Early Christmas Feast

Whenever April organises a dinner, she always whips up some really delicious Western food, and this early Christmas feast was no different, as she served up a sumptuous meal of mussels, stewed beef, and roast pork, accompanied with a side of roasted potatoes in duck fat and balsamic vinegar.  Needless to say, April, being a fan of Jamie Oliver’s recipes, followed his recipes for the mussels and the potatoes, though I’m not too sure about the other two proteins.

And.. here we are!

Here we are! L-R: Sumay, April, David, Heidi, Damien, Me
L-R: Sumay, April, David, Heidi, Damien, Me

As always, the photo shows me not looking at the camera, but I thought I was!  For our entree, we had mussels in a yoghurt-bacony broth, with a generous serve of parsley stirred through at the end.

Mussels
Mussels

The mussels were very fresh and nicely plump, and while some did not open, I didn’t want to let them go to waste and so I pried them open and ate them anyway – they tasted just as good!  Parsley is one of the foods on my do-not-eat list, but I am learning – for this dish, it adds another dimension to the flavours, like some sort of freshness to the richness of the broth.

Boeuf bourguignon
Boeuf bourguignon

Our first main was the bouef bourguignon, but even after eating it, I still don’t really know what it is.  Wikipedia tells me that it is beef burgundy, a well-known traditional French recipe, so I’m going to go with that.  The chuck was braised beautifully, and retained its moisture, while the slight crunch of the onions gave the dish some texture.  It went really well with the roasted potatoes!

Roasted potatoes with duck fat and balsamic vinegar
Roasted potatoes with duck fat and balsamic vinegar

Our other main was the roast pork, and it was surrounded with a moat of gravy and roasted vegetables, consisting of celery, carrots and mushrooms.

Roast pork
Roast pork
Roast pork crackling!
Roast pork crackling!

The roast pork was juicy and succulent, and the crackling was just right.  I could munch on a bowl of cracking all day :P  I actually took home some of the roast pork, and after reheating it in the microwave for about 2 minutes, the crackling still remained just as crunchy as the day before.

Heidi's famous chocolate tart
Heidi’s famous chocolate tart

For dessert, we had Heidi’s famous chocolate tart.  Nowadays when Heidi says she’s bringing “a tart”, there’s no need to ask what tart she’s making.  This is it.  A buttery digestive biscuit base with a chocolate filling and glaze over the top.  Mixed berries go best with the tart, but as they were out of stock, we had frozen strawberries instead – and they were really nice, somewhat popsicle style.

And.. here we are again!

Happy days!
Happy days!

Thanks for the sumptuous meal April!

 

Pork ribs night

This week is certainly Food Gatherings Week, with two dinners at my place and one at April’s.  On Wednesday night, I invited some brethren from church to my place for dinner.  I thank God for bringing all of them into our midst at Bethel BP Church, and for the fellowship that we can share.  As April, Jill and Su Shiang are preparing to leave Melbourne, there was no better (or other) time to invite them to my place for a meal but now.

Back row L-R: George, Thays, Su Shiang, Jill, April, Me.  Front Row L-R: Candy, Ben
Back row L-R: George, Thays, Su Shiang, Jill, April, Me.
Front Row L-R: Candy, Ben

The beef rendang on Monday night turned out pretty good, so I thought that I’d cook it again.  The other dishes were vinegar pork ribs and cabbage with mock abalone and mushrooms.

Beef rendang
Beef rendang

The beef rendang was a hit!  Though some preferred the pork ribs to the rendang, George preferred the vegetables.

Cabbage with mock abalone and mushrooms
Cabbage with mock abalone and mushrooms

I used half a head of cabbage, 1 can of mock abalone, and five dried mushrooms.  The soaking liquid of the mushrooms and the gravy from the mock abalone made up the main flavour of the dish, and I guess that’s what appealed to George!

Vinegar pork ribs
Vinegar pork ribs

Because I didn’t bring enough money to Queen Victoria Market, and didn’t want to queue up for the ATM, I had to resort to buying smaller ribs instead of the normal premium ribs that I would like to use for this dish.  I think April liked this dish the most, but unfortunately I didn’t measure out any ingredients – I cook and adjust the flavour of the dish by tasting it along the way.  But this dish holds a special place in my heart, for it is my mother who taught me how to cook it.  She’d always cook it for me when I’m back in Singapore, so before coming back to Melbourne I asked her to teach me, and since then I’ve cooked it regularly.

