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04 October 2009

Cumquat Marmalade


It’s been a long time since my last post. Thank you to those of you who have written to me to see if I’m still alive. I am. More than ever.  But busy. So, so busy.

I recently started studying to become a chef. While it’s a lot of fun, it’s also all consuming, so posts will be less frequent for a little while.

While I haven’t had much time to spare I did manage to attend a country wedding in a town called Wombat in south west New South Wales. I had hoped the town would live up to its name with constant sightings of the furry little creatures. While I never saw a wombat, the scenery didn’t disappoint. It was magical.

The wedding ceremony was held at the couples’ property amongst an orchard of blossoming cherry and apricot trees. I was suspicious. The blossoms were too perfect – like strategically placed props from a movie set.

I left Wombat in verdant daze lovingly clutching my gift from the bride and groom – a bottle of homemade apricot jam “made with love” from their own trees. That was it. I was moving to the country to grow my own fruit, harvest my own vegetables and bottle-feed lambs.

Two weeks later, I’m firmly ensconced back into city life but the dream of one day having my own patch of land, even a small backyard, is firmly lodged in my heart. And while I don’t have my own plot of land, I am living in a rather expansive, green urban haven with its own orchard of sorts.


Continue reading "Cumquat Marmalade" »

07 September 2009

Somage Fine Foods


Love for chocolate dates back thousands of years.

Some of the earliest records of chocolate consumption can be traced to classic Maya civilization in the 1st millennium AD.

Archeological digs have unearthed Mayan dignitaries buried alongside jars and bowls for chocolate. An 8th century painted vase depicts hot chocolate being held up high and poured into a bowl -- an ancient method of making froth.

Love for chocolate was profound and quickly found its way from pre-Columbian America to the courts and castles of Europe.

Today, millions of tonnes of chocolate are consumed every year around the world.

While everyone loves chocolate, some people take it a bit more seriously than others. Somage Fine Foods take chocolate seriously so that you can just have fun with it.

Based in Melbourne, Somage Fine Foods was borne out of passion and appreciation for quality produce. They sell a range of products including the gorgeous Kali drinking chocolate which is gluten and dairy-free.

I drink mine garnished with couverture sprinkles (pictured below) which makes it all the more luscious. Chocolate couverture is simply chocolate with high cocoa butter content. It pretty much melts as soon as you sprinkle it on and adds a rich texture to the smooth hot chocolate.

The best way to enjoy Kali drinking chocolate is by heating it in a pot on the stove with milk. The milk should be gently heated until just before it starts to steam thus allowing the dairy solids and cocoa to emulsify properly. 


For something with a little more kick, try the Kali chocolate coated coffee beans created with premium quality artisan roasted coffee and the finest grade couverture chocolate. But don't stop there.

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17 August 2009

Robertson Cheese Factory


When I think of Australia, the images that flit through my mind are of endless beaches (of which it has 30,000), tropical rain forest and stark landscapes of wild, dry bush that eventually peter out into hot red rock and dust.

Australia is infamous for its unforgiving desert and harsh terrains.  But even more famous, are Australia’s iconic sandy shores covered by bronzed bodies soaking in the sun like Galapagos lava lizards.

What many don’t know about, are the lush, verdant parts of this sun-burnt country. Endless bucolic countryside of rolling pastures, emerald green, dotted with dairy cows and pretty black-faced sheep. Almost every Australian State has parts which answer to this description. One such place is the Southern Highlands of New South Wales –- just a few hours’ drive from Sydney.

Housed in a beautiful old wooden building, the Robertson Cheese Factory is home to a team of “foodaholic visionaries” with a real focus on local and seasonal produce. Over 40% of the cheeses are produced locally. The rest are comprised of the best Australian Cheeses the factory can source, including Woodside Cheese Wrights, The Barossa Valley Cheese Company, Berry Creek Cheese Company, King Island Black Label Cheeses and many more. They also stock a vast range of French White Moulds and Blues and a number of Italian, and other European hard and soft cheeses. 


Two very talented chefs produce a range of pates, terrines, relishes, pickles, jams and gelatos on-site. And then there’s the honey-smoked trout. Without doubt the best smoked trout I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.


The Robertson Cheese Factory is a very popular weekend breakfast spot with locals and tourists alike. The café is small (seating about 25) and offers sweeping views of the Robertson’s green, rolling hills. Homemade scones and jams make Devonshire tea a popular choice.


Apart from phenomenal cheeses, you can also pick up lots of other goodies at the Robertson Cheese Factory: quiches, jams, preserves, cakes, bread, fresh fruit and vegetables are all sold at the store and you can really taste the love that's gone into preparing their produce.

