Friday, March 28, 2008

Trolling around Thainatown

The slick interior of Chat Thai

I rarely ever do restaurant reviews on this blog as there are so many other blogs that do it so much better. Not one to impose on already well trodden territory I steer away from reviews not only for the latter reason, but simply because I don't eat out nearly as often enough as other bloggers who do reviews. Oh yes, and I'm unable to take a decent photo inside a restaurant for the life of me.

Reviews in my opinion are so relative and mostly based on comparisons from previous experiences and tastes of certain cuisine. I don't think I have gathered enough food mileage to be able to be an expert in anything. But sometimes in a serendipitous, fluky way, you happen to have your camera when you go out for a casual lunch and next thing you know, you are taking a photo of ever dish.

I may not be an authority on most cuisines, but I think I have eaten at enough Thai restaurants and eateries to be able to gather an opinion about the food. And I have to say that although there's an abundance of Thai places in Sydney, the bad far outweighs the good.
Thai cuisine is usually marked by its depth of flavour; the beautiful cohesion of taste sensations and textures. It's usually a splendid symphony of sweet, sour, spicy and herby, put together with such harmony. There simply are too many Thai restaurants serving bland and watered down versions of the real thing.

Ornamental cups

Simply put, when the menu says, "this dish is very spicy", I want the dish to deliver on its promise. I want it to be flaming hot enough for me to be able to breath fire afterwards. There are just too many renditions of seemingly spicy dishes that just aren't that spicy at all. If my brow isn't sweating, then you really haven't done your job. And I'm not even one of those people with high levels of tolerance for capsaicin.

Which brings me to Chat Thai. Chat Thai is a little bit of an anomaly, as in that even in the midst of a million other Thai eateries in that part of Pitt St which has been affectionately coined Thainatown, there is always a line of people outise waiting to get in, even at 11:30pm. Spoilt for choice in the midst of Thainatown, there is something about Chat Thai that people are willing to wait in line, outside, sometimes in the cold and rain.

Some say that it's usually the most dubious looking eateries that are the most authentic and the best priced, and to some extent this has been proved correct. This however cannot be further from the truth when it comes to Chat Thai. Although a handful of their dishes take a short detour from the original, the flavours are truly Thai at heart. And when they say spicy, they mean it.

Chat Thai Lunch

The restaurant's interior can fool you, it doesn't look like a Thai restaurant that would serve traditional Thai fare, and serve it well. It looks more like an uppity bistro than an Asian eatery. But nothing could be further from the truth, it's just a plus that the place comes with soft mood-lighting, modern brown tables, rustic brick walls and to my surprise, friendly staff that make up for the wait you have to make for a table during peak hours, which can be up to an hour and a half.

To be honest, I cannot recall what we had that day. I was too engrossed in the eating part, that I forgot to remember the dishes for the blogging part. Hence the reason why I don't do reviews. All I remember is that there was a pad thai somewhere in the mix, a staple at any Thai place. And if they can't get a pad thai right, then there's really no point in wasting your time. But the heartening thing is their pad thai was good. Good enough that every last morsel was scraped off the plate.

So if anyone is in Sydney looking for a Thai place whose kitchen doesn't close at 10, then head over to Campbell St and put your name on the list for a table. If you come late enough, you won't have to wait that long. Chat Thai has several other locations around the city although I've only been to the one in Haymarket. Weirdly enough, it's the only one not featured on the website.


20 Campbell St
Haymarket, Sydney NSW
Phone: (02) 9211 1808
Open: 7 days 11am-2am

Monday, March 24, 2008

All The Way, With Carbs Today

Sausage and Capsicum Linguine

No matter how bad a rap carbs get, I'm still a staunch advocate for the stuff. How anyone could go on a diet deliberately eschewing the stuff is a mystery to me. Although for the sake of your hips, I do know how the formidable temptation of starch can be too much to bear. And sometimes under the weight of that incredible urge you give in. All the way.

