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24 hours in London

25 Jun

In an effort to avoid long haul flights and jet lag, I decided to break up the Dubai to New York leg with a stopover in London. I had already been there in 97 but on a shoe string so my culinary experience didn’t stretch beyond hot jacket potatoes topped with curried chicken. 16 years on, a different side to London was encountered.

My time was limited to 24 hours because I was set on maximising the length of my stay in New York, a city I’d yearned to strike off my bucket list. So how much can one fit in 24 hours in London? Quite a bit especially if you avoid the shopping frenzy, put on a pair of comfortable shoes and don’t mind walking.

Breakfast was a triple shot soy latte and a freshly baked crispy croissant at Nero’s in Paddington, a coffee chain littered all over this old world city. Both were perfect. From there it was a long walk along Oxford Street, across Soho towards St James Park, Trafalgar Square then on to Embankment. I then crossed the Thames over the Waterloo Bridge (I think) and finished up walking along Southbank up to London Bridge. The weather was perfect and if you’re ever in London for a limited time, this route will give you a good snapshot of what this city is all about. A quick refreshment at the Tate bar on level 6 was a must, a nice vantage point where you can appreciate sweeping views over the Thames, from one of the window seats.

For lunch, I stopped at the Borough Markets. On Wednesdays the stalls are limited to those offering mainly prepared food like sandwiches. The range was stupendously big. Fresh truffles, cheeses, cured meats, spit roast pork, artisanal breads, ciders, sandwiches, paella, seafood, on it went. I must have spent at least one hour browsing the stalls until I settled on a choice. I couldn’t resist one of the Italian stalls, everything they offered was screaming “eat me”! I went for a simple sandwich: baby rocket, semi-dried tomatoes, laminas of mozzarella di bufala in ciabatta bread. It was one of experiences that as you ate, you never wanted the sandwich to end. I then moved on to some prosciutto which I stuffed into some bread. It was melt in the mouth stuff and slightly sweeter than any other that I had eaten before.

After an evening run in Hyde Park, a friend of mine and I set out to Oxo. It’s a restaurant perched over the Thames in southbank. If you’re in London for a short time, I recommend doing both. Hyde Park in summer is a delightful experience because it’s provides you with the opportunity to see the locals at their best: smiling and basking in the sun. Oxo, whilst the execution wasn’t perfect, the spectacular views, buzzing ambience and well thought of menu made for an overall pleasant dining experience. Unfortunately the camera wasn’t on hand to capture the dishes but if you view their website, you’ll get the idea of what it’s all about.

Until New York!

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Quails, the easy way…

25 Nov

quail gourmet

I don’t know about you, but I love quails! I have been eating them since I was a child, along with other birds. When I say birds, I mean cute little birds. That was long ago when I’d go hunting with my father, before guns became illegal in Australia. Culling of quails, kangaroos and rabbits was encouraged as their population was out of control in southern New South Wales. The occasional stray bird that made it into the hunting sack was also naturally eaten.

As a child I ate almost anything that gave me sensory overload, but now, I stick to domesticated meat. So cute little birds are off the menu, except quails. Funny enough, I still find it very strange that mushrooms threw me off but eating a bird from head to claws didn’t. huh!?

I remember reading a chapter in Medium Raw where Anthony Bourdain likened the expressions of several chefs after they devoured the 16 cm Ortolan Bunting in one bite to “an identical just-fucked look”. As I child I don’t think I could have been that articulate about my dad’s expression as he had his stray finch, but I can certify that he was a happy man eating it.

Quails have delicate lean meat. They can be deep-fried, grilled or roasted. Some like to brine before roasting, others don’t. I fall into the second group. I really don’t see the point of brining. The quail is so small and will remain tender if not overcooked. I tend not to deep fry at home so roasting is my preferred style. I reserve the deep-fried experience for when I eat out at a Vietnamese restaurant where they’re bound to have crispy fried quail on the menu.

