Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Haoke Chinese Seafood Restaurant for Dinner

Haoke Chinese Seafood Restaurant
223 Callum Rd, Sunnybank Hills

My grandfolks are heading to the States for a 3 month whirlwind trip. We had a little family dinner at Haoke to see them off. Mum and dad had originally booked Fortune well but they found a banquet deal at Haoke, a restaurant that none of us had tried before.

Because it was dinner with a couple of 'mature-aged' folk, our booking was at 6pm, when the sun was practically still up. I'm not an early-dinner snob. On a normal work day, I actually eat as soon as I get home, which tends to be before 5pm (and then wonder why I'm starving by 10pm). However, I think 6pm for having dinner out is almost comical.

Marc and I were a bit late in getting there due to roadworks (and also me not having the mind to check the time) and even so, the restaurant was empty. At first we thought this was a bad omen. Both mum and I had read less than promising reviews for Haoke online. As the night went on though, the restaurant did fill up. It never got packed but there was a substantial number of diners.

One of the greatest things about eating at a Chinese restaurant with my family is that I don't have to think about what to order. Dad had it all under control. Haoke is called a 'Chinese' restaurant but in actual fact there's no such thing as 'Chinese food' since Chinese cuisine is so varied. The dishes at Haoke can more accurately be described as Cantonese in origin and that ties in with the fact that they offer yum cha during the day. From what I understand, dad ordered a set menu banquet, plus some extra dishes.

Complimentary broth

As is usual with Cantonese restaurants, we started with the complimentary broth. This was a very simple broth with some herbs.

Red-braised pork belly

Our first main dish was the red braised pork belly (hong shao rou), a classic favorite. My mum and dad make this at home and we've eaten it at countless restaurants, both here and in China. The judgement criteria is based on how tender the meat is, how melty the skin (and fat) is, how accurate the braising liquid is to our palate and finally, how well the flavor had been absorbed by the meat. This version was very tender and the skin was good too. The flavor was... nice but different to what we're familiar with (it had a fermented bean curd liquid taste... anyone who isn't Chinese would have no idea what I'm talking about) and the meat was a bit bland. Not bad though.

Wok-fried ginger and shallot mudcrab

Next up was the hero of the banquet - mudcrab wok-fried with ginger and shallot. This is served on a bed of egg noodles, which I think are called yee mee noodles but I'm only going by what I hear them referred as (my Chinese language sucks). My favorite part is always the noodles because they absorb all the sauce and flavor and just taste awesome. I can't comment on the crab because I'm a brace-face and anything that involves too much teeth work will get skipped over. Because that's insufficient for a blog review, I asked my mum to comment and she said, quote "the crab was fat (full of meat)". She added that with these seafood dishes, it's all about the quality of the produce so in that case, the crab was A grade.

Three cup chicken

Three cup chicken is traditionally a Taiwanese dish, which goes to show that Chinese restaurants in Australia like to mix up their menu to try and appeal to as many people as possible. I've eaten three cup chicken many times (the most notable was at Neil Perry's Spice Temple) and find it to be a simple and homely but very tasty dish. This version was alright but I can say without hesitation that my mum cooks better chicken at home.

Seafood scrambled eggs

I found the next dish a bit strange. It was meant to feature seafood but I think of it more as scrambled eggs with some seafood bits and pieces. I didn't understand the point of this. It seems like something I would whip up at home if I found eggs in the fridge and marinara mix that really needed to be used up.

 Braised lettuce

Our obligatory veggie dish was braised lettuce leaves and... some other stuff that I've forgotten (in the photo they look like whole cloves of garlic but it might be something else). The reason I've forgotten isn't so much that I'm a bad food blogger (maybe that too) but because I saw the braised lettuce and steered away. I hate cooked lettuce. It shouldn't be allowed.

Cashew beef

The next dish was much more appealing to me. It comprised of slices of beef, stir-fried with cashews. The beef pieces were extremely tender and I liked the sauce too. I wouldn't say it was much different from what you can get at a Chinese takeaway store but I liked it anyway.