Almond-meal tart with chocolate mousse and strawberries
Almond-meal tart with chocolate mousse and strawberries

Su Shiang’s food is generally gluten free, so I decided to make a tart base with almond meal instead.  Ms EL was off from work that day, so she joined me in the preparation for the dinner.  While I was cooking the pork ribs and preparing the vegetables, Ms EL was working away at the pastry for the tart.  Ms EL is a really good baker, so it was our privilege that she baked the pastry for us!

And finally, as it was Candy’s birthday the next day, Jill asked that we celebrate Candy’s birthday as well.  It was a slight surprise, as April popped the candle on just as everyone had finished taking their photos of it, and I lit it up with my blowtorch (a bit over the top, I know, but that was the only fire-producing thing I had apart from the stove)!

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I really thank God for the fellowship that we can have with brethren in Christ, and especially for the mid-week city Bible study, where we delve into the richness of the Word of God to learn precious truths from His Word.  As the hymn goes..

Thy Word is like a garden, Lord,

With flowers bright and fair;

And everyone who seeks may pluck

A lovely cluster there.

Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine,

And jewels rich and rare

Are hidden in its mighty depths

For every searcher there.

Looking forward to more dinners like this in the future, and for the blessedness of Christian fellowship!

Rendang Night

Rendang: A spicy dry meat curry (andrewandhisfood, 2014)

Some weeks ago, Julian mentioned to me that he really likes rendang, so I thought, why not have rendang at my place one evening?  Now that uni is all over, assessments are submitted, results are coming back, and some are graduating, there is no better time to have a dinner gathering!  For the dinner, I had the pleasure of the company of fellow applied linguists Julian, Dai Wei, Lan Anh, and Simin.

L-R: Dai Wei, Lan Anh, Simin, Julian, Me
L-R: Dai Wei, Lan Anh, Simin, Julian, Me

The dishes featured on Rendang Night included beef rendang, homemade teriyaki chicken, and kailan with mushrooms.  For dessert, we’d have dark chocolate mousse tart with strawberries.

Beef rendang
Beef rendang

I used my favourite cut, oyster blade, for the beef rendang.  Oyster blade has this incredible texture to it, and it never dries out after hours of cooking.  And it gets better – oyster blade only requires 1.5 to 2 hours of simmering to tenderise, though I normally cook it for about 3 to 4 hours.  Moreover, oyster blade has a streak of marbling down the middle, and I always slice it diagonally so every single piece of meat in the rendang has a bit of marbling.  Rendang is also best eaten the next day, so I cooked it the day before on purpose to let the flavours intensify overnight.  I have to thank Ms PL for her rendang recipe, without which I would not be able to even cook this dish!

Kailan with mushrooms and fried shallots
Kailan with mushrooms and fried shallots

Kailan is my favourite vegetable of all time.  The stalks are crunchy if cooked properly, and the leaves have a texture similar to kale, also on my top 5 veggies list.  For this dish, I used some dried 日本白花菇, or Japanese white flower mushrooms.  I don’t know why they are called white flower mushrooms, but my mother tells me that the more the mushroom looks like a tortoise’s shell, the better the mushroom is.  I avoid buying the cheapest kinds of dried mushrooms or canned mushrooms, because the yummy mushroomy flavours are often not present.  The dried mushrooms have to be soaked in hot water for at least 30 mins to soften them for slicing.  It would be a great shame for the soaking liquid to be discarded, so I always use it as the base of my sauce for the vegetables, adding to it salt, light soya sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar, to counter the bitterness of the kailan.  The fried shallots add another dimension to the dish with its flavour and texture.

Homemade teriyaki chicken
Homemade teriyaki chicken

I am so thankful that in Australia chicken drumsticks are really cheap, because I love drumsticks.  The only disadvantage of using drumsticks is the deboning part, but after cooking many, many drumsticks, I’ve become quite proficient at drumstick deboning.  My aim, however, is to learn to debone chicken marylands.  Watching the butchers to it in under 15 seconds is simply amazing, and one day I hope I’d get to that standard.  I marinade the drumstick fillets in only salt and pepper, then pan fry them.  The teriyaki sauce is made with cooking sake, mirin, light soya sauce and brown sugar (thanks to Ms PC for her recipe!).  I only flip the chicken fillets once, and when they’re almost done in the pan, then I drizzle the sauce on to further caramelise the chicken, and let the alcohol evaporate.  Adding the seaweed was Ms EL’s idea, and the contrast in colours really makes the dish so much more appetising.

