Friday, October 28, 2011

High Tea at Miss D Cafe

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Miss D Cafe

Last weekend, my dear mummy and I took a drive to an obscure cafe in Tarrigindi for high tea. I used to have an obsession with high tea. I recall that last year, or was it 2 years ago, I aimed to have high tea at every single establishment that offered it in Brisbane.

Obviously that never happened.

But anyway, I can at least tick Miss D off my insubstantial list of 'been there's.

We parked streetside and crossed a busy (scary) road to enter a tiny shop. Miss D doubles as a gift store so the layout is quite eccentric. It looks like a retail store... but there's a counter with cakes and a couple of tiny, dainty tables.

We were seated at one such table towards the back of the shop/cafe. It was laid out with cute plates, cups and cutlery but we queried how anything else would fit on the small tabletop.

English breakfast tea

Our first offering was of English breakfast tea. Mum and I were totally n00b that morning and forgot to use a strainer. Oops. That explains why the photo of my cup has little tea leaves floating around in it.

I'm in no way, shape or form a tea expert. Mum seems to know her stuff a bit more than me and she commented that the tea had a beautiful golden colour.

The triple tier of mini treats arrived next. Now, THIS is more my thang - tea, I don't know... but food is something I have an opinion on. I forgot the proper high tea etiquette... to start at the top or bottom? The top tier had all the sweet goodies so even though I initially thought we should start from the top and work our way down, my instinct for finishing on a sweet note won out. We started on the bottom tier.

Savory tier

The savories included finger sandwiches, mini ham and cheese croissants, baby quiches and pizza buttons. Honestly, they were all delicious. There was amazing attention to detail.

Chicken finger sandwich

The finger sandwiches were so fresh and had all the crust removed. We saved a ham and cheese croissant for dad and even though it was cold by then, he scoffed it down.

Scones with jam and cream

The middle contained 2 chubby scones, a dish of cream and a dish of jam. What else do you need?

Scone close-up

Fans of the cooking aspect of my blog will know I was quite a scone fanatic. I haven't made any batches recently because I've sorta stopped cooking (stupid, tiny rental kitchen and busy work schedule). I will still happily enjoy eating a scone anytime though.

These were good. They had that lovely homemade consistency rather than the horrible bread-like wannabe scones you get at some cafes. These crumbled nicely and the cream and jam were delish too.

Sweet tier

Finally, we had worked our way to tier 3. Mum was weakening in her resolve and didn't have enough stomach space to even try some of these sweets (she's a small lady) but I'm well-practiced. The caramel tart was surprisingly runny but still delicious. I thought the lemon cake was nice and light. The little cupcake was sooooo adorable. And tasty too.

We had a nice time at Miss D's. I have rekindled my affection for high tea! The service was incredibly friendly and the food was thoughtful and delicious. Although our table was tiny, the servingware was cute and we liked the atmosphere.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Chocolate Cottage

The Chocolate Cottage
10475 New England Highway, Highfields

What happens when you live in Toowoomba and you've run out of new places to eat? Drive further out.

Mochi discovered this cafe called The Chocolate Cottage about 15min out from Toowoomba CBD in an adjacent town called Highfields.

I know that on the scale of Brisbane, 15min is nothing. In fact, it would be considered 'close-by'. In Toowoomba, 15min feels really out of town.

In fact, I believe Byron actually said to me "I can't believe we're driving all this way for breakfast".

That's what happens when you live out rural - your perception of reality gets screwed.

Anyway... despite his grumbly, Byron did drive us 'all the way' to Highfields on a recent Saturday morning.

The Chocolate Cottage is indeed a cottage, and although it's not made out of chocolate, there are plenty of chocolate goods on display. The building itself is a gift shop slash cafe counter, where you can buy stuff and order stuf.

The veranda as seating, as does the back yard. We sat on the veranda and peered out into the back yard for a glimpse of what may be a mountain view (too many hedges in the way to be sure).

Byron had already eaten instant noodles that morning (don't ask), so he ordered a chocolate milkshake. I was down for something more substantial so I had myself a vegetarian panini, a hot chocolate and also ordered a white chocolate and pistachio cake to share.

Chocolate milkshake

The beverages arrived first. The chocolate milkshake was a chocolate milkshake... nothing work remarking upon. It didn't make our knees weak like the Swiss chocolate milkshake from Pancake Manor does.

