Sunday, December 30, 2007

San Diego Dining Suggestion?

I will be heading off for a business trip to San Diego for a week in Mid January. I should have a day or two where I can do a few things. Can anyone suggest some places that I should eat at. I don't mind trying one expensive meal at a really good restaurant.

Are there any places I should visit in San Diego? I think there is a good zoo there?

I've never been to America before so are there any things I should take note of?

EDIT: Such is the fickle nature of business trips, the trip has now officially been cancelled. I was so excited when the business class plane tickets were purchased. I've never travelled in business class before, and am unlikely to travel in business class in the near future. I hope there's another chance to go on a business trip and to visit America.

Dinner Party - Roast Pork

After my last very successful dinner party where I did a roast lamb, Kin suggested that I do another one. It was a good suggestion seeing as I'm pretty broke at the moment after spending up big this Christmas, so it was cheaper to eat at home.

After Jo and I went through her cookbooks, I decided (or Jo asked me to) make a Roast Pork with Mango Chutney. So here were the results.

The roast pork turned out fantastic. It was so simple. I just scored the skin and rubbed in heaps of olive oil and salt. I then sat the meat on a bed of unpeeled garlic cloves.

The mango chutney was the thing that took the most time actually. It too turned out much better than I thought. The acidic, tart, sweet flavours of the chutney goes really well with the rather bland pork.

The blood clams with worcestershire sauce is one of my favourite dishes. Again the tang from the worchestershire sauce in conjunction with chilli, garlic, sugar and vinegar is great with the blood clams.

A simple salad of mixed greens, cheese, red onions, anchovies and a balsamic vinegar dressing gave some lightness to the meal. The mash potato was all Kin's work (so he claims. I had to guide him through every step). It was beautifully creamy was he put some cream as well as butter into it. Salt of course is a must in mash.

Garlic bread was simply some grilled bread with butter on it. Then I rubbed garlic on the bread to infuse the flavour and sprinkled some dried parsley.

Finally, the pièce de résistance, in my opinion anyway since I'm such a dessert fan, was the Baked Cherry and Almond Cheesecake I made. The recipe was originally for a blueberry and hazelnut cheesecake, but I modified it and made it my own. This is definitely THE BEST cheesecake I've tasted ever. The base is so yummy, with the almond flakes, the brown sugar, oatmeal biscuits and flour being baked to this crunch mixture. The cheesecake portion is just cream cheese, egg and cream. However, the cherries were boiled in a mixture of honey, lemon juice and sugar and tastes so good. The combination of flavours and texture is perfect. I don't think cheesecake can get much better. I would like to be proven wrong. I will post the recipe for this cheesecake soon.

Here's Tu and Phuong finishing off their meals.

The rest of the night was spent playing the highly addictive Guitar Heroes. Here is Kin rocking it.

I must say, I never considered myself a cook and always say I can't cook. But lately I've given it more and more of a go. I can't say I enjoy cooking, like I have started to enjoy baking, but I do like making a finished product. I find that cooking, unlike baking, requires more instinctual touches. It forces me to think, what would go well with this flavour. And in most cases, I find I have a solution. From watching so many cooking shows, and just my natural love of food and flavours, in most cases I can pair things together. I mean I've been doing that for ages. I always give people opinions on what they should cook together, but now I have to do what I say to others. I don't think I'll ever enjoying cooking due to the terrible preparation work, but I do enjoy creating something from scratch where I can control all aspects of the flavour and texture. I might stick to baking more though as my true passion is desserts and sweet things.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Parties 2007

I don't actually believe in Christmas in the religious sense. But that doesn't stop me throwing a Christmas party or attending lots of them and having lots of fun with friends.

I guess the first Christmas party was the one that was thrown by work. It was a catered lunch on the "last day of work this year" (although technically a lot of us, myself included, are going back to work after Boxing Day). The food itself wasn't that great. Most of the meats were dry and rather tasteless. The Cesear Salad was the best part, and that ran out when I went back for a bit more. The best part of the lunch was just finding out what people's holiday plans were and hearing stories of horror Christmas lunch/dinners with relatives.

