Sunday, January 30, 2011

Food Items I Like: Summer's Delights and Baked Cherry Cheesecake Recipe

There are so many food items that I love, and have always wanted to post about them. Rather than have many small posts scattered about, I've decided to group them together and write larger posts. As it is Summer right now, I'm starting with a post about items that I love to eat in Summer.

For me, summer means drinking lots of liquids. And I'm a massive fan of fruit juices and alcoholic beverages, not necessarily in that order. The "boutique" fruit juice market has expanded rapidly, with so many options in the supermarket. But for me, the Preshafruit range of fruit juices are a cut above the rest. It's not cheap, at about $5 for a litre, but I just love drinking it. I first tried them at Earl Canteen, and I've never drunk any other juices since. The juices come without pulp, which I prefer, and seem to taste almost hyper-real. How I would describe it is the juices taste almost like they are concentrated, but yet taste very "clean". That's the best I can describe it. You'll have to try it yourself. Flavours like apple and orange taste like nothing you've ever tasted. My favourite is the Apple & Passionfruit one.

So next we come to alcoholic beverages. I love to drink beers while watching live sport on TV, such as cricket or tennis. Again, there are more beer varieties on offer than fruit juices even. My favourite beers are ales and Corona normally. However, I am liking the Cascade Green Carbon Offset beer and the Strongbow Genuine Apple Cider. The Cascade Green tastes quite good, but their claim to fame is due to the environmentally friendly production. The Strongbow Apple Cider is a nice change to a normal beer, having a nice sweet flavour and slightly acidic kick to it. Perfect for summer I think. I'm not sure I'll drink it during Winter though.

Next up, I love my home made self invented cocktails during Summer. I'll just mix random things and give it a try. Sometimes they work, sometimes they taste horrible. The cocktail I'd like to introduce you to is called Summer's Blush. It's made with Martini Rosato, which I first tried at the Taste of Melbourne festival. The folks at One Green Bean were kind enough to send me a bottle of their Rosato and their Prosecco for me to try. I drank the Prosecco straight but decided to make a cocktail with the Rosato. I find Summer's Blush to be really delicious and refreshing, and it's super easy to make.

Summer's Blush Cocktail
*2 parts Martini Rosato
*1 part lime juice
*2 parts soda water
*sugar to taste
*tear a small bunch of mint leaves
serve with lots of ice

Now surely everyone eats lots and lots of ice cream during Summer right? My favourite ice cream is a Magnum Almond Vanilla one, as I find the combination of almonds, chocolate and vanilla ice cream so perfectly simple. My friend told me to try the Magnum Ecuador one, which is dark chocolate. I didn't think I would like it, but boy, I love that too. I've also found that my local Asian supermarket stocks Asian ice cream flavours. Pictured below is Guava flavour, delicious. They also have Mangosteen, Durian, Red Bean, Tropical and Green Tea, all amazingly good too. My favourite is definitely the Mangosteen flavoured one.

And finally, Summer is all about stone fruits. My two favourite stone fruits are Peaches and Cherries. Seriously, I eat about 6 peaches a day and a huge bowl of cherries a day during summer. So I was delighted to receive a box of premium cherries from Crossman Communications. I was going to make something with them but the fruits were so sweet that I decided to just eat them all instead. With the next batch of cherries I bought, I did make my favourite cheesecake, a Baked Cherry Cheesecake. I have made this cheesecake previously and I used to think that it was hard to make. That was when I first started baking. The thought of how difficult it was to make deterred me from making it for a while, but now having made it again, it was super simple and I'll be making this quite often. I've tweaked the recipe since those earlier attempts to give better quantity ratios and also make it less sweet.

The biscuit base of this cheesecake I actually made completely by accident the first time around. I had run out of biscuits so decided to improvise and put in flour and almonds. It turned out to be beautiful and I've used it ever since. I've dropped the ratio of base to filling as there was just too much base in the previous recipe and not enough filling.

The cherries for me are the star of this cheesecake. Soaking in them honey syrup gives this super amazing combination of flavours that just makes me go, wow. I've just got a new super duper cherry pitter so it only took a few minutes to pop the stones out of the cherries. If you can't be bothered to do this, canned pitted cherries also work well for this recipe.

