Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spaghetti with Crab and Surprise Tomatoes

I've reached the point in my cooking life where I've started to base my homecooked meals on what I have on hand, or what looks good at the grocer or supermarket.  This doesn't happen for parties, or when I've decided to make something in particular, obviously, but lately certain ingredients have been looking rather fetching.

Case in point: these red truss tomatoes.  Usually, my local supermarket has very ordinary ('sub-par') fruit and veg, all pasty, powdery and phewy.  I've been disappointed before, so I am wary.  But these tomatoes tasted as good as they looked (and only $3.98/kg!).  Hopefully they (yes, Woolworths, I'm talking about you) will get their act together now that summer is approaching and the exotic and tropical fruits begin to appear.

With surprise tomatoes in hand, I used this recipe which is based on one from the Gourmet Traveller site, and it's as easy to make as it is to eat.  Red, red tomatoes notwithstanding.

Crab and Tomato Spaghetti
serves 2

60 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
5 anchovy fillets
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped into 2cm (1 inch) pieces
200g crabmeat (I used tinned, but fresh would be better)
300g dried spaghetti or other long pasta
2 tblsp parsley, chopped (I used salsa verde)

1.  Heat olive oil in a large frying pan, add onion and garlic and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until softened.
2.  Add anchovy fillets and stir until dissolved.  Add tomato and cook for 2 minutes.
3.  Stir in the crab and season to taste with salt and pepper.
4.  Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain and add to crab mixture.
5.  Toss to combine and serve topped with parsley.

Cooking the pasta; ingredients, including crab and anchovies

Serve with parsley - or salsa verde, which also has anchovies in it

Friday, October 30, 2009

Of Halloween cats and bats

I wanted to show something food-related for Halloween, but all I had were some sweets I'm saving for the hordes of children I'm expecting for trick or treat on October 31.  Actually, whenever I don't have anything on hand, there is always a knock on the door and 'Trick or treeeaattt!'.
And whenever I'm prepared (like this year), no one turns up.  Oh well,..

Anyway, Tabitha cat and I hope you have a candy-filled, ghoulish Halloween.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Zumbo Classics with a Twist

In my opinion, the main point of differentiation with Adriano Zumbo Patissier's cakes is the incredible variety and combination of flavours.  The pairing of savoury tastes (of herbs, spices and salt) with the traditional sweetness of cakes keeps us on our toes and constantly surprised.

So it is an obvious step for Zumbo to present 'Classics with a Twist' - old favourites that are given the 'ooh, what's that?' treatment.  Here are some tastes from the 2-week range that graced the patisserie.

Tart Tatin [sic]- apples in sage, brioche pudding, celery jelly, brown sugar crumble.
I really don't know about this one, the sage lends a strange flavour to the apple tartin, and the celery jelly is unusual (you can tell it's celery), but overall, it doesn't work for me.

Belle Helene Millefeuille - Chocolate, mascarpone creme, poached pears, caramelised puff pastry.
The puff pastry in the one I had was slightly burnt, and the chocolate was very rich, so probably not the best of the batch.  Not sure where the 'twist' is, maybe it's the chocolate or pear?

Fraisier - Maple pecan creme mousseline, sponge and fresh strawberries.
The maple creme is smooth and honey/maple flavoured. Delightful.
My only criticism is its size - for it's an incredibly small cake for the price ($7.90).

Opera - Coffee-soaked jaconde, coffee buttercream, liquorice ganache, passionfruit ganache.
The liquorice is the twist in this cake (it's the greyish layer), and it contrasts beautifully with the coffee cream. The passionfruit square on top is sour-tangy and perfect.  Again, it's a bit small, but worth every bite.

There are several more from this range that I haven't tried yet. I'll try to get them *fingers crossed*, but the range does finish this weekend.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hello Cookie: Chai Spice Cookies

The Hello Cookie project is up and running again.  After a couple of weeks of eating out (hello birthday, hello Sydney Food Festival and hello Melbourne), it's time to get the mixer out and start baking again.

