All posts by Christina Soong

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    Everyday Pavlova

    Hello, dear readers! Apologies for my lengthy absence but I’ve been working on a few writing projects lately.

    I’ve been trying my hand at writing different types of fiction and I’m loving the new challenge and the creative freedom this has given me. However, working on longer writing projects requires a different kind of focus and I haven’t wanted to risk losing my momentum. But I’m back now and I’ll be popping up more regularly in the future.

    This easy pavlova recipe was inspired by a conversation I enjoyed last week at a popup dinner in Sydney to celebrate 20 years of Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel.

    At the dinner, which coincided with World Gratitude Day, I was seated at a table hosted by Paul West, the affable host of the excellent series, River Cottage Australia. Inspired by the dishes we enjoyed by Paul, Nigella Lawson, Maggie BeerDonna HayJamie Oliver and Matt Moran, the conversation naturally turned to food: our table discussed everything from food trends, rural life vs city living, shopping for food, healthy and unhealthy approaches to food, home baking, baby food and growing your own food.

    Everyone has a different approach to food so it was an interesting and stimulating conversation. It got me thinking about why food is so important to me and why I’m such a passionate advocate of home cooking.

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    Home cooking is important because it’s an opportunity to bond with those you care about and to create treasured memories.

    The food my parents dished up night after night when I canadian casino news was growing up wasn’t fancy. Sure, sometimes they’d push the boat out but most of the time they cooked simply and efficiently. What made their cooking special, however, was their appreciation of flavour, their knowledge of ingredients and their willingness to experiment and try new things.

    A simple roast chicken. Braised pork and green beans. Spaghetti with local prawns and Goolwa cockles.  Dumplings. My beloved tuna mornay.  Prawn and pork noodle soup (Har Mee). Rosemary lamb roast with potato bake. A fuss-free beef stir fry. A pavlova topped with berries.

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    I adore pavlova so I’ve made lots of different kinds of kinds over the years. I’ve made a triple layered pavlova with raspberries, pomegranate and rose petals for Christmas Day lunch and a deconstructed pavlova when my daughter accidentally destroyed a pavlova I’d just taken out of the oven. I’ve even made a Messy Pavlova, or, as I called it, Eton Mess Down Under style, where I replaced the usual meringues with pavlova pieces.

    But this pavlova is your simple, everyday kind of pavlova. This is the pav you can enjoy after a weekend BBQ with the family. Or the pav you can take to a friend’s house when asked to ‘bring a plate.’ It’s the pav you can make when you have too many eggs in the house and the pav you can make to surprise someone on their birthday.

    I hope you like it. Enjoy!

    This post has been sponsored by Foxtel’s Lifestyle.

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    Everyday Pavlova
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    An easy, everyday pavlova
    Ingredients
    • 4 egg whites at room temperature
    • Pinch of salt
    • ¾ cup caster sugar (or 1 for 1 sugar substitute such as stevia)
    • 2 teaspoons cornflour
    • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar (you can substitute white vinegar)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean essence
    • 300 mls thickened cream
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean essence
    • ½ punnet strawberries
    • ½ punnet blueberries
    • ½ punnet raspberries
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
    2. Check that all your mixing equipment is clean to ensure that the meringue rises properly. Use a paper towel dipped in white vinegar to wipe out your mixing bowl.
    3. Line one baking trays with baking paper and draw a 20cm circle on it (you can trace around a plate).
    4. Beat egg whites and salt on high with a stand or hand mixer for a few minutes until peaks begin to form.
    5. Add sugar in four batches, beating well after each addition, until the meringue is thick and shiny.
    6. Sprinkle over the corn flour, red wine vinegar and vanilla essence and fold in gently with a spatula. Try to keep as much volume in the meringue as possible.
    7. Using a spatula, dollop spoonfuls of meringue onto your circle, smoothing the top out with the back of the spoon or an offset spatula. Indent slightly in the centre if you wish.
    8. Put baking trays into the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 150 degrees Celsius. Bake for 30 minutes and then reduce heat to 120 degrees Celsius and bake for another 45 minutes. Turn oven off and leave pavlova to cool completely before taking out of the oven.
    9. Whip cream with one teaspoon of vanilla essence for a few minutes until firm.
    10. Carefully peel the baking paper off the base of the pavlova and place the pavlova on a serving plate. You may invert the pavlova if you wish but I like it either way. Spread the whipped cream on top and decorate your pavlova with mixed berries.
    Substitutions
    1. Dairy free - you can replace the cream with coconut yoghurt for a fresher, tangier taste.
    2. Mascarpone - you can replace half the cream with mascarpone cheese for a velvety rich topping
    3. Berry free – you can replace the berries with sliced mango, kiwifruit, passionfruit, nectarines, plums, peaches or apricots.
    4. Chocolate – you can add chocolate shavings
    5. Coconut - you can add dried coconut shavings

     

  • Special_Fried_Rice_Christina_Soong-1

    Making food memories and Special Fried Rice

    The other day, my boyfriend and I went to see British comic Chris Turner in his show, Observational Tragedy. Alternately witty, moving, and thought provoking, it prompted both spontaneous laughter and tears from the audience.

    One of the things Turner revealed during the show was that he has an auditory memory and can access a memory if he listens to music associated with that particular memory. So when he listens to Cliff Richard albums he recalls playing with his grandparents’ dog by their living room fire as a child.

    As I listened to Turner detail his efforts to actively retain new memories using music, it occurred to me that my self-diagnosed ‘food memory’ might actually be a legitimate condition. That is, I don’t remember faces, conversations or activities from my distant past very well but I do remember the food I ate. Not just the food, but how it tasted, how it smelt, its texture and its appearance.

    I remember sitting down to family dinners every night when I was growing up. I remember fried ricelamb roast, mushroom chickenpork and bean stir fry and my favourite tuna mornay. I remember birthday parties with elaborately decorated cakes from the Australian Women’s Weekly Kids’ Party Cakes. I remember gorging myself on steaming hot cockles (pippies) cooked in my dad’s wok that we’d caught earlier that day at Goolwa Beach.

    I remember the fragrant Thai green chicken curry and rice that was my first meal I ate in London. Having left home by myself for the first time, I arrived at Heathrow airport feeling tired and a little teary. My friend Anita picked me up from the airport, took me back to her place and fed me that delicious curry in her kitchen.

    I remember the first time I ate confit de canard (duck confit) and île flottante (floating islands) while visiting Paris with my dad.  I remember the aroma, tenderness and richness of the duck and my delight at the quenelles of gently poached meringue sitting atop a vanilla bean custard.

    I remember visiting Germany for the first time with my ex husband and sighing over his mother’s fresh creamy pfifferlinge mushroom cream sauce and pancakes.

    I remember being heavily pregnant with my first child while working in Shanghai and satisfying my cravings for drunken chicken (cold, gently poached chicken with Chinese wine) and xiao long bao (steamed pork dumplings with a ‘soup’ centre) with my visiting mum.

    I eat and I remember.

    If having a food memory is actually a thing, this means that every time I eat a food or dish that I associate with happy memories, I am being soothed and comforted by the past. This makes perfect sense to me as I’ve aways believed that food is far more than fuel for our bodies.

    Having a food memory also goes some way to explaining the craving for food from childhood that one experiences when one is homesick. Anyone who’s lived abroad and suffered through the bittersweet pang of homesickness can no doubt relate to this.

    I thought of this recently when my ex husband took our children away with him on holiday for five days. When the children returned home, tired and happy, I felt strangely compelled to feed them some of their favourite foods. This meant fruit and yoghurt in bowls for afternoon tea, and honey and soy chicken skewers with roasted sweet potatoes and steamed broccolini and sweet corn for dinner.

    Later that night, I realised something: I like cooking for my kids because it’s a demonstration of my love for them but I also have an ulterior motive.

    If my kids are anything like me, they’ll leave Australia at some point to explore the world.  They might live abroad for years and years, like I did, too. I won’t like it, naturally, but I’ll understand and support their need to stretch their wings.

    So when I feed my kids I’m implanting positive food memories into their brain. These memories will help anchor them to me like an invisible umbilical cord when they are grown up and living far away from me.  As they go about their daily business they will occasionally stop and they will remember. They will crave the food of their childhood and they will want to come home.

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    Special Fried Rice

    Amongst our friends and family, my mother’s fried rice is legendary. This is my spin on her fried rice. I cooked it for the kids the other night and they scraped their bowls clean.

     

    Special Fried Rice
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Main Course
    Cuisine: Australian / Chinese
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    An excellent fried rice recipe
    Ingredients
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus another tablespoon.
    • 4 eggs, beaten
    • 1 tablespoon water
    • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
    • 6 cups cooked and cooled rice, broken up into loose grains
    • 4 Chinese sausages, sliced thinly
    • 3 cups frozen diced vegetables (corn, peas, carrots)
    • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
    • 1 tablespoon Shaoxiang wine
    • White pepper to taste
    • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
    • 3-4 spring onions, sliced thinly, white parts only
    • Small bunch coriander to garnish
    • 2-4 tablespoons fried shallots to garnish
    • 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges to garnish, optional
    • Sriracha chilli sauce, optional)
    • Indian brinjal (eggplant relish), optional
    Instructions
    1. Heat up a large fry pan or wok over a medium heat until smoking and then add 1 tablespoon oil.
    2. Beat eggs with water and then slide mixture into pan to form a large omelette.
    3. Cook for a minute or two over a high heat until browning nicely and then flip over and cook for a another minute or two until cooking through.
    4. Remove omelette from pan and leave to cool.
    5. Add 1 tablespoon oil and then add onion.
    6. Cook, over a medium heat, stirring regularly, for 4-5 minutes until softened and then add Chinese sausage.
    7. Stir regularly for 2-3 minutes until Chinese sausage is crisp on both sides and heated through.
    8. Add frozen vegetable mixture and stir to combine.
    9. Increase heat to high and then stir fry for 2-3 minutes until vegetables are cooked through.
    10. Add rice and stir to combine.
    11. Add soy sauce and Shaoxiang wine and then stir fry, stirring regularly until rice is heated up and cooked through.
    12. Turn off heat and then add sesame oil and spring onions and stir through.
    13. Garnish with coriander and lime and serve with Sriracha or brinjal.
  • Jacobs_Creek_Dinner_Christina_Soong-2

    Our Table with MasterChef’s Andy Allen and Jacob’s Creek

    A little secret about dinner parties: while the food and wine you offer your guests is important, they’re not nearly as important as the mood you set.

