Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Season's Greetings from Ooh, Look...

Hi dear Readers!

Wishing you all the best for the holiday season.

love from Bel and Tabs

Tabitha cat looks typically curious in the first photo ("What's in the jar? Is it FOOD???")

She's happier in the second pic after receiving an early Christmas present of cat-food bowls
 ("Where's the FOOD?? You're supposed to fill it with FOOD!!")

PS: I you want to see the Christmas cards I made this year, please click to visit Ooh, Look...Craft.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review: Pitango organic Risotto

Hi honey, I'm home!
What's for tea?

Sound familiar?
How about the sound of a shoe being thrown at hubby's head?

Well, my domestic situation isn't quite so dire, but I'll admit that after spending 10 hours at work, slaving over a hot stove late into the evening is not my idea of bliss.  

Recently, I was given the chance to review Pitango's range of risottos (they also have readymade soups).
Why didn't I find out about these sooner? I do like to make risotto, but with this pre-prepared range, there's no more standing, stirring, stirring, and scraping a pot of rice, all while complaining that 'my feet are killing me...' (sorry, the sore feet are my own problem, caused by wearing vanity high heels all day).

Here we had the pumpkin, leek and spinach variety. Ingredients are largely organic and not artificial (rice, pumpkin, leek, spinach, onion, cream, white wine, olive oil, turmeric, fennel, etc).
All you need to do is cut open a corner of the pouch and microwave for 3 to 4 minutes.
I dished this up with some sauteed kale and shards of crispy prosciutto.
Too easy.

Moral of the story: 
Pitango risotto = a lifesaver
Ergo, happy wife = happy life.

Pitango risotto is $7 for 500g (serves 2).
I got mine at Woolworths, but it's pretty popular and sells out often.

This is a very creamy risotto. I've tried, but mine is never this creamy, darn it.
It tastes really good, not too salty.

Risotto served here with kale and prosciutto and garlic bread.
Sweet as, bro! (Pitango being a New Zealand company and all)

This post was kindly sponsored by Pitango
Thanks to Amanda at missy mischief

Friday, November 1, 2013

Oven Express and Zumbo macarons - what a combo

When I first saw my little cottage many years ago, I was entranced. It was – and still is – a perfect home, with a lovely renovated interior and a plot of low-maintenance garden for enjoying the sunshine. It also came with some high-spec, stainless steel appliances, including a shiny cooktop and a swish oven.

I didn’t realise at the time, but the oven wasn’t as spotless as it should have been. For a new-ish oven, it was pretty grotty, with a fine coating of grease that made me wonder what the previous owners had been cooking in it.  I suppose I could have cleaned it, but I wasn’t sure that there was any non-abrasive cleaning product that would get the gunk off.

Well, imagine my delight when Susan from Oven Express asked if I was interested in reviewing their oven cleaning service. Yes, please, with bells on!

Some details on the services available from Oven Express
1. How long does it take?
My oven cleaning took approx. 1½ hours. A very thorough cleaning, including removal of the oven door and inside racks to improve access to the inside of the oven . The racks are soaked in a tank in their van, with the water heated to 90C and this really gets the grease off. My oven door is double glass, and I was astonished that the cleaning technician, Rabin, managed scrape off the layer of brown haze on it. I can now see what’s cooking in the oven!

2. How much does it cost?
Prices for an an oven clean start from $160 for a standard 60cm oven. Oven Express also cleans barbeques (prices from $140). You can combine these with a rangehood or stovetop clean as well.

3. What areas do they service?
Oven Express has a number of technicians who service the Sydney metro area at the moment.

4. What type of cleaning products are used?
They use non-caustic, fume-free cleaning products. There was barely any smell while my oven was being cleaned. Afterwards, I left the oven to air out for a day before using it, and there was a bit of ‘cleaning’ smell when the oven was first turned on, but this dissipated after a few minutes. Also, the technician was very neat and orderly and didn’t make or leave any mess behind.

5. Would I recommend this service?
Yes, definitely. My oven is now like new and I enjoy using it more. I think an oven cleaning would be ideal if your oven isn’t cleaned regularly. I’m speaking from experience here. It would also be useful if your home is on the market and you don’t want to be embarrassed by potential buyers taking a peek in your oven and getting a shock (yes, I actually look in ovens; don’t you?)

