Friday, March 30, 2012

Eating Thailand

After our hectic eating schedule in Singapore The Boy and I were glad to arrive in Thailand where we booked some serious time on our deckchairs by the pool...interspersed with some trips to the beach just across the road from our hotel.  The thing with deckchairs and Thailand is that you've got to get in really early and "bags" your chair by leaving your towel on it...all day, whether you're at the pool or not! The European tourists have this skill down pat, but we cottoned on pretty quick.

And it seems that we weren't the only ones keen on relaxing! I loved seeing the locals taking a nap in the middle of the day...or just taking the opporutnity for a bit of a power-nap when there were no customers about.  I really think this is a philosphy that should be apoteded in Australia - enough of this looking busy even though you're not...who needs it!  Life just seems so much more relaxed and less pressured than here. LOVE IT!

Like Singapore, Thailand is really really hot. When we tore ourselves away from our waterside relaxations we had to stop every now and then (ok, all the time) for drinks just to cool ourselves down.  The Boy thinks this suspect coconut juice gave him an upset tummy, but I reckon he's being a wimp. I feel head over heels in love with delicious fruit shakes - this one below is a mix of Watermelon, ice and a touch of water.

If you like food on sticks then Thailand is the country for you. I mean, just have a look at this stall...a happy sight indeed.  I did a fair amount of damage to corn-on-the-cob-on-a-stick, yummo.

Being in such a touristy area like Phuket you really don't get a "true flavour" of what the locals are eating. Sure you're eating "Thai food", just not what the locals would be eating.  After a few days of hanging around our hotel at Karon Beach I started asking around and the locals told me the food in this part of Thailand is super super spicy - like blow your head off amounts of chilli.  In all the places The Boy and I had been eating (places swamped with Russian, German and Scandinavian tourists) the food was mild...a bit disappointing as I was itching to try some real local eats.

I was really keen to try  the food from the loacl street-food vendors, but they were never around when I was ready to eat. I'd stand out on the street waiting for someone to drive past, like a despeate teengage girl waiting for the boy she likes to come pick her up for a date, but to no avial. Then The Boy and I would waddle off to a local restaurant/cafe - eat our fill and Pad Thai and Fish Cakes and waddle back to the hotel pool. Sure as night follows day just as we got back to the hotel a street cart would pull up bearing all manner of tasty, local delights that the local storekeepers would devoure. I managed to nab some fruit and a banana pancake from these fine fellows, but that's it. So sad.

You have to admire the Thai's ability to actually still have electricity running when you see the state of their cabling.  The Boy, an electrician by trade, was kinda horrified, yet totally in awe of this mess.  Of course it's all fun and games until a transformer thingy-ma-jiggy blows up and has all scrambling for safety one night!

And now sadly the holiday is over and we're back at work daydreaming about Watermelon Fruit Shakes and Tuk Tuks. Sigh.

Monday, March 26, 2012

La Vucciria, Paddington

Miss Piggy and The Boy dined as guests of La Vucciria.

Back in the 90s, before most of you were out of primary school, I worked with a lady at Optus.  We were work friends but never really hung out after work that I recall.  After about 2 years of slogging it out at the Big O I decided to up sticks and go traveling.  I never saw my work friend again...but of course we're friends on Facebook. Whenever I write a blog post I pop it on Facebook thinking maybe someone who knew me 100 years ago would like to have a read.

And you know what, the lady from Optus reads my blog (Facebook - you are good for something). She mentioned me to Stephanie at La Vucciria -- where she has become a regular -- and an invitation ensued for The Boy and I to venture to Sicily...via Paddington.

La Vucciria is a little Sicilian oasis tucked away on busy Flinders Street - identifiable by its bright red door, basket of goodies parked on the curb and a larger than life menu scrawled on the outside wall.  I already love it and we haven't even set foot inside. It feels so charming and rustic and a world away from Paddington.

The interior is quite modern, a leather banquette down one side, sleek bar on the other, interesting lamp shades made from planks of wood, but the food feels authentic and rustic. The menu changes on a regular basis depending on what's in season and what looks good at the markets that week.

After a harrowing drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic down Parramatta Road (seriously, that has got to be the WORST road in the known universe) I really need a drink.  A wine menu is handed over with the list of wines tapped into an old Italian travel magazine.  I need something stronger however and the cocktail menu gives us both a chuckle - the drinks list has been inserted inside a vintage style Italian "magazine for men" with the rudie bits covered by strategically placed stars. LOLs.

