Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Let's call it Pittsburgh Mess

Back in 2000 (escaping the Sydney Olympics!) Andrew and I spent three weeks traipsing around the USA. We spent a few days staying with our friend Lisa in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which turned out to be a fascinating and friendly city. One night Lisa invited a bunch of friends over to meet the Australians  I'm guessing not too many Antipodeans visit Pittsburgh  and many of them brought food. One person brought a fabulous chocolate trifle and I so enjoyed it I asked her to email me the recipe. When it arrived I was a little taken aback: it was a mélange of processed foods! Store-bought cake, chocolate bars, pudding from a packet, cream from a can. I tend to make things 'from scratch' so never actually got around to replicating the lovely chocolate trifle. I've never forgotten it though, and recently stumbled across some imported Daim bars (which I think was the chocolate bar used) here in Canberra. So here's my (seriously belated) attempt at a chocolate trifle ...

First, I made a batch of my famous chocolate fudge pudding. It's usually eaten piping hot and slathered with whipped cream, but this time I allowed it to cool.

Then, I whipped 150 ml of cream.

Then, I mixed the chopped-up, cooled pudding with the cream and about 100 g of crumbled Daim bars.

Wildly unphotogenic but quite delicious. Oh, and it's a little reminiscent of a chocolatey version of deconstructed pavlova (a.k.a. Eton Mess), hence the name Pittsburgh Mess ;-)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Experiments with coconut milk (successful and not-so-successful)

I really like coconut. Both in sweet dishes, such as wattalapam, black rice pudding and coconut ice cream, and in savoury dishes such as potato and pea curry and vegetable laksa. (There are links to a bunch of my favourite coconutty recipes here.) This week I tried a couple of experiments with coconut milk.

The successful ...

I'd never cooked with agar-agar before (it's like a vegetarian version of gelatine) but found some recently in a health food shop and decided to try making a coconut 'jelly'. Simple and delicious! I boiled 400 ml of (tinned) coconut milk with 5 grams of agar-agar powder, in a saucepan, for five minutes, then poured it into dishes to cool. Yum. I didn't add anything to sweeten the mixture, as I find coconut milk naturally sweet, but you could add some palm sugar or honey if you liked.

The recipe above made two dainty cups of coconut jelly

... and the less successful

Coconut yoghurt. Hmmmm. I usually make Easiyo yoghurt for breakfasts at home, as it is quick and easy, plus cheaper and less plastic-waste-producing than buying ready-made pots of yoghurt from the supermarket. On a recent holiday (separated from my Easiyo incubator) I bought a pot of coconut yoghurt ... that is, yoghurt made with coconut milk rather than cow's milk. I liked it and wondered how I could make it at home. A YouTube video suggested that you could make coconut yoghurt with just two ingredients: (tinned) coconut milk and probiotic (acidophilus and bifidus) capsules. I tried and failed. When I checked the 'yoghurt' after two days of incubation and one of refrigeration it was clearly dodgy. Grey and frothy and foul-smelling. A little reminiscent of a bad batch of camembert from my cheese-making days.

What went wrong? (As my partner Andrew would say ... 'are we not scientists?')

The video said to use two probiotic capsules with 600 ml of coconut milk, and to incubate the mixture for about two days then refrigerate for four. My tins of coconut milk were 400 ml each so I used 800 ml of coconut milk and 3 probiotic capsules. So maybe the quantities were wrong. Other possible sources of the failure include:

  • bacterial contamination  I had washed, but not boiled, the jar used to incubate the mixture
  • timing  it takes between 8 and 24 hours to incubate a litre of Easiyo yoghurt in the Easiyo maker, so perhaps 48 hours was too long
  • incorrect probiotics  we don't usually buy supplements, whether vitamins or probiotics. So maybe the capsules I bought (which boasted prebiotics as well as probiotics) were inappropriate for the purpose?

Ah well. Failures happen! We don't have a compost bin and I doubt the inhabitants of our worm farm would want to eat spoiled yoghurt. So if you'll excuse me, I'm off to dig a hole in the garden to bury the stinking, bubbly mess ...!

Friday, May 11, 2018

A day fit for a gooey pudding

It's going to reach 11 degrees Celsius (52 degrees Fahrenheit) in Canberra today. Brrrrrr! And's it's only early autumn. Sometimes a cold day calls for comfort food. My mum called this 'Dolly Pudding'. I don't know why. All I know is that it's simple and delicious!

1 cup flour
1 cup dried fruit (such as sultanas or currants)
0.5 cup sugar
0.5 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
0.5 cup boiling water

Melt the baking soda and butter in the water. Mix in all other ingredients. Wrap dough in a cloth, tie top with room to swell. Place the bundle in a saucepan of boiling water (you may want to put a small plate in the bottom of the saucepan to prevent sticking) and boil for one hour, topping up the water in the saucepan as it evaporates. Serve with lashings of whipped cream.

Just before cooking ...

After cooking it'll be squishy on the outside and
cake-like on the inside. And yummy ;-)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dinner @ Abell's Kopi Tiam, Manuka

Each year Andrew and I try to visit our local primary school's fundraising fete. We don't have kids ourselves but like to support the community, eat multicultural food, and participate in the silent auctions! What is a silent auction? Businesses donate goods or services, and people make written bids for them, with the highest bidder 'winning' the item. It's a fun way to try new restaurants or (in the case of this year's vouchers) revisit old favourites. This week we had dinner at Abell's Kopi Tiam, a Malaysian restaurant in Manuka, using a voucher we'd obtained through one of the silent auctions at this year's fete. Nice.

We shared:

Beef rendang, char kueh teow, spring onion roti, and rice

and for dessert enjoyed:

Black rice pudding


Coconut panna cotta

Delicious! Spicy food is perfect for a chilly Canberra evening.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Brekkie @ Farmers Daughter, Yarralumla

We stumbled across this cafe a couple of weeks ago when we were trying to satisfy a caffeine craving before going on a guided heritage walk around Yarralumla. We didn't have time for brekkie that day but a quick glance at the diverse menu convinced us we needed to go back!

He had: French toast with bananas and bacon

She had: Eggs Benedict with pulled ham hock, apple and
potato hash, apple cider hollandaise and crackling dust

The coffee was good too

Cute use of old sewing tables!

The full menu is here. So many of the breakfast options sound fabulous that I'm sure we'll return ...

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Our own personal pumpkin festival

So excited! I grew two pumpkins this year. That may not sound like much, but I'd never successfully grown pumpkins before so it feels like a big deal. They're quite large (from the perspective of a two-person household, at least) and as my friend Rachel points out, once you cut a pumpkin you need to use the whole thing. So the pumpkins are still drying out on our back deck while I plan how to use them. Plenty of ideas are coming to mind ...

Pumpkin scones
Pumpkin soup with drizzled coriander pesto
Pumpkin bread
Fesenjān (pumpkin, pecan and pomegranate stew)
Pumpkin and pea curry
Pumpkin, feta and pine nut salad
Hearty vegetable soup
Japanese chestnut pumpkin simmered in sake

Aren't they cute?

Oh, and if you fancy going to an ACTUAL pumpkin festival, there's one at Collector, New South Wales next Sunday (6 May) ... just a short distance from Canberra!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Another year has flown by!

Ever since our Japanese cooking class in Kyoto two years
ago, teriyaki tofu has been a weeknight favourite

Oh my goodness. I've been keeping a spreadsheet recording our household's meals for nine years this week. It's always a fun exercise to analyse what we ate, though each year it reminds me that I should probably try to be more experimental and creative ...

What did we eat most between April 2017 and April 2018?

Potato, leek, bacon and bean soup (19 times)
BLTs (sandwiches or wraps) (11 times)
Deconstructed samosas (9 times)
Potato salad (7 times)
Teriyaki tofu (6 times)
Chinese dumplings (6 times)
... and all sorts of other stuff, just not so frequently.

My new food year resolution is to try some new Middle Eastern and Asian recipes ;-)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Wellington (Welly to its friends)

We're spending a few days in Wellington before heading back to Canberra. The constant earthquake risk notwithstanding, it's a great city! Here are a few pics from our visit.

Brekkie at Caffe Mode: mushrooms, haloumi and basil
on sourdough. YUM

Our first ever visit to a cat cafe! Making new friends

Malaysian street food at the Wellington Night Market

Lovely exhibition on the Topp Twins at the National Library of NZ

They offer four levels of spiciness at Curry Heaven: mild,
medium, Kiwi hot and Indian hot. We're glad we chose Kiwi hot!

Wellington is a very walkable city ;-)

I know, I know. Most of our holiday pics are of food. In my defence, this is a food blog. My obsession with food is well documented! See you next time, wonderful Welly.

Friday, April 13, 2018

North Island wanderings

For the past two weeks Andrew and I have been holidaying in New Zealand. Although I've lived in Australia for over 28 years I grew up in NZ so we come back to catch up with family every couple of years. This time we have travelled around the lower half of the North Island, visiting several towns to combine visits to friends and family with tourism activities. A smattering of our adventures ...

