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Monday, September 20, 2010

Spring Barbecue

A food blogger barbecue? Always pack an extra stomach.

Happy Luck Restoran

I laugh when I arrive at Karen's house and spot the sign on the door. A random tweet by Billy about making signs for his satay stand had prompted a flurry of tongue-poking texta work all over Sydney.

But to start a party you must have drinks. Karen has jugs of Pimms and lemonade, Richard has more alcohol on standby, and then Suze enters, always the source of crazy deliciousness. Forget about a bowl and ladle - what better receptacle for punch than a watermelon keg!

Filling the watermelon keg

A whole watermelon was scooped free of flesh, a process that Suze says took half an hour. A plastic tap from the hardware shop was then screwed into the base, secured with a plastic washer on the inside.

Fill the watermelon with equal parts of watermelon juice, lemonade and moscato, pouring at the same time so it mixes well.

Frothy watermelon punch

Watermelon keg in action

Place glass under tap and release for tasty liquid refreshment. Instant party starter!

Alaskan crab

Lex, our resident apprentice chef, was keen to cook up a storm despite coming off a ten-day-straight work roster.

He hit the Sydney Fish Market and came out with Alaskan crab.

Seasoning the crab

Crab cooking in lemon butter

Alaskan crab in lemon butter with dill

We sit in glorious sunshine on a picnic rug in the backyard as we rip open crab legs and claws, lemon butter sauce dripping down our chins. Lex also used Japanese chilli powder, garlic, pepper and dill, and as we survey the bowl of leftover sauce we pine for bread to soak up the remaining juices.

Lemongrass brush

In the meantime, Billy is busy tending to his satay stall - advertised with his impressive artwork as always.

Ah Peng's Best Satay and Rojak
- as featured on Grab Your Fork (well it has now! lol)

Satay skewers on the grill

A disposable barbecue works wonders and within minutes we are all feasting on skewers of chicken and beef that are tender and smoky, dipped in a thick and spicy homemade peanut sauce.

Beef and chicken satay

Peanut sauce

Chicken satay

Karen's Fried Mee Hoon and Bak Kwa stall poster

Karen laughed when she compared her poster with everyone else's but she needn't have. Her stall may be low on fancy decor but it has bags of flavour.

Cooking the Bak Kwa on the barbecue

Bak Kwa is a Malaysian meat jerky that is salty and sweet. The jerky is usually made from pork mince that has been combined with fish sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, honey and sugar. The mixture is flattened into sheets and then sliced into rectangles before grilling over a barbecue.

Bak Kwa on the disposable charcoal barbecue

Karen whipped these up for the first time, after discovering a bag of pork mince in the freezer the night before.

Bak Kwa

They cooked up a treat. I always go for the extra burnt ones, relishing their sweet fattiness and caramelised edges.

Potato salad with broad beans

We also dig into Karen's delicious potato salad with broad beans, dill and a mustard dressing as well as Mee Hoon, a Malaysian dish of fried vermicelli noodles.

Mee Hoon fried rice vermicelli

Bulgogi saam

Simon has brought along bulgogi saam, Korean barbecue beef that we wrap up in lettuce cup with rice, gochujang sance and his Mum's homemade kimchee chilli-pickled cabbage.

Toasting tofu puffs

Billy is still cooking, recreating a dish we first encountered in Jalan Alor, the street of open-air restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Stuffed tofu puffs

He grills tofu puffs on the barbecue and then stuffs them with a mixture of stir-fried kangkong water spinach and bean sprouts. They are like tofu burgers, crunchy on the outside and filled with a saucy spicy vegetable mix.


Billy has also made rojak, chunks of green mango, pineapple and cucumber mixed with cooked kangkung water spinach and bean sprouts that have been doused in a hot, salty and sour mix of tamarind paste, palm sugar and belacan shrimp paste. Crushed peanuts on top add crunch. It's one of my favourite dishes from Malaysia - a perfect snack to savour when humidity saps your appetite.

Ocean trout

Lex is also back on the barbecue, grilling his ocean trout marinated with fennel and blood orange.

Barbecuing the ocean trout with blood orange and fennel

Eager food bloggers fighting for the salmon skin

The dish has barely been placed on the table before there's a riot over the salmon skin, crisped to a brittle parchment. The fish itself was amazing, sweet and succulent [Lex's recipe and stunning image of him in wet chef's whites here].

Shez's otak otak and kuih posters

Otak Otak

Otak Otak is another Malaysian delicacy that is always best homemade. Shez's version is amazing. It's her first attempt at this dish, and the banana leaf parcel of fish mousse is light, fragrant and more-ish, rich with lime leaf, coconut and lemongrass.

Shez and her Kaya Kuih

Kaya Kuih

Her Kaya Kuih disappears equally quickly. Presented in traditional diamond slices, a base of coconut-steamed sticky rice is topped with eggy and sweet pandan custard.

