Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ryotaro Japanese Takeaway

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Ryotaro Japanese Takeaway
Shop 117 Sunnybank Plaza, Mains Rd, Sunnybank

It's something of a ritual to have lunch with my parents once on the weekend. We tend to pick somewhere casual, Asian-influenced and in Sunnybank (since that's on the way from their house to my house). It tends to be Chinese food... Newway has been our regular eating spot for a while now but last week, we opted for a change.

My dad recalled a time when those Japanese plastic food displays were a marvel to him and claimed that he's never eaten 'one of those'. I assumed he wasn't talking about the plastic plates of food themselves but rather, the intricate bento boxes they're mimicking. Nowadays, I can think of a dozen or so Japanese places that would do a mean bento box but since none were close by and Ryotaro was right there, we decided to give it a go.

I'm a bit more critical with Japanese food than my parents since I eat at Japanese eateries quite often. They thought the prices were extremely cheap but to me, $8 for a curry is very normal... bordering on expensive. But the point is, this was the closest option.

I chose a pork katsu curry and mum and dad chose a sushi + sashimi box and a garlic fried rice to share.

Katsu pork curry

Miso soup

My curry came out first. I've had Japanese curry from lots of places and they tend to taste the same so I was under the impression that you don't get a lot of variety with Japanese curries. That's not a bad thing - they're consistently good. This one was a bit different though. I thought it was a bit watery and the flavor was slightly different too. Weaker. I couldn't put my finger on it until dad proclaimed that it tasted like Chinese curry. And it does too! I don't mind Chinese curry (especially with chicken and potatoes mmm...) so I'm not complaining but it's true that this Japanese curry was different to others I've had. The pork was nice and crisp though. Miso soup was normal - I'm not a huge fan so I don't really know how to 'rate it'.

Sushi and sashimi box

When the sushi + sashimi box came out, I noticed the fish etc wasn't that fresh. It wasn't so bad that you could taste it but this is the kind of thing that sets apart the REALLY good Japanese restaurants.

Garlic fried rice

The garlic fried rice was only $5 and it looked pretty tasty. I didn't try the sushi or fried rice so I can't comment on either of them.

Ryotaro Japanese is reasonable quality for an acceptable price. There are better Japanese eateries out there but if you're in that area and in the mood for Japanese, there's no reason not to stop by. It's located in the food court so ambience isn't really a factor but service was good.

Woks Box

Woks Box
Festival Towers, Cnr of Albert & Charlotte Street, Brisbane

One afternoon, I was decidedly too tired to make dinner so we looked for somewhere fast and cheap to eat in the city.

Woks Box is one of those fast Asian food concept stores - like Noodle Box where you pick a menu item and they quickly wok fry the ingredients (most are precooked) before dishing your meal into a plastic take-away box.

When we went in, the place seemed to be occupied purely by people who knew the owners/staff and they were all chatting amongst themselves so I felt a bit intimidated.

There's a reasonable variety of meal boxes to choose from - noodles, rice plus some soupy options like laksa etc. Each meal comes in 2 sizes and are very affordable.

We picked a noodle and a rice dish and as expected, the food was ready really quickly. Even as we were ordering, a kitchen staff was loading up the necessary ingredients into a bowl to get stir fried. Imagine Sumo Salad but hot and with an Asian Influence.

The staff were polite but it felt too much of a family and friends affair for me to feel comfortable eating there so we took our food to Myer Center. The boxes tend to keep your meals warm for some time because they provide a bit of insulation. Be warned though - I once ordered a noodle dish from Noodle Box and it leaked everywhere. Not sure if I read somewhere that they claimed their boxes were waterproof or I just stupidly (and incorrectly) assumed so but make sure you don't do the same.

Bankok rice

My Bankok rice had a lot of shredded coconut, which added an interesting texture. It tasted 'good' without being at all exceptional. The kind of thing you could probably make at home if you had the ingredients and some store-bought flavoring sauce.

Red curry noodles

The same applied to the red curry noodles. Charlie even said he expected it to be just curry sauce with noodles and some other things thrown in. That's pretty much what it tasted like but that's not to say it's a bad thing for a basic everyday meal.

Taste-wise, you'll be satisfied with the food as long as you don't have really high expectations. Keeping in mind that a small box from Woks Box tends to be under $8 (and I find it very filling), it's unreasonable to compare with restaurant quality food. However, some Asian eateries also offer really cheap meals for under $10 (e.g. in Elizabeth St. Arcade) and I would say that the standard of food there is a bit better.

