Friday, January 09, 2009

Melbourne Food Blogger BBQ — Saturday 7th February

While we were at a BBQ at Sarah's place, Sarah, Duncan any myself discussed organising another bloggers meet up. There have been quite a few since the first large scale blogger's meet up organised by Ed. Well, it's time for another one, where bloggers across Melbourne can put a name to a face.

Duncan is collecting all the information regarding attendance and what people will bring. So go to his post about the BBQ and leave a comment about what you will bring so we don't end up with all sweet stuff only like last time. I hope you will all come. Please spread the word about this BBQ to other bloggers you know.

So here are the details.

Date: Saturday 7th Feb
Time: Arrive at 11am with cooking starting around 12pm.
Where: Park opposite Crown Casino between Kings Way and Spencer Street. See Google map below.
What: Bring some food to share and some drinks for yourself. There is a BBQ facility at the park so food can be reheated or cooked. I'll just be bring Coles sausages but if your taste is more refined, feel free to bring some hand made sausages that we can all share. Mmmmm :-).

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Sarah and Sandra's German BBQ

The lovely Sarah from Sarah Cooks had a Christmas (of sorts) BBQ where I got an invite. I have resisted joining Facebook so I had to confirm with Sarah that it was a real BBQ and not some fancy Facebook virtual BBQ. How 1990's am I?

Sarah was having a BBQ with a German theme, with the help of her German friend Sandra. Here they are on the picnic rug in the garden.

And here's Sarah doing her best Nigella impersonation. Marvellous!

There was lots of food, and I forgot to photograph half of them once I started eating. I forgot to photograph the German sauges, minute steaks or the fantastic tasting Bourbon Chicken Wings.

I did remember the food already on the table. There was a German Potato Salad, which had speck in it.

There was Organic Ham, Green Salad, Coleslaw and another salad I forget.

She made this mini Christmas Puddings from leftover pudding. How cute are these, and addictive too.

The Plum Cake was a good way to finish, as it's slight sourness help revive us all. It was served with cream, from a can! Everyone has their guilty secrets.

And look, who do we have here tucking into the plum cake, none other than my baking mentor himself, Duncan. By the way, I thought I was ultra clever and brought a Stollen for Sarah to match her German theme. But mentor Duncan had to upstage me and bake a Stollen himself. Some people, they need all the limelight hahaha (you know I'm joking Duncques).

It was very enjoyable BBQ and I met lots of new people. Sarah's food was excellent, as was the Sangria. Thanks for the invite Sarah, if there's any more BBQs, I would only be too happy to attend.

Ten Year Wedding Anniversary Party

I can't say I've been to many 10 year wedding anniversary parties, but I never refuse a party invitation. So when Hien and Trung invited me to their ten year wedding anniversary party, I said yes please.

We all chipped in money and I looked for a present while I was doing my annual Boxing Day sales shopping. I settled on buying dinnerware as that's practical and useful. I was looking at getting a set of Maxwell Williams dinner set. Then my friend suggested I buy the really good looking Villeroy and Boch plates that were on sale. I always thought Villeroy and Boch were ultra expensive but when I saw the prices, I thought it was a bargain. The plates were beautifully hand painted ones and really nice. So I went and asked the sales lady (I was in David Jones and these posh looking older sales ladies were just doing things slowly and chatting amongst themselves) for help. I literally had to cough to get their attention. Anyway, I asked her to help me grab a box of plates, small plates, bowls, cups and saucers. Then she asked how many of each I wanted. I said the box, because isn't that how they are sold. She actually told me the price was for each ONE. Oh my gawd. I just thought some over excited person decided to stick prices all over the boxes for fun. She told me each price tag was for one plate in that box. Freak me. I told her to put all the plates back, coz I couldn't afford that. So it was back to the nice Maxwell Williams plate. I liked the final parting snobbery from the sales lady. She told me the plates were made in Germany and of very fine quality, and that the prices were for each, but very fair. Ok, when I'm a millionaire, I'll come back for them thanks.

So here is Trung and Hien opening their Maxwell Williams plates. They loved them as it had purple flower motif on it, Hien's favourite colour.

