Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Iron Chef Chinese Seafood Restaurant, Cabramatta

There are certain places in the world that grab hold of you and don't let go. For me, one of those places is Hong Kong. While I can live without its hazy, grey skies and sardine-like living, I miss the lurid greens of the vegetation, the adventure of trying to communicate in my school-girl Mandarin, and the smorgasbord of food. I even miss some of the not-particularly-nice smells! My last visit was two years ago, and I'm hungering for a return trip. Thankfully, until that time comes, I have moments in Sydney that bring back all my memories and give me a taste of my life back in Hong Kong.

Some of these glimpses come at the oddest moments. While meandering through a seaside Sydney suburb recently, boy and I found ourselves whisked to Hong Kong thanks to a smell wafting over the fence of a property nearby. We couldn't quite put our finger on what the smell was, but likened it to a stagnant alleyway creek near our apartment complex in Hong Kong, before settling on stinky tofu as the smell most like what we were experiencing. As we walked, we did notice, but didn't pay much attention to a nearby local, and it wasn't until our return meander that we realised the local, whose house we likened to one of the stinkiest smells we know, and who probably heard our entire conversation, was none other than Matt Moran!

Slightly more expected is to be transported back to HK by a trip to Cabramatta. The destination of my annual Australia Day pilgrimage this year was Iron Chef.

My experience with Iron Chef began when I booked a table through Dimmi. Never in my life have I booked for yum cha, and I was interested to see how bookings are handled. The cynic in me expected that a booking meant nothing, or at the very best, being able to jump some of the queue, but never did I expect to mention the booking, walk straight in, and have them quickly set up a table for us. I'm not sure how bookings are handled in other yum cha venues, or even what would have happened if we booked for a later, busier, timeslot (we arrived at 11am), but our experience had me won over before we'd even seen a morsel of food.

The fabulous beginning flowed into a happy feast once our favourite dishes started trickling to the table. Strangely, our 'old favourites' were not the most plentiful options circulating the floor, so there was a bit of a wait between dishes, but there were plenty of choices outside the norm that were worth the glimpse that Sydney yum cha venues rarely offer. Congee was a regular visitor, as were peking duck pancakes, and black sesame buns.

For me, yum cha is all about the char siu bao (steamed pork buns - above), the prawn har gow (the transparent prawn dumplings - right), and the cheung fun (rice noodle rolls - below). Of these three, the highlight for me was the char siu bao. The BBQ pork mixture was fabulous! Sweet, porky, and plentiful, I loved every mouthful, and was so glad we had ordered both the steamed bun, and the flakey pastry version (top), to revel in the BBQ pork goodness.

The har gow were enjoyable and well-crafted, but lacked the super-juicy prawns that can be found at Kam Fook, and similar can be said of the prawns in the cheung fun.

The rice noodles themselves were some of the thinnest I've come across, and I really appreciated the texture of having many thin layers sliding across my tongue. Sadly, the cheung fun, as with some other dishes, didn't come to the table as hot as I would like, which was a shame as their quality was good.

Probably my favourite dish of the meal were these scallop and prawn fried dumplings. Don't ask me what they're called, as I don't think I've ever had them before, but they were divine crispy morsels of juicy seafood. I'd love someone to let me know their name!

Our last dish involved cracking out my limited Chinese, which is always a little dangerous. After several attempts, the waitress finally understood that I was after some lau sa bao, or salted egg custard buns, however, when these yellow buns arrived at the table, I was somewhat confused! I expected to find a gorgeous yellow colour in the filling, not in the bread-y bun! However, on opening our surprise parcels, we did find the gooey salty custard filling that we were hoping for. Perhaps without the touch of sweetness that we know and love from our experiences in Hong Kong, these still hit the spot.

Iron Chef is a winner in my book. Any yum cha experience that doesn't start with a 30 minute wait is ahead of the game, and the quality of the food is high. With 16 dishes and a couple of soft drinks shared between 6 greedy people, the cost came out at about $20 a head.

