Experimental Sundays: cheese soufflé

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I always thought that soufflé was really difficult to make. It has a reputation for requiring considerable care and attention, lest the thing collapses and causes embarrassment in front of your dinner guests. Having said all that, a soufflé is just wondrous. Whether it’s a savoury or sweet, it’s like eating scented, flavoured air.

The first time I made a soufflé was at a dessert class a few years ago. I was struck by two things mainly: how incredibly easy it was to make this classic French dish; and how whisking egg whites to stiff peaks by hand is very effective at giving you a dead arm. In the spirit of Experimental Sunday, I thought I’d try whipping up a savoury cheesy soufflé.

Cheese souffleSearching for a recipe, I found this simple one which was incredibly light yet rich. I actually halved the recipe to cater for the two of us, and ended up with perfect results.

Cheese soufflé
Recipe from SBS Food
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
60g butter
60g flour
500ml milk
200g grated gruyere
6 eggs, separated
Salt and pepper to season
Freshly grated nutmeg

Step 1
Move oven rack to the centre of the oven and preheat it to 200C. Butter either a large soufflé dish or 4-6 smaller dishes, depending on their size.

Step 2
Make a roux by melting butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the flour and stir around for a few minutes. The mixture becomes a nice nutty brown colour. Using a whisk, gradually add the milk and whisk together until it thickens into a smooth consistency, and then remove from the heat.

Step 3
Whisk in the grated cheese, which will slowly melt into the mixture. Then add salt and pepper to taste, grate in some nutmeg, and finally add the egg yolks.

Making cheese souffleStep 4
In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks. If you fancy an upper body work out, do it by hand by whisking side to side really quickly. Swap arms if necessary, and confident in your wrong arm coordination!

Whisking egg whites to stiff peaksStep 5
Spoon a little of the egg white mixture into the cheese mixture and fold through to loosen it a bit, and then tip it back into the bowl with the rest of the egg whites and fold together. Spoon the combined mixture into the soufflé dish(es), smooth the top, and immediately put into the hot oven. Bake in the centre for 10 minutes before turning the oven down to 180C and baking for another 25-30 minutes for a large soufflé or 15-20 minutes for the smaller soufflés. They should be well risen and golden brown on top.

Cheese souffle before ovenStep 6
Serve it immediately with a salad and enjoy!

Cheese souffle with spoon

Japan ski adventures

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For any food-loving Aussie skier, the mere thought of Japan is enough to get one salivating. There is an abundance of light fluffy powder, it’s less than 11 hours away (that’s on the doorstep from our perspective!), and even the Japanese food is worth a visit alone.

I know it must seem crazy to some to take flight from a gorgeous Australian summer to seek winter cold in Niseko, but passionate skiers and boarders know that it’s worthwhile. There are pretty much guaranteed snowy conditions, fantastic off-piste skiing, and of course, the food. And compared to the predictably icy Australian snow conditions and extortionate lift ticket prices, it ends up being much better value than a week at Thredbo.

View of Mt Yotei

On the mountain at NisekoIt snowed every day, which meant that every morning was filled with the excitement and anticipation of getting on the mountain. The weather was very cold, with temperatures of around -8C in the village and -15C on the summit, but you didn’t really notice too much until you were sitting high up on a lift, a slave to the elements. All I can say is thank god for the gondolas and the hooded lifts!

My favourite ski area was the Hanazono area, where there were some fun off-piste runs through the trees. It was my first time skiing through trees so I wasn’t game enough to go hardcore through the gates and outside the resort boundary and patrolled area, and Strawberry Fields area in particular had some narrow steep drops with some nice powder stashes, as well as wider open areas through the trees.

Niseko Hirafu

Hanazono ski signThe best thing about visiting Japan (right up there with the snow!) is all the delicious food. They take such pride with the serving and presentation of their food, that you can even get tasty snacks in their convenience stores. It’s fine dining compared to the dry sausage rolls or tasteless egg sandwiches in the Australian convenience stores.

We sampled a range of Japanese food throughout our visit, including sashimi, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, soba, and lots of ramen. It was cool to see that food vans were a thing in Niseko too.

