Monthly Archives: May 2012

Kyushu

Oh, I just love Japanese food.  Love it.  If I had to eat just one international cuisine for the rest of my life, it would easily be Japanese food.

A big group of us went to Kyushu Japanese Restaurant in Neutral Bay a few weeks ago for a celebration.  Pop quiz!  Which of the following were we celebrating?

a.  Jason’s birthday
b.  Iain’s first night out since baby #2 was born
c.  SarahKate and Andy are back in AU
d.  All of the above

Kyushu Japanese Restaurant in Neutral Bay

The correct answer is D!  All of the above.  There was much cause for celebration. And what better way to celebrate than with raw fish?

Epic sashimi platter

We started with the large sashimi platter.  It was epic.  The fish was incredibly fresh, it practically melted in the mouth.  There were only two oysters on the platter and I managed to snag one (I may have pulled “food blogger rank” and claimed that I needed to eat that oyster for “research purposes.”  My friends are so nice!) It was perfect.  Briny and smooth and full of the flavour of the sea.  The sashimi platter was demolished in minutes.

Pork maki

We then ordered a few small starters.  We had pork maki, which was excellent.  The savoury pork was wrapped around crispy green spring onions.  A fantastic combo of soft and crunch, salty and fresh.  The pork maki were a hit.

Deep fried gyoza... why???

The gyoza, which I typically swoon for, were just ok.  I don’t like deep fried gyoza. All I could taste was the deep fried wrapper, rather than the yummy inside bits.  Not a fan.

At this point we were ready to order a few more starters, a few more drinks and keep the food fest going.  That is, until the waitress quietly snuck up behind me to inform me that the kitchen would be closing at 9pm (it was about 8.45pm at this point) and we needed to put in our final orders.

Really?  A kitchen that closes at 9pm on a Thursday night?  I don’t mean to sound like some out-all-night-crazy-party-animal-person, but that seemed very early to me.  After all, our booking was for 8.15pm.  This is Sydney, not Newcastle.  9pm is early.  The waitress was very kind about it, but I was a bit surprised.

Anyway, we immediately went into food ordering overdrive and started pointing at almost everything on the menu.  The poor waitress looked a little overwhelmed, but we were afraid that if we didn’t order tons of food we might end up hungry in a restaurant with a closed kitchen.

Deep fried oysters

We ordered some deep fried oysters, which came out quickly.  Again, these were just ok.  Maybe I have a thing against deep fried foods?  Maybe I just really like my oysters with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon?  Either way, these were literally the only thing on the table that we weren’t fighting over.

Vegetable tempura

The menu at Kyushu touts the restaurant as famous for their tempura and their teriyaki.  We had to see whether their claims were true!  We ordered ebi tempura (prawns) and a big plate of mixed vegetable tempura.  Both were excellent.  Not greasy, very light batter, soft prawns, crispy veg.  Great tempura.

Teriyaki chicken

I’ll freely admit that I almost never order teriyaki anything in a Japanese restaurant.  Just seems safe.  Like what you order when you don’t actually like Japanese food.  We ordered the teriyaki chicken and the teriyaki fish.  They were both delicious, but the fish was outstanding.  Honestly, I was shocked.  The fish was flaky and perfectly cooked and the teriyaki sauce was a delicate blend of sweet and savoury.  I’d go back to Kyushu just for the teriyaki fish.

Wafuu steak

We also grabbed an order of Wafuu Steak.  Mostly for the name.  Wafuu is fun to say!  The steak was cooked perfectly.  It was meaty and rich and hot and everything you might want in a steak.  It wasn’t very Japanese-y.  But it was very good.

Lovely udon noodles on the other side of the table

The final dish in our Extravaganza of Over Ordering was an udon noodle dish.  This dish was thrown onto the order at the very last minute, ended up being parked on the other side of the table and I only got a little sip of the broth.  Excellent broth.  I need to try more of the noodles when we go back to Kyushu.

And I will certainly be back.  I’d make an earlier booking next time.  And, it would have been nice if they’d told me when I made my 8.15pm booking that the kitchen closed so early.  But these are minor squibbles after a meal that we all so completely enjoyed.

Poor lonely noodle on the floor

Despite my fears that we went way over board when we ordered, we hardly left any food at all!  In fact, when we stood up to leave I spotted this lone udon noodle under the table.  It was pretty much the only thing we didn’t eat at Kyushu!

Pantry raid!

Get excited!  We’ve finally moved into our new apartment!  Y’all, I can’t even tell you how amazing it was to unpack my suitcase and know that I didn’t need to repack it again any time soon.  We still don’t really have any furniture, or plates or cutlery of our own.  But, we’re here.  We’re in our very own little space and it’s wonderful.

Having said that, we really don’t have anything much yet.  We’ve borrowed some old plates and saucepans from friends.  We bought a mattress and a television. Our fridge was delivered last Wednesday.  Other than that, we’re kind of roughing it.  It’s like camping inside our own home.  Most evenings are spent balancing plates on our knees whilst we sit on the living room floor and watch Masterchef.  We’ll have to keep this up until our things are delivered from the States in mid-July.

