Thursday, November 23, 2006

VFS Dinner Dance 2006

Last Saturday was our company's annual dinner dance. This year it was held at one of those shed things near Docklands. Not quite as extravagant as last year's party at the Grand Hyatt hotel but still enjoyable. This year, our table dressed up as Zorro. Here I am doing my best Asian Zorro impression. I wanted to use the forks instead of the fencing sword because it was really cool to be able to throw the forks up and catch them again.

Dinner consisted of alternating dishes between people on the table. For entrees, I got the Prawn, avocado and cucumber salad with piquant dill sauce. It was presented beautifully but tasted rather bland. The prawns lacked any flavour and no other flavours were distinguishable except for the cream texture of the avocado.

Alternating people got the other entree. Thanks to Jessie for letting me try a bit of all her dishes throughout the night. The other entree was Palm sugar glazed chicken with spicy citrus salad. Again, full marks for presentation. It looked wonderful with all the different colours and shapes. However, the chicken was again rather flavourless. The salad was a very poor imitation of a Thai style salad.

For mains, I hoped I got the Roasted eye fillet on herb potato cake with pink pepper sauce or I would have swapped. I did get the eye fillet, but was extremely disappointed. The beef was way overcooked and extremely tough, ruining a great cut of meat. The potato cake was not good, and the beautiful pink pepper looked excellent but didn't work well with the beef at all.

The other mains dish Pan fried rockling with sauteed Asian vegetables and citrus with ginger sauce. I didn't like the ginger sauce or the vegetables, but the fish was very good. It was cooked well, firm but not crumbling. It had a good fresh flavour.

Side dishes consisted of Roasted potatoes with rosemary and garlic. A classic accompaniment to any meal. Potatoes were cooked just right, crispy on the outside but still moist on the inside. The seasonal vegetables were simply steamed. The rocket and pear salad sounded good on paper but the pears were not ripe so had hardly any flavour.

Finally desserts were little servings of Lime tartlets (not shown), Lady finger donuts with warm chocolate sauce (not shown), Dark chocolate mousse with coffee sauce, and Pistachi pannacotta. I was thinking the Pistachio pannacotta would be the highlight of the night, but it turned out to be flavourless as well. The mousse was actually very good. I missed out on trying the donuts unfortunately. The lime tartlets were ok.

Finally, to round out the night, there were Australian cheeses. I liked the Brie the best. Although the honey "cheese" was very interesting. It tasted like honey that had been hardened together, so I don't know if it is technically a cheese.

The food looked great, but didn't taste that great. Still, I had a really fun night with all my friends from work. It's good to see what people are like outside of work.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Golden Pebble

Golden Pebble is located on the corner of Boronia and Stud Road in Wantirna. You wouldn't know it was a Yum Cha restaurant from outside since it looks like an expensive hotel. Inside the decor is very modern and clean. The white chairs and wooden grain tables are a departure from usual Yum Cha places. However, the chairs were a little too low, or the table too high and made it rather uncomfortable. Sometimes form needs to match function and be useful rather than just look good.

The yum cha itself was pretty standard affair. We ordered the usual different types of dumplings and meat and seafood dishes. It was all ok with the chicken feet "fong jiao" and prawn dumplings "har gow" being the best.

My other favourite is usally the prawn rice rolls "har cheung". This one was ok but needed to be steamed a bit longer. The soy sauce also needed a bit more time in the wok.

For dessert, we all had a bowl of the hot tofu "dou foo far" as it was on special that day at $1 for two bowls, bargain. I also had the Chinese custard donuts "nai wong sar yong". It was delicous but after my third one, was getting slightly too much.

Overall the restaurant is nicely decorated and the food is ok. It's not the best but not the worse either. The best part was the very cheap prices, working out to about $12 each after we ate a lot since we all hadn't eaten breakfast.

Overall Rating: 12/20, Food ok and very cheap.

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.

