Thursday, 29 September 2016

cookbook review: turquoise - a chef's travels in turkey

Turquoise cookbook by Greg and Lucy Malouf.

My third cookbook review for this year is of Turquoise: A Chef's Travels in Turkey. Written by husband-and-wife team Greg and Lucy Malouf, this beautifully presented hardcover cookbook offers captivating insight into the world of Turkish cuisine, complete with intimately descriptive tales of food adventures that spark feelings of wanderlust.

As per usual, I made a beeline for the simpler recipes. The first one that caught my eye was the recipe for smoky eggplant puree (the Turkish name is not provided in the cookbook, but the internet tells me it's called patlican ezmesi), which had an approachable list of ingredients - eggplant, yoghurt, lemon, olive oil, garlic, mint, and salt. I love, love, love the taste of smoky eggplant, and it is something I have not ever attempted at home - until now.

There were some fiddly aspects to this, but it actually wasn't as difficult or time-consuming as I thought it might be, and as I enjoyed it with some crackers, I daydreamed about how I could wow family and friends with this Turkish smoky eggplant dip in the future by serving it at a dinner party at home, or bringing it to a potluck. My only criticism is that there wasn't quite enough of a smoky flavour, even though I cooked the eggplant the proper way, directly over a naked flame, instead of the cheat's version of baking it in the oven. The recipe says to remove every bit of the skin to avoid bitterness, but I'm flirting with the idea of cautiously including some of the charred bits next time, to see if that helps elevate the smoky taste I so adore.

Smoky eggplant puree (patlican ezmesi) - a delicious dip.

A few days later, I turned my attentions to another easy recipe: the shepherd's spinach (kiymali ispanak in Turkish, according to my online research) attracted me with its friendly simplicity - this is a one-pot meal that doesn't put on any airs.

The recipe from the cookbook serves 4 to 6, and calls for a whopping 1 kilogram of spinach. I scaled it down to make just enough for a single meal. For some reason, the authors appear to have forgotten to include the addition of salt to this dish, but fortunately this was easily remedied, and trust me, a bit of salt makes a huge difference! The use of salt instantly turned this dish from bland to scrumptious, and I was happy with the results. Dotted with lamb, rice, and onions, and seasoned with a touch of tomato paste, paprika, and mint, this shepherd's spinach was rustic, hearty, and satisfying.

Shepherd's spinach (kiymali ispanak) - wholesome comfort food.

There are other recipes from Turquoise I'd love to try someday. Flipping through the pages, the Fish Doctor's stew with black pepper, lemon peel and mint - the authors' interpretation of a dish they ate at a seafood restaurant in Istanbul - looked right up my alley, as does the Beyran soup - an alluring breakfast soup with slow-cooked lamb, garlic and green chillies. And for dessert? I think it's got to be the sticky apricots stuffed with clotted cream. Yep, I think I've definitely convinced myself that I should come back to this cookbook again - and let's face it, when it's one as gorgeous as Turquoise, that's not a bad idea at all.

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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

ginger-honey poached tamarillo compote

Ginger-honey poached tamarillo slices, served with yoghurt.

All through winter I quietly passed by the box of seductive ruby-red tamarillos every time I shopped at my local grocery store, flirting with thoughts of random tamarillo recipe creations as I did so, but then I would continue to walk on, and that was that. As spring beckoned, however, my adventurous side took charge, and I finally took the leap.

This is my first experience with tamarillos, and I was actually - um - a bit nervous? Off I went to do some online research, and it was probably a good thing I did, as I found warnings about the intense bitterness of the tamarillo skin, and helpful instructions on removing it.

Tamarillo, also known as tree tomato.

So I immersed my tamarillos in a bowl of freshly boiled hot water, and after a couple of minutes, I retrieved them, made a cut at the top with a knife, and managed to peel off the skin without too much of a struggle. As I did so, the luscious scent of passion fruit hit me - oh, divine! Then I sliced up my naked tamarillos, and they looked ever so pretty.

Peeled and sliced tamarillo.

