Saturday, November 01, 2014

When cuisine bridges cultures

I feel privileged to have had many culinary cross-cultural exchanges over the past few years. Some of them have been documented on this blog, for example when Tomer from Israel taught me to make shakshuka (which I'd never heard of back then, but has now appeared on several cafe menus around Canberra) and when Sergio from Spain introduced me to Spanish omelettes. I've done volunteer English language tutoring for several years and a couple of my students have returned the favour by teaching me how to cook dishes from their countries: Hermine from Austria showed me a fabulous potato goulash and and delectable creamy mushrooms, while Yan from China gave me a delightful lesson in making Chinese dumplings. Lucky, lucky me. All of these dishes have become favourites in our household.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Green tea crème brûlée

Crème brûlée is a restaurant-style dessert and people often assume it is difficult to make. It isn't! This variant has a delightful aroma and deep green hue, thanks to green tea powder.

1 cup cream
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon of Japanese (matcha) green tea powder
4 (extra) tablespoons caster sugar

Place cream and green tea powder in saucepan and bring to boil. Allow to cool for 15 minutes. Whisk egg yolks with sugar. Pour cream mixture into egg mixture and combine well. Pour into four ramekins, place them in a baking dish and add enough cold water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake at 160 degrees C for about one hour. Cool at room temperature. Refrigerate until cold. Sprinkle one tablespoon of caster sugar on to top of each custard and grill (or use blowtorch) to heat the sugar until it caramelises. Serve warm or cold.


I don't have a blowtorch  culinary or otherwise  but get
pretty good results by grilling the desserts for about five minutes

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The bonbon myth

For more than twenty years after leaving school I worked full time, and for much of that time I was simultaneously doing part time university studies. All in all, it was an exhausting couple of decades! Therefore, when I opted to move to part time paid work (four days per week instead of five) almost ten years ago it was a relief. I didn't feel lazy or indolent, and didn't resent the fact that I'd given up 20% of my income in return for one extra day of leisure each week.

Almost immediately, my activities expanded to fit the time available. I took up new volunteer roles (to this day I have three regular volunteer 'jobs'), socialised more, undertook yet more study and developed new skills, cooked more, and watched more movies. I also found that appointments that had previously clashed with work  dental check-ups, haircuts, bike repairs, optometry appointments, GP visits  could usually be scheduled for my day off, making me more productive and focused on the days I was at the office. I'd like to gradually reduce my working hours further in coming years, though guess that will depend how amenable my employer is to the idea.

It is surprising how many people still express surprise that I work part time ('you're lucky!', they say), or assume that I lie around doing nothing on my day off. Neighbours ask if I'll be home to receive a package they want delivered. Friends ask if I can babysit their kids. Colleagues think I sit around eating bonbons, and express envy that I have a day off mid-week when they're still slogging away from Monday to Friday. May I set the record straight? My days off are usually packed from morning 'til night with meaningful activities, there are no bonbons ... and you, too, can work fewer days if you're willing to live more frugally.

As always, just my two cents' worth.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Spicy Thai salmon and blueberry salad

... a perfect spring recipe! I usually make this with lychees, but lychees appear to be out of season (or unavailable for some other reason), and the only grapes and kiwifruit I could find yesterday were imported. So, in the interests of using local ingredients, this salad now features blueberries:

1 tablespoon fish sauce ('Squid' brand from Thailand is good)
1 teaspoon grated palm sugar
2 small red chillies, chopped
2 salmon fillets
2 Lebanese cucumbers, chopped
spring onions, thinly sliced
mint leaves
coriander [cilantro], chopped
1 cup roasted peanuts (unsalted)
blueberries
2 limes

Marinate the salmon in the fridge in the fish sauce, palm sugar and chillies for a couple of hours. Make the salad by combining the cucumbers, spring onions, mint, coriander, peanuts and blueberries. Grill the salmon fillets, cool briefly, then flake the salmon into pieces (removing any skin or bones) and stir through the salad. Squeeze the limes and pour the juice over the salad. Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish or two as a generous main course.



Note that the blueberries can be replaced with lychees, seedless green grapes, or some other seasonal fruit. The fruit can be omitted altogether if you prefer.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Beer bread

This bread is seriously easy and seriously delicious!

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (about 350 degrees F).

Mix together 300 grams of wholemeal self-raising flour, 1 tablespoon of runny honey, and about 350 ml beer. Pour into a greased loaf tin and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Serve warm with butter.

Mmmmmmmm.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nova Scotia

Six years ago this week, Andrew and I were in Nova Scotia, Canada, doing volunteer work with a pair of wildlife ecologists who were monitoring populations of small mammals. We met some great people who remain friends (despite our diverse locations  our fellow volunteers were from the USA, the UK, Japan and Switzerland) and saw some gorgeous sights. Here are a few photos from our two week adventure in Nova Scotia ...