Steamed silver perch

The steamed silver perch came next. My parents kept reiterating that it was a live fish to Marc. It's generally accepted within Asian culture that only live fish can be steamed (I don't mean, steamed while it's still flipping, I just mean that it was still alive earlier that day, as opposed to a frozen fillet) because anything less than fresh and the meat will be tough. I used to hate steamed fish but my taste has changed and I like it now. It helps to think of it as a healthy part of the meal too.

Stir-fried duck tongue with green chili

Finally, our last dish was the duck tongues stir-fried with hang zhou chili (a variety of chili that isn't spicy). My family had their week's worth of entertainment watching Marc a) trying to figure out which bits of the tongue was edible and b) trying to guess what it was he was eating in the first place. I skipped this dish (again, because of braces, not because I find it gross) but dad said it was pretty good.

When I asked mum to comment on the crab, she also gave me her overall impression of the restaurant. We both had low expectations so she thought it exceeded her expectations. None of the dishes were outstanding but they weren't utterly disappointing either. Overall, Haoke is basically on par with the other Chinese restaurants in Brisbane, not that the standards are very high.
Haoke Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Big, Soft and Chewy Ginger Cookies

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Big, Soft and Chewy Ginger Cookies
Home Cooking

I have a goal. The rush I got from making the melting moments was so amazing that I feel like I've gotten a new purpose in life. The cooking spark has been reignited. I will now endeavour to cook/bake at least one new thing every Wednesday (my day off). Rather than slothing around in bed watching TV shows end to end (I finished season 5 of Mad Men in one and a half days, having exhausted seasons 1 to 4 of True Blood the previous week), this forces me to get up and be productive. My other day off goal is painting so I figured if I do a bit of cooking and painting and a bit of cleaning, I can feel good about the way I spend my time rather than guilt over my body going into atrophy.

I actually baked these cookies the same day as the melting moments, in this big whirlwind cooking frenzy where I had a production line of cookie sheets going and out and the stand mixer barely got time to dry after being washed before having to be used again. It was great fun! I can't wait to do the same next week; in fact, I've got a list of recipes under contention.

Back to the ginger cookies. These are interesting because they're not something I would normally bake. As a child, I hated anything ginger-flavored. Now, my taste buds have evolved or rearranged or whatever... and many things that I used to hate really appeal to me now. Despite that, my brain hasn't caught up yet, so when I think 'ginger cookies', I automatically think 'uck' before trying it and realizing I like it.

Gingerbread was a specific request from Marc.  Prior to that, I had associated it with old people and... I don't know, American kids and Christmas trees. Don't ask. Anyway, I Googled for a suitable recipe. I didn't think these were 'technically' classed as gingerbread but Wiki just told me that gingerbread can be anything sweet with a ginger flavor, including loaves, biscuits and cookies. So I guess I filled the brief!

The recipe I used was from Allrecipes.com and I went with this one because it's got over 3000 reviews and sitting at 4.5 stars. I tried to follow the recipe almost exactly but I didn't have molasses so I used golden syrup instead. I believe that molasses gives it a deeper, richer flavor but I just couldn't find it. I also used all-spice instead of ground cloves and butter instead of margarine.

Big, Soft and Chewy Ginger Cookies
Makes 24

  • 2 and 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves (I used all-spice)
  • 1/3 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup (185g) margarine, softened (I used butter; I think butter is always better for these things)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/4 cup molasses (I used golden syrup)
  • 2 tbsp white sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Line 2 baking trays with baking paper.
2. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt.
3. In a large bowl, cream together the margarine/butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in the egg, then stir in the water and molasses.
5. Gradually stir the sifted dry ingredients into the butter mixture and mix to form a dough.
6. Shape the dough into walnut-sized balls (about 1 tablespoon each) and roll each ball through the remaining 2 tablespoons of white sugar to coat.
7. Place the balls onto the trays about 2 inches apart. Flatten slightly with a fork or the back of a spoon.
8. Bake for 10min in the preheated oven or until golden brown.
9. Cool in the trays for 5min before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

These cookies were so easy to make. Despite the fact that I'm not a huge fan of ginger, these were fairly mild (they can be spiced up with the addition of chopped candied ginger) and I really liked the soft, chewy texture.

