Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nautilus - Fine Dining is Port Douglas, Qld, Australia

The husband and I are not wealthy by any means, but we do like splurge on good food and wine, being the gluttons we are. Anniversary dinners are no exception.

Look at all 'em forks!

As luck would have it, we happened to be (or we meticulously planned to be) in charming Port Douglas for our 2 year anniversary. Before we embarked on our journey, we did a bit of research online for a "nice" restaurant. Harrison's and Nautilus seemed to be the rated "fine dining". In the end, we chose Nautilus, although I can't really remember what the deciding factor was.

The restaurant itself was quite nice. The entrance is up a little dirt path (I wonder how ladies in super high heels do this?) through trees and bushes. The outdoor dining area is under a canopy of tall palm trees. When there's a bit of a breeze, you can hear the leaves rustle, which is a lovely sound!

The setting was beautiful and the servers were nice... I wanted to love this place. I really did, but it just didn't do it for me. The food was beautifully presented and maybe it's just that I can't fully appreciate food and wine pairings yet but this experience wasn't what we were expecting. Maybe the problem is that last 2 restaurants we had a tasting menu with wine pairings DID blow us away... Anyway, it still was a nice place to be with the husband on our 2 year.

Something that took away from the experience was that the servers didn't seem very... knowledgeable. Our waiter (although very nice) told us the wrong course (he'd have a prawn salad in his hand but would tell us it was something different, then apologize profusely). We had some other servers come to present us with the pairing wine but they'd just bring us the glass and say something like, "I have no idea what this is." Um... not cool.

Our server said of one wine, "It's the most exported wine in New Zealand". Like, why would we want to spend marked up restaurant prices for a wine we could buy at our local supermarket? Not impressed by that, either.

Now... for the food! We opted for the 6 course Chefs Tasting Menu:

Duck & Green Ginger Consommé
paired with
Cloudy Bay Pelorus Sparkling (Marlborough)
Verdict: Consomme was very salty, but the mushroom thing on the bread
(sorry, foggy memory) was quite good.

Smoked trout on potato crisps
(sorry, can't remember what it was paired with...)
Verdict: Nice smokey flavour of trout, went well with the salty crispiness of the chips!

Chilled Tiger Prawn Salad
paired with
St Hallett Riesling (Eden Valley)
Verdict: The meatiness of the prawns and the shaved long white things (fennel?) went well together.
I think the dressing was a bit bland, though. Maybe a bit more lime juice?

Pan-seared Scallops with Pork Belly
paired with
Mitolo Jester Sangiovese Rose (McLaren Vale)
Verdict: Rich, creamy and very yummy.

Other than this being an eye fillet and there being a pancetta wafer, I can't remember
what this was. Sorry! It was quite tasty though, so great for beef lovers!

Vanilla Crème Brulee, White chocolate ice-cream & crisp cocoa wafer
paired with
Plantaganet ‘Off the Rack’ Chenin Blanc (Great Southern)
Verdict: Um, how can you go wrong with this?!

I can't say I regret our decision to go here, because the ambiance was very romantic. You can get better food elsewhere, though. We did end up getting better food at a great street-front restaurant called 2 Fish. It didn't have the "anniversary" ambiance, though. Guess you can't have it all...

Wheat-free, Dairy-free Maple Syrup Banana Bread

*I jotted this recipe down but didn't write down the source. I've made some modifications to this recipe as well. Sorry if this is your recipe!

I went through a phase where I didn't eat bananas.

1) They aren't native to BC so (according to some sources) they make your body think you're in Hawaii or someplace warm and wonderful, and therefore, your body doesn't produce Vitamin D, and therefore, you don't absorb calcium (whoa, that was long).

2) There's a lot of discussion going on about how unfairly-traded they are. This is just what I read in a student newspaper though, so I clearly need to do more research!

I missed bananas, though. They are a tasty portable snack, that's easy to eat anywhere. So in the past few months, I've been eating them... And then of course if a few days pass since you last ate a banana, and they start looking freckly and sad... I believe that's why banana bread was created. It both sweetens and moistens! How perfect!

I decided to use maple syrup instead of sugar for this particular loaf because I happened to have a jug of it (thanks, Costco!) but it is pretty pricey stuff so I think honey, rice syrup or even regular sugar would be just fine. I'm trying to avoid sugar in granular form (well, basically white and brown sugar) at the moment so that's also why I turned to maple syrup.

