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  • 4 mushroom pasta

    Four Mushroom Pasta

    DSC_7456DSC_7448DSC_7454I’ve always been a fan of the unami-rich mushroom. So I’m delighted to be sharing this original mushroom recipe for the the Australian Mushroom Growers to tie in with their Mushrooms Go Pink campaign.

    Growing up, the mushrooms I ate at home were mostly Chinese ones. These came dried in packets and were rehydrated in boiling water before being added to Chinese soups, noodles and stewed dishes like this Mushroom Chicken.

    It wasn’t until I left home and was vegetarian for around two years that I started cooking with fresh mushrooms regularly – they were an easy and tasty addition to breakfast fry ups, salads, pasta, noodle dishes, soups and stir-fries. Later on, my then mother in law taught me how to make a sensational Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom Pie, too.

    This dish was inspired by a trip to Germany in 2005. Mushrooms were in season when I visited and I can remember two mushroom dishes I ate very clearly: firstly, a savoury crepe with a creamy button mushroom sauce, and secondly, fresh pasta served with pffierlinge eaten at a lovely courtyard restaurant.

    Later, at der Supermarkt, I found little packets of dried steinpilze, more commonly known in Australia as Italian porcini, and bought a dozen.

    When I returned home I used the dried porcini to come up with a creamy mushroom recipe hybrid of the two mushroom dishes I had eaten. This recipe is an adaption of that recipe and I hope you enjoy it.

    Christina xx

    Mushrooms Go Pink

    To coincide with International Breast Cancer Awareness month and Pink Ribbon Day, the Australian Mushroom Growers are running their Mushrooms Go Pink campaign for the fifth year.

    In Australia, seven people die every day of the year from breast cancer: it is the most common cancer affecting women. More information can be found here.

    Some recent studies have found a strong association between mushroom consumption and a decreased risk of breast cancer so research is ongoing to try to determine the specific link between the two.

    Girls’ Day Out

    Sign up to become a member of the Mushroom Lovers’ Club and you can also enter a competition to win one of five Girls’ Day Out pampering packages for you and three friends valued at $1,000 each. Enter the competition here.

    Disclosure

    I was commissioned by the Australian Mushroom Growers to create this sponsored post.

    Four Mushroom PastaDSC_7471DSC_7454

    Four Mushroom Pasta
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Main
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    A creamy mushroom and kale pasta
    Ingredients
    • 20 grams dried porcini
    • 1 cup water, just boiled
    • 250 grams pasta
    • Water
    • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 30 grams butter
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 750 grams mixed mushrooms (I used button, swiss brown and oyster), sliced or halved
    • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
    • ⅔ cup chicken stock
    • ¼ cup verjuice
    • ⅓ bunch kale, stems removed and torn into pieces
    • ½ cup cream
    • A few springs of fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil
    • 80 grams Parmasen, grated
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • Lemon (optional)
    Instructions
    1. Put porcini in a small bowl and pour over just boiled water. Leave for 30 minutes.
    2. Cook pasta to just under al dente in water according to packet instructions, adding a dash of oil and one teaspoon of salt to the cooking water.
    3. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking process.
    4. Heat up a large fry pan and then add butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
    5. Add half of the mushrooms, and let them cook for a couple of minutes over a medium-high heat without turning them. Give them a stir and let them cook for another minute before removing from the pan and setting aside. Repeat with the other mushrooms.
    6. Add another good glug of olive oil and then add reserved mushrooms, rehydrated porcini, garlic, chicken stock and verjuice.
    7. Cook over a low-medium heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until liquid has reduced slightly.
    8. Stir in kale, cream and basil and cook for another two to three minutes.
    9. Add drained pasta to the pan, stirring thoroughly to combine.
    10. Dish out four serves and then sprinkle over Parmesan cheese.
    11. Taste dish and adjust seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, fresh basil leaves or lemon juice (optional) to taste.
    Notes
    Cook the mushrooms in two batches to avoid over-crowding of the pan. We want the mushrooms to caramelize, not steam.
    Slightly undercook the pasta. We’ll be adding it to the pasta sauce and reheating it so it’ll cook to al dente then.
    You can substitute white wine for the verjuice if desired.

     

  • wilpena pound

    The Flinders Ranges and a Quinoa Porridge recipe

    Vast blue skies, gently undulating land and ancient mountain ranges. In terms of magnificent scenery and great bushwalking trails, the Flinders Ranges in outback South Australia sure does deliver.

    flinders ranges

    A couple of weeks ago I visited the Flinders Ranges for a mini-break with my family. It was the first time I’d visited the area since a school camp more than 20 years ago and it was my children’s first time.

    flinders ranges

    The Flinders Ranges are the largest mountain range in South Australia and are situated 430km north of Adelaide. After a five-hour drive we arrived at Rawnsley Park Station, where we were staying, and immediately set off on a walk on the property.

    Rawnsley Park Station

    After a week staring at a computer screen, hiking around this magnificent, wide open space was an incredible tonic. The air was so clean and fresh and I took deep, grateful breaths of it.

    Wilpena Pound

    THA Wilpena Pound

    The next day we took a short drive down the road to Wilpena Pound,  a magnificent natural amphitheatre. The landscape in this area is 800 million years old and has been home to the Adnyamathanha people for tens of thousands of years.

    We chose to do the ‘Easy Trail’ as it was a comfortable walk for the kids and shaded from the hot sun by towering Eucalyptus trees.

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    This was a very easy walk – there are much longer and more difficult trails within the park. You can also catch a bus from the information centre into the park, for a shorter walk to the pound. You can also stay in the national park itself.

    THA wildflowers

    At one point we took a detour off the main path and came across a 2-metre tall emu.

    THA emu

    This native Australian bird is a flightless one – all its strength and speed is derived from its incredibly powerful legs. It can kick a fully-grown kangaroo — or a man —  to death with them.

    The emu stopped and looked at us.

    THA emu

    I took the above photo and then realised that we were potentially at risk: being attacked by a panicked emu was not something I wanted to experience. I also registered the fact that I was holding my son’s hand and that my daughter was standing a couple of metres away from us. I wanted to run to her and pull her behind me but I also didn’t want to startle the emu.

    All these thoughts flashed through my mind in seconds and then the emu started running straight towards us. Thankfully, it veered off to one side a mere five metres away.

    My heart was beating fast as I imagined what could have happened but my children were delighted by our wildlife encounter.

    “We were attacked by an emu!” they told everyone upon our return. “It was amazing!”

    Our visit to the Flinders Ranges was short — only three days — but bar the emu incident, it was wonderfully relaxing. Next time we’ll stay for longer.

    Quinoa Porridge with Berries

    quinoa porridge with berries

    One of the dishes I cooked while we were in the Flinders Ranges was this Quinoa Porridge with Berries.

    I love porridge made from oats but sadly, oats don’t agree with me so I’d resigned myself to never eating porridge again. Then I learned about quinoa, a gluten-free superfood, and started making porridge with quinoa flakes instead.

    It’s beyond easy to prepare and is so light and easy to digest. I love eating it with honey, milk, yoghurt and fresh berries.

     

    Quinoa Porridge
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Breakfast
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    A gluten-free porridge with fresh fruit
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup quinoa flakes
    • 2 cups water
    • Milk
    • Yoghurt
    • Honey
    • Berries
    Instructions
    1. Bring water to the boil in a small saucepan and then add quinoa flakes.
    2. Reduce heat to low and then cook the quinoa, stirring occasionally, until all of the water is absorbed (8-10 minutes).
    3. Spoon quinoa porridge into two bowls and add milk, yoghurt, honey and berries to taste.

    Address Book

  • summer pudding

    Summer pudding and a new look

    DSC_7524

    Redesigning a blog is like renovating a house. Or getting elective plastic surgery.

    You start off thinking that you’re just going to make a few minor cosmetic changes and you end up with a house (or body) that is almost unrecognisable. The thing is, once you’ve made one part look good everything around it starts to look a little tired.

    The Hungry Australian redesign you are now looking at has been a long time in the making. While I really liked my old blog design, over time I began wishing that I could add some new elements and functionality to it. The trouble is, once I started I realised that making a few minor changes would be unsatisfying and that nothing less than a complete redesign would serve.

    Because my blog is such a personal thing and I’m a bit of a control freak, finding a designer to work with me on the redesign was quite tricky. So I’m thrilled with the design that Joseph and I came up with. Thanks for all your (late-night) work getting the new site up and running, Joseph.

    This new design includes a visual recipe index, which is something I’ve been wanting ever since I started blogging and my photos actually started resembling food. You can search by type of dish or dietary requirement: if you want to search by ingredient simply enter the ingredient into the search box on the top right of the screen.

    A few things to note.

    Firstly, the new post column is significantly wider than the old one so photos in old posts won’t be completely sharp when viewed on a computer screen. I may get around to replacing all of these images with new ones at the current width one day.

    Secondly, I’m still re-categorising my recipes so there are actually more recipes in most of the sections. For example, the sugar-free category currently only contains a few recipes but there are actually a lot more sugar-free recipes in the archives. I’ll finish this off by the end of the month.

    Thirdly, old comments haven’t been imported yet. This will hopefully happen in the next day or so but you can still comment in the meantime.

    Lastly, we’re still working on it so you may find the occasional glitch. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

    Now regular readers will know that I’ve been blogging a lot less than usual lately due to firstly a killer flu and then work and family commitments. When you get out of practise with something it can become harder and harder to get back into it. But working on this blog makeover has made me fall in love with blogging all over again.

    So with this redesign almost complete, I’m feeling re-inspired and re-invigorated as I set off on a much awaited trip with Trafalgar: tonight I’m off to Abu Dhabi where I’ll be staying for a day or so before I fly to Turkey for a week’s famil/media trip followed by a two-day extension to central Turkey by myself.

    The week in Turkey was one of the prizes I received as overall winner of the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Best Australian Blogs 2014 competition. Many thanks to the team at the AWC for their support, and to Trafalgar for this amazing prize and for also hosting my add-ons to Abu Dhabi (partnering with Creative Holidays) and Cappadocia.

    I will be blogging a number of current and recent food and travel stories while I’m on the road. If you want to see what I’m up to in real-time you can follow me at Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

    Christina xx

    Summer Pudding

    I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of Summer Pudding, a simple pudding made with stewed berries and bread. So when I had a glut of berries in the house yesterday I decided to give it a go.

    This is not a hard dessert to make and it’s a very light and pleasant one to eat, too. My daughter is notoriously picky when it comes to cakes and she ate four slices last night. How many can you eat?

    DSC_7480DSC_7523

    5.0 from 3 reviews
    Summer pudding
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    A light, Summery dessert
    Ingredients
    • 1kg grams mixed berries, fresh or frozen
    • ½ cup sugar
    • 45 mls water (3 tablespoons)
    • Fresh bread (crusts removed) to cover the inside of a 1 kilogram pudding basin, about 8 regular slices or 500 grams gluten free bread (gluten free bread is generally baked in smaller loaves so you have to use more as you lose more of it when you cut off the crusts).
    Instructions
    1. Place 800 grams berries, sugar and water in a medium saucepan and cook until juices run (about 3-4 minutes for fresh and 8-10 minutes if frozen).
    2. Meanwhile, line pudding basin with bread ensuring that there are no gaps (cut to fit).
    3. Remove approximately ⅓ cup juice from saucepan and then spoon remaining berries and juice into bread-line pudding basin.
    4. Cover berries with remaining bread and then gently spoon over a few tablespoons of the reserve juice so that the bread is all red in colour. Cover the remaining juice and store in the fridge.
    5. Cover pudding with a clean saucer that fits just inside the pudding basin and then put a heavy weight on top (e.g. a can or heavy plate).
    6. Refrigerate the pudding overnight or for at least four hours.
    7. To serve, remove pudding from fridge and discard saucer.
    8. Place a serving plate over the pudding base and carefully invert the pudding onto the plate.
    9. If there are any white spots on the bread, cover these up with the reserved juice.
    10. Decorate with reserved fresh berries and serve with cream or custard.
    Notes
    SUBSTITUTIONS
    Gluten-free: gluten-free bread can be used.
    Refined sugar-free: stevia, honey, rice malt vinegar or agave syrup can be used instead of sugar.
    Dairy-free: serve with dairy-free ice cream or whipped coconut cream instead of whipped cream.

     

  • dumpling soup

    Dumpling Soup for Leela

    DSC_7015-2

    DSC_7009-2

    It’s always nice cooking for someone who really appreciates your food.

    My 5YO niece, Leela, is beautiful inside and out. She’s generous, kind, strong-willed and intelligent. She’s also, along with her younger brother, Jessie, the best eater I’ve ever had the pleasure of feeding.

    A few months ago I cooked some dumplings in soup and took them over to my brother’s house for dinner as a thank you for looking after my kids that day. Now my kids turned up their noses at the dumplings — they didn’t like the ginger or spring onions I’d included — but both Leela and Jessie ate bowl after bowl of them.

    I was so impressed with Leela’s dumpling love that I promised to make them for her anytime she wanted.

    “For my birthday?” she asked.

    “Sure. I’ll make them for your birthday,” I said.

    I then forgot all about it but a few weeks ago, Leela pulled me aside.

    “You know it’s my birthday soon,” she said solemnly.

    “I’m having a party. Don’t forget to make the dumplings. And the fried rice I like.”

    How could I refuse?

    As it turns out her birthday was held in a play centre which served its own food. So I promised to make Leela dumplings another time, which I did recently.

