Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lunch @ 98 Chairs, Goulburn

Goulburn's not a town we usually associate with fine dining, so when a foodie friend recommended this restaurant a few months ago we sat up and took notice. We took my partner's parents to 98 Chairs for a belated father's day lunch today and it was a delightful meal. The place looks pretty modest from the outside but is elegant and spacious on the inside. The restaurant opened in November 2013 and the menu changes every twelve weeks to take advantage of local and seasonal produce. Here's what we had ...

For the main course, two people had:

Beer battered flathead and chips, with garden salad and tartare sauce

one person had:

Beef burger, with fresh beetroot, double cheese, bacon,
tomato relish, caramelised onion, lettuce and chips

and one person had:

Sweet potato wrap, with roast sweet potato, swiss
cheese, avocado, salsa verde, greens and chips

We were all pretty full by this stage but splashed out and had dessert anyway! It sounded too good to miss, and was both artistic and delicious.

One person had:

White chocolate and cardamom ganache, beetroot, orange
and chocolate mousse, almond meringue, chocolate soil and lemon gel

Two people had:

Popcorn sundae, with buttered popcorn, ice cream,
peanut brittle, caramel sauce and a waffle cone

and one person had:

Apricot tart with ice cream

Oh, and we enjoyed a fabulous bottle of wine with the meal. Andrew chose it because it was local (made five minutes from Goulburn) and a shiraz, and we really liked it.

Kingsdale Emma Shiraz 2011

This was a very enjoyable meal. We'll have to go back for Sunday brunch sometime.

98 Chairs is at 98 Auburn Street, Goulburn (about 100 km north of Canberra and 200 km south of Sydney). Cheers!

98 Chairs Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Greek-style meatballs with tomato sauce and green olives

For the meatballs
3 slices bread, with crusts removed
0.5 cup wine
700 grams lamb mince
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg, lightly beaten
0.25 cup plain flour
salt and pepper
olive oil

For the sauce
800 grams tinned crushed tomatoes
2 teaspoons oregano (fresh or dried)
1 cup green olives, rinsed and drained

Soak the bread in the wine for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Break up bread and combine in a bowl with mince, garlic, cinnamon, flour and egg. Season with salt and pepper. With damp hands, mould walnut-sized amounts into balls. Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry meatballs until golden brown. (This may need to be done in two to three batches.) Place meatballs in casserole dish and keep warm in oven. To make sauce, combine ingredients in a bowl. Pour sauce over meatballs. Bake for 20 minutes, then stir, then bake for 20 minutes more. Serve with a salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, feta cheese and olives.

Last night's dinner

Friday, September 18, 2015

Championing education (for the umpteenth time)

I've often ranted expounded here about the importance of education. (Growing up in an anti-intellectual family, town and country can have that effect on you.) So I was delighted when a recent episode of the Health Report on ABC Radio National detailed how education could prevent or slow the development of dementia. The wonderfully-named Professor Carol Brayne said:

'Many studies have shown that exposure to more education appears to reduce our risk of developing dementia in later life. And other research, including research that we've done in Cambridge and the UK, suggests that that is not necessarily a reduction of risk of, say, vascular changes in the brain but more compensation, more that in the presence of pathologies such as Alzheimer's type dementia underlying pathological changes, that we can compensate, our brains can handle some pathology and that education plays a role in that.'

Then the show's host, Dr Norman Swan said:

'So if a government decides a policy which reduces the education level of the population, you can expect in 50 years' time the dementia rates to go up again?'

and Professor Brayne replied:

'Well yes, that would be consistent with all of the evidence … many, many studies have found that education is associated with lower risk.'

Hah! I knew it ...

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Lunch @ Retro Café

It has been five months since I broke my arm and only a couple of weeks since I was able to start riding my bike again. It is soooooooooo good to be back on the bike! In the past five months I've walked a lot and caught buses a lot and really come to appreciate just how much quicker it is to be able to jump on a bike to get from A to B to C and back to A, rather than getting around on foot and waiting at bus stops. Anyway, yesterday was a glorious spring day in Canberra and I had a free hour before my scheduled volunteer work, so I rode to Retro Café at the University of Canberra to meet Andrew for lunch.

We both had this yummy dish (sorry, I forgot to copy its name down)
featuring pork cubes, fried bean curd, peanuts and a touch of chilli

It really was delicious. Retro Café is in the Innovation Centre (building 22) on University Drive South at the University of Canberra. We can also recommend the food at Zierholz, which is also on the University of Canberra campus!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Crème brûlée

1 cup cream
1/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split
4 (extra) tablespoons caster sugar

Place cream and vanilla bean in saucepan and bring to boil. Remove vanilla bean and allow to cool 15 minutes. Whisk egg yolks with sugar until well combined. Pour cream mixture into egg mixture and combine well. (Some recipes say to strain the mixture at this stage; I prefer not to as it's fun to see the tiny vanilla bean seeds in the finished dessert.) 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.

