Saturday, November 18, 2017

Scottish shortbread goes a-roving

Lately I've become fascinated by chickpea [besan or gram] flour. It's a South Asian staple and I first tried using it in this recipe for besan laddu, finding it so delicious I started brainstorming what else I could make with it. Here is today's experiment ... Scottish shortbread meets Indian chickpea flour meets Peruvian cacao nibs.

200 g butter
3 heaped tbsp icing sugar
150 g wholemeal flour
100 g besan [chickpea] flour
0.5 cups ground rice or cornflour
cacao nibs (optional)

Cream butter and sugar, add dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Roll into balls and place on baking tray. Bake at 150 degrees C until a delicate brown (about 30 minutes in my ancient oven but your mileage may vary).

Makes about two dozen. Store in an airtight container.

Mmmmm, crunchy

Chickpea flour is gluten free and has a much stickier consistency, when wet, than some other gluten free flours such as rice flour. This could be a handy feature when baking for coeliac friends. More experimentation may be required!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Around the world in many tea towels

As I've often ranted and raved here, I don't like accumulating stuff. I'm definitely in the Swedish death cleaning phase of my life and hope never to acquire anything I don't need or want again. That said, there are still some staples of daily life we do need and use. Like tea towels. Over the years I've bought tea towels from many places I've visited. It is fun to be reminded of past travels while doing mundane activities like drying dishes. I usually manage to squeeze many years of use out of them before they become thin and tattered; at that point they begin their next phase of use as bathroom cleaning cloths. Here are a few that put a smile on my face and remind me of past jaunts to exotic locales ...

New Zealand (Australians may recognise the bird New
Zealanders call 'Pukeko' as the 'Purple Swamphen'

Grumpy cats from Japan

Canberra (again)

 Canada (oh, Canada)


Tea towels also make great (reusable) gift wrapping. Why wrap a bottle of wine in something tacky and disposable when you can hand it over in a cow-print tea towel?!

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Asparagus, mushroom and blue cheese risotto

Asparagus season has arrived in Canberra! This recipe is a delicious celebration of asparagus. I made some risotto today to take to our friends' place for dinner tomorrow ...

4 tbsp olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
2 leeks, diced
2 cups arborio rice *
6 cups vegetable stock
400 g asparagus, cut in angled 2 cm slices
100 g oyster mushrooms, cut into strips **
2 cups white wine
100 g blue cheese, crumbled
black pepper, to taste
100 g grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a large pan or wok, add garlic and leek, and cook until leek is translucent. Add rice, and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes until all rice grains are coated in oil. Add 1 cup stock. Bring to simmer, stirring frequently. When stock is almost absorbed, add another 1 cup stock. Repeat process, 1 cup at a time, until 4 cups absorbed. Add wine, mushrooms and asparagus. Once wine is absorbed, stir in remaining stock, one cup at a time. As you add the final cup of stock, add blue cheese and pepper. Stir until cheese melts and rice is tender but firm. Serve on a warm plate and top with a sprinkle of parmesan.

Serves four with leftovers. Green salad and crusty bread make good accompaniments.

*   actually, while I know it breaks with tradition, I usually use basmati rice as it has a lower glycemic index than arborio rice
** this time I used Shimeji mushrooms as my local organic shop didn't have oyster mushrooms. Aren't they cute?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Try this salad!

My friend Jacqui recommended this recipe for a colourful corn salad. I tried making it yesterday and it was delicious! So good we ate it for both dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday. The only alteration I made was to replace the jicama with a finely-chopped green apple. (Why? Because I don't know where to buy jicama in Canberra. Suggestions welcome.)

A happy, crunchy, summery dish. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Wattalapam ... and other cardamom-scented delights

I first posted this recipe almost seven years ago and it quickly became the most frequently visited page on the blog. Guess wattalapam is something a lot of people search for ...

Wattalapam is a Sri Lankan dessert, a little reminiscent of a spicy, coconut-based crème brulée. As usual, I've freelanced a bit since obtaining the recipe, by significantly reducing the quantity of sugar. I like the not-so-sweet version better, but you could double or triple the sugar if you like.

15 to 20 g dark palm sugar (jaggery), grated
125 ml coconut cream
2 eggs
ground cardamom
6 cashews, roasted and halved

Dissolve jaggery in warmed coconut cream. Whisk eggs and mix with the coconut cream, jaggery and cardamom. Pour the mixture into two ramekins, top with cashews and bake in a water bath for 30 to 40 minutes at 175 degrees C. The wattalapam should be firm; try not to overcook or you'll get bubbles in the mixture. Serves two.

If you, like me, are a fan of cardamom you may also like to make firni (a spicy rice pudding), coffee and cardamom ice cream, or besan laddu (chickpea flour fudge). Mmmmmm!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hermine's magic mushrooms

No, they're not hallucinogenic! But they are delicious. About ten years ago, I did some informal English tutoring with Hermine, who was visiting from Austria. I helped with her English and she taught me some Austrian recipes. Here's one of them. It's still a favourite.

