Monday, November 30, 2009

Feeding the five thousand

Well, not really… maybe 50 – max. But the biblical allusion stands, because I was cooking for our church’s café. Every Sunday evening, different groups or families take turns to provide a meal and dessert for people to enjoy together after the service. A nominal amount is charged – just to cover costs. Coffee, tea and biscuits are free! Some nights the meal will be pizza by the slice, other nights it will be something a little more wholesome. Occasionally, we’ll go all out and do a special themed night as a fund-raiser. This night however was something a little more prosaic – pasta bake.

Although I find myself often cooking in bulk, it can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. In this instance I had a recipe (in my head) and then timesed (ie multiplied – sorry a relic of primary school children’s maths) it by either three or four (depending on, hhmmm… what it was? how I felt? the weather?).

Seeing as how I usually cook for at least six people, everything is either a multiple or divisor (?) of that. So if it’s just Rick and I, I will divide it by three (actually that’s not true – we’ll go out for dinner :-)). A few extra for dinner – 1 ½ times. Craft camp – 3 or 4 times (20’ish people) Cooking for café at church – 3 or 4 times (servings are smaller).

So back to the pasta bake. I used 1 ½ kilos of mince (for 6 I would use 750g). We are trying to get less meat and more vegetables in our diet, so we grate carrot & zucchini in with our “spaghetti bolognaise” sauce. Grating and chopping things is a lot easier with my wonderful new food processer – much quicker than trying to coerce a son to do it. The meat sauce also includes tomatoes and tomato paste or passata – whatever is in the pantry. The complete recipe follows. You will have to do your own mathematical calculations if you don’t need to feed 30 or so – like this batch ended up doing.


Meat sauce:

1 ½ kilo mince
6 x 400g tinned tomatoes, chopped
1 jar tomato paste or passata
3 zucchinis, grated
4 carrots, grated
3 onions, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves
4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

3 x 500g packets pasta (spirals are good), cooked

Cheese sauce:
1 ½ litres milk
Enough corn flour to make a smooth paste (sorry I can’t be more precise – there are instructions on the packet)
300g cheese, grated

Bread crumbs (fresh is best, I processed 4 bread rolls that were slightly stale)
Paprika, to taste
Mixed herbs, to taste
Salt & pepper , to taste

Brown the onions and garlic with some oil and then add the mince to cook. I do all of this in my large electric fry-pan, so don’t really need to do it in batches, but you may have to if you’re using a smaller pan. Strain the liquid off if there’s a lot of it.

Add the rest of the meat sauce ingredients and let it simmer, at the least, while you’re preparing the rest, at the most 2 hours.

Simmering in the frypan

Cook the pasta, and prepare the cheese sauce.

Combine the ingredients to make the topping ( I had a little “accident” with the paprika, so mine had a bit of a fake tan look about it, 1 tablespoon would probably be enough).

To assemble:

Spray oil the baking dishes and divide the meat sauce between them. Put the cheese sauce on top and then the bread crumb topping on top of that. Cook in a moderate oven for around 20 minutes, or until the topping is nicely browned.


...and after!

If taking the dish elsewhere (like church café), wrap it in foil and then in an old towel to help keep it warm.

Each baking dish should feed 8 – 10 people, even more if you add garlic bread and a salad.

Pasta bake... as far as the eye can see

Happy eaters

Happy talkers & helpers

Quote from Zanko: "that was a-maz-ing"

Next week, loaves and fishes ;-)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eating out: Flanagans Fish Cafe

It had been slightly more than the usual hectic week at work. Most of us had put in a 16-20 hour day on Monday, then had fronted up again at seven the next morning. So on Wednesday, our boss shouted us lunch (whilst we had our (sometimes) weekly team meeting).

The view from my seat - looking south

The view from my seat - looking north

The location of choice was Flanagan’s. This establishment had been located as a take-away on Lawrence Hargrave Drive a few years ago. When they moved to the kiosk on Thirroul Beach, they seemed to be continuing to focus on “high-end” seafood take-away, but now also with the facility to dine in.

