Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Best wishes for 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Late adopter tries popular restaurant

Ever since it opened mid-year, the Sydney branch of the Din Tai Fung dumpling chain has generated a positive buzz, from professional restaurant reviewers as well as foodbloggers. And let’s face it, it’s the latter we read and believe more now, isn’t it?

Din Tai Fung began in 1958 as a small shop on Linyi Street [Taipei] run by Bingyi Yang and his wife Pengmei Lai” – from the brochure ‘About Dintaifung’. The chain now has around 50 restaurants in China, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia and the US.

We went there for lunch, arriving at 11.45am, but there was a 20 minute wait for a non-shared table (considering the place opens at 11.30am, there must have been people lining up pretty early). No probs, as it gave us time to peruse the menu and to mark the items we want on an order sheet.

We started with a very spicy hot and sour soup ($4.80 for small). I swallowed some the wrong way and had a minor coughing fit, not helped by the extreme pepper hit in the soup. It was tasty, but could have been hotter – temperature-wise, that is.

Next came cha jiang noodles ($11.80), with a saucy pork mince and tofu mixture on top of very silky handmade noodles. This was an excellent dish, with the meat being yielding and velvety; the noodles have a very fine texture and were the best I’ve had in ages. The wontons ($8.80 for 6) were okay, just ordinary wontons, although the wrapper was again very smooth and soft without being too delicate – no one likes wontons that break. The soup was gentle and a nice counterpoint to the wontons.

So how were the dumplings (xiao long bao)? These were the soup dumplings ($8.80 for 6) that have hot soup encased with meat inside the wrapper. Poke or bite a hole in the dumpling and slurp out the soup first, unless you want to burn your mouth by eating it whole!

I was fascinated by the beautiful pleats on the dumplings, and apparently each dumpling weighs the same. The dumpling makers work (and dress) like a medical team gathered around a patient in surgery, so the dumplings are obviously very good. The pork dumplings are nice, but the crab and pork ones were better (they should be, at nearly double the price, $15.80 for 6). Great crab texture. It was a pleasure biting into these mini (production line) works of art.

I’m glad we finally tried Din Tai Fung. Even despite the wait for a table, the food arrived promptly and the service is perfunctory though efficient. And the food was very filling, as only pork dumplings can be. I wouldn’t mind going there regularly, although bf said he prefers yum cha. We will have to rock paper scissors it out next time I need a dumpling fix.

Monday, December 29, 2008

So who’s been Nice this year?

Being good all year has its advantages, namely, Santa gets wind of your goodness and grants you three wishes – oh wait, that’s the Genie – you only get one wish from Santa…

My wish (apart from health for my family, and peace for all), was for a Weber Baby Q, and Santy Claus delivered! Here is the new baby, with Electronic Ignition, no less!

Naturally, we had to give it a test run. First up, some lamb and mint, beef, and tomato and onion sausages. They came up beautifully. The bbq flavour permeates the snags even though it is a gas model.

Next was the traditional steak, cut as thick as possible. It was perfectly cooked and moist, and will you look at those wonderful grill marks!

The baby eggplant was okay – I should have salted them to remove some of the bitterness. They were actually accompanied by marinated pork chops, which were delicious. Unfortunately, my camera has carked, hence no photos of the chops.

Now, hopefully, I will find that Genie in a magic lamp sometime soon – I really need a new camera. Any suggestions on which one?

And here is something for the ladies – I got these lovelies at the post-Christmas sales. Gold strappy heels, ON SALE – the best kind of shoes, evah!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It’s (not) Olive Oyl

This is just a quick dissection and evaluation of Zumbo’s C(h)arlotte Full, one of the Charlotte sisters (see also ref. C. Guadaloupe, C. O’Hara, C. O’Hara (chocolate)). Don’t know why she drops her ‘H’.

This Charlotte has a lovely tang of passionfruit crème atop a chewy pink macaron base. I did find the olive oil mousse a bit cloying, however, with the olive oil flavour overwhelming the delicate passionfruit.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Summer holiday salad

Here is a Grilled haloumi and fennel salad from Donna Hay’s ‘no time to cook’. It’s perfect when you don’t want to be weighed down by a heavy meal at night. Or it makes a perfect summer lunch as well.

