Wednesday 30 December 2009

2009 in review

On the 1st of January 2009, I set myself 44 challenges under 11 categories with the aim to complete them throughout the year. Although I crossed off 32 out of 44 back in 2008, in 2009 I didn’t do so well with only 24 out of 44 and a further 2 of the remaining 9 from 2008.

Feel free to find out what these 2009 Food Challenges included. Some of those that I didn’t finish, I’ll carry over into 2010.

The Losers of 2009
2009 was a year of laziness in my kitchen and this meant the big loser was my taste buds and then my blog. I took on a new job that culminated in one of the biggest and busiest periods of my life, and once it was done I moved onto another job that’s kept me flat out for the past few months. This has meant my time in the kitchen has suffered a great deal and dinner has gone from being gourmet experiments to cheese on toast, or simply eating a can of tuna. The lack of time has also meant I haven’t been able to blog as much as I’d hoped, but let’s hope 2010 is a lot less busy.

The Winners of 2009
Rice Paddy HerbWhat a discovery this was! Such an unknown herb to me quickly became something I crave and search for in every fresh market. The fact that I can buy this seemingly unknown, rare herb in Sydney is just great. For more on rice paddy herb, check out this recipe for Bo Tai Chanh.

As a child I detested zucchini and squash. This mushy, flavourless vegetable was served steamed or boiled without accompaniment and I considered it a form of child abuse when my father and stepmother put it on my plate. These days I just love it. Marinated in lemon zest, olive oil and garlic, smothered in fresh herbs and grilled on the barbeque? That’s my idea of heaven. I insisted Jonas make this many times this year and at the last two family BBQs we attended before scooting off to Sweden I must have eaten 20 zucchini. Enough for M.E. to write a joke about it on my Facebook wall!!! Never trust the Irish.

I’d never eaten persimmon until this year and even though they have a slightly mild flavour, they are great in recipes. I made three persimmon dishes: persimmon & bourbon bread, Caramel Chocolate Tart, Dulce de Leche and Caramel Croissant Pudding, were all winners, especially the croissant pudding. Caramel is definitely on my sweet list these days.

Pinot Bianco and Barbera wines
These two Italian grape varieties became my new favourites in 2009. I have known both the red Barbera and white Pinot Bianco wines for quite some time, but it was only this year that I drank so much of both of them. This might have been influenced by Jonas’ job at one of Sydney’s newest Italian wine bars, but who knows?

Many 2009 evenings were spent at Bar Fico in Surry Hills, drinking bottles of Barbera d’Alba with Ms Correct. It’s a wonderful, light red wine with low tannin and high acidity that works perfectly as a winter evening drink but just as well at a summer BBQ. It's got a lot of berry flavours, but most predominantly tastes of black cherries and sometimes vanilla.

Pinot Bianco is a medium to full-bodied, dry white wine with quite high acidity. The flavours are often described as apple, green almond, melon, vanilla and cream. There are supposed to be drunk young, green and crisp.

Favourite recipes of 2009
apple, walnut & blue cheese flaugnarde
brandy milk punch
broccoli & stilton soup
caramel croissant pudding
chinese pork & garlic chive dumplings
crème fraiche parfait
eggplant parmigiana
feta, sumac & herb salad
mastic ice cream
peach & ginger punch
peanut butter pie
persimmon & bourbon bread
pickled smoked sausages
roast pork fillet w cider & pistachios
scallops w lentils, pancetta & sage
smoked rainbow trout
sticky date pudding
tamarind & vermicelli broth

Sunday 27 December 2009

caramel croissant pudding

This is quite possibly one of the best desserts you can ever eat.

Big call?

Then you'll just have to trust me.

And it's the perfect heart-warming dessert for those in a deep northern winter.

Caramel Croissant Pudding

Recipe by
Nigella Lawson. Serves 2 greedy people.


2 stale croissants
100g caster sugar
30ml water
125ml double cream
125ml full-fat milk
30ml bourbon
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup dulce de leche


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4.

