Wednesday, 31 March 2010

madame brussels @ bourke st., melbourne

A few weekends ago, J&I made a trip down to Melbourne to see Jamie Oliver (he was, to be expected, absolutely fabulous) and the rest of trip was just as fantastic. There's a few hundred photos from the weekend which I'll try to share as many with you and you'll see that J is really taking his photography quite seriously; it's vastly improved from when he first got his camera (which isn't all that long ago!)

The tickets for Jamie were for his Friday show so both of us took the Friday off and made the decision to fly in on a Thursday night. It's nice just to wake up in a new place and not have to make a mad dash to the airport first thing in the morning. 

Calmly waiting at the airport for our flight.

On arrival, J's cousin S took us to drinks at the much talked about Madame Brussel's on Bourke Street; as a heads up, you're probably going to miss it if you don't know that it's there. The sign is tucked away on the side of the wall and the place itself is actually on the top level of a building. On busy nights, apparently the queue extends down the 3 levels of stairs but seemed like we were in luck and no queue was in sight. Here we are seated and with the menu...

Loving all the pretty decorations! (although this is actually a photo of the toilet door!)

Here's a pretty seat which you can find in the indoor seating area. You can choose to sit outside or inside, both are just as nice as the other.

The window looking through to the bar (which was nice and close to our table!)

All of the signature drinks served at Madame Brussel's are served in jugs like these (and yep, that's a single chopstick for you to stir it all together). J&I ordered a singles jug (serves 2); alternatively you can order a doubles jug (serves 4). Continuing the tennis theme, do expect your drinks to come to the table served by a cute waiter in tennis shorts!

A fondue certainly makes for a great late night supper!

S was our designated driver for the night and she asked for the bar to mix up a random mocktail; a rather pretty one indeed.

Usually I'm in a foul mood when I get off a flight but drinks at Madame Brussels seemed to do the trick and wash away some of that foulness. And well, everyone is usually much better after a drink or two! I forget the name of the cocktail we had but I loved it. J thought it could've done with a bit more alcohol but being the lightweight that I am when it comes to alcohol, I thought it was just fine. 

And well, before we knew it, a few hours had drifted by and it was time to call it a night. Thank you so much S for taking us to Madame Brussels - such a pretty little space; if only we had something like this in Sydney!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

peanut butter cookies

There's a few cookbook authors I've fallen in love with lately and amongst them all is Donal Skehan of 'Good Mood Food'. Donal has a blog which I very randomly stumbled across one day and after checking on a couple of days, I decided I loved it and therein went on a month long journey to track down his cookbook. Amazon UK said they had it so I put in an order, turns out they didn't which I find out a month later, I emailed them to see where my order was at, they chase it and another email or two later, turns out that a reprint of the books is finally in stock and my order is ready to ship. Yay! The man at Amazon UK was lovely and really, I was just anxious to get a copy of the book so despite the month wait, it was more than worth it.

A lot of the recipes in the cookbook are actually on the website but as a reader of this blog, I'm sure you know me well enough by now to know that I absolutely love my cookbooks. I really wanted to get my hands on this one and flicking through the book when it got here, I actually struggled to bookmark the recipes that I wanted to cook. Every recipe would've been bookmarked! Anyway, thought I'd make a start from the back of the book and give the 'Peanut Butter Cookies' a go. I've substituted crunchy peanut butter with smooth peanut butter.

Just 4 ingredients: 150g dark brown sugar, 60g wholemeal flour, 150g smooth peanut butter and 1 large egg.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Combine sugar and flour in a mixing bowl.

Add the egg and peanut butter. Beat until a thick dough forms. Allow the dough to sit in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Place rounded spoons of the dough onto a greased baking tray. Recipe says it should make 9 cookies, I managed to make 12.

I've flattened mine's slightly with a fork.

Bake for approx. 15 minutes or until the cookies brown slightly. Remove from the baking tray and allow to cool.

Here's the cookbook!

And how did the recipe fair? Well, whilst the outside of the cookie was slightly crunchy, the inner bits were quite doughy. I guess it depends on the type of cookie you're after - this is the type of cookie that you'll bite into quite easily without breaking your teeth but for me I'm quite particular about the proportion of outer crunchiness to inner chewiness (yes, I'm a little bit fussy!) In hindsight, I would've stuck to the recipe and used crunchy peanut butter so that the cookies had that bit of texture.

Without a question though, this was by far the easiest recipe that I've ever made. I didn't think you could even make cookies with just 4 ingredients! And now the big question, what recipe to try next?!

