Review: Blackflower cafe, Haymarket

Happy 2014!!! How time does fly when you’re busy stuffing your face with all sorts of no-no foods. We’re in the prime of summer right now (for us Southern Hemisphere dwellers) and cool, refreshing ciders and light fruity sweets are in. Oh my goodness, the sweets. I haven’t been cooking very much because of the heat- and also lack of inspiration- but also because there is so much to see and do, and not nearly enough time to do it all. Here’s a heads up for my fellow Sydney-siders. The Sydney Festival is on in the CBD with loads of stuff to check out. There’s a giant building facade and mirror display at Darling Harbour, themed jumping castles in Hyde Park, and a bunch of music and after-hours events for the adults, which you can also find in Hyde Park. Be sure to check it out as it ends on Australia Day (not including the Monday public holiday). For more information, check out the website: Sydney Festival 2014

Today’s post is just a quick review of a cafe I’ve been dying to try out. Blackflower Cafe is located across from Market City, near the UTS library. It’s a kind of “blink and you’ll miss it” place because the interior is completely black and I’ve walked pasta fair few times without realising it was there. They’ve got the standard coffee and light meals options, but they have an awesome selection of teas, macarons, and desserts. I chose a Rose Earl Grey tea which was quite nice. This one has to be well steeped so you can taste the hints of earl grey which is slightly overpowered by the rose, but still a good cuppa.

When you first step in you’ll immediately notice the desserts cabinet and good-golly you’ll be in heaven. There isn’t too much to choose from, but don’t let that deter you. They’ve got a good selection of macarons to the left, and a good handful of cakes and desserts on the right. I got the “Mario’s Garden Tiramisu” and, as the name suggests, it’s a sort of deconstructed tiramisu based on Super Mario. I got it mainly because of how it looked (it had a meringue toadstool! You can’t pass that up!). You had chocolate soil (very messy when trying to eat), layers of sponge and Chantilly creme, and espresso jelly. I admit, the jelly was the strangest part of it all and it didn’t really seem to mesh quite well, mainly because it was in little clumps at the bottom and tasted a little strange. It wasn’t the best tiramisu, but I’ll give them an A+ for creativeness. My friend chose the “Lust” cake, which was a combination of rose, lychee, and hazelnut. It was quite eye catching as well! I tried a little and liked it better than my tiramisu, but sadly, the rose and lychee flavours where a bit weak and it was hard to distinguish between the flavours. The crispy hazelnut base was awesome, though.

Be sure to check them out as there were quite a few people there, suggesting that what we picked was just bad luck. A man at the table next to ours ordered a mousse cake and I kid you not, I was prepared to go over and sweet talk him into letting me try a bit. Also, if you have any recommendations for great coffee and/or sweets in the Sydney CBD area, please let me know. I’ve lived in Sydney my entire life but there’s always more to discover! Have a great summer (or winter) and happy eating!

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Christmas lunch- 1st time pavlova

Yay!! Christmas time~!

Ok, so officially Christmas has ended but I am back in Sydney after spending a few days up the coast at my sister’s place. It seems like I’m stuck in a weird, never-ending food coma. You know how it is- you can’t just make a few dishes, you have to make enough to feed a small country and sample a little (or a lot) of each. My Christmas holiday lasted 4 days, of which I bordered on the verge of alcoholism and diabetes. Every meal had to be a big one, extra special, and downed with a glass of wine or cider, then followed by dessert. Not to mention the copious amounts of biscuits and chocolates.

The special thing about Christmas time in Australia is that you can make whatever you like for Christmas lunch/dinner. Unlike our northern counterparts, we aren’t restricted to heavy winter fare. We branch out and make the most of summer ingredients, fresh cooked prawns, heaps of salads, BBQ meats, more seafood, and heaps of chilled alcohol. But even with the hot climate, we still manage to throw in the odd turkey, roast chicken, or ham.

