Sunday, 30 December 2012

pimm's lemon jasmine banana smoothie-cocktail
(vegan, alcoholic, and stupendously delicious)

I made this, one experimental morning, and fell in love instantly. Like a fruity, floral breath of fresh air, it scintillated my senses and seduced my soul.

A spiked smoothie to leave me invigorated and glowing with health and happiness... in the short time since the idea was born, I've made this many times over, and it shall, if all goes according to plan, accompany me as I say goodbye to 2012, and ring in 2013.

pimm's lemon jasmine banana cocktail-smoothie.

So at this moment, your mind is either running through all sorts of gleeful alcoholic smoothie possibilities or you're thinking, "This lady be crazy."

And before you start to worry... no, I'm not becoming an alcoholic. In fact, one of the reasons this breakfast cocktail came about was because I still had nearly a full bottle of the Pimm's No. 1 that I purchased for last year's New Year's celebrations. Yeah, I wasn't kidding in that post when I said I was bad at drinking.

Honestly, though, if you want to start your celebrations early, like, oh, I don't know - first thing in the morning - I can think of nothing better than this smoothie, a thrillingly clean, joyful cocktail of lemon, banana and jasmine green tea, with splashes of liqueur. (But please, don't drink and drive. Or do anything potentially precarious, for that matter.)

I used Pimm's No.1 here, which is nice and subtle, but I imagine this will also go well with a coconut liqueur, a lychee liqueur, or a ginger liqueur, for example, depending on the flavour profile that delights you. I opted for just 30ml (1 fl.oz) of alcohol, which is barely discernible, but you can probably bump that up a little, depending on the type of liqueur you use, how intensely boozy you prefer it to be, and what you plan to be doing for the rest of the day...

(By the way, if you're trying to behave and abstain, I've even made a mocktail version without any alcohol whatsoever, and it tasted just as glorious, let that be known.)

A little prep in advance is required for this cocktail-smoothie recipe, but it's all tremendously easy. The banana needs to be peeled, the flesh broken into chunks and frozen. The jasmine green tea, too, is brewed with warm (but not boiling hot) water, then left to steep and cool. This is all preferably done overnight; however, I've also made this with only a few hours' notice, with the encouragement of friends, and the help of a few ice cubes. It was so well-received that I couldn't make enough: it was love at first taste for them, too.

Now, without further ado, here's the recipe. Be warned: it is dangerously easy to drink.

a healthy cocktail with lemon juice, jasmine tea, frozen banana, and pimm's no.1.

lemon jasmine banana smoothie-cocktail
(recipe makes 1, multiply to spread the happiness)

120ml brewed jasmine green tea (4 fl.oz / 1/2 cup), chilled
1 small ripe banana of about 12cm/5", flesh chopped and frozen
30ml lemon juice (1 fl.oz / 2 tablespoons / half a lemon's worth)
30ml Pimm's No. 1, or some other suitably complementary liqueur (1 fl.oz / 2 tablespoons)
grated lemon zest and/or nutmeg, to garnish (optional)

Blend jasmine green tea, frozen banana chunks, lemon juice and Pimm's No.1 (or other liqueur of your choice) together until smooth. Pour into glasses, and garnish with a little lemon zest or nutmeg, if you like. Serve immediately while it's deliciously cold.

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Tuesday, 25 December 2012

a quiet christmas

So... it's Christmas by myself.

Simon is in Perth, visiting family. Thanks to work, I have to remain in Melbourne. Curses!

Not to worry, though, we already had a mini celebration before he flew off. A very small affair, just the two of us, with puff pastry mince pies and vanilla ice cream.

puff pastry mince pies with pine sugar, by Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose.

The mince pies are by Heston for Waitrose, and they got into my radar thanks to Sarah's tweets about them. I promptly found them stocked at my local Coles supermarket and bought a box to try.

On the packaging it says, "The magic of these mince pies is the rich mincemeat, which incorporates apple puree, lemon curd and rose water. Warm in the oven and then sprinkle with pine sugar for a real festive twist."

