Sunday, April 24, 2011

NZ trip - A local food affair

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NZ trip - A local food affair
Home Cooking

I labelled this post as 'home cooking' when in truth, I was far, far from home. As I mentioned previously, my decision to tag along on my parents trip came late. Because of this, there was a day I had to spend alone at my lakeview room in Te Anau (nothing to really complain about) while they went for a cruise in Doubtful Sound.

Morning lakeside stroll

I was to sort out lunch and dinner on my own.

To kill time, I wandered around the city centre (even smaller than Toowoomba City centre) and found myself drawn to a grocery store that gratefully accepted my Visa card (I hadn't any NZ$ on me besides what I changed to use the coin-operated computer I'm on now).

It dawned on me that making a simple meal for local produce would be a good idea for lunch.

Forgetting to keep it 'simple', I ended up laden with 2 bags full of goodies: a loaf of cheese bread, a whole roast chook, NZ butter, NZ yoghurt, NZ apples and fejoas (had to ask the shop assistant how to eat these). I also included an NZ head to lettuce so I could make a sandwich.

New Zealand Beauty

I bought apples because my friend T-Y said I simply MUST. I couldn't remember which she told me to get so I bought NZ Beauty and Braeburns (I heard them mentioned on NZ Masterchef as a good choice for making tarte tatin). The NZ Beauty were delicious - perfectly sweet and crunchy with a thin skin. The Braeburns were too sour for me but good for people who like Granny Smiths and the like.

Chook burger

The chook, bread, lettuce and butter were sandwiched together into an awkward-shaped bun. Ugly but tasty. Not bad at all when enjoyed overloooking lake Te Anau in the comfort of my hotel room.

De Winkel apricot yoghurt

I tried the yoghurt for breakfast the next morning. Because it's in a carton, I imagined it to be drinking yogurt. It was a much thicker consistency than that but to my pleasant surprise, not too sweet. In fact, it even had a slightly savory element that reminded me of Indian lassi (which I love).

I feel like a bit of an oddball going to another country and eating out of a supermarket but it was fun all the same. Please tell me I'm not alone in enjoying grocery shopping... it's my weekly release at home and it was equally fun doing it in New Zealand. That and the fact that my goodies were tasty too.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

NZ Adventures - fuel for the flight

NZ Adventures - fuel for the flight
Home Cooking

It's a sad fact of life but as I grew up and started working/living by myself/doing my own thing, there's been less and less time for family trips. We pulled together for our Shanghai trip September last year that dad kept hailing as 'our last family trip ever' but my parents and I are VERY close so when I found out they were going to New Zealand in the Easter break, I decided I'd join.

Dad's a worry wort (this trait has unfortunately passed on to me) and he couldn't sleep for several nights leading up to departure because of how meticulously everything was planned. Let me give you a few examples...
  • They had a last minute check list that was typed up and printed out
  • There was a black plastic sleeve folder with all the 'important paperwork' printed out and sorted into sections, with accompanying plastic tabs labelling the sections
  • A detailed itinerary was compiled in a table form describing who was responsible for each meal
According to the itinerary, Mum was supposed to provide light lunch for our plane trip. We started making it in the morning.

Tick the list

Inspired by hawker food from the streets of Shanghai, mum wanted to recreate the egg and pancake wrap (colloquially known to the Shanghainese as 'rag that wraps up feet').

On the streets, the vendor would pour some batter onto a hot oil drum surface and roll it around to create a thin crepe. An egg is then smashed onto the crepe and spread out. Once cooked, this is then coated with sweet bean sauce, chopped shallots, pickles and usually filled with either oily breadstick or a bit of pork crackling (my favourite!)

Mum tried to make it with supermarket spring onion pancake (the type that comes frozen in a packet) but the pancake was too thick so when she cracked an egg onto it, the egg didn't cook. Result = mess.

Instead, we took the original street product and put our own spin on it. Dad fried some omelet separately and we used that as filling.

First, lay out the cooked pancake. Spread on some sweet bean sauce.