Since a few months ago when I had visited last, they have now physically separated the restaurant into take-away and dining sections. Both have table seating out the front, though this too is separated by a wood/rope barricade. The signage is not immediately apparent so in the time we were there, I saw 3 couples directed away from the dine-in section and around the corner of the building to the take-away section and a couple vice-versa.

The location is magnificent. Separated by a walk-way from the sand of Thirroul Beach, you can’t get much closer in this country to dining by the sea. It is a beautiful day when we are there, and for the days that are not so pleasant there is still adequate table space inside.

The service is a little curious. No-one came out to our group of seven, so we went inside and took some menus back to our table. There were also a couple of blackboard specials to choose from. Choices were mainly seafood oriented, though there were also some burger and Caesar salad options. The specials were the salt & pepper squid and Atlantic salmon. Once we had decided what we wanted, we then went back inside to give them our orders.

My choice was the King Prawn Wrap with aioli, cucumber and salad greens ($13). It came accompanied by a salad. Although the prawns were not really king-size, they were sweet, fresh and full of flavour. You could taste the aioli without it being over-powering and the wrap was fresh and nicely crispy.

Others at the table tried the specials: the Atlantic salmon ($18.50) came with hand-cut chips and salad with a pot of thick hollandaise sauce and was plated nicely and pronounced beautifully cooked; the salt & pepper squid ($14.50) was cooked to perfection.

Salt and pepper squid in the background, note-pad and pen in the foreground thereby proving our meeting intentions

The gluten-free member tried the Greek salad, which had generous chunks of feta and tasty olives, and a bowl of hand-cut chips that we were able to share.

They also have a wine list with a small, but thorough selection of bottled wines and beers. A waitperson came to clear our table, but did not ask for coffee orders, so our Akubra wearing stand in volunteered to take our order in (thanks John!).

Staff started taking in tables and chairs at 3.00 o’clock and when asked, they advised that they closed at four, which seems like a missed opportunity for the after-school crowd. However they did advise that they would be opening for dinner on the weekends from the beginning of December.

Food: 17/20 – Tasty, generous servings for a reasonable price
Coffee: 18/20 – Strong, flavourful and not too hot
Service: 14/20 – Full table service would have been nice
Location/ Decor: 20/20 – Right on the beach at scenic Thirroul

Flanagans Fish Cafe
At the beach, Thirroul
02 4268 1598
Open 7 days, 7.00am - 4.00pm
Check for evening opening days and times

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Getting our just desserts at Samuel's

Rick and I are in what I would like to call the pre-empty nest stage. Our little chicks (I use this term very loosely) are getting ready to leave the nest for good. This stage however is characterised by: lots of driving them around to their evening or weekend events; intensive logistic planning in order to carry out all the driving; making sure our phones are charged in case we get last-minute changes to the carefully planned itineraries and then the welcome surprise of an empty house and time to ourselves.

So, once upon a Friday night, after making TWO round trips to Wollongong, I arrived home at 9.30pm and suggested that Rick and I go down the road to Samuel's for dessert. Samuel's is one of a handful of good restaurants in the Northern Suburbs of Wollongong. I have been there for lunch and dinner several times over the last few years and have enjoyed it every time. One of the features of dinner is that you can choose two side dishes to accompany your main course selection, that means four side dishes between two people - a great way to experience a cross-section of dishes.

But tonight was dessert. We walked down to Thirroul, arriving at 9.30pm just as the rain made good its threat to come down. It's always a bit awkward arriving in a busy restaurant when none of the wait-staff acknowledge your presence, and I don't think I imagined a slight raise of the eyebrow when we said we were just there for dessert. However, once we chose our seats in the undercover outdoor area another young waiter promptly brought over menus and water.

