Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sun Sun Chinese Kitchen Flemington/Homebush West - and my first live soccer game (10th July '10)

        Going through my backlog I was reminded of a little local restaurant that Ryan and his family have been visiting. I kind of got inspired to pull this blog out of the closet and support a local gem because of a post by fellow blogger mademoiselle délicieuse about the hardships of running a local cafe
        This is Sun Sun Chinese Kitchen, a quaint little family run Chinese restaurant in the suburb of Flemington, in Sydney's inner west. According to Ryan, this restaurant has been there forever, as far back as his childhood memories take him. Ryan has told me tales of when his late Grandfather used to take him here as a bit of a treat. Since dating Ryan, I've eaten here only a hand full of times with him, sometimes dining in and other times getting take away. His family hadn't been visiting much either in recent times. It had been a long long time since we last ate here before this particular visit, but the owners had not forgotten about the Romero family.
        It was a Sunday night, and Ryan, Di and I were off to watch a game of soccer. My first ever time watching a live soccer game - it was the Sydney FC vs Everton friendly. Before meeting Phil at the stadium we needed to fill our tummy's with some food. We were a little tight on time so thought we would try and stay local and seeing as the little hub of restaurants in Flemington was only down the road from Ryan we thought 'why not?'. There's not a huge range to choose from, you have either Vietnamese, Chinese, Vietnamese or Chinese or even the possibility of a fusion of the two. We decided on Sun Sun as it had been a while since we last visited.

        As soon as we walk in the doors, Ryan is pretty much bombarded with questions from the lady behind the counter. 'Hi! Long time no see! How are you? Where have you been? How are your parents? How is your Grandfather?'. You generally don't get a whole string of questions like that unless the people really know your family. We take a seat at a table and decide over what we want to eat. Some complimentary glasses of tea are poured out for us, which is a lovely touch to a chilly night.

        Sticky Pork Ribs. This is a dish that Ryan and I absolutely love. The ribs are cooked until tender, the sauce is a lovely balance of sticky sweetness and savoury. And there is a nice portion of meat on each rib.

        Tofu stuffed with Pork Mince with Salt and Pepper. Another favourite of ours. This took a little while to come out, but it was worth the wait, even if we had a soccer game to catch. Piping hot, freshly deep fried fluffy puffs of tofu fried to perfection, with a nice filling of mince pork mixed with some diced fungus.

        Some fried rice to go with the mains. Lovely smokiness throughout the rice, a nice even spread of char siu pork, some vegies, egg, and seasoned with a bit of soy.

        I insisted that we had to have some vegetables, we needed some balance to the meal. A plate of stir fried vegetables was ordered., just done simply with a bit of soy and oyster sauce. It was quite a lot of food for 3 people, we ended up having a few pieces of tofu left over which we asked to take away (can't waste good food). Ryan ended up eating them during the soccer game later on.
        The food coming out of this place is always consistently good. It might not be the best ever Chinese restaurant in Sydney, but for a local joint it deserves it's loyal customer base.I havn't been often enough to work my way through the menu but the dishes that I have tried were all decent. And the owners are always super friendly to you. If you're a local I'd suggest you pay them a visit. I'm hoping that they'll be there for another while yet. It would be a sad day if they ever decide to close their doors.
*** Edit - Just had a friend on facebook say that apparantly they have changed owners, but it's still the same cook. I'll have to pass the news on to Ryan and make a visit back soon. Have to make sure that the food is still as good as it was! See, this is what happens when you don't support your locals!***

        Our friends wanted to go watch this soccer game because Sydney FC was playing against Everton. For someone who doesn't really follow sports it ended up being an extremely boring game for me to watch. There was just not enough action on the field for me. Give me an NRL match anyday!! Go the Roosters!! ;) It was a good night none the less, it's the company that matters.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Manuka Honey & Pistachio Dukkah Ice Cream

        It's been a long while since I last made home made ice cream. I've actually been sitting on this flavour combination since August last year, after attending an event relaunching the Table of Plenty dukkah range. At the end of our banquet we were served a dessert plate which included a dukkah ice cream which had hints of honey in it. I think it was the most memoreable part of the meal. I knew that it was something I was going to have a go at recreating myself.
        Spring came and went and then Summer just got too hot to churn ice cream using my little machine, the ice bucket just melts before the ice cream even has a chance to churn. But luckily, Autumn is now here and the warm days are turning cooler in the evenings which means I can safely pull out my ice cream machine and start churning again.

