Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Unblogged Files: January

Hey hey y'all! Welcome to the first in what I hope will be a regular series: "The Unblogged Files".  I'll be posting recent food pics and experiences that I haven't blogged: things that I'm excited to share, but that don't quite need a whole post.  I find that I take so many pics on my iPhone that they sometimes don't make it to my Twitter or Facebook pages, let alone the blog!  I also had lots of fun making my 2011 Blog Round Up post, and I thought that the format would be a good way of keeping track of what I've been up to.  The key distinction is that my 2011 round-up post was a round up of my 2011 blog posts themselves, whereas "The Unblogged Files" will contain random things I haven't blogged.  Still with me?

I've obviously been inspired by Agnes' fab This Week in Brief series, which I really enjoy reading, but I haven't decided how regularly I'll be doing this.  Every month?  Every week?  Every fortnight?  I'm not working at the moment so I've got a bit of extra time to cook, take daytrips, visit cafes and restaurants, and blog.  At the rate I'm going I could probably justify a weekly post!  (If not a daily one, hehe!)  But I'm sure the food adventures will slow down once I'm back to work, so I won't set myself any strict timeframes.  I reckon I'll just be doing one of these posts whenever my phone starts looking a bit full and the mood strikes me!

And speaking of which... for today's post I'll be sharing foodie adventures from January!  I've been pretty busy, food-wise, this month, so it's gonna be a long one! Grab a cup of tea and pull up a chair.

My January started, as I'm sure many of yours did, with a renewed enthusiasm for healthy eating.  But of course, eating healthy around here doesn't mean a monotonous diet of rice cakes and sad little tins of tuna.  Above all, I want my meals to be joyful.  And when I want joyful, healthy food, my first stop is Ottolenghi!

Clockwise from top left: Mushroom ragout with poached egg; multi-vegetable paella, marinated eggplant with tahini, soba with mango and eggplant 
These recipes all come from Plenty, except for the marinated eggplant, which comes from Yotam's first cookbook.  (I've linked the recipes above for your eating and cooking pleasure).  The standout here was the soba noodles with eggplant - such an unusual combination but so wonderful, especially with the little bursts of chilli, onion, and fresh herbs.

"Salmon and soba" is a pretty standard combo for me when I want healthy, nourishing food.  On the left we have Nigella's cold soba salad (Forever Summer), combined with her mirin-glazed salmon (Nigella Express).  On the right, we have two recipes from Bill's Everyday Asian - miso eggplant, and glazed salmon - with plain soba.  I have two comments on the Bill Granger thing: first, I am So Glad that he has started using apostrophes!  Secondly, I generally have issues with following Asian recipes from non-Asian chefs (and don't get me started on the generic focus of the book, when "Asian" isn't actually a style of food, but a huge variety of cultures, people and food traditions, thank-you very much!)  However, sweeping generalizations aside, both eggplant and salmon were delicious!  I love that the miso eggplant is a super-easy homespun version of nasu dengaku.

A couple of weeks ago, we took a 2-day trip to the Yarra Valley, visiting restaurants, breweries and food producers.  (Disclosure: it was a complimentary media trip to help promote the region).  We had the best time, and I can't wait to blog about it - especially the deeply fabulous accommodation! - but right now I wanted to show these awesome veggies we bought at the Yarra Valley Gateway Estate.

Look how shiny they are!  Because they were "imperfect", they were being sold for only $10 a tray!  What a bargain.

And thus begun my first foray into preserving - once back home, we roasted up the capsicums...

 ...and also made a rather tasty eggplant and capsicum chutney.  Both roast capsicums and the chutney made cute little gifts!  (And the chutney is especially good with curries or with strong, bitey cheeses).

For the first time in a long time, this month I went to Yum Cha!  A group of my friends had organised a day at paintball, which was far too adventurous for my delicate (AKA lazy) nature.  So those of us who weren't up for paintballing had a little yum cha instead, at Imperial Kingdom in Glen Waverley.  It was super-yum, especially the hot flaky tan taats (egg tarts)!

I also took a drive to Mornington with my cousin and some friends.  Being too cold for our planned day of beach swimming, we instead picked strawberries at the Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm, and visited the Main Ridge Dairy, which specialises in goats cheeses.

Whilst there were some nice cheeses on the platter, (the Caprino, a goats cheese made in a similar style to Parmesan, was my favourite), at $38 it was very expensive.  We couldn't help but compare this to the very generous cheese platter we'd enjoyed at the Yarra Valley Dairy the week before.  Oh well!

