Friday, September 9, 2011

Win one of five double passes: Taste of Melbourne 2011!

Taste of Melbourne returns to the iconic Royal Exhibition Building this September 15-18th 2011, bringing together the city’s finest restaurants and an exceptional line up of premium food and drink producers for an unforgettable gourmet experience all under one roof.

Create your dream degustation from a mouth-watering menu of dishes prepared by Melbourne’s most exciting chefs. Enhance your appreciation of coffee, cheese, fine wine and cocktails with expert-led tastings and tutorials. Sip, sample and savour the gastronomic delights of the Taste Producers Market.

Taste of Melbourne is an affordable and accessible way to sample some of Melbourne's top restaurants and food providores - and having a double pass which provides you and a friend with free entry into the event makes it even easier!

To win one, all you need to do is write me a comment below. Winners will be chosen randomly. Oh, and PLEASE make sure you leave me some way of contacting you i.e. an email address or phone number!

Competition closes Sunday 11 September at 7pm. Be in it to win it!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Salted chocolate caramel slice

I've been meaning to experiment with an old fashioned caramel slice recipe, here's my twist on the Aussie classic.


-  220g plain flour
-  165g chopped butter
-  80g caster sugar

Caramel filling:

-  1 tin condensed milk
-  120g butter
-  2 tbs golden syrup


-  200g dark chocolate
-  100g milk chocolatee

Pre heat oven to 190C and line the base of a slice pan with baking paper (no grease).  Put the base ingredients into a food processor and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs, press firmly into the bottom of the pan and bake for about 15 minutes.  Cool.

Put the caramel filling ingredients into a pan and melt, bring to a low simmer for a few minutes.  Be careful as you don't want it to burn - it can catch easily on the bottom of the pan.  Pour over the base.  Cool and refrigerate for an hour or two.

Melt chocolates together.  I just break it up and put it in a bowl in the microwave on low heat for 5 minutes.  Check it every minute and stir so it doesn't burn.  Pour over the caramel and spread with a spatula.  At this point I sprinkled over some pink Murray River sea salt.

Cool and refrigerate for 30 mins, then cut with a hot knife.  The salt really brings out the flavour of both the caramel and the chocolate.  I think salt is something our grandmothers secretly knew added to the flavour of sweet food, hence the use of salted butter and adding a pinch of salt to most old fashioned baking recipes.

Garlicky "green" soup

Husband T is feeling under the weather, suffering the effects of a terrible 'man flu'.  To be fair, he has actually been pretty sick - something he really struggles with being such an outdoorsy person.  A fair test of the severity of any illness affecting T, is whether he can bring himself to potter around the garden.  Four days and counting, he was still curled up on the couch on Saturday morning.

This was a rare weekend when I had no plans, so I determined to make him a very healing winter soup.  He's not such a fan of the watery varieties though, which rules out my favourite Chinese chicken soup recipe.  But he does love broccoli.  And garlic.  Both of which happen to be in season.

Garlicky green soup (man flu remedy):

  • Two heads of roughly chopped broccoli
  • Half  a bulb of garlic (about 6 cloves) - peeled and chopped
  • Two celery stalks
  • One chopped brown onion
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 150ml cream (or milk)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 20g butter
In a big pot, melt butter and add olive oil, onions, garlic and celery.  Saute until softened, then add broccoli, stock and water.  

Make sure there is just enough liquid to cover the broccoli - if not, add a little more.  Simmer until broccoli is cooked through, then cool slightly.  Use a stick blender to blend until smooth, then add cream or milk.  Season with white pepper - it shouldn't need salt as the garlic should give it enough flavour.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

And the winner is ...

The results are in.  Thanks to all who posted comments on your favourite baking experiences, and for your ongoing interest in my modest little blog.

I'm pleased to say that the lucky winner of "the baker" cookbook giveaway is: Emma.  Congratulations Emma!  I will be in touch to arrange postage of your spanking new, hardcover bakers book.

Thanks again for your support.  :-)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cookbook Giveaway "the baker"

It was the shortest day in Melbourne yesterday.  The start of winter solstice.  I've been blogging for the last year and a half.  I'm having a baby.  I took the day off work today.  The fridge is stocked full of delicious fresh food.

