Friday, 31 January 2014

happy chinese new year, and dessert flashbacks...

Another new year has arrived, according to the lunar calendar.

My parents visited recently, and while they didn't hang around in Australia long enough to spend Chinese New Year together, we still had a grand time.

Just quickly, I want to share with you a couple of sweet treats they made during their time in Melbourne.

First, these blue glutinous rice cakes, made with steamed glutinous rice, flavoured with coconut milk and coloured with homemade dye from blue butterfly pea flower. Some people call these cakes "pulut tai tai", which, I don't know, translates into "lady rice" or something like that. They are also referred to as "kuih kaya", because they are eaten with generous dabs of kaya, a coconut jam (or perhaps more accurately, caramelized coconut curd). In my family, we know it as "kah tak kueh", which means "foot-stomped cake", as the cooked rice grains are traditionally compressed into cake form by literally stepping on them - I think something like banana leaves are layered over so the feet doesn't come in direct contact with the goods, ha. When my dad makes this, he just presses it with his hands, and weighs it down with heavy books. One day, though, I reckon it would be fun if we tried making it with the old-school technique!

Blue pea flower glutinous rice cakes, served with a dab of kaya garnished with a dried blue pea flower.

There is also this fabulous creation that seems to be a twist on tang yuan (a glutinous rice ball dessert which is traditionally served in a sweet ginger soup) - apparently my parents ate it somewhere and then decided to attempt making it at home themselves. So here we have pumpkin tang yuan in a taro-infused coconut milk. Deliciousness.

Pumpkin tang yuan in taro coconut milk.

My parents are super amazing and they make such a great team, don't you agree? I'll wrap this post up with my best wishes for the days to come. Happy Chinese New Year to my fantastic family, and to all of you!

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Thursday, 23 January 2014

papaya carob smoothie

Papaya carob smoothie.

Surprisingly, this January hasn't been stupidly busy at work as previous years have indicated, but there are still distractions galore. My parents have been visiting and I've been enjoying their company, the Australian Open is on and I've been enjoying tennis, and, you know... other life stuff.

Which is why I'm giving you this super-simple smoothie recipe. It's really just a two-ingredient affair if you don't count the water and ice cube components. All you gotta do is get yourself some deliciously toasty carob powder, some sweetly smooth papaya, and you're set.

Roasted carob powder.

A quick background on the idea behind this papaya carob smoothie. I visited my sister a few months ago, and was quite intrigued by the latest dietary changes she has made for her son's sake, in accordance to a book called The Eczema Diet by Karen Fischer - with good results, it seems, if his skin's improvement is anything to go by. And for the first time, I had a taste of roasted carob powder, and fell in love. Carob is often used as a substitute to chocolate and therefore compared in unfavourable terms, but that is doing it a disservice. No, it doesn't taste exactly like chocolate, but it's magnificent in its own right - so delightfully malty with a hint of nuttiness and caramel.

This papaya carob smoothie, then, is a recipe I devised, based on the list of eczema-safe ingredients in the book. I have to confess that I don't tend to get excited about papaya, but with carob? Bring it on!

Fresh papaya.

1 cup papaya flesh (approx. 140g)
1.5 tablespoons roasted carob powder
1/2 cup water or soy milk or rice milk
4 ice cubes

Whiz all ingredients together until smooth... and it's ready to pour, drink and enjoy.

Papaya smoothie with the special touch of roasted carob powder.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Rockwell and Sons, Collingwood

When it's not ridiculously hot, it's hard to beat a long summer's day for life's simple indulgences. I love that it can still be bright at 8 o' clock in the evening. I love enjoying my dinner in the open air, as the residual warmth from the last rays of the sunlight and the emerging coolness of the evening breeze caress me.

If you're in Melbourne, you know we're currently experiencing a ridiculously hot week. Fortunately, it was under much more comfortable conditions when I ticked Rockwell and Sons (288 Smith St, Collingwood) off my wishlist last month. It was one of those gorgeous days, if I do recall correctly.

And for a pretty evening like that, you've got to start with a pretty drink. I made the right choice with a strawberry and star anise soda - a lovely housemade affair with fresh, true flavours, sweet with strawberries and flickering with the faintest hint of star anise.

Strawberry and Star Anise Housemade Soda ($5).

