Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 in review

2008 Food ChallengesOn the 1st of January 2008, I set myself some 45 challenges to undertake throughout the year. They were quite tough and although I didn’t complete them all, I managed to do 32, many of which included multiple recipes.

Feel free to find out what these 2008 Food Challenges included. Those that I didn’t finish, I’ll carry over into 2009.

The Winners of 2008
2008 was a year of many changes in my kitchen. Either I discovered, rediscovered or somehow grew to love flavours that had never occurred to me before. Here are some of the stand-outs.

Palm hearts (palmitos)I had eaten them before, but this year I became obsessed with these delicious and expensive vegetables. Tasting like a cross between asparagus, artichoke and the sweetness of scallops my favourite way to eat them is simply sliced lengthways with fresh parsley and a sprinkle of olive oil and vinegar.

Sloe gin
I’m a big fan of gin, but when it has been steeped in gorgeous sloe berries it’s even more incredible. My favourite quick and easy drink is sloe gin shaken with lemon juice and a nip of Cointreau. Perfect. Add a little apricot brandy and it’s even better!

Who would have guessed it, but suddenly I’m enjoying chicken. Usually I go for big, gamey flavours so venison, lamb and beef are my top choices and then pork always came before chicken too, but in 2008 I found a myriad of ways to cook chicken wonderfully. My favourite is the so-called dark meat and I prefer thigh fillets over breast meat any day!

What a wonderful discovery this was! I had heard of this vegetable, and seen it on menus, but I’ve never been able to buy it myself. When we were in Sweden I saw it for sale in the supermarket and jumped at the chance to try it. Crunchy and salty, it’s best served with seafood and prepared simply with lemon juice and olive oil or butter.

Earl grey teaUntil recently I abhorred early grey tea. Jonas would make it and I would wrinkle my nose in disgust. Halfway through 2008 something changed dramatically and I literally woke up with a new love for this fragrant tea. I can’t get enough of it, although I will not abide milk to be added. What sacrilege! If you must add something, a slice of lemon or a teaspoon of sugar will suffice.

Albariño and Grüner VeltlinerThese two white wine varieties became my new favourites. Albariño grapes come from Galicia in Spain and make wines with strong stone fruit aromas and light, acidic flavours. Grüner Veltliner is grown primarily in Austria (Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal) and also in the Czech Republic. It has an ability to match easily with many foods and can take on an interesting green aroma including lentils, asparagus and green beans. It is quite bold in flavour, yet somehow also very light, and good quality bottles have herby, fresh scents with rich peppery flavours.

My favourite recipes of 2008Avgolemono (Greek chicken & lemon soup)
Blueberry Pie
Coco y Crema (coconut cocktail)
Es Timun Aceh (Indonesian cucumber & lime drink)
Fig Conserve
Lemon & Garlic Broccoli
Nectarine & Rooibus Punch
Orange Slices w Earl Grey Syrup
Galinha à Africana (spicy Portuguese-style chicken)
Jin Cheung Fun (Chinese fried noodle rolls w peanut sauce)
Potato Breakfast Curry w Poached Egg
Quince, Pomegranate & Rosewater Martini
Roast Chicken w Lemon & Thyme
Glasört & Smör (Samphire w Butter)
Sloecar (sloe gin & lemon cocktail)
Smoked Salmon Spoons
Steamed Blueberry Puddings
Strawberry Schnapps Spider
Sumac Scallops w Pomegranate Molasses
Yoghurt & Orange Blossom Cupcakes

The Losers of 2008Just as chicken and earl grey tea made it onto my “like” list after years in exile, 2008 saw a decline of many old favourites. Pinot noir and sauvignon blanc fell from favour, mostly due to over consumption and palate fatigue, and interestingly I started to dislike mushrooms, especially strong types like shitake. And, although I will never stop loving them with all my heart, my lemon intake reduced drastically (perhaps to one third of 2007 levels).

Stayed tuned in a few days time when I announce my 2009 Food Challenges.

Monday, 29 December 2008

mulberry & vanilla muffins


This is the last Weekend Herb Blogging for 2008. I can’t believe the year is almost over!

My recipe is a warm, comforting start to any day. Mulberries, which are fairly tart, balance well with the sweet vanilla flavour cake.

I like muffins served hot from the oven, perhaps with a sliver of melting butter.

Mulberry & Vanilla Muffins
Anna’s very own recipe. Makes 12.