Whatever the reason.  Let's celebrate.

To thank those of you that take the time to read my blog and post comments, I'd like to reward you with a cookbook giveaway.  Just because.

I bought myself a copy of "the baker" by Leanne Kitchen.  It's a wonderful cookbook full of simple recipes plus some lessons thrown in on baking techniques, history of ingredients, and beautiful pictures of good old fashioned food.  It's so lovely, I just had to buy two.

So readers, if you'd like a copy, just tell me what your favourite thing to bake is.  Be sure to leave your email address or another way for me to contact you!

** Open to Australian residents only.  One entry per person.  Entries close 5pm AEST Sunday 26th June 2011.  

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lunch at Fenix

Yesterday I enjoyed a long anticipated lunch at Fenix with sis J.  We had the 10 course luncheon, which turned out to be incredibly popular with the restaurant filling up fast.

It's a bit of a surprise - as in, you're not sure what you'll get because they use "the best produce of the day".  It's also a "sharing menu"; several plates are placed on the middle of the table to share.

Always good to start off with some sparkling mineral water.  Cleans the palate!  I may have also had a cheeky sip or two of sauv blanc, but I promise J drank most of my glass.  It just felt nice to order it.

The first three courses were light, great for picking at and building an appetite.  This first one appeared to be a cured salmon with some radishes and seaweed.  In my current preggo-state, I couldn't eat this one, but J assures me it was scrumptious.

This, I could eat.  Baba ghanoush with tomato/chickpeas and toasted flat bread.  Smoky eggplant was a nice contrast to the zingy tomato.  There was also some type of oil sprinkled over, if I had to guess, I'd say smoked capsicum.

Again, something I couldn't touch - but again, J assured me it was delicious.  An assortment of cured meats and baby pickles.

Next up, three of "the first main course".  Gorgeous roated chicken atop sauteed baby brussels sprouts.

A bowl of the most divine assorted green olives...

And one of the best (albeit very simple looking) tomato & basil spaghettini I'd ever tasted.  A definite lemon flavour in amongst the tomato and basil goodness.

Next up, the "second of the mains":  swordfish with a goats cheese, watermelon and caramelised onion salad.

Damn.  I'm not a roast pork lover.  However, this looked so divine I did have a taste, and it was quite nice!  Roasted pork, crackling, atop creamy polenta (I think with ricotta or some sort of cheese melted through).  Plus a lovely creamy gravy on the side.

Next up, desserts.  The first one was a vanilla bean panna-cotta (absolutely perfect in texture and flavour), alongside two chocolate quenelles, fresh raspberries (where did they get those!??), and a caramel and biscuit base.

And finally, cinnamon 'donuts' with apples roasted in a caramel sauce.

What a revelation.  The food was incredibly simple, but at the same time very well considered.  Everything was fresh and delicious.  At $59 a head, extremely good value for an experience at one of Melbourne's best.

Food Processor Cake

Don't get me wrong, I love using my Kitchen Aid mixer, but sometimes I just want to whip up a quick cake with minimal effort.

That's where my food processor cake base mix comes in handy.

Basically, you can put anything into this and make it into what ever kind of cake you like.  Berries, fruits, nuts, chocolate chips - anything!  


125g unsalted softened butter
¾ cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups self-raising flour
½ cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla essence


Put all ingredients (except any fruit or flavourings) in food processor and mix until combined.

Take out the blade and stir through any flavourings.  I used a cup of frozen raspberries, but you could also try orange zest + chopped dark chocolate, blueberries + slivered almonds, sliced apple + walnuts.  Use your imagination - just remember to add a little more milk if you're using drier ingredients like cocoa or a lot of nuts.

Smooth into a lined cake or loaf tin.  I sprinkled over a few more raspberries because I just love them so much.  Bake in a 180c oven for 35 minutes (or until golden and risen).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Falling out of love with Donna

For all her brilliant food styling and too-easy recipes, there's a big part of me that can't stand Donna Hay.  There, I said it.  It's not her personally; but the ridiculous and blatant commercialisation of all things "Donna" is cringe-inducing.

Beneath the facade, I'm starting to see some serious flaws to Donna's picture-perfect lifestyle-empire.  First there's the magazine.  It's very, very pretty, but packed with advertising and an unnecessary quantity of food porn.  Then there's the books.  Equally as pretty as the magazines and with some lovely simple recipes and seriously clever domestic catering ideas, but also a shameless promotion of her many (over-priced) kitchen products.  And of course, the new TV show, "Fast, Fresh, Simple".  Which is generally true to it's name, with plenty of nods to busy home cooks by providing family-friendly recipes, utilising simple and cheap pantry fare, and lots of shortcuts to make the whole experience a lot quicker and painless.

This is all fantastic and something I'm a huge advocate for.  But, there is also some pretty terrible self-promotion by Donna, including numerous camera shots of her beautiful multi million dollar Sydney apartment, complete with harbour views.  This is palatable; but then she suddenly breezes in, looking out the window, then, flicking her long glossy hair, she smugly looks back into the camera, says - "doesn't this AH-MAAAYZING view just MAKE you WANT to cook ALL DAY?" - before pulling out a Donna Hay pan, Donna Hay mixing spoon, Donna Hay chopping board, Donna Hay shower curtain, Donna Hay dildo, Donna Hay cat scratching post, Donna Hay ... well okay.  You take my point.

I think I could almost overlook all of these things, except the sticking point for me is that you have to BUY everything Donna offers.  In Donna-land, nothing is for free:  the show is even on pay-TV.  Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but for someone with so much damn cash you'd think that at least she could throw the recipes from her show on the website every once in a while.  A-la "The Cook and the Chef".  Maggie and Simon's somewhat experimental but very honet and heart-felt recipes are still up on the good old ABC site for all to see and use.  Free.  And Maggie has a little empire of her own up in the Barossa, but she never pushed her products or rubbed our noses in the fact that she lives in the lap of luxury while the rest of us mere mortals toil away in cramped, inadequate kitchens with non stainless steel appliances and mismatched crockery from the '80's.

Now, honesty time.  I'm airing my frustrations because, upon watching Donna's latest show (yes, I'm still a begrudging fan), she made what looked to be a a pretty easy and clever oven baked pumpkin risotto.  But I didn't write down all the ingredients or the method, assuming I could visit her website and refresh my memory.  No dice, it turns out that ALL the recipes featuring on her show are just a demonstration of the recipes that are in the latest mag.

Well, this time I'm taking a stand.  Donna, given the opportunity, I would happily acknowledge your good work by referencing it in my blog post, but unfortunately I'll have to resort to posting up my own dodgy, sub-standard work instead.  Who likes a good pumpkin and sage risotto?  One that's baked in the oven and doesn't require standing and stirring for half an hour?  See below for this week's FREE recipe from, that's right, yours truly.

Pumpkin and Sage "no stir" Risotto:


One butternut pumpkin, skin removed and chopped into big cubes
2 cups arborio rice
6 cups chicken stock
8 cloves finely sliced garlic
1 diced onion
pepper to taste
1/2 cup white wine (leave this out if you don't have any)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
handful of fresh sage leaves
50 grams salted butter
splash of olive oil


Grab a big casserole dish with a heavy lid (I got mine at Harris Scarf for about $40 bucks), and throw in the pumpkin, rice, stock, garlic, onion, pepper and wine.  Shake it around a bit to combine, then put the lid on and place in a pre-heated 200 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Take it out and take off the lid.  Add the parmesan and give it a gentle stir so the creamy starch comes out of the rice, it's also ok if some of the pumpkin breaks up as it adds to the lovely colour of the dish.  It will look a little watery at this point but trust me, it shouldn't need any more cooking.  Put the lid back on and set aside, then put a frypan on medium heat on the stove top.  Add butter, olive oil and sage leaves, and fry the leaves, shaking the pan while the leaves cook.  Do this for about 5 minutes or until they start to curl slightly (or just as the butter starts to brown).  Pour the butter/oil and sage over the risotto.

Serve with a little extra parmesan.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Chocolate feijoa cake

I had about 8 remaining feijoas after my friand experiment, so did I went where any self respecting foodie with a curiousity about obscure ingredients goes: Google.

I went out on a limb and tried "chocolate+feijoa"and found a blog with a section dedicated to feijoas.  The chocolate feijoa cake took my fancy.  I didn't quite have the required 1.5 cups of chopped feijoas, but substituted with about half a cup of milk to give it some more moisture.

It sunk a little in the middle, but who cares?  The top was lovely and crunchy, and the centre seems very moist.  I can't comment on the flavour yet; I'll let you know after I slice it up tomorrow at work.

Ham hock soup

This was my first weekend in something like two months, where I didn't have any plans.  It was an exhausting week on many levels and I was looking forward having some kitchen 'time out', to potter about reading recipe books & foodie blogs, baking, blogging, and generally resting.

I got up early Saturday to do some much needed grocery shopping.  It's actually my favourite time to shop - the supermarkets are usually devoid of people at that time and often the shelves are freshly stocked ready for the weekend.  It's nice to take time, casually strolling aisle to aisle, dreaming up the weekend's menu.  

It's perfect soup weather.  Having a big pot of soup cooking on the stove-top always reminds me of Mum - who is a massive fan of soup and forever dreaming up new recipes to use up the many vegetables in her garden.  I can't remember the last time I visited and there wasn't fresh soup at the ready.  So I'm sure at some point I've seen her use a great big ham hock to flavour the broth.

Ham hock soup is very easy, and uber-practical because you can use up bits and pieces in your cupboard and fridge.  Get out your biggest pot, put the hock in and put just enough water in to cover the meat.  Then, add some finely diced onion, a bay leaf, and a cup of (rinsed) green lentils - or any other type of pulse you happen to have in the pantry.  "Soup mix" is good for obvious reasons.  The rest is up to you: I like to throw in a couple of chopped potatoes and carrots - but celery, peas, beans, turnip and parsnip also works well.  You also might like to put in some extra flavour - like a stock cube or two, or a teaspoon of vegemite.  

Put the lid on and bring to a gentle simmer, cook for two hours or until the meat just starts coming away from the hock.  Take off the heat and remove the hock, then strip away the meat with a couple of forks, or some kitchen scissors.  Discard any fat or skin.  Put meat back in to the soup and stir well.

Adjust the seasoning of the broth to taste, I just use a little salt and pepper.  If you cool and put it in the fridge, the flavours develop overnight and it becomes even more flavourful.  Remember, once it's cooled the fat will rise to the top, so you can skim it off for a healthier version.

Feijoa heaven

A very sweet colleague and fellow foodie P, recently left generous bag of freshly picked feijoas on my desk.  She had recently been introduced to a friend's "feijoa crumble" and hasn't stopped raving about it.

I'd never eaten a feijoa.  When I opened the bag and emptied them into a bowl, immediately an incredibly pungent and delicious smell arose - not fundamentally dissimilar to quince.

Ok so they don't look appealing.  Almost like an unripened fig.  Cutting them open, they don't look terribly appetising either.

Not to be disheartened, I pondered for a while on what to do with them.  I thought about P's crumble fixation, and entertained the idea of doing an apple/feijoa combo crumble.  But I need to do some baking to take into work tomorrow to celebrate some birthdays, and a crumble isn't really convenient for that purpose.  I decided on adapting my tried and tested friand recipe.  I sliced about 6 feijoas in half and scraped out the insides with a teaspoon, then mashing roughly in a bowl with the back of a fork.  I also decided to keep the raspberries and lemons in the recipe, adding some sliced almond to the top just before putting them in the oven.

Sen-SATIONAL.  I've said it before, I'll say it again:  I wish I could somehow record smell in this blog.  The aroma that wafted out of my oven when I took them out, was completely out-of-this-world-good.   I couldn't resist biting into a warm one - let me promise you, it was very, very good.  The feijoa made the friands super moist and the flavour was a bit like passionfruit in nature.  The raspberries and lemon were definitely worthwhile too - sweet feijoa against tartness works really well.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A quick Autumn lunch

Recently a friend made me a lovley entree of roasted mushrooms atop sourdough bread, topped off with with lovely garlic and goats cheese.

My husband loves mushrooms, and because he's working hard both in the garden and painting the house (without any of my help), today I whipped him up a quick lunch.  I tried to replicate the dish we'd eaten, but somehow it wasn't quite as good.

I toasted some thick slices of sourdough under the griller, then topped some big mushrooms with Meredith goat's fetta, drizzling the garlicky/tarragon oil over the top.  This went into a hot oven for 15 minutes.


A cheeky lunch at Cumulus Inc ...

I'd wanted to pop in to Cumulus Inc since reading their wonderful review in the Age Good Food Guide.  Also I'd pressed my nose up to the glass many times; the unassuming, casual interior, bare floors and a kitchen that you can observe from your table all get a big tick in my book.

How fortuitous then, to be attending a work function yesterday nearby.  How even more fortuitous for my friend and colleague G to have a coughing fit in the middle of someone else's presentation, causing her to hastily leave the venue and find a quiet spot to grab some water, check email, and wait for me to emerge from Spring Street.

Neither of us had eaten; and being Friday after a difficult and exhausting week at work, we decided to treat ourselves to a light, late lunch.

I was initially dismayed to see that over half the options on the menu were immediately out for me; smoked fish featured highly, along with a whole section dedicated solely to cured assorted meats, another for oysters.  Damn - I almost cracked, it all looked so delicious.  But instead we asked our very friendly and accommodating waiter for help.  We decided to share three entrees, and nibble on some of their amazing sourdough breads.

While we waited, we talked 'shop' and went over the weeks events over a lemon soda and soda, lime and bitters.  Both delicious.

We started with slow cooked octopus with aioli and "dehydrated olive".  It came out thinly sliced and sitting on some wonderful olive oil and balsamic.  The presentation was incredible.  There was also a tiny thin slice of green chilli and shred of basil atop each one, and the flavour combo, almost indescribable.  Clean-tasting, a bit like sushi, the chilli giving off just a little heat but definitely not overpowering.  How pretty!

Next, was some of the most delicious, out of this world, soft shell mud crab I have ever eaten.  I always order this if it's on the menu, but I think my palate has now been well and truly spoiled.  It came with a golden coloured sauce - if I had to guess, I'd say some sort of roasted capsicum aioli.  It was truly amazing, the crab had a lovely crispy crunch, but inside it was juicy and soft.  I think there was some sort of salt and pepper seasoning on the outside.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Lastly - on the waiter's assurance that we'd love it - we had the smoked corn and mussel chowder.  Happy to accommodate our "sharing" preference, the kitchen split it between two glasses.  It was sweet/salty, the mussels were thinly sliced so they weren't overpowering, and it looked like there was maybe a tiny bit of truffle oil sprinkled over the top.

My i-Phone pictures don't exactly do the experience justice, but it was truly lovely.  And at less than $25 each including drinks (okay they were soft drinks but still), it was an absolute steal as far as fine dining goes.

The slow-cooked whole lamb shoulder begged me to come back for dinner sometime soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bun ... in the oven

It's about time I started blogging again.  Since starting this little project, this is the longest break I'd taken from both cooking and writing about it.  And it's been killing me; not just being unable to spend the time and energy it takes to sit down and write, but also feeling so physically unwell that I couldn't even open a recipe book, let alone step foot in a kitchen.  But I cannot, will not, complain because ...

I'm finally pregnant.

Our infertility (and subsequent IVF) journey - thankfully - turned out to be relatively short-lived.  And I feel so very - unbelievably - blessed and fortunate.  I made 14 weeks (end to the first trimester) yesterday.

Anyone who has suffered from infertility and subjected themselves to assisted reproductive therapies will tell you: it's a bloody difficult ride.  For me, the emotional roller-coaster (sorry, that's a cliche but there's no other way to describe it) by far surpassed any physical discomfort I felt from the many procedures, incisions, tests, needles, medications, hormones, poking and prodding that formed part of my existence over the last few years.  And let's not forget the expense - thousands of dollars only to be told there was 'no reason' - then several thousand more for each 'treatment'.  The "unknowns" were the hardest part: will we ever have a child?  What's wrong with me?  Will our marriage survive?   Will I?  And then of course the parade of couples all making their happy announcements in the midst of our own suffering.  How strange to feel so happy for someone else, but so sad for myself, simultaneously.

But there's another difficult part of infertility that only those who've experienced it can relate to: the "advice" and "well-wishes" from no doubt well meaning friends, family and (some) alternative health care practitioners.  What NOT to say to someone you know who is having difficulty conceiving:

-  "just relax and it will happen" (this is like a kick in the stomach for the fertility-challenged, who often already blame themselves for the problem.  One in 6 couples will have trouble conceiving, and of those over 90% will have an actual, physical reason for it.  Of the remaining 10%, it is thought there could also be a medical reason that simply can't be diagnosed with current medical tests available.  THERE IS NO RELIABLE RESEARCH WHICH SUPPORT THE STRESS = INFERTILITY URBAN MYTH).  So no, going on holiday, getting a massage, or "forgetting" about trying to get pregnant won't work.
-  "you should try standing on your head after sex"  (aside from feeling even more desperate and ridiculous than you already do, it's also bad for your back.  As above: totally unsubstantiated)
-  "we had the opposite problem to you - we got pregnant straight away!"  Ouch.
-  "you should sit on the Receiptionist's chair - all the girls who use it, fell pregnant!"  Are you fucking retarded?
-  "you should try bowen therapy/acupuncture/reflexology/chinese herbs/yoga/meditation/reiki."  Ok, so the jury's out on most of these things except for acupuncture, which has been shown to slightly improve one's chances of conception.  I myself actually went to a wonderful reflexologist who didn't actually help with getting pregnant per se, but because she saw lots of infertile women who were going through IVF, was a great sounding board for my experiences and had some good practical advice on how to get through the process relatively unscathed.  I am a huge fan of complementary therapies and if nothing else, it's lovely to just relax and have a bit of time out.  But this stuff is expensive, dude.  Along with my hospital excess, medication, health insurance, reflex treatments, chiropractor, fertility specialist, a dozen blood tests and about 10 ultrasounds (none bulk-billed), I think in one month I shelled out over $10,000 just on health care.  So to hear about yet another "miracle cure" at that point just made me want to scream.  Then cry.  For a good few days.

I don't want this post to be all about pain and suffering; I do want to celebrate my good fortune.  But during my time in fertility-pergatory I developed some amazing connections with women all over the world - bloggers, mostly - who were going through the exact same thing.  So it's natural that I immediately think of them and wish the same happiness and relief that I feel right now - whether that means they eventually realise their motherhood dream, or simply end their journey and find peace.  As the Dresden Dolls wrote "I consider them my sisters..."

Sunday, March 20, 2011


As promised, here's some photos of our new chooks - 10 of them of varying colours and breeds - that have had full run of our big back garden for the last few weeks.  They now peck and strut about (bullying the cats) as if they own the place.  It's lovely to sit and watch them as they cluck about, digging, pecking, and stealing tidbits from the vegie patch.

"Kids" love cupcakes

My niece and nephew - who normally live in Sweden - regularly ask me if they can bake with me; and regretfully I haven't done nearly as much as I would have hoped during their stay in Australia.

One day I baked cupcakes with niece M, on the promise that after dinner (and after a few wines), the adults would all have a go at decorating them.  We then held a competition to see if they kids could guess who decorated which cake.

It ended up becoming an exercise in keeping the adults entertained; by the time the children got around to the guessing game, they just wanted to eat them ... as did we.

Pea and mint frittata

I'm back after a two month absence - nope, I haven't been anywhere exotic.  Life just got a little busier than usual.  We still have our Swedish guests so we have a full house; and having two young kids living here means there's ALWAYS food on the go.

In the next entry I will post about our new additions to the family: ten chooks of different variety, free ranging it in our back garden.

But for now, I wanted to share with you a super simple recipe for pea and mint frittata - which I adapted into little individual frittatas for a picnic we went to in the Dandenongs yesterday.  I just love how the peas hold their shape and look as though they've been neatly stacked together.

First, turn your oven to 190C and grease a 12 hole muffin pan.  Beat together 6 large eggs, add one cup of cooked peas, a big handful of chopped fresh mint, and some chopped chives.  Season with salt and pepper, then 3/4 fill each of the muffin holes.  Bake in the oven until they have risen (they will initially look like little souffles) and are golden brown on top.  Take out and cool.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Comfort Food + Chocolate Raspberry Mousse

Friend and colleague L recently emerged from major surgery, now to be faced with weeks of bed rest and boredom.  I can offer little more than some comfort food, which hopefully helps to alleviate the pain a tiny bit.

