Friday, 31 December 2010

2010 in review

2010 has been a pretty good year for me.

I’ve managed to:
• Keep my job via 5 short term contracts and 2 job interviews (don’t ask!)
buy it!
• Go on two overseas holidays to Sweden & Rome and Spain's Basque Country & Galicia (yay fun, boo credit card debt)
• Get included in the book “Foodies of the World: a collection of profiles and recipes from the best blogs around the world” (yippee)
• Do some writing for the SBS Food website on famous chefs Wylie Dufresne and Yotam Ottolenghi (woohoo)
• Put on 10kgs (oopps)

I also reached a rather big number in years and saw a forest of gray hairs sprout just in time for this momentous birthday. Thanks ageing process, you suck ass.
Now here’s my usual Year in Review formula . . . stay tuned for my 2011 Food Challenges tomorrow.

The Losers of 2010

Somewhat surprisingly, as you’ll read in the Winners of 2010, I have gone off sweets and moved towards savoury.

This meant chocolate was a minor loser in 2010. Interestingly, I still cooked a lot with chocolate and made desserts (and was well supplied by the lovely people at Lindt), but I didn’t eat as much chocolate as I have in previous years.

Lindt’s new Intense Sea Salt and their old staple 70% Cocoa were the only chocolates I chose the snack on in 2010, and probably because they are intensely flavoured and high in cocoa which makes them more on the savoury side.

But the real loser of 2010 was vegetarianism.

In August, the veggos of the world lost a faithful, dedicated brother who had held the line (no meat, no seafood) for over 16 years. My wonderful husband finally succumbed to my enticements, like Adam to Eve, and joined the ranks of the evil carnivorous flesh-lovers.

Once he made the decision to start eating meat, he didn’t look back.

Interestingly, he's quite dedicated not to be hypocritical about meat eating and will try any animal or body part as long as it isn’t endangered or the texture isn’t like jelly (jello). In his short few months as an omnivore he has more meats and cuts than most people who have eaten meat all their lives (for example goat cutlets, raw horse tartare, pickled ox tongue, grilled veal sweetbreads etc). It's impressive.

His new diet has helped him lose around 15kgs because he no longer eats so much cheese. Whereas I'm eating more meat now and gaining some tummy tyres.

But our lives together have actually improved. There was nothing wrong with him being a vegetarian, and we worked hard to make it possible for both our food habits to thrive in our kitchen, but nowadays cooking less work for everyone and we are able to share our experiences. It’s brought an unexpected harmony and closeness that we would never have guessed.

The Winners of 2010

One could almost say that 2010 was when my taste buds matured. A noticeable change was my increased interest in savoury over sweet and I found surprising pleasure in food that I had eaten many times before but never really enjoyed until now.

Capsicum (peppers)

After travelling through Spain with two vegetarians, I had to overcome my greatest food hurdle: my intense dislike of capsicum. Despite loads of fresh produce for sale in Spanish markets, when the Spanish eat out they really don’t order a lot of veggies and hence restaurant menus are pretty much green-free-zones. The exception to this are pimientos de Padrón and Gernika, small green peppers flash fried and salted. The appearance of these peppers at every meal may have turned my vegetarian friends off them for life, but they helped me overcome my distaste and these days I order them when I see them in Sydney.

Toasted, these nuts have become my all time favourites. The texture is like a walnut with a crisper bite and sweeter flavour. They match wonderfully with maple syrup . . .

Real Maple Syrup
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I never understood the fascination with real maple syrup. I always thought it tasted weak compared to maple flavoured syrup and frankly I preferred the fake stuff. Then I decided to invest some serious $$$ into a good quality Canadian maple syrup and the wonderful caramelised richness floored me. Maple syrup, I will never doubt thee again.

No, not the coffee. I’m talking about equal parts Campari and Cinzano Rosso over ice, topped with soda water. Despite having tried it many times before, it was only in Rome last January that I finally appreciated the balance of sweet and bitter, complemented by the citrus of an orange segment.