Woks Box is an option for food on the go or to take home. Otherwise, if I had a bit more time I would choose a more authentic eatery.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thai Wi-Rat

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Thai Wi-Rat
20 Duncan St, Fortitude Valley

This week was supposed to be a budget-friendly week of eating at home. Be that as it may, one too many stressful clinic sessions triggers the brain to protest "No! I don't want to cook tonight."

We were in the mood for something casual and relaxed. In fact, we were already through the door to a certain Malaysian restaurant in the city when we realized it was cash only and the two of us did not have any cash. It also happened that the nearest ATM was back the way we came so on the trek there, it occurred to me that I wasn't really in the mood for Malaysian food.

A good 30min or so was spent analyzing what exactly did I want to have for dinner. After figuring out that the criteria was 'something spicy - not Indian', Thai food came to mind and 'Eureka!' that was it. Only problem was, we didn't know of any Thai restaurants in the CBD.

I'm not saying that there aren't any. It's just that my food brain has a habit of blanking out whenever it's put on the spot. I do mentally catalog many restaurants and eateries that I'd like to go to but on many occasions now, as soon as I question myself with 'where would I like to go?' - I have no idea.

We didn't know if there'd be any Thai food in the Valley either but common sense told us that it was more likely. So we jumped on a bus and headed that way. During the bus trip, Charlie came through with an answer - he remembered he HAD been to a Thai restaurant in Chinatown and it was 'good'.

Once we got to the Valley, it wasn't difficult to locate the restaurant - Thai Wi-Rat, Thai and Laos food. We were early. Very early. It was maybe 5pm, maybe just a bit earlier when we got there and so they were still getting themselves organized and there weren't any other customers around. To their credit, only 10min after we were seated, another customer had entered and sure enough, there was a slow but steady stream of customers. We were out of there before 6 so we didn't see what their peak time was like.

Thai Wi-Rat has an oddly furnished interior. Thick stone table tops and dark lacquered chairs are an unusually posh way to deck out a relatively small and cozy dining space. As a result, I felt like I was sitting in someone's house - you know those people who really like this style of furnishing? I like that the area was really well lit though. Thumbs up for that.

The system is that you get menus and choose your own seats. Once you've decided what you'd like to order, you go back to the cashier, order and pay. You bring back a table number and it's table service from there on. I don't mind that kind of system. Any restaurant where I can eat, finish and leave fits my busy weekday schedule.

As for food, we chose 2 drinks (Thai milk tea), a duck curry and a chicken pad Thai to share, along with 2 bowls of rice. Most pages of the menu have a selection of dishes where you chose the main ingredient - beef, chicken, pork, duck or vegetarian. That was the case for the stir-fries, the curry and the noodles (with the noodles, you could also chose the type of noodle). The main meat of the dish determines the price and trust me, prices are really good. Under $11 for a chicken curry or stir-fry. More for duck.

Thai milk tea

Drinks came first. Thai milk tea is officially my favorite milk tea now. It kicks the bum of conventional Asian milk teas (HK style or Taiwanese style). I don't know what they put in it or why it's orange but it's additively good. Very sweet but oddly refreshing.

Food arrived SUPER fast. Our table was a bit small so we had a difficult task getting everything to fit on. That's just our fault for picking the corner.

Duck choo-chee curry

I dug into the curry first. It's described as a creamy curry and it sure is creamy. The flavors are gorgeous but I'm kicking myself for choosing duck meat to go with it. The curry is good and duck is a nice meat but the two just don't go well together. For one thing, the curry sauce is so creamy and rich, you really don't want a fatty meat like duck to be swimming around in it. I found myself avoiding the duck pieces. Charlie got full from the sauce really quickly and declared it to be TOO creamy but I secretly loved it.

Chicken pad Thai

My first few tastes of the pad Thai weren't that impressive. I thought it tasted a bit fishy for some reason (maybe the bean sprouts?) but after a while it grew on me. It wasn't the best pad Thai I had for reasons of flavor. In terms of 'contents', the chicken and tofu pieces were quite prominent. I REALLY enjoyed the pad Thai mixed with a bit of the curry sauce and coconut rice.

I'll make a brief mention of the coconut rice too - it didn't have a strong coconut flavor but I liked the consistency. I think they used short grain rice and it seemed even slightly glutinous. It went well with the curry, that's for sure.