With delicacies such as banoffee cheesecake with caramel gelato, toasted apple cake with bonfire apples & chantilly cream and nougat semifreddo it was difficult to decide. However for me the lemon pannacotta with balsamic strawberries sounded spot on for a warm night, and Rick is a sucker for a pineapple fritter especially if it's served with vanilla bean gelato and ginger syrup. We also order coffees - decaffeinated in deference to the late hour. Liquor, dessert and fortified wines are served by the glass and/or bottle and I was almost tempted. Samuel's used to have the liquor or wine suggestions matched to each dessert, a helpful guide that is missed (and might have tipped the temptation into action).

The pannacotta is that perfect balance between creamy and firm, and the lemon has still retained it's tang amongst the sweetness. The strawberries are sweetened by the balsamic vinegar, which is either a very thick variety or a reduction that has been swirled around the plate.

The pineapple fritter is coated with a light sweet batter that is cooked just right - crispy yet the pineapple is not cooked through. The vanilla bean gelato has tell-tale specks of vanilla bean and has good vanilla flavour. The ginger syrup is a bit sweet (well, I guess it is a syrup) and not ginger-y enough for my liking.

The coffee is Withams - a brand I am not very familiar with and I have not tried decaffeinated for a long time, but it is strong and well flavoured (and not just for decaf).

The bill comes just as we are ready to leave and is less than $30. Desserts are $10 each (apart from the Frangelico Affogatto at $12) and coffee is $3.50 - a great bargain in my opinion.

I'm looking forward to going down for a midweek dinner special (Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays) which is $35 for two courses, especially while Dan is doing his hospitality practical hours there for the next few weeks!

Samuel's Restaurant
382 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Thirroul NSW 2515
(02) 4268 2244
Open Tuesday-Sunday for lunch and dinner‎

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dessert Treats

Last Thursday Lauren and Nick journeyed up to Sydney for some retail fun. Realising that he had not yet purchased anything by the time they arrived in Surry Hills, Nick selflessly purchased a dozen cupcakes from Sparkle, rather than have to arrive home empty-handed (that was his excuse and I'm more than happy to go along with it).

No expense was spared for packaging. A well-crafted paper-bag held a strong box with individual slots for each cupcake. The temptation was too much and I was allowed to lift the lid before it was actually time for dessert.

A veritable treasure trove of cupcakes greeted my eyes (you may think his is cheesy hyperbole, but trust me, it wasn't).

But before dessert we had to endure dinner! No, it wasn't too hard as Nick and his minions had created a delicious Thai Beef Salad, a welcome dish on a hot day.

We also had a special guest for dinner - Michelle! She was on her very best behaviour and "felt very honoured to be dining with one of her favourite bloggers - just like in a movie!" We told her to get over herself (and that she could read about it on my blog ;-)).
Michelle and Lauren

And then, the real MAIN course - the cupcakes!

Nick and Lauren had thoughtfully chosen a selection of the usual 15 or so delicious flavours that are baked every day. Lauren and I were a little disappointed that the "Oriental Flower" (lychee and rose cake with sweet rose petal topping) had not been available on the day, so we sighed and resigned ourselves to tasting the ones that had been available.

Now, I was under the impression that I had been busily photographing a wide selection of the cupcakes that we were eating, but unfortunately that does not seem to have been the case - maybe I got distracted?

Green Tea and Bubbles

However, I do recollect the flavours and the responses of others. My general impressions of all the cakes was that they didn't look very fancy but that the flavours were very distinct - without being artificial, the "naturalness" of the flavours was a definite plus. The icings were also full of flavour without being sickly sweet (like some other cupcakes we have tried (or made)). I loved the little coloured icing discs to differentiate the flavours - very stylish!

