Tuesday, August 25, 2009

When food brings people together...

BBQ's are fun. Especially when the people who are in charge of the BBQ have absolutely no idea what they are doing and before long everyone is reduced back as if they were children again. Messing around with dirty bits of coal and firestarters, we resembled a bunch of headless chooks scurrying around in attempt to work the mechanics of a coal BBQ.

Look. We're Asian. BBQ working skills just isn't inherit in our blood.

Everyone at there that day grew up as little kids together. It's weird that now one of us is getting married and most of us are all grown up and doing our own individual things. Despite our ages, I think if someone had been watching us that day, we really were just a bunch of big kids. JX continued his ritual of bullying me...and I to SL...and then SO-Y ran around lost amidst all the commotion.

Big kids. Yes?
Everyone contributed a little on the day. JX and his fiancé contributed the house and the meats and the BBQ itself. SL forgot his part...which were the potatoes, but that was almost entirely in character and expected. My little addition was a simple mixed leaf salad and avocado with a Japanese dressing to go with it. I'll post a recipe for it when I finally get my hands on the last ingredient, which I think may need to be shipped from Hawaii.

These were Alice's Szechuan Lamb Skewers. They were heavily flavoured with cumin, and an absolute delight to munch on.

Unfortunately, the first batch of chicken wings were utterly charred. They still tasted good nevertheless - we just cut off all the burnt bits and continued on. There was another batch of wings on the way anyway.

Luckily for us the weather was extremely warm and beautiful that day. We somehow managed to strike gold by choosing one of the warmest winter days this year. 28°C in August?

Oh how I'm going to die during Summer this year. Dang you global warming!

Apart from being outside of the house and enjoying the great weather, the other thing I look forward to during a BBQ is the plate of SNAGS waiting to be munched on. Nothing beats a good sausage sizzle with some mustard and caramelised onions. They make BBQs what they are today!

The teriyaki chicken was the last to appear and we were seriously filled the to brim by the time this arrived. The meat was soooo extremely tender and juicy and I was so sad I had not left enough room to enjoy more of it.

JX happily said that this would become his lunch at work the next day. I think I wanted to kick him.

After the food we sat around and caught up on the various happenings in life. Then we moved on to Wii and rediscovered the fun of Raving Rabbids and Mario Kart.

Oh my goodness. Someone buy me a Wii already!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Review: Miso, World Square

On Wednesday night we were originally planning to head to Makoto in the City to nom on some delicious sushi, only to find that there was a line waiting for us to join. We signed our names up and waited for about 20minutes before we really threw in the towel, annoyed at seeing groups which arrived after us being seated before us.

Ok I get it, we had 5 people and those groups only had 2. But if you weren't prepared to cater to our needs then at least have the decency to let us know that we probably wouldn't be getting a table anytime soon than just pretending that we didn't exist.

Frustrated, we moved off around the corner to Miso.

Tonkatsu Set

We were seated pretty quickly, even though there was a line outside. As we waited, we salivated over the menu and all the exciting options available on offer. The Tonkatsu was the specialty of this place, and it wasn't long before we decided that we would order a Tonkatsu Set to share amongst the 5 of us.

EW drizzling the tonkatsu sauce

That was some daaayam juicy tonkatsu to say the least. But as always, I wasn't a fan of the tonkatsu sauce that comes with it. Same with the sauce on Takoyaki...which I think may be the same sauce. Not that I won't eat it...

Oh and hoisin too. Nice to cook with, but not a fan when used as a dipping agent.

Hokkaido Bento Set

EW, JL and I all opted for the Hokkaido Bento. Filled to the brim with assorted goodies, I really struggled to work out where to begin my feasting.

In the end I chose to stick to Tetsuya's general theory behind course progression - start with the cold, then onto the hot and heavier items.

So what was in it really? Let's see...
Cooked salmon and ikura on rice, salmon sashimi, eggplant tempura, meatball, dashimaki tamago, teriyaki salmon, broccoli, seafood mornay (typeofthing), grapes, pickles, miso soup and softshell crab.

Lychee Frappe

I also ordered a Lychee Frappe to go with the meal. Mmm mmm....refreshing.