The cocktail list is organised by type of spirit - vodka, rum, whiskey.  It feels like a Gin night to me so I settle on a Bramble cocktail - a mix of gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and a Blackberry Liqueur all topped with an ever-so-retro maraschino cherry. 

The Boy chooses the entrees starting off with Gratin Scallops ($15.00) - perfectly cooked Scallops topped with a browned, crispy Gratin and a zesty Tomato and Caper garnish. The Crispy Prawns ($13.00) are wonderful and sit in a small pool of beautiful creamy sauce - but they are not the Flash Fried Prawns we were expecting (and had seen on other tables). 

Not to worry as chef, cum waiter for the evening, Fabio sees us staring longingly at the other tables with bowls of the Flash Fried Prawns and arranges for a platter of Crispy Calamari, Prawns and Zucchini ($18.00) to magically appear at out table.  This is a GREAT dish, the prawns are so crispy we can eat the head, tail and shell as well as the meaty prawn flesh.  Sadly my photo doesn't do the dish any justice (the restaurant has some moody, dark lighting happening), but I think my "skills" with Picasa have helped restore the photo...sort of.

The mains are all written in Italian so we need some help deciphering what's what. In fact the staff are all Italian (probably Sicilian really), and speak with dreamy accents - there are also quite a few Italian speaking customers, so this place must be the 'real deal'.

The Boy beats me to my first choice of Swordfish alla Palermitana ($26.00) and it's a stunning dish.  The fish is so fresh and light, the flavours lifted by the tomato, basil and caper topping. I have food envy, but I'm pretty happy with my Spaghetti nero Seppia ($24.00) - a spaghetti dotted with cuttlefish and stained black from the Cuttlefish ink. It's a strong flavoured dish, but really great.

By this stage I'm nearly bursting but we need to have dessert...for the blog of course!  The Boy chooses Tiramsu ($9.00) which he wolfs down - it's strong with the flavour of espresso, guaranteed to keep you up all night!  I couldn't go past the Figs with Lemon Cream ($8.00).  Is there anything figs can't do I ask you?  The Lemon Cream is sublime, sweet - almost like a Lemon Curd.  It was the perfect dessert to end a perfect meal. We'll be back!

La Vucciria is at 160 Flinders Street, Paddington (just before you hit Anzac Parade).  Phone them on 8068 5598. I'd suggest making a booking as they were PACKED when we visited on a Saturday night.

La Vucciria on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Singapore Takeout, Circular Quay

Miss Piggy attended Singapore Kitchen as a guest of Singapore Tourism Board and Frank PR

“1 mobile kitchen, 9 cities, 10 chefs and 14 food brands
on a 365-day gastronomic journey.”

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? I was one of a lucky handful of bloggers invited to attend a dinner at Singapore Takeout, a pop-up restaurant showcasing Singapore food that has traveled the world over the last 12 months ... last stop Sydney! After suffering badly from the post-holiday blues this taste of Singapore in Sydney was just what the doctor ordered!

I was expecting a dinner showcasing the simple  Hawker style food that The Boy and I had gone mad for in Singapore last month, but with Ignatius (Iggy) Chan and Head Chef Akmal Anuar from Iggy's in the kitchen we experienced a much more refined dinner, a fancy interpretation of some Singaporean classics.  It was loads of fun to taste some familiar dishes in that had been all gussied up, and it was wonderful to relive my recent Singapore holiday, if only for one night.

I hope the chefs didn't travel all the way from Singapore in the shipping container!
So what did we eat?  Let's have a look shall we...

Nasi Lemak...or is it? Iggy and his team have taken the notion of Nasi Lemak as a main meal and reduced it to a little taste of a Singaporean favourite - complete with Turmeric Leaf foam and an Otak Otak (fish) mousse.
Iggy's Variation of Sushi - tuna and kingfish sitting a top a delicious soy meringue, rather than your bog-standard rice.  The meringue was truly inspired, I want all my sushi like this in future! The texture was almost like honeycomb, dense yet light at the same time with  a slight flavour of soy and wasabi.
Cold Cappellini (aka: raw fish salad inspired by the dish yu sheng served at Chinese New Year) - chilled cappellini with needlefish, deep fried quinoa and a ponzu granite to add a crunchy texture.  A really light and refreshing summery dish.
Slow cooked Ranger's Valley beef cheek cooked with an Aussie Pinot Gras for everyone else; and a beautiful steamed Travelli for me.
Kaya Toast with Teh Tarik ice-cream - not the Kaya Toast I fell in love with in Singers, more of a Kaya flavoured brioche pudding...very nice, but it didn't quell my Kaya Toast cravings. Doh!