    Now my dumpling record stands at 15 dumplings eaten in one sitting, which I thought was pretty good for someone of my size. But Leela ate 10 dumplings with ease. She started helping herself to them after the first half dozen, spooning them into her bowl one at a time. I watched her in awe, breaking into a grin every time she finished a bowl and asked for more.

    There’s really nothing a cook likes more than an appreciative eater.

    DSC_6999

    DSC_7007-2

    My dumpling soup recipe includes spring onions and ginger (ingredients 2 and 3) but I make my kids a modified version, substituting 1/2 cup finely diced bok choy leaves for the ginger and spring onions. This was my mum’s idea and while I’m not fond of adapting recipes for kids my kids can’t get enough of the bok choy ones.

    I’m completely addicted to the spicy dipping sauce I’ve included below. I love spooning it over my bowl of dumplings – the vinegar cuts through the richness of the pork while the ginger and chilli explode across my tastebuds like fireworks. If my kids want dipping sauce, I give them little bowl of very diluted soy sauce.

    I like serving my dumplings in a gingery chicken soup with lots of bok choy. In terms of catering, I’d budget five dumplings per small child and 10 dumplings per adult served as part of a meal. If you’re only eating dumpling soup I’d probably budget nine dumplings per child and 15 dumplings per adult. This may give you leftovers but leftover dumplings for breakfast the next day are always a good thing.

    Pork, Ginger and Spring Onion Dumpling Soup

    INGREDIENTS – SOUP

    • 400 grams pork mince
    • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, finely minced (I use my Microplane grater)
    • 4 spring onions, white part only, finely sliced
    • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (from an Asian grocer)
    • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
    • 1 packet wonton or dumpling wrappers
    • 1 litre water + another 2 cups (500mls)
    • 1 litre chicken stock
    • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled
    • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
    • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
    • 2 cups water
    • 4 bunches boy choy, washed, ends trimmed and leaves separated. Chop larger pieces in half for kids.
    • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
    • Bunch coriander to garnish (optional)

    METHOD – SOUP

    1. Mix pork, ginger &  spring onions (substitute: bok choy), soy sauce, wine, sesame oil and white pepper in a medium mixing bowl.
    2. Set up your dumpling station with a chopping board, a small bowl containing water and a large plate.
    3. Work on the chopping board. Using a teaspoon, scoop large teaspoonfuls of the meat mixture and place it onto the middle of a dumpling wrapper. Dip your finger into the water bowl and trace it around the edges before folding them over and pressing the wrapper firmly around the meat, sealing it in. You can fold the edges in a pleat style or leave them as is. Place the completed dumping on the plate and then repeat with the remaining dumpling wrappers and mixture.
    4. Find two large pots. In one pot add the chicken stock, ginger, wine, pepper and 2 cups water and bring to the boil. Drop in bok choy and then reduce heat immediately to a low simmer or turn off (if the dumplings aren’t quite ready). In the other pot add a litre of water and bring to the boil. Boil the dumplings, in two batches, over a high heat for approximately 5-6 minutes or until all dumplings are floating at the top and are cooked through.
    5. To serve, turn off heat under soup and add sesame oil. Remove dumplings from their cooking water with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Top with soup and bok choy and garnish with coriander.
    6. Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

    INGREDIENTS – DIPPING SAUCE

    • 5 tablespoons Chiangkiang vinegar (from an Asian grocer)
    • 3 teaspoons dried chilli flakes in oil (from an Asian grocer)
    • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
    • 1 teaspoon finely minced ginger

    METHOD – DIPPING SAUCE

    1. To make the dipping sauce, mix vinegar, chilli soy and ginger in a small bowl. This makes quite a hot dipping sauce so if you like less heat reduce the amount of chilli.

    NOTES

    • Makes 40-48 dumplings
    • Serves 3-4 as a main mean

     More Asian Recipes

  • gerard's bistro

    A weekend in Brisbane for Eat Drink Blog 5

    I’m back! Hooray!

    It’s been a month since my last blog post, my longest hiatus ever. For this you can blame a killer flu followed by a nuclear-level virus that kept me bedridden for around three weeks. On the upside I read lots of excellent books about food whilst in bed and will share my favourites with you in a future post.

    My recent birthday was a complete non-event: I spent it in bed, at the doctor’s surgery and getting a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia. I also had to cancel two blog related trips to the Gold Coast (for the ProBlogger conference) and Melbourne (for a vodka dinner ), which was frustrating. But I’m feeling a lot better now. Besides, these are all #firstworldproblems anyway, right?

    Now here’s a little recap of what I got up to last weekend in Brisbane, Queensland.

    Eat Drink Blog 5

    The primary reason for my Brisbane trip was speaking at the 5th Australian Food Bloggers Conference, Eat Drink Blog 5.

    Held at newish, multi-purpose food business venue, Wandering Cooks, the annual, national conference covered a range of topics and activities designed to inspire delegates and stimulate discussion.

    eat drink blog 5

    Speakers included Nat from Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow, who spoke on the Singapore blogging scene, and Australian organic food pioneer Brenda Fawdon, who shared her food philosophy on ethical eating, sustainable food and food wastage – the full program of the day is here.

    One of the most interesting sessions of the day was Melbourne Gastronome’s session on the ACCC guidelines with regards to bloggers, using excellent hypothetical — *cough* — scenarios of blogger disclosure of commercial arrangements, sponsorship and gifted products and services. It’s an area that all bloggers must get their heads around. As a general rule, if you blog be 100% transparent about anything that could be seen to influence what you post on your blog or social media accounts. Check out the official ACCC guidelines here.

    I’ve been to four Eat Drink Blogs now — Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane — and it’s always a great way to catch up with old blogging friends and to make new ones.

    eat drink blog 5

    I was the last speaker of the day: I did a talk called Blogging for Fun and Profit. Here I am wondering how I’m going to get through 38 slides in 40 minutes.

    Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 1.39.56 pm
    Instagram by @The OrgasmicChef
    Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 1.44.05 pm
    Instagram by @eatdrinkblogAU

    I hope that delegates took away some useful ideas from my talk. As I was only able to scratch the surface of an enormous subject in my allotted time I am currently writing an e-book about creating opportunities from blogging that will go into much more detail. If you’re interested in learning more, please email me at info{at}hungryaustralian.com to go on the wait list – I’ll send out details when it’s available.

    Thanks to the Brisbane committee members for inviting me to speak and for all their hard work — I know from personal experience that organising Eat Drink Blog is a massive job —  and all of this year’s sponsors for supporting the conference.

    While not at Eat Drink Blog events my friend Erin and I had a great time getting to know Brisbane. We wandered around the CBD, Southbank, Paddington and Fortitude Valley, shopping and sampling some great food and wine. These are some of my favourite pics from the weekend and I’ve also included a mini address book below.

    GOMA & GOMA Cafe & Bistro

    GOMA food exhibition

    Travelling with Erin was awesome. She booked our accomodation, researched flights, what to do and where to eat, and had a photographic memory of maps – all I had to do was tag along!

    We were lucky to catch the final days of Harvest, a celebration of food in art at GOMA, the Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (or QAGOMA in full.) I came away so inspired.

    After the exhibition we were peckish. We had a look at the award-winning GOMA restaurant but decided to eat outside at the GOMA Cafe Bistro so we could enjoy the lovely Brisbane sunshine.

    brisbane goma cafe bistroduck salad, goma bistro cafe

    I had the juniper cured duck salad with radiccio, snowpeas, caramelised onion and pomegranate ($18) served with shoestring fries and aioli ($8). Both were simple and straightforward dishes but nicely executed.

    Shouk Cafe, Paddington

    shouk cafeDSC_6923breakfast shouk cafe

    Shouk Cafe was recommended by a number of local food bloggers and I can see why: this place does great modern Middle Eastern inspired food, the fit out is simple but stylish and the service is excellent.

    To avoid a queue on the weekend, we were advised to arrive before 8:30am. 8:30am! That was never going to happen so we arrived late, left our mobile number and happily checked out the nearby design, gardening, books and fashion shops while we waited twenty minutes or so for our table. Food + shopping is always a good start to the day, right?

    Winn Lane, Fortitude Valley

    Winn Lane

    Whilst walking around Fortitude Valley, we stumbled across the very appealing Winn Lane, home to some great shops — including Künstler, the cutest magazine shop — and a popular burger outlet.

    Gerard’s Bistro, Fortitude Valley

    gerard's bistroheirloom tomato salad, gerard's bistrocauilflower salad, gerard's bistrodessert, gerard's bistro

    We arrived at Gerard’s Bistro for a late lunch in that quiet mid-afternoon period just before the kitchen was about to switch to a bar menu before the evening dinner service.

    I really like the fit-out at Gerard’s – it’s been put together so well. You can see everybody and everything and it’s comfortably luxurious while hitting that sweet spot between modern and timeless style.

    The food at Gerard’s — inspired by Middle Eastern, Southern European and Northern African cuisine — was elegant and subtle, revealing the quiet confidence of a chef who knows what he’s doing in the kitchen.

    Dishes are designed to be shared: we tried the heirloom tomatoes, zucchini flower, buttermilk, walnuts and date molasses ($16), the smoked new potatoes, tahini yoghurt, sumac and pork floss ($14), the fried cauliflower, tahini, ras el hanout, smoked almonds and pomegranate ($14) and the free range duck breast, caramelised pumpkin, quince, sour golden raisin and oat ($32).

    Not one dish was fussy or overly-complicated: even the most complex dish in terms of components, flavours and textures — the pistachio financier, halva, and textured rooftop honey ($16) that we shared for dessert — was a harmonious and well balanced pleasure.

    All in all, it was a lovely meal to finish a great weekend away. Brisbane: I will be back.

    Brisbane Address Book

    Disclosure

    • Eat Drink Blog is an annual, not-for-profit conference for and by Australian food bloggers. All conference activities, meals and delegates’ bags were sponsored. I donated my time as speaker and paid for all other meals, purchases, flights and accommodation.

    More Travel Posts

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  • DSC_6607

    Banana Chocolate Muffins

    Banana chocolate muffins

    A month ago my ex husband had a vasectomy. When it was over and he was half the man he used to be — his words, not mine — I picked him up from the hospital and drove him home, teasing him only half the time. It seemed only fair.

    How times have changed. When my ex and I were newly separated three years ago I never would have imagined that we would have the relationship that we do now.

    Back then, I remember asking a friend in tears when I would ever feel normal again.

    Her wise answer? “You’ve just got to give it time.”

    I’ve found this to be true although work, writing, blogging and having an occasional chat with a friendly counsellor was also helpful.

    When previous relationships ended in my twenties I was completely melodramatic about it, throwing out his gifts, and even moving cities or countries: there’s nothing like stepping off a plane in a new city to help you forget your woes. But my ex and I have kids together so that wasn’t an option this time. In any case, it’s unfortunate but true that running away doesn’t actually solve anything: you still need to deal with the painful stuff eventually.

    Actually, we can thank our kids for our cordial relations: because of them that we’ve been forced to act like grown-ups. It hasn’t been easy and there are times we can still push each other’s buttons but generally, we’re in a good place: I’d even go so far as to say that we are good at being divorced.

    Achieving our current amicability took a huge amount of work and then some. There were a lot of set-backs along the way and a lot of angry conversations and bitter recriminations. In the end we had to let go of all of that because it was just too destructive: our ongoing battles would have left our kids with a permanent ache in their hearts and stomachs and we didn’t want that.

    So we put our kids’ needs first and eventually, along the way, we’ve become friends. Perhaps friends isn’t the right word – we’re more like co-founders of a company and we job-share parenting our kids. We care about each other, rely on each other and help each other out. We can celebrate important occasions together. I’m grateful for all of this.

    Most friends — often the product of divorce themselves — think this is a good thing. One friend pointed to her experience of having divorced parents who couldn’t stand being in the same room with each other and the difficulties this created on birthdays, holidays and important occasions.

    Others don’t agree. My ex told me about an acquaintance of his who thought we were mad to be so involved with each other. Apparently, he and his ex wife always hand over their kids at a neutral place, usually, a public park. Now I don’t know what happened between them and I wouldn’t dare judge – they may need to keep their distance from each other for very good reasons. But their inability to be around each other at all must be somewhat challenging for their kids.

    Recently, my ex was telling me about his new, second-hand motorbike, and wryly comparing it to his much more costly motor-glider, which he recently sold.

    “This bike makes me just as happy as the plane did,” he said. “Because the secret to happiness is being content with what you have.”

    After I got over the mild shock of hearing my ex sound like Oprah, I realised that he was right. Our thoughts create our world. And I don’t know if this is tempting fate but right now, I can honestly say that I’m content with the relationship my ex and I have. Yes, it’s a long way off from the relationship we once shared. And yes, things might change if and when either of us remarry. But I’m hopeful that we’ll always be able to maintain an amicable relationship now: we know what it’s like having a hostile one and neither of us wants that again.

    I’m not sharing this story because I feel smug about any of this: there were plenty of moments along the way that we both regret. But being able to move past what was a very bleak and unhappy period is a very good thing for all concerned. And if you’re going through something similar, I hope that you will be able to find your way towards happier times, too.

    Banana Chocolate MuffinsBanana Chocolate Muffins

    Banana Chocolate Muffins (GF)

    My ex has the kids tonight so when I found myself with a glut of ripe bananas today (who can resist a 2 kilogram bag for only $3?) I decided to make these muffins for their afternoon tea. Chocolate and banana is my ex’s favourite cake so I knew he’d be happy with this unexpected gift. I am not above using food as a bribe gesture of goodwill. If more people cooked for each other I think the world would be a far happier place. So why not bake these muffins for someone today?

