit of time, as I stop to flick through the glossy pages and make yet more lists of recipes I want to try. The latest Donna Hay magazine has arrived and is full of enticing recipes and entertaining ideas. I'm trying not to stock up the cupboard or freezer with extra food at the moment, so have had to content myself with marking "must-try recipes" with sticky notes.

Emptying the freezer has enabled me to use up food and do some extra baking. The frozen raspberries left over from last year's berry picking have been turned into glorious jam and a raspberry and pistachio cake that was quickly gobbled up. Some of the frozen boysenberries were cooked in a sugar syrup and then sandwiched between puff pastry triangles with warm custard and dusted with icing sugar to make a quick and tasty dessert. In winter, I spent a wonderful day poaching quinces, the house filling with their wonderful spicy scent as they slowly poached into ruby globes of goodness. I couldn't use them all at the time, so froze the remainder and have just baked them with a brown sugar and hazelnut crumble on top. Fortunately the weather is still cool enough that a crumble is a welcome, rather than stodgy, dessert.

And there's been some time to pop out and try new places. When I lived in Brunswick as a student in the mid-90s, it was not the gentrified, trendy place that it is now. We tended to head to the city or Carlton to eat out but now East Brunswick is full of fabulous cafes and restaurants, all within walking distance of my old student houses. How I wish places such as Thaila Thai, Small Block, Gingerlee and Rumi's existed when I lived there! Although Brunswick is still an easy drive for me to get to, it's not the same as having the cafe around the corner from your house. My sister, her husband and I enjoyed the summer breakfast at Small Block last week: two triangles of thick bread topped with poached eggs and accompanied by beetroot relish, fat, creamy chunks of Persian fetta and a sweet avocado drizzled with lemon juice. It was a refreshing, summery start to the day, especially accompanied by good strong coffee.

A few days later, it was time to pay another visit to Noisette in Bay St, Port Melbourne, for a French-inspired breakfast of a creamy flat white and a crispy, flaky pain au chocolat that melted in my mouth. The plain and almond croissants were also tempting but the chocolate won in the end. This is another lovely little cafe that I wish was my local.

Not that I can complain about my local cafe, Nosh @ Newport, which has gone from strength to strength since it opened 18 months ago. It's filled a real niche in Newport. Once cafe-starved locals needed to travel to Yarraville or Seddon (I don't find much worth bothering with in Williamstown) for a coffee or cafe fix, but now we have Nosh within strolling distance. With books and toys, as well as a healthy children's menu, it's also popular with local families. The coffee, a Supreme blend, is always excellent. My favourite breakfast dish is the Turkish bread egg and bacon roll: two fried eggs, a mound of crispy bacon, aioli and melted cheese squashed into a fat toasted Turkish bread roll, accompanied with spicy relish. It always hits the spot!

Auction Rooms in North Melbourne is a relatively new cafe that's been receiving rave reviews for its excellent coffee and food. Situated on Errol St, you can sit in the front window, enjoying the morning sun and gazing through the enormous glass windows over towards the Town Hall. Inside is flooded with natural light and the tall ceilings and wide open spaces give an airy and warm feel to a space that doesn't feel overwhelming, despite its size. Coffee is freshly roasted each day, with details of the day's bean, its characteristics and the best way to enjoy it chalked up on a blackboard. I had a long black that was perfectly extracted. The coffee was smooth and sweet and there was no need to add sugar. Auction Rooms is also an outlet for Dench Bakers Bread, which features heavily on the menu, where dishes have cute names such as the Counter Bid and Opening Bid. I had the Real Deal, a dish of spicy baked beans with crispy grilled chorizo and cheesy polenta bread. It was a great late-morning breakfast and I can't wait to visit Auction Rooms again.

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