The word 'brûlée' means burnt, so until you add sugar
and 'burn' it they're just little baked custards

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

You can vary this recipe in many ways ... for example, by placing some fruit (passion fruit pulp, or mandarin segments, say) in the bottom of the ramekins before pouring the cream mixture in. Or you could leave the vanilla out, and add either a tablespoon of Japanese (matcha) green tea powder or a tablespoon of instant coffee to the warm cream to make green tea or coffee flavoured crème brûlée.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Havering about havering

Last year I went to the cinema to see the fabulous Scottish film Sunshine on Leith. It is a musical featuring songs by the Proclaimers and it was so good I not only saw the movie twice (or was it three times?), but bought an album by the Proclaimers. They're probably best known for the songs 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)' and 'I'm On My Way', though the whole album is great. The band's thick Scottish accents shine through.

Anyway ...! There's a line in 'I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)' that says 'And if I haver ... I'm gonna be the man who's havering to you'. What does haver mean, I wondered? Looking in my trusty Macquarie Dictionary (and yeah, I see the irony in looking to an Australian dictionary to find out about a Scottish word) it says:

haver (pronounced hayvuh)
verb, Scottish to talk nonsense; blather

How cool is that? What a great word. I'll stop havering now.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Friday night treat ... cheese soufflé with a spicy twist!

Last night I tried adding curry powder to a cheese soufflé. It was delicious! Sort of like French–Asian fusion.

3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
3 eggs
1 cup grated cheese
0.5 teaspoon curry powder [to taste]

Separate egg yolks from whites and leave at room temperature. Make a cheese sauce by melting butter, mixing in the flour and cooking till it bubbles, then adding the milk and cooking till it thickens, then stirring the cheese in. Mix well and allow to cool. Beat egg yolks with curry powder and fold into cheese sauce. Beat egg whites until stiff. Using a rubber spatula, gently combine the egg whites with the cheese sauce. Pour into an ungreased baking dish and bake in a pan of hot water at 180 degrees C for 45 to 60 minutes, or until mixture is firm.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Sri Lankan lentil curry

I've had this recipe for years and can't remember where it came from. I'd written the name down as 'parapou' in my recipe book, but when I google 'Sri Lankan lentil curry' a bunch of recipes for 'parippu' appear. Whatever ...! Regardless of the spelling, this is quick, easy, and delicious on a chilly Canberra day.

2 cups orange lentils
1 tomato, chopped
3 or 4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
turmeric or saffron, to taste
red chillies, chopped
1 onion, chopped
coconut milk
curry leaves

Heat a little oil in a pan. Add onion and stir fry for a minute. Add tomato and mustard seeds, stir until mustard seeds jump then add wet lentils. Add garlic, chillies and curry leaves. Cover with coconut milk and add turmeric/saffron. Simmer about 15 minutes, and serve with roti or rice.

This freezes well so makes an easy weekday lunch if your workplace has a microwave oven.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Eggs ... nature's perfect food?

My colleague Stuart lives out in the country and keeps chickens. It's great to have a source of fresh, free range eggs. Some of my favourite eggy recipes include:

For brekkie/brunch/lunch
Eggs Benedict
'Tim Horton' burgers
Pumpkin bread

For dinner
Cheese soufflé
Zucchini, basil and feta fritters
Spanish omelette

Sweet treats
Orange and almond muffins
Chocolate cheesecake
Crème brûlée
Red velvet cake
Lemon butter
Portuguese tarts 

... and of course
Wattalapam (this blog's most popular recipe of all time)

I might just run downstairs and grab another dozen while I can ...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Raindrops on roses and red rubber spatulas

People often ask me about my favourite kitchen tools, toys and technologies and I have to confess to not owning many. We live in a small house with a compact kitchen so have to think twice before buying the latest gadget or thingummyjig. No, I don't have a bread maker or an ice cream maker or (heaven forfend) a Thermomix. I don't even have a dishwasher. That said, there are a bunch of kitchen items I use every day and wouldn't want to be without.

Red rubber spatula. I've had this for about thirty years and it shows no signs of giving up. Very handy for squeegeeing the last traces of yoghurt, soup, curry, cookie dough or whatever out of bowls, jugs and saucepans!

Stick blender. Andrew uses this more than I do. He uses it to make his brekkie banana smoothies; I use it for soups and dips.

Slotted spoon. Great when you want to move food from A to B but leave the liquid behind.

Digital scales. I get a weird kick out of measuring ingredients precisely ;-) Andrew brought the scales home one day and I wondered why anyone would bother with battery-operated scales. Then I discovered what fun they were.

