Sunday, 18 December 2011

zenq @ victoria ave., chatswood

Ok, so nothing really new here. We've seen Meet Fresh and the queue for that is humungous if you go to the one in the city and well, now there's ZenQ; a dessert place offering a very similar menu. To their credit, ZenQ do offer a wider menu selection but in the end, if I were to compare the hero dishes at both places, I'd have to say that Meet Fresh do it slightly better.

Signature Dessert No. 1 - Grass Jelly with ZenQ signature q balls and pearls. I'm slightly sad that there are more q balls in there; don't ask me why, those balls hardly taste like anything but I love them and can't stop eating them.

On this particular day, the boy wasn't too impressed that I was taking yet another photo of him. Actually you can even see me in the reflection of the mirror; I'm as happy as ever!

This dish when it came to the table looked nothing like the picture on the menu - Black Sago with green tea pudding and vanilla ice cream. Would probably recommend you order with the regular sago - the black sago just reminds me of little fish eyes and doesn't really go very well with the rest of the items in the dish.

I'd been waiting awhile to check this place out (as every time I'd gone, there was always a queue). Have to say though, from what I've tried, I'd probably stick with Meet Fresh. Everything just looks sad when it comes to the table (nothing like the pictures on the menu). Maybe better luck next time!

Monday, 12 December 2011

zumbo dessert train @ the star (take 2)

So I know I said I'd wait another month before I headed back to the Zumbo desert train but chance had it I was in the city, I was grabbing dinner and just happened to be grabbing dinner at the Star. It only made sense to pop back into Zumbo's to see if there were any new additions. And I can excitedly say, yes there are additions and improvements! First of all, there was no queue to get a seat on the train (but we were there at about 8pm, earlier than my previous visit), there were individual cakes on the train (making the train a lot fuller) and overall, a much larger variety of desserts on the train to select from. I continued to work my way through the list!

Peach Melba - Fresh raspberries, blood peach compote, vanilla creme Chantilly, vanilla emulsion, raspberry pistachio cake. 

Ssnowmanorr - Pate a choux, bubble tea custard, lychee coconut creme legere, lychee gel, coconut crunch. Hands down my favourite Zumbo creation; such a great mix of Asian flavours and none too sweet either - I thought I would need to abandon the necktie of the Snowman which was made out of fondant but actually very palateable.

With my favourite dessert of the day!

Chocolate Coffee Brulee - Chocolate coffee brulee, chocolate sacher cake, milk emulsion and expresso melt. The shards of brulee topping ended up being to thick to eat so I left them on the plate, otherwise the coffee brulee overs a real coffee kick for the coffee fanatic.

And something for the road - a box of Macaroni Road! (available from the retail store next door to the dessert train)  You will probably fall off your chair if I tell you how much it costed (well my jaw did drop a little when I asked at the counter and they told me it was $19.50, was thinking it would be closer to $10) but as you can see, curiousity killed my wallet and I bought it. Though I have to say, its awfully tasty and I'm savouring every bite!

So I've only been  to the Zumbo dessert train twice but embarrassingly it seems that some of the staff recognise me from my last visit. Perhaps I'll need to prolong my next visit to keep a bit low key; I don't eat that many desserts and anyway, the record I believe is still 8 plates on the dessert train, I don't eat that much (I don't think). Anyway, great to see that the dessert train is responding to the feedback that is cropping up across the blogosphere. Look forward to my next visit and next installment of tasty delights!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

shanghai stories 1938 @ victoria ave., chatswood

Can it please stop raining?! Why is it even raining at this time of year?! It was on a rather rainy weekday that Mashi and I made our way over to The Concourse at Chatswood to try out one of their restaurants - Shanghai Stories 1938 (next door is a pizza place called Gusto which I'm certainly keep to try - anyone up for it?) The occasion was a belated birthday celebration for Mashi and it actually worked out to be quite a nice place for the occasion; unbeknownst to both of us, Shanghai Stories leans towards the upmarket but still being affordable and being a school day, the two of us dined like royalty on their upstairs floor which is decked out quite nicely (certainly not your average Shanghai dumpling house)

The menu features a mixture of the familiar (dumplings, pancake, noodles) but also has its fair share of fusion items (pringles, Peking Duck and Osmanthus Jelly is one of them but I had this on my second visit), family dinner dishes as well as seafood sold at market price. There's definitely all sorts to suit different budgets so assume this is what the restaurant owner has set out to offer. According to the boy, their wine list is also quite extensive and very reasonably priced too.

