Sunday, January 31, 2010

China Kitchen

China Kitchen
58 High St, Toowong

Back in the day when I used to go to Night in India in Toowong a fair bit, I kept tabs on The Bamboo Shoot next door to it. It was reputed in some circles to be a good Chinese restaurant but I harbored doubts. In any case, it closed down and China Kitchen was established in its place.

I had zero interest in China Kitchen to begin with but then the reviews started coming to me. Most of my friends who had been there said it was 'really good'. I also found out that China Kitchen specializes in Shechuan cuisine which is famous for its numbing spiciness. Being a fan of that style of dish, I decided I was keen after all.

China Kitchen advertises regularly with the popular Chinese newspapers circulating Brisbane. I nagged my parents for a while, suggesting that we should go there. Being the spice-phobics that they are, this took a lot of convincing.

Finally, last Saturday, we were open to dining out somewhere new so off we headed to Toowong. China Kitchen is a relatively small restaurant but it has lovely, modern Chinese fittings. We sat near the windows where the tables are accompanied by low couches. My parents had differing opinions about the practicality of this design. My dad was a huge fan of the couches but mum thought they weren't very comfortable to eat from.

The menu has a selection of various traditional Chinese, fusion Chinese and Shechuan specials. There's also a page with extremely cheap dishes but the catch is that you're limited to ordering one of those per bill.

We chose a bunch of Shechuan dishes and a serving of fried rice to share. Dad was disappointed because one thing he wanted was unavailable so he had to re-select.

I noticed that whilst the serving wear was quite stylish, we had plates rather than bowls to eat from. Also, rather than hot tea, China Kitchen serves ice water by default. These seem like Westernised features but I will admit that when the spicy food came, I was relieved to have the cold water.

Shechuan spicy fish

The spicy fish came first. It was an impressive sight to behold - a huge bubbling vat of spicy oil, fish and bean sprouts. You fish out the fish (lol) with the little net ladle and enjoy.

The fish once ladled into a plate

The flavor was excellent: spicy, numbing and everything I expected. The fish was tender and delicate.

Gives you an idea of the degree of chili/spiciness

The only problem is that after examining the fluid in the pot, I conclude that it isn't stock but is pure oil. Scary? I was scared and deterred. Nice food isn't worth a faceful of pimples the next day.

Mapo tofu

Our choice from the bargain page was the mapo tofu. It wasn't as spicy as the fish and had a lovely, complex flavor enhanced with the usual bean paste flavor. Mapo tofu goes really well with rice.

Fried rice

Speaking of rice, my parents lunged at the rice because it was the only non-spicy dish. Whilst they were wheezing and heaving and sweating over the chili and Shechuan peppercorns, they were praising the lord at having ordered rice to neutralize the palate. Having said that, the consensus was that the fried race was over-priced. It tasted alright but the serving was quite small and the ingredients weren't standout (spam anyone?)

Five spice pork strips

The 5-spice pork strips were really yummy. I would love this wrapped in Peking duck wraps, which is another traditional way of eating it. By this stage I was pretty full so I didn't gorge but the flavor was good.

Spicy eggplant

The final dish to arrive was actually my pick: the spicy eggplant. I used to LOVE this style of eggplant dish when I was younger but since then, I have found other awesome things to be obsessed about. This basically single-handedly rekindled my love for spicy eggplant. We were all full by now and had takeaway containers to pack. My parents let me have first pick and I went straight for the eggplant. The texture is great - not too soft and decomposed but not any bit hard or rubbery either. Great flavors. Mum reckoned that all Shechuan flavors are basically the same but I thought there were significant differences between what we ordered despite the fact that they were all red in appearance and carried varied levels of spiciness.

I really enjoyed the food at China Kitchen. The dishes are on the pricey side, especially when compared to restaurants around Sunnybank. The good thing is that we had quite a bit of food to take home and that works out economically for a household that doesn't like cooking on weekdays. I thought the flavors were great and the serving sizes weren't disappointingly small. Negatives include the fact that plain rice is charged extra by the bowl and more importantly, everything we ordered was covered in spicy oil.

In moderation, that might be alright but I definitely can't stomach that much oil on a regular basis. Perhaps this is because we only ordered the Shechuan dishes. Hopefully their other offerings are a bit more heart-friendly.

China Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 29, 2010

Vegetarian Lasagna

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Vegetarian Lasagna
Home Cooking

I've been very slack with this post. The photos, recipe, act-of-making this dish all date back to new years eve (nearing a month ago). Other posts kept getting in the way...

Left-overs enjoyed with a book

Ok, the real reason is that I suspect this post will take actual effort to compile. The recipe is a self-invention and whilst that is a benefit at the time of cooking (no measuring quantities, just improvise), it's not great when you're referring to memory and need to type out a recipe for your blog. So, I've been lazy.

I have a special relationship with the vegetarian lasagna. My first taste might have occurred during my short stint as a vegetarian. Or, it might have occurred after. Regardless, this is a food item that convinces me that vegetarians don't have it too tough.

Some vegetarian items are a compromise. I remember eating certain salads and things and just thinking 'this would be awesome, if only it had a MEAT item in it'. To me, a well-made vegetarian lasagna is not a compromise at ALL. Not in the slightest!

In short, I become somewhat obsessed with them. I'd spy out the offerings from various cafes and vegetarian joints, mentally cataloging which ones had the nicest layers, most complimentary ingredients etc. For at least a few weeks, whenever I asked myself "what is it that I am craving RIGHT NOW" the answer would inadvertently be "vegetarian lasagna".

Then came along new years eve (does this event warrant capital letters?)

I decided a few days beforehand that rather than getting drunk out of my mind and spending the first day of 2010 poor and sickly, I'd actually spend the evening reflecting on 09. Sounds cheesy and spiritual and if it was that alone, I might even feel sorry for myself. However, I'm not one to push away an excuse for celebration so I sort of treated myself to some fun. Enter project: "Make an Epic Vegetarian Lasagna".

The entire process took practically 4-5 hours. Don't let that deter you. I was slow because I wasn't 100% committed to the cooking process... I was also intermittently watching TV, reading, doing other doings. It IS a complicated lasagna and I gave it the works but the thing with lasagna is that most components are optional.

This is why I've separated the recipe into sections explaining how I made the components for the lasagna. In the end, it was just a matter of layering the components. If you decide to make a veggie lasagna yourself, you can decide what components to include in your own. The sky's the limit and there's no hard and fast rule as to how complicated or how simple you can be... so long as you pick flavors and ingredients you like.

Vegetarian Lasagna
Serves 4-6

  • 1/2 butternut pumpkin
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 Lebanese eggplant
  • 250g baby spinach
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/2-1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 80g brie cheese (can use other cheese as long as it melts)
  • instant lasagna sheets
  • 200g grated tasty cheese

For the pumpkin layer...
1. Steam, boil, microwave or bake the pumpkin. I chopped it into cubes first and baked mine but it would be fine to cook in any other method.
2. Once the pumpkin is cooked, mash it up.
For the zucchini and eggplant...
3. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
4. Slice the zucchini and eggplant and arrange in a single layer on a baking tray.
5. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.6. Grill for ~ 10min or until slightly charred.

For the spinach...
7. Blanch in hot water until wilted. Drain thoroughly.

For the vegetarian bolognaise sauce...
8. Grate the carrot and put aside in a bowl.
9. Bring the canned tomatos and about 1/2 cup of water to the boil. Reduce the heat.
10. Add the carrot and pop the lid on. Cook until the carrot is soft.11. If the sauce is too watery, remove the lid and allow it to thicken.
12. Season with the oregano, salt and pepper. Put aside until needed.

For the bechamel sauce...
13. In a non-stick saucepan on medium-high heat, stir together the butter and flour until it forms a buttery dough ball.
14. Gradually add the milk whilst stirring until it achieves a sauce consistency. You might need to add a bit of flour if it becomes too watery.
15. Break up the cheese and stir into the sauce until melted throughout.16. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.

To assemble...
17. Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius. In a large dish, layer the ingredients. There's no rule as to what order the layers should be in. Generally, place a layer of vegetable, some sauce, some cheese, a layer of lasagna sheets and repeat with a different vegetable and different sauce. I wanted the layers to look distinct so I kept adjacent layers different in color.18. Finish with a final layer of lasagna sheets and loads of tasty cheese.19. Bake in oven for about 40min or so. Most of the components in this lasagna are already cooked so you're really just waiting for them to reheat evenly and for the lasagna sheets to soften and the cheese to bubble.
20. Let it rest for 10min or so before serving (this allows the flavors to develop).