Some good "healing" foods for L (my opinion only!):
  • Chorizo and chickpea stew:  includes cinnamon, and I also included fresh ginger and garlic for their healing properties.  Chickpeas for protein and all-round goodness, chorizo because L loves it.
  • Steamed white rice:  seems to be a cure-all in asian cultures, is reasonably easy to digest and what isn't comforting about a steaming bowl of rice?
  • Roast apricot chicken:  made with my mother in law's homemade apricot jam, from apricots grown on the family orchard by my father in law.  I roasted chicken thighs (bone in) in a casserole dish - spread with a jar of apricot jam, and a cup of chicken stock, salt and pepper for about an hour (first 40mins foil on, remaining 20mins foil off).  
  • Lup cheong sausages: aside from the fact that L loves them; they are handy to have in the cupboard, have a long shelf life, and can be chopped and added to almost anything (or eaten shamelessly on their own).
  • Chicken and pistachio korma, made from scratch: for Christmas, L gave me a book of recipes from last year's Australian Materchef contestant, Poh.  In it, there's a very simple recipe for chicken korma - I challenge anyone to get it wrong!  The only change I made was to up the spice levels.  Chilli also has healing properties, does it not?  Also contains lots of ginger and garlic.
  • The grand finale:  Chocolate Raspberry Mousse, my own recipe, whipped out at random for moments when true comfort is needed (or when I need to use up some leftover cream).  Use the "three bowl" method:  Bowl 1: beat 450ml cream until thick.  Bowl 2: beat three eggs and 1/4 cup caster sugar for a few minutes until thick and very pale.  Bowl 3: place a heatproof bowl over a small pan of simmering water and melt 300g of chocolate (I prefer dark but you can use any sort). Once the chocolate has cooled (transfer chocolate to a cool bowl to speed up the process), stir into the egg mix until completely combined.  Spoon in about 2/3 of the whipped cream, and use a big metal spoon to fold in gently.  Once combined, refrigerate for about two hours or until set; spoon over the remaining cream and sprinkle over raspberries (or any other fruit or berry).  Warning: comforting in small doses only!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Quick pantry dinner: Lup Cheong Fried Rice

Whenever I cook rice, I always make at least double the amount I need.  This is so I can knock together some fried rice the next day.

It's so simple - the main ingredient is day-old cooked rice.  You can use white or brown but I think white works best.  Brown long-grain could work equally as well though.

All you need to worry about is getting a flavour base going.  Once that's done, just throw in the rice!

I hadn't been shopping in a while, but here's what I managed to scrounge together:

-  half a red onion
-  two small carrots
-  handful of green beans from the garden
-  red chilli
-  soy sauce
-  thumb-sized piece of ginger
-  pack of lup cheong (chinese cured) sausages
-  brown sugar

Finely dice onion, chilli and ginger, throw into a hot wok with about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.  Stir fry for a minute until softened and fragrant.  Add lup cheong - this is quite a fatty sausage and will impart some more juices and flavour into the pan, stir fry one minute.  You could instead use some chorizo, chicken or prawns, or for a vegetarian option, add firm tofu.  Add carrot (you could also use frozen peas, tinned corn, capsicum, etc) and stir fry for another minute or two until cooked.  Add cooked rice (about 2-3 cups worth), a splash or two of soy sauce, sugar and season with a few shakes of white pepper.  Stir fry until combined.

I like to spoon over some chilli oil for a little extra kick.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chinese Broccoli (Gai Larn)

I've been loving Gai Larn - otherwise known as Chinese Broccoli - ever since my good friend T (who grew up in China) introduced me to it with a simple oyster sauce drizzled over, at Spicy Fish restaurant in Melbourne's CBD.  The dark green vegetable has thick stems from which big dark leaves sprout; sometimes it comes with small yellow/white buds as well.  You can basically eat the whole thing; just trim the ends, wash thoroughly, then chop and put a few slits in the thicker stems so it cooks evenly.

