The Art of Eating – La Cucina Di Sandra

I had the absolute pleasure of joining a northern Italian cooking class with La Cucina Di Sandra in Richmond, Melbourne recently. As you all know, I love Italian and I love to cook and learn, so you can imagine my excitement building up to the evening! Sandra casually takes you through an entire meal in her kitchen, teaching you about products, techniques, recipes and serving. Her witty quips and vast knowledge makes for a fantastic evening.

As you walk into Sandra’s house you feel immediately inspired. It’s bright, it’s beautiful and there’s a great vibe. Italian music floods your ears as you are introduced to the others (three lovely ladies in my case) and seated at the kitchen bench where your notes are waiting and you are poured a glass of beautiful wine and offered some delightful, freshly baked polenta cookies.

Then it’s go time! Sandra wants to demonstrate that Italian cooking isn’t just pizza and pasta. It’s much, much broader than that. So with that in mind the entrée we learnt was was tortellini nudi, or tortellini meatballs. It was very different to anything I had ever tried. A different texture too and when combined with the chopped pistachios and baked pasta sticks it made for a really different sensation in your mouth. I would never have thought to put all those different ingredients together!

Sandra has pre-prepared a lot of the meal. Everything is measured and ready and waiting for her. This saves lots of time so you can focus on the exciting parts and chat more about Italy; the food, the culture, the music. She then put’s everything together while you watch, explaining the process and you have prime position to watch her cooking on the element. She has so many hints and tricks, I know I said it earlier but her knowledge on Italy, cooking and ingredients is amazing. Would you believe she has over 500 cookbooks sitting around her apartment?! 500! She uses an online directory to help her find specific recipes. Blew my mind.

The next entree is gamberi alla fonduta di gorgonzola, or prawns in gorgonzola fondue. Now, I’m not sure if I have told you about how I feel about gorgonzola but my goodness, it has to be one of my favourite cheeses. Again, this is a dish that wouldn’t have ever crossed my mind but I would happily serve at a dinner party!

Sandra was born in the centre of Italy, about 1.5hours from Rome, and has been in Australia 40-ish years. These classes have been her dream for about twenty years. Her passion shines through.

We consume the entrées at the bench while Sandra starts on the main. Maiale in crosta di pancetta, or pork fillet rolled in pancetta. She dices up vegetables and fries a pork strap in some cream before taking it out, wrapping it in pancetta and finishing it in the oven while the asiago cheese sauce is bubbling away on the bench. All this with such an air of enjoyment and relaxation. You can tell it is her true passion.

Sandra started the classes at the end of June and soon needed to add more on to keep up with demand. She now runs two classes per week and sometimes an extra for bespoke events. Keep an eye out for her finger food classes which will be on their way soon!

We are shown how to serve the dish and ushered to the table to enjoy the meal together. Sandra’s husband has arrived home and adds to the great mix of people we have in the group. I think he must time it perfectly to get in for the main meal – smart man!  The pork is tender, the prosciutto crisp and the vegetable flan finishes it all off. The sauce is to die for. Asiago cheese base and generously poured. I’m practically drooling at the memory.

Back to the kitchen bench, Sandra demonstrates how to throw together quick tiramisu. She chooses her recipes keeping in mind a number of factors and having the time to be with your guests during a dinner party is one of them. Even though I was full I still managed to eat most of it! The mascarpone mix with the quality choc and cocoa was unreal. Unlike many tiramisu’s the coffee flavour (I don’t like coffee) wasn’t too empowering.

We sat around chatting for quite some time after dinner about not only the food but our backgrounds and passions.

All in all it was a phenomenal evening and I would definitely suggest it to anyone in or visiting Melbourne.

I will leave you with a few of the tidbits I learnt from Sandra during the evening. I won’t tell you them all though because you need to go find out for yourself!

  • Mediterranean Wholesalers on Sydney Street in Melbourne have pretty much anything you could want to cook with at a great price and best quality
  • Dolce means sweet, picante means savoury in Italian
  • Mozzarella is called bologna in Italy
  • Prosciutto comes from the leg of the Pig
  • Cucina means cuisine or kitchen in Italian

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Guest bloggin’

I must say I’m a little excited to have done my first guest blog!

I went to Twitter (naturally) to find activities for a rainy day to take my visiting friend to around Melbourne. Really Melbourne jumped to the task and rounded up a bunch of responses for me from their followers as well as providing some themselves. They then asked me to share my experience of the weekend with a guest blog on their site. Thanks, Team! :)

You can find it HERE.

Really Melbourne

Little Somethin Somethin, Richmond

Truffle butter toast? Tick
Perfectly poached egg? Tick
Aioli with smoked salmon & anchovies? Tick
Almond chai latte? Tick

Tick, tick, tick.

Props to Little Somethin Somethin, not only do they have almond milk but they produced a lovely meal.