250g mulberries
1 cup ricotta (approx 250g)
150g butter, melted
125ml milk
2 eggs
1 tablespoon sour cream
2 cups self raising flour
½ cup caster sugar
½ teaspoon mixed spice
1 vanilla bean
Pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 180’C. Grease 12-hole muffin tin and add liners.
2. Split vanilla bean and scrape out seeds.
3. Wash mulberries then remove the stalks and cut any very large berries in half.
4. Beat eggs with vanilla beans, milk and melted butter.
5. Add mixed spice, sour cream and ricotta and beat until combined.
6. Sift in flour, sugar and salt. Stir until only just combined. If needed add a little more milk.
7. Add mulberries and stir until only just combined. There will be lumps.
8. Divide amongst muffin tray and bake for 15-25 minutes, until golden brown on top and an inserted skewer comes out clean.
9. Cool in tin for 5 minutes then turn onto wire rack. Eat within 24hrs of making.

I have blogged about mulberries previously, so forgive me for recycling old information.

There are three main types of mulberries:
Black – native to western Asia, it was brought to Europe prior to Roman times.
Red – native to the eastern USA (Massachusetts to Kansas to the Gulf coast)
White – native to China and the original dinner for the silkworm. They were crossed with red varieties to provide more food sources for silkworms.

Interestingly, mulberries are also distantly related to breadfruit, jackfruit and figs.

Mulberry trees have a growth sprint in their youth but slow down and rarely grow taller than 10-15 metres. The berries start off white or pink then the red and black varieties darken deeply when ripe. The flavours of red and black berry varieties are more flavoursome than the white berry trees.

I remember when I’d pick the leaves for the silkworms I always managed to get bags and bags of the berries for myself and I’ve read that trees yield a large amount of fruit for their size when compared with other kinds of fruit trees.

Black mulberries, which have the strongest flavour contain about 9% sugar and also have malic and citric acid. You can eat them fresh (although I think they need a little sugar) or you can make pies, jam and sauces. Mulberry wines and mulberry ports are also very popular.

Immature fruits contain sap which is said to be mildly hallucinogenic while the ripe mulberries contain high amounts of resveratrol, a phytoalexin or antibacterial / anti-fungal chemical. Phytoalexins tend to have properties which are considers very beneficial and anti-cancer, antiviral, anti-aging, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory. In the old days they used mulberries to treat ringworm.

It’s kind of strange that the berries are very fragile and get mouldy quickly when they contain so much anti-fungal chemical.

I am quite impressed with my WHB efforts of 2008 since I managed to experiment with so many different ingredients:
Apricots - Apricot Summer Dessert Soup
Avocado - Avocado Smoothie
Broccoli - Lemon & Garlic Broccoli
Chayote/Choko - Spicy Burmese Broth
Coriander - Zhoug (spicy Yemeni sauce); Chermoula Baked Snapper
Crown Dill - Swedish Crayfish Party
Cucumber - Indonesian Lime & Cucumber Drink
Drumstick - Drumstick Masala
Fig - Fig, Hazelnut & Chocolate Cake
Finger Lime - Finger Lime Martini
Grapefruit -
Grapefruit, Vanilla & Rosewater Marmalade
Grapes - Grape Nut Salad; Pickled Grapes
Hibiscus -
Karkanji (Central African spiced drink)
Horseradish - Oysters w Horseradish
Juniper Berries -
Venison w Blueberry Sauce
Kaffir -
Eggplant Sambal, Turmeric Rice, Kaffir Syrup
Kangkung -
Stir-Fried Water Spinach
Kohlrabi -
Kohlrabi Gratin
Lime -
Ethiopian Sauteed Fish
Lotus Root -
Sri Lankan Lotus Curry
Moringa -
Moringa Omelette
Mulberries - Mulberry & Vanilla Muffins
Okra -
Burkina Faso Fish & Veggie Stew
Palm Hearts -
Costa Rican Rice w Palm Hearts
Pandan - Sweet Sago w Spiced Coconut Milk
Parsley -
Sumac Scallops
Peaches -
Baked Peaches Stuffed w Amaretti
Piri-Piri Chillies - Portuguese-style Chicken
Plantains -
Plantain Fritters
Potato -
Potato Breakfast Curry
Quinoa -
Peruvian Quinoa Stew
Rose Apples
Rosemary -
Rosemary & Cheese Biscuits
Samphire - Glasört & Smör
Sumac - Grilled Eggplant w Tahini-Yoghurt Dressing
Sunchoke -
Baked Jerusalem Artichoke
Thyme -
Roast Chicken w Lemon & Thyme; Swedish Fish Soup
Truffles -
Truffled Green Beans
Verjuice -
Zucchini & Basil Salad w Verjuice & Currants
Yuca -
Ecuadorian Tuna & Yuca Soup
Zucchini -
Zucchini Breakfast Bake

I think I managed to cover off some very interesting items!