While it wasn't as luxuriously complex as I imagined (based on that description), they were still scrumptious and quite the treat - especially with that delightfully flaky puff pastry and the intriguing pine-infused sugar. We polished it all off in no time at all.

On Christmas Eve, I worked overtime and on my way home, I popped in to my local Chinese, Pacific Seafood BBQ House (210 Toorak Road, South Yarra) and treated myself to takeaway.

Hello, roast duck on rice!

takeaway - roast duck on rice, from Pacific Seafood BBQ House.

And that's about it for my Christmas celebrations. It's Christmas evening as I post this, and I haven't really done much today, but it has been peaceful and relaxing. And Simon will be back in a few days, hurrah!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

honey sage pistachio balls / energy bites

Honey sage pistachio balls. Sweet, nutty energy bites.

Christmas is coming, and while I'm not a traditionalist, I do inevitably get caught up in the excitement that comes with the abundance of edible treats, this time of the year.

This is also the time of the year when I try to challenge myself with making treats that evoke Christmas (see here for last year's achievement). If you think you've been seeing a lot of green in my posts this month, well, it's not a coincidence.

Let's talk about energy balls today. I pop over to Hannah's blog at Wayfaring Chocolate quite frequently, and I am often envious of the variety of balls in her queenly repertoire. However, not having a food processor, I've never made my own.

Recently, I finally thought, to hell with that - I am doing this, even if I have to use a mortar and pestle!

So that's what I did.

Yes, you may call me Superwoman.

Making energy balls without a food processor, the old-fashioned way - with a mortar and pestle.

Thanks to my medieval methods, I made only a small portion, so feel free to multiply the recipe as you see fit. Feel free, too, to adapt the recipe to suit your needs. For example, you can make it a vegan recipe by using maple syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar instead of honey. You can make it a raw recipe, too, by not baking the sage, using raw pistachios - no toasting, and using raw honey or agave. Oh, and if you have a food processor, you can just whiz everything together and cut down on the manual labour.

All that aside, let me just say I am now totally a homemade energy ball convert. Even with the extra work I had to do - which wasn't that difficult, really - I felt it was worth it. So wholesome. So delicious. And in the end, even with all the energy I exerted into making my energy balls, I think they lived up to their namesake and replenished me right back, with more to spare.

Plus, they're festive enough for a Christmas connection, all glistening green with speckles of red!

Honey sage pistachio energy bites.

honey sage pistachio energy balls with a mortar and pestle
(makes about 2 dozen marble-sized balls)
(I made this in 2 batches, as my mortar is modestly-sized.)

20 large fresh sage leaves
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, toasted
pinch of salt (not required if using pistachios that have already been lightly salted)
1 tablespoon honey (approximate, to be added in gradually and with care)

Preheat oven to 100ºC or 210ºF fan-forced (120ºC or 250ºF conventional).
Lay out sage leaves on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 5 minutes or until dry and crispy.
While the sage is roasting in the oven, toast the pistachios in a pan, stirring frequently, until they release a pleasant nutty aroma.
Crumble dried sage leaves with a mortar and pestle, picking out any tough stems that did not break down.
Add the toasted pistachios and continue pounding, crushing and grinding into fine, loose grains.
Sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Skip this step if the pistachios are already salted.
Add in honey, a little at a time, stirring and pressing the mixture with the pestle to check if the consistency might be ready for rolling. If in doubt, stop adding the honey and attempt the rolling earlier - you can always add more honey later, if you need to. Anyway, you can see that mine turned out quite shiny and moist - I could probably have used less honey, but it's all good!
So when you break off a small chunk and it rolls quite smoothly without giving you any trouble (e.g. cracking, falling apart), go forth and merrily roll those balls.

I shared these honey sage pistachio energy balls with Simon and we finished it within the day, but I would hazard a guess that they could keep quite nicely for a few days, covered, at room temperature, or a bit longer if you store them in the fridge.

Have fun, and enjoy!

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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

much ado about matcha... weekend baking adventures

Kitchen disasters. We've all had them.

But oh, the joy when you salvage the mess and rise from the ruins!

