24 December 2011

Gingerbread house

Now - the final of my one-post-per-day-till-Christmas session. I've been working on this on and off for the last few days. It's the first time I've done it, and the kids helped. We did a pretty good job as far as I'm concerned, and I dare you to defy the family Walton. 

I was particularly disappointed to see a gingerbread sleigh kit down at the local supermarket for $12.99 today, just as we were finishing.

Gingerbread Ingredients
  • 250g butter (softened)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1 cup golden syrup
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

23 December 2011

An Australian Christmas - Barbecued Lobster with garlic butter

In Australia, it's Summer around Christmastime. It kind of throws a spanner in the works of a lush winter meal like roast followed by pudding with steaming custard, mulled wine and egg-nog. There are still some that hang to tradition, but if you ask them, most people under 50 would say they prefer a seafood Christmas. We go all Paul-Hogan and colloquial, and "throw a shrimp on the barbie". But the funny thing is, we don't call them "shrimp" here, they're prawns (all except the tiny little ones, which are the things we call shrimp). And for Christmas, many of us go all-out, and upgrade to lobster.

Lobster is not scary. Just don't overcook it, or it goes tough. As soon as the flesh has lost any translucency, it's good to go, and remember it will continue to cook a little in that shell until it's cracked open like a Christmas present. Make sure the whole shell is red - sometimes when you grill things you miss a tricky corner. 

22 December 2011

White Christmas Fudge

This is the most basic of fudge, and has the added benefit of being egg-free. Like all my recipes it is very versatile - feel free to replace the flavours with your own.

  • 225g chocolate
  • 100g sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1/3 cup pistachios and dried cranberries (craisins)
  1. melt chocolate, stir in other ingredients, pour into tray and refrigerate. 
  2. remove after 2 hours and cut into bite-sized pieces
I've also tried the recipe successfully with dark chocolate chips and Baileys, with Kahlua and chocolate coated coffee beans, and with milk chocolate (instead of white) and gingerbread chunks. Keeps for at least 2-3 weeks in the fridge, and also fairly successfully on the shelf provided it's not too hot.

21 December 2011

Turkey Pie

I'm planning my leftovers already. But I really don't like the sound of Bridget Jones' "curry turkey buffet". Anyway, this recipe uses everything, including gravy, cold peas and stuffing. 


20 December 2011

Roast Pork with Italian Inspiration

I first tasted "porchetta" at a deli I worked in when I was 15. It was sold cold, and allthough I loved my mum's pork, it just surpassed everything she did (except of course for the crackling, because that's only a hot food thing). That was just the processed stuff. It came in a roll, vacuum packed, and we sliced it and sold it at $15.99 a kg.

Then this summer, I tasted the real thing in Cortona, Tuscany. It was sold off the bone - off the carcass to be truthful, and the scent of fennel, pepper and pork fat permiated the air like a pipe tone of the pied piper, leading me to its source in the belly of the Friday market (more about Cortona on this post here). This porchetta blew the other off the map.

This is my first attempt, and it's a cracker. Like everything I cook, it's easy, and relies on the quality of the ingredients. I chose a lovely neck of Free Range Otway Pork. Loins are fairly lean and look pretty, and sure, legs have a wonderful flavour, but the neck I find the most tender of all, and without a bone, it cooks quickly and evenly. Not only that, it's super cheap. The best thing was that the rind had been trimmed, removed and then tied back on, making perfect crackling a sinch.

19 December 2011

Soft Chocolate Truffles

Yesterday I put up the recipe for my white chocolate truffles, and you may have realised that it is fairly flexible. This is a deviation, with whole hazelnuts, and without half a cup of dry ingredients stirred through, which makes the chocolate more like a fudge in texture.

  1. 250g milk chocolate
  2. 60ml cream
  3. dash liqueur/flavouring (I used Amaretto)
  4. 1/4 cup whole hazelnuts
  5. 1/2 cup chocolate strands for dusting

18 December 2011

White Chocolate Truffles

Truffles are the easiest sweets to make - the only cooking is melting chocolate, and they keep for a few weeks in the fridge. They're perfect for gifts, and you get to lick the bowl after rolling them out! This recipe is easily adaptable - I make different variants every year. This year I went tropical, with a mix of coconut, candied ginger and candied pineapple. Another family favourite is with flecks of finely grated lemon rind, coconut and a dash of Malibu liqueur.