Place omelet on top and sprinkle on some pork floss or whatever other filling you like.

Wrap tightly until it needs to be served.

We made one roll per person and these were stored away until lunch time en route to Dunedin.

Though the pancake rolls were cold by then, they were still quite yummy and much better (IMO) than the $5 instant noodles or whatever ridiculous price it is for airplane food.

Upon landing, first thing I noticed was cows by the terminal

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Salmon, Pesto and Mint Pasta

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Salmon, Pesta and Mint Pasta
Home Cooking

I think I can squeeze in one more home cooking post before the Easter break. This was also a creation for our most recent dinner party. It was the best I could come up with that satisfied the criteria of: healthy, filling and easy.

I got the recipe from 'Healthy Food Magazine' (June 2010 issue).

There's not much more to say in the prelude for this post. You're supposed to fry a salmon fillet but I just bought some smoked salmon, cut that up and fried it. Oh, and the original recipe calls for fettucini but I substituted for penne because that's what I had in the pantry.

I'm clearly just TOO wild and creative to be able to stick to a recipe. I should say that the mint was my own addition too... and the reason for that is I couldn't find any fresh basil leaves. But rather than being a blunderous error, I think the mint complimented the dish VERY nicely.

Salmon, Pesto and Mint Pasta
Serves 4-6

  • 400g penne pasta (or whatever shape you desire)
  • 200g salmon (I used sliced smoked salmon)
  • 3 tbsp pesto
  • 1 punnet cherry tomatoes
  • 1 red onion, cut into wedges
  • fresh mint leaves

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Place the tomatoes and onion wedges in a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 20min or until soft.2. Meanwhile, fry the salmon until cooked and tear it apart into small chunks.3. Cook the pasta according to the packet. Drain well and set aside.
4. When the veggies are done, toss together with the salmon and pasta. Stir through some pesto.
5. Garnish with torn fresh mint leaves and serve warm.

I really liked the flavors of this pasta dish. Salmon does it for me any time of the day but I usually have it paired with cream cheese and capers. I thought it went very well with the pesto and mint.

The roast veggies make the dish more robust and suitable to serve as a main.

Word of warning: this meal wasn't as great when microwaved the next day because the pesto sorta dried up. So eat it all up!

Dee's Vintage Thai in Toowoomba

Dee's Vintage Thai

I can't get away from Thai food in Toowoomba. And I'm not really complaining. When I lived in Brisbane, I never really 'got' Thai food. There seemed to be Thai restaurants everywhere but I had so many other options available that I steered clear of them. The one that gave me the best impression was Modern Thai at Mount Gravatt.

Since moving here, Thai comprises of maybe 80% of what I eat when dining out. When Mochi and I did our restaurant trip of the week last Thursday, it wasn't so much 'what type of food should we eat?' but more 'which Thai restaurant should we go to?'

We were leaning towards Thai Majestic but unfortunately for them, Margaret Street was impossible to park on so we found ourselves up Ruthven Street, right outside Dee's Vintage Thai.

I was cautious on approach because Byron had described the restaurant as 'more formal' and I hate formal on a weekday. Luckily it didn't seem too demanding in that aspect, although it was refreshingly busy.

Tom yum soup - cooked with mushroom, lemon grass, galangal, coriander, kaffir lime leaf, chilli and lemon juice

Mochi and I were frozen from the tempermental Toowoomba weather and we decided to start with soup. She ordered a seafood tom yum.

Tom kha soup - spicy and sour soup with coconut milk, galangal, lemon grass, coriander, chili and lemon juice

In order to be different, I chose a chicken tom kha. I asked what the difference was and when it was brought out, it was pretty obvious. Tom kha is like tom yum but creamy, thanks to the addition of coconut milk. I really liked it. It's great how these soups manage to be spicy, sour and (in my case) creamy all at once.

For our mains, we chose a chicken panang curry and a lamb massaman. Lamb massaman was special of the day and on the blackboard, it said 'lamb mass', which I thought was some new and interesting dish. We were ammused to discover they meant massaman. I asked that the curries weren't too similar before confirming the order.