Oven Express
Ph: 1800 325 773
Ooh, Look... blog received this oven cleaning service compliments of Oven Express.

Before: Gross, filthy, caked-on grease

During: Grease, begone!

After: Oh utter bliss, a clean oven.


To celebrate having a nice clean oven, I dug out a packet of Adriano Zumbo Patissier Salted Caramel Macarons.

I'd bought this pack about a year ago and it was 2 weeks from its Best Before date. And I'd never made macarons before.
It sounded like a good idea at the time...

The pack contains meringue mix, almond meal, caramel and piping bags and macaron stencil. 
You whip the meringue mix (contains dried eggwhites) with water, then fold in the sieved almond meal. 
Then fill the piping bag with the mixture and pipe macaron shells (using the stencil traced onto baking paper first).
After baking the shells, beat some softened butter with the caramel to make buttercream.
Sandwich the macaron shells with buttercream and voila, salted caramel macarons!

So where did I go wrong? I didn't sieve the almond meal properly, resulting in grainy mix. The shells are really orange in colour because the pack was so close to expiry. I didn't pipe the shells big enough, so they look like melting moments made from doggy-do.
What's good about them? They have 'feet'. They taste alright. The buttercream is yummy. They look pretty good coming out of my beautifully clean oven.
Will I try making macarons again? Heck, yeah! They can't be any worse than this effort...!

Friday, October 11, 2013

China Doll for birthday girl

Sitting by a glittering Sydney Harbour on a prematurely warm Spring day is always a pleasant and relaxing experience.

Just add a couple of dozen warships to the mix. And quite a few seamen in uniform. Plus several tables of young ladies in cocktail dress who scream and go hysterical whenever a sailor walks past... well, the experience becomes more exciting rather than tranquil.

This occasion was my birthday lunch at China Doll restaurant, located in the Finger Wharf complex at Woolloomooloo.  The warships were also in town for the International Fleet Review, hence the prevalence of sailors. It was the perfect spot for a leisurely, if noisy, lunch.

I chose to celebrate at China Doll because we had our work Christmas party there last year, and I remember the food being fantastic and the service being friendly, even though the place was packed with large groups getting merry. If you look at the other restaurants in the Finger Wharf row, you’ll notice that China Doll is usually the busiest. For good reason, too, because they do it really well.

We had the banquet lunch ($59 per person). The quantities were more than enough and the quality was excellent. Lots of opportunity for people-watching, too, which makes lunch even more fun. Just before the main dishes arrived, there was a massive roaaarrr (like a sonic boom!) as some fighter jets flew by in salute to Navy. Exhilarating!

Cheers! Had a very nice mocktail, Papa don't Peach (cranberry, peach, passionfruit)

There was a special on, of chicken and foie gras wontons, so we ordered them in addition to the banquet. The banquet also included steamed scallops in shell (not pictured).

Corn and zucchini fritters were like muffins, but more light and fluffy. I wondered why my muffins aren't like light like these, then realised that these were deep-fried (duh!).
The tea-smoked salmon salad was gorgeously refreshing.

Jasmine rice and greens come with the mains. This wagyu beef curry was sublime - the meat was literally melting in my mouth, it was so tender.

We had this pork belly at the Christmas party, and it's probably China Doll's signature dish. Crispy, fatty and sweet, its absolutely worth the KJs.

This is black sticky rice and also sago with coconut. Perfect finish to a top lunch.
The service staff were welcoming and responsive, too, which makes for an overall fine day out. 

China Doll on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 23, 2013

Of Kale Chips and Mermaids

Have you tried making Kale Chips yet?
Feel vibrant, healthy and virtuous with just one little bite!

Food fads are a funny thing. Twelve months ago, you might have suspected (rightly) that kale was akin to rabbit food, ie. eaten only by bunnies. Now, since being written about on food blogs everywhere, kale is being sold, pre-washed, in plastic bags at the supermarket - you know you've made it as a super-vegetable when you are displayed in bright pink baggies in Woolies!