The HelCoo project was helped by the delightful delivery of 2 tins of 'indulge your senses' Pure Chai*, a form of drinking powder (like drinking chocolate) that you mix with skim milk and heat in the microwave.  It is a very light version of traditional chai (or chai latte, at least) and is a convenient way to enjoy an afternoon coffee without the coffee.

Of course, it can also be used in cooking, which is where these Chai Spice Cookies come in.  I modified a basic cookie recipe with the addition of the Pure Chai and some ginger and cinnamon to bump up the flavour - replace the chai powder with 1/4 cup sugar and more ginger and cinnamon if you like.  You end up with a very moreish, delicious biscuit.  Hope you enjoy it.

Wait - before we dive into the recipe, check out this carton of eggs from the supermarket. A number of things make it stand out, namely the black carton (tres fancie!), the fact that they are labelled as 'Australia's premium gourmet eggs', and that there are 9 eggs in the carton.  What do you call that - a 'three-quarter dozen' or '3-4-12'?

Oh, alright, here is the recipe.

Chai Spice Cookies
makes 60

2 3/4 cups plain flour
1/2 cup indulge your senses Pure Chai (honey and vanilla flavour)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
225g (1 cup) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence

1.  Sift the flour, chai powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl.
2.  In another bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until it becomes pale in colour and fluffy in texture.  Beat in the eggs and vanilla until combined.
3.  Gradually add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until it is all combined.
4.  Cover and refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes to one hour.  This will make it firm up a bit.
5.  Preheat the oven to 200 deg C (400 deg F). 
6.  Roll the dough into walnut-sized balls (about 2cm across).  Sprinkle with additional sugar and flatten slightly.  Place on a lined baking sheet about 4cm apart.
7.  Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until lightly browned (be careful, they may brown quickly after this).
8.  Cool on the tray for a minute before placing on wire racks to cool completely.

And yes, I did end up with exactly 60 cookies.  They keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container.

Product placement - a handy way to get some flavour into the cookies. Or you could just drink it!

Mixing the dough; coating the dough with more sugar

'[Hot] pink is the navy blue of India'

* An appreciative Thank You to Rachel from Polarity Consultants for the Pure Chai!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sightseeing and Eating Melbourne - Part 3

So this was our final full day of our Melbourne long weekend, though only a partial day for me, as I had to work.

After work, we took a quick stroll into Bourke St Mall for a last peek at the shops. I didn't really buy much during this trip, and I think I was feeling a little empty with the lack of shopping bags.  The General Pants store had a display of thong lights in the window, and it contrasted nicely with the street art in nearby Union Lane.

And another thing... I'm glad I don't have to drive in Melbourne.  Those right-hand turns across tram tracks really freak me out (and I'm a pedestrian!).  I think Bill Bryson described it really well - to turn right, you stop as far left on the intersection as you can, and as the lights turn red, you make your right turn just as the other cars mow you down.

 Dinner on our last night was at Maha.  I was keen to try this CBD restaurant after reading about it on Melbourne blog SpatulaSpoonSaturday.  Maha has Mediterranean/Middle Eastern influences, and is co-owned by George Columbaris of the Press Club and Hellenic Republic empire.

The waitstaff at Maha are really knowledgeable about the menu, no mean feat considering that most of the dishes have Moroccan/Middle Easter or Arabic names.  You can order from the a la carte menu, but most tables seemed to go for the soufra, which is an individually-tailored menu for your table.  There is a 4-course soufra for $70 per person (which we had), or a 5-course soufra, which includes soup, for $80.

Don't let the term 'four-course' mislead you - you get lots of smaller dishes within each course.
I won't describe each course, as I'll probably get the names wrong, but you'll get an idea of the breadth of flavours (and the amount of food), which I thought were superb.

Berid mezze are small cold dishes.   A great start to the meal, and the lamb kofta (on skewer in a glass) were a standout - so tasty.