Baked Cherry Cheesecake

Cherry Syrup
*600g cherries
*2 tbsp honey
*2 tbsp sugar
*2 tsp lemon juice

5 tbsp sugar
4 tsp lemon juice
350g cream cheese at room temperature
2 egg
1 cup whipping cream

For the base
50g oatmeal biscuits crushed
30g almond flakes roughly chopped
30g plain flour
pinch of salt
25g butter softened
3 tbsp light brown sugar firmly packed
1 small egg yolk

1. For the base, combine the oatmeal biscuits, almond, sifted flour and salt. Stir to mix and set aside.

2. Beat the butter with brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk. Fold in the flour mixture until thoroughly combined.

3. Press the dough into a greased 22cm tin. Cover with clear plastic and chill for 30 minutes in the fridge.

4. Preheat oven to 180C. Meanwhile, for the topping, combine the cherries, honey, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan. Cook mixture over low heat, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minuts until cherries have given off some liquid but still retain shape. Drain out cherries and continue boiling syrup until it thickens. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool.

5. Bake pastry base for 15 minutes. Remove when done and set aside to cool.

6. Beat together cream cheese, whipping cream and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and lemon juice. Cream until smooth and thoroughly blended.

7. Pour cheese mixture into cool biscuit shell. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until just set.

8. Let the cheesecake cool completely before placing cherries on top and pour over syrup

And that my readers, is Oprah's, I mean Thanh's Favourite Things of Summer. And everyone will be receiving one each of the items featured. Actually, you won't be getting them, but I hope you have learnt about a few more great food items and may want to try them out.

Do you have any excellent Summer Food Items that you can recommend for me to try?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

St Peter's Restaurant & Bar

6 Melbourne Place
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Ph: 9663 9882
St Peter's

I was sold when I heard the words "half price". I mean, how could any self respecting Asian not be lured by those words. So when I heard from my cousin Allan that St Peter's had half priced meals for that month, I rushed to get a booking. St Peter's is the latest child of Maurice Esposito, of Esposito at Toofeys fame. I haven't dined at Esposito before but had heard good things. Hence, my expectation for St Peter's was semi high.

The restaurant is located in one of the many laneways of Melbourne, and you couldn't tell from the exterior what the interior is like. A tiny unnoticeable door opens into a bar downstairs, and an elegant dining room upstairs. I liked the sparse clean look of the room, and felt comfortable in the space.

Our waiters for the night had cool French accents and had an air of elegance, however, the service didn't match. To be fair, the restaurant was newly opened, but the waiters didn't seem to be very experienced and did not look after the room well. Despite my photo, the whole room was filled about an hour after my photo. We were left waiting a long time for service, and the food followed. Our entrees were rushed to us so quickly that we hadn't even finished our appetisers, but the mains then took an hour after the entrees. My glass had a massive lipstick mark on it still, and my cutlery and plate was dirty. Guess I was just lucky.

Onto the food itself, the appetisers were the clear winner of the night for me. The Fried Sardines, Salt Cod Croquette and Carpaccio of Venison were all to my liking. Appetisers ranged from about $2 to $6, and I think even at normal prices would be good value.

The same value for money can't be said for the entrees and mains. The four entrees that we sampled were the Crab and Avocado Salad, Seared Scallop with Salmon Roe, Carpaccio of Kingfish with Chervil and Quail wrapped in Pancetta filled with Fontina Cheese. The crab salad was tiny and for $19, would have been ridiculously expensive given that it didn't contain much flavour. The theme for the night seemed to be a lack of flavour, as all four entrees had similar problems, sounding fantastic with loads of ingredients, but lacking flavour.

