Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lunch for friends "Just Because".

        It's been a while since Ryan and I have hosted a movie night and it's been a while since we've caught up with some of our mutual friends so we decided to plan a get together. Something inspired by my pancake party blog post though Sunday brunch turned into Saturday lunch. We also wanted to utilised Ryan's back yard/porch before it got too much colder. We had a lot more people over than when we did pancakes but it was alot less than what we did for boxing day a few years ago (think bbq for 50 people organised by just the 2 of us.)
        There was no reason behind it, "just because" we wanted to cook and catch up with friends. We ended up with a guest list of 15 (with some people declining the invite due to other commitments). To make it easier on ourselves we asked our guests to bring a plate each. Ryan and I made a few dishes and we provided everything else (drinks, cutlery, bread, etc). It was still alot of hard work to pull it off with 3 whole nights in the kitchen beforehand and then getting up early on Saturday to finish cooking.

        We knew all our guests wouldn't arrive at the same time, even when the invitation stated 12:30pm we knew that we were anticipating at least a 1:00pm start (asian timing). I made a thai flavoured pumpkin soup to serve up as a bit of an "amuse bouche" to the guests as they arrived - well that was the plan anyway.

Brasserie Bread - The best loaves of bread that I bought.

        On the left we have the caramelised garlic bread and on the right we have the olive and rosemary loaf.

        The idea of serving them to guests as they came kind of failed. Ryan was in the shower, tables and chairs hadn't been set up yet, I was still cutting up oranges and fennel and my prawns were still frozen! While my soup was on the heat bubbling away. Thank goodness for great friends willing to help out. Leaving my camera out also meant people playing with my settings. I must admit though that this photo of my pumpkin soup looks mightly delicious!

        My intended entree dish to be served as a starter - garlic prawns with fennel and orange. Ended up being served at the table with the rest of the food because people all started digging in due to hunger!

        A great contribution - a chorizo, olive and spinach pasta dish. Leftovers were great =D

The garlic bread sliced up, this disappeared rather quickly.

        Another great contribution - Can't remember what Di called it in Vietnamese (Mum has also made this before) but it's a steamed rice cake topped with ground shrimps and possibly mince pork too? Served with grated carrot and home made fish sauce. I unfortunately didn't get to try it because there was so much food and I was full.

        Just had to take a photo of this contribution! =D It was kind of expected, not all my friends are foodies and can cook. I didn't touch it though =p.

        Ryan made Boeuf Bourguignon, we woke up to an almost disaster which we managed to save. I so wanted to eat this with a nice creamy mash but we ran out of time due to having to finish cooking it in the morning. Thank goodness for bread.

My chocolate tart.

        Chocolate tart served with green apple sorbet and pieces of "baked apple".

        This was such a beautiful contribution! (And so was the box it came in). Unfortunately though due to food overload this remained untouched. Last time I saw it we put it into Ryan's fridge...  

        Another dessert contribution. Mixed berry jelly served with condensed milk, I enjoyed this =). Simple things are always good.

        We had a "roving" photographer. Hehe, this is what happens when you leave your camera lying around. Unfortunately I didn't get any more photos of this great lunch. There was a lot of food contributed including some Thai dishes such as fried rice and salads, sausages and skewers for the bbq, even ham and cheese croissants which never got assembled due to the mass of food on offer. Totally underestimated how much food there was going to be. We did have a long lunch session too lasting for about 3 hours or more.
        I was told I wasn't enjoying the lunch as much as I should have been and shouldn't have been taking so many photos and stressing so much about stuff. "Eat, Angie", "Sit, Angie" is what I head a fair bit of =D . Haha can't help it when you play host though, it's all about your guests and not you. Thank you all for making it a great day, it was nice to see everyone together having a good time. It's going to be a while before I do something like this again.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bun Rieu Cua (Crab Noodle Soup) - In the kitchen with Mum again

        Bun Rieu is one of my favourite dishes! After an exhausting Friday at Planet Cake learning to decorate my own cake I didn't think that I would be in the kitchen again all weekend. How wrong I was, Saturday was spent in the kitchen helping mum prep for lunch which I'll blog about later and Sunday was spent in the kitchen prepping and also cooking Bun Rieu (Crab Noodle Soup) with her. 
        This post is a dedication to Mum, kind of a continuation to my banh xeo (vietnamese savoury pancakes) blog post. She actually made this about 2-3 weeks ago aswell and I took some photos but never got around to blogging about it. This time I managed to get some more detailed photos (because I ended up cooking it) so I'll combine photos from last time as well as from this time.