Friday, 26 March 2010

jools' favourite saturday afternoon pasta

Jamie Oliver calls this recipe 'Jools' favourite saturday afternoon pasta' but now I'm about to call it 'My favourite Sunday lunch pasta'. The recipe is from 'Cook with Jamie' and is possibly the easiest and tastiest pasta recipe that I've ever used. You don't quite need to follow the measurements exactly and feel free to omit/change ingredients with what you have at home and I can guarantee you, this recipe will still work a charm. In Jamie's introduction to this recipe, he says you'll hardly need a brain to cook this one up. I agree; cooking and eating should be easy and this recipe more than well spells out easy.

Here's the book (and the loaf I was baking in my last post). I've adapted the recipe a little to what I had at home. The following is my version of the recipe.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and cook 1 brown onion (peeled and finely chopped), 3 fresh red chillis (deseeded and finely chopped), 1 tsp ground cinnamon on a medium to low heat for 5 minutes until the onion has softened. Turn up the heat and add a 800g tin of crushed tomatoes, 3x175g cans of tuna in olive oil (drained and flaked) and a good pinch of salt. Break the tuna with the back of a spoon. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook 1 bag of penne pasta in salted boiling water according to the packet instructions. When al dente, drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water. Toss the pasta into the tuna an tomato sauce with a splash of olive oil, zest and juice of 2 lemons, parmesan and mix together well. Loosen the pasta with a little of the reserved cooking water if needed.

Season with salt, pepper and extra parmesan to taste.

Jamie uses basil in his recipe which gives this pasta a bit more colour but even without the basil, I thought this recipe tasted great. The chilli and lemon are an unlikely combination that works rather well.

And well, I've got a slight crush on Jamie Oliver at the moment (after watching his show in Melbourne two weekends ago) so expect a few more Jamie Oliver posts coming up soon. Watch this space!

Thursday, 25 March 2010

chocolate, pistachio & banana loaf cake

I've had one of the guys at work ask me more than once now why I'm not pursuing baking as a career when I love it so much. There's no doubt that I love baking and if you let me choose one activity to while away my time, I would most definitely choose baking. There was a point in time where I worked as an assistant pastry chef and whilst shortlived (because I decided to take on an office job), I remember the merry days of baking, icing and decorating cupcakes for hours on end and working with like minded people who were ever so passionate about food (and cake!) Those were the good times!

Well I'm coming up to my 3 year mark at work and whilst work is far removed from anything related to food, I'm still happy just to spend my weekend (or when I have time during the week) to get into the kitchen and do some baking. Fortunately, or not so fortunately, it seems the more stressed I am at work, the more inclined I am to bake. I guess the amount of baking posts you see on this blog is a good indicator of my moods!

Here's a recipe adapted from Carol Pastor's 'Simple Home Baking'; a gorgeous little book of cakes, cookies and puddings. Thanks Ang for your browned bananas - they came to good use!

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. In a bowl, beat 125g softened butter with 125g caster sugar until creamy and light. 

Mash 2 ripe bananas.

Roughly chop 125g unsalted pistachios.

Mix into the butter and sugar mix the mashed bananas, then gradually mix in 2 lightly beaten eggs and 1 1 1/2 tbsp milk. Split 1/2 vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds into the creamed mixture. Add 175g dark chocolate chips and the chopped pistachios. Lightly fold in 250g sifted plain flour and 2 tsps baking powder.

Spoon the mix into a lined loaf tin. 

Bake for 50 minutes. The cake is ready when the top looks golden and feels firm and slightly springy to the touch. (J gets quite amused when I get around to poking my cakes but surely all you bakers out there do that too - no?)

Leave to cool slightly before turning out onto a wire cooling rack.

Slice into 2cm thick slices and enjoy whilst warm.

Every mouthful of this loaf packs a bunch with flavour. There's just the right mix of chocolate chips and pistachios -  if you're planning to try this recipe, I encourage to adhere strictly to the recipe and you'll do no wrong. If eating this the next day and warming it in the oven/microwave, do be careful and don't overheat - you don't want chocolate smeared everywhere!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

jasmin lebanese restaurant @ civic rd., auburn

On top of the baking, I've also been doing a lot of eating lately. Many of these places have either been on my list of places to try (from reading about them) or have otherwise come highly recommended by close friends. Among the ones recommended by close friends (in this case Mashi - who I'm ever so glad to have met properly for the first time last year at Sugar Hit), is Jasmin Lebanese Restaurant in Auburn. The lovely girl, recently back from her overseas trip, actually brought us here last Friday for a rather eye-opening and enjoyable feast.