  • 250g White chocolate
  • 60ml cream
  • dash liqueur/flavouring (I used Limoncello)
  • 1 cup finely textured ingredient (In my case, 1/4 cup mixed chopped candied ginger and pineapple, and 3/4 cup dessicated coconut)

15 December 2011

Mulled Cranberries

 I've never really understood the whole cranberry jelly thing. It tastes nothing like cranberries, and when it slides out of the tin, it has these rings on it that remind me of a block of dog food straight from the can. 

It's so easy to make your own cranberry sauce, and I make it each year to give as gifts. This is my most popular variety - inspired by one of my favourite winter drinks, mulled wine. It has such a lovely balance of sweet, spicy, bitter and sour - it's simply amazing with salty turkey with gravy or a well seasoned ham. 
The alcohol is burned off during cooking, but I make another version replacing the wine with half water/ half orange juice that also works beautifully.   

  • 340g cranberries (standard 12 oz packet size)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup red wine
  • rind of 1/2 an orange (as little pith as possible)
  • 1 large cinnamon quill
  • 5 cloves

14 December 2011

Rocky Road

I make Christmas presents every year.

I've found that, personally, if I really want something, I just go and buy it. If I can't afford it, I learn to live without it, or I buy an inferior substitute. Nobody can choose a present better for me than I can for myself. Except, when it is a present that is the gift of their time, thought and effort. I really hope all my friends and family feel the same way, because I spend time, not money on my gifts to them.

Sarah Walton Hedonista Rocky Road is very very rare - you have to be one of my nearest and dearest, or have to have performed some amazing task (ie teaching my kids for a year) to get it. The recipe changes annually, depending on the best stuff I can find to put in it, but there is always a basic formula - chocolate with nuts, coconut, jellies (not jam) and marshmallows.

07 December 2011

Salted caramel banana bread

I have a friend who likes to salt slices of green apple. Some might find this unusual, but I completely understand it. Until you have tried salted caramel in Provincial France (yes, you have to be there, not just have it shipped out), you might never understand how salt can affect the taste of sweet things in a very good way.

As my wine study showed me (Yes, I spent 4 years drinking at university), sometimes contrasting flavours is the best way to bring out the best. Think foie gras (salty, creamy goose liver pate) and Sauternes (sweet and marmaladey dessert wine), or maybe a ripe Australian Shiraz with a wedge of gorgonzola. Each element tastes good on its own, but put them together, and 1+1 suddenly makes 3.

06 December 2011

Lamingtons - the great Australian cheat

I've only been baking for a year or two. I used to think that making cakes is hard. I presume a conspiracy of the Australian CWA (Country Women's Association) and other organisations similar. They got into our heads that cakes had to be perfect, and perfect meant the way they had always been made. 

With the rise of modern baking however, we see things like whoopie pies. I'm sure it was initially an accident by someone like me. Tried to make biscuits, but mucked up the measures and they ended up too soft, and whoopie! You get something even better. I can feel the old dears turning in their graves every time someone tastes one and says - "Wow - this is SO much better than shortbread!"

30 November 2011

Balaleet - An Emirati Breakfast

Noodles for breakfast? With fragrant spices and omelet morsels? Doesn't sound like the kind of thing you could just whip up every morning for breakfast? Well the Emiratis do - citizens of the United Arab Emirates. Maybe not every morning, but more than just sometimes they might prepare this traditional vermicelli noodle dish.

It sounds harder than it is - it's one of those no-measure things, and tastes good both hot and cold. I tasted it for the first time at the Cultural Breakfast in Dubai, and learned how to make it myself last week at La Mere Culinere's cooking session. This is my own slap-dash version.


20 November 2011

Kids Chicken Urumaki

So pretty. I love japanese food, but my kids don't. I used to look longingly at children in malls munching on sushi cones while mine dragged me towards the chicken nuggets. All that lovely flavour, nutrients like iodine omega 3 and zinc that their diets are so deficient in. Eventually I just stopped looking and longing and accepted my fate - I am a mother of fast food junkies.