Iron Chef Chinese Seafood Restaurant
Iron Chef Chinese Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon84 Broomfield Street

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ridiculously Easy Berry Tart Recipe

For a lot of last year I took a break from teaching and instead was working as a cook at a conference centre/campsite. The groups we cooked for ranged from a walk-in-the-park 30, to the slightly-more-crazed 300. As the year progressed I was forced to became a little less recipe-dependent, and instead had to start relying on my tastebuds to tell me if a dish was ready to be served. One day in the kitchen my boss handed me the Burke Street Bakery cookbook, pointed out a recipe, listed what ingredients we did and didn't have available (all of which were in the recipe!), and then left me to my own devices to create something edible.

Luckily for me, the combination of mascarpone, cream, and icing sugar is an absolute winner, which, when paired with some fresh fruit makes a knockout dessert. It gained rave reviews from the 'campers', and that sort-of recipe came to mind recently when I was desperate for a 'minimum effort, maximum impact' dessert.

Ridiculously Easy Berry Tart

Tart base and cream filling can be made and assembled up to a day ahead. Refrigerate and then throw on the fruit at the last minute.

(Serves 8-10)

125g butter, cubed and chilled
250g flour
cold water, chilled
250g mascarpone
200mL thickened cream
1/3 cup icing sugar, sifted
250g strawberries (1 punnet)
125g blueberries (1 punnet)

Preheat oven at 190°C.

Combine butter and flour in a bowl and mix using a hand pastry blender or food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add chilled water, 1tbsp at a time until the pastry comes together. Knead until smooth, and place in cling wrap in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out pastry between two sheets of baking paper until it will fit into a 25cm tart/flan tin. [I roll mine out so that the edges stick up and over the side of the tin by at least 5mm. This is my cheat's way of counteracting the pastry shrinking.]

Blind bake for 15 minutes, before removing the weights and cooking for another 10 minutes, or until cooked with a touch of golden. [Blind baking involves placing a sheet of baking paper over the layer of pastry and then weighing the pastry down with baking beads, or rice. These are then removed for the remainder of the cooking.]

Cool in tin for 15 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

Whip cream until soft peaks form. Beat in mascarpone and icing sugar until combined.

Spread mascarpone cream over the tart base and refrigerate until needed.

Cut strawberries into pieces, and scatter over tart with the blueberries.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In My Kitchen, January '14

Hurrah for another month of peeking in other people's kitchens! After being certain that I had nothing of interest in my kitchen this month, I've found a couple of items that are worth sharing.

In my kitchen, fresh from Christmas present fun, is this iPad stand. 

Despite the fact that the vast majority of recipes I now use are online, my recipe holder is usually full to brimming with cookbooks, so this stand is super-handy. Not only that, but it comes with a stylus, so that no greasy fingers need to get near the screen. Happy days!

Also in my kitchen, is my strawberry plant.

As much as I desire not to be, I'm a plant killer. Sadly, they don't seem to register on my radar until they're beyond resuscitating, and so in an attempt to keep my strawberry plant alive, it sits next to the kitchen sink. I'm guessing the brown leaves at the base are trying to tell me something - bigger pot needed? - I welcome any advice!

Somewhat less neglected, in my kitchen, are my bottles of apple juice.

One of the perks of our move to the mountains was that Logan Brae Orchard is now just a hop, skip, and a jump away, and serves all our apple needs. We're now addicted to the cloudy apple juice, and can't wait for the early season apples to be picked in a few weeks. I love that the owner's eyes light up when I ask what type of apples go into each batch of juice, before he waxes lyrical about his produce. The handwriting in the top left of each label is mine, reminding myself what I learnt. The two bottles at the front are juice from Pink Lady apples, and the third is a mix of Granny Smiths and Jonathans.

Coming from further afield, into my kitchen, is this super-sized bottle of tahini.

