Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the year in food

The countdown is on. A few more days of work, running around like a headless chook, the last minute catch up for lunch with friends and then I am off to the airport for that familiar trans-Tasman flight once more. Here are my culinary highs of 2007. What have yours been?

Best dining experience of the year:
Yu-u, not just finally getting around to obtaining a booking at this enigmatic little gem and the steady supply of delicious morsels but also the unexpected communal dining experience. Memorable!

Best eating experience of the year:
All the tofu, tempeh and fresh fish in Indonesia. Six months on I’m still dreaming of the food there. My first gado gado on the beach at Vila Shanti, my little Sanur favourite Pregina and Sura’s in Ubud. Then there was the drinks – young coconut juice straight from the tree for breakfast, soursop at Sura’s and Bali’s own Storm Beer.

The kitchen accessory promise I never got around to in 2007:
The tagine. I got close to procuring one twice, it is just I have such a small kitchen. Now…if I turn the old laundry into an extended pantry think of all the junk wonderful, used only one time a year, gadgets I could amass!

Oh-my-goodness flavour explosions:
Savoury – the eel from Sapphire Smoked Seafood (Eden).
Sweet - “The Cook and the Chef” fried rhubarb.

Even better than childhood:
Making my mum’s chocolate mousse with 85% chocolate!

Most delicious ‘detox’ dish:
A toss up between quinoa pilaf and stuffed artichokes.

Perennial favourites:
The site meter still goes crazy for gyoza, with cooking whole fish coming in at number 2.

Dairy-free discovery of the year:
Jill Dupleix’s guilt-free 'ice cream'.

Favourite new brekkie dish:
Cross-cultural baked eggs, though fresh fruit in any form is a close contender.

Best cooking school:
Hands down (and it happened to be the only entry) winner – Casa Luna in Ubud. Have only made one of the dishes since but the sultry summer weather should motivate me any day now.

Best bar:
This is an unfair question as Melbourne has so many and I have not sampled them all. The Rooftop bar at the Order of Melbourne is delightful at twilight and Geralds Bar for sheer convenience, amazing range of drinks and neighbourhood quirkiness.

New foods (without leaving the country to find them):
Food I played with at home for the first time included: nettles, fresh turmeric, monkfish, Samphire, mulberries (they weren’t a part of my kiwi upbringing), desert limes and black radishes.

Melbourne food scene question of 2007:
Where were the food bloggers in the future of food writing at the Melbourne Food Festival? According to the old media (Fairfax) sponsored chew and blab-fest food blogging is not even a blip on the radar. What will they pull out of the bag for 2008?

The next day Ed posted that Matt Preston phoned to ask him to be a food blogger presence in the 2008 MFF Out of the Frypan panel along with Stephanie Wood. See a little stirring in the blog world is worth it in the end!

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

menu for Hope 4

If you are a regular food blog reader you know what special place this time of year has in our hearts and wallets. Chez Pim's wonderful fundraiser to feed those who can't afford to put food on their plate "Menu for Hope" is now it's 4th year. A worldwide, blog-based fundraiser which is quite simply brilliant. Menu for Hope is an online raffle with such a wealth of food related prizes for a mere (US)$10 a ticket you'd be a fool not to enter.

Helen from Grab Your Fork is hostess with the mostess once more for collating the Asia Pacific Prizes. From homemade stout to degustations at amazing restaurants, it is once more an exciting treasure trove to whet your donations.

If you really want to get excited, especially if you have any travel coming up in 2008, the worldwide line up of prizes has quitely blown my mind and made me wish I had a trip booked to take advantage of market tours, cooking schools or even a personal tour of elBulli kitchen laboratory at the new Alícia Institute with Ferran Adrià himself. To see the entire line up of prizes and donate towards the cause skip over to Chez Pim's Menu for Hope 4.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

'tis the season to be jolly

I prefer my fruit raw (unless it's heavenly fried rhubarb). Why muck about with perfection? The beginning of summer is about the freshest cherries, warm fragrant peaches, sticky mangoes, bright red berries. It seems like they are perfect for only a few moments - you'd be a fool to miss them.