Hot chocolate

I thought my hot chocolate looked promising, with its high peak of foam dusted with cocoa powder. Then, Byron pointed out that the bottom wasn't mixed. I looked and saw that indeed, there was powder on the bottom of the glass that hadn't been stirred into the beverage. Um, why is a cafe famed for chocolate products using powdered hot chocolate? Needless to say it just tasted like home-mixed powder chocolate with a bit of foam. Disappointing.

Vegetarian panini

The vegetarian panini was... interesting. It was a huge serving. I was hungry and started digging in. I thought it was pretty good. The falaafel bits were moist. There was some kind of a sweet chili corn relish. I offered Byron a bit to taste and he rejected it on appearance because it looked 'too busy'. I guess it is a panini with an identity crisis: semi-dried tomatoes, sweet chili, corn, sour cream, falaafel. This is combination without a clear theme. Nevertheless, I can't fault it for tasting bad.

White chocolate and pistachio cake

Our white chocolate and pistachio cake was probably the highlight of the meal. It was moist and dense with a lovely stickiness. The crunchy pistachio topping and side of whipped cream complimented really well.

Texture shot of cake

Byron complained that it was great until you have 3 bites, then it's sickly sweet. I beg to differ. He is male and therefore not as dessert-tolerant as I. Coming from a lover of all things baked, I maintain that this was a good cake.

Chocolate for home

I picked up some handmade chocolate while I was at The Chocolate Cottage. Half went to Mochi (i.e. back to our unit in Toowoomba) and half went to mum and dad. I sampled a few of Mochi's (is it weird to give a present and then eat some of it...?) and liked most of what I tried. In particular, the malt ball and praline shells stood out to me.

The Chocolate Cottage was a quaint little place. Something about it being 15min from Toowoomba gave it a vibe of 'coffee shop in the middle of nowhere'. I liked the atmosphere. I was disappointed by the chocolate beverages but I told Mochi we have to go back sometime because I deemed it was worthy enough for her to try.
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Domino's New Free Range Chicken Pizzas

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Domino's New Free Range Chicken Pizzas

Ah... Domino's pizza brings me way back. I remember as a kid, mum and dad would take me to Domino's as a little treat. We'd order Meatlovers in Deep Pan. That was our 'usual'. And we'd eat it steaming hot in the back of the car. My parents were of the opinion that pizza was best eaten IMMEDIATELY, not a minute later.

Times have changed. My favorite flavors are now vegetarian. I prefer Thin 'n' Crispy as a base. I NEVER have time to order and eat pizza out - it's gotta be delivered or nothing (those online orders/iPhone Apps help).

Another recent change is that Domino's are now using free range, locally sourced chicken on their chicken pizzas.

I got the news earlier this week and was totally keen to try it out. After vegetarian, chicken pizzas are my next best pick. Free range is not only more ethical, but it tastes better on everything else, so will it be the same on pizza?

Time to find out.

I scored 3 of the new flavors to try: chicken and feta, creamy chicken and cherry tomato, and finally, BBQ chicken and bacon.

Each box was opened with glee. I spend some time savoring the pizzas by appearance alone.

Chicken and feta pizza

Being a vego pizza lover, I like to see a bit of green. The chicken and feta pizza instantly spoke out to me. It had lush tendrils of what appears to be spinach... I don't know why but greenery on pizza just makes it look that much tastier. Is it my brain trying to gather evidence to the contrary and pretend pizza is a health food? Who cares. The chicken and feta was delish. There was a great mediterranean vibe happening with the feta and olives but nothing too crazy, which i like. These are the kinds of toppings I would use when making pizza at home.

Creamy chicken and cherry tomato pizza

Next, I tried the creamy chicken and cherry tomato flavor. How good does that sound? It tasted just as good. In fact, I have to say this was my favorite. I am a softy for fresh tomato on pizza. There is something about the tanginess that does wonders for cutting through the richness of a cheese topping.

BBQ chicken and bacon

The final flavor was BBQ chicken and bacon. This is obviously the manly flavor. Not one smidgeon of green. I was put off by sight but I grudgingly admit it tasted pretty good. The BBQ flavor had a nice sweetness to it. I didn't say no to a second slice.

Trio of flavors

Now, the important verdict: did I notice the free range difference? I can't say if it was my imagination or some kind of placebo effect but the chicken on the pizza did taste better to what I recall from the past.