Not any more.

This is the first step in getting my kids to eat sushi. They love it. Not only that, they love making it - ahh, my dreams of being mother to a great chef are not shattered after all. Thanks for the inspiration Movenpick (post here about kids menus)

  • 200g boneless chicken thighs, trimmed of fat then pan-fried and sliced into 1cm ribbons
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 100g lean lardons (bacon cubes), panfried
  • 1 cucumber, sliced lengthwise
  • 3 cups cooked sumeshi rice (preparation guide here)
  • nori sheets
  • mango pulp (puree or push through a seive) and blanched edamame beans for garnish

08 November 2011


Before visiting Vienna (read my food path through old Vienna here) I had only had one great schnitzel in my life, and that was at the Tivoli Club, in Prahran, a German club with platter-sized schnitzel, cheap boutique beers and lederhosen to be enjoyed in the glow and tinkle of the inevitable poker machines that you always find in struggling Australian pubs and clubs. The schnitzel was to die for – it came about 15 different ways, in varieties of pork, turkey and veal, and with various flavours – Jäger, Zigeuner, Paprika, Käse, Rahm, or my favourite, Holstein – with fried egg, onions and capers. But to be honest, it’s really all about the schnitzel itself. It’s the kind of meat that every carnivore loves, including the super-fussy three-year-old kind of carnivore.

  • 500g lean meat, preferably pork or veal 
  • 2 eggs 
  • splash of water 
  • ½ cup plain flour 
  • salt and pepper 
  • 1 ½ cups breadcrumbs 
  • oil for pan-frying (canola best)

30 September 2011

Gluten Free Banana Date and Hazelnut muffins

Finding a gluten free flour that works well is like finding the holy grail for coeliacs. Only five years ago, they were only available in specialist stores, and varied in quality and texture - producing pizza bases that tasted like soggy cardboard, muffins that were as dry and heavy as boulders, and gnocchi that disintegrated as soon as it hit water. Now it's easier. A combination of factors - the discovery of wheat intolerance is on the rise (as with many allergies), research and development, and the demand for unusual grains and organic produce from a population armed with better health knowledge.

I love Doves Farm gluten free flour. It is a blend of Rice, Potato, Tapioca, Maize & Buckwheat, and it comes in both plain and self raising. The self raising flour makes wonderful fluffy pikelets, and the muffins below. Usually I wouldn't add a baking powder to a self-raising flour to make cakes, but gluten free flours are a little denser, and the rising agents are not quite as strong. It just helps give them a little extra lift. This recipe could be easily made without nuts.

14 September 2011

Apple Pastries

 There used to be a show on Australian TV called "Surprise Chef". This excitable chef would accost people in supermarkets, force the camera in their face, and then go home with them and put the camera through their pantry and fridge. His aim was to make a gourmet three-course meal for their family with only what he could find there.

Today, I found some gorgeous pink lady apples - the kind that look like they have come straight off a tree and into your basket, ripe, smelling like a glass of apple juice, un-waxed, oddly shaped and un-spectacularly coloured. I had to make an apple pie with no pie pan, and the laziest way possible (children wanted to eat them RIGHT NOW!!!). So I delved into my shelves, and found some condensed milk. "Hmmm...", I thought "Now that will be my challenge ingredient".

So here are the easiest apple pastries ever.

21 June 2011

Apple Tea Cakes

Sometimes I like to tell myself that the junk I eat is good for me. This recipe, for example. It is good for me, because I halved the suggested amount of sugar (although I added a little maple syrup for flavour), I included apple (hence helping on the old 5 and 2 a day that often falls by the wayside), and I iced it sparingly. 

So it is true, that these are healthy, but only when you compare them to other cakes and desserts. Well some of them at least. Fortunately, they are also very, very easy to make. Just don't eat them for dinner, because then they should be classified as decidedly unhealthy.