Kourambiedes Greek shortbread cookies by Phuoc

Phuoc has brought a plate of buttery kourambiedes Greek shortbread, studded with almonds and smothered in icing sugar [Phuoc's recipe here]. She also plies us with a bottle of her homemade limoncello, made by steeping lemon zest in vodka.

Making gula melaka syrup

Billy helps Minh and I make gula melaka palm sugar syrup for our ice kacang. Originally our plan had been to make cendol, but I failed a late-night attempt to make this at home, and we had no luck at buying cendol the next day despite trying five different Asian grocers (apparently the cendol man was late with his deliveries).

I still like the cendol stall poster Billy made for us.

Double Rainbows No. 1 Chendol

Ice kacang

We switch to ice kacang instead, whirring two ice crushers into action to create a stockpile of shaved ice. Everyone then helps themselves to cubes of grass jelly, palm seeds, jackfruit, sweet corn kernels, cooked red beans and lychee before piling on a mountain of shaved ice that is drizzled with evaporated milk and a river of gula melaka palm sugar syrup.

Ice kacang with rosewater and without

The rosewater debate is the point where food bloggers divide. Karen, who is from Petaling Jaya near Kuala Lumpur, insists that it's an essential part of ice kacang. Billy, who is from Ipoh, won't have a bar of it. We take control of our syrups - I'm team palm sugar all the way.

Yas and his Portuguese custard tarts

Pasteis de nata Portuguese custard tarts

Yas has had no time to cook, but with a delivery of pasteis de nata Portuguese custard tarts from Sweet Belem in Petersham, we are more than happy. The pastry is as flaky as I remembered, shattering with an audible crunch with every bite. The custard is soft and eggy, dusted liberally with cinnamon.

Do not try this at home

"We should use a hair dryer to heat the barbecue," are, surprisingly enough, not Famous Last Words before a frantic call to the fire brigade. The boys abandon our makeshift fans and use a hairdryer to flame an uncooperative barbecue for a finale of wagyu steak.

The steaks are Mirragong Grass-fed wagyu beef, kindly donated by Tim from Urban Food Market. The steaks and thick and lusciously marbled, and I notice that the grass-fed beef does have a more pronounced flavour than grain-fed.

Fried chicken

Linda and Howard are late to the party but Linda quickly sets to work with a pot of oil and a bucket of marinated chicken wings. These are patted lightly with flour and then deep-fried to a golden perfection. I'm over-the-moon that all four kilos are mid-wings - my favourite!

As dusk settles into night, Minh and I break open the sachets of Home's Cafe 3-in-1 coffee, adding water and ice to make jugs of iced coffee that are sweet and strong.

We'd started at 1.30pm and eaten for six hours straight. Thanks to Karen and The Captain for hosting - I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday in spring!

The winner of chotto and cocktails for two at Ocean Room Sydney is Kat - congratulations!

Don't forget to enter the Freebie Friday competitions still open:
> Win two new Smirnoff Vodka mixers
(entries close Sunday 26 September 2010)

> Win a $100 dining voucher at Signorelli Gastronomia
(entries close Sunday 10 October 2010)
32 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 9/20/2010 01:46:00 am


  • At 9/20/2010 2:10 am, Anonymous Yas (aboutthefood) said…

    Wow. What a fantastic way to bring in Spring. Every single thing looks fabulous and delicious – great team effort!

  • At 9/20/2010 2:40 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    so much deliciousness! and i have to agree gula melaka all the way baby!

  • At 9/20/2010 8:03 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    So much fun! I was so bummed to miss out on this. Love the signs! Yep I'm going to have to side with Karen on this one, rose syrup is a must!

  • At 9/20/2010 8:29 am, Blogger "Joe" who is constantly craving said…

    omg, this has got me drooling over msian food all over again! what a smashing way to spend a weekend.

  • At 9/20/2010 8:47 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Brilliant way to start the spring season guys!! Love all Malaysian dishes and the shaved ice - I have to agree with the rosewater variety. And Lex's crab looks amazing!

    Needs more epic signs :D

  • At 9/20/2010 9:15 am, Anonymous The Extra said…

    Okay - dead serious here. I see a "Stomachs Eleven" television series in this. Somebody call SBS or ABC and pitch this idea! (I get residuals).

  • At 9/20/2010 9:58 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    mid wings are my faovurite too!! I love how you made the ice coffee using 3 in 1!! That is totally MALAYSIAN!!! My parents always bring along enough supply of 3 in 1 whenever they are travelling.

  • At 9/20/2010 10:24 am, Blogger hungryandfrozen said…

    What a FEAST! Everything looks so delicious...the tofu puffs, the Bak Kwa, it's all making me hungry.

    And that watermelon idea is genius :)

  • At 9/20/2010 10:45 am, Blogger Barbara said…

    Great day Helen. I love the watermelon keg.

