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Monday, April 30, 2012

Dan's House, Haymarket

     It's great belonging to a community that revolves around food. We all have the understanding that food does not get touched until everyone has had their turn taking photos. We know the food might be a little cold by the time we eat it but we don't whinge or judge each other because we're all doing the same thing, we're in our natural habitat and it's great, love it! It was a previous dinner with bloggers that led to this event organised by Mr Noodlies (Thang), Heidi (mutual friend of Thang and Diana) and Diana, the owner of Dan's House.
     Dan's House is a new Chinese restaurant which focuses on 'Artistic Conceptual Cuisine'. In so many words, their aim is to modernise Chinese cuisine and inject some flair into it without loosing traditional flavours and techniques. They officially opened this week and a small group of us were invited to a preview lunch a couple of weeks ago.

     The interior is very modern and clean. A lot of silver and gold bling on white, I suppose to signify wealth and good fortune.

      There is an open kitchen where the chefs show off their noodle making skills. They also have a small bar on the second level, and a private room for exclusive hire with karaoke.

     Their signatures are the handmade noodles and authentic peking duck. We were treated to an 8 course tasting menu to try some of the highlight dishes that were to feature on their final menu.

Cold Tofu with Salmon Sashimi mixed with sweet soya sauce and wasabi.
     This dish was a lovely start to lunch. It was light, refreshing and the sauce was a hit amongst the group. Diana tells us that they serve the tofu cold to retain it's texture, it is firm to the bite yet smooth as it dissolves in your mouth and the salmon sashimi and fish roe are a perfect addition combined with the punchy sauce.

Dan's Garden Salad.
     We are told this is no ordinary salad. The vegetables are all hand picked and dressed in a distinctly Asian dressing which includes flavours such as soy and sesame oil. The fried noodle bundle adds some texture to the dish.

Crispy Duck Skin (part of the Peking Duck courses).
     The thin and crispy duck skin is actually served with a side of sugar. We are instructed to dip it in before eating. The sugar is supposed to counteract the richness of the duck skin and draw out it's sweetness.

     You can see I was a little hesitant about eating my piece of duck skin dipped in sugar ;) It was an interesting combo.

Dan's 'Superlean' Peking Duck. Peking duck slices with pancakes and condiments and a duck soup.
     All of the duck is used for this dish, it is seperated into the breast meat and the leg meat, both offering a different taste and texture.

In addition to the pancakes, the Peking duck also comes with some pocket buns.

Something a little different to the traditional pancake.

And the well loved pancake.

     To be honest I prefer a little more meat in my pancakes so this was pretty perfect to me. And the 'superlean' duck was a nice change to regular fatty duck meat. The pancakes were nice and thin and the sauces were nicely balanced.

Fried Scallops in XO sauce.
     Who doesn't love scallops in XO sauce? This dish is nice and fragrant, scallops were a decent size and not too rubbery. We kept going back for the sauce.

Pan fried Wagyu Beef on stone plate with Red Wine and Garlic sauce.
     This dish came out to the table all sizzling and smoky and full of aromas. The sauce was served table side for this dish. The sauce was tasty though I found the beef to be a little tough when I finally got around to eating it. Perhaps it was the waiting time between the chef pouring on the sauce and then all the photo taking after that, that resulted in the beef being a bit overcooked by the time it was eaten. Maybe they can serve it without the stone plate to prevent the beef from overcooking. Loved the bits of caramelised garlic.

Bloggers always love an action shot.

Pan fried Noodle Cake.
     I don't know if I liked this particular dish or not. It was a little savoury, a little sweet but it was quite plain. I did like the texture of the noodles compressed together than pan fried. Perhaps if it was eaten as a side to another dish? Or with a sauce? I think that would have completed it.

Longevity Noodles (originated from Shanxi Province, a typical birthday dish) with Zhajiang Sauce.
     We are told that the longevity noodles are actually made from one single strand of hand made noodle stretching up to 40 metres long. Whoever eats that single strand must have a long extended life ahead of them ;). Unfortunately for us, our noodles come all precut into single portions for ease of eating. The noodle was firm, and the sauce was meaty but still nice and light. It was almost like eating a Chinese spaghetti bolognaise.

'Toffee Apple' dessert.
     Always room for dessert! These are just some apple dumplings deep fried and then coated in toffee. We're instructed to not wait and quickly grab one of the dumplings and dunk it into an ice cold bowl of water to stop the toffee from cooking/hardening any further. 
     Being the bloggers we are, some of us can't help but grab the camera first. This dessert wasn't too heavy so it was easy to go back for more after one or two dumplings. I loved how the crisp toffee covered shell gave way to a soft fluffy interior with a bit of apple. I reckon I could finish off a whole serve of this by myself ;).

Chinese tea and macaron by The Dainty Baker.
     As all Chinese meals, we finish off our meal with some tea. Simon was kind enough to have bought some macarons along for us as a treat.

After lunch we get to watch the chefs in some noodle making action.

They make it look so easy to do.