Dark chocolate mousse tart with strawberries
Dark chocolate mousse tart with strawberries

This has to be the tart that I make most often.  The only other type of tart that I’ve made is a custard tart.  I use Nestle Plaistowe 70% cocoa for the mousse, giving it a rich chocolatey flavour that can be countered only by the fresh strawberries.  As for the strawberry arrangement, my limited creativity only allows me to arrange it in such a manner, although I wish I had made the circle in the middle a little rounder.  The crust is also homemade, as I have found that frozen shortcrust pastry is absolutely atrocious, like eating dehydrated compressed cardboard.  The recipe for the tart can be found here.

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It was really nice to have friends over for dinner, and as responsible applied linguists, conversation topics of the night revolved around bilingualism, language testing, and transcultural communication.  As some of us will be graduating in a couple of weeks, opportunities to have such gatherings are coming to an end, so I hope to have another one soon!

 

Night Noodle Markets – Melbourne

IMG_1960Hearing about the Night Noodle Markets in Melbourne this year, I was really excited.  Apparently they were held last year too, but for some reason I was completely unaware of it.  I was also really glad that it was set up at Birrarung Marr, just a five-minute walk from Federation Square.

Jio-ing Ms EL to join me on this noodle adventure, we visited the markets on one of the last few days, and thought that perhaps there wouldn’t be many people, but how wrong we were!

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Here is the list of stalls that were there.  Am I the only one who is uncomfortable with the names allocated to the different areas of the park?  I mean, there isn’t an ounce of Asianness in those names.  Do you see sections of Queen Victoria Market labelled as Wallaby Corner or Kangaroo Lane?

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Before going, I looked up the map of the place to check out the food that was available, and I must say, that I was somewhat encouraged by the way the stalls were classified – Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese etc., instead of the usual “Asian-style” (which means what exactly? Asian food is so diverse!), which even many good restaurants have on their menu.

IMG_1964The first dish that we had was the Chilli Soft Shell Crab from Pasar Malam.  Chilli Crab is one of Singapore’s most popular dishes, so I had to give it a go.

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Unfortunately, there wasn’t a hint of authentic chilli crab flavour in this dish.  The sauce seemed to be made mostly out of sweet chilli sauce, and the soft shell crab was nothing to shout about.

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Thankfully, the chendol I had after the disappointing crab was rather good.  For $5 it wasn’t a bargain, but I don’t think it is too expensive either.

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These “donuts” were perhaps the best tasting dish of the day, after the chendol.  Chilli caramel pork encased in fluffy bao goodness with a plum-ish glaze.  They were also the most reasonably priced, at $2.50 per donut.

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Then we had the Beef roti roll (on the right), and the veg pan roll from Lankan Tucker.  However, both rolls failed to impress, and the flavours weren’t anything special.

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Here is the letdown of the day.  Lao taco #1.  I’ve never tried Lao food before, and so was really keen on trying something from this stall.  Ms. EL told me that it wouldn’t be great but I insisted on having something, saying that I’d regret it if I didn’t.  I now regret that I bought the taco.

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If the cooks had really added some spice into the beef it certainly didn’t come through, and I wish some of the coriander was replaced with the chilli as the menu states.  To call that motley salad “lao slaw” certainly deserves this year’s Overstatement Award.  It was nothing more than raw cabbage, tomato and red onion.  That this dish is called Lao taco is the biggest insult to Lao cuisine.  I won’t even get started with the corn roti.Overall, most of the food I tried at the Night Noodle Markets was majorly disappointing, especially the chilli crab, which was an absolute embarrassment to real chilli crab.

If you’re into overpriced and inauthentic Asian food, head to the Night Noodle Markets before they close on the 30th of November.  If not, just continue on with your plans for the weekend as if the markets didn’t exist, and enjoy better Asian food elsewhere.

Porter Republic

All the cafés I’ve visited so far are in metropolitan Melbourne, so when I needed to visit a campsite in Phillip Island, I immediately searched Google and Urbanspoon for cafés around the area.  I stumbled upon Porter Republic when reading the reviews of another café in the area, which happens to be closed on Wednesday, so Porter Republic it was.

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The sliding doors of the café were certainly appreciated on the day of my visit, but perhaps some sort of spring action slide should be installed, so that they close automatically – I found that some customers did not pull the doors shut after entering/exiting, allowing the cold wind come in.  Located just by the bay area, the sea breeze can be rather chilly.

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Once we entered the café, a friendly staff member greeted us (later we found out it was her first day!), and showed us to a table.  Table service was not available at the time of our visit, which seemed to be inevitable given that they were understaffed.