The cookies are extra soft fresh out of the oven and they firm up a bit as they cool down. Rest assured though, they stay nice and chewy. Marc said they were good, but he has no other choic. My workmates devoured a whole bunch when I served them up so that was a fair amount of less-biased reassurance.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Afternoon grazing session at the Delectable FOOD BOWL

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As much as I'd like to be in on the Brisbane gourmet news loop, I often get reminders of just how out of touch I am. I had never heard of the Food Bowl event until my foodie buddy Nina gave word on Friday. A quick Google search gave me all the information I needed and within the hour, I had secured my tickets. At that point, I still had no idea what the event entailed, only that lots of my favorite Brisbane restaurants were being represented... somehow.

The Delectable Food Bowl turned out to be more or less what I guessed it would be. There's an entry fee to get in and once inside, you buy 'Delectable dollars', which you then use to exchange for food. The food is available for purchase from many stalls set up within a fenced off section of the Botanical Gardens. The stalls are set up by popular restaurants, cafes and wine distributors, each showcasing one or two dishes (or beverages).

We were given wristbands instead of Delectable dollars

The event lasted from 10:30am to 4pm and we got there around 12:30, in time for lunch. There was a bit of confusion at the ticketing booth. I suspect the organizers may have underestimated the number of people who came because we heard lots of cries of "They've run out of food stamps inside!" and indeed, when we tried to buy our Delectable dollars, the counter had run out and we were issued wrist bands to use instead.

That initial hiccup aside, the rest of the day was quite enjoyable. I thank Brisbane for providing us with PERFECT outdoor weather today. We spent a good 3 hours wandering around, picking up food, eating and repeating.

I'll run through what we got to taste, in order.

When Marc and I first got in, we were disorientated and hungry. I spotted the 1889 Enoteca stall and made a beeline toward it. Enoteca is a restaurat that I've been wanting to try for over 3 years now, so I was really keen to taste their food. The dish they offered was a pork and fennel sausage gnocchi with black truffle cream. There was a vegetarian version without the sausage too.

1889 Enoteca - potato gnocchi, pork and fennel sausage, black truffle tapenade and parmesan cream

I didn't have very high expectations because honestly, I thought 'stall food... low standards'. Turns out, I was very wrong on that account because the gnocchi was unreal. I'm not crazy about gnocchi in general but in this dish, they were a fairly good consistency. What I really loved though was the sauce. It was a light yet creamy sauce with a pronounced hit of truffle and flavor bursts of pork and fennel. This dish set the bar for what was to come and by the end of our excursion, it remains my favorite.

After we lined our bellies with the gnocchi, we were no longer half-starved and could afford to browse the other stalls at a more leisurely pace. I got a bit dazed and overwhelmed in trying to decide what to have for our 'next course'. I really wanted to try Aria's dish but it was a beef pie and I wasn't in the mood for pie. The prawn dumplings at Sake sounded great but I've had that at Sake Restaurant so I didn't see the point in getting it today. The same applied for the ramen at Tank.

Il Centro - sandcrab lasagna

In the end, Marc went for the sandcrab lasagna from Il Centro, on my recommendation, and I decided we should try the chicken croquettes from Ortiga. I've had the sandcrab lasagna from Il Centro itself and even duplicated it at home, following the Gillian Hirst recipe. I've raved about this dish to everyone. I didn't try any today but now I'm thinking I should have because Marc didn't sound too rapt with it (comment: "it tastes dessert-like") and I'm curious as to whether it's similar or diffeerent to what I remember.

Ortiga - chicken and lemon croquettas

The chicken croquettas were simple but nice. I'm impressed that they stayed crunchy even though they were being churned out for the masses. The lemon gave it a nice freshness that I liked.

