Cauliflower Pasta Bake

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Indulgence is in my genes. Nanna Hoffman used to slice butter like cheese and Mum and I could sit with a plate of charcuterie and a bottle of wine and be happy for hours.

With a diet consisting of wine, carbs, cheese, sushi and hamburgers (plus a 30th birthday in my sights), im realising my frame doesn’t bounce back from a four day pate binge like it used to!

So, it’s time to be more mindful about what im putting into my beautiful body, without sacrificing my love of indulgence, of course. I refuse to only eat kale, lentils and quiona – and I believe a few cooking adjustments (and generally being more organised) will allow me to continue my love affair with food.

So, day one: creamy pasta bake…minus the cream.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups pasta
1 head cauliflower
2 cups vegetable stock
¾ cups milk
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
handful fresh mushrooms
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 cup shredded jarslberg cheese (or whatever cheese you have)
baby spinach

COOK IT

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the pasta then drain and toss with a drizzle of oil.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the cauliflower, and cook for 5 minutes until tender.

Saute the minced garlic with a teaspoon of coconut oil.

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Transfer the cooked cauliflower to a blender with 2 cups broth, milk, oil, salt, and sauteed garlic. Puree until very smooth.

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Preheat the oven to 200.

Heat the coconut oil in a skillet until hot and bubbling. Add the mushrooms and onion and saute until caramelised (OK, I cheated here and added some sugar…don’t judge me!!)

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Toss the cooked pasta, cauliflower sauce, and mushrooms, onions and spinach together.

Transfer to a deep baking dish.

Sprinkle with cheese and bake uncovered at 200 for 15 minutes.

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Ginger Orange Salmon

If I could bath in a marinade, this would be it.

I dreamt up this recipe while daydreaming of a dish I had when I was 21 and in Lopburi, Thailand. River fish served with a sauce full of ginger, sweet soy and garlic – it was one of the most memorable meals I’ve had while travelling, and possibly the beginning of my flavour obsession. 

Obviously mine looks and tastes nothing like the one in my memory (river fish!), and that is exactly the point. I love how my travel memories form the base of so many cooking inspirations. Who cares if you dream of truffles but cook with mushrooms?

Do yourself a favour and add this sticky, citrusy dish to your cooking repertoire.

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marinade

fresh orange juice (about 2 oranges)
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs honey
1 1/2 Tbs fresh grated ginger
1/2 Tbs orange zest
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp sesame oil

4 pieces atlantic salmon

Place the salmon in a glass dish and pour the marinade over the salmon, coating it completely. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and place in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to an hour, flipping the fillet halfway through the marinating time.

cook it

Pat the salmon skin dry and rub with some salt and olive oil. Cook skin side down in a hot pan for 4 minutes, then flip for 30 seconds on the flesh side.

the most important bit

Reserve the leftover marinade, place it in a sauce pan, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until it has reduced by half. Spoon over the salmon when serving – so delicious!

(I served my salmon with creamy sweet potato mash, green beans and coriander.)

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Flashy Fish Stew

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Over the past month things have taken a turn for the worst in my little Erko life. Without boring you with painfully depressing and heart wrenchingly dramatic details (ha!), let’s just say that without the distraction of work, good friends (the best kind of sounding board), and cooking I would be finding it difficult to put on pants at the moment.

Saying that, I know exactly what to do when I’m feeling lonely, the recipe is simple and indulgent. But most importantly – it works (for a few hours anyway).

  1. I eat blue cheese with quince paste.
  2. I drink wine, no matter what time of day it is.
  3. I daydream: currently about travelling to Cuba, Japan, writing a cookbook, creating menus for my imaginary restaurant and performing as a professional ballerina.

Last night my broken hearts club members and I (ok, there are only two of us) cooked up a fish stew (adapted from Sir Jamie Oliver’s Flashy Fish Stew recipe).

Despite the current bumps in our lives – the ups, the downs.. and the downs again – we sat back on the couch watching the Simpsons, our steaming bowls of seafood goodness on our laps, and could not help but smile at how awesome our cooking skills are.

When life deals you lemons, make fish stew. 

ingredients

  • 1 bulb of fennel
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 tablespoon of DCs chilli paste
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 125ml white wine
  • 700g passata
  • 1 small bunch of fresh basil
  • 400g mixture of fish fillets, scaled and pin-boned
  • 400g mussels scrubbed. cleaned and debearded
  • 1 squid, sliced
  • 4 large raw shell-on king prawns

yogurt sauce

  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 pinch of saffron
  • 3 heaped tbsp fat-free natural
  • yoghurt
  • ½ a lemon

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cook it

Finely chop the fennel,  anchovies, garlic and eschallots • Put into the casserole pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and chilli paste and turn the heat up to high, stirring regularly • Pour in the passata and half a jar of boiling water (350ml), tear in most of the basil leaves and season with salt and pepper.