This year, my family focused on meat. Too much meat. Over the four days we gorged ourselves on beef steaks marinated with black pepper and Guinness, rosemary and red wine lamb fillets, chicken skewers, lemongrass and coriander pork chops, BBQ chicken wings, ham off the bone, roast chicken, 4kg of fresh prawns, 10 dozen oysters, and more salads than we could handle. We ended up taking home most of the stuff we brought anyway.

The best part of Christmas this year has to be the home made pavlova I made. I don’t particularly like pavlova because I hate meringue and it’s usually way too sweet and loaded with too much cream. However, my sister convinced me to make one and eat it too, and thank goodness I listened- it was amazing! Here’s the recipe I followed. You can adjust the amount of sugar to suit your own tastes. I wanted to mix in a little food colouring, but everyone disagreed. How un-Christmasy!

Ingredients:

- 4 egg whites

- 1 cup caster sugar

- 2 tblspn corn flour

- 2 tspn white vinegar

- 1 carton whipping cream -500mL

- fruit to decorate

What to do:

1. Preheat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.

2. In a large mixing bowl, use an electric beater to beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, gradually mixing in 3/4 cups of caster sugar. Reserve rest of sugar for cream. Mix in corn flour and vinegar and blend well. Once mixture is finished, you must immediately transfer onto the baking tray and into the oven as quickly as possible.

3. Line a baking tray with baking paper and put a circle guide between the paper and tray. I used a 10cm guide. You can get these at baking stores or print one onto an A4 sheet of paper. Carefully fold meringue mixture onto the baking paper and keep within the guide lines. Be careful not to press out the air and build up the meringue to form a wall going all around the guide.

4. Turn oven temperature down to 100 degrees Celsius and put in the meringue to bake for 90 mins. Once the meringue is finished cooking, turn off the oven but leave the meringue inside to cool. It is safe to take it out once the oven door is cold to the touch. Don’t open the door to cool it faster, your meringue will deflate.

5. When the meringue is completely cooled, take it out and begin mixing your cream. In a bowl, mix cream and 1/4 cup of caster sugar until thick. Place the cream liberally on top of the meringue and spread even but do not spread on the sides. Decorate with fresh fruit. I used passion fruit, quartered strawberries, kiwi fruit, mango, and blueberries. Dust with icing sugar if desired.

I didn’t realise how easy pavlova was to make, and this one was certainly well worth the wait. It convinced me that not all pavlovas are disgusting. But it’d probably still give me diabetes if I make it more than a couple of times a year. Let me know if you have your own pavlova recipe to share or if you eat different things for Christmas. Whatever it is, I’m inspired to start experimenting for next hear. Happy cooking and a belated merry Christmas!

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Pork and duck wontons

I know, I know. I said my posts would be erratic and far and few between yesterday, but dad made such an awesome lunch today that I couldn’t miss the opportunity to share it with you all.

Most people would be familiar with the humble wonton, and, depending on the size and style it’s made, can also be called sui gow, which are larger. Wonton- from the Cantonese 雲吞- literally translates to “swallowing clouds”, and are typically eaten with Cantonese BBQ, noodles and soup, but can also be deep fried or pan fried. There are a variety of dumplings similar to the wonton such as the sui gow (larger, less pastry “tail”, no soup), war tip (steamed dumplings like the Japanese gyoza, which are then pan fried on the bottom), siu mai (upright dim sum with an open top), and the northern-style xiao long bao (pork dumplings made from wheat flour pastry with soup inside). Historically, wonton were a luxury food and were eaten on special occasions, but now are regarded as simple and cheap, “on-the-go” foods popularised by Chinese BBQ and Hong Kong eateries called Dai Pai Dong.