This is my last WHB for 2008, so join me in 2009 to read over the wonderful recap by our lovely Haalo from Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once!


Friday, 26 December 2008

adriano zumbo pâtissier

Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier
296 Darling Street, Balmain
+61 2 9810 7318

Can you believe that I attended his cooking class over a year ago, but it wasn’t until last Saturday that I made my very first visit to Adriano Zumbo’s pâtissierie!


The tiny little shop is full of the most exquisite cakes you can find in Sydney.

Apart from the delicious flaky pastries of the savoury tarts and soft cannelle scrolls there are trays of macarons of all flavours and some of the most delectable desserts outside of gaie Paris!

The best part is you can select a cake or two (or seven) then head a few doors over to the Adriano Zumbo Café Chocolat (308 Darling St, Balmain, inside Balmain Mall) where they will kindly plate them up while you sip on coffee and prepare yourself for a sugar coma.

I rounded up three friends (Bicky, Shamu and Nat) and like an avalanche we gathered another gal (Sarah) on our way there. Five very eager women sat down to seven very delicious desserts.

Here are the results.

Wheely Wildy Wendy
Roasted peach; tonka bean crème legere; almond dacquoise disks; almond crumble.
I really enjoyed the overall flavour composition of this cake. Fresh, sweet peach gave a light, freshness to a very rich cream and the almond dacquoise were perfectly crisp and crumbly. I think much of the sweetness derives from the white chocolate edging, but I would prefer to see the peach chunks increased to balance out the sweetness in the crème legere. 6.5/10

Sunny Cloud
Pate sable; lime jelly; yoghurt creme fraîche; lime curd; italian meringue.
I’m not a huge fan of lemon meringue pie so this was never going to make me swoon, but as far as the genre goes I was mightily impressed. Pillows of soft meringue had the perfect texture and the thin layer of lime curd was luscious and intense in flavour. Very satisfying. 7/10

Chocolate biscuit macaron; blackcurrant chocolate cremeaux; chocolate plates with sea salt; dark chocolate chantilly.
The dark chocolate was beautifully strong and bitter and the sweetness of the blackcurrant emerged amongst it. What was shocking to the senses was the intensely salty layer of mousse that cut through the richness of the cake. I liked it, and do like salt in my desserts, but I would prefer the salt level to be cut down slightly as it almost overpowered the other flavours. 7/10

Tarte aux Fruites de la Passion
Passionfruit curd; sable base.
Simple yet delicious. I am a huge fan of passionfruit curd, the tangy sweetness suckers me in every time. In this instance the portion was generous although the tart base was almost impenetrable and made breaking it with a fork a potentially explosive occasion. 7.5/10

Charlotte Full
Olive oil mousse; rhubarb ripple; passionfruit crème; biscuit macaron; fresh berries.
This is not a dessert for the faint-hearted, as the olive oil flavours are clear and present and extremely intense. I adored it. Somehow I was repulsed and attracted at the same time, eventually being won over by the smooth, bitter-sweet mousse. The biscuit macaron provided substance, the fresh berries excellent contrast and the passionfruit and rhubarb added the necessary tart sweetness. 8/10

La Vie En Rose
Rose crème brûlée; raspberry sorbet balls; fresh lychees; petit rose macarons; coconut strawberry tapioca shake.
There are many reasons to like this dessert and the ingenious addition of a shake it one. The strawberries used in the shake are sweet and intensely fresh in flavour, while the tapioca pearls are gentle and very unlike the chewy balls that come from industrial drink shops. The rose crème brûlée is gentle, light and aerated and doesn’t take on the heaviness of many set custards. Sweet lychee flesh and raspberry sorbet help to add fresh flavours but the small macarons seem effected by the cold and moisture and, while tasting good, quickly became stale in texture. 8.5/10

Where's The Cheese?
Blue cheese mousse; fig, raisin & pear creameaux; pear & vanilla bavaroise; walnut biscuit.
This was my favourite of the day. The blue cheese mousse was very gentle yet signicifantly flavoursome and the delicious morsels of dried figs, raisins and fresh pear provided a sweet interlude to the rich bavaroise. The caramelised walnut shards were visually elegant and matched the overall flavour composition perfectly. This dessert rated the highest from all the taste testers. 9/10

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

quince, pomegranate & rosewater martini

This cocktail is truly luscious. The flavours are sweet and floral while still retaining significant tartness from the fresh pomegranate juice.