At this point I was still debating whether to have the tamarillos raw or cooked, so I sampled a piece. It tasted kind of like a passion fruit, tomato, and kiwi fruit rolled into one - there is definitely potential for deliciousness here, but for some reason, my tamarillos were more on the tart and bitter side, with not much going on in terms of sweetness.

I decided then and there to poach my tamarillo slices in a ginger-honey syrup, and this did the trick! I ended up with a nice tamarillo compote that paired well with yoghurt for a healthy breakfast - as shown in the pictures - but I have to say, I tried it with vanilla ice cream, too, and I loved that even more. If I am to make just one recommendation, I say go the vanilla ice cream option, you won't be sorry.

ginger-honey poached tamarillo compote

2 tamarillos
2 cm ginger
2 tablespoons honey

Place the tamarillos in a bowl. Boil some water, and pour enough over the tamarillos so that they are fully submerged in hot liquid.
After two minutes, drain off the hot water. Make a cut on the top of the tamarillos, and peel off the skin.
Slice the peeled tamarillos into rounds of about 1cm/0.5" thick.
Peel and thinly slice the ginger, and plonk it into a small pot or saucepan. Add 1/3 cup water, and bring to boil. Turn the heat down and let it all simmer for about 5 minutes.
Stir in the honey, and add the tamarillo slices. Simmer for another 5 minutes, and remove from heat. Discard the ginger.
Allow the compote to cool down slightly before serving it warm with vanilla ice cream, or you can also let it cool down completely before covering it and storing it in the refrigerator for later use.

Ginger-honey tamarillo compote with yoghurt.

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Wednesday, 31 August 2016

simple and wholesome: broccoli and prawn soup

Broccoli and prawn soup.

It is a wonderful thing when your ingredients shine. And the easiest way to achieve this, is to keep things simple, while harnessing all the magic you can with what you've got.

In the case of this broccoli and prawn soup, it's all about the prawn heads. Some people would rather not handle these parts of the animal, but by shying away from them you'd be shortchanging yourself. The flavour you can draw out from these things - it's just fabulous, infusing so much richness and complexity into the soup that you hardly need any other embellishments. I mean, aside from salt, pepper, and water, this is effectively a 3-ingredient soup. Grab the prawns, broccoli, and lemon, and you're set. So here we go...

A lemony prawn and broccoli soup.

broccoli and prawn soup (serves 1)

6 large prawns/shrimp, with shells and heads intact
1 cup broccoli florets
1 wedge of lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

Chop off the prawn heads, and remove the shells. Throw the heads and shells into a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer.
In the meantime, devein the prawns, and set aside.
When the liquid in the pot is reduced, takes on an orange hue and is wonderfully infused with flavour, discard the prawn heads and shells.
Add the broccoli florets to the prawn stock, and bring it to boil. Let the broccoli cook for 1 minute before stirring in the peeled and deveined prawns. Reduce the temperature and allow the soup to simmer gently for about 3 minutes or until the broccoli is tender-crisp and the prawns are just cooked through. Turn off the heat, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer the soup into a bowl, squeeze in some lemon juice, stir with a spoon, and enjoy!

A simple broccoli and prawn soup, with a touch of lemon.

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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

c restaurant, perth (my first revolving restaurant experience!)

Pleasant views of Perth city and Swan River from C Restaurant.

Given that I work in a restaurant these days, I don't get tempted to dine out as often - but when I saw an online deal for C Restaurant in Perth, I couldn't resist. After all, it is a rare chance that one gets to have a meal at a revolving restaurant for such an affordable price - $49 for a main course and a drink for two. Plus, I'd never been to a revolving restaurant before, and I wanted to try it at least once.

Anyway, long story short, Simon is interstate for work at the moment, so I ended up going with his mum! We took the elevator straight up to the 33rd floor of St Martins Tower, and there we were - in this circular dining space. It rotates slowly, but there is definitely perceptible movement, and I have to confess that I felt a little strange at first. I did settle in eventually, but if you're prone to motion sickness, be warned.

