Thursday, December 31, 2009

..and a happy New Year

The temperature is in the sweat inducing high 30’s and I don’t dare look at the drooping plants in the garden. The good news for them is that a change is on its way. Something wet and cooler – the perfect gift to welcome in the New Year.

Before the barometric pressure drops I’ve got to rustle up a last meal for the year (something with kangkung, rice and tempeh considering the humidity) and do something else with half a smoked eel before I head off with some bottles of cold bubbles (Spanish cava and homemade ginger beer) and sit with my Melbourne clan on a rooftop, as is our tradition.

The last few weeks of the year have been intense for me, not helped by a lingering head full of mucus and fatigue. 2009 has had its fair share of twists and turns, though not the ones I had anticipated. There’s been far too much death around which has eclipsed everything, especially food.

So for 2010 I have no grand culinary plans. If anything – eat out less, grow a few more vegetables, use leftovers more and try to reduce food waste. Not out of any economic impetuous, more the perversity of having a food blog but finding our collective obsession with stuffing our faces a tad obscene. A growing theme in my life is simplicity and if I am to make any wishes for the coming year, it is to continue on that track.

Food highlights for 2009

Last winter the aim was to have more people around our kitchen table and the twice monthly soup nights were born – an open invitation to friends to drop by on their way from work, a bottle of wine, some good bread and a pot of soup on the stove. Each one was different (both the food, the people and the conversation) and equally as delightful.

The tomato glut in February/March – a stack of Tommy toes slowly roasted with garlic, slipped out of their skins and pureed, then frozen in batches made great winter meals. The last lot flavoured November’s dolmades.

Speaking of dolmades, I learnt that cos lettuce leaves plucked straight from the garden tasted even better than grape leaves.

The fresh tomato juice bloody Marys deserve a honourable mention. Maybe with the anticipated 2010 tomato glut there tomato (agar) jelly will be made, perhaps even a bloody Mary version!

Pretty much every mouthful I ate in Melaka was a highlight in itself. The Assam fish curry at Nancy’s blew my mouth and my mind, the simple laksa and chendol, the street food and the final meal in KL (which was actually Thai but like nothing else I have eaten before).

2008’s wish for a tagine finally came true and the slow cooked results made the wait worthwhile.

There were some great muffins in 2009 – cherry and chocolate got perfected.

The vegan truffles were pretty darn good too!

It’s too hot to write more (or even bother to hyperlink, just do a search and you shall find the recipes) and I’ve promised to write no full on resolutions for the New Year – so I'm leaving with best wishes to you and yours where ever you are and hoping you have a safe and sated 2010.

OK just one resolution. More time around the kitchen table in 2010

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Melbourne style

I’d began thinking about it over a month in advance, some would say obsessing and just as well too. A few days before the family arrived I succumbed to a lurgy) and my brain went to custard. I had shopping lists written, three in fact, one for a big fruit and vegetable market shop on Tuesday, and another for the supermarket and a last minute perishables run to the market on Christmas Eve. Without these pieces of paper and some careful thought into what I’d be cooking we could have gone quite hungry on the 25th.

At the unseasonal hour of 4.30 am on the 24th I awoke due to a wracking cough and after an hour of tossing and turning decided I’d head off at such a quiet hour to buy the seafood. It was 30c already and as I entered the meat hall at Vic Market was a little shocked to find it full to capacity. Not for the faint hearted and armed with a shopping trolley I forged my way to the nearest familiar fish shop and stood patiently in the queue as I watched the clock work its way past 6am. People were remarkably good-naturedly for the time in the morning and the 15 minute wait. One man asked hopefully if there were any tinnies** in my esky***.

In the end due to my malady I cut a few corners, dropped making the chocolate mousse, left off the smoked eel pate and a few extra nibbles. No one noticed. I spread the food over the day, rather than a multi-course single sitting. A grazing feast, with plenty of cheer in the perfect Melbourne sun!

The menu

Breakfast – mango/tropical fruits

Morning tea – coffee and Noisette Christmas mince pies (I’ve never been a big mince pie fan but these were to die for!)

Brunch/late morning – scrambled eggs, rosti, smoked salmon

Early afternoon – prawn cocktails and antipasto platter

Late afternoon BBQ – char grilled asparagus, Japanese eggplants, zucchini, Portobello mushrooms and corn. Prawns, snapper with coriander and fish sauce, gourmet turkey sausages and marinated lemon/garlic chicken breasts (from Chicken Pantry at Vic market).

Sweet treats/later – organic strawberries, cherries, pineapple, chocolate coated baklava (from Helas Cakes in Richmond) and Christmas cake.

