Sunday, 31 May 2009

weekday lunches

Weekday lunches have become a bit of a daily grind. Some days I'm good and bring lunch from home (which negates the task of deciding what to eat) but for the most part, I'm not that good and I resort to whatever is available near the office (i.e. arduous task of deciding what to eat). About a year ago, it was great that we had Broadway and its foodcourt just 5 minutes away but a year on, the excitement has definitely gone, I've tried everything that I want to try and really don't like eating things over and over again. And it's not just me, a few of us in the office have been feeling it.

Last week, I did the usual walk over to Broadway with my friend L and it was in this trip that the two of us decided to go shopping, split the costs and make our own lunch. We spent $38 between the two us and bought enough to feed us over 3 days, lunch and breakfast included (with a $10 top up on the 3rd day as we'd run out of sandiwch filling.)

Smoked salmon, cream cheese, red onion and capers sandwiches with a Rocket, spinach leaf, grape tomato, red onion, avocado and balsamic vinegar salad.
Top with fresh cracked pepper!

Not to be boastful but I think we did a rather good job! The sandwiches and salad were fresh, had all the ingredients we wanted in them and it works out to be slightly cheaper than buying lunch out. Whilst we had the same thing two days in a row, it was actually quite exciting come lunchtime, to head into the kitchen and assemble our own lunches.

Mind you the $38 did include snacks, on one day we had these funky freeze dried apple and peach slices (which I don't recommend cause they tasted like cardboard) and on the second day, we had those dessert creme caramels. Anyway, the plan is to continue this in the forseeable future - let's see how we go...

pancakes on the rocks @ briens rd., northmead

It's becoming a yearly event that the week before June 1st, J&I rummage through our Entertainment Book in the hope of using up as many vouchers as possible before the book expires. From memory, our record was using 4 in the one day. Last Sunday, we managed to use 2 vouchers in the one day with a saving of about $30. It's not bad considering you only pay about $60 for the book.  If only I remembered to use it more often throughout the year and not just in the last week that it expires!

One of the vouchers that gets used up every year (without fail) is the voucher for Pancakes on the Rocks. For awhile now, we've stopped going to the one that's actually at The Rocks. It'll either be the one at Darling Harbour or the one closest to home, the one on Briens Rd. in Northmead. If you're thinking that there's less queues at these other branches, you're dreaming. There hasn't been a time when I've been able to avoid the queue. It doesn't even matter what time you go. We came here before 12 last Sunday thinking we'd get a table and ended up being in a queue for about 10 minutes.

Without really needing the menu, I knew what I was getting. Actually not pancakes but the Beef Ribs (well we did have a voucher to buy one and get one free so it was only fitting to get something more expensive on the menu. Saying that though, the Beef Ribs are actually really good - SO juicy!) J orders a steak cooked Rare. I asked him if he was sure but he was pretty confident that the steak would come out medium rare anyway, he was right. The steak's ok here, not the best.

The Beef Ribs don't look all that big but they're filling. If you're still hungry after this, you can always order pancakes.

So at Pancakes, we managed to save a grand total of $24.95. The remaining $5 we saved that day was actually at New Zealand Ice Cream at Mac Centre. I can't remember what took us over there but it was just as well that we were on a mission to use up the vouchers that J had on him.  Mine is the one on the right - Green Tea & Macadamia. J is becoming a little strange these days - I thought he preferred fruity flavours but he ended up getting Chocolate & Cafe Expresso.
The day was good fun and I suppose we weren't too full. J's intent on using up all the Maccas burger & Big Mac vouchers by Monday so we'll see how he goes with that. Need to actually get a hold of the new Entertainment Book and commence a new year of eating!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

catching up with the girls + zumbo

It happened to be quite coincidental that the day that G&I organised a catch up with the high school girls at Zumbo's, Zumbo launched his new cake range. As tempting as it was to head into the shop to check out the new range, I knew that if we didn't get into the cafe first and grab a table, we would have nowhere to sit. It was good thinking because the 4 of us that made it that day managed to grab one of the two tables inside before the rest of the cafe started filling up and the outside tables got showered with rain. Phew!