    As a dinner party veteran I’ve hosted plenty of dinner parties where I placed far too much emphasis on making everything look and taste perfect, and far too little emphasis on making sure I was relaxed and calm when my guests arrived.

    Even if you’ve never hosted a dinner yourself, I’m sure you can relate to a time when you went to someone’s house for dinner, and found yourself confronted by a visibly stressed or anxious host. I’ve been that host and I can tell you that it’s no fun at all for either you or your guests.

    So when Jacob’s Creek approached me about having MasterChef Australia’s 2012 winner Andy Allen over for an #OurTable dinner with Jacob Creek’s wines I decided the relaxed approach was the only way to go. So I roped in my boyfriend to help with the preparation and asked my BFF and her hubby and my sister in law to join us. My brother was away on business at the last minute, unfortunately.

    The day of the dinner party dawned hot and humid – it was 39 degrees Celsius in the shade. So we kicked off the night with Jacob’s Creek Reserve Chardonnay Pinot Noir, natural oysters with lime wedges, olives from Coriole, my mother’s pâté with brandy and crunchy cornichons.

    Jacob's Creek MyTable Dinner

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    The obligatory photo with Andy before we start eating.

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    Note to self: when being photographed next to an ex basketball player always remember to stand on a box…

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    Oysters are one of my ultimate foods.

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    I like oysters prepared all kinds of ways — see my Oysters 4 Ways for some recipe ideas — but eating them naturally with a simple squeeze of fresh lime juice is sublimely good.

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    As we enjoy the appetisers we admire my BFF’s 4-week old baby. Isn’t he adorable? What a gorgeous smile!

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    After a short intermission it’s time to prep the main course. Tonight we’re eating BBQ steak, grain salad and roasted sweet potatoes.

    I always like to involve guests in the dinner prep so I put the guys in charge of cooking the steaks.  I expect Andy to take the lead but he humbly demurs, which is how my boyfriend ended up cooking steaks for a MasterChef!

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    Back in the kitchen, I put the final touches on my favourite grain salad and plate up the beautifully caramelised sweet potatoes.

    By now it’s dark outside so we take our seats in the dining room.

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    Tonight we’re drinking Jacob’s Creek Reserve Adelaide Hills Chardonnay, Jacob’s Creek Reserve Barossa Signature Shiraz, Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel Shiraz and Jacob’s Creek Reserve Coonawara Cabernet Sauvignon.

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    We eat and we drink and we talk and we laugh. We catch up on each other’s news and Andy entertains us with anecdotes from his time on MasterChef Australia. Winning the 2012 MasterChef  competition was a truly life-changing experience for the former electrician’s apprentice and he has nothing but positive things to say about the show.

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    Another short break to clear the table and then it’s time for the Strawberry and Basil Granita and the cheese board.

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    I serve up the refreshing Strawberry & Basil Granita into indiviudal bowls. But by the time I grab my camera there’s nothing left to photograph as all the bowls have been scraped clean! So go look at the photos I took last week of an earlier batch.

    I’ve chosen cheeses from Say Cheese & The Smelly Cheese Shop to go with the wines we’re drinking tonight. So sitting perfectly at room temperature on the cheese board are a buttery brie — Cremeux D’Argental —  Delice de Poitou, a young Goat’s cheese with a slightly tangy, salted ash coating, a strong Tasmanian Cheddar — Ashgrove Farm Cheese — and a sneaky English blue – Colston Bassett Stilton. Admittedly, the blue doesn’t go that well with the wines but I couldn’t resist its pungent allure.

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    Good food, good wine and good company are a potent mix so we continue talking, laughing, eating and drinking until late.  Although I’ve eaten far too much cheese I feel great – tonight has been so much fun!

    Thank you all for coming. Whose turn is it to host next?

    Jacob’s Creek Our Table Dinner with Andy Allen

    The Menu

    The Wines

    Disclosure: this post was sponsored by Jacob’s Creek. 

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    Being a parent and Strawberry and Basil Granita

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    When I was younger I thought of life mostly in terms of goals. Everything was about achievements and new experiences.

    “Live overseas.” Tick.

    “Get a great job.” Tick.

    “Be a published writer.” Tick.

    Life was all about ticking goals off a list as quickly as I could. I wasn’t going to wait until I was old and then start working my way through a hastily compiled bucket list – I wanted to start each year with a new list and methodically work my way through it. Life was about reaching the end of one’s life with a completed list of goals. Only then would I relax.

    Then I fell in love, got married, and had kids.

    Kids don’t care about goal setting and achievement. Kids don’t care that you have won awards or that you have had all these amazing experiences. Kids don’t care that you’re planning 5, 10 and 15 years ahead.

    Kids just want to you be there, in the moment, with them.

    They want you to read with them. They want you to kick a ball with them. They want you to look at their drawings, their craft and their paintings. They want to show you things they are proud of. They want to share their innermost hopes and dreams with you.

    Kids want to sneakily climb into bed with you in the middle of the night and sleep right next to you. They don’t care if you have a busy day tomorrow and need your sleep – they just want to snuggle with you because they’re scared of the dark.

    Becoming a parent has been the greatest and hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s the thing I’ve most proud of and the thing I’m most humbled by.

    So I continue making up my new list of goals each year but I work my way through them much slower than I’d like.  It’s frustrating and demoralising at times, especially for a Type A personality like myself. But I know that all the accolades in the world won’t matter a damn if I get this wrong.

    That’s not to say that family life is always idyllic: on the contrary, family life will always have its challenges. We’re imperfect creatures and we teach our children imperfectly, too. At times, we are tired, we are stressed, we are impatient, we are tactless, we are selfish, we are thoughtless, we are arrogant and we are misguided.

    We get it wrong. Every day, sometimes.

    We will never be able to fully relax either. Parenting never ends, nor would we want it to. It’s a bittersweet reality that we must face, even as we joke about not being able to wait until the kids are out of the house.

    So we do the best we can with the knowledge and resources that we have at our disposal at the time. Accordingly, I take comfort in those brief moments when there is a momentarily lull in the conversation and life is as it should be. When briefly, even if just for a moment, all is right in the world.

     

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    Strawberry and Basil Granita

    Inspired by a gorgeous watermelon and lime granita I made recently from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks’ Companion, I decided to make a strawberry granita with fresh basil leaves and balsamic vinegar.

    It was fantastic. You have to try this.

     

    Strawberry and Basil Granita
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Total time: 
    Gorgeous strawberry and basil granita
    Ingredients
    • 60 mls (4 tablespoons) honey
    • ⅓ cup water
    • 3 punnets strawberries, washed and hulled
    • 8-12 fresh basil leaves
    • 1 teaspoon best quality balsamic vinegar
    Instructions
    1. Make the sugar syrup by combining honey and water in a small saucepan and heating until the honey is dissolved.
    2. Blend strawberries in a food processor or blender until liquified.
    3. Add basil leaves, balsamic vinegar and honey syrup and blend again to combine.
    4. Pour into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions (I let mine run for approximately 15 minutes).
    5. Scrape mixture into a freezer proof container and put in the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight.
    6. If you don't have an ice cream maker skip step 4 and do step 5. After 20 minutes, scrape the edges into the centre to break it up. Repeat this twice more, after 20-minute intervals and then freeze for another 5-6 hours or overnight.
    7. To serve, use a fork to scrape the granita. Scoop it up with a chilled spoon and serve in glasses or cups. You can chill the glasses and utensils in the fridge to keep everything as cold as possible if you like.

     

  • Peach_Yoghurt_Iceblocks_Christina_Soong-1

    Peach Yoghurt Ice Blocks

    As the Australian Summer continues so does our love affair with fruit: we’re spoilt for choice at this time of the year so my fruit bowls are overflowing.

    The other day I had a glut of peaches in the house. So I decided to make these easy-peasy  ice blocks to use up some of the excess.

    These Peach Yoghurt Ice Blocks require only four ingredients and couldn’t be easier to make – you simply blend peach flesh with honey syrup and then fill the ice block moulds with the peach mixture and yoghurt.

    If you don’t have peaches, you could substitute another stone fruit: apricots or peacherines (a cross between a peach and a nectarine) would be wonderful, too.

    I love how beautiful these ice blocks are – they remind me of tie-dyed fabric. You could keep alternating the peach and yoghurt mixtures for a more intense tie-dyed effect if you like.

