Sunday, January 03, 2016

artichoke bruschetta

I've been making this topping a lot this summer. 

Take a jar* of artichoke hearts, drain well. In a small food processor, chop the artichokes with a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, the juice of half to one lemon (to taste), a tablespoon or two of some good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Whiz til blended but before it gets too smooth. You want a bit of texture.

If there's some fresh parsley at hand, finely chop and stir that through or any other herb you take a fancy to.

Dollop on freshly toasted bread. Sure you can first rub it while hot with some olive oil and a clove of garlic, it smells great but it's not entirely necessary.

* A jar or a can? I've made it with both. The more expensive ones in a jar have a better texture than canned artichokes, which tend to be softer/over cooked. However, any port in a storm. Do the best with what you have. It still tastes good as a puree.

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Saturday, January 02, 2016

Baked fish with potatoes and asparagus

I’ve always been a tad contrary.

As blogging is in its final hour, I’ve got the urge to write again. Each day it seems another blogger from way back when is pulling up stumps. It gets tiring, that nagging voice in the back of your mind, to blog. We all run out of steam eventually. 

I have no desire to share my life story, publish a cookbook or be a photography wizard in this space, I’m just going back to my roots which are simply a food blog as a cook’s journal, my digital scribble of recipes created (and the occasional culinary failure) so I can remember them in future.  No pressure to post on schedule, or at all. I'm only popping back when something is worth reproducing. And bugger the grammar!

On holiday I stumbled upon a simple fish recipe that kept my diminutive New Zealand family happy. I adapted the original source that features salmon (though I eat it when I have no other choice, farmed and flabby Australasian salmon is a disappointing experience) and tweaked cooking times accordingly. It needed some jazzing up so I added olives, garlic and seasoning. Next time I’ll skip the balsamic (as I have done below) and top the finished dish with a capery-salsa verde, which I reckon will give the meal the added zip it needs.

Be my guest and use salmon if that’s the only fish you feel competent cooking, it will hold its shape well and is unlikely to offend. As I was in New Zealand I couldn’t go past the local fresh snapper but most fillets will work. If thin check at 7-8 minutes to see if cooked, otherwise thicker ones may require the full 15.

The original recipe calls for successive ingredients to be tossed together in the pan but I got all Virgo and kept them in neat layers.

Baked snapper with asparagus and potatoes

(Serves 3)

600g small new potatoes, scrubbed (I used Jersey Bennies but if you only have big old spuds, slice into 3 cm chunks)
3 cloves of garlic (skin on)
2 tabs olive oil
1 – 2 bunches of asparagus, woody parts removed
1 punnet cherry (or similar small) tomatoes
3 medium sized fish fillets (I used NZ snapper, which are quite thin but Blue Eye would also work well)
Sea salt
½ cup Kalamata olives (omit if serving with salsa verde)

To serve – lemon wedges or salsa verde (optional) 

Fire up the oven to 220c (fan) and find an oven dish (ceramic or metal) that will fit the potatoes in a single layer. If you don’t like washing up, line it with foil or parchment.

Tip a tablespoon of oil into a plastic bag or bowl and toss the spuds and garlic with a sprinkle of salt. Arrange in a single layer in the dish and bake for 20 minutes. Don’t chuck out the oil or bag just yet – add the asparagus to gently coat.

Remove from oven and give the spuds a good shake to loosen. Add the asparagus in a layer on top. If your tomatoes are a little on the large size, add them now as well. Just scatter around the pan. Cook for a further 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and give the pan another shake. Season the fish and lie on top of the asparagus, throw in some olives (and add the tomatoes now if tiny). Sprinkle the fish with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Bake 10 – 15 minutes until the fish is cooked.

Assemble equal quantities of vegetables and fish on each plate.

Serve as is, or with a wedge of lemon. If you’re in the mood, a spoonful of salsa verde on the fish would give it a gentle kick.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Evolution of the truffle

At this time of year I often make truffles. Something luscious, vegan and packed full of kilojoules is the perfect way to celebrate the solstice.

Over the years the truffles have evolved from a coconut cream based chocolate ball, to an infused coconut oil one. 

The problem with truffles is they’re often frustrating and time consuming to make. The mix needs to be firm but not so cold it shatters, nor so warm it melts just looking at it. Let’s face it – late at night on the solstice eve, constantly walking between the workbench and fridge to rechill the mix between every half dozen truffles gets a tad tiresome. In humid December weather, sitting in a tepid bath with an icy drink (and smouldering companion) would be way more fun.

A couple of months ago I promised to take a sweet to a friends place for dinner. I dithered. I dathered. Until finally I only had a couple of hours to concoct something. The ‘something’ became a cubed version of truffles, simple cut into mouth-sized bites. 

If time permits you can still go down the sensory truffle path and infuse the oil with orange peel, spices or something else equally delicious (chilli anyone?). But the version I ended up creating with walnuts and liqueur worked fine. Lets put it this way; there were no complaints or leftovers.

Because how I conceptualised this recipe and what actually went into it are slightly different - I'm giving two different ingredients lists. I know some of you actually like qualities and others (like me) have a 'look and adapt' approach. Lets keep everyone happy!

The truffle that became a square

Freeform ingredients list

2 parts good quality chocolate
1 part coconut oil (plain or infused)
Pinch of sea salt

Texture and flavour
A handful of walnuts, broken into smallish pieces - and/or nut paste
A generous handful of something fruity with an edge e.g. dried cherries, freeze dried raspberries or orange zest
OR a couple of tsp of a good quality liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Frangelico if you want to extend the nut thing use hazel instead of walnuts. (Note: too much grog might stop it from setting)

A quantified list of ingredients

200 gm 80% good quality chocolate
100 gm coconut oil
100 gm almond butter (make sure it's pure, check the ingredients especially if its a big brand)
3/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp Grand Marnier


If you’re going to infuse the coconut oil, start this a day or two before. Otherwise the chocolate slice takes a few minutes to put together, plus another hour to chill.

Assemble your ingredients and find an appropriate tin or container. Ideally use a square or rectangular baking tin (nothing with sloping sides or alas, you’ll just have to eat all the trimmings!)  Aim for a size appropriate to the mass of ingredients so that the chocolate concoction comes up to about 3-5 cm high (depending on how small our large you want your squares). Metal is ideal, you don’t need to grease, though you can line with baking paper if desired.

Blitz or chop the chocolate so they’re in even sized pieces. In a double boiler gently heat until half the chocolate is melted.

If your coconut oil is solid, melt over a low heat – it takes a very short time so don’t take your eye off it. I usually let it half melt then turn the heat off.

Combine the chocolate, nut paste (optional) and oil (hopefully they’re still semi solid rather than a liquid but it still works, though the nuts or fruit might drop to the bottom). Mix through the nuts, fruit and/or flavouring of choice.

Refrigerate for about an hour until fully solid (use the freezer if in a hurry). It's a good idea to allow it to come up to room temperature before cutting, to avoid snaps and shards. If necessary, run a warm knife around the edges and cut into bite-sized cubes. Of course if you painstakingly lined the tin, you just have to pull the slab out and cut.

You can pretty up the cubes of chocolatey goodness with a sprinkling of cocoa, icing sugar or rose petals but really, these taste so good they don’t need they don’t need it.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Making, eating, planning

Though semi-retired, this blog is still my cook's journal. A place to remind myself how I cooked something new. It's much easier to search this online repository, than hunt for scraps of paper. 

Notes to self:


Vin de pêche - Zoe visited my little community garden plot and me last month and spied a rather neglected peach tree in the far corner of the block (past where the redback spiders dwelling and whatever makes my skin itch, near the mulberry tree). Vin de pêche! She exclaimed. I did a test batch with half a bottle of leftover, dry French rose. I followed the recipe to the letter, only halving the ingredients.
Result: Strong marzipan flavour (phew! right tree! You say almond. I say marzipan). Maybe my taste buds differ a little from Leibovitz's - I found it a little too sweet, though chilled right down with a load of ice this was less noticeable. Nor did I find it as potent as he and Zoe claim. 
Next batch: less sugar, more brandy. Will try 40 leaves (a bit less marzipan), 2 - 3 tabs sugar, 5 tabs brandy, in a fruity bottle of red.
Serve with a lot of ice. If too strong, douse with soda.

