Sunday, July 30, 2006

A weekend of fresh homemade food

Ever since I stopped boxing on Saturday mornings, I've got a little ritual with my parents. We generally spend the morning doing a bit of grocery shopping around the local fruit stores, grocery stores and the Flemington Paddy's Market and afterwards, I would take them out to lunch. Nothing fancy, just cheap asian food served in big bowls. However, after my week of nonstop eating out plus the fact that we got some really good ingredients, I thought we should do a bit of home cooking.

Big juicy eggplants and capsicums

Shitake Mushrooms $3.50 a box

Shanghai Bok Choi $4 a BOX (And its just the best centre bits!!)

First thing we did when we got home from the markets was knock up a BIG bowl of fresh steaming hot noodles with a combo veggie and roast duck soup.

Doesn't look too appealing, but its one of the best damn soups you'll ever have. We actually get a constant supply of roasted duck head and necks which we use in our soup broth. The roasted duck gives the soup a sweet yet aromatic taste. I would prefer this to chicken soup any day!!

With all the fresh fruit and veggies we bought, I thought I'd make the most of what we had.

Scrambled eggs with Macadamia and Lemon Myrtle Dukkah....

...served with Rocket & tomato salad with Lemon Myrtle & balsamic vinegarette

Last week we went to Campsie as a part of our Saturday ritual to visit this new store that basically sells large amounts of frozen food. From frozen dumplings, to crab claws to flounders and lobster balls and also.....frozen Ramen. So of course I had to buy a few packs to try. It is basically fresh ramen that has been frozen and includes a liquid stock base. So with what was in my fridge, I tried to make my version of the Shoyu Ramen. Step 1 is to gather all the necessary ingredients (Or whatever is in your fridge).

Frozen fresh Ramen and liquid stock base

Fresh Shitake Mushrooms

Pearly white Inoki Mushrooms

Medium to hard boiled egg

Throw noodles into boiling water, drain after cooking for 2 mins (It actually cooks ALOT faster than dried instant noodles). Rinse noodles and drain well. Add soup stock to boiling water with Shitake mushrooms. Cook until tender. Add Inoki mushrooms when almost done. Pour over Ramen and garnish with egg and shallots.

End product

So what do you think? Almost looks as appealing as the packaging! Tasted pretty damn good as well! I think I'm going to stock up one a few more of these. Its almost as good as Shin Ramyun. ALMOST.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A girls night out gorging

I got wind of a really good Thai place hidden in some deserted corner near Central station called "Spice I am". So I got together with another chilli loving freak of a Cookiez and headed on over after work.

Knowing that there is usually a line, I gave my number to them and headed across the road for a quick drink. (Well...Cookiez needed to catch up after I drank an entire bottle of wine at work...) Less than 3mins after we walked across the road and ordered our drinks, I got a call on my mobile saying our table was ready!! Crap!! SCULL!! We looked like 2 lunatics standing in a deserted pub sculling alcohol like alcoholics we are. We cross the road and immediately get seated. We had a quick scan of the menu and knew immediately what we wanted.

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum) - $7.90

MmmMmm this was good! We requested a medium hot version of this and found the salad slighty sweet, slightly sour, slightly salty and a nice well balanced heat to it (The essence to all good thai food!). The salad was refreshing and the additional roasted peanuts on the side added a really good crunch to the salad. That and the few slices of raw cabbage really helped to refresh the palate and cool down the mouth. (Something I didn't know that I would need!!)

Jungle Curry (Chicken) - $10.90

I've heard so many people rave about the Jungle Curry, I just had to order it. It was hot. Not "OMG PULL MY TONGUE OUT!!" HOT, but just hot. We got warned by the waiter about how hot it is before ordering it, but we were still disappointed. There was something not right about this dish. Maybe because it was slightly bitter because of the types of herbs and spices used, or maybe because its a coconut milk-less curry, or maybe it was I don't like food being hot for the sake of being hot. A dish needs to be spicy for a reason. Its like people lopping spoonfuls of chilli into a dish just to make it hot, not because the dish tastes better hot (e.g. my dad putting chilli sauce on a cabonara pasta). This was the case for this dish. There was no proper underlying taste. I didn't know what I was eating. There was bamboo shoots, but I couldn't really taste it. There was some type of curry leaves, but I couldn't taste it. It was