Button mushrooms (enough for two people), cleaned and sliced
1 small onion
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp flour
olive oil
pepper and salt

Dice the onion finely. Cook it with a little olive oil in a saucepan, till soft and golden. Add the mushrooms and cook until the juice runs from them. Combine the sour cream, flour and about half a cup of warm water in a separate bowl. Add this mixture to the mushrooms and onions, and cook, stirring often, until it all thickens. Add pepper and salt to taste, and a little chopped parsley near the end of cooking. Serve on toast or (as I did last night) with home made garlic bread. Yum.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Full of the joys of spring (eating)

One of my favourite food blogs, the Canada-based Bite-Sized Kitchen, recently featured a post on fall [autumn] dinner staples. Looking through this week's menu, I realised that, being in the southern hemisphere and having greeted spring this month, our eating has morphed to reflect the change of seasons. The shops and markets are brimming with gorgeous fresh fruit and vegetables, and suddenly our meals are bursting with extra colour, flavour and vitamins. What's on the menu for the next couple of weeks?

Chunky avocado salsa wraps
Haloumi, rocket and avocado salad
BLT wraps
Potato salad
Tomato and basil pizza
Cauliflower, sweet potato, coconut and curry soup
Creamy mushrooms on toast
Pulled pork burgers
Rice paper rolls and other noodle-y things
Chinese dumplings
Leek, potato, bacon, bean and cream soup
Cheese soufflé

Oh, and for dessert? Home made ice cream with fresh berries. This year I'm buying the berries; I'm hoping that by next year some or all of the raspberry, blueberry, gooseberry and passion fruit bushes I've planted will bear fruit. Fingers crossed ...

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Tasting the Barossa Valley

Today we took a bus tour to the Barossa Valley to taste the local food and wines. It was a fun day out!

Lunch was at Peter Lehmann wines in Tanunda

Brekkie @ Biga Cafe

While in Adelaide we took a walk down Hutt Street, on the eastern side of the city, and found heaps of gorgeous-looking eateries. It was a tough decision but we settled on Biga Cafe for brekkie yesterday. Yum!

She had:

Salmon eggs benny

while he had:

French toast with twice-cooked brioche and heaps of fruit

So artistically arranged! The coffee was great too.

Update: Monday 25 September 2017

We went back again today! There were so many delicious-sounding things on the menu we wanted to try a couple more before leaving town this afternoon.

He had:

Smashed avocado with feta, beetroot, poached egg and a side of bacon

while she had:

Mushroom ragu on rye toast with rocket and bacon

If we'd been staying longer it would have been good to try the smoothie bowls, or the corn fritters, or the chilli-spiced eggs. Ah well. Farewell, Adelaide!

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Penfolds experience

We're spending this weekend in and around Adelaide. A Canberra friend (formerly of Adelaide) suggested we go to Penfolds Magill Estate to enjoy a winery tour and brunch. Why not? It's a good idea to book in advance, and there's a small charge ($20) for the tour and tastings ... though I quite like wineries with a tasting fee as that way you don't feel obliged to buy wine if you don't want to. Anyway, it's just a short bus ride from Adelaide city and was a lovely day out.

The brunch menu changes daily.

He had:

Baked eggs, haloumi and roast peppers, with a side of bacon

while she had:

Duck hash waffle (yes, there's shredded duck in that waffle)

The setting is beautiful ...

... the tour was interesting and the wines were delicious. We bought a fabulous bottle of tempranillo to take home to Canberra.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Dinner @ Junk

I'm currently in Brisbane for a two-day conference. It has been great catching up with old friends and making new ones, and last night I skipped the formal conference dinner to meet up with my buddy Liana. She recommended we eat at Junk in Southbank, and it didn't disappoint!

The food is described as having 'several Asian influences including Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Chinese' and Junk was the perfect venue for a casual, colourful and delicious gossipy catch-up. Liana is a vegetarian and I'm more omnivorous so we shared some things but not others. We started with lotus chips and spicy edamame, then had crispy pork belly (with a kaffir lime and dark palm sugar caramel, laksa, green papaya and cashew nut salad) and salt and pepper tofu (with wakame, pickled ginger, yuzu avocado and soy dressing) for the main meals. It was all fabulous.

Junk is at Shops 11 and 12, Little Stanley Street, South Brisbane and they also have branches in Maroochydore and Toowoomba.

Yum ;-)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Coffee and cardamom ice cream? Oh, yes please!

First up, a confession. Much as I can't bear so-called reality shows, I got this idea from MasterChef. I was at a friend's place, MasterChef was playing in the background, and someone said 'coffee and cardamom ice cream'. The concept sounded too good to ignore. So today I tried making it. Oh. My. Goodness.


