Wednesday, April 28, 2010


After several years of blogging on, I have decided to move houses to - Why? Well, the main bugbear at the moment is that it throws up huge errors when browsing with my small web browsing device. So see you over at my new digs soon!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Recipe: Imam bayildi (Stuffed Eggplants)

Harvest time!

I had been planning on making eggplant moussaka, but discovered upon arriving home that I didn't actually have a recipe at hand. No matter - stephanie offered this recipe:

3 eggplants, halved lengthwise
1 large onion, finely sliced

1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
(I used a can, rather than fresh)
1 bay leaf
pinch of ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

freshly ground black pepper

juice of 1 large lemon

Scoop out eggplant flesh, then chop and lightly salt and set aside. Lightly salt eggplant shells and leave upside down for 30mins. Rinse and dry shells.
Preheat oven to 180 deg C. Cook onion slowly in 2 tbsp of oil. Add garlic and saute for 1 min, then add tomato, bay leaf, cinnamon, parsley and cook for another 5 mins. Tip into bowl. Rinse and dry eggplant flesh. Heat 3 tbsp oil and saute eggplant, then mix.
Pile filling into eggplant shells and brush with a little oil. Pack shells into an oiled baking or gratin dish. Pour in enough water mixed with lemon juice and remaining oil to barely cover eggplant. Bake for 30-45 mins until soft. Allow to cool and serve at room temperature or cold.

I halved the recipe, since I was only cooking for two.

First up: Let's start with the fresh harvest from the garden:
The eggplants were a bit seedy, I guess I had left them to grow for a bit too long. Cutting the flesh out and cubing it was quite easy. The silverbeet is my parsley substitute.

So here we have the filled eggplant shells heading into the oven. Already they look quite delicious!

40 minutes later, I couldn't wait for them to cool to room temperature, so I ate them after 5 minutes resting. In the introduction, Stephanie says: "Folklore claims that a Turkish priest, the imam, fainted with pleasure on being served this dish by his wife."

I can see why: such simple ingredients, but it takes on an added dimension with the ordinarily plain eggplant melding everything together and making it oh so moreish!
There were no leftovers.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sustainable Food Fair in Western Sydney: Go!

Blacktown Council is hosting a sustainable food fair next week 18 April 2010. Go. No really, just go. Please. Help support cool food stuff happening in Western Sydney, so there can be many more events like this in future.

I quote:

The fair will include a Farmers Market where residents can purchase from a range of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables, meat and baked goods.

The day will also have activities for the kids, environmental stalls and advice, food plant giveaways, and a free organic barbeque for the first 300 people.

It'll be at Grantham Park Seven Hills, which google maps tells me is here:

View Larger Map
, and there will be a free bus every 30 minutes from 1000 - 1330 hours from the Blacktown Civic Centre if you are a true sustainable public transport hippy, and you catch the train to Blacktown first.

I think you are supposed to book a spot on the shuttle and the number is (02) 9839 6582.

I'll be there, will you?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recipe: Braised Duck with Orange and Pearl Barley

I bought a few months* ago some duck fillets from Pepe’s ducks. After nearly fainting at the price ($26 for 4 fillets) I tried roasting a pair, and was very disappointed at the result, not having managed to ‘burn off’ the fat underneath the skin. The remaining two were then stored in the freezer for another day.

Then I saw this recipe in the weekend paper:

Braised Duck with Orange and Pearl Barley (Sun Herald "Sunday Life" Magazine, Karen Martini 17/3/2010)
10 blood plums, split and pitted
1 tbsp raw sugar
200ml verjuice

400g peeled and cooked chestnuts (vacuum-sealed)