Berries


Lobster pots outside a beach shack


Colourful houses in lovely Lunenburg


Beaver dam (we sat by the lake and waited 
very patiently to glimpse the beaver)


'Oh, the indignity! Next they'll want to weigh me ...'
(thanks to Kim for the photo)


Field signs ... who was here?
(thanks to Misato for the photo)


Bear poo!
(thanks to Chantil for the photo)


A porcupine up a tree
(thanks to Kim for the photo)


The autumn leaves were amazing
(thanks to Ann for the photo)

At the end of the two weeks we caught a fabulous train – The Ocean  from Halifax to Montréal. Here's a pic of the city from the top of Mount Royal.


Oh, Canada!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Chickpea Delight

This recipe was given to me by a former colleague, Mary Anne, about eighteen years ago. Thanks Mary Anne ... it has become a favourite in my household!

sweet potato
chickpeas (canned or soaked overnight)
vegetable stock or water
red capsicum
onion
garlic
coconut cream
curry powder or paste
olive oil
fresh coriander

Sauté onion and garlic in oil. Add chopped capsicum. Add cubed sweet potato. Stir in curry powder (or paste) and fry for a while. Add stock or water and coconut cream. Cook for a while. Add chickpeas and cook till soft and thick. Add coriander at the end. Serve with rice or roti.

Sorry the quantities and method are so vague! It is a very flexible dish, and I've found that the quantities don't matter much  adjust them to your taste  and the method is also pretty flexible. You can cook this in a saucepan on a stove, or in a pressure cooker (one of my favourite kitchen toys) or in a microwave. It also freezes well so makes great lunches or week night dinners.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Charleston, South Carolina

Six years ago this week (has it really been six years?) Andrew and I caught up with two American friends in Charleston, South Carolina. We spent a wonderful few days exploring the city and its surrounds.


We visited Fort Sumter, where the American Civil War began in 1861


Admired the tropical vegetation ...


... and wildlife at Magnolia Plantation


and marvelled at the gorgeous old houses in the historic district ...


... not to mention the churches

Charleston was a charming city, though we suspect the weather wouldn't suit us. It was autumn [fall], yet still very hot and humid. We also visited the farmers' markets and Charleston City Market, ate at some gorgeous wee cafes, and enjoyed a very upmarket dinner at the fabulous FIG restaurant.

If you want to get a sense of the city but avoid the air miles, may I recommend the tea shop mysteries by Laura Childs? They're set in Charleston and incorporate many local festivals, as well as historical and geographical tidbits. Good fun, if you're a fan of mystery fiction!

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Time Paradox

Just finished reading The Time Paradox: The new psychology of time that will change your life, by Philip Zimbardo and John Boyd. You know what? It has changed my life!

Within the first few pages, I was captivated by these statements:

 ... in spite of the fact that time is our most valuable commodity, it is striking to note how little thought we give to how we spend it ...

Why do we often spend our money more wisely than our time? Perhaps it's because we cannot save time; it passes whether we choose to spend it or not ...

Food for thought indeed.

The book encourages readers to take a couple of online surveys (you can find them here: www.thetimeparadox.com/surveys/) to find out their dominant time perspectives, and then looks at ways they might develop healthier or more balanced approaches to time. In my case, I did the surveys and found I am enormously biased toward a 'future' time perspective, scoring very low on all the other time perspectives. In many ways this has served me well in my life  I've achieved far more than I could have with a less forward-thinking agenda  but reading the book and doing the associated exercises has reminded me that it's time to rejig my priorities, and to become more skilled in 'present hedonism', i.e. enjoy life more NOW rather than putting pleasure off till next week or next year or never.

In no small irony, however, I found the book too long. It ate too much of my time. Tighter editing could have brought it down to about half its size by omitting laboured and unnecessary details. I would love to see a more punchy, accessible version produced ... perhaps in the same vein as Michael Pollan's Food Rules, which was another book that changed my life.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

On meal portability ... plus a recipe for stir-fried pork, cashews and vegetables

For a long time now, more than ten years, my partner and I have regularly met up with friends to share a home cooked meal. We've always taken it in turns so that one couple provides the main course while the other makes dessert, and vice versa the next time. In the early days we'd also alternate between houses, eating at the home of whoever had cooked the main meal. That became complicated when they had kids and we didn't, so now we always eat at their place. (Chaotic but fun!)

It has meant that I've had to cook dishes that are easily portable and reheatable, or able to be finished in someone else's kitchen. Often I end up making something that fits in one pot or casserole dish, such as boeuf bourguignon, lasagne, eggplant bake, ratatouille, or a hearty soup, curry or salad. Last weekend I tried something else. I wanted to make a stir-fry, but realised that precooking it at home then reheating at our friends' place could make it less appetising. So, I prepared all the ingredients, grouped them according to the order in which they'd be added to the pan, and cooked the meal in not-my-kitchen! It worked surprisingly well. The ingredients were:

carrots, red capsicum [bell pepper], celery
pork fillet *, soy sauce * (or tamari), cornflour *
fresh ginger, spring onions and garlic
olive oil
white wine
cashew nuts *
mushrooms


Firstly, I fried the chopped ginger, spring
onions and garlic in olive oil in our friends' wok


Then I added the pork, which had been
tossed in tamari and cornflour


Then I added the chopped carrots, capsicum and
celery. When they were partially cooked ...


