Thursday, April 28, 2016

All aboard the Indian Pacific

Late last year I saw an advertisement for early purchase discounts on the Indian Pacific train and thought ... why not?! We've actually travelled on the Indian Pacific before, from Sydney to Adelaide about ten years ago and from Perth to Adelaide about four years ago. This time we wanted to travel from Adelaide to Sydney ... so that's what we did earlier this week! The journey from Adelaide to Sydney (or vice versa) is only about 25 hours and includes a wander around Broken Hill.

Just thought I'd share a few pics from the journey. Mostly food, of course ...

OK, so I'm a train nerd. There's more about other train journeys we've enjoyed here if you're interested ...

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Dinner @ Grazing, Gundaroo

For several years now Andrew and I have regularly dined at Grazing in Gundaroo. It's where fine dining meets country pub ... spectacular food, friendly service, and a roaring fire if you go there in winter. In short, nice! Grazing is a great choice for special occasions and our latest visit was a couple of weeks ago to celebrate a birthday. The menu showcases food and wine from the Canberra district.

This time I enjoyed:

The vego entrée: machengo custard with shaved
raw asparagus, almonds, broccolini and peas

Slow-cooked pork belly for main course

Frozen caramel and salted hazelnut custard with
chocolate parfait for dessert (the waitstaff heard someone
in our party was having a birthday and decorated his plate)


Grazing is in the Royal Hotel Building on the corner of Cork and Harp Streets in Gundaroo, about a half hour drive from Canberra.

Grazing Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Edible gifts: Nutty maple granola

A café we frequented in Sydney (alas, long gone) used to serve an addictively yummy granola. It was crunchy, nutty, and not excessively sweet, and I wondered if I could make something similar. Well ... can't claim it is the same, but this recipe (adapted from one received from a friend) is well worth a try:

6 tablespoons (real) maple syrup
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups rustic rolled oats (not the quick-cooking variety)
2/3 cups nuts of your choice (almonds, hazel nuts and pecans work well)
1/3 cup shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Melt the maple syrup and butter together in a saucepan but don't let it boil. Mix the oats, nuts and coconut together in a bowl. Combine all ingredients, then spread out on a non-stick baking tray. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

This is far too decadent (read: sugary and buttery) for everyday use, but makes a wonderful weekend breakfast treat or edible gift. Store in an airtight container once completely cooled.

Today I used cashews, pecans and pistachios

Reflecting on recipes followed and food eaten

This is the seventh year in a row I've used an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of meals cooked and eaten at home. It's pretty easy. I keep a weekly menu to save time, prevent waste and maintain variety and just transfer my hand-written scribbles into the spreadsheet every few weeks. It's a useful exercise as not only does it provide an interesting glimpse into our evolving lives and diets, the spreadsheet itself reminds me of dishes I'd forgotten and should rediscover!

Andrew's talented sister Fiona made a series
of t-shirts featuring their Dad's aphorisms.
Once in a while I DO try a new recipe that's
just too awful to record. Not very often though ...

So, what have we eaten this year? I traipse off to an office four days per week so week night food tends to be either quick and easy to make, or defrosted from a previous weekend's cooking spree. The dishes we ate most often between April 2015 and April 2016 were (drum roll please):

Potato, leek, bacon and bean soup
Hearty vegetable and barley soup
Pasta with sauce
BLTs (sandwiches or wraps)
Chinese dumplings
Spanish omelette
Potato salad
Dal makhani
Pumpkin and pomegranate stew
Rocket, pear, pecan and blue cheese salad
Teriyaki tofu

Well, I certainly manage to cover a range of cuisines. My goal for the coming year? Cook yet more spicy delights! Cheers.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Lentil, cauliflower and sweet potato soup

In November last year I posted a link to a lovely lentil, cauliflower and sweet potato curry/soup recipe on someone else's blog. I had good intentions of making the soup again today but the blog had disappeared! Eeeek. There was a big pile of ingredients on my bench and no recipe. My partner very kindly trawled the web and found a cached version, but I'm gonna summarise the main points here in case I want to make it again:

sweet potatoes
vegetable stock
red lentils
fresh ginger
black mustard seeds
garam masala

Throw all the ingredients in a large saucepan and simmer until veges are soft. Mash or blend to taste. Garnish with fresh coriander [cilantro] if liked. This soup freezes well for later lunches or week night meals. Enjoy!