    My two harshest critics — my kids — love these ice blocks so you know they have to be good. Enjoy! x

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    Peach Yoghurt Ice Blocks
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Snack, Dessert
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    An easy peach and yoghurt ice block
    Ingredients
    • ⅓ cup water
    • 4 tablespoons (60 mls) honey
    • 6 large peaches, a little over 600 grams
    • 200 grams sweetened Greek style yoghurt, vanilla yoghurt or coconut yoghurt.
    Instructions
    1. Heat up water in a small saucepan until hot but not simmering and add honey. Stir to dissolve honey and then remove from heat and set aside.
    2. Peel peaches and then halve and stone them.
    3. Process peaches in a blender or food processor until liquid and then add cooled honey syrup.
    4. Mix Greek yoghurt with honey.
    5. Pour peach mixture into ice block moulds until they are two thirds of the way full.
    6. Spoon a couple of teaspoons of yoghurt into each mould and then top with remaining peach mixture.
    7. Add paddle pop sticks and then freeze for at least five hours or overnight.
    Notes
    You can substitute the sweetened Greek style yoghurt or vanilla yoghurt with unsweetened Greek yoghurt or goats yoghurt mixed with 1-2 tablespoons honey if you prefer.

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    Penang Night Market, Malaysia

    Malaysian nights are often surprisingly hot.

    My kids’ cheeks are bright red and their hair is sticking to the backs of their necks in damp curls. We down our hastily ordered drinks (star fruit juice, fresh coconut juice and iced milo) at our newly acquired table while we gain our bearings.

    I’m at the Batu Ferringhi Night Market in Penang, Malaysia, with my kids, my parents, my brother and my brother’s family.

    All around us people are chatting loudly while the sound of metal spatulas hitting aged metal woks clangs musically throughout the night. The air is rich with a hundred different cooking smells and the ripe smell of the notoriously fragrant durian fruit, pictured below.

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    Tonight we want to try as many different dishes as we can manage.  My dad was born in Penang so we’ve visited the island numerous times before and are very familiar with the types of hawker dishes available tonight.

    First up, char-grilled chicken satays with spicy peanut sauce, raw onion wedges, cucumber slices and ketupat (cooled, compressed rice).

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    Then fried chicken skin served with a sweet chilli sauce.

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    FRIED CHICKEN SKIN!!! It’s insane — it’s like eating a cup of frosting — and yet it makes perfect sense, too. Why eat the whole chicken when it’s the fatty skin that has the most flavour?

    The fried chicken skin is crunchy, salty and tasty – I want to eat the whole plate.

    My Auntie orders some Chee Cheong Fun (steamed, rice noodle rolls served with hoisin sauce and sesame seeds),  Sotong (dried cuttlefish) and a sugar cane juice.

    Chee Cheong Fun and Sotong at Penang Night Market

    Night begins to fall.

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    The line of people standing patiently at this stall catches my eye. Here, two cooks are churning out plate after plate of Char Kway Teow (fried rice noodles cooked with garlic, prawns, egg and bean sprouts). It’s one of our favourite dishes so I order four plates: two with chilli for the adults and two without chilli for the kids.

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    I wander around in search of more dishes to order for the table.

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    My dad loves sotong (dried cuttlefish) so I order another plate for him.

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    Dried cuttlefish may not look or sound that appetising but I love this stuff – the dried cuttlefish has a chewy, fibrous texture, a flavour similar to a dried scallop, and can be eaten as is or accompanied by chilli sauce or hoisin sauce.

    I continue looking around.

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    A lot of the dishes I want to order aren’t suitable for the kids as they have too much chilli so when I stumble across this excellent, dry Won Ton Mein (prawn and pork dumplings, sliced roast pork and wilted greens on a bed of egg noodles dressed with soy sauce and sesame oil) I order four of them. Won Ton noodles originated from Hong Kong, where the dumplings and noodles are served in clear chicken broth. But the dry version is equally good.

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    No meal in Penang would be complete without a bowl of my beloved Assam Laksa. Unlike the more common curry laksa found in Australia, the Penang version is fish-based and strongly flavoured with tamarind, lemongrass, turmeric, Vietnamese mint leaves and ginger flower. This version also has fish balls in it — see below –which I’ve not seen before.

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    It’s good but I like my adaption of my grandmother’s Penang Assam Laksa recipe, better. I’m biased, of course!

    Malaysian food relies a lot on ingredients like lemongrass, tamarind galangal, turmeric, shallots, garlic, chilli and sugar. It’s not the prettiest of cuisines — especially at a market like this where service is all about speed and efficiency — but the lack of presentation doesn’t bother me.

    Eating at the open-air night market isn’t exactly comfortable: it’s hot and crowded and the hard plastic stools don’t encourage lingering. But I love the accessibility and unpretentiousness of hawker food, the tantalising smells in the air, the sounds of people talking and food being prepared all around us and the joy of discovering yet another favourite dish.

    More information

    • Getting there: Malaysia Airlines flies direct from Australia to Kuala Lumpur.
    • Address: Batu Ferringhi Night Market, Jalan Batu Ferringhi, Penang.
    • Opening hours: daily from 7pm.
  • Chocolate_Banana_Pancakes_Christina_Soong-5

    Chocolate and Banana Pancakes for J

    Regular readers may remember my grouchy Valentine’s Day post from a few years ago, when I was newly separated from my ex husband and in no mood for romance. Back then, the very thought of being with someone new was inconceivable, as Vissini might say.

    How times have changed.

    18 months ago I went on a date with J.  We’d been set up by a mutual friend who described him as “the kindest man I know.”

    We went out for dinner — Thai food — and he made me laugh for three hours straight. This was unprecedented: my dates were usually punctuated with nervous chuckles, awkward pauses and my fervent prayers for deliverance, not laughter.

    Although I found J hilarious I wasn’t really ready to date back then so half way through our second date — Vietnamese pho — I cut the evening short and we went our separate ways.

    About seven months ago, J resurfaced via text message on my phone, ostensibly to ask my advice about recipe development and cocktail making.

    Yeah. That’s what I thought, too. There was no other way to access this information? O-kay…

    Weeks went by with friendly text banter between us every few days and then he suggested dinner with mutual friends. A few days after that dinner I had to write a piece about Adelaide bars for a client so I invited him to help me research the bars one night. Because of his interest in cocktails, of course.

    Yeah, that’s what he thought, too.

    We kissed for the first time that night and then I panicked and went home. He remembers wondering if I was a bit crazy at that point. But in his calm and thoughtful way he persevered and gradually I got used to feeling the fear and having him in my life anyway.

    Dating is scary. Dating after divorce is scarier. But dating after divorce with kids is terrifying.

    However, J has made being with him relatively easy somehow.

    It helps that he’s kind and and generous and that he’s respectful of my existing relationships and commitments.

    It helps that he doesn’t expect me to live in his pocket or to turn my life upside down to accommodate his.

    It helps that he doesn’t sweat the small stuff and that nothing seems to faze him. I’ve never once heard him raise his voice whereas I get loud whenever I am excited or stirred up.

    It helps that he’s cute and sexy.

    It helps that he’s extremely patient while my impatience is legendary and that he’s highly considered while I can be dangerously impulsive.

    It helps that he’s not scared to acknowledge his imperfections or the fact that we are all works in progress.

    It helps that he makes me laugh so hard I have to crouch down on the ground to catch my breath.

    It helps that he’s smart because I adore intelligent conversation.

    It helps that he fixes things around the house and washes the dishes. This is a shrewd move, by the way.

    It helps that he’s confident and secure and that he doesn’t hesitate to (gently) call me out when it’s warranted.

    It helps that he’s an awesome photographer in his own right.

    It helps that he understands and loves kids and is amazing with my two. It helps a lot, actually.

    I’m a 40 year old, divorced, single parent so I’m under no illusions that things don’t always work out the way we hope. But I’m done letting my fear control me and cripple me.

    To love all is to risk all, isn’t it? But I’ll take that risk.

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    Chocolate and Banana Pancakes with Fruit (gluten, dairy and sugar-free)

    J is very health-conscous, which has meant a re-think of how I cook and eat when we hang out together. The other day he made banana and egg pancakes for breakfast, using only bananas, eggs and protein powder. They were a smash hit so I’ve fiddled with the recipe a bit and come up with this seductive stack.

    Enjoy! x

    PS thanks to Kate for the gorgeous, home-grown figs.

     

    Chocolate and Banana Pancakes
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Breakfast
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    4 ingredient chocolate and banana pancakes
    Ingredients
    • 3 large bananas (or 4 medium ones)
    • 2 eggs + 1 egg white
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean essence
    • 2 scoops chocolate protein powder
    • 1 tablespoon neutral tasting oil (e.g. vegetable or coconut)
    • Honey
    • Seasonal fruit - I've gone with figs, raspberries and blueberries
    • Thick yoghurt, marscapone or cream (optional)
    Instructions
    1. Blend bananas, eggs, vanilla and protein powder together using a stand or hand blender until well combined.
    2. Heat up a large fry pan until hot and then add a tablespoon of a neutral oil (vegetable oil, coconut oil).
    3. Use a ladle, turkey baster or jug to pour 1/10th of the mixture into the frying pan to form a pancake.
    4. Cook, over low-medium heat for 3.5 -4.5 minutes.
    5. Gently flip the pancake using the thinnest flip you have. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.
    6. Remove to a plate and repeat with remaining batter until you have 10 pancakes. Add more oil if necessary. You can cook multiple pancakes in one large fry pan to save time
    7. Stack pancakes and serve with honey and seasonal fruit if desired.
    Notes
    Gluten free
    Dairy free
    Refined sugar free

  • Chocolate_Peanut_Butter_Calls_Christina_Soong-2

    Cookbook Clubs and Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

    I recently met up with friends for our regular Cookbook Club lunch where we share dishes we’ve cooked from a selected cookbook.  If you’re anything like most people, you’ll have a number of cookbooks on your shelves that you’ve never cooked from. So Cookbook Club is both a great excuse to get together with food-loving friends and a lovely way to explore a cookbook.