We might be roughing it in terms of furnishings, but I would NEVER allow any food-related-roughing-it in my own home.  I spent 10 months on the road, longing for a kitchen of my own to cook in.  As soon as we moved into the new place I began stocking the HUGE pantry with all my favourites.  A house that you can’t cook in isn’t a home.

The lovely large pantry in our new apartment.

So, although the rest of the apartment is still echoing emptiness, the pantry is beginning to fill up.  As I started stocking the pantry from scratch, I had to really think about what I simply must have to hand and what could wait for the next grocery shopping trip.  I imagine that “pantry staples” probably differ from home to home.  And that’s cool!

Here are the top five things that I absolutely MUST have in my pantry.  These aren’t just individual items.  Some are ingredients for things that I just can’t live without.  What are your pantry staples??

1.  Sriracha sauce

Spicy, savoury Sriracha sauce

This spicy chili and garlic sauce is actually an American product.  The story goes that a Thai family moved to the States and began to produce Sriracha when they couldn’t find any chili sauces in the USA that they liked.  I don’t really care where it’s made… as long as I have a bottle nearby, I’m happy!  We use Sriracha in stir fries, to jazz up take-away, mixed with mayo to make a spicy sandwich spread, as a dipping sauce for rice paper rolls and much, much more.  A must have.

2.  Chocolate

A variety of chocolate is key

I don’t actually have much of a sweet tooth.  I’d always rather order a starter than order dessert.  But, there are times when the need for a little something sweet just can’t be denied.  And when that happens, it’s best to have  a stash of great chocolate on hand.  I like Lindt because it’s never grainy and they have so many lovely flavours to choose from.

3.  Canned goods

A good mix of canned goods

I know this isn’t just one pantry staple, but I couldn’t pick just one canned good to feature!  I always always have cans of diced tomatoes, chickpeas and lentils on hand.  This way I can make a fast lunch of lentils or chickpeas with any random veg, or I could whip up a super fast pasta sauce.  Or I could dump them all together with some stock and some veg to make a soup.  I just found canned chipotle chilis at the market this weekend and now I have a good stock of those as well.  Just makes life easier.

4.  Spices

Spicy!

I love my collection of spices.  Love.  Sometimes I open the cabinet where I keep the spices and just stare at them.  So colourful.  So many textures.  Spices are beautiful.  Last weekend I visited a few new neighbourhoods in Sydney and I stocked up on some spices that are a bit hard to find near our new flat.  I felt calmer on Sunday evening, knowing all those lovely spices were tucked away in their boxes just waiting to be used.

5.  Salad dressing ingredients

Ingredients for my signature salad dressing

I haven’t bought a bottle of salad dressing in years.  I don’t have anything against bottled dressing (ok, yes I do.  But I don’t have anything against people who use bottled salad dressing… go crazy!) I just prefer to make my own.  And my favourite dressing to make, my signature salad dressing you might say, is a creamy mustard and balsamic dressing.  I always have the ingredients for this dressing in the cupboard.  It’s great on salads, or drizzled over chicken or fish or as a dipping sauce for carrot sticks or pita bread.

In fact, this dressing is so good that I think you might need the recipe.  It’s super easy and you can probably make it with things that you have in your own pantry!

Dijion and balsamic salad dressing

Dijion mustard
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Cumin (optional)

Add a tablespoon of creamy dijion mustard to a bowl.  Pour in two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar.  Use a fork to whisk these two ingredients together until they are smooth.  Then, very slowly, pour in approximately 4 tablespoons of olive oil, whisking with the fork the whole time.  Taste the mixture after you’ve added the first three tablespoons of olive oil.  I like my dressing to be very tangy, so I usually don’t add in the 4th tablespoon.  But if you find the dressing is too sharp or sour, add the last tablespoon into the mix to smooth it out.  Add a small sprinkle of salt and a larger sprinkle of pepper to the mix and stir in.  If you want, you can add a pinch of ground cumin as well, which will give the dressing smoky flavour.

Abercrombie x 2

Did you know that my last name is Abercrombie and I’m American?  And, did you know that there’s a pub in Sydney called The Abercrombie that serves “American” food?  Let’s be honest.  This meal was written in the stars.

The Abercrombie!

A bunch of super fantastic food bloggers all linked up via Twitter (it blew my mind, y’all.  It’s the future.) and planned a night out at The Abercrombie to try their take on “American” food… namely the highly anticipated deep fried Mac and Cheese balls.

Deep fried Mac and Cheese balls

You might notice that I keep referring to the food at The Abercrombie as “American.”  The quotations are on purpose.  This food isn’t American.  This food is what everyone in the rest of the world THINKS Americans eat.  It’s all processed.  It’s all deep fried.  It’s heavy on meat and stretchy cheese and low on vegetables and fresh ingredients.  The entire menu is a fast-food-inspired-artery-clogging-fest.  Having said all that… none of the food is especially bad and some of it is actually very tasty.  I just needed my little pro-American food rant.  We’re better than this!  I promise!

Ok.  Moving on… and diving right in at the deep end of the cholesterol pool.  We sampled deep fried pizza, a hot dog with spicy mince, lamb meatballs, salt and peppa squid, bowls of hot chips, a “bucket o’ chicken”, nachos and more.

