Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pancakes on the Barbie (Dec 2008) - Easy Peasy Brunch with Friends!

        So Ryan and I wanted to have a nice little intimate gathering of friends just before the Christmas crazyness hit us all. What better way than to crank up the barbie, for pancakes that is! Ryan's new bbq (at the time) was really under utilised and we didn't really want to mess up his mum's newly renovated kitchen so we thought we'd do things simple. And pancakes are just soooo good and easy to do on the bbq.

        So what's my secret recipe? I'll let you in on it... it's on the back of a carton of Dairy Farmer's Buttermilk. The website also has some cool recipe search functions where you can search recipes by product as well. Seriously, buttermilk pancakes are THE BEST pancakes. I tend to just throw together the pancake batter without following the recipe exactly now but buttermilk just gives the pancakes another dimension. I've also tried to do canadian pancakes where you whip the egg whites seperately and fold it into the mixture but for my friends who are not cooks (like those pictured in this blog =p ) this is the best recipe to use as you can't really go wrong with it. Just a few tips to make the most of it, sift your flour first before mixing, and let the batter sit for a little bit (perhaps while you prepare toppings/fillings for your pancakes or waiting for the bbq to warm up).

        So Ryan and I prepared everything and got our friends to help "cook". Seriously, there is nothing hard about pouring batter onto a hot bbq and making sure they don't burn =p. Haha in the photo it appears as if I am watching over her. Ryan is there in the background on the gas stove top making caramelised bananas.

        I swear I am dating a firebug, he loves all things flame related, always setting alcohol on fire when he cooks (part of the recipe of course).  Pictured here setting the rum on fire. He absolutely enjoyed it, and it was fun to watch too.

        Ryan's caramelised bananas, delish! Simply just some brown sugar melted, bananas added and then a few splashes of rum and set it on fire and simmer until it all caramelises. The rum adds body to it.

Some frolicking going on, get back to work guys!

        The best thing about the flat grill plate? 6 pancakes at a time! Plus more evenish heat, imagine cooking all those pancakes in a regular fry pan on the stove top.

        So toppings/fillings that accompanied our pancakes L-R: Fresh banana for caramelised bananas, white and milk chocolate buttons, fresh strawberries and blueberries, lemon wedges to be squeezed over icing sugar (cup in the middle). We also had a tub of ice cream and a bottle of maple syrup kindly donated by a brunch attendee.

        Thankfully our wonderful friends did not burn any pancakes and they were all edible =D. The buttermilk makes the pancakes extra fluffy. Better than Pancakes On The Rocks anyday =p.

        We have choc chip pancakes here, we also mixed the blueberries into some batter and had blueberry pancakes.

This is the lovely Di =).

        After stuffing ourselves with pancakes galore we have a game of Taboo. A fun and filling day had by all. So what would be your ideal brunch event?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Making Macarons - My 3 attempts at mastering the art

        These are delicious little bites of heaven. The first time I had my experience of a Macaron was from the Lindt Cafe at Cockle Bay while on a "date" with Ryan a fair few years ago, I instantly fell in love with them. Since then, especially recently, they have grown in popularity and with the appearance on MasterChef it seems they are popping up everywhere. I've always longed to make these and after seeing the contestants make them on last year's MasterChef and seeing them pop up everywhere on the bloggesphere I thought I would give them a go. It would be the ultimate accomplishment if I did it successfully. For the non foodies they are not to be confused with the Macaroons.

        So the beginning of January this year marks my first attempt. Total failure. I didn't really follow the recipe to the core and I used ground hazelnuts instead of almond meal because I had it sitting in the cupboard and thought I would aim for hazelnut macarons, for a first go I was very silly to do that. I can't even remember which recipe it is that I used. The batter was quite runny and spread all over the place, I probably didn't beat the egg whites enough.

        When baked they kind of domed up in the middle so you have a bit of a hollow crater in the middle of the biscuit. Alot of them also stuck to the baking paper.

        I attempted to make some kind of hazelnut ganache but that failed too so ended up sandwiching them with Nutella. They were really chewy and tasted great, but they looked absolutely flat and uninspiring. I ended up using some to sandwich my cinnamon toast ice cream (blog on that later).