        So I wake up Sunday morning and see some tomatoes on the kitchen counter, some tofu and a can of crab meat. I also see that Mum has left out a bottle of home made stock to defrost. Instantly I know what we'll be eating today. Mum comes home and I ask her if we're having Bun Rieu for dinner and she says yes. While clearing the kitchen bench I pull out my camera and start taking some "random" photos of the can of crab meat, jar of crab paste with soya bean oil and tomatoes before putting it aside.
        Mum being mum, "Where's the rest of the stuff? You want to include everything else that goes into it. Get the Banana Blossom out of the fridge, and the herbs and bean sprouts". Yes, I have a bossy mum. =D If I did photograph everything that went into this dish they wouldn't all fit into the one photo, most vietnamese dishes are that complex in flavour. The Banana Blossom is also from our garden. One day I'll need to wonder into the garden and photograph all the goodies that my parents have planted.

        The flavour of the soup is mainly made up of these 4 ingredients. Crab Paste in Soya Bean Oil, Crab Meat (canned), tomatoes and egg. Well this is what mum uses in her version anyway. Upon googling Bun Rieu I found many variations on this dish posted out there. There is also an entry in Wikipedia for Bun Rieu. 
        Sometimes mum will add pork mince and small dried shrimps to the soup, she's also made it before with pig's blood jelly though that's saved for special occasions where alot of adults are present. Us "kids" don't like blood jelly. I don't like blood jelly. This dish is also really awesome if made with fresh crab though that is a rare luxury and I find that the canned stuff Mum buys does a good enough job.

        First thing that gets done is the rice noodles or vermicelli. This comes dried out of a pack.

        One packet expands hugely and you end up with a whole heap of noodles.

        Mum slicing the Banana Blossom. The outer layers all get stripped off leaving not much behind. As she slices through to the middle another few layers get peeled away. It does all eventually seperate and expand so you tend to underestimate how much of the Banana Blossom there really is.

        The Banana Blossom needs to go into water straight away or else it will oxodise. Mum also adds a preserving crystal of some sort to the water to help keep the colour.

        A Vietnamese dish is not complete without an array of fresh herbs. Mint, Basil, Perilla. Some of these herbs are also found in our garden though the colder weather and winter approaching means not alot of things growing in the garden.

        Traditionally we used to eat Bun Rieu with split water spinach stems. After time Mum gets lazy and serves them whole, or just split in half. The season is ending though so we don't get any of it this time, even though it was only a couple of weeks ago that we had it.

        At first it was just me taking photos of Mum cooking Bun Rieu, she then decides to hand the reigns over to me. "I'll teach you to cook, it's very very easy". She tells me all the steps/order of ingredients while I try to absorb it all in. It's actually the second time around because she tells me all this before she goes to have an afternoon nap after we finish all the prep work and I have to ask her again when I start cooking.
        So I open the jar of Crab Paste in Soya Bean Oil and pour the oil into a bowl with about 4 or 5 eggs and beat it all together (too many according to mum but I love my egg in soup). Apparantly I was meant to split both the oil and "Crab Paste" in half mixing half in with the eggs and half into the stock. Try translating Vietnamese intructions into English in your head... instructions must have got lost in translation or something =D.

        The "Crab Paste" (in Soya Bean oil) and the canned crab meat. Mix it all together and then once the stock is boiling stir the crab mix in.

        Mum always makes her own stock, she usually uses a mix of chicken carcasses and pork bones. This stock works for asian cooking though the flavour might not be suited for western cooking. She usually makes a big batch and freezes it in bottles. Most of it is mainly used as a noodle broth but occasionally she'll use it to cook things like this.

        Chop the tomatoes and quickly sautee them with some onion to enhance the flavour and give them colour. No need to cook them because they'll cook once added to the soup.

        Season the soup according to taste (salt, sugar, fish sauce). There is no measuring involved, it's all done by taste. Something that I have learnt to do by just watching Mum (and tasting and doing it myself). If it's missing a bit of sweetness, throw in a teaspoon or two of sugar, if it's too sweet, a spoon or two of salt. Needs some body? Sure, sprinkle in some fish sauce. Slowly swirl the soup and add in the egg mixture a ladle at a time beating it into the soup. This is Mum doing it last time, can't take a photo of myself doing this.

        Look at the colour of that soup. I get a little lecture on what I did wrong. Crab Paste should have been added to the egg as well as the oil, the egg and crab paste cling together and give you more textural bits in the soup. I poured the bowl straight into the pot, in a steady stream of course but this apparantly caused too many lumpy big pieces of egg in the soup. Also, too much egg, it overtakes all the soup. "You learn from your mistakes" I tell mum.