The deep fried pizza scared me a bit.  It didn’t really taste much like pizza.  There was no real flavour of cheese or pepperoni or herbs.  It just tasted vaguely tomato-y and deep fried.

Deep fried pizza

The hot dog didn’t really do it for me either.  It was super messy to eat, but the mince on top had a nice spice to it.  However, the dog itself was bland and not very meaty tasting.  It might be unfair of me to compare, but I’d only just tried the hot dog at El Loco a few days before and the one at The Abercrombie was a distant second.

What about those Mac and Cheese balls, you ask?  As you might.  Those were the main draw for me.  And they were great.  I was worried that deep frying the Mac and Cheese might dry it out and ruin the ooey-gooey-ness that makes Mac and Cheese so great.  I needn’t have fretted.  These were crispy crunchy on the outside and soft and cheesy in the middle.  They were served with a superfluous dipping sauce of a mayo-type substance.  That’s just gilding the lily.

Deep fried bonanza!

These were all listed on the menu as “snacks”, so we soon moved on to the more substantial “main meal” section of the menu.  We sampled the bucket o’ chicken and the nachos.

The fried chicken was ok.  I’m Southern, so I have seriously high standards when it comes to fried chicken.  This didn’t meet my standards, but the chicken itself was juicy and moist.  My favourite part of this dish was actually the coleslaw that was served with the fried chicken.  It was crunchy and fresh and came as a welcome relief to the palate.

Bucket o' chicken

And the nachos…. they were not good.  I almost never complain about food.  I love food and can usually find SOMETHING that I like about almost any dish.  But, these nachos had basically no redeeming qualities.  The meat was dodgy, the cheesy was oily and the chips were soggy.  Moving on…

Nachos. Best avoided.

Wow.  I’ve bitched and moaned a lot in this post.  That’s not like me!  Especially since I really did have a blast at The Abercrombie that night.  Let’s end with something that I did love, something wonderful that restored my faith in food, in The Abercrombie and in man-kind in general.  The hot chips.

I’ll freely admit that I’m a sucker for hot chips (or French Fries as we Americans call them) but these were even better than usual.  Crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle, served piping hot and not at all greasy, these were a textbook example of how chips should be cooked.  And, as though the chef could read my mind, they were served with a topping of little pickles (I adore pickles.  Adore them.) and pots of gravy and aioli for dipping.  We ordered two rounds of chips and I could have skipped everything else and just eaten a bowl of these myself!

Chips of my dreams.

So, no.  The Abercrombie pub is never going to win huge awards for amazing food.  But, the pub was busy and buzzing, had a great selection of beers on tap and served kick-ass chips.  And, really, that’s pretty much all I require in life.

Lentils for the ladies

Have you ever read Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser?  I’ve read it about 10 times (I’m a chronic re-reader) and every time I find a new food idea or thought that strikes my fancy.  First, I was inspired by her chapter on bringing your own food onto planes, and now I haven’t eaten airline food in four years.  Then her chapter on her first date with her now-husband made me ban milky coffees after 11am.  And now, it’s the chapter on dining alone.

She writes about how, when her partner is away, it’s her chance to indulge in foods that are perfect for one.  Specifically, she tells about a friend of hers, a single woman in NYC, who takes the time to cook proper meals for herself each night… her signature “single-gal” meal is salmon with lentils.

So pretty! Green beans ready for the stove top.

We’re still staying with friends on the North Shore (we move into our apt this Saturday… WOOT!) and last week the boys had a big night out.  That left us girls at home for the evening.  I wanted to cook something quick and simple, but still super tasty and maybe even a little bit healthy.  So, I shamelessly stole the idea of salmon and lentils from Amanda’s friend.

I made pan-fried salmon with mustardy lentils, green beans with almonds and a creamy lemon mustard sauce.  It was fast to make, didn’t require tons of extra ingredients (most people already have some mustard and cans of beans knocking around their kitchen) and it tasted fantastic!

Salmon, lentils and green beans all on the go.

I adore lentils and I make them this way frequently.  They’re a great base.  You can stir these into a bunch of greens for a hearty salad, or slice some feta into the lentils for a filling lunch.  Or top them with a piece of salmon and feel like a woman straight out of a book!

The final product... perfect for a Girl's Night in front of The Voice!

Mustardy lentils

2 cans brown lentils
1 large lemon
Dijion mustard
salt
pepper

Dump the lentils from their cans into a colander or a strainer and give them a good rinse under cold water.  This will stop the lentils from tasting too “tinny.”  Put the rinsed off lentils in a sauce pan with a few tablespoons of water, the juice from the lemon and a good pinch of salt.  Put a top on the saucepan and warm the lentils gently over low-medium heat.  Once the lentils are warmed through (about 10 minutes), take the top off the pan to allow some of the liquid to evaporate.  Cook for a further 5-10 minutes.  When you’re ready to eat, stir a tablespoon or two of Dijion mustard through the warm lentils and add plenty of cracked pepper.  Taste and add more mustard, salt or pepper as needed.