Cut the fish up so you’ve got four even-sized chunks of each type, then add all the seafood to the pan, cover with the lid and boil • Peel the garlic and bash with a pinch of salt and the saffron in a pestle and mortar, then muddle in the yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon juice.

When the mussels and clams have opened (throw away any that remain closed), the fish will be cooked through (roughly 4 minutes) • Season to taste, then serve scattered with the remaining basil leaves and fennel tops, the saffron sauce and some fresh sourdough bread.

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Turning 28

I can remember the moment when I was 12 years old, playing at a friends house in Batemans Bay, that I realised there was a big and exciting world out there. Marrakech was the top of my list (because of an Absolutely Fabulous episode which I’m sure I was way too young to understand), closely followed by Paris.

Next week I’m off to Marrakech to summit Mt Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains, then over to Paris to spend my 28th birthday.

Birthday’s have always been a difficult time for me, I can’t remember the last time I had one that wasn’t tear filled. As someone who usually keeps their emotions close to their heart – my birthday seems to be the one day each year that I implode.

I lead a beautiful life, and although certain aspects of it haven’t always worked out for me, when I look back on the things I have achieved it really puts any issues I have in perspective.

In 28 years I have explored 21 countries.

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I’ve been fired from one job and moved in and out of 14 houses.

When I was 26, I trekked solo in the beautiful Himalayas.

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I’ve eaten moules and frites in Brussels and dangerously hitch hiked in the deserts of Abu Dhabi. I jumped out of a plane when I was 15 and have been married and divorced.

I’ve shot an AK-47.

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I have made the best friends anyone could ask for.

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Reflecting on my life tonight, as I’ve started packing for this next adventure in the middle of a relationship crisis, I realise just how lucky I am. It’s a good thing to take some time out to remember just how much you can achieve on your own.

So no recipe today, just a plate of gorgonzola and a bottle of red wine in preparation of my Parisian life.

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Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Last night while home on my own, I created something special. So special I called five people after i’d had my first spoonful because this dish just had to be shared! Unfortunately, I have very popular friends so I was left to devour this meltingly indulgent cannelloni on my own. No complaints, really.

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You know when you make something following no recipe and it comes out just so?

It may have been a fluke, but the star of this dish was the combination of anchovies and creme fraiche as the cheese sauce rather than the traditional béchamel. It complimented the rich tomato sauce with its salty sourness perfectly.

Ingredients

  • mixed 500 grams of fresh silver beet and baby spinach, washed, stalks trimmed, finely sliced
  • 500 grams fresh ricotta cheese
  • 75 grams freshly grated Parmesan
  • salt and pepper to season
  • about 15 cannelloni tubes
  • 1 botte of homemade tomato sauce

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Creme Fraiche Sauce

  • 250 grams creme fraiche
  • 30 grams good quality anchovies, finely sliced
  • 30 grams freshly grated Parmesan cheese

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Method

  1. Preheat your oven to 200 deg C
  2. In a large pan heat a little olive oil and cook the spinach till it wilts. 
  3. Combine the ricotta, Parmesan, spinach and salt and pepper.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the cannelloni tubes.

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  1. In a large baking dish add the tomato sauce and proceed to lay the filled cannelloni on top.
  2. Combine the creme fraiche, anchovies and Parmesan. Mix well and pour over the top of the cannelloni.
  3. Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle a handful of Parmesan on top.
  4. Bake for 20-25 mins until the dish is browned and slightly bubbling.
  5. Allow to rest for 5 mins before serving.

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The next time I try to recreate this dish I would serve it with a crunchy green salad to cut though the richness. I had two serves last night (just because no one was home to judge) and felt a little overindulged on the last few bites…

This recipe is a keeper, delicious!

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Spinach and Labneh Ravioli

I am determined to perfect my Italian cooking skills! I haven’t travelled to Italy yet, so mastering the art of homemade pasta, polenta with gorgonzola, gnocchi and tiramisu will just have to do for now.

Thanks to all of my beautiful friends who have tasted my experiments lately – the good and the bad…(this one was good.)