To be quite honest, when someone mentions Lebanese food, I automatically think kebabs. By some stretch, I would've at some point said Felafels but that would definitely be the extent of my exposure to Lebanese food. Dinner at Jasmin did produce a plate of felafels but felafels aside, I was really impressed by the range of dishes that were on offer. 

The Mixed Platter - definitely one to order to try a whole cross section of foods on the menu. 

The beef plate.

The chicken plate. In front are a selection of raw vegies that came as part of our meal. The one that looks like a tiny capsicum x chilli is strangely sour in taste (one that I actually find quite hard to describe). Unfortunately, not exactly my cup of tea but do try it the once and let me know what you think!

The lamb skewers.

The food! The meal is served with baskets of bread and assorted sauces/dips (unlimited servings). I was dipping a lot of my food in the garlic sauce and it was just so tasty! We'd ordered 1 dish per person and we actually didn't manage to finish it all - which was a bit of a surprise as we had 3 hungry boys and 2 food blogging girls at the table!

And what should you be ordering if you come here? If you come here, you most definitely have to order the felafels! The felafels look like any other felafel you would've seen but how they make it here, they are crunchy on the outside and ever so soft on the inside, they taste nothing like the felafels you usually would get in a kebab (which tend to be chewy and quite a mouthful). I would come back here just to eat a few more of those felafels!

For a Friday night, the restaurant was actually reasonably quiet. When we first walked in at about 7.30-8pm, we were probably the second table to sit down. People did steadily file in afterwards but nothing too out of control (which was actually quite a nice surprise for a Friday night as most places tend to get quite packed). A most enjoyable dinner in great company. Thanks Mashi!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

gumshara @ harbour plaza, dixon st., haymarket

I'm sure most Ramen fans would've discovered and tried Gumshara already and if not, what are you waiting for?! It'd been on my agenda to go check this place out, it took awhile but finally J&I got round to trying it on Thursday. I'd first read about this place on Suze's blog where she most contentedly guzzled through a few bowls of these and later on, it seemed that most of the foodie world had caught on and now if you google 'Gumshara', half a dozen food blogs com up with reviews of the unique ramen that this place serves up. I can see why, this place is one worth blogging about!

Located in Harbour Plaza on Dixon Street (Chinatown), Gumshara serves up a ramen that's one of it's kind. You'd hardly think that this one shop, amongst the many that form the food court that's Harbour Plaza would be any different than its counterparts. And perhaps, the sign you see as you walk about to the counter serves to remind you of its point of difference. 'Our soup is made by traditional Japanese way to cook which only uses fresh pork bone and water. No MSG is used. The richness of the soup comes from the marrow of the bone and the soft bone. It contains a lot of collagen, which is essential to maintain smooth skin.'

My Tonkotsu Ramen. The soup was richly thick and for a moment I thought my throat would glue together from the thickness of the soup but alas it didn't and neither was I thirsty afterwards (which came as a bit of a surprise as I was convinced I'd be drinking gallons of water afterwards from how thick the soup was). I can definitely attest to the fact that NO MSG has been added as like my dad, my throat dries up with just a touch of MSG and I was perfectly fine after guzzling down my bowl of ramen.

J's Hakata Ramen with a serve of soft-boiled egg. The soup in this one wasn't quite as thick as mine and with J's generous dusting of chilli powder into the soup, this one actually came with a bit of a bite.

We also had a serve of dumplings to share (apologies no photos as the only one I took came out blurry) and that was just as lovely as the bowls of ramen. Dinner came in at about $25 for the two of us which I thought was pretty good. Admittedly, the setting of the foodcourt isn't exactly restaurant quality but Gumshara is most definitely restaurant quality food. And well, if you want to jazz it up a little, feel free to bring along your bottle of wine and make dinner a little classy (this was what the table next to us did).

Do be prepared for the wait in the queue. It's a two man show at Gumshara - there's one chef out the back and the one girl at the counter taking the orders and calling out numbers so don't get too annoyed when the girl is at the counter but is busy trying to get bowls out to those that have ordered and not taking your order. She'll get to you as soon as she can and well, after tasting the ramen, it's most definitely worth the wait!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

ozeki @ victoria ave, chatswood

On a particularly hungry Sunday night, the boy and I made our way over to Chatswood to try out Ozeki;  a reasonably new sushi train addition to Chatswood, just outside Chatswood Chase. Here it's $3.00 for each plate of sushi which places it in the middle between Saguna/Sushi Train (who both have $2.50 plates) and Makoto (who forever have the queues lining outside the door but actually don't have a set price for all plates; all plates are as priced). Who would've thought that there would be such demand for sushi trains in the one suburb but I'm very clearly proven wrong!

