Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cooking up a Thai storm

Last Monday was A's birthday, and since he wanted something low key and chill, I decided to cook him up a feast and invite a few friends around instead of taking him out. He has a penchant for both Thai and Indian foods, so given our Indian adventures last week, I thought Thai would be a highly welcomed choice.

I spent a day or so digging up old recipes that I thought would fit the theme. It was actually more difficult than I thought to figure out an appetiser-main-desserts menu -- mostly because I wanted to spend more time on the desserts than anything else! After some deliberation, I decided on a fairly simple, but still fun and casual menu. Appetisers would be rice paper rolls with dipping sauce, while mains would be a simple green curry with coconut rice and a pad thai.
The rice paper rolls were easy - shredded chicken, grated cucumber and carrot, some lettuce and beansprouts all went onto the paper and were rolled up. I served them with a simple plum sauce and hoisin sauce. The curry was simply a matter of chucking any leftover veggies I had, some tofu, green curry paste and some coconut milk into a pot and letting it simmer. Pad thai, similarly, was just about stirfrying rice noodles with chicken pieces and beansprouts. All done (with the help of the 2 other girls; the 3 men just sat there chatting while we did all the cooking. Don't worry, we made them wash up) in a matter of half an hour.

Desserts was the main concern for me. I really wanted to make cupcakes, because a year ago, back when we'd only been going out for a week, I made - or rather, attempted to make - him cupcakes for his birthday. As these stories usually go, I ended up forgetting to put in baking powder (this WAS in my pre-baking/cooking days). I'm not sure if he ate them, but clearly was touched enough to stick around for a while. I had yet to attempt cupcakes again since that incident, but for the sake of continuity and tradition, I decided to give it another go.

After poring over the multitude of cupcake blogs out there, I decided to stick with something simple, not too fancy, yet rich and decadent. I was initially considering these Thai Tea Cupcakes, but ended up going with these cupcakes for the simplicity and apparent "never fail"ingness of the chocolate cupcake. Sounds good enough to me. I decided to forgo the mint buttercream and ganache, since some people don't necessarily like mint. I don't understand it, but hey, they're the ones missing out. No matter. I'll just substitute. I examined the fridge for something to flavour my frosting, and eventually found some lime juice that would go wonderfully with my cream cheese. I following the recipe to a T, the only chance being I made half a batch, 12 cupcakes, instead of the full 24. Chockylit was right when she called them "rich chocolate cupcakes", because they were definitely rich. A whole cupcake with icing was almost more than I could take. Nonetheless, they received rave reviews - definitely something to repeat again sometime.

Rich Chocolate Cupcakes with Lime Cream Cheese Frosting
(makes 24 regular cupcakes)
courtesy of Chockylit of Cupcake Bakeshop

200g bar chocolate (I used pretty average quality safeway cooking chocolate, worked wonderfully for me.)
3 sticks butter
2 1/4 cups sugar
8 eggs
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 package cream cheese (mine had about 250mL)
1/2 stick butter
3 cups sifted powdered sugar
3-4 tbsp lime juice (or as much as you like)

1. Chop chocolate and transfer into bowl. Add butter, and melt, stirring until both are combined.
2. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Let mixture cool for 10 minutes.
3. Beat with electric mixer for 3 minutes, or as much as you can by hand.
4. Add egg one at a time, mixing for 30 seconds between each.
5. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and pinch salt into the mixture. Mix until blended.
6. Scoop into cupcake cups and bake at 180C for 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

7. Beat cream cheese and butter till creamy.
8. Sift in half the sugar, and beat until combined.
9. Stir in lime juice, then continue to beat in remaining sugar.

Because I only made half the cupcakes and the whole batch of frosting, I still have a little tub sitting in my fridge. I also could have done well to add more lime juice, as the three tablespoonfuls of lime juice wasn't necessarily enough to completely outdo the cheesiness of the cream cheese. Nonetheless, the cupcakes were given rave reviews. Everybody could only manage one after our meal, which was fine; more leftovers for me! I also served up a tropical fruit salad to cleanse our palates somewhat. Lychees, watermelon cubes, pineapple chunks, mango slices and passionfruit pulp was just what we needed to finish off a night of Thai goodness.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Liquid Bar - The (Real) Anniversary

A week after the 'failed' anniversary, A and I decided to give our Romantic Evening another go. This time, I declared, it would be on our real anniversary and it would be up to me to plan the date (because nothing can go wrong when I'm planning it, clearly). No bouts of indigestion, no problems with food allergies, nothing to spoil our perfect evening. Right.

(Note: Incidentally, whilst tramming down to our destination, A made an offhand comment about oil (don't ask), and something clicked in my mind - Indian food is predominantly cooked with peanut oil. Not especially helpful when the boy is allergic to peanuts, and thus the source of all our problems. Mental head thunk!)

I spent the week racking my brain, trying to come up with places that we'd both like. The boy isn't exactly only the level of food connoisseur (yet - I'm trying to change that, but baby steps), so places like Vue de Monde and Three One Two wouldn't necessarily be his scene. I wanted somewhere that was good and happening enough, but not so much that we wouldn't be able to have a quiet evening to ourselves, so Cookie (my next option) was out. He's also a bit of a vego-phobe, so Soul Mama at St. Kilda was also out.

A friend suggested that morning I try the Docklands, which sounded like quite a good idea. We made our way down there that evening to find that yes, it was definitely quiet enough. Man Mo looked interesting, A commented, and was half-full of customers. Whilst giving him a quick lesson on Asian food (I don't usually trust overly polished Asian restaurants - case in point, Red Emperor on Southbank was, in my opinion, not half as good as anything I've ever had in Chinatown), we happened upon Liquid Bar. The menu said it served tapas, and that cinched it for me.
Deciding to forgo the wine list, we perused the menu. The dinner menu comprised of tapas, starters, Coca's (Spanish pizza's), mains, pastas, salads and sides. Your average restaurant, really. In my opinion, everything except the tapas were things I could have ordered in any restaurant. The only dishes I could really have said to be 'spanified' was the Fresh Seafood Paella and the bowl of hot chilli as a side.

I had my heart set on the tapas, but A cited extreme hunger and decided to order a main of Crisp roasted chicken breast with fennel, celery, apple and spanish onion salad, finished with chorizo oil. More tapas for me, I told him. The dish itself was presented beautifully, with the crispy skinned chicken breast sitting proudly on top of the pale green salad. The bit of salad I tried (which, incidentally, is the part of the dish A didn't eat - boys) was quite tasty.

I ordered the grilled bread with dips as a starter. Tapas consisted of baby calamari with green apple aioli, saganaki fried with lemon and rocket, chorizo served warm with potato and mint salad; and sweet pork empanadas. I wish I had pictures to show you all, but photos would not have done them justice.

The grilled bread was quite a substantial dish, as they were very generous with the bread (and olive oil that was drizzled over them). The hummus was clearly home-made and very thick, whilst the tzatziki was very tart and very good with the hot bread. The calamari was fresh out of the fryer, all crisp and hot and wonderfully salted. It paired beautifully with the green apple aiolo (which had two little pieces of carved apple pieces on the side for decoration, how cute!). The saganaki proved quite rubbery in texture, but I enjoy having a bit of a chew on my cheese, especially pan-fried cheese. The lemon was a freshing tang on a moderately strong tasting cheese.

The chorizo slices were fried quite crisply, and had the little cubes of potato on top. I honestly couldn't figure out where the mint salad came in, as there was no taste of mint anywhere nor was there even a little pile of salad sitting on the side, as there was on the saganaki. The fact that they were sausage slices was probably the reason they became quite oily, but I quite enjoyed the spicy kick they provided. As for the empanadas, they came (3 to a serve) sitting prettily on a bed of what looked like a chunky tomato sauce. They provided a lovely dipping sauce for the empanadas, which had delightfully crunchy pastry.

The restaurant was very quiet, with only one or two other tables being occupied during our entire meal. The decor itself was very tastefully modern, just right for the type of night we were having. The wait staff, though not having much else to do, were very alert and came over periodically to ask if we needed water, or wished to order anything else. Usually I find this annoying, but the guy was so nice about it that we couldn't help but like him. The price was, to us poor uni students, quite expensive, but worth it for a good night out like ours. Between us, we paid about $80 for our meal. Upmarket, yes, but we figured it was a one-time thing anyway.
I didn't expect to be so full from my meal (I'd actually already picked up dessert before we even started the meal), but I walked out feeling pleasantly full. A nice romantic walk along Docklands after dinner was enough sweetness for me.