Wontons are very easy to make and are made from thin pastries usually made of wheat and egg. Cantonese style wonton are usually made with pork and sometimes prawns, and served with a simple prawn-based stock, choy sum, egg noodles, and sometimes Chinese BBQ. Cantonese food focuses on subtle flavouring which bring out the natural flavours of the ingredients used. As such, the wonton is also simple and clean in tastes. I remember watching a Gordon Ramsey cooking segment with fashion icon Gok Wan. The challenge was to make the best wonton soup which was to be tasted by a group of customers. As per tradition, Gok Wan’s was made of pork with prawn stock and was very simple. Gordon Ramsey’s however, was loaded with herbs, spices, and an over complicated stock. It was almost like a tom yum style soup. As much of a good chef he is, I feel he missed the point on what made Cantonese food so revered and made a sort of all-Asian flavoured concoction. Remember, Cantonese food works on subtlety, so don’t try to improve too much on its “blandness”. More isn’t always best! I’m running off topic here!

Here’s a recipe for pork and duck wontons. Usually, there isn’t any duck found in dumplings, but we had left over duck meat that needed to be used or thrown out. You can use fresh prawn meat as well if you like. Fillings may also include Chinese mushrooms, ginger, garlic, bamboo shoots, coriander, and seasonings. Typically, slightly fatty pork mince is used to keep the filling moist and to give it extra flavour. Flour or starch, and egg is used as a binder, and a little water is sometimes used to stick the pastry together.

Ingredients:

- 2 cups fatty pork mince. Soften with water for about 10 minutes and drain well before use. Avoid using lean mince as it will dry out during cooking and become tougher.

- 1 cup shredded duck, cooked. We used meat from the neck as it is a little moister, but breast will work fine. Make sure the duck is chopped to a similar size as the other ingredients.

- 1 tspn minced ginger

- 1/2 tspn Maggi sauce

- 1/2 tspn light soy sauce

- 1/4 tspn white pepper

- 1/2 tspn sugar

- dash of sesame oil

- water

- 1 egg

- wonton pastries. I like to use the Double Merino brand’s double egg pastries. Avoid pastries with lye water.

- 2 tspn corn flour

Optional:

- fresh chopped prawn meat, raw

- shredded bamboo strips

- coriander

- finely chopped Chinese mushroom

What to do:

- In a large mixing bowl, combine fillings except water and mix well using your hands. You can do this in a food processor if you like but be careful not to overwork the pork mince. Make sure all ingredients are mixed evenly throughout. Add a little water, about a couple of teaspoons at a time, to the mixture until it is moist and sticky, but not wet. You want the filling to be similar to be slightly moister than rissoles/meatballs. Add more corn colour if needed.

- Mix well and occasionally slap the mixture into the bowl. To do this, pick up the filling with your hand and smack it into the bottom of the bowl. This helps bind the meat and other fillings and also eliminates air pockets.

- Using a teaspoon or butter knife, spoon about a teaspoon’s worth of filling on to the centre of the wonton pastry. Do not heap your spoon, aim for a little more than a level teaspoon’s worth.

- Fold the pastry diagonally to form a loose triangle. Dab your finger into a little water to wet the pastry close to the filling so it sticks. Press pastry firmly together and bunch towards the centre, taking care to get rid of air pockets. Do not force the filling and pastry together too hard or it will split. Repeat until mixture is used up.

- To cook, place wontons into rapidly boiling water for 5-10 minutes or until the wontons float. I give a bigger time frame for cooking because we use industrial wok stoves at the restaurant and these cook a lot more quickly than stovetops at home. Mix occasionally to prevent pastry from sticking to the pot/wok.

- Serve with chicken stock and other noodles, meats and vegetables, or drain them well and serve them dry (without stock). Serve with dips such as chilli oil, soy sauce, fried shallots etc. Alternatively, you can make a soy sauce dip with 3 parts soy to 2 parts chicken stock, sugar, sesame oil, coriander, thinly chopped shallots and chillies. Bring to the boil and serve.

There you have it! Quick, simple, and easy. Make your wontons in big batches and freeze them for later use if you like. You can also muck around with different fillings and seasonings to suit your own tastes. Add sesame seeds for a bit of texture.

Let me know what you think, or if you have your own recipes for making wontons. I hope you enjoyed this recipe, happy cooking!

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Berry almond milk

Hi guys! It’s summer and holiday season is upon us. For this very reason posts have been (and will continue to be) somewhat erratic with all the craziness! As a little apology-post, here’s one of my favourite drinks this summer.

