Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bake or Donate at work - Fundraiser for Cancer

        Just a quick post to let you know I'm still alive here! It's been a hectic 3 weeks with Mum and Dad overseas in Vietnam. On top of working full time I have to come home and put on dinner for my 3 sibblings and myself. They are old enough to look after themselves and have been very helpful with chores around the house but there are some things that I can't rely on them for, like dinner.
        I was mighty impressed a few weeks ago when one of my younger brothers (who has never cooked anything other than bacon and eggs) decided he wanted to try and cook chicken schnitzels from scratch and researched a recipe and did all the shopping for ingredients himself. For a first time, I thought he did a great job, that was a one off though.
        I've also had various baking projects squeezed in between all of that, and  trying to fit in a gym session here and there so I am completely exhausted by 9:00pm and am ready for bed. Barely any time to blog or read other blogs.

        So about 2 weeks ago, we had a bake off at work to raise money for the National Breast Cancer foundation and the Australian Prostate Cancer foundation. I love it when we do this kind of thing at work. It's actually been about 2 years since we actually have. The amount of effort everyone puts in and the crazy and creative ideas that come out is quite amazing. Most people (myself included) would have stayed up past midnight in their kitchen putting together their creations.
        There were 4 sessions held across 3 days to cover day, afternoon and night shifts. Each shift had awards for Most Pink, Most Blue, Most Creative, and People's Choice. There were alot of pink and blue cupcakes and a few very outstanding creations too.

        From what I saw, this had the second highest number of votes for People's Choice. The teapot was a Missisippi Mud Cake and the round cake was an almond cake. I work with the lady who made this and it's her first ever time using fondant icing. Better than my first go at it.

        This received the most votes for People's Choice. The top half of a cake is a female body with a bra and the bottom half is a male body with briefs.

A bouquet of cupcakes.

        This actually was brought in on the previous night shift and won the grand prize but was put on show for the rest of the event. Apparantly the person who made it was a cancer survivor.

        Snakes and Ladders cupcakes. Can't remember what the note said about the meaning behind this but it was pretty creative.

        Checker board with pink and blue cupcakes. There's a note that asks 'have you had your check up yet?'. See those blue cupcakes there? They won the award for most blue. I had one and think they should have got an award for most sweet too. They were very yummy but the sweetness sent my brain into a spasm, and that's the only thing I ate for that morning. Was probably a good thing I didn't eat anything else.

Some pretty dainty cupcakes with pink and blue icing ribbons.

        And these were my creations. I knew I just had to make macarons to bring in (and I also knew how popular they would be). My pink macaron boobies are what they are and achieved the effect that I had hoped for. The blue macarons... well I had no idea what I could do for prostate cancer. Male anatomy was just too rude so I had a great idea of piping P's in blue. Well, with a broken piping bag and an oven disaster that's how they turned out above. And all the boobie jokes in the office afterwards... =D
        The reactions I got at work... were quite amusing. And embarrasing on my part because I was the one that made them. I think they made some people a little uncomfortable and were the last to go in the bake sale. So I guess I 'accidently' made what I originally thought was just too awfully rude to be bringing in to work... not that I ever had the intention to do it anyway! Everyone absolutely loved them, it was funny hearing the echo's around me 'Did you try a macaron yet? They are so good!' And then it was like a chain reaction with someone else grabbing one to try.

        And guess what? I won the most pinkest goodies! Which totally caught me by suprise because I wasn't expecting to win anything. Last time I made pink profiteroles, with pink pastry cream and pink icing and they didn't even get me anything. ***Edit. Charlie points is our rewards system at work. It eliminates the whole issue of having to get gift vouchers & makes the reward system streamline and more transparent across the whole business. One point = $1 to spend on the online 'gift shop', kinda like Red Balloon, you can trade in points for any goods or experiences.***
        So in total across the 4 sessions we managed to raise $3050.00 in total. Our MD was really touched by the event and said that he would match what we raised dollar for dollar so that brings out total donation to $6100.00 to be split equally between the National Breast Cancer foundation and the Australian Prostate Cancer foundation. The organising team did an absolutely awesome job organising the whole event and it was all for a good cause. I do hope that they do it again next year.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Restauracja Teatralna - (Restaurant at The Polish Club Ashfield, Under New Management)