        Tofu cubes and something that Mum adds, Fish Tofu, pretty much fish cake made into the form of Tofu.

        I love the Tofu in this dish, the Tofu just soaks up all the soup and is just fantastic to eat. I love Tofu, as long as it's cooked/used well. This is my pot of Bun Rieu Soup.

This is Mum's pot from last time, who's looks better hey? ;)

        This was taken from the last time, Mum insisted I needed to take a before and an after shot. "You want to show the bowl before the soup".

        Mum's bowl of Bun Rieu with soup. From what mum says, the name Bun Rieu is an exact description of what the dish is, the word "Rieu" means floating, or something close to that. When you cook the soup everything ends up floating to the top, "Bun" means noodles, so literal translation, "Floating Noodles"? Vietnamese is a strange language, and my parents wonder why us kids struggle, Vietnamese is as strange to us as English is strange to them.

        Bun Rieu is usually eaten with a wedge of lemon and a spoon full of Mam Ruoc which is a salted shrimp paste. I'm not a huge fan of the smell and flavour so usually go without. Mum insists that Bun Rieu isn't Bun Rieu without the Mam Ruoc.

        So this is my presentation of a bowl of Bun Rieu. Ryan came over for dinner on Sunday (to return my iphone) and when he came into the kitchen where I was prepping him a bowl Mum proudly announces that I cooked it. I already told Ryan that I was cooking one of Mum's dishes. "So I heard" he says to her. And Ryan's critique of my cooking? Restuarant quality. =)

I'm entering this to Delicious Vietnam which is a blogging event run by A Food Lover's Journey and Ravenous Couple. I got asked to submit my Banh Xeo post but was too lazy to edit it to fit the criteria for last month.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Planet Cake - Decorating Course, Adriano Zumbo, Victoire and Abhi's. All in a day!

        If you've read my previous post on celebration cakes you would see that I have a love/hate relationship making cakes for special occasions. I do enjoy it though and my wonderful boyfriend dearest even bought me Planet Cake's book for my birthday last year. After a visit to the Planet Cake stand at Taste of Sydney festival I knew that I eventually wanted to do one of their courses just to get some tips and tricks on how to decorate with fondant icing (after my poor effort the first time I did it). Whilst browsing through the Planet Cake website and spotting that their Basics 101 Course was on special at a massive 30% off, I thought it was too good to be true. I registered myself  for a Friday course and applied for the day off work (after consulting Ryan just to check if I was crazy). So this is what I got up to on Friday.

        Mum woke me up thinking I had work so since I was up anyway I headed to Balmain allowing myself plenty of time to stop by Adriano Zumbo Pattisserie to pick up some goodies for Ryan (and me). He really liked the popcorn macaron last time but unfortunately that flavour was no longer available as Adriano has released a new range of flavours for Winter. Being first thing in the morning the crates of cakes had only just been delivered and I would suspect that anything out on display (in small quantities) could have been the previous day's leftovers. (Though being a weekday - no queues!) I wasn't fussed though and was too lazy to pry through all the crates so just selected what looked good from what was on display. There were 7 macaron flavours on display so I asked for one each.
        After consulting Belle's (Ooh Look) Tumblr site I see that we missed out on 3 flavours, caramelised hommus, citrus sorrell & mustard, and mont black (chestnut). Ryan said he was actually looking forward to trying the citrus sorrell & mustard macaron. I noticed that the guy serving me had stuffed them all into a plastic sleeve squishing one of the macarons, I was a little annoyed and asked for a box for which he gave me a very slim box and squashed my macarons into it squashing the top one even further =(.

        Couldn't leave without getting a couple of cakes to try too. The one on the right is called "Grains" which is Oatmeal creme, toasted spelt mousse, maple gel, sesame nougatine, almond pumpkin seed cake. This was actually selected from one of the crates on top of the counter, as I had no idea what everything was I asked the guy serving me and I was intrigued he mentioned pumpkin seed cake. Apparantly the original release didn't have all the caramel crumbs covering the cake.
        The one on the right is called "Ginger" which is Ginger beer gel, ginger pudding, chocolate ginger foam eggs, ginger crunch coconut syrup, ginger chantilly, passionfruit banana bavarois. To make sure that they survived for the whole day I brang a cooler box to put them in, I had to buy everything early as the course started at 10 and didn't finish until 4 so they would have closed by the time I finished. I also took a photo of them because I knew they wouldn't survive the long car ride.