    Our first Cookbook Club lunch was hosted by Erin and focused on Yottam Ottolenghi’s best-selling Plenty. It’s a gorgeous runaway success of a book filled with beautiful, Middle Eastern inspired vegetarian dishes so choosing what to cook was difficult.

    Everyone ending up cooking two dishes from the book each so we ended up with a table that was overflowing with delicious choices. Nearly every dish I tried that day was excellent, with bold, punchy and fresh flavours.

    Celeste hosted our second lunch and she chose Thomas Keller’s epic The French Laundry cookbook. Interestingly, we had mixed reactions to the dishes we cooked from Keller’s book. We loved the gazpacho, the deconstructed banana split and the peanut butter truffles but some of the other dishes left us feeling a little unsatisfied.

    It wasn’t that the food wasn’t interesting and good and clever. It was all those things but it was also, generally, noticeably restrained in terms of flavour, and complicated and time consuming to make: most dishes had multiple components that had to be individually prepared. Basically, it’s the type of food I like eating in restaurants but don’t want to cook at home. So I’d read this cookbook in bed but I can’t see myself using it regularly in the kitchen.

    The recipes I share here on The Hungry Australian are all recipes I cook at home for family and friends. So I was thrilled to learn that a group calling themselves The Darwin Cookbook Club cooked and shared dishes from The Hungry Australian for their inaugural dinner the other night. Check out some of the Instagram pics here.

    To say I feel honoured by their choice is an understatement: I feel incredibly blessed and grateful. Thank you!

    The Hungry Australian dishes served at The Darwin Cookbook Club dinner were: Silky Chinese Chicken, Raspberry Pomegranate Layered Pavlova, Beetroot, Ruby Grapefruit, Avocado and Hazelnut Spring Salad, Mini Chilli and Caramelised Onion Jam Tarts, Chilled Cucumber Soup, Prawn Lettuce Cups with Thai Dressing, Braised Pork and Beans, Jiaozi (Dumplings), Vegan Chocolate Mousse, Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad and Watermelon and Blueberry Mojito.

    Some of these recipes were blogged years ago so don’t look too closely at the photos, OK? ;)

    This month my Cookbook Club is cooking from Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, which is a brilliant resource every clever home cook should own. I can’t wait.

    Would you consider joining or starting a cookbook club? If so, what cookbook or blog would you like to cook from?

    Chocolate_Peanut_Butter_Calls_Christina_Soong-1

     

    Cacao and Peanut Butter Balls

    While I enjoyed Thomas Keller’s decadent Peanut Butter Truffles they were extremely sweet and rich, being composed mostly of butter, peanut butter and chocolate.

    I’m a sucker for the combination of chocolate and peanut butter so I came up with this easy energy ball recipe as a healthier option.  These are a cinch to make and store in the fridge to snack on. You can also individually wrap and freeze them until required.

     

    Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Snack
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Total time: 
    An easy and delicious chocolate and peanut butter energy ball
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup dates
    • 1 cup natural cashews
    • ½ cup shredded coconut
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean essence
    • 2 tablespoons peanut butter (100% peanuts, ideally, but regular peanut butter is OK, too)
    • 2 tablespoons cacao powder
    • ¼ teaspoon (pinch) salt flakes
    Instructions
    1. Blend all of the ingredients in a food processor until the mixture resembles rough sand.
    2. Use a dessert spoon to scoop out spoonfuls of the mixture straight into the palm of one hand.
    3. Shape the mixture firmly into walnut sized balls with your hands and then store them in an airtight container lined with baking paper in the fridge.
    4. Balls can be wrapped individually and stored in the fridge or freezer until required.
    Notes
    Vegan
    Gluten, dairy and refined sugar free
    You can add a scoop of protein powder to these balls if desired but I make them without so my kids can enjoy them, too. If you're adding protein powder you may want to add ½ teaspoon or so of water to the mixture.

     

  • GondwanaGameSouthAfricaChristinaSoong-19

    South Africa: making memories at Gondwana Game Reserve

    I’ve always wanted to visit South Africa so I was thrilled when South African Tourism approached me to be part of their #MeetSouthAfrica campaign last year.

    Over 10 days my group of bloggers (Dawn, Gaia, Aurelie and Adeline,) travelled by plane and bus around SA on an itinerary especially designed for newcomers: we ate traditional and not so traditional African cuisine, sampled locally made wines, visited stunning natural landmarks like Table Top Mountain, Boulders Beach, Cape Point, and Noordhoek, went on a sunset cruise, joined an Instawalk, stayed at a game reserve and got up close and personal with the local flora and fauna. 

    Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my South African experiences in Johannesburg, Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope and Durban here on The Hungry Australian. But to kick off this series, let me tell you about the time I visited a free roaming game reserve. It’s a long, photo-heavy post so settle in and get comfortable…

    Gondwana Game ReserveGondwanaGameSouthAfricaChristinaSoong-69

    Situated in the heart of what is known as the Garden Route near Cape Town, the free roaming Gondwana Game Reserve covers a sprawling 27,000 acres of land in the Southern Cape.

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    Visitors come to Gondwana from all over the world for the Game Drives,  hiking and bird watching.  During our three day visit we go out on game drives twice a day – once before sunrise, which is magical, and again mid afternoon. Each time we take a different route through the reserve so no drive is ever the same. Moreover, the game reserve is so spread out that we rarely see other cars but occasionally we run across another group – see above.

    Amongst its wildlife, Gondwana boasts the ‘The Big 5′ – that is, buffalo, leopard, lions, rhinos and elephants. While the ‘The Big 5′ originally referred to the big game hunters’ list of targets, nowadays ‘The Big 5′ is thankfully more commonly used in reference to the non-intrusive observation of the game.

    Because the huge game reserve is free roaming, with minimal internal fences, guests won’t necessarily be able to see all the animals it contains. But this is part of the charm of this type of game reserve – you never what quite what to expect.

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    Being from Australia, I’m no stranger to the beauty of nature and wide open spaces but this land is quite extraordinary, with countless mountains, hills, ravines, gullies and valleys to explore.

    Interspersed here and there by pockets of grass plain the plants and shrubs that cover much of the ground here are known as fynbos – “fine bush” in Afrikaans. Seen from a distance the fynbos resembles a lush, green carpet of wildflowers. Up close, some of the fynbos looks very familiar – these proteas are native to Australia, too.

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    #

    Each time we go out on safari we have the same guide, Melanie. As a young girl living in France, she dreamed about working with animals in South Africa so she is well and truly living her dream. Here she is telling us about the fascinating Acacia tree, which has developed extraordinary, 2-3 inch long spikes to protect itself against predators.

    GondwanaGameSouthAfricaChristinaSoong-56

    As we explored the enormous reserve, animals and birds regularly wandered in and out of our sight lines. As she drove, Melanie was constantly scanning the surrounds for wildlife and we stopped whenever and wherever she found something interesting.

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    From my seated position in the car, I took hundreds of photos over our three day visit. Here are some of my favourites:

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    Gondwana is home to 10 species of antelope including the Eland, Gemsbok, Bontebok, and Grey Reebok.

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    Antelope are such elegant creatures – watching them pick their way daintily across the plains reminded me of girls tip toeing their way across wet grass to avoid soiling their shoes.

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    One afternoon Melanie drove us down to a waterhole to see if we could spot any hippopotamuses.

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    We were in luck!

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    Aren’t they sweet?

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    Despite their cute and cuddly appearance, these hippos weigh around 1,500 kgs each and are highly aggressive.  So we were careful to keep a safe distance away from them – these photos were taken from quite a distance with a 70-200mm Nikon lens.

    GondwanaGameSouthAfricaChristinaSoong-12

    Zebras are plentiful in the reserve and we come across herds of them regularly.

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    #

    Zebras are such beautiful creatures – their stripes look like they have been painted by a meticulous artist.

    GondwanaGameSouthAfricaChristinaSoong-54

    No matter what animal we were observing, Melanie was always careful to keep the car at an appropriate distance so that the animals didn’t get stressed by our presence.

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    Watching these lovely creatures feed, cavort and kick was such a treat.

    One gloomy morning, we went in search of the giraffes. Melanie had heard reports that they’d been spotted in one part of the reserve so we heaedd deep into the reserve, driving up and down lush green valleys and along ravines until we came to a steep hill.

    Here, Melanie shifted the car down a gear or two and we powered up the scrub covered hill. As the sun peeked through the clouds we reached the top of the hill and in the distance we finally spotted the giraffes. Seeing these incredible creatures in this stunning setting is a magical moment I’ll never forget.

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    On the last day of our visit we headed out in the morning as usual for our dawn game drive. It was dark and cold so I wrapped the blankets around me more securely and thought fondly of the hot breakfast I’d enjoy after our drive.

    We’d driven for only 10 minutes or so when Melanie suddenly stopped the car.

    “Can you see that?” she asked, shining the portable spotlight onto the long grass on our right.

    I could see nothing except blackness. Until… there. I saw it.

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    #

    Picking its way carefully through the grass was a Serval Cat. It was slightly larger than a domestic cat with delicate features, long ears and a spotted pelt. Melanie was careful to shine the light at the grass near the cat’s feet – shining it directly into the cat’s eyes would momentarily blind it and leave it vulnerable. It looked at us without fear for a few seconds before disappearing back into the grass.

