Unblogged Food: April – June 2013

This is a small photo recap of some of my meals from the last three months.

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A massive seafood paella, in a pan measuring approximately 60cm in diameter! K’s dad is a foodie as well, and takes a lot of pride in his cooking tools and gadgets, a special paella gas cooker and pan being one of them. He made a tasty seafood paella for a family dinner celebrating K’s birthday in April – this was a real hit! Made with the best and freshest ingredients, this paella really hit the spot.

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One of my favourite restaurants in Sydney is Erciyes – a Turkish restaurant on Cleveland St in Surry Hills. I particularly like to take out-of-town visitors to this restaurant, and took my younger brother here when he visited over Easter. We enjoyed the walnut dessert pizza, or the walnut pide, with a simple filling of chopped walnuts, butter, and sugar. It’s a real sugar hit, and so very very indulgent.

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K and I visited Jackie M‘s restaurant in Concord in the week before it closed down – I had the pleasure of attending one of Jackie’s cooking classes last year, and dining at one of the most authentic Malaysian restaurants in town before it closed was simply a must. This is the Nasi Lemak, but we also ordered a variety of other dishes – all of which were absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to see what new restaurant or venture Jackie comes up with!

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While I was spending time in Melbourne after my mother’s passing, K’s father and mother also came down to Melbourne for a few days. Our two families met for the first time for lunch, an experience that I faced with trepidation but which went surprisingly well! K and I took his parents out afterwards with a brief walk up Chapel Street, before stopping in at Ganache Chocolate for an afternoon pick-me-up. I had the chilli hot chocolate which came with a little half raspberry macaron on the side. Their range of artisan chocolates and individual cakes and tarts are simply wicked as well – it’s well worth a visit!

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I love banh mi – it’s such a perfect balance of veggies, protein and carbs! Unfortunately I currently live and work in areas with low to non-existing Vietnamese populations, so it’s only on rare occasions that I get to indulge. I was so pleased to find out that a sandwich shop up the road from work had started making banh mi – I understand that it was taken over by a Vietnamese family, and they added it to their repertoire. Simply Sandwiches on Willoughby Road makes a great banh mi – not completely traditional in style, but very tasty nevertheless.

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Froyo, or frozen yoghurt is a craze that’s sweeping Sydney. Every time you turn around, it seems as though a new froyo store is opening up around the corner. They opened the first one in Crows Nest just two months ago, and little spoon is doing a roaring trade just from me and my colleagues alone – I think we must be keeping them in business! They have some amazing froyo flavours – I’ve tried an apple pie flavour and a caramel flavour as well, which were sweet and full of sin.

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Keeping with the dessert theme, I bought a whole box of goodies from the 85 degrees cafe in Chatswood after they had a grand reopening 15% off sale, including this gorgeous little “Mango Bubble” dessert. This was a soft sponge cake covered in a mango creme – very soft, very light, and very moreish. It was very much an indulgence for me – because we tend to bake our own bread at home, buying a treat like this from a bakery is unheard of!

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K and I recently dined at Mejico with our good friend Carmen. She’s blogged about it here so I won’t repeat her words. Simply said, it was a very delicious dining experience, though on the pricey side. We are scheduled to go back later in July for one of my friend’s birthdays though, so I fully expect to try some other dishes and potentially write a longer entry!

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My work’s been generous enough to give me some flexibility in working a few days in the Melbourne office occasionally, in order to spend more time with my father and brother. One downside is that our Melbourne office is in West Footscray, on the other side of the city to my family home which does mean a commute of about an hour and a half each way. One thing that always brightens my mornings though, is seeing this little coffee van parked outside the West Footscray train station – their ‘dine-in’ setup always strikes me as being very optimistic given that Melbourne is averaging early morning temperatures in the single digits!

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into my world of food outside of the fancier meals that I blog about.

Streetside Desserts in Hanoi

K and I have a habit of joining any queue of locals that we see on our travels. Is there a queue winding around a street and no one can explain what it’s for? We’ll join it, and see where it takes us. Luckily, it hasn’t really failed us yet and we’ve been able to try some amazing food because of it!

On one of those occasions, we lined up to try some chè made by a lady on the side of the road in the Hanoi Old Quarter. With one pot full of lotus paste rice, and other pots full of sweet puddings and soups, she was making soupy desserts on demand for passerbys who ate it sitting on little stools in front of her.

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With some miming and pointing (with the associated giggling from those nearby), K and I managed to get ourselves a bowl of the lotus rice with a sweet ginger soup, and a bowl with a red bean soup. They were absolutely heavenly, and just large enough to fill that little hole in your stomach that only exists at around 4pm.

It was probably made just that little bit tastier and satisfying knowing that it had been cooked up in her kitchen at home, and we were eating someone’s genuine home cooking. That’s what I love most about travel – really taking the effort to eat where the locals eat to ensure that you’re having as authentic experience as possible.

How do you ensure you have an authentic experience when you travel?

Unblogged Food: January – March 2013

Obviously I eat a lot of meals that I don’t share on this blog, so I thought I would do a little photo recap of some of my meals from the last three months. The concept of an ‘unblogged’ post is inspired by Sarah Cooks.