I’ve always been curious about how they debone quails at restaurants too so I pulled out my Le Cordon Bleu cooking book for answers. I’d never done that before and was feeling adventurous. I managed to debone one before giving up. I settled for the easy way, leaving the meat attached to the carcass. In hindsight, I wish had deboned all of them! Deboning = more stuffing and easy eating with knife and fork. Not deboning = less stuffing and a lot of handiwork.

I was impressed with the overall result and my guinea pig at work provided the positive feedback to call for a post. It’s not often that you see your six-foot plus colleague, sleeves rolled up tearing into a quail with delight, mumbling the words fee fi fo fum! (ok I made the last part up because you can’t help but think that when eating quails)

Let me know if you try this recipe. I would love to hear about your experience. Don’t like quails? Just use chicken or preferred bird with this to-die-for stuffing.

Ingredients

stuffing ingredients

  • 6 quails
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • handful of mushrooms, chopped finely
  • a few celery sticks, chopped finely
  • 5 tbsp of light olive oil
  • 50g of butter
  • 1 cup of couscous
  • brazil nuts, chopped roughly
  • finely chopped mixed herbs (oregano, marjoram, tarragon, rosemary, sage)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

Wash quails, clean their insides, pat dry with paper towel, then debone or leave them whole. Set aside in a roasting dish.

plump quailsdeboned quail

In a heavy based pot, fry the garlic lightly in 1 tbsp of olive oil on medium heat until aroma fills the air (1-2min). Add, mushrooms, celery and half the herbs then sauté on low heat for about 5-10minutes or until all ingredients are tender.

stuffing

Meanwhile place couscous in a container or bowl, add enough boiling water to cover, add butter and seal with lid or cling wrap. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.

Fluff the couscous using a fork, add the contents of the pan and the nuts. Combine well then stuff the quails using a small spoon.

couscous stuffing

Once stuffed, pan fry the quails (2 at a time) on medium heat until lightly golden on most sides then transfer to roasting dish.

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In a small bowl or cup, combine remaining herb mixture and olive oil (4 tbsp), season well with salt and pepper, then spread all over the quails. Use your hands to make sure they get evenly coated.

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Roast in a medium oven at 180C for about 20 minutes.

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Beetroot Pearl Barley Risotto

13 Nov
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I’ve loved pearl barley ever since I was a child. My mother would make an amazing sweet winter soup called haboub (translates to grains I think). My mother’s recipe includes pearl barley, chickpeas, sugar, aniseed, fennel and water. After she had filled our bowls, we’d sprinkle a little desiccated coconut on top and gobble up with delight. I would go for seconds, at times even thirds, depending on how much I could squeeze in after dinner.

Since then, I hadn’t come across pearl barley until my recent cooking class on superfoods. When I saw pearl barley on the menu, it instantly brought back memories of the cold Sydney winter, flannel pajamas and warm bowls of haboub. However, this dish was savoury as opposed to sweet. I couldn’t wait to learn how to make it and taste it of course. After the first mouthful, I saw myself making it often.

When the first opportunity to show off my fresh knowledge on superfoods arrived, this dish made it onto the menu. A small portion was served as dish number five out of a seven course dinner. My diner, a recent beetroot convert was very pleased with the result and so was I.

Pearl barley is an interesting grain and very versatile. It can be served cold in a salad or warm in a soup. However, I’m stuck on the idea of using it like aborio rice and following a risotto theme. I used it just a few days ago. Again, in the same way, only this time with mushroom stock, re-hydrated mushrooms, gai lan and hard tofu. I thought it was delicious but am still wondering whether its worthy of a post.

Should the next pearl barley post be dedicated to haboub or the asian-style risotto, preference anyone? Care to share your favourite pearl barley recipe? I look forward to it!

Serves 2 (with leftovers)

Ingredients

  • 6 small beetroots, wrapped in foil and roasted until tender (about 45mins at 180C)
  • 1 cup of pearl barley, soaked in cold water overnight
  • 1/2 onion, diced finely
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • 3 tbs of butter
  • 3 tbs of olive oil
  • 2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of chopped parsley
  • 1/3 cup of chopped dill
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

When the beetroots are cool enough to handle, peel skin, then grate or blitz in a food processor and set aside. Reserve one beetroot and cut into chunks.