Beverages: Radler beer, Cava (Spanish bubbles), 1997 Minya cab sav/shiraz/merlot (excellent!), homemade ginger beer, homemade lemon cordial and mineral water.

Not many pictures – the day was about family, not food, believe it or not.

Language decoder (for those who aren’t from around these parts)
* a bug/illness. e.g. a cold, flu, URTI
** cans/tins of beer
*** chilly bin/ice box

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Menu for Hope 6

It's Menu For Hope time, gosh that snuck up fast. Ed is hosting the Asia Pacific prize list so hop over and make your selections.

If you're unfamiliar with this amazing blogosphere phenomena read all about it at Chez Pim, the founder of the event. Take a wee diversion checking out what's on offer in the other regions too as some can be sent to this side of the world, or you may be traveling in 2010 and want a few nights in a NY staying in an apartment in Chelsea or to dine in interesting restaurants far from our shores.

There's even a super dooper new widget to make donating even easier.

What are you waiting for?

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All kinds of weirdness

Tapping on the keyboard, slicing and dicing in the kitchen, twisting tops off bottles, carrying the pot of boiling water off the stove to strain. These are all small acts in the daily life of someone who cooks, writes or has any normal kind of existence.

Until a week ago I never realises the relationship I have with my index finger. It’s as if my hands are dancers, with the odd digit doing ballet movements to perfectly balance mundane actions. A stupid injury to my finger has left me with some pesky nerve damage and in the meantime inessential cooking and blogging has been put on hold.

However when I get my digits working properly (or get used to a life of pain and strange sensations) I may share the story of the food blogger outed at work by a disgruntled restaurant owner, or then again I may not. Why waste digit power when there are tales of homemade beverages to share?

Anyone else pissed off anyone in the industry lately and would like to amuse me with their tales?

Reading is easy, it’s just the writing and cooking and cleaning (and who every thought an index finger was so important in hooking up and undoing a bra?) that are on a go slow for now.

Is it just the silly season or are their all kinds of weirdness going on in the world at the moment?

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

making stuff is fun!

'Tis the season to be jolly, so they say. I reckon you don't need an excuse to have fun in the kitchen and make stuff.

For a change I'm remembering to keep some of the bounty for myself. The batches are small, no massive all day assembly line productions, just exploring some new (and old) recipes and making sure there's a spare or two to share.

It began sedately in November with preserved lemons, spiced prunes (organic Australian prunes bathed in cointreau and spices) and homemade vanilla essence.

This weekend I stepped up the challenge, playing with some ideas that I've had for a while. Here are a couple of recipes to add to the collection.

Lemon cordial

Equal quantities of fresh lemon juice and sugar syrup (sugar syrup = equal quantities of sugar and water, bought to a simmer til the sugar melts).

Yes, it is as simple as that! A touch of citric acid will extend the shelf life, you only need 1/2 tsp per 500 mls of cordial.

Update: Cindy was spot on wither her comment - a dash of rose water really lifts this cordial and all subsequent batches have had a generous capful of rose water.

Serve with chilled mineral water (and a dash of clear spirits if you desire).

Vegan chocolate Truffles

2 parts good quality, dairy-free dark chocolate
1 part coconut cream
a dash of your favourite liqueur (optional)

cocoa powder for dusting

Roughly chop your chocolate then blitz in a food processor until granular (I borrowed this method from Delia Smith who uses the description "granular like sugar"). I then measured my ground chocolate to determine how much coconut cream I needed. I used 2 cups of ground chocolate and 1 cup of coconut cream. Heat your coconut cream til it starts to bubbles. It's quite thick so it tends to boil like a Rotorua mud pool - fortunately it doesn't smell like that. Pour half of the hot coconut cream into the chocolate that you have returned to the food processor and blitz. Add the rest of the hot coconut cream and give it another blast. The resulting ganache is glossy and inviting. I've read a good tip, if the mixture splits just add some cold coconut cream.

You can leave the mixture as is or fortify it with your favourite booze. I used about 3 tablespoons of my spiced cointreau that the prunes had been marinating in - as the cardamons, cinnamon and cloves combined with the orange flavour of the liqueur was delightfully festive. It's best to add a small amount, mix, taste and add more as needed rather than pour the lot in at once.

Pour the ganache into a tray or tub to firm up in the fridge or the freezer. It only needs an hour or two in the latter. Once it is firm but not too hard to roll get ready for the fun.

Remove your rings, scrub your hands, have a bowl of ice water and an old hand towel ready. If your hands are warm dunk them into the chilled water and then dry them. Use a spoon or a melon-baller to scoop up a small amount of the firm ganache and roll into a ball. Set aside. Repeat the process, dunking your hands to cool them off as need be.