2. Tear the croissants into pieces and put in a small gratin dish; I use a cast iron oval one with a capacity of about 500ml for this.

3. Put the caster sugar and water into a saucepan, and swirl around to help dissolve the sugar before putting the saucepan on the hob over a medium to high heat.

4. Caramelise the sugar and water mixture by letting it bubble away, without stirring, until it all turns a deep amber colour; this will take 3–5 minutes. Keep looking but don’t be too timid.

5. Turn heat down to low and add the cream – ignoring all spluttering – and, whisking away, the milk and bourbon. Any solid toffee that forms in the pan will dissolve easily if you keep whisking over low heat. Take off the heat and, still whisking, add the beaten eggs.

6. Pour the caramel bourbon custard over the croissants and leave to steep for 10 minutes if the croissants are very stale.

7. Dot croissants with blobs of dulce ce leche.

8. Place in the oven for 20 minutes and prepare to swoon.

If you don’t have any bourbon in the house substitute with rum (not Scotch whisky).

Friday 25 December 2009

mulled wine granita

 Merry Xmas!

Jonas and I are spending our white Christmas on the ski fields of Sälen, in Sweden.

It is my first white Christmas and, although it’s all very exciting, I am an Aussie girl after all and I’m sure Christmas just won’t feel the same without the searing heat, seafood and mangoes.

In honour of this I’m sharing a recipe that could be eaten by anyone in the Christmas spirit, whether they’re in the north or the south: mulled wine granita.

It’s a great pre-dessert for those waiting for their puddings to steam up and a perfect, spicy refreshment for those sliding into their swimsuits.

Mulled Wine Granita

Ice Cream Ireland’s sorbet recipe. Serves 8.

360g sugar
600ml spring water
350ml red wine (eg merlot)
225ml fresh orange juice
Juice of half a lemon
2 cloves
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg


1. Combine the sugar, water, wine and spices and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes, maintaining at a low simmer.

2. Strain to remove the cloves. Cool completely.

3. Stir in the orange and lemon juices.

4. Freeze in a metal tray for 30 minutes until ice crystals have formed. Scrape ice with a fork to break up.

5. Repeat every 30 minutes for approximately 3 hours until the granita has frozen completely in small ice pieces.

6. Eat within a day or so, breaking up crystals with a fork before serving.

Monday 14 December 2009

udon w edamame & almond pesto

It’s the last Weekend Herb Blogging event for the year, so I’ll end it with a new ingredient I’ve never used before and a recipe that will be my last 2009 Food Challenge post (I didn’t complete many in 09!).

Ever since seeing this post on the Scent of Green Bananas, over 4 years ago, I have yearned to make my own delicious edamame pesto using Japanese influences.

I used Santos’ photo for inspiration and, while mine certainly doesn’t look as pretty as Santos’ herb heavy noodles, it turned out to be one of the most delicious sauces I’ve ever made.

It’s flavours of almonds, herbs, garlic, ginger and lemon are probably best suited to summer, but I could eat the mixture with a spoon any time of the year.

Udon w Edamame & Almond Pesto
Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 3.
270g organic udon noodles
1½ cups cooked + peeled edamame (soya beans)
¼ cup sunflower oil
¼ cup toasted flaked almonds
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated garlic
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons each of shredded coriander, parsley, mint & shiso
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1. Boil udon noodles as per manufacturer’s instructions.
2. While noodles are cooking, combine all other ingredients in a food processor and blend into a fine paste, adding oils last.
3. When noodles are finished cooking, drain then return to the hot cooking pot and add pesto. Stir it around and let the heat from the pot melt the pesto through the noodles.
4. Serve warm in bowls and eat with chopsticks.

Edamame are soya beans in their shells, eaten in Japan as beer snacks. And they are perfect for this job, boiled or steamed and tossed in salt, then popped from their shells straight into hungry mouths. Too good to believe they’re damn healthy too.

