Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Monday, February 16, 2015

Mini chocolate mud cakes

Go on, you know you want to!

125 grams butter
1 tablespoon ground coffee
0.75 cup boiling water
100 grams dark cooking chocolate, chopped
0.5 cup caster sugar
0.75 cups self-raising flour
0.5 cup cocoa
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla

Melt butter in large bowl, stir in combined coffee and boiling water, then chocolate and sugar. Stir until smooth. Gradually beat in dry ingredients. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Pour into greased or silicon muffin trays. Bake at 130 degrees Celsius for about 40 to 50 minutes (check with a skewer after forty minutes). Allow to cool a little before turning out of muffin moulds. When cold, top with chocolate icing ...

50 grams dark cooking chocolate, chopped
50 grams unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter together, cool to room temperature; beat with wooden spoon until thick and spreadable.

Makes about nine to twelve muffins/cupcakes, depending on the size of your muffin trays.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Friday night treat ... coriander and green pea dip

Not sure of the etiquette of  errr  stealing recipes from other people's blogs, so here is a link to a wonderful dip recipe:

Peacamole on 'Chocolate and Zucchini'

For those of us in the Antipodes, cilantro is called 'coriander', and when I made the dip I used a whole bunch of fresh coriander (rather than the oil), and frozen baby peas. It is delicious, nutritious, and a gorgeous green colour. Perfect for your next dinner party.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Dal Makhani

I asked Andrew what special treat he'd like me to cook for Valentine's Day this year, and he replied 'Dal Makhani'. A lentil curry ... how romantic!

We first tried Dal Makhani at the wonderfully-named Bollywood Masala in Dickson. It quickly became one of Andrew's favourite curries, so I decided to try making it. Turns out you can buy the perfect spice mix from Bharat International, along with the black lentils (urad whole) and red kidney beans required to make it.

I tend to make a double batch then stow meal-sized portions in the freezer for quick week day dinners. Serve with basmati rice or roti. Yum.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Let's talk about longevity

The Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey, recently noted that people born today might live to be 150 years old. He was trying to use humans' expected greater longevity to justify making budget cuts and require people to pay more of their own health costs. I don't really want to discuss politics or economics here. I just want to say ...

... why the hell would anyone want to live to be one hundred and fifty, or even one hundred?


An exit strategy is required!

When I was born in 1967 the Earth's population was about 3.5 billion. Now it is more than 7 billion. In addition to humans churning out more and more humans, life expectancy is increasing. Why? Because infant mortality has reduced, many infectious and parasitic diseases are now less common, nutrition has improved (junk food diets notwithstanding) and clean drinking water is more widely (though alas, not universally) available. Oh, and medical technology keeps finding new ways to keep people alive. (Dare I say, whether or not they want to remain alive?)

So, I've been thinking about mortality lately. As you do. It sometimes feels like modern society (Western modern society, at least) tries to deny death. Whereas once death was commonplace  sad, but not unexpected  there's now an assumption that we should all live (and work) for a very long time, that we should go to extraordinary lengths to cheat death, and that there's something wrong with us if we don't want immortality.

A recent piece of research (Hutchins et al., 2015) asked people whether they would risk living a shorter life rather than taking a daily pill to prevent cardiovascular disease. Apparently about 30% of survey respondents said they wouldn't take the pill. The authors of the study surmised that taking a daily pill would be perceived as an annoyance. Many of the media outlets that covered the story sounded incredulous and rather judgemental. They couldn't understand why anyone would forgo hypothetical years of life just to avoid taking a daily pill. I wanted to turn the research question upside down. Maybe the respondents who declined to take the daily pill were happy with their expected lifespan and saw no need to extend it? Maybe they weren't so much rejecting the idea of medication, as rejecting a longer old age? Surely quality of life is more important than quantity of life. Particularly on such an over-populated planet.

I'd rather have sixty good years than one hundred mediocre years. How about you?


Robert Hutchins,  Anthony J. Viera,  Stacey L. Sheridan  and Michael P. Pignone (2015) Quantifying the Utility of Taking Pills for Cardiovascular Prevention. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes; first published on February 3 2015 asdoi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.114.001240.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Singapore ... the affair continues

We first visited Singapore in late 2001, a few months before we moved to Canberra. We're still entranced by both cities. They're friendly, clean, safe and packed with cultural and culinary delights. Dare I say, we're in a stable, long-term relationship with Canberra, but still like to have the occasional fling with Singapore?! We were there again last week, and enjoyed a mixture of old and new delights.