Nam Khao Tod - $13.90
Crispy Rice Salad with Thai Pork Sausage

When I ordered this dish, I wanted to make sure that we had a good balance of really hot (The jungle curry) and medium hot (Papaya salad), so I asked the waiter if this dish is spicy or not. His reply "Its a little spicy". Perfect! We've got 3 degrees of hotness. The dish arrives and I did the little photo thing whilst poor Cookiez sat there salivating over the dish. The minute the camera was put away, we pick up our forks and shovelled some into our mouths. My response? "MmMmm YUMMMMM!! MMmMmm OMG HOTTTTT!!!!!!!".

For something that was supposedly "Mildly spicy", I felt like my entire mouth was getting burned with sulphuric acid. Tears started welling in my eyes, beads of sweat broke out across my forehead and my nose started running. This was after ONE bite! Oh but it was good! The rice was indeed crispy, there was a nice salty and chilli balance to the dish. Again, the peanuts add another dimension of crunchy texture to the dish. The only problem was that it was so hot! I know water doesn't help, not that it stopped me! I tried the old have some rice/carb to absorb the chilli oil burning the tongue, only it made it worse so I had more water. We were barely 1/3 of the way through our meal when I had drank and entire litre of water by myself. The waiter must've seen that I was in pain and quickly ran over with another bottle of water which we quickly polished off. That and another huge steaming bowl of rice!!

The servings weren't big...and considering 2 of the dishes were salads, I was surprised how much pain I was in when I put the last forkful of food into my mouth. It felt like my stomache was about to split open and everything is going to fall out and spontaneously combust right infront of my eyes. We really didn't eat that much!! So why does it feel like I swallowed a whole cow?? Maybe it was the 1.5L of water I had!!!

Dinner cost us less than $20 per person and I felt like I've eaten 3 buffets. We decided to walk it off as I couldn't handle sitting down again. We did nothing more strenuous than a casual stroll around Chinatown. About 40mins later, we were both feeling much better. The tearing pain in our stomache was gone and out whole overeating debacle was behind us. So we did what anyone else would do in such a situation..... ICE CREAM!!! (We don't learn ok??)

5mins later we're standing at the French Riviera looking at their huge arrays of ice cream. The French Riviera moved from Double Bay sometime last year and I never bothered to track it down since I'm not a huge fan of ice cream. I used to visit the old French Riviera when it was in Double Bay as a kid. I first got introduced to the place when I was in primary school (Probably atleast 15years now!!!). My now brother in law bought me along on a date with my sister. I think he was trying to earn brownie points by interacting with the annoying little baby sister!

We actually visited this place last Saturday, but since I was sick as a anything, there would be no ice cream for me. This time, cough or not cough, deathbed or no deathbed, nothing is going to stop me! However, we got seated next to the dessert counter which made it so much harder to decide what we want!!!

MMMMMM Cheesecake!

In the end, we settled for #14 (I can't even pronounce let alone remember how to spell it). Basically it was a SINGLE serve of mixed ice cream, choc orange cognac sauce, whipped cream and nuts. They usually come with slices of banana as well..... considering I could feel my stomache doubling over at the though of eating something as dense as banana, we decided to leave it out. As for the mixed ice cream, for a single serve, you get to choose your 3 scoops. For us, it was walnut, irish creme and rum and raisin. Don't be mislead by their use of the word "scoops". If you order 1 scoop of ice cream to eat in, you actually get the equivalent of 3 scoops! And our single serve turned out to be this:

Want a close up??

MmMmm Fudgy.....

Oh YUMM!!! Oh god my stomache is going to explode!! But...OH YUMM!! I'm not a huge fan of Rum and Raisin, and usually I would ask for it to be left out if we're ordering their rainbow bowl. But boy....I'm glad we ordered it! This is truely a rum and raisin ice cream as everything mouthful had some plump juicy raisins to munch on. The walnut was really nutty and added a nice texture to the ice cream. The Irish cream was nice, but I'd much prefer to drink a glass of baileys over ice....but then I am an alcoholic so you can ignore that comment. The whole bowl was drenched in their choc orange cognac sauce and omg! It tasted like molten jaffa lava! The whole thing was topped in whipped cream and crunchy toasted nuts. Not wanting to overeat and feel sick again, we scrapped the whipped cream off after eating all the nuts on top. We made a good effort and go through about 1/2 of it. Let me remind you, this is a serving for ONE. And SOMEONE wanted to order the Rainbow bowl for 2-3 people!! hehehe

Again, we walked out of the place clutching our stomaches trying to suck it in...but it was no use. I think I'm done eating out for awhile...actually...I think I'm done eating fullstop. I'm going to need a break from anything more filling than soup and salad...never again! But then I say that everytime.....but this time I'm serious!!