I've tried other brands, but this one, all the way from Lebanon, is one I now can't do without. I find the taste to be far superior than others I've tried, and my hummus and baba ghannouj wouldn't taste the same without it. If you're lucky, you might find it in the international food section of your local supermarket, otherwise its worth keeping an eye out in specialty stores.

Last up this month, in my kitchen, is this winner of a herbal tea.

Neither boy or myself are tea drinkers however, I've found that having no tea (or milk!) in the house is unacceptable when trying to be a decent hostess, so this is my tea of choice for herbal drinking guests. Every single person who tries this tea loves it - so much so that I've started buying extras so that I can give them away!

Thanks go to Celia for her hard work keeping up with all the kitchens each month, and it's definitely worth popping over to her site to have a look at what's happening in each.

Want to keep in touch? I'd love to hear from you on twitter or facebook!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Via Napoli Pizzeria, Lane Cove

The first time I visited Via Napoli, I wasn't particularly impressed. Heading out on a Friday night for a friend's birthday, a booking had been made, including a request for one of their quieter tables. Being the first to arrive, I didn't mind that the table wasn't ready as I was a couple of minutes early. Once the birthday girl had arrived, and our wait ticked on towards the 20 minute mark, I wasn't as nonchalant.

Once a table became available, we squeezed our way into the minuscule space in the midst of the lively action - the tables that had been placed together for us wobbling on the uneven pavement. From the moment we were seated, I felt rushed. The waitstaff, a little stressed by the crowds, seemed impatient as we made our way through the menu, asked for translations on dishes we didn't know, and tried to catch up on each other's news while making our choices. Once we ordered, the food started coming incredibly quickly, and the small tables became laden and difficult to navigate.

The food, on that first visit, was good - a high quality pizza base, on par with others that I've found in Haberfield, and the six of us enjoyed a couple of entrees and pizza crusts, along with a metre long pizza - a good amount of food for those saving room for cake that, thankfully, was going to be served in the quiet and calm of a friend's house after being raced through our dining experience.

My second visit was a different story. Stranded in Sydney by accident-induced traffic on the M4, we needed a ridiculously early dinner destination before starting the 90 minute drive home. We arrived at Via Napoli close to 5:30pm on a Tuesday evening without a booking and were seated in a quieter area of the restaurant, a little further down the street to the main area of tables. Remembering that my favourite dish from my previous visit was the pizza crust (schiacciate $12), this garlic version was a must-order.

While the crust on my first visit had been very good, this one was the best I've had in Sydney. Chewy-doughy gorgeousness of crust, with a not-too-crispy base, this pizza is worth the accolades it receives.

The pasta with lamb ragu that I ordered did not live up to the heights of the pizza. The pasta was as I like it - al dente without being boldly so, but the scant amount of ragu left me a little disappointed. While it was still an enjoyable dish, I did wish that I had ordered a pizza, rather than branching out.

Having said that, the involtini di melanzane $15 on my first visit was worth branching out for. Its prosciutto, ricotta, pine nuts and raisins, all rolled in grilled eggplant, was moreish and melted in the mouth.

However, it's for sights like this that I will return:

Boy's diavola pizza $20, had me salivating, and it was only his sneaky ordering of a pizza with super-hot salami that kept me at bay. Despite my heat-fear, I did manage at least a couple of pieces, and was in pizza delight.

For research purposes - not wanting to disappoint you fabulous people, we somehow found room for tiramisu $8. While I have no idea what the proportions in an authentic tiramisu are, my favourite tiramisus are light on the coffee, heavy on the mascarpone cream, and include alcohol. This tiramisu fit the bill. The small number of lady finger biscuits were beaten into submission by the quantity of the surrounding mascarpone cream, and for me, this tiramisu definitely lived up to its name - serving as a 'pick me up' before our drive home.