I should say at this point that I am very honest to myself about my cooking. I've never, ever felt that I'm a 'good cook'. Sorry if you're reading this blog because you're mistakenly under the impression that I'm a domestic queen imparting wisdom via the internet. The cooking component of my food blog basically documents my attempts at meal-making and I haven't had a lot of experience. Baking and dessert-making are areas I am more confident in but making dinner is a gray zone.

After the lasagna is cut into

That aside, I will say right now that my vegetarian lasagna was delicious. As a connoisseur of this dish, I think I have some authority on the matter. I mentioned at the start that it was an improvised self-creation so there quantities in my published recipe are estimates and I can't guarantee that it will duplicate results (maybe I just fluked it?) but in any case, my method worked out well and the chosen flavors and vegetables were perfectly complimentary.

The textural contrasts between the soft, sweet pumpkin, tender spinach, slightly crisp bits of grilled eggplant and melted cheese was absolutely amazing. I was skeptical about my sauces but they worked wonderfully too.

It so happened that on the night, I had just broken my old digital camera and hadn't bought a new one yet. All the photos in this blog (minus the ones below) are from my iPhone. Far from ideal quality/lighting so I know they are the most appealing plate pics, from a visual sense. Whilst my pictures illustrate mush, I defend by claiming that in real life I saw nice, distinct layers in the cross-section. You'll just have to take my word for it.


The greatest thing is... because I made this dish myself, I know what went in it and I can honestly say it's really a healthy meal. People frequently mislead themselves into believing that all vegetarian dishes are healthy or beneficial for weight loss. This is disregarding the fact that there might be loads of oil, vegetable fats etc. I kept the amount of naughty stuff in my lasagna to a minimal (and used olive oil where I had to use any oil) so I know that it's all good stuff.

Guilt-free, delicious, filling...

The downside is the preparation time but because this lasagna is quite impressive to bear (considering the size and complexity), it'd be great to serve at a family function.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cafe Siena

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Cafe Siena
Shop 1098, Westfield Shopping Town, Carindale

Everyone loves 2-for-1 deals, including my parents. Whenever they shop at Woolies in Carindale, they'll religiously check the back of the receipts to see if there's anything good. Cafe Siena frequently offers buy one get one free hot drinks, so much so that you start getting too used to the freebies.

In fact, there have been times (I will admit now) that we were originally couponless but made special grocery shopping trips specifically to get a receipt with the intent of gambling on the chance of acquiring a drinks voucher.

I would hang my head in shame if not for the fact that it's human nature to feel inwardly self-satisfied whenever getting a bargain of ANY SORT. You too. I don't apologize for representing the normal.

One weekend, we were soaking up aircon in Carindale shops when mum and I made a coffee stop. It turned into a snack stop that progressed into a lunch stop.

At first, mum and I ordered a latte each. She told me that the last time her and dad were there, they though the chips were good and asked if I wanted to try some. Well... I am not known for refusal of food.


The coffee was reasonable but nothing spectacular.

Beer-battered chips with aioli

Our small bowl of chips arrived. You can get them with tomato sauce, sweet chili or aioli (which is what we got). These are beer battered chunky chips and mum was right on the money when she recommended them. The chips are crisp and crunchy on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. Chips are an integral part of cafe and pub cuisine yet so many places offer stale, substandard samples. This definitely hits the mark and goes right above your expectations.

We were encouraged by the bowl of chips to try more of the food at Cafe Siena. When dad arrived, I was given the task of ordering a few more nibblies. I chose a plain scone for myself and a smoked salmon bagel for the team.

Plain scone with jam and cream

The scone was decent but like the coffee, not a standout feature.

Scone bite shot

It was served with whipped cream and strawberry jam.

Smoked salmon bagel

On the other hand, the smoked salmon bagel went down a treat. It was a perfect blend of salmon, cream cheese, capers and tart salsa in the filling.

Inside of the bagel

Salmon and cream cheese is already a dreamy combination. The addition of capers a la NY bagel-style only serves to push the level of awesomeness up even further.