In this (intermittently) warm weather, I've been enjoying a bit of cold drip coffee.  The first time I tried it, at Sensory Lab, I'd actually ordered it by mistake, thinking I had ordered iced pourover coffee.  (Whoops, was being a bit blur that day).  I actually really like the intense flavours - the Panama Finca Casa Ruiz from Sensory Lab had a treacly, almost licorice-like intensity, whilst the Cubana cold drip from Atomica had notes of tobacco.
Left: Sensory Lab
Right: Atomica

Right at the start of the month, we got a massive care package from Sandra's parents in Germany - check it out! Wow!  There were heaps of Maggi flavour packets, chocolates, candy and biscuits! 

My favourites are the Leibniz mini butter biscuits coated in chocolate.  Some of them got a bit melted on the way over here, so some of the biscuits stuck together... to make awesome GIANT biscuits! Hehe.

Ding ding ding... jackpot!

The influx of flavour packets reminded me that I really should use up the packets I bought on my last trip to Germany, and I promptly made some Brathendl.

I cut a chicken in half so it would look like a proper German Halbes Haenchen, then covered the two pieces it in the spice mix, and roasted it in the oven with a tray of chopped veggies on the shelf below.  You know, I wasn't expecting too much from the Maggi Brathendl packet but - OMG - it was absolutely, deliriously A-mazing!  I couldn't believe it - incredibly crispy, spicy skin encasing juicy, tender meat.  Half a chicken is meant to serve two, but it was so delicious I ate the entire half-chicken to myself.  I also gave up with the cutlery after the first few bites and ate it by hand.  So good!  I have one more packet in the pantry, and absolutely have to restock as soon as I possibly can!

And finally (yes, we're getting there), I just wanted to show the Reunion Dinner we had on Chinese New Year's eve.  

All the traditional Penang goodies, cooked by my parents.  Loh Bak, Chicken Curry, Kiam Chye Th'ng.  Love it!!  We eat pretty much the same thing every year, as evidenced by my blog posts from previous years (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010...).  We had a brief flirtation with Yee Sang in 2009, but I don't think it's really our thing.  Give me my Penang feast any time!

And speaking of which, I'm actually in Malaysia on a holiday right now, just got here yesterday morning!  I can't believe it's been seven years since my last trip!  I've got a lot of eating, shopping and spa treatments planned.  YAY!  I have totally been gorging on proper roti canai and Milo peng, and I'm looking forward to some really hot Hot 'n' Spicy chicken at KFC.  (You read that right, and I'm not ashamed!!)

Catch y'all on the flipside!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Australia Day Party

Hey hey! A picture-heavy post today, on the fab Australia Day party we had today!  Even though there was heaps of food, somehow it wasn't stressful, and all fell together pretty easily.  In addition to the menu below, lots of our friends generously contributed salads and extra desserts.  Yay!  I plan to blog the individual dishes in more detail in due course, but for today let's look at some pretty pictures!

An Australia Day Feast for 11

Roast Pork Belly
Thai Chicken Burgers
Lettuce, Tomatoes, Avocado, Cucumber, Red Onion


 The Table

The Burgers: Beef Frikadellen, Thai Chicken Burgers, Sweetcorn Fritters

The condiments: Guacamole (made by my cousin Catherine), Red Onion, Cucumber, Avocado Slices, Tomato

The Salads: Watermelon & Feta (brought by Alaina)
Cupcakes (they count as salads, yes?) and Asian Salad (brought by Adrian)
Mixed Veggie Salad (brought by Kristine) 

Parker House Rolls


The pork belly was incredibly crackly - amazing!  It's the recipe from The Ottolenghi Cookbook if you want to try it out.

Cute burger!

And because I know you guys love it... more CRACKLING!

The Desserts
Lamingtons (brought by Alae)
Cupcakes by Paolo (brought by Adrian)

I used a Donna Hay recipe for the pavlova and was so pleased with the result.  I know I've bagged Donna's super-stylised style before, but her recipes for the basics are really great!

Phew! That was a lot of food!  Happy Australia Day!!!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Gold Bar Banana Bread

Happy Chinese New Year eve everybody!  I'm so looking forward to the Year of the Dragon.  It's supposed to be a lucky one, especially for rats like me!  Judging from Twitter and Facebook, lots of my friends are busy eating today!  As for me, we'll be having Reunion Dinner at my parents' house later tonight, and today was a huuge day of cleaning and sweeping and wiping and washing to get my flat in tiptop shape for the big day tomorrow.  Of course, I made some time for a little baking too!  Phew, I am exhausted!  And so glad to have a little sneaky time to sit down and blog.

Clearing out the freezer and cupboards today, I found a whole lotta frozen bananas, and lots of other little goodies, and decided to make a special, super-lucky Chinese New Year version of my favourite choc chip banana bread.  I trust you'll indulge me in my superstitious Chinese symbolism!

Firstly, I made them in a mini loaf tin, to resemble gold bars.  Yeah, money!  (Or "prosperity" if we're going for the whole Chinese cliché!)