     Then Thang decided to have a go. His noodle falls way short of the 40 metre mark. I feel sorry for the customer who has just had their life shortened ;)

     I must admit, when I heard 'contemporary Chinese', I was a little skeptical. The words modern, contemporary, and fusion can sometimes be bad news when it comes to food. I did enjoy all the dishes that we got to try though. It's hard to judge the restaurant as a whole since we were there before the official opening but only time will tell. I hope that they don't have too many teething problems, wonder what the rest of Sydney will think of this place. I'm keen to revisit and see them in full swing.

*Angie dined as a guest of Dan's House*

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Simple Buttermilk Scones

      These don't look like scones you say? Yes, these are my hot cross buns that I made over Easter! Just because I am not blogging as frequently lately doesn't mean I'm not busy in the background baking delicious goodies. I actually posted up a blog post on hot cross buns last year and pretty much used the same recipe albeit a few tweaks.
      This year I made mocha choc chip buns and some traditional fruit and spice (raisins and mixed peel) buns. I made one and a half batches per flavour and ended up with 68 buns (and I think I may have slightly miscounted last year, oops). They're better than last year's attempt but still a little on the dense side but heated up and slathered with butter and they were perfect. Will try to improve on them again next year. I hope everyone had a good Easter break, I know I did!

    Scones and tea are the epitome of tea time. In the morning or afternoon, I can't think of a better combination. I'd been searching for a good scone recipe and happened to come across a simple buttermilk scone recipe from the Taste website which was perfect as I had some leftover buttermilk in the fridge that needed to be used up. I followed the recipe as is so just click on the link above for it.
      Perfect scones rely on two things, one is the recipe and two comes down to technique. They actually go hand in hand really because you could have the perfect recipe but if you overwork your dough you can still end up with some pretty bad scones.

      When mixing the ingredients, you want to literally 'cut' the mix with a butter or flat bladed knife. Once all the ingredients are mixed through, turn the dough onto a well floured surface and gently knead it until all the flour is worked through into the dough. As soon as it's combined stop, don't over do it.  It's okay for the dough to still be a bit tacky.

      When pressing out the dough and cutting your scones make sure you have plenty of flour on hand for dusting, or the dough will stick to everything.

      The trick to getting a good height is to place the scones nice and tight on the baking pan/tin, I probably could have squished mine together a bit more. And used a smaller pan with a higher side instead of a flatter tray.

Brushing the scones with some milk (and maybe even a little bit of egg yolk) will give you nice golden tops.

And you should now have a batch of some awesome scones :)

     Scones with jam and cream, the perfect accompaniment to your morning or afternoon cup of tea. For the cream, I whipped up some pure cream with icing sugar until thick and fluffy and flavoured it with a small amount of vanilla bean paste.

      This jar of jam was a present from the UK, sent back to me as part of a birthday package from my good friend Di who was on a working holiday over there a couple of years ago. I only just managed to get around to opening it up recently (lucky for the long shelf life). It goes really well with the scones. I also used the remainder to glaze my hot cross buns with as I didn't have any apricot jam on hand.

      I don't think that these can compare to the ones made by the Country Women's Association which I got to taste at the Sydney Royal Easter Show last year but they come pretty close (and Ryan gave them his tick of approval). They're that good that I've used the same recipe a few times again. I even found a recipe that claimed to be the CWA recipe but they just didn't turn out the same as those that they served at the Easter show. The perfect scone should have a slightly crusty exterior and a nice soft fluffy interior. There's so many scone variations out there though but nothing worse than dry, stiff scones. Have always had some pretty mediocre ones served up which makes me hesitant to eat them when going out. Sometimes home made ones are better anyway :)

     P.S If you're not already doing so, you can follow my micro-blogging on the following social networks - twitter, facebook, and instagram (user name: angieeatsncooks). Happy eating!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

[Angie Travels] - Last day in Galilee and a journey to Jerusalem (Israel)

    So we've done Dubai to Egypt, gone from Cairo to Mt Sinai, and made our way to Israel. Our last day in Galilee starts with a visit to Mount Tabor - where Jesus' divinity shone forth in the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2).
    We reach the base of the mountain, however our coaches are not able to climb the narrow steep road to the top so we are taxied up in small groups up to the church at the peak of the mountain. It's an absolutely magnificent view atop the mountain.

    The Church of the Transfiguration is where we have Mass for the day. Another beautiful church, another beautiful mosiac artwork, something that is common with the churches in Israel. After Mass we look around at the views down to the valleys below and then hop into the taxi vans to make our way back down to the bottom.

    Feeling a little depleted in energy, Ryan and I pick up a couple of snacks including some freshly pressed pomengranate juice (which is a speciality of Israel) and a few pieces of some sort of candy that caught my eye. It had an almost turkish delight taste and texture with the addition of the pistachios and coconut.

    Next we head to the town of Cana, which is where Jesus performed his first miracle, turned the water into wine at the wedding feast (John 2:1-11).

    Inside the church, this is actually not the original church but is what has been built over the original foundations. Underneath the church there were some stone vessels which are said to have been used to contain the water which Jesus turned into water.