Spice I am
90 Wentworth Ave
Surry Hills

French Riviera
Liverpool St (Near Sussex St)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A night out with the old biscuits - Encasa

As I mentioned before, both my parents are chefs, and naturally they have the mentality that they can cook better food than anyone else. That or it'll always be better value and quality if they cooked at home themselves. When we were young, whenever we ate out, it was either yum cha on the weekends, or a big family dinner at some chinese restaurant with the full lobsters/abalone type meals. I remember when I was in primary school, we took our parents out to some thai/indian restaurant for something different. Even as a kid, I liked the food, except that the servings were small and "expensive" compared to chinese food. We didn't hear the end of that for atleast a week. Everytime we mentioned that meal, my parents had a look of disgust and kept saying they should've just stayed home and cooked noodles, it'll be cheaper and taste better. After that, we stuck with our chinese restaurants. When my sister moved to Malaysia and then Singapore, my parents were forced to try another type of asian cuisine whenever they went overseas.

Ever since I started working and could afford to take my parents out to dinner, I've been trying to subject them to different cuisines. The real turning point would've been 2 years ago when we took them to my favourite BBQ City for Korean. They LOVED the food. They RAVED about the food. I have NEVER seen my parents react that way to ANY restaurant before unless it was chinese food. And even then, they didn't RAVE about it. They would say that it was good food, but because it was food we were familiar with, there was never any surprise. Ever since that one meal at BBQ City, they have become alot more accepting of other types of food. I mean I used to take them to different restaurants, but the decision was solely based on value, even if it didn't taste the best. But now, the focus is to take them to unique restaurants with good food, even if its expensive, so they can try new things. Here's a few places I've taken them to:

- Sushi Suma - Japanese. I love Sushi Suma. Their servings are huge, the prices are cheap, and the food is great. My parents have always thought Japanese food was raw fish, small serves and expensive, this restaurant introduced them to a range of other dishes that are actually COOKED. My mum, a eel hater, loved their Teriyaki Eel rice.

- The Little Snail - French. Ok.....its not really "FRENCH", but the location was good and allowed us to take a bit of a walk through the city and darling harbour. They have a lunch special deal where you get 3 courses for $24 compared to $42 at night. My parents loved the duck pate and the mushroom crepes which was about as french as it got. They refused to try the snails, but atleast they can boast to their old fogies that they went to a French restaurant.

- Buon Gusto - Italian. This is one of my favourite Italian restaurants. The atmosphere is great, and its a quaint little restaurant tucked in the back streets behind Sydney Uni. Their pasta isn't great, but I like the simplicity of their food and the service. Plus its always good when a restaurant offers free alcohol at the end of a meal. My parents were surprised Italian food does not equal spaghetti.

- Belgian Beer Cafe - Belgian. Of course, I had to order their mussels and my parents loved it. They never knew such type of food existed, and all the other entrees and mains I ordered got a good review from them which says alot. This remains as one of their favourite restaurants.

- Lowenbrau Keller - German. I had to bring them here for the beer and pork knuckles. We've been back a few times, each time with overseas friends and relos. Its more of a novelty thing for them then the food itself. Like them, I find German food too meaty and too rich. Its not a restaurant that they would choose to go to, unless its with one of our beer loving friends.

- Thailand - Thai. This restaurant had a nice combination of novelty and good food. I deliberately booked us a table where we had to sit on the floor which probably ads to why they like this place. The food is always good and even impressed my parents! Plus it gives them another thing to boast to their friends about.