I wasn't sure what to expect - it is generally said that you go to revolving restaurants more for the novelty and the views than for the food - but actually, I really enjoyed my lunch at C Restaurant. I had C’s famous homemade potato gnocchi with spinach, napolitana sauce and gorgonzola cream, and it was a fine example of comfort food done with luxurious elegance - the portion doesn't look that big, but the pillowy gnocchi along with the rich sauce, broiled to a delightful golden-brown, was indulgent enough that I felt happily satisfied afterwards.

C Restaurant's gnocchi with Napolitana sauce, spinach and gorgonzola cream.

Simon's mum had the free-range chicken breast with confit kipfler potatoes, sauteed kale, tomato fondue and gruyere cheese. I tried a little bit of it, and I was impressed by how perfectly cooked the chicken was - I'm generally more of a chicken thigh sort of girl, because I find that to be more succulent, but this piece of chicken breast was wonderfully tender and moist, and the accompanying elements were nicely done, too.

Having said all this, I'm no high-roller so I'm not sure if I could bring myself to pay full price to eat here, but with the online deal, it was definitely great value.

C Restaurant's free-range chicken breast with sauteed kale, tomato fondue, confit kipfler potatoes, and gruyere cheese.

As for the views? At C Restaurant, there is an outer circle seating just by the windows, as well as a slightly elevated inner circle, and we received a table in the latter section. While we didn't get a window seat (hopefully next time!), it was still fun to watch the scenery shift from where we were, over the hour or so that we were there. All in all, an afternoon well spent!

Another view of Perth from the C Restaurant vantage point.

C Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Sunday, 31 July 2016

cookbook review: a month in marrakesh

A Month in Marrakesh: A Food Journey to the Heart of Morocco.

Another installment in my "neglected cookbook series"! This time around, I explore A Month in Marrakesh, a fun cookbook that takes you on a tour of Marrakesh.

As an indolent cook, one thing I really like about A Month in Marrakesh: A Food Journey to the Heart of Morocco, is that it has an abundance of simple recipes. There are also more complicated or time-consuming ones for the more diligent cooks, and I enjoy their inclusion, too - the pictures and recipes are still interesting to look at, and who knows? Maybe one day I will be up for the challenge! I also appreciate the sturdy, hardcover construction of the book. I'm not the daintiest person in the world, so fragile books are a bit scary for me. This one feels reassuringly solid.

If I am to mention downsides, it would be that the layout can appear slightly messy at times, and the easier recipes are narrated paragraph-style, in which the ingredients are not outlined in a list but are incorporated into the instructions. Some people may not regard this as a problem, but I personally find it easier to make shopping lists and prepare stuff when the ingredients are all tidy and structured. Thankfully, for the recipes with more steps and ingredients, it is still done the way I prefer.

Flipping through the cookbook, the recipe for harira soup caught my eye. Even though it calls for more than a dozen ingredients (if you're familiar with the recipes I develop myself, you know I have a penchant for very brief ingredient requirements), I found it to be pleasingly accessible. This is wonderful, nourishing comfort food - lamb, chickpeas, onions and carrots in a stew of tomatoes, fabulously flavoured with lush tablespoons of spices - paprika, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon. The suggestion in the book is to pair this harira soup with flatbread, but I had it with couscous and it was also lovely. I was so charmed that I made it again soon after my first go, and then, yet again. Definitely regular dinner repertoire material.

Harira soup.

I got lazy for a while, so it took me some time to try another recipe from A Month in Marrakesh, but I finally did, and made the stuffed dates from the dessert section. This is a super straightforward recipe, and the stuffed dates make superb snacks - great for gatherings and parties! Though, in my case, I ate them all by myself, one after another, while watching Four Weddings and a Funeral. That also works.