The selection of pastas sounded very tempting so three of us ordered that. The Potato Gnocchi with Southern Rock Lobster was super tiny in the main size. It was passable but the gnocchi was quite stodgy. The Yabby Gyoza with Roasted Beetroot was pleasant but again not enough of it. My Spaghettini with Bugs Tail and Chilli sounded amazing, but instead tasted like simple Asian egg noodles tossed in a wok with some bugs tails. It again lacked flavour and was a very small serving. Lastly, the John Dory with Mud Crab was surprisingly the best dish, with a crispy skin on the fish. It was, and I sound like a broken record, a tiny piece of fish. I know that quality matters more than quantity, but with mains easily over $30 each and into the $40 mark, I do expect a bit more of a serving.

We might have only paid half price, but the meal, with wine still worked out to be a whopping $70, and that was without dessert. We were extremely underwhelmed by the savoury dishes, that we weren't in the mood for desserts. The fact that the meal took so long meant that a 6:30pm start finished just after 11pm. Even if the meal at half price, if I were to go back, I would order appetisers only and eat those until I was full. At full price, I don't think I will go back for a while until I hear that it has improved substantially as there are many other choices for those prices.

Lastly, as a side note, maybe it was due to the location in the laneway next to rubbish bins, but there were a tonne of mosquitoes and I was biten so much. Take some mozzie repellant with you if you intend on going.

Overall Rating: 9/20, Expensive food that lacked flavour.
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.

St Peter's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ripples Chinese Restaurant - Yum Cha

453 Centre Rd
Bentleigh, VIC 3204
Ph: 9557 3688

We're constantly scouting restaurants to eat at for our work Friday lunches. One day we decided to give Ripples a try, and found that it was actually good. Situated in the fairly quiet Bentleigh area, we're fortunate that they are open for yum cha daily. The restaurant interior is light and bright and looks quite new. I love the aquarium at the front with the little Nemos swimming around, and the aquarium at the back with the fish, lobsters and crabs swimming around.

The dumplings themselves are all quite nice. There is nothing unique here, but there is quite a large selection. The Sugar Cane Prawn is one of the weaker items, with the prawn meat not being firm enough. The Fried Wontons, Gelatinous Meat Dumplings and Taro Dumplings are all deep fried goodness. There is definitely an overwhelming about of brown items that we eat.

If the items aren't brown, then they're generally white. The steamed dumpling selections is quite large. We always get the Prawn Dumplings and Scallop Dumplings. Then we'll interchange between various vegetable dumplings and numerous other variants of prawn dumplings.

BBQ Pork buns, Pork Ribs and Roast Pork appeal to some meat lovers, while I like the Prawn Rice Rolls. I was surprised that I actually liked the Pork Ribs while I found the Roast Pork to be a bit salty and not crispy enough in the skin.

The item that Ripples do better than other places is their Mango Pudding. At over $4, it's not cheap, but the mango pudding does have the feel of containing real mangoes. I like it served with the evaporated milk, with that slightly salty flavour. Do you normally have it with or without the milk? Seems a strange combination and I'm unsure who first decided to serve it that way, but I like it.

When we go on Fridays, it's usually half filled and has a nice calm relaxing atmosphere. The noise levels are quite good and you can easily hear each other. The wait staff there are all very experienced and do an efficient job. In the Asian manner, some tend to appear a bit stern, but that's nothing new at Chinese restaurants. Price wise, it's not too expensive, with lunch usually costing about $15 each. If you live nearby, it's worth going for your weekend yum cha.

Thanks to a reader who has alerted me that Ripples have been fined for 12 breaches in food safety. You can read about it here. It definitely makes me reconsider going back as they were given opportunities to rectify the issues but still didn't. I take food safety very seriously now after falling ill previously to JG Dumplings in Glen Waverley who also received numerous fines for food safety.

Ripples Seafood & BBQ on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cooking The Books - Bill Granger's Holiday

Following on from our ultra enjoyable Cooking The Books - Jamie's America session, we had another cooking the books, which again was organised by the wonderful Kat and generously held for free at The Cooking Space.

Joining Kat and myself were Emma, Michele & Hamish, April & Laik and newcomers Celeste & David, Agnes & Alastair.

This time, the book we were cooking from was Bill Granger's Holiday. I've never made anything from Bill's books before but had flicked thought they looked quite simple. AS it turns out, this was the case. Some recipes worked, while others were nice but not super delicious.