Soya beans are an amazing source of protein without the saturated fats of animal proteins in fact "just one cup of soybeans provides 57.2% of the daily value for protein for less than 300 calories and only 2.2 grams of saturated fat.”

Soya beans have very good levels of manganese and protein and good levels of iron, omega 3 fatty acids, phosphorus, dietary fibre, vitamin K, magnesium, copper, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and potassium.

Better still, Wikipedia says the soya bean is “the most widely grown and utilised legume in the world”.

But the elusive shiso is the magic herb of interest here.

Also known as perilla, shiso leaves are elegant leafy herbs and a member of the Lamiaceae family (with mint).

According to Wikipedia, “it is considered rich in minerals and vitamins, has anti-inflammatory properties and is thought to help preserve and sterilize other foods.”

The flavour is pretty intense, with an aniseed/mintiness.

In Japan it’s served alongside sashimi, in India it’s shredded with chilli and tomatoes into a dip, in China it’s used in traditional medicine to boost immunity, in Vietnam it often accompanies bún (rice vermicelli salads) and in Korea it masks the strong smell of dog meat dishes.

But this delicious shiso/perilla meal is vegetarian, so your puppies won’t need to fear.

Our WHB host for the last time this year is our WHB organiser, Haalo, from Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once, an Aussie blog that is full of inspirational recipes.

So, as I usually do at the end of every year, here’s my WHB theme ingredients for the past 12 months:
kiwi - kiwifruit & lemongrass slushie
tomatillos - chilaquiles & salsa verde
capers - smoked trout & warm potato salad
corn - esquite (Mexican corn snack)
eggplant - eggplant parmigiana
preserved lemon - Morrocan chicken tagine
blackberries - blackberry & oatmeal breakfast cake
hominy - pozole verde (Mexican tomatillo & hominy stew)
sage - scallops w lentils, pancetta & sage
scallions - feta, sumac & herb salad
persimmon - persimmon & bourbon bread
lemon thyme - roast pork fillet w cider & pistachios
tangelo - tangelo delicious pudding
peanuts - peanut butter pie w roasted banana ice cream
cavolo nero - milk-braised pork w cavolo nero
palm hearts - palms hearts w parsley
sage - apple, walnut & blue cheese flaugnarde
cherries - duck w cherries
mâche - mâche w chive & mustard dressing
dates - sticky date pudding
thyme - basque oxtail stew
potato - rösti
plums - kentish pigeons w plums
broccoli - broccoli & stilton soup
avocado - salpicón de camarónes (Mexican prawn cocktail)
rice paddy herb - bò tái chanh (Vietnamese lemon-cured sirloin)
parsley - braciole napoletana (Italian stuffed veal)
shiso - udon w edamame & almond pesto


Tuesday 24 November 2009

caramel chocolate tart

This rich tart is my celebratory 500th blog post.

It takes a long time to prepare but it's worth it because it's extravagant deliciousness.

I'm not a big fan of caramel in general, but this tart caught my eye as I read delicious magazine last year and I've been dreaming of making it ever since. Hence why this is another 2009 Food Challenge.

There was quite a lot of caramel leftover from the recipe and, since it's so good, I've had to control myself from eating spoonfuls of it straight from the fridge while I try to figure out what I'm going to use it for.

I also had lots of extra chocolate custard too, so, unless I did something wrong, you might want to come up with some other desserts to use up the leftovers.

The recipe recommends serving with whipped cream, but it's so rich you might prefer it with crème fraîche parfait.

Caramel Chocolate Tart

Recipe from delicious Magazine (March 2008). Serves 6-8.


395g can sweetened condensed milk
250g block Carême dark chocolate shortcrust pastry
225g good-quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
2 eggs
150ml thickened cream
100ml milk


1. Remove and discard label from can of condensed milk. Using a can opener make two small holes in the top.

2. Place in a saucepan (open side up). Fill pan with cold water to come almost to the top of the can (about 1cm from top).