I’d never used fennel before this recipe, and bought two fennel bulbs (weighing 480g). However, after I chopped off the tops and leaves and peeled off the outer layer, I was left with 2 rather small bulbs that were a bit less than the required 500g. Never mind, I just bulked it up with more haloumi. You can never have enough salty, squeaky haloumi…yum!

To feed two people:
Place ¼ cup olive oil and 1 tablespoon cracked black pepper in a bowl. Add 500g sliced fennel and 250g sliced haloumi and turn to coat. Cook fennel in a frypan over medium-high heat until lightly brown and tender (2-3 minutes). Add haloumi and cook 1-2 mins each side until browned.

Layer fennel and haloumi with 1 sliced brown pear (I used a nashi pear) and rocket leaves.

Make a dressing from 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, ½ cup chopped walnuts and 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives. Pour over the salad and serve.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Cheese Plate with a Difference

How’s this for a flavour explosion – blue cheese, green apple and feullitine. Now imagine them not just together, but in macarons from Adriano Zumbo!

The green apple macaron filling is like apple sauce, with flecks of green apple skin in it.
The feullitine is crunchy with bits of nutty caramelly flavour.
And the blue cheese – you take a bite and think ‘that reminds me of something, what is it…?’. Then you get the unmistakeable hint of blue vein and go ‘Wowza!’. This was my favourite.

And the card in the background is the one I made for LM’s birthday. Because the colours match the macarons.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

…who has the fairest cake of all?

In the lychee corner, we have ‘
Have a chat Kai’. In the vanilla corner is ‘Charles du Jour’. Who will win this epic contest of taste, good looks and X factor?

The cake dudes at Adriano Zumbo Patissier both have a gateau named after them. Kai’s is a fabulous confection of lychees, coconut and strawberries. Charles’s is wondrous cylinder of vanilla crème and pate sucree topped with two amazing vanilla water ‘bursts’.

Kai himself was diplomatic enough to recommend ‘Charles du Jour’ as top cake. In this competition, where the deciding vote is cast by yours truly, victory goes to ‘Have a chat Kai’ by a nose, mainly because of my personal preference for lychees and overall prettiness. Onya, Kai!

PS: Charles should not be downcast, however, the vanilla water bursts are faintly scented liquor encased in a chocolate sphere; it’s very remarkable.

Not so remarkable is Tabitha cat’s response to another cake…(she was off to pick a fight with the black cat, bad, annoying Tab).

Friday, December 19, 2008

There’s Monet…there’s Whiteley…there’s Lunch!

I visit the Art Gallery of NSW on an irregular basis, usually when there’s an exhibition on, or for the annual Archibald prize. I’m not sure why I don’t go more often, as entry to the Gallery is free, and it’s quite a cool oasis on a warm day, as long as there aren’t hordes of school kids on an excursion.

Last time I dined at the Art Gallery Restaurant was for a colleague’s farewell, and I remember the food and setting being pretty nice. So I suggested it as the venue for
Lin Mei’s birthday lunch.

The Restaurant is on the entry level of the Art Gallery, with a more casual café located on the lower level below. It has big plate glass windows overlooking Woolloomoolloo and the Finger Wharf, and it’s very light and airy, though noisy when it’s filled with lunching ladies and business types. LM and I, as ladies of leisure at the moment, fitted right in.

LM ordered the sirloin steak and I had the veal (each $30). The steak was perfectly cooked to med-med rare with a creamy mashed potato accompaniment. My veal was wrapped in jambon ham and was melt in the mouth. And it came with a scrumptious slice of vegetable galette.

I was going to have a mango terrine for dessert until I noticed an amazing-looking citrus dish at the next table, so I changed my mind. The citrus salad ($15) consisted of orange and grapefruit segments and it was topped with a refreshing granita and a very minty sorbet. I’m not a huge fan of bitter citrus and this was a bit bitter (or, it had bitter bits – try saying that quickly) but it was okay overall.