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    It was a lovely — if fleeting — moment.

    While the animals and birds in the reserve were used to cars, we were careful never to leave the vehicle unless it was a scheduled stop as the animals in the reserve move freely around and feed as they would in the wild.

    One morning we came across the sobering sight of a freshly killed antelope, proof that lions had recently passed this way.

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    This is life — and death — in a game reserve. Incidentally, we never did find the lions, or the elephants for that matter, but I didn’t mind. It’s a great excuse for a return trip.

    The Lodge and Bar

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    While we weren’t on safari, we were usually hanging out at Gondwana’s Lodge and Bar. It was raining and misty on the first morning when we drove to the Lodge and it materialised out of the mist like something enchanted.

    Inside, rustic luxury awaited.

    GondwanaGameSouthAfricaChristinaSoong-38

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    The Lodge was our central hang out zone: it was where we ate our meals, relaxed by the fire and worked on our laptops. Incidentally, the Lodge is the only place in Gondwana with wifi. For heavy internet users the absence of wifi in our lodgings was shocking at first but we quickly adjusted and many of us actually enjoyed the limited screen time.

    In terms of food, Gondwana offers what it calls Pan-African cuisine, mixing elements from African and European styles of cooking.

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    One of my favourite lunches was the beef babotie, curried cauliflower and green bean salad, yellow rice, corn, grapefruit and apple salad and chickpea, cucumber and mint salad seen above on the left.

    On our last morning, the sun came out and we were served breakfast outside on the deck. This is how I want to eat breakfast every day.

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    Hut Life

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    There were a series of adorable huts right next to The Lodge where some of our larger party stayed – see above — but the hut where Gaia, Jason and I stayed was about 20 minutes drive away.

    To get there we had to drive across country and pass through two secure gates. However, there were no fences around the hut itself – can you spot the animals hanging around?

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    Here’s a closer look.

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    GondwanaGameSouthAfricaChristinaSoong-46Each day we’d wake up to find antelope and wildebeest grazing around our hut. I felt like one of my childhood storybooks had come to life.

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    Inside, out hut was fitted out simply but luxuriously with an open fire, huge leather couches, plenty of books and magazines, a kitchen and three gorgeous double bedrooms with ensuites.

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    Before and after dinner, we’d sit around the fire and read magazines, drink Rooiboos tea, and eat rusk biscuits

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    All in all, it was a memorable visit. So would I visit a game reserve in South Africa again? Yes, in a heartbeat, and I’d take my family with me next time, too.

    Tips for doing a safari

    1. Dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. For the pre-dawn safaris I wore multiple layers under a light but extremely warm, full-length, waterproof down parka, gloves, a scarf, thick socks and walking boots.
    2. Wear 50+ SPF sunscreen, a suitable hat and sunglasses.
    3. If you’re a keen photographer, you’ll want to carry two camera bodies with two different lens: a wide angle lens to capture as much of the landscape as possible and a telephoto zoom lens to capture close ups of the animals and interesting flora. If you only have one camera body you can change lenses as I did but you risk getting grit in your camera body and you’ll definitely miss some shots, too. I used my Nikon d600 with the Nikon 70-200 and the Nikon 16-35mm lenses but I’d definitely bring a second DSLR body next time.

    More information

    • Learn more about Gondwana Game Reserve.
    • Accommodation: learn about accommodation options including full board and half board packages.
    • Families: children are welcome at Gondwana with children under six staying free when accompanied by two paying adults.
    • Getting there: I flew from Adelaide-Perth-Johannesburg with South African Airlines as our trip began in Johannesburg.  We were transferred from Cape Town to Gondwana by private car (a 4-hour drive).

    Disclosure: I travelled to and around South Africa as a guest of South African Tourism. As always, all opinions are my own.

  • South_Australian_Party_Platter_Christina_Soong-1

    Party platter inspired by Jacob’s Creek and Novak Djokovic

    A couple of weeks ago my boyfriend and I attended a special Jacob’s Creek dinner in Melbourne with Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one tennis player.

    While I played tennis all through high school I’ve rarely picked up a racquet since. So it’d be fair to say that I don’t have a lot in common with an elite sportsperson. But one thing that’s always intrigued me is what it takes to make it to the very top.

    Raw talent is one thing, but surely it’s the countless hours spent training — physically and mentally — the ability to manage the intense pressure at that level, and one’s personal choices that make all the difference. With so much at stake, one could be forgiven for being a little single-minded

     

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    At the dinner at Melbourne’s 45 Downstairs, Djokovic was friendly and relaxed as he bantered with host Andy Allen (2012 winner of MasterChef Australia) about sharing some significant moments of his life in the new Jacob’s Creek Made by Moments series of short films.

    While a film about unwittingly ordering raw steak on the first awkward date with his now wife was sweet and funny, my favourite film was about an old family tradition involving pie.

    After watching the film, I felt an unexpected connection with Djokovic, such is the power of food and its ability to stir nostalgia. Suddenly, Djokovic was no longer a tennis god but a fellow cake lover who had not forgotten where he came from. It was a peek at the boy behind the man and a surprisingly intimate moment.

    At the end of the dinner, we were gifted a selection of Jacob’s Creek wine, including the Reserve Barossa Signature Shiraz 2014, the Double Barrel Shiraz 2013, the Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2015, the Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and the Chardonnay Pinot Noir. 

    I’ve visited the Jacob’s Creek winery in South Australia’s Barossa Valley a few times before. So back home in Adelaide again, I decided to make a party platter using only South Australian food and produce to accompany an impromptu tasting of these wines.

     

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    We are blessed with some outstanding food producers in South Australia. It’s not something I recognised as a greedy kid growing up here, but since my return to Adelaide a few years ago I’ve been thrilled by the dynamic and exciting food and wine scene here.

    For example, when I shot the Flavours of South Australia coffee table book for Smudge Publishing last year, I was amazed by how many great restaurants, wineries and food producers we had here that I had never come across before.

    I’ve included suggestions of South Australian food producers to check out below. If you know of any others I should try, please do let me know in the comments below.

    Depending on where you live, products by these South Australian producers might not be available to you. If that’s the case, feel free to substitute suitable products by your own local producers to create your own unique platter.

    Either way, this is the no-fuss kind of party food that makes entertaining at home a breeze. Don’t you just want to pull up chair, pour out a glass of wine and help yourself? Enjoy!

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    South Australian Party Platter with Jacob’s Creek Wines

    INGREDIENTS

     
    Disclosure: we attended the Novak Djokovic | Made by Moments dinner as guests of Jacob’s Creek. As always, opinions are my own.

    #jacobscreektable

     

  • Chocolate_Birthday_Cake_Christina_Soong-1

    Chocolate Fantasy Cake and Cupcakes

    My baby recently turned six so to celebrate we had some family and friends over for a relaxed lunch.

    Deciding what kind of birthday cake to make J was easy as he is mad about chocolate. So I came up with a chocolate fantasy comprising chocolate and raspberry cake, chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, Tim Tams, Maltesers, Toblerone and salted popcorn.

    Yes, it was completely indulgent but I figure that it’s OK to ignore our usual healthy diet and let him have the chocolate cake of his dreams once a year.

    Chocolate_Birthday_Cake_Christina_Soong-5

    Now while I love the tall and proud look of multi-layered cakes, they’re often challenging to cut and you end up with very thin, tall pieces of cake if you’re trying to serve a lot of people from one cake. So rather than do a four layer cake, I decided to bake one two-layered, 20cm cake and 12 cupcakes using a muffin tin. This gave me 24 portions of cake that were simple to serve.

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    The look on my son’s face when he saw the cakes was priceless. Momentarily, my chatty 6YO was speechless.

    “Oh, wow. That’s amazing. I love it!” he finally exclaimed.

    What’s your fantasy birthday cake?

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    Chocolate Fantasy Cake and Cupcakes

    This cake is an adaption of my Chocolate and Raspberry Cupcakes combined with an adaption of Sweetopolita’s Swiss meringue buttercream and my own decoration.

    If you’ve never made Swiss meringue buttercream before do check out Sweetapolita’s helpful Swiss meringue buttercream post for tips and suggestions. Yes, it’s a little more time consuming than regular icing but it’s totally worth because Swiss meringue buttercream tastes so much better. Seriously. I would never suggest you make something that took this long unless it was insanely good.

    In terms of equipment you do need a meat thermometer or similar and ideally, a stand mixer with both whisk and paddle attachments. You can use a hand mixer with a regular whisk attachment but I’ve found best results using both attachments and a stand mixer.

