Tuesday, 30 July 2013

hot smoked paprika milk steak marinade

A smoky milk steak marinade.

I hereby briefly interrupt my interstate travel journals to bring you this simply smokin' steak marinade recipe. It's a recent experiment and it's super easy, so easy that there is really no excuse for not trying it. Go on now, caress your steak with milk and let those warm, seductive paprika notes sing...

hot smoked paprika milk marinade 
(makes enough for 2 steaks)

1/3 cup milk
4 teaspoons hot smoked paprika

Mix milk and hot smoked paprika together to create the marinade. That's it! You may add more flavours with minced garlic and herbs, if you like. You may also add salt to season it now, or you may decide to salt your steaks later - just before grilling, or even afterwards.

Alternatively, mix together just enough milk and hot smoked paprika together to form a paste, and rub all over the steaks.

how to use this smoky marinade:

Marinade for at least 1 hour, but 2+ hours or overnight would be even better for greater flavour infusion. If the meat is not well-immersed in the marinade, flip it every now and then.

(Vegetarians: I imagine you can use this smoky milk marinade for things like vegetables, tofu, tempeh, and mock meats, too.)

When you're ready to eat, remove steaks from marinade, oil the pan, and cook those juicy hunks to your liking. Serve the steaks with a sprinkle of salt, plus a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or a slice of butter. Alternatively, you cook the marinade to create a sauce to go with the steaks - see below.

what to do with the leftover marinade?

You can try simmering the leftover paprika milk marinade along with some butter to reduce it down to a sauce that can go nicely with your steaks. Alternatively, save it and use it later in another dish - quiche, gratin, scrambled eggs and whatever else takes your fancy...

Hot smoked paprika milk steak.

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Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Taylor's Art & Coffee House, Swan Valley

My adventures in Perth continue, this time a little further out from the city, in the fertile Swan Valley. 

Obviously, I did the Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail. How could I not?

After some windy, rainy weather early last week, it cleared up to be sweet and sunny by the time Wednesday morning rolled around, so we decided that yes, it was time to drive around for a day of edible fun.

First things first. We began our day with brunch at Taylor's Art & Coffee House (510 Great Northern Highway, Middle Swan).

Taylor's Art and Coffee House, Swan Valley.

This is a quaint, sustainable cafe run by the Taylor family. Many of ingredients in the dishes here are sourced from homegrown seasonal produce from their own gardens. I like the "farm to plate" concept and was happy to find a place like this in Swan Valley.

We started off with the "soup of the day" - creamy corn with truffle and parmesan. This is a lovely, rustic soup with blended corn providing roughage and texture, parmesan kicking in a sharp saltiness and the gentlest blink-and-you'll-miss-it hint of truffle teasing our taste buds. The focaccia bread on the side was fresh, warm and had such a crunchy crust - so wonderful with this homemade soup.

Taylor's Cafe: small soup of the day - creamy corn with truffle and parmesan ($9).

And then the mains.

We tried this chermoula chicken salad with roasted sweet potato, beetroot, chickpeas, spinach, spiced yoghurt and garlic walnut crumble, just because it sounded so fabulous. The flavours didn't pop as much as we expected, but it was still alright - and very wholesome.

Taylor's Cafe: chermoula chicken salad ($23).

We also decided upon the braised organic beef meatballs, served with dressed greens, sour cream and crusty bread. This was super comforting on a cool winter's day. The meatballs were tender and moreish. The tomato sauce was a bit heavy on the salt, but it can be somewhat countered with the sour cream and more of that focaccia, so we can kind of forgive that. The salad on the side was mostly leafy greens, but also had bits of pumpkin and goat cheese, and it was perfectly seasoned.

Taylor's Cafe: braised organic beef meatballs ($18).

All in all, we were won over by the down-to-earth food with fresh ingredients and generous servings. Moreover, the young man waiting the tables was friendly and quick with a smile. They've got the countryside charm going on! I'd recommend Taylor's Cafe for breakfast, brunch or lunch - this was a great first stop for our Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail experience. The only downside, perhaps, is that we were so full afterwards that we could barely fit anything else into our tummies for the rest of the trail - so let that be a word of caution, ha.

I'll soon follow up with we did for the food and wine trail. Stay tuned!

Taylors Art & Coffee House on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

hello from perth: brunch, biltong, bubble tea, and more!

Greetings from Perth!

Simon and I arrived a few days ago and have been enjoying a very leisurely time out in the Perth Hills. This is the first time I've visited Western Australia, while it's old hat for Simon, this being his hometown and all. For both of us, it has been a very nice holiday so far.

Winter in Perth is, for the most part, quite mild - perhaps almost like autumn in Melbourne. The temperatures are warm enough that there has been some days where I've happily taken off my coat and carried it around instead. Mind you, it's been rainy today and we're expecting even choppier weather over the next day or two, but it's supposed to clear up after that, so it's all good!