I don't usually post my creations when I don't have a recipe to go along with it, but I'm a bit more relaxed these days. Plus, I was actually quite proud of how I saved the day, so here we go. My only regret is that I didn't take a picture of how awful the batter looked at the beginning, which would make the results here look all the more impressive. Hey, we can't have everything.

It all started with an idea. Gluten-free buckwheat matcha cookies.

gluten-free buckwheat hazelnut matcha cookies.

When I have an idea, I like to draft out a recipe and then adjust it in the real world, adding and subtracting as I mix, knead and taste.

In this instance, I had underestimated the amount of buckwheat flour I needed... and not only that, I didn't have any more of it left in the pantry. The batter was neither liquid nor solid, and it was crazy sticky. Shaping or cutting it into cookies was out of the question. I made a makeshift piping bag by cutting a hole in a plastic sandwich bag, and forced in the batter. Bad idea. The consistency wasn't good for piping either. And the batter was so gluey, I now had trouble getting it out of my makeshift piping bag.

My typically trusty spatula looked dirty, tired and helpless. SO I DECIDED TO USE MY HANDS. Desperate times call for desperate measures, or rather, they drive you to insanity... I know that now. Feeling wretched and with gummy green goo all over my hands, I imagined I looked not unlike a forlorn swamp monster.

I still refused to throw the lot away. Organic buckwheat flour ain't cheap, y'all.

Thinking hard, I remembered the hazelnut meal I bought a few weeks ago. Oh, come here, my pretties, and rescue me from the mire of despair! I finally had a workable batter, which I rolled into balls, then pressed down with a fork on the baking sheet. Fifteen minutes later, we have these babies. Not bad, really.

Cross-section of gluten-free buckwheat hazelnut matcha cookies.

But wait, there's more!

At some point during these calamitous proceedings (it's all a blur to me now), and before the hazelnuts came sprinkling at me with heroic exultation, I had, in a moment of resignation, decided to go with the flow, as you do, stirring more cream into a small portion of the batter, and pouring it into a cupcake/muffin case. Amidst the confusion, I nearly forgot about this little cake-in-waiting, but spied it in the nick of time and it went into the oven with the cookies.

And this was the result.

gluten-free buckwheat matcha cake.

It looked alright. It tasted even better. I mean, it tasted really, really good. The cookies were not bad, but this mini cake, soft, moist, and rich, was seriously luscious.

I didn't share it with anyone. It was only tiny, after all...

cross-section of gluten-free buckwheat matcha cake.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

chargrilled tomatoes, smashed avocado

I have to confess, I haven't been feeling a lot of motivation lately to be productive. My free time is invariably consumed with net-surfing and the hours just insidiously creep by. Chores and errands are attended to with sloth-like urgency. I have occasional bursts of inspiration and energy, but they seem to be far and few between.

I hope this phase ends soon! Luckily, the making of lazy meals has always come easily to me, and today's brunch idea is no exception.

This is an accidentally vegan brunch that I cooked up one Friday, based on what I found at Simon's place. I guess in a way it's almost like a deconstructed guacamole, except I didn't have any red onion, nor coriander (aka cilantro to my North American readers). And I used lemon instead of lime, and dried chilli flakes instead of fresh, etcetera. You can keep these additional and alternative elements in mind if you make this. But I digress. Simple, yet full of flavour, this is an easy-to-prepare meal that highlights the natural goodness of the ingredients.

chargrilled tomatoes on smashed avocado.

char-grilled tomatoes, smashed avocado

1st step: making the smashed avocado

1 small avocado (approx. 150g or 1/3 lb), peeled and pitted
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced
salt, chilli flakes and cracked black pepper, to taste

Mix avocado flesh, lemon juice and garlic together in a bowl. Mash with a fork to your preferred consistency. A smooth puree can be good but I like some little chunks of avocado remaining here and there for this dish - it gives a nice textural element to it.

