Monday, May 28, 2012

"Are You Truly, Madly Tim Tam?" Ad Campaign

- "So... What are you going to miss most about Australia?"

This was the question that we asked our Irish friends when my coursemates and I caught up for dinner last night to celebrate the end of semester before prepping for Exams.

My friend, R, thought about it for a while before answering, "TIM TAMS!!!!"

Ohhh, the laughter that ensued.......

This was followed by a hilariously passionate yet "heated" discussion from the table about everyone's favourite Tim Tam flavours...

- "Dark Chocolate for the win!!"

- "No....! You've GOT to try their White Chocolate. It's so, so good."

- "What! What are you talking about? Who eats WHITE Chocolate Tim Tams...?!"

- "TRY IT!!!!"

- "Original, anyone...?"

- "Double Coat Tim Tams all the wayyyy... 2 for $5 at the 7-Eleven near Uni (lol)"

Oh man... One of the many, many funny moments from last night. What would I do without my uni friends?

Anyway, Tim Tams truly are iconic to Australia in every sense of the word.

That's why I'm SO ecstatic to be running Tim Tam's "Are You Truly, Madly Tim Tam?" Ad Campaign here on The Hungry Excavator for the whole month of June...!!

This is extremely exciting because you can run and feature your OWN personalised ad that will be featured online and on TV. All you need to do is submit your name to the Facebook Application and you're done! It was quite cool seeing my name written in an ad on Youtube.

Do check out and share the 30sec ad I'm talking about to all your friends: HERE

Boy, I REALLY wish that I could see that Tim Tam Tree (in the ad) in real life too! You Sydney folks are so lucky
Oh, and as for me, I switch between the Original Tim Tams (boring, I know) to the Tim Tam Crush with Mint Chips... YUM!!

(This post is a Rocketfuel sponsored post on behalf of Tim Tams Australia)
(Photos taken from the Tim Tam Facebook Page)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wince's Faves: Darac Grill & Bar, CBD

A place that constantly has me coming back for more...

I always tell my friends that there's hardly any good/affordable/Japanese restaurants for dinner in the CBD. Choices are SO limited, unlike Korean food. There's SO many good Korean restaurants to choose from and I can always easily think of a handful of places that I normally eat at off the top of my head. It is quite possibly the cuisine that I eat the most of in Melbourne, seriously. And I'm NOT just talking about Korean BBQs...

Obviously, there are "famous" Japanese establishments like Yu-U and Izakaya Den but these places are out of the question/budget because I'm referring to the affordable/dinner/CBD category. I don't want anything "fancy" on a casual, weeknight catchup with friends. Of course, I'm not ruling out Jap cuisine completely because there are a few places that I do like and will be blogging about soon (so stay tuned ;p).

That's why when it comes to the Melbourne CBD, I honestly believe that:
Korean Food >>>>> Japanese Food

Love the casual vibe here...

Anyway, lots of Korean eating for me in Melbourne and I often find there's something I like about each of them, even though they can be quite similar. But out of all of them, I really do think that Darac is the one that stands out the most, for so many reasons.

There's a number of specialties and dishes that they do differently here, which makes it absolutely delicious. I always find myself coming back and bringing different groups of friends with me to try when I can. It is for this reason why I'm including Darac Grill & Bar in my series of favourite things to eat around Melbourne, called "Wince's Faves" =)

Takoyaki Salad

First thing you'll notice about these takoyakis is how soft and creamy they are, almost like mashed potato, but still crispy on the outside. I don't know what flour they use here, but it's so delicious, especially with the Jap Mayo/BBQ Sauce and refreshing salad.

A dish we ALWAYS order when we're here... Yum!

Torched (Aburi) Sashimi & Unagi

Aburi Salmon was good, with a tender yet chewy texture. Though, I wish they had some sort of glaze to give it more flavour when torched. Still, not bad. Torching the unagi brought out more flavour and fragrance too.