To be honest, we haven't been doing much in terms of sight-seeing... yet. However, we've been spending lots of quality time with Simon's family, who are so warm and welcoming. On our first day his mum cooked us a delicious lasagne, and the food has kept coming - as I type this, I am tucking into a gorgeous slice of lemon meringue pie.

Oh, and this is the view I get when I wake up in the morning. Not bad, eh?

The view from our room.

On Sunday, I had brunch with Simon and his family. We went to a place called Toast (Shop 21, 60 Royal St, East Perth). One of the allures of this place is the waterfront location where you can dine al fresco with lake views. The other is, as their namesake suggests, the different types of bread/toast that they offer.

The place is super busy and those waiting for a spot are given a rubber duck as a token. The colour of the rubber duck denotes your place in the queue, apparently. It was cute - gimmicky, but cute.

Once we had sat down and ordered, our drinks and food took a while to arrive, but they did, eventually.

I had the eggs florentine, which came with potato and parmesan toast. It was decent, if a bit pricey for what it was - you can see that the serving isn't very big, and it's not otherwise particularly fancy or elaborate, either. Still, the eggs had deep orange and runny yolks. The bread was soft in the middle, crispy around the edges, and gratifyingly savoury.

Eggs Florentine at Toast, East Perth. $15.90 or $16.90 - can't remember which.

Simon had the vegetarian full breakfast, which he seemed to enjoy. I procured a piece of his corn fritter, which was soft and fluffy and generous with juicy corn kernels.

I don't think Toast is special enough to warrant the weekend queues, and I wouldn't go out of my way for it. Having said that, we still had a fine time there with family.

Toast on Urbanspoon

We went for a stroll in Kings Park and Botanic Garden afterwards. It was very pleasant.

Kings Park and Botanic Garden.

Then we walked from there to the Perth CBD area.

Simon was eager to grab a refreshing beverage from his favourite bubble tea place, Utopia (71 Barrack St, Perth), a local chain which has been around since 2001. He opted for an apple green tea with grape jelly, whilst I selected a YETO peach tea with apple jelly. (YETO is some probiotic thing, similar to Vitagen or Yakult).

My YETO peach tea from Utopia.

We sipped on our teas as we sat at the tables, intermittently watching a screen that was playing Mandarin, Japanese and Korean pop song videos. I have to say I really like the bubble teas here -  tasty, and very generous with the jellies. The only odd thing is that my bubble tea with 25% sugar is about as sweet as Simon's with 50% sugar, and I could go a little less, but fortunately it was still alright for me. (Yes, you can customize your preference for sugar amounts, as well as ice). When all's said and done, I might even say it's quite possibly now my most favourite bubble tea place, too!

Utopia Barrack Street on Urbanspoon

We also came across The Biltong Shop (21 Plaza Arcade, Perth) when we were wandering about, and decided to get a bag of assorted biltong (cured dried meat, South African style) in different flavours (peri peri, pepper, chilli and fatty). My favourite is the peri peri - it's not the "extra hot" it claims to be, as far as I'm concerned, but it definitely has a sufficiently spicy kick.

The biltong pieces from The Biltong Shop make a convenient snack.

The Biltong Shop also has droewors (dried sausage) and beef jerky, so if we're in the area again sometime, we might try those as well.

The Biltong Shop on Urbanspoon

After a few days of settling down, I decided it was finally time to get off the couch and start doing some cooking with Simon, to give his mum a break. Together, we created this vegan soba noodle salad with roasted vegetables for lunch.

Vegan soba salad.

And we ate it while enjoying this view.

View from the Perth Hills - you can just spy Perth City in the distance.

That's all for now, but I've still got about a week to spend in Perth, so any suggestions or recommendations of things to see, do and eat, are welcome!

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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

mini vegan mandarin muffins / cakes

mini vegan mandarin muffins.

Last month, my workplace participated in Australia's Biggest Morning Tea. Here's the idea: we could choose to contribute by baking some treats to share with the office, or simply make a reasonable donation to partake in the delights. The funds we raise would all go to the Cancer Council.

It's a great cause, and of course, I decided to do both!

Mandarins are in season at the moment, and wonderfully cheap. If you go to the markets at the right time in winter, they can go for as low as 99 cents per kilogram. A total bargain. That, plus my love for all things citrus, soon brought me to the conclusion that mini vegan mandarin muffins were the obvious choice for this baking adventure.

So I whipped up about a dozen mini muffins the night before, and, of course, taste-tested them with Simon to make sure they were okay for feeding my colleagues. Our verdict was: most definitely. In fact, Simon was a little too enthusiastic about the tasting, and I had to shoo him away to protect my remaining muffins.

A few notes (and ramblings):

- I used the peel of one mandarin in this recipe, which suits me well, but if you really love the peel, you can probably use two mandarins' worth.

- The oven I used resulted in some muffins being browner on top than others. In my pictures of these muffins, the mandarin segments on top may look burnt, but they tasted perfectly fine, surprisingly. And I preferred their appearance to the paler ones, but taste-wise it was a much of a muchness.