Thaila Thai

Thaila Thai is located on Lygon Street, but not in the Carlton end as I found out after searching previously and not finding it. It is instead located way down the other end of Lygon Street in East Brunswick. I was intending to go to another restaurant but it was full, and then saw Thaila Thai which I had also wanted to go to previously. Hence I gave it a try.

Once you step inside Thaila Thai, the effect you get is like stepping into Asia. The kitchen is open and you can see everyone rushing around the smell, sight and noise of the cooks with their woks is just like in Asia. The restaurant was totally packed that night and full of noise. We decided to sit outside since it was such a beautiful night. For some reason, I always get stung by mosquitoes while no one else does. My meat must be more tender. Apart from two small mozzie bites, it was perfect outside. There was also lots of other people sitting outside, but not on nice tables under heated umbrellas like on the other side of Lygon. No, at Thaila, its cheap tables and chairs and again that feel of eating outside in Asia.

We ordered mixed satay skewers for entrees. The peanut satay sauce was perfectly nutty without being too sweet or salty. The chicken skewers were nicer as they were still moist whilst the beef skewers seemed a bit overdone and slightly chewy.

Mains consisted of beef Thai salad. I just love eating Thai salads since the flavours are so taste-bud-exciting (I made this phrase up since I can't think of the correct word). However, this salad was too sour and salty. It didn't have the right mix of lightness, mainly due to using lemons rather than limes I think. Limes juice tends to give off a much more complex mix of sour whereas lemon juice is usually overpoweringly sour.

The fried rice was good with that "wok" flavour that I love. There were also generous chunks of meat scattered throughtout the rice.

Finally, the red curry chicken had good flavours. Thai curries are generally a bit salty so if you eat it alone it doesn't work well. But pour it over rice and its perfect.

Overall, this is a very vibrant cheap eat restaurant. It has a good bustling atmosphere. You come here expecting cheap good food and that's what you get. There is absolutely no presentation of the food. Service is good. The prices are quite cheap as the servings are very large. I would come here again and sit outside to eat on a good weather day since it feels so comfortable.

Overall Rating: 12/20, Food is good and cheap. Come here for a relaxed, easy meal with friends.

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.

Thaila Thai on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Chocolate Pudding....From A Box

Look at this chocolate pudding, doesn't it look delicious. Well it was delicious, and I made it. Well actually White Wings made it, I just mixed the contents of the box together and baked it.

Yes yes, I can hear all you food snobs tsk tsking me now. This pudding was the White Wings Chocolate Pudding box mix. I don't care if it comes from a box, as long as it tastes good, which it did. Having said that though, it wasn't fantastic, so I will search for a proper chocolate pudding recipe where I can add in real rich chocolate and make it totally delicious. Until then, I will eat this pudding and enjoy it too.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Kin and Jo's Reception Dinner

Firstly, congratulations to my good friend Kin and his wedding to Jo. I wish them the best in the future. You can read more details and see more photos about their wedding here. Below is Kin and Jo making their grand entrance at the reception dinner waving to everyone like they were celebrities, totally hilarious.

Jo in her red dress that she had changed into later in the night looking stunning in this "Hollywood" pose that I had convinced her to do for this photo.

Me posing for a photo with Kin putting on my silly face.

Now onto the actual food part of the evening. The first good sign of the night was that they were serving nibbles to guests at the start of the night. This meant that guests who had arrived early weren't left to starve waiting for other guests to arrive.

The first dish served was a cold platter entree. The cold platter contained jellyfish, roast port, barbeque pork and two hams that were a mixture of different meats rolled together and then sliced. Everything was cold, hence the name Cold Platter. I like the two slices of mixture ham things the most along with my usual favourite of the jellyfish.