Basically, you get some dates, make an incision, remove the seeds, and pack in a cooked paste of ground almonds, lemon zest, sugar, water, butter and rose water. I didn't have rose water and didn't want to buy a bottle just to make these, so I used a splash of lemon juice instead - which I know is totally different, but hey, I often love a sharp zing of citrus in my desserts, and it definitely delivered here. I will admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I tasted the almond meal concoction on its own - it was edible, but not quite delectable, as far as I was concerned. But somehow, once the almond paste is married to the dates, some kind of synergistic effect takes hold, and I found these stuffed dates to be rather addictive! So, yeah, I like them enough that I think I will probably make them again. Next time, though, it will be to share with other people, not to devour all on my own!

Stuffed dates.

Anyway, that's my review (I obviously use this term loosely) for A Month in Marrakesh. I am happy with the two recipes I've tried, and hopefully I won't neglect this book too much in the years to come - based on my experience so far, I think it's safe to say that there is yet more deliciousness to discover amongst these pages.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

2016 gardening update - tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, and more!

Home-grown tomatoes!

So, earlier this year, I said to myself (and to all of you, too) that I'd pursue this gardening thing.

I am happy to report that I did spend quite a bit of time in the garden this year, and it did yield me some lovely edible things in return for my efforts. Hurrah!

Let's start with the tomatoes. I had some plump and delectable medium-sized tomatoes that grew from compost (in the above picture), and also some sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes from the plants that were purchased from the shops (below).

Bite-sized cherry tomatoes.

My first harvest was delightful. I never knew that freshly picked tomatoes could be so aromatic - when I sliced up those bigger ones, the savoury scent of tomato was a revelation. Amazing. Speaking of which, I was also very fond of the scent of tomato leaves, which is similar. How would I describe it - it's like the taste of tomato, but for your nose. Just glorious.

Unfortunately, a brutal heat wave followed soon after, and then, autumn came along. I did manage to get a few more tomatoes after the initial batch, but they weren't as tasty, due to the weather conditions.

But I will always have the memory of that first harvest.

My first tomato harvest! It was so, so good.

I also sowed radish seeds. It was exciting to see the seedlings pop up soon afterwards!

Cherry Belle radish seedling.

And then to watch them grow...

Young radish plant.

While the seed packet suggested that my radishes (of the Cherry Belle variety) would be ready for harvest in 3 - 4 weeks, I found that if I left them in for a bit longer, they did get more voluptuous. In my case, they were still quite slender after a month, as seen in this picture - perhaps the growing conditions weren't optimal? But delicious nevertheless. And I ate the radish leaves, too - they're quite bitter raw, but once you cook them, they're quite mild and pleasant!

Also, there was a rat stealing my tomatoes and radishes at one point! I learned very quickly I had to pick the fruit as soon as they are just ripe, before the thief got to it - or to be even safer, cover up my plants! Such are the trials and tribulations of being a gardener.

A small Cherry Belle radish about 3 - 4 weeks after sowing the seeds.

Some cucumber seedlings also started emerging enthusiastically in late summer, but by the time they flowered, it was autumn, so I think the timing was too late - I never got any fruit out of them. However, did you know that you can eat cucumber leaves - which actually taste a lot like cucumber? I picked some of the younger cucumber leaves, sliced them up, wilted them in a noodle stir-fry - and I loved it! So much so that I'd be happy to grow cucumber again, even if it's only for the leaves!

Young cucumber plant.

And I scattered lettuce seeds into the garden, too, and this produced a mix of green and red lettuce. I watered them diligently, and they rewarded me by getting bigger and bigger. Annoyingly, however, keeping the soil nice and moist meant that oxalis weeds (seen here - the ones that look like clover) thrived as well. The good news is, oxalis is edible. The bad news is, they're very high in oxalic acid, and therefore can only be consumed in tiny quantities before you venture into potentially hazardous territory. The ugly news is, they're very persistent and will take over the garden any chance they get!

My lettuce patch!

Then there is what we call rocket here in Australia, otherwise known as arugula in America. If you like rocket, I highly recommend that you give growing it a go. I found them to be easy - once you nurture the plants past the youthful stages, they flourish with gusto, and seem pretty hardy and resilient. I really enjoyed picking the rocket leaves every so often, and using them in my various culinary endeavours.