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
  • 2 tblsp maple syrup
  • 2 eggs
  • 200ml buttermilk (or plain milk with a dash of lemon juice)
  • 250g (2 cups) plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt (can leave out if you use salted butter)
  • 1 apple, grated coarsely
  • ground cinnamon mixed with caster sugar or fine brown sugar for dusting

10 May 2011

Giving veggies a hiding

My mum used to make me eat brussel sprouts. Not the tiny little gourmet buttered brussel sprouts with roasted chestnuts that you find on a lavish European Christmas table. Oh no - these were 1970s Australian versions - bitter, olivey-grey, egg-sized, boiled monsters of torture that would keep me sitting at the table twisting my fork idly over my plate until bedtime. One day I refused to eat them, and I got them back again for breakfast.

In my house, the monsters are not on the plate - they're eating off it. Or, more truthfully, they are running around the living room avoiding what is on the plate. I have absolutely no control of my children. They eat what they want, when they want, in the manner they want. I have no idea how my mother managed to handle me - I was far from perfect myself. 

So, with an utter lack of a firm parental hand or the juvenile respect for authority, the only way for me to get kids to eat healthy food is to disguise it in yummy form. I have hundreds of ways - they involve all manner of slicing, dicing, pureeing, grating, mixing, stuffing and coating. One of the favourites is the meatballs below. Bear in mind, these are for children (or grown men who won't eat their veggies), so are appropriately bland. I also make them for us, but with plenty of extra spice.

04 May 2011

This time it's not thyme

Roast Chicken. It used to be one of the best known comfort foods. Delicious, easy to cook, dripping with juicy salty goodness. Then the supermarket rotisserie came along and spoiled it all for everybody. They sold cooked chooks for less than a fresh one, and so all the sensible people went and purchased them instead. 

Or were they sensible? A supermarket rotisserie has great skin, but that's where the comparison to a home-cooked chicken stops. They're dry, spindly little battery-hens, often overcooked, flavoured either too simply or with truckloads of horrible stuff like MSG.

Wouldn't you rather have the juicy free-range one in this picture?

02 May 2011

Roasted Honey Pumpkin

It's amazing how many of my my greater achivements in the kitchen have come from a desire to get good food into the mouths of my children. Mother is the necessity of invention, they say, and it is so true. 

I love pumpkin. Soups, curries, roasted, scones, pie - all are great. But my children hate it. So to make them like it, I partner it with something I know they love, and I make sure they are in the kitchen helping me, so they can see the honey going in. This is the easiest way to cook delicious pumpkin - prep is less than 5 minutes, and the rest of the work is done by the oven.

01 May 2011

Wedding Fever

I'm not a monarchist. In fact, there was a referendum in Australia some years back, and I voted to make Australia a republic. Luckly, at that time, more than half the population was over 50 (baby boomers), and they like ER and what she does very much, thank you. I say luckily, because if Australia was a republic, we would have lost touch with the British Royal Family, and I wouldn't have been at all excited that there was a royal wedding this weekend.

I probably wouldn't have decided that because I was going to a birthday party on the day of the royal wedding, that I should make my own version of english muffins, just because I felt the occasion needed to be celebrated via baking.

And so, we have English Muffins by Sarah. Complete with St George's cross (albeit baked in wonkily). Full of 'sweet as a princess' wedding white chocolate, and absolutely nothing like a standard English Muffin.

25 April 2011

Saffron and Honey Breakfast Cake

Friday morning is the start of the weekend in this part of the world. It is the holy day, and so we rest on Fridays and Saturdays. I am still getting used to the whole 'work' routine on Sundays, but something I have settled into quite nicely is pancake morning on Fridays. It's an institution. 

But this week, Friday came at the end of holidays where we had worn our Friday institution out a little - when you have something every day, it is no longer a novelty. And so, to mark the special day, I really had to pull one out of the hat. So, with my new-found confidence in baking, I decided to make cake. I figured if it was shallow, then it would cook quickly, so this is what I came up with.

20 April 2011

Crunchy prawns with korma dipping sauce

Every once in a while, there is a dish from a restaurant that sticks with me. One evening, about 8 years ago in Melbourne, I dined with my husband at Circa at 'The Prince' in St Kilda. It was fairly soon after it had opened, and it was still well and truly in its hey-day, a food style-leader in Melbourne, and in fact Australia. That night, among other things, I had a prawn dish, with the most perfectly crisp and delicious casing - knaffe pastry. 