(Stairwell up to the Polish Club)
        Ryan informs me that we will be checking out a new Polish restaurant that has just been opened by his younger brother Robin's best mate's dad. He was under the impression that this place was out west somewhere but we found out on Friday night from his mum and brother that it's actually in Ashfield, at the Polish Club. I was a little confused because I knew that there was a already a restaurant there (according to google search). From what Robin's mate Daniel tells us, it sounds like they have taken over the restaurant/catering contract with the club. Daniel tells us that his dad has actually worked for many restaurants before, including the previous owners of this restaurant at the Ashfield Polish Club (about 10 years ago), and they even owned their own restaurant down in Wollongong.
        It was a little tricky to find as the Polish Club is situated on a one way street in the backstreets of Ashfield, not sure if there's an entrance off Liverpool Road.We had to circle a few blocks until we found it, it's not very well lit either so can easily be missed. The club looks a little old and run down so we were initially a little unsure if we were in the right place or not. Ryan and I arrived first and signed ourselves in as temporary members of the club. It wasn't clear where the restaurant was at first glance, and then I noticed the plain tables behind a couple of glass panels towards the back of the main foyer, then a familiar face coming out to greet us. We were then soon joined by Robin, their mum, and aunty.

        Friday nights are not very busy for them at the moment, they had a few tables who had cleared out before we arrived. They also do catering for functions held at the club and Saturdays sound like the busier days. The restaurant is open Fridays and Saturdays for dinner and Sundays for lunch and dinner. I'd come and try them out when they are a bit on the quiet side, just call ahead to check they don't have a function on (9798 7469). We could hear music coming out from one of the function rooms, it sounded like they were holding dance lessons that night.
        It's a very cosy little place, very minimal decor, plain white table clothes, vinyl chairs,  single vases of fake flowers, Ryan actually thinks it was a little too minimal, perhaps some paintings, or items showing off some Polish heritage would be a nice touch to the stark white walls. I do love the red feature wall behind the counter though. Even though they restaurant/club seems to have gone through an update, it looks like a lot more could be done.

        Daniel was running front of house this night. His dad and brother were in the kitchen. Apart from Robin, who seems to have become a bit of a regular here already, none of us had tried Polish food before.

        It's a simple one paged menu, but doesn't make it easier to choose what I want to try since I am always so indecisive. It looks like the menu hasn't changed much from the previous people running the restaurant according to my research, and still has all the traditional Polish dishes on there (apart from dessert). Drinks are to be bought from the bar, which I thought was strange but it's only a few steps away. They also only accept cash at the restaurant. We end up starting with two serves of soup to share and picked a dish each to share between the 5 of us.

Al La Ambassador Soup $8.00
        There are two soups on the menu. Daniel recommended the Ambassador telling us that it was very nice. It had walnuts and bow tie pasta in it. Even though it looks quite heavy the broth was really lovely to eat, nice and light. Ryan describes it as tasting quite meaty, though we don't see any meat in sight.

Home Made Poppyseed Bread.
        Daniel brings out a plate of bread for us to have with the soup. He proudly informs us that his dad made it in house. The bread was light and airy albeit a little on the oily side so probably didn't need the extra butter. I slather the butter on anyway, how could I resist? It mopped up the soup perfectly and the poppyseed in the bread was a nice textural touch. Apparantly this was purely experimental because they wanted to try something a little different with the bread.

Pierogi z Meisem/Meat Dumplings $10.00
        There are 10 dumplings per serve in the mains section. I'm glad we were sharing because I would have struggled to finish all 10 dumplings on my own, they're quite filling. This was definately different to the type of Asian dumplings that we're used to. Ryan said he would have preferred them fried a bit. I didn't mind them, the skins are thicker than what I am used to be they were soft to the bite.

Pierogi Ruski / Cheese Potato Dumplings $10.00
        These were served with some creme fraiche which I really liked. The creme fraiche added a nice touch of tartness to the dumplings. Liked these (must be the potato).

Sznycel po Wiedensku/Vienna (Veal) Schnitzel $20.00
        The veal schnitzel was a hit with the family. I didn't mind it but it wasn't my favourite dish of the night. I guess because it wasn't anything special to me. It came topped with an egg sunny side up and served with a side of mash and cabbage salad.

Placek Po Wegiersku/Hungarian Style Potato Pancakes $20.00
        Now this was interesting, and was recommended by Daniel too, was there anything he didn't recomment? =D. It was quite a thick dense pancake and came with some goulash over the top. Being a sucker for anything with potatoes in it I loved it. It came with a small cabbage salad, which was needed to cut through the richness of the dish.

