2012 – Food and more food

I told you I would go batshit crazy eating my way through Brisbane in my last year. All the dishes I’ve posted a photo of below and have tasted it myself were worth every penny. When the new year started, I have been cooking and baking many new things; too frequently I may add (thank god I’m a physically active person. I would look like a whale by now if I wasn’t). I promise you this, I will make at least one new dish every week for the rest of the year. Let it be an appetizer, or dessert. Simple or complex. Side dish or sauce. I will try to incorporate new ingredients and textures along the way. While intensely exploring restaurant food has taught me so much about what I like, it’s time to move that towards the back burner and get my hands dirty.

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Chicken Tikka Masala – Taj Mahal in New Farm. The most tasty and affordable Indian restaurant I know of!

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“Lucie”, from Le Bon Choix – a French patisserie. Strawberry fillings with coconut base.

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Amandine Poires – Chouquette in New Farm. Another well established French patisserie

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Pesto scrambled eggs on house cured salmon with chili jam – Little Larder in New Farm. Excellent breakfast overall but the chilli jam was to die for!

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Poached egg on toulouse sausages and sweet potato hash cakes with tomato jam – Gunshop Cafe in West End.

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Potato and feta hash cakes with herbed sour cream, spinach and bella rossa tomatoes – a Gunshop Cafe breakfast classic!


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cranberry and macadamia, poached blackberries, fresh strawberries and yoghurt – Comfort at my Table in Milton. Cutest breakfast cafe in Brisbane!

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breakfast bubble and squeak with bacon bits, caramelized onions, spinach and chilli oil – Anouk in Paddington. An extremely memorable dish. Definitely wasted no time inhaling all of it

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avocado and roast cherry tomatoes on toast with goat chevre, rocket, dukkah and fresh lemon – Anouk in Paddinton. Cal ordered this and I had a bite, it was delicious!

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I believe these were baked Turkish eggs that Quynh ordered – Anouk in Paddington. Everything at this place is made with the freshest ingredients and never a disappointment!

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Was not able to get through a day without coffee this year. Now I know what it’s like to get hooked on coffee

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Always enjoyed visiting the fine food stores in Brisbane. Found some interesting products…

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A whole shelf devoted to Olive oils

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Probably one of the best combination of salads I’ve never had at this quaint cafe called Three Girls Skipping beside my work. One was potato, another was couscous and lastly a leafy tomato balsamic. So good.

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scallops, pumpkin chips and wagyu beef. Public in Brisbane. Not many people know about this tapas place but when you’ve discovered it, you’re in for a treat!

Duck egg baked in toast sprinkled with shaved truffles - Public in Brisbane city. Such an interesting dish. I have had duck egg in the past but not presented like this!

Duck egg baked in toast sprinkled with shaved truffles – Public in Brisbane city. Such an interesting dish. I have had duck egg in the past but not presented like this!

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field mushrooms on goat cheese, caramelised onions and puff pastry – Gunshop Cafe in West End. This gem of a breakfast cafe can always be found with a line up out the door!

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Rhubarb, aperol savin dessert – Public in Brisbane city. Was worth every penny. Sweet and slightly sour combination served with creme fraiche to neutralize the perfect flavours.

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Although I didn’t taste this dish nor was it found in Brisbane, I was still very impressed by its presentation. Poached pear, yoghurt and… some other stuff. I strive everyday for healthy breakfasts like this

Sunday bliss in New Farm

Hello all, this is my first adventure post!

I forgot to mention that I am back in Brisbane now. Quynh, Kim and I decided to have brunch today in New Farm, a quaint suburb by the city.

 

Campos cafe is strangely down a little alleyway. Unexpected but not that I mind. There is something cozy about a hole in the wall. I wish Cambridge had more places like these. I mean, as great as being able to leave no more than a 10 dollar bill on the table at 50’s diner for a full-on breakfast, the atmosphere obviously cannot compare to what Brisbane has to offer. Notice the sign on the wall that says “dog parking”? And the doggie dish by the flower pot. Too bad nobody parked their dog there. Would have made for a more interesting photo 🙂

It’s 11am and this place is packed, naturally. We were seated in a corner at the very back of the restaurant at a table that is barely bigger than a cafeteria tray (I may be exaggerating). Somehow, the 3 of us managed. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that we realized the room in front of us shadowed behind a display window is actually a museum – for lack of better words. It’s called a “Cupping Room”. If I’m not mistaken, on certain days the room is open for demonstration, tasting and educational purposes to the public for an entry fee of $20. Excuse the glare in the photo, it was not easy to get a decent shot of that pitch dark room. I haven’t even ordered anything off the menu yet and already I am so intrigued by this place!