For those, like me, who wish to make a visit to Via Napoli, I'd suggest eating at an unusual hour. In my experience, the food was of a higher quality when the kitchen wasn't under the full strain of their busiest times, and the experience as a whole is more enjoyable. Both times I visited, the vibe was lively, with the Italian waitstaff being their outgoing selves. Also keep in mind that the proximity of the tables to each other (and the enormity of a metre-long pizza) doesn't make this a date-destination.

Want to keep in touch? I'd love to hear from you on twitter or facebook!

Via Napoli Pizzeria
Via Napoli Pizzeria on Urbanspoonvianapolipizzeria.com.au
Cnr Longeville Road and Austin Street
Lane Cove

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Chocolate Candy Cane Cups Recipe

Is anyone else exhausted? We're still 9 days out from Christmas, and I need a holiday. A staycation oasis awaits me if I can make it to December 26th, but in order to get there, I must pass through multiple pre-Christmas hoops. Also disturbing is the fact that I have bought a grand total of one Christmas present. One. I'm quite good at buying spontaneous presents for people throughout the year, but as soon as a present is expected I have buyers-block. I'm tempted to admit defeat and outsource my present purchases this year, or refuse to give them at all, but I know I'll buckle and become that crazed Christmas Eve shopper who no one wants to mess with.

It's times like these you need to take short-cuts. This recipe, that loosely falls under this month's truffle themed Sweet Adventures Blog Hop, is the perfect example of a recipe to aid sanity in the Christmas season. Rather than tempering chocolate, I bought pre-made chocolate cups that are available at Woolies at this time of year (don't judge me!), and the chocolate mousse filling is super-quick and easy.

Chocolate Candy Cane Mousse Cups

(makes 36)

300ml thickened cream
125g dark chocolate
60g cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 egg yolk
100g candy canes
36 pre-made Chocolate Cups

Whip cream until stiff, and then return to the fridge.

Pound 80g of the unwrapped candy canes with a mortar and pestle until they have shattered into small chunks. Set aside.

Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stirring frequently, cook until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat to cool slightly.

Beat the cream cheese, sugar, and egg yolk in an electric mixer until smooth.

Quickly stir the melted chocolate into the cream cheese mixture and beat until well combined.

Fold the whipped cream in by hand, and then fold in the shattered candy canes.

Place candy cane mousse in a piping bag with a large 1cm nozzle. Pipe mousse into chocolate cups. 

Pound the remaining 20g of unwrapped candy canes with a mortar and pestle until shattered into dainty pieces. Just before serving, scatter over the top of mousse cups.

Want to keep in touch? I'd love to hear from you on twitter or facebook!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In My Kitchen, December 2013

While attending Eat.Drink.Blog a month ago, I tossed aside my shy-self and met some fabulous people. The gorgeous Tania, from My Kitchen Stories insisted that I join the fun of writing an In My Kitchen post each month, and being the obedient lass that I am, here is my first one! For those, like me, who are new to In My Kitchen, it is a way for me to give you a snapshot of my kitchen-life each month, with all the participants listed on Celia's blog so you can jump and see what everyone else is up to as well.

So, for the first time ever, in my kitchen this month is my gingerbread house.

This is the first time I've ever assembled a gingerbread house at Christmas, even though I've had plenty of opportunities to attend gingerbread house evenings at churches in the past. Apparently you can tell a lot about a person from how they decorate their house, but that would mean that I'm a control freak who likes everything to be ordered, symmetrical, and minimal. Surely not!

Also in my kitchen this month, and every month, is this contraption.

Apparently all this makes great coffee. Not being a coffee drinker, I can't vouch for the quality myself, but boy does have a number of new best friends now as a result of his coffee-prowess.

The contraption includes a manual grinder (top), a bike pump (left), and a portaspresso thingy. The seven minute process involves boy grinding his beans, pressurising the canister using the bike pump, placing boiling water in the body, tamping the ground beans into the basket, attaching all the pieces together and releasing the air in a controlled manner so that you get this pretty stream of espresso (right) falling into your cup.

Being completely manual, boy will be able to take it on holidays overseas (coffee-tragic), and in the meantime it sits on our benchtop, taking up a lot of space!