Did I finish it? Well in short, yes. But I was stuffed to my eyeballs in food and I think they probably would have popped out had it not been for my Asian eyes. Definitely, definitely coming back for more of this stuff.

Tempura Bento Set

EC and SL had the Tempura Set which was similarly filled to the brim with Japanese deep fried goodness. I had been tempted to get it, but JL talked me out of it. It's for my own good, given the expanding ring of glycerol around my stomach.

I think I would've smacked my face right into it if I had ordered it. Good lord.

Green Tea Slushie

EC recommended the Green Tea Slushie which was supposedly really really good. I was really tempted to get one, except I wasn't entirely sure if there was milk in it so I thought to just steer clear in case I was having a bad day.

So what's my verdict? Definitely worth a revisit. Perhaps even the occasional trip down to this end from work one day.

Shop 20, World Square
123 Liverpool Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9283 9686

Review: Malaysian Food House, Sydney

Last Thursday DW and I decided to venture past the cute little courtyard where we usually have our work lunches into the somewhat haphazard depths that is known as Hunter Arcade. The food here is relatively cheap compared to places elsewhere in the CBD, but the quality of food really does vary quite substantially from place to place.

We had originally planned on going to the Naughty Chef (hee hee) down in the tunnel section, but the line was extraordinarily long by the time we arrived, and given that we only had an hour to lunch, we didn't think we could finish our meals in time and actually enjoy the experience.

So Plan B was then to visit Malaysian Food House. Tucked away in a corner located at the bottom of one of the billion sets of escalators in the place, this place offered quick, cheap Malaysian meals during the busy lunchtime period.

Har Mee - $7.90

I chose the daily special, which was the Har Mee (Prawn Broth Noodles). I've always looooooved Har Mee (along with Satay Mee) and I was pretty excited to be eating it for lunch. However the broth was very disappointing. It was quite heavily concentrated in MSG rather than the distinctive taste of prawn broth. I spent the afternoon drinking copious amounts of water just to stay alive.

Oh and there was only one piece of prawn. What the heck?

This is our second visit to this place, and I was really quite surprised by the quality of food on this occasion. DW selected the Chicken Laksa, which I had ordered last time. The soup was definitely tasty, and very very coconutty, but as DW slowly tucked into her noodles, she realised that whoever cooked the dish had forgotten to put any chicken in.

What the heck right?

Oh well, perhaps they were just too busy on the day? Either way, knowing us, we will probably try our chances again at this place some day down the track. I may find myself dissatisfied yet again, but when you're hungry at work with a limited time to suffice that hunger, sometimes common sense just flies out the window...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: Lotus, Potts Point

Long story short, I've been trying to milk the Merivale Winter Feast all I could with what little budget I have. I have yet to be disappointed by the quality of food and service from the various restaurants of the group.

When I first saw the menus on offer at the different restaurants, I must admit that the one for Lotus got me the most excited. It was really such a shame that the place was not within walking distance from where I worked in the city. That's when friends who are happy to drive kick in!

Parking around the place was potentially vein-popping. Being the hot-tempered, road-rage prone driver that I am, the thought of trying to find a park in time for a dinner reservation in such a place makes me want to cringe and hide beneath a rock of some sort. Luckily for my companions on the night 1.) I wasn't the driver and 2.) we were quite lucky and found the very last free spot within a comfortable walking distance from the restaurant.

The restaurant was dimly lit, quite romantic in setting with a gentle flowery pink glow all around. It caused me to struggle a little with the camera, but alas, the place was simply beautiful to dine in.

We all sat down around the table, which was a tad on the cramped side and could definitely have benefited from an extra table, and had a quick chat before selecting our 3 courses for the evening. Service was quick and efficient, and the waiters were polite and patient as we struggled over what dishes to choose.

Parma Prosciutto, Honeydew Melon, Pecans and Endives

SK and a few others on the table ordered the light salad to begin with. I personally thought the presentation of the dish was lacking, as it really just seemed like a pile of stuff on a plate. Taste wise I thought it was pretty good. The prosciutto added nice flavour and a balance of texture to the dish, and on a personal level I've always fancied the nut and endives combination.