Seafood Spring Onion Pancake

How beautiful does this look, compared to your usual round pancake? Common Korean dish but what sets this apart (besides its presentation) really is the generous ingredients. So much spring onion and when they say seafood, they really mean lots of actual seafood like calamari, prawns, clams and so on. Again, the flour they use here is so soft and creamy -- I love it!

Ox Tongue Salad

Nice, chewy muscle that's slightly thicker than the ones you get in most places, but just right for me. Slightly sweet on the outside too. Enjoyed this.

Cheese Fire Chicken

My initial thoughts were, "Wah... SATAY!". Like, the Malaysian/Indonesian BBQ meat skewers. Never had a dish in Melbourne that had as intense of a char fragrance (not flavour) than this where it really hits you this instantly. Absolutely delicious with the melted cheese and slightly spicy marinade too.

I brought another friend here last week too and "SATAY" was the first thing that popped in her mind. Yuuuuum... So I guess it's actually quite apparent since I'm not the only one who thought so ;p

Beef Bibimbap

They do one of the better Bibimbaps... Even after mixing them together, the flavour of each ingredient was still pronounced, especially the egg for some reason. So tasty even without the sauce...

LOVE the generous amount of ingredients to rice ratio, delicious...

But, best part for me has to be the slightly hard, tough, chewy, burnt rice at the bottom. Perfection... LOVE this!

Pork Army Stew

YUP... The Army Stews are another specialty of the restaurant! A soup dish that's been part of the Korean culture ever since the war, when I assume food was scarce and hence, a lot of sausages, ham, spam, canned beans, ramen noodles, etc was consumed in this way.

I find it to be almost like the "Ratatouille" of Korean food. Simple, hearty and DELICIOUS!

Very good, strong and tasty Kimchi and tomato base... I think the main reason I like this is also because you experience so much of the culture from this dish alone. By eating such a humble and traditional dish, really can't help but wonder what life was like for them during those times...

All our favourite canned food in one bowl... They also had sliced cheese in there too!

"Soon Du Bu" aka Seafood with Soft Tofu Stew
(taken with iPhone)

Ohhhh... One of my ultimate favourite dishes to have. I have this almost every time I eat Korean food. My friend and I love it so much that we pretty much "unofficially" started a "Soon Du Bu Appreciation Society" where we would try as many Soon Du Bu around Melbourne as we can... It's really FUN lol!

The one here is very different from the rest too. First, it had a stronger tomato base. But also, they proved to be extremely generous with their seafood and ingredients again! The soup had a natural sweetness I don't get from other restaurants from all the seafood and vegetables... Great!

Lunch Special with Tofu Steak, Pork Cutlet and Yaki Noodle (Regular) -- $10.50
(taken with iPhone)

As much as I love the dinner, the Lunch Specials are seriously awesome too!!! And so darn cheap for the portion we get. Not to mention how delicious everything is. This was much filling than it looks and it was only Regular size. My favourite is the Tofu Steak!

Lunch Special with Spicy Pork Bulgoki, Soba Noodle Salad and Yaki Noodle (large) -- $12.50
(taken with iPhone)

Guys... This was absolutely MASSIVE. For all you big, big eaters out there, this is just the lunch for you. They really piled on the meat and carbs but I'm sure the guys won't complain. Pork Bulgoki was simply tasty and delicious to eat.

Great place to duck in for lunch in the CBD!
(taken with iPhone)

One of the many, many good times that was had over good food and great company at this restaurant...
Happy days! =)

As you can see, whether it's for the Takoyaki Salad, Cheese Fire Chicken, Army Stew or even the Lunch Set, there really are a lot of reasons why I keep coming back and never getting bored of Darac.