I decided then to throw together a little Christmas party myself. After seeing how easy it was to do a roast when Ella from A Goddess In The Kitchen hosted me at her Dromana holiday house, I decided to do a lamb roast.

I can now say that doing a roast is so easy, impresses people so much, and damn tasty. It was last minute so I just got a leg of lamb from Coles. Then I cut holes in it and stuffed rosemary, garlic and anchovies. The anchovies were the ones that John Lethlean wrote about and I bought from Mediterranean Wholesalers on my Sydney Road food tour. I can't believe how different anchovies can be. The ones I normally buy from Coles are thin little things that are just salty. These ones are still salty but have a depth of flavour that tastes ten times better.

Anyway, I digress, I sat the leg of lamb on halves of onion so it was off the tray. I scattered some unpeeled garlic cloves, some slices of lemon, salt and pepper on it and a splash of olive oil. Then I covered it with foil and it went into the oven at 180C on a fan forced oven for about 1 hour. Then it was off with foil and about 20 minutes on each side of the lamb to brown it.

The lamb looked beautiful when it was done and tasted the same. It was juicy and moist still. The outside was slightly crispy whilst the inside was still pink.

Some simple roasted vegetables and salad accompanied the lamb.

Dessert was the Christmas Pudding that my work colleague Jennifer sells. For $30, she sells this huge 1.7kg pudding full of fruits and Brandy. It tasted really good with some ice cream. If she makes them again next year, I will buy another one for sure.

Then we exchanged gifts, even though we don't believe in Christmas. We can believe in gifts though. I got this thing below.

Isn't it beautiful. What is it you ask. It's lightning in a ball. I love lightning and have wanted one of these lightning balls for ages. One of my best friends Kin remembered that and got me this lightning ball.

The next Christmas party was at Phuong's house. She did Hot Pot, not exactly your traditionaly Christmas meal, but what the heck, its still good. There was so much food that we didn't even finish half of it. Here is Phuong (left) and Jo eating through the food.

Again, more gifts were exchanged. I must have the words "Indulgent Food Addict" etched on my forehead because I received so many food, specifically chocolate related gifts. Here is a sample of the chocolate gifts I got, all of which I love.

I also got a huge tray of pastries from El Fayha, my current favourite pastry shop located on Sydney Road. One of my other best friends John got me these, as he knows how much I love these little pastries.

Then it was off to Tin's house for a BBQ Christmas party. He did another lamb on a spit like we did last time for his birthday party. Probably due to the high wind, the lamb took forever to cook this time. Last time it only took about 3 hours. This time, it still wasn't quite done after 5 hours. Also, this lamb seemed to have a lot more fat on it and that had to be cut away or it coagulated when the meat got cold. The lamb itself still tasted nice.

Tin's sister also did this beautiful Log Cake. The chocolate cream had biscuit chunks in it and covered a layer of cream. This surrounded a sponge cake that had home made pineapple jam in the centre. It was really delicious.

Tin's backyard train set had progressed along some more, with about 1/4 of the tracks laid out now.

Finally, the last Christmas party was at Kevin's house. Here I am with Kevin in the background.

Everyone brought a dish of food to share. Even with 16 people, there was way too much food to finish. Our co-host Candy prepared the "traditional" Turkey and Roast Pork. Suprisingly, the turkey is the red coloured meat and the pork was the white meat. Everyone thought it was the other way around.

There was chicken wings, pies, dips, sashimi, Portguese chicken, rice casserole and the list goes on.

There was salad, fruit and some desserts as well. I brought a Tiramisu cake that I made whilst Aida brought some yummy Ice Cream Cake.

Finally, more gifts were exchanged in a Kris Kringle fashion. There was much hilarity and laughter when people opened their gift of varying sizes and shapes. I got a bottle of alcohol, perfect for me.