Sukiyaki

Soba noodles

Ramen with snow crab legs

Potato ramen

Potato ramen

Peace out!

Deep fried oysters

Gyoza at Little Red Mimoji

Fresh sashimi

Niseko food vanWith so many Aussies in Niseko, the bar scene is hip and happening. The most trendy bar would probably be the Fridge Door Bar, properly called Bar Gyu+ but known for it’s distinctive front door.

Fridge door bar NisekoInside it’s a cosy European feel with warm wood panelling and wooden furniture. The menus are hand illustrated, and there is a great selection of whiskies, as well as hot alcoholic drinks and my first ever absinthe (the stuff knocks your socks off).

Niseko fridge door bar menu

Ev with a drink

AbsintheSkiing and eating aside, we managed to find some time to squeeze in some karaoke. For the equivalent of around A$20 for two hours of singing and all-you-can-drink, you can be assured to hear some high quality vocal performances. Oh well, when in Rome, or Japan…

Karaoke

Hooded up in the snowDid you take off for any snow adventures this winter? Or are you looking forward to the upcoming Southern Hemisphere winter for some snow action?

Experimental Sundays: home made pizzas

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Sprinkling cheese on pizza

When we’re after a quick and easy weeknight dinner, “home made” pizzas are always popular. The White Russian’s daughter always goes for her favourite ham and pineapple topping, and we load up delicious salami, artichokes, olives, ham, and feta. Our usual cheat is to use pre-made Lebanese bread as the base, which makes a super crisp, thin base pizza, but in the name of Experimental Sundays, I tried making the dough from scratch.

I didn’t have a pizza stone, so cooked the pizzas on oiled trays in my gas oven on the hottest setting. The result was a light, crisp base that didn’t go soggy in the middle, however I couldn’t help but wish I had a wood fired oven where I could get some nice charred and smoky crust!

We had dough left over after feeding three adults and a child, which we wrapped up in cling film and froze. A week later, we defrosted some of the dough to make pizzas again, with the same great result. Not a bad idea to keep some dough on hand in the freezer, and despite it taking considerably longer than pulling Lebanese bread straight out of the packet, it was well worth the effort!

Pizza dough
Adapted from SBS’s perfect pizza dough and Jamie Oliver’s pizza dough recipes
Makes 6-8 medium sized pizzas

Ingredients
1kg Tipo ’00′ flour
2 x 7g dried yeast sachets
1 tsp salt
1 tbs sugar
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
650ml lukewarm water

Step 1
Combine the warm water, yeast, sugar, salt and olive oil in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn the mixer onto a slow to medium speed until these bits are combined.

Pizza dough in mixer

Step 2
Slowly add the flour, saving a little of the flour to dust the bench and your hands later. Keep mixing until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Step 3
Flour the top of the dough and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. Leave the dough to rest at room temperature for at least a couple of hours. The SBS recipe recommends leaving the dough to prove for 24 hours!
Pizza dough

Step 4
When you are ready to cook, tip out the dough onto a well floured bench. Flour your hands and knock back the excess air out of the dough. Divide it into 6 to 8 smaller balls of dough.

Pizza dough balls

Step 5
Roll or press out the dough on well oiled trays or pizza stone. Top with your favourite toppings and pop into your oven until the cheese has browned and the crust is crisp.

Pizza dough flattening

Home made pizza result    Enjoy!

Taipei’s Shilin night markets

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On our recent trip to Japan, we stopped over in Taipei for a night of feasting at the famous Shilin night markets. The markets first opened in 1899 and has a huge variety of delicious Taiwanese street food and snacks. During the day, the streets are empty and quiet, devoid of food carts, but come nighttime, it’s jam-packed with hungry people throughout the night.

Reuben Hills and THAT fried chicken

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Reuben Hills

Weekend mornings in Sydney are synonymous cafes. Whether it’s an early morning coffee run or a lazy brunch where you linger with the newspaper, cafes are part of Sydney’s lifeblood.

The inner city suburb of Surry Hills is spoilt for choice when it comes to weekend brunching establishments, and one of these is Reuben Hills. The White Russian and I arrived with our two dogs to meet with our mate Mr S. The staff were very accommodating, allowing us to walk around to sit out the back in the sunshine, without having to traipse through the cafe and therefore preventing the dogs causing havoc, sniffing every diner’s table.