     

    Chocolate Fantasy Cake and Cupcakes
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    A chocolate lover's fantasy cake + 12 cupcakes
    Ingredients
    Cake
    • 250 grams unsalted butter
    • 200 grams dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum), broken into pieces
    • 600 grams raspberry conserve or jam (I go for the brand with the most fruit and least amount of sugar)
    • 4 large eggs at room temperature, beaten
    • 40 grams sugar
    • Pinch salt
    • 300 grams self-raising flour
    Swiss Meringue Buttercream
    • Vinegar or lemon juice
    • Water
    • 5 large egg whites
    • 250 grams caster sugar
    • 340 grams unsalted butter, cut into cubes and at room temperature
    • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla bean extract
    • Pinch of salt
    • 100 grams dark chocolate, melted
    Decorations
    • ½ packet of Tim Tams, cut into triangles
    • 1 small bag Maltesers, some whole and some cut into half
    • 1-2 small bars Toblerone
    • 1 small bag salted popcorn
    • 4 tablespoons chocolate flakes
    Instructions
    Cake
    1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius
    2. Line a 12-serve muffin tray with muffin wrappers and a 20cm round cake tin with baking spray and baking paper
    3. 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.
    4. Add jam, sugar, salt and eggs and mix until combined.
    5. Add flour and then mix until fully combined.
    6. Divide mixture into two. Spoon half of the mixture evenly into 12 muffin containers and the remaining half into the cake tin.
    7. Bake muffins for 22-25 minutes until cooked (insert a skewer to check - it should come out dry) and then remove muffin tray and continue cooking cake for another 20-25 minutes until cooked (use skewer again to check).
    8. Leave in tin for ten minutes and then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
    Swiss Meringue Buttercream
    1. Use vinegar or lemon juice on kitchen paper to clean your mixing bowl to ensure that it is completely grease-free.
    2. Put a few cups of water into a small saucepan and heat up to a gentle simmer on the stove.
    3. Add egg whites and sugar to mixing bowl, and then place bowl over the saucepan so the bowl is sitting in the water.
    4. Insert meat thermometer into mixture and hold it with one hand. With the other, whisk the meringue mixture gently until the temperature reaches 60 degrees Celsius. If you don't have a candy thermometer, whisk until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
    5. Remove mixing bowl from pot and, with the whisk attachment of mixer, whip the mixture until the meringue is thick and glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels at room temperature to the touch (this will take around 10 minutes).
    6. Once the bottom of the bowl feels neutral and not warm, switch the mixer attachment from the whisk attachment to the paddle attachment, turn onto the lowest setting and begin adding butter butter cubes, one at a time, until fully combine.
    7. Continue to mix on the lowest setting until it has reached a silky smooth texture.
    8. Add vanilla, salt and melted chocolate, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
    9. Divide the buttercream into two unequal portions -- one third for the cupcakes and two thirds for the cake -- in preparation for icing.
    Decorating cake
    1. Once cake is cold, cut it into half so you have two even cakes.
    2. Put one cake on a plate or revolving cake stand and ice the middle using an offset spatula, or, if you prefer, an icing bag.
    3. Sandwich the remaining cake on top and ice the top and sides. Use a scraper and the offset spatula to get the top and sides as even as possible.
    4. Decorate with Tim Tams, Toblerone, Maltesers, popcorn and chocolate flakes as desired.
    Decorating cupcakes
    1. Use a spoon and offset spatula or icing bag to ice the cupcakes.
    2. Decorate with Tim Tams, Toblerone, Maltesers, popcorn and chocolate flakes as desired.

  • Elderflower_Iceblocks_Christina_Soong-1

    Elderflower Ice Blocks

    Elderflower_Iceblocks_Christina_Soong-9Elderflower_Iceblocks_Christina_Soong-3

    I’m a Summer gal so I love this time of year – the baking heat, the endless blue skies and the regular swims automatically put me in a good mood. But even I can get testy after a run of 40+ Celsius days with no relief.

    Enter these Elderflower Ice Blocks with fresh fruit to save the day. Pretty, healthy and refreshing, they’re the ultimate antidote to feeling hot and bothered.

    Made with three main ingredients — coconut water, elderflower cordial and fruit — these are ridiculously simple to make.

    You simply semi-fill ice block moulds with whatever fruit you like — I love using grapes, berries and pomegranate seeds — and then top them up with coconut water and a dash of elderflower cordial. Freeze for a few hours or overnight and you have a lovely refreshing snack.

    Enjoy!

    Elderflower_Iceblocks_Christina_Soong-5Elderflower_Iceblocks_Christina_Soong-4Elderflower_Iceblocks_Christina_Soong-6

     

    Elderflower Ice Blocks
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Snack, Dessert
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Total time: 
    An easy and healthy ice block
    Ingredients
    • 2 kiwifruit, peeled and sliced
    • 1 large bunch grapes, washed (black seedless, ideally)
    • ⅔ punnet strawberries, hulled and halved
    • ⅔ punnet blueberries, washed
    • Seeds from ½ pomegranate
    • Approximately 600 mls coconut water (may vary slightly depending on volume of fruit used)
    • 1 tablespoon elderflower cordial
    Instructions
    1. Distribute fruit evenly amongst ice block moulds, pushing them down to the bottom with your fingers.
    2. Mix coconut water and cordial together in a jug and then pour into moulds until filled.
    3. Place wooden sticks into moulds and cover.
    4. Freeze for a few hours or overnight until set.
    Notes
    Vegan.
    Gluten, nut and dairy free.
    If you can't get your hands on elderflower cordial you could substitute pure apple or pomegranate juice instead.

     

  • Strawberry_Picking_Strawberry_Mousse.ChristinaSoong-8

    Strawberry Picking and Strawberry & Rosewater Mousse

    I’m a little obsessed with Summer fruit at the moment but can you blame me? This time of year is when my kitchen is overflowing with beautiful berries, stone fruit, cherries, grapes, mangos, kiwi fruit, passionfruit and watermelon.

    The other day we drove down the Fleurieu Coast to do some strawberry picking. It’s the perfect weekend activity for the family – we all enjoy the scenic drive, walking slowly up and down the lengthy strawberry fields and stuffing our faces with sun-warmed strawberries while we pick.

    Strawberry_Picking_Strawberry_Mousse.ChristinaSoong-1Strawberry_Picking_Strawberry_Mousse.ChristinaSoong-4Strawberry_Picking_Strawberry_Mousse.ChristinaSoong-3

    Back in Adelaide, we took some strawberries around to my parents’ house for the visiting grandkids to enjoy. Then I came home and experimented with this vegan strawberry mousse.

    Strawberry_Picking_Strawberry_Mousse.ChristinaSoong-6

    Why a vegan version? Well, while I enjoy traditional mousses made with cream, dairy doesn’t really agree with me. Plus, I’ve been making a conscious effort to cook and eat more healthily this year.

    While strawberries and vanilla always go well together, I love the addition of rosewater in this recipe – berries and rosewater go wonderfully well together.

    Enjoy!

    Strawberry_Picking_Strawberry_Mousse.ChristinaSoong-7

    Strawberry & Rosewater Mousse
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Dessert, Breakfast, Snack
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Total time: 
    A vegan Strawberry and Rosewater Mousse for easy Summer snacking
    Ingredients
    • 450 grams strawberries, plus a few extra to garnish
    • 600 grams medium firm tofu, drained
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla essence
    • 12 gram stevia (the Stevia I used for this recipe is equal to 6 teaspoons sugar - you can substitute sugar, honey or other sweetener)
    • 1.5 teaspoons vanilla bean essence
    • ½ - ¾ teaspoon rosewater
    • 2 tablespoon coconut oil
    Instructions
    1. Wash and hull strawberries.
    2. Use a food processor to blend tofu, vanilla, strawberries, rosewater, stevia (or equivalent) and coconut oil until fully combined.
    3. Taste and adjust rosewater and sweetener if necessary.
    4. Spoon into serving bowls. If you want a firmer texture, refrigerate for at least two hours at this point.
    5. Serve with sliced strawberries.
    Notes
    Vegan.
    Dairy, gluten, nut and refined sugar free.
    Will keep covered in the fridge for up to three days.

     

     

  • RaspberrySmoothieBowl.ChristinaSoong-3

    Reaching for the stars and raspberry smoothie bowls (VIDEO!)

    We’re a mere seven days into 2016 and I’m wondering how many of us are actually sticking to our New Year’s Resolutions? And how many of us are already mentally consigning them to the trash?

    Well, either way, it’s not too late. It’s never too late.

    There’s something irresistible about the hopeful shininess of a new year. It’s a do-over, a chance to make good on all those goals that died a quiet and ignominious death the previous year.

    RaspberrySmoothieBowl.ChristinaSoong-3

    I’ve always been one to have a list of goals – immediate, short-term and long-term — so the beginning of a new year is an ideal time to revisit them.

    In my twenties I used to write a one-page list of goals and stick it on my bedroom wall. In recent years I’ve used a combination of goal setting and mood boards to help me stay on track.

    Are you familiar with mood boards? I don’t know what other people do but I cut out pictures from magazines of things I want in my life and pin them to a physical pinup board in my study. I’m a sucker for a virtual pinup board aka Pinterest but when it comes to mood boards I want a physical, daily reminder that I can see from my desk no matter what’s happening on my computer monitor.

    I pin all sorts of inspiring pictures to my mood board – famous and not so famous women and men I admire, things I want to do, places I want to visit, settings I want to recreate, food I want to eat, books I love, interiors I lust after and groups of people that represent family and friends.

    Each picture on my mood board symbolises something that I want in my life. It’s like the ultimate shopping list except these are things that have to be earned, rather than bought. Nothing on my mood board can happen without some effort on my part, which is why I then spend some time considering and setting my goals.

    RaspberrySmoothieBowl.ChristinaSoong-4

    This year my list of goals spans a record six A4 pages and is divided into four tables covering career, health, family, finance and includes KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), expected timings and colour coding.

    I’ve printed my goals out and stuck them with my mood board on the wall next to desk, as a constant reminder that I need to do the work if I want the rewards.

    This might seem somewhat excessive (and yes, a trifle anal) but the mood board and list of goals help keep me focused and accountable. They work because if one works consistently towards one’s goals then they start to become one’s reality rather than a mere dream.

    RaspberrySmoothieBowl.ChristinaSoong-5

    That’s not to say that the journey is swift and trouble-free.  I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and plenty of detours, too – some detours I made deliberately and some were thrust upon me as circumstances changed. I’ve also adjusted my goals numerous times as new information came to light. And yes, there were plenty of nights I chose ‘Netflix and chill’ instead of working or writing, too. Weirdly, my boyfriend does not feel guilty about this at all.