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Pasta Dough Ingredients

600 g Tipo ’00’ flour
6 large free-range eggs

Method (pasta dough adapted from Jamie Oliver – COOK with Jamie, filling created by me).

This amount made enough dough for ravioli and fettucini for 4 people (with some leftovers for mistakes).

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Spinach and Labneh filling

1 bunch spinach (blanched)
2 cloves of garlic
1 tub of labneh cheese
1 fresh red chilli
1 onion

Sauté the onion, chilli, garlic and spinach in olive oil until soft (not browned). Process in a food processer until smooth. Mix through the labneh cheese – season to taste.

I also slow roasted some heirloom tomatos and tossed them through some fettucini which I made from the ravioli off cuts.

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Method

Place the flour on a board in a pile. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork until smooth. Using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined. Knead the pieces of dough together – with a bit of work and some love and attention they’ll all bind together to give you one big, smooth lump of dough!

Once you’ve made your dough you need to knead and work it with your hands to develop the gluten in the flour, I usually do this for about 6 minutes.

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Wrap your kneaded dough in cling wrap and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour before you use it. Make sure the cling film covers it well or it will dry out and go crusty round the edges.

When you’re ready to roll out your pasta dust your work surface with some Tipo ’00’ flour, take a lump of pasta dough the size of a large orange and press it out flat with your fingertips.

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Set the pasta machine at its widest setting – and roll the lump of pasta dough through it. Lightly dust the pasta with flour if it sticks at all. Click the machine down a setting and roll the pasta dough through again. Fold the pasta in half, click the pasta machine back up to the widest setting and roll the dough through again. Repeat this process five or six times.

Now it’s time to roll the dough out properly, working it through all the settings on the machine, from the widest down to around the narrowest.

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Lightly dust both sides of the pasta with a little flour every time you run it through. If your dough is a little cracked at the edges, fold it in half just once, click the machine back two settings and feed it through again.

Lay the pasta out flat on your work bench and fill with the lane and spinach filling. Lay another sheet of pasta on top and seal the edges.

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The pasta should only take about 3 minutes to cook, and once drained toss through some butter and sautéed mushrooms and top with parmesan and parsley! 

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Saffron Arancini

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If I had to pick a signature dish it would be arancini.

The first time I made it I was 18 and hosting a dinner party in my brand new apartment in Surry Hills. From memory I made them with sweet potato, mozzarella and rosemary and it took a whole day to prepare – but worth every minute as everyone agreed I was a cooking queen!

These days I can whip up a multitude of different flavoured rice balls with my eyes closed. It’s the perfect entertainer and so simple and delicious, especially when served with some super garlicky homemade aioli.

I recently made these saffron and buffalo mozzarella arancini for christmas day appetiser and they were a hit.

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Also, they taste better when cooked on a vintage stove.

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Ingredients

  • Approx 4 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
  • 75g butter (but feel free to be heavy handed)
  • Saffron
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Approx 2.5 cups arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup grated amazing parmesan
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 1 ball of buffalo mozzarella 
  • Approx 2 cups dried breadcrumbs
  • Approx 2 cups of flour
  • Olive oil, to shallow fry

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Method

Place the stock in a large saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Add a generous pinch of saffron. Reduce the heat and keep at simmering point.

Place a large, heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and add a few lugs of olive oil, half the butter, onion, garlic, and salt.

Stir until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and stir for 1-2 minutes, or until the rice is well coated.

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Gradually add all the simmering stock, a cupful at a time, stirring constantly and making sure it is absorbed before you add more. This should take 20 minutes and the rice should be al dente and creamy.

Stir through the remaining butter and parmesan then set aside to cool.

Once cooled, remove a heaped tablespoon of the rice and, with damp hands, roll it into a ball.

Place a small cube of mozzarella into the ball and reshape. Repeat the process until you’ve used all the cheese and all the rice mixture, then chill for 20 minutes.

Place the flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in three separate shallow bowls. Roll each risotto ball in the flour, in the egg mixture and finally in the breadcrumbs to coat.

Shallow-fry in olive oil until golden brown and drain on absorbent paper.

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The Cowrie, Terrigal

When I think Central Coast, gourmet fare never used to come to mind. Surfing, corner shop hamburgers, fish and chips and backyard beers are all more fitting, although over the past few years the coast has stepped it up a notch.

This was my second visit to The Cowrie and it did not disappoint. Breath taking ocean views, friendly attentive staff and food so fresh it makes you want to relocate (and I might!). My family and I headed there for Christmas Eve (same as last year) and I hope it never closes as this is a tradition i’d love to keep. Different table, same waiter and an equally delicious menu to explore.