The service was efficient and friendly and we had a wonderful time. Oh, and I got LM a box of macarons from Adriano Zumbo. In return, she gave me a belated birthday gift of a square scallop punch – woohoo, I love punches! We finished off the visit to the Art Gallery by having a peek at my favourite painting, the one by Canaletto of St Mark’s Square in Venice. Good stuff.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A tussle between Good and Evil

"Banana balsalmic!!", they shouted, as I peered at the cake. Okey-doke, sold! Kai-dude and Charles did a good job in persuading me to get this cake, "Ed, it's twins but...". In keeping with the Ed barista theme, it is coffee-flavoured.

The banana balsalmic is in the mousse part of the 'good twin'. When it first hits the tongue, you go 'Ooh, banana...', then the coffee jelly kicks in and you get confused as to what you tasted. It's fabulous!

The dark, evil twin did not make me see angels like the good twin did.

Also got the much-lauded rice pudding eclair. It felt very hefty so I plonked it on the scales and it came in at a healthy 110 grams. Unfortunately, I had to share it. Still, 55 grams of sweet gooey eclair is not bad at all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Something old, something new

Do not adjust your sets…

I thought I’d share this cake from Zumbo from last December (2007). Obviously, I am sharing a photo, not a cake, as it is long gone (in more ways than one). Enjoy!

And here is one of the new ones, Skip Cindy Skip. It is a hazelnut meringue success base topped with praline mousseline and covered with milk chocolate. The curly bits on top are hazelnut cake strips. Charles from the shop recommends this highly, and I have to agree with him; it is fantastic, especially if you love hazelnuts.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Inspirational chicken and tomatoes

Since seeing Donna Hay at David Jones and buying her latest book, I’ve been inspired to whip up dinner nearly every night (it helps that I’ve been on holidays from work and have had time to think and shop for it).

So, I’ll be posting some of the things I’ve made. I hesitate to say that I’ve actually ‘cooked’, as it has mainly involved the chopping and throwing of ingredients together on a plate. But that’s what’s made it so easy and fun!

First up, Crunchy Parmesan-crumbed Chicken (from Donna Hay’s ‘no time to cook’) served with ‘gratined’ tomatoes (Pomodori gratinati, adapted from recipe from RossoPomodoro pizza restaurant).

To feed two people:

The chicken breasts are coated with 1 cup of fresh breadcrumbs that is mixed with ¼ cup grated parmesan, 30g melted butter, 1 tablespoon chopped thyme and cracked black pepper. It’s then baked at 200 deg C for 10 minutes. Easy!

The tomatoes mimic the parmesan/breadcrumbs on the chicken: Squeeze the juice and seeds from 3 halved tomatoes into a bowl. Add 50g dried breadcrumbs, 25g grated parmesan, ½ clove chopped garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Stir well. The mixture should be firm, so add more breadcrumbs or parmesan if necessary.
Place tomato halves in an ovenproof dish, season with salt and drizzle with olive oil. Fill tomato halves with the breadcrumb mixture and drizzle with olive oil. Bake in 200 deg C oven for 15-20 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You say Peking, I say Beijing

To celebrate my Auntie I’s birthday, we had a family dinner at Peking Duck Restaurant in Beverly Hills (493 King Georges Rd, on the main strip). I grew up in this area, so know it fairly well.

Now, there are so many Chinese restaurants on the 500m or so between the train station and Stoney Creek Rd that a new one seems to have opened up each time I visit. Peking Duck has been open a few months and it is still packed each night (a good sign, as Chinese patrons can be fickle, frequenting new restaurants for a few weeks until the novelty wears off). You have to book a week in advance to get in here on weekends.

I loved it, because it was so different to the usual Cantonese food that we normally encounter. The ordering was done by my uncle and aunt, in Mandarin, so I had no idea what was being ordered. So I had to keep asking ‘What’s that?’ every time a strange dish showed up. As in most Chinese restaurants, the service is quick; the first dish appeared about 5 mins after we finished ordering.

I can’t abide duck tongues because of the way they look, so I can’t vouch for these ones. Apparently they were spicy (just look at those green chilis). The seaweed and jellyfish were refreshing, and good.

Then came something I’ve never encountered before – fiddlehead, a crimson-coloured stalk vegetable with a tangy flavour (or ‘unfurled fronds of a young fern harvested for food consumption’ according to Wikipedia). Unusual, I wonder if it’s going to be an ‘in’ vege?. We also had what I thought was lamb, but turned out to be mutton – it was flavoured with cumin and was just like Moroccan lamb fillet!