In 2010, I also started drinking more water. I have never been good at remembering to imbibe the clear nectar, but in the last half of the year my levels increased and I even started thirsting for it. Soda water has also gotten a real work out in my kitchen, going wonderfully with a dash of verjuice or simply drunk on it’s own.

Sydney's new restaurants have been delivering a good tongue lashing. Bloodwood does a wonderful smoked, shaved tongue as part of their charcuterie plate and Porteño makes a mean pickled tongue that would convert even the most lingua-phobic person into a major tongue kisser. Sydney chefs, keep that tongue coming!

Favourite M&M recipes of 2010

Ispahan Cupcakes
(raspberry, rose, lychee)

Raw Rhubarb Salad

Maple & Pecan Granola &
Vanilla Poached Pears

Chipotle & Tomato Sauce

Middle Eastern Orange Cake

Spiced Cherry Pie

Orechiette w Peas, Creme Fraiche & Pancetta

Passionfruit Marshmallows

Radish & Broad Bean Salad w
Green Tahini Dressing

Smoky BBQ'd Pork Ribs

Banana Bread

Batida Morango

And as I mentioned previously, stay tuned for my 2011 Food Challenges tomorrow!

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

lavender-honey ice cream

When I was a child, the steps from my house patio to the garden below were overrun with a huge bush of lavender, wands of purple blooms pushing through the wooden fence and across the concrete path. In the summer the bees would mill around the flowers in a frenzy and I would either leap madly down the stairs to avoid getting stung, or quietly sneak onto the top step to watch them busily about their honey-making business.

My mother loved her lavender bush, and I imagine should would have loved the soft elegant flavours of this ice cream.

Made as per Mr Lebovitz’s instructions, it tastes of honey and cream with a light touch of lavender. Made impatiently and over infused, it tastes like a mouthful of Grandma’s soap. Do what you’re told by Mr Lebovitz, and you won’t get your mouth washed out.

This ice cream is from one of my favourite dessert cookbooks and ticks off two 2010 Food Challenges, cooking with lavender and exploring ice cream.

Lavender-Honey Ice Cream

Recipe from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. Makes around 1 litre.

125ml (½ cup) good quality honey
8g (¼ cup) dried or fresh lavender flowers
375ml (1½ cups) whole milk
50g (¼ cup) sugar
Pinch of salt
375ml (1½ cups) heavy cream
5 large egg yolks


1. Heat the honey and 2 tablespoons of the lavender in a small saucepan.  Once warm, remove from the heat and set aside to steep at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan.

3. Pour the cream in a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

4. Pour the lavender-infused honey into the cream through the strainer, pressing on the lavender flowers to extract as much flavour as possible, then discard the lavender and set the strainer back over the cream.

5. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.

6. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly to avoid scrambling, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

7. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.

8. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream.

9. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons lavender flowers and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator.

10. The next day, before churning, strain the mixture, again pressing on the lavender flower to extract their flavour.

11. Discard the flowers, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

wild hibiscus flowers in syrup

Merry Christmas!

I’m trying hard not to be a little sad this Christmas, but there are four people snowed in on the other side of the world who were supposed to be here with us today.

Jonas’ elder brother (David), sister (Helena), brother-in-law (Christian) and niece (Chloe) were due to arrive on Wednesday morning and instead (because London and Frankfurt don’t know how to handle a little snow) they’ll miss this very special Christmas we had arranged for them.

On the up side, my lovely brother and his family drove down from the Gold Coast to join us and that’s one big positive.

Jonas and his crew will just have to wait a few more days for their own sweet reunion.

~ ~ ~

To celebrate Christmas, I’m sharing this very festive recipe that’s actually perfect for any special occasion.

Admittedly, fresh rosellas (wild hibiscus flowers) are hard to get your hands on but, if you can, the delicious syrups and jams they produce is worth the hard yards tracking them down.