Next time I go, I think 1 curry and 1-2 bowls of rice would be enough for us. The curry looks deceptively normal-sized but in the same principle of wagyu beef being extremely filling (and therefore coming in smaller cuts than other steak), the curry we chose is so rich that a small amount was enough to satisfy us. Not sure if the same goes for the other types of curry they offer. Anyway, we ended up with a full take-away box (they're 50c by the way. My parents would have freaked out - it's their pet hate to have to pay for take-away boxes).

It was budget-friendly, satisfying food with an extra meal for the next day. Exactly what we needed.

Thai Wi-Rat on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Plough Inn

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The Plough Inn

I went through as stage when I was really into pub food. No, that's not code for 'jugs of beer', I actually mean big servings, steaks and fried sides. In fact, one of my favorite places to go in the city after uni was The Brewhouse. They had an awesome 1kg of chicken wings on their menu which was great bonding food and two-for-one Tuesday. Although it was a pub, they had some pretty awesome desserts including my favorite, a huge ball of deep fried cookies and cream ice-cream. I'm so devastated that it shut down and even as I'm writing this post, I'm feeling a bit nostalgic.

In line with my eating style at the time, I tried quite a few pubs and taverns around the place and had a decent impression of Plough Inn. I decided to give it another go recently.

We went there for dinner and started the meal with some drinks. Strawberry daiquiri for me and something yuck for Charlie. The daiquiri was sharply sweet and left an odd after taste. I couldn't actually drink too much of it because it was so sweet and by the time it had melted a bit, the drink tasted like pure, flavored sugar syrup.

As for food, I remembered the ribs were alright so I ordered a 1/2 rack of ribs with chicken wings. Charlie chose the 400g rump.

The Plough Inn is another one of those places that use the buzzers. I quite like that because it means that if you're going to be having a meal with lots of friends, there's no messy bill splitting. Even though I knew that there'd be no waiter bringing our food plates over, I kept glancing at the kitchen every few seconds out of sheer hunger :D.

When our food was ready, I was quite impressed with the serving size. They were hefty amounts of meat! I mentally ticked off the category of 'appropriate serving size'.

Half serve of hickory smoked ribs

From there, my impression of food at The Plough Inn went down hill. When I first tasted my ribs, I thought that they were very bland. There was a minimal amount of sauce and the actual ribs were dry and bland. I tried to save them by adding a bit of barbecue sauce but frankly, I found the whole thing pretty inedible. Aside from the lack of taste, they weren't tender at all. I like ribs that practically fall off the bone and are infused with flavor (don't we all). With these ones, I could barely hack the ribs apart even with a steak knife. The menu promised 'maximum flavor and tenderness guaranteed'... all I can say is that it was a far cry from that.

Chicken wings with my ribs

As for the chicken wings, I thought they were undercooked. The skin was very rubbery and fatty (rather than crisp) and the meat couldn't actually be torn with a fork - it was still pink and rubbery on the inside. I only ate a bit of 1 wing before deciding I couldn't even stomach them and the portion I did try had no flavor in the meat. It tasted like the barbecue sauce from the ribs.

I was desperately searching for something good to say about my meal. The chips were quite crisp but after a few, I noticed they were way too salty. I could actually see the chicken salt stuck in a layer over the surface. Charlie denied it for a while (he's very polite about his food and doesn't like to be too critical - probably the result of eating my cooking) but finally admitted it was too salty.

The corn cob was alright and the garden salad was at least fresh. I was alright with eating those items.

400g rump steak with chips, salad and corn

Charlie didn't have too many complaints about his steak, besides the fact that it was cooked rarer than what he requested. I think in terms of quality, it was no better or worst than any other pub quality steak. I read an interesting newspaper article about steaks, pointing out that you could get a good cut of steak (steak with a marbling grade and dry aging etc) from a reputable restaurant for maybe $36 OR get a steak with no real credentials from a pub that might also set you back $30 (the one from Plough Inn was $29 and was one of the cheapest on their menu). Keeping that in mind, I would choose the former option.

Needless to say, I was disappointed with The Plough Inn. Everything went wrong from my daiquiri to the chips, chicken and actual ribs I ordered. Maybe I was extremely unlucky this time because my first impression of the food wasn't this bad. Either my standards of eating has gone up 10 fold or... well... go figure.

To be fair, The Plough Inn doesn't try to promise gourmet culinary wonders. Rather, it aims to be a casual meeting spot for catching up with friends over a few drinks and I think it does a good job there. The seating area is expansive and open. There's also a nice rooftop area that unfortunately wasn't open when we went but looked pretty good.