Some of the cakes we divided into four (or more) so that whoever wanted one could have a taste. Our impressions (cake names and descriptions from here):
  • Morning Glory (cinnamon cake with a hint of apple, dusted with cinnamon sugar) - delicious! Not too cinnamon-y (a good thing, sometimes it can be overdone). I thought my piece was a little dry, but Dan assured me it was "perfect".
  • Lemon Squeeze (traditional zesty lemon cake and frosting) - perfect blend between sour lemon and sweet cake & frosting. MMMmmmm.
  • Citrus Cloud (vanilla cake, a spurt of lime curd and fluffy meringue topping) - A-MAZ-ING! Really - as good as it sounds. If you like lime, you will love this.
  • Green Tea and Bubbles (Maccha cake filled with tapioca bubbles and lime frosting) - Not being an aficionado of maccha cake or tapioca bubbles, I was keen to give this a try. The bubble filling was very refreshing and the green tea gave a delicate flavour to the cake.
  • Lavender and Honey (soft scented lavender cake with creamy honey frosting) - Not my personal favourite - though if you love lavender flavoured food, you will like this. I can't get past the lavender as soap/ shampoo/ moisturiser scent, so find it a bit disconcerting as food. The honey frosting though, was very tasty (and I'm not just saying that to be nice).
  • White Chocolate and Strawberry (Belgian White Chocolate with slithers of fresh strawberries) - I didn't get a look in on this one, as Rick (the White Chocolate King) polished it off (he may have been heard to mumble under his breath (very quietly) "would anyone like to try some of this?") He LOVED it!
  • Banana Toffee (light banana cake filled with toffee and caramel frosting) - the flavour of the banana which can so often be overpowering, was perfectly balanced by the not-too-sweet caramel frosting.
  • Pure Sparkle (vanilla cake made with the world's best pure vanilla bean and extract) - You would sort of think that with all the amazing flavours to choose from, the vanilla would be, well.... a bit vanilla. It was however exquisite, the black specks of vanilla seed attesting to it's freshness and a perfectly moist and flavoured cupcake.
And then there was one...

What a dessert! Thanks Nick!

Sparkle Cupcakery
132 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills 2010
Between Bourke and Crown Streets
Check the website for opening hours.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An exciting addition to our family...

... kitchen!

We are getting a new oven and stove-top! Finally I will be able to experience cooking with gas.
This ad is from 1957. Our kitchen is not quite that old, though it did have some very "tasteful" orange lino before we renovated our kitchen, which was just after Dan was born so that makes it umm... about 17 years old. Wow, it has lasted well.

When we looked at ovens/ stoves back then, the all-in-one units had a non-removable bottom on them, that meant it wouldn't fit in the space under the chimney (where the old wood fire oven would have been back in the day). Fast forward to now, and they come with removable legs, so it WILL fit in the space.

And, it's 90cm wide, with a 108 litre functional capacity. I think our current one is about 45 litres, so it will be very exciting to be able to cook lots of muffins, pizzas, biscuits etc at once.
It's an Omega, the cheaper version of the Smeg. (The salespeople like to assure this us that this is just like VW and Porsche, but I know which one I'd rather drive if money was no object, and no it's not the Beetle.) Rick likes this analogy however, and for the price, the shape of the knobs and the lack of desire to have too many features, I am MORE than happy with the Omega.

This is a show-room shot, as it's not actually installed yet. Hopefully it won't be too long before it's up and running. I wonder what I should make to christen our new addition?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Review: Sugarloaf Patisserie

I generally end up driving to the airport about once a month. It’s just less than an hour on a good run, up to an hour and a half if the traffic’s bad. I usually drive roughly the same route from Wollongong, which sees me turning down President Ave at Kogarah from the Princes Highway.

I started noticing an intriguing looking café over a year ago. Seeing that most of my trips to the airport are for work, I try not to waste too much time getting there and back. But this café on the corner, opposite a service station and next to a delicatessen and dive equipment shop (obviously no relation) kept catching my eye. Was it the restrained, newly painted exterior? The funky pale green chairs around tables out the front? Whatever it was, I decided next time I returned from the airport, I "really needed" a coffee and would stop and check it out.