I'm going through a pasta phase right now. And I've had it almost everyday this past week. If there ever was a fixation in my life right now, aside from the shopping thing of course, which probably is more gender-based than anything else, this pasta thing is probably it.

Sausage and Capsicum Linguine

The Italians really knew how to do carbs- with their beautiful breads and pasta, they really knew how to throw a carb party. I know that there's some contention concerning the true the origins of pasta, but it's without myth or lore that the Italians were the ones who made pasta their own art form. Turning this dough of wheat and eggs into a myriad of shapes and forms. If there is an Italian nearby, I suggest you go and give them a kiss.

But enough with public displays of affection; did I mention I have also fostered an addiction to Eumundi Smokehouse sausages. I've mentioned it before, how I go ga-ga over their range of gourmet sausages and not to mention their chorizo. And although a kilo of the Russian Farmer's sausages will set you back over $30; it must be all that Vodka in it, there's no price you should put on good taste.

Eumundi Smokehouse Lamb Merguez Sausages

And you know a good thing when you smell it, as you enter their small shop in Dulwich Hill, you are hit by the aroma of spices and a curtain of smoked meat hanging from a bar suspended above the counter. Everywhere you look it's meat. And there's something to be admired about a butcher who doesn't hold back with the spices and the booze. I say the more the merrier.

Their products are all made of natural ingredients and contain no preservatives. So it's best to eat them as soon as you buy them, which is really nothing to complain about. The sausages I used for this pasta were their lamb merguez sausages, a combination of lamb, red wine, coriander, parsley, pepper, mint and chilli. When fried, it exudes a perfume that rouses the palate and gets any carnivore's attention.

Sausage and Capsicum Linguine

And why not put the two loves together, pasta and sausages. It's simple gourmet, and I'm sure country folk everywhere tending to pasturelands in the back of nowhere have been enjoying the staple of pasta and sausages for a long time wouldn't even bat an eyelid at this dish, but it's classics like these that never go wrong. I'm not sure if an Italian would call this dish a real classic, but it's simple enough with pasta, sausages, tomatoes and a splash of white wine thrown in for good measure.

I can't think of a better way to relieve those autumn cravings for comfort than with a classic pasta dish. You can use pretty much any shape you want, I like slurping my way through it, so linguine was the way to go, but if you prefer the pasta without the loud, sloppy sucking then penne or rigatoni would do just as well.

402 New Canterbury Road,
Dulwich Hill, NSW
Phone: (02) 95690205
Opening Hours: Thur-Fri 11am to 6pm; Sat 7am to 2pm

Their products are also available at a number of gourmet farmers markets and gourmet food stores. Contact Eumundi for more stockists.

Sausage and Capsicum Linguine

Serves 4

Adapted from Australian Gourmet Traveller

Sausage and Capsicum Linguine

6 (750g) sausages, skins removed and chopped into 4cm slices
1 red capsicum

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small red chilli, finely chopped

50g (1⁄4 cup) tomato paste

50ml dry white wine

1 can (400g) crushed tomatoes

sea salt

½ cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

500g dried linguine

freshly grated parmesan, to serve

Roast the capsicum in a preheated oven at 220ºC for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and peel skin off.
Deseed and cut capsicum into 2cm-wide strips.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add sausages and cook over medium heat, turning, for 5 minutes or until golden.
Transfer sausages to a bowl.
Add onion and garlic and sauté over low-medium heat for 3 minutes or until softened, add chilli and sauté for another 2 minutes.

Add tomato paste and stir for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens, then add sausage, capsicum and white wine and cook for 2 minutes, stirring to coat sausages and reducing liquid by half.

Add tomatoes, season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then simmer for 10 minutes or until sauce is thick.
Stir through parsley.

Meanwhile, cook linguine in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente.

Drain and transfer linguine to the frying pan and combine with sauce.