It was served alongside a few amuse bouches at a dinner party back in June.

I highly recommend this to start or finish any Middle Eastern themed evening, or when you're home alone and need to pamper yourself with a little luxury.

Quince, Pomegranate & Rosewater Martini

Anna’s recipe. Makes 4.

300ml fresh pomegranate juice
1½ tablespoons quince paste
½ teaspoon rosewater
100ml Genever (or gin)
45ml Cointreau


1. Heat quince paste and pomegranate juice until quince paste dissolves. Chill.
2. In a cocktail shaker, shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into martini glasses and serve immediately.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Monday, 22 December 2008

arroz congrí: cuban tomato & black bean rice

This Cuban rice recipe was great.

Jonas made it (because rice is my kryptonite) and we served it as a side at a BBQ and stretched out to make ten portions that we ate on the day and over the next few days.

It even made it’s own salad with some cubed avocado and a sprinkling of lime juice and fresh coriander, plus it's really good served with Creole-Spiced Chicken.

This is the last of my 2008 food challenges covering Caribbean cuisine and realistically it’s probably the last food challenge of the year as I don’t think I’ll be to complete anymore in time.

Arroz Congrí (Cuban Tomato & Black Bean Rice)

Based on a recipe by Nancy Sanchez. Serves 6-8 as a buffet dish.

5 cups long grain rice
880g canned black beans
1 litre vegetable stock
1 cup tomato passata
2 small onions, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, crushed
Vegetable oil, for frying
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Fry the onion and garlic in the vegetable oil till transparent.
2. Add tomato passata. Stir to combine
3. Add vegetable stock, beans and rice. Season.
4. Cook, covered, for twenty minutes or until the rice and beans are ready and the liquid has absorbed.


meme for laura

I have been tagged by Laura from Laura’s Paris Cooking Network, who is a loyal reader of Morsels & Musings and always brings me cheer with her encouraging comments on almost every recipe.

You wouldn’t think it, but comments are so important because they let me know you’re reading and what you think about my recipes. Without them I’d be really lonely!

Laura tagged me in a little meme and even though I rarely do memes, since Laura is so lovely, I’ve decided to take part.

So here are the six random facts about me:
1. My wines of choice at moment are albariño and grüner veltliner.
2. My first word was “cat”.
3. At the age of 15, I was convinced I had magical powers to control the wind.
4. Yesterday Jonas bought me an ice cream machine for Christmas!
5. Despite good grades, my report cards commonly contained the word “belligerent”.
6. My ancestry is mixed: first free settlers in Australia, American Civil War veterans and Carpathian nobility.

These are the meme rules:
1. Link to the person who tagged you
2. Post the rules on your blog
3. Write six random things about yourself
4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them
5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up

Generally I don’t like to pass these memes on but in this case I’ll take the opportunity to highlight some blogs which have recently (or not so recently) captured my attention. The authors need not take part in the meme if they don’t want, but I want to point out their blogs at least.

Jules from stonesoup (Australia)
Creative food, stylish photography and a long index of recipes to choose from.

Peter from Kalofagas (Canada)
This blogger prolifically produces hearty, delicious Greek fare. The portions are generous and the recipes are mouth-watering. And best of all there is no fuss which makes Peter’s recipes so approachable.

Mercedes from Desert Candy (USA)
This blog is full of beautiful Middle Eastern inspired recipes, and not your run-of-the-mill stuff either. Mercedes spent time in many Levantine countries and has a deep understanding of the food and an eye for recalling the most interesting experiences.

Lorraine from Not Quite Nigella (Australia)
Festive recipes are dominating this blog at the moment, but you’ll soon discover they aren’t the usual Christmas fare. Lorraine captures the variety of Sydney restaurants as well as offering up exquisite recipes with beautiful photos.

Martin from (Norway)
Here you will learn all about molecular gastronomy. Martin puts so much science into his food and the results are often quite amazing. I’,m sure some people will be challenged by the textures and flavours he creates, but I think his work is so interesting.

Nicole from Pinch My Salt (USA)
Lately Nicole has been on a cookie baking frenzy, but at this blog you’ll find a range of delicious recipes focusing predominantly on American and Italian cuisine.

Friday, 19 December 2008

tan tan men

Another one bites the dust . . . another 2008 food challenge that is!

With loads of help from my gal in Tokyo, Courtney, I was able to make this absolutely delicious ramen noodle soup.