Happy Eggs Benedict Day!

Numerous websites declare 16 April to be Eggs Benedict Day. No idea why, but as a big fan of Eggs Benedict (especially the smoked salmon version) I say ... why not! Here's an easy recipe for Hollandaise sauce if you fancy making your own Eggs Benedict.

2 large egg yolks
2/3 tablespoon of lemon juice
80 grams of butter
1 tablespoon of cold water
salt and pepper to taste

Place everything but the butter into a blender, and blend for about 30 seconds till light and creamy. Melt the butter in a microwave and while the blender is running, gradually add the hot butter. Continue blending for about 30 seconds after you add the last of the butter. Keep sauce warm until ready to use in a bowl over simmering water, or if making for later, store covered in the fridge. Sauce can be reheated by microwaving on high for 20 to 30 seconds and then whisking vigorously. If it separates, add a dash of boiling water and whisk until it recombines.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Besan Laddu [chickpea flour sweets]

My friend very kindly made an Indian-style banquet for dinner tonight so I volunteered to bring an appropriate dessert. Not my recipe ... I found it here:

(If you're reading this in Australia and puzzling over the ingredients: one cup of butter is approximately 225 grams, powdered sugar is also known as icing sugar, and chickpea flour is also known as besan.)

Absolutely delicious!

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Cremacious or crematious? Inventing a new adjective

Sometimes you need a word to describe something and that word doesn't exist. My partner Andrew tends to make up new words when that happens! This morning he noted that his coffee had an impressive layer of crema and pronounced it cremacious (or perhaps crematious). Either way, our coffees were delicious.

Cremacious delights at Tilley's this morning

Monday, March 28, 2016

(Spicy) corn muffins

When we were in Canada in 2008 (oh, Canada) we discovered a couple of local 'delicacies'. One was poutine (a heart attack on a plate  French fries, cheese curd and gravy  no recipe required, surely!) and another was the hot breakfast sandwich at Tim Hortons. Here in Australia a biscuit is a cookie, but in Canada it seems it is a type of scone/muffin featuring cornmeal. Having become a bit addicted to them while there I searched for a recipe when we returned.

Corn Biscuits

1 cup wholemeal flour
0.5 cup cornmeal (also known as polenta)
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
paprika (optional, if you'd like a touch of spice)
0.5 teaspoon baking soda
1.5 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
0.75 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Mix the dry ingredients. Add the egg. Mix thoroughly and stir in the milk and butter. Spoon into greased muffin pans and bake at 180 degrees C for about fifteen minutes. These freeze well for weekday lunches.

This mixture makes about five large
muffins or ten to twelve mini muffins

Monday, March 21, 2016

Carrot and coriander soup

1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, chopped roughly
1 leek, chopped roughly
1 kg carrots, chopped roughly
3 cups vegetable stock
1 bunch coriander [cilantro], chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and leek and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add carrots and stock, and simmer till carrots are soft. Remove from heat, and purée until almost smooth. Reheat till almost boiling, then add coriander, pepper and salt.

Enjoy! Serves four.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Go green

Some of my ancestors hailed from Ireland and my favourite colour is green. Over the years I've amassed a range of green items, including tops, pants, jackets, shoes, jewellery (alas, beads rather than emeralds) and bags. I try not to wear them all at once ...

Anyway, here's a green-themed recipe collection to celebrate St Patrick's Day!

Couldn't resist buying these tabi socks when

Coriander and green pea dip
Chunky avocado salsa

Pea and tofu soup
Coconut split pea soup
Pumpkin soup with drizzled coriander pesto

Light meals
Baked eggs in avocados
Avocado macaroni cheese
Pumpkin and pea curry
Various noodle-y delights

Green tea crème brûlée
Avocado, lime, ginger and pistachio ice cream
Green tea ice cream
Pepita-studded muesli bars


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Finding Zen in unexpected places

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my employment may (or may not) come to a screeching halt in the next couple of months. I've been at my current job more than a decade and generally enjoy it, so it would be a bit of a wrench. For me, as for many of my colleagues, it's been a time of introspection and distraction. (And yeah, lost productivity. It is hard to work at your usual pace when there's an axe poised above your head.)

