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Mary's has been on my "must try" list for a year now, and with the news of its opening in the CBD it returned to the forefront of my radar. Because the CBD store was only a takeaway joint and I wasn't sure if it was just burgers, we opted to go to Newtown branch. A Google search indicated that on Saturdays, Mary's opens at 4pm, so to fill the time between me finishing work that morning and Mary's opening we caught Nightcrawler at the cinema nearby. I didn't really know much about the film going in but I thoroughly enjoyed.

The movie finished a bit for 4pm so we sussed out the locale of Mary's- not the easiest to find in that it just looks like an old, run down building with no obvious signage. We entered with trepidation that it may be the wrong place and had a laugh when we realised not only was it the right place, but it was also open since midday! Damn the Internets for its false information.

We decided to take a seat upstairs and the dark, morbid decor fit with the mood carried on from the film we just watched. It was pretty quiet at the time so would be a cool spot to grab some food and drinks with some friends and hang out.

The menus are written on the wall, not that I needed it as I knew what I wanted- fried chicken and mash potato with their gravy. The pricing was a little on the expensive side, $18 for half a chicken, $14 for the Mary's Burger and $5 for mash and gravy.




Now I hate to say it after I've heard all these amazing reviews and I had anticipated going for so long but the food was kinda average! My chicken although looked delicious, tasted slightly burnt and could do with more seasoning. The mash was good- creamy and smooth and the gravy was nice, but nothing good enough to entice me back. I had a bite of my boyfriend's burger, a yummy, juicy burger but nothing to blow my socks off (and with the pricing I would prefer a burger from BurgerFuel which has more exciting ingredients). At the end of the day, it was a bit like a more expensive and hipster version of KFC.


Mary's on Urbanspoon
As you may have noticed on my blog, I sometimes participate in Reddit's 52 Weeks of Cooking Challenge. This week's theme was Canada which peaked my interest because outside of Degrassi Junior High I don't really know much aboot (see what I did there?) Canada, in particular their food. After a Google search it became clear that Canadian food seems to include a lot of naughty treats like Poutine (chips covered in gravy and cheese curd) and Butter Tarts. After browsing all the different dish,  I decided to try making a sweet slice named Nanaimo, not knowing what it would taste like (barely knowing how to pronounce it) I adapted recipes online with ingredients found in my kitchen. And the result? Delish and easy. There was no baking involved and I think its a nice alternative to the regular slices, like caramel slice, that people usually make. Plus you can slice it up, cutely wrap it up in some red cellophane and ta da! A cute, little Christmas gift.



Ingredients
Base
100 grams butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 egg, whisked
100 grams crumbed arrowroot or marie biscuits
1 cup desiccated coconut

Filling
76 grams butter
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup icing sugar

Chocolate Glaze
200 gram chocolate, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons butter

Directions
1. Double boil the 100 grams butter
2. Once melted, stir in the 1/4 cup sugar and 1/3 cup cocoa powder until well combined
3. Whisk in the egg, continue whisking for about 5 minutes so the egg can cook.
4. Remove from the heat and add the biscuit crumbs and coconut. Mix well the press the mixture into a 10 x 20cm greased tray lined with greased baking paper.
5. Set aside while you work on the filing.
6. Using an electric mixer, mix together the peanut butter, butter and icing sugar until well combined.
7. Spread the filling over the base and place in freezer.
8. Double the butter and chocolate, stir until well combined.
9. Allow the chocolate glaze to cool before pouring over the filling. Place in freezer for 30 minutes. Then refrigerate for another 30 minutes before slicing it up and enjoying the Canadian deliciousness!







I used to frequent Vogue Cafe during my first year of uni, they did a delicious gnocci rosa which kept bringing me back but then was sadly taken off the menu. The years passed, and I didn't think much of the Cafe, it was never really a super popular spot amongst the uni crowd. But this year, Vogue Cafe returned to my radar when it kept popping up all over Instagram, in particular their fun milkshakes.

Over the weekend I returned to Vogue Cafe with my uni girls and we were shocked to see what Vogue Cafe had become over the years! It had a complete makeover (I understand that during Macquarie Centers re-branding it had shutdown) and had gone from what was an almost stuffy cafe which suited an older crowd to a cute, quirky, garden like cafe. When we got there all the tables were full so a waitress took down our name and number and said she would call us as soon as a table was ready. The perks of a cafe being located in a shopping centre is that you can window shop while you wait, but we had barely entered H&M when we got the call that our table was ready.

Once seated,  I ordered the Nutella milkshake and French toast with berries and yogurt. We were warned that our orders would take at least 20 minutes to arrive, which was fine by us as we weren't starving and were happy to chat.

Nutella Milkshake
The drinks arrived first and we were all in awe at how cool they looked, very instagram worthy! We joked that getting to the milkshake was like going through a lolly obstacle course, a course I wasn't complaining about! I really enjoyed the shake; thick and devilishly chocolate-y. Perfect for someone with a sweet tooth.



When my french toast arrived, I was already nearing full and ordering a sweet meal with such a sweet drink wasn't the best idea. It was served on a rectangle black plate, that reminded me of charcoal, and although it looked cool it wasn't practical as the juice from the berries kept spilling over the sides. And although the french toast was nice, I couldn't even finish half. Most of the girls were the same with their meals.  We all enjoyed our meals but could barely get through them as our drinks had filled us up! So I would recommend if you are going for the drinks, perhaps get a light meal to share. Or have a heartier appetite than us!

Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Vogue Cafe. The service was friendly despite being slow, and the menu items created conversation and hashtags.


The Vogue Cafe on Urbanspoon
This visit to Pasticceria Papa or "Papa's" was totally unexpected, I was driving to a meeting in Lilyfield when I passed the store in Five Dock, totally surprised I made a mental note to stop by on my way home to purchase a slice or two of their famous ricotta cheesecake. Upon entering the store (which has ample parking in a lot downstairs), I knew I would be walking out with more than just cheesecake! There was a selection of cookies and pastries to choose from, and a few savoury items too.



I restrained myself from pointing out everything on display and instead purchased two slices of their ricotta cheesecake (at $4 a slice), two large rum baba ($2.80 each), four small chocolate ricotta cannoli ($1.60 each), and one small chocolate bigne ($1.80) for me to eat before the ride home! The service was efficient and friendly, and I loved hearing the orders being repeated to other staff members in Italian. Although, I was a little worried as they were pricing it up as most of the items I selected did not have the prices written but when I saw the total and the break downs, I was pretty pleased- much of those items would be charged at a higher place in other cafes.



As I plugged in my home address into the GPS I devoured the bigne, choux pastry coated in a rich chocolate and filled with a yummy, light chocolate custard. A nice treat to tide me over before I got home to devour the rest.

When I got home, I bit into a cannoli. I'm normally not a fan of cannoli but I thought I'd give them a another chance. They were nice, nicer than ones I had previously. But the sweet tooth in me prefers more sweeter sweet treats.

Later in the evening I cut into the rum baba, delighted to see how fluffy and soaked in flavour it was. The smell of rum was much stronger than the taste, which I preferred. I haven't had one since Italy and it didn't disappoint, would definitely get it again.

And now the the drawcard- the cheesecake.When a dish is so famed you expect it be the best thing you have ever tasted, and while this cheesecake was not that it was pretty nice. The cheesecake is served with a layer of icing sugar and hints of cinnamon which adds a sweetness to the cake. The soft and creamy centre pairs well with the harder, cake like outside.

Overall, I would say Papa's is worth a visit, everything tasted great and high quality but with a reasonable price tag. Even though it is not as famed, my favourite was the rum baba.


Pasticceria Papa on Urbanspoon
I was 18 when I first got Facebook, and over the years I've seen a shift in my news feed from posts and pictures about partying and drinking to those about fitness and exploring nature. And my Facebook activity also reflects this change, as many of my social outings this year have been hikes or bushwalks. Instead of planning clubbing nights (well less often, anyway), my friends and I have begun to plan hikes, and embraced activities where we can get outdoors and feel good. Over the past two years I've done quiet a few different trails, and here is a wrap up on some of the more popular ones:

Bondi to Tamarama Coastal Walk



We kicked off this walk by having brunch at Icebergs Terrace, which has an amazing view of Bondi Beach and reasonable prices. This 1.2km walk consisted of paved surfaces and some stairs, although we did often wonder off the path to climb down closer to the shore for picture opportunities. We found this walk very easy, and in fact, as soon as we reached Tamarama we decided to walk back and go have a swim at Bondi, as we wanted to push ourselves a little plus Tamarama was a much smaller beach . Although it wasn't challenging, the walk did boast some beautiful views of the water and would be a good running trail. We have already planned on doing the full Bondi to Coogee walk next time.

Putty Beach to Gerrin Point Lookout



Another coastal walk, but with much less foot traffic. This walk is part of the Bouddi Coastal Walk in the Central Coast and is another easy one, at 1.2 km. I did this walk the day after I did the Bondi walk, and although I thought the Bondi walk had some beautiful views, the views on this walk were spectacular with dramatic red or naturally tessellated sandstone cliffs, where (if you don't have a fear of heights) can sit on the edge and admire the spanning blue ocean under you. If heights isn't your thing, you can admire the view from a safe distance, and also do a 360 degree to turn to also take in the dense bush behind you. You can cool off after the walk with a refreshing swim back at Putty Beach.

Wentworth Falls


One of the smaller waterfalls


Changing it up from the coastal walks and moving to the Blue Mountains, you can find several trails that lead to stunning waterfalls (you can find the different trails here). I can't remember the exact one we did as I think we just winged it but it was a big day, I believe we were there for about 6-8 hours. I found this walk a bit tough as there were a lot of steep stairs (some were so steep, it was pretty much a ladder!) but I really enjoyed it and you can rest and picnic by the falls as a reward.

Jellybean Pool

Another spot in Blue Mountains and this walk is super short (around 20 minutes) and leads you to a swimming hole (shaped like a jellybean, hence the name). I've included this in my list purely because Jellybean Pool is one of my favourite spots in the mountains, so quiet and peaceful. You can use the pool as a base spot and explore the surrounding bush. A great picnic spot.

Karloo Pools




Another hike that includes a swimming spot, this walk begins at Heathcote Station and is moderately difficult. I would recommend the following itinerary: starting at about 10am and walking the 2 km to Karloo Pools, stopping for a picnic lunch and swim before continuing a further 2.5 kms to Uloola Falls, where you can rest and take in the view of the waterfall amongst the bush before heading back.

All of these walks and hikes are awe inspiring and make you appreciate the natural wonders Australia has to offer, and its a great way to spend the day with your partner, friends or family.

Feel free to share your hiking spots in the comments, always keen to find new trails!

Its 11am and I am in a meeting and my stomach begins growling. Loudly, or at least that's how my embarrassed self perceived it. Being housebound for the previous month, working on my thesis and final uni works, I have been able to graze throughout the day so now my stomach is struggling with going back to set meal times. So, to avoid another embarrassing stomach growling incident, I went home that day and threw together a bunch ingredients that I knew had a low glycemic index, and thus would keep me fuller for longer. Slightly odd mix of ingredients (particularly because I have only used quinoa in savoury dishes in the past) ended up working together, and after consuming two for breakfast (at around 7am) the next day I was full until about 1.30pm - success!



Ingredients

1/6 cup uncooked quinoa
1/3 almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup self rising flour
1 egg, whisked
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips

Directions

1. Cook quinoa as directed on package
2. Mix together all the ingredients, including cooked quinoa
3. Divide mixture evenly into six muffin cases
4. Bake for 30 minutes at 180 degrees Fahrenheit

Too easy!
Its 11am on a sunny Sunday and Paper Plane Cafe in Parramatta is already full, with a small gathering people waiting outside. We add our name to the list, and wait with our stomachs grumbling and our eyes sneaking a peek at what the diners are eating.

The cafe is small, and they have packed all available space with seating (not surprising, considering how popular it appears to be). After about 15 minutes, we are seated at one of the few tables outside, score!

Having already pondered what we had wanted to order during our wait, we were quick to finalise our decisions once seeing the full menu. Despite piling our menus at the edge of the table, and trying to make eye contact with the staff, it took another 10 or so minutes for our orders to be taken. I ordered the Eggs Benedict and stuffed Portbello mushrooms and homemade strawberry lemonade. I was pretty pleased with the reasonable pricing, both those together came a little under $20.


When they arrived, based on appearance I was pleased. The eggs were served atop a helping of rocket on sourdough bread. And the mushrooms were stuffed with pesto and a generous portion of salty feta. I first tried the mushrooms, delish. Perfectly flavorsome and salty. Next I cut into the egg and...devastation. I love a runny yolk and so was severely disappointed when I cut into the egg and nothing happened. If not for the hard yolk, that brunch would have been near perfect.

But despite the hard yolk, I would totally go back to Paper Plane Cafe (although would specify my yolk preference) as it was fairly cheap and they had a lot of tempting dishes on offer.

p.s A tip for parking on a Sunday (I found it very hard to find free parking that morning) there is a lot right door and the first two hours of parking are free.



Paper Plane Cafe on Urbanspoon

I have been wanting to try my hand at making more professional looking cakes, and with my thesis completed and my mother's birthday in tow, now was the perfect time to try. This cake looks a little fancy but was actually very quick and simple to make. For an even better finish, I would recommend doing another layer of ganache over the original ganache (once set) to achieve an even cleaner finish (I just ran out of cream, so had to settle).

Ingredients

Cake (adapted from Buddy Valastro recipe)

1.5 cups flour
1.5 cups caster sugar
½ softened butter
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
100 grams chocolate, melted
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 milk combined with 1/2 tsp lemon juice, allow this mixture to stand for at least 5 minutes before using
2 eggs


Ganache

1/2 cup thickened cream
150grams dark chocolate chips
For decoration
Mixed berries
Desiccated coconut

Directions
Cake

1.     Mix together the flour, sugar, butter, cocoa, baking soda and baking powder in a bowl until well combined.
2.     Pour in the chocolate, mix for 1 minute.
3.     Pour in the hot water. Then add the eggs, one at a time, waiting until the first one is well combined.
4.     Mix in the milk/lemon combination.
5.     Pour the mixture into a greased 12-15 inch cake pan and bake for 20-30 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius. Test with a skewer to see if the cake is cooked all the way through.
6.     Let the cake cool before removing from the pan

Ganache

1.     In a small pan over low heat, add the cream and chocolate, constantly stirring until the chocolate is completely melted and well combined.

Assembling the cake

1.     Once the cake is completely cool, place on a wire rack (place a newspaper under it to save on the cleaning). Pour the ganache onto the top of the cake. Using a straight edge cake scraper, or the flat end of a butter knife, smooth the ganache over the top of the cake. Using the scraper or knife, smooth the dripping ganache around the sides.
2.     Arrange the berries and desiccated coconut as desired. 




Last week I covered how to do Paris in a day, today I take a more relaxed take.  The second time we visited Paris, it was once again only for two nights (our flight home was from Paris) but we decided to take a more chill approach. Having already seen most of the big attractions we only had the catacombs on our list and pastries. Lots of pastries. Basically we just wanted to relax and indulge.

After hosteling our way through Greece and Amsterdam, Carly and I were kicking ourselves for not splurging out a little on our last leg of the journey. But when we saw our room, all these concerns were forgotten. It was hostel heaven! We stayed at St Christopher's Inn, Gare du Nord which had only opened that year (2013) so it was clean, so clean. You could practically smell the fresh paint. Plus, there was plenty of power points to charge everything (by the headboard of each bed there were several) and individual storage areas. Both which were lacking in the places we had stayed at earlier. I am in no way being endorsed to say any of this, it was just such a welcome change from the hostels we had experienced prior to that.

French Onion Soup

Besides pastries, we also had French Onion soup on our to-do list, so we picked our dinner venue based on if it had it on the menu. Luckily we found a restaurant making it not to far from our hostel.

Our original plan had been to catch a show at the Moulin Rouge, but after discovering it would cost over 100 euro, and having already seen a cabaret show in Paris the previous year, we decided to pass. Instead, after dinner, we strolled and metro'd our way to the red light district to look at it from the outside, stopping on the way for some nutella crepes.




Even though this was Paris, the relaxed edition, we woke up bright and early so we would be first in line for the Catacombs (we had missed out on seeing Ann Frank's house in Amsterdam because the line had been so long we would have missed our flight the same morning because of the two hour wait to get in). We stopped by a bakery that was near the Catacombs entry (of course, pastries were needed!) before taking our place in line at 8.50am, for a 10am opening (we were 5th in line). And thankfully we did get there early, because as it got closer to 10 the line began to go around the block.

Being under 26, the entry fee was very cheap, less than 5 euro and being one of the first to go in meant there wasn't the usual crowded shuffle commonly associated with tourist attractions (although they do only let a certain number of people in at a time). I'm weirdly a big fan of underground attractions, so enjoyed walking through the creepy tunnels, lined with bones. The weird thing is that when you exit you end up on some random side street, not good for the directionless like me.

After being lost for a solid time, we manged to find our way to some friends and headed to Cafe Cotume, where after a 20-30 minute wait I purchased the most expensive plate of bacon and eggs. After our big breakfast, it was logical to follow it with a picnic (indulgence was a goal of Paris Take Two) so we stopped by a patisserie and a grocery store and loaded up with goodies for a picnic under the Eiffel Tower.

Breakfast at Cafe Cotume

Later that evening, we sipped champagne by the banks of a river (the banks were lined with people doing the same) before heading out for our final Parisian meal (unless you count the bakery treats with bought on the way to the airport the next morning).

I completely loved my first trip to Paris, bursting with activity and attractions (in fact, I referred to it as a perfect day) but it was also nice to visit again, at a much slower pace with no agenda besides to indulge and enjoy.




Black Star's Watermelon cake and a cronout. These were certainly on most Sydney foodie's food bucket lists this year, they definately were on mine. Luckily I was able to tick both them off my list in one afternoon in Newtown. So did the desserts live up to their hype? And which of the "it" desserts were better?

Let's start with the Watermelon cake from Black Star. This was my first visit to Black Star in Newtown (or any Black Star) and I was surpised at how small and easy to miss it was, given its immense popularity. The staff there were super friendly and happy to provide advice on what to order, although I came in knowing what I wanted. The watermelon cake, of instagram and blogger fame.I was suprised to see that part of the cake actually contained a slice of fresh watermelon, when I had seen  pictures of it I had assumed it was a gelantine based layer. The cake layers were soft and spongey and the cream was light and not too sweet, and flavoured genty with rose. The cake is pretty, as you can see, and was tasty. A nice summertime treat. However, would it be worth making a special trip down for and queing up for (which I hear is common on the weekends)? Probably not.

After Black Star, we were walking through Newtown when we passed Gelato Blue and something in the display caught my eye. Was that? Is that? Yes! Finally! Its a cronut! For those who don't know, a cronut is a mix between a croissant and a donut and is not commonly made so I was so excited to have stumbled upon that I had to buy it, despite being full of cake.  I selected the nutella cronut (it was Halloween eve, hence the marshmallow pumpkin on top) and hoped it would survive the hot car ride home. The drive home was enough to build my appetite and I dug into my cronut (which had thankfully survived) straight away. And oh my the deliciousness! Delicate, sweet pastry layers teamed perfectly with the chocolate. So good! I wished I had bought more.

So if the cronut and the watermelon cake were in a taste battle, the cronut would be the victor. It was even cheaper than the cake ($6 vs $7.50). But all in all, it was a pretty good day for my sweet tooth.
 

Black Star Pastry on Urbanspoon