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!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

banana loaf

As strange as it sounds, one of the highlights of my Europe trip was finding bananas selling for 1 pound a bunch - how very cheap! Actually on our first day there, they were handing out free bananas and um, I may have been a little delirious from the flight, and well I did chase down the man in the banana suit and got a picture with him too! (I'll get around to explaining myself one day but so far I've managed to get a good collection of photos with people dressed up in assorted food related suits).

Fortunately it looks like banana prices are finally dropping back down in Sydney. Noticed how Chatime had a sign up advertising 'Do you remember how banana taste?' (there was something grammatically wrong about the sign which bothered me when I saw it and its somehow stuck - seriously someone should do something about that sign!) But yes, bananas are back down to about $3/kg so mum and I picked up a nice big bunch to eat (and well, usually the case is that they start to brown very quickly so I end up using them for some baking).

Preheat oven to 170 degrees. In a large bowl, combine 270g brown sugar and 2 eggs with a hand mixer. Beat in 200g peeled mashed bananas. Add 280g plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 tsp ground ginger to the mix. Mix thoroughly until incorporated. Pour in 140g melted unsalted butter and beat until all ingredients are well mixed.

Pour the mixture into a prepared loaf tin and smooth over the top with the spatula. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool slightly in the tin before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 8-10 slices.

Best way to eat banana bread (in my opinion), is to toast each slice in the toaster and serve with a generous glob of butter. Be mindful to slice the banana bread so that it actually fits into the toaster and whatever you do, don't stick a knife or fork into the toaster if it refuses to come out. Better way to do it is unplug the toaster, tip the toaster on its side and using your finger to prod it out (careful not to touch the hot metal components of the toaster). Occasionally I have had to completely turn the toaster upside down and a whole barrage of crumbs have come down with it (so yes, it does pay to clean/empty your toaster of crumbs regularly).

Anyway, this recipe is from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook; a collection of some very reliable recipes that consistently come out beautiful from the oven - love it!

Monday, 14 November 2011

rengaya @ miller st., north sydney

October to December is always a busy time of year in my household. We kick off with my brother's birthday, then it's by dad's and before you know it, it's my birthday and then it's Christmas and the new year. Any plans to stay in shape quite frankly go out the window and lots of yummy food and cake are to be had. This year we celebrated my brother's birthday at a Rengaya in North Sydney - a classy find and most certainly a restaurant that I'd recommend.

Our starter of Wagyu Beef Tataki Salad.

Premium Sashimi Selection. I always wish that Sashimi Platters were bigger - they are never quite big enough!

Wagyu Ox Tongue and Assorted Vegetables pictured below, cooked at the table.

Waiting for the food to cook - I have plenty other photos of all the raw meat dishes we ordered (Wagyu being the speciality here) but figured pictures of raw meat didn't look quite appetising to post (don't ask me why I even take the photos in the first place!)

Something a little bit different I found on the menu; Stone Pot Cha-suke - Grilled rice ball, bonito flake, dried seaweed, pickled plum, salmon flake, wasabi and japanese stock in a hot stone pot.

And last but not least is their colourful and wondrous selection of desserts. We ordered two to share amongst the four of us. Pictured are the WA (Japanese Plate) - Green Tea creme brulee, warabimochi with black syrup, shiratama zenzai served with tea. Shiratama Cream Anmitsu - Kanten with shiratama and sweet red beans topped with vanilla and green tea ice cream served with black syrup and seasonal fruits.

An extremely flavoursome meal, great atmosphere (with plenty of space in between tables for your own privacy) and plenty more menu items to draw me back for another feed. We managed to find street parking just right outside the front door but otherwise there's a carpark just on the side which they buzz you in when you call to say you've arrived. Pricewise, it's a little steep but one to keep in mind for that special occasion.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

milk chocolate & craisin oatmeal cookies

Coming back from holidays, I came back to a half metre high pile of mail, magazine subscriptions and cookbooks that mum had kindly collected for me - probably the most exciting was a copy of Adriano Zumbo's recipe book which left me quite giddy with excitement! However, just as exciting was this copy of '100 years of sweet baking memories' featuring a collection of recipes all using one of my ever favourite ingredients...condensed milk.

My favourite condensed milk recipe is probably condensed milk and butter spread over toast - I wouldn't say its healthy but its pleasantly sweet and a treat for any day. Well unfortunately my special recipe didn't quite make it into the book but you'll find how versatile condensed milk can be from the range of recipes offered.

Here's the cover! I decided to make the 'White Choc & Cranberry Cookies' but substituting white chocolate for milk chocolate and the cranberries for craisins.

Preheat oven to 160 degrees fan forced. Line two baking trays with baking paper. In a large bowl, cream together 200g softened butter, 220g brown sugar and 125mL sweetened condensed milk. Add 1 egg, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla essence and beat until light and fluffy. Add 225g plain flour, 180g rolled oats, 165g cranberries and 190g milk chocolate bits. Mix well. Place heaped tablespoons of mixture onto the prepared trays and press down each one with a fork.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from trays and cool on a wire rack.

Give it a couple of minutes before you dig in - this gives time for the cookies to harden and provide that extra little crunch.

I did toss up whether to use milk chocolate chips or dark chocolate chips and ended up asking mum who thought the milk chocolate would work better. I guess white chocolate and cranberry is one of those matches made in heaven and when you're stuck without white chocolate, milk chocolate would make the closest substitute. 

