south american wine night | with beef empanadas, take no. 2

south american wine night | table twenty eight

A couple of weeks ago my gorgeous friend Deneil asked me to help out with hosting a wine tasting night at her house for a group of like-minded vino enthusiasts.

Encompassing a South American theme, she not only wanted to provide an opportunity to taste an array of unusual wines but also serve accompanying canapés from this exotic continent, providing a full cultural experience.

Although asking a teetotaller to get on board for a wine tasting event seems a bit incongruous, I jumped at the chance to get involved in the foodie side of things and do some research on cuisines I really know very little about.

I may have stretched the theme slightly by including Mexico in my culinary contribution, but along with Deneil and Clare (the third amigo in our catering trio), we ultimately came up with eight South American canapé courses, including desert.

menu, south american wine night | table twenty eight

south american wine night | table twenty eight

beef empanadas, south american wine night | table twenty eight

The two dishes I prepared were mini soft tacos with frijoles refritos (refried black beans) and lime jalapeño slaw, and empanadas filled with pulled beef shin and pine nuts.

I used the recipe I’ve featured previously on this site from ‘My Abuela’s Table’ by Daniella Germain (click here for the link) but I had a markedly improved result this time, thanks to cooking the beef shin much longer and slower (total cooking time was about six hours).

I also finely shredded the beef at the end of the cooking process instead of breaking it down with a spoon and leaving small chunky pieces, which – in very my humble opinion – landed us empanadas of superior quality.

Served up with a bowl of hot sriracha sauce and sour cream, they went down a treat with our 16 guests.

Take a look at the other delicious food and wines on offer from the night…

making chimichurri & empanadas for south american wine night | table twenty eight

south american wine night | table twenty eight

 south american wine night | table twenty eight

south american wine night | table twenty eight


course no. 1 | spicy blue fin tuna ceviche

spicy blue fin tuna ceviche, south american wine night | table twenty eight

course no. 2 | peri peri chicken

peri peri chicken, south american wine night | table twenty eight

course no. 3 | beef shin empanadas

beef empanadas, south american wine night | table twenty eight

course no. 4 | chilean potato puffs

chilean potato puffs & grilled chorizo, south american wine night | table twenty eight

course no. 4 | grilled chorizo

chilean potato puffs & grilled chorizo, south american wine night | table twenty eight

course no. 5 | mini frijoles refritos tacos with lime & jalapeño slaw

frijoles refritos tacos with lime & jalapeño slaw,  south american wine night | table twenty eight

course no. 8 | salted caramel & dulce de leche pots

salted chocolate & dulce de leche pots, south american wine night | table twenty eight


slow braised beef cheeks with parmesan polenta

beef cheeks with parmesan polenta | table twenty eight

They say a change is as good as a holiday and for me that analogy is literal.

After three and a half years I’ve demobilised from the major capital LNG project on which I was working and am now exploring the green pastures of ‘self-funded long service leave’ (thanks to Mum for that phrase).

The feeling of total and uninhibited freedom to do what I want with life is uplifting, revitalizing…  I have no structured plans or carefully mapped schedule beyond this week for the first time in my adult life – and it’s wonderful.

beef cheeks with parmesan polenta | table twenty eight

I’m finally getting to read the backlog of books that have accumulated on my bedside table.  I’m picking up my camera almost every day at spontaneous intervals and capturing those small, pleasurable moments that often pass without thought; winter leaves carpeting the park across the road, light through the dewy morning window and Bailey, snoozing happily in a patch of sun or rolling around like a kitten on the balcony.  I’m spending time with friends and family, enjoying those occasions without any unconscious stress or anxiety about all the urgent tasks requiring completion during the next work day.

It’s quietly exquisite.  Anything I undertake during the next few months will be purely positive and for my own enjoyment.  Freedom is a much underrated status…

bailey | table twenty eight

And it also means I’m gradually cooking again.

You would have noticed the absence of my own culinary creations during the past six months, which can be put down to exhaustion, lack of inspiration or inclination.  My day job reached all consuming heights and left little energy or time for anything else.  My creativity was completely sapped.

So… to get things going again, here’s a comforting and warming dish of slow braised beef cheeks with a savoury broth, served over a bed of cheesy polenta.

Although the original recipe indicates a three hour cooking time for the meat, I let it blip away on the stove for double that time which improves the depth of flavour and tenderness of the beef cheeks.

beef cheeks with parmesan polenta | table twenty eight

slow braised beef cheeks
with parmesan polenta

from the may 2012 edition of delicious. magazine


150g instant polenta

½ cup grated parmesan
80g butter
generous pinch of sea salt
chopped flat-leaf parsley, to serve

beef cheeks
2kg beef cheeks, trimmed and halved
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 fresh bay leaves (use dried if you can’t get fresh)
750ml bottle of full-bodied red wine
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
2 tbsp dried juniper berries, crushed
8 whole cloves
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
olive oil


Place a glug of olive oil in a large cast iron or flameproof saucepan and heat over medium-high.  Season the beef cheeks well and then, in two batches, sear for a few minutes on each side until well-browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the garlic, bay leaves and juniper berries to the pan and cook a couple of minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant.  Return the beef to the pan, pour over the entire bottle of red wine and just enough water to cover.

Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to as low as possible.  Cover and cook for at least three hours or until the beef is tender (you should be able to break apart the meat with a spoon).

Once cooked, transfer the beef to a plate and cover.

Continue to simmer the cooking liquor, uncovered over low heat, until reduced by half.  Strain the cooking liquor and reserve.

beef cheeks with parmesan polenta | table twenty eight

In a clean saucepan, heat a glug of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring, for a few minutes until golden and translucent.  Add the carrot, celery, rosemary, thyme, nutmeg and cloves to the onions and cook for 10 minutes or so until starting to brown.

Add the balsamic vinegar and simmer for a minute before stirring in the reserved cooking liquor. Increase the heat and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the sauce is further reduced and the vegetables are tender.  Season to taste and return the beef cheeks to the pan, simmering for several minutes until the meat is warmed through.

The polenta can be made just before serving, as it’s super quick to prepare.   Bring three cups of water to the boil in a saucepan and gradually stir in the polenta.

Immediately turn the heat to low and stir constantly for a couple of minutes until the mixture has thickened.  Take care though, as the boiling water has a tendency to spit hot globules of polenta all over the place if you don’t stir vigorously enough!

Add the butter, grated parmesan and salt to the hot polenta, stirring though until the cheese has melted.

To serve, divide the polenta among bowls, spoon over the beef cheeks and sprinkle with fresh parsley.


lunch at bib & tucker

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight

After my favourite restaurant in Perth closed last year, I was at a bit of a loss.

Where to find another place that can always, always be relied upon to dish up excellent food, from entrée through to dessert? With an imaginative and creative interior, (thankfully managing to avoid off-putting contemporary pretentiousness), welcoming, with great atmosphere for all crowds, spot-on service and a picturesque location?

Sounds too perfect to be true, right…?

Well, welcome to my new favourite foodie retreat – Bib & Tucker.

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight

I’ve previously posted a dish inspired by a meal I ate here – chargrilled squid with smokey chilli, fennel and apple – and after several return visits I’m now a firm fan.

Nestled in the sand dunes and overlooking the beautiful vista of Leighton Beach in North Fremantle, the restaurant is abuzz with friendly activity and conversation.

One of its most admirable features is that it caters for such a wide crowd, whether it be beach-goers straight off the sand for post-swim coffees, a family Sunday brunch, long champagne lunch with friends or a special romantic occasion.

view from bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight

As their website notes, the modern Australian menu designed by Head Chef, Scott Bridger is created with food sourced from some of the best local suppliers available.

The views overlooking the Indian Ocean – beautiful in both summer and winter alike – provide a naturally stunning setting to enjoy with your meal.

I wanted to share with you some snapshots of the wonderful lunch I had with friends at Bib & Tucker on a dramatically windswept afternoon.

We didn’t manage to get one of the long tables indoors but wrapped up in the lovely knitted blankets provided, we were nice and cosy outside (looking like group of nannas in their shawls) with uninterrupted views of the waves and windsurfers…

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight


crispy skinned cone bay barramundi with rustic tapenade & smoked tomato

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight


soft shell crab slider with avocado, green chillies & coriander

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight


pumpkin gnocchi with brown butter, kale, sage, goat’s curd & walnut pangrattato

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight


wood-fired tiger prawns with harissa butter, watercress & citrus salad

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight


wood-roasted pumpkin with harissa & labne

lunch at bib & tucker, north fremantle | table twenty eight


weekend postcard | beach combing

beach combing treasures | table twenty eight

The stretch of South Cottesloe beach is my favourite place to beach comb and search for interesting pieces washed up on the shore.

The photos here show the assortment of shells, sea glass and other ocean treasures that Mum and I collected in just two hours, navigating the jagged rockpools, sandstone potholes and large mounds of tangled, briny seaweed.

cottesloe beach, western australia | table twenty eightsouth cottesloe beach, western australia | table twenty eight

cottesloe beach, western australia | table twenty eight

The waters along South Cott are popular with surfers and snorkelers alike as they cover large stretches of reef.

The northern-most access is a steep concrete stairway down a sheltered rock face, ending not on a traditional sandy beach but an exposed reef platform which continues south and is backed by low limestone cliffs rather than sand dunes.

It’s incredible to watch the changing landscape between seasons.  In summer the sand builds up along the waterline and covers the lower-lying pockets of the rocky shore, creating winding sandy paths between the higher remnant of reef.