To make up for my atrocious efforts last time, I decided to make two dishes. The first I made was a Soy and Mirin Chicken Wings. It was very easy to make and I liked the added mirin flavour. I would add more marinate next time so I could further reduce down the marinate and pour more of it over the wings to cook.

Kat made a Morrocan Spiced Leg of Lamb, while April made a Beef in Red Wine Stew. The lamb had a bit of a kick to it, and was cooked nicely, but I didn't really like the flavour combinations. Same too went for the beef stew. Again, it was cooked well, but lacked flavour for me.

Michele made meatballs again. The Jamie meatballs previously were my favourite dish of the day. The Bill Meatballs in Coconut Milk didn't really do it for me. However, Michele's Sausage Rolls were super delicious, and apparently easy to make. I must try making it one day. Sausage rolls and pies are one of those iconic Australian food items that I eat so often but always think are too hard to make so never attempt them at home. This year, I shall try making both.

This time, my favourite dish of the day was Agnes' Mini Chicken Burgers. They were super cute with the little buns she made. The patty had good flavour and paired with the amazing chilli sauce that Agnes made, it was sensational. Take note Michael, another source of great chilli sauce, although you might have to beg Agnes to give you a jar.

Wisely, Celeste decided to make something a bit healthier. There was a lot of brown on that table. The Ratatouille was a welcome and refreshing relief to the heavy heavy meal we were having.

Some confusion ensued between myself and Emma when we both thought we were making the same cake. It turned out we were talking about different things, but it all worked out for the best. So Emma made a beautiful Macadamia, Mango and Lime Trifle, with layers of cream, macadamia cake, fresh mango and lime syrup. Extra delicious. Instead of making a mango cake, I made the Flourless Hazelnut Cake, which too was excellent. It is super super rich and a thin slice is enough. But boy, is it decadence on a plate. It so rich, and is something you would find at a restaurant served with a dollop of thick cream or some berry sauce. I love this cake and will suerely make it again.

And that, my friends was another excellent day of cooking and eating. I discovered a few good Bill Granger recipes. In fact, from that day, I browsed the book a bit more and have made Bill's Passionfruit Yoyos 4 times. Everyone, including myself, love them, and they are so easy to make and keep really well.

Thanks again to Kat for organising the cookup, and to everyone that attended and brought such delicious food. Thanks Agnes for the jar of chilli sauce, I love it. Until the next session, keep cooking and eat up.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Miss Marples Tea Room

382 Mount Dandenong Tourist Rd
Sassafras, VIC 3787
Ph: 9755 1610
Website: Miss Marples Tea Room

To increase our fitness and just enjoy a day out in the sun, a group of us went to Mount Dandenong for some hiking. We revisited much of the same ground as my previous visit, as there are only so many things to do up there.

The day started with a couple of hikes up and down the "1000" steps. My thighs were killing me by the end of the second lap, when I saw an old man passed me on his third circuit. Must get fitter!

So after our massive climb, it was time to eat of course. Where does anyone go except Miss Marples Tea Room. It's touristy, but so what, it's fun. The over the top building and waitresses in period costume is a bit of fun. The food is also good, albeit pricey. It is a tourist destination after all.

While waiting the obligatory 30 minutes for a table, we wondered around all the shops in Sassafras. I really like the Tea Leaves shop as I really enjoy tea. Look at all the amazing teapots and miniature teapots.

For lunch, we shared between the six two Beef Pies, two serves each of Pineapple Ham Fingers and Smoked Salmon Fingers. I like all the food, with the pie being hearty and the fingers being a good simple item.

And lastly, you can't go past the famous Scones, or as I like to call them, Sponge Cakes. Whatever they are, they're tasty, combined with their whipped cream and homemade raspberry jam.

So, if you have a day free and not sure what to do, take a quick drive to Mount Dandenong and climb the 1000 steps. You can take it as a challenge and try a few times at a quick pace, or take it easy and climb up slowly enjoying the sights and sounds. Then you can reward yourself with some yummy scones at Miss Marples.

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