Sadly Singapore Takeout was only in Sydney for three days -- it's been and gone peeps -- so if you want a taste of Singaporean delights my friends you're going to have to jump on a plane and visit Singapore. After our recent visit to Singapore I CANNOT wait to get back and eat some more!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Fern, Redfern

The Boy and I rustled up another meal deal voucher and headed down to The Fern (in RedFERN) for a lazy Friday night dinner.

You'd expect a cafe that's in the heart of Redfern to be noisy, bustling, and buzzing with the sound of traffic from busy Cleveland Street which is just 20 meters down the road. But The Fern is anything but...I honestly cannot think of a more relaxing evening than our dinner at The Fern. We sat out on the huge front terrace as the sun set over Sydney, enjoyed a cocktail, some great food and let the stresses of the week just drop from our shoulders.

Delicious Ferna Rossa - Aperol, burnt orange and vanilla syrup, grapefruit bitters and lemon juice.
The Fern has a pretty good reputation for doing a killer weekend brunch, but I'm really impressed with their dinner menu - a mix of Latin American inspired tapas dishes and a few mains that can easily be shared. The food has a decidedly rustic, homey feel to it, with so many of the elements being made felt a bit like going to someones house out in the bush and being fed home-made pickles, cheeses and sauces. We felt miles away from the inner city.  LOVE!!!!

Dinner kicks off with some Pickles and Olives (normally $5) and a serve of Olive Bread (normally $5). The vegetables are all pickled in house and right up my alley - deliciously vinegary with the veggies still having a nice crunch to them.

I LOVED the Cuban Corn ($5.00) that came topped with a house-made White Cheese (is there anything these guys can't make) and a jalapeno and garlic butter (I betcha that's house-made too). I've gone a bit of a Mexican corn-making bender at home, but what I churn out cannot compare with this.

Next is some lovely House-cured Sardines on Toast ($11.00) that came with a (house-made of course) horseradish cream and capers.  When I think of sardines I think of those horrible stinky canned-fish that my Dad used to eat, and that I used to gag over. Needless to say I was thrilled when these fresh sardines came out, light in flavour and not oily at all.  The (house-made) Falafel ($8.00) served in a little wedge of pita is simple yet tasty.

Whilst The Boy chowed down on a Wagyu Oxtail Empanadas ($8.00) I enjoyed a unexpectedly spicy, yet surprisingly refreshing, Watermelon and Tomato Gazpacho ($6.00).  I've not had much experience with "cold soup" so I was happy that this was so delicious.

After all these scrumptious starters we arrive at the main event - Homemade Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce ($19.00) Peas and Parmesan cheese. This was SOOOO good - we literally licked the plate clean - stellar dish!  I'd love to be able to make something like this at home...even just knocking out a sauce this delicious would make me a happy camper.  Attempting home-made pasta would probably send me to the nut house - but I reckon I could handle a sauce...but HOW to make it? Help please!

What amazing meal is complete without an amazing dessert. After my first foray into the world of Churros ($13.00) a few weeks ago I was delight to see this plate placed in front of me (not in front of The Boy which means I shouldn't have had to share, right)? The Churros were pipping hot, crispy and delicious and sat atop a lusciously sweet, foamy dulce de leche (like a sweet milk sauce) and dusted with crushed pistachios. YUM!

The Fern is at 4 Pitt Street, Redfern.  Phone them on 8399 007.

The Fern on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Capital Grill, CBD

I'm back from holidays and back into my old addiction of meal deal vouchers.  Some habits die hard, but I'm trying to cut back in the effort of saving some moolah in order to afford more holidays.

Capital Grill is located at street level of the Gateway Building on Macquaire Place (right next door to The Basement).  There is a huge outdoor bar area, and downstairs dining area as well as plush looking upstairs mezzanine. The whole place is moodily lit so apologies for the less than stellar photos.  I imagine this place is quite busy during lunchtimes and the bar no doubt does a roaring trade on Friday nights when local office workers are celebrating TGIF!