Visit them at their website, but I can tell you from experience that it’s much more fun to visit them at 107 Illawarra Hwy, Robertson NSW 2577.


28 July 2009

Bacon & Egg Tarts


Sydney is a breakfast city. It does lunch well and perhaps dinner even better, but breakfast best fits its collective psychology.

When the weekend arrives cafes spill out on to the pavement with hungry customers vying for tables in anticipation of breaking their fast.

While I love going out for weekend brekkies, I can't stand the thought of lining up. It's been over 12 hours since my last meal. It can go one of two ways. One -- I faint. Two -- I turn violent.

For me, and those poor souls around me, hunger and queues are a potentially lethal mix. So the safest bet is to whip up something at home.

Last weekend I made these dainty little bacon and egg tarts spiked with a little Parmigino Reggiano for a sharp bite. The tarts are easy to make and are delicious served hot or cold. They're also quite nice with the addition of little baby spinach or wild rocket (arugula). 

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17 July 2009

Sauteed Silver Beet with Chickpeas & Fried Bread


When I think of a chickpeas I think of hummus, falafels, healthy salads and nourishing soups. The last thing that I’d ever associate with it is sex. But don’t let this modest little legume fool you. It once had quite a reputation as potent aphrodisiac.

The chickpea was a medieval form of Viagra. However instead of gulping down a small blue pill, you’d wash down copious amounts of chickpeas with a mug of honeyed camel’s milk... Makes me wild just thinking about it.

If, however, you happen to run out of camel milk, I have a great back-up plan which I am almost as wild about: Sauteed silver beet with chickpeas and fried bread.

This dish works well as a side or as a main. I usually eat it for lunch and if I have any left over it's a brilliant addition to soup. For the fried bread, I prefer ciabatta for its crunchy texture however you can use whatever type of bread is at hand. 

Just before serving I sprinkle on a little smoked paprika. While I only use a small amount, the paprika imparts a sweet, full-bodied smoky flavor and also adds a spicy kick to the dish. I use the La Chinata brand. It's divine and it's my magic ingredient in many recipes.

A note on the chickpeas, for this recipe I use the dried variety which require soaking followed by about an hour of boiling in salted water with garlic. Also, if you're wondering what silver beet is, it's that leafy green vegetable with white stalks and large crinkly leaves. It's sometimes called spinach.

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05 July 2009

Gordon Ramsay's Minestrone with Blue Eye Cod


On Friday I attended the 2009 Sydney Good Food & Wine Show. The main event of the day was bad boy Gordon Ramsay’s live cooking demonstration.

Ramsay bounded out on stage to greet the curious crowd with black masking tape over his mouth – was this promise not to offend after his recent comments about TV presenter Tracy Grimshaw? Or the more likely scenario -- an enforced gagging.

Whatever the case, Ramsay was funny, charming, a little crude perhaps but nonetheless, he delighted the crowd with his amusing quips and cooking tips.

I’ve only ever seen snippets of Ramsay’s infamous Hell’s Kitchen. Frankly I got anxious, and finally, bored watching him shout at and belittle quivering chefs.

After seeing him live though I can see why people are fascinated by him. He’s charismatic, he’s confident and he exuded a potent energy that spilled over into the crowd.

In the 30 minutes Ramsay was on stage he prepared three meals; a minestrone with blue eye cod, Tasmanian salmon on a bed of sautéed spinach and radishes and finally, some luscious looking poached pears served with caramelized figs.

There were no cooking measurements given. It was the case of “a touch of this and a touch of that”. So I've done my best to recreate the minestrone. It’s a delicious and nourishing dish with plump pearl barley, fresh herbs and succulent blue eye cod. Ramsay encouraged the use of celery leaves – something I do regularly in soups, salads and stir-fries. The often over-looked leaves add a fresh and subtle sweetness to whatever dish they're added to.

A note on seasoning with salt – say a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of salt – I try not to add the whole teaspoon all at once. Instead, I sprinkle ¼ of a teaspoon or so here and there throughout the cooking process. This method of staggered seasoning allows for layers of flavour to develop and gives the dish more depth.

Finally, let me introduce you to Malcolm the magpie.

Malcolm lives nearby with his posse of feathered friends and is becoming increasingly more confident and curious as the days go by. I had just ladled the minestrone into the bowls and decided that they needed some more cheese. I went inside the house to fetch it and then came around the corner to find Malcolm with his beak in the bowl! I shouted and shooed him away. He eyed me grudgingly and took several steps backward and proceeded to watch me take photos. He even made several rather lyrical comments. Compliments to the chef I hope.