        I was not going to give up that easily. I tried again at the end of January to try and master the art of baking Macarons. I studied numerous recipes, blogs, info sites etc on all the must and must nots. I compared many recipes to see which one appealed to me and also looked to be a sure winner in producing the ultimate macarons, frilly feet and all. The two blogs/recipes for Macarons that stood out at the time to me were EatShow&Tell and Not Quite Nigella, my Macaron recipe was somewhere in between these two. So I set about preparing myself for these Macarons. I seperate some eggs the day before and leave them out reminding Mum not to put them in the fridge and not to chuck them out either. I make sure that every component is carried out precisely, from the beating of the egg whites, to leaving the piped batter to dry out and develop a "skin" before baking.

       You would not believe how excited I got when I saw the sight of these in the oven - "They have feet!!"

        I decide to bake one tray at a time, I excitedly pull my first tray out and put my second tray into the oven. I kept staring at the oven and the Macarons don't seem to be rising. After a long long time exceeding the recommended cooking time I pull them out. The surface dried out but the biscuits didn't even cook, even if they didn't rise but at least cooked I would have been happy eating them. I was utterly disappointed! I think it had something to do with the oven being open and the temperature changing after the first tray was taken out.

Not to worry, I still had a tray full of perfect Macarons to fill!

        I love the chocolate peppermint combination so thought I would make chocolate macaron shells with a peppermint buttercream filling. They were so yummy!

        After my second successful attempt I thought I would give it another go. It's about a month later and I am in the mood to make Macarons. I did these after work one day though which was a big mistake as I didn't really have enough time to dry them out (I could have left them longer but it would have meant baking these at like midnight). You can see here that they still look fairly glossy on the surface.

        My oven was probably on a little high aswell because the biscuits came out quite golden brown (still chewy on the inside though). They also dome up and don't really have the feet, at least they domed up well. Though the perfect Macaron is flat on top and has the frilly feet.

        I have some leftover buttercream in the fridge so decide to to a vanilla bean buttercream and peppermint buttercream again. They go really well with the vanilla shells.

        After knowing how hard it is to make I am more than happy to pay an average of $2-$2.50 a pop for one of these. I like having a mixture of flavours to eat. What's so good about them? The crispy exterior and soft chewy interior of the biscuit sandwiched with a delectable filling which usually adds a contrast to the shell and the endless array of different flavour combinations available out there. If you havn't tried one of these yet I suggest you go out there and try them, though there are some duds out there so beware of inferior quality.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Savoury Pancakes) - Mum in action

        Ryan suggested that as part of my blogging, I try and connect with Mum through her cooking seeing as most of my passion has come from her. I've been thinking about it alot lately but just never had the right moment to bring the camera into the kitchen, until today that is. Mum is in the kitchen cooking Banh Xeo - Vietnamese Savoury Pancakes, next to Pho this is mum's second signature dish. It's kind of funny that we were only talking about me getting into the kitchen with Mum on Saturday night. I also need to learn more from her when it comes to Vietnamese food, she's the best teacher I can have.

        So I walk into the kitchen this morning and see that all the ingredients to make Banh Xeo are out on the bench. I assumed that Mum had prepped everything ready for dinner later that day. When I come back to the kitchen a little later mum is already cooking away, apparantly little bro was really hungry. I saw the perfect opportunity to go grab my camera. I was a little weary as Mum finds it a little strange that I am taking all these photos of food but she was all in on the excitement and started giving me orders and directions as to how and what to take photos of  while she was cooking. It was kind of cool.

        So Mum instructs me to take a before and after shot of the pancake before it gets folded and plated up. It was really fun being in the kitchen just snapping away with mum shouting orders at me, "here take a photo of this", "here you want to show this angle", "take a photo of what it looks like before it's cooked".

Mum plating up a pancake for little bro.

Little bro is a meat eater, no bean shoots, no vegetables, no herbs.