2nd step: char-grilling the tomatoes

2 medium tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil, or more

Fire up the char-grill pan so that it's hot before you add the tomatoes.
Toss tomatoes in olive oil, then place on the grill. I like to grill it on both sides and get them quite soft, but if you only do it one side, make it the cut-side down. I did mine on cut-side for about 5 minutes, then the rounded side for about 3 minutes, then back to the cut-side again for 1 minute. If you're doing a bit of flipping around, as I did, make sure the tomatoes, or the area of the grill they're placed on, remain well-oiled on subsequent flippings, so that the tomatoes don't stick on the grill.

3rd and final step: assembling

Swipe the smashed avocado onto a plate, and top with the chargrilled tomatoes. And there you go - hot, sizzling, juicy tomatoes on a bed of cool, creamy, smashed-up avocado. Tuck in.

hot, sizzling, juicy tomatoes on a bed of cool, creamy, smashed-up avocado.

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Monday, 26 November 2012

a simple cauliflower soup

Hello, hello... I am now the happy owner of stick blender (also known as a hand blender or immersion blender). In truth, I operate a very minimalist kitchen and don't see the need for all sorts of fancy tools, but I have been yearning for a stick blender for a long time and now that I've got one, I'm lovin' it.

Smoothies... juices... dips... sauces... creamy soups! What's not to love? (Oh, and if it's fabulous for anything else, please do let me know in the comments... greatly appreciated.)

Let's just focus on the creamy soup aspect today. I'll be honest, my cauliflower soup recipe is going to be a rather vaguely instructive one, as I didn't really bother with any precise measurements. The good thing, though, is that it really doesn't need to be that detailed. It's easy. It's homely. It probably won't knock your socks off, but it's good and comforting and you may ask for a second helping. Or, at least, Simon did... after insisting he wasn't very hungry when I gave him his first bowl. As he went for more, I gave him a look, to which he reiterated and responded - "I'm not hungry, but it is so delicious..." Awwwww.

a simple cauliflower soup.

a simple cauliflower soup
(serves 4 as a starter or side... but we served it for 2 as a main on a not-so-hungry evening)

1 small to medium head of cauliflower, or 1/2 a head of a large one
butter, for frying - about 1 tablespoon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
water, or unsalted/low-salt vegetable stock - a few cups' worth, depending on size of cauliflower
salt, to taste
cream, to taste - I used about 2 tablespoons
balsamic vinegar and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Cut or pluck the cauliflower florets (I often trim the stem, chop it up and use it too) and set aside.
Over medium heat, warm up some butter in an appropriately sized saucepan, along with the garlic and onion. When the garlic and onion has softened, add the cauliflower, then pour in just enough water or vegetable stock to cover the florets. Turn up the heat to bring to boil, then turn to medium again, partially cover the saucepan and let it cook until the cauliflower is tender - times may vary, but for me it was about 15 minutes.
Puree the soup. (With a stick blender if you have one - yay! Otherwise, transfer to a blender and blend it in portions, then return to the saucepan.)
You can lower the heat at this point so the soup just gently simmers. Add water if you'd like to thin it out, or cook it longer if you'd like it thicker.
Stir in some cream and continue stirring until it becomes one with the soup. Add salt to taste. (Having cooked the cauliflower in water instead of stock, I used a spiced and herbed vegetable salt here to give extra flavour, but this is optional.) Turn off the heat.
Ladle the soup into bowls, then splash with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper - be as generous as you like. Then slurp it all up with a spoon.

lashings of balsamic vinegar and freshly cracked black pepper to add flavour and interest.

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Monday, 19 November 2012

la dulcita, fitzroy: empanadas and beyond

An assortment of empanadas at La Dulcita, with chimichurri (Argentinian garlic-parsley sauce).

Edit: Sadly, La Dulcita is no longer in business - it appears the owners have decided to extend their other business, Brother Burger, to cover that shop area as well. If anyone knows where else I can get awesome empanadas, please leave a comment!

I first got a whiff of Argentinian bakery-cafe La Dulcita (413 Brunswick St, Fitzroy) when, one day, I noticed an ad seeking staff for a new South American eatery. While the job was not for me, this was an exciting find! Lo and behold, it emerged several weeks later, just as Simon and I were leaving for our Sydney-Canberra trip, so I promised myself that we'd visit it, first thing, upon our return to Melbourne.