These flowers and a splash of their syrup are perfect for adding to a glass of bubbly (I had them as an aperitif at my wedding), or equally wonderful with soda water, as a topping to vanilla yoghurt or perched on a cheesecake.

And for those who can’t get these pretty little flowers to poach them yourselves, there are some great websites that ship jars of the flowers in syrup.

This recipe comes from a beautiful and truly interesting cookbook about native Australian ingredients called Wild Food. If you're curious about the amazing fruits, herbs and spices that Australia has given to the world, you might want to check it out.

Wild Rosella Flowers in Syrup

Recipe from Wild Food by Juleigh Robins. Makes 40.

2 cups cold water
2 cups caster sugar
2 cups wild rosellas, chopped
40 wild rosella flowers, whole


1. Place the water, sugar and chopped wild rosella in a wide stainless-steel saucepan over medium heat.

2. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the volume of liquid has reduced by a third.

3. Remove from the heat and strain to remove the solids.

4. Return to the pan, add the flowers and bring to the boil.

5. When it starts to bubble, remove from the heat and pour into sterilised jars.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

try this! pat & stick's ice cream sandwiches: part 2

This is the second time I’ve raved about Pat & Stick’s delectable ice cream sandwiches, but just try and stop me.

These guys make great ice cream. The flavours are real and intense and the cookies are moreish and chewy.

Yeah, the sandwiches are on the pricey side, retailing around $4.50 each, but if they’re good enough to get my husband to choose an ice cream over a packet of chips then they’re doing something right.

All the way back in 2006, I had fussed and fawned over their Double Chocolate and Amaretti Espresso sandwiches (now renamed Espresso Lace) and, after the guys (and Ben) generously offered me some free samples to try some other flavours, I am now ready to profess my love some more.

My sisters Shamu and Stinky accompanied me on this ice cream quest to Eveleigh markets, where we parked ourselves on a bench and happily shoved ice cream into our mouths (hoping Kylie Kwong didn’t notice our gluttony as she sat next to us in her car).

Caramel Pecan
Caramel ice cream with a nutty pecan cookie

I’ve recently discovered that pecans are my favourite nuts and that I actually like caramel. It came as a shock to me, as neither had particularly enticed me in the past, and yet these days I’m finding the burnt sugar flavour a warm, adult indulgence and the pecans just bloody great.

Not surprising that I loved this sandwich of light and elegant caramel ice cream sandwiched between a buttery cookie studded with toasted pecan pieces.

Strawberry Choc Chip
Yummy strawberry ice cream and choc-chip cookie

Next we sunk our teeth into a wholesome choc-chip cookie covering a slab of pastel pink strawberry ice cream. At first the faint colour of the ice cream had me concerned that there wouldn’t be much fruit flavour, but we were not disappointed. The ice cream had an intense and pure strawberry flavour and as the sandwich melted a little, the colour grew a rosier hue of pink.

I enjoyed the bursts of the dark choc-chips, and this was Shamu’s favourite flavour because it is so rare to find a good strawberry ice cream.

Christmas Cookie
Soft gingerbread cookie paired with delicious cassata ice cream

Our last sandwich to taste test was the limited edition flavour to celebrate the festive season, and aptly named Christmas Cookie. The spicy, chewy gingerbread cookie encased a beautiful cassata ice cream flavoured with aromatic almond, glace fruit and spices that tasted like a perfect mince pie and luscious cream.

I really enjoyed this one because it’s perfect way to indulge in traditional Christmas flavours while still celebrating the southern hemisphere summer. I even took one home for Jonas, kept cool with dry ice (yay, dry ice! I dropped it into a full sink and watched the “smoke” like a kiddie).

There are plenty more ice cream sandwich flavours to try, and I’ve got my eye on the Peppermint Choc-Chip.

..... something to look forward to in 2011.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

clove & orange custard tart

This is a perfect Christmas season recipe. The cloves and orange flavours are typical aromas around this time of year and work well with the rich foods served.