My eggs benedict with ham and spinach, Quynh’s pork belly and Kim’s scallop and rocket salad. Why didn’t I ever make Sunday brunch a weekly thing again…?

Sisters and friends 🙂

Two of the most easygoing people I know in Brisbane. Quynh (left) told me at brunch that she is now in her late 20’s. This picture is putting doubts in my head =P

Red doors make me nostalgic for home (Beijing). In Old Beijing there are still some residential doors that are painted red. I love it. It’s vibrant and inviting.

Strolling along Brisbane river with a soft breeze through our hair. And envying the million dollar homes and boats on the other side… a little bit 🙂

My idea of perfect Sunday. What’s yours?

Creme Brulee

The sole purpose of this post is to not make my last post seem so awkward since I promised to blog about my creme brulees. Just kidding. In all honesty this was probably the funnest food I’ve ever made. As a kid, I always found amusement out of playing with fire. Now I get the pleasure of torching the shit out of my food to make it what it’s suppose to be: delicious.

By the way, my new torch is pretty bad-ass. I’m not talking about an industrial torch, that’s unnecessary. Don’t go looking for this thing at like Home Depot or Rona. Although Home Hardware carries them, they’re a bit on the pricy side. Yeah, I did my research. I bought mine from a kitchen store and a can of butane from Canadian tire.

Pretty confident that I will be using this a lot in the future

So anyway, creme brulees are really easy to make, but it takes a few hours of your time. I used Alton Brown’s recipe. You know, the host of Iron Chef America. Do me a favour and not substitute vanilla bean for vanilla extract or vanilla essence or… no. Take this opportunity and use the real stuff. Ever since I used it in my wonderful concoction of mulled wine, it’s hard to step down. It might cost you a bit more but in the end you’ll notice a big difference. I got a pack of two beans from Bulk Barn. The recipe tells you to split and scrape them, I only split. I find that it’s too much of a hassle to scrape it because not only is it sticky, it’s hard to wash off your fingers too. It’s going to be swimming in a large pot of boiling cream, if that doesn’t extract the vanilla flavours then I don’t know what will! Then again, I haven’t done much research on vanilla beans, so if you think I should have handled it differently, comment away.

Submerging half of the ramekins in water. Don’t ignore this step as it will dry out your creme brulees!

So after those are out of the oven and have been chilling in the fridge for at least 2 hours and blah blah blah, we’re finally ready to use my new toy!

I mixed half a teaspoon of vanilla extract with some sugar – perhaps too much- and spread it over top. Let’s be realistic here, I wasn’t willing to spend another hour using vanilla bean to make vanilla sugar. Temptation was taking over at this point, thus shortcut will suffice 🙂

It’s hard to stop

I’m about halfway done here. Maybe subconsciously I purposely used more sugar to make the fun last longer

I was far too excited to take my first bite that I forgot to use my camera. Food photography is not easy sometimes! You get distracted a lot. I apologize for the unappealing sight of my licked spoon, but at the same time I wanted you to see how mouth watering this dessert looks. I would gladly describe the texture and taste of it all, but my comment box will probably be bombarded with sexual innuendos, (mostly from my closest friends, they won’t be able to pass it up) so I will leave it at that.

I believe this experiment was deemed successful and I am stoked to try different flavours. Would love a chocolate base next time with some fruit purees (still ignoring the accented e’s) to garnish. Or maybe a fruit “creme” with chocolate sugar. I dunno, whatever. Point is, I just wanna use my torch again. Oh, I can put it to good use on some meringue pies as well.

Last thing, just a tip with the recipe. Never add the yolk mixture to the hot cream, the eggs will probably cook and you will get a messy curdled brew. Slowly add the cream to the eggs.

Let me know what you think! This is only my first time attacking this recipe. I’m sure some of you have tricks up your sleeve, don’t hide it =P. Also, I always thought creme brulees are super rich and sweet, which I’m not a fan. Turns out they don’t have to be. If you don’t add as much sugar, it can be a nice and light palate cleanser. That’s all. 🙂

Cooking with mussels; story of a big fail

I’ve never been a huge fan of mussels. My dad used to use them in congee amongst other pungent ingredients that I won’t (don’t want to) get into. Despite my admiration for his culinary creativity, it also turned me away from even the slightest smell of mussels for several years.