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I read in one review that one menu item called The Royale was really good, but unfortunately they had a new menu in place which didn’t feature that dish anymore.  Instead, the closest to it was PR Benny/Florentine, but I don’t like hollandaise, so I gave that a miss.

I ordered a long macchiato, and Ann ordered chai.  I found it interesting that the lady who seemed like the owner (or at least the most senior staff member) was not familiar with the chai on the menu and had to check with the barista prior to confirming my order.

IMG_1803The long mac was excellent, and could not be faulted apart from the fact that I’d prefer if it was served in a cup.

 

 

 

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The chai was exceptional, and Ann was so impressed with it that she was grinning from ear to ear.

Ann originally intended to get one of the pulled pork menu items, but after seeing another customer order the Breaky Trifle, she changed her mind.  The Breaky Trifle was served elegantly in a glass, with layers of granola and yoghurt, topped with strawberries and sliced apples.  It was accompanied by a mini bottle of milk.  I find the spelling of “breaky” slightly odd though; I’d have gone with “brekkie”.

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Ann was really impressed with what she ordered, but unfortunately my pulled pork burger failed to live up to the standards set by her brekkie and our drinks.

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We requested the mayonnaise to be served by the side, and thought the apple and ranch slaw would also be served separately, but it still came all in the burger.  Not wanting to make a fuss, I just ate it as is, although I generally do not eat mayo.  The chipotle mayonnaise which was meant to be served by the side was non-existent.  The pulled pork was the letdown of the day, being dry and flavourless.  I don’t think it was freshly cooked on the day.  Moreover, I am led to think by the quality of the burger that the kitchen’s standards are not too high.  The brioche bun was burnt around the edges and the underside, but yet was still served to a customer.  Despite this, I did not send it back, because our orders had already taken around 20 minutes to arrive though there weren’t many customers, so I couldn’t bear to wait while they prepared another burger.  The shoestring fries sounded nice on the menu, but when they arrived they looked like they came out of McDonald’s.  The burger was also served in a black plastic basket, which didn’t seem like it fit with the café’s style.  The only redeeming feature of the dish was that the fries were seasoned with flaked sea salt.  If only the pulled pork was seasoned too.

If you’re looking for a great coffee around the San Remo area, look no further than Porter Republic.  I guarantee you’ll be able to get your coffee fix here.  But if you’re also looking to have some food, I’d try someplace else.

Porter Republic on Urbanspoon

Nora

While I know that new cafés pop up around Melbourne all the time, I’ve never gotten the chance to visit any while they’re still new.  Only when I was on my way to the post office about a week ago did I pass by Nora.  I’m not sure what shop was there previously, but Nora was definitely somewhat new.  So I decided to go and get a takeaway coffee, as I didn’t have my dslr with me then to take pictures of the food.  Then I found out they were only open for a month and a half!!  Finally, I’ve come across a new café!

So I suggested to April and Ms JQ that we go there one day.  To make things better, it is walking distance from my place :)  And it so happened that Ms EL and Ms YL were able to join us too!

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Arriving at Nora, we were happy to see that there was still space for the 5 of us.  As typical Singaporeans, we chose to sit inside rather than outside.  What baffles me, though, is that Nora chooses to place a table at the front, taking up almost half the shop space.  Although that table does showcase Nora’s speciality – charcoal tarts, I still feel that that space could be better utilised with perhaps a larger sharing table that is present in other cafés (eg. Bluebird Espresso or Top Paddock).

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Nora’s menu is somewhat quirky, with dish titles which, at face value, seem completely unrelated to the dish itself.  Perhaps there are stories behind the dishes.

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For my coffee, I got a long macchiato as usual, but it turned out to be a long black with some milk.  The strength of the single shot was somewhat similar to the takeaway coffee I had a week ago, and wasn’t anything to shout about.

 

I forget the name of my dish (testament to its arbitrariness, or perhaps my bad memory?), but here it is.

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The ox tongue was tender and flavourful, and the kale was crispy.  I’d say the let down of the dish was the cured egg yolk, which contributed hardly any flavour or texture to the dish.  I don’t understand why it has to be scattered about, instead of being used in a capacity where it can be enjoyed with the dish as a whole.  Even my efforts to mop it up with the ox tongue yielded no significant results.

Each dish is served with yorkshire pudding and chinese cabbage (wombok) with some kind of curry sauce.  I can’t seem to find my photo of it, so if you’d like to have a look please visit April’s post here.  The wombok with curry dip is exceptional, but the yorkshire pudding lacks a sauce and doesn’t really fit.

