Monday, April 21, 2014

Long weekend in lovely Jindabyne

Jindabyne, near NSW's Snowy Mountains, is a charming wee town. It has a resident population of only around 2000, but becomes much more crowded during the ski season. We just arrived back in Canberra after three nights there. For a tiny town, there are plenty of attractions!

On Saturday we drove to Thredbo (a ski resort), took the chairlift (wheeeeeee!) up the mountain, and walked back down. The walk  quite steep in places  was about four kilometres, and good fun. Our legs are still a bit achy, two days later ...

Fungi spotted while walking down the hill

Saturday night we dined at the fabulous Café Darya in Jindabyne. Café Darya offers authentic Persian cuisine, and we've been there on several visits. Once again it was a fabulous feed. We shared some roasted capsicum, ground walnut and pomegranate molasses tapenade served warm on Turkish bread, then for our main course had khoresht-e-odack (duck cooked in an apple, ginger and saffron sauce scattered with caramelised apple slices and topped with pickled red cabbage and fresh leeks) and gheime-e-shotor (wild camel pieces in a chickpea, fennel, radish and chilli sauce) and Persian-style rice. (Sorry, no pics  it was quite dark and the camera phone wouldn't have done the food justice! It did look very elegant though.) We had a tiny bit of space left for dessert and tried some Persian fairy floss. Yummo. A tip for new players ... it is a good idea to make a booking if you're planning to go to Café Darya, as the restaurant is tiny and the staff turned away a lot of hopeful walk-ins on Saturday night.

Cafe Darya on Urbanspoon

Sunday was a more relaxed day. We started with a leisurely breakfast at Parc Café (formerly known as Sublime), next to the Snowy Region Visitor Centre. She had:

Eggs benedict with smoked
salmon (yes,  I know I'm predictable!)

while he had:

Parc baked beans with poached eggs,
crispy chorizo, and a side of bacon

All very delicious. We also wandered along the banks of Lake Jindabyne, where there was a sculpture exhibition. I think this dude was my favourite!

The mini caravan was pretty cute too:

Last but not least, on the way back to Canberra we stopped in at Birdsnest in Cooma. All roads lead to Birdsnest it seems ... people kept asking whether I'd been there yet, so it's good to be able to finally say yes! They do have a magnificent range of clothing for sale, and a very whizzy system where you can stand in a changing room and order items to try on, using a tablet computer. (Oh, and if you're reading this somewhere other than Canberra or its surrounds, Birdsnest has a very lively online presence too.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Crunching the numbers

Well! Another year has gone by. Several years ago I started recording meals cooked at home on an Excel spreadsheet to get an idea of how varied our diet was. I keep a weekly menu anyway, so it's not difficult to take the extra step and churn out the stats. Here's what we ate at home this year:

hearty vegetable and barley soup (11 times)
vege burgers (10 times)
BLTs (9 times)
creamy tuna pasta (9 times)
pasta and sauce (9 times)
potato salad (9 times)
potato, leek, bacon and bean soup (8 times)
Spanish omelette (7 times)
Thai eggplant curry (7 times)
pasta and pesto (6 times)
seasonal vege omelette (6 times)

... and many other things too! A few new favourites have appeared on the menu recently:

eggplant and cheese bake
pumpkin risotto
falafel wraps
pumpkin, feta, beetroot and rocket salad
steamed silken tofu with lemongrass

and I rediscovered an old favourite, vegetable laksa.

All in all, a delicious and nutritious year. Yum.

Here's what we ate in previous years, if you're interested:

2009 to 2010
2010 to 2011
2011 to 2012
2012 to 2013

Yeah, yeah. I know I'm a geek ;-)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Red velvet cake

Up until recently I don't think I'd heard of red velvet cake, then suddenly I was seeing references to it everywhere. It seems that red velvet cake is simply a purple-tinged chocolate cake. Some recipes use red food colouring, but another (healthier) option is to use fresh beetroot [Beta vulgaris, or beets].

1 bunch beetroot (anywhere between 200 g and 500 g seems OK)
2 cups wholemeal flour
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 teaspoons baking powder
0.5 cup olive oil
4 eggs, beaten

Cook and purée the beetroot. (My tip: I wash, peel and chop the beetroot, then microwave it for about five to seven minutes. Make sure you put a lid on the container you use, or the microwave will end up looking like a crime scene. Cool the cooked beetroot before attempting to purée it.) Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Oil and flour a 25 cm round cake tin. Mix the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking powder together. In another bowl, mix the oil, eggs and beetroot together. Fold all ingredients together. Bake 50 to 60 minutes. Cool on a rack, and serve topped with cream cheese icing:

100 g cream cheese
50 g butter
1 cup sifted icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 cup chopped nuts

Beat all together. Ice when cake is cold.

