Sunday, September 18, 2011

finding inspiration

The secret to my sanity is a working week with hours nestled somewhere between part and full time. Having run my own business for twenty years I’m proud to say I’ve navigated two decades of self-employment with body, mind and soul more or less intact. The latest addition to my work schedule is a weekly business meeting with myself. It's comprised of a leisurely brunch somewhere different each time, with tasty food, my trusty notebook and no expectations. So far, so good. Amazing what plans can hatch with the right fuel.

breakfast special, Dench, Nth Fitzroy

Just as I’m looking at work from a different angle, my kitchen mojo has returned (no doubt helped by the recent cook-along). Two inspired experiments this week, requiring a digital note to self for future reference.

Number one needs no real recipe - just a simple risotto with new season asparagus, garlic and shallots. Towards the end of cooking I added a little lemon zest and sorrel. For the dairy tolerant some marinated soft goats cheese tossed through before serving would be perfect.

Chard and flathead pastries

Thaw some good quality puff pastry.
Set the oven to 180c.

Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil til soft
Gather your favourite leafy greens (with a garden full of rainbow chard, cavolo nero and sorrel at the moment it’s a necessity), rinse well and chop roughly.
Add to the onions and cook for til wilted. Season with sea salt and pepper.
Squeeze a little lemon juice, add some zest too if desired.

Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool.

Chop some flathead tails. If making small parcels, you only need 3 or 4 small chunks per pastry.

Cut pastry into squares (or circles if you want cute, semi-circular pastries). Fold on the diagonal to make a triangle, open out and use the fold line to mark half of the pastry to add the filling. Leave a centimetre around the edge. Add a spoonful of the vegetable mixture and dot with chunks of fish. Fold the pastry, add a little water around the edges to help them stick and crimp together. Puncture the top of a pastry with a fork.

Bake til golden, about 20 minutes.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Singaraja market

As luck would have it, despite the bungalow we stayed in being a good 5 km east of Lovina, the quiet outpost was on the same road as an excellent restaurant and cooking school. The classes are fixed price, regardless of the number of attendees. This meant Lucy and I had the delightful Putu all to ourselves, including a personalised tour of the nearby market in Singaraja. While the ingredients for our vegetarian feast were gathered, like excited children we'd point to exotic produce and ask the name, how to cook it and were treated with good humour by the local stall owners. The class was worth it for the market experience alone.

Click photos to enlarge and enjoy a brief tour of this delightful Balinese market.

Take a look at Lucy's excellent photos of our market excursion and adventures in the North.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

vegan feasts

What more could a dairy-allergic, non-meat eater ask for? Not one but two vegan inspired events in the same week.

The first, a vegan degustation at Embrasse, was a standout event. An evening of delightful company, well-honed hospitality and an elegant, though a tad minimal, meal where I could eat every last drop.*

As fate would have it, a small band of vegan-food loving bloggers had for months been trying to set a date to chop, cook and chat together; and four days after we’d shared a table at Embrasse we found ourselves in my kitchen.

Cindy and Michael have done a great job of documenting our Indonesian inspired vegan feast. As usual, I was too busy chatting and sipping mocktails to seriously document the day, not even photograph the rujak I made.

What I loved most was how five food bloggers wove in and out of preparing a meal together in a little kitchen. At any time, someone was chopping (usually Michael), sipping, stirring, frying or steaming. Until finally the feast was before us. Five bloggers, five hours, many dishes and wide ranging conversations. Oh yes, we all cook and we read, a winning combination.


Peanut rice chips
Chickpea cakes (mock crab cakes)
Tahu isi (stuffed tofu)
Steamed chilli tempeh
Stuffed eggplant
Cindy’s special dessert (sticky black rice coconut ice cream vegan of course).

Mock crab cakes: chickpea and potato, veganised with cornflour and water replacing the egg.

(This vegan version adapted from the Casa Luna cooking school – traditionally the sauce is made with shrimp paste)

2 large chillies (add a small hot one if you want more fire)
1 tab kecap manis
1-2 tab tamarind concentrate
palm sugar and sea salt (to taste)

In a mortar and pestle bash the chilli and combine with the other ingredients. Adjust the balance as necessary. The flavour should be savoury with a combination of sweet/sour/spicy/salty and umami.

Cut the fruit/vegetables of your choice into bite sized pieces. Make sure there’s some texture - crunchy/soft, as well as acidity in your selection. I used:
(Some traditional recipes include water apple).

Toss the sauce through the fruit, ideally using your hands.

See the photo of the rujak at Where’s the Beef.

Some notes from the day

The filling for the tofu and eggplant was stir-fried in coconut oil. Other than a silky mouth feel, the vegetables are delectably scented with coconut. It transforms even the most ordinary vegetables.

Tahu isi – the classic Balinese stuffed tofu, is traditionally double fried. We made this at the Warung Bambu Cooking School in Pemaron. While it’d be hard to skip the deep frying of the tofu cubes, the second dip once stuffed and covered in a light batter is a little over the top. Other than the egg issue (with our bona fide vegan in attendance), Lucy and I were keen to see how it’d work simply stuffed and steamed. A less calorific but equally as enjoyable variation. The sauce accompanying the stuffed tofu was just kecap manis and chopped chilli (and a little fried shallots as well if desired). A traditional satay sauce is an other option.