The tart base is made from dark chocolate and I’ve saved loads of time by buying Carême pre-made gourmet shortcrust pastry, a brand that I swear by.

Inventing a custard tart was one of my 2010 Food Challenges and the clove flavour is just great. I’ve since made clove custard and that’s delicious too.

Hope you enjoy this recipe.

Clove & Orange Custard Tart

Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 8.

4 egg yolks
1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (250ml) milk
2 cups (500ml) pouring cream
½ cup caster sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1½ teaspoons finely minced orange zest
300g Carême dark chocolate shortcrust pastry, defrosted


1. Preheat oven to 160’C.

2. Prepare and blind bake the tart base as per the instructions.

3. Beat egg yolks in a large mixing bowl.

4. Warm milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, orange zest and cloves, stirring to dissolve sugar.

5. Bring almost to the bowl then pour into the egg yolks in a thin stream, whisking continuously to prevent the eggs from scrambling.

6. Return to stove and gently heat, stirring continuously, until the custard thickens slightly but is still runny.

7. Strain into prepared tart base, sprinkle with a pinch of cloves, and bake in oven for 40-60 minutes or until custard is just set.

Note: Eat warm, or cool then refrigerate until ready to serve. Best served within 24hrs of baking.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

try this! sparkling ruby cabernet

With Christmas around the corner some of my pregnant friends are anxious about surviving the in-laws without copious amounts of alcohol.

Unfortunately, this product won’t dull out the sound of your nearest and dearest, but it will curb those cravings for an adult flavoured drink.

Maggie Beer is an Aussie icon and the woman is obsessed with verjuice. There’s no getting around it, she loves the stuff.

I have Maggie to thank when she suggested adding verjuice to soda water for a refreshing drink and thus I discovered my summer drink of choice for three years running.

In honour of her favourite wine by-product, Maggie has released this amazing sparkling cabernet, which is only fermented enough to create a perfect wine-like flavour without the alcohol.

It has a heady, sweet smell like red grape juice but the flavour is fairly light and the bead gentle.

It’s the end notes that really hit you in this drink. Quite sour and moreish in contrast to its delicate, sweet scent.

I adore it and highly recommend it to anyone unable (or unwilling) to drink alcohol throughout the silly season.

I’ve found it for sale in David Jones food halls, but good old Maggie sells it online for significantly less.

Friday, 10 December 2010

porteño, surry hills

I have visited Porteño twice now, and I am a huge fan.

The first time I visited, we arrived at 7pm and the restaurant waiting list was already full for the whole night. I can tell you it wasn’t just the pigs that felt gutted.
Instead we headed upstairs to sip on cocktails and snack on the well-thought-out bar menu.

For the second visit, I booked Sunday lunch for six and scored a table in the brightly lit interior.

No expense has been spared decorating Porteño. Even the water glasses are Riedel, the tabletops are grey speckled marble, handmade decorations like the hide and wood screen at the entrance, the waiters' amazing rockabilly uniforms and chocolate leather aprons.

Everything is immaculate and gives you a sense of stepping into an elegant Spanish villa, exposed brick and whitewashed walls, old tiled floors and cut out windows to peer from the upstairs bar down to the sun-drenched indoor courtyard. It's the perfect Sunday lunch ambience and a classy salute to the Argentinean asador.

We started our meals with an aperitif and I went for an Americano, the Campari and red vermouth poured over hand-carved ice and the soda elegantly served in a separate beaker.

The asado burnt fervently and chefs Elvis Abrahanowicz and Ben Milgate stood over their marble workspace, sleeves rolled up to expose their ink, as they eagerly await the first orders to be placed.

Abrahanowicz (Adan) stands solemn as he tends the fire and turns blistering chorizo over the parilla. He’s a renown chef in his own right, having marked his territory on the Sydney dining scene with Bodega’s side venture Argentinean Cocina.

Milgate and Abrahanowicz Jnr are patient as we snap photos. They’re no doubt under attack from food tourists every day and, with the number of blogs that have already descended upon Porteño, I’m sure they’re reluctantly getting used to the pervasive food paparazzi.