The new included ...

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, where we met monitor lizards (above), mudskippers, squirrels, turtles, fish and birds




 and Gardens by the Bay, where they were celebrating
the upcoming Year of the Goat.

The old favourites included ...





... and (of course) street food

We also had the privilege of visiting one of Singapore's famous black and white bungalows, stocked up on books at Books Kinokuniya and browsed the magnificently eccentric Mustafa Centre. Farewell Singapore. Thanks for a great week!

Singaporean cooking class @ Food Playground

A couple of years ago Andrew and I attended a Nyonya cooking class in Penang, Malaysia. We enjoyed it, so decided to do a Singaporean cooking class when we were there last week. It was excellent!

The school, Food Playground, is in a heritage shophouse in Chinatown, and we spent a delightful morning with several other tourists, a teacher and two helpers, learning to cook a range of local foods. The instructor was very knowledgeable and shared many tidbits about Singapore's history and culture, all while gently guiding us through making the dishes.

At the end of the class we sat down to enjoy the lunch we'd prepared:


Chicken satay (cooking)


Chicken satay (being devoured)


Char kway teow ... oh my!


Hoon kueh ... delightful little coconut/corn 
sweets in handmade pandan boxes


Andrew at work chopping ingredients

The school provided recipes and we'll definitely be making all these dishes at home. It was a lovely morning. We didn't need to eat again all day ...

We booked through Viator Tours. Their website shows the menu planned each day, so if you have a particular favourite dish you may be able to plan your trip so you get to learn that dish.

Tiffin @ Raffles

Last week we were in Singapore and we tried something different ... the North Indian curry buffet in the Tiffin Room at Raffles Hotel. (Cliché or icon? You decide.)

We've visited Singapore a number of times and always enjoy the street food. It is plentiful, inexpensive and delicious. Our lunch at Raffles was plentiful, expensive and delicious. We booked ahead (a good idea; we know people who've tried to get in at short notice and missed out), read up on the dress code (posh frock for her, long pants and collared shirt for him) and had a lovely lunch.


View of the entrance to the restaurant


Our fellow diners (the buffet tables are in the distance)


My photos of the food didn't do it justice! Sorry


Yet another picturesque nook at Raffles

Some online reviews of the Tiffin Room say the food isn't spicy enough. It was pretty mild. But if you want hot food, go to Little India, not Raffles! I made up for the mildness by loading my plate with chilli pickles.

The wonderfully elegant buffet tables offered soup, curries (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), condiments, salads, and some fabulous desserts. Raffles is a weird place to dine as there's a constant stream of tourists taking photos of the building and gardens.

Nevertheless, a fun splurge!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Jen's mum's muesli slice

This recipe comes from a former colleague named Jen. (Thanks, Jen!) It is a nut-free muesli bar that's easy to make and delicious. The first time I tried the recipe I omitted the sugar, but that made the mixture very crumbly so I've added it back. Further experimentation may be required ...

50 grams butter
0.5 cup raw sugar
0.25 cup honey
200 grams pepitas
0.5 cup rolled oats
1 crushed Weet-Bix
0.5 cup self-raising flour
0.5 cup sultanas or currants

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Line a 20 cm square tray with non-stick baking paper. Combine butter, sugar and honey in a saucepan. Cook until dissolved, stirring regularly. Combine all the other ingredients in a bowl and add the butter mixture, stirring till well combined. Press the mixture into the baking tray with a hand in a plastic bag (it is very sticky). Bake for about 30 minutes. Cool thoroughly before cutting into squares or bars.

I'm taking these to work tomorrow
to celebrate a colleague's birthday

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Dinner @ Lilotang

Last night we had a unique experience. (Yes, I know the word unique is often misused. But this really did feel like a once-in-a-lifetime gig.) As fellow Canberrans will know, this town practically shuts down for a month over summer. People go to the beach or wherever, and many venues are closed. A friend celebrated her birthday this weekend and when her husband tried to book a table at her favourite restaurant for a birthday dinner he discovered it was still closed. However ... he found the owners were in the process of opening a new restaurant, and was offered a table there instead.