Snowy River Sweet Pork Ribs - this dish features on the front page of their menu (and which we also missed until the waitress kindly recommended it to us as we were having trouble deciding); it was definitely too pretty not to try and ended up being a very tasty choice.

Mixed Cold Cuts Platter - the tomato is definitely the highlight of this dish (well for me anyway, it was something new and different and the sweet taste of the tomato was not something I was expecting from eating Shanghainese food)

Sesame Pastry. Despite looking at the menu and reading about what this item was (as it was one of the highly recommended items), neither Mashi nor I were prepared for the sweet inner of this pastry, we both thought it would be savoury and personally, I do think it would've tasted better if it were savoury.

Braised fish fillet and fungus in wine sauce. I actually love this dish for the fungus and could do with it just being fungus only - but that's because I love fungus.

Soy sauce Pork Fried Rice.

Panda & Panda buns! We knew that we were going to order these ones even before we started the meal - they're too cute not to. The inner is a red bean paste and yes, they are really too cute to eat!

With a pot of tea to share between us also, we wrapped up the meal for $90. Admittedly, not the cheapest fix of Shanghainese food in Sydney or even just in Chatswood where you actually have several cheaper options. Being a special occasion and with the level of service we had that night, it was a great school night dining option. I've actually already been back for a second visit (though we sat downstairs this second time and the atmosphere is actually quite different; actually more laidback), well I guess it speaks for itself, food is solid and with such an extensive menu, it will bring you back.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

coffee cake

I secretly love birthdays; it doesn't even have to be my birthday, it can be anyones and I still love it. I love celebrating, I love giving presents (and of course receiving them) but most of all, I love birthday cake. For years, I've vowed to bake everyone a birthday cake for their birthday but so far I've managed in two instances, the first was for my best friend's 18th birthday and the second instance was just the other Friday where I had the day off work and baked dad his birthday cake. I'm promising myself once again that I'll make more of an effort; it really is worth it in the end.

This recipe comes from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook; the very place which I'd love to visit!

Start by making a coffee essence. Put 2 tbsp instant coffee granules and 170mL water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Boil until reduced by half, then remove from the heat and leave to cool completely. Set aside a tablespoon of the essence to use in the frosting.

Preheat oven to 170 degrees. In a large bowl, combine 450g softened unsalted butter, 450g caster sugar and cold coffee essencewith a hand held electric mixer. Add 8 eggs one at a time, mixing well until incorporated. Beat in 450g plain flour, 2 tbsp baking powder and 2 tsp cocoa powder and mix well.

Line a ring mould as per below.

Pour the mixture into the prepared ring mould and smooth over with a knife. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until the sponge feels firm to the touch.

In the meantime, prepare the coffee vanilla frosting by beating 250g sifted icing sugar and 80g softened unsalted butter with a mixer. Combine 25mL milk and a couple of drops of vanilla extract in a separate bowl and then gradually add to the butter and sugar mixture. Once all the milk has been incorporated, add in the reserved tablespoon of coffee essence and turn the mixer up to high speed and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy (at least 5 minutes). Prepare the shaved chocolate shaving by grating 60g dark chocolate with a cheese grater.

Here's the cake after 40 minutes!

Place the cake on a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

When the cake is cold, put on a serving plate and cover the top with the frosting.

Decorate with chocolate shavings.

