Friday, February 26, 2010

Coffee break: Coffee Hit, Doncaster

Shopped-out fashionistas will find a caffeine hit here that’s a cut above the usual shopping-centre offerings. This is a cafe that takes coffee seriously: as well as grinding and roasting its own beans, Coffee Hit sells beans, utensils and books, and the Australian Barista Champion 2009 runner-up is on staff.

Situated in a light-filled atrium near upmarket grocery stores, Coffee Hit has a classy fitout of dark timber furniture, with space for prams or shopping bags. There’s sandwiches and cakes for sale but the high-standard coffee is the main deal. A very short espresso has an intense, spicy aroma that fills the mouth but fades quickly. The initial tobacco aroma of a long black fades into a mellow, slightly earthy taste that doesn’t linger, while a latte, full of caramel and nuts, is an easy-sipping palate pleaser. Just as pleased are the outer-suburban shoppers who now have a caffeine indulgence to equal their inner-city counterparts.

Coffee Hit
Shop G217, Westfield Shoppingtown
619 Doncaster Road, Doncaster

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rich iced birthday cake

I'm an absolute sucker for magazines that feature Christmas feasts. It doesn't matter how many recipe features I have with Christmas dishes (and I already have my own extensive collection of family favourites that I usually make each year), if I see a new magazine with an enticing spread, I buy it.

I admit that the December issue of Notebook magazine was one such purchase. I am a big fan of Notebook magazine, which seems to be one of the few women's magazines that addresses women who might want to read something more substantial than celebrity gossip and sealed sex sections. There's always lots of inspirational reading, with articles on finance, personal improvement, spiritual wellbeing and work-life balance interspersed with fashion and cooking spreads.

One of the dishes that caught my eye in the December issue was the rich iced mud cake with boozy berries. I didn't have time to make it at Christmas (nor did we really need extra cakes!) but I bookmarked it and decided it was the perfect cake to make for Adam's birthday.

It's always a risk to make a new cake for a special occasion, in case it doesn't work, but the method was easy and the combination of chocolate, coffee, Marsala and mascarpone was tempting. It's a big cake, suitable to serve at least 12 people, so it's an excellent occasion cake. The original method called for the cake to be made in two loaf tins but I made it in one big square cake tin and just had to adjust the cooking time accordingly.

The end result was enthusiastically received by both the birthday boy and the family members who attended the birthday feast. The cake is moist and dense, with the subtle coffee and Marsala flavours blending harmoniously with the chocolate. A mixture of mascarpone, whipped cream, Marsala and icing sugar sandwiches the cake together. The alcohol softens the rich mascarpone and ensures that this cake, while rich, is not overpowering and will not leave you feeling like you've overindulged.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

We made it - paella

Paella is one of my favourite dishes. It is a very traditional dish and there are many versions. Frank Camorra from Movida says that a paella is an outdoor dish, cooked over a bed of coals, and it is customary in Spain for men, rather than women, to make paella. His version, in his superb Movida cookbook, includes white rabbit, mussels, king prawns, periwinkles, squid and firm-fleshed fish. It is a reasonably complicated and time-consuming dish.

But there is also a place for an easier version of paella. Although purists may scoff, and argue that this is not a traditional paella but more of a tomato and rice-based dish, it is still a way to enjoy the flavours of paella on a busy weeknight. And so it was that the first dish I made from this month's Donna Hay Magazine in the We Made It challenge was the chicken, prawn and tomato paella dish.

It was extremely easy to make and absolutely delicious. Next time I would add some chorizo for some extra flavour and spice. I'm sure this moves the dish even further away from traditional paella. But, call it what you will, I urge you to make this dish: it is wonderful!

Chicken, prawn and tomato paella
Recipe from Donna Hay magazine, issue 49, Feb/Mar 2010

1 1/2 Tb olive oil
1 x 200g chicken breast fillet, trimmed and chopped
200g green (raw) prawns, peeled, tails intact
1 small brown onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3/4 cup (150g) medium-grain rice
1 x 400g can diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups (310ml) chicken stock
flat-leaf parsley leaves and lemon wedges, to serve

Heat 1 Tb of the oil in a medium non-stick frying pan over high heat. Add the chicken and prawns and cook for 4-5 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Set aside and keep warm.

Add the remaining oil to the pan with the onion, garlic, chilli and paprika and cook for 2 minutes or until softened. Add the rice, tomato and stock, reduce heat to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for 20-25 minutes or until the rice is cooked. Stir through the chicken and prawns and cook for a further 1 minute. Top with parsley and serve with lemon wedges. Serves 2.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We made it - Donna Hay magazine under the spotlight

Donna Hay is one of my original cooking inspirations. I loved her stylish and simple cooking that first appeared in Marie Claire magazine in the 1990s. Easy-to-obtain ingredients, simple techniques and delicious food stylishly presented on white plates - it all added up to restaurant-style food that could be cooked and presented by home cooks.

I have all Donna's early cookbooks - Dining, Cooking, Food Fast, Flavours - and I was one of the first 50 subscribers when she launched her magazine (I know this because I received an Alessi cheese grater, which was offered to the first 50 people to subscribe). I've never missed an issue and regularly refer back to the old issues to make tried-and-tested favourites, or to get new inspiration. The photography is excellent: not only are the dishes beautifully presented and photographed but many of the features tell a story - perhaps an autumn picnic in the country or a summer beach holiday - and this adds to the overall charm - you can just imagine yourself undertaking such glamourous holidays and effortlessly producing culinary masterpieces to wow your family and friends.

The latest issue - Feb/March 2010, issue 49 "summer" - is the choice for this month's "We Made It" challenge, where Suzie from Munch+Nibble and I select a food magazine and try to cook from it as much as we can. There is lots of inspiration this month - salads, fruit desserts, tomato dishes, a Fast 50 feature with speedy dinner ideas for weeknights and a lovely tropical island feast photographed in the Cook Islands. I'm looking forward to trying out many of the dishes!