I was asked to make a small festive offering for morning tea. I mused on all sorts of things of a sweet nature but in the end - the fruit won out. And boy was it a winner!

A simple seasonal fruit platter

handfuls of ripe organic cherries
kiwi fruit, quartered
(ok you now have the red and green theme!)
small ripe apricots, cut in half and remove stone
firm raspberries.
fresh mint to garnish.

Place a raspberry in each apricot half (not only do they look sensational but they are a great flavour combo) and arrange artistically.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

I'm in love!

It’s been over 3 months since my last ‘oh my goodness’ kitchen moment. I can’t even remember a recent restaurant swoon. But unexpectedly today, while innocently preparing some lunch, my mouth found a happiness it hasn’t experienced for a while.

I’ve always had a bit of a weakness for smoked foods – trout, eel, tofu. This week I discovered Earnest Bean’s smoky olive dip, which was definitely worth another visit. Their smoked tofu also went into the mid-week noodle salad which is still a pleasant memory. But it was a quest for eel that sealed the deal.

While the Polish Deli (at Vic Market) had some skinned and boned smoked eel fillets, the use by date was minutes away from expiring and I wasn’t going to eat it that night. The usual stall had none on display but the owner smiled and said proudly he’d just had a delivery so I waited patiently until he was ready to serve me. Then with a smile he said he had something very special, just three modest sections of eel, no head or tail, lovingly hot smoked in Eden and he promised it was good.

You know, I almost forgot about it til I the tummy rumbled for lunch. Perhaps a little eel in a potato salad to give it a bit of oomph. I put the potatoes on to steam, chopped a few mini gherkins to give the salad acidity and crunch, a little leftover avocado for creaminess, a bit of red onion and peppery rocket. I mixed a mustardy-vinaigrette with some macadamia oil and added a dollop of mayonnaise (a cheats way to make the dressing creamy) and idly started preparing the first fillet. How much I wondered, remembering how bland the last bit of eel I’d bought in Melbourne was. As the small morsel entered my mouth, I smelt salt and smoke. Really, really good salt and smoke! The flavour was intense, reminding me of the best bacon I ever ate in my former meat eating life.

The cubes of eel were perfect in the salad and I almost cried with joy!

Sapphire Smoked Seafood from Eden – I love you! Now hurry up and get a website so I can tell the rest of the country where to find you!

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

ice-cream that even a fruitarian could eat

Is it really 2 months since I bought Jill Dupleix’s ”Lighten Up”? Barely a day has gone by without thinking about her “Mock Choc ice-cream" and with a few ripe bananas patiently waiting in the freezer I don’t know what I was waiting for. The recipe I refer to is a creamy, sugar-free, frozen concoction made from bananas, cocoa powder and dark chocolate. Instead I took the idea and ran with it, as I always do. With so much fresh fruit in the house the thought of making ‘ice-cream’ without a machine and using no dairy on a hot day was irresistible. I admit to being just a little sceptical as to just how creamy the result would be.

“I can’t believe it’s not ice-cream”
(Serves 4, unless you want to keep it all for yourself)

3 bananas – peeled, chopped and frozen overnight
1.5 large mangoes
1 ripe wipe peach (it was begging to be used, another 1 would have been even better)
a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice

Blend all ingredients in a food processor til smooth. Pour into a container and freeze for at least 3 hours. Remove from freezer 10-15 before serving.

Verdict: yum! Of course I could have used 2 or mangoes or all white peaches if I'd had more. The lime gave the flavours a slight lift. Dupleix does a raspberry version too. Obviously most soft fruits would go well.

Enhancements: a splash of Grand Marnier when serving gives the mango an extra kick.

Variations: any leftovers make a great base for a smoothie.

sure an ice-cream scoop would have made for finer food styling - but it's just lucky I scraped enough of the leftovers out to take a pic before I scoffed it!