Vegan chocolate rough "cookies" - a variation on carnival cookies utilising 4 very ripe bananas and most of a 250 gm jar of 'hazelnut chocolate spread' (a very healthy organic, dairy-free alternative to Nutella and about 4 x the price - fortunately it was at use by date at the local coop so bought at wholesale price). Hacked the recipe by adding a couple of decent handfuls of shredded coconut instead of nuts (plenty of hazelnuts in the spread) and a heaped teaspoon of mixed spice. I had the remains of a block of 85% dark chocolate so whizzed them into chunks. With the added banana and the chocolate spread it was a wetter batch than usual so used closed to double the usual amount of oats, semi chopped. Taste fab.


Nori butter at Bannisters - I must work out to make this! I'm guessing toasted nori, blitzed to a powder and combined with good quality butter but will consult Dr Google before attempting. It's up there with the miso butter. I'd eat flavoured butter all day if my body could tolerate it!

Who knew Rick Stein has an Australian restaurant, in an unlikely location over three hours drive from Sydney? It's coastal but not on the beach, in a hotel/motel complex (calling it a resort would be going too far). Fortunately I was having a great weekend out of town with friends, just 20 minutes down the road. I think we've found our new Christmas tradition - the festive lunch you'd like to have if you didn't have to be with your family on the day. 

Food was delightful, relatively simple but the stunner was really fresh, good quality produce. The menu (except sides) is exclusively seafood. And at a premium price. The setting is lovely. The staff do their best. Don't think a city restaurant of this calibre would put someone on the floor with such an extensive skin condition but as she said in response to our "see you next year" - "Yeah I'll probably be here. There aren't many jobs down here" in a despondent voice. She was a good and attentive waiter nonetheless.

I ate: paprika dusted Kiama prawns (a special on the day), stupendously fresh marlin/swordfish/snapper/salmon sashimi, shoestring fries (not my choice but very more-ish) and Stein's signature Blue Eye Madras tomato and tamarind based curry. A lunch to remember with my wonderful Sydney friends. 


I'm back on Christmas duty with my dilutive New Zealand family. How to make breakfast/lunch/dinner for three adults remotely interesting? Suggestions please. On the upside - for the first time since the birth of the internet - there will be Wi-Fi at home! At least that's got the entertainment sorted.Any fish/veg friendly, simple festive food ideas? Things are a little limited over there, I'm so used to an abundance of fresh fruit and veg here I could outsource the entire day from the fish market, Marrickville market and the likes. Wellington, despite the holy grail of Moore Wilsons (not looking forward to the trolley crush there next week), I'm working in a limited kitchen with none of the basics I'm used to (including a sharp knife and a gas stovetop!).When I get back from the homeland - I know that Santa is bringing me a fermenting crock! The new year will be kimchi/sauerkraut and pickle central. Let me know if you have a dairy-free ferment fave to share.

I hope you have a good one and that 2016 is an inspiring year full of delicious experiences.

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Monday, October 26, 2015

miso butter

I blame Annabel Crabb* for my new (rare) dairy addiction. Patting this beauty into a log isn't pretty but it sure is tasty.

Miso butter

1 part butter (salted or unsalted it’s up to you)
2/3 – 1 part miso (I prefer darker miso e.g. hatcho or shiro)
1 spring onion (mostly white part), minced
1 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
(I’ve never added lime juice, maybe next time?*)

Chop the butter into cubes and put into a bowl. Sit that inside another bowl with a couple of centimetres of boiling water. In the couple of minutes it takes to get it a bit melted (technically I’d say the ideal meltage is a quarter) mince the spring onion and garlic. Start with one of each for your first batch. Before the butter melts too much add the miso and either mash together by hand or throw into a mini food processor for a couple of quick whizzes until combined.