I first ate Tan Tan Men at Ichiban Boshi, a ramen chain in Sydney, and I have been in love ever since. Spicy, Asian style Bolognese sauce on delicious ramen noodles with a fiery broth. Wow!

My own version was (of course) not as good as the experts, but for a home attempt it was fantastic. Definitely one to make again!

Now what disappointed me immensely was not the recipe but my shaky photography! I must have taken more than 20 photos of the tan tan men and the image on this post is the only one that didn't come out blurry. Sorry about that folks!

Tan Tan Men (Spicy Japanese-Chinese Ramen Soup)

Anna’s version of various internet recipes. Serves 2.


375ml chicken stock
200g pork mince
180g ramen
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon white sesame paste
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon doubanjiang (Chinese spicy bean paste)
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons tenmenjan (Chinese sweet miso)
1 teaspoon hot chilli oil
2 tablespoons finely sliced shallot (scallion), garnish


1. Heat the sesame and chilli oils in a pot.

2. Add garlic, ginger and doubanjiang then fry until fragrant.

3. Add pork and brown.

4. Next add sesame paste, tenmenjan and chicken stock. Bring to the boil then reduce to simmer.

5. In a separate pot, cook ramen as per the packet instructions. Drain.

6. Combine noodles, broth and meat in serving bowls and sprinkle with scallion garnish. Eat hot.

Anna’s variations:
If you can’t find all the specialty ingredients then replace the doubanjiang with the Korean equivalent gochjung, the white sesame paste with tahini and the tenmenjan with a tablespoon or two of light soy sauce and a pinch of sugar.

This is my long overdue contribution to Presto Pasta Nights, an event started by Ruth but this week (the last of 2008) hosted by C from Foodie Tots.


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

risotto cakes w calamari, parsley & capers

First I want to plug this book, Homecooked Feasts: Favourite Celebratory Recipes from Australian Kitchens.

Why? Because celebrity chef Maggie Beer and delicious magazine food editor Valli Little selected no less than five of my recipes to be included!!! I knew one of my recipes had made it in, but I had no idea that all five would be printed!!! I’m proud as punch.

Flicking through the pages, Morsels & Musings readers might recognise Caldo Tlalpeño, Roast Pork w Apples & Prunes, Emu Steaks w Pepperberry & Rosella Sauce, Erebos & Nyx (blackberry cocktail) and Vanilla & Rosewater Cupcakes.

It’s the first time one of my recipes has been published. I’m so pleased.

Now that all my chest puffing and hooting has ended, we can move onto the 2008 food challenge of the day: Risotto Cakes w Calamari & Parsley-Caper Dressing.

I used squid ink risotto because I wanted to contrast the black of the risotto with the beautiful red of the tomatoes, the white of the calamari and the green from the dressing. It worked wonderfully!

The flavours are simply sublime. Sweet calamari, tangy capers and crispy risotto. Delish!

Risotto Cakes w Calamari & Parsley-Caper Dressing
Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 2.

200g risotto, chilled (I used squid ink risotto)
200g calamari
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped capers
100ml lemon juice
6 cherry tomatoes
Olive oil, for frying and drizzling
Flour, for dusting
Salt and pepper, to taste


1. Take the risotto and shape into two patties. Dust with seasoned flour and chill.

2. Slice the calamari into strips and score gently with a knife. Dust lightly in seasoned flour.

3. Heat olive oil a pan. Gently add the risotto cakes to one fry until crispy, about 5 minutes on each side.

4. Meanwhile, in another pan, fry the calamari in olive oil for about 2 minutes per pieces or until slightly browned and tender.

5. Remove calamari from pan and while risotto cakes are still frying, add cherry tomatoes to calamari pan and heat until soft and just bursting.

6. When risotto cakes are ready, remove from pan and place on warm plates. Top with 3 cherries each and some calamari strips.

7. In a bowl, combine lemon juice, parsley, capers and a little olive oil. Drizzle around the plate and serve while ingredients are still hot.


Monday, 15 December 2008

apricot summer soup

This soup is a gorgeous summer dessert, but its richness means you should only serve it in small quantities.

This is my recipe for the special festive edition of Weekend Herb Blogging where we are asked to submit special recipes for the holiday season.

I’d like to think this dessert could be served as a light ending to any summer BBQ or dinner party, or a pre-dessert before the pudding at a Southern Hemisphere Christmas (don’t forget it’s summer down here).

It’s easy to make in advance and can stay in a sealed container in the fridge for over a week. That makes it the perfect impromptu dessert in my books.