I also added heaps of add-ins to the batter, representing abundance.

I chose the macadamias for their luxuriousness, and the fact that they kinda look like little coins.  Ditto the white chocolate buttons.  (I used the milk chocolate chips because I wanted to finish off the packet I had in the cupboard.  And they taste awesome).  I added the chia for extra healthy goodness.  Also, the word "chia" means "eat" in Hokkien - representing a wish for lots of good things to eat this year!

They smelled so good in the oven! It's been total torture not eating them, but I want to continue the lucky theme and take all eight (lucky 8!) of them to the Reunion Dinner tonight.  Cannot wait!

Gold Bar Banana Bread
Adapted from Bill Granger's Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
Makes 8 mini loaves

250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
125g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar
4 ripe mashed bananas
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips (milk, white, dark or a combination)
1 cup macadamia nuts, roughly chopped
3 tbs chia seeds

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.

Mix the butter, sugar, banana, eggs, vanilla extract, chocolate and nuts in a separate bowl. Add the chia seeds, flour and baking powder, and stir gently to combine.  Do not overmix.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased miniature loaf tray.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until the loaves are cooked when tested with a skewer.  Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Canberra 2011: Urban Pantry

Urban Pantry
5 Bougainneville St
Griffith, ACT 2603
(02) 6162 3556

And now we come to the final post in my series on Canberra!  As you may have gathered, all our previous eating destinations were chosen by our gracious host An.  Urban Pantry, on the other hand, was one that I really wanted to visit, having read about it both here and here before our trip.  It was super crowded when we arrived at 2pm on a Sunday afternoon, and we had to wait around 20 minutes for a table, which gave us some time to check out the surrounding shops.  The whole Manuka area seems to have changed a lot since our last visit in 2009, with many more trendy cafes and bars popping up in the meantime.

Mango Magic - mango, pineapple & nectar blended w/ ice topped w/ coconut cream - $8.80
Yes, you read that right - $8.80 for a smoothie!  They have a 10% Sunday surcharge, but that didn't seem to deter the crowds.

I was still full from my massive breakfast, and couldn't even contemplate eating a full meal.  Instead, I chose a little almond and honey slice from the cake cabinet.

Honey & Almond Slice - $6.05
The slice itself was tasty and had a good level of sweetness, but the berry sauce seemed unnecessary, so I scraped it off.  I felt a bit like Joey in Friends when he ordered the cheesecake: "Excuse me sir, there seems to be some sort of red crap on my cheesecake", hehe!

Wagyu beef burger w/ spiced tomato relish, cheddar,onion rings & salad greens served w/ fries - $20.90
The wagyu burger (ordered without salad) was really fabulous.  (Yes, I snuck a taste!)  The patty was super tender and juicy - I wish I'd had a big enough appetite to order one of my own!

Thyme scented mushroom bruschetta topped w/ Persian fetta - $20.90
The mushroom bruschetta was also delicious (although quite expensive, especially considering the Wagyu beef burger is the same price).  It had a pungent but not-overpowering garlicky taste, and the gorgeous little pieces of creamy Persian fetta complimented and lifted the savoury mushrooms.

I liked Urban Pantry, but I would have been better off coming with a bigger appetite - poor planning on my part!  I'd love to visit for dinner and also try some of their desserts!  I must say that it is very expensive though, even without the Sunday surcharge (see the Breakfast/Lunch and Dinner menus here), so it isn't one that I'd visit more than occasionally.

And that's my last post about my trip to Canberra!  Thank-you Canberra, it's been grand!

Urban Pantry on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Canberra 2011: Poachers Pantry

Poachers Pantry
431 Nanima Rd
Hall ACT 2618
(02) 6230 2487

For our second breakfast in Canberra, An chose Poacher's Pantry, a "traditional country smoke house, café, farm shop and cellar door".   I'm told that locals don't tend to visit, but rather think of it as a place to bring out-of-towners.  (Can any Canberrans confirm or deny that?)

Poacher's Pantry is set amongst pretty gardens, and has both outdoor and indoor seating, as well as a retail area selling pantry items and their house-smoked smallgoods.  But we were here for breakfast!
Cappuccino - $4; Latte - $4

Toast with Lynwood jam and butter - $6

The toast, bizarrely, came pre-spread with butter.  Although I suppose "spread" isn't the right word - melted butter was slathered over the middle of the toast, which meant the butter dripped right through onto the plate.  This also meant the centre of the toast was soggy whilst the edges were dry - very unappetizing! I really don't know why they did that.  It seemed to be an attempt at a garnish, which did absolutely nothing for presentation or flavour.

An fared better with his sweet corn and potato pancakes.
Sweet corn and potato pancakes with bacon, oven roast tomato and avocado - $18
The dish didn't look that good to me - the pancake looked pallid and undercooked, and I'm not a fan of gigantic portions (half an avocado for one person, really!) - but An enjoyed it, and even managed to polish off most of it!