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We started off with an amuse bouche of salmon sashimi which was the perfect delicate starter (so delicious that I ate two as thankfully, some people don’t like raw fish).

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The Meredith goats’ cheese and caramelised onion tart with walnut, fig, nasturtium (which I think just made it look prettier, rather than tastier) and wild herb salad (26) was indulgent.

Getting the walnut, sticky caramelised fig and goats cheese in my mouth at the same time was a foodgasm. Order it. 

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I’m happy we ordered the slipper lobster and gulf prawns in golden noodles with chilli, lime, caramel and baby coriander (30) as it was the perfect contrast to the richness of the goat’s cheese.

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For main, I went for the organic ‘rare breed’ pork with langoustine apple velvet, nectarine preserve and garden peas (49).

They have their own vegetable and herb garden at the restaurant and I could tell that the peas were same day picked. They added the perfect amount of bite to go with the meltingly soft pork. 

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Mum ordered the snapper served with Hawkesbury calamari, sauce nero, roast plum tomatoes, crisp garlic, confit lemon and fennel (43).

There was a lot going on on this place and although still delicious this was my least favourite of the mains. I think the delicateness of the snapper was a bit lost in the rich squid ink sauce. 

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I would call my Dad a ‘conservative’ eater. A ‘conservative’ eater who ordered the squab, impressing me… and then admitting he had no idea what it was.

The Southern Highlands squab served with sea scallop, swede, smoked speck bacon and bastille (46) was delicious… if you like squab.

All of the other elements on the plate were spot on, but I thought the squab breast was a little on the tough side. The smoked speck bacon was heaven! 

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The brother ordered the fish of the day, a blue eye fillet with sweet corn puree, chorizo and asparagus (43). I’ve had this dish on a previous visit and it was great, the spicy chorizo and sweet buttery corn puree combo is a winner.

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We ordered a side of steamed greens with almond butter (12) because we just didn’t feel like we’d eaten enough rich and indulgent food yet. 

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For dessert the meringue with crisp black sesame, fresh berries from their garden and liquorice ice cream stood out to me, having had their liquorice ice cream before. It’s so good i’d order any dessert that they serve it with.

We also ordered a citrus ricotta cheesecake crowned with lavender, lychee and coconut that I failed to photograph due to  licking liquorice off the other plate.

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My Steak Tartare

I am addicted to steak tartare. I order it everywhere it’s offered and make it at home using different flavour combinations each time. When I finally get to Paris one day, you’ll  find me sitting in any beautifully indulgent restaurant, eating this traditional dish and drinking a bottle of red.

I ordered Neil Perry’s “My Steak Tartare” at Rockpool Bar and Grill in Melbourne recently and, although not traditional with its creamy mayonnaise base, it is by far the best I’ve had!

Below is my recreation, following his recipe to the tee (although after making Jamón Croquettes for an entree omitting the chips) it turned out to perfection!

I’ve never made my own mayonnaise before but it is so easy! My arm went numb for a few minutes but the result was definitely worth it. Neil’s is heavy on dijon mustard which is just beautiful, i’ll be making this again to use in other dishes.

Mayonnaise

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 drops Tabasco sauce
  • 125ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 125 ml vegetable oil
  • juice of 3/4 lemon
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the egg yolks, mustard and Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces in a bowl and whisk together. Combine the two oils and, while whisking continuously, slowly add in a thin stream to the egg yolk mixture until all the oil is added and a thick mayonnaise forms. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Makes about 335g.

Tartare

  • 400g fillet steak
  • 2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 2 French shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 cornichons, chopped
  • 85g mayonnaise
  • 2 handfuls mixed salad leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  • 1 large handful Italian parsley
  • hand-cut chips, to serve

Finely chop the steak with a sharp knife and place in a bowl. Add the capers, anchovy, shallot and cornichon. Add enough mayonnaise to bind the mixture to achieve your desired consistency.

Arrange the salad leaves and tartare on plates, drizzle with a little olive oil and top with parsley.

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Eating in Melbourne

Having never spent much time in Melbourne, I have always sided with Sydney when it comes to which foodie state wins. However, after just 3 short days in the rival state, I am now a Melbourne convert!

The markets are lined with delis overflowing with homemade pasta and pastries sold by the gram. Packaging is out and baskets full of help yourself goodness are in. Beautiful cafes are filled with passionate coffee makers and every place I stumbled upon was run with local love and foodie pride.

Here are a few foodie treasures I explored on my weekend away..