For dinner, we were having beef cooked at the table and then rolled in rice paper.

Here is the beef and also some sticky rice to eat beforehand while we waited.

It was then a matter of piling on the meat, mint, vermecilli and rolling it up. Then dipped into the fish paste sauce and straight into the mouth. We ate until near bursting, saving just enough room for the Moet & Chandon champagne. I just love good champagne. And just for the record, if you ever hear me pronouncing Moet as "Mo'wett", I'm saying it right. Read this article which explains it all clearly. It's "Mo'wett" and not "Mo-aye" (as I used to say it) or worse still "Mo-ey". Now I have to put on my snobbery and insist you say Mo'wett. Hahahaha.

Congrats to Trung and Hien for ten years of marriage. May they be happy for another fifty.

Christmas Dinner - Peking Duck

I'm not religious so Christmas for me doesn't have any religious significance. Instead Christmas is just about eating, drinking, gifts and being around family and friends.

This year, for Christmas dinner, I decided to do a Peking Duck dinner. It's so easy to do it yourself at home so why not. I just had to be a bit organised and made sure the roast duck shop would be open on Christmas day. I put in an order for four ducks and picked them up in the afternoon.

I pop the ducks into the oven for a bit more just to really crisp up the skin. Then it's a matter of carving the ducks into small chunks. We weren't very good at it but managed to hack the meat into small pieces.

Prepare some pickled carrot and radish, slices of cucumber and spring onion and just Lee Kum Kee store bought Hoi Sin sauce.

Combine that all onto a store bought and steamed pancake, and voila, you have this incredible tasting treat. I don't like roast duck by itself, but combined with these other flavours, I can't get enough of it. We managed to chomp through three ducks. No one touched any of the fried rice prepared.

As for presents, I got lots of wine this year. Last year it was virtually all chocolates. This year, it was mostly alcohol, some chocolates. The non alcoholic presents included this very cool medieval looking wine bottle ornament. You put it over a wine bottle. For what purpose, I don't know, but it looks extremely cool.

I also loved the Sunbeam food processor I got. Now I can make even more cakes and things that need a processor.

Another gift that I love is the Sunbeam Mixmaster. Word has gotten round that I now like to bake so this is a very appropriate gift.

Quan Jude

I've expressed my fondness for Peking Duck on this blog previously. So when I read Matt Preston's article, Duck Hunting, about all the restaurants serving Peking Duck in Melbourne, I really wanted to try some of the places. I had been fortunate enough to visit Flower Drum and try their Peking Duck not soon after reading the article. The Peking Duck at Flower Drum was amazingly good. However, in terms of duck alone, Quan Jude on Queen Street got a better score than Flower Drum, in fact the best score of all the restaurants. When I read Agnes' review, it prompted me to book and go finally.

As stated, Quan Jude is located on Queen Street on the outskirts of the city. This means parking was really easy, basically we parked right in front of it. The restaurant front door wasn't that obvious, as the forty foot photo of the topless lady with bunny ears on next to it was a tad distracting. But we found the door and was greeted by a concubine, well, a waitress dressed like a concubine anyway. If first impressions really do make a lasting impression, then Quan Jude had me at hello. The gold bling and ornate decorations had me in sensory excitement already. We were led down the stairs and seated at a very nicely set out table.

We stared with an entree, which consisted of duck tongue, duck liver, chicken giblets and pork hock. I really enjoyed the spicy chicken giblets and the duck liver was very smooth and delectable.

We were here for the Peking Duck so obviously ordered that. A chef came out with the duck and carved it in front of us. His skills were very good, getting even sized pieces of meat with skin. There were some skin only pieces, the most cherished part.

The duck also came with it's own certificate, stating that it was like the 115th million duck to be served in Quan Jude's history. The restaurant has been a 150 year old chain in China already. The chef placed the duck pieces in the duck plate.

