Sunday, December 10, 2006

Menu for hope

Menu for Hope is an annual fundraising campaign originally devised by Chez Pim. Last year the campaign raised US$17,000 for UNICEF in just twelve days. In 2006 we will be raising funds to support the United Nations World Food Programme.

How does it work? On December 11th food bloggers around the world will be pledging food related prizes for a HUGE raffle. To participate and be in the running for some fantastic prizes all you need to do is buy a raffle ticket! Given this is a blog we are selling online tickets via Firstgiving for $10 USD

I thought long and hard about what to offer as a prize, nothing seemed quite right- inspiration struck while visiting the Manly Fairtade Markets (Thanks Jules!). I spent a very happy morning putting together a hamper of lovely, ethical treats - including coffee from Republica, Cocolo chocolate, Hope honey - produced by Australian bees but will all the profits going to the needy in Indonesia. Fairtrade rice, handcream and a handbag as well! The prize code for this particular prize is AP40


Kylie Kwong - celebrity chef, author and Fair Trade Ambassador has very generously donated a signed copy of her new cookbook "Simple Chinese Cooking"

Kylie's restaurant Billy Kwong is a Sydney classic - if you're in Surry Hills give it a go
Billy Kwong - Shp 3/ 355 Crown St, Surry Hills, (02) 9332 3300

Head over to Grab Your Fork and check out the prizes on offer and PLEASE support this worthy cause by buying a ticket! There are some fantastic prizes on offer including dinner vouchers for Tetsuya's and Becasse and a whole raft of other mouthwatering things.
If you are based outside the Asia Pacific region go to Chez Pim and check out who's coordinating for your area and pick a prize from there!

Here's what you should do...
1. Go to the donation page at (
2. Make a donation, each US$10 will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize or prizes you'd like in the 'Personal Message' section in the donation form when confirming your donation. Do tell us how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code -for example, a donation of US$50 can be 2 tickets for AP01 and 3 for AP02.
3. For US donors, if your company has agreed to match your charity donation, please remember to check the box and fill in the information so we may claim the corporate match.
4. Please also check the box to allow us to see your email address so that we could contact you in case you win. Your email address will not be shared with anyone.
5. Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 when we announce the results of the raffle. (The drawing will be done electronically. Our friend the code wizard Derrick at Obsession with Food is responsible for the wicked application that will do the job.)

Good luck!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Joining the (no-knead) club

After all the buzz in blogs I had to give it a go and all I can say is it was worth it. The recipe is from the NY Times and requires no kneading at all - you make a very wet dough and let it rise for 12-18 hours. You then bake it covered in a casserole dish - the steam producing a dense chewy loaf with a crunchy crust.

If you haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet I highly recommend you do - it is very simple to make and absolutely delicious. The only change I'll make next time is to add a little more salt.

Check out these blogs for the recipe and their beautiful photos -

The Wednesday Chef
Brownie Points

and of course the flickr group

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Indian Tea Masala Truffles - SHF#25

I found it challenging to come up with an original flavoured truffle for Sugar High Friday #25 - so in the end I didn't! I have had a box of Indian tea spice in the back of cupboard for a number of months. I bought it in an Indian frenzy at Saini Emporium in Dee Why along with some metal thali plates and huge bags of cinnamon quills. While researching truffle recipes in the net I came across a number of recipes for Chai truffles which I adapted to my spice mix.

The recipe is very easy - I haven't made truffles before and assumed that something so rich would be a little more complex but I was surprised. The hardest part was trying roll neat balls of ganach on a hot summer day!

In hindsight I could have added more spice mix, it added a subtle peppery flavour to the chocolate that wasn't unpleasant but not earth shattering.

Tea Masala Truffles

(adapted from Whole Foods Market recipe)

2/3 cups cream

200g good quality dark chocolate

2 Tbsp butter

2 tsp tea spice powder

Cocoa power for dusting

Heat cream, butter and tea spice until almost boiling. Turn off heat and stir in chocolate pieces until completely melted. Refrigerate for several hours till firm. Scoop up teaspoon-sizes balls and dust with cocoa powder. Dust your hands with cocoa powder and roll gently into balls. (Stop frequently to rinse, dry and re-powder your hands). Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Thanks to Johanna from thepassionatecook for hosting this months SHF - make sure to check out the round up!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Spoilt Rotten

I love love love birthdays - I love shopping for birthday presents, planning parties and cooking birthday cakes. I especially love my birthday and have been known to drag the celebrations out over several weeks.

This year being the big 30 I have been very spoilt - I had a lovely party at Vera Cruz in Cremorne with fancy Mexican food and way too many margaritas for a lady my age. I have had more cakes and champagne than is good for me and had my traditional birthday breakfast.

My family birthday tradition is to have a special breakfast on your actual birthday - a champagne breakfast if possible but something special to wake up to. G has adopted this tradition and every year I get breakfast in bed. This year was no exception and he out did himself with berries, mango and King Island yogurt, fresh bread and Nutella.