3 star anise

2 oranges, zested and juiced

sea salt and cracked black pepper

130g fine pearl barley

50mL extra virgin olive oil

6 duck marylands

2 brown onions, finely sliced
1 celery heart, finely sliced

5 sprigs thyme

1 tsp ground allspice

2 bay leaves

100mL white wine

1 1/2 litres chicken stock

Preheat oven to 165C fanforced (185C conventional). Toss plums in raw sugar and place on a baking tray with verjuice, chestnuts, star anise and orange zest. Season with slat and pepper and roast in the oven for 25 minutes.
Boil pearl barley in lots of water for 10minutes, then drain and set aside. Heat oil in a large pan over a high heat. Brown duck for 4-5 minutes, season well, then remove from pan. Add onion, celery, garlic, thyme, allspice and bay leaves to pan and cook over medium heat for 10minutes. Return duck to pan, and add wine, stock and orange juice. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Add barley and simmer for 20 minutes or until barley is tender. Spoon plums and chestnuts over duck and simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve on a platter.

And I thought it would be a good use of the remaining duck fillets.

It didn’t begin well.

I didn’t make it to my favourite grocer on time, had to make do with a supermarket, so I was missing blood plums and chestnuts. I substituted purple skinned plums, and a ‘low cholesterol’ nut mix of walnuts, cashews, almonds, pepitas and sunflower seeds. I didn't have allspice, so some freshly ground cinnamon was used instead.

I pan fried the duck fillets on high heat for the 4-5 minutes, managed to fill the kitchen full of smoke, and cover the stove with bits of splattered fat. I had to evacuate the pan to outside to cool off, wipe down the stove, and then in order to distract the smoke alarm and the mozzies: turn off the light, open the screen door, and run around like a madman fanning the smoke with a giant newspaper.

Okay, lets keep going. I drained the exuded fat from the pan, added the other ingredients (substituting beer for wine, so that I would waste less alcohol), and tried to simmer the pot over a low heat.

The burner decided that it would join the fun, and switched itself to ‘high’, even though I had it on low.

A burnt caramel smell later, I didn’t want to start again, so I mistakenly scrapped up all the bits that had stuck to the pan, added more stock and beer, and kept going.

And the burner did it again. Add more stock and beer, wait 5 mins, then add the pearl barley. After the 20 mins of cooking, I added the roasted plums.

And the result was…. Interesting. It was such a shame I burnt the sauce, because this would’ve been a really nice dish otherwise. The duck tasted very gamey, almost liver-like in flavour. Unfortunately it was a bit tough – either because of its extended sojourn in the freezer, the random high heat input from the burner, or I had just cooked it for too long.
The pearl barley/sauce mixture was – burnt. It had some nice elements to it, but I couldn’t rescue the sauce despite much internet research. I think that the chestnuts, if I had used them, would’ve added a creamy texture to the dish. My favourite bits were the duck and the plum, so I saved those for the leftovers, and tossed the rest. I think that this would’ve gone quite well with some English spinach.

* it may have been ‘years’ ago.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Review: Din Tai Fung, World Square

This place is so popular, it took me about six months before I managed to get myself organised enough to try it.

It is also quite expensive, so it is handy that the Entertainment Guide has a 20% off the bill voucher.

However, you can’t use your entertainment voucher on big-event days such as Valentines day or Christmas Day.

So, queuing on a Friday night, you are given a copy of the menu whilst waiting, and a sheet to mark up the dishes that you want, such that you can place your order as soon as you are assigned your table (similarly to Sushisuma).

You can also watch the chefs hard at work, pinching and poking the dumplings into being.
Don’t look for dumplings cooked any other way except for steamed.

The ones to try are the: xiao long biao, or steamed pork dumpling with a little soup or stock inside. Don’t burn your mouth! The trick that I have found is to put the dumpling on one of the soup spoons, and then nibble a corner of the pastry gently, such that the soup spills out into the spoon, before consuming it in two gulps. Yum! (Although, my most recent visit, I do recall this being a bit too salty for my taste).

Another popular one is the crab roe and pork dumpling. Delicate parcels topped with pink, and a rich almost gamey flavour of the roe throughout the dumpling.

The pasty is almost paper thin, and delicate. Very easy to tear, even when trying to pick up the dumpling from the steamer in your chopsticks!