When I looked at the menu, my eyes were instantly drawn to the hard sell that is the fried chicken ($18). Who could refuse?

Reuben Hills menu

Reuben Hills really great fried chicken

The chicken was served with a chilli salsa and chipotle mayo, with whole pickled chillies and a wedge of lime. While each piece had lovely golden crisp skin and was juicy, the expectations were super high and we couldn’t help but think that it had nothing on the Colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices.

The torta ahogada, or Mexican drowned sandwich ($18), was filled with smoky, tender lamb, pickled strips of cucumber, and topped with a sweet beetroot mole. It’s obviously very saucy, making it a very messy meal. Make sure you have lots of serviettes handy.

Reuben Hills drowned sandwich

The bruschetta ($16) is a pile of juicy cherry tomatoes, peppery rocket, kalamata olives and roasted capsicum on a slice of sourdough spread with labne.

Bruschetta

I’m a sucker for trying weird things on menus. It backfired on me spectacularly once when I ordered a squid ink rice pudding. Who on earth thought that a fishy dessert was a good idea? Anyway, I couldn’t go past the vegemite and butterscotch shake ($8.50). I was a little hesitant at first, since it had the potential to go the way of the rice pudding and be completely inedible. I shouldn’t have worried. The vegemite was quite subtle, and the shake was not unlike a salted caramel variety. The lemon, mint and orange soda ($5.50) was light and refreshing.

Reuben Hills is a great destination for coffee, with a great selection of house and special roasts. The food is good but not cheap, and the fried chicken is not really that fucking great, however it’s a relaxed and fun place to welcome the weekend.

Reuben Hills really great fried chicken

Reuben Hills on Urbanspoon

Adriano Zumbo’s Australia Day pop-up

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One of my favourite memories of childhood in Australia was the occasional pastry treat from the school tuckshop.

I don’t think that the same pastries are available in today’s healthy school canteens. Instead of yoghurt and carrot sticks with hummus, back in my day our tuckshop was stocked with deliciousness in the form of beloved Australian treats like finger buns (a sweet, sultana-dotted bun topped with pink icing, preferably slathered with butter inside), lamingtons (cubes of soft sponge cake, dipped in chocolate and rolled through desiccated coconut), and custard tarts (with the mandatory sprinkle of nutmeg).

Zumbo Australia Day popup

For Australia Day, select Adriano Zumbo stores have turned into Fluffy’s Aussie Bakery popups. Zumbo has given our favourite treats his own twist. Gone is the bright yellow, firm custard of the vanilla slices of yesterday, and hello creamy, proper vanilla custard ($6).

Adriano Zumbo Australia Day popup - vanilla slice

There are also a few twists on the traditional lamington, including a double chocolate lamington and a salted caramel one, which was more like a cube of caramel mud cake with caramel fudge rather than the light as air sponge that I remember ($4).

Adriano Zumbo Australia Day popup - salted caramel lamington

There are also other goodies such as neenish tarts, cream buns, pavlova, jam rolls, and hamburger pies. Fluffy’s Aussie Bakery popup is at Zumbo’s Rozelle and Waverley patisseries until Australia Day, the 26th of January.

Adriano Zumbo Fluffy's Aussie Bakery popup

Adriano Zumbo Patisserie on Urbanspoon

Experimental Sundays: the most indulgent macaroni cheese

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Macaroni cheese with salad

It’s a new year and I have a few food-related new years resolutions. The ultimate outcome of all these resolutions is that I eat more, but hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing!

One of these ties in with wanting to cook more. I love being in the kitchen but don’t make time to cook as much as I’d like. This year I’m starting Experimental Sundays. It will be the one day of the week that I will try making something completely new to me, from scratch. On the shortlist I already have pasta, jam, a tarte Tatin, sausages, and beef rendang.

To ease myself into the year slowly, I made an easy but very rich and indulgent macaroni cheese. Mac and cheese is one of those things that might be a staple for some people, particularly if it’s the quick stuff out of a box. However, it’s one of those things that has never really appealed to me, despite my adoration of both pasta and cheese. It just always seemed a bit…simple.