        I started taking some random shots of the ingredients and she starts telling me off for not composing the shot properly. "You have to put all the ingredients together to show what goes into the pancake", "Where are the vegeables? You want to show the green vegetables". There's the pancake batter (which is more of a crepe batter really), pork belly, whole shrimps (she also adds shelled small prawns because she knows us kids don't like the whole shrimps), sliced onion and bean shoots. The pancakes are served with the greens.

        Though Ryan and I had planned to go out for the day and have lunch out, the smell wafting up was just too tempting so I place an order for one pancake as a snack/appetizer for us to share before we go out, I was pretty hungry already. She knows I hate bean shoots! I ended up eating them anyway.

        She complained that little bro rushed her, she runs to get some chopped green onions - "To add colour" she says. It definately adds another dimension to the overal appearance.

Mum pumping out another pancake. She's really quick!

        These pancakes are best eaten fresh straight out of the pan, the crispy thin edges are the best part! I bring the plate to Ryan and he looks at it a little puzzled and says "That's not a pancake!" I explain that it's more of a savoury crepe even though we call them pancakes and he asks "So how do I eat this?". I'm a little puzzled and shocked that in all the 10 years we've been together he hasn't had Mum's Banh Xeo yet... I mean he's eaten practically every other dish that she's cooked and I know that this dish has been cooked in my house many many times.

        So I take a piece of this large green leaf (I am not quite sure of it's western name - it's not lettuce, though sometimes she uses lettuce), spread some herbs like mint and basil on it, tear a piece of pancake off with all the cooked pork and prawn and place it on top of the herbs and roll it up ready to be dipped into the home made fish sauce (dipping sauce). Ryan gets the hang of it and seems to enjoy himself though he thinks the eating method is a little too messy for him. He also had a bit of bad luck with biting on a piece of cartilage which mum had left behind. He says that the pancake is a little bland and needs the sauce. I think that the sauce is what ties it all together. In one mouthful you have all these different textures and flavours, soft and crispy pancake, firm prawns, succulent pieces of pork, sweet onions, with the bean shoots adding a bit of refreshment and crunch, along with the salty sweetness of the fish sauce. It was only when we were in the car driving away that I wanted to go back for more - it really whet my appetite!

Thanks Mum!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Okori Teppan Yaki - A night full of fun and laughs

        So Ryan tells me he's in charge of organising a farewell dinner for one of his work mates who's leaving to go back to the motherland after graduating from uni. He asks me if I know of any Teppan Yaki places in Parramatta and with the help of Google I sent him a link via facebook, only to find out he went and booked this place called Okori Teppan Yaki in Harris Park. I've actually been here with another group about 3 years ago. It was great fun.

        So we're one of the first people to arrive, the place is desserted, I guess Sunday night is not a big night for them. It's not a huge place. There's 3 Teppan Yaki stations which makes up the main part of the restaurant and then a small group of tables near the entrance, I guess that's where you sit if you want A La Carte style service or they probably also use it as the waiting area, dessert area. While we're deciding on what we're to be ordering I was reading the cocktail menu I noticed this very disturbing drink name on the shots menu. I'm not a big drinker but am aware of other rude names for drinks but this one was just... hmmm. Can't imagine Midori and Kahlua together either, do I dare try a "Shit on Grass"? I decide to pass on alcohol for the night.

        I was a little baffled with how they had assembled the wooden disposable chopsticks. The rubber band folded up wrapper I found were a hindrance to my eating so I pulled them off in annoyance. Don't really undertstood why they did it, maybe it's for those people who don't know how to use chopsticks?

        Our starters - Miso Soup and Salad. We decide to go for the Mixed Teppan set #2 for $32.00 per person which includes a Salad, Miso Soup, Mixed Entrée, Prawn, Chicken, Fish , Steak, Fried Vegetables and Rice. The difference between Set #1 and Set #2 is Set #1 ($28 per person) comes with no Mixed Entrée but includes Pancakes for dessert and Set #3 ($36 per person) includes Mixed Entrée, Calamari and Pancakes for dessert. I am a little baffled about the reason behind the pricing for sets #1 and #2.

        Our Mixed Entrée plate comes out. There's a fried gyoza, terriyaki chicken, and a prawn tempura. All decent to eat though nothing absolutely outstanding.