The downfall in sharing a table is that you always want to reach over to your neighbours’ dish and try it out.

Last visit we saw a delicious looking fried rice with a what looked like a gooey and yummy semi-cooked egg.

on top. We tried organising for the Taiwainese fried rice, but it didn’t look the same, and was actually quite oily. Next time I see it, I will have to try use the phrase: “Wo he ta de yi yang de” (I’ll have what she’s having, in Mandarin Chinese).

Also tried:
Lychee and mint mocktail – delicious on first taste, looks wonderful, ends up being too sugary!

Green tea icecream, and Taro sweet bun. Both very nice the taro bun had an aldente pastry!
The vegetable offerings that I have sampled - Fried waterspinach with chilli and Garlic fried green beans, both I have found to be very oily. Disappointing.

So - would I go again - yes. Would I pay full price - no. These guys are a Taiwanese chain. Having spotted the xiao long biao in DTF Taipei city for the equivalent of $9 AUD, we pay twice the price in Australia for the same product. I guess the add-on comes from making the 'same' product all over the world. The DTF index, instead of the big mac index?

Din Tai Fung
World Square Shopping Centre
Level 1, Shop 11.04, 644 George St
SydneyNSW 2000

(02) 9264 6010
Daily 11am-2.30pm, 5-10pm

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Recipe: Low GI Congee (Jook)

With a Chinese background, I'm always craving congee ('jook'). It's the dish most Chinese turn to when they're feeling under the weather. It's fed to babies when they first get introduced to solids. It is the ultimate comfort food.

It is, essentially rice that has been cooked down to a 'soupy' consistency.

Unfortunately, since it is made with white long grain rice, it has a high GI, and no sooner have you eaten it, then within 2 hours you get hungry again.

I have been experimenting with ways to make a low GI version: comfort food that keeps you fuller for longer.

Various themes on this work, it depends on how far you are willing to depart from the white soupy original. Servings are for 5-6 people, I eat this for breakfast.

Make up 1 1/2 cups using part or all of the following:
rolled oats
basmati rice
pearl barely

3-4 dried shittake chinese mushrooms
stock cube (optional, for flavour. Sorry - my stock-making skills are not up to scratch).

Enough water to cover this 3 times. I have a giant thermos pot which I cook this congee in overnight. It's like a slow cooker pot, but you don't need to connect it to power.

My favourite combination is
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 basmati rice
1/2 pearl barley
tablespoon of quinoa.

It looks pretty authentic, doesn't it?

I have tried making versions with more quinoa, but unfortunately it tends to turn the congee yellow, and it tastes very 'beany'.

Oats and pearl barley work quite well as well. The oats give you a very gelatinous texture, the rice loosens it up, and the pearl barley adds texture and makes you feel wholesome whilst eating it.

Once the mix is cooked up, I pull out the mushrooms, slice them up, and then add them back in again.

Of course my downfall with this dish is eating it with traditional accompaniments - like yao jar guai (deep fried breadsticks) for dipping, and salty egg.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review: Mamak Chinatown

I have been wanting to try Mamak for ages, but it has always been too busy, and I have always found it too easy to head to the quick efficiency of Superbowl up the road. This time, I was in luck: It was an early Tuesday lunchtime, and there was no queue waiting outside.

I can't believe this place has been open since 2007! Where have I been the past few years?

It seats on rough estimate - 80 people, and the place is buzzing a happy noise of people enjoying hawker style food and good conversation.

Murtabak is a wrapped roti (Indian crepe) - I think they describe it has a hawker food, and one of their popular dishes. I got Murtabak Lamb $10.50, which contained lamb, cabbage and onions.

When it arrives, I can't help but feel a little disappointed. Because it is all wrapped up, it is hard to taste the roti on its own, and see how crispy it is. It is very eggy in flavour, with lovely nuggest of curried lamb peeking through.