Divide sauced linguine among plates and top with any remaining sauce from frying pan and serve with parmesan.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hit and miss: Martha makes good, then goes bad, Part II

Chocolate pretzels

This post is the part where she goes bad.

If you haven't read the little disclaimer at the beginning of the previous post, then I suggest you do. Just in case any Martha zealots out there decide that they need to defend her honour down to the last perfectly clove-dotted glazed ham and immaculately pressed apron. I know that a lot of you who have been defending Martha think I'm an absolute retard that is incapable of following a recipe, but I'm willing to overlook that.

If my problem is a matter of comprehension, then I admit, I am an idiot. But when parts of the recipe are missing, or there are omitted ingredients and inaccurate instructions, then I would like to know who the idiot really is? Her recipes can be at times lacking and at other times convoluted to the point of ridiculous. For someone who wants to make it easy for everyone to be able to cook and bake, she does a horrible job of it. And it seems that I'm not the only one who feels unanimously about the hit and miss factor in Martha's recipes.

Chocolate pretzels

This recipe is a little different in its degree of suckiness in that, it hasn't failed to include any vital instructions or ingredients, everything in the recipe was there, except for the flavour. It appears that Smitten Kitchen's Deb, also had the same problem with the recipe and many of the commenters on the Martha website feel the same way. I decided to make my own go of it, just to make sure their sentiments were in fact true, and lo and behold- the pretzels are as bland as cardboard.

And when I say they are like cardboard, this is no attempt at euphemism, they are literally as flavourless as paper. There isn't a hint of chocolate in these pretzels, and be careful not to over-bake them even the slightest amount, as they will turn into volcanic rocks- flavourless volcanic rocks. A bitter disappointment when the recipe is introduced as the "sweet versions of the salty snack".

Chocolate pretzels

Oh Martha, Oh Martha. How do you get away with this? How do you continue to publish such rubbish without even checking them first? But the good news is that, were not all doomed to never have the sweet taste of chocolate pretzels on our lips, someone did do their homework and came up with a chocolate pretzel recipe that works. Rivka of Not Derby Pie has redeemed us all with her version of choc pretzels that is proven to work and most importantly taste like chocolate.

Check out the better version here.

The version I have posted below is the original Martha version, just because this is the one I used to make the pretzels pictured above. But I actually would not suggest making them unless you are willing to make some changes. Better yet, just click over to Rivka's recipe and have all the work done for you!

Chocolate Pretzels
Recipe from
Makes 24 small pretzels

¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp good-quality instant espresso powder
3 tbsps boiling water
110g (½-cup) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
½ tsp coarse salt
1 large egg
2 cups plain all-purpose flour
1 large egg yolk
coarse sugar (like demarara or pearl) for sprinkling

Stir cocoa and espresso powders into the boiling water in a small bowl until dissolved; set aside.
Meanwhile, put butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until creamy.
Mix in vanilla and salt.
Reduce speed to medium-low.
Mix in egg, then cocoa mixture.
Gradually add flour, and mix until a smooth dough forms.
Turn out onto a piece of plastic; pat into a square.
Wrap dough, and refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 24 equal pieces.
Roll into balls. Shape balls into 12-inch-long ropes.
Twist each rope into a pretzel shape. Space 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Preheat oven to 160ºC.
Whisk egg yolk with 1 tsp water in a small bowl.
Brush cookies with egg wash; sprinkle with sanding sugar.
Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until dry, about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of you pretzels.
Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

NOTE: Cookies can be stored in airtight containers at room temperature up to 1 week.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Hit and miss: Martha makes good, then goes bad, Part I

Molasses Sandwich Cookies

First of all, I would like to preface the next two posts with a reminder that everything said on this blog are my own personal views and judgements. We all have them, they are called opinions, everyone's entitled to one. And in the free world that we live in I don't think anyone should get nasty comments or emails when you do not agree with the personal statements made by another person. I'm all up for healthy, civil discussions, but if you want to get all spiteful and bitchy then may I suggest you call Ricki Lake or Maury.