        I was given a goodie bag containing some Table of Plenty dukkahs to play with at home. Ryan and I made some dukkah crusted steaks with some and I had been saving this pistachio one to make an ice cream with. If you don't know what dukkah is, it's a mixture of ground nuts, spices and seeds traditionally eaten as a dip with some bread and oils. You can also use it to season proteins before cooking or to mix through salads. I was inspired when I had it in a dessert, ice cream of all things, I just wanted to experiment and make it for myself. It just took me a long time to get organised and do it (and waiting for the weather to cool down slightly too).

        Some liquid gold. This is actually the 1kg jar of Manuka Honey which Ryan and I bought on our trip to New Zealand with my family. I decided that the Manuka honey would give a nice flavour to the ice cream, rather than regular honey. I make up a basic ice cream recipe then add my flavurings, using a few sources for comparison and then making up my own measurements for the ingredients. I'll give you the recipe as I remember it (measurements may be approximations only).

Recipe: Manuka Honey & Pistachio Dukkah Ice Cream
600ml thickened cream
250ml milk
1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup honey
30g dukkah mix (I used the Pistachio Dukkah by Table of Plenty)

        Whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and creamy and then add the honey and whisk until combined.

        Heat the cream and milk until just simmering (do not boil). Leave to cool for a minute or two. Slowly whisk the milk and cream mixture into the egg mixture and whisk until combined. Pour the mixture back into a clean saucepan and cook over medium heat without boiling until the cream mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (When you run your finger through the mixture it should stay seperated). Strain the mixture into a large bowl or container and cool, then store in the fridge overnight.

        Set up your machine as per manufacturer's instructions. Stir your cream mixture and then add it to the machine and churn according to the instructions provided. I own a Krups ice cream machine which comes with a bucket which needs to be pre-frozen 24 - 48 hours before churning the ice cream. I then attach the rings and little electric motor with beater and away she goes.
        The handy thing about living at home and Mum having a large chest freezer is that the tub lives in the freezer until I am ready to make ice cream hence no need for pre-planning. I do need to remember to return the bucket back once it's been cleaned and thawed out.

        Once the mixture is poured into your ice bucket don't wait around taking photos. I learned the hard way that the mixture instantly freezes around the edge and because the motor is only low voltage and the beater is plastic, I have a good old time trying to scrape all the frozen mixture off the sides and bottom so that the beater attachment can churn the cream mixture. It keeps getting caught trying to push through the already frozen mixture stuck to the sides and bottom.

        After a lot of kafuffle the ice cream is churning and we soon see the mixture progress to a nice thick fluffy creamy consistency.

The dukkah is then added and mixed through.

        This is as far as you will get, the ice cream at this stage is more of a soft serve ice cream. Just pop it into the freezer for a bit until it firms up before serving. The ice cream does solidify quite a bit after prolonged storage in the freezer as it doesn't contain as much air and other additives which commercial ice cream contains. Just be patient and leave it out for a couple of minutes to soften before serving. A bit of extra dukkah sprinkled on top before serving is optional.