Anyway, for me it has meant considering many 'what ifs'. Tossing ideas around about how I'll support myself, and my responsibilities to our household, if I lose my job. What it would be like to suddenly have no fixed daily routine after thirty-two years of trotting off to an office most days. What else (more volunteering, cooking, gardening, sewing, socialising, decluttering, exercising, reading ...) I could do if I had more free time. How I might find more clients for my freelance work. In short, how I want the rest of my life to look.

All this brain churn has had a couple of interesting spin-offs. One expected, one not so expected.

Firstly, as always happens when I am stressed, my cupboards and freezer are full. When particular aspects of my life feel uncertain or out of control, I stock up on food. Today I made two huge pots of soup (leek, potato, bacon and cannellini bean and coconut split pea, in case you're wondering) and filled the freezer. Yesterday I cooked and froze a pile of bolognese sauce. My cupboards are similarly well-stocked. Nothing will be wasted  I abhor waste  but we now have enough food in the house to feed ourselves for a month if, say, some disaster occurs and we can't go to the shops.

The second, and less foreseen, side effect of all the thinking has been an odd sense of peace. I've always been a bit of a perfectionist, setting very high standards for myself and feeling disappointed if I don't meet them. Strangely I'm feeling quite relaxed. Less uptight than usual about timelines and correctness and making sure everything is in its place. NOTHING is in its place and that's OK.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Experimenting with weird noodles

Perhaps 'experimenting' is the wrong word. There's no scientific method and no control group ;-) And maybe 'weird' is inappropriate ... who's to say what's weird and what's not?

Since our recent trip to Japan I've been on the hunt for some unusual ingredients to use in the recipes I picked up. Along the way I've been drawn to a few other interesting-looking goodies! Who knew there were so many types of noodles out there?

Organic Edamame, Spaghetti shape (product of China): Sorta like green pasta. I served these noodles with pesto made from pistachios, garlic and our home-grown basil.

Sweet Potato Noodles (product of China): I served these topped with home-grown tomatoes and local (Pialligo) bacon. They're translucent and chewy, a bit like a (presumably) gluten free version of pasta.

Kelp Noodles (product of USA): YUM! I first heard of these on the Minimalist Vegan blog. The lovely people at the Minimalist Vegan provided a recipe for a summer kelp noodle salad which saw me scouring local health food stores for kelp noodles. They're fairly flavourless (so mix well with stuff like tahini and tamari) and delightfully crunchy.

Udon Noodles (product of Japan on left and product of Australia on right): As soon as we arrived in Nagoya our friend met us at the railway station and whisked us across the road to a noodle restaurant where we all enjoyed huge helpings of sumimen (cold noodles served with a hot, meaty dipping soup). I haven't quite worked out how to replicate the soup but managed to make something similar (though vegetarian-ish) recently by combining a basic dashi stock with spring onions, tamari and wasabi. Will continue exploring ways to serve these noodles. They have a fabulous texture.

Bean Thread Vermicelli (product of China): OK, so these ones are not new to me. I've been using them in my vegetable laksa for years. A fun alternative to rice noodles.

Oh, and if you're interested in pasta and noodles and dumplings and such, may I recommend a book? On the Noodle Road, by Jen Lin-Liu, is a wonderful foodie travelogue. The author traverses the Silk Road exploring the history of noodles and the different ways they're used in Asian and European cultures. A fascinating and enjoyable read. There's also an interesting interview with the author here.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Apricot fudge slice

One of my colleagues has a birthday this week so I've made some goodies to share.

50 grams butter
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk *
1 packet (200 grams) malt biscuits, crushed
1 cup dried apricots, chopped

Melt butter and condensed milk together. Add apricots and biscuit crumbs. Press mixture into greased tin. Set in refrigerator and cut into squares.

* in case you're wondering what happened to the other half of the can of condensed milk ... it's going into a batch of green tea ice cream ;-)

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Coconut split pea soup

Last night's dinner was coconut split pea soup!

Delicious and very easy. I'm thinking of adding a handful of fresh coriander next time I make it.

Enjoy ...

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Prick with a Fork

Just finished reading Prick with a Fork: The world's worst waitress spills the beans by Larissa Dubecki. An excellent read! Hilarious, well-written, and offering fascinating glimpses into what goes on behind the scenes in restaurants. Well worth a look. Find it on Kindle or at a library near you.