Continue reading "Gordon Ramsay's Minestrone with Blue Eye Cod" »

14 June 2009

Asparagus Soup with Creme Fraiche


I had forgotten how cold Sydney can get in winter. After living in Canada for so long, the thought of a Sydney winter didn't scare me a bit. I laughed defiantly at a city that has never seen a snowflake fall. Bring it on!

How wrong I was. It's cold. I'm wearing two pairs of socks while I type this...and a beanie.

Sydney, it seems, is in denial of the reality of its winters. In Vancouver, it could be 3 degrees outside yet I would be merrily cavorting around the house in a pair of shorts because it was always an agreeable 20 degrees. Here, I am forced into an immature, roller-coaster relationship with my heater who burns my ankles until I can't take it anymore and turn him off. But then...the house seems so cold without him and I find myself soon inviting him back under the table.

Whenever it's cold, I turn to soups. This asparagus and creme fraiche soup however is one that can be eaten in winter or summer. In colder weather I usually have it quite thick which means it's not strained and contains all the nutritious vegetable pulp. In summer, for something lighter, I strain the soup which results in a smooth, velvety broth.

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03 June 2009

Tod Mun Pla - Thai Fish Cakes


Australians have a love affair with Thai food. Thai restaurants are everywhere and range from tiny eateries to fine-dining establishments. I even go as far as saying that some of the food rivals the offerings of Thailand’s best kitchens.

Thai food in Australia, like Indian food in England, has been unconditionally embraced. Twenty years ago, in Australia, the most common Asian appetizer would have been the spring roll. While I have no scientific data to prove it, my strong hunch is that Australians eat twice as many tod mun pla (Thai fish cakes) than spring rolls.

In spite of my strong Thai heritage I had never, until recently, attempted to make this popular entrée (appetizers in North America). It seemed like a hassle. I didn’t own a food processor and I didn’t feel like making fish paste with my tiny mortar and pestle. I recently bought a food processor and my excuse vanished. And I’m very glad it did.

You can use pretty much any fish. I used basa, a fresh water fish with firm, white flesh. The fish is first blended into a sticky paste with an egg, to bind the mixture, red curry paste, cornstarch or tapioca flour and fish sauce. The paste is then mixed with fragrant kaffir lime leaves and sweet snake beans. It's best to dampen your hands with a little water before rolling the fish cake balls as the mixture is really sticky.

A tip on the kaffir leaves -- I usually buy them with a specific recipe in mind and I only use several at a time. To keep them fresh, simply place them in a small ziplock plastic bag and keep them in the freezer until you need to use them. They don't need to be defrosted either. Just pop them straight into whatever dish you're cooking.

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14 May 2009

Passionfruit Sponge Roll


The sponge cake roll goes by many names. In France it’s known as a ‘roulade’ and can be seen at Christmas time as the elaborate Bûche de Noël or ‘yule log’ covered in thick chocolate icing and miniature meringue mushrooms.

Also known as the Swiss or jelly roll, the sponge cake roll is a thin layer of sponge baked in a sheet pan. Cooled on a kitchen towel, the sponge cake is then spread with a filling such as freshly whipped cream or in this case, cream and passionfruit butter, and then rolled and sprinkled with icing sugar. When sliced, the sponge cake has a beautiful pinwheel pattern.


Most of my experiences with sponge rolls have been with the packaged variety. This translates to preservative-laden cake filled with fake cream, and pales in comparison to the real thing.

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04 May 2009

Smoked Trout Rissoni


Today I'm celebrating 'almost a month of being back in Australia Day'.

I've stocked our temporary mini-kitchen with the basics although I am finding it tough to cook like I used to. I'm feeling rather lost without my pots and pans and my exhaustive selection of herbs and spices.

All these items, minus the herbs and spices due to Australia's stringent customs laws, are neatly packed away in boxes sailing across the Pacific Ocean. They're due to arrive in another two weeks providing they haven't been lost, fallen overboard or mistakenly shipped to Patagonia. Apparently these things happen.

In the meantime, I'm surviving very well on simple meals. I'm living next door to a constant source of inspiration, who recently served me a mouthwatering meal of grilled salmon and spinach rissoni with Greek feta melted through it. Gorgeous.

I made the dish today, this time substituting salmon with smoked trout. I also added some fresh basil, dill and lemon juice. To better achieve the desired effect of warm, stringy, melted cheese, I use cow's milk feta for its extra creamy consistency.

In comparison to Canadian smoked fish, Australian smoking methods seem to produce a milder and more subtle effect.

The simple combination of feta, spinach and smoked trout was so complementary that threw them into my scrambled eggs the next morning. It was one of the best breakfasts I've had in ages.

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