It didn't take me long to decide what I wanted to order - 'It's not a Hamburger' (the last of the cafe desserts for me to try)+ a mint hot chocolate to keep warm in the cold weather. I hadn't noticed it previously but look at the different forks they have at Zumbo's!
 The Peanut Brittle Ice cream is really, very delicious in this dish and something I could easily eat all day long.
Eating our way through our selection of desserts. Could that be another food blogger walking through the door? Bumped into Helen from grabyourfork and Suze from chocolatesuze. Good to see you both!
The Miss Marple Crepes. Compared to the last time I had these, it didn't seem quite so sticky which was good.
It's not a hamburger! (as much as I'm addicted to hamburgers at the moment - just another coincidence.) I'd say that out of all the desserts on offer at the cafe, this is now officially my favourite. 
G hadn't had lunch and was keen to order something savoury. She picked the corn cakes which were mouthwateringly delicious. And yep, all that cream cheese on top got eaten!
Whenever I get my own place, I'm going to buy myself a red chandelier. Very pretty!
With a belly full of sweetness at the cafe, the four of us made our way over to the shop for some cakes to take home. Suze had already warned me that cakes were starting to sell out and by the time we made it into the shop before 4, they were down to three cakes in their new range. I ended up picking the one titled '!' and got into a conversation with the two guys behind the counter as to how on earth you were meant to pronounce it. I called it an exclamation mark but the guys thought it should be a clicking noise - unfortunately two against one, I lost. 

The bag of madeleines + macaroons (one of each in Zumbo's new range) didn't take long to finish eating. Gone within two days with me being the only one eating (oh and minus the three that mum gave to my cousin 'thinking' that I coudn't eat them all...hmph). I honestly can not pick out my favourite flavour, they are all very good. Need to go back for more!

Had a great day out with you girls! We should do it more often!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

the cupcake bakery @ qvb, sydney

For a recent family together, my cousin A bought cupcakes from The Cupcake Bakery in QVB (it's near T2 - another of my favourite shops!) You can hardly miss the shop - the sight of cupcakes screams out at you and if not, you'll probably see the crowds of people at the counter; some still picking their wares, others balancing their bags and boxes of cupcakes or eating them straight out of the bag. I've been to both the QVB shop and the one on George Street and slowly, I'm eating my way through their flavours.

A's order of 16 assorted cupcakes (2 boxes) came with a rather pretty cupcake bag. Unfortunately, my aunt was the first to say how pretty it was otherwise I was tempted to keep it for myself.
My favourite flavours out this batch - Tiramisu, Carrot & Walnut + Profiterole (note that the profiteroles are unfilled but there's a heavy dosing of custard filling under the tower of profiteroles on the cupcake!)
I'm pretty sure there were 16 of us on the day (if not more) but we struggled to get through them all. We finished about 8 and every family had 2-3 cupcakes to take home. And it wasn't just me that was taking photos! The pretty sight of cupcakes got everyone's cameras and phones out!

My tip for eating cupcakes is to cut them up into 4. That way you can try up to 4 flavours yet you've only eaten the one cupcake. These cupcakes from The Cupcake Bakery are quite big and do make a decent meal. My max. is probably 1 cupcake at a time. I wonder if they'll do what Cupcakes on Pitt did and downsize their cupcakes sometime soon?

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

happy birthday em!

To celebrate Em's b'day, her boy, J and myself decided on lunch at The Great Bagel & Coffee Company in Mac Centre. Lunch was P's shout (much to J's surprise - he proceeded to give P grief about shouting more expensive dishes and meals, and not just Bagels. Typical guy banter. P - Thanks for the shout!). 