And that wraps up all the Christmas parties for this year. Today I went on my annual Boxing Day shopping spree. I bought a few things for myself and am so tired now. Now there is only the New Year's parties to look forward to. I've already got a few invites, but may have to decline all of them depending on how work goes. The project is ending and I'll be going overseas mid next month to present it. Hence it has to be finished or I will look like a fool. So maybe there won't be any New Year's celebration for me this year :-(. I'll just enjoy it in spirit I guess.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Macaron Attempt 3 - I Officially Hate Macarons

After an incredibly successful second attempt at making macarons, I was all guns blazing with this third attempt. I was making a massive batch of macarons of various colours for Christmas presents. Well, I can officially say that I f*cking hate macarons now. I won't be attempting another macaron for a while.

I liken a macaron to the sea sirens of folklore. The macaron is undeniably alluring. Its crystal perfect satiny smooth sking instantly catches your eye. Its beautiful legs are just showing under that voluptuous top. The slight peak of its centre entices you even further. All of these qualitys are encompassed in a petite frame that is just so compelling.

Firstly, the macaron makes you wait by not giving in so easily. Initial failure only drives your obsession deeper. But before you become deterred, the macaron, like the siren, will give you a little in return, your lips get to taste a tiny bit of sweetness. However, just as you are getting more confident and think you have conquered the siren, she bites your head off and dumps the rest of your body into the sea. The macaron does exactly the same thing, crushing all your spirit and driving you so angry that won't be trying to conquer the macaron for a while.

I can't believe that I have wasted all night trying to make these highly temperamental macarons. It's so frustrating because I did the same things as last time, but yet not one macaron has turned out nice.

I believe where I went wrong is in the baking. Every step up to the piping of the mixture onto the trays looks ok. Because I have so many macarons to bake, I put the macarons on one tray only and two trays into the oven at a time. Well, the top tray looked alright but the bottom tray was awful. It turns out the first top tray was all sticky anyway. This was because I turned down the temperature to 120C right from the start because I didn't want them to burn like last time at 160C.

However, having said that, I did the next batches into the oven at 160C and it still didn't work. Again, it could be due to not having a stack of trays as I had to start piping the macarons onto the next tray.

It's now nearing 1am and I'm waiting for the last batch of macarons to finish baking. I'm so tired and have yet to shower yet. There's still heaps of things to wash up. All I see are a huge pile of cracked, sticky and lumpy macarons. So frustrating.

I will add photos tomorrow but I just wanted to get down my precise feeling at this moment. Arrrrrggghhhhhhhhhh.

EDIT: Here are the photos.

The batter looked great, especially with all the different colours.

The first blue tray on the second bottom rack without using the fan in the oven turned out all cracked and sickly.

I ended up with two boxes full of macarons, with 90% of them with sticky bases, funny shapes, rough shells etc. There were a few that were ok, but without the pretty legs.

The assembled macarons in the various colours I did.

The macarons tied up nicely in some celophane, ready to be given to people for Christmas presents.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Macaron Attempt 2 - Success

After my first miserable attempt at making a macaron, I wasn't as confident this time about making a good macaron.

This time, instead of using the "simpler" but more unreliable recipe from Duncan, I tried the "harder" but more reliable recipe. You can read all about Duncan's post of the recipe to get tips and explanations of things. It helps makes things a lot clearer if you read the recipe first. So go and read the recipe first.

So here is what I found.

I went and bought a sugar thermometer and it works a treat. I followed the steps exactly and watched until the thermometer hit as close to 118 deg C as I could judge. My whipped egg white did turn out really satiny as shown below. The combined mix with the dry ingredients and other half of the egg white was a nice "magma" consistency. A drop of batter from a spoon did take about 30 seconds to sink into the rest of the batter.

I really hate piping so did the spoons method that Duncan suggested. I used a large tablespoon to scoop the main mixture and the back of a smaller teaspoon to scrape the mixture onto the baking tray. I then sort of smoothed the mixture with the teaspoon. After all the mixture was done, I tapped the tray repeatedly to flatten out any bumps. I forgot to photograph the mixture on the tray, but below is a photo of them in the oven. Size wise, they were a bit big and small, but I will try to make them more similar next time.