We definitely had to try their charcoal tarts, so we ordered one of each flavour – strawberry and tamarind cream cheese, lemongrass and ginger, and sour cherry and kaffir lime cream.

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All the tarts are served this way if you have them in-house, so I only took one photo.  If you want to see a whole, uncrushed tart, you’d have to order them takeaway.  The tart flavours were unique, and they tasted good, but at $5 a tart I think they’re a tad expensive.

Overall, while the coffee failed to impress, the mains were good, but I’d say the best thing I tasted at Nora that day would definitely be the wombok with curry dip.  I could munch on a whole wombok with that dip over a good movie.

Nora on Urbanspoon

 

Stagger Lee’s & Shocolate

Marked only by a small chalkboard, Stagger Lee’s is a bright new addition to bustling Brunswick St.  Having been to Proud Mary, I had high expectations of Stagger Lee’s, given that both cafés are opened by the same owners.

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One thing different of my brunch adventure this time, though, was that instead of going with the usual crew, I met up with my coursemate, friend and fellow food-blogger, Elizabeth (go check out her blog!).

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The interior of the cafe is quite similar to Proud Mary, rather spacious, which I appreciated.  But we chose to sit outside as it was nice and sunny, vis-à-vis was rather dim, even though it was daytime.

 

Thankfully there wasn’t a queue when I got there (~ 12.30pm on a Wednesday), but strangely I was left standing at the entrance for a couple of minutes without being shown to IMG_9959a table.  Another patron came in soon after, and while waiting the two of us struck up a small conversation.  Finally we were shown to our respective tables after a staff member noticed our presence.

For my coffee, as usual I went for a long macchiato, but was really happy to see that they had two blends for the day – and one wasn’t Ethiopian.  I am well aware that Ethiopian blends are becoming more and more common in cafés in recent months, but the saltiness of the blend just doesn’t appeal to me. IMG_9949 I opted for the Guatemalan blend, and was really pleased.  The long mac in Stagger Lee’s is certainly better than Proud Mary.  The only unfortunate thing about the long mac was that despite it being served in a glass, the layers were not well-defined.  The layer profile looked somewhat latte-ish, just slightly darker due to the milk-espresso ratio.

For my main, I decided to go with the roast lamb, which sounded really hearty and shiok.  However, when the dish arrived, I was slightly unpleasantly surprised with the plating, as it seemed somewhat overly complicated, and to make things worse, the lamb was chopped into small pieces.  Moreover, while the menu did state that there was hummus, I didn’t expect it to be spread across the whole plate.

IMG_9953The plating seemed very George Calombaris-style, sophisticated and cool.  For all the disappointment that I felt with the plating, it made up with flavour.  I had never tried hummus before, until that day.  On my blog, I generally reserve comments about foodstuff that I don’t really like to begin with, because I feel it would be rather unfair to the chef.  In this case, the hummus (I really hope it is made in-store) was delicious (coming from someone who does not like hummus).  The roast lamb, though chopped up, was flavourful and tender.  These two ‘main ingredients’ were complemented with pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, fresh herbs, and baby radish, which gave the dish the freshness it really needed.  The bread, on the other hand, was a letdown, being tough and hard.  One overall disadvantage of the dish was that it was too oily, and I felt slightly gelad (Singlish for the feeling you get after eating something overly oily) after finishing it.

Overall, Stagger Lee’s is worth a visit, but I guess they could improve by spicing up their menu a bit – currently it is rather sparse.  I plan to revisit it after a couple of months, to try their other dishes, or other new ones that may be featured.

Stagger Lee's on Urbanspoon

After my meal, though I was feeling rather full, I felt it would be too much of a pity if I did not visit Shocolate, which was just round the corner from Stagger Lee’s.  I was so relieved to find that the interior of Shocolate was air-conditioned, and so I sat inside and started clicking away, only to be politely informed by the staff that photography of the menu or the shop interior was not allowed (they did have signs, but I didn’t see them).  They did allow me to take a photo of the ice chocolate that I ordered though.

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The chocolate syrup drizzled on the walls of the glass may have provided some sort of abstract-artsy look to the drink as a whole, but contributed little to the taste.  The chocolate flavoured milk was not too rich, but that worked out for good because there was so much of it.  The best part of the ice chocolate was the chocolate gelato, which had a really unique flavour, except for its iciness, which seemed rather unusual, unless it was intentional.  Also note that the seating area is rather limited, so be prepared to queue if you visit at a busy time.  For $8.95 though, I don’t think I’d be returning.

Shocolate on Urbanspoon