Wednesday 26 November 2008

Roasted beetroot, garlic and cumin dip.

The last of the root vegetables are slowly fading out of season, so I thought it might be a good time to really showcase the last of these Winter wonders. This weekend past, I had to opportunity of catching up with the very delightful Gottie and Bluenose from SOLE Mama's. Bluey has a bit of a rep for coming up with these outstanding cocktail mixes, known to all as Magic Potions, and this time was no different. We were met at the door with a glass of bubbly tinted with a mix of raspberries, Cointreau or Grand Marnier and lemon juice. If I ever work out how to get the damn pics of my new phone, I'll post them.

I was asked to bring some dips, so I went with a couple of classics (Hommus and Tzatiki... home made the sloooooow way) and something a bit out-of-the-ordinary, Roasted Beetroot dip. This dip is a zillion times easier, tastier and more vibrant than anything you're likely to get at the shops, and the end result is a deep earthy, almost musky flavour that reminds me of the smell of the air after a Summer thunderstorm . Don't bother trying it with anything other than fresh, whole beetroots.

pg's Roasted Beetroot, Garlic and Cumin dip.

pan roast a one and a half teaspoons of cumin seeds in a non-stick pan for 30-45 seconds, or until fragrant. Set aside to cool.

Cut the top and bottom off a fresh beetroot. Discard. Chop beet into quarters and place on baking tray. Bake at 180-200C for 30 mins.

At the 30 min mark, take a whole head of garlic, slice about 1/2cm off the top, exposing all the individual cloves. Bung on the oven tray with the beetroot and roast a further 15-20 mins until beet is tender.

Let the beet cool slightly and then peel. Use rubber gloves to handle the beet, or you'll look like you've been axe murdering pigs.

Whack the peeled beets and 1 teaspoon of roasted cumin seeds in a blender, or use a stick blender. Squeeze the roasted cloves of garlic in and pulse until combined.

When cool, add a tub of sour cream and stir through.

Serve, garnished with remaining cumin seeds and lavosh.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

You Saucey Minx!!

My love of rubs and spice blends is well documented. I am a rub-o-holic. At last count I owned 30+ vials of spice blends, most bought at gourmet stores and markets, some of which I have created on my own. And when Furry and I were packing to go on our recent holiday, I was tempted to pack some.

When Furry and I holiday, we pack differently to most holiday makers. We take 2 suitcases. One has our clothes, togs, sarongs, thongs, maybe a good casual dress or two for going out, a pile of dodgy holiday reading.. stuff like that.

The second suitcase houses a wok, a bamboo steamer, a non-stick pan, a non stick saucepan, a cast iron fry pan, 2 cook's knives, a cleaver and various essentials like flour, rice flour, herbs and spices, up to 3 types of rice and a few assorted gow gee wrappers.

Can never be too careful, is our motto.

Our reasoning is that if you're going away somewhere for only a week, there's no point buying sushi rice for the one night you might feel like cooking it, arborio for the single risotto, 2 tablespoons of rice flour for a crispy battered fish, etc.

And god forbid that we have a hankering for Furry Balls in a small town whose supermarket doesn't stock won ton wrappers!!

The spice blends are good when that freshly caught fish just screams Sri-Lankan fish curry. I mean who is going to go out and buy the individual sachets of turmeric and asafoedita in Merimbula??

So this holiday I packed home made Greek, Italian, Indian and Mexican blends, my sea salt, black pepper and oregano rub, some store bought z'aatar and rasa al hanout, some sumac and a few other assorted bits and pieces.

So imagine my sheer joy to find The Saucy Spice Company selling its wares at Eden Whale Festival Market!!

The first thing that catches your eye is the packaging. Simple. Bold. Bright. Like a barracuda with ADHD, I can't resist anything bright and purple. Their stall is row upon row of little paper bags, all purple or pink or yellow or orange, all in line like little soldiers! Each package contains about 50g of spice mic, and a simple recipe instruction leaflet.

Each sachet contains only herbs and spices, no preservatives, fillers or other nasties.

I picked up a Creamy Seafood Chowder, a Seafood Laksa, a dhal and spinach soup mix, a Jamaican Jerk for chicken and an Afghani Lamb.

So far I have only used the chowder, but was very VERY impressed with the simple instructions, the depth of flavour and the authenticity of the mix. The Chowder mix was a combination of coriander, fennel, ginger, nutmeg, cardamon, cinnamon, black pepper, garlic, onion, chili, turmeric and parsley. Each pack costs about $4.50, and my chowder pack made 5 litres of soup!!

They have hundreds of different spice blends, from the ubiquitous Butter Chicken to a Mulligatawny blend, a spicy braised rabbit to a South African Boerewors mix for meatloaf or patties. They even have an Egyptian fish blend, flavoured with honey!!!

They sell on line, as well as in markets throughout the South Coast (NSW), and are based in Pambula, or contact Nick Bamford on 02 6495 7818. It's a small, family-owned company and while it imports many of its ingredients, uses locally grown or Aussie owned stock where it can.