Gulasz Kopytkami/Goulash with Gnocchi $18.00
        Daniel proudly informs us that the gnocchi is hand made by his grandmother, who comes out to sit in the dining room to have a break with some tea and creme brulee made by her other grandson. Hand made gnocchi is always a winner with Ryan and I, especially made by grandmothers. They are well made, light and soft though we do get the occasional small lump of potato when we bite in. Totally nothing wrong with that but that was just Ryan's observation. He's obsessed with getting his gnocchi absolutely smooth and melt in the mouth. I loved the pairing of the goulash with the gnocchi. The goulash was just delicious, the meat was cooked to a perfect tenderness that just melted in your mouth as you ate it. Can you tell which dish was our favourite?

        We are all pretty full and wern't sure we even had room for dessert but we eventually get talked into trying all 3 desserts on the menu. Intitally we were just going to share 2 but Daniel's brother Nick insisted that we try out the third dessert too. (Daniel must have told him I was taking photos for my blog). We learn that Nick is the mastermind behind the desserts for the restaurant. Apparantly he likes making desserts and is self taught in the kitchen (just like me!) He also helps their dad out in a kitchen hand type of role.
        If you notice, the desserts arn't really Polish desserts as this is only what Nick knows how to do. I'm sure if they asked nicely their grandmother should have some Polish dessert recipes tucked up her sleeves somewhere. Daniel tells us about these Polish donuts that sound absolutely droolworthy but says they don't make it because they don't have a recipe for it and his dad usually only buys it in. If you have a recipe for them, perhaps you could pass it along and they could have them freshly made on the menu ;)

Palacinki $5.00
        Thin crepe, rolled up with jam and served with a small scoop of ice cream.. There are 3 choices of jam, plum, sour cherry or rose hip. The choice was left to Ryan and I and we went for the rose hip. We all enjoyed the crepe. It was nice and light with the sweetness coming from the jam. Daniel says they eat these at home all the time, usually laid flat and spread with nutella. They thought it would be nice to add it to the menu and served them rolled up and filled with jam. The crepe probably needs a little something just to finish off the presentation, looks a little too plain.

Creme Brulee $6.00
        We did have a bit of an issue with the brulee part of the creme brulee, the sugar was spread a little too thin and it was lacking a caramelised top to crack through (it's the essence of a creme brulee). When you ate it, the sugar was still quite grainy. Apparantly others have made the same comment so it's probably something that needs practising. The custard however was lovely, smooth and creamy, not overly sweet, Ryan's mum loved it.

Pavlova $9.00
        Daniel insisted that Nick wanted us to try his pavlova. We thought that 2 desserts was enough to share but we were assured that the pavlova was not very big. It was the last dessert to come and came with an apology from Nick saying that it wasn't his finest work and that he didn't want me to take a photo of it. Apart from some technical issues it was gorgeous to eat. Ryan's mum loved it even more than the creme brulee. It was a chocolate meringue topped with cream and strawberries and drizzled with a bit of passionfruit, a great combination of flavours. It was actually very light and we had no problems spooning it down, even scraping the bowl that it was baked in.

        We all enjoyed our little Polish feast, and will definately be coming back for some more. The food was good honest homestyle cooking which left us all satisfied and then some - it was ultimate comfort food. Don't come here expecting much more and you won't be disappointed. I can't say that it was a great restaurant experience (can't really tell because we were the only table dining) but definately come here for the food. Especially grandma's goulash with gnocchi. For the 5 of us, the total bill came to just over $110.00 which I think was great value for money. Don't think you can get better food for that price per person at any other club.
        We didn't really get a chance to look around the club before or after dinner but from what I've read there is (or was?) a deli downstairs. Bummed that we missed it. The club also has it's own facebook page. Apparantly they hold regular events and socials so check it out if you're interested.

Restaurant Teatralna (previously Restaurant Nadwilanska) on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 6, 2011

Easy Sticky BBQ Pork Ribs

        Who doesn't love a nice sticky rack of ribs? Funny thing is I'd actually been craving for ribs ever since going on holiday with my family to New Zealand. Of course we would talk about food, and ribs were brought up but we never actually got to have any. Since coming back from the trip I wanted to try and cook them at home. I'm not sure why I hadn't done so earlier but I think I was under the impression that ribs were really hard to cook.
        New Year's was approaching so I invited the extended family over for a BBQ on New Year's Eve. My parents were away at the time so I was left to prepare and cook for approximately 20 hungry mouths that afternoon all by myself. Okay, so I did get some help cooking the meats on the bbq, and getting my potatoes peeled, but I was pretty much left to planning and executing the whole thing by myself to the suprise of my uncle and aunty and grandparents. Mum is known as the big cook in the family and I guess they were always under the impression that I was her side kick. My menu consisted of pork ribs, t-bone steaks, lamb chops, bbq'd corn, roast potatoes, sauteed beans, garlic bread and salad.
        These ribs have now become a family favourite ever since I started making them way back then, continually improving the flavour and cooking technique each time I make them. Mum is constantly bringing home gifts of rib racks from the butchers because she sees how much the sibblings (and sibbling's friends) enjoy eating them. Everytime ribs are on the menu my little brother thinks we're a restaurant and invites friends over for dinner.