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

smoked tofu and rice noodle salad

It’s 32c outside. Inside I revel in the guilty pleasure of the air conditioner doing its stuff. Such weather calls for cool food, cuisine from the tropics. Little or no cooking is also mandatory as who’d want to hang over boiling pots in this kind of heat, let alone turn on the oven. Energetically tofu is considered ‘cooling’ so it is a great excuse to create a salad around it. While this dish can be made with plain tofu, the smoked variety has more flavour. This version is similar to a salad that appeared in the early hours of the first day of 2006 – a night 10c warmer than this one! Assemble it and dress before throwing in the fridge, then linger over an icy beverage til you are ready to eat.

Smoked tofu and rice noodle salad

1 packet of rice vermicelli noodles
1 large carrot, grated
1 small Lebanese cucumber, diced
1 handful of green beans, blanched
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 handful of raw cashew nuts, roughly chopped
1 packet of smoked tofu, diced
1 large handful mint/Vietnamese mint/coriander (depending on availability)

fish sauce
lime juice
palm or caster sugar to taste
a dash of roasted sesame oil (optional)

Soak the vermicelli in boiling water for a couple of minutes til softened, then drain and refresh in ice water. Once chilled, drain well and add the remaining ingredients.

The dressing is made by taste – a balance of the saltiness of the fish sauce, a little tang of lime juice and sugar to cut the harshness. Add a little water if it is too strong for your palate. A dash of dark sesame oil can give it a nutty edge if desired. Mix well.

Add the dressing to the salad and toss well.

Eat chilled.

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Monday, December 03, 2007


For a very brief moment I indulged myself in a thought as to the size of my ‘new’ kitchen. An L-shaped corner of a small dinning/living room it is very compact, big enough to squeeze in a dishwasher but too small to fit to a wider oven. While I spent a moment coveting consumerism in all its over-applianced glory, I spared a thought for my very first out of home kitchen.

It was a cupboard really, about the size of a walk in pantry. Instead it contained a single sink on a short bench and an upright stove, no doubt leaking a little gas. The adjoining living room housed a small fridge, toaster oven and a wooden table that doubled as a food prep area. I am not exaggerating in any way when I say the whole house was condemned shortly after I moved out. Probably not because of the kitchen, nor the lack of heating or the bathroom window that couldn’t close and let in a wind straight from the Antarctic. Likely because it abutted a hillside, like many Wellington homes, not properly braced and likely to cave in at any time. The mould growing through the back rooms probably didn’t help either. Nor the drunken Irish wharfie who lived downstairs and risked setting the place alight on one of his daily benders.

After living in the same home for 18 years, I set off into the world and have resided in 13 houses since. London was the antithesis of the cupboard kitchen. It was closer to half the entire size of my current abode. The kitchen table could easily seat a dozen; so large it was actually constructed in the room. There was a double oven and six-burner stovetop. Huge jars full of every grain and bean under the sun adorned the shelves. A boyfriend dubbed the sprawling Stoke Newington residence as a house of food worshippers. That kitchen truly was the heart of the home. The living room was only used occasionally to watch the tiny TV and dance to “Top of the Pops”.

But from the sublime to the ridiculous, a physical kitchen has little impact on the food you make in it. Sure the mouse infested cupboard kitchen would not have inspired me to make my own pasta (a lack of surfaces to roll out the dough) but nor does the modest expanse of granite in my current home. If I really wanted to make it, I would – wherever I was.

Some of the best meals I have made have been over a campfire. Food prepared on a half an ordinary sized chopping board with the feeblest of knives. One pot (never big enough) and a fry pan, not even a Dutch oven, Don’t blame the tools - it is all about inspiration.

So any laziness on my part with my current culinary creations will not be cured with the latest gadget, more bench space or industrial gas burners (well maybe with the last one). I’m on the verge of considering buying a real BBQ (note to Father Christmas) and am sure, Total Fire Ban Days aside, will inspire a short burst of grilling and fish or vego delights. This is a short time after the US bloggers have made mention of giving thanks, sometimes we are slower to do such things in the Southern Hemisphere, but my belated gratitude is for access to such plentiful food, cooked on whatever means at hand. Sometimes, less is indeed more.

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