In the past I always through Cafe Siena was a bog standard shopping center cafe - the type you resort to when you're run off you feet from shopping and want some food that isn't from the food court. This lone experience has changed my perception drastically. I think Cafe Siena holds its own with the quality of its food. It's the little, simple things that make a difference, such has having fresh chips crispy to perfection. The service is lovely too and though this place gets mighty busy in peak hours, we didn't have to wait very long for our orders.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bygone days of nothingness

I'm currently reading 'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert and this book SPEAKS to me. Proclaiming that "I can really relate to her" is somewhat of an understatement.

No, I'm not going to give a book review but there IS one concept mentioned in the early chapters that got me thinking and writing this post:

"Bel far niente"

"The beauty of doing nothing"

All my friends would scoff that a statement like the above is rich coming from me since I, more than anyone else on the planet, am constant victim to boredom.

I've explained to many uncomprehending individuals (who are content with doing nothing, or even just one thing at a time) that I frequently would be multitasking: tutoring, chatting, blogging, eating, watching TV and listening to music and yet... STILL BORED.

This was my curse of the holidays.

And the curse has been lifted. When else should I start appreciating nothingness than when uni has commenced and I'm off my feet with chores, errands and stuff to do?

Once again, I've taken to scrawling in my diary lists of tasks and I take great pleasure crossing them off as I go. On Monday, I had even written down 'shower' as a task.

I realized how much it meant to me to have spare time when I spent all of Sunday sleeping. Literally from 10am to 5am on Monday, I was drifting in and out of sleep, leaving bed maybe once just to microwave some food.

Suddenly now, the holidays look good. Why was I complaining?

This post is a small collection of photos representing random bits and pieces of the holidays that were awesome to me. Let it be a tribute, to compensate for my lack of appreciation at the time.

Summer fruit

I had the BEST nectarines ever at my parents house last week. No idea where they sourced that stash but each sample of fruit was divine: juicy, sweet (but not coyingly sweet) and fresh.

Cake puddle

This is the product of playing with my food. I know now that I'm not the only one who does it because I was having coffee and cake with my best friend and the 'OK' is our combined effort. The unappetizing puddle of brown is actually residual honeycomb mud cake. Never would have guessed, huh?

Brissie sky-line

The night before uni started, I was with a couple of mates wandering through Kangaroo Point. This is an example of the below-amateur photos I took with my point-and-shoot camera. There's no quality there at all but the colors are pretty and hey, it's a nice memory. I did try to fight my urge to photograph everything (didn't want to scream "Hi I'm a tourist") but needless to say, the battle was lost.

Carpet python

I was gazing half-dead out the window at mum and dad's house and spotted a snake. It was an incidental occurrence because I happened to be sitting at the seat opposite to where I normally sit and my visions not great but I spotted the camouflaged beast any case. Dad caught the snake and dropped it off into the bush near our estate. Mum deemed this incident to be extremely good luck

Chilled, bubbly wine in plastic cups

Technically this happened just the other night, after uni had already commenced but it's a nice reminder that life has not ended. We did pre-drinks and as you can see, it was real 'classy' - plastic and low kJ wine: cheap and chic.

Mudcake fondant monster

My neighbor got hit with mudcake cravings and we set about making one. The aim was: most squidgiest mudcake in the entire universe. Did we set our goal too high? Likely. The first attempt turned out nothing like a mudcake and bordered on dry, chocolate loaf. In the second attempt, we ampted up volumes of butter, chocolate, cocoa and vegetable oil. It still wasn't a mudcake thought I can never be certain since from my experience, mudcake obtains its ideal consistency the day after. This cake never saw it to the day after because we started hacking away at it as soon as it came out of the oven. The inside was gooey and we basically picked away at the shell to dip into the interior. Far from gourmet but it was fun.

My study table

Play 'Where's Wally' with this photo. On it, I have:
  • "Oral and maxillofacial surgery" text book
  • Prescription glasses
  • Cacharel Amour Amour perfume
  • Hair straightner
  • Seinfeld seasons 8 and 9
  • Uni exercise book
  • Coat hanger
  • My do-all beloved chefs knife (please don't query why it's home is my study desk)
  • "A Fortunate Life" biography
  • Letter from girlfriend in Canberra
  • Australia Post work shirt
  • Skirt for clinic
  • I'm not sure what that orange piece of paper is...
That's the end of this life-sharing session. Now you all know a bit more about me :D. I know this food blog is lacking in the actual FOOD posts. It's not my fault I'm poor! (well actually, it is)

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Omelet Rolls

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Omelet Rolls
Home Cooking

Another one from my finger food lunch party... this was a last minute addition to my pre-planned menu. Again, I got the recipe from The Essential Fingerfood cookbook which was my bible for the event.