Like many of my latest posts, this recipe fills two 2008 Food Challenge criterion, since it is a fruit soup invention and uses amardine, also known as qamar el-deen and apricot leather (blogged previously).

The amardine dissolves and thickens the soup nicely, while allowing the apples to retain some texture. The apricots should be plump and soft, but still have a little texture too.

Apricot Summer Soup

Anna’s very own recipe. 10 very small serves. 
200g semi-dried apricots, finely chopped
1 tart apple, peeled and grated
50g amardine / qamar el-deen
375ml water
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup sugar
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
100ml pouring cream


1. Combine the dried apricots, amardine, grated apple, lemon rind and cinnamon in a saucepan with 375ml water.

2. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes until apricots and apple are soft and the amardine has dissolved.

3. Taste the mixture and gradually add sugar to create the desired sweetness. Stir until dissolved.

4. Add lemon juice and taste again.

5. When desire sweetness is reached, cool then remove the lemon rind.

6. Serve chilled with swirls of pouring cream.

My Weekend Herb Blogging ingredient is clearly the apricot.

The apricots botanical name, Prunus armeniaca, translates to Armenian plum, even though it’s believed the apricot originated in western China and Central Asia

Indians were probably the first cultivators at around 3000BC, although the Silk Road traders brought it into Armenia, where it was grown since ancient times.

Alexander the Great’s armies probably brought apricots to Greece and from there it spread to Rome and beyond. Persians made dried apricots an important trade and Spanish missionaries introduced apricots to the American west coast.

Apricots are more cold-tolerant than peaches although their early flowering means spring frost can cause damage.

Apricot kernels are also edible and have a strong almond flavour. In many Middle Eastern countries they are commonly eaten and in Italy both the famous almond flavoured liqueur and biscuits (Amaretto and Amaretti) are made from apricot kernels.

Like plums, apricots are high in fibre and can have laxative effects after as little as three fruits. Anyone who has ever eaten too many organic dried apricots knows about that side effect!

The English word apricot has a long etymological history. Pliny called apricots praecocia or praecoquus "cooked or ripened early" which became al-barqūq in Arabic then albaricoque in Spanish, via the Moors, finally onto French’s abricot and then Middle English abrecock which eventually became apricot. What a journey!

In 2005, the top ten producers of apricots were (in order) Turkey, Iran, Italy, Pakistan, Greece, France, Algeria, Spain, Japan and Morocco. A diverse and surprising group!

Strangely enough, American soldiers are very superstitions about apricots and tanks. Sherman tanks apparently broke down when canned apricots were nearby and ever since the drivers will not eat them, allow them near the tanks nor even say the word!

This week, our WHB host is Haalo from Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once. Be sure to visit the round-up for an amazing selection of festive recipes.



try this! shiraz vintage chocolate

Cocoa Farm approached me, and many other bloggers, to review their new Shiraz Wine Chocolate Barrels.

Being a food blogger is so tough.

Having already tried their wine chocolates previously, I was quite happy to do it again in a “professional context” because I knew I could give their product a glowing review.

First, there are two things about Cocoa Farm that I love:
1) they are Australia’s first cocoa plantation
2) they mix wine and chocolate!

The moment you open the chocolate you are struck with a slightly sweet, spicy and alcoholic aroma that starts your mouth watering.

Visually the gloss and audible snap of high quality chocolate is not there, and you’ll find a slight powdery consistency upon entry, but this immediately gives way to a creamy quality once it reaches the heat of your mouth.

There is definitely a slight pepper at the back of your palate and the dried raisins taste of robust mulled wine. The overall flavour intensity is high and the chocolates are dangerously moreish. Dangerously. In fact one could devour an entire box/block with ease.

As I said, I have always been a big fan of these chocolates, and the latest range is no different.

My only critique is that the shapely barrel moulds are clever, but every single one was scratched on its surface, so perhaps the protective box needs to be sturdier?

That’s it from this happy chocolate lover. I’m off to savour my very last barrel of shiraz chocolate!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

squid ink risotto

My first experience with a squid ink risotto was age 15 when my mother ordered it at restaurant in Venice. Her mouth and teeth turned a terrible black and I just knew I had to taste it. Of course it was delicious and so I have ordered squid ink dishes in good restaurants ever since.

Ordering it at a restaurant is one thing, but cooking with squid ink has always daunted me. That’s why I made it one of my 2008 food challenges.

I had always dreamt of making squid ink risotto cakes topped with bright red tomatoes and white calamari (the colour contrast excites me) so I needed to start with the basics: squid ink risotto.

This recipe comes from Philippe Mouchel, a French chef with a restaurant in Melbourne. I liked this recipe because it stuck to the tenets of risotto making, which is really well explained by Giorgio Locatelli in his book Made in Italy.

The stages are as follows:
soffritto – the base of butter and ingredients such as onions, garlic and leeks
tostatura – toasting the rice in the soffritto to ensure even cooking
mantecatura – once the rice has been cooked through gradual absorption, the last stage is to beat in butter and cheese

The risotto should not be a stiff mass but be soft and ripple like waves (all’onda).

Although Mouchel recommended Arborio, I switched to the elegant Carnaroli because I learnt it’s best for simple risotto recipes without many ingredients, which suits this squid ink risotto.

I was proud of my results because the risotto was smooth and silky, and yet the rice grains were still delicately al dente.

It was a triumph!

When I added the squid ink, the risotto turned a terrible grey with tiny white rice grains popping through the muck. I panicked and thought it was going to turn out to be a disaster, but as the heat melted through the ink it somehow intensified and turned a beautiful black.

It really was a delicious recipe, which I would definitely cook again. I imagine it would be a stunning conversation starter at a dinner party.

Risotto al Nero di Seppia (Squid Ink Risotto)

Based on a recipe by
Philippe Mouchel. Serves 4. 


1 tablespoon (20ml) squid ink
3 shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
250g Carnaroli rice
250ml white wine
800ml chicken stock
Olive oil, for cooking
Salt and pepper, for seasoning
70g butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot, extra
125ml white wine vinegar
Grilled octopus, garnish
Baby basil leaves, garnish


1. In a large saucepan sweat the shallots and garlic in olive oil over a low heat until shallots become transparent.

2. Add rice and continue to cook stirring until rice is transparent.

3. Add wine deglazing pan and reduce.

4. Heat stock to boiling point and then add enough to just cover the rice and stir.

5. At this point also add the bay leaf. Continuing to stir over a medium heat gradually add the stock ladle by ladle so rice is absorbing the liquid.

6. The rice should take about 18 minutes to cook and at the 14 minute mark add squid ink.

7. In the meantime, make the acid butter by combining the extra shallot and vinegar over a medium heat then reduce by half. Stir the butter into the hot vinegar.

8. Once the rice reaches a soft texture (the rice should be soft but still holding its shape) take off heat and beat in acid butter. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

9. Serve risotto on flat warm plates or bowls, garnished with grilled octopus or calamari and fresh baby basil leaves.


Saturday, 6 December 2008

sugo di nonna

This is my Italian grandmother’s recipe and one of my 2008 food challenges.

I’m not Italian at all, but I spent time in Rome during 1999. While I was there I lived with an Italian family who adopted me whole-heartedly and their matriarch, Anna-Maria, became my “nonna”.

Every Sunday the family made a visit to Nonni’s house for a big, traditional multicourse lunch. The first time I went my Italian wasn’t very good and I ate multiple courses of the delicious pasta, only to discover it was the first of many courses!

When my sister Shamu visited we warned her not to sit next to Nonno because he’s infamous for serving mountainous portions and coaxing you to eat until you’re as stuffed as a foie gras goose. Of course when she walked in the door, Nonno ambushed her and piled her plate with more food than she could eat, ending with a “slice” (an entire quarter!) of watermelon.

During an impromptu visit to Rome in 2005, Nonna made a special Sunday lunch in my honour and this was one of the courses she made. Her sauce was served with slices of cold roast pork, so it’s a perfect way to dress up leftovers. I like it over warm pork chops and cutlets too.

It’s a simple and delicious recipe that I hope you’ll enjoy.

Sugo di Nonna (White Wine & Vegetable Sauce)

Anna-Maria’s very own recipe. Makes 350ml.


2 cups white wine
½ cup onion, finely chopped
½ cup celery, finely chopped
½ cup carrot, finely chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, extra
Salt and pepper


1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a saucepan. Add onion, celery, carrot then season with salt and pepper. Sauté gently for 10 minutes until softened.

2. Add white wine and parsley then simmer for another 10 minutes until alcohol has evaporated, liquid has reduced by half and the vegetables are quite soft.

3. Stir through extra butter and check seasoning, then serve over pork cutlets or slices of cold roast pork.


Wednesday, 3 December 2008

boquerones: marinated white anchovies

I first tried boquerones at a Spanish Chamber of Commerce lunch in 2005. I couldn’t believe how good they were and I was over the moon to discover my local deli selling them in bulk.