I actually don't have a whole lot of photos from the night as I was busily eating away but do read Madame Delicieuse's post for a fab review plus plenty of photos. I agree with her that the rice is firmly packed and you're eating quite a bit of rice (which does mean less plates but also means that you don't get round to trying as many dishes which I think is a bit of a bummer). Though I admit, eating less is probably a bit better for my belly!

The boy and I do insist on a fair share of all plates!

A tempura udon is a nice addition for a hungry J. Sushi alone often doesn't fill him up. The prawns are huge in comparison to the bowl of udon! The tempura batter actually isn't too soggy either which is a bonus.

Our plates (from memory, there were another two sitting to the side) and here's a pic of one of my favourite sushi's of all time - a combo of salmon, rice, seared scallop and a mayo dressing.

There's a good mix of sushi and sashimi on this sushi train, each neatly presented and ever so tempting to eat. It's great when you have a set price for all plates; it just means that you don't have to spend time working out how much each place costs and how much you've spent.  As long as you know your 3x table here, you should do pretty ok. Our bill came in just under $60 and had we known that they had a reward system going (1 stamp for every $10 spent. Every 10 stamps then earns you a $10 discount off your next meal), we would most certainly have ordered that extra plate! time!

Monday, 15 March 2010

nadia's cafe @ pennant hills rd., carlingford court

I love finding new places to eat at, especially those that serve up an afternoon tea. Is there a better way to spend an afternoon? The boy would probably tell me that I should go for a jog and do some exercise which yes, is always on the agenda but I do struggle a bit when the other option is to have some afternoon tea. On this particular weekend, it was afternoon tea and well, I guess next week, it means I go for my jog (one can't have too much afternoon tea!)

I'm actually not sure how Nadia Cafe came to mind when J asked me where I wanted to go. I started going through all the places in my suburb, then in the suburb next to it and then all the other suburbs adjacent. Seemed like we'd been to most of the places (well the places I want to try anyway) and it was with a bit of luck that Nadia Cafe came to mind. All I can say is that this cafe has been around for a very long time (I remember it being there back when I was in Primary School). I'm not sure if they've changed management in that time but it's definitely been one of those cafes which have stuck around and one that I never got round to visiting.

By default, the boy and I have our cups of flat white coffee. As a previous non-drinker of coffee, the boy is becoming a bit of a coffee conniseur and thinks this coffee could be a little stronger.

Scones with strawberry jam and cream. The scones were plump and moist inside and very decently fed the two of us.

Pancakes with fresh lemon and sugar (the boy was the first to get me to try this combo awhile back and as strange as the combo sounds; a mix of the sweet and the sour, it works). In hindsight, I probably would've gotten the one with maple syrup because after eating the scones, these pancakes (whilst incredibly fluffy) seemed quite dry to eat.

And what I love about this cafe? They've got booth seating! The booths overlook The Coffee Club which is downstairs (and J had a jolly good time of watching a girl drink her cappuccino and wondering whether she would choke on the chocolate powder as she was spooning up the chocolate dusting and milk froth with her teaspoon). For the record, the girl didn't choke (much to J's disappointment) and well, watching other people go about their coffee drinking is not something I usually do! 

There's a full menu of meals on offer and the prices here are very reasonable. There's a constant stream of customers but should be very easy to snap up a table. A great place to sit down at after doing your weekly shopping or as J puts it, a great place to grab a coffee/bite after you've gone for a jog!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

green tea & white chocolate cake

I remember having my first Green Tea & White Chocolate muffin on a trip to Japan. It was at the notorious Dean & Deluca - an awesome patisserie/bakery/deli/food produce store (arguably second to none). If you haven't had the combo of green tea and white chocolate before, I urge you to try because it was a combo that wow-ed me over the first time I had it (it's a match made in heaven! The bitterness of the green tea balances with the sweetness of white chocolate) and well, it did encourage me to come up with my own recipe for them. Here's the link to the recipe that I came up with (back in the good old days when we were all on Xanga!).

It's been a good while since I've made anything with green tea and white chocolate. For awhile, I was hooked on green tea and pretty much made everything green tea - tarts, scones, steamed cakes (you can find these recipes/pics on my Xanga blog). But then I'm talking about a couple of years ago because when I pulled out this recipe for green tea & white chocolate cake, I noticed that my tub of matcha powder had expired back in 2007 (Oops!). Lucky I had the stash that one of my friends brought back for me on his trip to Japan (Thanks A!)