    INGREDIENTS

    • 200 grams gluten free flour
    • 100 grams caster sugar
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
    • 150 mls neutral tasting oil (e.g. sunflower, vegetable, canola)
    • 2 eggs, beaten
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean essence
    • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
    • 130 grams chocolate buds (milk or dark)

    METHOD

    1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius and line a 12- hole muffin tin with muffin papers.
    2. Place flour, sugar, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl.
    3. Add vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla and banana and mix thoroughly.
    4. Fold in chocolate buds (morels) and then use a large spoon to fill muffin papers.
    5. Bake for 20-24 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

    NOTES

    • Makes 12.
    • Gluten free.

    VARIATIONS

    • To make these with regular flour, substitute 200 grams plain flour and reduce the amount of oil by 25 mls (i.e. use 125 mls vegetable oil). The baking time should be closer to 20 minutes.

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  • DSC_5707

    A sneak peek at Southern Ocean Lodge

    Souther Ocean Lodge lookout, Kangaroo Island Fish at Southern Ocean Lodge

    I’ve been burning the midnight oil this week working on my blog redesign* (yay!) as well as new client work.

    When life gets busy my house starts to fall apart – I can’t even see my kitchen benches right now. I could’ve hugged my sister in law the other day when she joked that her house always looks like it’s been robbed: if you’re a working parent of small kids your home is always teetering on the brink of chaos. Unless you have live-in help, that is, in which case I might have to move in with you.

    My mother overheard us talking and told us that her home was never messy when my brother and I were small. However, she also told me that my brother and I never had sleep problems as babies, either — “we just drove you around in the car until you fell asleep” — so I’m not sure we can really trust what she says.

    Anyway, the point of this rather indulgent spiel is that I’d hoped to have a new recipe post up today but it just didn’t happen because I had to occasionally, you know, sleep. Without anyone driving me around until I fell asleep, no less.

    So here are a few photos from my recent visit to the Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island instead. I will be blogging my visit in detail later on and you won’t want to miss that because it is really quite a special place. Plus, I have some great photos of a seal rolling playfully around on the beach. It’s way cuter than it sounds – I’ve never met a more charismatic and witty seal.

    Have a great week.

    *My new site design will be up early September.

    Oysters at Kangaroo and Canapes, Southern Ocean LodgeBeetroot and cheese salad at Southern Ocean LodgeSunrise at Southern Ocean Lodge

    Disclosure

    I visited the Southern Ocean Lodge as a guest of the Lodge and the South Australian Tourism Commission.

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  • DSC_2638

    FAQs: tips for aspiring and emerging bloggers

    I get asked questions about blogging, photography and food styling regularly. Eventually I’ll create some sort of FAQ page but in the meantime, I thought I’d cover some of the most frequently asked questions in this post.

    It’s longer than I expected so you might want to grab a cup of tea. Here we go!

    Blogging

    How long have you been blogging?

    Just over three years.

    Do you have any tips about food blogging?

    I do. Check out How to Blog about Food: useful tips for new, emerging and aspiring food bloggers and The Business of Food Styling: a Denise Vivaldo food styling workshop and 12 tips for new, emerging and aspiring food stylists.

    How do I build a following?

    Create great content, promote your content, engage with readers, get to know other bloggers, be helpful and share information.

    How long does it take you to do a blog post?

    On average, four to six hours. Longer travel posts can take up to two days. If it’s a recipe post there’s research, concept and development. Then shopping, recipe development and testing. Then cooking and food and prop styling. Then photography and editing. Then writing up the recipe. The story comes first or afterwards and it can take days, months (or years!) to get right. Then final edits, publishing and promotion. A lot of work goes into it.

    Can’t anyone start a blog?

    Yes. But that’s like saying anyone could write a novel. In theory that’s true but not everyone has the self-initiative, skills and talent to actually start one, much less the commitment and determination to persevere with it.

    No, what I mean is, you don’t have to be qualified or anything…

    That’s the beauty of blogging. You’re not judged by your qualifications or by who you know; you’re judged on your talent, skills and story-telling ability.

    No, I mean, some blogs aren’t very good…

    People blog for all kinds of reasons. What you might deem ‘not very good’ might make its creator very proud. It might be his or her way of sharing their stories and memories or meeting like-minded folk. In any case, I’m sure you’re intelligent enough to work out which blogs you like and want to follow for yourself.

    How do you make money from blogging?

    Some bloggers run advertising on their blogs or affiliate links. Some do sponsored posts or become ambassadors for brands. Some freelance and consult. Some write books or create products or virtual courses.

    Most of my income is derived from work that I do off my blog and I’ve deliberately set it up like this. However, it’d be fair to say that new clients often find me via my blog.

    Do you accept unsolicited guest posts?

    No.

    Why don’t you do more restaurant reviews?

    First of all, I don’t do reviews. I will blog about my experience in a restaurant if it’s part of a bigger travel post like this, this or this, or if it’s also a personal story like this. But I don’t do restaurant reviews per se because I like blogging recipe and travel stories more.

    salmon and soybean salad

    How did you do it? How did you create a successful blog?

    Firstly, everyone has a different idea of what success means. I started my blog because I thought it would help me become a better writer and it has. So from that point of view my blog is a success and everything else has been a bonus.

    I think when you do something you love, you pour your heart and soul into it, and you work really hard, it shows. Having said that, while I haven’t been blogging that long I got my first paid writing job more than 17 years ago and this writing experience was definitely helpful. I also have a background in marketing and this was also useful.

    Being a slightly obsessive perfectionist is not bad thing when it comes to blogging. There are a lot of stories that I haven’t blogged because I don’t think they’re good enough yet. At the same time I constantly see flaws in my published posts so I’m always driven to improving what I do.

    Knowing what I want to do with my blog and where it fits into my bigger goals is also important: it’s easy to get distracted by all the emails, press releases and invites that drop into your inbox and change direction all the time. I say no to a lot of things that would be fun to do because there are only so many hours in the day: I prioritise where I put my time and energy.

    Lastly, I am a fairly confident person and I’m content to tread my own path. There will always be bloggers around who are more talented and/or successful. I may admire them and look to them for inspiration but I don’t get caught up in comparisons and I don’t try to imitate what they do: I’m happy to do things my way, in my own time.

    How do I turn my blog into a career and/or business?

    Trying to turn a blog into a career/business is like trying to build a career as a writer/photographer/stylist in highly-competitive market while simultaneously trying to launch a small business as a blogger/entrepreneur in another highly-competitive market. In other words, it’s not at all easy.

    Minimum requirements? A lot of hard work, excellent marketing and business skills, a strong sense of professionalism, lots of passion, useful street-smarts, and bucket-loads of determination. Originality always gets noticed, too. Bloggers that set trends, rather than follow them, will always get more attention.

    If you look around at the bloggers who have managed to build careers off the back of or alongside their blogs they often have had interesting life experiences and are skilled in lots of areas, not just blogging. Most of the really big food bloggers — and I’m not one of them — have been doing it for a really long time and had the advantage of being one of the first. Many of them are also exceptional photographers, writers, stylists or cooks, or a combination of all of the above.

    I’m not trying to dissuade you from going after your dream but I do think that people under-estimate the amount of skill and hard work required with blogging. People think that because anyone can start a blog that it’s easy. Nothing could be further from the truth! And yes, timing and luck also play a part.

    A friend recently told me about his friend who was discussing her 16YO daughter’s career options when she left school. Apparently ‘fashion blogger’ was one of the possible occupations on the table. I was amazed. I’m guessing that her daughter looked at popular fashion blogs and was seduced by the effortlessly cool, front-row, jet-setting lifestyle those bloggers lead. But what they didn’t see was all the years of hard work and honing of technical skills that went into producing those highly professional and polished blog posts.

    I would never advise someone to give up a full-time job to try to become a ‘career’ blogger without any relevant experience. If you start a blog and you’re super-talented and original and it gains traction and you turn it into a full-time gig then all kudos to you. But in that case you’re the 0.0001%, not the norm.

    So do blog because you love whatever it is you’re blogging about and you want to share your passion with the world. And if it turns into something more for you then that’s wonderful. But don’t blog because you think it’s going to make you famous and/or rich. It might, but if that’s the only reason you’re doing it you will almost certainly be disappointed. 

    Isn’t blogging a bit self-indulgent and narcissistic?

    I got asked this on a date once. Seriously. I replied, “um, well, I guess some blogs are a bit like that and some aren’t.” Then I tried to use telekenisis to make my mobile phone ring so I could fake an emergency and leave. Sadly, I discovered that I don’t actually have telekinetic powers. Unless they’re still dormant…

    How do you decide how much to share?

    If I’m just writing about me I focus on the story and if I’m doing justice to it – whether it’s personally revealing or embarrassing is unimportant. If I’m writing about my ex I always let him see what I’m writing about him before I publish but he’s never felt uncomfortable with anything I’ve written. If I’m writing about my family or friends I just blog it and hope that they understand that even if it’s quite revealing or confronting it comes from a place of love. They’re still talking to me so I think we’re good. There is some stuff that is off limits because of the effect it might have on my kids.

    I have a personal blog. Can you take a look at it and give me some tips?

    Sorry. I don’t feel comfortable giving specific advice to bloggers unless they’re also close friends* because blogging is such a personal thing. Giving someone advice about his or her blog without knowing anything else about that person would be like me coming over to your house and telling you how to arrange your furniture or how to edit your closet. I’m happy to share general tips as I have done here and in other similar posts but I don’t comment specifically on personal blogs.

    If you have a business blog and need some help with it I do offer consulting services.

    * If you’re a close friend you’ll receive unsolicited advice about pretty much everything.

    Writing

    Do you have any tips re: how to improve my writing?

    Yes, check out 8 Writing tips for Bloggers and How to Blog about Food: useful tips for new, emerging and aspiring food bloggers.

    How do I get into food writing?

    Read this post by Amanda Hesser from Food 52. I think she’s pretty spot-on.

    In my case I started off writing about music in the mid 90s for my university newspaper (I had a thing for guys in bands). Then I moved into more general features. I started writing about food when I started my blog and then started freelancing for various print and online publications.

    christina soong

    Photography

    What camera and lenses do you use?

    For most of my regular food and travel shooting work I use a Nikon D600 with these lenses:

    For spontaneous, on-the-go shooting and Instagramming I use a Fujifilm X100T and an Apple iPhone 6.

    What photography gear do you use?

    At home:

    When travelling:

    • Lowepro bag. This backpack fits two camera bodies, 4 lenses, an Ipad and wireless keyboard or laptop, keys, wallet, water bottle + more. It’s not chic — unfortunately, it make me look like a uni student — but it is functional.
    • BlackRapid camera strap
    • Hoya lens filters if I’m shooting by the beach or into the sun

    What editing software do you use?

    I use Adobe Lightroom 4 on an Eizo Coloredge CS240 monitor.

    Where do you do your food shoots?

    Mostly at home. I have a studio set up in my front room which has two walls of ceiling to floor windows and I have converted one massive bookcase in my lounge into my props cupboard.

    How did you learn about photography? Are you self-taught?

    Mostly, yes. It’s taken lot of practise. A lot of reading of books and blogs. A couple of custom lessons with more experienced photographers.  I shoot mostly in manual (M) and aperture (A) priority. If I’m shooting some fast-moving action, I’ll shoot in shutter (S) priority).

    Do you prefer natural or artificial light?

    I only shoot in natural (available) light at home. I am keen to learn about artificial lights  and will probably purchase a kit at some point but I prefer the look of natural light on food.

    Food and Props Styling

    Where did you get your table-tops, backdrops and props from?

    I made the tabletops out of the wood from my rotten verandah that my handyman cut into lengths for me. My ex made me a double-sided backdrop using wood and paint material from Bunnings. Props are from my personal collection, Spotlight, Ikea, Ebay and op shops. I covet most things from Mud Australia and Anthropologie.

    How did you learn about food styling?

    Mostly through trial and error although I also attended a two-day food styling intensive workshop with Denise Vivaldo at the Sydney Cooking School. I have also read lots of books and articles on the subject.

    Do you have any tips re food styling?

    Yes, see  The Business of Food Styling: a Denise Vivaldo food styling workshop and 12 tips for new, emerging and aspiring food stylists.

    Recipe Development

    Are you a trained chef?

    No. I’m a home cook.

    How do you develop recipes?

    I start with an ingredient or flavour combination and then build it from there. A recipe might be inspired by a dish I’ve eaten, something I’ve read in a cookbook or blog, the weather, or most often, some spectacular produce at the market.

    I have a great nose and a food memory – I can remember the taste, texture, look and feel of dishes I ate 25 years ago. I also read a lot of cookbooks and blogs and have attended numerous cooking classes and food and wine workshops.

    I have always cooked by tasting the dish and adjusting the flavor as required, even when loosely following a recipe.

    My recipes are created with the average home cook in mind and most can be prepared without too much fuss and bother after a crappy day at work. If you want fancy, complicated recipes or molecular gastronomy you should go to a nice restaurant to eat because nobody eats like that at home.

    sponge cake with berries

    Working with PRs and Brands

    I want to work more with brands. How do I develop these relationships?

    There’s no trick I can tell you. Work hard. Do good work, consistently and steadily. Put it out there. If people/brands like it, they’ll approach you.