The aioli was really different. There were actual, thick chunks of smoked salmon with anchovies mashed in to the sauce. Innovative.

I’ll be honest, the aioli was a little salty for me towards the end but that’s just personal preference.

Lovely meal, well worth a visit if you’re in Richmond.

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Little Somethin Somethin on Urbanspoon

Dumpling Sisters, Melbourne CBD

I had a good food experience today and I had a bad one. This, fortunately, was the good one!

I saw the name briefly pop up on urbanspoon when I was perusing the streets yesterday in search of lunch then stumbled across it on Exhibition Street today by Lonsdale Street.

It looks like a plain, boring, cheap joint. While it is cheap, it’s certainly not boring or plain, the food is fantastic and there was a constant stream of customers who I overheard chatting about their fave menu items – obviously regulars. I now intend to become one of them too.

I thought I would try something different and ordered the pork dumplings in hot and spicy soup. Now I don’t like hot and I certainly don’t like spicy so I have but no idea what made me think to choose this menu item! I pondered this as I sipped on my herbal tea during the extremely short wait (about 4 mins) for my soup to be bought over.

A huge serve and boy, it was delicious! The dumplings were slightly different from most as they had some crunch to them. Maybe bamboo sprouts or something that will hold it’s texture after cooking. It made for a pleasant surprise.

The soup wasn’t overly hot and spicy but I definitely drank more tea than I usually would!

I can’t wait to go back and try more menu items! 5/5!

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Dumpling Sisters on Urbanspoon

Busy Brisbane

Busy is an understatement.

Ever tried to visit somewhere that you lived for 6 years for just five days? It is all but impossible to see everyone and I end up running around like a headless chook to try make it happen.

Thurs: Fly in, hang out with Celia for the day, sunbathe and check out the beach side of Brisbane, which, would you believe, I’ve actually never been to! Off to Kim & Sophs for dinner & to stay the night.

Friday: meet Celia, have an appointment. Drive to Gold Coast, hang out at Harbour Town (accidentally end up with new yoga outfit) and have lunch. Celia drives me to Lauren’s. Catch up with Lauren, her Mum and Charlotte before quickly dressing and meeting Kat & Mike at Sage in Broadbeach for dinner. Drinks with more friends at Envy, home for an early night. Yeap I still have that annoying chest infection from two weeks ago.

Saturday: wake up to no voice due to steroid inhala. Have brunch with Lauren, shop quickly at Pacific Fair and have lunch. Lauren drives me to train station, Lisa picked me up in Yerongpilly as the train lines were out. Spend evening with Lisa with all intentions to go out but battling asthma. Get kotobuki & cider, fall asleep for 11 hours!!

Sunday: brunch with Lisa in Bulimba before being dropped at Ka Lei & Kierans for the night. Kwan Brothers for dinner and an excellent evening attempting to decide a date and destination for their wedding that I get to plan.

Monday: brunch cancelled on me so stayed in and worked for a few hours then met Pete for lunch and took bus back to Carindale to meet Celia and watch her clean her apartment after Flatty moved out. Chinese take aways for dinner.

Tuesday: bus for an hour to see Kylie at her salon where she fixes my hair. Muck around at salon & in area as lunch/ arvo plans cancelled. I’m looking at you Daran! Sushi for lunch, train to South bank, read book in park. Train to airport, spend time reading friends blogs then hop on plane.

That’s actually quieter than normal. Usually I’d organise some Sunday drinks or something similar but I was feeling so unwell.

Keep in mind I’m lugging around my handbag, carry on and laptop for all of this! Fun times on public transport, let me tell you!

Thank you to everyone who took time out and made an effort to see me! Those who cancelled, I hate you. Okay I still love you but just a tiny bit less. You can pick it back up next time. Those who I didn’t get to but would have loved to see, I’m coming for you, it won’t be long.

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Shanghai Street Dumplings, Melbourne CBD

Hidden away up Little Bourke is this small restaurant, nothing special looking about it. That is, until you try the dumplings.

There’s usually a little line outside, we were lucky there weren’t many small groups so out little table for two came up quickly.

I’d heard rumours they were good but I had no idea how true they were!

We started with pan fried pork dumplings, followed by Shanghai street noodles and Xaio Long Bao (steamed) – all were delicious.

They were all huge servings and about $9 a plate. We couldn’t even eat half of it.

My favourite was the pan fried dumplings, absolute perfection. I eat a lot of dumplings, I’d know.

Worth the wait.

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Shanghai Street Dumpling on Urbanspoon

Lauren’s visit: Monday

My last day with Lauren as I needed to head back and catch up on work for my clients.

We woke up and another friend from high school in NZ came over to visit, Aimee. She bought along her beautiful 1 year old who we were lucky enough to play with. Gorgeous wee girl.

Hitting the road we drove along the coast to Portarlington and over to Queenscliff for lunch on the waterfront. Lunch was average but great company made up for it.