So ... Lilotang. The latest venture by the people who run three other iconic Canberra eateries (The Chairman and Yip, the Lanterne Rooms, and Malamay), Lilotang is in the Burbury Hotel in Barton, and offers a modern twist on traditional Japanese cuisine. As some of the earliest guests we were treated to a very personal experience: a degustation dinner comprising about twelve artistically-arranged courses, each explained by the very charming chef. I didn't take photos of all of the courses, but here are a few to whet your appetite:

Umami-jime snapper with white peach and heirloom tomatoes

Sashimi tuna and avocado with wasabi okra soy

Roast umami vegetables with orange miso in orange pot

Chargrilled Wagyu sirloin marinated in Japanese herb miso

Sticky mochi-mochi tofu with brown syrup and green tea ice cream

Houji tea smooth pudding with sweet potato

The décor was cute too. Rather than our usual red wine  which could have drowned the flavours – we tried several different sakes. There are plenty to choose from.

One of our fellow diners described the meal as edible art. It was indeed a most memorable and delicious evening. We hope Lilotang does well!

 Lilotang Japanese on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Pumpkin bread

0.25 cup olive oil
50 ml water
1.5 cups wholemeal flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
0.5 cup chopped nuts (e.g. pistachios or pecans)
2 eggs
0.5 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 teaspoon baking powder
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
0.25 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated raw pumpkin

Beat oil, eggs, water and vanilla together. Add to sifted dry ingredients, nuts and pumpkin. Bake in a greased loaf tin for 1 to 1.5 hours in a moderate oven (about 180 degrees Celsius).

This freezes well and is easy to transport, so great for weekday lunches!

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Bombay toast comes to Canberra

I'm reading a wonderful novel set in Sri Lanka in the 1950s, The Sweet and Simple Kind by Yasmine Gooneratne. The book mentioned 'Bombay toast' and I just had to experiment! As regular readers (approximately two) of this blog will know, my partner is a big fan of French toast. It turns out that Bombay toast is a spicy, savoury version of French toast. There are a bunch of recipes on the web, but for this version I combined eggs, milk, spring onions [eschallots or scallions], chillies and cumin seeds. I then soaked slices of multigrain bread in the mixture till it was all soaked up, and fried them. It was surprising how well the mixture stuck to the bread ... I'd expected it to become detached!

Anyway, YUM. Give it a go.

We liked it

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Summery salad for lunch

Lettuce, avocado, mango, blue cheese and toasted pecan nuts. Mmmmm!

Merry (almost) New Year, y'all ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I'm dreaming of a stuff-free Christmas

Isn't it funny how we spend the early part of our life trying to amass belongings, then later years saying 'please, no more stuff!' (Or is it just me?) As a kid I'd count down till birthdays and Christmas, hoping to receive whatever I needed at that time. As an adult I just cross my fingers that no more stuff comes my way!

It's taken a long time to (ahem) train the people in my life not to buy me tangible objects but it works pretty well these days. Instead of exchanging clutter we buy experiences (haircuts, tickets to a concert or play), consumables (such as food or wine, where the product will be consumed and the packaging recycled) or charitable donations (anyone for a goat or two?) This year my partner bought me a Kindle voucher (yaaay! ebooks) and I bought him a catering pack of his favourite chai tea bags. My sister and I shouted each other a hairstyle. I gave my mother a trip to the ballet and she contributed to a charity on my behalf.

I'll be delighted if the rest of the week proceeds in a similarly unstuffy manner ...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Let's call it ... Vanuatu Salad

One of the many highlights of our recent trip to Vanuatu was the food. It was fresh, local, organic, and delicious. Several times the buffet featured a very simple salad that appeared to consist of cubes of cooked kumara (sweet potato), sliced bananas, and coconut cream.

Seriously yummy! So I tried making it at home tonight.

Mmmmm. I served it alongside a vegetarian curry and rice

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ruwenzori Retreat

After returning from Vanuatu we took another short journey, to somewhere completely different yet delightful in its own way. Ruwenzori  is a secluded bush retreat not far from Mudgee in central New South Wales. It consists of several 100 year old train carriages, restored to provide self-contained accommodation. We've travelled on several sleeper trains over the years (such as the Ocean in Canada, the Ghan and the Sunlander in Australia, and the Eastern and Oriental Express in Asia) and it was good fun to stay on a stationary train!

Scene from the state carriage

The dining car

The well-equipped kitchen

Kids would love the bunk beds

The site also offers great bush walks. A wombat hole ...

... and more signs of wombats!

We can also recommend the local region. Gulgong has a huge and fascinating museum, while Mudgee has wineries and plenty of delicious local food.

Lunch platter at Outside the Square Cafe, Mudgee. Yum!