This cake contains vegetables and cheese. Could we perhaps argue that
it is actually a salad? (Just kidding!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dinner @ Bollywood Masala

Dickson, in Canberra's inner north, is a great place to eat out. There are dozens of great restaurants and cafés and many cuisines to choose from. We've been to Bollywood Masala several times, and Andrew is mildly addicted to their dal makhani, described as 'heaven in a bucket' on the menu!

We started with pappadams and mint chutney:

then shared some:

Dal makhani (a.k.a. Daal Bollywood) ... of course

plus navratan (vegetable) korma, garlic naan, and saffron rice

YUM. We find the portion sizes very generous, so deliberately ordered less naan and rice than usual so we'd have room for dessert. He had:

khana kheer (a rice pudding with almonds)

while she had:

gulab jamun (served on a bed of kheer)

Bollywood Masala offers a delicious and satisfying night out.

Bollywood Masala on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Got any leftovers?

Earlier this week I made a caramel pavlova to take to a dinner party. Pavlova is a fun dessert but uses a lot of egg whites, leaving the chef with a bunch of leftover yolks. I really, really don't like to waste anything (for both economic and planetary reasons), so always plan to use any spare ingredients, or things due to go out of date, as soon as possible. Having a weekly menu helps! Here are some recipe ideas, if you find yourself with spare ingredients ...

Egg whites
Pavlova (or mini pavlovas, i.e. meringues)

Egg yolks
Crème brûlée or café brûlée
Hollandaise sauce

Pasta sauce

Mozzarella cheese
Home made pizza

Pumpkin risotto
Pumpkin, feta, pine nut and rocket salad
Pumpkin, coriander and chilli scones (and good old pumpkin scones)
Hearty vegetable soup
Japanese chestnut pumpkin simmered in sake
Pumpkin soup with drizzled coriander pesto
Pumpkin bread

Zucchinis [courgettes]
Chocolate zucchini muffins
Zucchini, basil and feta fritters

Hmmmm, what have I forgotten? Another option, of course, is to skip recipes altogether, and throw leftovers into a stir fry or omelette, or a hearty soup.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Café brûlée

A dessert for coffee lovers ...

1 cup cream
3 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon caster sugar
3 egg yolks
4 (extra) tablespoons caster sugar

Place cream and coffee granules in saucepan and bring to boil. Allow to cool 15 minutes. Whisk egg yolks with sugar until well combined. 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.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Caramel pavlova

Pavlova is really easy to make, and traditionally uses caster sugar. You can give it a caramel twist if you use brown sugar instead ...

6 egg whites
3 teaspoons vinegar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 cup caster sugar (or brown sugar, if making the caramel version)
1.5 tablespoons water

Beat egg whites until stiff. Add half the sugar, and beat well. Add the rest of the sugar and the vinegar, cornflour and water. Beat until well combined. Pile the mixture onto a sheet of non-stick baking paper on a baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes at 150 degrees Celsius, then turn oven down to 110 degrees Celsius and bake for a further 1.5 hours.

When cold, serve with fresh cream and seasonal fruits.

Mmmmm! We ate this one with cream, blueberries and strawberries

Note that because brown sugar contains molasses, a caramel pavlova won't be as crispy as one made with caster (white) sugar.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Brekkie @ A. BAKER

We're always on the hunt for new and interesting breakfast options, and Canberra has so many to choose from! Last week we noticed a newish bar, bakery and restaurant tucked away in New Acton (near the fabulous Palace Electric cinema) and today we went there for breakfast.


This may just be Canberra's most exciting breakfast menu. She had:

Salad of parsley root, smoked corn,
black lentils and goat's curd

while he had:

Baked eggs, ras el hanout, house merguez and
toast, with a side of house cured maple bacon

Both were delicious. The flavours in my dish were sublime. I ate it very, very slowly, to try and make it last! Andrew said his baked eggs were 'yummy', and reminiscent of shakshuka. The coffee and service were also good. A. BAKER's menu features heaps of exotic-sounding dishes made from fabulous local produce (more info here). An absolute delight. We'll be back!

Update: Wednesday 16 April 2014

We went back to A.Baker for brunch today. I'd hoped to have the parsley root salad again, but it wasn't on the menu this time ... maybe they have different menus for weekdays and weekends, or maybe I'm the only person silly enough to order parsley root! Oh well. I ordered a different salad, and it too was fabulous:

Salad of smoked baby beets, Jannei
goat's curd, black lentils and parsnip

while Andrew tried the:

Poached eggs, cavolo nero, whipped Yarra Valley
feta, dukkah and a side of bacon

and reported that it was excellent. Afterwards we went across the road to the Palace Electric cinema to see The Grand Budapest Hotel. What a delightfully decadent day!

A. Baker on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pumpkin risotto

Tonight's dinner ... and I'll freeze the leftovers for week day lunches!

4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
2 leeks, diced
2 cups rice
6 cups vegetable stock
800 g pumpkin, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 cups white wine
black pepper, to taste
100 g parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place the chunks of pumpkin on a baking tray, drizzle with two tablespoons of oil, then bake for about half an hour (till brown and a little crispy).