A tour, on modified golf carts, down the Forgotten World Highway
near Taumarunui

A Malaysian feast at Madam Woo in Hamilton

The Classics Museum, also in Hamilton

A night at the elegant Chateau Tongariro

Snow! Near Waiouru

Feijoas, kindly collected by my intrepid niece Sophie

... and a return visit to a favourite B&B, the Old Manse in Martinborough

We're spending our final three days in New Zealand in Wellington. More photos may be forthcoming ...

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Wattalapam (a Sri Lankan baked custard)

This weekend our friends are out of town and we're feeding their chickens. Today we collected four eggs so I brainstormed eggy desserts. This one is an old favourite. I first posted this recipe over 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. I've experimented a bit since obtaining the recipe, 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 warm 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!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Mmmmm ... nougat!

Recently a former colleague, Zefan, got married. He and his new wife Lei handed out celebratory bags of home made nougat, and it was delicious! I couldn't resist asking for the recipe. I'd been tempted to try making nougat before but had always felt intimidated by the complexity of the recipes found. Mentions of egg whites and glucose syrup and candy thermometers and 'small crack stage' made me wary. So I was surprised and delighted when Zefan and Lei's recipe involved none of these things. They kindly translated the recipe from Chinese for me and this morning I made a test batch.

35 grams unsalted butter
160 grams marshmallows
100 grams full cream milk powder
150 grams nuts, cooked (and/or dried fruit, as preferred; I used pistachios)
non-stick pan
silicone pan slice

Melt the butter in the pan over low heat and spread the butter all over the pan. Add marshmallows and stir with silicone slice, keeping heat low. When the marshmallows are almost melted, stir the milk powder through and mix thoroughly. Add the nuts and/or fruit and mix again. Pour into moulds (I used a silicone baking dish) and cool in the fridge. Cut when cold. You could wrap pieces in edible rice paper to make them easier to handle.

A couple of extra tips from Zefan and Lei:
– You can vary the softness of the nougat by using more butter (for a softer consistency) or more milk powder (for a harder consistency).
– Extra flavourings such as cocoa powder, coffee powder or matcha (green tea powder) may be added at the same time as the milk powder.

Melting marshmallows is squishy fun

As you can probably guess from all the mentions of 'non-stick' and 'silicone', above, the mixture quickly becomes very sticky when you add the milk powder. I'm tempted to try making it using a microwave one day, rather than a stove. Will blog about it if I do ...

This recipe is less sweet than many commercial nougats, which is nice. Thank you, Zefan and Lei, and congratulations!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Lunch @ Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery

Andrew and I spent the weekend in Jindabyne, NSW, where we walked in the Snowy Mountains (not so snowy at this time of year), ate at some old favourite and new favourite restaurants, and read lots of books. Bliss. After a bush walk in Kosciuszko National Park on Saturday, we popped in to the Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery for some schnapps tastings and lunch.

We both ate:

Pulled pork on ciabatta bun with apple pomegranate
slaw, homegrown horseradish aioli and wedges

I also tried:

Fresh organic raspberry soda

and of course no trip to a distillery would be complete without buying a couple of bottles to take away:


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

One night in Melbourne and the world's your oyster ...

Last week I spent 48 hours in Melbourne as I had to attend a training course. The course took up a full day but I allowed an extra day to explore the city. Unsurprisingly, most of my photos feature delicious food!

Egg tarts from Maxim's in Chinatown (I crave these things between visits)

Vegetarian dumplings and spring rolls, also in Chinatown

Dinner at Chocolate Buddha in Federation Square:

Agedashi tofu

Miso buta

Green tea brûlée (my recipe is here if you want to try making it yourself)

Oh, and a few other interesting things ...

The most expensive coffee in the world?! $6.20 for a mug
of soy flat white, at Caffe Duomo in the Block Arcade

Guess I was paying for the ambience. The Block Arcade is sorta cute!

Friday, March 02, 2018

Friday night treat ... tomato fondue

Back in the 1970s, my parents used to go to fondue parties. They would come home with fabulous tales of meaty fondues, cheesy fondues, chocolatey fondues ... sadly fondue is not so fashionable these days, but I still like to make this one, from time to time. It's fun!

150 ml white wine
420 g can of tomato soup
150 g grated cheese
2 eggs, beaten
freshly ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together, and stir over low heat (not boiling) until hot and well combined. Put into serving pot, over low flame if possible. To serve, use long-handled forks to dip cubes of French bread into the fondue.