Even though I threw the components together on the morning (and I can admit the presentation is far from ideal), these tidbits of salmony goodness were uber tasty and I got plenty of compliments.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Omelet Rolls
Makes approx 36 bite-sized portions

  • 6 eggs
  • 3 tsp cornflour
  • 125g spreadable cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp chopped pickled ginger
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 200g sliced smoked salmon, chopped

1. Beat 1 egg in a bowl with 1 tsp water and 1/2 tsp of cornflour. Season.
2. Heat a frying pan and brush it lightly with oil. Add the egg and cook over medium heat until lightly set. Cool in the pan for 2min, then carefully slide out onto a clean, flat surface with the uncooked side upwards. Set aside to cool Repeat with the remaining eggs to make 5 more omelets.3. Mix together the cream cheese, ginger, chives and salmon. Season with black pepper.4. Spread this mixture on each omelet.5. Roll the omelets up firmly but gently. Chill in plastic wrap for at least 3 hours.
6. Using a sharp knife, cut the rolls into 2cm slices.

I used my sandwich press to make the omelets and sort of mashed together the ingredients for the filling without much regard for quantities. The rolls were really munchy and like I said, I got the most compliments for this item.

These salmon rolls can be made a day in advance if you keep them stored in the refrigerator.

Salmon and cream cheese go together like cheese and crackers. It's a winning combination. The result is something that's great to munch on, easy to pull together and hints at 'class'.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Seagrass for Dessert

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4/220 Melbourne St, West End

One of my best friends flew off to the States recently. He was one of my 'go to' friends in the event of a crisis and his absence is HUGELY noticeable. Before he took off, we had a dessert farewell in West End. The original plan was to go to Freestyle but the line was huge so we wandered from one end of the street to the other, convinced that something good would catch our attention.

Nope, nothing.

Perhaps we're just very picky?

My criteria on the night was similar to my usual criteria i.e. not too loud atmosphere so I can speak without yelling. This discounted most of the pubs along the way. We had both eaten so we specifically wanted dessert, not food.

Finally, having reached the end of the street to no avail, we turned back with the intent of waiting in line at Freestyle. When we got there, there was STILL a 10min wait. The funny thing is, we were prepared to wait but due to a miscommunication with the waitstaff, he thought we didn't want to hang around and bid us goodnight.

Digging the textured wallpaper

Seagrass is located right next door to Freestyle. It describes itself as 'boutique fish and chippery'. I've had fish and chips there and remember it to be good. We spied a sign outside proclaiming a tiramisu special - coffee and tiramisu for only $7. In we went.

I scoured the drinks menu for something I wanted which also fit in with the special. Nothing did so I asked the waitress if I could pay a bit extra and get a cold drink rather than hot. She said it was not a problem at all so I went for the caramel iced coffee. My friend ordered a cappuccino.

Iced caramel and cappuccino

Drinks arrived... the cappuccino was considered decent but nothing too spectacular. I liked my caramel iced coffee but have one issue with it. I noticed that the ice-cream was scooped into the glass and left on the counter for quite a while before the rest of the components were added and the glass finally handed to me. As a result, the ice-cream (in my opinion, the best part of any drink that has a scoop of ice-cream in it) was half molten and gone. There's a shame.


We had both gotten the tiramisu special so I only have one item of dessert to comment on. Amusingly, we had different complaints. I thought my piece was too dry. The sponge tasted almost stale. My friend disagreed and said his piece was too moist because it was soaked to death in some liquid. We were of consensus that the tiramisu was below par and generally bland. I couldn't taste alcohol at all and even the coffee flavor was minimal.

I'm not completely turned off Seagrass because as I said, my previous impression of them based on the fish and chips was good. The service was lovely (bar the fact they waited for the ice-cream in my drink to melt before giving it to me) and I like the cozy yet stylish feel to the place.

Seagrass Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon