Saturday, March 27, 2010
My siblings and I are all addicted to smoked salmon; devouring it any chance we get. It could be because we are from a long lineage of seafood devotees and it reminds us all of holidays and good times. It could also be attributed to our Scandanavian heritage (including a great grandfather who was a Whaler by trade*). Those Norwegians, you gotta hand it to 'em. The majority of the year is spent trying to keep warm and stay alive - and it's not exactly the friendliest climate for fresh produce. But they make the most of what they've got, and they do have quite a lot of salmon virtually on their doorstep, year round.
Smoked salmon is one of those wonderfully flexible ingredients which can be stored in the fridge/freezer for a few weeks in an unopened pack and whipped out for a multitude of occasions. Breakfast? Salmon eggs benedict. Lunch? Classic white bagel with smoked salmon, cream cheese and capers. Dinner? I've been known to eat it straight from the pack with a fork, with a sprinkle of lemon splashed over and washed down with a New Zealand Sauv Blanc. Absolute heaven!
Today I found myself in a frustrating fishy conundrum: 200 grams of beautiful Norwegian dill-smoked salmon + a dinner gathering and far too many options for producing something to take for "nibbles". The solution? A quick and very simple smoked salmon "pate", the recipe found on the taste.com.au website (where I go for easy and last minute recipes when I'm all outta ideas). I modified their recipe only slightly by adding dill and extra sage.
200g smoked salmon
120g creme fraiche (or mascarpone)
100g room temp unsalted butter
8 fresh sage leaves
Process the salmon in a food processor until finely chopped, add creme fraiche and process briefly until it just comes together. Add 3/4 of the butter and process, again until it just comes together smoothly. In a pan on high heat, melt the butter until it goes that lovely nut brown colour, throw in the sage leaves and immediately remove from heat. Season the salmon mix with dill and pepper (it shouldn't need salt), then spoon into a serving dish. Arrange the sage on top and pour over the remaining sage butter. Refrigerate until ready to be served.
* Hey, it was a long time ago. Back when whales were in greater supply and Greenpeace didn't exist.
Friday, March 26, 2010
I loooooove Greece and everything it beholds, so much so that I have visited there, twice (and will go again). The people. The culture. The history. The Islands. The language.
I have several Greek-Australian friends and colleagues; many of them speak of the hardships in trying to fit in to the Aussie culture, particularly throughout their school years. I feel a great affinity with them in that I also struggled to fit in - not being much of a fan of the "great Aussie traditions" of glorified footy heroes and such, preferring instead to bury my head in books and experiment in the kitchen with forbidden fruits such as chilli. I also love that to the Greeks, food is an integral part of living a happy life - each meal is an occasion in itself, celebrated with gusto. Families and friends gather together and passionately engage in robust discussions while tucking into fresh, wholesome foods, taken from huge communal platters in the centre of the table. I have been lucky enough to partake in such occasions, both in Australia and in Greece; and even more fortunate to spend time with the women: mothers, daughters & Yia Yias - learning a precious few of their kitchen secrets.
In recognition of this year's Greek National Day (25th March) and to pay homage to my Grecian peeps (who so kindly introduced me to some of the most wonderful culinary experiences of my life), today I enjoyed re-creating some simple and tasty home cooked Greek food. The key: to use the freshest, (preferably) in season ingredients, and to keep things very basic. Olive oil. Fabulous feta. Juicy Kalamata olives. Meat & Veg.
Marinated lamb cutlets on kalamata couscous
I grabbed a big tray of lamb cutlets and marinated it in about half a cup of olive oil, dried dill, oregano and some fresh ground pepper for about six hours. Lamb was cooked (without the marinade) in the pan (about 3 mins per side for medium) and then rested for a few minutes covered in foil prior to serving time.
Equal amounts of couscous + boiling water, and some red onion, chopped carrot/zucchini pan fried and tossed through the couscous along with a handful of chopped kalamata olives. The cooked lamb was arranged over the couscous, dodoni feta crumbled over and drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with extra dill.
Melomakarona with orange spiked honey syrup
My twist on the classic walnut honey biscuit:
Heat oven to 180C and line trays with baking paper. Beat together one cup of olive oil, half cup white sugar, half a cup of orange juice and a teaspoon of orange zest for about ten mins until it thickens. Add one egg yolk and one tablespoon of ouzo (or any other white spirit) and beat another few minutes. Sift over three cups of SR flour, half teaspoon ground cinnamon and fold gently until combined (it should make a loose dough mixture). From here you can roll individual balls into oval shapes, but I found it easier to make uniform sizes and shapes by rolling out the mixture into logs, flattening slightly and then slicing off pieces, flattening out a little more on the tray. Cook in batches for 25 mins, let them cool on the tray.
Make a syrup out of half a cup of honey, half a cup of boiling water, one cup of white sugar, zest of one orange, and a cinnamon stick - simmer for about five minutes. Remove the cinnamon and arrange the biscuits on a large tray with sides, then pour over the syrup. Sprinkle with about 120g finely chopped walnuts and leave for as long as you can (the longer the better - the honey soaks up and the cookies become marvellously chewy and sticky). Enjoy with strong coffee - espresso is okay, but Greek coffee (metrios) is best.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Okay. So the title is a bit corny; but those of you who know me, understand I'm not often given to random acts of cheesy-ness (figuratively speaking). But tonight I arrived home from another day at the office to a slightly down in the dumps husband in need of a wifely chat, a cuddle, and some comfort food.
For some reason, we best communicate in the kitchen, usually while cooking. It struck me tonight that we hadn't cooked together in quite some time - between my working hours and his small business, it's a rarity to both be in the house before 7pm - so our marriage was probably long overdue for some maintenance. We set up a small production line of gow gee & won ton skins, and a mix of minced chicken & prawn, coriander, garlic, ginger, soy, sesame oil and spring onions (all pulsed in a food processor). We stood together side by side - Tim on gow gee duty, folding them "half moon" style, and me on won ton duty, folding them into "nurses caps" (no photos this time, but look up you tube for good dumpling folding instructions). And as we stood there, (folding, chatting, folding, chatting) a pleasant sort of calm descended with the simple, gentle repetitiveness of the activity.
The nurses caps were simmered in a basic chicken stock + soy and chilli sauce; while the half moons were fried in the pan in canola oil. Both were served with love, along with Tim's home made "dumpling sauce" consisting of a bunch of chopped fresh coriander, minced ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, a chopped chilli from the garden and half a cup of dark asian vinegar.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
I'd been to Adelaide several times, all for work, but never spent any time exploring. Last week I was booked to fly over with a colleague/friend for a workshop - seeing as we're both massive foodies it was simply too good an opportunity to pass up to fly home a little later to explore some of South Australia's culinary delights.
We went to Glenelg two nights in a row; the first was spent at one of the many Italian restaurants down near the pier (semi-mediocre) but made up for it by gorging on a bottle of Shaw & Smith Sav Blanc and Copenhagen icecream. The second was spent at the "Promenade" restaurant, where we enjoyed an incredible amount and quality of fresh seafood by way of one of the most outstanding seafood platters I've ever ordered. $49 bucks got a huge platter for two; which included multiples of oysters, prawns, mussels, flake, octopus, smoked and sashimi salmon - along with fries and salad. This was heartily chased with a bottle of Orlando bubbly (and later a few cocktails at the bar next door).
The day after the workshop finished, we grabbed a hire car and made off to the hills. Stopping at Hahndorf, we had the most amazing coffee at a place called "Kaffeehaus" for gingerbread lattes. There was also a hearty breakfast of wurst, saurkraut, and german potato salad which neither of us could finish (recommend sharing one between two!) before finding a little chocolate haven: "Chocolate no. 5" - most lattes (and some chockies) were consumed before hopping back into the car for a leisurely drive north through the Barossa Valley.
I had marked on the map at the beginning of the day that above all else, I wanted to go to my "mecca" - Maggie Beer's farm and providore/restaurant. After some wrong turns and backtracking (the sat nav didn't know of Pheasant Farm Road), we finally found it. Built on the edge of a dam filled with turtles and ducks, is Maggie's beautiful restaurant where cooking demonstrations and tastings abound, and fresh produce and fine local beverages are promoted and ingested by happy smiling customers. Half baked plans of doubling back to Penfolds and Wolf Blass were promptly ditched as we kicked back on the verandah to enjoy a delicious 'picnic basket' of mushroom pate, fresh bread rolls, home made labneh and quince dukkah, wine, and of course, Maggie's famous "adults only" icecream (burnt fig and butterscotch). The whole exercise cost us almost 2.5 hours and thus by the time we left, only had time for one winery before closing time. We decided to support one of the little guys rather than one of the larger operations (which you can just buy at the local bottle-o anyway), and drove down a dirt road to find Whistler Wines. We were served generous (and FREE - you should NEVER have to pay for wine tastings) glasses of their delicious vino and both walked out with some incredible semillon-sav-blanc.