Liquid Bar
50 NewQuay Promenade

Monday, May 14, 2007

Rathdowne Street Food Store - Sunday Breakfast

A catch-up meal with the girls means, for us, a different place to try every time. We've done AIX Cafe Creperie Salon in the city, Red Tongue Cafe and Vegie Bar on Brunswick Street; and who could forget Gluttony on Smith Street (we should've starved ourself for a day before our meal).

AH suggested, for this particular meeting, that we try Rathdowne Street Food Store - good things had been heard about the omelette. Having hit nearly every single other cafe on the Carlton North strip, I was eager to try what was supposedly the best one of them all. 8.30am on Sunday morning found four hungry (and cold) girls traipsing into the warmth of the Food Store. Smells of freshly baked bread, cakes and muffins were wafting through the air, and stacked up on plastic trays on a corner of the cafe, having clearly been delivered a few minutes before. The loaves of multi-grain bread, little lemon cakes, gorgeous berry muffins were making us salivate.

The place itself was quite empty save a few lone breakfasters with their papers, as it was too early for the Sunday breakfast crowd. We sat ourselves in a nice little nook that overlooked the front of the store, ordering coffees and teas to warm ourselves up whilst perusing the menu. My peppermint tea was continually being filled with extra hot water, and lasted me till the end of the meal. H had the same pampered tea experience with her English Breakfast, whilst C and AH assured me their respective coffees were excellent.

We had a bit of a hard time deciding on food. AH told us about rave reviews of an omelette with goat's cheese and smoked salmon, topped with hollandaise sauce and "overbaked", which sounded divine. Some previous research I'd done showed that the ricotta hotcakes with poached pears and lavendar icecream was also highly recommended.

AH ended up going with the omelette, which, although delicious, was quite oily from the baked hollandaise sauce. The serving was quite large, coming also with two pieces of "home-made" toast, which was nothing out of the ordinary, given so many other excellent bread choices available these days.
C went with the Food Store Eggs, which (from bad memory) had two beautifully poached eggs topped with spinach and hollandaise. The eggs, C told us, were great, but she could've done with some toast or even an english muffin that might have made the dish a bit more filling. H ordered herself a muesli (no mention on whether it was home-made) with fruit compote and yoghurt. It looked quite good, and after trying the muesli, I agreed that although I couldn't tell whether or not it was home-made, it was still delicious (though still not on par with the stuff I had on Flinders Lane).

I craved something wholesome, and since it was a cold morning, went with a simple porridge with compote, yoghurt and condiments. The porridge itself was quite substantial and portioned perfectly. It came steaming hot and had a hint of vanilla in the smell, though I couldn't actually taste much vanilla and the porridge itself wasn't particularly flavoured either. Stirring in the compote, however, was more than enough to provide me with a sweet fruit hit. It was made up of rhubarb, pear and some form of berry (either strawberry or raspberr), and I particularly enjoyed the large chunks of pear throughout. The condiments came on a wooden tray with little jars of honey and brown sugar. I was perfectly happy with the porridge, compote and yoghurt on its own, but the presentation was gorgeous and the little jars satisfied my love for cute ways of food presentation.

The service was good, and although the waiter took the prerogative of leaving us alone most of the time to catch up, it made it slightly more difficult when we actually needed some service. The place itself is decorated gorgeously, small-town rustic mixed with modernised deco. The place itself wasn't the cheapest we've ever been to, but the quality of food and feel of the cafe was enough to make it worth the price. We left the Food Store warm, full and happy with our brekky and agreed that it was definitely worth a repeat when we run out of new places to try. And I'm definitely going back for one of those little lemon cakes.