Salad rocket, also known as arugula. The scientific name is eruca sativa.

Last but not least - there are always little surprises here and there when tending to a garden. I had a couple of unknown plants pop up after some rainy days in autumn - aren't the blossoms pretty? If any of you can identify either of these plants, please feel free to do so in the comments!

Unknown plant with purple flower in Perth, Australia.

Unknown plant with pink flower in Perth, Western Australia.

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Sunday, 19 June 2016

aztec fruit, or white sapote - and a smoothie!

Aztec fruit, or white sapote.

Ever since I finished my Thailand travel series, I've been so busy at work. But don't worry, I'm still around! While there is still the Taiwan travel series to come, those can wait till later in the year. For now, I'm going back to recipe posts!

It was autumn in Perth when I first spied this unfamiliar fruit at my local Asian grocery store. The sign perched on top says "Aztec fruit". Originally from Mexico and Central America, but now also grown in Australia, it is perhaps better known as "white sapote". Some also call it Mexican apple, and while from the outside it may look a bit like a green apple at first glance, I feel that there is where the similarities end.

I waited until the white sapote yields slightly under a firm but gentle press of my finger, and then it was time to investigate this fruit that I have never tried before! The smooth, creamy flesh within has an appearance and texture that reminds me of avocado, except it doesn't have that oily, fatty touch. Meanwhile, a few large seeds take up valuable real estate. I read somewhere that the skin is edible, but it was too bitter for me, so off to the compost it went. So all that aside, what does white sapote taste like? To me, it tasted very much like custard apple, or a soursop without the sourness. Simon said it reminded him of a soft, sweet guava.

The insides of the white sapote fruit.

I had purchased two of the white sapotes, and I had gone for the bigger ones - they were quite substantial, about 300g (or 2/3lb) each, though after removing the seeds, I was certainly not left with quite as much! I ate one just on its own, but if you know me, you know I can't resist making a smoothie with the other one. What can I say, I love smoothies!

And I really love this one. The sweetness of white sapote goes together beautifully with the dewy quality of cucumber. Yoghurt and freshly squeezed lime juice add a bit of zing. Add your favourite sweetener if you like, and there you go - a wonderfully invigorating white sapote smoothie.

A delicious, refreshing white sapote smoothie.

aztec fruit smoothie / white sapote smoothie (serves one)

1 white sapote, or Aztec fruit (about 300g or 2/3lb)
1 small Lebanese cucumber, chopped and frozen (about 90g or 3oz)
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 heaped tablespoons yoghurt (optional)
1 teaspoon honey (adjust to taste, optional)

Discard the peel and seeds from the white sapote - use only the flesh. Combine it with the other ingredients, and blend everything together with approximately 2/3 cup of water. You may choose to use more or less water depending on whether you prefer a thinner or thicker smoothie.

Drink, and be energized!

For a vegan smoothie, use a coconut yoghurt instead of a dairy yoghurt, and use brown rice syrup, agave nectar or maple syrup instead of honey. Alternatively, these ingredients may also be omitted.

Yep, it's worth making: an Aztec fruit smoothie.

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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

chiang mai festival of lights: sky lanterns, yi peng, & loy krathong

Amazing mass sky lantern release at Mae Jo, Chiang Mai.

I can't remember when, or how, I found out about the mass release of sky lanterns in Chiang Mai, but when I was planning our big 2014 Asia trip, I knew that it was one of the things I wanted to experience, and that was how we found our way to Thailand to participate in the festivities of October and November 2014.

Our first stop was the Mae Jo mass lantern release event in October. We booked accommodation near the Mae Jo University specifically for this, which was an awesome decision - while the crowds struggled to make their way home in the traffic at the end of the night, all we had to do was walk!

Plus, the views from our hotel were so pretty.

Beautiful serene views in Mae Jo.

And the resident cat is the most gorgeous, adorable thing.

A sweet cat at Mae Jo.