Who ever knew you could steam tempeh? Well Lisa obviously, and the chilli tempeh made a great spicy accompaniment.

My vegan food-loving cup has certainly runneth over this week. Though I'm a pescatarian with a penchant for eggs, unlike the dinner at Embrasse, the Indonesian feast left me satisfied. Well, stuffed actually.

But in a good way.

Do you ever get together for cook with friends or fellow food bloggers?

* Well almost, the incredibly bitter capsicum reduction to accompany the vegan chocolate mousse did me in. That’s one fruit I avoid at the best of times, though at least I tried it.

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Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ubud: taking the rough with the smooth

If I was in a relationship with Ubud, Bali's so called spiritual centre, our Facebook status would undoubtedly be “it’s complicated”.

What is it about Ubud that makes me feel so out of synch with the rest of the world? On my first trip it was like being an extra on the set of Disney Bali. The art! The market! The colour! The people! The hippies doing yoga! And action!

I just didn’t dig it. In fact, after a few days I felt decidedly ill. A malady that disappeared within hours of leaving the city.

Four years later I was determined to give it another go. Call me a masochist but I felt that Lucy, on her first journey to Bali, deserved to make up her own mind about the place. For the previous two weeks we’d meandered along the road less travelled in the east and north of the island. Our soft landing in Tirta Gangga was a taste of paradise. Talumban gave us the thrill of the ocean. Lovina served up the perfect sunsets. Even Seririt, where I attended a mindfulness workshop for a week, was an unexpected a gem.

The final day and a half of our holiday landed us in the grime and heat of a city, without the benefit of a sea breeze to cool off. The noise, traffic and hoards of tourists seemed even harsher after the loveliness we’d been experiencing in the quieter parts of Bali. If there wasn't the small issue of a plane to catch the next day, I'd have hightailed it to the hills of Munduk to spend some more time in the spice groves. As that wasn't an option, I was determined to find an upside to the town.

And I did.

Ubud redeemed herself with simple warungs and a humble tailor. Nasi campur soothed my soul. While a wicked espresso bounced me into enjoying my last day in Bali. Once you head away from the central rectangle of streets ( Jalans Monkey Forest, Raya Ubud and Hanoman ), the pace is not so hectic. Far from the spiritual centre of Bali for me (give me the hills any day) but good to discover the smooth amongst the rough.

Humble eats

Warung Kyoma (off Jl Hanoman, in a street parallel to Jl Dewi Sita)
This local run, basic eatery saved us on the first day. Tired, cranky and need of a late lunch, this blue-walled place, open to the street served us simple food cooked to order. Cheaper than chips – the small plate of gado gado provided a much needed protein and veggie hit. The peanut sauce wasn’t too rich and the vegetables were fresh. Lucy’s spring rolls were served hot straight from the wok (they must have been good, ‘cos she didn’t share them). The freshly whizzed mango juice cost about AU$1.50, a bargain in this town.

No tax (often a hefty 21+% in Ubud).

Biah Biah (Jl Goutama)
This was a Lonely Planet recommendation. It didn’t look that exciting when we passed it in the afternoon but it was close to our accommodation and I was hanging out for a vego nasi campur. While a step up (albeit a small one) from our lunchtime warung, Biah Biah was also extraordinarily cheap. At night the simple restaurant is transformed by lights nestled in cane lampshades. Service was a little chaotic but the Bintang was cold and we had the perfect Chefs Table seats, peering into the small but ordered kitchen. Nasi campur didn’t disappoint. Nothing overly memorable, just good honest vegetarian dishes.

No tax.

Oka’s Warung (Jl Kageng)
Another day, another vegetarian nasi campur and yet another small, blue painted Warung. We popped in for a (tax free) juice to cool off and ended up sharing a vegetarian nasi campur, not because we were particularly hungry but once we saw a fellow patron served it, we couldn’t resist.

Unusually it came with a little bit of omelette. As always the tempeh was great. Bali is the home of tempeh and it’s quite extraordinary. We couldn’t get enough of the stuff.

No tax.

Warung Sopa (jl Sugriwa)
We stumbled across this unique, vegetarian café quite by chance but later found it mentioned on Travelfish (excellent app, you can download it cheaply and access it while you travel without being online). Japanese influenced (and likely owned) you feel confident that the food is without the usual dash of shrimp paste that most “vegetarian” sauces often have in Bali. Apart from homemade bread and miso paste for sale, the “nasi campur” is a little different. You get to choose from a daily array salads, curries and non-Balinese offerings such as a tofu falafel and samosas. Another twist is that it comes with red rice, a nice change for our last meal. Amongst my offerings I chose an excellent bitter melon and tofu salad. They checked first that I knew what it was. Yes it’s a little bitter on first tasting but pared with the excellent, slightly sweetened tempeh it was a winner.

No tax (and free wifi)..and still incredibly cheap
Check out their amusing website.