Dollop onto a piece of cling film and “pat into a log”. Don’t worry if you over did the melting, it will firm up in the fridge.

Store in the refrigerator, technically it should be ok for a couple of months but once tried, its addictive!

How much miso? It depends on what miso you use and how salty you like your food. If you’re a vegemite fan go the full equal quantities but if you’re not a fan of super salty food start as little as half as much miso to butter, and taste as you blend.

My favourite uses:

  • Tossed through steamed asparagus.
  • On toast (tasted even better that vegemite and butter), cut into soldiers and dipped into a boiled egg.
  • On toast with grilled tomatoes or avocado.
  • A little stirred through scrambled eggs just before they set.
  • Big dollop on an old-fashioned jacket potato.
  • With corn on the cob.

* From her excellent podcast with Leigh Sales. Annabel's recipe verbatim.
“Take half a block of butter, cut the half in half and melt one of the halves and just mash up the other. Put 60 gm of miso and 2 cloves of garlic (minced) and a spring onion (minced) and the hard butter in with the melted butter and mash and whip them all together. Then add a squeeze of lime juice. Then pat it into a log.”

Annabel’s favourite uses: Toss through freshly steamed green beans or mushrooms en papillote mushroom cooked in baking paper. 

There's nothing photogenic about a log of brown stuff, so feast your eyes on something I prepared earlier.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

The (almost) tenth birthday post

As I write and post about food, travel and health elsewhere in the blogosphere these days, it's a bit of a shock to realise that this neglected blog is about to hit it's tenth birthday in a couple of weeks.

If you've lost the plot in recent years (as I indeed have) - here's a recap of the past 48 months.

1. I ate and massaged my way around Chiang Mai for a big birthday with a zero on the end of it.

2. Two months later I was wheeled into surgery to remove a rather large cancerous tumour from my belly.

3. I visited Hades, in the guise of 'modern' oncology. Drugs that f*ck with your tastebuds are a new kind of hell for any food lover. 

4. While hanging out in the underworld, I was overwhelmed by the support and generosity of so many friends from the blogging community. Especially those veg*ns! Thank you. I will never forget your kindness.

5. Strangely before this life disruption I'd been brewing a huge change in my work/life. The big move to Sydney I'd scheduled was only put back one month in the end.

6. The paint was barely dry in the hastily spruced up Inner West pad, when I headed to Europe for 4 weeks. I fell in love with Lisbon's colour, tastes and experiences, ate the best seafood pasta in Amalfi and scoffed homemade liqueurs in Sicily. I had a bit of a WTF? experience in Prague, long dreamed of visiting but it was overcast and full of pigs knuckles. Fortunately 9 days in Berlin (and a further week in London again) got my mojo back.  

7. After having some downtime from my business (being sick, convalescing, moving home and relaunching a new way of working online) I commissioned a designer and web builders and launched a fully updated site. I've talked at an international conference, run my first online course and fronted teleseminars.

8. Back to food - it's fun getting to know the cuisine of a new city. But Sydney is no Melbourne. The thing I've had to learn about eating here is there are no 'equivalents', no 'where's somewhere like (Melbourne restaurant)?' It's a different kettle of fish. Will share some of new faves here soon.

9. In May this year I had three amazing weeks in Sth America. Santiago was a bit like Wellington in the 1970s but greyer. Buenos Aires was fab - especially Palermo and environs. Rio was bonkers, a city on speed with amazing topography and views. I flew over the Igussu Falls in a helicopter!! And Peru is a land of contrasts from the first world food culture of Lima to a near siege experience at Juliaca airport (nothing like being in a tiny terminal surrounded by machine gun slinging police). I experienced the wonders of Machu Picchu and drank many pisco sours. It's an amazing country, though I'm glad I passed on the guinea pig.

10. I've just celebrated another birthday. The first spent in Australia in many years. Billy Kwong was the perfect place to toast the coming year. 

I'm very pleased to say I'm alive and (officially) very well. Looking forward to experiencing more of my local flora, fauna and food.

So what have you been doing while I've been gone?

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