In a heavy pot, melt butter, add olive oil and then saute onion until translucent. Add pearly barley and cook for a few minutes on medium heat. Drop to a simmer, then add stock gradually stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick to the base. It should take about 30 minutes to cook the pearl barley.

Add beetroot and combine with pearly barley. Then add parsley and dill, season to taste. If the risotto is too thick, add a little more butter or stock.

Serve with fetta, a few chunks of beetroot, garnish with extra dill and a little olive oil.

Adapted from original recipe by Brenda Fawdon

Leafy Green Salad with agave dressing

1 Nov

Gourmet Salad

This recipe is part of a 7 course dinner which I recently prepared in Vancouver. I love pecans but if you don’t like them, you can substitute with hazelnuts or just leave them out altogether.

Semi-dried cranberries can also be substituted with raisins and agave nectar with honey or similar. It boils down to your own personal taste and of course, that of the person you’re trying to woo 😉

I loved this salad and its so easy to make!

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of mixed salad leaves
  • 1 tbsp of semi-dried cranberries
  • 2 tbs of pecans
  • 50g of goat milk fetta, crumbled

For the dressing: 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbs agave nectar & 2 tbs of balsamic vinegar

Method

Mix dressing ingredients in a jar and shake until combined. In a bowl, dress the salad leaves, split into 2 portions, then place onto individual plates. Arrange the rest of the ingredients and serve.

7 course dinner…at home

28 Oct

tasting menu

Recently, I spent last the 2 weeks of summer in Vancouver. Whilst I did get to savor some amazing food at several restaurants, I also had that one chance, to put my skills to the test and baptize a new kitchen.

A friend of mine had told me about a 5 course dinner that he had cooked to woo his girlfriend. I had to go one step further and cook an elaborate 7 course dinner. I have never cooked something so elaborate before and never in a kitchen I am unfamiliar with, but then I was not going to let that daunt me. I love challenges!

Leading up to the big day, I’d sourced enough ingredients to make 5 courses but needed to decide on another 2. Fortunately, two nights prior, I’d been watching an amazing documentary Step Up To the Plate. It provided plenty of inspiration, but in no way was it going to turn me into a 3 star Michelin chef overnight!

I still needed 2 more entrees. I narrowed it down to dishes which I thought would be hearty but not the stuff-you-silly kind. Soup it was. Besides, it was miserable outside, summer was coming to an end and rain, wind, cold was setting in.

Some of the dishes I made up, others I drew on inspiration and from participation at the Mondo Organics cooking class. Detailed recipes to follow.

Kale pesto on sourdough (original recipe by Brenda Fawdon)

Leafy green salad with semi-dried cranberries, pecans, goat milk fetta with a balsamic and agave dressing

Roasted tomato soup with thyme croutons

Wild mushroom soup with saffron croutons

Roasted pumpkin spelt gnocchi with sage butter sauce

Beetroot pearl barley risotto (adapted from original recipe by Brenda Fawdon)

Chocolate tofu tarts (adapted from original recipe by Brenda Fawdon)

Out and about in Vancouver and San Francisco

16 Oct

The abundant seafood along with many immigrants from the far east has created the perfect environment for eating sushi in Vancouver. There are probably more sushi restaurants per capita in Vancouver than any other city in the world, perhaps even more than in Tokyo! They are literally on every city block, in shopping centres, food courts, etc…

Could Vancouver be the sushi capital of the world? We’ll I don’t have the statistics to support such a statement but one thing I can vouch for is that it was some of the freshest, tastiest and cheapest sushi I’d ever eaten! If only I had my camera on all the occasions that I’d been eating sushi.

Sushi and Sashimi Porn…

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Not only did I come across many sushi restaurants in Vancouver but also a wide variety of Chinese, Malaysian and Thai restaurants too. Unfortunately I only have one stomach and am limited to eating 3 times a day so I wasn’t able to rival my sushi indulgence with other Asian delicacies. I did however sample a few dishes like hand-cut noodles, chili-garlic eggplant and salty-spicy tofu at The Peaceful; kacang ikan bilis (fried anchovies with peanuts) and roti canai at Tropika; probably the best laksa of late at Hawkers Delight; and, some decent papaya salad at Bob likes Thai Food.

Hawkers Delight Laksa…

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The food choices in Vancouver weren’t limited to Asian either: fine dining vegetarian at the Acorn and the well established West, my first Thanks Giving Dinner experience and I even stepped up to the plate to prepare a 7 course dinner!

The Acorn…

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Thanks Giving Dinner…

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Samples from the 7 course dinner…(through the eyes of my exclusive diner)

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And it wasn’t all about Vancouver too. San Francisco offered some of the best Mexican food I’d tasted outside of Mexico. Sadly, the camera wasn’t always on hand to capture what was delighting my taste buds and nourishing my stomach. Two vegetarian restaurants worthy of a mention were Greens (the longest standing) and Millennium (contemporary).

Tacolicious Mission SF…

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Back to school…cooking school that is!

18 Sep

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I’ve liked to cook since I was a child. My father would always be shouting from the garage for his never to be found assistant. I would be perched up high on a kitchen stool trying to help or at least watch my mother cook. The garage just didn’t excite me and brought no joy to my curious taste buds or ever rumbling stomach.

Since then my love for cooking has never faded, only grown into a serious passion. Nowadays, I’m no longer satisfied with the basics and have had a need to go beyond the ordinary. So last Saturday, I checked myself into Mondo Organics Cooking School in West End, Brisbane.

I’d found out about the cooking school after dining at the adjacent Mondo Organics restaurant in June, earlier this year. The cuisine was exquisite yet unpretentious. And yes, everything was organic (there is a difference I can assure you). I’m not sure whether it was the duck or the deconstructed pumpkin cake that prompted me to pickup the cooking school flyer; either way, I’m glad I did!

Saturday morning was manic. It began with groceries, then flattening chickens and smothering them with my special Portuguese marinade. An evening barbecue was on the cards. I finally made the dash to the car only to discover that the battery was dead. Next best option was my bike. 20 minutes later I was over the hill at Mondo: with a glass of water, name tag and playing introductions with about 12 other students.

After all the students had arrived, we marched into the school. My dawdling landed me in pole position, right next to the chef. Whilst daunting at first, it didn’t take me long before I was enjoying the bird’s-eye view of Chef Brenda Fawdon working her magic. I was like a lap dog, eager to please: chopping onions, whizzing up pesto and stirring risotto.

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So what are Super Foods? They are foods that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and other nutrients.  Some examples include pearl barley, quinoa, kale, turmeric, nuts, acai and cacao to name a few. In addition to having incredible health benefits, they’re usually unique in taste, texture and appearance.

What goes on in a 3 hour Super Foods class? Besides learning how to use Super Foods, there are cooking tips like how to: make garlic paste using only a knife, chop onion (safely), poach chicken and blind bake. But that’s not all. You get to interact with fellow foodies and ask loads of questions to debunk myths or misconceptions. Then you finish off by chowing on everything that you’d prepared.

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Have you attended a cooking class before or are thinking of taking one? Chances are that you won’t regret it, would definitely learn something new from it and if all else fails; go home nourished by a restaurant quality meal. There are classes about baking, bread, barbequing, pasta making, desserts, chocolate and even express meals in minutes. The list is endless and the number of schools are on the rise.

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What else did I learn?

Pecorino Cheese – did you know that it comes from an island called Sardinia off the salami and prosciutto coast of Italy where the locals are predominantly vegetarian? This hard cheese is made from ewe’s milk, has a mild taste, is slightly salty and melts nicely.

Tofu – is not bad! There are several types which can be used to complement meat dishes or as a stand alone protein for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. In my opinion, Tofu is underrated and can be incorporated or used as a substitute for many thick and creamy ingredients like mascarpone, double cream and mayonnaise (with only a fraction of the fat and same creamy texture).

Who attends such classes? Wives, mothers, daughters, sons, couples, foodies, amateur cooks, orienteering champions, herbivores, carnivores, basically anyone with an interest in food or cooking.

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