The cookies ended up tasting great - just the right amount of softness and bite to them. The oats had cooked nicely in each cookie making them still taste a bit healthy whilst being a treat. The boy took a few camping and some into work and before you know it, they were all gone!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

danks street depot @ sydney international airport

So chance had it that the first meal of my trip was none other than Sydney's famous Danks Street Depot! It's long been on my list of places to visit and when I saw the sign (shortly after we checked in our bags), I made a beeline for the counter and told the boy that we were eating here...well it wasn't as if we were doing anything else and it could've been forever till I actually got my act together and visited the original Danks Street Depot. 

It's times like these which make me happy!

No busy queues on a Saturday morning; plenty of seating too. I'm one of those travellers who perpetually get to the airport too early so there's always plenty of time for a nice sit-down meal.

From memory, they were offering their burger for $12.50 (from a usual $19) so we snapped up one of those and also got ourselves the Reuben sandwich. Both came with chunky handcut wedges and I loved the tangy ketchup that came with the burger. Since I've seen the Reuben sandwiches which they offer over in the States, this one we ordered didn't have quite as much sliced meat in it but was still rather tasty.

It took about 10-15 minutes for the food to get to our table and about the same amount of time for us to chomp away. Ended up still being early and sitting there watching our plane being fuelled and prepared for our flight.

Definitely a high and mighty start to the trip! Mind you, we were served a meal shortly after boarding the plane so the Danks Street Depot meal (which we ate about 11.30am) really wasn't quite necessary but was pleasant nonetheless. I will definitely make an effort to visit the original Danks Street Depot but hey, it's just as convenient to pop in just before an international flight!

Monday, 7 November 2011

blueberry & vanilla financiers/friands

After unpacking my bags and settling back into my bed for a good night's sleep, the first thing I did after coming back from holidays was to get into the kitchen and bake this tray of blueberry & vanilla financiers/friands. My parents had gone out that particular morning and needless to say, when they got back from the shops, they were gobsmacked to find me up nice and early, bouncing around the kitchen and not jetlagged nor still slouched in bed. I tell you, the trick is to watch as many movies as you can whilst on the plane so you fall asleep through them - that seems to be how I managed to get out of it.

Preheat oven to 190 degrees. Grease 9 holes of a friand tray. In a large bowl, whisk together 4 egg whites until frothy. Add 140g sifted icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla essence, 50g sifted plain flour, 90g almond meal, zest of 1 lemon and fold everything together gently. Spoon into the prepared tray and push several fresh blueberries into the top of each cake. 

Bake for 20 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave in the tray for 5 minutes.

Remove from the tray and let the friands cool on a wire rack. You might need the help of a skewer to help pull the friands from the side of the mould (do so lightly).

I actually didn't get around to trying Financiers (what the Parisians call them)/Friands (what we call them here in Australia) when I was over in Europe; spent most of my time eating macarons and more macarons (OMG they were so good!) However I did end up going to Fortnum & Mason for afternoon tea, which is precisely where this recipe comes from. Will get to posting about my afternoon tea in due course but have to say, their recipes are just as yummy as they are to have there as they are to make at home.

So glad to be back home with a kitchen to bake!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

gingerbread muffins

Since coming back from holidays, the one thing that seems the most crazy is that there's only another 8 weeks till Christmas. All the Christmas displays are up in the shops, mum is asking me to think about Christmas presents for the cousins, and well, I even got lured into buying a pack of 50 Christmas cards the other day at Kmart and that only costed me a dollar! (So a card and an envelope for just 2cents each?!) 

I picked up one of those Christmas baking recipes for free at the supermarket just yesterday and well, I don't think I'll be making a Christmas pudding anytime soon but it did make me think, why is it that they only give you Christmas pudding and Mince Pie recipes each year. Surely everyone has enough of those recipes if you're like me and pick them up from the supermarket every year? So in the spirit of Christmas, I thought I'd offer you this Gingerbread Muffin recipe which I thought tastes every bit like Christmas and something just a little bit different just to mix things up. Recipe is from Food Lovers 'Bread and Muffins'.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Line a 12 hole muffin pan.  In a small bowl, combine 100g unsalted butter, 100g soft brown sugar and 3 tbsp molasses. Microwave on low until melted together.

Add 125mL milk to the butter mixture and stir in 1 large egg. Sift in 150g plain flour, 1 tbsp ground ginger, 2 tbsp ground cinnamon and 1 tsp baking soda. Stir gently until combined.

Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin cases (you should get about 10 standard sized muffins). Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the muffins are risen and firm.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

So here you have it, a taste of Christmas in a muffin! Will definitely get round to doing a bit more Christmas baking this year so hopefully here's to a good start!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

will be back soon, i promise!

Hello there! Just a quick post to let you know that I'm still around. I've had a rather lovely holiday in Europe for 6 weeks, ate a tonne and fortunately haven't come back too round around the waistline but have still eaten enough to warrant some extra exercise time at the gym (which is where my attention's at at the moment). Have been a little quiet on the blogging front since coming back - I think it's always the case that you want to stay on holiday; especially when you've had a long one so blog posts will resume shortly when I get back in the mindset of doing work and merely stringing words together in a coherent manner.

Thanks a bunch to those who left me comments whilst I was away. You guys make me love coming back to this blog - really appreciate it and you are the loveliest people in the world! I have yet to properly catch up on all your respective blogs and will do so promptly.

I will return shortly!

Panda x