Just recently I purchased Suzanne Husseini's new cookbook, and what did I find in there? Prawns with knaffe pastry. Hers are with orange and lemon rind and stuffed with almonds, and they are amazing. Of course, I can't put her recipe here, so I brainstormed a little - I really enjoyed the sweetness of the almonds with the sweetness of the prawn flesh, and that got me thinking about korma.

Korma is a curry sauce that is made with a cream and nut base - either almonds or cashews. But as far as I'm concerned, the almonds just don't cut it for this sauce - cashews are far creamier. Most of the work is done in the blender, so it's super easy to cook.

18 April 2011

Fattoush - the salad for non-salad lovers

I hate salads that taste like a pile of grass. I'm more of a caesar salad person - sure, I like some leaves, but I prefer them crunchy, and then I want a whole heap of non-salad items in there, like bacon, eggs, bread and cheese. Or maybe a complete lack of leaves, like in a greek salad - again, with the cheese, and something tangy like olives. But just don't serve me weeds - ugh.

This region has a famous salad, and I'd never heard of it before I arrived - but now I order it everywhere. I'm on my own special mission to find the best Fattoush (also fatoush, fattush and probably a myriad of other spellings) that can be found in Dubai. So far, it's a war between Bayt al Wakeel on the Bur Dubai side of the creek in the middle of the Old Souk, and Tagine, at the One and Only Royal Mirage.

Fattoush's wonderful addition is fried bread. It's like an arabic crouton, but better, and I make mine in the oven and they taste just as good. These croutons are so awesome, I eat half of them before I even make the salad. But the salad is pretty good too - it's fresh, aromatic, colourful and crunchy. 


Living in the Middle East is a dream for a spice lover. It is of course, smack in the middle of traditional spice trails, and the trading hub for all the fragrant and piquant treasures of this world. Baharat, Sumac, Saffron, Cardamom, Oud, Roses, Za'atar. The list goes on. A trip to the spice souk of Dubai is a must for any traveller  (not to buy spices - they are cheaper at the hypermarkets) to immerse oneself in the origins of this port. Dubai started as a trading town, and pearls, spices and gold were the objects of desire, and the Souks still bear hints of the traditional Middle East that has been lost everywhere else in this shiny city.

Za'atar is both Arabic for Thyme, and also the name of a spice blend that includes thyme, and usually marjoram, oregano, sesame, salt and sumac. Here, you can find it everywhere - in plastic packets on the supermarket shelves, in hessian sacks at the souks, on flat bread with melted cheese, in croissants, on the table next to the salt. It's a zingy, herbaceous mix that goes with almost everything - it can be added to a lamb stew, a fish marinade, a breakfast frittata, sprinkled on a pizza, but one of my favourites is simply on pastry, and oven baked for about 10 minutes - it makes a superb finger food, and is wonderful dipped in minted labneh (thick yogurt that tastes a little like tzatziki).

13 April 2011

No pain, no gain

I've always been more of a non-recipe cook. Don't get me wrong - I love cookbooks, but after years of working in restaurants alongside chefs - some great, some mediocre, I have realized that once you develop some basic knowledge, and learn to trust your taste buds, anyone is capable of inventing a recipe (implementing it is another matter!)

I am a great 'surprise chef'. I can walk into any kitchen and prepare a meal - often a great one, if I try, out of almost anything. You know how MacGyver used to make a nuclear warhead out of a ball point pen, two batteries, a paperclip and a piece of gum? That's me in the kitchen. The only thing that has held me up has been baking. It has always stood on a pedestal as the unmuckable cooking. Hard-core recipe stuff. I think it was several early failed attempts at pavlova and anzac biscuits that did it.