Given that I've taken them to a variety places already, what is left? My favourite Spanish restaurant Encasa of course. And with any Spanish restaurant, the more people, the more tapas the better. ESPECIALLY with Encasa as their Tapas is out of this world!!! The food is orgasmic and the prices are more than decent. So with that in mind, I invited my Dad's other old fogie friends and their daughter to join us for dinner. The table for 6 was booked and a Paella for 2 was pre-ordered. (ALWAYS book, even on a weekday!)

I actually have alot in common with their daughter. Both our parents are chefs. And both our parents always have the same complaint about food. Its all about quantity and value, and its always chinese food. But both of us have the same mission. To introduce our parents to different cuisines. So after scanning the menu, we had decided on ordering all of my favourite tried and tested dishes, plus a few other ones I haven't tried before. The tapas came out almost immediately and it was praises all round. A great result considering the old biscuits were already whinging about how danky the place was and why is it located in a hole before they even WALKED into the place. Usually if my parents don't enjoy the food, they won't go for seconds, but this time, they were asking people to pass them certain dishes, fighting for the last piece on the plate and so forth. So what did I order that got my parents and their old biscuit friends happy?? (Excuse the crappy photos taken with my phone!)

Tortilla de Espinacas $11 - Omelette with spinach and pine nuts (4 Eggs)
Unfortunately, this got sliced, diced and devoured before I even had a chance to pull the camera out! I'm not a huge fan of cooked spinach and prefer them raw, but THIS was nice. The omlette was quite light and the spinach gave it a nice delicate flavour with the pinenuts adding a bit of bite. Even my parents were impressed despite my dad's comments about him being one of the best omlette makers. *rolls eyes*

Mejillones a la Marinera $11.50

Black mussels in fresh tomato sauce with basil and chilli.

These mussels were GOOD. The sauce was even better! I actually think these mussels taste better than any of those mussel pots out there, even the Belgian beer cafe! They were plump and juicy, and covered with their spicy salsa sauce. The one thing I hate is alot of places either overcook the mussels or undercook them. These were cooked JUST perfectly. This definately impressed the oldies as they're used to the overcooked, smothered in black bean sauce type mussels that the Chinese always cooks.

Albondigas $10.50 - Beef meatballs in almond sauce.

OK, they really should've written this as Beef meattennisballs in almond sauce. They were HUGEEEEEEE! Holy bejeezus! They truely look like BEEF BALLS. I cut them in half and they were still bigger than the meatballs you get at yum cha. Unlike the chinese meatballs where they add quite a bit of flour to give the meat a smooth consistency, these balls were rough and actually tasted like beef. It was like a juicy ball form. The almond sauce was nothing special, and if I wasn't told that there were almonds in it, I wouldn't have know. It was ok...but I won't be ordering this dish again.

Patatas Bravas $7.50

- Fried potato w/ garlic mayonnaise and spicy tomato salsa

MAuahAauahAU This is what I call high class chips! Its so deliciously simple! Fry some potatoes (Another one of my life's favourite food), drench it in some spicy salsa and then cover in a rich garlicky mayonnaise! Its ingenious!! The potatoes were fried until they were golden and crunchy, but biting into it reveals a soft pillow of fluffy potatoe......oh god this is good! My mum who hates fried food went back for seconds and thirds and fourths!!

Gambas con Alioli $16??

- Grilled prawns with fresh made garlic mayonnaise

The tapas size only came with 4 prawns, so they offered to add in 2 extra prawns so I didn't have to get the main. The prawns aren't actually grilled. They've actually been deep fried (batterless of course) and then covered with salt and pepper almost chinese style. These prawns were SOOOO meaty and fresh! The salt and pepper seasoning was gorgeous! The Alioli was a bit of a let down unfortunately. I couldn't taste any of the garlic in it, and they would've been better off giving us the Garlic Mayonnaise they used on the potatoes. Why they used another type is beyond me. The only real complaint I have is that the prawns were too hot!! Because they had been deep fried, they were HOT. As in after I carefully tried to avoid using my hands, I still had red swollen fingers after trying to peel them! Becareful!!!