Actually, kale chips are best made from leaves off the stalk, rather than baby kale or packets. I've done it using both and found that the leaves shrink quite a bit during cooking, so start with a large leaf. In fact, just tear off the top part of a leaf of kale, and then tear off the bits around the stalk. You want a large leaf area and no thick stem, which doesn't dry out and goes mushy. 
Add lots of salt flakes then scoff down these melt-in-the-mouth morsels by the bowl. It's very easy to do.

Kale Chips
makes 1 bowl

1 small bunch kale
olive oil or other oil spray
sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 170C/338F
2. Remove the kale leaves from the stems and tear into large pieces
3. Spray a large baking tray with oil and place the leaves on tray in a single layer. Spray leaves with oil. Not too much, not too little.
4. Sprinkle with salt and bake in oven for 10 minutes, checking after 8 minutes to prevent burning. Remove from the oven when the leaves are dried. Add more salt before serving.
5. Repeat with remaining kale.

Kale chips are best eaten as soon as they are made.

Lovely see-through crispy kale leaf

Do you remember when Chinese restaurants served "mermaid's tresses" back in the 80s?
Kale chips taste like those deep-fried seaweed memories, except you can make them at home, they taste better, are better for you, and no mermaids were hurt in their creation.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Momofuku Seiōbo followed by Zonut Cronut

I booked a meal at momofuku seiōbo and survived.

And, no, it wasn’t that difficult – or I was just lucky – to get a spot for the day and time that I wanted. The occasion was the other half’s birthday, part two, with part one being the traditional dinner at Ocean Room (that meal was the 12-course degustation, good value and service).

To make a booking for momofuku seiōbo, you need to first set up an online account, which gives you access to all of the Momofuku restaurants around the world. Then, you go to the reservations site and try your luck at getting a table. Fortunately, the booking window is now 20 days ahead, so I was able to nab a table for lunch on a Saturday. And, really, it is luck of the draw, because when people cancel a booking, it comes back into the reservations system for someone else to get.

momofuku seiōbo is located at the back of The Star (casino), so if you’re feeling doubly lucky, you can try your luck at the casino tables beforehand. And, if you enter through the casino and you wear spectacles, the security staff there may give you a piercing look to check that you don’t have ‘smart glasses’ on.

The staff at momofuku seiōbo are much friendlier. Try and get a seat at the counter of the open kitchen so you can watch them put your meals together. However, it’s more like food arranging rather than food preparation, as not a lot of cooking takes place. This doesn't take away from the enjoyment of the experience, as the dishes are very prettily arranged by the chefs and then they bring it over and tell you what it is.

The food is exceptional: top quality, beautiful, clear flavours. The signature steamed pork buns are ethereally light, miles away from the mass-produced efforts of other local restaurants. Portion sizes are reasonable, though if you are particularly hungry, you may have to stop for a burger and chips on the way home… I took the Cronut route - see further down.

There seems to be a shift away from high-end fine dining in Sydney, what with the imminent closure of restaurants like Claude’s and Guillaume at Bennelong. What’s left if you want a special place for a celebration – Aria, Rockpool, Quay, Tetsuya? All in the CBD, interestingly, unlike the more hip places in Surry Hills, though the hipster joints do not seem to have the staying power of the fine diners.

momofuku seiōbo sits in between ‘hip’ and ‘high-end’, I think. You won’t feel out of place if you don’t wear a jacket and tie here, but it’s definitely not bistro or dude food. The overall vibe is ‘upper middle smart-casual’, despite the high price tag ($110 per person for the 8-course lunch). There is a 5-seat bar area that has a separate small menu (there was a tasty-looking terrine that seemed very popular when we were there), so they may be covering their bases in regard to the mid-to-high end of the dining scale. You don’t need to book for the bar, so maybe you could take a chance there if you don’t succeed in the momofuku seiōbo booking lottery.

 Smoked potato cream in a crisp shell, with apple jelly
 The momofuku Pork Belly Bun
 Striped trumpeter (fish) with celery leaves and mustard oil

Potato balls with mullet roe and parson's nose
Onion, various ways, with burnt leek and egg yolk (that's the round thing with black on top)
Eel dashi jelly with octopus and almond milk (my dish was missing the almond milk)

Striped trumpeter (again!) with fennel and dill
Pork neck, squash and kombu

It's very Intensive Care Unit in the open kitchen
Goat's curd with crushed blackcurrant and mint (two dishes, here. Looks like Eyes!)
Pear with honey cream and muntries (Australian native berries)

Petits Fours: Canelé, and caramel with kombu

Cheers, Angus.
Au revoir, momofuku seiōbo, I'll be back.