Butternut Pumpkin and Parmesan Soup, with poached free range egg and thyme crumb

KT and I dived straight for the soup. I found it a tad on the salty side, but I think for most people the soup would be perfect. The poached egg (with its gooey yolk) was a really decadent and beautiful addition to the soup as was the thyme crumb.

Salad of Calamari, Mint, Cucumber and Coriander with white soy and ginger dressing

I can't remember who it was that ordered this dish, but by the look of it was definitely a light and refreshing way to start off the evening.

Char-grilled Black Angus Rump Steak with Mashed Peas and Red Wine Jus

This was probably the most disappointing dish of the evening. At first glance it looked as if the meat was cooked to absolute perfection, but as soon as people realised that cutting through the steak with a steak knife resulted in a work-out of the arms, we immediately knew something was going terribly wrong.

The cut of meat could have been better for a restaurant of this calibre. I was really quite surprised that such a piece could have been served. Tendons were frequently encountered throughout the meat, and overall the meat was just incredibly tough (even though it was still very pink inside).

Caramelised Pork Belly, Apple Salad, Celeriac Puree

Meanwhile, while others struggled with their steaks, I almost felt guilty indulging in this melt-in-your-mouth quality of a perfectly cooked pork belly.

Oh good lord, I wanted to have seconds...and thirds....and perhaps even fourths.

"Fish of the Day" grilled with Crushed Potatoes, Leek and Tarragon Sauce

FL chose the fish of the day and once again I couldn't really dig in to any myself. Sitting diagonally across a table has its invariable issues when it comes to sharing food. All I know is that she happily tucked away, and didn't have much to complain about.

Pine-Lime Granita with Vanilla Ice Cream

Lastly the desserts arrived to finish off the night with a bang. My Pine-Lime Granita definitely hit the spot as I needed a little acidity to cut through the fattiness and richness of the pork belly. The vanilla bean ice cream was absolutely divine, and has given me great motivation to invest in an ice cream machine at home.

Chocolate Terrine, Butterscotch, and Creme Chantilly

The other option that appeared on our table was the chocolate terrine, which was really essentially a block of beautifully smooth and rich chocolate served with its perfect duo, a quinelle of chantilly cream. It was a simple, yet elegant dish and left us all with a smile on our face.

Overall, apart from a few hiccups with the beef, this trip was quite the success. The place is elegant, beautiful and the service pleasant - definitely worthy of a revisit and a taste of its standard menu.

22 Challis Avenue
Potts Point, NSW 2011
Tel: (02) 9325 9000

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: Han Cook Restaurant, Sydney

Winter = Hot pot time. I don't think there is another equation in the world that is easier than that one.

A couple of weeks ago AL, VH and I decided to check out a new place on our radar tucked away on Pitt Street prior to attending a friend's farewell. The place is rather hard to find, but I'm happy to say that Han Cook was definitely a hidden gem in the bustling city.

I say hidden because when I say the place is on Pitt Street, right opposite The Galeries Victoria, most people would think of the random discount shop or the Takeaway Sushi shop (or perhaps even Hungry Jacks or something of the sort. Not many people would seek to venture behind the set of stairs blocking the view to the entrance of Han Cook.

We were there on a Friday night, and as we walked in most of the tables were relatively empty. Empty tables in a restaurants often makes me nervous, but I reasoned with myself that we were there fairly early in the evening, so it was perfectly normal for a restaurant to be quiet.

As we walked in, we were seated straight away and before long, we had already finished ordering and our complimentary side dishes arrived, much to everyone's delight. I love these Korean side dishes. My mother once joked that she would choose a Korean restaurant based on the quality of the side dishes they provide.

We ordered a serving of gyoza to start off. As you can probably tell from the photos, they were rather deep fried than pan fried, so possibly not so great for your body. I couldn't care less as they tasted great and were so generous in portions.

On a side note, we noticed that the place was filling up pretty quickly and there were a few people waiting outside for tables. What a difference a couple of minutes makes.

Kimchi Hot Pot - $39

Then our main arrived. We had chosen the Kimchi Hotpot to share and needless to say, we were absolutely delighted at the sight of it coming to our table. Slices of sweet pork belly laid between spring onions, kimchi and Korean rice cakes.

AL was the first to comment as I had been too busy entertaining myself with the kimchi from the side dishes.