Oh and a little blue box! As I said, spoilt rotten!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The promise of spring

It has started to really heat up here in Australia in the past couple of weeks. It is getting light earlier and earlier, daylight saving has finally begun and it's very nearly summer!
G and I finally moved into an apartment with a garden at the end of last year and have been steadily working on our little vegetable patch. We have a fairly established little herb garden, some spinach and have recently harvested some baby beetroot.

So far it's all been great but to me, summer + vegetable patch = tomatoes!
The search for a really tasty tomato has been the topic of numerous articles in food magazines here, the tasteless supermarket variety widely decried. This led me to an interest in heritage vegetables and Digger's Seeds. At the first hint of spring I ordered a selection of tomatoes from Diggers and some Jiffy pots to grow them in. I ordered some beautifully striped tigerellas, some yellow grapes and a sauce making variety called Amish Paste.

We may have gone slightly overboard though - I recently planted out 8 of seedlings and when we did some quick sums from the catalog it looks like we can expect to harvest several hundred kilos of tomatoes. Sauce any one?

I have also ordered Mexican chilli seeds from Fiery Foods, hopefully this summer we will have a crop of jalapeno, poblano and mulato chillis to make Mexican moles with!

Bring on summer!

PS: If any one has a great tomato recipe to share I would be very keen to know about it!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Let's do lunch - Forty One

The joys of gourmet food are celebrated all October long in Sydney - woohoo it's Good Food Month! There are a huge number of activities from markets and master classes to degustations and dessert events. G and I have been to several events in the past couple of weeks, this week we took a long lunch break and went to Forty One for their Let's do lunch offering.

I've never eaten at Forty One before and this was a great introduction - to be honest I wasn't sure what to expect. When I looked at the list of restaurants available for Let's do lunch I picked Forty One because of the views - being as it is on the forty first floor of the Chifley Tower.

When we arrived we were unfortunately sat at a table back from the windows so we missed the full effect of the location. We were served bread and Western Australian olive oil - the bread was lovely - light but with a chewy crust. We ordered an entree to share and then the $35 GFM lunch. Our entree was a squat tower of slow-cooked veal chilled and topped with sweet crab meat and drizzled with a tangy dressing. It had a pleasant subtle flavour - the mild veal balanced well with the juicy crab and offset nicely by the citrus tang of the dressing.

The main course was slow-cooked ocean trout, Israeli cous cous cooked like a rissotto with baby zucchini, chilli and grated bottarga. I admit I had to google bottarga when I got back to the office - it is apparently Sardinian dried tuna roe and after looking at pictures of it on the web I don't think our meal contained any but I could be mistaken. Israeli cous cous has the texture of pasta but looked like glossy little pearls. The ocean trout was nice but in my opinion a little under cooked. It had a lovely buttery texture but the edges that were slightly more cooked were more to my taste. G liked it just as it was. The meal was served with a glass of Brown Brothers Pinot Grigio.

All in all it was a lovely way to spend a Thursday lunch hour - the service was a little remote but consistent - it would have been fantastic if we'd gotten a window seat, if I go back I'll ask for one when I book. The view from the men's bathroom G assures me has to be seen to be believed. This would be a great place to lunch with overseas visitors.

Forty One -The Chifley Tower, 2 Chifley Square, Sydney 9221 2500

Make sure to visit Cucina Rebecca's round-up of all the other Good Food Month events other Sydney bloggers are involved in.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sweet somethings

I voraciously read food blogs, reviews, magazines - anything really that relates to food, cooking, bars or restaurants. This information overload often means that I've read about a food or restaurant, poured over the recipes, drooled over the photos and read the reviews - both good and bad but not actually eaten it.

This is the case with macarons - J at Kuidaore has a mild obsession with these French morsels and she makes and takes the most fantastic photos of them. I have spent a great deal of time looking at her recipes and ultimately decided that while her macarons look (and probably taste) fantastic they were something that I would never have the patience or skill to try.

Recently there was an article in the Good Living liftout of the Sydney Morning Herald about macarons and where to find them in Sydney. The Lindt cafe in Martin Place is one such place.
Lindt call their macarons delice and they have a variety of flavours. I have to say when I got the store and saw their display I was momentarily disappointed - their Delices were not as shiny or as beautifully proportioned as J's.

Lindt delice's come in a variety of flavours - dark chocolate, hazelnut, coffee, choc-orange, berry and champagne. The meringue halves are light and crisp the filling smooth and rich. The chocolate and hazelnut flavoured delices were nicest, the champagne the least so.

The packaging makes a small selection a great gift - make sure you ask the sales assistant to dress up the box with a ribbon in a colour of your choice. A single delice is $1.60 or you can buy premade boxes for around $9.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

SHF# 23 - A surprise (butterscotch) inside!

Alanna over at A Veggie Venture is hosting this Septembers Sugar High Friday - her theme is 'A surprise inside'. I thought long and hard about all manner of creative and interesting ideas that I could make with this theme but in the end kept coming back to a family standard - Butterscotch Surprise Cake.