To me, it really is an ideal place for friends to meet (whether it's for a simple catch up, birthday, farewell or any other occasion) while eating delicious and affordable food in a comfortable environment... If you haven't tried this place before, go! And when you do, let me know too cause I'd love to join so I can eat here again! ;p

Darac Grill & Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 19, 2012

6-Course Dinner at PM24, CBD

I've said it once, and I'll say it a thousand times... I LOVE my family dinners. I mean, my cousins and I all grew up together but ever since we moved to Australia, Life got in the way and we each become quite busy with our own lives. So, it's really nice when we intentionally make plans to catch up with one another from time to time... Especially for a special occasion, or when one of our parents are in town for a visit. In this case, it's both... Yayeee~

My cousin Janise was celebrating her 23rd birthday and my Aunt/Uncle Lok so happened to be in town for that. Being ever gracious and generous, Uncle Lok decided to treat the whole family (+ partners) to a 6-Course Dinner at PM24. One of the newer French Bistros to hit the Melbourne food scene and awarded a 1-Hat Accolade.

Priced at $125/pax, this was definitely a restaurant that I would've never gotten the chance to go if it weren't for my relos, so I'm really grateful...

Now, on to the food...

Nice, warm rolls with creamy unsalted butter to start the night...

Craiglee Shiraz 2008 -- $118 per bottle

Highly recommended. It's so light and smooth down the throat. It had the full body flavour of the Shiraz but it wasn't dry. I'm no wino but I really liked this.

Course No. 1: Amuse bouche of Pumpkin Veloute

Soup was absolutely SMASHING. It was sweet, flavourful and the taste lingers in your mouth. Thin but slightly viscous. The croutons were given in small shards, so you can't really see but can definitely taste it. Common soup but with outstanding flavours. YUM.

Course No. 2(a): Pan Seared Scallops
Panko crumbed, brown butter vinaigrette

My eyes literally lit up at the first bite. The crumbs were perfectly crispy without being too oily and I loved the garlic at the top. The quality of the scallops were top notch and it wasn't a minute over or underdone. Generous portions too! And to use brown butter in the vinaigrette... Clever and delicious!

Though to be honest, you can't blame us for feeling quite full already after some bread, soup and 4 fried scallops...

Course No. 2(b): Cured New Zealand King Salmon
Cucumber à la crème, horseradish cream

Fantastic texture with raw but chewy mouthfeel. The horseradish cream (which tasted more like fresh dill for some odd reason) and the cucumbers paired REALLY well with the salmon. Lovely.

Course No. 3(a): Rôtisserie 4 Point Rack of Lamb
Green olive crust, vegetables navarin

The fats in the lamb was rendered really well (thankfully) but I found the crumb a bit too intense with the meatiness of the lamb, which made the dish a bit richer than it ought to be. Still delicious and thankfully, the wine we had was sooo light and perfect to wash it down with.

Course No. 3(b): Barramundi
Wakamé potato boulangère, fish sauce reduction

Was a bit apprehensive that they served Barramundi (of all fishes) but wow, it was soooo fresh. You could taste the natural flavours and it was insanely moist and delicate but had a really crispy (and tasty) skin. Really surprised by how they took an ordinary fish to a whole new level like never before. It's great that they did this without dressing it up with fancy flavours and cooking methods but stayed so true to the fish. Amazing. I will remember this fish for a very long time...

Course No. 3(c): Sirloin
Sauce béarnaise, pomme frites

Really well cooked, moist and the charred flavour did shine through very well. The fats was rich but tasted so good. They served this with 3 sides, as shown below...

Again, we were soooooooo full by this point and unfortunate to say that some of us couldn't even finish the steak...

The pommes frites or French Fries were AMAZING. So flavourful because of the fried garlic chips and it tasted like it was drizzled in heavily scented oil. Super crunchy and fluffy on the inside. Despite how full I was, I couldn't stop eating these... Seriously

I actually do like Peas, so I enjoyed this...

Nice light feature...

Course No. 4: Palate Cleanser of Mint Sorbet

Some liked this, some didn't. I loved this, though. So refreshing and tasted quite sweet too. Didn't feel as full anymore after this.