And so we did.

Simon and I are both baked egg fiends, so naturally we went for the Huevos Portenos - baked eggs with potato, chorizo, cheese, salsa and chimichurri... a combination of flavours that radiate warmth, comfort, and satisfaction.

Huevos portenos - baked eggs.

I was familiar enough with the concept of South American food to know of empanadas, but till then, I had never actually tried one.

So it stands to reason that we had to try ALL the empanadas. In any case, there were only three different flavours (beef & olive; chicken & corn; zucchini, capsicum and egg), and they were quite small.

The texture of the empanada was unique to me - there's an almost bread-like softness to it, with just a gentle hint of flaky crunch. All three were delicious, but it was the beef and olive empanada that really won my heart, falling apart in the mouth like a slow, savoury, sensational stew.

Cross section of beef and olive empanada.

Cross-section of chicken and corn empanada.

Cross section of zucchini, capsicum and egg empanada.

When we paid at the counter I decided to get a few of the sweet pastries for takeaway. They were pleasant enough, though having been kept at room temperature all day in the bakery, I suspect they could be exponentially better if I had warmed them up a little in the oven before eating.

Sweet pastries from la dulcita.

Verdict? I'll be back to further explore the La Dulcita menu. They have some tasty looking quiches (featuring goat cheese, no less) that I'd like to try next time; and, of course, I look forward to immersing myself in more empanada goodness.

La Dulcita on Urbanspoon

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Monday, 12 November 2012

strawberry cordial / strawberry soda, with a hint of galangal

homemade strawberry cordial + sparkling mineral water = homemade strawberry soda.

I don't use galangal very often. I should. They're fabulous in so many Asian recipes, with their mystical aromatics - a little woody, like pine or cedar; a little spicy, like ginger yet not quite.

When I bought a large chunk recently, I was too lazy to use it in a traditional Asian dish, which tends to be a little more work. Instead, gazing upon the punnets of springtime strawberries sitting pretty in the fridge, I decided to make a strawberry galangal cordial. With, of course, a strawberry galangal soda to follow.

So gloriously red. So seductive.

Of course, a pure strawberry cordial, and the ensuing pure strawberry soda, is amazing with its pristine fruity flavour. You may omit the galangal to do just that. But on those occasions when you're feeling a little bit experimental, and you don't think you'd mind an exotic frisson of mystery in your refreshing strawberry drink, well... why not try it with a hint of galangal?

strawberry and galangal.

strawberry cordial / strawberry soda, with a hint of galangal (if you like)

250g strawberries (1/2 lb), hulled and halved
5cm galangal (2 inches), peeled and thinly sliced (use a sharp knife as they can be tough and fibrous)
1 cup water
1/2 cup raw sugar

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to boil, then simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, mashing up the strawberries with a fork towards the end as they lose colour and soften. Let the mixture cool then strain through a fine sieve, pressing down on the strawberry pulp with a fork or spoon to extract as much liquid and flavour as you can.
This cordial will keep in an air-tight jar or bottle in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.*
To make strawberry soda, simply pour in some cordial into a glass, then top up with soda water or sparkling mineral water, plus ice.
Bonus round: You may also add this cordial to freshly boiled hot water to make a soothing strawberry galangal tea. 

*I sterilise my jars by washing them thoroughly and then letting them sit in boiling water for a couple of minutes.

strawberry galangal soda.

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Monday, 5 November 2012

recent delights: spring, antojitos & cocktails, quinoa

Here in Australia, we're currently enjoying the last few weeks of spring, and summer is almost within reach. Almost.

flowers in spring.

With only about two months left of this year, I am once again struck by how fast time has been speeding by. Each year that passes now seems to be infused with a stronger sense of urgency. Simon and I are talking more about hopes and dreams for the future: thinking about doing things differently, thinking about embarking on new projects together.