If you're looking for spice blends that aren't full of filler, and "anti-clumping" agents, and want to support a small, local Aussie business providing a superior quality product, drop by their web site.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Noodle-y goodness

It's weird, the weather in Melbourne, at this time of year. Last Friday started out with torrential thunderstorms... poor Stella Bella Bottom Smeller and Mrs Peaches did their best jelly-dog routine. There's nothing like being woken by a clap of thunder AND a quivering dog's snout in your ear, both within milliseconds of each other, to REALLY start the day with a smile.

By the end of the day, we'd cycled through having the heater running, to nearly passing out with humidity, all the way across the spectrum into having the cooler on.

I mean, just what do you cook in weather like that??

I opted for noodles. Quick, easy... not too much time at the stove, easy to eat.. not to heavy in the stomach. Perfect on all counts.

I had a packet of rice sticks left over from last night's Yakatori Beef Salad, and a random bag of cooked and peeled prawns, so here's what I did.:

400g lean chicken mince
400g cooked and peeled prawns
2 green onions, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2cm piece fresh ginger (10g), grated
¼ teaspoon five-spice powder (or a mix of ground Szechuan pepper and star anise)
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh coriander
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh Thai basil
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Heat the sesame oil till smoking, add the onions, garlic and ginger. Cook until softened, Add the mince and spices, and cook off until the mince is cooked thru. Add yourHoisin and fish sauces, and the prawns . Cook for 2 mins or until the prawns are heated through and add your herbs.

Cook rice sticks as per the instructions (takes about 4 mins). Drain thoroughly and add to pan. Toss a few times to combine, adding a slurp of soy if it starts to stick. (This is not a slurpy noodle dish, the end result should be quite dry)

Plate up and top with crushed peanuts or sesame seeds, and some spring onion greenery.

Monday 17 November 2008

Yakatori Beef Salad.

I was always under the impression that Yakatori (Yakitori)Chicken was a misnomer. Either the Yaka (i) or the Tori bit meaning "chicken", and the other bit "sauce". So Yakatori chicken would be like saying "Hamburger burger".

I always thought tori meant gateway, so what would I know. A quick Google search doesn't throw much light on the subject, either.

So I've refrained from calling this marinade Yakatori, and usually refer to it as my Japanese sake marinade, but it is, as you will see, the classic Yakatori. It works equally well with chicken, pork or beef, and with Summer almost here, it is an easy and classic staple to have, for those up-and-coming Summer barbies. Here's my take on it.

Get some serious steaks. Spend some money. These New York Cut Sirloins were from Kerrie Road Butcher, 6 Kerrie Rd, Glen Waverley, VIC 3150, (03) 9802 0857, my oft-touted local butcher, who sources his beasts from Cardinia. They were $26 for 2, but well worth the price.

You want a good fat marbling for this dish, and you want the steaks thick. The end result should be thick strips of beef, Malliard-ed to within an inch of their lives, and yet red and moist in the centre.

You're not going to get that with a minute steak, so suck it up, sell something on eBay, and buy the best steaks you can afford.

My original idea was to serve these on a sizzle platter (I know, how very 70's fondue of me!) with mirin rice and some spring onion curls, but the best laid plans and all of that. Furry decided to invite another couple down to Chez Fur for dinner. So I had to make my 2 steaks eek out for 4 people.

Voila, enter, pg's Yakatori steak salad!!

Yakatori marinade:

1/2 cup Japanese soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
1/2 cup mirin
3 tablespoons raw sugar
3/4 inch knob of ginger, cut into 3 bits
3 cloves organic garlic, smashed.

(Note: Furry nearly went mental at the per kg price of organic garlic... $42.95 per kg. One luscious little head, however, only came to $2.00!)

Combine all ingredients int a small, heavy-based saucepan and boil, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved, Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thick and syrupy. Remove from heat, fish out the ginger and garlic bits and allow to cool.

**Cheats note: if you want to use a thickening agent on your sauce, use arrowroot, not cornflour.

Once cooled, pour 3/4's of the marinade over your steak/chicken/pork and leave for at least 1 hour. You can set aside some marinade as a dipping sauce, for later, if you wish.

I marinated the steaks overnight BTW.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a roiling boil and chuck in one packet of rice noodles. This was just what I happened to have at hand. You could just as easily use hokkien, glass, cellophane or mung bean noodles. Cook according to instructions. Drain well and refresh under cold running water. return to the pan, and add the reserved marinade, some chopped spring onions and some sesame seeds.

Heat a fry pan until blazing and fry or BBQ the steaks for 4 mins per side, turning only once. Set aside and allow to rest for 10 mins before slicing into strips.

While the steak rests, make up a salad of whatever the hell you have in the fridge.

To plate, add a handful of noodles, tip with a handful of mixed lettuce, some halved baby tomatoes, some julienned cukes and artfully arrange the warm beef strips over the top. Sprinkle with a few more sesame seeds and scoff.

Apart from the marinading, you can have this dish all ready to go in about 15 mins!!

Thursday 13 November 2008

No more badger's bum breath!!!

Yup, it's now nearly 3 weeks since I last inhaled. And it's been bloody hard. Both Furry and I started on the Champix nearly 4 weeks ago. The idea is that you smoke "normally" for the first 7-14 days, and then pick a day to give up. What we found is that once we started on the pills, we became much more aware of our smoking. And for myself, in particular, I realised just how many of my smokes were habitual.