Non-stick baking paper. Where has this stuff been all my life?! I used to get frustrated when biscuits and cakes stuck to the containers they were cooked in. This stuff is fantastic. (See also silicon bakeware, below.)

Pyrex jugs. Good for both measuring ingredients and cooking or reheating stuff in the microwave.

Wooden spoon. This one was a freebie from our local fire brigade!

Silicon bakeware. Soooo handy for cooking things like cakes, loaves and muffins without the mixture getting stuck to the sides.

Oh, and last but certainly not least ... our freezer. Full of leftovers stored for nights when there's no time or energy to cook something from scratch.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Pistachio and cranberry shortbread

I made some of these for a morning tea at my workplace today ...

200 g butter
2 heaped tablespoons icing sugar
200 g flour
0.5 cups ground rice or cornflour
0.5 cups  pistachio nuts
0.5 cups dried cranberries

Cream butter and sugar, add other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Turn out onto floured board and knead well. Form the dough into a log and wrap in foil or baking paper, then refrigerate until firm. (You can keep the uncooked dough in the fridge or freezer for a while before cooking it.) Cut into slices with a sharp knife  each piece should be about 0.5 cm to 1 cm thick. Bake at 150 degrees C until a delicate brown.

Makes about two dozen. Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Chocolate echidna slice

One of my workmates has a birthday this week and he's a big fan of chocolate hedgehog slice. Most recipes for chocolate hedgehog slice include walnuts, and as I prefer to use local ingredients where possible I tend to replace the walnuts with pecans as it is easier to find Australian pecans than Australian walnuts. So that suggests a name change ... and as we don't have hedgehogs in Australia it makes sense to name the adapted slice after the echidna, which is the nearest thing we have to a hedgehog. (It's not really that similar, though both are shy, spiny mammals that curl into a ball when threatened ...)

I used this recipe but replaced the walnuts with pecans, used desiccated coconut for the 'additional ingredient', and used 200 grams of melted dark chocolate for the icing rather than the three ingredients shown. Hope my colleagues like it!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Délicieux! Four weeks of French delights in Canberra

I'm a big fan of learning, and cooking, and eating, and all things French so a recent offering by the Canberra Institute of Technology was irresistible! Andrew and I just completed a four week evening course on the cooking, language and culture of France. Yummo. The classes were taught by the affable Claude, a French chef and charcutier, and attended by seven Canberra Francophiles (counting us). Each night we made one dish.

Week one: Tarte tatin

Week two: Barramundi en papillote with wild rice

Week three: Mousse à l'orange served in chocolate baskets

Week four: Coq au vin

Delicious! As regular readers of this blog will know, my food presentation can be a bit ... rustic. That is, I tend to concentrate on flavour and nutrition ahead of looks. So this course was eye-opening both in the new recipes and techniques introduced, and its emphasis on making the food look good on the plate. ('Plating up', as all those ghastly cooking shows call it.)

The course also covered bits and pieces of French language and culture, though most of the time was spent on cooking, which seemed to suit everyone. Merci beaucoup to Claude and our intrepid classmates for a very enjoyable learning experience!

This wasn't our first foray into international cooking. Check out the cooking classes we did two years ago in Malaysia, here, and earlier this year in Singapore, here.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Chocolate cheesecake

Thanks to my Mum for sharing this recipe with me. As usual I've tinkered with it, making the base thicker and reducing the amount of sugar ...

Make the base first

200 grams plain, sweet biscuits * [I like to use Malt or Digestive biscuits]
100 grams butter
50 grams brown sugar

Crush the biscuits. Melt the butter and brown sugar together and combine well with the crushed biscuits. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a foil-lined springform pan and chill.

Next, make the cheesy bit

250 grams cream cheese
100 grams caster sugar
100 grams chocolate [milk, dark or white]
2 egg whites
300 ml pouring cream

Soften the cream cheese a little and beat well. Beat in half the sugar. Melt the chocolate over a bowl of hot water or in a microwave. Allow the chocolate to cool slightly, them combine with the cream cheese mixture. Beat the egg whites till stiff, then fold in the remaining caster sugar. Whip the cream, and fold the egg white mixture through carefully using a metal spoon. Combine the chocolate and cream mixtures well, and pile on top of the base. Decorate with extra cream and/or grated chocolate. Refrigerate until ready to eat.

* Terminology clarification: here in Australia, a biscuit is what people in the USA might call a cookie or a cracker. (What someone in the USA would call a biscuit, we would call a scone or a muffin. Confused yet?) Anyway, if you're making this recipe in the USA, graham crackers are probably a good approximation. You may also need a metric to imperial measurement conversion facility.