        I needed some breakfast and after reading some positive reviews about Victoire I pop in to see what they have on offer. Not alot from what I saw but then again 8am on a Friday morning is probably not their peak trading time. There were alot of loaves of bread on offer and a small selection of sweets. Not needing any bread and not being drawn to anything in the front window I decide to grab a couple of croissants and brioche's knowing that Ryan adores croissants.

        I hop into my car and drive a couple of blocks down to Planet Cake, I sit in my car eating my croissant for breakfast while listening to the radio (and taking photos of my goodies). The croissant is really good. Flaky, moist and very buttery, just the way I like it. When Ryan eats his share he agrees that it's good.
        I still have a good hour to spare (got there early because of my pitt stops plus was worried about parking) so I decide to go for a walk around Balmain. I find myself walking through some back roads and find myself walking adjacent to the water looking at the Anzac Bridge. It was a really cold morning but the walk warmed me up. I eventually find myself back on Darling Street and make my way back to Beattie Street where Planet Cake is.

        I am the second person to arrive at Planet Cake. I walk into the showroom and am amazed at all the display "cakes" on show. Slowly all the other students arrive and we are then led down a staircase through to where the "classroom" is. It's pretty much where all the cake work happens when there isn't a class. I walk into the class to find out that our teacher is actually the lovely Anna Maria Roche, I've heard some great things about her and she made this amazing Alice In Wonderland cake. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think it won a prize at the Easter Show. She was a last minute stand in as our original teacher had a family emergency to tend to.
        There are rows of benches and I place myself on the end of the first row. All our tools are supplied as well as the cake and we get notes to take home too. Tea and coffee is supplied along with some chocolate mudcake which no one touches until after lunch (a light lunch of wraps, salad and fruit is also served later on). The following photos cut through the steps quickly (not very practical to take photos with chocolate and cornflour covered hands) but I'll give you a quick run down of what happens in between when my hands are dirty.

       Anna Maria demonstrates to us each step before we all go back to our benches to do it ourselves. We are all given a round chocolate mud cake which we will decorate. The first step is to cut off the crust and slice the cake into 3 layers, a lot harder than it sounds. We're given a turntable and a large serated knife which helps the task immensly. The layers are then brushed with syrup and then sandwiched together with chocolate ganache. Again, all sounds easier than it actually is. The middle layer becomes the top and the top layer becomes the middle.
        Somewhere along I manage to accidently flip the top of the cake so that the uneven surface is underneath. It should have remained facing upwards and the gaps would have been filled in with ganache. I also accidently ganache my top when told not to so the whole cake has to be flipped upside down with the ganache side sticking the cake down onto the board. This makes it tricky when it comes to cutting the cake as it gets stuck to the board.

        The next step is to ganache the sides of the cake. It's easy if you don't have any gaps in between your cake layers. Alot of ganache is spread onto the cake before we use a scraper to smooth it out and scrape off the excess. You just keep smoothing it out, then fill in the gaps and smooth it out again, keep repeating until there are no gaps left. (I failed at this but didn't really have enough time to get it perfect). The top does not get done at this stage.

        The excess ganache is sliced off the top edge (once set) and then the top of the cake is then covered in a thick layer of ganache and scraped off. You have to remember to to apply too much pressure or else you end up scarping off all the ganache and exposing the cake underneath.

A quick snapshot of what the "classroom" looks like.

Our wonderful teacher Anna Maria Roche.

        We were given two blocks of icing to colour, any two colours of our own choice. As the course was coinciding with a baby shower at work on the Monday after I thought I would take the cake in to work (as long as I did a good job). As we didn't know the sex of the baby for either of the expectant mothers I decided to go neutral. Even neutral was a hard choice!

        It was hard work kneading the colour into the white icing. My arms received quite a work out! This is where a stool was given to me as I needed to be a little higher up so that I could apply pressure down onto the icing. I ended up choosing green for my base and ivory for the accents.

        First off we make out stars/shapes on wires to go on the top of the cake. We then cover our cake board in a thin layer of icing and leave it to dry/set while we have our lunch break. While on lunch Paris Cutler, the owner, comes out and has a chat to us and asks us how we're going. Some of the other ladies ask her some questions about the business and she gives us a little bit of insight. She was so lovely to have =).

        After lunch we watch Anna Maria demonstrate the main part of icing the cake. The cake is then brushed with syrup and the icing is then rolled out and placed on the cake, the inverted colouring is done by placing 2 discs of the contrasting colour underneath the main colour and then crosses cut into the first 2 layers then each tip was pulled back to expose the colour undernearth. The icing sheet is smoothed and pushed onto the cake by hand and then we use some erm "smoothers" to smooth out the icing and create the sharp edges (I ran out of time so didn't get to finish my sharp edge). If you look closely at the left and the right you can see that the left edging is sharper and the right edging is more curved.