Got to work, opened the practice, turned on the computer, unlocked the filing cabinet?

Yup, time to REWARD myself with a fag.

Finished an hectic patient session, taken 40 phone calls, replied to 12 idiot emails??

Yup, time to REWARD myself with a fag.

Not killed that 45th "We're not selling you anything, we're just dong a survey" unsolicited phone call??

Yup, I DESERVE a fag.

It was only when I stated really identifying nicotine cravings from perceived rewards, that I realised just how much I was relying on ciggies to break up my day.

And one of the things I have noticed over the last nearly three weeks, is that I have so much more time on my hands!!!

But the really amazing thing is my sense of smell and taste. Even when I was smoking 30+ ciggies a day, I had a pretty amazing sense of smell and taste, and yes, I heard all the hype about your sense of smell returning, but I really didn't believe it. But last night, my wonderful next door neighbour was cooking up a storm, and I thought I was going to swoon from the sheer overpowering goodness that wafted into my house on the wind! My house and office smell so much nicer, my clothes fresher, and food tastes so much better!

Also, I am apparently MUCH nicer to kiss now that I don't have morning breath like a badger's bum.

There are still times when I find myself getting up from my office and heading out to have a "weather check", without even knowing it, but it's about 3 months before the new habit of NOT smoking becomes really ingrained.

So that's my final say on it. I am bloody proud of myself for doing it. I still "crave" a fag several times a day, but I am not going to give in. And I am not going to turn into one of those fundie rabid anti-smokers, either. But if you drop by either CFdM or the House of Fur and Purple love over the next 3 months, please leave the fags in the car.

Monday 10 November 2008

I am an oyster snob.

We all know a noisy noise annoys an oyster. Ok. maybe YOU don't, but I have been waiting for MONTHS to use that.

Ok.. moving right along.


Oysters. Up until this past holiday, I thought they were preety much like wine, or art. All the nuance was in the eye... or in this case, the mouth of the beholder. Or the eater.


Recently, on our trip to Merim-Bueller, we got to taste a whole range of the local seafood. Which included the local oysters. I can guarantee these were as fresh as you are ever likely to get, as we saw them harvested and shucked directly in front of us.

And sadly, I was expecting ambrosia and all I got was "Meh" **insert Jewish Bubbu shoulder shrug**

Really, the damn things didn't taste any different from the oysters I get at my suppliers back in Melbourne.

They were nice, don't get me wrong, and cheap.. $10 a doz, but they sadly left me totally underwhelmed. After the Bruny Bay oysters I tasted at last years Slow Food Fest, the difference was palpable. Rather than plump, succulent morsels bursting with briney goodness, these were just flat. Flat as in not plump in shape, or flavour. Rather than a bold whack-in-the-face taste of the sea, this was a flat, pale imitation.

A real disappointment.

However, the region's seafood rep redeemed itself with the local Eden mussels, which I had served at The Aquarium Wharf Restaurant, in Merimbula. The reverse of the above. I had seen them at the Fisherman's co-op in Eden for $11 a kg, which was rather pricey when I can get Melbourne mussels for $2 a kg in season.

Newp. These mussels are larger and fuller flavoured than my local ones. While the Merimbula oysters were flat, these mussels were plump and luscious. More so than any other mussel I've ever tried. The Wharf Restaurant served them steamed in an Asian "soup" of Tiger beer, coconut milk, galangal, coriander and chilli. This dish was a first place tie for Best Lunch of the Tour, along with the open steak sandwich at Rockpool (at the Merimbula Bowls Club!).

Not only was the food outstanding, the view from the wharf restaurant was spectacular! Our waitress was teeling us that the previous week, they'd had whales frolicking just off the restaurant, but alas, none graced us with their presence that day.

Friday 7 November 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Merimbula. I thought it was God's waiting room. And to a certain extent, it is. One of the most amazing meals we had was at Rockpool... not the shi shi pooh pooh Sydnet one... Rockpool cafe, at the Merimbula Bowls Club! As in white hats, gentle clapping and Volvos kinda bowls club. In town, we were stunned by Cantina, at the top of Market Street, (02 6945 1085, 56 Market Street, Merimbula). We went there for breakfast on several occasions. Their Flamenco eggs (above) were a generous ramekin filled with eggs, chorizo, capsicum, local bacon and cheese, served with door-stop pieces of whole grain bread.

Free range poached eggs, organic spinach and tommies on whole meal.

My fave. Local Eden sardines, pesto-crumbed, served on whole meal toast with tomato/capsicum/bacon salsa.

And Furry's fave, the big breakfast. Home cooked baked beans. These were slow cooked with a ham hock, and light years away from anything you can get in cans.

The big breakky also came with the most amazing locally smoked bacon, marinated mushies, a bush pepper and tomato sausage, a pork breakky sausage, and a potato roesti.

Seriously fantastic local food, served fabulously well, with great friendly staff, excellent Byron Bay coffee.

Without doubt, the best breakky of the tour.

Stand by for the Bad and the Ugly.