I was totally craving pancakes, and was glad to see buttermilk hotcakes on the menu.
Buttermilk hotcakes with a baked rhubarb strawberry compote and honeycomb butter - $16

The hotcakes themselves were delicious: light and fluffy, with a wonderful light crust on the outside.  However, they were drowned in butter. Seriously, drowned!  There wasn't just that splodge of honeycomb butter on the top (which I moved to the side of the plate pretty quickly anyway), but there was also heaps of butter on the plate.  You can see the threads of rhubarb suspended in the melted butter, below.  Now, I have a pretty high tolerance for butter - some of my friends refer to me as Butter Queen! - but even this was too much for me.

I can't say we were wildly impressed by Poacher's Pantry.  The food was hit and miss, and the service, whilst polite, was rather patchy.  It took ages to catch someone's attention to replace a dirty cup, for example.  We'd initially planned to purchase some of their prosciutto to take home, but after the breakfast we decided to give it a miss.  On sunny days, I can imagine it would be pleasant enough to enjoy a coffee at one of the outdoor tables, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it on the quality of its food. 

Poachers Pantry on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Canberra 2011: Aubergine

18 Barker Street
Griffith ACT 2603
(02) 6260 8666

Whenever we catch up with An, we have to do at least one all-out, treat of a dinner.  (See these posts for previous examples: Rockpool SydneyArtespressoSpice Temple Sydney, Vue De Monde, Embrasse).  For this particular trip to Canberra, we chose Aubergine, a two-hatted restaurant in Griffith.

Aubergine is located near a very quiet suburban shopping strip, and has floor-to-ceiling windows, which allow in lots of natural light.  The decor felt slightly eighties to me, reminding me a lot of the now-closed San Giorgio in Carlton. (I'm showing my age here - does anybody remember that restaurant?)

Housemade sourdough bread, served with soft butter

2010 Verget Syrah - $10; 2006 Clover Hill Sparkling - $14

I really enjoyed these meaty, spicy little olives.  My fellow diners aren't really into olives, so I got to have these to myself! Muahaha!

Diners can choose from either a 2-course ($62) or 3-course ($75) fixed price menu, and unlike our previous meals in Canberra, we all went for the 3 courses!  The dishes were all very cheffy in their presentation, reminding me of Vue De Monde (dish composition), Embrasse (the use of flowers and micro herbs), and even The Point under Scott Pickett (the swirls of sauce on the plates).

Let's have a look at the entrées. I'm not going to describe the individual dishes in detail, as they were all fantastic, and I'm sure you'd get bored of me saying: "This was delicious!", hehe.
Duck breast, confit leg and sausage, spiced carrot purée, braised endive

Zucchini flower filled with goat's cheese, potato gnocchi, sweet corn, basil

Fillet of mackerel, butter poached lobster, shellfish cream, radish, puffed rice
Butter-poached lobster, you say?  Don't mind if I do!

And now, the mains:
Mustard crust pork loin, pork croquette, black pudding, roast pumpkin, sage

Two of us went for a vegetarian option for our main: a pithivier of portobello mushroom, with shimeji mushrooms, roast Jerusalem artichokes and blobs of mushroom sauce.

Portobello mushroom pithivier, shimeji mushrooms, roast Jerusalem artichokes
This was definitely the highlight of the evening - such wonderful buttery pastry!

Green beans with eschalots - $9

These beans were also fabulous - cooked to be soft rather than squeaky, and absolutely drowned in butter. Gorgeous!

We decided to share our desserts, having a cheese platter first (for an $8 supplement), and then two sweet desserts between us.

Cheese selection - Délice de Bourgogne (triple cream), Pont-l'Évêque (washed rind), Roquefort (blue), Morbier (semi-soft), Murcia al Vino (semi-hard) - additional $8

Chocolate truffles
With the cheese platter came these adorable chocolate truffles. They were very dark, very rich, very intense.

Coconut and mango panna cotta, financier, mango sorbet

I love how the panna cotta looked like a fried egg! I also loved the smooth, fresh mango sorbet and little chunks of mango, but my favourite element of this dessert was the almondy pieces of financier.

Chocolate fondant, coffee délice, salted caramel ice-cream
With its salted caramel ice-cream, this was a very current dessert (I would say "on trend" but I hate that phrase!).  The chocolate fondant was just perfect - slightly crunchy on the outside and meltingly soft within.  We were very full by this stage but just had to finish up every last crumb on the plate!

I loved Aubergine, and it is easily the best restaurant in Canberra that I have visited so far.  It was extremely well priced, service was great, and the food was absolutely delicious!

Aubergine on Urbanspoon