On the afternoon of the event, we were plodding there on foot under the hot sun, when a wonderfully kind woman and her lovely mum stopped their car and asked us if we wanted to hop in, and we did!

We walked together to the venue after the car was parked, but at some point we lost each other - then, to our delight, we found them again, and plonked ourselves down in the same section. The event consisted of the Lanna Kathina ceremony, where monks receive their robes in recognition of their merit, and the Lantern Release ceremony, where everyone in the venue lights up their paper lanterns and float them into the sky.

Releasing sky lanterns at Mae Jo.

Thanks to the guidance of our new friends, our sky lanterns floated upwards effortlessly! Not everyone was so lucky - some lanterns got stuck in the trees nearby, while others were released too soon by inexperienced attendees, resulting in the lanterns collapsing into themselves, going up in flames, and crashing right back to the ground!

But see this one right here? This was our lantern. Isn't it just magnificent? That rush of exhilaration when we let our lantern go and see it soar to the sky, together with hundreds of others rising up all around us within the same few seconds, to join the hundreds more already up there - it was completely and utterly magical, and it took my breath away.

The floating lanterns ceremony at Mae Jo was just absolutely magical.

Fireworks were NOT allowed, but people don't always play by the rules in Thailand. I think the fireworks were unnecessary - in a way, I feel that it detracted from the pure and simple beauty of the lanterns in the sky.

Floating lanterns and fireworks.

As the night drew to an end, and most people have had enough of releasing lanterns, we wandered around the venue, and I noticed two young monks on the front stage - tidying it up and putting away the various ceremonial objects, perhaps?

Young monks wrapping up the stage after the Lanna Kathina ceremony and sky lanterns event.

So that happened. What an unforgettable evening.

Fast forward to November, and we were back in Chiang Mai again after going full circle on the Mae Hong Son Loop - just in time for the Yi Peng festival and Loy Krathong festival.

The festival of lights add a special something to evenings in Chiang Mai.

The magical vibe continues - everywhere we go, we see lanterns dotting the night sky like fairy dust.

Those are not stars in the sky - they're floating lanterns!

You just can't help but get caught up in the marvelous atmosphere.

The hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai during the Yee Peng festival.

At this time of the year, you can buy little krathongs (floating baskets)  in Chiang Mai to release them onto Ping River.

People selling and buying krathongs (illuminated floating baskets) during the Loi Krathong festival.

We didn't buy any krathongs as we were content to be onlookers to the proceedings. If you do purchase a krathong, I would suggest getting a biodegradable, environmentally-friendly one made from plant materials, such as those created from banana trees or spider lily plants. Apparently there are bread krathongs as well, which the river fish will happily eat!

Crowds of people floating their krathongs down the Ping River.

There are also street parades of giant krathongs, which involves processions of elaborately decorated structures with good-looking men and women perched on top. I read somewhere that these cheerful, smiling people are actually also candidates in a beauty pageant conducted that night!

A smiling beauty perched on top of a giant krathong at a night parade in Chiang Mai.

Elsewhere, people continue to release lanterns to the sky. While it is not a synchronised event like the one at Mae Jo, it is still fun and fabulous.

All around Chiang Mai, people are releasing sky lanterns!

I love watching the excitement and anticipation on the faces of those preparing to release their lanterns, and then their captivated expressions and looks of joy as the lanterns float successfully into the sky.

Happiness is releasing a sky lantern.

And the young ones are in on it, too!

Children getting ready to release a sky lantern.

I'm so glad I planned this trip to Chiang Mai - it was everything I hoped for, and more - there is nothing like actually being there - that surpasses the most stunning photos and the most eloquent descriptions that captured my imagination. It also seems that we went at just the right time, as the future of the free Mae Jo event is in doubts, and there might only be a ticketed event moving forward. We will just have to see what happens. But meanwhile, the festivals of Yi Peng and Loy Krathong are here to stay, so keep an eye out for the dates every year, and mark it on your calender!

Coming to life at night... the vibrant festival of lights in Chiang Mai.

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