Also on the bench in my kitchen (thankfully, we have ridiculous amounts of bench-space), are a bunch of groceries that I haven't put away yet.

Actually finding its way into the pantry in my kitchen is my spelt flour, for baking our bread. I source this 5kg bag from the Blue Mountains Food Coop, which is located in Katoomba.

And lastly, the newest items in my kitchen are these cookbooks! A good chunk of my birthday vouchers this year went on books, and these arrived a few days ago! I've been poring over them ever since, and am looking forward to some fun cooking days in the near future.

To check out some other kitchens this month, drop by Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

Want to keep in touch? I'd love to hear from you on twitter or facebook!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Xanthi Bar and Restaurant, Sydney Westfield

My excitable family made my last visit to Xanthi memorable, yet embarrassing, so it ended up being over a year until I returned - hoping not to be recognised as a member of that crazy clan. Thankfully, it was my gorgeous (and well-behaved in public) friend, the Fabulous Miss M, who I managed to talk into coming with me during one of our lunch catch-ups.

Miss M and I had so much to chat about that we hardly noticed the minutes tick by as we lingered by the front desk, waiting for the wait staff to greet and seat us. Ironically, we were comparing each of our last visits to hatted restaurants, where both of us had turned up under-dressed; only to look down at our attire and realise that nothing had changed. While anything more than jeans where I live is ridiculously over-dressed, I really must start choosing my attire more carefully when I come down to Sydney.

Once inside, we really needed more time than Miss M's lunchtime allowed to carefully construct our menu choices. Tempted by so much, we ended up going with a selection of dips with pita bread ($10), a lunch wrap ($17 with fries or salad) each, and belly-room or not, we would be having some dessert!

The food was even better than I remembered. The fresh, fluffy pita bread was gobble-able, and once smeared with some tarama, I was in love. The tzatziki, too was brilliant, with such a smooth, luscious texture that reminded me of the texture of labne, rather than runnier tzatzikis I've had in the past. The split pea rounded out the three, and while dill and I aren't the best of friends, it's inclusion in the split pea dip didn't stop me from enjoying it.

While I wouldn't normally order something similar to my dining companion, Miss M won me over when she suggested one of us ordering the pork belly lunch wrap, and the other the lamb wrap, so that we could have half of each. That kind of logic is never to be trifled with, and so two wraps, both with chips, made their way towards our table. 

I'm sure the salad that we could have chosen with the wraps, would have been fabulous, but those fries were happiness itself. They consisted of super fluffy innards and an extra crispy exterior, which were then seasoned perfectly with a dash of (what I believe was) paprika to round them off. 

Of the wraps, we both preferred the pork belly with its melty meat and greekslaw (shredded cabbage, carrot, apple, mayo), encased in warm pita! The lamb, in comparison, wasn't to our taste. After the pork, the lamb had a little too much boldness thanks to a strong hit of citrus, and I later realised that we may have been better off having one or the other, rather than sharing half of each!

Miss M, determined to have room for dessert, was considering leaving a lot of her wrap to the restaurant-leftovers-bin-in-the-sky, but our waitress anticipated her need, and offered to have it packaged for her to take home.

If the fries were happiness, these Greek Doughnuts (Loukoumi Loukomathes $14) were were balls of joy. The sugary spheres even included a hidden turkish delight and could be drooled with a coffee-chocolate sauce.

There's a certain contentment that comes from eating fabulous food, and this meal supplied it in spades. After treating ourselves to such a feast, it was only right that we accepted the extra $2 on our bill to help those less fortunate, through StreetSmart's DineSmart campaign which raises money for the homeless in the weeks leading up to Christmas. If you'd like to dine smarter and do your bit over the next few weeks, dine at Xanthi, or any of the other restaurants supporting this cause.