Plough Inn on Urbanspoon

Chicken Pie with Biscuit Topping

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Chicken Pie with Biscuit Topping
Home Cooking

I got this awesome baking cookbook called "The Modern Baker" by Nick Malgieri. There are so many wonderful recipes inside for breads, pastries and cakes that I often just flick through the pages to have a perv of the gorgeous photos.

To be honest, I haven't used the cookbook that often (only once for scones). Generally, I find there are great tips and I file away many of the recipes for 'sometime in the near future'.

Today I got around to making the chicken pie. It's something that seemed too hearty for the warmer months but now that it's getting cooler, I'm taking advantage of that by cooking "heavier" food.

I'm still relatively new to pastry. I find home-made pastry dough challenging and am trying to ease myself into it step by step. This chicken pie recipe doesn't actually have a pastry case. Rather, it uses a kind of scone/biscuit casing over the pie contents.

I thought this was a good stepping stone and though it's not a conventional pie shape, the photo accompanying this recipe is incredibly mouth-watering and convincing. When I made this dish, I changed the quantities to fill a 15cm square casserole dish (small one) that feeds 2 people. Also, I didn't have some of the herbs so I mixed up my own. The recipe below is my version - if you're interested in the original, check out his book. It's a great buy!

Note: the filling of my pie was a bit on the watery side so please read through the whole recipe to see the suggestions I make for avoiding this

Chicken Pie with Biscuit Topping
Serves 2 (using a 15 x 15 cm casserole dish)


For the pie filling
  • 250g chicken thigh fillets (you can use chicken breast fillets if you prefer all white meat)
  • 1 medium-sized carrot, chopped
  • 1 medium-sized white/brown onion, chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 sprig of fresh parsley
  • 2 small dried bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 50ml heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas

For the biscuit topping
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 and 1/2 tbsp butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1/4 cup milk or buttermilk

1. Cook the chicken by combining chicken, water, 1/2 tsp salt, parsley, bay leaf and oregano in a medium-sized saucepan.2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, occasionally skimming off any foam/fat that rises to the top.
3. Lower the heat and cook the chicken until it is tender (about 30min).
4. Add the onion and carrots in the last 10min (you might need to increase the heat after you add the vegetables to get the liquid back to a simmer).5. When the chicken and vegetables have cooked, fish them out of the stock and place them in the baking tray. Scatter the peas over the top.6. Return the stock to the stove. Remove the bay leaves and larger pieces of parsley etc.
7. Bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the volume of stock has reduced to about 1 cup. After this time, add the cream and continue reducing until there is 2/3 cup left and it's reasonably thick (coating the spatula).
I had problems with the sauce being too watery so at this stage, I suggest adding a tsp of flour and stirring through or some grated cheddar cheese. These suggestions haven't been tested out so try it at your own 'risk' but just be wary that you don't want the sauce too watery.
8. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. After the sauce is thickened, pour this over the top of the chicken and vegetables and even it out with a spatula.9. To make the biscuit topping, combine flour, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade.
10. Add the butter and pulse until it's like fine breadcrumbs.11. Add the milk and pulse until the dough just comes together. If it's too dry, add more milk a tsp at a time and pulse in between additions until the dough comes together.
Dough when it is just out of the food processor

12. Invert the dough onto a lightly floured bench and press it down into a rectangle about 1cm thick. Cut into 6 or so even squares and round up these squares into little discs (still about 1cm thick)13. Place the dough disks on top of the thicken filling.14. Bake in the preheated oven until the dough is baked through and well colored and the filling is bubbling (about 25min).
15. Serve immediately by dishing out a biscuit disk or two with spoonfuls of chicken, vegetable and sauce.

When I took the pie out of the oven, it looked perfect but as soon as I pushed the serving spoon through, I knew the filling was too watery. It still tasted fantastic - the flavors were great and despite the wetness, the biscuit topping wasn't soggy. I think in my case, the watery quality of the filling might be due to:
  • Too many vegetables/vegetables not cooked thoroughly (releasing fluid as it cooks in the oven, watering down the sauce)
  • Not thickening the sauce enough - next time, I'll reduce the sauce further and perhaps even add a bit of flour or cheese to thicken it up
I'll post an update here when I make the pie again using these adaptations.