        And the verdict? Mellow sweetness from the Manuka honey, a bit of crunchy texture from the nuts and seeds, bit of spice which gives the ice cream a very slight savoury undertone, combined with creamy ice cream, it was really lovely to eat. Mum and Dad didn't mind it, Ryan loved it, I thought it was pretty addictive. I'm glad I finally got around to making this flavour, it sure beats all the boring classics on the supermarket shelf ;).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Pan Fried Fish Fillets with Pea Puree, Tomato Salsa & Tempura Kumara

        All my blog posts seem to be about baked and sweet items. It's not that I don't know how to cook savoury dishes, it's not that I don't like savoury dishes, I'm just better at baking and making sweet items. It's also a bit of a pain to keep stopping and starting during cooking to take photographs and I just want to dig in to my food straight after because I am just absolutely starving. When I am that hungry I don't really have the time or patience to take that 'perfect' photo, one that actually looks appealing for the blog. I'm also not into setting up my food with props and having extra washing up to do on top of the mess I make cooking and serving my food, maybe one day in the future I will, but for now I like the enjoyment of eating what I cook while it's still nice and hot and freshly made, straight from whatever container that I have decided to serve it in. I do have a backlog of photos of dishes that I've cooked, but I guess none of them have looked so appealing to me that I don't think anyone else would want to look at them either.
        There was a whole heap of frozen fish in the freezer, courtesy of my trip up to Queensland with my brother and cousin to visit my relatives after the floods. We caught over 100 fish from a lake which my aunty froze and put in a styrofoam box for us to bring home (not all 100 of them though). I have no idea what species they are (Vietnamese to English translations wern't quite working for me whenever I tried to ask someone what the fish were). I just know that because they were frozen almost straight after they were caught, the flesh remained nice and firm and still tasted quite fresh. I decided that I wanted to cook something with the fish since we had so much of it. Ryan also requested no meat on Fridays during Lent so fish it was going to be for dinner.

        This dish is actually my own creation, though inspired by a dish I had at a restaurant a couple of weeks before (and bits and pieces I picked up reading cookbooks/foodblogs, watching cooking shows) but adding my own twist to it. When I cook like this I don't really measure out all my ingredients and just cook by vision and taste. It's how my mum cooks and that's how I learnt to cook.
        I start with the tomato salsa, I had some cherry tomatoes left in the fridge from the weekend before that needed to be used and thought they would work perfectly as a salsa. I quartered them, added some capers, chopped basil (Thai basil because that's what we had at home), minced garlic, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar, a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and mixed it all up. Salsas (and tomatoes) seem to be a popular as an accompaniment for fish. Mum makes a dish where she pan fries a whole fish until crispy and then sautees a chopped tomato which just gets placed on top of the fish which is then dressed with a home made fish sauce dressing and then served with rice.

        Next I make the pea puree. I just used frozen peas (a freezer staple item) and cooked them in some chicken stock and then blitzed it all in a blender.

        Such a vibrant green! I actually end up with a much thinner puree than I had anticipated (almost like a soup it was) so I'd suggest using only a small amount of stock to blitz the peas with. I ended up using a whole 500gr bag of frozen peas and about 2/3 cup of stock. The puree was to also act as a bit of a sauce for the fish.

        I wanted another element to go with the salsa and puree and decided to make some tempura kumara slices. I sliced them a little too thick, and my tempura batter didn't quite give me the consistency I wanted. They were more like battered sweet potato chips, which was fine, but not obviously not quite the 'tempura' I wanted.

        Lucky for us my aunty and cousin gutted and cleaned the fish before freezing which meant less messy work for me - yay! I can't say I've ever attempted to gut and clean a fish myself, but I don't think I could bring myself to do it, I get really squirmish about things like that. I'll buy my fish readily cleaned from the fishmongers thanks. I did have trouble filleting the fish though as I've never done that before either! Mum came to the rescue though and helped me get my fillets. I get people telling me I should try out for Masterchef, if I can't even clean and fillet a fish I'd be kicked out of the competition when it comes to those kind of challenges.

        I was under the impression that the seemingly fat fish I chose would give me some nice sized fillets. When mum gave me my fillets she pointed out that there was probably only enough to feed one so I quickly go and defrost another fish in the microwave. I overlooked the fact that there was a big stomach cavity and a spine going through the fish, lucky there was backup in the freezer.