Course No. 5: Selection of imported cheese from France

Didn't exactly get the name but there were 3 kinds of smelly cheeses (but none of them were blue). NOPE. Not for us. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE smelly cheeses and have had my fair share in the past. But behind the smell, I really didn't find there was much flavour to it. The fruit slice (with sweet, sticky figs) was okay, especially with the spiced jam. But the poppyseed lavoche wasn't crisp and a bit doughy.

Dessert plating station...

Course No. 6(a): French Crêpes
Raspberry espuma, caramel suzette

Crêpes were too tough. Hard to break into bite-sized pieces with the cutlery, let alone with our teeth. And the raspberry was waaaay too sweet...

Course No. 6(b): Lemon Curd Tart
Vanilla Chantilly

Wuu wahh this dessert took me by surprise! The curd literally melted and the tart dissolved within seconds of putting it in my mouth. What an interesting sensation! Though, be warned that it was VERY sour (much more than usual), so if that's your thang, go nuts... Thankfully the chantilly cream was there to balance it out. Again, fascinating...


Final Thoughts...

As you can tell, I definitely thought the food was good and quality was worth its 1-Hat Award. BUT, I feel I need to be honest about my dining experience as a whole and not just the food. 10 out of 10 of us found it TOO filling and the portions were too big. The worst thing is we were way over our limit and weren't able to finish a lot of our food. CRYING shame, especially cause we paid so much for it. I really didn't appreciate how it made us feel so bloated by the end of it and am wondering if any of the chefs actually tried eating through the entire set/degustation dinner for themselves to know how it made us, the customers, feel.

Personally, for the set menu/degustation, I highly recommend that they cut down the portions and also reduce the price per person. Otherwise, it's really hard for customers to enjoy the food...

Also, the entire dinner was waaaaaaay too long. Dinner was 4.5 hours and it ended at 12am, making us feel a bit impatient towards the end and our butts started to hurt from all the sitting. Just too much waiting in between dishes... For example, 1 whole hour of waiting for our Dessert to come. Really, guys...? I just felt bad because we were all so terribly tired by the end, and some of us even started our day as early as 6am. We didn't even get the chance to blow/cut a cake (that we brought to the restaurant) for my cousin because we were waaay too tired and waaay too full.

Basically, the whole experience would've been better if they hadn't stretched too long and planned the portions (hence, price) a bit better. That said, I really had a GREAT time chatting non-stop and taking photos with my Family that night. It's a warm feeling and true blessing every time we gather like this for a meal, especially in Melbourne. Again, I want to thank my Uncle for his never-ending love and generosity for all of us since young. I can't thank him enough for all the things he's done for us all these years. It was still a really good night.

You can check out one of our other Family Dinner that I blogged about at the Ibuki House Restaurant: here

Take care, all! =)

PM24 on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 14, 2012

THANK YOU + (seriously awesome) Peanut Butter & Choc Chip Cookies Recipe

Expressing my sincerest gratitude the only way I know how...

Final thoughts...

As you all know, the Live Below the Line Challenge is finally over. The first day was the hardest. I had to wake up for work at 5am, go straight after to a medical checkup before having a full day of class till 7:15pm. I swear that in between I almost passed out and wanted to give up because I didn't have time at all to go back for food! Eating under $2/day is one thing, but not being allowed to buy food when I'm out is another.

I mean, usually I would be able to buy a snack when I'm out if I wanted to. And I realised early on that one of the most fortunate thing we can have is the CHOICE to be able to eat or not. I never realised it was a luxury until then. So even though it was only a few hours into the start of the Challenge, I already felt really empathetic towards the people who were ACTUALLY living in extreme poverty.

We shared the same, painful hunger too but what made me really sad was the fact that most of the time, there was NOTHING they could do about it. Just as I had experienced myself. They simply didn't have the money to eat and had to bear with it. It really was the first time I was honestly put in the shoes of my fellow global citizen who had been suffering like this all this time. I was in pain, but ironically I was thankful that it really helped me see the purpose of why I chose to take up the Challenge in the first place. It was a hard but really, really good start.