Rathdowne Street Food Store
617 Rathdowne Street
Carlton North

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Soothing my baking itch - Apple Muffins

After a long week at uni, I arrived home in the early evening, thankful to be home. However, half an hour later, I was suffering from a bad case of nothing-to-do's, which quickly turned into a large case of "baking itch". This is unfortunately (for my waistline - not so much for my housemates) a constant occurence, whereby I'm suddenly seized with a great urge to improve my baking prowess and whip up something fantastic that will have the house smelling wonderful and adoring people showering compliments upon my humble self (ha). I must admit that 'improvement' of my baking skills is not quite equivalent, in my case, to broadening my horizons and trying new things. Thus, my baking tends to be quite limited to the generic muffin and occasionally, fruit crumble or pie.

Another partial reason for the need to bake was because T, one of the housies, had brought from home a bag full of apples that weren't much good for eating, but fantastic for baking, stewing or cooking. After having stewed and frozen some, I thought it might be a good idea to use some of them up. After vetoing the idea of making a pie, I googled "apple muffins" and came up with quite an easy version.

The recipe itself was easy to follow, and were made from ingredients one usually has lying around the house. The recipe itself is labelled "Apple Muffins", omitting the cinnamon - and in terms of taste, it's probably the more accurate label for it. The cinnamon can't really be tasted, even though I added quite a few more shakes than called for in the recipe in an attempt to get a more spicy muffin. Next time, I might try adding cloves and perhaps some more nutmeg.

(N.B. I just noticed that under the recipe itself, the reviews aren't very supportive of the recipe, calling it "bland" and "heavy". I wouldn't call them heavy exactly, and those who called the muffin bland blamed the lack of sugar. I personally don't like my muffins overly sweet, so the low amount of sugar was preferable for me. The fact that I had one straight out of the oven was a plus for me, as warm anything muffin, especially with apple chunks, taste great. More spices is definitely needed to add more Zing to it.)

Apple Muffins
(courtesy of
submitted by Maria Evertsen)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (I used Mixed Spice)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup apple, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups.
  2. Stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, spices and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together milk, egg, and butter.
  4. Combine the dry and wet ingredients. Fold in apple chunks.
  5. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top of muffins. Bake for another 5 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
(photo courtesy of

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Gaylord Indian Restaurant - Test-run Anniversary

After the boy and I decided on a date for Wednesday night, I met him to discover that he had (unintentionally mistakenly) thought that our one year Anniversary was in fact this week. Although I was quick to rag on him a bit about 'forgetting', it was pointed out to me that although I may go by the actual solid date, he was more about "celebrating our time together as a couple. I thought that was the point of an anniversary.". Um, yes, but dates matter. Particular dates. ESPECIALLY Anniversary dates, to the actual day.

We bickered (playfully - we do it a lot) all the way downtown in search of a nice dinner place before our movie at Melbourne Central. Being the indecisive couple we are, I decided to take charge and took him to Camy's Shanghai Noodle & Dumpling to introduce him to the wonderful world of dumplings, and in my opinion, some of the best Chinese food around. Plus it's a cheap satisfying feed. When we got there, the expected out-the-door-line was firmly in place. Not willing to hang around and wait (again, his call, not mine - can you see the pattern of blaming him for everything tonight? It only gets better), we walked the 5 feet to Gaylord Indian Restaurant.

It is impossible to miss the decor in this place as soon as you walk in the door. I think the best way to describe it is kitsch. Nonetheless, I'm all for the kitsch. The more outdated and slightly tacky the decor, the more character it adds to a place. The walls were brightly coloured, there were brass elephants and fairy lights and plastic flowers galore. It gave me a whole "it's cute, but..." feeling, and I only hoped that this was one of those places where people go because the food is so great that the owners didn't have time to modernise their restaurant. There were only a few tables occupied in quite a large restaurant area when we arrived, but the arrival of a party of 20 Indians a few minutes later was a bit more reassuring. After all, if the locals are eating there, it must be good, right?

We were served a basket of pappadums the instant we sat down, although the water arrived 20 minutes later, and only after asking 3 separate waiters - and, might I add, after the food arrived. After a short perusal, A decided on lamb vindaloo and shish kebabs while I went with a dish whose name I can't remember, but was eggplant cooked with tomato, ginger and peas. Naan and saffron rice were ordered as accompaniments.