Another unusual dish was man tau buns (fried and steamed) served with condensed milk for dipping. Weird, but it works, with the buns being nicely moistened by dipping in the gooey milk.

Then, after the seemingly endless array of dishes, the duck arrived (with an identity crisis, it’s called Beijing Duck on the menu). The chef who carved the duck is a real master, with the duck skin having no shred of fat or meat on it at all, just perfect crisp skin. There are different cuts that can be ordered with the duck, and we had the skin only, skin plus meat and meat only options. But you can order any of the 3 types, at different prices.
Again, a new way of eating the duck skin was presented – imagine dipping it in white sugar and strawberry jam. Weirder than the condensed milk and just as tasty.

All up, with all that food, we were out of there in under 90 minutes (compare that to 2½ hours at Kazbah the night before. I’d definitely love to go back to Peking Duck again, just to try some other dishes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shopping and eating - a typical Saturday

It was the final Good Living Growers’ Market at Pyrmont for the year last Saturday, so I felt an effort had to be made to go. Unavoidable circumstances conspired against me going more than once this year, what with bad weather, weekend sleepins, laziness, etc.

It was stinking hot on Saturday, even at the relatively early hour of 9am. It didn’t stop an eager throng from crowding the stalls, queuing for bacon rolls and looking for a shady spot. I only bought some passionfruit butter because it was too hot to carry much else (even though bf acts as pack horse, luckily). Also sampled some Ladysmith Lamb, which was being barbequed – it was delicious, and will definitely be on the shopping list when we get our new barbeque.

Also being promoted in the hot sun was next October’s revamped Good Food Month (International Food Festival?). It looks to be a corker and they lined up some top Sydney chefs to do a bit of an advance soft sell. See picture below.

After the markets, we adjourned to yum cha at East Ocean (we were going to go to Zilver but honestly, I couldn’t walk another step and East Ocean was closer). It was a bit of a disappointment (esp. after the great
foodbloggers yum cha a few months ago). The service was slow (we waited 10 mins for tea and napkins to arrive), and the food trolleys were very sparse. So after some desultory dumplings, I adjourned home for lie down before heading out for dinner at Kazbah in Balmain.

We haven’t been to Kazbah since the start of the year, and it continues to maintain a high standard of food and service. It’s always interesting to read the menu here because it’s like doing research at school – you have to keep referring to the handy glossary to see what Kibbeh Nayeh, basturma and chevizli are.

The food was fantastic. We normally go with the shared mezze plate to start, but knowing that the servings here are not small, felt that we wouldn’t be able to fit it all in. So we had separate entrées for a change. Good move, because although the mains took a while to arrive, when they did, bf’s main of beef fillet was huge. It was cooked ‘blue’ as he requested, and I had a taste and it was melt in the mouth. Our waiter had explained that my dukkah lamb was prepared to medium-rare, which was fine with me. But when it arrived, it was more medium which made it a bit dry. The flavour was good though. When the waiter noticed that I hadn’t finished the lamb, I said it was overcooked. He went away, then came back and offered complementary dessert as compensation. That is so nice, and observant!

I felt that it would have been rude to refuse the dessert, although I was pretty stuffed at this stage, so I ordered the chocolate Eton mess, thinking that the meringue in it would be light. Not quite – the serving was massive, but I still managed to make a bit of a dent in it. Some Moroccan mint tea helped with the digestion. And sorry for the quality of the photos – we started when it was light-ish, and we were there for such a long time that it was quite dark when we finished (romantic darkness is no good for food photos!).

I really like Kazbah, it’s a professional operation with great food. They also have a sister restaurant, Sumac, in Darling Harbour.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Rare outing of foodbloggers at Zumbo

Another weekend, another foodbloggers’ meetup at Adriano Zumbo Café Chocolat. Reemski did good to get such a great turnout (the location and purpose – to try the Zumbo Summer range – certainly helped, didn’t it?).

I’ve been there, done that, with the cakes, so I’ll focus on the fascinating behaviour of the genus Foodbloggerii Famishicus. Cue David Attenborough-like whisper...