Xanthi Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon Xanthi Bar and Restaurant
Level 6 Dining Precinct
Westfield Sydney
Pitt Street Mall

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Hunt for a healthier lifestyle: The new normal

A year ago I embarked on a mission to create healthier eating habits, and (as I am the chief cook and shopper in our house) boy came along for the ride. I posted each month, for a couple of months, keeping you up to date with our progress, and then haven't posted again since.

The reason for my radio silence on the subject is that we reached, what I now call, our 'new normal'. We are by no means fanatical about our new lifestyle, and will happily break our usual 'rules' when we go out or on special occasions. However, we do have a new baseline for the foods we consume in our house on a daily basis.

The New Normal:

  • Most of my grocery cart/basket is now full of fresh food. If it is packaged, I generally aim for no sugar and no numbers on the ingredients list, usually with five ingredients or less. However, I haven't tried hard enough to find a suitable replacement for my soy milk, so that is one of the items I cheat with consistently.
  • We have reduced the amount of refined sugar we eat enormously. I now make our own cereal, sweetened with honey/maple syrup, so that I know exactly what goes into the mix. I generally try not to buy groceries with sugar in them, and I've switched my milk chocolate habit for 70% or more dark chocolate.
  • I do make sweet things from time to time, but it is a rare treat, and I've found I can reduce the amount of sugar in a lot of recipes by 25-50% (depending on what it is), or sometimes replace sugar with honey/maple syrup.
  • I bake our bread. I got sick of seeing all the unnecessary extras (i.e. sugar) in the ingredients list on the supermarket loaves, and decided to start making it myself. At the same time, I wanted to decrease the amount of 'white' food I was eating, so thought I'd experiment with spelt (which is super expensive if you want to buy it as bread). For someone like me, who has trouble digesting wholemeal/wholegrain products (the joy of not having a large intestine!), spelt is a great replacement as it is easier to digest. [Ironically, the pictured dough is non-spelt!]
  • Again, we'll happily break the 'rules' and buy bakery bread if I've had a big week and don't have the energy to bake.

  • There has been a change in our palate and our tastebuds are now heightened to sugar. If we've had a couple of weeks of eating most of our food at home, and are then presented with a sugary lolly, the taste is too 'fake', and it's not worth eating. This has been a huge eye-opener for me, as I used to be a lolly-monster.
  • We're also more snobby about other food we eat out, too. Fast food and lots of takeaway food is no longer worth getting because we don't enjoy it. I now prefer running home, cutting up potatoes, throwing them in the oven and waiting 40 minutes for wedges, rather than buying hot chips from the local store. I realise that sounds insane!
  • One instance of 'breaking the rules' every now and then doesn't undo any of the good work we've done. Three or more days of constantly breaking the rules does! I'll then find myself sangry (sugar-angry) as I retrain my body not to crave the sweet hit after each meal.
  • My comfort eating has decreased. The foods that once offered solace, I no longer crave, so I'm less likely to eat emotionally anymore. This became clear one day in May, when on the way home from work I wanted to treat myself for a job well done. After considering, and not being interested in, all the usual suspects, the only food I could come up with to reward my tastebuds was a juicy, sweet apple. It was a beautiful, in season apple from the local orchard, but still ridiculous from the point of view of an after-work treat!
  • I no longer have huge swings in my digestive health (Crohn's disease), and I'm generally healthier as a result. 


  • If you are going to give your consumption of sugar/preservatives an overhaul, I suggest starting with breakfast. I found that having the taste of sugar in my mouth first thing in the morning, thanks to a sugary cereal and yogurt, set me up for craving it all day. 
  • The other items that are easy to remove/change are snacks. By making them, rather than buying them, it means that I really have to want it if I have to make it before consuming! Luckily, snacks like hummus (pictured) can be made in about 5 minutes flat.
  • Do what you can, and don't be a slave to rules you give yourself. We're not perfect with our execution, and are not trying to be, and I think that's why we've succeeded with our 'new normal'. 

Want to keep in touch? I'd love to hear from you on twitter or facebook!