Chicken panang curry - sliced chicken cooked with chili paste, vegetables and coconut milk

The chicken panang was mild and creamy with an abundance of chicken and fresh vegetables. It was extremely moreish and went excellently with the rice.

Lamb massaman - with potatoes and mixed herbs

As promised, the lamb massaman was very different. It is a more robust curry, thicker in consistency and heavy with potatoes. Another distinct feature was the sweetness. It was sweet not only in the sauce itself but also thanks to large chunks of pineapple swimming around. I liked it but not on its own (too sweet) - it was nice mixed with the chicken panang.

Dee's Vintage Thai was another pleasant Thai food experience in Toowoomba. The staff were friendly and food was brought out within a reasonable time frame. We liked the dishes we tried and are eager to try the other menu options.
Dee's Vintage Thai on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 18, 2011

Roast Pumpkin and Chickpea Salad

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Roast Pumpkin and Chickpea Salad
Home Cooking

It recently came to my attention that I am not eating enough vegetables. Aside from garden salad as a side to food I order from restaurants, I seem to eat no vegetables at all.

To rectify, I decided to put together a salad... a NUTRITIOUS salad as one of my contributions to a recent dinner party we hosted.

I kept thing simple and plain old Googled a pumpkin and chickpea recipe. The reason behind this is that I love pumpkin and I spotted a can of chickpeas in my cupboard.

Pumpkin and chickpea is a classic combination. Like basil and tomato. Or sour cream and sweet chili. There were a million recipe results online and I think I just picked the first one.

Roast Pumpkin and Chickpea Salad

Serves 4-6 as a side

  • 1/2 butternut pumpkin
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 red onion, thiny sliced
  • 1 x 400g can of chickpeas, drained
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • small handful of cordiander leaves, roughly chopped
  • extra coriander to garnish

Buying whole spices = extra muscle work


1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Cut the pumpkin into 2cm cubes. Coat the pumpkin with the cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Place in a baking tray and drizzle with oil. Roast for around 30min or until cooked.2. Make the dressing by combining the lemon juice, lemon zest and olive oil with some salt and pepper.3. Toss the roasted pumpkin, chickpeas, onion, coriander and dressing together. Season if required.
4. Serve with some torn fresh coriander leaves.

This was such an easy salad to do. The hardest part was roasting the pumpkin and really, all that takes is patience.

This salad can be eaten warm, right after the pumpkin is roasted, or cold. I even tried microwaving the left overs and that worked too... seamed to make it heartier. It's good for Winter but the lemony dressing keeps things light and fresh.

We had this as a side dish but pumpkin and chickpea is solid and substantial enough to have as a main meal.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Angel Cafe in Toowoomba

The Angel Cafe

My first visit to Angel Cafe was for Mochi's after-dinner birthday cake. I liked the look of the place and was curious about their food. We were meeting our friend Dewly for dinner and didn't want more Thai (too much of a good thing can be a bad thing) so we opted for this instead.

The Angel Cafe has an expansive dining area that manages to feel like a lounge rather than restaurant. It's got a dark decor but doesn't feel too awkwardly romantic for casual dinners.

The menu contains some cafe usuals as well as more substantial mains.

Flat white

I ordered a flat white to start the night. It was a decent coffee.

Smoked salmon wrap - smoked salmon, mesculin lettuce, grated carrot, roasted capsicum, danish fetta, poached asparagus and aioli

Mochi chose the salmon wrap as her main. She made a special request for replacing the aioli with avocado and they accommodated well. Apparently the salmon wrap was quite good and though we couldn't finish off all the wedges, the few I nibbled on were crunchy.

Pythagorean pocket - a puff pastry triangle pocketed with sun-dried tomato, fetta cheese, roasted capsicum, olives, shallots, spanish onion, cheese and spinach, served with a fresh garden salad and guacamole

I picked something called the Pythagorean pocket. I didn't really know what to expect but was surprised when my plate was brought out. It was much bigger than whatever it was I had in mind. The triangle is basically a puff pastry filled with a mixture of feta and roast veggies.