I said my adieu to Lauren and Mish then took the train back to Melbourne, taking Ru out for dinner (do you even dumpling) then settling in to work the evening.

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Lauren’s visit: Sunday

Another sleep in then over to Richmond (again trying to show Lauren all the different neighbourhoods) for brunch.

We attempted Top Paddock but there was a ridiculous line so continued down Church Street to Little Something Something. I try not to make judgements, but we had a very ‘interesting’ waitress.. I think she may have been incredibly hungover. We both ordered the toast with truffle butter, poached eggs and smoked salmon and anchovy aioli. Really different but really good.

Lauren still had the shopping big so I took her over to Bridge Road to find some bargains before meeting Sophie and Lauren for a juice.

We raced back home where our friend, Michelle who we also went to high school with, picked us up and took us back to Geelong to see her home.

Another high school (and primary for me) friend Sammy, joined us and took us for dinner on the waterfront. Fantastic to catch up with everyone.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking. Kiwis are taking over Aussie ;)

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Lauren’s visit: Saturday

We had a nice sleep in then grabbed brunch at the hotel cafe. Surprisingly my Accor card meant I received $50% off all food with the chain – who knew?! Brunch was delish, I had the corn fritters which had a Thai flair and added a poached egg. Yum.

We checked out, wandered around the shops while I got my phone fixed (yes I finally broke the screen after dropping it 1,000 times) then trammed back to South Yarra so I could show Lauren my hood.

I had to do a presentation for a client so I got busy while Lauren shopped Chapel. She came back elated with her purchases, she found a pair of shoes she’d been eyeing up online for four months.

All Blacks were playing so we headed to my usual Sunday local to watch the rugby with Sophie, our friend from high school in NZ. I managed a cider and just bout bit off my nails in the final minutes of the last half while the boys were struggling to hold back the South African Team. I took a selfie of the bar that I think clearly demonstrates the emotions that were flying around, everyone has wide eyes, hand in hair or on face & nobody even noticed me take it. Intense!

We changed then started in Prahran at Fog for a drink then over to Boutique where we arrived a little too early at 11pm. By 1am when we left it had filled up. A short stop at Electric Lady Land to say hello to the boys we had met the night before, then over to The Emerson to meet my friend Nikita. The Emerson was packed as had a good DJ on, we danced and had a brilliant time!

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Lauren’s visit: Friday

After a huge Thursday, we tried to sleep in but weren’t very successful.

Starting with brunch at Manchester Press, I was shocked to find no egg on the menu. What?! They had a range of other great options but all included lactose so I settled on avocado smashed with feta on a bagel. It was okay, just not what I was craving.

We trammed to St Kilda, I wanted Lauren to see as much of Melbourne as possible. We walked out along the pier, wandering among the boats. That’s probably my favourite place. Although I wish I was lying on one of the boats sunbathing rather than staring at them. Anyway…

We stopped at Republica and enjoyed a drink in the sun – it’s such a wicked venue. We continued along to Acland Street, pausing to browse the local boutiques and emptying Lauren’s wallet.

South Melbourne Markets were my choice of the day for lunch so we wandered the stalls looking for inspiration. Whenever I’m there I just want to buy a boot load of food and host a dinner party! The cheese, the olives, the seafood, the produce, the grains aarrgghhhh I want it all.
Unfortunately I chose a not so great dumpling place. We ordered the ginger and pork dumplings and the vegetarian dumplings and we ate neither. I do not recommend Linx BBQ. Thankfully, the fresh juices and sushi we had grabbed weren’t as terrible.

Most of my friends go shopping and come back with bags of clothes. Me? I come back with bags of cheese! I love the stuff. There’s just so much variety at the markets, I get a little carried away.

Back in the city we went to the hotel to change as I wanted to show Lauren the nightlife.

First things first though, dumplings. I’d heard Shanghai Street Dumplings on Little Bourke was awesome and boy were they right! We had to wait a little while to get in and then we ordered 2 plates of dumplings and one of noodles. Some of the best I’ve had, not to mention the cheapest and biggest meal I’ve had in a while! We had to leave half of it behind.

We started our bar tour at Gin Palace. Didn’t last long. It’s beautiful but very intimate and not the place to start a potentially big night so we jumped over to The Carlton where we headed upstairs for a cocktail. I went to go to the bathroom and discovered another set of stairs. Turns out there were two more levels.

We settled on the roof top bar, skyscrapers overhead and Lauren finished off both out cocktails, I still had a chest infection and was on antibiotics so was laying low. That’s when we met Emmanuel & Andrew. Two charming men and Emmanuel wooed us with his coin trick. Smart man – chicks dig magic.

The boys cajoled us (not that it really took much) into joining them at Miss Collins. Miss Collins is another wonderful venue, if heard it was quite pretentious but I didn’t have a problem. We danced and chatted the night away, it was the perfect end to the evening.

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