This recipe was clipped out of a 70's Women's weekly magazine by my mother and stuck into her personal recipe book. When I moved out of home I carefully transcribed it onto a file card for my recipe box. It's my husband's favorite cakes of my repertoire. This is not an exciting take on the theme but it's such a good recipe I had to share it - it's great coffee cake and keeps well or is excellent as a dessert served warm with icecream.

The one of the key ingredients if custard powder - I have heard that this is not readily available in the States - it is sold here under a couple of different brand names but the most readily available worldwide seems to Birds. Otherwise a quick Google search seems to suggest that vanilla Jello pudding mix is a good substitute but I can't confirm this.

Butterscotch Surprise Cake
125g butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup plain flour
1/2 cup self raising flour
1/4 cup of milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp custard powder
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp butter
1 egg, beaten
Cream the butter and sugar, add the vanilla. Add the eggs and then alternatively mix in the flours and milk. Beat till smooth.
To make the butterscotch, combine the custard powder and sugar in a saucepan. Gradually stir in the milk - cook over a medium heat stirring constantly till it thickens. Stir in the butter. Cool slightly then add the egg. Use while warm.
Grease a ring or bundt pan - spread half the cake mixture evenly. Pour in the warm butterscotch and top with the remaining cake batter.
Bake in a moderate oven for 35-40 mins - the top will crack. It is done when the cake springs back when touched and pulls away from the sides of the pan. It is hard to use a skewer to test doneness with this cake because of the ribbon of butterscotch. Cool in the tin.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Feeling better...feeling like tapas

I have been feeling infinantly better since my weekend of flu and pickles (btw: the best pickle shirt ever is here) So much so that I decided to go on a bit of a mission and try cooking some traditional tapas dishes. Tapas is something I've wanted to get my head around for a while - I haven't had much exposure to Spanish cuisine, I'm embarrassed to say that in all my travels I haven't been to Europe yet.

There are a number of tapas restaurants in Sydney - I haven't been to many, the one in Manly - Alhambra Cafe and Tapas Bar has a nice selection but the prices are a little prohibitive. Not exorbitant but enough to stop you ordering all the dishes you'd like to try. They have Flamenco dancers there on Saturdays - I suppose to add to the atmosphere but it's was all a little cheesy for me.

I have been coming across chorizo a lot recently after never really eating at all. My sister and I had dinner with our partners at Whitewater not so long ago. They do a decadent tasting menu and have the most divine martinis - if you are ever in my neck of the woods I highly recommend that you eat here. But I course we had that night was seared scallops on thick slices of chorizo drizzled with a BBQ style sauce. The sweetness of the scallops was perfect with smoky sausage - the sauce was almost too much but it was drizzled so sparingly that it managed to complement both flavours well. We have also recently eaten pizza, paella and a myriad of other dishes with chorizo featuring prominently.

When it came time to decide which dishes to cook chorizo was always going to be there, but we also decided on some meatballs, a seafood dish and plenty of vegetables.

The final menu was as follows:

  • Patatas Allioli (Potatoes with garlic mayonnaise)
  • Banderilla (Tuna skewers with caper berries and olives)
  • Marinated Capsicums
  • Champinones al ajillo (Sauteed mushrooms with garlic)
  • Chickpeas with chorizo
  • Albondigas (Meatballs in spicy tomato sauce)
  • Calamares a la plancha (Squid with picada)

It sounds like a lot but most of it is quite easy to prepare - there was an awful lot of garlic in almost every dish. I'm not squeamish about garlic at all but I did pity my co-workers the next day. While all the dishes were nice, for me the standout was the chorizo and chickpeas, I am biased though, I'll just about eat chickpeas with anything and need little excuse to add them to a dish.

Chickpeas with chorizo
(adapted from A little taste of Spain - Murdoch books)

1 can of chickpeas drained and rinsed
I bay leaf
4 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup of chicken stock
2 stalks of fresh thyme
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 garlic clove crushed
375g chorizo sliced
1 Tbsp flat leaf parsley

The original recipes called for the soaking and cooking of dried chickpeas - I had neither the time nor inclination to do that so used a can of chickpeas and simmered them in the stock with the garlic, cloves, cinnamon and fresh time to give them extra flavour. Let them simmer till they had almost boiled dry making sure not to let them get mushy.

Heat the oil in a large frypan and add the onion and cook over a medium heat till translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Turn the heat up to high and add the chorizo and cook for a couple of more minutes.

Add the chickpeas and stir until heated through. Remove from heat and mix in the parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This dish can be eaten hot or at room temperature depending on your preference.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


A case of the flu over the weekend meant that I had even more time than usual on the internet to read (and drool) over the food blogs in my favorites list. It's winter here in Australia and Saturday was suitably cold and miserable. I was coughing, spluttering and thinking about cooking some warm and hearty when I came across Orangette's post about pickles and all things with vinegar.

My husband and I love just about all things pickled - we go through at least a jar of gherkins a week, standing in the kitchen after work with forks passing the jar between us while we decide what to have for dinner. It is impossible for us to eat Japanese food with out least a couple of types of Japanese pickles (tsukemono) - he prefers the bright purple eggplant variety I prefer the pickled plums (umeboshi).

Being sick I wanted something easy - not too many steps and something that wouldn't be ruined if I took a nap halfway through. I settled on bread and butter zucchini pickles from Stephanie Alexander's huge stripy bible. The fitted the bill being simple to prepare (slice and soak in brine then add vinegar) and there was built in time for a nap.

I have to admit when I first tasted them just as they were made I wasn't overly impressed, they were nice, vinergary and sweet but nothing special. When I took them out of the fridge two days later to have a forkful while I waited for meat to defrost for dinner it was an entirely different experience. Crunchy and tart but with a lovely pungent mustard flavour perfect for cold meat sandwiches and hotdogs.

Bread and butter zucchini pickles
(from Stephanie Alexander's The cooks companion)

The original recipe makes 1 litre of pickle, not having enough jars for that amount I halved the recipe. I've put the full recipe here as some of the measurements get tricky halved (I'm no good at fractions) and they are so good and easy next time I'll make a full batch. They keep for 2 months in the fridge.

1kg small zucchini sliced
3 onions finely sliced
1/2 cup salt

3 cups white-wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp dry mustard
2 tsp ground tumeric

Toss the zucchini and onions with the salt in a non-reactive bowl and cover with water. Let the vegetables soak in the brine solution for 1 hour, then rinse well and drain in a colander. I rinsed them 4-3 times - they were really salty. Return to the bowl.
Combine the remaining ingredients in a saucepan and stir over a gentle heat till the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil and pour over zucchini. Leave to cool.
The recipe says use at once or pack into sterilized jars and refrigerate. I highly recommend not using then right away and letting the flavour develop at least overnight - if not a couple of days.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

SHF 21- Kakigori with spiced espresso syrup

One of the biggest surprises for me when I moved to Japan was how hot it got in summer. Before I moved I'd seen photos of monkeys taking a bath in the snow and patchworked mountains of autumn leaves but not a single shot of the humid, sweltering summer streets of Kyoto.
Summer in Japan was HOT but lots of good fun too. In Kyoto a lot of the department stores open up roof top 'all you can eat' buffets and the 7-11's sell beer and fireworks, and in the suburbs little trucks drive around selling kakigori. Kakigori is the Japanese version of a snow cone - ice is shaved really finely from a huge block and covered in syrup. Flavours include colourless sugar syrup, green tea, melon to sickly sweet strawberry and blue hawaii.
When I found out that this month's SHF was ice - the song going round my head wasn't Vanilla Ice but the"kaaaaakiiiii gooooriiiii" call from the a truck driving around with a huge block of ice balanced on what looks like a medieval torture device and a row of bottles filled with brightly coloured syrups.
To make what is essentially a snow cone a little more interesting I decided to make a syrup with a slightly more grown up flavour - Espresso with cinnamon, cloves and Cointreau.

Kakigori with spiced espresso syrup

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup espresso coffee
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 Tbsp Cointreau

Shaved ice
Condensed milk (optional)

To make the syrup - put the all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a rapid boil - lower the heat to a simmer. Let the mixture reduce to a syrupy consistency - about 10 mins. Pour into a bowl with the cinnamon stick and cloves and chill thoroughly.

I used an attachment on my hand blender to crush the ice - it wasn't as smooth as a snow cone - if you have a proper ice shaver you'll get a better result. Shave enough ice to make a firm snow ball the size of your serving dish. Pour a small amount of condensed milk over the ice if you like and then pour over enough espresso syrup to soak into the ice.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

Menya Ramen

Ramen is a popular talking point with Sydney food bloggers - Grab Your Fork and and several others have reviewed some great ramen bars but as I headed to Haymarket for my ramen fix last weekend I thought I'd thow my two cents in as well.

Menya Ramen is in a little courtyard center surrounded by some great Chinese and Taiwanese restaurants, we are always torn when we get to the little collection of restaurants - dumplings or ramen, freshly made noodles or gyoza. Last weekend the cold wind and an SBS documentary the night before making us nostalgic for our time in Japan sealed it - Ramen!

Menya is owned by the company that runs Koh-ya, a fantastic yakiniku restaurant in Neutral Bay with equally bizarre decor. Koh-ya has brightly coloured bikes hanging on equally bright walls - Menya has a wall covered in a tangle of silver wire. Could be futuristic, could be a fencers worst nightmare.

In true Japanese style you order and pay as you enter the restaurant and then sit on a long communal bench while you wait for your steaming bowl of noodles. We ordered variations on the same thing - Miso ramen and Negi (spring onion) miso ramen. The soup is thick and tasty - with thick slices of tender pork piled on top.

Apart from the many types of ramen served, including spicy tantan men, they also serve several Japanese standbys - tonkatsu donburi (deepfried pork cutlet ricebowl) and unagi donburi (bbq eel ricebowl). I haven't ever got past the ramen but they look good too.

Menya Japan
Shp 8tg/ 8 Quay St Haymarket 2000
(02) 9212 1020

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Lemon Butter

Given a choice of desserts I find it hard to go past anything chocolate - ever. One of the only things that gives me pause for thought is a good lemon dessert. Lemon meringue pie, citron tarts - anything really filled with lemon butter/curd.

I used to make lemon butter when I was a kid, not for any dessert just to have a jar in the fridge to spread on toast or white bread with butter. I always used a recipe out of a 70's Time Life cookbook - the same recipe I use now actually modified slightly - I like my lemon butter really tangy so I increased the amount of lemon juice and tripled the recipe to make a full (big) jar. Did I mention that I REALLY like lemon butter?

There are a couple of things to remember when making this recipe - firstly don't be in a rush - if you cook it too quickly it will curdle. Also strain the lemon juice and beaten eggs as you add them to the mixture - this will stop lemon pips adding surprise texture to your butter but also unappealing white streaks of cooked egg.

Lemon Butter

90g (3oz) butter
180g (6 oz) sugar
3 eggs
3 lemons
1 tsp grated lemon rind

Melt the butter and sugar together in a double boiler. Strain in the lemon juice - if you don't like your lemon tart I suggest you start with 2 lemons and add more to taste. Add the grated rind.
Stir till the sugar is dissolved and reduce the heat slightly.
Beat the eggs well - you want to break up any stringy bits and strain into the lemon mixture.
Stir continuously with a wooden spoon - the mixture will curdle if not heated evenly, until the mixture thickens - this can take 10-15 mins. It's done when it coats the back of the spoon in a nice thick layer - it will thicken a little more once cool. While the mixture is still warm pour into a sterilized jar. Sterilizing jar is easy - wash your jar well in warm soapy water and rinse well. Pop the jar into a medium oven for a couple of minutes until dry. Cool before filling.

My Mom makes a fantastic lemon butter variation to which she adds fresh passionfruit when she adds the lemon juice. Reduce the amount lemon when you do this and taste before you add the egg to make sure there is enough sugar.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Amaretto cocktails

As I've mentioned before my trip last year to the US was a cocktail revelation to me. L.A. Introduced me to the tangy wonders of an apple martini and a very boozy night at a friend of friends brand new bar in Seattle introduced me to amaretto - or more specifically to a cocktail called a bocce ball.
In all honesty my memories of the evening are somewhat hazy - we were given free range at the bar and they had a very impressive cocktail list. I managed to work my way down it to the bocce ball (no it wasn't alphabetical) and was pleasantly surprised. A bocce ball was mix of orange juice and amaretto. I'm pretty sure there was another ingredient but I can't remember what it was - I remember though it was short drink.

I have always assumed that I wouldn't like amaretto because I don't like almond essence or commercial, artificially flavoured marzipan. There is something about the overpowering, cologne scent that has never appealed to me. However after a few drinks that scent wasn't as obvious and I was able to actually taste and enjoy the amaretto. I enjoyed it so much I caught the Greyhound bus the next day with a wicked hangover.

I haven't come across too many cocktails in Australia with amaretto - a good friend of mine gave me a book of cocktail recipes for my birthday which listed an amaretto sour recipe. It's as close to the bocce ball I had in the US as I've been able to find. I've ordered amaretto sours in bars and been given something very different so I'm not sure how authentic it is as a 'sour' but it's delicious

Amaretto Sour

1 part amaretto
1 part lemon juice
1 part orange juice

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour juice and amaretto into shaker and shale till cold. Pour into a cocktail glass and serve.

Adapted from 'Shaken - 250 very sexy cocktails' by Murdoch books

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sugar High Friday - Ginger

This month's theme for Sugar High Friday - ginger, came at just the right time as we in Australia slipped firmly into winter. Warming ginger is the perfect antidote to cold rainy days - as is a slice of warm Pear and Ginger Upside-down Cake.

The base of the cake is highly spiced and dense like traditional gingerbread - my oven may have been a little too high, the edges weren't burnt but they were a little chewy - but I thought that actually improved the cake by adding another texture. The pear was moist and sweet, I love the slightly grainy texture of cooked pear. This cake is great the next day but it really is at it's best straight out of the oven served with cream.

Pear and Ginger Upside-down Cake

1 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp mixed spice

1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup golden syrup

3 firm but ripe Bosc pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

Whipped cream to serve

Preheat the oven to 180 C (350F) and spray a deep 20cm cake tin with oil.
Sift the flour, baking powder, bi-carb soda and spices.
Combine the milk and vanilla extract.
Cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and beat well. Beat in the golden syrup.
Mix in the flour and milk alternately beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Arrange the pears in the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread the batter over the pears.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer pan to rack and cool 10 minutes. Using small knife, cut around sides of pan to loosen cake. Turn cake out into rack and cool slightly.

Serve warm with whipped cream.

(adapted from an recipe)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who's your (Beard) Papa?

I have had a very very good day. I was shopping at Chatswood Westfield and walked past a sign near the food court proclaiming "Beard Papa now open on level 3. I literally stopped in my tracks, spun around and headed straight for the down escalator - where ever I was heading totally forgotten.

Beard Papa is a Japanese chain of stores that makes cream puffs. Nothing else but lovely eggy hand sized cream puffs filled with fresh vanilla creme patisserie, light, creamy and flecked with dark specks of real vanilla. They bake every 2 hours and fill the shells when you order so the choux pastry is still fresh and slightly crunchy when you bite into it. Heaven.

I first came across Beard Papa in Kyoto - there was one just outside my local supermarket which tested my will power on a regular basis. They make the best last minute dinner party dessert, I smother them in a rich, warm chocolate sauce and serve.

If you can get to Chatswood and are prepared to take on the labyrinth that is Chatswood Westfield I urge you to seek out Beard Papa and try one of their superb cream puffs. You'll end up taking home a box for sure!

Beard Papa Sweets
K353A (Near General Pants)
Westfield Shopping Centre
1 Anderson St
Ph: 02 9412 2214

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Japanese Convenience Food

I spent a number of years living in Japan after I graduated university - my boyfriend (now husband) and I decided to travel a bit through South-East Asia and then do a 12 month stint teaching in Japan and then travel back through India home. In the blink of an eye 12 months turned in 4 fascinating years as we worked and traveled throughout Asia. We spent nearly 3 years in Japan all up including 2 very special years in Kyoto and an amazing 10 months skiing in Nagano

Japan was a revelation for me - being Australian with so little human history behind us it was mind boggling to walk down a busy city street and then come upon a tiny 600 year old temple still being used everyday. Unlike Australia seasons were distinct and celebrated - as Summer moved into Autumn the hills around Kyoto would start to change colour and the food available in supermarkets and restaurants would change to reflect what was in season. As Autumn became Winter the colourful Autumn leaf designs on the beer cans gave way to snow flakes - everything that could be themed was.

It has just recently started to get colder here in Sydney with beautifully clear sunny Autumn days but decidedly chilly nights. This change in seasons made me a little homesick for Japan so I made pilgrimage to Tokyo Mart in Northbridge to get some essentials for Japanese Winter cooking.

Japanese food is renowned for being complex and quite difficult to cook - and in some cases this is true. However what struck me when I finally decoded the Japanese supermarket was the amount of really high quality package mixes and pre-made products that were available and how widely they were used. My lack of Japanese made these packs essential when we first moved there - the directions were always accompanied by pictures so we could work out how to cook it!

Nabe is a very common winter dish - there are many different varieties from the Chanko Nabe made famous by sumo wrestler to more gourmet seafood style. Nabe is basically a hot pot with noodles, meat balls and vegetables. Nabe is also the name of the pot that you cook it in. In Japan this dish is traditionally cooked at the table on a little gas stove.

I called this post convenience food because the easiest way to make nabe is to buy one of the delicious soup concentrate from a Japanese supermarket. This particular mix is a miso chanko mix - it makes a hearty soup not unlike ramen soup. I also used a tofu mix to make nice soft Japanese style tofu and a pack of fresh udon.

Dillute the soup concentrate 2:1 and pour it into the nabe (or large pot) and bring to the boil. The traditional ingredients are chunks of daikon (white radish), udon noodles,tofu, several types of mushrooms - I used enoki and shimeji, chicken meat balls, shallots and cabbage. You can add anything you like really. To cook just boil all the ingredients in the soup starting with the ones that take the longest to cook like the daikon and chicken till you finally getting to the cabbage.

The tofu is also very easy to make - add the soy powder to water and boil for a couple of minutes. Add the setting agent and pour it into a bowl to set. This is a very soft and subtley flavoured tofu - not like the firmer chinese style tofu you buy in the supermarket.

Take the whole pot to the table and let people serve themselves - it's a very filling meal sure to stick to your ribs - just ask the sumo wrestlers who eat it every day!

Ittedakimas everyone!

Tokyo Mart
Shop 27, Northbridge Plaza
Ph:(02) 9958 6860

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Viva Fiesta!

Yesterday was the 5th of May, or Cinco de Mayo. Mexicans celebrate whooping some French butt on this day in 1862. I have quite a bit of time on my hands at the moment and decided to throw my own Tex-Mex Cinco de Mayo fiesta.

As well as more traditional Mexican dishes like enchiladas and plenty of margaritas I wanted to try out some more Tex dishes like ribs marinated with Mexican flavours.

I came across annatto paste while watching 'Once upon a time in Mexico' DVD. Johnny Depps's character has an obsession for a deep red slow cooked pork dish - Puerco Pibil. The DVD has a 10 minute cooking lesson on how to make the perfect Puerco Pibil from scratch -including grinding your own achiote paste. Anaotto seeds are deep red, triangular and very very hard. I had a great deal of difficultly grinding the seeds into a smooth paste and we ended up eating a pretty grainy but otherwise tasty Puerco Pibil.
This time I decided to take the less traditional but much easier route of buying achiote paste from The Essential Ingredient to make my recado (marinade) for my ribs. For two huge racks of pork ribs I disolved 2 cubes of paste in 1 cup of orange juice. I added the juice of one lime and 2 cloves of garlic. I seasoned the ribs with plenty of salt and pepper and then put them in a plastic bag and poured the achiote recado in and left them to marinate overnight in the fridge

While at the Essential Ingredient I came across a can of chipotle chillis in adobo sauce. When I opened the can and the smokey almost dirty, earthy smell wafted out I decided to make a second marinade with them. I blended 3 of the chillis and a little of the adobo sauce with a can of tomatoes. I added some brown suger, salt, garlic and lime juice and marinated the ribs overnight in the fridge.

After barbequing the achiote ribs were tender, deep red and had a tangy flavour - the spicy chipotle ribs were sticky and still had the smokey adobo flavour from the chillis. Unfortunatly the ribs were devoured before I could get a photo -I swear it had nothing to do the margaritas I drank before they were served!

¡Viva México!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Flavour fast - Herbie's

I love taking my time in the kitchen and planning and cooking intricate meals for family and friends. Unless it 6:45 pm on a Tuesday evening and I can barely be bothered to defrost something in the microwave let alone cook a couple of courses. That's when I reach for my handy collection of Herbie's spice mixes.

I'm probably preaching to the converted here, Herbie (Ian Hemphill) has a been an active member of Sydney's foodie scene for around 30 years. I am a more recent convert having only made it to his store during trading hours for the first time last year but since then have made regular pilgrimages to Rozelle. I was a regular visitor to his very informative website before my first visit but it is nothing compared to the sensory experience you get at the store. It is well worth the trip over the Harbour Bridge.

The range of herbs and spices is impressive but it is the wall of spice mixes that gets me really excited. They make everything from Aussie Fish Seasoning to Za'atar. All the mixes come in dry form, the pouches have suggestions on how to use them and/or recipes. But just about all of them are fabulous just sprinkled on meat or fish and then BBQ'ed.

I have tried about 10 different mixes now but the real stand outs for a quick and easy dinner have to be the Cajun Spice Mix, Za'atar and the Balmain and Rozelle Spice.
The Cajun mix is pungent and spicy but still fresh tasting - chicken burns to a beautiful smoky crust when coated to make a perfect Blackened Chicken. Just make sure you open some windows - the smoke makes your eyes seriously water.
I have put the Za'atar on just about everything - meat, fish and vegetables and it's always good. My favourite way to use it is crusted on tuna steaks and lamb cutlets. It has a mild nutty flavour - probably from the sesame seeds with a hint of tang from the sumac.
The Balmain & Rozelle spice was designed to reflect the diverse influences that shape Australian cuisine. It has a strong lime smell and a surprising spicy bite. Very good on BBQ prawns.

Every time I go to Herbie's I come back with something interesting and very very tasty. The staff are very helpful and very happy to open endless sample jars so you can smell the different mixes. They also sell themed Spice Kits which make great presents.

Herbie's Spices
745 Darling Street
Rozelle, NSW, 2039
Ph: (02) 9555 6035

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Apple Martini

Until a recent trip to L.A. I was never a big cocktail drinker - red wine, beer and the occasional G&T was about it. We had a 24 hour visit to L.A. on our way through to visit some friends in other parts of America and Canada. My husband's cousin lives there and he took us on a whirlwind tour that started at the Beverly Hills Hotel for breakfast and finished at the W bar with cocktails and George Clooney (no really!)

At each of the bars we visited that night I was presented with a mammoth cocktail menu and was enthusiastically encouraged to try what ever I wanted. I proceeded to try some amazing (and very expensive) concoctions. The stand outs for the night were the raspberry Mojito I had at Palomino and the Apple Martinis at the Living Room at the W Hotel.

The Living Room looked like something on Las Vegas - the TV show - all low couches and even lower lighting. Very glamorous waitresses tried to chase of us reserved tables but the cocktails were divine. After about 3 Apple Martinis I wandered off to find the bathroom. Coming out of the bathroom - I swung open the door, stepped out and ran straight into someone coming around the corner. I looked up to apologise and realised I had literally bumped into George Clooney. He was grinning at me with his frighteningly white teeth and beautiful eyes. In an extremely sophisticated fashion, my jaw dropped and I ran away as fast as I could. Hmmm.

I actually emailed Palomino for their recipe and they were kind enough to share it with me. Unfortunately the type of raspberry rum they used is not available in Australia yet - so I haven't been able to make it just yet. I have managed to track down all the necessary ingredients for a wicked Apple Martini though. At the W they used DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker - a bright green tart apple schnapps. I haven't been able to find this in Australia yet but I did find the very similar Sour Monkey Apple Sour from Dan Murphy's.

I modified the recipe slightly after a few tries - most of the recipes I tried were just too strong. I now make them so you can have a couple and not fall over.

Apple Martini

30mls Vodka
30mls Apple Sour
30mls Apple juice
A small green apple

Pour into a cocktail shaker half filled with ice.
Shake and strain into martini glasses.
Garnish with a slice of apple floated on top.

Voila! L.A. sophistication at home.

Oven Dried Tomatoes

I don't know about you but I find it very hard to walk past the discount table at the fruit and veg shop or supermarket. All those big bags of over ripe squishy bananas for $1 just right for banana bread or in this case bags of very ripe Roma tomatoes. I also like to try to make things you generally buy just to see if I can do a better job than the supermarkets or just to understand the process and see what's involved. Which is why I decided after a successful scavenge at the supermarket to make oven dried tomatoes.

The process itself is really simple, it just takes loads of time. Firstly cut your tomatoes in half length ways and lay them out on a oven tray. Don't cram them on - they need a little space around them or they won't dry evenly. Season them with salt and pepper - in this case I used Herbie's Bush Pepper, it's not terribly authentic but it's a delicious nutty pepper mix. The oven should be turned on as low as it goes, if it's too high they'll cook. Leave the door of the oven slightly ajar and leave them for oh about 12 -18 hours.

This photo is after a full day in the oven and what I'd call semi-dried. At this stage you can cut them into pieces and store them in a vinaigrette dressing for antipasto or salads. They must be stored in the fridge though as there is still enough moisture in them to go moldy.
Finally at about 11pm that night they were done - dry but not crispy. Chewy and intensely flavoured. I sterilized some small jars and stored them under olive oil. If you want to avoid the oil you could pack them in an airtight container and store them in a cool dark spot or in the freezer.

I'm very pleased with my jars and am looking forward to using my tomatoes in salads and on homemade pizza. Next time I'd like to experiment with cherry tomatoes - they would take a lot less time and would perfect to toss in a salad. I'll have to wait and see what's on the discount table next time I go shopping...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

A small slice of Orange

Although I am die hard Sydney-ite or Sydneysider now I grew up in country NSW. I spent the first 18 or so years of my life in Bathurst, a town about 3 hours over the Blue Mountains and west of Sydney. I moved away to university and as my family drifted away to other parts of the world I never really went back.

This Easter my husband and I went on a road trip to visit my father and we all spent Saturday in Orange. We drove straight through Bathurst while I nostalgically pointed out places from my childhood. We didn't stop. Unlike Bathurst, Orange has become quite the haven for foodies - it has several 'hatted' restaurants, plenty of artisan producers and about a squillion wineries.

We were especially interested to visit Borrodell - a vineyard and heritage apple orchard. When we arrived we were given a paper carry bag and pointed in the direction of the orchard which is home to a bewildering 170 varieties of apples - some I have seen for sale at the supermarket , most I have never heard of. We were given the run down of what was in there and what we should look for by the owner Harold Gartrell and let loose.

The view from the restaurant and tasting room at Borrodell

We walked very happily in the sunshine munching on apples as we tasted the different varieties and picked some to take home. We tried plenty of delicious apples but the real stand outs were-

Egremont Russet
As Harold explained are ugly little buggers but very very tasty. They are small little apples with a brown textured skin very similar to pears. They are firm and crisp to bite and have a very tangy taste. They have a long shelf life - up to a couple of months without any discernible loss of flavour according to Harold. I don't think they will last that long at our house.
With their firm texture and tart flavour I would imagine that they would be a great baking apple and am looking forward to making a few desserts with them when I get a moment - especially now the weather is cooler.
Five Crown Pippen
A large-ish sweet juicy eating apple. This was not as exciting as the Russet but a great eating apple and a gorgeous looking apple with it's golden green skin with just a blush of red. It has a distinctive base with 5 raised bumps around the core - making a crown shape, hence the name.

These are a common eating apple and available quite widely but I had never eaten one straight off the tree or at the peak of ripeness. These are beautiful apples, they look just like a storybook apple - glossy, perfectly formed and bright red. We could see the trees from the other side of the orchard with their dark leaves and dots of deep red.

We came back to the tasting room laden with more apples than the three of us could possibly eat but at just $4 a kilo we were very pleased with our haul. We sat and tried a few of the wines and watched people arrive for lunch at the vineyard's restaurant. We didn't have bookings and they were packed so after bundling up all our purchases (we HAD to buy the cherry liquor) we dove back into Orange for lunch.
If you are heading to Orange for some wine tasting I highly recommend you drop into Borrodell and check out a dedicated collectors passion.

Borrodell on the Mt
Lake Canobolas Rd
Orange, NSW, 2800