This recipe is from Llona Chovancova's 'Cakes and Loaves'; I've flipped through this book numerous times and am absolutely in love with it. It's got a great combination of sweet and savoury recipes, stunning photography and the recipes are very easy to follow. The goods that come out of the oven speak for themselves!

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Butter and flour a cake pan (use a small loaf pan like the one in the pic below).

Melt 150g butter in the microwave and set aside. Melt 75g white chocolate in the microwave and set aside. Beat together 3 eggs and 175g sugar in a large mixing bowl until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume.

 Gradually add 100g flour, 75g ground almonds, melted butter and a pinch of salt. Gently fold in 1/2 tbsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp baking soda.

Divide the batter into 2 equal portions. Fold 3tsp green tea into one portion (recommend you add a little bit more than this for more flavour), and fold the white chocolate into the other.

Transfer to the prepared pan, pouring in the batters alternatively.

Bake for about 40 minutes (check with skewer to see if cooked).

Let cool in the pan slightly before turning out.

Cake innards!

This cake is extremely moist and when eaten slightly warm out of the oven, you'll find that the outer is slightly crunchy and sweet from the white chocolate. I took a slice in to work this morning and it was perfect without the need to reheat. Mum's also a big fan of this one (although she'd prefer that I put a bit more matcha powder for extra flavour). Sometimes I think I'm buying the wrong matcha powder because I always never get the amount of flavour I want - does anyone else have the same problem?

Oh, and the other reason why mum and I both love this cake? It's the perfect size for the amount of people I have at home eating it. After last night, we were already through half the loaf. I do actually feel a bit guilty because with the amount of baking I'm doing at the moment, some of it is having to get binned (we just can't eat it all) so it works out well that this recipe (and all the recipes in the book) make much smaller cakes/loaves than what you usually expect.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

chocolate chip friands

I've managed to find time over the last couple of weeks to do a bit more baking and well, I'm loving it! There's assorted baked goodies sitting on the kitchen bench ready-to-eat, more of my cookbooks are getting used, I get to spend time in the kitchen, other's are benefiting from eating it, I say it's win-win for all. Although with the amount of baking I've been doing, I am a little shocked/surprised by how many ingredients I have stocked at home, so far I haven't had to run out to the supermarket yet. I swear, I finish a packet of flour and there's another one there waiting to be used!

Anyway, after taking a good look at the inventory, I figured I better start using things up. It took a bit of flipping through recipes and cookbooks to find the recipes that I had all the ingredients for at home and in this instance, J helped me out by saying he wanted friands (this narrowed down the search considerably - trust me, I can spend hours buried in my cookbooks!). The following recipe is from  The Australian Woman's Weekly 'BAKE':

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Grease 9 holes of a friand pan.  (FYI: I usually grease mine by smearing butter onto a paper towel.) The original recipe is actually for mini friands but given I have a friand pan at home, I figured I may as well use it. According to the recipe, if you are making mini ones, you can grease 2x 12 hole mini muffin pans.

Place 4 egg whites in a bowl; beat with a fork. Stir in 125g melted butter, 2/3 cup almond meal, 3/4 cup sifted icing sugar, and 1/4 cup plain flour.

Measure out 100g chocolate chips.

Stir chocolate chips into the batter.

Spoon mixture into pan holes.

Bake friands for 15 minutes.

Stand friands in the pan for about 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.

The recipe says to the turn the pan for the friands to come out. Mine didn't and it was quite time consuming to wedge each one out without breaking them; I ended up having the one casualty which got eaten straight away (by me!)

Gobbling one up!

Feedback from mum was that she found these quite heavy. The boy only had one (my gut feel is that he was full from the one too but didn't say anything), I actually didn't mind them too much. They were a break from the usual berry friands that I make and well, I love chocolate! (although, as you can see from the pic above, it is a bit of a chocolate overload if you're not a big fan of chocolate - the ratio is almost 50% batter to 50% chocolate).

In hindsight, I can see why the original recipe makes a batch of 24 mini friands. Mini friands would definitely be easier to eat, you could gobble up whereas these big ones make for a whole meal. Then again, I probably would've cursed considerably trying to wedge 24 mini friands out of the tins - why is it that friands always stick? It baffles me.

Anyway, if you have any suggestions for recipes that use choc chips, let me know. I have plenty of them in the pantry!