A short trip restricted by flight times home to Melbourne; but good in that it provided an overview of what Adelaide and surrounds has to offer. It whetted my appetite for a return adventure - for pleasure, not business, next time.
Monday, March 15, 2010
For all my pontificating about dumplings, I had never actually attempted making them - instead choosing to cook them up from pre-frozen or via dining in restaurants.
Well, tonight I put my dumpling making phobia to bed; and it's much easier than I thought!
- 500g chicken mince
- ginger & garlic (i didn't have fresh so used the stuff in jars)
- light soy sauce
- sesame oil
- fresh coriander (again, no fresh stuff on hand so used the tube variety)
- brown vinegar
- Wonton wrappers (20)
- fresh chillies
- chopped spring onions (3)
Put the chicken in a large bowl, and stir in approx 2 dessert spoons of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons each of minced garlic & ginger, sesame oil, brown vinegar, spring onions and coriander paste (if using fresh, use the whole bunch - you can never have too much coriander.)
Put some cold water into a cup and keep it close by. Take each wonton wrapper and put a heaped teaspoon-ful of chicken into the centre, then dip your finger into the water and moisten the edges (as shown). Bring together each corner, pinch together at the top of the dumpling and then fasten the sides together so that the wrapper sits snugly around the mixture.
Line a steamer with some baking paper and steam the dumplings for about 5-6 minutes. Serve with light soy sauce & fresh chopped chillies.
Trust me: uber-easy and tasty - worth it!
Sunday, March 14, 2010
I'm still rather sick with this headcold so shall keep this entry reasonably short; I've had a lot of time this weekend to think about family and how important it is - no matter how much they may give you the "scheise" from time to time.
My family isn't particularly big - although we are spread across Australia (and the world) - and since my Granny passed away (aka Events Coordinator) we don't often get together. So when my sister's birthday rolled around this year and our cousin K said she was free for dinner, it looked like three family members in the same restaurant on the same evening was going to be as good as it gets. Well, in the space of a few days, we managed to rustle up over ten guests to Fu Long Seafood Restaurant in Box Hill, all family members and all ready for some serious asian food & Tsing Tao.
In typical "my family" fashion, we couldn't agree on a banquet (there were about eight different options) so instead each put in our orderes and divvied up the dishes. My husband, sister and brother in law shared in some delicious Peking Duck + spring rolls for a more than substantial entree. Plates of seafood/prawn combo's, Mongolian beef, salt/pepper tofu, beef & blackbean, honey chicken and other delights promptly followed and did not disappoint.
But the best thing about the night? The company. I met K's "new" baby M which I hadn't met since he was born last September - who placidly and patiently allowed himself to be passed from person to person around the entire table without a word of protest. We marvelled at the resemblence between my aunty M, Dad and our Papa. And we chatted and laughed familiarly - like no time had passed at all since our last get together - until all other customers had left and the waiters started setting up for the next days' lunch.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Have you ever been struck down with an ailment or injury that stops you in your tracks? If you lead a busy life and value your independence, suddenly being physically prevented from doing all the things you take for granted can come as a nasty shock.
My friend and colleague T recently endured a series of unfortunate events which culminated in a painful injury. As we worked together from her kitchen table yesterday afternoon (she can't walk, let alone drive anywhere), we half jokingly started speculating on what the universe might be trying to tell her by throwing so many challenges her way. Almost getting swept away by floodwaters whilst driving home from a funeral: sink or swim. House flooding on the eve of hosting a fabulous party: breathe and let go. Tearing a calf muscle and being unable to walk, drive, shop or date: delegate, delegate, delegate.
You see, T is one of those people who is always going out of her way, doing stuff for others altruistically and often at the expense of her own time, resources, health, finances or sanity. She rarely complains, is always concerned for other people's wellbeing, putting her own needs aside for the sake of the comfort of friends, family, and sometimes complete strangers. So when she unexpectedly found herself unable to run around for everyone, she was left no option but to ask for a little something in return - which she admits she has found excessively uncomfortable and awkward.
Yesterday I happily repaid some of T's past good deeds by taking round some dumplings and tofu (from Spicy Fish in Chinatown) for our working lunch, which then turned into dinner and girls-only discussions of travel, men, and general gossip whilst eating reheated leftovers.
Towards the end of my visit, T deliberated over asking various friends and neighbours for favours such as shopping, taxi-ing and doing her washing. I gently but sternly reminded her just how much she does for others and recommended she take this opportunity to let others care for her for a change. I'm willing to bet my house on the fact that once asked, the people around her will happily go out of their way to help T get back on her feet*.