        The original recipe for these was found on the taste website. It's actually a recipe for sticky smoky spicy ribs cooked over a bbq but I usually start it off in the oven and finish it over a coal bbq. Finishing them off in the oven is also fine if the bbq is not running when you are making these. You just lose out on the smokiness but I havn't had any complaints about that. I'll give you the recipe as original, just multiply the quantities accordingly to how many ribs you'll be cooking. The actual quantities that I personally use may vary slightly, as I measure with my eye most of the time, but it all comes down to the taste.
        I also started off buying the American style pork racks, but Mum has been bringing home all sorts of different ribs for me to try out from our local Vietnamese butcher (trying to find a better and cheaper cut, ribs are not cheap considering there's more bone than meat, but there's more meat than ribs on an animal so I suppose that's why they're pricey to buy).
        We've settled on a perfect cut of rib that has quite a bit of meat still attached on both sides of the bone (which is actually quite thin, maybe it is a short rib?), and has a nice amount of fat so releases plenty of juice when cooked which helps to keep them quite juicey during the cooking process. I would have no clue what they are called but they are actually really hard to get, some days they'll have one or two small racks only and Mum will buy them and stockpile for the weekend.
        You can really use any style of rib that you can get your hands on. The fattier and meatier they are, the better or else you end up with a very dry rack of ribs after the long slow cooking. But I guess it's personal preference. I like my ribs to still have a nice amount of meat on them once they are cooked through. And the meat needs to be nice and tender, almost falling off the bone.

Recipe: Sticky BBQ Pork Ribs (recipe adapted from taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/3 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 2 x 680g racks Aussie-style pork ribs (or any other ribs will do)
  • 1 tablespoon corn flour

1. Combine all the ingredients in a dish.
2. Coat the ribs in the marinade, cover and refridgerate overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celcius. Place ribs into a roasting tray and bast generously with the marinade, reserve any remaining marinade. Cover with foil and cook for 45 minutes. Turn the ribs and bast them again with the marinade and cook for another 45 minutes.
4. Take out the ribs and pour the pan juices into the remaining marinade and return the ribs to the oven.
5. Place the marinade and pan juices into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced and thick.
6. Combine the corn flour with a small amount of cold water to dissolve and stir into the sauce. Take off the heat.
7. Take the ribs out and pour the sauce over them. Cook over a smokey bbq or in the oven uncovered until the sauce caramelises and the ribs are sticky. Turn and coat the other side for even coverage.
8. Serve with some roast potatoes or chips and extra sauce on the side.
(I usually don't garnish my ribs but these were being taken to a birthday party, I wanted them to look a bit more presentable so sprinkled over some sliced shallots that were already in the fridge)

        I recently had a request for these from a friend celebrating her 21st birthday. She'd had my ribs at my sisters 21st (though they still had heaps of improvement needed back then) and when I asked what she wanted me to bring to the bbq, ribs were immediately requested. At first I was reluctant to because ribs arn't cheap to buy and I was worried there just wouldn't be enough to go around. In the end I gave in and got Mum to buy me 3 kilos worth. I cut them up into individual ribs and even made a note to get people to just take one first so that most people had a chance to try them out (mum's idea). I finished them in the oven at home and stuck them into a styrofoam box to keep them warm to take to the park. At the end of it the box was empty - always a good sign.

        We had ribs again this weekend. Though they wern't my best batch as I was a little rush with a change of schedule. They were meant to be Saturday's dinner but then were changed to Sunday dinner and then last minute were changed to Saturday lunch. I just didn't have the time to let them cook as long as I wanted as I needed the oven to cook other things for the lunch too. I also had a birthday cake order to do so spent my entire Saturday in the kitchen. No complaints though which is always a good thing.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Launch of 'Seizure' - Issue 1: 'Food'

        'Seizure is a new magazine for new writing'. This is a new publication of writing, which is released bi-annually and based on different themes. I received an invitation from subeditor Rosanna Stevens to attend the launch of their first edition which so happened to be based on FOOD. The launch was held at The Paper Mill, in Angel Place, Sydney. I was also a little nervous attending an event where I didn't know anyone but it was a relief to see some familiar faces. How do you spot food bloggers at an event? Huddled around the food prep/serving area with digital cameras snapping away at everything ;). Sandra from The French Wench did an amazing job covering the event (it helps when you have insider knowledge). I didn't mingle as much during the night, was totally out of my comfort zone. But I did have my eye on the food.