So I thought I’d try making and eating it, combined into the one first time occasion. Be warned that this recipe is super rich, so go easy on it!

Macaroni cheese
Adapted from a recipe from Australian Good Taste magazine
Serves 6

Ingredients
280g (2 cups) dried straight macaroni
150g speck, diced, or prosciutto if preferred
60mls (1/4 cup) olive oil
2 large brown onions, finely chopped
2 tsp caster sugar
60g (3 tbs) butter
50g (1/3 cup) plain flour
625mls (2 1/2 cups) milk
300ml thickened cream
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt & ground white pepper, to taste
2 cups grated vintage cheddar
¼ cup grated parmesan
50g (1 cup) fresh breadcrumbs

Step 1
Cook macaroni in a large saucepan of salted boiling water, following packet directions, until al dente. Drain and set aside. It’s better to undercook the pasta since it will continue cooking in the oven.

Step 2
Over a medium heat, add 2 tbs of the olive oil to the frying pan along with the onions and sugar. Cook for a minute while stirring. Add the speck and cook until onions are soft and speck is golden. Remove and set aside.

speck and grated cheese

Step 3
Preheat oven to 200°C. Combine the milk and cream in a jug.

Step 4
Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes or until melted and foaming. Add the flour and stir with a whisk for 1 minute or until the mixture bubbles. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add 125mls (1/2 cup) of the milk mixture at a time, whisking constantly between additions to prevent lumps from forming.

Step 5
Return the saucepan to medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce comes to the boil and thickens. Remove from the heat, add the mustard and cheeses and stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese melts. Season to taste with salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Add the drained macaroni, speck and onions and stir to combine.

Step 6
Combine the breadcrumbs, parsley and remaining olive oil in a medium bowl.

Step 7
Spoon macaroni mixture into baking dish. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top. Place on a baking tray and bake in oven for 20 minutes or until the top is golden and edges are bubbling.

Macaroni cheese before and after baking

Buon appetito!

Porteño’s parrilla and asado

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I had been hanging to try out Porteño for the longest time. The thought of devouring their juicy and succulent fire-roasted meats would make my mouth water just thinking about it. However, I’d heard that you would only be able to snag a table after queuing in the street for a couple of hours, which completely put me off.

So I was very grateful for Good Food Month festivities recently, when the restaurant put on a special Spring lunch and were taking reservations! No standing around, waiting, and making small talk with your dining companions while your stomach eats itself!

Our menus informed us that each of the dishes that we would be trying were made in-house especially for the lunch. This obviously meant that we missed out on their famous crisp brussels sprouts on this visit. I guess that means I will just have to suck it up and join the queue next time!

porteno 10

Our meal started off on the right foot with a boozy pork paté, olives, crusty ciabatta slices, and this lovely bresaola, a spiced cured wagyu eye round which has been aged for 6 months.

porteno 01

Despite being a terrible patron and failing to inform the good folk at Porteño that one of my girlfriends was pregnant (it had just completely slipped my mind!), they were completely obliging and kindly offered chipotle stuffed zucchini flowers in place of the bresaola. The ash beetroot was my favourite of the starters, with the creamy and slightly tart curd complementing the earthy beets.

porteno 02

porteno 03

porteno 04Porteño is best known for its asado, a scorching fire pit with whole lambs splayed out on racks. Alongside the barbecue is a shiny stainless steel and dark brick kitchen with hot grills and trays of smoky meat. It’s enough to give a vegetarian heart palpitations.

porteno 05

porteno 06

porteno lamb

The Mirool Creek spring lamb is sweet, salty and tender, served with crisp skin and a fresh chopped salad and barbecued eggplant and peppers. The marbled meat is cooked for 8 hours and melts in your mouth.

Our meal was rounded off by a not-too-sweet burnt milk fruit tart and the softest, crumbliest shortbread with dulce de leche sandwiched inside. These guys must have the surgeon’s touch to put these babies together without the biscuit falling apart.

porteno 08

porteno 09

It’s all a bit of theatre seeing your meal being roasted in front of you, but the food here was faultless and the service was helpful and polite. The waitstaff were very accommodating after dropping the last-minute pregnancy bomb, and they also recommended some delicious wine choices.