The birthday girl and her boy.
It just happened to be that we were there on one of their busiest days. My Blueberry Smoothie came in a takeaway cup as opposed to a tall glass. As lunch progressed, we started seeing chips in paper boxes rather than the usual ceramic - it was looking indeed quite odd! I ordered one of their special bagels - Szechuan beef and was initially told that they had sold out despite the sign advertising they had it. And then miraculously, in the minutes I ummed over the menu - the szechuan beef had reappeared!
J goes for their other Special - The Lamb Bagel. By special, I refer to the bagels that are not on their menu but on signs sitting on the counter. I have to say, I don't eat a whole lot of lamb but I do like this bagel!
P generously also shouted Curly Fries and Onion Rings - the latter of which I recommend if you're heading here for a Bagel. I really don't get the deal with curly fries - yes, they're curly but they really don't taste that great. And everytime I've had them, every curly fry seems to be stuck to every other one in the bowl. 

Anyway, I'm quite keen on trying the chilli con carne they have here but after a bagel, curly fries and a blueberry smoothie (which are my staples), it's quite hard to fit it in!

Hope you enjoyed the day Em!

pho pasteur @ george st., sydney

A week ago, I made a rather loud status update on facebook that 'pho pasteur has arguably the best pho in Sydney!' As someone that very infrequently updates their facebook status, I was rather surprised at the amount of people (from far and wide) that commented on my status update. There were those that agreed, others that could not disagree and finally those who had experienced a week's worth of food poisoning after eating at said restaurant.

Whilst I won't deny that food poisoning is a risk (but come on, you can get food poisoning from almost anywhere and everywhere!), I'm still of the mindset that Pho Pasteur offers Sydney's best bowl of pho. The soup is rich and served at just the right temperature, the ingredients are fresh and the serving size is satisfying. Note that they do offer two sizes, a regular bowl and a large - difference in price being $10.00 or $10.50 - I'd recommend going for the larger bowl; you'll gobble it up in no time.
If you can eat chilli, fresh cut chilli with pho is a must!
In hindsight, there was one error in my facebook update. Yes, Pho Pasteur does offer the best pho in Sydney but they do also offer some other tasty items on their menu. On this visit, we also ordered the Vermicelli with Spring Rolls & Pork - one word, faultless.

Sitting in the restaurant can be a bit of an ear-bashing. Orders are yelled across tables/heads/people, and this is magnified when you're sitting close to the register. J&I happened to be on the 2-seater right next to the register and consequently, our lunch didn't go for long. We ate quickly and were glad to walk out to the relative quiet of George Street on a Saturday afternoon. That's telling you something!

If cleanliness is your top priority when eating out, I probably won't recommend this place to you. If you enjoy good & cheap food, it's definitely a place to try.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

addicted to burgers

This particular Saturday started out with J arriving at my place with this in a tissue. It's one of his grandma's specialties - deep fried sweet potato with that glutinous new year cake sandwiched in between. They're tasty but I doubt one should be anymore than the one or two in the one sitting. I proceeded to have a go at J for bringing this to me in tissue (which by the time had got to me, most of the oil had soaked through), it's probably a bit more hygienic to carry it around in a box! 

Anyway, the day's plans were to go out and grab some lunch and not wanting to trek far, we settled for Inferno's at Mac Centre. We usually come here for pizzas but after the previous weekend of eating tasty Counter Burgers, we thought we'd try out the burgers instead (and also, to verify whether The Counter was in fact the best burger that I've ever had). There's about half a dozen burgers to choose from at Inferno's:

J gets the Beef burger with the works. The fillings are toppling out of the bun - it's that big!

The Counter had a Salmon Burger which got me curious. Seeing it at Inferno's - I decided to try. Not bad at all! Although I can't say that it's a burger in the traditional sense - subconsciously I still think a burger involves a juicy meat patty. Got to say though, the best chips in the world are being served at Inferno's. I have a habit of picking out crunchy chips with the soft centres - every single chip on my plate at Inferno's was cooked to perfection! Yum!