  • At 9/20/2010 10:53 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    mid wings are the bestest! Now I can't help but thinking of that Jap woman eating them at the BBQ wings contest! LOL

    Those portuguese tarts oh my god..... me and the Pom still raving about it on the way home... We definitely will come down one day just grab a few boxes of them!

  • At 9/20/2010 11:02 am, Blogger ragingyoghurt said…

    i've always wondered where to get good malaysian food in sydney, and i see now it is right here. ;)

    also, i like ais kacang with rose syrup *and* gula melaka.

  • At 9/20/2010 11:23 am, Blogger Anna (Morsels and Musings) said…

    . . . you guys had me at watermelon keg!!!

    food jealousy is an ugly thing :)

  • At 9/20/2010 11:47 am, Anonymous Jacq said…

    Aw I'm so sad that I missed out on this! Looks like it was heaps of fun and LOL at Billy's signs! Heating the BBQ up with a hairdryer works a treat, I wonder if it's an Asian thing?

  • At 9/20/2010 11:49 am, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    Looks like the rose syrup vs gula melaka debate will never be resolved so I guess we better ensure we have both for every gathering :) But I'd love for more Malaysians to weigh in on this because I'm curious whether it's a KL/big city thing to have rose syrup.

    Anyway, I never realised just how much food we had until I saw it all in one photo heap. But they were all sooooo good. Thanks all for making it an awesome day.

  • At 9/20/2010 11:57 am, Anonymous A said…

    That looks the best saturday ever!
    Im so jealous

  • At 9/20/2010 12:09 pm, Anonymous Iron Chef Shellie said…

    WOW!! That looked like the best way to spend a Saturday. Everything looks soooooo goood! Your photos are fantastic! I love the signs too :P

  • At 9/20/2010 12:27 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh, Helen. You make me look outside at the Canberran sky and shake my fist in anger. I, too, would go straight for the burnt-ish bak wa and the rojak... and you know how desperately I want to try ice kacang! Thank you for the glimpses... maybe one day.... :)

  • At 9/20/2010 1:32 pm, Anonymous penny aka jeroxie said…

    Nice backyard cooking! Nice job everyone... and yes, we all love spring.

  • At 9/20/2010 1:36 pm, Blogger Sara @ Belly Rumbles said…

    Everything just looks so delicious and the signs are a hoot.

  • At 9/20/2010 2:36 pm, Blogger Brenda said…

    Hahahahah you guys are the funniest! Love your sense of humour : )
    Food looks so amazing!!!
    The watermelon jug is awesome....better go over and tell Suze now....

  • At 9/20/2010 3:24 pm, Blogger OohLookBel said…

    Yeehaw, foodbloggers with a sense of humour! And what about the food (esp. the chicken wings) - if you had a market stall, you'd make a mint!

  • At 9/20/2010 3:51 pm, Blogger Phuoc'n Delicious said…

    I can't stop thinking about all that fab food we had! To start off with crab and end with wagyu steak; what more could I ask for? Deliciousness overload makes me very full and happy.

    Can't wait for the next event :D

  • At 9/20/2010 5:08 pm, Anonymous MissDissent said…

    Wow, wow, wow. That Watermelon Cooler was a stroke of genius. We usually pour vodka into a watermelon, and let it stew for a few days in the fridge, when you drink it, you can't taste the vodka!

    Where in Sydney do I go to eat Rojak like that? It looks AMAZING but I have not noticed it on a menu. Must. Have.

    XX Jackie

  • At 9/20/2010 5:50 pm, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    I've been to a barbeque before where we employed the aid of a hairdryer to, ahem, get the fire started.

  • At 9/20/2010 7:13 pm, Blogger Taufulou said…

    i have always enjoy reading outing that you guys organise.. creative and everything looks yummy~

  • At 9/20/2010 9:18 pm, Anonymous Minh said…

    Hehe team palm sugar all the way! Damn... now I have a fried chicken craving just looking at those photos lol

  • At 9/20/2010 9:29 pm, Anonymous J2Kfm (Malaysian Food Blog) said…

    I personally like gula melaka too. Though I like my rose syrup in the sirap bandung drinks; with lots of milk!

  • At 9/20/2010 11:23 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Love that photo of Yas HHAHAHAHAH!! Awesome recount of the bbq as usual. Spectacular food and even better company! Mmmmmmm

  • At 9/21/2010 9:09 am, Anonymous Diseno said…

    Oh how fun! Great post, beautiful photos

  • At 9/22/2010 12:29 am, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    oh yes, what a great BBQ day that was!
    I was so full when we were leaving, but had to finish my take-home fried chicken & satays that night ;p

  • At 9/22/2010 11:39 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    What a massive feast - total food envy here! =p

  • At 1/09/2011 7:57 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great photos, and really great food! I'm a S'porean and I'm for rosewater all the way, with narry a shred of gula melaka. Also no milk. I'd say leave the gula melaka for chendol and sago gula melaka (my fave dessert, btw)


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