But in winter the ocean reclaims possession of the coast, the higher tides eroding the sandy veneer to lay bare the skeleton below.

A couple of days ago stormy weather had passed over the coastline during the night, resulting in fantastic swell and a large congregation of surf lovers taking advantage of the breakers…

cottesloe beach, western australia | table twenty eight cottesloe beach, western australia | table twenty eight cottesloe beach, western australia | table twenty eight

beach combing treasures | table twenty eight

beach combing treasures | table twenty eight

beach combing treasures | table twenty eight

beach combing treasures | table twenty eight

beach combing treasures | table twenty eight


birthday no. 26 | salted butterscotch popcorn cheesecake

 salted caramel cheesecake with caramelised popcorn | table twenty eight

It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago (or rather – it was when I first started writing this post but a month has now gone by) and the occasion was marked by some lovely gestures from dear friends.

I received this absolutely beautiful bunch of green and white blooms from my gorgeous friend Deneil, filled with freesias, chrysanthemums and lisianthus.

I was so taken with it that I had to get some photos of the florist’s creation…

birthday blooms | table twenty eight

birthday blooms | table twenty eight

birthday blooms | table twenty eight

I was also treated to a delicious homemade birthday lunch at Nicole and Mike’s, which was finished off with a rather spectacular cheesecake topped with cascading stack of popcorn and lashings of salted butterscotch sauce.

Hours of entertainment were also provided by their new Burmese kitten, Morris (a.k.a. Mini Morrie, a.k.a. Morris Minor).

As you can see from the photos he’s an absurdly adorable little guy, full of seemingly boundless energy until the batteries run out and he conks out for a nap wherever he happens to be at the time.

mini morris | table twenty eight

mini morris | table twenty eight

mini morris | table twenty eight

morris | table twenty eight

I’ve included the cheesecake recipe here, which is featured in food writer, stylist and journalist Rosie Birkett’s latest cookbook – A Lot on Her Plate.

Rosie is based in Hackney, East London, but travels the world to taste and report on different cuisines, recently specialising in North American cuisine having spent a sabbatical living in Vancouver, British Columbia.

salted caramel cheesecake with caramelised popcorn | table twenty eight

salted butterscotch popcorn cheesecake

from ‘a lot on her plate’ by rosie birkett


1 tbsp flavourless oil
generous pinch of sea salt
40g popcorn kernels

cheesecake
200g digestive biscuits
small handful of popcorn (from the quantity above)
pinch of sea salt
100g butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
500g mascarpone (or cream cheese, if preferred)
100g quark

80g icing sugar, plus extra to taste
100ml double cream

salted butterscotch sauce
1 tsp full cream milk
160ml double cream
145g light muscovado sugar
generous pinch of sea salt


First, make the popcorn.  Put a large pot with a lid over a medium-high heat and add the oil and salt.  Drop in a couple of popcorn kernels and cover the pan with a lid.  When the kernels start to pop, add the rest of the corn and cover with the lid.  Shake the pan to evenly coat the kernels and leave to heat up, shaking the pan around gently when they starts popping.  This will ensure the un-popped kernels get to the heat and the popped ones don’t burn on the bottom of the pan.

Set the lid slightly ajar to release some of the steam and make crisper popcorn.  Once the popcorn has stopped popping every few seconds, remove the pan from the heat and leave it to one side until all the popping has stopped completely.

Grease a 20 centimetre (8 inch) cake tin and line the base and sides with greaseproof paper.

To make the cheesecake base, place the biscuits in a sealed food bag and smash them with a rolling pin into crumbs, or put them in a food processor and grind to coarse crumbs.  Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in a small handful of popcorn and a pinch of sea salt.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and pour it over the crumbs.  Mix it all together with a fork and put your mixture into the cake tin.  Tap the side of the tin with the flat of your hand to even it out and gently compress the mixture with the back of a large spoon until it’s packed in and level.  You want it fairly well packed so that it holds together.  Transfer to the fridge to cool.

To make the salted butterscotch sauce, melt the butter, milk, cream, sugar and salt together in a medium non-stick saucepan, and – stirring continuously – bring to the boil.  Although it may look super tempting, don’t swipe your finger over the spoon: flesh and boiling sugar don’t mix!

Turn down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat and set to one side.  If, when it’s cooler, the mixture is stiff, warm it up over the heat with a splash of milk to loosen it.  You want it still warm and runny so that you can pour it over the cheesecake.

Put the mascarpone or cream cheese, quark and icing sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat together until the mixture is well combined.  If you don’t have a stand mixer you can use an electric hand whisk.  Mix until the mixture an even consistency and thickening, then add the cream and continue to whisk.  You want a thick consistency but not over-whipped.

Pour in about half the salted butterscotch sauce and fold through the cream cheese mixture to create a ripple effect.  Taste and add more butterscotch sauce or salt if you feel it needs it.