    All of this is merely part of the journey. What’s ultimately important is your long-term resolve, determination and actions. Good things don’t happen by accident: you get out of life what you put into it.

    RaspberrySmoothieBowl.ChristinaSoong-2

    A case in point: one of my goals this year was to start creating my own recipe videos. That is, I wanted to try to conceptualise, style, cook, light, shoot, and edit my own recipe videos without any outside help. So I’ve spent the last two days working in my studio and I’m now thrilled to share my very first recipe video – Raspberry Smoothie Bowl. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

    So what are your plans for 2016?

    PS The song in the video – ‘Pins and Needles’ – is by my brother’s sadly now defunct band, Alpha Beta Fox.

    Raspberry Smoothie Bowls

    During Summer the kids and I don’t always feel like eating that much in the morning. And yet a healthy breakfast is always important so I came up with these Raspberry Smoothie Bowls. For extra ‘cool mum’ points, I make the smoothie base and then let the kids decorate their bowls themselves. Enjoy! x

     

    Raspberry Smoothie Bowls (VIDEO!)
     
    Author: 
    Prep time: 
    Total time: 
    Ingredients
    Smoothie
    • 1-2 frozen bananas, cut into chunks
    • ¼ avocado, peeled and stone removed
    • 3-4 dates, chopped roughly
    • ½ cup coconut milk
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla bean extract
    • ½ punnet fresh raspberries or ½ cup frozen raspberries
    Toppings
    • Desiccated or shredded coconut
    • Banana slices
    • Berries - strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
    • Fruit - kiwi fruit, grapes, pomegranate,
    • Melon - balls or chunks of watermelon, rockmelon or honey dew melon
    • Dried Fruit - sultanas, raisins, figs, cranberries, goji berries, apple, apricot,
    • Seeds - toasted pumpkin seeds, pepitas,
    • Nuts - roasted almonds, cashews, hazlenuts, peanuts
    • Muesli - toasted muesli or granola
    • Chia seeds
    Instructions
    Smoothie
    1. Blend all of ingredients until smooth and then spoon into a bowl.
    Topping
    1. Top with any combination of the suggested ingredients.
    Notes
    Vegan
    Gluten free
    Dairy free
    Refined sugar free
    Can be made nut free

     

    KitchenAid Hand Blender gifted by KitchenAid. 

  • FestiveMiniBaileysTriflesChristinaSoong-3

    Mini Festive Trifles (Baileys remix)

    Christmas day lunch in my family is not a small affair: each year around 24 people sit down at one long table at my parents’ house to celebrate Christmas together.

    The Christmas day table is made up of three separate tables pushed together and covered with festive linen, fresh flowers, seasonal decorations and my parent’s best silverware and dinner ware. My dad and I set the table at least two days before Christmas — my mum likes being super organised — and it runs down almost the full length of their living room.

    At least half the guests at Christmas lunch are family friends — we don’t have that many relatives in Adelaide — and each year there are always a couple of extras, too.  Quite a number of the guests are children and babies and their unbridled excitement is always infectious.

    FestiveMiniBaileysTriflesChristinaSoong-1

    Everyone brings a dish to share so lunch is always a beloved mish-mash of cultures – last year my mum’s soya sauce duck with Chinese mushrooms fought for space on the overloaded table with my Auntie R’s traditional roast turkey, my sister in law’s clove-studded ham, our friend’s Malaysian lamb curry, king prawns, oysters, my ex’s German coleslaw and potato salad, noodles, smoked fish and quinoa salad brought by friends and my dad’s famous lobster noodles.

    After such a sumptuous feast fitting in dessert seems impossible and yet we always seem to manage trying “just a bite” of the six different desserts we typically enjoy. Because if there is one day you can indulge yourself, surely that’s Christmas, right?

    FestiveMiniBaileysTriflesChristinaSoong-5

    This year, I’ve been toying with the idea of making a trifle. I’ve blogged previously about my love for mini trifles and their superior aesthetic appeal as opposed to spoonfuls of large trifles that ooze unappetisingly on the plate.

    So when Baileys asked me to create a recipe using their new, limited edition Baileys flavoured custard and cream products*, I decided it was time to give a festive version of mini trifles a go.

    This was the result.

    FestiveMiniBaileysTriflesChristinaSoong-2

    What I really like about this recipe is that there’s barely any cooking or preparation. To make this dessert I simple stew the berries in advance and let them cool. Then I either make the pots up in advance and refrigerate them until needed or I prepare them on the spot just before serving.

    Either way, you simply add a few spoonfuls of the cooked berry mixture into a suitable glass, followed by layers of the Baileys custard and shortbread crumbs. Add a generous dollop of Baileys cream on top and then decorate with fresh berries.

    Too easy, right? You can totally make this. Have fun!

    * Baileys Original Custard (500mls) and Bailey’s Original Cream (200mls) is available exclusively only until 25th December from national supermarkets. 

    Disclosure: this post was sponsored by #Baileys. 

    FestiveMiniBaileysTriflesChristinaSoong-4

     

    Mini Festive Trifles (Baileys remix)
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Dessert
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    Gorgeous Baileys mini trifles
    Ingredients
    • 3 punnets strawberries
    • 2 punnets blueberries, washed
    • 1 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 3 tablespoons water
    • 1 x 175 gram packet real butter shortbread (regular or gluten free)
    • 1 x 500ml tub Baileys Original Custard
    • 1 x 200ml tub Baileys Original Cream
    • ⅓ punnet raspberries, washed
    • ⅓ punnet red currants, washed
    Instructions
    1. Wash and hull strawberries and then quarter.
    2. Place strawberries and 1 of the punnets of blueberries in a small saucepan along with the vanilla, honey and water.
    3. Bring to the boil and cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Stir once gently to combine but do not over-stir as fruit will collapse. Leave to cool.
    4. Crumble shortbread between your fingers into a small bowl.
    5. To assemble, add a few spoonfuls of fruit into a glass and then top with custard, shortbread crumbs and cream.
    6. Decorate with reserved blueberries, raspberries and red currants.
    Notes
    For best results prepare just before serving however these can be prepared a few hours in advance, covered with cling wrap and stored in the fridge until required.

    Best eaten on the day they are assembled but they will last up to 3 days, covered, in the fridge.

     

  • Selection of dishes at Orana 2 by Christina Soong

    My favourite foodie experiences in South Australia: Adelaide and Adelaide Hills

    Sometimes jobs come along that are simply dream commissions.

    Late last year I was approached by the South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) to be part of their Through Local Eye’s project.

    The previous Through Local Eyes projects had seen local filmmakers document some of their favourite experiences in South Australia – see Kids, Crabs and the Best Day Ever by Randy Larcombe and You Gotta Try… Barossa by Urtext Films, which I appear in.

    Now SATC wanted to commission photo journalism (words and photos) pieces for the new SouthAustralia.com.

    Selection of dishes and cocktails at Africola 2 by Christina Soong

    So I pitched them an idea: I would research, write about and photograph some of my favourite foodie experiences in four SA regions: Adelaide, the Adelaide Hills, the Barossa and McLaren Vale. My stories would cover the places that I would take a very sophisticated and well-travelled food-loving friend visiting Adelaide.

    Strawberries at the Beerenberg Strawberry Farm 2 by Christina Soong

    SATC liked my pitch and I spent a few wonderful weeks earlier this year travelling around South Australia. I visited old favourites as well as new places I’d been meaning to check out. Some experiences made the final cut, while some didn’t: I only included ones that I thought were truly special.

    1.3kg pork knuckle at the Hahndorf Inn by  Christina Soong

    The first two of my pieces are now up on the SouthAustralia.com website: so head over to SouthAustralia.com and discover my favourite foodie experiences in Adelaide and the Adelaide Hills.

    My foodie’s guide to the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale are coming soon – stay tuned.

  • Restaurant_Adelaide_BreadandBone_R2

    I shot a book! Introducing Flavours of South Australia…

    Earlier this year I was one of two photographers commissioned to work on a new book for Smudge Publishing covering 120+ South Australian restaurants, wineries, bars and cafes.

    Smudge Publishing has published a number of award-winning food and travel books, including Flavours of Melbourne, Flavours of Sydney, Flavours of Queensland, Produce to Platter: Daylesford and Produce to Platter: Yarra Valley.

    To shoot Flavours of South Australia, Smudge’s first book on South Australia, the lovely Amanda Davenport (one of Smudge’s resident photographers) and I visited venues in South Australia’s key food and wine regions like Adelaide, Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and the Fleurieu Peninsula. In the process I discovered some unknown gems, met some passionate foodies and wine makers, sampled some delicious food and wine and fell in love with my state all over again.

    I’m thrilled to let you know that the book is now available for pre-order from Smudge. The book will be available from 20th November – just in time for Christmas!

    FlavoursofSouthAustralia_SmudgePublishing

    Inside you’ll find spreads on 120+ South Australian restaurants and wineries that capture the spirit and style of my beloved state. The restaurant features also include a recipe for one of the restaurant’s signature dishes so you can try cooking your favourite dishes at home, too.

    Here are a few of the restaurants and wineries I photographed.