French fries with malt vinegar aioli, an excellent combination. The pairing of the crunchy fries with the quite strongly acidic aioli reminded me of salt-and-vinegar chips!

French Fries, Malt Vinegar Aioli ($6).

I had heard so much about the burgers at Rockwell and Sons, especially the famous Double Patty Smash Burger. Perhaps too much, as all the rave reviews had me thinking that this could be a life-changing burger, which is probably quite unrealistic. So look, it may be over-hyped but it was still enjoyable, to be fair - juicy patties, soft and buttery brioche bun, a tasty sauce reminiscent of thousand island dressing... and, I really, really like how there were pickles in every bite, because pickles are awesome.

Double Patty Smash Burger ($10).

The fried chicken sandwich with buttermilk dressing, iceberg lettuce and hot sauce was delicious, too. We gobbled it up in no time.

You know what? These burgers are kind of like what would happen if McDonald's was given a quality, classy, gourmet makeover. I say that as a compliment.

Fried Chicken Sandwich ($12).

The surprise of the night was the pan-roasted broccoli with bonito aioli and pickled sultanas. What a great way to cook broccoli! It was caramelised, it was smoky, it was quite a revelation. The waiter, sensing my delight, said this dish, too, was a favourite of his - that he thought it was a stroke of genius and wanted to try it at home. Yeah, I'm definitely going to pan-roast my broccoli and pickle my sultanas in the future. Thanks for the idea, Rockwell and Sons!

Pan-Roasted Broccoli, Bonito, Pickled Sultanas ($12).

Rockwell and Sons on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

hot smoked trout salad

Hot smoked trout salad.

Happy new year, everyone!

This year is going to be exciting. Plans are a-brewing; this is the year of big decisions and big adventures. I'll leave it at that, but I promise you, even if I don't post terribly often, I'll be here to tell you about it all when it happens.

But for now, we'll talk about smoked trout. Simon spied a heavily discounted whole hot smoked trout at the supermarket a couple of months ago. He asked me for my opinion on whether to purchase it; neither of us had tried it before. I shrugged, "we'll figure out something to do with it."

By the way, so inexperienced was I, that at first I thought the "hot" in "hot smoked trout" stood for spiciness. I've since educated myself and now know that it is merely refers to the temperature of the kiln in which it is smoked. So you get "cold smoked trout" and "hot smoked trout".  The cold smoked version is soft and juicy, like sashimi, and the hot smoked version is flaky but still tender, like a gently barbecued fish.

We didn't use it immediately, so off it went, into the freezer. Recently, when we were going through the food we had accumulated, we finally did something about it. I sent Simon off to the shops with a list of vegetables to buy, and when he came back with the goods, I made a smoked trout salad.

Hello, hot smoked trout!

The salad was absolutely delicious, and it had a feel-good quality to it, too. The simple vegetables were lightly dressed, the trout danced all about in the bowl, adding a salty smokiness.

Hot smoked trout salad with potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, mint, basil, olive oil, and butter.

hot smoked trout salad
(serves 2 - 3 as a main, depending on how hungry you're feeling)

1 punnet cherry tomatoes / grape tomatoes / baby roma (approx. 200g / 7oz)
4 medium all-purpose potatoes e.g. sebago (approx. 150g / 5oz each, x 4)
green beans (200g / 7oz) - add to pot once potatoes are close to ideal tenderness, then boil about 3 minutes.
1 smoked trout (375g / 13oz), flaked
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
1 heaped tablespoon each of shredded basil and mint (or dill and parsley)

Roast tomatoes in an oven at 180°C / 360°F fan-forced (200°C / 400°F conventional) for 20 minutes.
In the meantime, boil potatoes in a pot of water for about 10 - 15 minutes, and just before they reach your preferred tenderness, add the green beans and boil for another 3 minutes. Drain off the water.

Toss potatoes, green beans and cherry tomatoes together with olive oil and butter. The tomatoes may burst, but that's okay, even encouraged - it becomes part of the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste, but be conservative with the salt, as the smoked trout will be quite salty. If you don't want your herb leaves to turn dark, put them in after everything has cooled down, or perch them daintily at the end after you've doled out individual serves - otherwise you can toss them through immediately if you don't care, which was what I did. Add pieces of the hot smoked trout. (Obviously I did a dastardly job of flaking mine, and missed some of the bones as well, I'm sure you'll do better.)

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