3. Bring water to the boil then reduce to medium-low and simmer for 3 hours until a caramel forms, topping up with water to keep the same level.

4. Carefully remove can and cool. Scoop out caramel then set aside.

5. Lightly grease an 11cm x 35cm loose-bottomed tart pan.

6. Roll pastry between 2 sheets of baking paper to 5mm thick, then line tart pan. Chill for 20 minutes.

7. Preheat oven to 180’C.

8. Line the pastry with baking paper and pastry weights or uncooked rice.

9. Blind-bake for 10 minutes then remove paper and weights and bake for 5 minutes or until pastry is dry.

10. Reduce oven to 150’C.

11. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, not letting the bowl touch the water. Allow to melt then stir until smooth. Remove from heat.

12. Gently whisk eggs in a separate bowl to just combine but not froth.

13. Heat cream and milk in a saucepan over medium heat until just below boiling point.

14. Pour over eggs in a thin stream, whisking constantly to avoid scrambling eggs.

15. Return the mixture to the pan over a low heat and stir for 5 minutes until thick.

16. Pour through a sieve over the chocolate and stir until completely combined and smooth.

17. Spread three-quarters of the caramel over the pastry.

18. Pour over chocolate custard then bake for 5 minutes or until just set.

19. Turn oven off. Leave tart in cooling oven, with door closed, for 1 hour.

20. Remove and cool completely before slicing.

21. Serve with extra caramel, whipped cream or cream swirled with caramel.

For my tart, on top of the cooking times above, the caramel needed about 1 hour longer to form, the pastry needed to blind-bake about 5 minutes longer to dry out, the custard took a few minutes extra to thicken and the chocolate top needed to bake about 5-10 minutes longer to set.

Saturday 21 November 2009

braciole napoletana

 This is one of the best dinners you can eat. At least that's my opinion!

Thin slices of veal are rolled around a stuffing of parsley, raisins, pine nuts and parmesan, then browned before being finished in a rich tomato & red wine sauce.

It could be a summer or winter meal, the flavour easily adjusted with summery lifts like lemon zest or wintery warmth from chilli or irony spinach.

I discovered braciole years ago and yet I only recently made it for the first time as one of my 2009 Food Challenges. It's definitely a keeper and could be a weekly staple dinner. In fact it could be the creative parent's sneaky way for getting kids to eat their vegetables (not that I have kids yet, but I did note bracioles multiple applications).

It’s very easy to make but looks complicated so that guests are impressed, plus it tastes amazing.

Braciole comes highly recommended from me.

Braciole Napoletana
Recipe by Armando Percuoco from delicious Magazine, May 2008. Serves 6.
6 x 150g veal escalopes
¼ cup olive oil, for frying
80g (½ cup) toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped
½ cup raisins, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
25g (1/3 cup) freshly grated parmesan
2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, leaves roughly chopped
60ml (¼ cup) olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
375ml (1½ cups) dry red wine
4 vine-ripened tomatoes (600g), seeds removed + chopped
2 tablespoons toasted pine nut, to serve
1 tablespoon raisins, to serve
1. Halve veal escalopes lengthways. Pound with meat mallet, between plastic wrap, until 3-4mm thick.
2. To make the stuffing, combine the pine nuts, raisins, garlic, parmesan and parsley (reserve a little parsley for garnish). Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
3. On the shorter end of each veal escalope, place 2 tablespoons of filling then roll to enclose and secure with toothpicks.
4. Heat the olive in a large, deep frying pan over medium high heat.
5. In two batches, brown the braciole all over, turning, for 2 – 3 minutes. Remove to plate.
6. To make the sauce, add the additional olive oil to the same pan and cook the onion on medium heat, stirring, for 2 – 3 minutes until soft and slightly golden.
7. Increase heat to medium-high, add red wine and cook for 6 – 8 minute until the alcohol has evaporated.
8. Reduce the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and simmer, occasionally stirring, for 25 minutes or until soft and reduced to a thick sauce.
9. Return the veal to the pan and heat through for around 5 minutes.
10. Place 2 braciole on each serving plate, top with sauce and garnish with pine nuts, raisins and parsley.
Note: I added chopped baby spinach to the stuffing for an extra nutrient boost.