Pizza in bed watching TV shows on laptop = win

I was always under the impression that chicken pizzas were a ripoff because you pay more and all you get is a few pieces of cardboard-textured cubes pretending to be 'chicken'. All the chicken on the 3 pizzas I tried tasted like real chicken. And not only that, the chicken was juiiicy.

The sad part was, I pointed this out to Byron when he had a helping and he said "there's hardly any chicken on here". While he may be a greedy male, that was sorta true. So, the quality of chicken has improved but in turn, that makes us want MORE on the pizza.

All in all, kudos for the change Domino's :).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cheesy Corn and Bacon Muffins

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Cheesy Corn and Bacon Muffins
Home Cooking

I was doing my 'how do I use up as many existing pantry ingredients in one recipe' scan when I found a recipe for corn muffins in Woman's Weekly Bake. Ok, so it didn't encompass as much as I wanted but it was a good base. I took that recipe and beefed it up with extra meat, extra cheese and extra goodness.

How can a muffin with both bacon and ham possibly be bad?

These muffins were originally going to be a contribution to a party but there weren't enough for everyone to have at least one so I figured it was better ettiquette to not bring any.

That lead to there being 12 muffins in my house that I didn't plan on. I have to say, they had no trouble being devoured within 3-4 days. They were gooooood.

Cheesy Corn and Bacon Muffins
Makes 12

  • 1/2 cup (85g) polenta
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) milk
  • 3 bacon rashers (210g), rind removed, chopped finely
  • 30g ham, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped finely
  • 1 and 1/2 cups (225g) self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 310g can corn kernels, drained
  • 125g can creamed corn
  • 100g butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, beaten lightly
  • 50g cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 50g of cream cheese, cubed into 12 portions
  • 1/4 cup (30g) coarsely grated cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to moderately hot (200°C/180°C fan-forced). Oil 12-hole muffin pan.
2. Mix polenta and milk in small bowl. Cover and stand for 20 minutes.3. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a heated small non-stick frying pan for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat. Cool the bacon mixture for about 5 minutes.4. Sift the flour and sugar into large bowl. Stir in corn kernels, creamed corn, bacon, ham, spring onion, parsley and cheese.5. Add the melted butter, egg and polenta mixture. Mix the muffin batter only until just combined.6. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the batter into each hole of the muffin pan. Place one piece of cream cheese in the middle of the batter in muffin pan hole.7. Divide remaining batter among muffin pan holes. Sprinkle grated cheese over each.8. Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until muffins are well-risen. Turn muffins onto wire rack. Serve muffins warm.

These muffins were delicious. They were perfect on their own, served warm as a snack. The polenta base mixture is easy to do and adds a subtly sweet 'cornbready' element to the muffin... but these babies are much more loaded than cornbread.

I like that the exterior was golden and slightly crunchy from the molten cheese. The fillings I used worked really well together but you can modify and add your own spin.

Bite shot

You can get fancy and supply some cream cheese and chutney too. I thought the cream cheese filling was enough to keep things interesting without embelishment. I tried the muffins reheated and they were still fabulous.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ortiga Restaurant

Ortiga Restaurant

Last night I had one of those dining experiences that must be shared right away. Most of my posts are written up to a week after the fact but this time, I just can't wait that long. Although I didn't get much sleep last night and I'm tired and I'd rather be online shopping, I've got to document the memory before it fades and I start omitting details.

I know I say this about lots of restaurants but Ortiga has been on my 'must visit' for a long, long time... ever since the day I first saw it when I had dinner nearby at Mint. Mint is long gone but I still remember seeing the legs of cured meat hanging in the restaurant and thinking "I want to go there". At the time I hadn't made the connection that Isis used to be in that exact location but I soon learned that Ortiga was the follow-on.

Well, I missed the boat on Isis but I knew I'd have a chance to try Ortiga.

False alarms of 'I think this weekend is The Weekend to finally go there' came and went. Next thing I knew, I saw Ortiga leading the rank of Queensland restaurants in Gourmet Traveller's 2012 restaurant awards... and the desire to go went up a few notches.

The chance came at last. An uncle flew in to Brisbane from the USA and Grandpa asked me to pick a restaurant to enjoy a family dinner. I couldn't suggest Ortiga fast enough. I rang up and a booking was secured. Next came the wait.

Last night, the wait was over. We battled the kind of travel complications only possible when you get a couple of seniors (grandparents), a stuborn man (good old dad), a guy from out of town (uncle), a woman who can't park in the valley (mum) and an incorectly set-up GPS, and spread these out across 2 cars. The result was a lot of getting lost, getting confused, yelling, frustration and going into wrong restaurants...