        Apart from grilling and pan frying salmon fillets, battering fish fillets and deep frying them I have never actually cooked with other fish before. Paying attention to cooking shows helps here ;) I season the fish with salt and pepper and rub some salt onto the skin. A pan is heated to high and I make sure that my oil is very hot before adding the fish, skin side down. The fish does look a little burnt around the edges here but it actually is not. I should have pressed down the middle of the fillets more while cooking as the middle of the skin doesn't crisp up as much as the edges do. I got a little overzealous with one of the fillets and flipped it over a couple of minutes before the skin was crispy and browned so flipped it over again to get the skin as crispy as I could.

        Ryan was actually stuck at work doing the afternoon shift on Friday (not his usual work day). I spent most of the evening in the kitchen prepping and doing all the elements myself so that as soon as he came over after work, all I had to do was heat the puree, fry the fish and kumara chips and assemble the dish.
I wouldn't suggest making the puree too far in advance though as it starts to seperate a little sitting there. I probably could have strained it to refine it a bit more but it seemed fine after I blitzed it. I'm too hungry to wait for Ryan so make my own dinner and eat it without him.

        Presenting a dish nicely has never really been my strong point. It's usually all about the eating. But I'm quite happy with this attempt of mine. And I absolutely love all the vibrant colours in it, and the flavours are as vibrant as the dish itself. I am one who loves her strong bold flavours, it's something I have been brought up on. Was probably a little heavy handed on the pea puree but I had heaps of it and I do love my sauce in dishes. When you think about it, it's pretty much fish and chips with a salad that I've cooked up ;) But it sure was hard sitting there looking through the lens of my camera thinking how delicious it all looked! It sure was a great reward to be able to eat it once I was done photographing it.
        Ryan's verdict: It's really good. Really strong flavours, all the elements work well and complement each other. Sweetness of the tomatoes works well with the saltiness of the puree and the tartness of the capers gives it another dimension. The sweet potato could have been sliced a bit thinner and the batter could have been thinner too. But what's with the bones?
        There was a small sliver of bones still stuck in one of his fillets. The semi defrosted fish was a little trickier to fillet and when I attempted to cut this piece out I saw that it would have made the fillet really small and I wanted to maximise whatever we could get out of the fish so I left it in, and forgot to warn him beforehand. Oops.

        I had also bought some plump figs for dessert. The figs have been absolutely gorgeous the past few weeks and I have been totally obsessed with them, eating a couple almost every day of the (working) week. I wanted to try and cook with them this time around so decided to stuff them with some ricotta cheese, drizzle them with some honey and then grill them. I initially was thinking some Manuka honey but remembered that I had some Lavendar honey I had bought from NZ in the pantry and thought it would be a better pairing with the figs.

        I was too eager to eat them (and impatient) and pulled them out of the grill a little too soon so they don't get the caramelised finish I was looking for. Ryan and I both agreed that they needed a bit more honey so I drizzle over another few spoonfuls and quickly zap them in the microwave. It was just heavenly to eat. The lavender honey complimented the figs really well, drawing out the floral tones and enhancing their sweetness. I think this is where my fig obsession ended, I saw them at the fruit shop on my lunch break this week and actually didn't buy any (unlike my other recent visits). It was a perfect way to eat the figs though and a nice sweet end to the meal.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Family Holiday - Rotorua NZ - Part 1

        Our family went on a short holiday to Rotorua, New Zealand the week before Christmas 2010. There were 16 of us travelling, our family of 6 plus Ryan, my aunty's family of 5 plus my cousin's boyfriend, our grandparents and another aunty who decided to come along with us (without her family). We flew to Auckland and hired out two mini busses and went on a road trip down to Rotorua.
        It was a late flight, the only one for Jet Star getting in at around 1:00am NZ time which meant we had to sleep over in Auckland before making our way to Rotorua. First stop of the morning after we flew in was breakfast, and where do we find ourselves? Stopping at some little suburb of Auckland at a Vietnamese restaurant. Trust my uncle to sniff out the local communities. You see, when travelling with our families (in the case of the adults anyway), they always try and find familiarities, especially in the case of food. Wherever we travel, they will seek out the local Vietnamese community, or at least an Asian community where they will generally stock up on food for our trip. Yeah, they're weird like that.