This parsley-rich stuffing is my contribution to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Winnie from Healthy Green Kitchen.

Monday 16 November 2009

lebovitz's watermelon sorbet

It was a warm summer weekend in Sydney and given the beautiful, sunny weather it’s the right time to post my 2009 Food Challenge recipe for Sorbetto all’Anguria or watermelon sorbet.

It’s down in the food memory category because I have rich memories of eating scoops and scoops of watermelon sorbet during the spring I lived in Rome. As the city heated up, the watermelon sorbet was the perfect cooler and I devoured it in miraculous portions.

Even though I made the sorbet to eat at the end of a Vietnamese feast, it still brought back warm memories of Rome and the family I have now have there. I can’t wait to see them all again when I take Jonas (for his first time in Italy) in the first week of January.

It will be the middle of winter, so no sorbetto all’anguria, but there will be other delights to share.

Making this sorbet also knocked off another 2009 Food Challenge, to purchase David Lebovitz’s book of frozen delights The Perfect Scoop.

I am a big fan of David Lebovitz (like many bloggers out there). Not only do his posts contain cheeky insights into Parisian life, but his recipes are interesting, appetising and achieveable. When I had just started blogging more than three years ago, David was kind enough to leave an encouraging comment on one of my posts. I was thrilled.

Now I’m even more thrilled to have this cookbook. I couldn’t find it anywhere in Australia and was ridiculously jealous of bloggers in the US and Europe talking about it, so when Jonas and I were in the US in July I made sure I swung by Books A Million, or some such megastore, and grabbed myself a copy.

I have not been disappointed with the recipes nor their outcomes. The usual suspects are in there of course, but it’s flavours like Guinness-Milk Chocolate; Anise; Black Currant Tea; Saffron; Chartreuse; Goat Cheese; Rice; Sweet Potato & Maple and Eggnog that have me itching to try them.

So far I’ve made Watermelon Sorbet and Dark Chocolate and Roasted Banana ice creams.

In the pipeline are Roquefort & Honey, Peach, Salted Caramel and Passionfruit.

And that’s just the ice creams! I haven’t even touched on the sorbets, sherbets, granitas, sauces and toppings that this mighty book contains.

Basically, if you like ice cream, buy this book.

Sorbetto all’Anguria (Watermelon Sorbet)

Recipe from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz. Makes 1 litre (1 quart).


3 cups (750ml) watermelon juice
½ cup (100g) sugar
Big pinch of salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1 – 2 tablespoons vodka (optional)


1. In a small, non-reactive pan heat ½ cup (125ml) of watermelon juice with the sugar and salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove from heat and combine with the remaining watermelon juice, lime juice and vodka.

3. Chill thoroughly then churn in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturers instructions.

David says “I find that I get about 3 cups of watermelon juice from a 1.5kg (3lb) chunk of watermelon. Cut away the skin and rind then cube the flesh, remove seeds and puree in a blender or processor."

David adds 1 to 2 tablespoons of tiny mini-sweet chocolate chips to the last minute of churning to give the appearance of watermelon seeds.

Saturday 14 November 2009

pork chops & sauerkraut

I forgot to delete some of my recent recipe photos from my camera and now that I lost my old computer (and all the files) I'm glad I was disorganised.

I've bought a new laptop so I can at least blog about the images I found, and I'm happy to say this includes all the recent recipes from my Vietnamese feast as well as two 2009 Food Challenges (this one for chops & kraut plus a wonderful braciole).

Unfortunately I still need to install Microsoft Office and Photoshop etc, so my posts might be a little sketchy for a while yet.

Not to mention trying to recover the more than 100 backlog of recipes I had on the corrupted hard drive of my old computer! Sigh.