Isn’t it exciting when you spy a new (for you) restaurant or café, and then when you go in there it meets all the criteria for a “good find”? After that initial visit, the Sugarloaf Patisserie then became a regular stop-off, usually returning from the airport, but also used as a welcome alternative to parking for an extra half an hour at the airport and indulging in some insipid brown liquid from Starbucks.

By the way, [START RANT] what the hell is it with the Macquarie Bank Fun Park also known as Sydney Airport? When picking up Jono and Maddie from the airport last week, I realised that private cars are not allowed to pick up people standing OUTSIDE the airport, waiting WITH their luggage, and in every way READY to jump in a car. There are signs there saying “NO PUBLIC PICK-UP”. What’s the legal alternative? Drive into the carpark, get charged the minimum fee of $7 for the privilege of stopping for 30 seconds? I ended up stopping at the entrance of the taxi rank, feeling very conspicuous and waiting for the travellers as they jogged down the walkway risking (others) life and limbs to reach the car as I frantically waved them over. I would have almost welcomed a security guard or (pseudo) parking officer to come and challenge my right to stop there (not obstructing anyone I must point out) just so I could have given them a “piece of my mind”- an ANGRY piece! [END RANT]

So, obviously needing a calming caffeine fix (is that an oxymoron? Or a sad indictment of my caffeine habit?), we stopped off at the Sugarloaf Patisserie last week.
From the inside, looking out onto the pavement and the cool kids

The interior of the café seats around 15 or so at tables. There’s some decorative coffee bags behind one end of the counter, but it’s the pastries behind the counter and the larger cakes in their own display case that take centre stage.
Sugarloaf Patisserie is owned by an Argentinian couple, who have transplanted the South American delicacies to Sydney. Apart from the sweet treats (I’ll get to them in a minute) they also have pies and sausage rolls plus a variety of empanadas – South American savoury pastries, pastry covering a range of fillings – chicken, meat and spinach & cheese. My favourite is the spinach and cheese – the short pastry enveloping a firm mix of spinach, cheese, garlic and other subtle spices. Very tasty indeed. We haven’t tried the other types of empanadas, but both the meat pies and sausage rolls get a thumbs up from the crew.

Well I had to show you the inside...?

Aaahh, the sweet treats. Let me start with the croissants. They have plain and sugar glazed. Then they have filled – with chocolate, quince, jam or dulce de leche (soft, gooey caramel). Nick had the sugar glazed, I had a quince filled one and took home some more for later – and they were good. Beautifully buttery croissant pastry surrounding the not too sweet quince jam – a great combination.
Sugar glazed croissant

Quince filled croissant

Other treats I have tried are the alfajores – sort of a Wagon Wheel type, chocolate coated biscuit, or a coconut covered alternative. The millefueille and French vanilla slices are a great blend of smooth, vanilla custard and again with the great pastry. Everything in and behind the counter looks amazing – and I nearly forgot about the churros!
I must admit to getting a little bit addicted to churros when I was in Spain a year or so ago. What’s not to like about chewy, yet soft fried doughnuts with liquid chocolate or caramel to dip them into? Yep, I didn’t think you would disagree. No disappointments at the Sugarloaf Patisserie in the churros department.

The coffee is excellent – strong and not too hot. The service has always been quick and cheerful and I can imagine this would be a busy place on weekends, it’s just too good to drive past. One point – they don’t have EFTPOS, but there is an ATM at the service station across the road.
¡Buen apetito!

Sugarloaf Patisserie is located at 37 President Ave, Kogarah. I'm not sure of opening hours, but it was open on the way to the airport (7.00am on a weekday).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Book Club - not just about the books

Our book club has been meeting intermittently (though trying for monthly) for about 18 months. Our rules are simple: Each member has a turn of choosing a book for all others to read. No-one is allowed to complain (beforehand) of the book's choice or try to dissuade the chooser's opinion. The book chooser has to lead the discussion the following month and provide supper.