The next dish was a crab claw. It too was good and similar to the Sugar Cane Prawn Balls you get at Yum Cha. The crab claw is mainly a mixture of prawn and fish meat beaten together so that it is fairly firm wrapped around a crab claw. Gone are the days when mud crab claws were used and you could taste the sweet meat of the claw. Nowadays, its all imported crab claws that I have bought from an Asian supermarket for about $15 a kilo. The claw had absolutely no flavour and was just there for decoration.

The soup was next and it was Shark Fin soup. There were some shark fin in the soup but shark fin is bascially flavourless and relies on the soup to make it taste nice. The soup was a bit bland for me.

The lobster was the next dish. A half side of lobster was steamed and then covered with XO sauce. The XO sauce was way too salty and not that good. Parts of the lobster that didn't have the XO sauce were very sweet and tender. A lighter sauce would have worked better and highlighted the lobster instead of masking its flavour.

The best dish of the night for me was the Abalone with Sea Cucumber and Mushrooms. The abalone was sweet and cooked until it was tender, which takes quite a bit of cooking for those of you who have cooked abalone before. Equally tender was the sea cucumber. Most places might cook the abalone until it was tender but then forget, or don't care, and just throw the sea cucumber in so that it is still very hard. The mushroom was also very juicy and full of flavour.

The Steamed Barramundi with Soy Sauce and Spring Onions rounded out the night's meal. Fried rice was served with the barramundi. The fish had nice smooth flesh.

The last food item was the wedding cake. It was a lemon cake with lemon cream filling. The lemon cake and filling was good and already quite sweet. The marzipan frosting was extremely chewy and extremely sweet. I didn't like it so peeled most of it off and just ate the sponge part of the cake.

Overall, it was a good meal and I had a good time. Congratulations again to Kin and Jo.

Golden House

Golden House Chinese Restaurant is located on 760 Toorak Rad Hawthorn East. It is the latest in a crop of Hot Pot restaurants popping up around Melbourne. This particular hot pot place is an all you can eat one. It costs $20 for the all you can eat hot pot or $25 which includes all you can eat Peking Duck.

The restaurant interior is comfortable and still looks good as it is new. The chairs and table are fairly large, enough space to place the hot pot and all the dishes that will house the various food.

We chose the hot pot with the clear soup and the hot chilli soup as our base to dip all our meats and vegetables.

The range of meats and vegetables is fairly limited since it is all you can eat and they can't afford to give all the expensive options. We picked the usual beef, fish balls, squid balls, crab balls, prawns, tofu, vegetables etc. The beef was quite good and all the other balls were the usual flour made stuff you get from a frozen packet. They also had side dishes of cooked food that you can order. The better entrees were limited to one dish per two people. My friend thought it was one dish of EACH type per two people, so we were marking two dishes of everthing since there was four of us. The waitress then told us it was only one dish out of all the dishes as I had thought earlier. We eventually chose the jellyfish, which was good, and the beef with chilli, which was bad. Other unlimited entrees included things such as pan fried dumplings, spring onion pancakes, beef pancakes and Chinese pork buns, all of which was good.

Overall this place is fairly good value for money. The range of hot pot food options is limited but the meat options is ok. The side dishes are also quite good. Service is passable and the atmosphere is quite good, with noise being well dampened by the walls. The only annoying part was that the hot pot took FOREVER to boil. Once it got going, it was good but they really should throw out nearly empty gas rather than trying to get the last bit out of it.

Overall Rating: 12/20, I would go back if I wanted to eat hot pot and couldn't be bothered doing it at home. The fact that you know it will only cost $20 and you will get full is one advantage it has over traditional hot pot houses with more options, but you may be shocked to find that the meal cost $40 when you get the bill.

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.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bbq at Wei's House

At the weekend, a group of us from work met up at Wei's house for a Bbq as well as working on our costumes for our work dinner dance. Each person brought a bit of food and shared it. I brought the baked berry cheesecake that I had made the night before.

The other food that people brought were

Hien's Prawn Crackers and Spring Rolls
Prawn Crackers

Spring Rolls

Khemara's sushi that he personally made. He and I surprised everyone in that two young guys could actually cook something.