As I said though, the wateriness didn't really affect the taste. On the plus side, it did mean the pie tasted lighter and healthier. The chicken and vegetables are great eaten alongside with the scone-like biscuit pieces. These biscuit pieces were a huge success: crunchy on the outside, buttery and soft on the inside. It soaks up the filling too - great combination. Even though my filling wasn't perfect, I won't hesitate to use the biscuit topping again.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Oats & Muesli Breakfast Post

The Oats & Muesli Breakfast Post
Home Cooking

This should barely be labeled as 'home cooking' since meals with muesli rarely involves cooking. There might me some 'preparation' but generally, this thread is meant to be more so for inspiration and ideas than to instruct you on how to eat your muesli. This is how I like to eat my muesli for breakfast.

I love breakfast. Breakfast food is (2nd to dessert) my favorite type of food. I don't go out for breakfast nearly as much as I'd like to. My idea of a perfect breakfast would be thick pancakes with fresh fruit and cream (for something sweet) or Canadian-style French toast with bacon and maple syrup (for something savory; well, sorta savory).

On an everyday basis, I don't do anything as extravagant. Breakfast time these days is my chance to get the carbs in along with as many other nutritional things as I can think of. That's how I got really into muesli and yogurt. With those 2 wonder foods, you can make breakfast time delicious but really healthy.

I've already mentioned some brands that I like. However, I'm always trying new products and I have about 4 boxes of cereal items in my pantry at the moment:
  • All Bran
  • All Bran Dual Fiber
  • Vogel's Fruit and Nut Muesli
  • Table of Plenty Velvety Vanilla Muesli
Plus various 'additives' to make things interesting:
  • Rolled oats
  • Fruit and nut mix
  • Sultanas
  • Dried apple
  • Roast whole hazelnuts
  • Toasted coconut
  • Almond flakes
  • Ground cinnamon
You always need something fluid to bring it all together. I have:
  • So Good Fat-free soy milk (most frequently used)
  • Jalna Biodynamic yogurt (usually, I have the low-fat Vanilla)
  • Pauls Smarter White milk
Fresh fruit toppings:
  • Banana
  • Granny smith apple
My usual strategy

1. Choose a muesli/cereal (my favorite is still Carman's Fruit and Nut for having with yogurt and Vanilla Almond Granola to have with milk; I'll probably go back to that after I trial some others).
2. Decide if I want to have it with milk and/or yogurt.
3. Add some All Bran. I think All Bran is completely inedible on its own but if I mix it with other cereal in reasonably insignificant quantities, it's not really noticeable.
4. Add some mix-ins.
5. Stir it all together and top it with fresh fruit (optional) or nuts.

My version of bircher muesli

1. I soak the muesli overnight in soy milk (some people use juice but I find that makes it too sweet. If I'm using sweetened yogurt, I'll soak in soy milk. If I have natural, unsweetened yogurt at home, I might soak the muesli in fruit juice... natural yogurt definitely needs some sweetness).2. The next morning, mix the swollen muesli with a couple dollops of yogurt and usually (if I have one and have some time), 1/2 a shredded Granny Smith apple and/or some chopped banana.3. Apple and cinnamon go together well so I'll add some of that too. Delicious. When I did this with Carman's Fruit and Nut muesli and Jalna Low-fat Vanilla yogurt + apple and cinnamon, it was like eating a rice pudding. So unbelievably thick and creamy but with zero cream or added sugar.
All mixed together - creamy and chilled, like rice pudding

Topped with hazelnuts for a bit of crunch

My version of breakfast porridge

1. Oats can take a while to cook (I have traditional rolled oats, not the instant kind) so I soak them overnight with some dried fruit (sultanas, dried apple, chopped dates, whatever) in some soy milk.
Oats and dried fruit pre-soaking (this is a mix of rolled oats plus Table of Plenty Velvety Vanilla and some extra sultanas and dried apple)

Soaking the oats and dried fruit in soy milk (just enough to cover it all)

After soaking (the next morning, most of the moisture is absorbed)

2. The next morning, I cook in a small saucepan on low heat with more soy milk or low fat milk.
You might need to top up with a bit of milk along the way. Stir constantly to prevent burning. When the oats are thick and creamy (after absorbing the milk; around 10min), I add cinnamon (goes nicely with oats, dried apple and sultanas). This is a really nice winter breakfast.

Warm bowl of creamy oats topped with cinnamon and honey

Yummy! This is really filling so I sort of overestimate how much to make... remember that oats soak up milk and expand

I like muesli so much I sometimes have it for lunch, or as a snack. Oats are extremely versatile and low GI but they can be a bit boring on their own. It's worthwhile to have a host of add-ons in stock that means I can mix things up and have something different to look forward to every morning.