     

     Bread and Bone

    FOSA 2015 Adelaide City_FA Bread & Bone1

    FOSA 2015 Adelaide City_FA Bread & Bone2

     

    Thorn-Clarke Wines

    FOSA 2015 Barossa_Thorn-Clarke Wines1

     

    Gondola, Gondola

    FOSA 2015 Adelaide City_FA Gondola Gondola1

    FOSA 2015 Adelaide City_FA Gondola Gondola2

     

    Lake Breeze Wines

    FOSA 2015 Fleurieu Peninsula-Lake Breeze Wines1

     

    Zucca’s Greek Meze

    FOSA 2015 Urban Adelaide_FA Zucca1

    FOSA 2015 Urban Adelaide_FA Zucca2

     

    Samuel’s Gorge

    FOSA 2015 Fleurieu Peninsula_FA Samuel's Gorge

     

    Martini Ristorante

    FOSA 2015 Urban Adelaide_ Martini1

    FOSA 2015 Urban Adelaide_ Martini2

     

    You can pre-order your copy of Flavours of South Australia now. Alternatively, the book will be available from any of the 120+ venues in the book or from most bookstores around Australia from November 20.

    It was a privilege to shoot this book. I hope you like it! xx

  • CosmopolitanIcesChristinaSoong-3

    Cosmopolitan Ices

    Sex and the City was addictive, must-watch TV back in the late 90s and early 2000s: millions tuned in every week to find out what Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda were wearing and who they were sleeping with.

    Single, city-dwelling women were fascinated with every glossy aspect of the quartet’s lives and strove to emulate them: after Carrie and Miranda were filmed catching up over cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery the company’s fortunes rose exponentially. As did the worldwide trend for cupcakes.

    As synonymous with the series as cupcakes, $500 pairs of Manolo Blahnik heels and Fendi baguettes was the Cosmopolitan, a crimson hued cocktail comprising vodka, lemon vodka, triple sec and cranberry juice. Women saw Carrie drinking it on the show time and time again so they drank it, too: suddenly, Cosmos were the drink du jour.

    CosmopolitanIcesChristinaSoong-4

    Nowadays, the Cosmopolitan has been usurped by crowd-pleasers like the admittedly delicious mint, rum and lime based Mojito. But this shouldn’t stop you from enjoying them so here’s a recipe for Cosmopolitan ices by Josh McGee that you can make at home next time you have some friends over.

    The mixture won’t freeze completely solid — the alcohol content is too high — so it’s ideal for serving straight from the container: simply use a fork to scrape the ice into pieces and then spoon it into a tumbler.

    That’s Friday night drinks and nostalgic TV viewing sorted. Face masks and nail painting optional.

    CosmopolitanIcesChristinaSoong-1

    Cosmopolitan ices
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Cocktail
    Prep time: 
    Total time: 
    Frozen deliciousness in a glass
    Ingredients
    • 1 shot vodka
    • 1 shot triple sec
    • ½ shot lemon vodka
    • ½ shot cane or sugar syrup
    • 6 shots of cranberry juice
    • 2 shots water
    • Juice from ½ lime (optional)
    Instructions
    1. Measure out all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and give it a good shake.
    2. Pour mixture into a freezer proof container and freeze for at least 5 hours or overnight before serving.
    Notes
    Quantities can easily be multiple according to the number of guests.

  • ChiaBowlswithMeadBerriesChristinaSoong-3

    Chia Bowls with Spiced Mead Berries

    This recipe came about when I offered to make a dish for a weekend brunch at my BFF’s a couple of months ago. With four kids in the house that morning — my young niece and nephew had slept over the night before — the last thing I felt like doing was cooking something complicated.

    ChiaBowlswithMeadBerriesChristinaSoong-6

    So as soon as I got up that morning I mixed a cup of white chia seeds with some milk, vanilla bean extract, vino cotto and honey. I then simmered berries with spiced mead and orange juice for a few minutes before leaving the mixture to cool.

    ChiaBowlswithMeadBerriesChristinaSoong-1

    Next, I ran around the house getting four kids fed, dressed, packed and into the car. After the usual arguments about what everyone was wearing — my 5YO is as maddeningly stubborn as his sister — we left the house and were on our way.

    ChiaBowlswithMeadBerriesChristinaSoong-4

    Once we arrived at my friend’s home I borrowed plastic bowls and spooned the chia mixture and stewed fruit into them. As we caught up on each other’s news and the kids rampaged around the place I chopped up some fresh fruit and added it to the chia bowls.

    ChiaBowlswithMeadBerriesChristinaSoong-5

    And that was it. Too easy, right? You can totally do this. With or without rampaging kids in the background.

    ChiaBowlswithMeadBerriesChristinaSoong-2

    Chia Bowls with Spiced Mead Berries
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Breakfast or Dessert
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    A super easy dish suitable for breakfast or dessert
    Ingredients
    • INGREDIENTS
    • 1 cup white chia seeds
    • 1.5 cup milk (I used a mixture of cow's milk and soy milk)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract
    • 1 tablespoon vino cotto
    • 2 tablespoons honey (or to taste)
    • 1 packet mixed frozen berries
    • 3 tablespoon spiced mead
    • 1.5 tablespoons orange juice
    • Fresh fruit - a few figs or a punnet of strawberries, raspberries or blueberries
    • A few roasted and salted pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped (optional)
    Instructions
    1. In a medium bowl, mix chia seeds with milk, vanilla, vino cotto and honey until thoroughly combined.
    2. Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.
    3. In a small saucepan mix berries with mead and orange juice. Cook over a medium heat for 8 minutes and then leave to cool.
    4. To assemble, wash, hull and dice the strawberries and wash the blueberries.
    5. Spoon a few tablespoons of chia into a bowl and then top with a few tablespoons of stewed fruit and fresh fruit.
    6. Garnish with pistachios if desired.
    Notes
    If you leave the chia mixture for a while (or overnight) and the mixture becomes too thick simply whisk in some extra milk before adding the fruit.

     

  • IrresistableGrainSaladChristinaSoong-4

    Irresistible grain salad for salad haters

    I’m dating a man who is racist against salad and most fruit. His deep and abiding hatred is incomprehensible to me because I happily eat both every day.

    “It’s the texture and feel of them,” he says when I press him for reasons.

    He likes cooked vegetables, especially sautéed spinach accompanied by a huge steak, but he sees salad as little more than an instrument of torture.

    As a committed salad lover, his salad bigotry makes me sad. Plus, it means meals we eat together can get a little boring so I was determined to change his mind.

    Ladies: when you start dating a man you should always try to change his long-term habits to suit your lifestyle. He’ll thank you later.

    IrresistableGrainSaladChristinaSoong-5

    I made four salads for my recent birthday party and a version of this grain salad was by far and away the most popular. People kept asking me for the recipe, which was loosely based on this Almond, Quinoa and Pomegranate salad. This was in turn inspired by a salad made by a friend who’d eaten something similar at Melbourne restaurant, The Hellenic Republic. So I decided to try a version of this to seduce him to the fresh side.

    Like the original, this Irresistible Grain Salad is based on quinoa, which I find almost universally popular and allergy-friendly, and also uses a mixture of dried fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, fresh herbs and citrus.

    IrresistableGrainSaladChristinaSoong-2

    The great thing about grain salads is that you can play with the flavours to suit your taste and to use up whatever you have lurking in your pantry, fridge or garden.

    So in terms of possible substitutions, you could try:

    • Dried fruit: sultanas, raisins, currants, cranberries, apricots (diced) or apple (diced)
    • Nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamias or pinenuts. I prefer roasted or lightly toasted nuts for this salad.
    • Fresh herbs: flat or curly parsley, coriander or sweet basil.
    • Seeds: pepitas (sunflower), flaxseed, chia, or pomegranate. I love using roasted sunflower seeds for this salad.
    • Fresh fruit: pomegranate seeds, currants, cranberries, small grapes or blueberries
    • Fresh citrus: lemon or lime
    • Pulses: lentils, chickpeas or red kidney beans.

    Just keep to the approximate quantities in terms of wet, dry and fresh ingredients and everything should work out fine.

    IrresistableGrainSaladChristinaSoong-3

    Now once you’ve mixed your salad together, don’t forget to taste it. This will make all the difference.

    Like a little more acidity? Add some more lemon juice. Want a touch more sourness? Add a few more capers. Maybe it could be a little sweeter? Try adding a tad more dried fruit or a dribble of honey.

    So what did he think?

    “It’s not bad,” he admitted. “I don’t mind it.”

    He ate the salad on his dinner plate and then reached for the serving bowl.

    “I’m going to have seconds,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

    Win!

    IrresistableGrainSaladChristinaSoong-1

    Irresistible grain salad for salad haters
     
    Author: 
    Recipe type: Main Meal, Side Dish
    Cuisine: Australian
    Prep time: 
    Cook time: 
    Total time: 
    A highly versatile and universally pleasing salad
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup quinoa
    • 2 cups water
    • 1 small red onion, or two salad onions, finely chopped
    • 1 can of lentils, drained
    • ⅓ cup currants
    • ⅓ cup dried cranberries
    • ¾ cup mixed sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (pepitas) and pine nuts
    • ¾ cup roughly chopped roasted macadamia nuts
    • 3 tablespoons baby capers
    • Seeds from 1 pomegranate
    • ½ cup roughly chopped coriander leaves
    • ½ cup parsley leaves
    • 2 tablespoons best quality extra virgin olive oil
    • Juice from 1 lemon (2-3 tablespoon juice)
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    Instructions
    1. Rinse quinoa using a sieve under the tap.
    2. Bring 2 cups water and quinoa to the boil and then simmer for 10-15 minutes until water is fully absorbed. Turn off heat and leave to cool.
    3. Mix all other ingredients in a large bowl and then add salt and pepper to taste.
    4. You can serve this with some Greek yoghurt mixed with a little cumin and honey if you wish but it's great by itself, too.