        Close up of the middle. We then do the ribbons for the sides and stick some cut out stars and cachous onto the sides (and use them to cover up any ugly bits!).

       The cake is then lifted off our working board and placed on the covered cake board. The tissues are used to hold the "ribbon" up while it sets. We make a long "sausage" to go around the base and the stars on wires are then wound around the edge of a paintbrush to make the spirals and placed into the cake.

       My finished product. And to think that took me 6 hours to do! Just the decoration though, would have taken me another day if I had to bake my own cake.

        Close up of the middle of my completed cake. I don't think it's perfect yet, lots to learn. I also think my expectations of myself are way too high but I guess it's what makes me strive for perfection.

        All the cakes together for a group photo. It was really good to see them alltogether at the end of the day. Our hard work paid off!

        All the students together for a group photo. I think we had to stand and smile and say cheese 13 times for all the cameras. That's one camera per person for a class of 12 and one camera from Planet Cake.

        At the end of class we get handed certificates of completion. There is also a "passport" which gets marked everytime you do a course with Planet Cake, you need to build up from the most basic courses to be able to do the more advanced ones. Once you do one course you also get a returning student's discount of 10% which is really good. Having done floristry before I think that it helped with the fine intricate stuff. I guess you could call me an artistic"ish" person. I definately have a creative streak but my creativity doesn't seem to show when it comes to food presentation though. I am still learning that food can be art on a plate (or cake). I really enjoyed myself doing the course even though it was such an intense day. I do wish that the classes were a little smaller as I found that when I did struggle it wasn't easy to get help. But overall, great course. I now have a greater appreciation for what I originally thought were very expensive cakes, all the time and effort and training to get them looking so immaculate.

        So I arrive at Ryan's with my cake and goodies and am absolutely tired and hungry. We decide to have a few "tester" macarons but find ourselves eating all 7 macarons - all before dinner! Some flavours were more favoured than others but they were all pretty good. They made fantastic pre-dinner treats though. I also give Ryan his croissant and brioche to try - thumbs up.

        As Ryan has also had a big day he decides that we're going to go out for dinner. Using my Urbanspoon app on my iphone we land on Abhi's. I'd first heard of Abhi's as a recommendation from a work colleague last year and after reading many great reviews have always meant to drag Ryan there but we always end up elsewhere. Being a Friday night though I was skeptical that we would be able to get a table but we try anyway. Just our luck though we manage to walk in with a table available straight away - on the condition we were done by 8. And done by 8 we were.

        We go straight for the mains and Ryan orders a Lamb Korma and I choose the Prawn and Scallop curry. We have both rice and garlic naan to go with the curries. The food comes out really fast. The curries were gorgeous and I loved the seasoned rice. Ryan said that the Lamb Korma was a bit more savoury than the ones we've had at other places which are more on the sweeter side. The lamb was really nice and tender. I also loved the prawn and scallop curry. We were both very full with just 2 curries, rice and naan. Service was good, waiters attentive. The only annoying thing was the mood lighting. It was so dark in that place. Perhaps to deter food bloggers? =D I'd definately come back here but would definately plan it in and book ahead.

        So we head back to Ryan's and catch up on all our favourite TV shows (including foodie ones). I love watching food on Ryan's HDTV =D. After a few shows and dinner digested we dig into dessert. As you can see the "Grains" cake has toppled over so in order to save it we had to eat it first. It was an interesting cake though I wasn't overly impressed with it. It was... nice, but nothing that makes me go "oh my goodness yumm". I enjoyed the "Ginger" cake better and love the lingering ginger taste in my mouth though Ryan isn't entirely fond of ginger in cakes. Apparantly bad childhood memories associated with overly spicey ginger bread experiences.

        So the cake gets taken into work for the baby shower and everyone absolutely loves it. People were in shock when I say I made it or someone tells them I made it... and I explained that no I didn't make the whole thing but just decorated it. I got told I should have just taken all the credit and said I made the whole thing =D. And here I am thinking about what I could have done better. There were 3 of us "organising" the baby shower, one of the other ladies made cupcakes and chocolate crackles and the other made fairy bread. Also ordered some mini quiches and other savouries from the cafeteria. I think the cake went down well considering that it was very rich and there was so much food. I've cut up the leftovers for home and giving some to Ryan to take to work. Even though it was a 3 day weekend for me I am absolutely exhausted and feel like I need a day just to recover!

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