The Counter is definitely still in the lead for the best burger in Sydney/best burger that I've ever had. Don't get me wrong, Inferno's offers a decent burger but surely, you just can't compete with The Counter that specialises in burgers! Although when it comes to chips, The Counter can definitely learn a thing or to from what the kitchen are doing at Inferno's - those chips were damn good!

I think I'm addicted to burgers! and chips!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

rice paper rolls - made by me

Work has been keeping me busy and once again, I'm back to my backlog of posts. This was from a couple of weeks back when we had a family get-together at our place. Everyone was bringing a dish or two and when mum asked whether I was making anything, of course my hand went up (figuratively speaking). 

It's well known that my dad makes a good bowl of soup. Here's what he found when he was buying fish. I watched mum clean the abalone - look how pretty it is! Needless to say, the soup was awesome and perfectly sweetened by the abalone. here I am. I decided to make Vietnamese rice paper rolls. Couldn't quite decide on the one kind so ended up making two different types - one with poached chicken, the other with caramelised pork (recipe from Donna Hay Magazine Issue 43).  You'd hardly think it would take that long but it ended up taking me about 2 hours to get everything ready to start wrapping. Mind you, I was fighting with dad over the stove cause he needed it for his curry and soup.  Really you can't have too many cooks in the kitchen! Mum did her best to mediate.
In progress. 
By the time I finished, the original two plates of rolls was reduced to one. Feedback from the cousins was positive and by the end of the night, all rolls were gobbled up (which is quite rare in my household considering every family gathering we have, we tend to have enough food to feed 20 for the week).
Tops to Donna Hay's hoisin peanut dipping sauce which I served with the rice paper rolls. It was so easy to make and tasted great. I don't think anyone even touched the store bought dipping sauce which I also put out on the table. 

Anyway, would like some tips on how to wrap rolls so that they don't look quite so messy. Anyone care to share?

Sunday, 3 May 2009

the counter custom built burgers @ willoughby rd., crows nest

Seems like everyone I know is talking about The Counter in Crows Nest - lauded and applauded for having the best burgers in Sydney. Of course, I was going to head over and check it out for myself. In tow was J and my friend K who came to join us half way through the meal.

The 'Fifty-Fifty' - fries and onion strings. You can get any combination of fries, onion strings or sweet (yam) chips. Fries and onion strings are my default order but in hindsight (and also reading Char's post - I should've tried the Yam chips)

The unique thing about The Counter is that you can build your own burger. There's 5 steps involved from 1. Choosing your burger, 2. Choosing a Cheese, 3. Choosing up to 4 toppings (extra toppings are $0.50 each and premium toppings are $1.50 per selection), 4. Choosing a sauce (1 is standard, pay extra for more) and finally 5. Choosing a Bun. As we were there to test the 'waters' so to speak, we opted for their Signature burgers which had the selections already made up for us. Here's J's 'Counter Burger' - combo of all-natural ground beef, provolone, lettuce, tomato, fried onion, sauteed mushrooms & sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. The patty was cooked medium rare which made this burger super juicy!
On the other hand, the traditionalist in me went for the 'Old School' burger - combo of all-natural beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and red relish. The patty was cooked medium on mine and whilst nice, didn't seem quite as tasty as the one that J ordered.
J digging in. This photo makes me laugh cause you can see how excited he is about his burger!
Whilst tempted by the milkshakes they had on offer (peanut butter and apple pie flavours!), we ended up just getting the soft drinks. They were massive anyhow and with the burger, it was a bellyfull!

K joined us half way through the meal (he'd already had lunch) and well, I'm not sure how impressed he was watching us lick our lips and fingers trying to eat the burger - it can get a little messy!

Allow about $20pp for meal and drink. Next time I'll be adventurous and build my own burger.