Sokhoun mezze are small hot dishes, and the vine-wrapped stuffed quail leg was my favourite here.  The garfish I found a little bitter.

Saheen kbeer are large dishes of meat and fish, and we were presented with a 12-hour slow-cooked lamb that was incredibly tender.  Of the mouabalet (sides), the fattouche salad was tangy enough to offset the richness of the lamb, though the fried pita bread pieces were a touch oily.

Ah, helwayet (desserts)!  Each table receives different dishes, but everyone seems to get the 'famous maha doughnuts' filled with Turkish delight. The doughnuts were fairly doughy and sweet, and I much preferred the passionfruit brulee/pannacotta.  The dollop of yoghurt on the strawberries was also more to my taste, as its astringency was a welcome relief to the sugary doughnuts.

I just had to photograph the bill - it comes in a box shaped like a book, and the box also contains the business cards of the other restaurants in the empire.  Good marketing!  Overall, I enjoyed our meal at Maha.  It's a great introduction to a more different cuisine, and the 'tasting' or mezze concept gives you a wide range of flavours.

Maha is at 21 Bond St, Melbourne.  Ph: 03 9629 5900.  It is open for lunch (Mon-Fri) and dinner (Mon-Sat). 

Oh, there's one more meal we had in Melbourne.  But I'll leave it for another time.  Hope you enjoyed the Melbourne adventures.  I had a brilliant time and want to go back for a longer visit soon.  So many places to eat and shop...*wistful sigh*.

Maha Bar and Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 19, 2009

Visiting and Eating Melbourne - Part 2

Okay, it's Day 2 of my Melbourne sojourn.  Who said Sunday is a day of rest?  Not when there's so much to see and eat!

I had plans to meet fellow blogger Rilsta of My Food Trail for lunch, but unfortunately she was unwell on the day - sorry we couldn't meet up, sweetie, maybe next time.

So instead of Crystal Jade for yum cha, I went to Degraves Street for a typical Sunday brekkie of bacon and eggs.  Degraves Espresso is so quintessentially  Melbourne to me - little zinc-topped  tables in the narrow laneway, with patrons squeezed together for a weekend coffee.  I felt quite part of the crowd there.

Breakfast a la Melbourne - bacon with scrambled eggs on sourdough toast ($14.50); soy mocha (I think they forgot the chocolate, though - couldn't taste any choc at all).

After this, we bought ourselves a Sunday Saver tram ticket (a bargain at $3.10) and caught the tram to St Kilda beach.  There are some art and craft markets there on Sunday, mainly selling handpainted pottery, paintings, dog leashes, and the like - nothing special, if you ask me - so we stepped into Luna Park for a look. It's actually like stepping back in time, with the wooden rollercoaster, ghost train and dodgem cars.  And doesn't the face look like Bert Newton (is it supposed to?)?

Family fun at Luna Park

Then we took a walk along the Esplanade.  There were some rain clouds in the distance, but they stayed away during our leisurely stroll...

...And where did the leisurely stroll lead us to but the cake shops in Acland Street (phew, you think I was going to walk past them??).

These are proper European cakes and pastries, filled with cream and topped with fruit.  A traditionalist's delight!  We bought a wonderfully crisp cannoli filled with custard, a fat vanilla slice and a syrupy kataifi to eat later.

Cakes from Monarch Cakes, Acland Cake Shop and European Cake Shop

There usually aren't many restaurants open on Sunday night, so, again, I hadn't made any bookings, because I was hoping to make an early appearance at Longrain.  I know, the original Longrain is in Sydney, but I've never been to it.  And frankly, I am not a fan of Thai cuisine, given that our local Thai takeaway has horrible food.  But Longrain is in a league of its own, and I'm now a convert.

We arrived before 6pm, so there were heaps of tables available

Here is what we ate:

Betel leaf with smoked trout and prawns ($6.00 each); the famous eggnet filled with prawn, pork, peanuts and beansprouts ($27.50) was incredibly fresh-tasting - nearly every table ordered it

Twice-cooked Lamb salad ($38.00) and caramelised pork hock (half serve, $16).  Both were great, especially the fried crispy pork, which was served with caramelised palm sugar sauce.