At the start, I cooked the macarons at 160 deg C with the fan off in my oven. When I saw the edge macarons start to burn after about 6 minutes, I quickly took the whole tray out.

After two minutes of cooling, I tried to lift the burnt macarons, only to discover that they stuck to the tray. The centres were also still uncooked. All I did was put the whole tray back into the oven at 120 deg C, fan still off. After 10 minutes where they had risen again so the feets were higher, I took them out. After they cooled for two minutes, all but one peeled off the baking paper without a problem. I broke one open and it was perfect inside, cooked and with no hollow gap between the crust and the base.

Just because I couldn't resist, I took two of them and sandwiched some nutella just for a quick taste test. They tasted fantastic. While a macaron by itself tastes fairly bland and a bit too sweet, added with the nutella, it was excellent. I can see how well they will work with a dark chocolate ganache. The almond and icing sugar in the macaron really give it that hint of something extra and makes it very "fragrant", for lack of a better description.

So I'm going to be making more macarons for Christmas presents now. I just hope they all turn out this well. What I'm not sure about is whether to start the oven at a higher temperature (160C) and then drop it (120C) as that worked this time, or start it at a low temperature and cook it at that temperature the whole way through? Hmmmm.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Movida - Part 2

I have tried to make a booking at Movida so many times it's not funny. I'm just never organised enough to book like three weeks in advance. The one and only time I dined there, I enjoyed it so much.

Well, I thought I would just rock up for a Sunday lunch and hope for the best. I went there with my friend John. We got there about 1pm and had to wait 15 minutes before being seated at the bar. It feels awkward sitting at the bar at first since I think the bartender and other customers sitting at the bar are looking at me. Well they are. And I was looking at them as well. After a while, I got used to it and just focused on my own conversation and food.

Whilst the graffiti outside Movida had completely changed since last time, the restaurant interior itself had not changed. It's still got that great wall of wine and the open kitchen.

From the tapas menu, we got the Roasted Lamb Cutlet and Sheeps Milk Cheese. The lamb cutlet was cooked to perfection, but the flavours were a bit subdued and didn't really hit it for John or myself. The cheese was a very good texture and went well with the quince paste.

From the racion part of the menu, we got the Steak Tartare. I have raved about the steak tartare at Horoki being the best I've eaten. Well I still prefer the steak tartare at Horoki, but this one is just a bee's knees behind. It was spicy with red onions, chilli and parsley mixed throught it. There was a tangy sharp sauce with it. It too was served with a quail egg like at Horoki. I think quail eggs go really well with steak tartare.

The Chicken with Saffron consisted of pieces of braised chicken covered in bits of eggs and other adornment, like onions and almond. The chicken pieces were braised until soft and fell apart. I splashed more of the sauce on the chicken and it enjoyed the flavours of the various different things in the sauce.

I got the Poor Man's Potatoes again this time. It was still excellent, but different from last time. The potatoes weren't covered in honey like last time and was a tiny bit spicy. They were still melt in your mouth potatoes and John actually thought this was the best dish of the day. It's amazing how you can do simple things so well.

The Seafood Paella was last to arrive. John ate the mussels (as I don't like them) whilst I ate the prawns. The paella was full of flavour but the square chicken pieces in it were a bit dry. The braised chicken pieces with skin still on were beautiful though.

I was rather full but still kept that corner of my stomach that I always reserve for dessert. I had the Creme Caramel. I love this creme caramel. It's not too caramel flavour (yes it sounds stupid seeing as its a creme caramel) which I like. I don't know what those biscuit things served with the caramel are but I hated them. They reminded me of Roast Duck's bottoms with this strange oily smell and star anise I think. Strange but that's what I thought of them. John had the Chocolate Ganache Pudding with Mango Sorbet, which he utterly loved. The pudding is wonderfully rich with chocolate ganache flowing out from the middle, perfect.

The service was very professional, with not a mistake made anywhere. Things we asked for were remembered, water was topped up and general checking of how we were doing. The atmosphere was not as loud as the night dining and more relaxed. It was actually good sitting at the bar as you could see the whole room and also the kitchen where the chefs were working hard.