I am obsessed with almond milk at the moment. Full blown obsession, I tell you. The best ones are the ones with a tad but of sugar in it; raw not refined cane sugar. Like a lot of Asians, I’m sensitive to dairy products. I’m not intolerant; I can eat and drink small quantities without feeling ill. For a while, I was craving milk but I couldn’t even drink a glass without wanting to vomit. Things like cheese and yoghurt are ok in moderation, but it still annoys me when I can’t eat heaps. Thankfully, one of my friends who is lactose intolerant introduced me to milk alternatives such as almond, rice, and oat milk. I have to admit, oat and rice milk taste weird to me, and I cannot stand drinking unsweetened soy milk (Chinese style is with sugar) because of the taste. So now, almond milk is all I drink.

Ingredients:

- 2 cups unsweetened/low sugar almond milk, chilled

- 1 large strawberry, 2-3 if they’re small, chilled

- 1/4 punnet blueberries, chilled

- 2 tspn runny honey. Microwave for 10sec if needed

Optional:

- 2 heaped tblpsn plain or flavoured Greek-style yoghurt (honey or berries)

What to do:

Make sure all ingredients are well chilled. In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until frothy. Alternatively, you can muddle the fruit and honey first into a sort of raw compote and mix with almond milk for an interesting, chunky, flavoured milk. For a smoothie, add Greek-style yoghurt and blend. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, blend in some raw almonds (peeled).

I know it was a short post, but hopefully I’ll be able to have a lot to share with you for Christmas. I’ll be heading up the coast to my sister’s this year, so there should be heaps of food and drink ideas. Until then, happy cooking!

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First time baking success!

I’ve done it! I have finally baked a cake from scratch which has turned out halfway-decent, and boy am I proud of myself.

I am useless at baking and in the past, I’ve managed to mess up pre-mixed cakes. So, you can probably say that I’m a hazard when it comes to baked goods. However, I have finally redeemed myself by baking a Madeira cake with a recipe I used from the Australian Women’s Weekly baking book and it’s come out looking pretty fine. I followed to recipe to the tee and, although a little on the drier side, it tastes delicious!!

Not so much a proper post, but I thought I’d share this momentous occasion and milestone with you all! Happy cooking!

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I couldn’t help but sneak a piece as soon as I cut it.

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Sydney CBD food adventures- 04.11.13

Hello everyone! Here’s the review post I promised.

Mondays are my day off from work, which is pretty inconvenient to catch up with friends or do anything really productive with people because everyone else is at work at uni! Thankfully, my two best friends always make time for me and Monday nights have become our weekly get-together over dinner and drinks. This week, I was lucky enough to have the entire day with them and what better else to do than to eat ourselves silly? We stayed in the Sydney CBD all day, sticking to Town Hall and Chinatown. The entire day, it seemed, was full of amazing food. I’m still a bit in awe at how we managed to find exemplary food at each and every place we visited.

First was lunch at Cellini’s, located on the top level of the QVB (not including the Tea Room, which is separate). A cafe/restaurant, it’s what you’d typically find on the upper levels of the QVB. It is modern and trendy with the option to either sit inside the shop or to sit at one of the many tables outside that loop around the railings giving you an amazing view of the interior of the QVB. Typical menu items include breakfasts, salads, sandwiches, pasta, full meals, and sweets. I chose the mutton and couscous special, whilst my friend ordered the smoked salmon on rye, with chips on the side. And boy was that old lamb amazing. In Australia, people love their lamb but not so much mutton. Mutton has a stronger taste and smell and many people I know don’t like it as it can be almost gamey depending on the animal and how it is cooked. I’m a big fan of gamey meats and this mutton was perfect. Strong in flavour but not overpowering. The couscous was fluffy, buttery and mixed with pickled gherkins and onions. The only bad thing about it was the sun-dried tomato. I like them in small amounts when they are finely sliced, but most places you go to in Sydney serve them in big chunks, making the dish they’re served in sour, salty and overpowered. Aside from that, I highly recommend this cafe as it is consistent and of great quality (however, this does not include their risotto).