        So, it's breakfast time. We actually got there a little early so Ryan and I wondered around the block sussing out what else there was in this little community. The smell of fresh bread baking lured us to a nearby asian bakery where we couldn't resist grabbing a couple of pastries from. We first had to go and get some cash from mum seeing as neither of us had any local currency yet. We couldn't get over how cheap everything was even in NZ dollars, at this bakery anyway. We were too hungry to pause for photos.
        The restaurant finally opens and all 16 of us go in and take our seats at the table, all the adults on one end and all the young ones on the other.

        No milk and cereal for this breakfast. I ordered a lychee smoothie which Ryan enjoyed so much he had to order one for himself. It was nice and refreshing, tasting of pure lychees blended with ice, perfect as it was, not too overly sweet.

        All the adults seemed to be ordering Pho and other noodles dishes for breakfast but I was in a rice mood (I'm generally a rice over noodles type of person). I ordered the crispy skin chicken and rice, which is pretty much the only thing I order whenever I eat out Vietnamese. It was pretty average, rice and chicken a little dry needing the small bowl of broth that came with it, and also the extra seasoning from the bowl of fish sauce.

        That's me in the driver's seat of the huge Toyota Hiace, I pretty much only drove it from our Hotel to the Restaurant and Ryan took over driving for the rest of the trip, I wasn't complaining.

        Ryan and I spotted this big Asian grocer on our walk around the block, I had a suspicion that we would somehow end up here and I was totally right.

        Stocked with all the expected asian groceries and fresh and frozen produce. They were whinging a little about the high prices, I guess the cost of importation is a little more considering the distance it needs to travel further than Australia. They buy all the neccessities like Jasmin rice, cooking sauces, noodles and Asian herbs etc.

Our good looking driver for the trip.

        So we are on our way to Rotorua. We drive through what is mainly countryside. It was a beautiful drive and we are just absolutely mesmerised by how gorgeous the land is.

        And there were so many cows! Almost every piece of green grass had cows feeding off it.

        And it seemed like the majority of the crop grown in the area was corn, every field was just covered in corn.

        We take a toilet break pitt stop at a little town called Cambridge. The queue at the service station was a little long (remember 16 of us) so Ryan and I wondered over to the neighbouring tourist/info/souvineer centre to use their toilets.

Food stuff!! No time to stop and have a proper look though =(.

        Ryan and I wondered upstairs to this quaint little cafe to grab a coffee and perhaps a small snack to fuel us for the rest of the trip.

        The coffee was really good, and so were their sausage rolls! When you get flaky pastry dropping all over you, you know it's good.

        So off we go again. Ryan and I were pretty wowed at how absolutely lush everything was, it was such a nice feeling driving through this. The trip wasn't all this nice though, we copped some heavy rain during the drive. Our van also suffered some electrical problems on the way, we really didn't think we would make it to the destination as the engine seemed to want to give way. With Ryan's persistance we ever so slowly pushed on and arrived at our destination.
        EuropCar, the abolutely worse rental company to deal with regarding problems (in NZ anyway). We had no choice though because they were the only one out of the big guys that had the Hiace for rental. We had road side assistance come and fix the car for us and everything seemed to be okay again... so we thought at the time anyway.

        After what seemed like a whole day of driving we arrived at the Worldmark Maramar Resort, Rotorua. We had booked out two chalets for our two families plus the extras but whenever our families travel we split into a 'kids' vs 'parents' sleeping arrangement.

        First agenda after settling in was a trip to the nearest supermarket. Countdown is New Zealand's equivalent of Woolworths, everything was the same except for the name. Mum spotted that they had live green mussels selling for just over NZ$3 which we simply could not pass up. Off I went and grabbed 3 and a half kilos for dinner that night.