As I was making the cake a day in advance (and with it being extremely hot!), here's the contraption I made to store the cake in the fridge. Had both the mum and boy laugh at me which wasn't particularly nice - especially cause I had to keep cutting away at the skewers until it managed to fit in the fridge!

We had a big extended family dinner the next day and everyone came back home to eat the cake. Despite taking it out of the fridge for a good hour, it hadn't quite defrosted so the texture of the cake was a little hard but smelt absolutely divine. On my second piece, I actually microwaved the slice which returned the cake to its soft and spongy texture, but unfortunately the icing did melt a little. So yes, had I more time that morning of the birthday, it probably would've been better to make it then but otherwise a very lovely cake which ended up being gigantically big (nothing like the pic in the book!)

Happy birthday dad! Hope you had an awesome birthday!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

chocolate rum-raisin muffins

We're just a mere 3 weeks away from Christmas - what does everyone have planned? I'm reasonably organised this year, Christmas cards are being written (some have even made it through the postal system!), most presents have been bought and only a handful still to shop for, you can say that Christmas this year is in a reasonably good place for a change. This week I might even tackle our new Christmas tree and well, the Christmas baking has already started with this rather boozy special - chocolate rum-raisin muffins!

The recipe I used comes from The Golden Book of Chocolate. The recipe didn't actually specify the type of rum to use, usually it would be a dark rum for baking but in the absence of dark rum and a bit of Bacardi left over, I figured it should work out ok.

Had to take a snap of these cute cupcake liners found at the local supermarket - very pretty!

Plump 150g raisins in 90mL rum in a small bowl for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin pan. In a large bowl, mix together 375g plain flour, 75g cocoa powder, 2 tsp baking powder, and 1/4 tsp salt. Stir in 200g caster sugar. Stir in the raisin mixture, original recipe asks for 375mL cream (but I substituted this with 200mL buttermillk and the remainder in soy milk), 2 lightly beaten eggs and 90g melted butter. Stir until combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared cups.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, approximately 20 minutes.

Cool the muffins on wire racks.

These muffins had a quite a dense texture (which I'd attribute to the soy milk) and were delectably chocolatey but at the same time, not all that sweet. As a special treat, there's just that hint of rum taste to it  which I think I'd prefer over using a dark rum which can often be a bit too overpowering. Who knew you could use Bacardi Rum for baking!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

sushi samurai @ military rd., neutral bay

The last two months of a year are always a busy time in my household. There's three of us with birthdays within weeks of each other and to top that off, Christmas is just around the corner (presents need to be bought, tree needs to be put up and well, it takes a lot of everyone looking at each other to work out who's turn it is this year to put up the tree). Being on holidays has probably been a good thing because it's given me that burst of energy to get through it all as I have to admit, the end of each year is often quite tiring and also time for much needed rest.

So with that extra energy (which I hope will last), I've also been scheduling a fair few more catch ups with friends (as the end of the year is also a busy time of decisions, career moves and happenings) and well, I'm also guilty of not catching up with friends earlier on in the year so squeezing a few in before Christmas is better than me writing yet another Christmas card saying how we never catch up. Had a nice lovely catchup with Jen the other week with the boy and myself and went to Sushi Samurai in Neutral Bay for the first time.

BBQ Whole Squid. I'm not usually a fan but having this dish, you can say I'm converted. Highly recommend!

Crispy Chicken Salad is a bowl of deep fried goodness with a little bit of salad on the side to make you feel a little bit healthy eating it.

Sushi Main Deluxe. It actually doesn't have all that many pieces but looks can be deceiving; it filled us up considerably well and even the boy had no complaints.

Tonpei-yaki (pork and vegetable wrapped in egg). This was the one dish that really caught my eye when I opened up the menu so had to try. Best way to describe it is that its a cross between an egg omelette and okonomayaki - shame that towards the end of eating it, it did taste a little burnt as the hot plate kept cooking the sweet teriyaki/bbq sauce.