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I am assured by my best friend that the smoked salmon sanger was delicious.

Towards late afternoon, my friends and I ended up in Westfield in the CBD and found a quaint and truly amazing cafe bakery, Le Pain Quotidien. The baked goods were made on premises, which is uncommon for most cafés in Sydney. The food is focused on a more rustic French style, with an emphasis on wholemeals. I ordered a strong coffee with a wholemeal scone with jam and ricotta. I admit, whilst absolutely delicious, this scone is best suited for breakfast rather than afternoon tea. Being wholemeal, it is quite dense and resembles more of a biscuit than a traditional English scone. Something else i noticed that deviates from the traditional scone was the slight, almost unnoticeable taste of salt that comes through, giving it a more bready feel. The ricotta is unseasoned and cuts through the heaviness quite nicely. However, the next time I have this scone it’ll be for breakkie instead of afternoon tea.

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Next was dinner. Completely convinced that I didn’t have enough red meat in my diet and that more lamb was the only way to remedy that, we went for Uighur on Dixon St, Chinatown (Kiroran Silk Road Uighur Restaurant). Dinner was a lamb stew, spicy lamb skewers, and naan. The stew was divine, heaped with fatty lamb bones and big chunks of meat. You’d be hard pressed to find a decent amount of marrow that hasn’t melted into the soup, but it is well worth it. We decided to forgo rice and have naan instead, which was dipped into the hearty broth. Unlike Indian naan, this one was more bready-sort of like a thick pizza base- and cut into slices. It’s a little dry and lacks the yoghurt taste found in Indian naan, but it soaks up flavours and seasons very easily. The highlight of the dinner had to be the skewers. Barbecued on long metal skewers, the lamb was coated in liberal amounts of spices and seasonings that left an almost crust-like crispiness to the outside. The ones we ordered were with chilli and it sure does pack a punch. The heat is intense and immediate, but slowly fades to a slight tingle the more you eat it. I had been looking everywhere in Sydney for skewers that resembled those of the roadside carts in Beijing and I finally found it at Kiroran. Unlike lunch and afternoon tea, dinner wasn’t a trendy affair. The decor is simple and so it the food. But that doesn’t affect the quality and sheer enjoyment we had. More than half the dining room was full (mind you, this was a Monday night) with a diverse range of clientele. If you are looking for a cheap eat but heaps of flavour, you must try Kiroran out.

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And finally, we have reached the most important part of this post: dessert. I don’t go out of my way for ice cream, but N2Gelato on Dixon St, Chinatown certainly gets me motivated. N2 is relatively new, open for not quite 2 years, and sells made-to-order gelato using liquid nitrogen. Every week features a new themed menu and each flavour has it’s own unique and often cheeky name. However, popular flavours often come back every so often such as buttered popcorn, made with real popcorn which you can chew on. The whole point of N2 is about new and creative ways to play up ice cream, mixed with equal parts science and tongue-in-cheek humour, you’ll see lab coats, flasks and a whole heap of smokey liquid nitrogen floating about. The flavours we bought were the buttered popcorn, creme brûlée, and “Honey, where’s the pumpkin and almond cheesecake?”. No joke, that’s what it was called. It was a popular flavour they created for Halloween which I just had to try. And true to its name, it really did taste like all the mentioned flavours, and even included crushed biscuits dusted on the top. The only bad thing was that it seemed to get sweeter and sweeter with every bite. If you ever do check it out, look for N2′s flavour wall with a list of all the flavours ever sold. It gives an insight into the hard work that goes into creating new flavours, and also how childish they can be when in the naming processes.

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“Honey, where’s the pumpkin and almond cheesecake?” Pssst, go check out their Facebook page.

For all you Sydneysiders wanting something different, go for an adventure in the city and explore every shopping centre, arcade and alley for something new and exciting. And for those overseas, when you do visit our shores make sure you try all these places out! Happy eating!