This recipe for Pork Chops & Sauerkraut was one of my food challenges for 2009 under the category "food memories". I have a lot of sauerkraut memories, all good.

It is a signature dish of my 90yr old grandfather who would make big pots to feed the entire family, harping on the days when his own mother would enlist his help to cook for his five brothers.

When I was five, my grandparents returned to the US and my parents continued the regular family dinner of pork chops and sauerkraut, a favourite for my brothers and I.

Sauerkraut was such a normal part of our week that I never realised other families didn't eat it. It wasn't until my parents' divorce, with new partners and children who looked at the bland pile of shredded cabbage in shock and horror, that I realised my family was a rare breed of Aussie kraut eaters.

Unfortunately, this meant sauerkraut fell out of favour in both homes, much to the dismay of us kids.

As a teenager I travelled to Slovakia to meet my grandfather's family and suddenly understood the origin of this dinner. It was a strange, emotional moment for me when I perused a Bratislava pantry to realise that this Central/Eastern European dish had travelled three continents and four generations to link me to my heritage.

Since then I have eaten this dish a few times in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, and more than a few times on what used to be annual work trips to Germany. One particularly good experience with sauerkraut and porkiness was the Schupfnudeln mit Sauerkraut und Kasslerwürfel that I ate in Koblenz. It was delicious!

So . . . onto the recipe. Pork chops and sauerkraut is the perfect winter dinner served with mashed potatoes. Enjoy.

Pork Chops & Sauerkraut
Anna's very own recipe. Serves 6.
6 pork chops
450g canned sauerkraut
750ml (3 cups) vegetable stock
½ green apple, peeled + grated
1 white onion, sliced
2 dried bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil or butter, for frying


1. Preheat oven to 180’C.

2. Heat olive oil in an ovenproof pot and brown pork chops for 1 minute on each side. Set aside.

3. In the same pot, fry onion until softened.

4. Spread onion across the base of the pot then add a layer of sauerkraut.

5. Next add the pork chops, bay leaves, salt and pepper and grated apple.

6. Top with remaining sauerkraut then pour over 2 cups of vegetable stock.

7. Cover with pot lid then back in oven for 1 to 2 hours or until chops are tender. The remaining cup of stock can be used to top up the pot if it's drying out.

Serve with mash.

Monday 9 November 2009

computer blues

My computer died.

It's very sad because my backlog of photos and recipes (not to mention the last 5yrs of my entire life) was all on that computer. Hopefully I'll be able to recover it though.

But this means no more blogging for a while.

Thursday 5 November 2009

tahu goreng pedas (spicy fried tofu)

This dish was made as part of a big Balinese feast I made all the way back in September 2008.

The original recipe of for this dish involves (I think) blending the tofu together with the other ingredients to create little tofu patties (bregedel tahu) but Jonas and I decided to keep our tofu slices whole and simply dip them into a spiced batter before frying.

If you don’t like the flavour of tofu much, do the patty version, otherwise this is a delicious (semi) vegetarian dish.

Tahu Goreng Pedas (Spicy Fried Tofu)

Anna & Jonas' variation of various internet recipes. Serves 4 as part of banquet.


300g firm tofu
3 tablespoons fried shallots
1 red chilli, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 teaspoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
¼ teaspoon roasted shrimp paste
2 eggs, beaten
2 kaffir leaves, finely sliced
3 teaspoons palm sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil, for frying


1. Blend all the ingredients except the tofu and fried shallots.

2. Into the blended mixture, stir in the fried shallots.

3. Dip the tofu into the mixture to coat, then fry in hot oil, over medium heat, until browned and warmed through.

4. Served with fresh chilli or a fiery sambal.

Sunday 1 November 2009

bò tái chanh - lemon sirloin w rice paddy herb

After perusing through Helen’s recent posts about her food tour in Cabramatta, I became ravenous for Vietnamese food and determined to cook my own Vietnamese feast.