Dessert of vanilla tapioca and lychee with coconut biscuit and cacao sorbet ($14.50) - we shared this but I could have had one on my own.  Incredibly good.

This visit to Longrain has made me want to visit the one in Sydney (natch).  It was soooo good, and a really eye-opener for me in terms of what this type of food can be like.  I hesitate to say 'Thai food' because I don't really know what it's like.  I just know I like this, even with the quite expensive prices!

Longrain is at 44 Little Bourke St, Melbourne.  Ph: 03 9671 3151 (no bookings except for large tables).  Open Mon-Sat 6-11pm, Sun 5.30-9pm

Our final full day in Melbourne is coming up next.  Hope you can keep up!
Longrain Melbourne on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Eating and shopping Melbourne - Part 1

Ah, Melbourne, city of wide boulevards, intimate laneways, intricate architecture and incredible restaurants and cafes.

I’ve visited Melbourne numerous times, mostly for work and usually for no more than a couple of days at a time. I know the central business district pretty well, and have ventured to the main shopping precincts, such as Brunswick St in Fitzroy, Chadstone, Chapel St, Bridge Rd. All good.

When it comes to eating, it’s usually the CBD, Southbank and St Kilda. Though I have been to Pearl restaurant in Richmond, where there was an amusing case of mistaken identity that I’ll tell you about another time…(they thought I was someone important)...

Anyway, this time I had to go to for work again, and decided to stay the weekend, to fit in some extra eating and shopping. And due to some wonderful Melbourne food bloggers, I found some new places to try.

But let’s start at the beginning, at Sydney Airport.

Food stop number 1: McDonald’s in the T2 terminal, where I had a limited edition double cheeseburger (with lettuce and mayo) – it filled the spot before the flight.

On board DJ838: Didn’t eat anything, but read Gourmet Traveller and watched Sex and the City (saw 2 episodes before the free view got turned off).

Out the window: The lovely Sutherland Shire in Sydney’s south is surprisingly picturesque from 1000 feet.

On the ground in Melbourne: I love the feeling of being in a ‘new’ place. We stayed on Collins Street.

The shops in Melbourne CBD are pretty much the same ones as in Sydney (and vice versa). One of my favourites, though, is Little Salon in Little Collins Street (see previous visit here). They have a great range of jewellery (got another Love necklace) and clothing and accessories.

A tradition of mine on arriving in Melbourne is to have something from Grand BBQ, which is in the Target Centre in Bourke Street.  I was a bit dismayed to see that the decor had been fancified since my last visit, and the menu has been reduced from about 50 dishes to around 30 dishes. 
We had #6 (roast duck and bbq pork noodle soup) and #26 (beef brisket and wonton noodle soup), each about $8.50 (the prices have gone up, too).  Relief that they tasted the same - tasty, sweet stock with plump wontons and juicy duck/pork.  And I love that you get your own black tea - served from an urn at the back of the cafe, very Chinese!

Decided to walk off the meal, since I wasn't sure we'd be able fit in dinner at this rate, so we wandered up to Melbourne Central (Lonsdale St).  We walked up Russell St and in the window of a restaurant (Korean?) saw these plates of plastic food covered in plastic.  Would have thought you could just give them a rinse...

Back on Collins Street, the late 19th century architecture is both gothic and lovely.  The condition of the facade of the BNZ bank branch is wonderful, isn't it (below right)?

I hadn't made any bookings for dinner, as I'd hoped to go to Cumulus Inc.  But because of our late noodles, hunger pangs didn't appear till 8pm, too late to go to Cumulus Inc - with their no-bookings policy, I didn't feel like waiting.  The internet comes to the rescue, and I found Bistrot d'Orsay (through good reviews on Eatability) and managed to get a table for 8:15pm.  At this stage I was a bit worried: if the restaurant was any good, why weren't they booked out on Saturday night?  I needn't have worried.