Glad to have finally tried this place which I've long heard about. Neutral Bay always seems like such a trek for a meal but when you make the effort to go there, there's actually so many dining options. Japanese food is first and foremost the cuisine you have to try when you come to Neutral Bay (well that's what I eat everytime I come here and yes, I may be a little partial to a spot of Japanese!)

Very highly recommend Sushi Samurai. Be aware though that they are quite popular and you may be asked to vacate your table by a certain time if you are in the earlier sitting. It's a bit of a shame that we had to make way for the next table because they had a rather decadent dessert menu which I wouldn't have minded trying.

Monday, 21 November 2011

cafe grEat @ victoria rd., gladesville

I think I might just make Gladesville my local hangout - consistently finding some great eats in the area and just as well, I discovered Cafe grEat the other day. I'm actually not sure if its pronounced Cafe 'Great' or maybe 'gr-Eat' but I haven't typed incorrectly, that big E is in its name. For the sake of this post, let's just say call it Cafe Great to make things nice and easy.

Open for breakfast and lunch, this place serves up a range of cafe style items. Their speciality appears to be their homemade burgers which feature prominently on the blackboard outside and inside the cafe. There's about 6-8 types of different burgers, and after much deliberation, I decided on the Teriyaki Chicken burger.

The boy opts for the grEat burger which is a beef patty with egg and bacon - which ended up being our favourite of the two burgers order given it was much, much juicier.

I'm loving the coke cans with the personalisation! Have yet to stumble across my name (though I'm almost tempted every time I see a fridge full of cans to just go through each one to see whether there might be one!)

I'm about 99% sure that the cafe is Korean own and run. You'll find items on the menu like Dumpling Salad, Teriyaki Tofu Burger and Bulgogi beef burger which were rather enticing; but will have to be items I try on my next visit (if only I could eat a lot more then I could tell you how they were!) 

Very friendly service, an extensive menu, plenty of magazines and papers to accompany a late weekend morning brunch/lunch, parking just around the corner, I do say that the cafe does live up its name of being great!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

banana & cinnamon muffins

I'm sure I've mentioned somewhere down the track that I have certain OCDs - collecting cookbooks is probably the worse of them, then its collecting recipes and last but not least, baking with certain ingredients over and over again. November 2011 has been the month of baking with bananas and here I bring you a recipe for Banana & Cinnamon Muffins from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook - this cookbook has also been used to death this month (I'm actually not quite ready to return it to the bookshelf - maybe baking constantly from one cookbook is also one of my OCDs?)

Preheat oven to 170 degrees. In a large bowl, combine 350g plain flour, 160g caster sugar, 3/4 tsp salt, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb soda and 2 tsp ground cinnamon with a handheld electric mixer. In a jug, combine 375mL buttermilk, 1 egg and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract. Slowly pour into the flour mixture and beat on a slow speed until combined. Add 70g melted unsalted butter and beat until incorporated. Stir in 400g peeled mashed bananas with a spatula.

Spoon the mixture into lined muffin tins.

Sprinkle with a little caster sugar and cinnamon over the tops.

Bake in a preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out clean.

Leave the muffins to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely. Recipe says it makes 12 muffins, I managed to get 22. I guess it makes 12 really big muffins?

These muffins are incredibly moist and I'd actually class them in the 'healthy' basket. With it being so warm lately, I kept the muffins in the fridge to stop them from getting mouldy (as the moisture in the banana doesn't deal well with the heat). There's a recipe for Banana Cream Pie in the same very cookbook which is looking rather tasty, maybe I'll make that next!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

zumbo dessert train @ the star

I don't think I could ever write a bad review about Zumbo; I just couldn't. I remember asking him some very spastic questions when we attended one of his Masterclasses earlier this year and he was such a lovely guy and answered every question I had (mind you I was the one with one of his macaron recipes tucked in my bag and out I whipped out my sheet with everything highlighted and ready to ask). A little bit nerdy I have to admit but I really needed to ask the questions and after all, he is the King of Macarons in Sydney!