Young and Jackson

Being my Dad’s favourite Melbourne pub I had to have a quick bite at Young and Jackson on my first night. Arriving at 6pm and grabbing the last table at Chloes Bar, I settled in for the chefs selection of tapas.

First up I was presented with complimentary sourdough severed with indulgent parmasen and rosemary olive oil, a flavour I will definitely be recreating at home!

The plater of tapas arrived and I was pleasantly surprised at what great value it was for the price. The wild mushroom arancini with truffle infused aioli were coated in course parmesan breadcrumbs so where much crunchier than traditional arancini, but delicious and very moorish.

The chicken meatballs were a little on the dry side but the duck shanks with sweet soy and orange glaze were star of the dish – so sticky and melt in your mouth tender, I could have eaten a whole plate.

Hardware Société

If you’re hanging around the CBD and looking for a lunch spot I can say with confidence – do not go past Hardware Sociéte. This cafe is amazing, one of the best I have dined at in Australia. The service is funky and friendly and the menu is full of simple, fresh flavours.

The pork belly comes with crushed peas, buttered poached prawns, alioli and watercress (19). The pork is so tender it falls apart by just touching it with my fork and the minty peas are the perfect compliment to the rich buttery sauce.

Seared Scallops with potato and fennel salad, pistou and saffron escabeche (18) is fresh and simple. The scallops are served with the roe which I don’t usually love, but the texture of them with the rocket and fennel salad was perfect.

Market Lane Coffee

I know it doesn’t look like much in my photograph, but do yourself a favour and head to Market Lane Coffee at Prahran Market for a shroom burger.

Market Lane specialises in Coffee, but they have a BBQ set up outside on weekends frying up these burger hits! A massive portabello mushroom is grilled to perfection and drenched in some kind of herb butter (im thinking parsley but im not sure), then covered with thinly sliced onion so soft it must be slightly salted.

To top it all off a  handful of sharp parmesan cheese is stacked on a chipotle mayo drenched Dench bun. These burgers are made to order while you watch and only cost (8). Quite possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth at breakfast time.

They also serve up their Dench bread with french butter and homemade raspberry jam (6) for those who don’t get as excited as me about mushrooms.

After eating my shroom burger, wandering through Prahran Market is like torture on a full stomach. Store after store full of cheese, dips and antipasti. Cabbage rolls and savoury pastries are pilled and overflowing on shop fronts. I could have spent all day there, and if I lived there I would have been having an extravagant dinner party that night!

I settled for some free samples (beautifully soft gnocchi with bolognese sauce) and bought a few pieces of turkish delight to eat while wandering.

Walking out of the Market and onto Chapel Street in South Yarra ready for a day of shopping, Melburnians love food so much they are giving it away! Free red velvet cupcake from the Cupcake Bakery on Chapel! Ordinarily I am not a fan of cake (especially cupcakes) but this one was pretty delish – possibly more so because I was on a food high from being at the market. 

The Woods of Windsor

Beautiful restaurant by night, delicious sandwiches by day – head to The Woods of Windsor for a real old school treat. The pub has a vintage feel, with dark timber woods and an old school charm that made me feel like I’d stepped into the 1920’s.

Being there at lunchtime meant a small menu consisting of only sandwiches and salads was on offer. No complaints here!

The Stringy Cow came with melty slow braised beef, horseradish, slaw, cheese and pickles (12) with a side of sweet corn, bacon and coriander (3). I went for the sourdough option which was harder to eat but really added to the flavour compared to the brioche on the Rueben.

After walking around in the unpredictable 34 degree Melbourne heat all day, this Bloody Mary (16) was the perfect addition to lunch. Slightly on the spicy side, it was the only thing that could have cooled me down after a morning full of shopping and eating on Chapel Street.

The Reuben wasn’t traditional, which isn’t always a bad thing but I would probably name it differently. With housemade corned beef, pickles, tasty cheese (12) and a side of quinoa, sweet pea and pickled onion (3) served on brioche, it was delicious (especially the corned beef), but the brioche wasn’t sweet enough and a Reuben without sauerkraut is against my religion.

I will be back to The Woods for dinner one day, the menu looks great and it’s the kind of atmosphere you could spend hours relaxing in.

So there you have it, these are the dishes that have made me a Melbourne foodie! Don’t get me wrong I still love Sydney, but why cant we have homemade treats overflowing on markets stalls, 25 delis lined up in a row with an unnecessary amount of choice and free red velvet cupcakes handed out in the street?

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