Now that's been said let's get back to our normal programming...

Filling the cookie sandwiches

There it goes again, that precarious thing that teeters to and fro on a delicately balanced see-saw of emotions- that is my relationship with Martha's recipes. That see-saw teeters more so on the side of loathe rather than love but my
disdain for Martha is not at all unfounded. For lack of a more gracious way of saying this, frankly some of her recipes suck.

Thankfully not all of them suck and thankfully for you, you won't have to be reading a tirade of Martha gibes today. No, I'm saving that for the next post, hoorah for free speech! Anyway, let's not get sidetracked. Here is another Martha recipe that has worked for me. Brilliantly in fact, it almost seemed unnatural to call it a Martha recipe. I must have a knack for picking all the dud recipes on her website and now am too paranoid to spend any money on of her cookbooks.

Molasses Sandwich Cookies and Milk

I would like to think that the recipes in her published books would be more fool-proof and complete, in comparison to the ones featured on her website. It seems that the uptake of recipes on the website is prodigious, although is a little light on the copy-editing and corrections. Most recipes are lacking important instructions and missing ingredients.

But, I did pledge an optimistic post on Martha today and here it is, her recipe for Molasses Sandwich cookies. They were a hit with everyone at a picnic we had earlier. The only thing I would fault is that the cookies are way too sweet. I mean wa-aaaay too sweet. The cookies are pretty sweet on their own but when sandwiched with a molasses filling in between, the sugar levels and diabetes inducing properties soar way beyond appropriate.


There's enough sweet in these babies to cause permanent tooth decay. So I would suggest reducing the sugar in the cookies by half and reducing the amount of actual filling by half also. That is what I did second time around and even then, the cookies aren't lacking in sugar. I think the presence of the molasses actually brings out the sweetness of the sugar even more, so I would err on the side of caution and ease up with the saccharine.

But with the right amount of sweetness, these sandwich cookies are the perfect thing to take with you to a picnic or a party. Your fellow pickinickers or party goers will thank you for bringing the party along with you. As these things have enough sugar to liven up any deadbeat gathering and will have guests potentially hanging off the chandeliers or perhaps doing a nudie run through the park. Now who wouldn't bake these just to see that?

Molasses icing and Sandwich cookies

So there you have it, another successful Martha recipe, this is the part in the title where Martha makes good. I've had a bigger share of misses than hits with her, although not documented on this blog, but this does take the hit tally up one.

Although coming up next: why there's more hate for Martha again than there is love. This is the part where she goes bad.

Molasses Sandwich Cookies
adapted from
makes 30 cookies

NOTE: this is the modified version using half the sugar from the original recipe. If you want to try the original, then just double to sugar for the cookies and double the ingredients for the filling.

Molasses Sandwich Cookies

1½ cups plain all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ cup packed light-brown muscovado sugar
110g (½-cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
¼ cup unsulfured molasses

75g softened unsalted butter
1½ tbsp unsulfured molasses
1 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar

Preheat oven to 180ºC.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until combined.
Beat in egg, then molasses, until smooth.
On low speed, gradually add flour mixture until a dough forms.
Drop rounded measuring teaspoonfuls of dough onto two ungreased (or parchment-lined) baking sheets, about 4cm (1½-inch) apart.
Bake until centres are dry to the touch, 12 to 15 minutes; rotate pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through.
Cool 1 minute on baking sheets; then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Molasses Filling

Whisk butter with molasses until smooth.
Gradually whisk in icing sugar, until smooth and spreadable.
Makes about 1 cup.

Spread a rounded measuring teaspoonful of Creamy Molasses Filling on the flat side of a cookie; place another cookie on top, and gently press.
Repeat until all cookies are filled.
NOTE: Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 day, or refrigerate up to 3 days (cookies may soften during refrigeration).