I see a constant procession of the roti 'cones' (roti tisu)- served with either savoury sambals, or a scoop of icecream. Next time I'm in town, this will be on my list.

My Teh Halia (Stretched ginger tea) turns up first, it is very sweet and has an almost stewed 'tannic' flavour. It's fascinating watching the waiter pour the tea from jug to jug to give it a foamy head.
I like it. I'd love to stay for dessert, but unfortunately work calls.

15 Goulburn Street, Chinatown, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9211 1668

Open 7 days
Lunch: 11.30am - 2.30pm
Dinner: 5.30pm - 9.30pm
Open until 2am Friday and Saturday.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Recipe: Shish Kebab Marinade

Have you ever grated an onion?

I spotted this recipe in the weekend paper, had a craving, so I tried to make it.

Beef Shish Kebabs (Sun Herald, 17/1/2010, Karen Martini)
Serves 4-6 (8 kebabs)
2 brown onions, grated in a bowl with 2tbsp salt on top. Leave for 10 minutes, then strain and discard the solids.
1 tsp extra salt
4 cloves garlic
4 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp caraway seeds (I substituted Nigella seeds)
Pound the above ingredients in a mortar and pestle, then add
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp harissa
Juice of 2 lemons
Onion 'juice'
1/2 bunch flat leafed parsley
1 bunch coriander (it's fine without it)
Then marinate the following for 4-6 hours:
900g scotch fillet, diced (I used whole steak)
Skewer and chargrill the kebabs (steak) over high heat for 3 minutes on each side until tender & just cooked.
Serve with plain yoghurt, drizzled with a little olive oil & freshly baked flatbread.

I thought that I could get away with dicing the onion, but you don't get the amount of onion 'juice' that you need. I then tried to retro-grate the onion by using my microplane and its attachment for grating very small things, but really: just grate the darn onion from the start.

I forgot to buy harissa, so substituted Indonesian chilli sauce (Brand: Capibu Jari Jempol Sambal Asli), which worked quite well. The smoked paprika added the smoky flavour, without needing to char the meat.

I found that adding the paprika after the lemon and onion juice worked better for me; if I I squashed it using the mortar and pestle, the paprika turned paste-like and didn't meld well with the marinade

You can marinate this overnight with beef, in accordance with the instructions, or you can spike them meat with a fork and marinate it in the time it takes to warm up the bbq. The flavour isn't as intense as an overnight marinade, but if you have some of this stuff lying around, it is quite acceptable.


Also - (attempt no. 3) don't try to take a shortcut by not straining the onion is also a mistake. I ended up with a kind of paste that the meat didn't really absorb as a flavour.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recipe: Toasted Museli Cookies

I have a large amount of toasted muesli at the moment, which I don't like much for breakfast, so I have been trying to make biscuits out of it.

Not many people seem to suffer this problem - because all the recipes for Oat Cookies that I have been able to find involve uncooked rolled oats. *sigh*.

Also they all seem to use equal quantities of oats/sugar/flour, which I generally find too sweet for me.

This version seems to have been the most successful so far - it tastes a bit like a cake would try to taste like, if it was pretending to be healthy.

Toasted Museli Cookies with Chocolate and Almonds (makes 16)
1 cup* self-raising flour
40-50g softened butter (I forgot to weigh it)
1 1/4 cup toasted museli
1 medium egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon stewed rhubarb
1 tablespoon ish of honey
splash of vanilla essence
slivered almonds and white choc bits to garnish
Oven heated to 180 deg C

Crumb the flour and butter together
Add museli, egg, milk, rhubarb, vanilla, honey, some almonds, then check consistency.
Mine was a bit too runny at first, which is why I added another 1/4 cup museli. You want it to clump together, but not too dry or wet.

Spoon into flat 'rounds' on a baking tray, tucking in the surprise goodies - more almonds and the white chocolate bits. That way I know each biscuit has some of the good stuff.

Bake for about 10 minutes, or until slightly golden. You want them still chewy.

Delicious straight out of the oven, not too bad the next day.

