Saturday, March 28, 2009

A typical suburban Chinese…

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write about this particular dining experience because it is so typical of many restaurant meals that I have with my family. In fact, it’s probably very similar to dozens or hundreds of such family outings that happen each weekend in the suburbs of Sydney.

Hurstville is in the southern suburbs, and until about 10 years ago, was pretty much a traditional, red brick, meat and 3 veg type of town. Then, property developers moved in, highrise apartment blocks went up, and a large Chinese and Asian population moved in. As did the Chinese restaurants and grocery shops.

The imaginatively named Hurstville Chinese Restaurant is a very popular eatery on Forest Road (corner of Park Rd). Together with Sunny Harbour Seafood, it’s probably the most crowded on weekends, ie. filled with Asian diners, so it must be good! The food is the usual, above-average Cantonese, with a fresh seafood emphasis that draws in the local diners. The service is also better than average, with helpful waiters and a fairly fast kitchen turnaround (good if you hate waiting for your food, like me).

Chinese menu; pickled carrot and radish; complimentary pork bone and watercress soup

This time, we had a special of steamed ginger and shallot scallops in shell, with another something else in shell ($4.80 per serve, excellent value). I really don’t know what the other mollusc was, as the entire transaction was conducted in Chinese by my mum. She didn’t know the English for it either...

Then we had a fried tofu with some prawn embedded in the middle of it. Apparently, they form the tofu into a roll shape and slice it before frying, hence the circular shape.

Steamed scallop and 'other' shell thing; fried tofu with prawn
More seafood in the form of a steamed ginger and shallot fish was next. Again, the type of fish escapes me, except that the flesh was white, soft and very tasty. After this came a duck topped with taro and deep fried. This was okay, with some of the duck a bit dry.

Steamed fish with shallot and ginger; fried duck with taro; complimentary fruit and red bean soup
I like restaurants that provide the gratis stuff, and Hurstville Chinese gives you lai tong (free soup) and pickles to start, and red bean soup and fruit to finish. The soup this time was piping hot (good) though a bit watery (not so good).

Outside the restaurant; it must have won some award...
Overall, it’s a reasonable place for casual weekend dinner. If you live in the area, you really are spoilt for choice. I don’t live around there, but luckily have relatives who do!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hello Cookie: Chinese Almond Cookies

Another Hello Cookie enterprise!

Chinese Almond Cookies are sometimes served in Chinese restaurants at the end of a banquet, especially if you’ve ordered the expensive items, like lobster or suckling pig. The size varies, with the restaurant ones usually ‘bite size’. These ones, made from the recipe in Anita Chu’s ‘Field Guide to Cookies’, are more of a ‘normal’ cookie size.
It never ceases to amaze me when my baking and cooking endeavours turn out unexpectedly well. With these cookies, they are just like the ones in the restaurants, and that’s a gold star in my books, because I like them like that.

As an aside, I gave some cookies to my mother to try, and she was very impressed. She even dug out a Chinese cookbook she had with a view to making some herself. Based on her translation, the recipe was quite similar – except that hers used pork fat as well as butter. I recommended that she leave out the pork fat, unless she was looking forward to a spike in her cholesterol levels.

The original recipe in ‘Field Guide to Cookies’ has 3 cups of flour, but I followed the author’s suggestion and substituted a ½ cup of almond meal for ½ cup flour, for a more nutty, almond-y taste. Incidentally, I ran out of sugar while making these so bf had to run to the shops for me to get some (‘Quick, go now! No, now! Hurry up!’). Thanks, sweetie, for your speedy footwork!

Chinese Almond Cookies

Makes about 50


2 ½ cups plain flour
½ cup almond meal
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (250g) unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1 ½ tsp almond extract
½ cup sliced almonds for decoration
1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

1. Sift flour, almond meal, sugar, baking soda and salt into a bowl and set aside.
2. Use an electric mixer to cream the butter until smooth
3. Add the egg and almond extract, and mix until combined
4. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined
5. Turn out the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Cover dough and refrigerate for 20 minutes until firm
6. Preheat oven to 325 deg F (165 deg C). Line baking sheets with paper.
7. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and place on baking sheet about 1 inch apart. Flatten balls slightly with palm of your hand
8. Place a sliced almond in the centre of each cookie. Brush top of cookie with beaten egg.
9. Bake for 12-15 minutes (rotate baking sheets halfway through). The cookies should be light golden on top.
10. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Ingredients; Mixing the flour and butter and almonds

Form the dough into a disc and cover in plastic; chillin' in the fridge

Brush tops of cookies with egg wash; golden almond cookies

Chinese Almond Cookies - serve with green tea or apple juice

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Last of the summer figs

In the last days of summer (actually, it’s autumn), I picked up some beautiful figs at the Rocks Growers' Market. Believe it or not, I’ve never bought figs before, so I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Sure, eat them, that’s not a problem, but cook with them?
The ever-reliable
Taste recipe site came to the rescue with this Fig and Three-Cheese Tart. I modified the recipe to reduce the amount of goat’s cheese, as it can be rather rich. Some milder cheese, like bocconcini, could also be added to the mix to lighten things up. And don’t forget to save the juices from the baked figs to pour over the tart – yum!