Those last two words are key. Within our book club there are more than a few keen cooks. It's not like the book club that my mother was part of in the late seventies, where each month a different member would host a lavish, intricate sit-down lunch for all the other "ladies" and the book was very incidental to the whole affair, probably because the hostess didn't have time to read it in the build-up to preparing lunch.

As I said our rules are simple for example, not reading the chosen book does not exclude you from attending book club or freely speaking your opinion about the book you haven't read. Supper has to be provided, but it is up to the leader of the night what to bring, and that's where it gets interesting as some supper providers like to match their supper to the book they have chosen.

I admit I am as guilty of this as anyone else. When I chose "The Time Traveller's Wife" (loved it) by Audrey Niffenegger, I made brownies because they featured (tenuously) in the story. Lee chose "The Secret River" ( a little disappointing) by Kate Grenville and made a delicious fruit cake with corn meal, as the main character had spent much of the book trying to grow corn on a stubborn piece of land by the river. Nick's choice was "Kafka on the Shore" (interesting in a Japanese way) by Haruki Murakami and instead of going the obvious route and having sushi, did home-cooked chicken nuggets in homage to the KFC references. The most inventive so far was probably Tineke, who made sword fish skewers when she chose the book "A Perfect Storm" (not my favourite) by Sebastian Junger about a fishing boat that flounders in a big storm.

Juliette's choice this month just gone was "A Study in Scarlet" (also interesting, but not brilliant) by Arthur Conan Doyle, the first Sherlock Holmes book. And for supper, she brought some traditional Victorian-era treats:

For sweet tooths (teeth?): Scones with lemon curd and clotted cream (she included the not-as-traditional jam in case others did not like lemon curd) and for savoury, how could you go past cucumber sandwiches?

Juliette prepared them with a cream cheese spread made with dill and lemon on wholemeal seeded bread (as white bread is a relatively modern invention). They were served with their crusts cut off and a nice cup of tea.

We have tossed around the idea of choosing a cookbook, perhaps something like "Secrets of the Red Lantern", by Pauline Nguyen, Luke Nguyen and Mark Jensen that combine an autobigraphy and delicious recipes. Or maybe "Garlic and Sapphires" by Ruth Reichl - a story about her job as a restaurant reviewer.

Books and food - what a great combination.

Apart from recipe only cook books, what's your favourite food-related book, or book-related food?

Monday, November 2, 2009

But wait, there’s more

I left you on the gritty, urban streets of Bankstown, as we made our way from rice paper rolls to pho. Catherine, our tour leader, stopped and told us of other wondrous shops that unfortunately we wouldn’t have time to visit today. (Apart from the fact that most of them were Lebanese shops and therefore would not have fitted in with the Tastes of Asia tour theme – my observation, not hers.) Fortunately in the goodie bags we had been given at the Lily Lan Supermarket, we also received a Bankstown Bites pamphlet and map, detailing all the shops and suggested self-guided foodie tours.

On to the pho! Arguably the best pho in Sydney (so our tour itinerary stated), we arrived at a very busy restaurant, where patrons were queued out the door waiting for the customers inside to hurry down their pho and give up their seats. We however, were ushered inside by a smiling gentleman and directed to our reserved seats.

We had about a fifteen minute wait before our bowls of soup made an appearance. Pho is a Vietnamese staple soup, with each family & restaurant keeping the exact ingredients a secret. Catherine had told us while we were waiting that when the owner went on holidays, he closed the restaurant rather than divulge his secret recipe!

We had the beef pho, though other varieties were displayed on the extensive wall menu (I think they were, there wasn’t a lot of English.) The pho was a steaming bowl of broth, delicately scented with star anise & cinnamon, with very thin slices of raw beef that cook from the heat of the soup.

A blurry bowl of pho

Fresh coriander, basil and bean sprouts were at each table as well as lemon to squeeze on some juice. Bottles of fish, soy and chilli sauce were also provided on each table to add as desired.