Ms Correct and I set the GPS to John Street then chatted until we reached our destination: Cabramatta, effectively Vietnam in Sydney.

The place was buzzing. The fruit, herb and veggie range was extravagant and the prices were absurdly cheap. As Ms Correct correctly asks “Why don’t we shop here every week?”

The whole time we were there, we must have seen only six other Caucasians and we marvelled at how exotic, exciting and foreign Cabramatta felt, even though it was still in Sydney. Ms Correct is quite tall at the best of times, but among Cabramatta’s Vietnamese population she was like Gulliver in Lilliput. We were certainly identified as outsiders and blatantly stared at, but people were welcoming and we felt comfortable.

We both felt so excited that Sydney had such a beautiful microcosm to explore.

Both Ms Correct and I have visited Vietnam, and Cabramatta felt like a cleaner, better-dressed version of HCMC, even down to the architecture of crowded market arcades and busy main streets. The local government, Fairfield City Council, is always touting Cabramatta as a tourist destination for Sydneysiders and visitors alike, and now I have to agree with them.

Navigating the narrow market aisles was difficult, but in true Vietnamese style other shoppers took no offence, and in fact didn’t even notice, getting whacked with the odd shopping bag.

We bought a huge range of things, the highlights being (left to right):

Many of the shop and stall owners don’t speak English and your mere non-Vietnamese speaking presence can be a cause of anxiety for them, so make sure you bring your understanding and patience with you. Don’t take offence when people shrug and walk away without helping, they probably just don’t understand you. Instead, wander to the next shop until you find someone who can speak English. There are many who do.

Like the shop keeper Ms Correct and I discovered at the end of our day. She was full of good advice and helped us navigate the Vietnamese-only signs and food labels. After learning I planned to make ice cream, her suggestion to buy frozen soursop pulp instead of fresh fruit was genius. Not only was the pulp super ripe and flavoursome but it had been skinned and deseeded and when it was blended through the hot custard, the icy cold temperature chilled everything immediately making the base ready to churn on the spot.

Once we were loaded up with goodies, we headed back to my place to cook up a storm from the beautiful cookbook The Secrets of the Red Lantern (tick off another food challenge).

Siblings Pauline and Luke Nguyen, and Pauline’s partner, Mark Jensen, are Sydney’s tres-chic experts on both traditional and modern Vietnamese food and their first cookbook is full of amazing recipes and heart-wrenching stories (that made me blubber like a baby).

This first recipe I'm posting is a favourite of mine from their restaurant, Red Lantern.

Little Em, Stinky, M.E. and Tia Bicky joined Ms Correct and I to eat:
* Bò Tái Chanh (lemon-cured sirloin w rice paddy herb)
* Nước Chấm (dipping fish sauce)
* Nem Nường (lemongrass pork sausages)
* Rau Muống Xào Tỏi (water spinach w ginger & garlic)
* Gỏi Mực Bắp Chuối (banana blossom & squid salad)
* Canh Chua Cá (tamarind & pineapple broth w perch)
* Kem Mãng Cầu Xiêm (soursop ice cream)
* Kem Dưa Hấu (watermelon sorbet)

I will post these recipes one by one over the coming months, but first up is this amazing little starter of juicy raw beef topped with the most delicious, unusual herbs. The best description can only come from the recipe’s author, Luke Nguyen:
“This traditional salad is a perfect starter. It is a ‘rare’ treat – refreshing, crisp and aromatic. Described by some as a ‘Vietnamese carpaccio’, Bò Tái Chanh is a particular favourite . . . rice paddy herb and sawtooth coriander are essential for this dish and should not be substituted. The rice paddy’s sharp citrus character and the sawtooth’s powerful aroma perfectly match this lemon-cured dish.”
I discovered that I love rice paddy herb (or ngò om). The flavours are like cumin and lemon and pepper altogether and I discovered it goes quite nicely on sweet pineapple slices too.

Sawtooth coriander (ngò gai) is also very special and is much more potent than regular coriander (cilantro), but I still think you could substitute them for each other if you needed to.