Our voucher included a bottle of wine so Miss M, the wine expert at our table, chooses a red.  It's nice, tastes like red wine so I'm happy.

For entree I decide on the Sydney Rock Oysters with a Citrus Granita - really lovely. The oysters were plump and briny, first class.  Miss M chose the Asparagus with Poached Egg and Parmesan which looked so simple but I assured it tasted wonderful.

Great minds think alike and so do great tummies. Miss M and I were both taken by the beautiful Ocean Trout with Prawn and Mussel Bisque. This was a really nice dish - the fish was wonderful, a firm flesh that was swimming in a bisque so moreish I had to ask for more bread into to wipe the plate clean.

Dinner is not dinner without dessert and we decided to share a Creme Brulee. Alas, it was much too dark for my camera to even take a picture so there's nothing to see here...move along! It was pretty tasty though - you'll just have to take my word for it.

Capital Grill is at The Gateway Building, 1 Macquarie Place, Sydney. Phone them on 02 9247 4445.

Capital Grill and Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Homemade Fine Foods, Tempe

Miss Piggy and Niecy Poo attended the Master the Mousse class courtesy of Merna Tauok from Homemade Fine Foods. Thanks Merna!

Recovering chocoholics are advised to look away now...this post contains A LOT of chocolate, really really tasty chocolate.

A big thank you to Merna and Pierre from Homemade Fine Foods in Tempe who invited me (and a plus one) down to their factory in Tempe to participate in Merna's Master the Mousse class. I was a bit worried that my lack of cooking skills (especially in the dessert department) would reek havoc in the factory, but lucky for me the class isn't overly hands on -- we all get a chance to pitch in however and also to pick Merna and Pierre's brain on all things dessert...and dairy.

The class begins with a little something to drink (Moscata for the grown-ups and the kids are offered a flute of Country Valley Milk - priceless).  The morning tea is a a great idea - lining our stomachs with something savoury before we pass through the doors into the factory proper and start gorging on chocolate.  There is a HUGE pad of Pierre's salted Pepe Saya butter on hand, and I urge Niecy Poo to make the most of the opportunity to indulge to her hearts content (which we both do of course). The Small Cow Farm cheese is out of this world - well definitely be hunting this down at the local farmers market.

The sight of enormous bowls filled with chocolate buttons greets us when we enter the factory. It's too much for most of us to bare and a taste of each type of chocolate we'll be working with is handed out - a white chocolate, compound chocolate 17%, and a darker 70% couverture - too bitter for my immature tastes buds but the "grown ups" in the room loved it.

So let's get down to business some mousse people! 

Step 1: Melt the chocolate over a water bath, drool at the delicious smell of aforementioned melting chocolate.  Sneak a spool full of melted chocolate when Merna and Pierre aren't watching.
Step 2: crack open a pile of eggs (free range of course) separating the yolks from the whites.  Look longingly back at bowl of melted chocolate.

Step 3: The egg yolks are added into the mix. The heat of the chocolate in effect pasteurizes the eggs making sure they are good to go and don't contain any nasties - very important when you're making food for commercial sale and consumption!  Bat your eyelids at chocolate hoping for another taste.

Step 4: Egg whites go into a mixer bigger than my car and are whipped up into lush French Meringue!

Step 5: The meringue gets mixed in with the chocolate/egg mixture.  Miss Piggy starts drooling again! Surely a taste test is coming up soon.
Step 6: Add in a pile of Country Valley cream - taste test of cream allowed!

Step 7: Mousse making is really tough business, we take some time out to try some of Merna's other creations. The Sticky Date Pudding is amazing, so rich and indulgent.

Step 8: Merna shows us how to decorate the inside of our take-home containers with some tempered chocolate. She makes it look really easy, but I (of course) make a total mess of it and end up with a blob of chocolate smeared up the size of my container.
Step 9: Fill your container to maximum capacity to take home and enjoy! I've frozen our white and compound chocolate mousse - we were told it lasts really well like this. You eat it frozen, a bit like a mousse ice-cream (and it's bloody good)!

Homemade Fine Foods and Pepe Saya are at Unit 4, 3 Wood Street, Tempe.  Phone them on (02) 9519 2793.

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