Inside of triangle

The filling is delicious and goes perfectly with the pastry, even more so with the accompanying guacamole. I thought I wouldn't be able to finish the whole thing but I polished it off because it was just so yum.

Tuscan stack - zucchini, baby spinach and avocado stack with mushroom and chicken breast, served on a bed of relish and finished with a light tuscan sauce

Dewly ordered the tuscan stack, something else I was considering. It comprised of a pile of seared chicken and roast veggies. The serving size wasn't as tremendous as the other 2 but I guess that's a good thing if you're portion-conscious.

I was feeling quite full around now and guilty to be eating so much on a non-weekend night, with no special occasion to justify it. Nonetheless, when Mochi got up to order cake, I followed suit.

White chocolate and raspberry gateau

She picked a raspberry gateau. It was tall with 3 layers and a white chocolate ganache. Tasted alright but nothing spectacular.

Gluten-free chocolate cake

I got the gluten-free chocolate cake. It wasn't served warm, which is a shame, but the density was good and the cake wasn't too sweet.

Blueberry almond cake

My favorite was Dewly's blueberry almond cake. It was lighter-tasting than the others, both in terms of flavor/sweetness/richness and texture.

The Angel Cafe had a decent selection of menu items. We had good experience with the food we ordered and the service and atmosphere were all pleasant. I have a feeling this is going to be one of our regulars.
Angel Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Qi' Lin Oriental Cuisine in Toowoomba

Qi' Lin Oriental Cuisine

Okay... I'm officially embarrased by the frequency of buffet outtings described in my blog posts. Am I a pig? A hobo? Just plain incapable of enjoying refined food in small quantities?

Whatever the case may be, when asked 'buffet or ala carte?' at Qi' Lin last weekend, Byron and I didn't even hesitate: Buffet.

We justified it financially... because, well, buffet means greater variety and we figured that for any variety at all with 2 people, plus rice and drinks, it'd end up close to buffet cost anyway. The inner truth is that my inner child just loves the idea of helping myself to potentially endless plates of food. It's not exactly cooking for myself but there is a certain interactive element.

Qi' Lin was much bigger inside than I expected. We were lead through the buffet area into a second group of booths and tables and left at the very last table in the end.

Walk of shame

It later became an inside joke because everytime I wanted to top up, I'd have to journey through all the other tables (I happened to be wearing conspicuously loud shoes too) and then back down again with a full plate. To me, it was a walk of shame and I imagined all the other guests thinking 'that girl is going to get food AGAIN??'

Eventually I asked Byron to get food for me...

Anyway, my humiliation aside, let's get back to the food itself. We started with a selection from the hot section.

My first plate

Mine contained fried noodles, lots of veggies, a chicken curry and, basically, a small amount of everything. My favorite was the sweet potato crisps.

Byron's first plate

Byron loaded up on fried rice and a larger amount of everything. We agreed that the quality was better than most other Asian places that sell similar food. By that I mean, fresher ingredients, less processed-tasting flavors and greater amounts of meat.

I went back to get a fried chicken wing (very crispy), another sweet potato chip (still good), a sushi (better than I expected) and a meat gyoza (very dry).

Byron also went for a second plate and returned with veggies, spring rolls and prawn crackers.

Chicken and sweet corn soup

It was around this time that I was feeling hesitant about getting up for more food. Nonetheless, I persevered for a bowl of chicken and sweet corn soup with crispy noodles. It was very much worth it. I love chicken and sweet corn soup!

Dessert plate

We were finally ready for dessert. Qi' Lin had some Asian-style dessert options, as well as Western classics. I got coconut and mung bean pudding with coconut sago and some strawberry ice-cream.

Byron had some sago with grapes (that I didn't photograph) and an icey pole.

For us, it was a pleasant (and filling) dining experience. Obviously, Asian buffet is not something we'll do every day but when the urge for large amounts of pan-Asian food strikes, Qi' Lin will do well to fill the (tummy) void.