And because I was not completely full after lunch at momofuku seiōbo, and because Adriano Zumbo's patisserie was just across the way...

I got a Zonut cronut to have a little later.
This flavour was Pina Colada. Tasted just like a finger bun, only greasy.

Momofuku Seiōbo on Urbanspoon

Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A sous vide experience PLUS Protein Balls

Warning: This is a long post, to make up for not writing anything for a while. Missed you!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a demonstration of Breville’s Sous Vide Supreme.  
I was keen to attend because the demo featured Sydney chef, Pete Evans, who is also a host of TV show, My Kitchen Rules, and infamous activated almonds specialist.

The event was held at the Sydney Seafood School, at the Fish Markets, which meant taking pics of the expensive scampi.

So what he demoed was a tabouli salad with sous vided salmon and crispy salmon skin.

To cook using sous vide, you need a couple of gadgets, namely a vacuum-sealing machine that seals the food in a special plastic bag (gadget no. 1). The meat goes into the bag with some seasoning or marinade, then you put it into the sous vide machine (gadget no. 2).
After the food is cooked (and it’s difficult to overcook given the stable temperature of the sous vide water bath), remove from the bag and serve. You may want to also crisp up the surface of the food in a grill pan (gadget no. 3).

So, sous vide is ideal for foolproof cooking of more expensive cuts of meat, like fillet steak or lamb. The vacuum bag also seals in flavours and cooking smells, so it’s perfect for salmon, which is notorious for stinking out the kitchen and the rest of the house – not pleasant, no matter how tasty the salmon is. Mind you, if you have the space for all the sous vide paraphernalia, then you’d probably have a roomy kitchen with a powerful exhaust system, too, wouldn’t you?

The resulting salmon that Pete Evans  showed us (and which we also prepared ourselves), was beautifully cooked all the way through, with no dry bits or raw bits. And it’s pretty cool to watch the air getting sucked out of the vacuum sealed bag and to break it open after 20 or so minutes to get at the moist and juicy fish.
Me and my mate Pete. These photos are from the iPhone, so a bit blurry (and Pete (nice guy!) took this selfie because his arms are longer than mine...)

Pete Evans is a bit of a health nut (pardon the pun), so I thought I’d share these healthy balls with you. I’ve made these protein balls (aka ‘amazeballs’) a couple of times now, and they always disappear like the clappers, they are so good.

By the way, a bulk food shop recently opened in Balmain, called The Source, and they sell scoops of stuff out of big bins. Things like goji and Inca berries, raw almonds (you need to activate them yourself), chocolate-covered Turkish delight, flours, honey, and even cleaning products for the home. It’s a fantastic place for when you need just a small amount of something and don’t want to buy a whole bag. This is where I got the ingredients for these amazeballs.

Protein balls
makes 25-30

100g raw or toasted cashews, chopped
100g raw or toasted almonds
2 tblsp LSA (linseed, sunflower seeds and almonds, ground)
170g dates, pitted and chopped
100g dried apricots, chopped
100g prunes, pitted and chopped
1 tblsp peanut butter or tahini
2 tblsp cocoa powder
1 tblsp ground cinnamon
2 tblsp honey
Pinch of sea salt
50g desiccated coconut, for coating

1. Combine the cashews, almonds and LSA in a food processor until finely ground.
2. Add the dates, apricots and prunes to the processor and combine until everything is chopped in to very small pieces.
3. Add the peanut butter, cocoa, cinnamon, honey and sea salt and whiz until the mixture starts to form a big, clumpy ball (about 2 minutes).
4. Roll heaped tablespoons of the mixture into walnut-sized balls (wet your hands first). Roll in coconut and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. 

recipe adapted from Sydney Morning Herald (June 2013)

Colourful and healthy (?) ingredients.

Mix them all together in a large-ish food processor to get these tasty morsels.