    Personally, I don’t try to create relationships with brands – I just blog what I want to blog. Keeping my blog a place where I can explore things creatively is incredibly important to me: I care about creating stories that I can be proud of and that readers might respond to. That’s what’s most important to me – not creating PR-friendly stories.

    If people/brands like what I do and want to work with me, great. If not, equally fine. I only want to work with brands that ‘get’ what I do and whose work or products I equally admire. Over the years I’ve turned down a lot of paid work because it simply wasn’t a good fit or I felt I would be compromising my ethics and/or credibility.

    I’ve published some tips for bloggers who want to work with brands here – Bloggers and Brands: why we’re mostly doing it wrong,

    Do you eat out for free all the time?

    No. It’s very nice to be invited to events but I have to be selective about those I attend due to work and family commitments. I do eat at my parents’ house a lot though. Does that count?

    Do you get sent heaps of free food?

    No, but that’s because I only very occasionally accept samples.

    How do you respond to people asking you to blog in exchange for tickets, invitations or samples?

    I politely explain thatI don’t trade tickets or products for blog exposure as I only blog something if I can find an interesting story to tell. I tell them that I appreciate their understanding on this. Having said that, if they’ve asked me to blog like this then it’s unlikely I’ll work with them because it’s clearly not a good fit.

    Update: I refer them to my agent.

    What do you say to brands who want to work with you but want to ‘reward’ you with exposure, vouchers or links instead of payment? 

    I politely explain that I work with brands for compensation and that if they have a project with a budget I’d be happy to chat. I also direct them to Bloggers and Brands: why we’re mostly doing it wrong.

    Update: see previous question.

    General

    How can you be so small if you eat so much?

    I’m not sure. My cunning Asian genes? Running around after my kids? My mother tells me that I exhaust people. So there’s all the energy I expend doing that. I also try to practice hot yoga regularly.

    Credits

    All photos by me as usual except the photo of me by Kevin Khaw. Makeup by Celeste Wong.

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    Got a question?

    Did I miss something? Feel free to ask me a question below and I’ll do my best to answer it.

  • cumin lamb salad

    Yoga, butterflies and cumin lamb salad

    Lamb Salad with Spicy DressingSpicy dressing

    Over the years I’ve learned that regular exercise is not an indulgence but a necessity for both my physical and mental health. So every week I practise hot yoga, a type of yoga based on Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga, in a room heated to 38 degrees Celsius. No matter what my diary is like I try to fit in three classes a week: some weeks I manage three, other times I only make it to one or two and on a couple of occasions I’ve managed four.

    If you’re the type of person who is always juggling multiple projects or who finds it difficult to switch off yoga can be tremendously helpful. Sure, I love what it does for my upper arms, core and bottom but what I like most about yoga is the way it centres and grounds me.

    Yoga teaches me to present in the moment — not reflecting on the past or planning for the future as is often the case — but completely present. It encourages kindness, compassion and self-acceptance. It’s taught me that stillness should not be mistaken for inactivity, that strength is often hidden and that flexibility is healthier than rigidity. We’re designed to move, not to stand still.

    The poses and the intensity of each class ranges from teacher to teacher: some favour an energetic practice with lots of quick movements while others focus more on slow, strengthening poses. Some days I leave completely drenched with sweat and other times I am only mildly perspiring. Either way, after each class, I feel tired but invigorated.

    Towards the end of each practice we students lie in Savanasa (Corpse Pose) on our mats. As we lie on our backs with our arms a little out from our sides with palms facing upwards, our feet slightly apart and our eyes shut, the teacher will often recite a poem or saying.

    This was the reading in my class yesterday:

    A man found a cocoon of a butterfly.
    One day a small opening appeared.
    He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours
    as it struggled to squeeze its body through the tiny hole.
    Then it stopped, as if it couldn’t go further.

    So the man decided to help the butterfly.
    He took a pair of scissors and
    snipped off the remaining bits of cocoon.
    The butterfly emerged easily but it had a swollen body and shrivelled wings.

    The man continued to watch it,
    expecting that any minute the wings would enlarge
    and expand enough to support the body,
    Neither happened!

    In fact the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around.
    It was never able to fly.

    What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand:
    The restricting cocoon and the struggle
    required by the butterfly to get through the opening
    was a way of forcing the fluid from the body
    into the wings so that it would be ready
    for flight once that was achieved.

    Sometimes struggles are exactly
    what we need in our lives.
    Going through life with no obstacles would cripple us.
    We will not be as strong as we could have been
    and we would never fly.

    I don’t know who wrote this piece but it’s a wonderful reminder that struggles can be the making of us. So as you face this week’s challenges, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’re one step closer to flying.

    Lamb Salad with Spicy Dressing
    Capsicums or Sweet peppers
    Lamb Salad with Spicy Dressing

    Cumin Lamb Salad with Spicy Dressing

    When I’m practising yoga four times a week I eat extremely healthy food, drink lots of water and even manage to get to bed before midnight. The thought of eating junk food doesn’t even enter my brain because I’m feeling so good. This dish is exactly the type of food I crave when I’m looking after myself – high in protein, full of flavour and with plenty of vegetables.

    If I was serving this only to adults, I’d add a teaspoon each of crushed Sichuan peppercorns (pulverise them in a mortar and pestle) and dried chilli flakes to the marinade in a homage to my beloved Xinjiang Lamb Skewers. But because my kids love lamb cutlets and would be cross if they missed out, I’ve kept the chilli heat to the dressing which chilli lovers can add themselves. Enjoy!

    INGREDIENTS

    • 6 lamb cutlets
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
    • 1 teaspoon ginger (approx 1 inch piece finely grated)
    • 1 large clove, garlic, pounded or chopped finely
    • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 100 grams rocket or baby rocket
    • 150 grams baby tomatoes, halved
    • 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced into half moons
    • 1/2 red onion, diced very fine
    • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon chill oil
    • 1/2 clove garlic, pounded or chopped finely
    • 1 Birds Eye chilli, chopped finely (optional)
    • A few strands fresh coriander

    METHOD

    1. Wash and pat dry lamb.
    2. Place lamb in a medium bowl and add cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and lemon juice. Mix thoroughly and leave on kitchen bench to marinade for 30 minutes.
    3. While the lamb is marinating, prepare salad ingredients.
    4. Heat up a grill pan until smoking and then add lamb.
    5. Cook for around 3-5 minutes each side (turn once only to get nice grill marks) on a medium heat. I like my lamb medium so opt for a shorter cooking time.
    6. To make dressing, mix vinegar, chilli oil, garlic and chilli (optional) in a small bowl.
    7. Once lamb is cooked done, rest on a wooden chopping board and let cool slightly
    8. Arrange rocket, baby, tomatoes and cucumber on a large platter and then place lamb on top. Garnish with coriander and serve with dressing.

    NOTES

    • Serves 2-3
    • Gluten, dairy, nut and egg-free.

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  • DSC_5538 (1)

    Books for Emily and a Salmon and Soy Bean Salad

    I had just dropped my son at childcare and was driving my daughter to school.

    “Book Week is coming up again,” my 7YO told me.

    “This year I want to dress as Sleeping Beauty.”

    “Sleeping Beauty? Why would you want to go as Sleeping Beauty?” I asked.

    “So many girls at school go as Sleeping Beauty,” my daughter explained. “They wear the Disney costume.”

    “But all she does is fall asleep and wait for a handsome prince to rescue her,” I said, all my feminist instincts roused.

    My daughter thought about this.

    “Well, if we’re talking Disney, why don’t you go as someone who actually does cool stuff?” I suggested.

    “What about Mulan? You remember, she joins the army to spare her father and ends up saving the whole of China. She didn’t wait for someone to come and save her family – she went out and had the adventures herself.”

    My daughter smiled.

    “Or what about Elsa and Anna?” I continued.

    “They’re the real heroes of Frozen. Anna sacrifices herself to save her sister and Elsa learns to control her amazing powers and bring back Summer. Imagine if they’d depended on that horrible Prince Hans? Where would they be now?”

    “Alright,” my daughter said. “I want to go as Elsa. Will you buy me an Elsa costume?”

    “Well, maybe daddy can help you make one,” I suggested. He’s a fantastic sewer — he worked as a sailmaker during university — and just bought Emily her own sewing machine.

    “No, I’m too little,” she said. “I’m only learning how to sew.”

    “Too little? Emily, there is a 14 year old girl in the US rebuilding a car right now. You’re not too little.”

    “But daddy’s away (working) and there won’t be time when he gets back,” she replied. “We need to buy a costume.”

    “Well… OK then,” I said reluctantly. Had I just been conned?

    “Yes!”  said my daughter, pumping her ams in the air.

    I hate to admit it but when I was Emily’s age, I would have wanted to dress up as Sleeping Beauty, too. Or as Snow White or Cinderella. But all of these characters are distinguished primarily by their beauty and their need to be rescued. Now Emily knew the story of Sleeping Beauty from both the book and the movie but she knew Mulan and Frozen only from the movies. Which got me thinking: what was Emily learning from the books she read?

    Like me, Emily is a voracious reader. She loves reading books in a series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Tintin, Geronimo Stilton, AsterixCalvin and Hobbes and Dork Diaries. Of these, only the latter has a female protagonist. She might like the male leads in her books but would she identify with them? Did she want to go to Book Week as Sleeping Beauty partly because great female characters were thin on the ground in the books she reads?

    Stories are powerful things: they can become a blueprint for life if you’ll let them.

    During my teens I used to have crushes on guys who were doing cool things. I don’t mean skateboarding or surfing: I mean things like playing in indie bands or editing the university paper. I didn’t dare to do those things myself – I just wanted to worship my object of desire from afar while he did it. Then in my early twenties I realised it was way more fun to actually do those things myself. So I joined a band and a singing group and started writing for the university paper, becoming co-music editor and then, eventually, co-editor.

    I have made a LOT of mistakes as a parent — my mother probably has a lengthy list somewhere — but one thing I can do right is to encourage my children to be proactive, strong and self-reliant. And in my daughter’s case, to be the heroine of her own story and not to rely on a man to save her.

    I’m not saying that we don’t need each other: we certainly do just as we — men and women — all need saving sometimes, if only from ourselves. But rather than waiting for someone to rescue you, look to yourself first. You may just surprise yourself. As Elsa says in Frozen, “I never knew what I was capable of.”

    So as I drove home from school I made a mental note to find my favourite childhood books with a female lead. Sure, some of them were a bit too old for Emily now — Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Judy Blume’s wonderful books — but others like the Penny Pollard series by Robyn Klein I could give to her now. I’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions, too.

    EDIT: Thank you to all those who have suggested books either below or via email or social media. Books and sites suggested so far:

    Got a suggestion? Please share it below.

    salmon soy bean saladsalmon soy bean saladsalmon soy bean saladsalmon soy bean salad

    Salmon and Soy Bean Salad

    Emily loves salmon. I usually pan-fry it for her but after my recent chocolate/marshmallow/salted caramel binge I’m trying to be more healthy this week. So I decided to cook it in the oven today.

    This dish is healthy and it’s also colourful, flavoursome and filling, too. If you’re making this as part of a meal, you could serve it on a bed of cooked quinoa (2/3 cup uncooked quinoa would be fine).

    INGREDIENTS

    • 2 salmon steaks
    • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
    • 1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into inch-long pieces
    • 1 x  200 gram packet soy beans
    • 60 grams baby spinach
    • 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds (from Asian grocer)
    • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon honey
    • Juice of half a lime (1 tablespoon)
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    METHOD

    1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
    2. Marinate salmon steaks in soy sauce, ginger and honey for 10 minutes in a small, oven-proof container
    3. Place container into oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on how well done you like your salmon.
    4. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and then steam asparagus and soy beans for around four minutes.
    5. When salmon is ready let it rest for 10 minutes to cool.
    6. To serve, place spinach and soy beans into a bowl. Place salmon on top and garnish with sesame seeds.
    7. Into the ovenproof container, whisk the vinegar, olive oil, honey and lime to make the dressing and add salt and pepper to taste.
    8. Pour the dressing into a little cup or container so people can pour it over themselves.

    NOTES

    • Serves 2
    • Gluten, dairy, nut and egg-free.

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  • DSC_5526

    Small Bites: Steven ter Horst, Haigh’s and Jonny’s Popcorn

    Did you know that South Australia has more late-night dessert bars per capita than any other state in Australia? I don’t know what they’re putting in the water down here but it seems clear that we South Aussies have a real hankering for the sweet stuff.

    Visiting a dessert bar is fun when the weather is good but a lot of us tend to bunker down during the chilly Winter nights. Luckily, we have some local companies producing excellent products that can be enjoyed at home. Here are three I recently tried.

    1) Salted caramel by Steven ter Horst

    Food is a bit like fashion nowadays, with trends and seasons (well, food has always had those), and food that is so-hot-right-now that you simply must try it or risk being socially ostracised. Think of the the worldwide hysteria and drum beating about kale, quinoa, cronuts, sliders, heritage meats or cold-pressed juices. Like these foodie stars, salted caramel has also had its moment in the sun and for good reason: the combination of sweet and salty flavours in a voluptuous caramel is simply incredible. You can make your own but for those lazy or time-poor amongst us, you can now buy a jar of liquid gold from chocolatier Steven ter Horst. Try it with vanilla ice cream or spread it over a cake or tart base. Alternatively, you can eat it straight from the jar, spoonful by spoonful.