They have everything I adore: extreme sourness and a salty yet moreishly clean aftertaste. Paired with thinly shaved garlic and fresh parsley, I could eat them for breakfast, lunch or dinner and I'm always recommending them to friends who seem disdainful and then develop their own addictions.

This particular recipe for boquerones comes from MoVida, a cookbook from the Spanish restaurant of the same name in Melbourne. This restaurant is probably the forefront of modern Spanish cuisine in Australia and the recent addition of a sherry bar only boosts their reputation.

One of the 2008 Food Challenges I set myself was to cook from a few cookbooks and MoVida was one of them (I’m really having to hammer through these 2008 Food Challenges because 2008 is almost over).

MoVida’s cookbook is inspiring because I’ve eaten there before and I know how good this food can be. Now that Camorra has shared his secrets I’m keen to try some others such as:
*Deep-fried Piquillo Peppers stuffed with Salt Cod
*Ajo Blanco with Grape Granita
*Skate with Hazelnuts and Lemon
*Canary Islands Salted Potatoes
*Roast Pork Belly with Quince Alioili
*Pan de Higos (chocolate and fig bread)

But for now, here is an exquisite recipe for exquisite boquerones.

Boquerones en Vinagre (Marinated White Anchovies)

Recipe from MoVida by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish. Serves 12 for tapas.


500g jar pickled Spanish white anchovies, drained
1 white salad onion, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 handful flat-leaf parsley
150ml extra virgin olive oil
150ml white wine vinegar


1. Lay the anchovies flat in a glass or ceramic dish (metal bowls will react with the marinade)

2. Put the sliced onion and garlic on top of the anchovies.

3. Pick the parsley leaves off the stem and sprinkle over onion.

4. Vigorously combine the olive oil and vinegar and pour over anchovies.

5. Refrigerate overnight. Serve chilled.

If these boquerones take your fancy (can’t see why they wouldn’t) then you should proceed to making the Basque pintxos called Gildas: pieces of palm heart, tomato, olives and rolled boquerones served on skewers. And MoVida’s cookbook includes a recipe for Gildas too.


Monday, 1 December 2008

west african plantain fritters

Marcus Samuelsson is a European and an African. As a three year old, he and his older sister were adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage and taken to Sweden to live their lives with a food-loving family.

Now Samuelsson is well-known in international circles as the chef who championed the quality and inspiration behind modern Scandinavian cuisine. His arrival at the famous New York restaurant, Aquavit, saw it ranked three stars from the NY Times and spawned a beautiful book by the same name.

In his other book, The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa, Samuelsson explores the continent of his birth.

One of his recipes is a West African banana fritter, which I transformed into something a little more special by using plantains, and covered off the last of my West African cooking challenge for 2008.

Plantain Fritters
Recipe from The Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson. Makes 12 fritters.


3 ripe plantains
½ cup fine cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
3 – 4 cups canola oil, for deep-frying
2 tablespoons honey


1. Combine the plantains, cornmeal, sugar, salt in a bowl and mash with a fork until smooth.

2. Heat 2 ½ inches of oil in a deep pot to 180’C.

3. Working in batches, add a heaped spoonful of the plantain mixture and fry until golden brown (about 2-3 minutes). Turn once halfway through cooking.

4. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

5. Before serving, drizzle with honey.

I have blogged about plantains before for Weekend Herb Blogging and because I am flat out at work these days I'm going to be really naughty and copy straight from an old post:

Plantains are very starchy fruit which are used more like a vegetable. They should usually be cooked before eating and are low in sugar content, although I suppose a black plantain (at its ripest stage) may be eaten raw.

It seems that green plantains are best for savoury dishes but when they get a little riper you can use them for desserts too.

Green plantains are very hard to peel and I used a potato peeler to get into the starchy flesh. In fact it’s so starchy my hands were coated with sticky starch even after washing.

Apparently they come from tropical South East Asia, particularly the Malay Archipelago, but they feature heavily in the diets of the Caribbean and West Africa. There they use plantains the way Europeans use potatoes: they can be fried, boiled, mashed or baked.

In Vietnam and Laos the plantain flowers are used to make salads and soups and the large leaves can be used as plates or wraps when cooking food. As the plant will only fruit once, after the harvest the stalk can be peeled to reveal a soft shoot which is also eaten.

Our WHB host for the week is Ivy from Kopiaste, a beautiful food blogger from Athens who often highlights the Cypriot delicacies of her homeland.



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