Because we all know it’s hard being fabulous.

To kick our meal off we are given two sauces, garlicky chimichurri that has a mild kick but is oilier than other versions I’ve tried, and criolla which has red chilli, onion and oil but which is more sweet than spicy.

The house baked bread ($2pp) comes warm and soft, perfect for scooping up the olive oil and pork pâté accompaniments.

But you don’t want to fill up on bread.

Instead we munched down flaky beef empanadas ($4ea), and the house pork and beef salami ($10).

For wine, we try a 2009 Fefinanes albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain ($89), its dry acidic edge cutting through the fats of the meats we sup upon.

First up was the pickled veal tongue (Lengua En Escabeche $8), probably one of my favourite dishes of the day. The texture was firm but easily broken with a fork, gently acidic and flavoursome without any strong offal edge. Amazing.

The blood sausage (morcilla $10) was ultra soft and served with sweet roast red peppers and garlic to counteract the iron intensity.

Another clear winner was the veal sweet breads (Mollejas De Corazon $16), the thick slices of spongy, fatty tissue melted in my mouth and the caramelised edges added an exquisite flavour and texture. This was superb, although not everyone at the table could handle it.

With the white wine finished in a blink, we went red with the 2005 Beronia Reserva from Rioja, Spain ($84). It’s not a fancy tempranillo, but it’s a good, honest drop that never fails to satisfy with its soft fruits.

A perfectly cooked beef inside skirt (Entraña $32) was flavoursome and pink inside with crusty charred edges, but the cut had sinew running through it, dampening the experience.

Luckily there was absolutely nothing to complain about when it came to the woodfired suckling pig (Chanchito A La Cruz $48). The skin was wafer thin and crisped to perfection, while the meat melted after 8 hours of roasting, crucified, on the asado. It was amazing, but for $48 it seemed a slightly small portion.
Maybe I was just feeling greedy?

The vegetables we ordered (yes, we ordered vegetables) did not disappoint either. A silverbeet salad with pinenuts, anchovy dressing and whole parlsey leaves (Espinaca Con Piniones Y Anchoas $14) was good, but my shock favourite were the crispy fried brussel sprouts with lentils and mint (Repollitos De Brusela Frito $14) that could convert any sprout hater to a major fan. The brussel sprouts were crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle, without even the slightest hint of bitterness. I could have eaten the whole plate if I hadn’t been so full of meaty goodness.

But there’s always room for dessert, right?

Again, the dessert I imagined would be my favourite turned out to be my least.  Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious, it’s just that the dessert I wasn’t so keen on turned out to actually be worth all the hype it’s been getting.

The Leche Quemada ($14) was a take on South American flan, a burnt milk custard with a rich texture and slightly caramel flavour. It was drizzled with sticky cumquat jam and served with salted popcorn and dark chocolate ice cream. Good (the salted popcorn was inspired), but there were better things to come.

Such as the chocolate fondant-esque pudding ($14),  filled with oozing dulce de leche and served with a scoop of banana ice cream. There’s not much that can beat oozing dulce de leche.

But in my opinion the Postre Chajá ($14) deserves all the media fuss it’s getting because the Porteño crew have taken this simple Uruguayan dessert and upped the ante. Shards of meringue, soft sponge crumbs, sous vide mango, swirls of dulce de leche and salty peanuts make the perfect combination of sweet, salty and fruity.

But the pastry chef at our table found it a little too sweet and the table voted fifty-fifty between the Postre Chajá and  Leche Quemada for campeona absoluta.

I’ll be back for more cocktails and more food, because there are still so many things on the menu that I want to try.

The bill was not cheap, but it was worth every greasy, carnivorous cent. And then some.

358 Cleveland Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 8399 1440

Dinner: Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm
Lunch: Sunday from 12pm
Bar: Tuesday - Saturday 6pm - late; Sundays  2pm - late

Porteno on Urbanspoon
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