ChampiƱones al Ajillo $8 - Sizzling Garlic Mushrooms

I LOVE this dish. And I mean I REALLY REALY LOVE this dish. I love ANYTHING with mushrooms in it. You can almost guarantee if the menu has a dish with mushrooms in it, I'll order it. And I LOVE garlic. The way we swoon over Habibs Garlic Mayonnaise would be a good indication of how much I love my garlic. Combining the two makes one of the ultimate orgasmic dishes EVER. HOWEVER......I was hesitant on ordering this dish as my parents (Specifically my mum) is a health nut. We don't eat oil at home. Our form of oil comes from fish, and when we dry pan fry salmon, the salmon gives off a fish oil which we save to use in our stir fries. So imagine my surprise when my mum asked for a spoon so she could spoon some of the garlic infused oil onto her plate to dip her bread into! *Shock**HoRRoR* This became a problem when my mum and dad started fighting over the mushrooms! I wish I had ordered the main size instead of the tapas size!

Paella Valenciana $48 - Saffron rice with chicken and seafood for 2 people

I am glad I only ordered a Paella for 2, because it fed the 6 of use easily! But then we did pig out on the tapas! And their sauces were oh-so-good we went a bit nuts with the bread as well. I previously explained to the oldies that we only ordered a Paella for 2, and when it came out, their eyes all popped out and went "THATS FOR 2?????". Ahuh! I really don't see how this Paella could be for 2...its HUGE! If you came and ordered this between you and another friend, don't even think about ordering anything else. And I'd lay off all liquids to make room for the Paella! The rice was moist and fluffy but still had a bit of the bite to it. This is miles better when compared to the watery mess at Captain Torres. Just a squeeze of lemon to lighten the dish makes it so much easier on our already bulging stomaches. The mussels were a tad dry and overcooked, but then thats what happens when you bake them instead of steaming them. The pipis and calamari were really nice and tender and the slices of marinated roasted capsicums added a nice bit of tang.

MMMmmmMmm All in all, it was a fabulous meal. Not a single complaint from ANY of the old biscuits which is really rare! All that food for less than $20 a person! We're already planning another trip here, this time with my cousin and family. Like I said, the more the merrier and the more tapas the more more merrier!

423 Pitt St, Sydney

Tel/Fax 9211 4257

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Jeremy's 1st Birthday @ Crystal Seafood Restaurant

*Disclaimer....asking me to translate chinese dishes into english is like asking a blind man to describe the Mona Lisa. Deal with it.

So it was my little cousin's 1st Birthday and it was time to celebrate.

Jeremy - future Prime Minister! Look how proper he is sitting!

For convenience sake, we (3 cars totalling 12 people) headed off to Crystal Seafood Restaurant located conveniently opposite Strathfield train station next to the Plaza. Being a Tuesday night, booking wasn't necessary and we got promptly seated. Within 5mins, we received a plate of complimentary prawn chips.

Every kid loves prawn chips.....every big kid loves prawn chips! Every big kid like me likes chips fullstop! How could you resist the light crispy prawn chips.....especially when they looked like this???

MmmMmm oily goodness

Of course....being a responsible adult.....I limited myself to 2 whilst my nephews demolished the rest. The usual complimentary soup was served.....and I loved it! It wasn't heavy laden with MSG like all other chinese restaurants, and I really love this soup normally anyway. I don't know what the veggie is called in English, but the literal translation is Foreigner/English Vegetable "Sai Yeung Choi".

I would've had another bowl if the good stuff didn't come out so soon......

Crispy skin Dove/quail

MmmMmm......this was GOOD. The skin was crispy, and the meat was tender and juicy. I'll ignore the layer of fat that makes it so moist since I am on my healthy eating attempt #3129...

Pipis in XO sauce

The one thing that annoys me about alot of asian restaurants is that when they cook Pipis, they boil them until they are almost cooked and the shells are opened, then they quickly coat them in some sauce and thats the extent of their cooking. Admittedly its hard to try and stir fry the pipis alone without firstly boiling them, but some places do such a dodgy job of hiding that fact. The last time we came, they had precooked the pipis, and then just drizzled some sauce ontop resulting in a dish of cold pipis that is barely coated in sauce. This time it was much better.....maybe because we knew the guy.....but the pipis were nice and hot (Temperature wise) and all the pipis were nicely coated in the XO sauce. I would prefer it a tad more spicy...but then I would probably prefer everything a tad more spicy.....