- These are much lovelier, I feel, when they are still warm from the oven. I tried one the next day, and while it was still decent, it wasn't quite as alluring. They were just so addictive right after baking, with a little aromatic steam still wafting as you take a bite... so, yeah, eat them sooner rather than later, or, if they'd cooled down, perhaps heat them up in the oven again before serving.

- Also, sprinkling sugar to create crunchy tops was a fabulous idea. Because the tops were oh-so-crunchy. However, even though I cooled the muffins before storing them, they weren't quite as crunchy the next day. Any ideas on how I may improve on keeping them fresh? I guess, as per above, I could warm them up in the oven briefly again before serving.

- If you would like to turn these mini mandarin muffins into mini mandarin cakes, simply adjust the amount of sugar. 1/3 cup sugar makes them just mildly sweet, and reasonably healthy as muffins should be. If I am to transform them into mini cakes, I would probably go for 1/2 cup sugar, but it really depends on your personal preferences. I'm more of a not-too-sweet kinda girl.

- Being vegan, these muffins are naturally dairy-free and egg-free. They are also nut-free. You could potentially make them gluten-free, as well, using your favourite gluten-free flour mix substitute.

mini mandarin muffins, best eaten whilst still warm from the oven!

mini vegan mandarin muffins
(makes 12 mini muffins or cakes)

1.5 cups flour
1/3 - 1/2 cup raw sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
4 small mandarins (5cm/2" diameter each, or 300g / 10.6oz total ± 15g / 0.5oz), plus more for decoration
1/3 cup olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 160C fan-forced (180C regular).
Combine flour, sugar and baking powder in a big bowl.
Prepare the mandarins. Remove the stem bits on top, and any seeds.
At this point, you want the flesh of 4 mandarins and the peel of 1 mandarin. Using a blender, blitz the mandarin flesh, mandarin peel, olive oil and salt until smooth. Stir through coconut milk.
Stir the mandarin mix into flour mix. Do not over-mix, a bit of lumpiness is fine. The batter will be very thick. This is fine, unless there are still streaks of flour, in which case just carefully add a little bit more coconut milk until it all comes together.
Divide the batter amongst 12 muffin wrappers slotted in a muffin tray. It'll probably only be enough to fill up halfway, hence the mini stature!
Top with a small mandarin segment and sprinkle evenly with a thin layer of sugar all over. (I also added a tiny bit of vanilla salt for kicks.)
Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden brown on top.

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Tuesday, 2 July 2013

osaka-style okonomiyaki at ura, fitzroy

Okonomiyaki at URA, oh yeah!

I was excited. Very excited. A Japanese pop-up pancake shop, serving homemade okonomiyaki, Osaka-style. It's happening.

I first heard of this venture by URA (28 Johnston St, Fitzroy) through word of mouth, via Simon's housemate, who has some kind of vague acquaintance with Matsu, the owner.

URA is a shop that offers Japanese clothing, toys and other treasures hand-picked from flea markets in Osaka and Kyoto. This pancake thing isn't part of the business - it's an occasional, casual affair, and it feels a bit like you're over at your friend's place on the weekend, while they make pancakes for you.

The okonomiyaki menu at URA, Fitzroy.

It's all very simple. You can get a basic vegetarian okonomiyaki with cabbage, spring onion, okra, and deep fried beancurd. If you want to jazz it up, you can request additional items such as rice cake or cheese.

So. Much. Excitement.

Simon and his housemates ordered the basic okonomiyaki, but I was feeling indulgent, and asked for cheese with mine, because, well, why the hell not?

Tucking into the okonomiyaki.

I'll tell you this. Matsu's okonomiyaki is quite substantial and unabashedly excellent. I am yet to visit Japan, let alone Osaka, so I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but it certainly tastes like it should be the real thing - this stuff is delicious. So much better than the typical ones you get from the dime-a-dozen takeaway shops dotted all over Melbourne. It's made to order, with incredibly fresh, chunky ingredients, cooked till it's just right and served immediately, piping hot.

If this is what Osaka-style okonomiyaki is like, GIVE ME MORE.

While the affable Matsu doesn't put a price on his okonomiyaki, there is a donation jar, so be generous and show your appreciation for his hospitality, and those scrumptious hunks of savoury Japanese pancake goodness. He will surely be delighted if you take the time to browse the store, too - there are some cute, charming, strange and quirky odds and ends worth exploring - we took home some toys (you can see one of the figurines in the first picture up there).

URA's pop-up pancake shop seems to be a semi-regular monthly occurrence. The next one is this very Sunday, 7th of July! Go between 11am to 4pm. If you want to be in the loop, follow URA on Facebook so you don't miss out (last I checked, it seems that he has even started making his own okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise!). Additionally, there isn't much space, and I have no idea how many pancakes Matsu can churn out a day, so depending on how busy it is, you may or may not get lucky. But you can always try, and you probably should.

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