        It's fascinating watching your food being cooked in front of you. The chef is pretty good with the knife, nothing that I am capable of, I struggle with knife skills. Someone asks him his name and guess what it is? Mitsubishi! Ha! =D

        Our first course is prawn. Done simply with a bit of garlic and salt and pepper. Morish little pieces of prawn.

        Second course is the chicken in a sweet savoury terriyaki sauce. Good tender juicey pieces of meat.

        Third course - (Flaming) Steak. As I'd been before I was waiting in anticipation of this. It got pretty hot!

        More knife skills. Listening to Ryan's commentary cracks me up, he thinks he's such a foodie! =p

        Mitsubishi asks us how we all want our beef, I don't think anyone goes rare but a fair few of ask go for medium, medium well and well done are served theirs a couple of minutes delayed. It was good beef. Succulent tender pieces of meat.

        Fourth course was fried vegetables, there was more bean sprouts than anything, I despise eating them so let Ryan have all of mine.

        Mitsubishi cooks the fish in a folded up aluminium foil "tray" and then folds it up origami style and pours the sauce over the portions.

I found the fish a little on the tough side, possible overcooked.

        Now starts the fun part of the night. The video is pretty self explanatory. Me being the worst catcher and also holding the camera avoided having to catch the raw egg. These guys were a little more chicken than the group I went with the first time.

        This video is a little long, Mitusubishi cooks the omlette for the fried rice - more knife skills. He then starts throwing it, you had to catch it with your mouth.

        The best part of the night was the rice catching. Listen to Ryan's commentary in the beginning =D Haha oh dear... and he accuses me of being a foodie.

        This is a video from the first visit - there was a lot more cheek in the group. I also found the Chef more playful with the group.

        Watch out for the guy in the white shirt, that's my poor cousin. I warned Ryan to tell everyone this time around not to wear their best clothes and be prepared to get dirty, just in case.

        The food  is pretty ordinary but it's a great night out to be had with a bunch of good friends and a great experience. I definately enjoyed my experience here more the second time around. Probably because I came with a bigger appreciation for food and chefs. It takes guts to be able to cook and perform in front of people like that.
Okori Teppan-Yaki on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I can't believe it's not meat! Official Launch for Quorn

        I was checking my emails one night last week and received this "random" email with the subject "INVITATION: Quorn Official Launch, Tuesday 20 April 2010" from MARK Communications "We would be delighted if you would join us for a glass of champagne and delicious tapas style food to celebrate the Australian launch of Quorn, the world's most popular meat free, soy free protein". I was quite suprised to receive this, totally not expecting it at all. I mean, I've been blogging for just a little over a month, and my motivation was not to get into events or anything but from reading some of the more popular blogs and the events they get invited to it sounds pretty cool. So what am I supposed to do...? Decline? Accept?‏ Go Alone? Bring a friend? I wasn't even familiar with the product and the invitation was quite brief and mysterious so I was very unsure about it at first. I hit up the Quorn website and am even more weary when I read about it but when I mention the launch and product to Di she instantly knows what I am talking about it says it's cool, it's a legitimate product =D. I email them and they say it's okay to bring a friend so I invite Di along as Ryan is working that night.

(Photo from MARK Communications)
        So we arrive at the location and are very weary as we see so many unfamiliar places and not quite sure what to expect and wether we were in the right place. It looked almost like we were walking into someone's apartment as there were a couple of lounges and a small kitchen with people just everywhere. We obviously look lost so one of the ladies asks us if we're for the launch and offers us some drinks... champagne please! We follow her into what looks like a dining room and then out onto a balcony. There's a few people standing around and a spanish guitar player. I also get asked what blog I'm from... erm... I explain to them that I'm a newbie and have only been doing it for about a month... and I'm "Angie Lives To Eat". I swear I felt so... newb =D. I guess I was invited because I own a blog! After a while I realise that this evening was catered for bloggers, with the odd friend of a blogger or husband of a blogger there. It was a lovely atmosphere with all the candles, the guitar, and the food of course!