On my last visit to Ubud four years ago, I’d done the rounds of some of the more upmarket, foreign-owned restaurants such as Casa Luna and Kafe Batan Waru and while tasty, it was as if the flavour balance had been altered for a Western palate, lacking the subtlety of some of the local food. Both are still going strong. This time I craved simple pleasures. I wasn’t disappointed.

Expensive drinks

We took some afternoon refreshment at Casa Luna (Jl Raya Ubud) and nothing has changed about this place from my last visit, though the staff at the height of the tourist season weren’t as friendly and finely honed as I remembered. A coconut juice, or the excellent lime and ginger number sets you back more than a nasi campur and beer at any of the local warungs. Sometimes, in the heat of the afternoon, you just need to cool down in pleasant surroundings.

Tax++ Free wifi on request

Tutmak café (Jl Dewi Sita)
I’d gone two weeks without an espresso and on my last day I caved in. Ubud does in fact have some great coffee and the lovely local at Utama Spice responded without hesitation to our question as to the best coffee in town. Tutmak, a fair walk from the shop she apologised, was definitely her pick. Then shyly, as if a little embarrassed to admit it, she mentioned the cinnamon buns and we were sold. Ten minutes later we were in the land of great coffee, munching on a warm, fragrant pastry. Ubud didn't seem so bad after all.

Tax and Free wifi on request.

So Ubud, I forgive you. It's still not love. And still complicated. But I'll keep working on it for now.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

Quickie: post-holiday dinners for one

I love rice. I’ve eaten it almost everyday for weeks. I’d call myself a rice queen but that has a whole other meaning.

But sometimes I need “meat” (ok, protein) and potatoes. Simple Anglo fare. Here's a quick rundown of my post-Bali cooking this week.

1. A simple 2 egg omelette with a little onion, garlic and loads of mushroom. There’s been a tiny dab of marinated sheep’s cheese (I can tolerate a small amount if I don’t do it too often). But best of all, when just cooked, topped with fresh sorrel and folded over. So addictive and simple I made it twice in a week.

2. “Fish and chips”. Strangely been craving crumbed, fried fish. But with all the eggs recently consumed, wanted a viable alternative. While dipping fish fillets in egg is an effective way of holding lots of breadcrumbs; water, milk, even “alternative” milks do a good job.

Snapper fillets, dunked in rice milk, then tossed in a mix of masa harina (or ordinary fine cornmeal) seasoned with zaatar and salt, fried in olive oil. Perfect! Accompanied by oven roasted kipfler potatoes, carrots and sweet potato. Sensational.

3. Lots of black kale, chard, sorrel and cos lettuce, straight from the garden. Handy to come back from holiday to an empty fridge but have more fresh greens than I could poke a stick at, a mere few paces from my kitchen.

Experimented with adding finely sliced cos lettuce to a stir fry. It works just fine.

Onion, garlic, kale, smoked eel and lemon juice made an excellent pasta source.

What have you been cooking this week?

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

name the fruit: part two

Papaya, pineapple, mango, green skinned oranges, watermelon, jackfruit, durian, mangosteen, water apple – so many fruits, so little time.

The second mystery fruit came our way in the north of Bali. At a small market in Lovina a stallholder thrust one each into our hands, demonstrating how to remove the skin. For the next week, it became a staple.

Mystery fruit #2 has a thin but robust skin, oddly reptilian in nature. Inside is a pale yellow fruit, segmented into lobes with a seed in the centre of each. The texture is pleasantly crisp. The flavour has a hint of pineapple.

This is the fruit of a palm, one of the many exotic plants we saw growing in a trek through Munduk.

Can you name the fruit?

Taken at Ubud Market (note the piece of palm tree)

Update: As Michelle and Katherine rightly guessed, this is salak. AKA snake (or snakeskin) fruit. The texture of the skin gives the name away. It's quite extraordinary. This species is undoubtedly Salak Bali (

Salak fans, have you ever cooked with it or just eat it raw, as is?

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At Tulamben the sea greeted us. Our first couple of days on the island, spent in a mountain paradise, were sad to leave. But the first glimpse of the ocean calmed any regrets of moving on to the East of Bali. After settling into our room we wandered down to deserted beach. The black sand was dotted with fishing vessels but it turned out that the water produced more than just fish.

A few metres back from the waves sat a row of hollowed out palm trunks. (Is there anything that coconut is not used for on this island?) Though the milky liquid seemed unremarkable, the crystals clustered along the edge belied the treasure within. Salt!

A few days later in Amed, the full story of salt making was revealed. A labour intensive exercise involving carrying many heavy buckets of seawater from the shore to pools dug in the soil, sun drying, filtering the soil with more seawater, then finally drained and dried in palm troughs.

This incredible, arduous process is weather dependent. Rain being the enemy of the process. Something rather hard to avoid in the tropics. Many poor families in Bali’s East coast scrape a subsistence income during the dry season from salt making. How dull our food would be without this miracle flavour enhancer.

I’ll never look at this kitchen staple the same way again.

More on traditional Balinese salt making.

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