For those of you who are not familiar with congee. (Courtesy of google images)

Very long side note: Congee is a very common savoury asian dish. Basically, it is a bowl of watery white rice that’s comparable to porridge. Personally, the BEST type of congee needs to have pork, pidan (preserved quail eggs), and spring onions (no mussels! Sorry dad); not just rice. Of course, there are other varieties of congee too, but if you want to try it for the first time, take my recommendation. I wouldn’t lie to ya 😉
It typically goes well with a side dish such as preserved tofu, zhacai (pickled vegetable), or salted duck eggs (my grandmother used to scold me for neglecting the egg whites. The yolk is the key boys and girls. No matter what you do to eggs). I’ve had a few friends in the past who asked me what Chinese people eat for breakfast. At first, I was kind of stumped. Having moved to Canada 15 years ago, I am now so accustomed to having toast and cereal that I couldn’t remember what I ate for breakfast everyday as a kid!? Embarrassing. Well, if you’re still wondering, congee is a very popular food we eat for breakfast. In fact, we can have it at any time of the day during any meal. Now, try ordering french toast for dinner at a local restaurant without the waiter giving you weird looks.

Let’s get back to my mussels experiment.

It wasn’t until just a few days ago that I have had my first VERY tasty mussel experience at a local restaurant that left me aching to go home and recreate the dish. What’s even more impressive was the fact that this place is primarily known as a café. The sauce was a tomato base infused in garlic oil. Sounds simple enough right? The taste was much more complex. It had just the right amount of tanginess and heat at the perfect consistency in a pool of flavours. When I was finished scraping out the last piece of meat in that shell, oh no it did not end there! I had half a bowl of leftover sauce to dip my bread in.

Heaven in my mouth.

I hurried home to google the closest (or what sounded like) top rated recipe, and got the gist of how to do this. At this point I am super pumped to try it myself!

Venturing back from the grocery store couple of days later, I emptied about 1lb of mussels into a large bowl and rinsed it under water. Each one was scrubbed and de-bearded with a knife.

I sautéed some chopped onions and 5 cloves of garlic in a spoonful of butter on medium heat.  Added about a tablespoon of olive oil once the butter had completely melted in order to prevent it from burning. After about 2 minutes or so, I threw in a handful of chopped parsley and a touch of salt and pepper. This is what I really enjoy about cooking as opposed to baking; eye-balling ingredients, having temperature control from beginning to end, and knowing that sometimes, it can be reversed/fixed should I screw up. It is the one place I can count on where I do not need to follow things to the T.

Steaming up my camera! I did not take this one from google, as you can probably tell.

Here comes my favourite part. I dump about a third of my carton (man, “carton” just does not sound as sophisticated as “bottle”) of white wine into the pot and mix everything around on medium low heat. A pinch of dry red chilli powder and about a third of my chopped hot green pepper goes into the concoction.

I taste the broth and there is not enough of a “kick”. I grab my chilli powder and tried to carefully shake a little bit of it into the pot. Unfortunately, there was a clump about the size of a dime (10 cents for you Aussies) that I did not see and in that goes too! Now it is way too spicy and my mouth was on the verge of flames! I tried to reverse the damage by dumping two ladlefuls of broth down the sink and diluted it with more wine. At this point, I added the mussels and popped the lid on. Mussels only take 3-5 minutes to open up and although tempting, it is not recommended to cook them longer.

Waiting for the shells to open miraculously

One rule for mussels: Chuck the opened ones before cooking and chuck the unopened ones after cooking. I know it’s common sense, but just thought I had to throw it out there in case somebody tries to bust out a hammer on the ones that refused to open.

The End!……..?

Once I had served the mussels, a crucial realization punched me in the face. My garlic tomato mussels did not have any tomatoes! What a huge fail! 😦 Annnnnd of course there are none in the fridge. Fortunately the mussels turned out delicious with the broth I just created mistakenly. It was a hairline too spicy for my taste… But wait a second… *lighbulb!* I can use this broth to bake a seafood pasta dish the next day!

Again, I return from the grocery store the following day with cream, spinach and tomatoes.

I reheat the broth on the stove, added chopped tomatoes, then spinach and watched it wilt to one tenth of its original size.

Looks messy but it’s really starting to become a pasta sauce!

I pour in the cream in increments until the desired creaminess has been reached. This also reduced the intensity of the spice. I grated some cheddar to give it more flavour and texture. Once I have finally established the perfect taste (for me anyway), I sifted all-purpose flour to thicken the sauce.

Everything else beyond this point is self-explanatory (also, I forgot to take a picture of the pasta. Fail #2). I grated more cheese on top of the pasta and shoved it in the oven at 350F for about half an hour or until you get that fantastic golden cheesy crust on the sides. There we have it, seafood pasta bake. Failure of one thing leads to the success of another. This is not to say that I will not give the mussels another go one day. But for now, bon appetite!