That's why when the Challenge finally ended, I couldn't help but still feel quite guilty inside (even though I tried to come across happy that it was over). There I was, celebrating the end of my hunger since Friday midnight by eating a lot of amazing food. The more I ate, the more I thought about them. Then I realised it wasn't that I was guilty about the food I got to eat, but it was that I was sad because my fellow brothers and sisters in poverty did not have the luxury of "moving on" from the challenge like I did. Their hunger was NOT for a known, finite period of time.

Later, I realised I was being too hard on myself. Because if it weren't for my fortunate position of living in a First World Country and having all of you people in my life, WE wouldn't have been able to raise SO much money to help them out and give them a chance for a better Life!! I see now how we all really played a part to make a difference, no matter where we came from. Whether you've donated or even reading this post...

A lot of my worldviews have drastically changed from the Challenge and to say that I am grateful for this experience would be an understatement...

A word of Thanks...

First of all, I really want to take this opportunity again to thank EACH and every one of you who showed your support throughout the Challenge. The response has been really overwhelming! With all your help, I've managed to raise a total of $731 towards the cause. And it is a collective, team effort. Only possible because of YOU. HURRAHHHHH...!!

On top of that, this experience was quite different in a sense that I was getting a number of donations from the blogging community as well! I mean, even though we've known each other for a while, but I'm still SO touched by the fact that a lot of them are from people that I've never even met before! It was so gracious and generous of them to drop in a donation to show their support. Man... I know that I've always felt that this community is so encouraging but this just takes it to a whole new level. You know who you are!!

Also, I really do mean it when I say that every donation, comment and like on my Facebook and Twitter page really spurred me on even further, especially on days when I felt like giving up. THANK YOU.

And finally, to my team awesome teammates: Leaf, Bryan, Jade and Daisy. I've got so much love and respect for each of you and I'm so blessed to have gotten the opportunity to go through this together with you. THANKS.

Now, the Cookies...

To show my immense gratitude, I wanted to bake some cookies (even though I've never made them before!) and write a personalised thank you note to each person that donated.

Personally, I LOVED how they turned out. I baked 8 batches of these in total and could not find any way to improve them. I thought they were absolutely delicious. And I was even more glad to hear that people enjoyed them a lot too! Phew~! The best part was definitely the flavour and the crunch. NOTE: It's not me, but the recipe that's fantastic!

There's so many other people (that are interstate or I haven't got the chance to meet yet) that I didn't get to give cookies to this time around, but know that I do remember and cherish each of you and will definitely return the favour and kindness one day...!

Anyway, hope you give this recipe a go. Couldn't have asked for a better outcome, especially for a first attempt! Goes to show how simple/straightforward this recipe is. Now... GO BAKE!


Peanut Butter & Choc Chip Cookies Recipe
(adapted from this recipe by Canary Girl, makes 60)


250g butter (softened)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup peanut butter (use chunky!)
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
2 cups chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 175 deg C. Line cookie sheet/baking tray with baking paper.
2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs (one at a time at low to medium) and vanilla essence and beat until smooth.
4. Add peanut butter and continue to beat until combined.

5. Gradually add the flour, baking powder and salt. Beat at low to medium until combined.
6. Add the chocolate chips and beat until combined.

7. Use a measuring spoon (if possible), drop 1 tablespoon of dough onto the lined tray. Flatten the centre slightly with a spoon.
8. Repeat until you have 12 in one tray (as shown).
9. Bake for 18 - 20 minutes or until just golden. (My 1st, 2nd, 3rd batches were baked at 20, 19 and 18 minutes respectively).
10. Remove from oven and allow to rest in tray for 2 minutes before letting them cool on a wire rack.

NOTE: You can bake them at 180degC for 12 minutes instead if you prefer chewy cookies (but I don't and honestly think these cookies are better crunchy)

SO good with a nice, cold glass of milk...