(Photo from MARK Communications)
        The first platter of food comes out and I just instantly think "Chicken Nuggets" and then am reminded of the fact that it's not meat! These were Chicken style Quorn dippers in a light crispy batter topped with a spiced beetroot and apple relish. I couldn't get over the fact that it tasted exactly like chicken nuggets and even the texture was there. They were good! I didn't take a photo, I was starving on arrival so just wanted to eat! I noticed the other bloggers pulling out their cameras and wondered if I should be doing the same... I just wanted to eat damn it! Plus, I've mentioned before that I don't usually do photos of food when eating out (unless in good lighting and I can do it discretely and only on some occasions and with my compact camera), I suppose this was an exception but I was really not wanting to do it. Because of the low light I pulled out my DSLR from my handbag but for some reason I just "forgot" how to use it, couldn't even operate the view function to show my photos and then when I tried to take a photo the focus was out but I couldn't get it right. I gave up and used my little Sony Cybershot instead. Even with the compact camera I had problems taking photos. Performance anxiety I think, I felt bad for the nice people bringing the food around to us!

(Photo from MARK Communications)
        Next were the Oven baked mini baguettes filled with pan fried Quorn sausages, caramelized onion and drizzled with a maple syrup & balsamic cream. Seriously, they tasted like beef sausages! I am told that apparantly these taste nothing like the soy sausages, they are even better. The sausage texture was definately there too, I could have been fooled if no one told me I wasn't eating meat. I also really liked the onions and maply syrup & balsamic cream, complimented the sausage perfectly. After the second dish we are shown a presentation about the brand and also some facts and figures from the nutritionist about the mycoprotein which is used to make the Quorn products. You can find most of the information on the Quorn website, this is the link for the UK site which is similar to the one Australia will have. Have a read about The Quorn Story. Once the presentation was over we were fed more food with A subtle taste of India ~Tender Quorn pieces brushed with Tikka marsala and studded with lime wedges. They were like chicken breast pieces, a little dry I found, just like chicken pieces when you overcook them =D. Feedback from another blogger who also happened to be a vegetarian was that it was just like chicken and was the best chicken substitute she had tasted (isn't it ironic when it's a meat free product launch and there is one vegetarian blogger, maybe all the bloggers love their meat too much).

        Next on the menu is Gnocchi Bolognese Bakes ~ pots of rich Quorn mince Bolognese sauce, topped with fresh mozzarella and baked until golden then topped with baby gnocchi shaved parmesan and fresh basil. This dish was good and hearty, and just looking at the mince... "I can't believe it's not meat!". The baby gnocchi was a little tough but I think it was more about the Quorn, the sauce was quite tasty  =D. We all get really talking now so are a little slow to finish our portions and a few of us were saying how we were already getting full, only to be told there's 2 more dishes to come! Following is the Spanish inspired slices of sausage nestled in a warm smoky paprika, tomato & olive salsa, I think these were the "chicken" Quorn sausages. Not a huge fan of this but was definately interesting to eat.

        Our last dish to come out was Middle Eastern spices panfried with Quorn mince, dolloped with a fresh mint yoghurt and sprinkled with dukkah, definately interesting to eat but again it wasn't my favourite of the night. The funny moment of the night is when a fruit platter of watermelon and strawberries comes out and everyone makes the "Is it Quorn?" joke. I thought it was pretty cool. Some of the other food bloggers I meet include Rachel, Alex, Sara and Daphne. I'm not usually one to be comfortable in a room full of strangers but everyone (bloggers and PR people alike) was so nice and friendly. I couldn't help but be nervous and sweat like hell though.

(Photo from MARK Communications)
        Quorn products will be officially available in stores in June, from Woolworths and Coles supermarkets. Australia will only have 11 Quorn products available to start with but I guess they will bring in more according to how well the products are received by the consumers. It is a frozen product which will be imported from the UK, they are well aware of sustainability and will look into seeing if the product can be manufactured locally. Unfortunately for my friends who are intolerant to gluten, these products are not gluten free due to the processes involved in making them. From the nutritional information given to us, I would definately consider giving this a go myself when it hits the freezers. I could probably do with some more healthier options for my mid week meals though I don't think I will ever be vegetarian by choice. I found the night quite interesting and informative.

***Please contact MARK Communications if you want any further information about the products***