Grapes on a vine, on the gate of the church.

    Of course a food blogger would not be a food blogger if her mind wasn't on food! Not far from the church is a small restaurant where we head to for lunch.

    It's the usual suspects again - falafel or chicken shawarma. The sandwiches come pre filled in little pita pockets for us. After a while falafels, shawarma and schnitzels kind of start tasting the same but they were definately something I looked forward to after a very ordinary breakfast spread at the hostel.

    The smell of freshly brewed coffee is alluring and Ryan joins the queue for some, I'm not a big coffee lover but the smells everywhere we go make me want to convert.

    After lunch we're taken back to the hostel to for an 'afternoon of leisure' which involves swimming in the sea (of Galilee!). We also need to pack up our stuff as we're moving on to Jerusalem for the second part of our pilgrimage in the Holy Land.

    Our journey from Galilee to Jerusalem sees us heading to the top of the Mount of Beatitudes. On the way, we do a slight detour to pass by the Neocats Centre at Cardinal Pell's request. It's quite a contrast to the surroundings, very stark modern building compared to a landscape that's thousands of years old.
    Unfortunately, all of Ryan's photos from this point onwards were lost due to his camera being stolen when we got to Madrid and he hadn't had a chance to back them up. I didn't take many photos because I was feeling a little exhuasted from our jam packed schedules and was getting a little 'churched out'.

Some of the architecture and artwork on the site - Jesus with his 12 disciples.

    We arrive at the Mount of Beatititudes, 'The Sermon on the Mount' (Matthew 5:1-12). We're unable to have Mass inside the church, so the alternative was to hold it outside in the surrounding gardens.

    The next place we visit is Mount Carmal at Muhraqa, where the Carmelite Monastery is. (Elijah went to the top of Carmal after confronting the priests of Baal in a conest of faith between his God and theirs).

Birds eye, 360 view of Israel on the top of the monastery.

   Lunchtime! My eyes lit up with excitement when I saw all the salads and vegetables on offer at the restaurant. It all looked so pretty and colourful!

    Lunch options are again falafel or schnitzel. Ryan gets excited when he spots a lychee drink in the fridge so we try it out. Very sweet and artificial which was a bit disappointing.

    After lunch we head to the crusader port city of Caesarea. It is a seaside city built by Herod the Great and was once the Roman capital of Israel. It was here the centurion Cornelius was baptized by Peter, becoming the first gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10), and where Festus tried Paul (Acts 25: 6-12).

    There is a huge amphitheatre at Caesarea though I'm not sure how much of it, if any, is part of the original city. Afterwards, we stop by to check out an old aqua duct that's along the coast.

    It is quite a long drive to Jerusalem but we finally arrive. It's a bit of a change in landscape compared to what we had been used to for the first part of our time in Israel, it's alot more developed and populated. It is a  city after all.
    One thing we observe as we arrive in Jerusalem is the the start of the Jewish Sabbath. As Israel has the biggest Jewish population in the world, the city goes into a bit of a stand still approaching sunset on Fridays. The Sabbath in the Christian context historically means a day of rest, or God's day - Sunday, though this day of rest sometimes seems non existent when you live in a very multicultural, multi faithed and somewhat secular world. You can read more about the Sabbath here.
    In Israel, everyone stops work from Sunset Friday to Saturday nightfall, where this time is dedicated to prayer and worship. As it is also Ramadan, the Muslim community of Israel are flocking to the mosques so trying to get anywhere near central Jerusalem (old city Jerusalem) is quite a feat with the roads all congested with people heading to the 'Wailing Wall', synagogues and mosques. Our drivers battle their way through though as a visit to the Wall is on our agenda for the afternoon and our time is limited as the area is blocked off to non Jews come sunset.

    I've only ever seen photos and video footage on TV of the Wailing Wall, never thought I'd actually be walking right up to it in my lifetime. Even though it has more significance to the Jews, it was quite surreal to be there. Only the first few rows of the wall are actually part of the original temple wall (Matthew 27:51). The men and women have seperate entrances and are divided by a barricade in the middle.

    After our visit to the Wall we are taken to our accommodation which is another youth hostel. Some of us notice that the pedestrian crossing signs bear a man with a hat, which is quite interesting. The Jewish men are required to wear a hat or skullcap, which is a sign of their subservience to God, or something along those lines so don't quote me here.

    It's been a long day but there was a souvineer buying expedition to Bethlehem, a Palestinian city just outside of Jerusalem (also the birthplace of Jesus, which we come back to visit later on). The store is absolutely huge and full of  all sorts of stuff, crucifixes, icons, bibles, rosaries, postcards, jewellery, all sorts of olive wood carvings of various Christian themes.
    It was quite overwhelming being in that place but Ryan and I managed to spent a fair few hundred between us on some things for family and friends as well as some personal treasures. We're able to have everything shipped back home for a reasonable fee which saves us worrying about having to pack it all into our luggage.
    Almost midnight by the time we're back at the accommodation and it's yet another early start the next day.