The result was a moist, surprisingly sweet loaf that was a bit oily on the bottom. Maybe too much margarine?


1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup mashed bananas (I used 2 medium bananas)
1/2 cup dairy-free margarine (I used Earth Balance)
1/4 cup rice milk (soy should be fine, too)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup ground flax seeds
1 1/2 cup spelt flour
1 tsp baking soda
1tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees celcius. Grease a loaf pan.

Beat together margarine and mashed bananas. Add maple syrup, vanilla, rice milk, and eggs. Beat for about 1 minute on medium speed.

In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients and stir well so that the baking soda is well incorporated. Add dry ingredients to wet and fold using a spatula.

Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake for *45 minutes.

*I've noticed my convection oven takes less time to bake than a recipe calls for so you may want to check whether the bread is done by inserting a wooden skewer. According to the recipe, this bread could take up to 55-60 minutes to bake.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Healthier than your average Crispy Rice Square

How can something that doesn't taste that sweet have so much sugar in it? Well, OK I don't know if Rice Krispies have soooo much sugar in them, but it's still very high on the list, along with glucose-fructose syrup... then add those marshmallows!! Yikes!

The high sugar content in marshmallows wasn't the only reason I chose an alternate recipe. I wanted to make a recipe without eggs or dairy. My sister can't have eggs, and neither of us can have dairy. I don't have any vegan friends, but I'll be prepared if I ever do :-).

This recipe still uses sugar, but you can definitely control what kind of sugar you use. I found evaporated coconut sap at a health food store (lower GI than regular sugar) and brown rice syrup. I also used unsweetened peanut butter rather than margarine, but if you're feeling schmancy, you could definitely use almond or some other glamorous nut butter.
The syrup, sap, and PB become like gooey caramel in this treat.

For cereal, I used organic brown puffed rice cereal. I also subbed 2 cups oats in place of 2 cups cereal for extra fiber and some chew.

Vegan Peanut Butter Puffed Rice and Oat Squares
(let's see you come up with a better name!)

5 cups puffed brown rice cereal
2 cups slow cooking oats
1 cup brown rice syrup
1 cup evaporated coconut sap (you could use brown sugar or cane sugar instead)
1 cup smooth peanut butter

Preheat oven to 300 C and toast oats until lightly toasted (I had mine in there for about 7 minutes but this might depend on your oven).
Pour rice syrup and coconut sap in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat, and stir in the peanut butter. Mix well to ensure that PB is really mixed in with the syrup.
Place toasted oats in a large bowl and combine with puffed rice cereal.
Pour PB syrup mixture over the oats and cereal and use a large rubber spatula to combine. The syrup gets very sticky as it cools but the oil from the PB does help to keep it from getting too sticky.
Spread mixture out in a greased 9 in x 13 in (think lasagna pan) and cool.
Cut into squares and enjoy!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vegan cornbread with spelt flour

I'm testing out possible Christmas stuffing recipes. I've never made cornbread stuffing so this should be fun! For now, I'm just concentrating on getting the cornbread part right and I'll cross the what-to-put-in-the-stuffing bridge when I come to it.

Also, I'm not vegan, but my sister can't have eggs, and neither of us can have dairy. Oh, and we can't have wheat either, hence the addition of spelt.

I used a jar labelled "cornmeal" (something my sister repackaged and labelled). It was pretty coarse stuff and the bread itself came out quite gritty. I think in the future, I might do a mix, like half coarse cornmeal, and half medium or fine ground cornmeal.

It was quite tasty though, especially with butter (soy or goat's milk for me) but it's a little crumbly when warm. This recipe''s definitely a keeper!

Here's the recipe from Isa of Post Punk Kitchen. I've put my substitutions in parenthesis and italics.

2 cups cornmeal
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (1 cup spelt flour)
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 cups soymilk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350, line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper or spray the bottom lightly with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, wisk together the soymilk and the vinegar and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt).
Add the oil and maple syrup to the soymilk mixture. Wisk with a wire wisk or a fork until it is foamy and bubbly, about 2 minutes.

Pour the wet ingredient into the dry and mix together using a large wooden spoon or a firm spatula. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and bake 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Slice into squares and serve warm or store in an airtight container.