But what I've realised recently is that baking - particularly cakes - does not need to be as exact as I thought. Sure, there are things that MUST be included. Eggs to bind, oil or butter for moistness, some kind of raising agent for cakes, sugar for taste. The quantites are variable. More eggs for a dense cake, less for a crumbly one, more baking soda for fluffy scones, less for whoopie pies, more butter for brownies, less for banana bread. And do you know what, as long as you don't accidentally put in garlic powder instead of ginger, and you don't burn it, the sugar is ALWAYS going to make it taste good - no matter how chewy or crumbly it is.

11 April 2011

Easy Baclava

I discovered a little about baclava while I was at the Al Samadi Bakery recently - the term "baclava" actually refers to the pastry, not the sweets. It's a super-soft mix that is flattenend, then has more layers of the same placed on top, and then is flattened again and again and again until you get a mille feuille style of multi-layered pastry. They then use this "baclava" to make sweets in hundreds of different ways. 

There is another wonderful style of pastry that abounded in the factory, and that was knafe (or kanafe) - pastry made up of hundreds of threads that can be pulled apart and moulded any which-way. Like Baclava, the pastry has given the dish its name, and if you type kanafe into a search engine, you will get hundreds of recipes for the wonderful arabic cheese-filled desert pie. 

And do you know the wonderful thing? We can buy both pastries in the freezer at the local supermarket (but baclava is better known as 'filo'). So here is how you make it the easy way:

Remembering French Provincial Markets

For the last three years, we have escaped the Dubai heat and travelled to southern France. Languedoc, Dordogne, Cote d'Azur, Var, Vaucluse - we've seen them all. And there's one thing that binds them - something I can't seem to get anywhere else in the world.... Radishes. Not just any kind of radishes - the tiny sweet, peppery rosebud type aptly named "French Breakfast" radishes. I don't eat them for breakfast, but they do taste amazing with a baguette, a slab of butter and Camargue sea-salt flakes, with a chaser of Picpoul or Provincial Rosé. 

The problem with French Breakfast radishes is that they expire very quickly, and so that's why you rarely see them out of a French Provincial market, so when I saw fresh, crisp ones at the local Hypermarket the other day, I nearly upturned the nearest veggie crate and started singing "La Marseillaise" with my hand over my heart. But what to do with them when the traditional 5 o'clock hors d'ouvres are off the menu? Salad. And I gave them a regional stamp.

07 April 2011

Mayonnaise - Jar or home-made?

I've tried to make mayonnaise several times in my life. Sometimes it works, and less times it doesn't. There's really no excuse for not making it, of course, because even when it doesn't work, the ways to fix it are easy (I love the way this lovely lady makes her mayo). Except, it's fairly easy to buy good mayonnaise in a jar. But is it good?

Jar mayonnaise is fine for sandwiches, and as an ingredient to mix into other dressings, but when the mayonnaise is the main ingredient in a sauce or dressing, it is obvious when it's store-bought. The other reason to make your own mayo is when you want to play with the consistency. For example, in a potato salad I like my mayonnaise loose and runny - if it's too thick, then when combining, it buffs up the edges of the potatoes, and besides, it's just far too stodgy.

So here's how the slap-dash cook makes potato salad:

28 March 2011

Putontha Puttanesca

When I was living in Melbourne, I used to get acupuncture once a fortnight after work. I would look forward to this day for thirteen days before it - not because I was going to get stuck with needles, sucked with cups and given a revolting tea decoction by Marina, but because Simon Johnson Fine Foods was underneath her parlour of mini-pain. After every session, I would buy a 560g jar of his Puttanesca sauce, and bring it home to make the easiest dinner ever - boil and drain pasta, add jar, chilli and one tin of drained tuna, stir and heat, and serve with stacks of piquant pecorino. And despite being the least difficult of all meals to prepare, it was always the household favourite, even when young Lion came along (minus the chilli).

16 March 2011

Twisted Ratatouille

With multi-hued farm-fresh capsicums as my inspiration, I set off to make one of my all-time comfort foods, ratatouille. Now, there are a million recipes out there for ratatouille, and probably 90% of them would offend the historically correct die-hard ratatouillans, but general consencus is that it has to be a tomato based dish with onions and garlic, herbes de Provence, and vegetables such as courgette and aubergine. 