It was a miracle we all ended up at our table in Ortiga's basement restaurant. By the time dad's car full of people arrived, I was halfway through a nerve-calming gin and tonic.

The late arrival had driven me into a high-strung mode of panic. Once everyone was seated, I found myself bossing the drinks waitress to bring me menus when in fact, someone else was already on their way with our menus. As soon as these were set down, I pounced our waiter with a "how do you recommend we order from this menu" and was politely told "I was just about to explain..."

I think I managed to calm down a bit after that.

Not to toot my own horn but I've eaten a fair chunk out of Brisbane's available restaurants. I can decipher most menus. Ortiga's menu was totally foreign to me. I spotted the odd English word here and there ('squid', 'duck', 'lamb' etc) but on the whole, I did need a lot of help.

The waiter explained that the menu was designed for sharing and that the majority of dishes were smaller tapas sizes. If we wanted enough for the whole table (6 people), we'd need to double up on those orders. There were also 3 items from the 'mains' section that were larger serves so we could just order a couple of single serves of those.

Orders were placed and very shortly after, the food started arriving.


Our first morsel from Ortiga was the croquetas. I won't venture to guess exactly what the filling comprised of, only that it tasted cheesy and hammy but much more complex.


I don't know if grandpa was just super hungry or genuine but he proclaimed that it was delicious. I thought they were good and had a more interesting flavor than standard cheese croquettes. Did it blow my socks off? No, but a plate of those with some beer would've been fab.

Selection of Jamónes: de Bellota, de Cebo and Serrano with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Puro

Next was our selection of jamon. Our waiter gave a detailed description of each variety. What I gathered was that there were 4 types of cured ham, ranging from left to right in order of 'most normal' to 'most special'. By special, I mean that it had winning specs such as 'black pig' and 'fed on pure acorns' etc. Mum and I liked the '3rd one' the most. Because that's not helpful to anyone, I will go out on a limb and venture to say this was te 'serrano'. But that is an educated guess, no more.

Tearing is sharing

Grandpa pretty much went to heaven with the jamon. He's always been an epic fan of cured meats, ever since he descovered humble proscuitto. Everyone loved this platter but commented that it wasn't really Ortiga's cooking that made the meat so fine. Fair enough, I suppose.

Ajo blanco with smoked eel and grapes

The following dish was one of Ortiga's creation. And boy, what a creation it was. I blindly ate away without any idea what I was eating (I promptly forgot what we ordered the moment the order was finalized). When the waiter described the dish, I heard 'foam' and 'jelly' but that's about it. Whatever it was, it was art on the plate and in the palate. I now know (via studying the menu and using Google) that this was the ajo blanco, which is a kind of cold Spanish soup. It had a beautiful, creamy consistency, well balanced by the crunchy ham pieces and sweetness of spring onion. It's supposed to have a smoked eel component but without knowing that, I couldn't detect it in the dish. Dad said this was like 'mayonnaise with bacon'. He might have meant that nicely but what a way to unglamorize a dish! Tsk, men...

Sesos de cordero con jamón, habitas y camarones – Lamb brains with jamón, broad beans and school prawns

Half our table wanted to try the lamb brains so we ordered on portion of those. Initially, I was part of the half who didn't want to try any but peer pressure (and gluttony) made me change my mind. The tiny morsel I tried was beautiful! It wasn't at all gory like I imagined but very delicate.

Magret de pato con castañas y ceps – slow cooked duck breast with chestnuts and ceps

The duck dish arrived around the same time. Mum and I actually watched these being plated up without realizing they were destined for our table. We were marvelling at how careful and finicky they were with the presentation (I saw a piece of duck being swapped because it wasn't balancing on the plate properly). Not only was the dish visually stunning, it was absolutely delicious. We were told to try to get all the components in one mouthful and that, in my opinion, is indeed the best way to enjoy this dish. Every element on the plate adds a depth of flavor and texture that just makes each mouthful sing. Mum said something along the lines of 'symphony in my mouth' and no one laughed at her lameness because we were too busy agreeing. The ducked was sous-vide and then seared to ensure juiciness and the collaboration with crisp onion, chestnuts and more bits than I can comprehend were just genius. This became our table's favorite dish. We later learnt that it was being taken off the menu in the next season in favor of a chicken dish. To that, I say: too bad guys.