The Foodblogger’s usual habitat is restaurants, cafés, and any new food shop. They hunt singly, in pairs or in packs.

We are fortunate today to witness a herd of foodbloggers as they descend on a cake shop. Watch as they choose their colourful gateaux from the glass display case, causing long queues to form behind them as they painstakingly make their decision.

In a break from their usual modus operandi, they take their kills to a nearby watering hole (café), where they proudly display their prizes. Other foodbloggers that have gathered there gasp and whip out their cameras, the snap! whirr! snap! of lens shutters momentarily blocking out the sound of the hovering waitress who is there to take orders for coffee.

Gradually, eventually, the herd settles to enjoy their spoils. But wait! There is a rumble in the corner. It is the Maitre Patissier himself, and the humble foodbloggers prostrate themselves in his presence

Okay, the last paragraph is made up, but the rest of it is pretty accurate. Long live foodblogger get-togethers. And Zumbo.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Paris - je t'aime

If you're of a certain generation (such as my mother's), then you are usually dictated by whether something is 'good value'. You go for the bulk purchases of sponges, washing powder and tissues (20 boxes!) because it's 'good value'.

If you're gen X or gen Y, then you probably JUST HAVE TO HAVE IT (and pay it off later).

This scrumptious dessert from the Adriano Zumbo Cafe Chocolat covers all bases - it's amazingly good and it would have mum's seal of approval.

After a session with my accountant the other day, I rewarded myself with this, the Paris. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. It was heaven on a plate/carafe and made me forget all about the fact that I have no deductions (financially speaking). It comes in two parts - an eat and a drink, so even I can see the value in that!

PS: Thanks to ragingyoghurt for the tip on this winner!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chocolate Orange Cake inspired by the Nigellas

Check out this recipe from Nigella Lawson – a flourless chocolate orange cake that is very simple and tastes fantastic.

It’s from her Feast cookbook although there are a couple of printing discrepancies in the recipe. Thank goodness for the internet and indignant bakers for setting it right (eg. the recipe says to cream the butter and sugar even though there is no butter in the recipe). I also mixed the batter by hand rather than in a food processor, and the recipe neglects to mention the baking powder and bicarb soda (I just threw them into the mix anyway).

Anyhoo, apart from boiling the oranges for two hours (after which the house smelt of … oranges), the rest was very easy. I love to decorate and though it is a plain looking cake to begin with, you can go overboard with cocoa powder, shaved chocolate and so on. And, of course, I just had to use my new cake stand from Wheel and Barrow…

The recipe is below, with the bugs corrected.

Chocolate Orange Cake

2 small or 1 large thin-skinned orange, approx. 375g total weight (I weighed the oranges after they had been cooked)
6 eggs
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200g ground almonds (almond meal)
250g caster sugar
50g cocoa
orange peel for decoration, if wished

Put the whole orange or oranges in a pan with some cold water, bring to the boil and cook for 2 hours or until soft. Drain and, when cool, cut the oranges in half and remove any big pips. Then pulp everything – pith, peel and all – in a food processor, or see below if you're proceeding by hand.

Once the fruit is cold, or near cold, preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C. Butter and line a 20cm springform tin.

Add the eggs, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, almonds, sugar and cocoa to the orange in the food processor. Run the motor until you have a cohesive cake mixture, but still slightly knobbly with the flecks of pureed orange.

Or you could chop the fruit finely by hand, and with a wooden spoon beat the eggs one by one into the sugar, alternating with spoons of mixed ground almond and cocoa, baking powder and bicarb soda, then the oranges.

Pour and scrape into the cake tin and bake for an hour, by which time a cake tester should come out pretty well clean. Check after 45 minutes because you may have to cover it with foil to prevent the cake from burning before it is cooked through, or indeed it may need a little less than an hour; it all depends on your oven.

Leave the cake to get cool in the tin, on a cooling rack. When the cake is cold you can take it out of the tin. Decorate with strips of orange peel or coarsely grated zest if you so wish.

Makes about 8 slices.

Recipe adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

And appropriately (because of the Nigella reference!), this is my entry in Not Quite Nigella’s
Ultimate Chocolate Cake Challenge. Check it out!