Christopher The, owner of Black Star Pastry.

        Coming straight from work (via home to grab my camera), I was pretty hungry and wine was not good on an empty stomach. I was excited that the catering was going to be provided by Black Star Pastry.

        Spiced pumpkin tarts. These were interesting, I think  they needed more of a flavour kick though. But then that's my personal taste, I love bold flavours over subtle ones.

        Green Olives in dukkah and honey. Wasn't in an olives mood so didn't try any of these. They did look yummy.

        Aussie burgers. How can anyone say no to these cute little burgers? Just a plain meat pattie with some relish between a mini burger bun but it hit the spot.

        Test tube of apple cider granita with champagne. It sounded like a great concept when explained to us however by the time I got to try one the granita had melted and diluted the champagne so it just tasted like watery apple juice. Shame. The gold flakes suspended in it did look pretty after you shook the test tube.

Time for the formalities. Alice Grundy - Editor in chief of Seizure.

We also had a few words from Australian novalist Delia Falconer.

        After the formalities we were all given a 'Miracle Frootie', which was a pill made from a miracle berry which was supposed to make everything taste sweet. (And apparantly changes the taste of bitter food too). The sensation usually lasts about 30 minutes to an hour.

        There was a selection of sour fruits for tasting. Lemons, limes, red grapefruit, green apple, strawberries. I actually had my pill after I tasted the rest of the food, just so my tastebuds were not too warped. It was a very strange sensation. My first tasting was the lime, I could taste the sour notes but my brain/tastebuds were telling me that it was okay to eat. There was no scrunching up my face type reaction at all, and it was sweet. I then had a piece of green apple which was quite sweet and pleasant to eat, I actually couldn't stop myself going back for more - that couldn't have been a bad thing though right? I was eating apples! Then I went back for a second piece of lime and felt my face scrunch up. 'It was like we were at a G rated rave party, but with food and happy pills.'

        Beetroot sherbet. These were interesting. Earthiness of beetroot but then sweetness and tartness of a sherbet.

        Goats curd on pumpernickle. I thought they tasted a bit odd, wasn't a fan of the taste and texture of the pumpernickle. It probably is an acquired taste though.

        Balsamic turkish delight with strawberry. One of my favourites of the night (not only because it was sweet). The turkish delight was just melt in your mouth with the slight tartness from the balsamic and the strawberry actually paired quite well with it.

        Guiness and chocolate spider. I don't think I've ever had guiness before. And I don't think I will ever have it again. Didn't like the taste of it at all. Was an interesting concoction though. I'm sure you'd love it if you like your guiness.

        Roasted chestnuts. These were freshly roasted but it was too cumbersome to try and eat with a camera and wine glass in hand.

        Creme brulee flambe. The little vanilla creme tarts were sprinkled with sugar and then sprayed with a mix of vanilla and alcohol.

        Flambe! These were absolutely delish. Soft short pastry, creamy custard, fragrant vanilla, caramalised sugar. Went back for more ;).

        The magazine was sold at a special price of $10 at the launch, so I grabbed myself a copy for some bedtime reading. You can find out where to get a copy here.

        I love how the contents are layed out like a menu. Very creative. The articles in the magazine make for some interesting reading, makes my writing look pretty ordinary (it probably doesn't help that I havn't done much creative writing since leaving high school, hence losing my touch on the writing world).

        Awesome article about ramen! And the wonderful person behind one of Sydney's best ramen spots Gumshara, Mori, whom I got to chat to briefly.

        It was not all literature, there was a pretty delicious looking recipe from Cafe Mint for Apple Cider Duck Tagine.

        And a recipe for 'Hugging Cake', contributed by Christopher The, of Black Star Pastry. It almost looks like a scientific diagram of sorts.

        The next edition of Seizure is already in motion and it's theme is 'Sci-Fi'. Food is an easy topic to write about, but I wonder what sort of things will be written about Sci-Fi? Shame I'm not into Sci-Fi at all!