That was the end of our tapas selection. We next moved on to mains. To this point, the men had been enjoying the food but were wondering 'will we need a burger after this'.

Arroz Caldoso de Marisco
Our first main was the seafood stew. I tried to translate this in Chinese and I think everyone was expecting a paella-type deal but what we got instead was a stew. This was... an unusual tasting stew.

My plate of seafood stew

Again, the flavor was multi-tonal and complex. I recall the waiter saying something about aniseed. There was definitely saffron. I didn't like it at first but it really grew on me. The seafood bits that I had were so fresh, sweet and juicy too.

Whole slow cooked lamb shoulder with patatas a lo pobre and lemon puree

The next main was one of the dishes I was looking forward to the most: the slow-cooked lamb shoulder.
Patatas a lo pobre

It arrived as a whole shoulder, served with potato gratin, a lamb jus and lemon puree.

Lamb being torn

Our waitress then tore the shoulder apart with nothing but 2 spork-looking instruments. It's a testimont to how tender a piece of meat is when it can be pulled apart with sporks.

I thought the lamb was extremely melty, soft and juicy. As for flavor, well, it had a strong lamb flavor... but that's about it.

Lamb pulled apart

This is a great dish if you like lamb in it's element, pure and stong. However, for me (and the rest of the table), after the taste trip we got from the other dishes, this seemed totally homely and mundane. Sure, it was a very well done homely dish but homely all the same. The men would have liked some charred crispy bits.

My plate of lamb

I have to to say I was let down too. It wasn't bad but for Queensland's best restaurant, I expected more fireworks from the finale of the savory dishes.

We were undecided about dessert. I do love dessert and rarely pass up an opportunity to try dessert at a new restaurant. For some reason, I didn't think Ortiga had dessert or at least, they weren't famous for it.

To grandpa's insistence, we ordered 3 desserts to try and share.

Pumpkin mille-feuille

The first was a pumpkin mille-feuille. This was surprisingly good! As a pumpkin fan, even I wouldn've been shocked by the suggestion that pumpkin would be good in a puff pastry slice but it worked really well. This dessert was delicate and creative and it just worked. Mum and dad liked it too. It wasn't too sweet either.

Ride pudding with apple

Our second dessert was the special of the day, which was a rice pudding with apple. I was feeling high on the whole experience and thought this dessert was good too. After all our savory food (especially the fatty lamb), it was refreshing to have a cool, fruit-based dessert to cleanse the palate.

Chocolate pudding and Spanish donut

Uncle chose the chocolate pudding and fritter dessert. When I read the description, I pictured churros but it was more like a cinnamon donut served with artsy chocolate smears. The middle 'dollop' was extremely boozy... in a good way.

I'm so sorry I didn't take a photo of the dessert menu, and now I can't find the dessert items online so I can't give better descriptions of what they were.

By this time, all the blood in my body had gone to my stomach to tackle the problem of digesting and I was feeling content and restful. Unfortunately, I had a social event to rush to after dinner so mum and I thought a 'pick me up' was in order. We both ordered lattes to finish the night.

Cafe latte

I know that it's usual to get coffee after a meal in a Western restaurant... but I don't normally make time for it. Last night, I did and was really impressed by the coffee. Mochi and I spend so much time rushing around to cafes that are famous for their coffee and well, I have to say the latte from Ortiga was amongst the best I've ever had. It was strong but not overpoweringly bitter and had a very smooth, dense foam. It was just the fuel I needed to last a night of talking/catch-ups with close friends.

On the whole, I had a great time at Ortiga. The service was fabulous and I don't just mean 'friendly' or 'fast'. There was something about the entire staff that oozed professionalism.

Precision plating

We were seated in front of the open kitchen and for me, it was one of the highlights of last night's dining experience. Watching the chefs work and plate up was an absolute joy. Mum joked that it was like 'Masterchef live'. It was a bit like that, I suppose, only not at all panicky/chaotic/messy. If a kitchen is a machine and the chefs are cogs and wheels, these cogs and wheels turned perfectly smoothly and with extreme precision.

I loved that waiters stopped for a chat and talked to us about the menu and the produce. I loved that the sommelier gave us wine recommendations without any hint of snootiness (we know nothing about wine and they have won awards for their wine list).

The food was a journey through lots of flavors, textures and techniques. I definitely recommend you give Ortiga a try.
Ortiga on Urbanspoon