Esther's Potato Salad, restaurant quality with a nice creamy sauce and crunchy bacon bits.
Potato Salad

Sausages and beef that Trung and Hien bought on behalf of everyone.
Sausages and Beef

Wei cooking her "hand made dumplings", which everyone said was delicious. Only later did she tell us they are "hand made" but just not by her hands hahaha.

Jessie and Alan brought drinks, but the drinks aren't that exciting to look at so I didn't take a photo of it.

We sat around and ate for quite a while. From left to right we have Khemara, Esther, Wei, Hien and Hien's daughter Jemila.
Group 1

From left to right we have Trung, Alan and Jessie.
Group 2

Finally we have myself, Wei and Esther.
Group 3

I missed out of a photo of Wei's husband Fei so she will have to forgive me. Once all the eating was done, which took a good 3 hours, we finally got down to working on our costumes for this year's dinner dance. Last year, our dragon costumes was a hit, winning a $400 prize. We also had heaps of fun making it and everyone got involved.

Dinner dance 2005

This year, we have decided to do Zorro with his horse and some bad guys. Here we are below painting and making the horse.

Hien squeezed her pregnant belly into the Zorro costume to give us a taste of how it will look.

We finished all the costumes just before dinner time and are set for the dinner dance in a couple of weeks time. I shall blog on that when it arrives and show you all how our costumes look.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Baked Berry Cheesecake

This baked berry cheesecake is delicous and very simple to make. If even I can do it, I'm sure all you expert cooks out there can do it with your eyes closed.

Biscuit Base

* 100 grams of milk biscuits
* 80 grams melted butter
* 50 grams dry roasted slivered almonds

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Then pack the mixture into a round baking tin about 25 centimetres in diameter. I modified the recipe to add almonds in the base since I found the crunch and flavour of the nuts really worked well. However you can add anything. I've tried coconut before and that tasted nice too. Here is what the biscuit base should roughly look like.

Cheesecake Filling

* 500 grams mascarpone cheese
* 120 grams sugar
* 2 large eggs
* 2 tablespoon of plain flour
* 100 grams berries, I used blueberries and strawberries

Beat the mascarpone cheese with the sugar until well mixed. Add one egg at a time and beat it in. Finally, fold in the flour and berries gently so as not to break all the berries.

Baked in a pre-heated fan forced 170 degrees Celcius oven for an hour.

The final product should look something like this. Let it cool and decorate with some icing sugar and fruits. I ran out of icing sugar so couldn't dust the top.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Home Made Spring Rolls

Spring rolls, the Asian type and not those huge things that come in a plastic packet and completely made of cabbage, are a delicous food item. They are easy and inexpensive to make, compared to when you order them at a restaurant and a dish of 6 tiny cost about $8.

To make the actual spring rolls, here are the ingredients that you need, althought you can omit or add anything you like:

*Spring roll sheets
*Pork mince
*Water chestnuts

You basically mix everthing together in a bowl and then put a bit of meat onto a spring roll sheet and roll together. A dab of flour and water mixture helps hold the whole spring roll together. Fry them in oil and they're ready to eat.

To eat the spring rolls, either eat them with sweet chilli sauce, or have it as a whole meal with some salad and vermicelli. To eat with salad, just your typical supermarket lettuce mix will do. Some sliced cucumber and some spring onions mixed into some hot oil to help keep the vermicelli smooth.

You have to eat the whole thing with the famous Vietnamese fish sauce mixture, called nuoc nam.

To make nuoc nam you need:

*Good fish sauce, about $4-$5 a bottle
*Lemon juice
*Chopped garlic
*Chopped chilli
*Julienned carrots a

Mix all the ingredients together to your liking.

Then you just put a bit of everything into a bowl and there you have it, your own home made spring rolls with vermicelli, salad and nuoc nam. Delicious!