Snow crab in a Ginger and Shallot sauce

OK......sauce may not be a good word to use......because there was no sauce. The reason we order this dish is so we can have the sauce with boiled rice afterwards. Disappointed I was......the taste was nice.....just not enough sauce.....I love my sauce. And this had no sauce. We would rarely order crabs when we go out to a restaurant, simply because my mum can cook better crab than any restaurant out there for 1/3 of the price. But since its hard to buy snow crab anywhere, we decided to order it, especially since theres this chinese thing about seafood and birthdays etc. For those who haven't had snow crab before, I recommend getting this deep fried and then served Salt and Pepper style. The Snow Crab on first glance looks like some anorexic crab that has been sitting in the tank for too long. We were hesistant to order it the first time we saw it, but fell in love with it when we tried it. The shell is incredibly thin. Not as thin and edible as a soft shelled crab. But deep fried properly, you can eat almost 75% of the shells. The meat is soft and sweet and is actually quite meaty despite its looks.

Mandatory Salt and Pepper Squid

This is something the kids love and is a must have. I'm not a huge fan of 95% of the salt and pepper squids served in the restaurants as MY MUM MAKES THE BEST SALT AND PEPPER SQUID IN THE WORLD!! (For those of you who don't know, both my parents are chefs, and so were my grand parents. We ran a restaurant for close to 25years before we sold it for my parents retirement). This, like any other squid has a soft floury texture (whilst the ones my mum make is light and crispy like a good beer battered fish...only better). The squid was tender and not overly salted.

Honey Chicken

We probably would never have ordered this dish 4 years ago. But ever since selling the restaurant, we don't make this anymore. mum doesn't...except for very special occassions, and even then she doesn't make it because its fattening. However, the kids love it, so we order it. Again, not as good as my mum's, but the chicken was nice and tender. The batter was a bit soft for my liking, and like alot of other restaurants, they just drizzled some honey onto it making it quite sweet. I still prefer this over those ones where they serve more batter than chicken.

"Sing Barn" 2 dishes - Stir fried with Snow peas

Steamed with Ginger and Shallots

I don't know the english name for "Sing Barn" as I never have to go to the fish markets. I just eat it. The fillets stir fried with snow peas were a bit bland for my liking. But then thats why they give you oyster sauce for dipping. However, I hate dipping it in oyster sauce so I just ate it as is. The steamed fillets were much much MUCH nicer. Tender and sweet.....and plenty of sauce for me to eat with my rice.

MmmMmmm FOOD!

Golden King Prawns cooked in Egg Yolk

This was my absolute favourite dish of the night. The king prawns were deep fried in a light batter, and then tossed in a "sauce" made from salted egg yolk. But because it was a salted egg yolk, when cooked, the yolk kinda dries up and gives it a nice aromatic taste. Really hard to describe......but omg it was goooooooood!!!

"Ging Do" Ribs/Sweet and Sour Ribs

I don't see much difference between the 2 dishes, except the peking ribs aren't as sour? I don't know. Its all relative. The sauce was nice and rich, sweet and sour enveloping the crunchy battered pork chops pieces that was moist and tender. MMmmMmm another favourite of the kids.

Sea Cucumber stir fried with oyster mushrooms and sugar peas

The feast!!

My nephews didn't realise that there was going to be a cake so they stuffed themselves during the mains. Oops!!

Cake from Michel's Patisserie

Ewww thick fatty icing!

Complimentary fruit - Is watermelon supposed to be that colour?

Taro Coconut Sago Dessert

OooOoo this was nice. I hate that fake over-sugared artificial coloured red bean paste they serve at alot of restaurants. THIS was good....but I like my taro so soft it practically melts into the dessert. My cousin likes it with a little bit of bite. Each to their own. But I wouldn't turn down a second serving of this if I could fit it in!

Jelly and Cookies

Ok....I know I said cookie.....but I really have no idea what it is. I took a bite from both ends...and I still have no idea what it is. I think its a cookie of some type.....I just don't know what. I thought the dark side would be red bean flavoured......its not. I though the other side will be coconutty.....or eggy.....or even like the top of a pineapple bun.....its not. I really have NO IDEA what it was supposed to taste like......except a cookie of some sort.

Despite the weaknesses of some dishes, we walked away with our belts a few notches looser feeling content and ready for bed.

Crystal Seafood Restaurant