Pile the mixture on top of the buttery biscuit base and smooth it down with the back of the spoon or a palette knife.  Cover with cling film and chill for at least two hours, then scatter the rest of the popcorn over the top, drizzle with the remaining butterscotch sauce and serve.

salted caramel cheesecake with caramelised popcorn | table twenty eight


postcards from england | london, winter 2015

coffee sign near old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

Hello London, my old friend…

Months have passed since I returned home but it has taken until now to just skim the surface of my travel photos and collate some highlights for this post.

Life has been full of change since I returned, including moving out of my beloved Claremont apartment and relocating.  There will be much more share with you all in subsequent posts but for now, here are some favourite memories from one of my favourite cities…


old spitalfields market | a hop, skip & jump from liverpool street station

old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

lola's cupcakes at the old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

baklava, old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight

old spitalfields market, london | table twenty eight


snapshots from a crisp morning’s walk through holland park in kensington

flora & fauna of holland park, london | table twenty eight

flora & fauna of holland park, london | table twenty eight

flora of holland park, london | table twenty eight


snapshots from wandering through notting hill

views of notting hill, london | table twenty eight

exploring the sights of notting hill, london | table twenty eigh


foodie heaven | discovering jamie oliver’s larder and dining hall in notting hill

jamie oliver's larder in notting hill, london | table twenty eight

berry sponge at jamie oliver's larder in kensington, london | table twenty eight

jamie oliver's larder in notting hill, london | table twenty eight

fresh sausage rolls at jamie oliver's larder in notting hill, london | table twenty eight

sweet treats at jamie oliver's larder in notting hill, london | table twenty eight

dining in at jamie oliver's larder in notting hill, london | table twenty eight


a frosty morning in kensington

early morning frost in kensington, london | table twenty eight


postcards from austria | zell am see

lake view, zell am see | table twenty eight

The next stop in my Austrian explorations was Zell am See, a very popular holiday destination both in summer (for the glorious blue lake and associated water sports) and in winter (for the abundance of mountains and associated skiing / snowboarding).

Even though it would have allowed me to explore further afield, I decided against hiring a car during this next part of the trip because a) it snowed frequently and this is not a driving condition familiar to native West Aussies; b) having to learn – very quickly – to master driving on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD IN THE WRONG SIDE OF THE CAR; and c) Austrians as a whole drive terrifyingly fast – think Michael Schumacher zipping around in Honda Jazz and you’ve got the picture…

little brook leading into the lake, zell am see | table twenty eight

lake views, zell am see | table twenty eight

lake view, zell am see | table twenty eight

lake view, zell am see | table twenty eight

I stayed at beautiful Schloss Prielau, which is a vision of everything I want in my dream house one day.

My trusty Lonely Planet guide sums it up best: ‘A once-upon-a-dream fairy tale of a hotel, this sixteenth-century castle set in mature grounds was once the haunt of Bavarian prince-bishops. Wood panelling and antiques a touch of romance to the rustic-chic rooms, many with lake and mountain views… this is luxury all the way.’

schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

snapshots of schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

chalet at schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

chalet at schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

snapshots of schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

Now owned by the Porsche family and converted into a hotel in 1987, the estate is also home to small, pastel-coloured chapel, spa / sauna cabin and prestigious Mayer’s Restaurant.

The castle interior is furnished plentifully with wood, stone, leather, thick rugs and reindeer pelts, making it reminiscent of a cosy hunting lodge.

But this slightly primitive notion is entirely offset by luxurious touches, such as the heavenly collection of herbal beauty products in the bathroom and the fresh yellow tulips adorning the dining room tables each morning.

schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

chapel at schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

chapel at schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eight

The food from the in-house restaurant was superb (they served the best wiener schnitzel and apfelstrudel I ate during my whole trip).

I also enjoyed a hearty, bone-warming soup – kaiserknödel – which consisted of a clear beef broth over a bowl of fried cheese dumplings, as well as Wagyu beef knödels (dumplings) served with warm potatoes in a creamy chive sauce.

wiener schnitzel, fried potatoes & cranberry sauce at schloss pr

apfelstrudel at schloss prielau, zell am see | table twenty eigh

As in Hallstatt I was lucky to get the best of both worlds (weather-wise) – bright, sunny mornings for long walks and exploring, and evenings of long, silent snowfall.

The castle is located just outside central Zell am See, diagonally across the lake from the town and cluster of lakeside resorts.

As it’s current ski season the town was packed with holiday crowds, so it was lovely to have the peace and quiet of Schloss Prielau and its surrounding grounds.

zell am see | table twenty eight

zell am see | table twenty eight

mountain views, zell am see | table twenty eight

zell am see | table twenty eight

lake view, zell am see | table twenty eight

mountain views, zell am see | table twenty eight


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