I awoke this morning with a dreadful head cold and was myself forced to call in sick, delegate duties and meetings, and divert calls. My first proper sick day in almost a year; I didn't even check my emails (well, okay, I did peek once in the afternoon but I didn't respond to any). I realised I then had to swallow the most difficult medicine of all: my own advice.
*those who don't, have no business calling themselves friends.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Last night we were paid a visit from yet another long lost friend that we had not seen or heard from in over three years. An ex-housemate of my husband (who incidentally also won our inaugural, unofficial, "housemate of the decade" award), she recently emerged from a relationship with a man who tried to isolate her from her friends and family. She cooked and cleaned up after him and his two children, happily did school and sports runs, worked hard at making their house a happy home - all while running her own full time business - yet he did little but bully, criticise and sulk. The final straw for our beautiful friend was a suspected affair on the eve of her wedding; she packed up her clothes and walked away with practically nothing.
This blog is dedicated to her strength and courage. Love and loss. And new beginnings.
- Cheese platter with goat's brie, quince paste, sourdough, olive oil/balsamic, grapes, and rosemary crackers (pictured)
- Gently poached/steamed salmon in a mix of ginger, spring onions, soy, sesame oil, garlic and brown sugar (one dessert spoon of each + extra soy), served over a bed of creamy mashed potatoes (8 steamed peeled potatoes, mashed with 2 tbs butter and whipped with enough cream for a soft consistency) + steamed asparagus (raw sliced spring onions sprinkled over at the end), sprinkled with lemon juice
- White peach and macadamia crumble - Tim's family's orchard peaches chopped and layered in a baking dish, sprinkled with a mix of (2 tbs each): plain flour, chopped butter, brown sugar, quinoa flakes/oats, chopped macadamias, shredded coconut - then baked in the oven til golden brown.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
We've all been there. Sitting helplessly, hopelessly still. Numb. Staring into space, wondering how it could all go so wrong. Your spirit crushed, insides churning, heart heavy. How does one ever laugh or even smile again, after that feeling of ... nothingness? It might be guilt, or mourning a loss, or wishing for something that may never be. A broken heart - whatever its cause - can paralyse the soul. Even a distant memory of the pain can take you by surprise, the body remembers the trauma and transports you right back to that moment when everthing ... stops.
Baking is wonderful therapy.
For those times when making things from scratch is too much to bear, I make do with the following recipe:
- supermarket cake mix
- one egg
- 3/4 cup milk
- choc bits
- melted butter
- soft icing sugar
- vanilla essence
- Using an electric mixer, beat together cake mix, egg and milk until light in colour and smooth in consistency. Stir through choc bits. Line 12 muffin pans with large cupcake papers, spoon in batter and bake at 160 degrees (fan forced) oven for about 25 minutes.
- Beat together icing sugar, vanilla essence, and enough melted butter to form a thick icing that holds its shape. When cupcakes have cooled, pipe the icing over in a spiral pattern.
Monday, March 1, 2010
Until recently requested to produce a "good surf and turf recipe", I had almost forgotten: I. am. the. master. of. surf. and. turf.
two x one inch thick eye fillet steaks (get a butcher to cut them up for you)
chopped fresh herbs (i chose coriander)
12 raw prawns with tails intact
butter & olive oil
6 thin slices prosciutto
bunch of asparagus (or other green vegies)
good quality mayonnaise
Before doing anything, thoroughly pat dry the steaks with absorbent paper towel and rub with olive oil. Wrap prosciutto slices around steaks and pin into place with tooth picks (as shown), season with salt and pepper, and brown for a few minutes on each side in pan on a high heat. Put steaks on a tray and into an oven warmed to 16o degrees celsius - set the timer to 10 minutes for medium-rare (or 15 mins medium, 20 mins well done).
Put a knob of butter in the same pan with a splash of olive oil, add some finely choped garlic and the prawns, stir fry on high heat until just opaque - at the last minute, throw in some fresh herbs. Set prawns + garlic butter aside in a warm place, then add the chopped asparagus to the pan and stir fry until just cooked (nobody likes overcooked asparagus - keep it crunchy!)
Serve the asparagus separately (as shown) with a dollop of whole egg mayo and sprinkled with lime juice. Plate up the steaks and place the prawns + garlic butter over the top, squeeze some more lime juice over the prawns to give it a nice fresh flavour.