    Find it: Steven ter Horst. Price: $15. Currently available only from Steven ter Horst shops but Australia-wide shipping is coming soon.

    2) Toasted marshmallows by Haigh’s Chocolates

    Haigh’s do a lot of exquisite chocolate and sweet products but toasted marshmallows are my mum’s favourites. I remember eating these as a treat when I was small so they always seemed very special to me. If you’ve only eaten marshmallows from the supermarket before be prepared to be blown away by the luscious, soft texture, the sweet vanilla flavour and the oh-so-moreish shredded toasted coconut topping.

    Find it: Haigh’s Chocolates. Price: $5.95. Available Australia-wide after Easter until October from Haigh’s shops or via Haigh’s delivery service.

    3) Sweet & salty popcorn by Jonny’s Popcorn Delights

    I’m pretty sure this stuff should be illegal. Or, at least, available for purchase only if you have a signed note from a medical professional stating that you are of sound mind and buying the popcorn for a gathering of people. Because you won’t be able to eat just a handful of this stuff. One taste of this and you’ll be compelled to continue eating it by the fistful until there is nothing left but a few, sad crumbs. You’ll have a raging thirst and be surfing a sugar rush that’ll make your head spin but you won’t care one little bit – you’ll be too busy planning your next purchase.

    Find it: Jonny’s Popcorn Delights. Price: $5. Available Australia-wide.

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  • chocolate mousse berries

    Kisses for Julian and Vegan Chocolate Mousse

    Chocolate Mousse with Berries
    DSC_5501

    I lied to my son the other day. I don’t usually advocate lying to small and innocent children but in this case I felt it was justified. You be the judge.

    My son is four and a half. I’ve blogged before about how he is little guy with a big personality. His nice kindergarten teacher describes him as “exuberant.”

    “He’s not one of our quieter ones,” she says meaningfully, which I think is teacher code for ‘he never stops talking.’

    Like most 4YOs my son can meltdown in the twinkling of an eye – he’ll turn from happy to furious in 0.003 seconds and all because his cup was the wrong colour. Or his peanut butter and honey sandwich was cut into triangles and not squares. Or because there is a minute spot on his chair. Or because I want him to wear shoes and not sandals when it’s raining.

    When he’s raging, it’s often difficult to calm him down. A few weeks ago I tried holding him and kissing his face but he just glared at me and ‘wiped’ my kisses off.

    “Are you wiping my kisses off?” I asked him, half shocked and half amused.

    “Yes!” he said, furiously. “I don’t want any more of your kisses!”

    When he saw that I didn’t like him wiping my kisses off, Julian realised that he had leverage. So a week ago he announced that he did not want any more kisses from his dad or I.

    “One day a year everyone can kiss me,” he said, grandly. “But otherwise I don’t want any more kisses. If you kiss me, I’ll wipe your kisses off.”

    “What about popo?” I asked him, meaning his beloved grandma. “Will you let her kiss you?”

    “No, not even popo can kiss me,” he said, smugly.

    That’s when I had an idea.

    “But Julian,” I said. “My kisses are for your protection. When you go out without me my kisses stay on you to protect you if anything bad happens. If you get hurt or scared or you have an accident, my kisses will remind you that you are loved and that things will be OK.”

    He looked at me with a furrowed brow.

    ‘Kisses are for protection?” he asked. “Like, if I fell into a hole, would your kisses help me get out?” he asked.

    “Yes, exactly,” I said. “Because you would know that everything will be fine and you would figure out a way to climb out of there.”

    “What about if I got trapped in an enormous bottle?” he asked. “Would your kisses help me then?”

    “Definitely.”

    “Wait, are bottles made of glass?” he asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Your kisses would help me break the glass and make an enormous smash and then I’d break out!” he said, excitedly.

    “That’s right.”

    “What about if I got trapped in a waterfall cage?”

    “What’s a waterfall cage?” I asked, bemused.

    “If I’m trapped in a cage and it goes over a waterfall. Your kisses would help me escape and then I’d fly up high into the sky,” he said, demonstrating.

    “Um… yeah,” I said. “See, kisses are good things.”

    He thought about it for a moment.

    “So will you let me kiss you?” I asked.

    “OK. You can kiss me and daddy and popo and koung koung (his grandfather) and Emily (his sister), too,” he said.

    I kissed him then, smiling as I realised that sometimes a lie can also be the truth.

    Vegan chocolate mousseVegan chocolate mousseberries on chocolate mousse

    Vegan Chocolate Mousse (gluten, egg, dairy and refined-sugar free)

    I was thinking about making my son chocolate biscuits for this post and calling them Chocolate Kisses but a recent incident involving the complete destruction of a toy fish tank made me wonder if I should reduce the sugar in his diet (it’s far easier to blame sugar than my parenting for his misbehaviour).

    Then the other night I spotted an incredible looking, refined sugar-free Chocolate Mousse Tart in My Darling Lemon Thyme, Emma Galloway’s beautiful cookbook named for her blog. A quick peek into my pantry revealed most of the ingredients but only half the specified quantity of silken tofu. So I decided to adapt her recipe and make these chocolate mousse pots instead.

    If the thought of chocolate mousse made from tofu makes you shudder, you need to think again: thanks to my clever friend, Emma, I now know that it is possible to make vegan chocolate mousse that tastes fantastic. I couldn’t detect the slightest hint of tofu in the chocolate mousse because the peanut butter provides a lovely complexity of flavour.

    Emma’s recipe specifies maple syrup but I didn’t have any so I used light agave syrup instead and increased the quantity to make up for the missing sweetness from the date and coconut base. I also topped the mousse off with some fresh berries for colour and tartness.

    INGREDIENTS

    • 100 grams dark chocolate (70% minimum cocoa)
    • 300 grams silken tofu
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
    • 1/2 cup peanut butter
    • 4 tablespoons light agave syrup
    • 1 punnet berries (or a mixture of berries), washed, hulled and halved if necessary

    METHOD

    • Melt chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler on the stove.
    • Add all other ingredients (minus the berries) to a processor and blend until combined.
    • Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl, add melted chocolate and blend again.
    • Spoon into four cups or bowls and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight.
    • When ready to eat, serve with fresh berries.

    NOTES

    • Serves 4
    • Remove from the fridge at least 15 minutes before serving as it’ll taste far better at room temperature.
    • Gluten, dairy, egg and refined-sugar free.

    More information

    My Darling Lemon Thyme is a beautiful and practical book of gluten-free, vegetarian recipes suitable for the whole family. If you’re a fan of real food recipes you should definitely check it out.

    Disclosure

    My Darling Lemon Thyme was sent to me by Harper Collins.

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  • DSC_53621

    Sweet potato and corn soup and friends

    corn

    “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world,” Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

    As busy as life is, I try to have friends over for dinner once a week. It makes the house feel like a home, I get to catch up with and cook for people I care about and it ensures a thorough tidy up of all the toys, photography props, books, magazines and clothes that would otherwise be scattered randomly throughout the place.

    Last Friday I had three friends and their kids over for dinner. One of my friends is going through a rough patch at the moment and as we commiserated and encouraged her I was reminded of how much I love my friends and how important it is to have people around you during the tough times. Because when things go badly pear-shaped as they sometimes do, the only people we can often stand to be around are those within our trusted inner-circle; I have lots of friends that I can have a good time with, but there are only a handful of people I can have a bad time with.

    So how do I define a good friend? It’s not by how long I’ve known someone — although I’ve known my oldest friend since we were babies — and it’s not by how often we are in contact. I have good friends living interstate or half away around the world and yet when we chat it’s always the same because the connection between us is so strong. For me, it’s mostly about trust and openness: if I can feel like I can tell that person anything and he or she also confides in me without hesitation than I know I’m fortunate to have a good friend.

    Ultimately, good friends are people you can laugh and cry with.

    Things Good Friends Do

    Inspire you.

    Listen when you need to blow off steam.

    Pick up your kids when you are running late. And not judge you.

    Tell you the stuff you don’t want to hear when you need it.

    Cook for you, or at least, help prep the food when you’re cooking.

    Make you feel good about yourself.

    Tell you sternly to back away from the phone when you ask, “can I really not contact him?”

    When you sheepishly admit you contacted him anyway, confess that he or she would have done the same.

    Cheer you on.

    Love you, flaws and all.

    Tease you without mercy.

    Forgive you when you’re being an asshole.

    lime wedgessweet potato and corn soup

    Sweet potato and corn soup

    I have a food memory. I couldn’t tell you all the names of the people I went to high school with but I can remember the taste, sight and texture of dishes I’ve eaten decades ago. This recipe is a case in point as it’s inspired by a sweet potato and sweetcorn soup I ate one memorable evening in 1996 at Ruby’s, a long-closed Rundle Street restaurant that would probably be described as ‘hipster’ today. I’d never seen sweet potato and corn in a soup before and was struck by how good it was.

    The dinner at Ruby’s marked the beginning of a perfect evening. After dinner, my friend Barbara and I went to watch the British dance theatre troupe DV8 perform at the Adelaide Festival Centre as part of the Adelaide Festival of Arts. After a mesmerising performance, I then met up with my friend Kerina to watch British indie band, Elastica, play an incredible set at the Tivoli Hotel.

    It was three amazing experiences in one night and it all started with soup.

    INGREDIENTS

    • 1.5 kgs sweet potatoes. Try to choose ones approximately the same size.
    • 1.5 litres (6 cups) water
    • 4 ears corn
    • 250 mls coconut cream
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 litre (4 cups) water
    • 1 teaspoon minced ginger or 1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
    • 1 teaspoon lemongrass or 1 fresh lemongrass stalk, white part only
    • 1-2 Birds Eye chillies
    • Fresh coriander and/or basil leaves
    • 2 limes

    METHOD

    1. Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius — if I’m roasting sweet potatoes in their skins I don’t bother pre-heating the oven– and line a baking tray with tinfoil. Arrange whole sweet potatoes on top and roast for 45 minutes or until done (the time depends on the size of your potatoes). Check if potatoes are ready by inserting a skewer – it should slide through the flesh easily. If they’re still hard leave them in the oven for another 10 minutes and try again.
    2. In a large pot, bring one litre of water the boil and then place corn inside. Boil for about eight minutes.
    3. While the corn is cooking, place coconut cream, 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt in a container that will snugly fit all four corn side by side.
    4. Place corn inside and turn a few times so that the corn soaks up the coconut mixture. Remove corn from coconut and then grill under a hot grill, on a barbecue or on a hot grill pan. Once done, remove to a plate to cool slightly and then use a sharp knife to slice the corn ears into thick slices or to slice the kernels off completely.
    5. When sweet potatoes are ready, leave to cool for 10 minutes and then peel off the skin. Place the flesh inside a large pot pot along with 1 litre water, the rest of the coconut mixture, the ginger, lemongrass and chilli.
    6. Blend soup with a stick blender, taste and season with salt and pepper.
    7. Ladle soup into bowls and then garnish with corn, coriander and/or basil leaves and lime wedges.

    NOTES

    • This way of preparing the soup isn’t super-quick; it would be far easier just to boil diced sweet potato in water until it was soft, blend it up and then add the shaved corn kernels in the last five minutes. And you can totally do it that way, if you’re pressed for time, in which case you should ignore all the grilling instructions and add the coconut cream directly to the soup. But I love the gorgeous, caramelised taste of sweet potatoes roasted in their skins and the smoky flavour of grilled corn so I’ve done it this, more complicated way. Besides, sometimes cooking, like friendship, shouldn’t be rushed; sometimes it’s far better to let things unfold naturally at a leisurely pace.
    • Dairy-free and gluten-free.
    • Serve it with toasted sandwiches, fresh bread, or flavoured polenta or quinoa for a hearty and filling meal.

    More Vegetarian Recipes

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  • DSC_52191

    Small Bites: Messy Jessy, Mother and Sons Bakery and Red Door Bakery

    When it comes to quality baked goods in Adelaide we’re spoilt for choice. I don’t eat a lot of bread at home — minus that time I had that dangerously intense affair with raisin toast — but like a lot of people, I can’t walk past an enticing pastry display without stopping for a look.

    From there it’s a slippery slope to picking just one…. or  maybe two…. or  perhaps three edible must-haves to take home with me. What can I say? I’m doing my bit to support the local economy, y’all.

    There are a lot of new or relatively new patisseries, market stalls, food trucks and pop-ups around town and I will gradually work my way around to all of them, stomach room permitting. However, here are three lovely baked goodies I’ve eaten recently.

    1) Chocolate & Quince Tart

    Smooth dark chocolate ganache. A heavenly quince compote. A fragile, tart shell that crumbles under your teeth like a dodgy politician during Question Time. You need this in your life now. Don’t forget to pick up an extra one for me, too.

    2) Brown Betty Grown Up

    If a cronut (the well-publicised offspring of a croissant and a doughnut) and a pear crumble muffin decided that they really liked each other and wanted to kiss each other all over they’d produce this: the Brown Betty Grown Up, a hybrid cronut-muffin. Purists may feel their brains exploding by the notion of such baking shenanigans but I think a bit of unorthodoxy can be a beautiful thing.

    3) Orange and Pistachio Danish

    The day I bought this Red Door were also selling Rhubarb and Quince Danishes. Now I adore both rhubarb and quince, as my recipe archives attest, and yet I was strangely drawn to the Orange Danish. I say strangely because oranges are rarely in my fruit bowl as they don’t seem to like my kids and I very much (it’s us, not them). But the combination of gold and green was too pretty to resist so I capitulated like the female lead in a Robin Thicke song. In this case, it was a very good — rather than an icky — thing.