The food here is still as good as I remember, and constantly changing just like the graffiti out in the lane. It's always evolving and I will come back to try their ever changing dishes along with their classics. For the lunch meal, I will drop it a point from last time as it didn't have that buzz in the atmosphere that I felt during dinner. It's purely subjective and another dinner meal there may give me that feeling again.

Overall Rating: 16/20, Food is fantastic with service to match. The ever slightly changing menu is worth repeated visits.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20: Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

MoVida Bar de Tapas on Urbanspoon

Dromana Trip

The wonderful Ella from A Goddess In The Kitchen and hubby Furry had invited me to visit them at their Dromana beach house, Chez Fur du Mer. Not being one to refuse a great offer, I kindly accepted. I brought along my friend Tin, as we thought we would get to go fishing on Furry's boat.

As luck would have it though, it was pouring rain all morning. We made our way to Dromana in fairly good time despite the rain and a couple of car accidents along the way (other people involved in accidents, not us). We arrived at Chez Fur de Mer to be greeted by Ella, Furry and the two dogs.

We sat around and talked for a while before deciding on the days' activities. Since the weather was not good for fishing, Ella suggested she take us around Red Hill, which was fine with me. So off we went to Red Hill. First stop was Darling Point, the vineyard where Ella and Furry got their free wood fired oven from. They were there one day and saw that the oven was not used. Ella asked for it and the rest is history. It's now in their backyard, after some modifications where it was embiggened (wink wink Simpsons fans) by Furry and his Greek neighbours Nick, Big Nick, Small Nick, Old Nick, Young Nick and The Other Nick.

I tried the Darling Point Pinot Noir and Syrah (Shiraz). Both were good so we decided to drink the Syrah with our Tasting Plate while I bought a bottle of the Pinot Noir.

The Tasting Plate consisted of local produce of the area. From bottom left clockwise, there was Pastrami, Onion Jam, Preserved Quince, Blue Cheese and Goats Cheese, Olives, Cherries, Dukkah and Olive Oil with Balsamic Vinegar. Everything tasted very good and was enjoyed in the outdoor area under the patio whilst the wind blew softly and the rain pitter pattered on the cover.

From Darling Point, we drove to Sorrento, where we got the famous Vanilla Slice from Just Fine Foods. I hadn't eaten this before and I must say it does live up to its reputation. The custard is wonderfully soft without being mushy. It's not too sweet, with the sweetness provided by the icing sugar. The pastry is light and crispy, blending well with the vanilla flavoured custard.

Ella picked up a leg of lamb for dinner whilst in Sorrento. We went back to Chez Fur du Mer and started up the wood oven whilst having drinks.

Tin and I poked around the boat whilst waiting for the oven to heat up. Here's Tin pretending to be out in the sea.

Whereas the reality was that the boat was parked next to the garage.

Ella prepared the leg of lamb in a roasting pan with flavours to infuse it. There was red onions, whole garlic cloves, lemon, orange, mint, lemon grass, rosemary and fennel. Here is a before shot.

Whilst the lamb was cooking, Ella and Furry's friends Tim and Sally came over. We all sat around drinking and talking whilst waiting for the lamb to cook. Nick "the over builder" and his wife Helena also dropped by. Dromana definitely has a very community feel. Helena and Nick gave some tips on perfecting the roast, which Ella followed. After it got colder, we went inside to wait for the lamb. When it was done after two hours, it was beautifully cooked. The lamb tasted so wonderfully tender. It was literally falling apart. The meat was also infused with all the complex flavours. I suggested that we cook some pita in the oven since it was still hot. The pita bread was then used to soak up all the succulent juices still in the pan. We finished off the meal with some of the sweetest cherries that I bought at the Red Hill Cherry farm.

Then it was time to go home. What a great day we had, despite not being able to go fishing. I'm sure next time we'll be able to fish on the boat. Thanks to Ella and Furry for having Tin and I over at their beach house for a fun day.