Rather than making the Peking Duck wraps for you, it's left to your own devices. I actually like making it myself as it gives you control over how you want it. Surprisingly, they didn't have pickled vegetables, rather just spring onion and cucumber. I made my wraps and dug into one. It was indeed very good. The pancakes is definitely hands down the best pancake I have tried at any restaurants. The duck is a bit less fatty than most, which some may like. I myself prefer a bit more fat on it so I liked the Flower Drum duck more. I also prefer pickles but the cleaner flavour of just the cucumber and spring onions works well too. The winner for Quan Jude is the sauce. Their hoi sin is extremely good, and combined with their pancakes, I would rate them just marginally better than Flower Drum, although both are extremely good.

While we would all liked to have filled our bellies on duck alone, the wallet won't allow for that, so we got other dishes to eat as well. The Steamed Murray Cod was ok. It still had a slight muddy taste and I prefer it with a soy based sauce rather than this soup thing.

The Wild Mushroom Claypot was again quite good. The mixture of mushrooms had a lot of good flavours, but the sauce needed a bit more oomph.

The Pork Claypot smelt rather sweet and I don't like sweet stewed meats. It turned out to be ok, but not particularly to my liking.

My favourite non Peking duck dish was this Seafood and Vegetable dish. There was fish, scallop, chicken, mushroom, snow peas and some duck meat actually. The duck pieces in this dish helped to elevate the dish.

Desserts were Red Bean Pancake, Sesame Cakes, Pumpkin Cakes and Fried Banana with Toffee. The red bean cake was good, if you like red beans. I'm not a big fan so it was ok. Again, sesame I'm not hugely fond of so left those alone. The pumpkin cakes were a tad on the chewy side. The best were the fried bananas. Toffee goes really well with it as it gave it a sweetness and crunch.

The atmosphere at Quan Jude was more restrained that I would have thought. The tables were pretty sparsely positioned and the huge two level ceiling does give it this cavernous feel. It possibly needs so low hanging banners or something to break up that cavernous feel.

Service was very good. It wasn't quite Flower Drum service, but when things were served, there were people buzzing all around us doing things simultaneously. Our main waiter was very funny. One of my friends actually knew him so we had a laugh with him all night.

The Peking Duck here is very good, but the other dishes were a bit lacking. I would come back just to eat the Peking Duck. Maybe the way is to just eat duck and order lots of fried rice and fill up on that, thereby allowing the budget to eat more duck.

Overall Rating: 15/20, The Peking Duck is very good.

Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.

Quanjude Peking Duck on Urbanspoon

Work Dinner Dance 2009

With the GFC (global financial crisis for those of you not up to date) in full effect, we were lucky to have an annual dinner we were reminded repeatedly. This year's dinner would be "scaled down" though.

I don't know what the original plans were, but the dinner ended up being held at the Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron, a pretty swishy place already. Rumours abounded (I started them actually after discussing with HR about an ex-work mate wanting to attend and then being told the cost he would have to pay) that the cost per person was $150. For this price, I was saying that you could go to virtually the best restaurants in Melbourne and have a meal. However, I must say that the Yacht club did provide an excellent backdrop to the nights festivities where we congratulated ourselves on another year of good work and drank ourselves silly, well most people did anyway.

So here was the posse that I arrived with, all looking very glamourous and unrecogniseable. There wasn't a coffee stained shirt or crumpled trouser to be seen.

There was champagne, red wine and beer on arrival. I went the logical option and started with the champers before heading to the heaviers wines. The sparkling was quite good, and I had a few of those before moving to the beers and cabernet sauvignon.

This was in the warmth of the room, where a jacket wasn't needed.

Once we got outside though, it was refreshingly chilly at night, and jacket was a requirement.

The view though, made the cold worth it. It was just beautiful looking out into the bay and the jetty. Quite a lot of people were out on the balcony throughout the night, and some of us don't even smoke. There was also so close body heat exchange action going on, with the culprits, I mean the participants, being caught on night vision camera by other people. You know who you are :-).

Our entertainment for the night was from Captain Spalding. This delighted the old, more experienced, people amongst us. I was relayed stories of the good old days when Captain Spalding used to play at the Tavern where the floor was sticky and the ceiling was low. I was also told I would hear some great Aussie rock, as that's what the band were famous for. I was waiting for Flame Tree and Khe Sanh all night, but all we got was Buble and other slow jazzy stuff.

From Captain Spalding, we go to Captain Tin. Everyone couldn't help but pose in front of the large steering wheel.