Now to brave the queue next time so that I give their pork and brussels sprouts a crack. However, tables of six or more can make a reservation so…who wants to come with me?

Porteño on Urbanspoon

A taste of Canton at Mr Wong

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October is one of my favourite months of the year. It’s spring, the weather is warming up, and the days are getting longer. Best of all, it’s Good Food Month, which means lots of special food events, and an excuse to taste lots of different foods all around Sydney.

Most of the events are in the city, and it’s a shame that I don’t work in town to take advantage of all the lunch specials. Regardless, I managed to make it to a couple of restaurants that I have been meaning to try, including Mr Wong.

This funky Cantonese-style restaurant has had an amazing year, being crowned Best New Restaurant by both the Good Food Guide and Time Out, and winning two chef’s hats in the Guide. The decor transports you to an old Chinese opium den, with exposed brick and timber, and dim lighting. The service is friendly and eager to ensure a seamless experience. The bar staff are also very handy at dishing up some delicious cocktails too, if that’s what you want with your dim sum!mr wong bar

The menu for this “surprise” lunch was a mix of treats from their existing menu, but some special guest appearances as well. We started with a leafy salad of cucumber, fennel, woodear mushroom with chewy glass noodles, before each of us received our individual mini bamboo steamers with plump dim sum.

mr wong dim sumThe dim sum here are exquisite, and you would expect no less from the master himself, Eric Koh, from the globally successful Hakkasan and Yauatcha. Succulent and juicy, and left us wanting more.

mr wong

Stir fried corn kernels were a surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever seen corn in a Chinese restaurant, except for those tinned baby corn spears, but this was very good. Then again, anything with lap cheong, the deliciously fatty Chinese sausage, is guaranteed to be a winner.

mr wong mr wong mr wongThe mains were a lot more familiar, with lovely, delicate steamed fish with ginger and shallots, stir fried king prawns with black pepper and garlic, and a fantastic crisp-skinned Shandong chicken, which is twice cooked with a black vinegar sauce.

mr wongThe perfect finish to our meal was a light and refreshing lychee sorbet with raspberries.

We had a wonderful time here, thanks to the stream of surprise dishes (we hadn’t seen a menu), the attentive service, and the fantastic atmosphere. For $55 a head, I thought it was very good value, since we were well and truly stuffed, although I think that the a la carte menu could get way out of hand pretty easily. Having said that, I’m looking forward to coming back here one lunchtime to take the dim sum menu out for a spin.

mr wong

Mr Wong on Urbanspoon

Food truck streetfest

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Food trucks have been well established in places such as New York and London for a while now, but are still relatively new in Sydney.  Therefore, there is a still a huge novelty factor about them for Sydneysiders, which meant that the Food Trucks United Streetfest was always bound to be an insanely popular event.

food trucksThere were around eight different food trucks, offering tasty dishes such as jaffles (that’s a toasted sandwich, for non-Australians!), Mexican, steamed buns, pasta, and sliders.  No matter which food truck you wanted to try, each one had a very lengthy queue of hungry diners.

The great thing about this sort of food truck festival is that you can sample a variety of different things from each truck.  That does equate to a lot of queueing, but it was well worth it.  We tried a lovely, fresh kingfish ceviche in lime and chilli with crispy tortilla chips, and a very indulgent lamb belly with Asian salad served in a soft brioche bun from the guys at Eat Art Truck.

lamb belly on brioche

The Tendulkar, butter chicken jaffle, from Jafe Jaffles was also a winner.  You can never go wrong with the humble jaffle, in my opinion, since it’s a wonderful carrier for any leftovers.

To round off the “main course”, we shared a very messy chorizo hot dog, and a sweet, wagyu chilli con carne nachos from Agape Organic.

food trucks collage

With summer around the corner, I have no doubt that there will be more food truck festivals in the months to come.  It will be a great opportunity to gorge myself on all the other deliciousness on offer!

Whoever came up with the food truck idea deserves a Nobel peace prize.