So you will all be shocked to find that my recipe below does not contain aubergine. It's not because I dislike aubergine, but because I find the recipe far easier to make, more flexible in its use, and more delicate in flavour without it. I also have a couple of illicit ingredients that I think make my ratatouille better than everyone elses (no false modesty around here).

15 March 2011

Chicken and Herb Salad

The problem with living life as a hedonista is that you tend to get fat - all of that overindulgence eventually catches up with you. I have a friend who refuses to let that get him down - he laughs and pops another cholesterol pill with his saucisson, and says that life would be meaningless without good food. I however, also take pleasure from wearing beautiful clothes, and at the moment, all I fit into is tents from Carrefour.

So. Diet. But what diet for a hedonista? The Atken's Diet of course. Well, maybe an abridged one - I simply avoid all starches (rather than all carbohydrates including sugars) every second day, and amazingly, it works. When things get really bad, I have to go weeks on end without starch, but that has a particularly cranky side effect. 

07 March 2011

Party pies for adults

I love cooking for parties. It is the kind of food I really excel at - tit-bits that can combine my love of fusion food, and my desire to cheat at every corner. I make one hell of a Peking duck pancake, and my canapes (I reserve that title for anything on a biscuit or piece of Melba toast) are inventive and delicious. But (beside it not falling into the category of fusion food), this is my new favourite cheat. I served them at my husband's birthday party last week, and they disappeared before the steam ceased rising off them. 

28 January 2011

Slap-Dash Biryani in the rice cooker

I have always loved Biryani. I suppose it comes from all my childhood memories of cinnamon, and of course where it was used - apple pie, with sugar on pancakes, mixed into Mum's banana custard - all wonderfully sweet and heart-warming dishes. So now the use of it is always associated with comforting, warm moments - and I am doing my best to add it to my own children's sensory memories.

True Biryani is made by pan-frying a spice, onion and meat mix, then adding to par-cooked rice and finally baking the lot in an oven. All this takes about 2 1/2 hours. In these days of gadgets, I make mine in (gasp!) a rice cooker. I cook the meat seperately, because I like to keep it browned and crispy, and although you could serve this spiced rice with anything, from barbecued lamb kebabs to garlic tiger prawns or even on it's own, I like it with chicken.

20 January 2011

Green means hot

I am a very fortunate lady. Not only have I got a husband who very cleverly got us an expat stint in the centre of the world, but I also have Mary in our household. The title of "housemaid" does not fully describe her position or influence. Some days she is Maid, others Nanny, but my favorite is Chef. Mary is Tamil Sri Lankan, and so much of her food is in that vein, but she is also an exceptional study and has a remarkably good palate, so anything she finds lying in the bottom of a fridge drawer or at the back of a pantry can be added to other flavours to make something wonderful. The only underlying theme - chilli, and boy oh boy, she does like it hot!

The other week she made what she calls "herb relish". It has leafy herbs and onion and green chili, and is amazing next to her curried eggplant. It inspired me to make the sauce below - I love the fresh flavours, and imagined it without the rice, but with cucumber in it to cool that chili a little. So here we have my spicy green salad:

Cooking with Sunrise

Living in the Middle East does wonderful things to ones spice cabinet. Where we might suffer from a dearth of fresh local meat and vegetables , it is made up for in spades by what can be bought not only at the spice souq, but even out of sacks at the local Carrefour (we get plenty of imports, so don't think for a moment that I'm starving over here - it's quite to the contrary). My favorite of all is saffron - the gold of spices. Back in Melbourne, it's actually costlier than gold and here only a little less, so yes, it's a guilty pleasure. However only a few strands will do the trick, making the investment worth it.

Saffron is the stamens of the crocus  flower, and carries with it the aroma of sweet nectar and floral plains of Iran. When used in cooking it lends a flavor of honey on toast, and the color of sunrise to the sauce. It is used extensively in Persian, Arabic and North African cooking, but also anywhere the spice routes delivered it across Asia, and for so long, that many cultures argue they were the original producers - although it does appear it was actually Greece.