And by the way, while, as yet, it is mainly just a hobby for Simon, I've been hassling him about getting his photography out there and it's starting to yield results already. He recently won a contest with this absolutely stunning photograph of pigeons at the Gateway of India in Mumbai. So proud!

Gateway of India.

- - -

What else has been going on? I was invited to be a guest at the launch of Senoritas' late night menu and new cocktail list recently, where I was introduced to "antojitos", Mexican street snacks which translates literally as "little whims" - how poetically cute! Simon and his DSLR came along for the ride. I've included a few photos below; if you would like to see more, feel free to hop over to my Facebook page where it's under the Media / PR Events photo album.

Being greedy we tried almost everything that was on offer, except for one of the cocktails. Some highlights of the night: Chicharrón de Puerco (crunchy pork crackling served with guacamole and salsa), Chocolate Dia de Muertos (dark chocolate ganache with guava jelly and chilli), and the El Pimento cocktail (who knew capsicum could be so tasty in a sweet alcoholic drink?).

chicharrón de puerco (crunchy pork crackling) at Senoritas.

chocolate dia de muertos ("day of the dead" chocolate) at Senoritas.

cocktails! at Senoritas

Señoritas on Urbanspoon

- - -

Also, I figure it is time to tell you more about how quinoa has been taking over my life this year. In fact, it's kind of a staple these days. I've been cooking quinoa more often than I cook rice - a pretty big deal coming from someone with an Asian background! It takes just 15 minutes and it's so easy to throw a few things together to make a full meal. Admittedly, I haven't done anything particularly precise or exciting yet, but when I do I'll be sure to share a recipe with you all.

a simple quinoa dish.

What are some of your recent delights?

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Sunday, 28 October 2012

pan-fried jerusalem artichokes / sunchokes, bratkartoffeln style

there's almost a cosmic quality in this shot of the jerusalem artichokes, don't you think?

I live in a two-bedroom apartment. I rent. I share. Over the past few years, I've had people from different walks of life come in and out of this cosy apartment, while I remain.

When I came across Jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes, sunroots, earth apples or topinambours) sometime ago, I thought about what I could do with them, and one of the first things that popped into my mind was to emulate the German dish, Bratkartoffeln, which I experienced for the first time, thanks to my Bavarian housemate, Max, back in 2009. Bratkartoffeln's star ingredient is the humble potato, of course, but I had a feeling that Jerusalem artichokes, with a similar taste profile, would be a brilliant swap... and it was.

So here's my recipe for pan-fried Jerusalem artichokes, loosely based on that delicious, delicious Bratkartoffeln.

sunchokes or jerusalem artichokes, cooked bratkartoffeln style. oh yeah!

pan-fried jerusalem artichokes, bratkartoffeln style
(serves 2)

450g jerusalem artichokes / sunchokes (1 lb)
1 tablespoon oil
120g bacon (4 ounces, or approximately 4 slices) - may be omitted to make this vegetarian or vegan-friendly
1 onion (150g / 1/3 pound)
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

Peel Jerusalem artichokes, then cut into slices of approximately 0.5cm / 1/5 inch thick.
Warm up some oil over medium heat. Fry bacon and onion together for 5 minutes. Add garlic and Jerusalem artichokes and fry for about 10 minutes, depending on how you like the texture of your Jerusalem artichokes.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you're using bacon, additional salt is probably not required.

Serving suggestions:
If you're going with the Bratkartoffeln way, toss through some chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (also known as continental or Italian parsley). As I didn't have any parsley, I decided to serve my pan-fried Jerusalem artichokes on a bed of mixed fresh salad leaves (mostly baby spinach) with a dollop of unsweetened natural yoghurt. I imagine sour cream or goat cheese would also be great, or you can give it a dash of lemon juice or sumac for a dairy-free, vegan option if you like a bit of acidity.

this sunchoke bratkartoffeln can be a satisfying meal in itself.

Simon devoured his in, like, two minutes - just goes to show how you can't go wrong with the awesomeness of Bratkartoffeln. I wasn't too far behind.