The food arrived literally 5 minutes after we'd ordered, piping hot and filling the air with smells of spices and cooked meat. The shish kebab was apparently nothing too exciting, as was the lamb vindaloo. I tasted some of the sauce, and it was OK; not bad, not great, not too spicy, not too un-spicy either. I found myself using the vindaloo sauce as a dip for naan towards the end of the meal in an eating-absentmindedly kind of way, but I suspect this was because I wasn't really thinking about it as opposed to the dish being fantastic. My eggplant dish was nice, although it seemed like all the ingredients were simply cut up and cooked together into a mush without having the flavours and textures meld together. It was pleasant enough, but again, not fantastic. The best part of the meal was the naan - steaming hot, crispy in the middle and thick and chewy towards the outside.

Just as I had decided to write off our dinner at Gaylord as an experience, but never to be repeated, A told me quite frantically that he wasn't feeling too hot and dashed off to the bathroom. 20 minutes later, he reemerged with a slightly queasy look on his face, but determined to sit through our movie. Fair enough. Half way through Sunshine, he then disappeared for another 20 minutes. After we decided to head our separate ways home, he messaged me later to tell me that his dinner had come back up, but at least we got to spend the time together tonight. Sweet, but indigestion isn't really what I'd had planned for our Anniversary. Lucky I'm only counting it as a normal date.

Gaylord Indian Restaurant
4 Tattersalls Lane

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A Light Detox

After weeks of balls, 21sts, housewarmings and good times, I feel as though I've been steadily adding onto my winter bulk with my overindulgence of delicious, yet not figure flattering foods. What I need now whilst feeling bloated and overindulgent is a light soup broth that is easy to make, yet nutritional enough to make a meal out of it. I yearn for the days of living at home, where my detox diet would be substituting my dinner meal every day with a large platter of steamed vegetables, steamed tofu topped with soy sauce, a piece of fish and to finish off, a plate of assorted fruits. More often than not, there was also a large steaming bowl of soup broth left to boil on the stove for hours, slaved over lovingly by my grandma as she added corn on the cob, pieces of tender pork, pork bones that gave the soup such rich flavours and many other ingredients with high medicinal and nutritional value. I never quite knew what were in those soups, but I did know that they were light, yet filling and definitely good for me.

These days, I wouldn't dream of going to such lengths to produce a good bowl of soup. An easy alternative I've come up with is miso soup. I never used to be a big fan of miso soup, especially the complimentary soup that comes with bento boxes at Japanese restaurants. However, after buying a packet of miso, I figured I should probably do something with it. Because I often find miso soup too salty, I've remedied this by adding more water to the soup broth as I make it. I then add whatever I can find into the soup, depending on what I feel like - instant buckwheat ramen, vegetarian dumplings from Chinatown, wakame (Japanese seaweed), other veggies, slices of silken tofu. It makes for a warm, light, yet filling winter meal.

Miso Soup
2 tbs miso
2 1/2 cups boiling water
frozen vegetarian dumplings
silken tofu, cubed

1) Pour boiling water into a saucepan.
2) Add spoonfuls of miso into the water and allow to dissolve slowly. Add or omit water depending on personal preference for saltiness levels (typically, the packet advises 1 tbs of miso to 1 cup boiling water).
3) Once the soup is prepared, add other ingredients and let boil for several minutes.
4) Serve hot.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Cafe 639 - The Great Muesli Hunt III

Maybe it was the gorgeous autumn morning. Maybe it was the fact that I was strolling hand in hand with the boy down beautiful Rathdowne Street. Maybe it was the sleep-in. Or that it had rained the previous evening. Or the sun shining on my face. But despite the (minor) fact that it was more likely than not store-bought, I found myself really enjoying the wonderful muesli at Cafe 639 this morning. The lovely toasted concoction was liberally mixed with coconut shavings, raisins (which I don't actually really like generally, but I quite like in muesli and the occasional hot cross bun), seeds, almonds and dried paw-paw. I also particularly liked that it was served with a little jug of milk, plus tiny tubs of yoghurt and honey, on the side. I like that they don't presume I want the yoghurt on the muesli (because I don't, I like to eat it on the side, and that's my thing). Spoonfuls of yoghurt and honey, muesli and sips of a wonderfully hot latte, there's absolutely no better way to start the day.

Cafe 639
639 Rathdowne Street
North Carlton