        And guess who's in charge of cooking the mussels for dinner? Me! With Ryan's help, and I also had minions help me clean them before hand.

        The adults had managed to prepare a feast, we had rice paper rolls with cooked prawns, omlette, braised pork and vermicelli rice noodles, and with home made fish dipping sauce and a hoi sin sauce too.

        My mussels - garlic, onion, diced tomato, parsley, chilli, lemon, white wine, and bread for dipping. The mussels were absolutely plump and juicey! I don't think I've ever experienced such fresh mussels as these. I had about 10 and couldn't take anymore.

        Whenever you travel with our family, you are guaranteed a good feed, just ask Ryan! =D.

        Day 2. We wake up nice and early to dreary grey skies heavy with rain. It's a Sunday and Ryan wants to attend mass so we pop down to the local Catholic Church while everyone is getting up and doing their morning thing. The church was so beautiful and they have managed to incorporate Maori culture into the interior decor of the church. This photo of the church was actually taken on our last day in Rotorua when the sun and blue sky decided to come out to play.

        After mass we high tail it back to the cabins and quickly throw together some breakfast for ourselves as the others have already eaten their big breakfast. I have placed two knives down, I didn't realise this until I went to pick up my cutlery to eat breakfast with.

        We pretty much drove around Rotorua all day with nowhere to go as it's just too wet for any activities. It was quite depressing to start our short holiday like this.

        We did stumble across a whole heap of bubbling thermal pools in the middle of the town. It was quite fascinating and it was then that we realised why it was so stinky in Rotorua! I was under the impression that all these thermal pools and hot springs were situated further away on the outskirts of town. Luckily for us though that there is a big lake seperating our resort from the town centre and we don't actually get any smells (or thermal pools) on our side of the lake.

        Day 3. Rise and shine for breakfast. My recruited breakfast brigade. I am merely the one co-ordinating and giving orders =).

        What was left of the usual suspects in the fridge/freezer. Hash browns, bacon, sausages, eggs.

        Today's main breakfast though was going to be pancakes, my uncle bought us what seemed like a never ending supply of bananas so when he said he was popping out to the supermarkets I got him to pick me up some flour to make pancakes with (to go with the bananas!)

A breakfast feast to start the day.

        The view of our 'backyard'. It's still a little grey but the rain seems to be holding off. Thank goodness.

        We head out to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Family group photo at the entrance, missing Ryan though as he's lagging behind somewhere...

        All the young ones, inside the valley.. Oops, I put my camera onto the top of a bin to get this shot, must have tilted a bit after I set the timer and jumped in.

All the adults looked like smurfs with their ponchos =D.

There's a big hot pool in the middle there, we walk through the valley and get closer to it.

So much steam coming from the bubbling water.

Hot flowing creek running off the pool.

        Look how goregous the colour of the water in this pool is. The water is high in acidity though.

        After the volcanic valley we try and stop over at the prawn farm. Unfortunately we've come a bit too late and there's not enough time to go in. So prawn golf it is! (It's just aqua golf). Look at grandpa go.

Gobsmacked when we saw this sign, Look how far from Sydney we are!

        Thanks to Ryan, we stopped at the Bee Hive. Lots and lots of honey products to sample and buy!

Lots of honey mead! (Honey wine). We leave with a fair few bottles of this.

        Sitting on the floor, drinking my honey mead, and chopping chocolate to make cookies. The boys had to take over because I was a bit tipsy =D. Don't want to lose any fingers now do I?

Chocolate cookie mix.

        Not exactly the best looking cookies or photograph but they were fun to make =D. I actually made some the night before which were really good that they all wanted some more. These however didn't turn out as good as the first batch I made which was actually just thrown together with no recipe on hand.
        So that's the end of part 1 and day 3 of our trip. Stay tuned for more! I'll also upload the rest of my photos to facebook so feel free to snoop here for part 1 ;) I did take over 2500 photos so lots more to come.