I added the mushrooms and wine ...


... and last but not least, the lightly-toasted cashew nuts went in


Yum!

* This recipe is very flexible. You could exchange the pork for a different meat, or leave it out altogether for a vegetarian option. Leave the cashews out (or offer them on the side) if someone is allergic to nuts. The recipe is gluten free, provided you use tamari (rather than soy sauce) and gluten free cornflour. Be creative ...

Monday, September 01, 2014

Happy spring! Salad season has arrived ...

The first of September is often called the first day of spring here in Australia ... so, happy spring! The local flora and fauna seem to have decreed that spring came early this year. We've had blossoms blossoming, wattles blooming, and birds breeding in our fence for several weeks now.

Anyway, now it's not so cold I'm feeling inspired to make and eat salads. Salad is an interesting concept. When I was growing up in New Zealand, it usually referred to sliced or torn iceberg lettuce, mixed up with (say) chopped tomatoes, grated carrot, and maybe some cheddar cheese or hard-boiled egg. Yep, not so appetising. I've gathered  from visiting the USA and watching sitcoms  that sometimes Americans use the word 'salad' to mean a protein-based food mashed up with mayonnaise to make a sandwich filling, e.g. 'tuna salad', 'egg salad', 'chicken salad'. This post is not about that sort of salad!

I like to make salads that are a meal in themselves. They'll contain a range of crisp, delicious vegetables, maybe some special cheese and/or nuts, and perhaps meat, fish or fruit. Here are a few ideas ...

Spicy Thai salmon and lychee salad
Tandoori tofu salad
Chunky avocado salsa
Rocket and haloumi salad
Crispy bacon salad
Warm pasta, feta and pine nut salad
Rocket, avocado, pear, blue cheese and pecan salad
Pumpkin, feta and pine nut salad

Enjoy.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pumpkin scones

Pumpkin scones will be forever associated with Lady Florence Bjelke-Petersen, the wife of one of Australia's most notorious politicians. Her recipe is here, but I prefer mine (adjusted over the years) as it has more pumpkin, no sugar, and is easier to make.

900 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
50 g butter
2 eggs
4 cups wholemeal flour
4 tsp baking powder
salt
milk

Microwave the pumpkin until it is soft, then mash roughly and stir the butter in so it melts through. Cool the mixture a little, then beat the eggs in. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix well, adding up to half a cup of milk if required to make a soft dough. Turn onto a floured tray and pat into a square or round about 3 cm thick. Bake at 200 degrees C for about 20 minutes. Cool a little, then break into chunks and serve with butter.

I like to freeze buttered scones to take to work for lunch.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lunch @ Zierholz UC

Zierholz is a Canberra success story. After a long career as a scientist Christoph Zierholz took the plunge into small business about eight years ago, starting a microbrewery in Fyshwick. You can now buy his beautifully crafted European-style beers at a range of venues around Canberra, and the family also runs two restaurants, one adjacent to the brewery and one at the University of Canberra (UC).

Andrew and I have been taking German classes lately (why? why not!) so we took ourselves to Zierholz UC today for a delicious and hearty German-themed lunch. You can download the menu here. We went with two friends, and we all enjoyed our meals!

Two of us ate:


Crackling roast pork belly served with creamy 
mash, braised red cabbage and apple sauce

while the others had:


Pork belly pizza (yes, really), and


Footlong kransky roll (uh huh!)

The food was fabulous and the portion sizes were generous ... perhaps a bit too generous, given that lunch was about seven hours ago and I still feel full! We're lucky to have this great local business in our midst.

Zierholz @ UC on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Oh. My. Goodness. Bacon maple cookies ...

My other half is a big fan of bacon. He LOVES bacon. Our Sunday mornings usually feature an outing to a cafe or restaurant that'll serve him bacon. So when someone on a (US) blog mentioned bacon cookies recently, I had to try whipping some up! Firstly I chopped about 100 grams of bacon into small pieces, drizzled it with maple syrup, and baked it at about 250 degrees C until it looked crispy and caramelised (around half an hour). After the maple-drenched bacon had cooled I stirred it into a basic shortbread mixture:

100 grams butter
1 heaped tablespoon icing sugar
100 grams flour
0.25 cup ground rice or cornflour

Cream butter and sugar, add dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Roll into small balls and flatten gently onto baking sheet. Bake at 150 degrees C until a delicate brown.

Makes about one dozen.


The taste testers approved!