Oh, and if I've now got you pondering the idea of using Jerusalem artichokes - you can find them in the markets around wintertime, give or take a little (I got mine weeks ago, which was, by then, towards the end of their Australian season, but Northern Hemisphere friends should be seeing them emerge right about now). Here are our thoughts on their taste and texture. When raw, their fresh crispness remind me of water chestnuts, while Simon likens them to a fusion of apple-potato, and they can go well in a salad. When cooked, like in this pan-fried dish, they develop a starchier quality, venturing into comfort food territory. They're good either way with their gentle flavour, experiment and see what you like!

P.S. Another photo, basically the first one in this post, but cropped to highlight one of the Jerusalem artichokes, which Simon reckon looks like a wombat. By golly, it does!

you have to love a root vegetable that looks like a wombat.

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Sunday, 21 October 2012

sydney food adventures!
hong ha, bourke st bakery, kura kura, n2 extreme gelato and niji sushi bar

I'm back in Melbourne!

And I'm loving it... except I do miss my interstate adventures in Sydney and Canberra, and that glorious, glorious holiday feeling where work and responsibilities are so, so far away. Gosh. That is a wonderful feeling, I'll tell you that.

Oh, well. At least I can try to re-live my time away with this post, right? And it has the bonus effect of fulfilling my blogging duties as well. Yes!

I'll have to somewhat skip the wedding and baby part of the trip, at least in the pictorial sense, because all those photos are in Simon's camera, though they might eventually make their way to this blog. But I can tell you that the wedding in Sydney was fantastic - the bride and groom both looked incredibly gorgeous and blissful AND they even did a thrilling Gangnam Style performance with their friends! By the end of the night, young and old were kicking up their heels on the dance floor. The celebratory mood was infectious. Also, my sister's baby? CUTE. And definitely a handful. It was lovely to catch up with my sister again and see the baby for the first time. Are we all grown up now or what! I didn't end up entertaining myself much with food during my short time in Canberra, but hey, there'll be a next time, for sure.


Now, back to those food adventures.

After all the wedding stuff, Simon and I chilled out the next day with friends. For brunch, we met up with my friend Em, and we went to Hong Ha for takeaway Vietnamese sandwiches (banh mi). There is quite a bit of hype surrounding this place, particularly their chilli chicken rolls, so that was what I got.

the famous chilli chicken roll from Hong Ha, Mascot.

The buns here are pretty great - the exterior is delightfully crisp, then descends easily into an equally delightful fluffiness. The fillings tasted fresh, savoury, and yes, spicy when you bite into those chillies. I was happy with my choice. Simon and Em went the pork route, which, according to Simon, was alright, though not remarkable. Overall, even if they may possibly be a tiny bit overrated, for an easy $5, I find the rolls here to be splendid value for money.

Hong Ha on Urbanspoon


After enjoying our brunch in the park, we walked to the nearby Bourke St Bakery in Alexandria. I've heard so much about Bourke St Bakery and was truly looking forward to it. Em, who is no stranger to their offerings, got her favourite, the chocolate tart, while the ginger brûlée tart caught my eye.

ginger brûlée tart from Bourke St Bakery, Alexandria.

I thoroughly enjoyed my tart. The dense yet flaky pastry somehow felt simultaneously wholesome and sinful. The custard was smooth and sensual, with beautiful caramelisation on top. I washed it down with a refreshing house-made lemonade, and wished I could fit in more of those scrumptious-looking bakery goodies.

Bourke Street Bakery on Urbanspoon


Satiated with sugary joy, we parted ways with Em after she kindly gave us a lift into the city centre. We wandered around a bit, and as evening fell we met up with Simon's friends from his university days at Kura Kura for a cheap and cheerful Japanese dinner. My aburi sushi was okay; it did the job but didn't really excite my taste buds. I snuck a bite of Simon's dish - hearty, succulent pork belly and spinach on rice - and preferred his choice to mine. Either way, the food here may not be groundbreaking but at prices of around the $10 mark for most dishes, it's good and satisfying.

pork and spinach on rice at Kura Kura Japanese Casual Dining, Chinatown.