I'm often in the city for work, but business hours in Melbourne seem much different to the more exciting and colourful 'after hours' times. After the sweat stained white shirts, loosened ties and wobble legged heels eventually stumble onto their late Friday trains, the weekend begins in earnest. Grimy grey lane ways ignite into bright, graffiti candy-coloured walls. Beggars give way to buskers. Children magically appear and laughter can be heard. Restaurants do more trade; the streets actually smell better - roasting chestnuts, spices, coffee.
My weekend began on Saturday morning with a few hours at the office, before checking into a Collins Street apartment and taking a wander up Swanston Street. I solo-lunched briefly at "Vietnamese Grill Bar" - steamed prawn rice roll & viet pandan rolls - which was a good standard without being standout; but what I really want to tell you about is my next stop: the Cupcake Bakery in Melb Central. For those who love a good sugar fix, and who are, like me, addicted to butter cream icing - it's the place to go for cupcake heaven. I grabbed a few to go and slowly devoured them over the course of the weekend. http://www.thecupcakebakery.com.au/ I can now highly recommend the "red velvet", "vanilla strawberry" and "choc vanilla". At $3.50 a pop it's WAY cheaper to cook your own, but they were just. so. damn. cute. Would make a great birthday gift for the young or young at heart.
Saturday evening my husband returned from his week long trek in the aussie outback, arriving at the swanky apartment in dusty clothes and in desperate need of a beer and a shower (in that order). My friend T - someone who spent almost her entire childhood growing up in asian countries - accompanied us to Chinatown for a visit to "Spicy Fish" for a spot of soft-shelled salt and pepper prawns, crispy skin whole duck, prawn dumplings, citrus & garlic cucumber, greens and rice. All agreed the food was authentic, tasty and most importantly, spicy. A nice bonus was that the wait staff were extremely kind and more than happy to accommodate our ever growing order list, topping up our wine glasses every thirty seconds. The place was packed to the rafters, noisy and brimming with excitement.
On the way to my little sister J's very first DJ gig in Richmond, we detoured via Manchuria in Waratah Pl (off Lt Bourke) to sample some of the most amazingly flavoursome cocktails I've ever had the pleasure of imbibing - second only to Der Raum. The cocktail "bible" is impressive enough - but they also have an extensive collection of whiskeys and beers from around the world. Our helpful waiter was also only too happy to hear our "favourite flavours" before suggesting the perfect tailor-made cocktail. From our 'private' corner booth we spied orange segments being scorched before dropping into icy shakers, orchids in martini glasses, smooth bar magicians working their magic, and interesting people mooching on large lounges. So seductive were the flavours and scene, that we almost lost track of time, subsequently arriving at J's gig two thirds of the way through. Sorry sis - I love you and I loved your gig (you're so talented!); but I love food more.
After almost a full day of recovering from Saturday's cocktail/boogie night, Tim and I presented at The Press Club for a long anticipated date with the freshly renovated restaurant. After following George Colombaris' fast rising star via Masterchef and marvelling at his food snobbery and hysterically non insightful "sayings" ("food is family - family is life - life is everything" - well, DUH); a despicable part of me actually wanted to be able to declare smugly to my friends : "Colombaris? He ain't all that". Eight meals on the "Symbosio" menu later - and I had to eat my words before even uttering them. Each meal was described in a single word. For example "taramosalata" = freshly shucked oysters + house made tarama + "olive oil couscous" - a freeze dried olive oil concoction personally sprinkled at the table from a smoking silver bowl. "Lamb" = backstrap cooked to perfection on a saffron "mash" + blackened roast garlic. The climax of the symposium menu was the finale, "Aphrodite" = berries and rose petals freeze dried and sprinkled over a glorious panna cotta, from which oozed a magnificent cherry sauce. This was preceded by a spritz of rosewater 'perfume' from a pretty bottle, to add to the rosy berry experience.
One of the best things about The Press Club though, was the "Chef's Table"; a granite counter at the front of the restaurant, where both single diners and small groups have an opportunity to converse with the chefs, make special requests, and perve at the bright young staff as they work their kitchen magic. As someone who used to travel a lot on business, I've had plenty of awkward solo dining experiences at restaurants designed for couples - so this concept scored points with me.
The coffee ('metrio') was the perfect accompanyment at the end of the gastronomic journey, making me whimsical and taking me right back to the Greek Islands in late summer 2007.
Melbourne on a cool Sunday evening; tourists begrudgingly returning to their suburban lives, once-lively bars now closing, the city transforms itself once more.