Jess enjoying her pho

The pho was delicious. I don’t know that it’s the best I’ve ever had, as previous bowls of pho in Bonnyrigg and Marrickville seemed to have more flavour, though the flavour may well have been enhanced by memory. Certainly the crowds of people eating and waiting to eat here attest to its well-deserved popularity.

Onwards and upwards! We circled around the streets of Bankstown to return to a coffee shop directly opposite the supermarkets we had visited previously - Cafe Nho.

Catherine pointed out the TK Plaza - home to many interesting shops

A table had been set up towards the front of the cafe, with lots of sweet, cool treats to choose from. On offer were mango or coffee gelato and avocado or mango & coconut smoothie, as well as tastes of black sesame, taro or durian ice-cream. The mango gelato was smooth and full of flavour. I was eager to try the avocado smoothie, which was a not unpleasant blend of avocado flavour and sweetness. I tried both the black sesame and the taro ice creams, both of which were sweet and mild in flavour - though very interesting colours. Unfortunately I missed out on trying the durian ice-cream -next time.

Blurry cups of ice-cream: grey-sesame paste, purple-taro, cream-durian

Avocado smoothies

Our generous and amiable host, Eddie Nguyen also offered small cups of an absolutely delicious strong sweet shot of espresso coffee with an equal amount of small pieces of ice as there was coffee. Sipped through a straw it packed a pick-me-up punch of caffeine and sugar that was very much appreciated. Eddie told us that the coffee is roasted on the premises with beans from Brazil, Peru and Costa Rica.

Eddie Nguyen explaining the ice-cream flavours

A very short walk back down the street brought us to the Vien Dong Herbalist. We stood outside the shop while the owner and her daughter poured us a cup of "Cleansing and Moisturising Tea" in small porcelain tea cups. The tea was sweet and I could taste the licorice root. This tea helps the liver function to eliminate toxins as well as other medicinal purposes. We then tried some "Nourishing and Tonifying Tea" of which I didn't enjoy the flavour as much, though it can be used as a dessert by adding rock sugar, or in soup.
Tea tasting

We were given our tea cups as gifts (!) to take home as well as an information sheet about the tea, and Rick also bought some of the "Cleansing and Moisturising Tea" to try at home.

This ended our Bankstown Bites: Taste of Asia Tour! Catherine our guide had already left us in order to welcome the next tour. Josie, her offsider, did a great job escorting us to Cafe Nho and the herbalist and it was a testament to the way the tour was run that we had gone an hour overtime, but were never rushed or felt hurried.

Disappointingly, we couldn't "shop until we dropped" as someone in our car had a prior appointment at home, but we did manage to return to both Best Value and Lily Lan Supermarkets to make some purchases. I had quickly scanned through "The Red Lantern" cookbook at home before coming, to check if I needed any pantry staples and managed to find the "3 Crabs" brand fish sauce that Pauline & Luke Nguyen's mother recommends in the book, amongst a few other things.
My purchases

We also stopped at the butcher for some great bargains, and I was tempted by the different pre-made pastes on offer - fish, chicken, crab and veal to use in fish cakes or other savoury treats at home. Next time!

What a day! The sights, smells and tastes had been a fantastic feast for the senses and a small insight into Vietnamese cooking and culture - and all within a couple of blocks of the sterile, character-less mall at Bankstown that had been my last shopping experience in the suburb. I truly cannot understand why anyone would shop at Woolies or Coles if they had such a vibrant, fresh food precinct as this one nearby.
Happy shoppers - Lee & Tineke

Catherine told us that these tours had been supported by the Sydney International Food Festival, but they were planning to be continued in some form over the coming months. She was going to send the tour participants an email update (which I will pass on to you) , but otherwise check the website for details.

In the interest of honest and open disclaimers, Champagne Hour and The Gang of Five were NOT guests of Bankstown City Council or The Sydney International Food Festival - but felt as if we were, as the value and fun we got out of the day was worth many times the $25 cost of the tour.