Once you've finished rolling your balls, place some cocoa powder in a bowl or cup and using two forks to handle them, drop the balls in the cocoa and toss 'til they are covered. Place on a rack so any excess cocoa can fall off. I must admit my balls were far from perfectly shaped but after a dunk in cocoa they didn't look so bad. Keep the truffles cool and consume within a week.

The truffles are rich and luscious, with that melt in the mouth feel that makes you crave more.

Enjoy the season!

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Friday, December 04, 2009

vegetarian nasi lemak

The Significant Eater was late home tonight. I dished up his dinner and slipped into the next room to finish this post. As I type I can hear him groaning. I think it’s the nasi lemak because it’s a pleasant, joyful kind of noise.

Months ago I was groaning myself over the simplicity of this Malaysian national dish. While the rice and vegetable sides are usually accompanied by meat (usually a fiery beef rendang or a chicken curry) I’ve eaten some vegetarian versions that make an equally fine and groan-worthy meal.

While I’ve endeavoured to keep this vegetarian the one hiccough is the shrimp paste in the sambal. Though I’ve read about “vegetarian belacan” I’ve yet to find it. Vegans and vegetarians feel free to improvise but for those who can eat seafood, belacan gives it that illusive umami depth of flavour that makes me swoon at the smell. (Adding that to my list of tofu and durian loving and I have to accept I’m some kind of freak when it comes to food).

While this really is a simple yet stunning dish, it is a bit fiddley preparing all the parts. I’ve had a couple of goes at creating it now and found it’s most enjoyable to prepare in a leisurely manner – roasting the peanuts, boiling the eggs and making the sambal all ahead of time. Once all the grinding, roasting, boiling and chopping is done it’s just a matter of moulding the rice by patting it into a small bowl, upturning it prettily upon the plate and assembling all the vegetarian a compliments.

Almost vegetarian nasi lemak

Coconut rice (I do a light version using 1 part rice, 1 pt water, 1 pt coconut milk cooked by the absorption method)
OR brown rice (if you want a more wholesome meal)

Tempeh, thinly sliced
kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
Roasted peanuts
Eggs, boiled and halved
Sambal (see below)
Kangkung, cut into 3” lengths and boiled for 2 minutes (green beans are a nice substitute if you can’t get it)
Peanuts, roasted and lightly salted
Cucumber, sliced

Tomato sambal
serves 3, double if you need more
(I know it’s my Balinese recipe but it works really well)

1 tsp shrimp paste
2 large red chilies (more if you like it spicy)
3 tomatoes,
1 medium red onion (or 2-3 shallots, or half a brown onion if need be)
3 cloves of garlic
A small handful of nuts (I tend to use cashews)
A tsp or 2 of palm sugar
Sea salt, to taste

Coconut oil (any mild vegetable oil will do)

Prepare the shrimp paste in the usual way. I wrap it in a double layer of aluminum foil and dry roast in a hot fry pan for a few minutes.

Throw all the sambal ingredients (except the oil) in a food processor and blitz.

Heat a fry pan or wok; add enough oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. Fry the sambal over a medium to high heat for about 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is reduced by nearly half.

Reserve 1/2 – 2/3 of the sambal and put aside, to use as a side dish when assembling the meal. Toss the boiled, drained kangkung in the remaining sambal and cook for a further minute or two.

Fry thin slices of tempeh in vegetable oil until crisp. While still on the heat add 2-4 teaspoons of kecap manis and toss through the tempeh until lightly covered. It’s sticky; so don’t bother draining it on kitchen paper.

Now assemble your meal – a nice mound of rice surrounded by boiled egg halves, tempeh, roasted peanuts, kangkung tossed in sambal, cucumber and a nice big dollop of extra sambal on the side.

I can’t promise this is an authentic dish but I can assure you it tastes so good, it’s addictive.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

the one that got away

Having swamped you, poor reader, with all the Melaka posts a while ago, I never got around to my sharing my last meal in Malaysia. I have a bill from the restaurant, scribbled notes made the next day and a mere 2 pictures. Really I am not a restaurant food blogger (and how could I be after only one meal at the place?) but boy it blew my socks off.

Lonely Planet raved about a Thai restaurant in KL offering dishes rarely seen out of it's native land. It was a swanky place, in a 5 star hotel but we still had some ringgit in need of spending and we could eat til we were stuffed for less than $20 a head (drinks of all kinds could set you back an equal amount though).

On my other blog I'm having fun with Gwen Bell's the Best of 2009 Blog challenge, if you want a taste of the dish of the night, the one my scrawled notes describe as "extraordinary" then take a peak - #best09 2. meal

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