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Our version of a Vietnamese salad. I’ve mentioned how beautifully fresh the ingredients were in many of the meals we had while travelling around South East Asia. We tried to replicate that on our return to Australia, with a few meals of fresh Vietnamese style salads. This one in particular included julienned carrots and cucumber, fresh herbs (Thai basil and coriander), vermicelli noodles, mixed salad leaves, grape tomatoes and a dressing of fish sauce and sweet chilli sauce.

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Les Miserables was the first movie I watched on my return to Australia, as I’m a real sucker for musicals. Not that I have a shred of musical talent in my body, or any ability to hold a note of course, I just have fantasies of becoming a famous singer. Anyway, I saw the movie at Macquarie Shopping Centre with a friend, and we dined at Inferno Caffe beforehand. This is the grilled John Dory with chips and a side salad, and it was one of the most disappointing pieces of fish I’d ever eaten in my whole life. It had been cooked to within an inch of its life, and was dry and unappetising. I definitely wouldn’t recommend dining at Inferno.

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This is the first loaf we ever baked in the Sunbeam bread maker that we received for Christmas from my not-quite-brother-in-law. Unlike other gifts that may languish unused in a cupboard, we’ve actually been using it two or three times a week! There have been a lot of learnings along the way, and deviations from the recipes and methods suggested in the manual that came with the appliance. K has taken primary responsibility for this task, and to his credit, has perfected a loaf that suits our needs. This probably deserves a blog entry of its own to be honest!

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I attended a market research evening for eatlove with a small group of about twelve people. We represented a range of people involved with the food and digital industries – from a TAFE teacher of hospitality, to a designer of cookbooks, a digital social media expert, and a lawyer who had studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I was there as a representative of the Australian “food blogger”, but also to provide some other professional insights given my day job working in marketing and communications.

The evening was held at Danks St Depot, days before it closed its doors forever, and we were joined by chef Jared Ingersoll halfway during the meal. It was one of the most enjoyable evenings I’d had dining with complete strangers, bonded together by a mutual love of food and an ability to talk about food for hours on end (we went about an hour over schedule, and barely got through all the questions!).

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I skydived for JDRF, the charity I work for on March 2, as part of our annual “Jump to Cure Diabetes” campaign. As part of my fundraising efforts to raise $1000 for essential research into type 1 diabetes, I sold home-made frozen dumplings to friends and colleagues, at $30 a pop for forty dumplings. I spent approximately ten hours (if not more) in the kitchen, churning out batch after batch of dumplings over the course of a month. I also held a few fundraising dinners as well – for a $30 donation, I held themed dinner parties (e.g. Italian pasta and wine, Chinese hotpot, Breakfast for dinner, etc.).

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I’ve mentioned once before that K and I don’t often eat out for breakfast, as we prefer to have a fancier dinner out and simpler breakfast in. Last month we broke this habit and shockingly went out for breakfast early on a weekday before work to Tablespoon, a cafe close to home. Disappointingly, we were left waiting for nearly half an hour for our food as we saw tables regularly arrive, eat, and leave before we even received our food. By the time the food arrived, we had to gulp it down in under ten minutes in order to make sure we could get to work on time. We will not be visiting again – the food was standard, and nothing spectacular.

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We’ve had a few celebrations at work lately (birthday, engagements, etc.), and sadly, some farewells too. One of the more imaginative foods provided at one of these farewells as a pineapple hedgehog, dreamed up by a colleague with a fascination for the retro styles of yesteryear. Chunks of cheddar, cabanossi, and pickled cocktail onions were skewered and then stuck into a pineapple to create a ‘hedgehog’ of finger food. These were apparently a big hit in the 1970s, which was quite before my time!

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To celebrate the end of Chinese New Year, K and I went out to dinner at Sambal with his family. One of the dishes we had there was “yu sheng”, or literally, “raw fish”. “Yu sheng” also sounds like another Chinese word meaning abundance, fortune, or luck, so is considered a ‘lucky’ dish to eat at the new year. Once the dish is delivered to the table, everyone is expected to mix the different ingredients together with their chopsticks, to ensure that they all manage to partake of the ‘good luck’ for the year. The whole process is full of symbolism.

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I do a lot of slow cooking at home, and will be sharing a few of my concoctions over the next few months as we begin to move into weather that calls for hearty cooking. The dish above ended up becoming a delicious vegetable and roast meat soup. Ingredients included leftover roast beef (diced), yellow capsicum, red capsicum, green capsicum, green beans, lentils, potatoes, onions, carrots, and chicken stock. It was a real ‘throw everything into the pot’ kind of a meal.

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This is typical of the type of dinners that I often have at home. It’s very simple, relatively healthy, and very budget-friendly for those last few days of the month when you’re trying to stretch your pay out as far as possible! I find that buying Asian groceries and planning for more Asian-inspired meals tends to be friendlier on the budget than buying and preparing Western style roasts and stews. And let’s face it, with the amount of times I eat out, I need to come up with strategies for saving money on meals at home!

I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into my world of food outside of the fancier meals that I blog about.