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

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

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Welcome to Canberra, PappaRich

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Malaysian food. I've written about trying to test all Canberra Malaysian restaurants here, exploring the ones in Melbourne here, learning to cook Nyonya food here, and participating in a foodie tour of Malaysia here and here.

(Obsessed? Me?)

Anyway, I just wanted to mention that there's a new kid on the block. PappaRich, a Malaysian restaurant chain, now has an outlet in Canberra. Yum. I've been there a couple of times now and enjoyed the food. The atmosphere is a little reminiscent of a hawker centre. Last week I treated a friend to lunch for her birthday. We shared:

Chicken satay


Roti canai

Delicious. There's always a throng of people outside waiting for a table, so it looks like I'm not alone in embracing this place. The menu features heaps of traditional Malaysian dishes, plus an extensive range of interesting drinks and desserts.

PappaRich is on the ground floor of the Canberra Centre, in Bunda Street.

PappaRich on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Happy autumn! Date loaf ...

Autumn [fall] has arrived in Canberra, so my mind is turning to baked goods ...

This is a quick, easy snack to whip up when you realise you have guests arriving in an hour or so. It can be served warm or cold, and also freezes well for later lunches.

1 cup dates, chopped
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon butter
1.5 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Put dates, butter and soda into a bowl. Pour boiling water over and mash slightly. Mix with flour and baking powder, pour into a loaf tin and bake about 50 minutes at 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Slice and serve with butter.

Optional: add some walnuts (or other nuts) for added flavour and crunch.

Some people worship the sun, but I'm a big fan of autumn and
winter ... any excuse to wear boots, hats, gloves, coats and scarves!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Brekkie @ Rosieblu Gourmet Deli, Bundaberg

Last week we visited Bundaberg, Queensland, for two nights, before and after our visit to Lady Elliot Island. It is a charming and friendly town. We enjoyed the architecture ...

... and the food. Our first day there we ventured out in search of breakfast, and stumbled across the very cute, and very popular, Rosieblu Gourmet Deli. It's sort of a combination café/deli/providore, and had some delicious offerings.

She had ...

Salmon eggs benedict

while he had

French toast with bananas and maple
syrup, and a side of bacon

The coffee was also good

We ate so much during our five nights on the island that we barely had any appetite on our return visit to Bundaberg, but did enjoy a lovely lunch (Turkish bread, local olive oil, macadamia dukkah and handmade hummus) at Indulge Café, and would have liked more time to sample other items from their fabulous menu. Perhaps there will have to be a return visit one day ...?

Rosieblu Gourmet Deli on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 07, 2014

The joy of (looking at) fish

The old lighthouse

We're back at Lady Elliot Island. Last year's visit was such fun that we booked another five nights this year. Once again, the main activity has been snorkelling in the Coral Sea. The fish and turtles are magnificent!

As well as snorkelling in the lagoon daily, I've taken three boat trips out into deeper water to snorkel with guides. The fish and coral are a delight, and this time we saw an eagle ray  the largest our guide had ever seen. Gorgeous.

Other special stuff this week has included:

 watching thirty or so newly hatched green turtles scamper down to the sea
 seeing, and hearing, mutton birds
 'meeting' Nigel, a largish fish resident in the lagoon, who likes to get up close and personal with snorkellers
 participating in numerous activities on the island, including talks on the history and ecology, a reef walk, and a 'night stalk', and helping out with the monthly survey of debris collected

The debris survey had an unexpected bonus  we found a message in a bottle! One of the plastic bottles found on the beach had something rolled up inside, and it turned out to be a handwritten letter, some photos and ten (Australian) dollars. It seemed a woman in Sydney had asked a relative to hurl the bottle off a cruise ship (long story), and wanted the finder to call her with news of where it had landed. We hope she was happy to hear from a Lady Elliot staff member.

There's something joyful about floating around and looking at tropical fish. It is good to be back.

Turtle tracks on the beach 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Roasted mushrooms with feta and garlic

I've celebrated two significant work anniversaries in recent weeks: it has been thirty years since I started my first full time job (at the age of sixteen), and ten years since I joined my current employer.

Ten years ago I told an about-to-be-ex-boss that, contrary to popular opinion, life is not too short to stuff a mushroom. I'd been working long hours to the detriment of my nutrition (and sleep) and hoped that by changing to a less demanding job I'd find more time to cook. It worked, and the ensuing years have been packed with good food!

OK, so the mushrooms here are not exactly stuffed, but they're well worth trying.

4 large flat mushrooms
100 grams feta cheese, crumbled
olive oil
chopped garlic
pepper and salt
rocket [arugula]

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Place the mushrooms, stem side up, in a roasting pan. Sprinkle the feta and garlic on them, then drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake for about 20 minutes, and serve on a bed of rocket. Serves two.