    Small Bites is a new, weekly series on The Hungry Australian celebrating the good stuff out there.

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  • DSC_5130

    Quince Crumble and emotional eating

    Quince Crumble

    ‘I ate a whole 200 gram block of chocolate last night,” my friend told me recently, shaking her head.

    I laughed and then sympathised with her. Like my friend and many women, I’m an emotional eater. Forget about wearing my heart on my sleeve – I wear my feelings on my hips.

    Stressed out from too many converging deadlines and not enough sleep? Why, hello midnight snack of spicy two-minute noodles!

    Arguing with my mother again? No, I did not have relations with that whole piece of cheese.

    Confused and upset by a guy? Just hand me the chocolate, OK?

    Don’t misunderstand me. I love food and have an extremely healthy relationship with it for the most part: I don’t diet and I wouldn’t know how many calories were in something if my life depended on it. I exercise regularly and generally make sure I look after myself very well.

    But when I’m stressed food is the first thing I reach for. As a coping mechanism it seems relatively benign compared to some of the things I could be reaching for but it’s still not a habit I like.

    This is a list of things I have eaten standing next to the fridge or pantry or while seated in my car after a trip to the grocery store:

    • salami;
    • chocolate;
    • smoked salmon;
    • chocolate;
    • cheese;
    • chocolate;
    • pork scratchings (crackling); and
    • chocolate.

    Looking over this list, it’s pretty clear that I like chowing down on salty and fatty things when I’m stressed. What can I say? I never met a smoked or preserved meat or fish product I didn’t like. And none of these products are bad per se; they’re certainly not the healthiest foods around but they’re fine eaten as part of a balanced diet.

    However, when it comes to my chocolate addition I blame my mother: while she was pregnant with me she ate a family-sized block of Cadbury Dairy Milk every single day. Do you know how much chocolate that is? I was like a crack baby only with chocolate-coated veins.

    Perhaps I need to somehow reset my brain and taste buds to favour healthy food while I’m stressed. Wouldn’t it be great if I naturally gravitated towards fresh fruits, kale and quinoa when tense? I have a friend who once ate fruit and nothing but fruit for a few months and he says he’s never felt better.

    The problem is that I don’t want to be good and healthy when I’m stressed: I want to be naughty and defiant because it makes me feel fleetingly satisfied and therefore less stressed before the self-loathing kicks in. Plus, if I decide I won’t eat a particular food group it immediately becomes all I can think about.

    In any case, I am good most of the time. Honestly. So maybe the act of emotional eating is actually a a way of letting of steam, in a culinary sense. Perhaps we should actually embrace our inner emotional eater instead of vilifying him or her?

    I’d love to spend more time pondering this but it’s late at night and I have at least another 45 minutes of work ahead of me so I’m off to raid the pantry. Ahem. Just keep that last thought between you and me, OK?

    Quince CrumbleQuince Crumble

    Quince Crumble

    There are few things more comforting and sweetly satisfying in life than a homely crumble. You make it with whatever fruit you have lying around before dinner, whack it in the oven and it’s ready by the time you’ve finished eating. I love making crumbles with apples, pears, berries, peaches and rhubarb. But quinces are in season at the moment and the smell of roasting quinces is so wickedly ambrosial I couldn’t resist buying some.

    I’d be more than happy to bury my sorrows in a bowl of Quince Crumble any night of the week: this is food to soothe your soul, satisfy your belly and lift your spirits.

    INGREDIENTS

    • 5 quinces
    • 2 cups water
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
    • 75 grams butter
    • 75 grams brown sugar
    • 1 cup wholemeal flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder

    METHOD

    1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
    2. Peel, core and quarter quinces and then slice each quarter into three slices.
    3. Arrange quinces in a suitable ovenproof dish in three layers.
    4. Pour over water so that it mostly covers the quinces and sprinkle over vanilla. Bake in oven for 2 hours, turning over slices mid way so none burn.
    5. To make crumble, blitz butter, sugar, flour and baking powder in a processor until it resembles a fine crumb.
    6. Sprinkle over cooked quinces and then bake for 25 minutes or until crumble is toasted and crunchy.
    7. Serve with cream or vanilla ice cream.

    NOTE

    1. Serves 4 people or 1 person nursing a broken heart.
    2. You could substitute 8-10 apples for the quinces but why would you want to? OK, if you really can’t find quinces you can use an apple like Granny Smith. In that case, don’t worry about baking the apples for the 2 hours – just bake the apples with the crumble for 25-30 minutes.

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  • DSC_45181

    3-Day Cruise on the Pacific Jewel including Salt Grill by Luke Mangan

    I’ve been cruising before twice — on a family holiday to the Pacific Islands with Carnival and on the Queen Mary 2 with Cunard — so I thought I knew what it was all about. That is to say, I knew that cruising tends to attract couples and families who like their travel to be comfortable and convenient.

    However, a recent three-day food and wine cruise aboard P&O’s Pacific Jewel has broadened my perception of cruising as I discovered shorter cruises attract a younger crowd keen to make the most of their weekend getaway.

    p & O pacific jewel

    My trip as a guest of P&O started at 4am on a Friday with a 5am visit to the famous Sydney Fish Markets. So when I arrived at our cabin on the Pacific Jewel at noon I was slightly delirious due to lack of sleep.

    p & O pacific jewel cabin

    A quick glance around confirmed our room was compact but comfortable. Then it was straight up to the deck to see what my fellow passengers were up to.

    p & O pacific jewel

    Thankfully, the sun was out. Some guests were taking advantage of the unseasonal Winter weather and were already sunning themselves on the deck.

    DSC_4478

    You gotta love the enthusiasm of people determined to make the most of weekend getaway. Everywhere I looked people were stretched out on deck chairs drinking cocktails or having a snooze.

    cocktails p&O

    I met my plus one, Vanessa, who had already scored an invitation to dinner, and then explored the ship deck by deck.

    Based in Sydney, the Pacific Jewel carries a maximum of 1,900 passengers, making it more intimate than some of the other ships I have been on. In terms of dining, as well as the main Waterfront restaurant, the ship also offers Salt Grill by Luke Mangan, Asian-themed dining at Luna and private group dining at the Chef’s Table at the Waterfront. The Pacific Jewel also features the largest adventure park at sea, a child-free retreat, eight bars and lounges, a health spa, two swimming pools and the Thermal Suite, a divine sauna, spa and meditation area. You certainly won’t be bored here.

    These were some of the culinary highlights from our three-day food and wine cruise.

    Lunch at Salt Grill Restaurant

    luke mangan salt grill

    The next day we have lunch at Salt Grill, Luke Mangan’s restaurant. Luke travels on the ships for a few days each quarter so we manage to grab a few words with him in the morning. Like the Salt Grills in Sydney, Japan, Jakarta and Tokyo, Salt Grill on the Pacific Jewel aims to showcase and promote Australian produce with a deliberately simple approach to cooking.

    Luke’s partnership with P&O dates back to the mid 2000s. He was originally skeptical about the notion of recreating Salt Grill on a cruise ship but soon realised it could be done as well as it is on land with the help of dedicated kitchen and staff and top quality produce.

    “The only thing we can’t do on the ships is soufflé ,” Luke says.

    “They turn out lopsided because of the waves. But we can do everything else.”

    While most food and all soft drinks are included in your ticket price, a 3-course meal at Salt Grill comes at a surcharge of $30 for lunch and $49 for dinner, which is a bargain compared to prices at the Salt Grill restaurants on land. Having tried most of the three courses last night Vanessa and I decide to order a mixture of entrees and desserts to share. This isn’t usual but it’ll give you a better idea of the range of dishes here.

    The meal begins with some excellent bread served with Luke’s own zatar, dukkah and olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

    salt grill

    As usual, I eat way too much much bread considering how much food we’re about to eat.

    The entrees start arriving. First up, one of Luke’s signature dishes, the Moroccan cauliflower salad with saffron yoghurt, pine nuts and currants.

    salt grill cauliflower salad

    I liked this dish so much I blogged it here. The Middle Eastern spices, the gorgeously mellow saffron-infused yoghurt dressing, the sweet currants and the roasted cauliflower combine to make a remarkable dish. You need to eat this.

    Next, seared beef carpaccio with nam jim and Thai salad.

    salt grill beef carpaccio

    The raw beef slices are buttery soft and so delicate that they tear with a mere nudge of my knife. The Thai-style dressing is a nicely balanced blend of hot, salty, sweet and sour flavours but there’s not enough citrus and chilli for my tastebuds. Earlier, during our chat, Luke had mentioned that he doesn’t like chilli-hot food. This dressing makes sense in that context but it’d be nice to turn the volume up on this one just a little.

    Next, we try the pan-fried gnocchi with seasonal vegetables.

    salt grill gnocchi

    I’m not usually a huge fan of gnocchi: on the few occasions I’ve eaten it I’ve usually been disappointed by the insipid texture and uninspired flavours. But this gnocchi — pillowy soft on the inside and crisply browned on the outside — gets two thumbs ups from me and an approving nod from my discerning Italian friend.

    One of Luke’s signature dishes — the ‘Glass’ Sydney crab omelette with enoki mushrooms, fish sauce and miso broth — is next.

    salt grill crab omelette

    This is a deceptively simple looking and tasting dish. Served with a jug of miso mustard broth, the perfectly cooked omelette envelops a generous serve of warm crab meat while a simple salad of enoki mushrooms, coriander, mint and chilli add some interest and flavour.

    The next dish, roasted beetroot salad with Buffalo mozzarella, giant croutons and white anchovies, has a vibrant, still-life quality about it.

    salt grill beetroot salad

    Compared with the other dishes we’ve tried so far, this is the least popular. I can see where Luke’s going with this dish but the combination of flavours and textures doesn’t really work for either of us.

    The same cannot be said of the next dish, however, which is seared sea scallops on blue cheese polenta and truffle oil.

    salt grill scallops

    The scallops are plump and juicy with a delightfully caramelised crust while the intense mushroom and truffle flavours hit the strong note, flavour-wise, against the the creamy blue-cheese polenta. I like this dish so much that when our server tries to take the plate away I stop him for one final scrape.

    The dukkah crumbed quail with pickled cucumber, tomato and chilli relish is next.

    salt grill dukkah quail

    The crispy roasted quail is intriguing enough by itself with its dukkah crust but it is absolutely sensational when combined with the rich, fennel-infused, spicy relish that it rests on. I would order this dish again in a heartbeat.

    It’s time for dessert. I’ve noticed my beloved Floating Islands on the menu so insisted on ordering it. The dish comes with the traditional vanilla custard poured at the table by our friendly server.

    salt grill floating islands

    The tart berries and fresh basil slivers contrast nicely with the sweet, gently poached meringue while the toasted flaked almonds add flavour and crunch.

    We finish with another of Luke’s signature dishes, the liquorice parfait with lime syrup.

    salt grill liquorice parfait

    It’s not the prettiest of desserts — let’s face it, that colour could best be described as ‘swamp’ — but by golly, this is an intriguing dessert. The combination of liquorice, which I generally don’t like, and lime syrup is nothing short of genius. I can see how this dessert has become one of Luke’s best known dishes and was apparently served at Princess Mary’s wedding in Denmark. Now is there any truth to the rumour — spread by Luke himself — that Princess Mary was an old flame of his? Let me know in the comments!

    All in all, it’s been an impressive meal. Salt Grill accommodates a mere 120 people a night over two seatings so you’ll want to book a table as soon as you get on the ship if not before. Because you  really don’t want to miss this.

    Lunch at Waterfront Restaurant

    waterfront restaurant pacific jewel

    The next day we have lunch at Waterfront, the main restaurant, which successfully manages to feel intimate and cosy despite seating 1,200 people a night over two seatings. It’s an astonishing number of people to accommodate, requiring the clockwork precision of an army of cooks, chefs and servers. What’s most impressive is that while the numbers involved mean that the food is mass produced — that is, produced for the masses — each dish arrives at the table seemingly cooked to order. Having noticed the traditionally decorated main restaurants on the Carnival Spirit and Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, I’m also pleasantly surprised by how modern the decor is.

    Earlier in the day we’d had a tour of the galley where it was revealed that the ship’s 93 chefs, cooks and bakers prepare more than 8,600 meals a day for passengers and crew using produce mostly sourced from Australia.

    We’re seated by our friendly waiter — the service is consistently excellent here — and peruse the menu. Waterfront offers diners a choice of three courses or group and family-style dining with shared platters. For lunch we have the option of 10 different entrees, 13 different main courses, 3 sides and 11 desserts, including a cheese board.

    I start with the Thai chicken and lychee salad with minted lime and brown sugar marinade.

    waterfront restaurant pacific jewel

    The ingredients are fresh but fresh herbs are in short supply and the dressing is a little insipid. I wonder if stronger flavours tend to be watered down in the main restaurant so as to have broader appeal? I’m sure this salad would be considered fine by many diners but I’m missing the stronger Thai flavours I love.

    For mains, I order two dishes: the lamb rogan josh served with rice, cucumber and yoghurt raita and the steamed black mussel pot with crusty bread.

    waterfront restaurant pacific jewel

    The curry is fantastic – the meat is falling-apart tender and the gravy is rich and fragrant. with spices. Incidentally, I’ve noticed that the curry has been really good on all three ships I’ve cruised on.

    waterfront restaurant pacific jewel

    The mussels are small but tasty and served in a rich tomato sauce. I mop up the juices with the crusty soda bread and feel satisfied.