"Hey guys, this is really good stock! You gotta try it!"

I spooned a little soup into my bowl and honest to God, I say this with little exaggeration, but it was definitely one of the tastiest hot pot stocks I've tried so far. Mind you, I've tried a lot of duds, but this one here was definitely a stand-out. At $39 a serve, it was such great value as it fed the 3 of us quite comfortably- we couldn't even finish the entire thing.

I have to say it was a really pleasant surprise to start off a great night out in the city. I'm definitely coming back for more.

Han Cook Korean Restaurant
238-242 Pitt Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9267 6500

Gnocchi - What Not To Do

I've been putting off posting this for a very long time. But deep down I knew that I had to do it eventually, for the sake of keeping the integrity of a blog that proclaims to be the foodie adventures of a 20-something year old.

I suppose it always helps people to know what NOT to do when you're trying to make something.

Either way, the story goes a little like this:

I love gnocchi.
My favourite gnocchi experience was the gnocchi gorgonzola from Machiavelli's.
Then I thought I was gangster-chef, and decided to replicate the dish at home. From scratch.
Then I used Alex Herbert's recipe from Masterchef.
Then I forgot how much potato was needed and bought too little. But because I was feeling so gangster I thought I could somehow make it work anyway.
Then I figured since I steered off the recipe a little, then it wouldn't matter if I steered off a little more.
Then Coles decided not to sell Gorgonzola (which is a type of blue cheese), so I substituted with King Island Blue Cheese.
And then I got home and the chaos began.

Error No.1: I cut the pieces of potatoes too small. This caused serious waterlogging issues in my potatoes and formed a poor dough. It also allowed them to be overcooked too quickly.

I had 1.2kgs of Desiree Potatoes. The recipe called for 1.5kg.

And here I thought I was being clever and cutting cooking time. Gosh.

Error No. 2: If you're planning on waterlogging your potatoes then at least make the effort to drain them properly.

Clearly that never really crossed my mind as I was making this.

This is about 1 cup of grated parmesan cheese. I may have added more because I couldn't control myself.
And this is one cup of plain flour. I didn't get EVERYTHING wrong.

Then I mashed the drained potatoes, and combine with parmesan and a pinch of salt.

Hopefully your potatoes will be quite cool by now because you'll be needing to crack an egg into it. Luckily, mine were sufficiently cool so I didn't end up with cooked egg in my gnocchi mix. Eww.

Then sift the one cup of flour into the mixture and combine everything well. Don't beat it too heavily because you want everything quite light and fluffy. I don't think I sifted mine.

Mix mix. Mix mix. Mixmixmixmixmix.

Then on a floured surface, knead the gnocchi dough lightly.

Once the dough feels smooth, flour the surface once again and break off a small piece and roll the dough into a sausage. Cut individual pieces of gnocchi the size of whatever you're happy to put into your mouth and line them on a tray lined with greaseproof paper.

Put them aside while you prepare the sauce.

I wanted to keep the sauce fairly simple, so I chopped up a handful of continental parsley. Use as much or as little as you like. I'm pretty generous with mine as I love the stuff.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling water, I dropped my gnocchi in and just kind of forgot about it while I made the sauce.

*smacks head on table*

Schoolboy error.

Anyway, back to the sauce. I used about a cup of cream for the base, with a small pinch of nutmeg. Those little black specks in the picture are parsley. I couldn't control myself.

Then I crumbed about a tonne of blue cheese.

Seriously, about a tonne. Not only did I put enough to turn my house into a gas chamber and drive my parents out with the stink, but that was definitely enough blue cheese to last me a life time.

Yes. I was cooking for one. I honestly don't know what I was thinking.

Then I salvaged whatever gnocchi I had left from the pot that I had forgotten about. The pieces were falling apart and I think I may have cried a little at this point.

All that effort for a few pieces of gnocchi that ended up falling apart anyway. Gosh. What a bad day in the kitchen.

The stench of the blue cheese also didn't leave for a few days...but I won't go into that.

Nevertheless I still plated it up, had a few bites to appreciate what a horrible mess I had made of the dish. It was still edible, to say the least, and experience-wise it was a huge level up.

So here it is folks, my first post on a horrid day in the kitchen.