At this point, we were getting a bit fuller and started taking longer breaks to sit and digest. We came up with this genius plan. Rather than wandering aimlessly and forgetting what one stall served by the time we reached another stall (this happened to me a fair bit), I discovered that the map we were given upon entry actually listed all the stalls AS WELL AS what dishes they were serving. I eyeballed 2 items I wanted to try next and we found them on the map before heading there directly. They belonged to Tartufo and the Urbane Group and were conveniently located near each other.

Pork bun production line at the Tartufo stall

I'll term this course as our 'mains' because they seem the most like a full meal (although arguable gnocchi and lasagna is quite hearty too). Tartufo offered a pork belly bun whilst Urbane (also representing The Euro and Laneway) dished up a hamburger.

Restaurante Tartufo - tradional Italian-style roasted Kingaroy pork in a ciabatta roll

I had high hopes for the pork bun because a) it sounds delicious and b) I think Tartufo is one of the best, most underrated restaurants in Brisbane. The bun was too dry and the pork too oily. I think it needed more tender, melty pork meat and some kind of sauce. It was hard to eat because the braised vegetable didn't break apart when you bit into the bun and would sort of pull out and get stuck in your teeth.

Urbane/Euro/Laneway - The Wellington Wimpy with Darling Downs beef patty, pickles, mustard and cheddar

Urbane's hamburger was much better because the patty was juicy and there was a sauce. The rest of the burger was good but I can't say it was really outstanding in anyway. I didn't think this burger was more innovative, flavorsome or well-done than say, Grill'd.

We took another break from eating and Marc picked up a beer (the Duke Premium) from Burleigh Brewing. It was crucial that we took time to create more space in our stomachs because there was something we hadn't gotten around to trying yet... the all important sweet ending to a meal that I can't live without.

Goodies at the Boucher French Bistro stall

Throughout our travels, we had passed the Boucher French Bistro stall a few times and I noticed it had a selection of several desserts and there was always a queue. I knew that's where I wanted to go for something sweet. I was debating on whether to get 2 cupcakes or a cupcake and macaron when fate intervened and decided for me. The macarons sold out while we were in line so we bought 2 cupcakes instead.

Boucher French Bistro - chocolate sour cream cupcakes with Red Hill raspberry butter cream and vanilla bean cupcake with vanilla butter cream and praline

The chocolate sour cream cupcake was so lovely and moist. It was dense but not overly heavy like a mudcake. The raspberry buttercream was delicious. The vanilla cupcake was nice but a bit drier and the buttercream too sweet for my liking. I've never heard of Boucher French Bistro before today but the cupcakes were nice enough for me to Google the place and I'm now curious to go and try their other offerings. I suppose that's the whole point of this Food Bowl exercise. From the point of view of the stall-holders, it's a great way to advertise.

Lick Ice Cream - Scenic Rim macadamia nut praline ice-cream

We still had just enough Delectable dollars for a scoop of ice-cream each. Perfect. I had been eyeing off the flavor offerings at Lick from afar and it became the last stop of our food journey. It was slightly nerve-racking standing in line because as we moved up toward the counter, our top 3 choices for flavor were crossed off as 'sold out'. I really wanted to try the caramelized condense milk flavor but alas it was the first to go. I kid you not the queue acutally sighed audibly with disappointment. Marc and I both got the macadamia flavor instead. What originally deterred me from ordering this, even though I love macadamia ice-cream, is that lots of ice-cream shops offer this flavor and it's all same same. This particular one from Lick was intensely creamy and generally better than I expected. What a great way to end the day!

Three hours of eating and many Delectable dollars later, I was a truly happy camper. We walked home (not anywhere close to burning off the kilojoules ingested but we have to start somewhere) with our bellies full and spirits high. The event organization could be improved but overall, I think it was a great idea. As a restaurant-goer, I love that we get a chance to try dishes from so many different popular restaurants in Brisbane. Several left great impressions on me and now I'm buzzing to go to the actual restaurants. It was great fun eating fine-dining restaurant style food out of paper plates on the grass, soaking up sunshine and listening to jazz versions of Nirvana and Sesame Street. I hope they do this again next year.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Christmas in July High Tea at Cobblestone Tea House

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Christmas in July at Cobblestone Tea House 
27 Lamington St, New Farm

I went through a phase, maybe 2 years back, when I was raving nuts about high tea. I had a personal goal of trying EVERY high tea establishment in Brisbane. I didn't succeed... and the appeal of small things eaten slowly gradually faded away.