    For dessert I order the hot apple and apricot crumble. There are much fancier options available but I’m feeling the need for something homey.

    waterfront restaurant pacific jewel

    Finely sliced apple is interwoven with apricot pieces to form a dense, cake-like square topped with crumble. Served with custard it’s a dessert to leave one feeling both comforted and satisfied.

    High Tea at Salt Grill

    high tea salt grill

    After a brisk walk around the desks to try to work off lunch, we’re back at Salt Grill in the mid afternoon for high tea. This new menu is being introduced at all Salt Grills on P&O’s ships for the surcharge of $20 per person.

    High Tea

    Each guest receives 10 individual cakes or sandwiches, a choice of tea and a glass of sparkling wine. We spend some time admiring our afternoon tea and Instagramming it (see above) before we can bring ourselves to eat it.

    high tea salt grill

    There are seven sweet options including a super-sweet raspberry macaron stuffed with raspberry jam and fresh blueberries, an airy mini lemon meringue pie (both above), an egg tart ( the cinnamon-dusted custard inside has the most sensuously smooth mouth-feel), a chocolate eclair and a rum baba (all below).

    high tea salt grill

    The three savoury options include this excellent coronation chicken toasted sandwich…

    high tea salt grill

    … and this smoked salmon, cream cheese and horseradish sandwich.

    high tea salt grill

    The following items are my favourites. First up, the rather festive looking lamington.

    high tea salt grill

    For overseas readers, Australian lamingtons are a square of sponge cake that has been dipped in melted chocolate and rolled in desiccated coconut. Salt Grill has fancied up the original recipe by cutting the square in half, adding whipped cream and a little raspberry on top. It’s absolutely delectable and bears little resemblance to the lamingtons my mum used to bake for school fundraisers.

    My favourite savoury dish is the Croque Madame (below), a classic French toasted sandwich stuffed with ham and cheese.

    high tea salt grill

    Like its sibling the Croque Monsieur (identical except for the fried egg), the Croque Madame is one of those dishes that appeals on some kind of nostalgic level, regardless of whether one actually ate it as a child or not. Here, the cuteness factor is played up by the use of quail eggs, which are perfectly sized for this miniature version.

    I finish my high tea with a traditional scone, strawberry jam and cream.

    high tea salt grill

    The scone has a great, even crumb and buttery taste which I wash down with another cup of hot tea.

    If you eat as much as I generally do at meal time, afternoon tea is a completely unnecessary, hedonistic and over the top experience. And yet it’s frightfully civilised and charming, too, reminding us of an earlier time when people (well, the English) made a point of stopping what they were doing in the afternoon to enjoy some polite conversation over a pot of tea, sandwiches and cakes.

    We’re all in such a hurry nowadays that occasions to relax and indulge are few. So I encourage you to make time in your schedule and room in your stomach to experience high tea every now and then. Yes, you’ll have to spend a bit longer in the gym the next day but opportunities to experience a truly decadent culinary experience shouldn’t be overlooked.

    Chef’s Table Dinner at Waterfront Restaurant

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    For our final dinner, P&O have organised for my media group to enjoy the Chef’s Table experience. What is the Chef’s Table experience? Well, it’s a 7-course degustation with matched wines for up to 14 people served in the Waterfront’s private room. As a special dining option the Chef’s Table is charged at $95 per person.

    The friendly Maitre D’hotel, Darren Cholerton,and Executive Chef, Brett Bonnette, visit us throughout the evening to introduce the dishes and gain our feedback while our dedicated and extremely good serving staff cater to our every need.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    For Executive Chef Bonnette, the Chef’s Table experience is an opportunity to push the boundaries a bit.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    We’re offered a choice of four bread rolls to start, accompanied by both plain and herb butter, two different dukkahs and olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

    The first course is supreme of duck confit.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    Here the duck breast have been salted and then cooked at a low temperature for four hours before being sliced into neat pieces that serve as a base for a rich duck mousse made from the dark leg meat and whiskey. A sweet balsamic reduction cuts through the richness of the meat while micro rocket leaves adds some welcome pepperiness. The gaminess of the meat is wonderfully matched with the melon and passionfruit flavours in the wine, a Saint Claire Sauvignon Blanc.

    The next dish is a baked pumpkin soup with a lemongrass-infused pouring cream.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    I love food that demands participation beyond mere mastication – breaking through the pastry and pouring the fragrant cream are simple actions that delight the child in all of us. The addition of the flavoured cream transforms the pumpkin soup into something quite remarkable, although the Thai-style flavours do seem a little at odds with the rest of the French-inspired menu.

    The next course is seared salmon on pommes mille feuille, cognac butter sauce and truffle oil.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    Between the oily salmon, the incredibly buttery potato layers and the sauce, this is a very rich dish. The bok choy adds a bit of welcome bitterness, while melon-y sweetness is provided by the accompanying Cumulus chardonnay.

    The next course is a vodka citrus basil sherbet with Mrs Wigley Moscato from the McLaren Vale.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    Regular readers will know that I’m a sucker for a boozy frozen dessert (check out my Bellini and Mimosa Sorbets) and this vodka sherbet hits all the right notes.

    The next course is a smoked lamb medallion served on a corn cake, with green beans, merlot cordon and a blueberry mint compote.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    There are a lot of different flavours going on here but it all works together and the lamb is beautifully tender and pink.

    The cheese board comprises pieces of Gorgonzola Dolce blue, a brie, a washed rind (I think) and  a tangy goat’s cheese served with quince jam.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    Finally, the last course arrives. The sweet degustation comprises boysenberry ice cream, a rum pumpkin flan (very similar to crème brûlée) and a slice of chocolate cake with cayenne pepper.

    chef's table dinner pacific jewel

    Like all the food aboard the Pacific Jewel, everything tonight has been made from scratch; the boysenberry ice cream has been made from real boysenberries and cream and is the hit of the bunch. The dessert course is accompanied by a seductive sticky, the Margan Botrytis from the Hunter Valley.

    The Chef’s Table has been a lovely way to finish our cruise. It would be a fun way to celebrate a birthday or anniversary so if you’re keen to try it do book before you travel.

    sydney opera house pacific jewel

    The next morning we arrive back in Sydney before the sun is up. We’ve packed a huge amount into our three-day trip — I haven’t even mentioned the fun food and wine pairing class, the relaxing spa treatments, the divine Thermal Suite or the karaoke and dancing at the night club — and are feeling relaxed and refreshed. Vanessa is already busy planning to do a cruise with her mother later in the year while I’m ready to face a day of meetings in Sydney.

    Welcome to the new cruising.

    Disclosure

    Vanessa and I travelled on the Pacific Jewel as guests of P&O Cruises. As always, all opinions are my own.

    More Information

    • Upcoming food and wine cruises departing from Sydney include Pacific Pearl on August 1, 2014, with fares starting from $349 per person quad share, and Pacific Jewel on November 7, with fares from $549 per person quad share. Fares include accommodation, main meals, entertainment and many activities. For bookings contact P&O Cruises.
    • In 2015, P&O Cruises will offer five to eleven-night cruises round-trip from Adelaide on the Pacific Jewel for the first time. The nine-night trip visits Melbourne, Burnie, Kangaroo Island, Port Lincoln and Portland and is priced from $1,199 per person quad share.

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  • DSC_4906

    The Hungry Australian turns 3 plus White Chocolate and Feijoa Cupcakes

    pretty white cupcakes and flowerswhite chocolate cupcake silver sprinklescupcakes and flowerswhite chocolate cupcakes and flowers

    Happy Birthday to The Hungry Australian!

    It was three years ago that I tentatively hit publish on my first ever post, my dad’s Chinese Sausage Omelette. For any aspiring bloggers or photographers out there, go check out my early posts and raise your eyebrows at my photos. See? We all start somewhere.

    It’s hard to explain all the ways blogging has changed my life.

    Three years ago I was introduced to food blogs, quickly got hooked and a whole new world of publishing and social media opened up to me. The immediacy of the blogging medium was instantly appealing; later, I discovered that a blog is also a platform, a calling card and a wonderful way to make new friends.

    Three years ago I was thinking about returning to work again after a spell as a stay-at-home mum with a husband that travelled a lot. I couldn’t imagine going back to the senior management work I used to do as it was all-consuming but great, flexible jobs seemed to be practically non-existent.

    Now life is a constant juggling act — my idea of the perfect holiday involves a lot of sleeping as well as eating — but I get to do interesting work flexibly from home and my supportive family and ex husband hold the fort each time I head off on a work or media trip.

    Three years ago I would never have imagined that The Hungry Australian would be judged both Overall Winner and Best Food Blog at the Best Australian Blog 2014 competition. It was a tremendous surprise but a very nice one. Thank you again to the Australian Writers’ Centre (AWC), and also to Random House and Trafalgar for my fantastic prizes – I’m especially excited about visiting Turkey in October.

    Creating posts for The Hungry Australian is a joyful exercise, using so many different skills and challenging me each time I begin a draft post. I am someone who is easily bored but I can’t imagine becoming bored with blogging because I find it so creatively fulfilling: I’m always trying to improve what I do and there are always new things I want to learn.

    Constant learning and creative fulfilment aside, the thing I love most about blogging is all the wonderful, food-loving people it has brought into my life. It still amazes me that this little blog connects me with people all over the world and has opened so many doors for me. It just goes to show that a shared passion for food can make friends of strangers.

    Thank you for being part of The Hungry Australian and sharing in my pursuit of a delicious life. Without loyal readers and supporters, this blog would be a very different place so thank you for your comments, emails, shares, re-tweets, pins and posts. I look forward to sharing more stories, recipes and write-ups of exceptional food and travel experiences with you over the coming year.

    white chocolate cupcakes and flowerswhite chocolate cupcakes and flowerswhite chocolate cupcakes with gold sprinkleswhite chocolate cupcakes with flowerscupcake flowers

    White Chocolate & Feijoa Cupcakes

    My daughter is sensitive and articulate and loves spending hours on the couch reading and writing in her diary. Differently, my son is boisterous and exuberant and enjoys racing his toy cars along the walls. They are chalk and cheese in many ways and yet they both share a deep love for food and a helpful willingness to be bribed by it.

    But even with food their tastes diverge: my daughter loves anything made with vanilla but doesn’t like chocolate while my son has a deep and constant love for chocolate. So when considering what to cook for this post, I decided to make something that we could all happily eat. So I made a white chocolate and feijoa version of these Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes.

    A word on the ganache: after I’d beaten it I decided to Instagram the beater:

    The Hungry Australian instagram

    When I took the beater back to the kitchen and checked the mixing bowl the ganache had already started to set! I quickly reattached the beater to my KitchenAid, beat it again and the ganache became pliable again but the texture was not quite as satiny smooth as before. The moral of this story? Don’t muck around trying to post pics as you make these: when the ganache is freshly beaten and ready to use, start icing immediately.

    hands holding cupcacke

    I haven’t gone down the fancy icing path because these cupcakes should not be saved for that once a year special celebration – these cupcakes should be eaten as often as a balanced diet will allow and I don’t faff around with icing bags for our everyday eats.

    How do these cupcakes taste? Well, my ex ate three cupcakes while mumbling something about them being the best cupcakes he’d ever eaten. I’m not sure about that but these are definitely my new favourite cupcakes. I hope you enjoy them, too.

    hands holding cupcake

    INGREDIENTS

    • 125 grams unsalted butter
    • 100 grams white chocolate, broken into pieces
    • 240 grams feijoa and rosella jam (I used this).
    • 60 grams apricot jam
    • 2 large eggs at room temperature, beaten
    • 40 grams sugar
    • Pinch salt
    • 150 grams self-raising flour
    • 150 grams white chocolate, broken into little pieces
    • 150 mls double or thickened cream
    • Silver, gold and/or white pearls to decorate

    METHOD

    1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius and line a 12-serve muffin tray with muffin cups.
    2. Melt butter in a small saucepan and then add chocolate. Take off the heat and stir with a wooden spoon until chocolate has completely melted.
    3. Add jam, sugar, salt and eggs and mix until combined.
    4. Add flour and then mix until fully combined.
    5. Spoon mixture evenly into 12 muffin containers  and bake for 25 minutes.
    6. Leave in tin for ten minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
    7. To make ganache, add cream and chocolate to a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat then let cool for 10 minutes.
    8. Transfer ganache to your mixing bowl then beat with an electric mixer for a few minutes until thick.
    9. Ice the cupcakes with an offset spatula or dessert spoon, smoothing the tops.
    10. Decorate cupcakes with balls or sprinkles.
    11. Once made store in an air-tight container if not serving straight away. You can refrigerate these but make sure you take them out 30 minutes before eating so they return to room temperature. Best eaten within 2-3 days.

    NOTES

    • If you can’t find feijoa and rosella jam try using apricot or fig jam instead.

    More cake recipes

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  • DSC_4878

    Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad with Saffron Dressing

    DSC_4884 DSC_4887

    In my last post I blogged about taking professional and creative risks and working outside of my comfort zone.

    My culinary comfort zone, so to speak, is modern Australian food with an emphasis on Asian food. But I’ll eat anything and frequently do. Trying a new dish, cuisine or style of cooking is a delight that will never get old for me.

    Unlike me, my Italian friend Vanessa eats Italian food more or less exclusively.