600 ml fresh cream
200 g sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon granulated coffee
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Whip the cream, add the condensed milk and whip some more, then stir the coffee and cardamom through. Combine well and spoon into freezer container/s. Freeze and enjoy. Makes about two litres.

If you want to try other super-simple ice cream flavours (no fancy devices required) you may also like my:

Coconut ice cream
Rocky road ice cream
Green tea ice cream
Baileys and macadamia ice cream
Avocado, lime and ginger ice cream
Brandied fruit and nut ice cream
Strawberry ice cream

Happy spring!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Pulled pork and coleslaw burgers

A couple of months ago I attended a book launch where one of the finger food items was pulled pork sliders. What? It seems sliders are mini hamburgers. (Why? Because they're small enough to slide into your mouth, whole?) They were delicious and I've been combing menus for that distinctive flavour combination  shredded pork and coleslaw  ever since. Recently I mentioned my craving to a friend and she said you could buy pulled pork at the local supermarket. Why, so you can!

To construct the burgers, I firstly made some coleslaw (a.k.a. Swedish pizza salad) with red cabbage, carrot, spring onions, and a dressing comprising mayonnaise, natural yoghurt and a little Dijon mustard. I briefly microwaved 75 grams of pulled pork, mixed in a similar volume of coleslaw, and spooned the mixture into six mini rolls. (This made enough for dinner for two people.) 'Delightful and charming!', says Andrew.


On a separate note, we're going to our friends' place for dinner tonight, as we so often do on a Sunday. It's our turn to take a (child-friendly) dessert so I made a batch of Afghan cookies:

It's pretty safe to say the kids will approve

Brekkie @ Ha Ha Bar

Yesterday we went out to breakfast at Ha Ha Bar, which overlooks Lake Ginninderra in Belconnen, Canberra. It's a lovely spot. The menu changes regularly and was different to that currently shown online, so we'll have to try and remember what we ate! I had decision paralysis as SO many of the items on offer sounded great. Corn fritters? Eggs benny with house-cured salmon? Mushroom ragoût with feta and sourdough? Aaaargh. In the end I opted for the mushroom ragoût, which was fabulous:

Andrew had the French toast ... something about bourbon and citrus and strawberries ... with a side of bacon.

A delicious brekkie with cheerful service in a delightful setting. What more could we ask for? I'll have to go back one day and try the menu items that missed out.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The sustainable wardrobe

You know how sometimes several facets of your life seem to converge? I've been thinking a lot lately (well, for years really) about how to dress sustainably. There are many aspects to this: not following fashions, not buying 'disposable' clothes, only buying items I truly want and need and making them last for many, many wears ... and being mindful of where clothing and footwear come from, who made them, and the processes used in their production. For several years I had a goal to buy no more than 20 new items of outerwear or footwear per year; for the past two years I've reduced this goal to 12 items. This is quite fun as, in addition to feeling good about minimising clutter and waste, I only acquire things I really want to own and will make good use of.

So ... over the past month I've done a 30 Day Shop Your Wardrobe Challenge. While the challenge is associated with a program aiming to help shopaholics become more conscious about clothes shopping, I enjoyed having a list of prompts reminding me to wear what I already own. I had a bad habit of saving my favourite items 'for best', which meant some dresses and shoes only made it out of the house a couple of times a year. All that has changed. The 30 Day Challenge has seen me combine colours and styles I wouldn't have thought of, wear more accessories (rather than leaving them languishing in drawers), and receive lots of compliments.

Day 4: Wear something that's 'just for good'. Blue shoes!

Cool bananas. It has definitely reminded me to squeeze maximum use (and joy) out of my wardrobe!

Then, last night I attended an event called The Sustainable Wardrobe here in Canberra. Several speakers discussed aspects of clothing sustainability – materials, environmental impact, reusing and recycling, and ways to get more from less  and took some very curly (yet very intelligent) questions from the enraptured audience. I found the evening interesting and thought-provoking and came away with a bunch of new ideas about how to be stylish yet sustainable.

I'm excited about continuing this journey.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Palak 'paneer' ... the vegan version!

One of my favourite Indian dishes. Palak means spinach, while paneer is the Hindi word for fresh cheese. This recipe is not only delicious, but very simple to make. You can buy paneer ready-made at some South Asian grocery stores, though it is easy to make your own. Recipe here.

This week I tried something different. Rather than using paneer I used tofu! Simple and delicious.

2 bunches spinach, washed and chopped [silverbeet also seems to work OK]
1 onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1 teaspoon cumin
salt, to taste
garam masala, to taste
red chilli powder, to taste
vegetable oil
375 grams firm tofu

Cook the spinach and onion till soft (use microwave or steamer). Cool slightly, then blend the spinach and onion till you have a gorgeous green sludge. Heat some oil in a pan, and fry the ginger and garlic for a minute. Add the other spices, then add the spinach mixture and cook for four to five minutes. Allow mixture to cool while frying tofu slices. Add the tofu and heat through. Serve hot with naan or roti, or as a side dish for curries.