Until NOW. A couple of weeks ago, something happened. I can't put my finger on exactly what the defining moment was, but suddenly all those cravings resurfaced. I wanted tile-sized sandwiches with no crust. I wanted baby scones and tiny tarts. I wanted dainty cutlery. I wanted things served in tiers.

Whilst browsing through my food resources, I spotted Cobblestone Tea House. An online search revealed very promising reviews indeed. I really liked the sound of things being baked to order. Cobblestone makes all their treats on site, rather than using frozen pre-made pastries and desserts.

I tried to make a booking for regular high tea (on a normal day they offer 'high tea' and 'decadent high tea' depending on how hungry you are and/or how much you want to spend) but no sittings were available for nearly a month. I was offered a sitting at their Christmas in July special, which was only in 2 weeks time from when I made the call. I snatched that up quick smart and notified my mother that she would be coming along.

Mum and I were the first to arrive. When we entered, I realized why it's so difficult to get a booking... Cobblestone Tea House is tiny. The space is similar to that of a moderate living room and accordingly, there isn't much room for tables and diners. On the morning we went, 4 x tables for 2 were set up.

To be honest, I wasn't thrilled about the Christmas in July theme. I don't love Christmasy foods and was expecting a lot of that served instead of regular high tea offerings (which is what I really wanted). Luckily, when I read the menu describing what was to come, I saw that the usual sandwiches, scones and so forth were still there... just altered a bit to fit the theme.

Christmas tea

What is high tea without tea? Although I'm largely a coffee fanatic, I waivered the option of coffee to go with tea. As it happened, they had a Christmas tea available too. The tea had notes of vanilla and almond with some mild spices (cinammon, nutmeg etc). Unlike the chai teas that I get at home, this wasn't too spicy and tasted fine without milk. It was much nicer than I expected.

Because Christmas is all about indulgence and celebration, it was fitting that our high tea was served with a glass of sparkling wine. Too bad I had to drive that morning. Mum polished off both our wines and she got very jolly indeed.

By the time our food was served, we were both quite hungry. The high tea arrived in the traditional 3 tiers of savory, neutral (scones) and sweet.

Savory tier

We started at the savory tier on the bottom. I dived for the mushroom and duck vol au vent. It was the first morsel of food that I would taste at Cobblestone.

Duck and mushroom vol au vent filling

WOW. This was delicious! The filling was so flavorsome and creamy and the puffy exterior was flaky and crunchy. I did not expect that from a tea shop. What a great way to start things off.

The ribbon sandwiches were all lovely and tasty with true flavors and soft, fresh bread. My favorite was the turkey and cranberry. I wasn't crazy about the pumpkin in pastry spoon. The pastry was a bit tough and it seemed more like a novelty.

Neutral tier

The next tier was the scone tier. I can never get tired of scones. It must be something about their delicious blandness that keeps me wanting more. The cream was great, the jam was great, the scones... on the most part were good.

Scone close-up

I have to be honest though. I think they might have been a touch undercooked. The middle of the baby scones weren't just soft and slightly chewy. They tasted doughy and floury too. There were minced fruit pies on this tier but I never like those so I can't really comment.

Sweet tier

Finally, mum and I reached the dessert tier. I loved the shortbread. It was buttery and crumbly and just the right size (any more and I would've still eaten it but felt sick after). The mini gingerbread biscuits were cute and tasted good too. I was less rapt about the window biscuts.

Mum and I did have a good time at Cobblestone Tea House. I think the place has promise. I think I would have preferred the regular high tea menu, given that I didn't like some of the specific Christmas offerings. Although the scones were undercooked, I thought the quality of food was of high standard. The duck vol au vent was divine.
The Cobble Stone Tea House on Urbanspoon