When buying Saffron, ensure you are buying the genuine article - there are many poor substitutes, including safflower, which looks almost identical - ensure that the colour is vibrant crimson, with hints of deep yellow-orange. The strands should be slightly moist and surprisingly strong. When moistened, they will leech bright yellow - the colour of tumeric, but never substitute turmeric in a recipe - the flavours are not the same.

19 January 2011

Bananaberry muffins

I'm not much of a baker. As you might be able to tell from the blog description, I abhor measuring and weighing and being pedantic - it's just not me. Added to that, in Dubai, bread is cheap. I can buy 10 perfect little iced cupcakes from Spinneys for 10 Dirhams - that's less than $3US. I couldn't even do shake and bake for that price. Added to that, I'm overweight and my husband is wheat intolerant, so even if I make something gorgeous, only the kids eat it - and they would prefer the Spinneys cupcakes. Why would I want to bake?

Two reasons - the first is that it makes us feel good. Baking is an old school activity, from way back in the day when Mother didn't work, because Mothers were mothers. They had time to bake, and their families expected it because there weren't any such things as Spinneys cupcakes. And when kids came home from school on the local horse and cart, they would run inside and eat Mother's delicious baked thingies and think she was the most wonderful thing in the world. Then they would eat liver and brussel sprouts for dinner. Baking makes us feel like accomplished domestic goddesses - we can do everything Granny did, and we can "Facebook"...

18 January 2011

Rainbow Stir-fried Vegetables

Stir-fries didn't exist when I was a child in Australia. My vegetables were served up in steamed to the devil gray mounds in unidentifiable varieties - probably a good thing, because quite often they contained broad beans, cabbage and brussel sprouts. I remember rejoicing when my Mother took a six week Thai Cookery course, and she came home at the end of it with stuff like coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass and chili. Until then curry had meant a bechamel sauce with Keens Curry powder stirred into it.

The wok became the most desired piece of kitchen equipment. Not only did it make a wonderful hat, shield or striking implement in war games with my younger brother, but it also meant that if Mum got it out of the cupboard it meant we were eating colour for dinner.

Tips with cooking veggies in the wok. Cut all the vegetables into slices that will cook in the same amount of time. Snow peas only take two minutes, so make sure you cut the carrot thin enough so it's not raw when you take it out. Secondly, you want cooked, but crisp - otherwise the colour and moisture leaves the vegetable and ends up in the bottom of the wok.

Barbecued Pork Tenderloin

five spice
You know that smell when you walk down a Chinatown strip - sort of sweet and gamey - honey and spice and smoke and roasting meat? Part of it is Peking Duck, and the other part is Barbecued Pork. It's one of ten key smells in the world that makes me hungry, even if I'm so full I can barely waddle (along with things like Sri Lankan curried eggplant, fresh bread etc, etc.)

Now the real stuff has things like maltose and shaoxing wine in it, involves cooking a caramel sauce, then marinating overnight and then cooking pork belly for about 45 minutes. Funnily enough, it doesn't even involve a "barbecue"...

My version has umpteen less ingredients, uses a very lean cut of meat, and cooks in 10-15 minutes.

17 January 2011

Smoked tuna spaghetti

When I was single, this dish kept me alive. If I had not found this combination, I would have existed entirely on toast and red wine, so we can thank it for my healthy heart and buttocks today. Back then it was far less gourmet - simply "tuna spaghetti", but now in the modern era, we can get lots of lovely little gourmet things in tins, and smoked tuna is one of my favourites.

Renewed Croissants

As my first lazy post, I would like to talk about my favourite pastry treats from the Boulangerie. We have escaped the Dubai heat during summer for the last few years by going to a cottage in the French provincial countryside so we can eat the real thing (I know, it's a bloody expensive bit of pastry). We travel with a couple of Melbournites who love their pastry a little too much, and when they arrive at the boulangerie, their stomachs take over their mouths, and instead of asking for "seess cwahsons" (6), they ask for "sayz cwahsons" (16). Result? Ploo cwahsons kay nessessaire. (more croissants than necessary).

Croissants have this habit of petrifying overnight, and there is nothing to be done about this - they are basically made of butter and air, with a little flour thrown in, and oxidation and time are not a croissant's best friends. 

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