Kura Kura Japanese Casual Dining on Urbanspoon


For dessert, we ventured to N2 Extreme Gelato for what is basically made-to-order gelati conjured up on the spot with the help of liquid nitrogen. This is something you'd want to approach with caution, particularly with some recent news of a cocktail mishap in England, but N2 assures that they have strict safety procedures and the liquid nitrogen is fully evaporised before they serve their icy treats. I've got to say, it does look cool, both literally and figuratively speaking.

where the magic happens... at N2 Extreme Gelato, Chinatown.

N2 is big on quality ingredients and gleeful flavour experimentation. That night, I opted for Confused Cereal, which is inspired and approved by the well-known Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar. It's creamy, dense and filling - a cute twist on a favourite childhood breakfast, perhaps a tad on the sweeter side for me but might be just right for others. Simon had the sleek and sophisticated guava sorbet with mint, which tasted super fresh and fruity, if not quite minty enough. The other flavours such as the banana and peanut crumble, the miso caramel with peanuts, and the sour cream chocolate, etc., all sounded extremely intriguing but sadly I could not make room for more.

my confused cereal ice cream and simon's guava sorbet from N2 Extreme Gelato.

N2 Extreme Gelato on Urbanspoon


My last day in Sydney was shaping up to be an uneventful one. But then one of my cousins, Daniel, offered to take me out for dinner. Simon and one of my aunts (who flew all the way over from Malaysia for said wedding) was invited too. Hurrah! He suggested a new-ish Japanese restaurant in Kingsford, Niji Sushi Bar.

Daniel and my aunt both went for chicken teriyaki, which was simple but very nicely done. Simon and I weren't too hungry so we ordered just a couple of small dishes to share. The maguro taru taru - diced tuna and avocado with chilli paste, onion tate, black caviar roe, barley miso dressing, and lotus root chips - was excellent. The sweet heat of the chilli jam against the cool, dewy tuna, the crunchy chips, and the dressing that pulled everything together... loved it. The grilled wagyu beef with amayaki sauce, however, took ages to arrive, and when it finally did, it was a little disappointing. It lacked that luscious fattiness, and was somewhat chewy. I've actually found this to be the case with quite a few of my wagyu steak samplings in Australia now. Simon didn't seem to mind it though.

maguro taru taru at Niji Sushi Bar, Kingsford.

Having waited for so long to receive our final dish, we gave desserts a miss, and just concentrated on finishing up our delicious mocktails instead - mine was a yuzu lassi, made with yoghurt, yuzu juice and yuzu marmalade; Simon's was a concoction of apple, aloe vera, mint, tea syrup and lemon. Both were exquisitely invigorating. Thanks again for everything, Daniel!

mocktails at Niji - yuzu lassi and apple aloe.

Niji Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon


So that's it for my Sydney food highlights! It's a longer post than usual, but I hope you enjoyed reading it from the beginning till the end. I'll be back again soon, most likely, with a recipe!

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Friday, 12 October 2012

life and new chapters...

fresh apricots.

This is shaping up to be a year of new chapters in the lives of those close to me. Today, I'm going on a one-week interstate holiday. In the next few days, I'll be celebrating my cousin's wedding and embracing my sister's new baby.

In contrast, this has been a fairly stagnant year for me... but I feel that I am on the verge of a breakthrough.

The photos in this post were taken a long time ago. I never found a place for them, but I found it fitting to include them here today. The way the light falls upon the upward-reaching apricot leaves. A sweet potato that looks like it's inching forwards in search of a delicious destiny.

I have plans and wishes for the future. They are not coming together yet, but I can almost see them fall into place, piece by piece, gradually, over the next year or so. And I hope the results will be tasty and satisfying for the soul. I know it's a little cryptic at this point, but I will try to divulge more as I make progress. Promise!

But for now, off to Sydney and Canberra, to be with wonderful people, to chat, to laugh, to reminisce, to celebrate, and yes, to eat and to drink. I'll be back in about a week with pictures and stories - see you then.

sweet potato and thyme.

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