Fig and Three-Cheese Tart

Ingredients (serves 2)

6 figs
2 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 sheet frozen butter puff pastry, thawed, halved
50g soft goat's cheese, crumbled
100g grated mozzarella
100g grated cheddar
4 slices prosciutto
Rocket leaves, to serve


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Place the figs in a small baking dish. Sprinkle with the brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons of water, then roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2. While the figs are cooling, line a baking tray with baking paper. Place the pastry sheets on the prepared baking tray. Lay another piece of baking paper on top, then cover with a second baking tray to weigh the pastry down. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until light golden. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Place the goat's cheese, mozzarella and cheddar in a bowl. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle the cheese mixture over the pastry sheets, leaving a 1cm border. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and golden.

4. Tear the prosciutto slices into bite-sized pieces and tear the cooled figs in half, reserving the pan juices. Top each cheese tart with half the prosciutto and figs, then top with some rocket leaves. Drizzle with the pan juices from the figs and serve.

Recipe adapted from delicious (via

Lifecycle of a fig: 1. Perfect as is; 2. Sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and brown sugar; 3. Baked

Three cheeses reclining on puff pastry; ta-da! Finished tart

This is an absolutely delicious tart that takes full advantage of the lovely fig.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A flying visit to Koko Black, Melbourne

There is only one thing worse than having to get up at 5.30am to fly to Melbourne for the day, and that is not having any time to do the wonderful Melbourne things, such as shop and eat.

I had to go down there for work last week, but ended up a) not having any free time (hence no lunch), and b) having to fly back that afternoon (hence no shop). Luckily, though, I arrived about 10 minutes early for my meeting, so I got the driver to drop me off a block before the client’s, ie. in Bourke St mall, right near the Royal Arcade, where the chocolate shop Koko Black resides.

The arcade itself is relatively manky, and I have never actually sat down in the shop (recently renovated). It’s always been wham bam thank you ma’am for the chocolates. This time was no exception.

I came away with some favourite blocks of white chocolate with pistachio, and dark chocolate with walnuts and stem ginger. I love Koko Black, as in my opinion, their chocolate runs rings around Haigh’s and Lindt even though they are pretty good too.

And I had to squash the chocolates into my bag, underneath some papers, so the client would not see them.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hey MAC, it's Hello Kitty

M.A.C’s range of Hello Kitty-inspired makeup is finally available. Been waiting for this for ages (me and a large number of Asian girls, it seems). The packaging is suitably Kitty, as are the colours in the range, ie. lots of bright (read: lurid) pinks, though I got a subtle lipstick called ‘Most Popular’. Love how Kitty’s face is imprinted on the lippie.

I’m not normally into Hello Kitty, but I do like the overall design of her and her friends. I love the clean lines and cute cleverness. Oh, and I do have the Hello Kitty Roller Rescue computer game.

Tabitha kitty does not find Hello Kitty that interesting, though.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Taste of Sydney (and a Navy parade!)

We enjoyed an afternoon of eating (and not much else) at the Taste of Sydney ‘celebration of food and drink’ in Centennial Park today (Saturday). The day was a busy one for Sydney, with the Sound Relief bushfire and flood appeal concert on just down the road. And in the city, a parade of Australian Navy personnel provided a glimpse of officers’ whites and the calls of ‘left, left, left right left!’.

But back to the food…Armed with our pre-booked tickets and ‘crowns’ currency, I made sure we nabbed a table as soon as the event opened at 11.30am (thanks to Not Quite Nigella for that tip). Once ensconced, we lost count of the number of people who asked if we were leaving the table soon, or if that chair was taken. Please refer to my Motto, at the bottom of this post.

I also prepared by deciding beforehand what we were going to order, so I could go straight to the restaurant tents and get the food. They were all very efficient in their service, and a couple of the chefs were on hand for a chat or photo opp.

Between the two of us, we had: for clearer view...

The servings were on the small side (about the size of a degustation plate) and cost between 8 and 12 crowns/dollars.
We drank James Squire ale and an orange juice. There was a distinct lack of non-alcoholic beverages for sale, and I had 3 different people come and ask where I got the orange juice from (at Parker’s Organic, if you’re interested).

My favourite savoury dish was Restaurant Balzac’s suckling pig (though it was so salty that I had to drink 2 big glasses of Coke when I got home).

My favourite dish overall was the infamous jiggly pana cotta from Jonah’s. As I was carrying it out of the tent, one women said “Ooh, that’s a bit rude!”. Yes, she was talking about the dessert.

Click for a better look...

There are also lots of produce and wine stalls to wander through after you’ve eaten your fill. I got some Beechworth orange blossom honey which is very light, not too sweet. I was too stuffed to go for any of the samples. Didn’t attend any of the masterclasses, either, as we were too busy eating – that’s slack, I know, but had a fabulous time nonetheless. Managed to walk it off on the way out – it’s about a 1 kilometre walk from the site to the Oxford St gates.