Bistrot d'Orsay is located in the theatre end of Collins St.  With the Athenaeum on one side and the Regent opposite, it's ideally sited for pre-theatre dining.  It also means smokers congregate on the footpath outside during intermission.

Loved the look of the restaurant - very Gallic, with mural on the ceiling, those wicker seats on the footpath, and panelling and tasselled lampshades inside.

The food is 'sort of' French.  There was a charming French waiter, but apparently the owners and kitchen staff are all non-French.  No matter, the food was good.

We had:
Entrees: rabbit, veal and pistachio terrine ($19.50), Tom Cooper's smoked salmon with dill and cucumber remoulade ($19.50)
Mains: gnocchi with ragout (special, $25), pan-fried gnocchi with field mushrooms, chard, hazelnuts ($27.50)

Could only fit in a shared dessert at this stage (a first for me): Prune and armangnac parfait with strawberry puree and almond tuile ($17.50)

Overall, Bistrot d'Orsay is a pleasant place, serving good food with professional service, ie. I'd recommend it!
It's at 184 Collins St, Melbourne. Ph: 03 9654 6498. Open Mon-Sat from 7.30am-11pm (from 9am on Sat).

To finish our first day in Melbourne, a bit of window shopping at Chanel and Miss Louise, which are located in the Westin Hotel opposite Bistro d'Orsay.  I emphasise the 'window' bit, but ooh, look at the shoes!!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stay tuned

New posts on my Melbourne eating and shopping adventures are coming soon...
...Please stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ocean Room resurfaces (birthday dinner)

I’d always meant to return to Ocean Room at Circular Quay after last year’s visit. We finally made it for my birthday dinner, just in time to see the new renovations at this harbourfront diner.

The renovations seem to be confined to the roof area of the restaurant, with a spectacular canopy of wooden dowels dangling from a great height. They resemble stalks of bamboo, and they swing back and forth when a breeze blows through. The menu does not seem that different from before, though there are a couple of new dishes on the menu.

The bar area

The main dining area

As on our last visit, we went with the 11-course tasting menu ($90 per person), put together by executive chef Raita Noda. It contains dishes from each of the a la carte menu’s sections, ‘Oysters’, ‘sushi’, ‘land produce’, dessert, etc.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking. Though again (a pet gripe), the restaurant was very dim and I had to lighten the photos somewhat in order to see what we ate.
Top to bottom, left to right:
Oysters two ways; Chotto (appetisers) included Tuna cornet
Marinated anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet; sake jelly bar cod
Wasabi prawns with wasabi croquette (like a pomme noisette); sous-vide ocean trout (so creamy smooth) on avocado salsa

The tuna creation consists of 5 cubes of tuna with accompanying flavoured salts.
They were: oil-blanched toro with chilli salt, fresh raw chutoro with light soy salt, seared chutoro with 3-year aged soy salt, fresh raw akami with black salt, and marinated akami with truffle salt (the truffle salt was sublime).
Even if you don’t have the tasting menu, you should try and order the tuna creation from the a la carte menu.

Now we come to the mains from the ocean:

Prawn sizzle (pan-seared king prawns)
Miso code (miso-marinated cod fillet with ginger-scented risotto) – quite a sweet flavour
The mains from the land, and sushi:
Wagyu steak with mashed potato ball (again, the potato was strangely sweet) and watercress
Sushi nigri – tuna, kingfish and salmon

Surprise delivery of the Dessert plate with birthday sparkler!

Chocolate espresso layers, pink lady apple almond gateau, classic crème brulee

To finish, Kukicha tea, mild flavour with low caffeine.

I really enjoy eating at Ocean Room. The food is wonderful, with interesting flavours and treatment, and the service is not too professional, but keen and friendly. I must really try and get there more often, not just for birthdays.
Ocean Room is on Ground Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay West, Sydney
Ph: 02 9252 9585
Open Mon-Sat (dinner), Tue-Fri (lunch)
Ocean Room on Urbanspoon