Food wise, it was a three course meal with unlimited drinks. The first course was a cheese filled ravioli with pesto. I thoroughly enjoyed it, with the cheese not totally overpowering and the pesto complimenting it well.

For mains, there was an alternating option of Fish or Veal. Despite telling everyone on the table right at the start of the night that I really don't want the fish, they all conspired to make sure I got the fish. I was out of the balcony yapping away and when I got to the table, found that I got the fish. I asked the waiter to see if he could swap it for me. I then got another call so went outside to take it. When I got back, I was informed my meal was taken away. I knew it was a practical joke so didn't panic. I just sat there and waited and continued drinking my wine. Finally, my plate was re-instated onto the table. The veal was very tender and went well with the stuffing.

Desserts were a series of small offerings. The berry bread pudding was a tad too sweet, but I picked the berries out of it. The lemon layer cake with lemon curd and sponge interwoven was very good. The mint on top was a bit weird and didn't go with it I thought. Finally, there were tiny tarts with a chocolate shell, a pastry cream and a strawberry on top. This was delicious and I had about three of them.

It was a really enjoyable night and good to see people out of work. The food was good and the venue was really good. I kept going outside to just look at the view throughout the night. Hopefully there's still a company dinner next year, as I think it's a good way to end the year of work.

The Philippine Fiesta Victoria 2008

My friend Keiran rang me up and asked if I was interested in going to the Philippine Fiesta. I had never even heard of it, but I'm always up for any festivals. So he came by and gave me a lift to Laverton, where there is apparently a large Philipino community there and where the festival has been held for the last few years.

This festival is on on the 29-30th Novemeber each year, as far as a quick Google search shows. So you can see how far behind my blog posting has been. Too many things to do, not enough time etc etc etc.

Anyway, the festival was housed in this fenced off ground. There were just so many people there, crammed into a relatively small space. Unlike past festivals I've been to, they're usually a bit more spread out. The only one that was more packed was at Box Hill for Chinese New Year. You literally could not move there.

This festival still was extremely packed. Even the queue to get into the gates was so long. Luckily, we bought tickets off a guy who was walking around selling them. We might have been scalped, but luckily, the tickets were real and we basically walked right in, bypassing a queue of at least one hundred people going both directions.

The grounds were all dead grass with rubbish everywhere. There was smoke all over the place from the BBQs. This whole scenario just kept making me think of Mad Max, where there is chaos and a sense of futility. Don't ask me why, but that's what I was thinking at the time.

Not to be fazed, Keiran and I were hungry so headed to get food. The queues for the food stalls were a bit hap-hazard and it took Keiran a good 30 minutes at least to get some chicken skewers, in which he ended up dropping one anyway.

I went to other stalls first and got myself green mangoes, this fruit ice drink, churros, flan and then back to get some chicken skewers when the queue only took about 2 minutes for me. The food was all very good. I liked the drink which had a mixture of flan, fruit, jelly, taro and syrup with ice. The flan was also good, as were the very crisp churros straight from the oil. The churros were huge and I just managed to finish 5 pieces. The chicken skewers were good but a tad overpriced at $5 each I think.

There were cultural displays in the rooms which was part of the school I think. A very nice lady explained all about Philipino clothing to me. They use natural fibres obviously as that is much cooler. Here were some traditional wedding dresses made from something really weird, but I can't remember now. There was also information about all the islands and the buildings there. The churches there are beautiful and look like those in Macau, with the Portugese influence.

There was lots of singing and dancing on the stage, most of which I couldn't understand. Occasionally they would break out into Philiglish, a mixture of Philipino and English. I got the drift of what was happening and some songs were in English. It was a fun day overall, a tad chaotic but I'm glad to now know more about Philipino culture and customs.

On the way home, we drove past the Victorian Go Karts track. They had a meet on so we stopped and had a quick look. These people were really serious about the go kart racing, with team mechanics and proper uniforms and everything. It just goes to show what a huge sub culture there is for any activity. I guess food blogging is one of those sub cultures? Anyway, seeing those guys zoom around the track at very fast speeds was rather exciting, makes me want to go go karting again. This track did have a better than usual backdrop.