    “I like simple, plain food,” she says. “If I eat pasta I just want it with a plain tomato sauce that’s been simmering on the stove for three or four hours so that it’s full of flavour.”

    As my plus one on a recent food and wine cruise on P&O’s Pacific Jewel, Vanessa had the opportunity to try all kinds of different food a few blocks over from her usual comfort zone. A new dish would be placed on the dining table and she’d look at it, wide-eyed and scared.

    “I’ve never had this before,” she said in a hushed voice time and time again.

    “Go on, give it a go,” I urged her.

    So she did. She tried natural (raw) oysters, tuna sashimi (raw tuna), beef carpaccio (raw beef slices), Massaman curry, Thai green papaya salad, duck confit, Chinese-style pork belly, sorbet, salmon, truffle oil, scallops, Dukkah, crab and magnificent Ortiz anchovies on garlic toast all for the first time on our trip.

    Some dishes she liked and some she didn’t. Nevertheless, the very act of eating so many new things was transformative for her.

    “I feel like a whole new world has opened up to me,” she told me afterwards.

    “Well, I’m glad,” I said. “You teach me about regional Italian cuisine and we’ll call it even, OK?”

    “Done,” she replied.

    New culinary adventures await all of us. Eat something you’ve never tried before today.

    DSC_4895DSC_4874DSC_4896

    Roasted Cauliflower & Chickpea Salad with Saffron Dressing

    This dish is an adaption of Luke Mangan’s cauliflower salad Vanessa and I ate at his Salt Grill restaurant on the Pacific Jewel. It was such a lovely dish I knew I had to make a version of it to eat at home.

    Now don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients as everything should be available at your local grocery store or market. I had nearly all of these things at home — my #1 cooking tip is to maintain a well-stocked pantry — so for me it was just a matter of buying the cauliflower, saffron (which I’d never cooked with before) and yoghurt. The admittedly expensive saffron gives this yoghurt dressing a beautiful mellow sweetness, golden colour and distinctive flavour so do include it if possible.

    INGREDIENTS

    • 100 grams wild rice
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 whole cauliflower
    • 1 can chickpeas, drained
    • 1/3 cup olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
    • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 2 teaspoons ground cardamon
    • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
    • 2 teaspoons turmeric
    • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 1/3 cup currants
    • 1/3 cup red wine
    • 2 pinches saffron
    • 2 tablespoons water
    • 3/4 cup Greek yoghurt
    • Juice of half lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
    • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon or other mild mustard
    • 1/2 teaspoon honey
    • 1/3 cup pine nuts
    • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley

    METHOD

    1. Cook wild rice in 2 cups water according to packet instructions.
    2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
    3. Remove stems and leaves from cauliflower and then slice into thick, 1cm-wide slices.
    4. Place cauliflower and chickpeas on a lined baking tray and then drizzle with oil.
    5. Sprinkle ginger, cumin, cardamon, coriander, turmeric, nutmeg. chilli flakes and salt and pepper to taste over the top and then massage the spices in with your clean hands until everything is evenly covered.
    6. Roast cauliflower and chickpeas for 20 minutes and then leave to cool.
    7. While the cauliflower is cooking, soak the currants in the red wine for 10 minutes and then strain to discard wine.
    8. Make dressing by soaking saffron in 2 tablespoons water for 10 minutes. Pour the saffron-infused water through a sieve into a small bowl, discarding the  saffron. Mix this water with yoghurt, lemon, mustard and honey.
    9. Toast pine nuts by stirring them in a dry (no oil) pan for a few minutes until nicely brown but not burnt.
    10. To assemble, spoon wild rice onto one large serving platter and then top with half of the dressing.
    11. Arrange cauliflower, chickpeas and parsley on top and then spoon over the rest of the dressing before garnishing with currants and pine nuts.

    NOTES

    • Gluten and meat free.
    • Serves 2-3 as a main meal or 4-6 as an entree

    More salad recipes

    Disclosure

    Vanessa and I travelled on the Pacific Jewel’s food and wine cruise as guests of P&O.

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  • DSC_4256

    Rhubarb Rectangles and taking risks

    Rhubarb stewedrhubarb turnovers

    I love taking risks in a professional and creative sense because I believe that I do my best work when I’m working without a net. It’s when I’m working on something that really scares me that I have the opportunity to test myself and to create something quite special.

    So what should you do if a new project scares you? Acknowledge the fear, prepare like crazy, and do it anyway. Confidence is not something that you can achieve without action: you only become confident about something after you’ve done it. And when you have some skills and bucket loads of determination magic can happen.

    Got a novel inside you but too afraid to actually commit? Write it anyway.

    Dream of starting a blog but scared you might embarrass yourself? Start it anyway.

    Wanting to try something new but worried you might not be any good? Start doing it anyway. Yes, it’s unlikely that you’ll be brilliant at it right away but so what? You only get good at something by practising it a lot.

    I firmly believe that we get what we settle for and that too many people settle for a half-assed effort. Don’t let fear of failure and disappointment stop you from going after your dreams.

    Naturally, you’ll make mistakes along the way and of course there will be times when the reality doesn’t match your expectations. Moreover, people close to you may not understand what you’re doing or why you need to do it. 

    So what? Do it anyway.

    Don’t look back with regret about what could have been: do that thing you’ve been putting off today.

    As for me, it’s time to start some new projects and to take some new risks. I look forward to sharing more when I can.

    rhubarb pastriesstewed rhubarbrhubarb pastries

    Rhubarb Rectangles

    I’ve been thinking about cooking rhubarb for weeks now but hadn’t settled on what to make. Yesterday I was feeling decidedly under the weather so I kept things simple by baking some puff pastry rectangles, which I was going to top with sweetened mascarpone cream and spiced poached rhubarb. But I’d forgotten how much the wonderful Careme puff pastry rises and when the rectangles emerged from the oven they were enormously high! So I cut them in half and sandwiched them together with the whipped mascarpone cream and rhubarb. There’s a lesson in this for all of us: don’t be scared to go off-road (off-recipe) when cooking. Yes, you’re taking a (small) risk, but the results can be fabulous.

    INGREDIENTS

    • 1 x 375 gram pack ready-made puff pastry (I used Careme)
    • 450 grams rhubarb stalks, trimmed and cut into 8cm sticks
    • 2/3 cup water
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 cinnamon stick
    • 1 star anise
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract or essence
    • 1 teaspoon minced ginger (fresh or from jar)
    • 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash
    • 200 gram tub mascarpone cream
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • 1 teaspoons vanilla bean extract or essence
    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 4 tablespoons icing sugar, to dust

    METHOD

    1. Leave puff pastry on kitchen bench to defrost (about an hour).
    2. While the pastry is defrosting get on with the rhubarb. Into a small pot place the rhubarb, water, sugar, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla and ginger. Bring to the boil and then reduce heat until low, simmering for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is tender but still holds its shape. Set aside and leave it to cool to cool completely.
    3. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
    4. Place the pastry onto a lightly floured work surface and cut into six equal rectangles. Brush with egg wash and then bake until the pastry has puffed up and turned golden brown – about 15 minutes.
    5. While the pastry is cooling, beat the mascarpone cream with the milk, vanilla and sugar until thick.
    6. To assemble, split the rectangles in half with a sharp knife then spread the bottom half with cream and top with rhubarb. Top with the other pastry half and then dust with icing sugar.

    NOTES

    • Makes 6.
    • Use the younger (thinner) rhubarb stalks as the older (thicker) ones can be a bit stringy.
    • Don’t eat the rhubarb leaves – they’re poisonous!
    • If you want to use regular thickened cream that would be fine but omit the milk in that case. 
    • This dessert is best eaten the day it is assembled. You can cook the rhubarb and pastry rectangles in advance and store them overnight in air-tight containers.

    DISCLOSURE

    • This is NOT a sponsored post: I just think Careme puff pastry rocks.
    • I can eat a whole packet of pork crackling by myself. 

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  • DSC_4219

    Stacked Pancake Cake with Persimmons and Honey

    persimmon cakestacked pancake cake with persimmons

    It’s a stereotype — but an accurate one — that Asians express their love through food. Like my parents, I see cooking for someone as an act of love.

    Years ago my (Western) ex husband and I were finishing off a home-cooked dinner. There was a little bit of food left on one plate so I pushed the plate towards him and said, “finish it off.”

    “Nah, I’m full,’ he replied.

    “Just finish it,’ I said.

    “No. I’m full,” he said matter-of-factly.

    I stared at him, nonplussed. Didn’t he love me anymore? What did him being full have to do with anything?

    When I was growing up, we always had to finish the food on our plates and then some, ostensibly because my parents hate wasting food and they don’t like having leftovers. But it was also because my mother equated one’s eating of her food as acceptance of her love and authority: to refuse food was thus a sign of defiance.

    So my ex’s calm refusal to keep eating when he full was nothing short of a revolution.  I actually had a choice about this? I know this sounds a little nuts but the way we are brought up is our version of normal, isn’t it?

    My brother and I were born in Australia, which in stark contrast to traditional Asian culture, emphasises independence and free-will. So now that I’m a parent myself I generally let my own kids (4 and 7 years) eat as much or as little as they want.

    I figure that if my kids are hungry, they’ll eat, and if they’re not, they won’t. Yes, it’s annoying when I’ve spent time cooking a nice meal and they turn their noses up at it but they’re kids – most of what they do doesn’t make sense in the adult world. I do always insist that my kids try a new dish, however, and most times they’ll then eat it happily. Sometimes they won’t, though, and that’s OK, too: leftovers in the fridge are like presents left by helpful kitchen elves.

    My mother doesn’t agree with this laissez-faire attitude so when we eat at her house she’ll follow my 4YO around with a plate and a fork, feeding him as he plays. I’m not sure this is the right approach but it makes her happy so I’ve learned to just let it go. Besides, there’s something quite touching about her determination to make sure her grandson always leaves her house with a full belly.

    However, my son isn’t backwards about demanding food when he’s hungry. I don’t use the word demand lightly: he may be pint-sized but my 4YO son has an extra-large personality.

    At some point almost every day he says, “I want a pancake, the one I like, with the chocolate sauce on top.”

    “Please,” I remind him.

    He rolls his eyes at me. “Please may I have a pancake?” he huffs. I frown at him in mock-anger and he frowns back at me, giggling as I pick him up and demand a hug as payment first.

    He wriggles free to fetch the kitchen stool and climbs on top of it, watching intently as I throw an egg, self-raising flour, milk and rice malt syrup into a small bowl.

    I give him a fork to stir the mixture, and help him along with some brisk whisking of my own. Then it’s time to heat up a fry pan, add a little unsalted butter and then into the pan the mixture goes. I wait until small air bubbles rise to the surface and pop leaving tiny craters before I flip the pancake over. I wait another minute or two for that side to cook through and then I slide the pancake on a plate, drizzle over some chocolate sauce and roll it up before slicing it neatly into small pinwheels.

    “This is the one I like!” my son says happily, before digging in.

    Eat the love, little one.

    stacked pancake cake with persimmonspersimmonstacked pancake cake with persimmons

    Stacked Pancake Cake with Persimmons and Honey

    Last Saturday we had a leisurely breakfast at home before venturing out. Week day mornings are always hectic and rushed in my house so on weekends it’s lovely taking things slower and leaving the house feeling relaxed rather than stressed. For breakfast, my son wanted his usual pancake and my daughter wanted two fresh persimmons, peeled and cut up on a plate. So I obliged and then thought about how good the two things would be together, along with some whipped cream and freshly drizzled honey. So I make this cake yesterday. I hope you like it.

    INGREDIENTS

    • 2 cups self-raising flour
    • 3 tablespoons sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 1.5 cups milk
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean essence
    • 90 grams unsalted butter
    • 150 mls cream
    • 4 tablespoons apricot jam
    • 4 tablespoons ginger jam
    • 3 ripe persimmons, peeled, stoned (if necessary) and diced
    • 60 mls honey

    METHOD

    1. Sift flour into a large mixing bowl and add sugar. Stir and then create a well in the centre.
    2. Break in eggs and then add milk and vanilla. Whisk until smooth.
    3. Heat up a small fry pan and then add 20 grams (approx.) butter.
    4. Pour about 1/2 cup of mixture into the pan and swirl it around so it coats the pan evenly.
    5. Cook for about 3-4 minutes over a low-medium heat until air bubbles break evenly on the surface. Flip over and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until cooked through.
    6. Remove to a plate to cool and repeat with the rest of the mixture — adding a little pat of butter each time — until you have 8 pancakes.
    7. Whip cream until firm.
    8. To assemble cake, place one pancake on a plate and then spread with apricot jam. Add another pancake on top and then spread with ginger jam. Continue stacking, alternating jams as you go.
    9. When you get to the top, spread the whipped cream all over the top of the jam layer (an offset spatula is good for this) and then decorate with persimmons, reserving the remainder to serve with individual slices of cake.
    10. Dribble over the honey so that some runs down the edges and serve.

    NOTES

    1. If you want cream between each pancake layer as well as on top whip 400 mls cream rather than the 150 mls specified.
    2. You can of course use only apricot or ginger jam.  
    3. In keeping with the home-style feel of this cake keep the styling really simple. Food writer Carli Ratcliff said recently that my food styling was “warm and accessible.” I can’t think of a nicer compliment. I don’t want to create recipes that people admire but are too intimidated to attempt themselves – I want people to actually cook and eat my food!

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