Again, plenty of blog posts have been made by fellow bloggers about his new store at The Star. Mashi and I wandered over there after our dinner at Jamie's Italian with the intention to try out the dessert train and the dessert train we did try. This ended up being a hectic 45 minute wait but I'm not complaining, I waited about 2 hours to go to an art gallery in Florence so by comparison, 45 minutes is really nothing. I actually didn't even notice the time pass cause we ended up chatting with some of the pastry chefs behind the train who were more than willing to tell us about the record set by a couple who ate 8 plates in the one sitting and them giving us recommendations for the plates that we should try. Zumbo - You do hire such lovely staff!

We finally got our seat! To be honest, 10 minutes of our waiting time was due to everyone on the train finishing up and leaving in the one go, leaving the 2 staff managing it have to clear and sort out all the checks. We were the first to sit down after they got through that crowd.

Watermelon Yoghurt - The orange custard on this plate is absolutely divine (a big bowl of orange custard please!)

The two of us eat a lot - it makes us happy!

Plenty of people outside the store ogling in and/or just waiting in line to get a seat on the train.

Carrot Cake - a rather healthy choice and one to quickly gobble up as its topped with a cinnamon ice cream.

Hazelnut Dacquoise - Hands down, my favourite for the night. The couple sitting next to us agreed too as they started asking us about the desserts we had. Plenty of crunch and yum, yum, yum!

There's actually 10 items on the menu but on the Friday night we went, we only spotted 6 moving around on the train. The staff we spoke to when we were waiting did mention that they're still fine-tuning the desserts and getting it right. Apparently the Almond Croissant is worth a try so will be heading back there for that when I can. 

I did actually think that we'd get through a few more plates but three plates ended up being more than enough (plus we had our nice Jamie's Italian meal sitting in our stomaches). My first and foremost suggestion to Zumbo (if you happen to be reading this) is to get more plates on that train - even if it its just a single macaron on a plate because the plate of four that's on the train at the moment is a lot to eat if you are wanting to try a few other desserts (actually Mashi and I did ask the staff if we could doggy bag some macarons but we were politely told hoo). Would be good to also have a hot beverage or dessert wine to accompany and yes, somehow that queue could be better managed but honestly, what's with the eager beavers pushing in (when clearly there's a queue)!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

jamie's italian @ pitt st., sydney

There's been a good couple of reviews for Jamie's Italian across the blogosphere and if you haven't been to Jamie's Italian, suggest you stop reading now and actually make your way over there. Mashi and I headed over there on a Friday night, thinking that dinner service opened at 6pm but arriving at the restaurant, realised that the queue was already forming and the inside of the restaurant was nearly at full capacity. We joined the line and were kindly explained the waiting times - they were 30 minutes for 2 people, an hour for 4 and 1.5 hours or more for groups bigger than 4. Our wait was much shorter than expected; maybe 15 minutes and yay, we were inside!

There's plenty on the menu to tantalise the tastebuds and does take a bit of time to look through. We ordered a single serve of the Meat Antipasto to start whilst we decided on the rest of the menu. How cute are the cans of tomato holding up the antipasto platter!

We were both eager to try as many things on the menu but unfortunately only got around a small selection. A serving of arancini balls which comes with a tangy chilli salsa and a dusting of parmesan cheese was certainly a good choice (only thing is that there's only three of them in that can, you'd think there'd be at least four).

An entree serve of Mushroom Ravioli; packed with flavour and full of mushroomy goodness.

Veal Saltimbocca and a serve  of Posh Chips (chips dusted with truffle and parmesan cheese; a match made in heaven).

Our waiter that night was very pleasant (and cute too!) so made the meal very enjoyable. It did get quite noisy as the meal progressed (music definitely got a bit louder) so finishing the meal, it just made sense to vacate our table and move on. Mind you, there was still a queue standing outside when we finished.

Yes I'll be coming back but probably not too soon; might just wait for the crowds to die down. Our lovely waiter did let us in on the fact that the very Jamie Oliver is due for a visit to the restaurant next February - might save my visit for then!