All up, it was a fantastic afternoon. Seeing the foodblogger posts (
chocolatesuze, grabyourfork and a table for two, for example) really built up my expectations, and the actual event did not disappoint. And it’s made me want to visit some of the featured restaurants, namely Pilu at Freshwater, Restaurant Balzac and Jonah’s. Here’s to another one soon.

And here is my Motto (especially for events like this):

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ooh, warm fudgey undercooked brownies!

Donna Hay introduced her range of cupcake and brownie mixes last year, and I’ve only just managed to give them a go. At the launch at David Jones, she gave out samples of the chocolate chunk brownies, and I was really impressed with their rich chocolatey flavour. So how do they really stack up?

The box of Molten Chocolate Chunk Brownies contains a 550g bag of brownie mix and some chocolate pieces. The mix consists of caster sugar, brown sugar, flour, cocoa, vanilla and raising agents. The choc chunks are milk chocolate (not compounded).

It’s a simple process to make the brownies – just combine the mix with 150g melted butter and 2 eggs. Then add the choc chunks and pour into a square cake tin. Bake for 40 minutes.

I took the brownies out of the oven after exactly 40 mins, but they were a bit uncooked in the centre. The edges were beautifully crisp, though. I should have left it in a bit longer, but I was in a rush to go out, and had to take the still warm brownies with me. Tastewise, they are extremely rich and sweet, so just a small piece will do. The box says the mix will make about 16 servings.

BYO Ingredients; mixing in the chocolate chunks; cooked brownie in tin; all wrapped up to go out!
Is it worth the $14.95 price per box? I suppose if you don’t like measuring ingredients, then it is very convenient, as you just need to dump everything into a bowl and stir. To make a comparable slab of brownies (flour, sugar, cocoa) certainly would not cost that much, so if money is not an issue, then the final result is worth it, I think.

I might do a comparison with a ‘homemade’ version of brownies using a Donna Hay recipe in a few weeks.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Craftfest or Tattoo Expo - decisions, decisions!

So, what do you do when confronted with the following branches in the road – turn right for Craftfest 2009, or go straight on for the Sydney Tattoo and Body Art Expo? That was the dilemma when we went to Olympic Park on the weekend.

Considering we made the trip specifically to visit Craftfest, it would have been wrong to not go in. I am a fan of most craft fairs although I prefer a paper crafts focus rather than, say, quilting. The Craftfest one had a bit of everything, including beads (lots), sewing machines, folky arts and crafts, and stuff I wouldn’t know what to do with. Fortunately, it also had some favourite stamping and scrapbooking places where I stocked up.

I particularly like the cupcake stamps and the new Versamark Dazzle ink pad.

There were a couple of people at Craftfest who looked distinctly out of place. Maybe they mistook the pergamano paper piercing stand for ‘body piercing’. We did not have time to check out the Tattoo expo after all, but walking past the hall it was in, you would not find a greater contrast to the crowd at Craftfest. That and the band that was rocking inside (loud!) and the motorbikes parked out the front.
Next on the agenda is the Craft and Quilt Fair at Darling Harbour in August. Perhaps they should have the speedboat and sport fishing enthusiast’s expo next door, to keep things interesting.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Hello Cookie: Orange Delight Cookies

Presenting batch number Two from the Hello Cookie Project, and, as before, it is from Anita Chu’s Field Guide to Cookies.

I’ll admit I was surprised at how these turned out, as I was expecting something thin and crisp, but ended up with a thicker, sponge-y cookie that is very like a jaffa cake. Not sure if this is how they are supposed to be, but they are very delicious with the tangy sweetness of frosting. Must have frosting, they are a bit plain without.

I used a rather green-looking orange, as the supermarket only had either green-tinged Australian Valencia oranges or Californian Navels. I chose the Valencias mainly because I wanted to buy local, and it was surprisingly bright orange inside, sweet and full of juice. One large orange provided enough zest and juice for the recipe.

And make sure the dough mixture is placed well apart on the baking sheet, as the cookies do spread when they are baked.

So, here they are:

Orange Delight Cookies

Makes about 50


2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2/3 cup (151g) unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup sugar
1 egg
2 tblsp orange zest
½ cup orange juice

Orange frosting
2 ½ tblsp unsalted butter
1 ½ cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar
2 tblsp orange zest
1 ½ to 2 tblsp orange juice


Preheat oven to 400 deg F / 200 deg C

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy.

Add egg and orange zest and mix until combined.

Mix in flour mixture and orange juice in 3 additions, alternating flour and juice.

Drop teaspoons of dough onto an ungreased baking sheet at least 2 ½ inches (10 cm) apart. Bake for 8-10 minutes in oven, until golden brown.

Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

For the orange frosting: Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add orange zest and juice and mix until smooth. Spread frosting on cooled cookies.

Ingredients; juicy Valencia orange

Cream butter and sugar; unadorned cookies - need frosting!

Frosted cookies, yum!