Note: I a have a "cup" measuring cup which appears to smaller than the 250mL standard metric. However, equal quantities of flour/museli or equivalent to 200g-ish should do it.

Note 2: i have measured the cup. It is equivalent to a half cup.

Note 3 (Alternate rendition)
1 cup toasted museli
1 tbps bran
3/4 cup pinenute/dried cranberries/sunflower seeds/pumpkin seeds
1 cup flour
2 tbsp oil (I used rice bran oil)
1 egg
1/8 cup white sugar
2-3 tbsp milk
splash orange oil

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Review: SIFF 100 Mile Dinner at Mamre House, Orchard Hills

I was super excited when I saw that there would be a Sydney International Food Festival Event “out west”, featuring the food of a local African community garden. Night before I move house? Not a problem.

Mamre House is a historic homestead built in the 1820s, and was the home of the colonial chaplain, magistrate and pastoralist, the Reverend Samuel Marsden. It is currently owned by the NSW government, and leased to the Sisters of Mercy. What I didn’t realise, when booking, was that the night was also to be a fundraising night.

Unfortunately, the African Performers cancelled at the last minute, so there was no African music. I also note that the “African food” ended up being Western style salad greens, grown by local African refugees.

The menu included:

* Platter of antipasto - including a delicous thick aged balsamic vinegar from Simply Original
* Roast Duck/Wagyu Beef
* Orange Almond Cake, or Chocolate Tart
* Wine from Jubilee Wines, Beer from Blue Tongue

The entrée platters were assembled by students from Western Sydney Tafe, two highlights were the sticky oozy balsamic vinegar and the marinated cheese from Muswellbrook.

There was a bit of artistic licence in obtaining the food from 100mile (160km) radius. Chocolate for the chocolate tart was “bought” locally. In reality, you can’t get chocolate (or flour) within 160km of Sydney if you were strictly applying the 100 mile ethos. Same again for the beer – Blue Tongue brewery is based in Newcastle, and it is 178km from Sydney.

Outside, a bunch of astronomers had set up their telescopes, so you could take a peek at the stars if you could ignore the light pollution of the fairy lights.

Overall, a fun event, and considering the obstacles encountered in getting the event organised, still well worth supporting.

I'm sure I took pictures, but I can't find them at present.
Note: As you can see, I found some pictures.
I had a chat the next day to a guy from Blue Mountains Honey at the markets who had also been at the event, and also to a colleague: turns out that this event was always going to be a charity fundraiser, and then someone on their organising committee suggested adding it the list of events on the SIFF calender to get some more publicity. And then the problems with the alcohol: turns out the more "local" breweries weren't interested in assisting an event like this.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Local Chinese Food, USA-style

Whilst holidaying along the USA west coast recently, I ate quite a lot in local Chinese restaurants. Mainly because it was the only way to get a decent serve of vegetables when eating out.
I tried a popular one in Berkeley (Shen Hua), one just outside of Vegas, and one in 29-Springs based upon the number of cars in the parking lot.

The cuisine appeared to be mock-Szechuan style, as opposed to the Cantonese style so prevalent in Australia. I know that Szechuan cooking is supposed to be very spicy, very liberal with the chillies, yet when you order Kampung Chicken, there was no chilli. I had this dish in Sydney, and you couldn't move for the number of chillies

Each place offered "Mu-Shu", what it is I'm not entirely sure. At Shen Hua - this involved stir fried cabbage, meat and egg, which you would the wrap up in a pancake with hoi-sin sauce, Peking-duck-style.

The most surprising dish, and my favourite was the spring dragon soup. I had this a few months ago, so I might have the name wrong. The large portion was enormous, and enough to share between five people. The soup had a nice balance of flavours and was very more-ish.

The other Chinese restaurants were your run-of-the- mill suburban style restaurants offering "American" meals like steak, eggs and chips. The portion sizes were huge (this is America, after all), and no-one restaurant had gai-lan (Chinese broccoli) as an option.