Gai larn is super-charged with beta-carotene and also contains folate.  Plus, it tastes incredible.  It's my favourite asian vegetable - much more robust and crunchy than say, Bok Choy.  It's "meaty" enough to stand up on its own, served simply as is, or with steamed rice and a salty sauce such as oyster or chilli - or you can throw it into a stir fry in the last few minutes of cooking.

I love it boiled for a few minutes, then refreshed under some cold water and served over rice.  Here's a great sauce that will complement it nicely:

Sauce for Gai Larn:

-  1 tsp sesame oil
-  1/4 cup oyster sauce
-  2 tbs light soy sauce
-  1 tsp chilli oil (check Asian grocers)
-  1 tsp brown sugar

Mix all ingredients together in a small pan over medium heat, until sugar dissolves and sauce heats.  Pour over freshly cooked gai larn (stir fried or boiled for 3 minutes) and rice.  Add extra chilli oil to taste.

The Perfect Steak: it's not rocket science

There was a time in my life when I was irrationally frightened of cooking steak.  Not being a huge red meat eater, I'd had limited opportunities to practice; and to be honest I wasn't that interested seeing as the rare (get it?) times I eat it, is usually when someone else cooks it for me.  I'm one of those occasional meat eaters who should probably go vegetarian and recognises all of the benefits to the body, the animal and the environment; but is a bit too lazy to make the transition.  (Before you silently judge me, I do go for free-range and local produce so I'm not a complete monster).

My conundrum is that I live with a total carnivore now.  I'm talking an outdoorsy, meat-n-three-veg, protein-obsessed, Aussie Bloke.  So in order to maintain a happy union, we've both had to compromise, expand our respective repertoires and be more flexible with our eating habits.  For example, chickpea curry and spicy rice translates into chicken curry with chickpeas and boiled rice with chilli on the side.  Salad becomes thai beef salad.  Dhal is laced with chorizo or at least accompanies some grilled sausages.   And meat + veg becomes ... meat + veg.

I'm sorry but for all my vegetable-worship I'm not a fan of meat substitute products.  So when the occasion calls for a steak and I'm in the mood, I throw caution to the wind and give it a go.  But of course, I'm not one for tradition and have banned "bland" from my kitchen, so here's my version of meat and veg:

Garlic Butter Steak and Smashed Sweet Potato (serves 2):

-  two thick-cut eye fillet or scotch fillet steaks
-  one clove garlic (crushed)
- 50g salted butter (softened but not melted)
- one large sweet potato
- handful of green beans
- fresh herbs from the garden, chopped (whatever you've got - I used sage)
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- 2 tsp sour cream
- 1/2 cup verjuice, or white wine (or something else acidic, i.e. lemon juice)

Press half the chopped herbs over both sides of the steaks, leave in fridge until ready to cook. 

Put the crushed garlic and half the herbs into a small bowl and combine with a fork.  Roll into a log on some cling wrap, wrap it up tight and place in the freezer.

Peel and chop the sweet potato into 2cm chunks, spread out on a baking tray and toss in olive oil.  Season with salt & pepper.  Bake in a 190C oven for 35-40 minutes, or until soft and browned.

Take the steaks and pat them dry with paper towels.  This is important - if you don't dry the steak it won't brown properly.  Then, rub all over lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place into a hot pan.  Cook first side for 6 minutes, then reduce the heat slightly and do the other side for about 4 minutes.  This will give you a "medium" done steak.  Once cooked, take out of the pan and cover with foil, rest for about 3-5 minutes.

While the pan is still hot, throw in the green beans and deglaze with the verjuice/wine/lemon juice to lift all of the lovely steak flavour off the pan.  Shake the pan to move the beans, until the veg is cooked slightly - then add any juices that have come out of the resting steaks.  Once all liquid has evaporated, take the pan off the heat.

Meanwhile put the sweet potatoes into a bowl, and mash roughly with a fork - don't completely pulverise them as you want some of the black/brown colours to remain as well as some texture.  Take the garlic & herb butter out of the freezer and slice some off, add to the potato and stir through.

To plate up, put some sweet potato on the plate and top with sour cream, then add steak & beans, then top with a slice of the garlic herb butter.  Serve with some token salad.