But you can’t substitute the rice paddy herb!!!

Bò Tái Chanh (lemon-cured sirloin w rice paddy herb)
Recipe from Secrets of The Red Lantern. Serves 6.

400ml lemon juice
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon fine white pepper
500g sirloin steak
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 large handful sawtooth coriander, roughly chopped
1 large handful rice paddy herb, roughly chopped
½ small red onion, finely sliced
1 large handful bean sprouts
2 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts
1 birds eye chill, sliced
Nước mắm chấm, to serve (see below)
1. Trim the sirloin or fat and slice as thinly as possible.
2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil and fry garlic. Remove and reserve both garlic and ½ teaspoon of the oil.
3. Combine the lemon juice, fish sauce and mix through the salt, sugar and pepper.
4. Arrange the slices of beef in a single layer on a plate and marinate in the lemon juice for 10 minutes, ensuring the meat is entirely covered in the curing liquid.
5. Remove the beef from the lemon mixture and drain the excess juice,.
6. Combine with the garlic, garlic oil, herbs onion and bean sprouts.
7. Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with the peanuts and chilli. Dress with nước mắm chấm at the table.

Nước Mắm Chấm (Dipping Fish Sauce)
Recipe from Secrets of the Red Lantern. Makes 1 cup (250ml).
½ cup (125ml) water
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 birds eye chilli, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
1. Combine the fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and water in a saucepan.
2. Heat on medium, stirring, until just before boiling point. Cool.
3. To serve add chilli, lime juice and garlic and stir well.

Rice paddy herb (Limnophila aromatica) is native to tropical South East Asia and grows in water logged environments . . . like rice paddies! In the west it’s been used mostly as an aquarium plant but in Vietnamese (and some Thai & Khmer) cuisine it plays a strong role.

If all you’ve been doing is sticking in your fish tank, you’ve been missing out!

The leaves taste like lemon and cumin and is quite delicious.

Here’s some advice on how to grow your own: “Get some fresh stems from another plant or your local Thai or Vietnamese grocer. If placed in water, they will develop roots within one or two weeks; in the meantime, they must be covered with a plastic bag or the like to give them enough humidity. In this phase, direct sunlight will kill the plants, so put them in a shadowy but not dark place. When enough roots have been formed, plant the stems into a high, transparent container filled with soil to cover most of the roots. A mixture of ordinary soil plus small, porous grains of burned clay is perfect. Keep the plants warm and humid. After a few days, they will tolerate (and even appreciate) intensive sunlight.”

If substituted, it is often done so with coriander, sawtooth coriander, perilla, mint or basil.

Other names include:
Cantonese - séui fuh yùhng, tìhn hēung chóu, jí sōu chóu, séui fā
Mandarin - shuǐ fú róng, tián xiāng cǎo, zǐ sū cǎo
English - finger grass
Estonian - järvelemb
German - reisfeldpflanze
Indonesian - daun kerdemom, selasih ayer kecil
Japanese - shiso-kusa, rimonohira
Khmer - ma-om
Korean - soyeob, soyop, soyop-pul
Lithuanian - kvapioji pelkenė
Malaysian - beremi, kerak-kerak
Polish - limnofila pachnąca
Russian - амбулия ароматная ambuliya aromatnaya
Thai - ผักแขยง, แขยง phak kayang, kayang

This week our Weekend Herb Blogging hostess is Haalo from Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once.


Friday 30 October 2009

chinese pork & garlic chive dumplings

Chinese pork & garlic chive dumplings, otherwise known as Jiu Cai Jiaozi, happen to be one of the most delicious things on earth. Pan-fried and served with strong, black vinegar and spicy chilli . . . . one of my all time favourite things to eat.

I wasn't daring enough to make the dough, but I thought I was pretty brave to attempt assembling them myself. I was very pleased with the results and even shared the excess with Stinky and M.E., who seemed very happy with that.

To decide how to make them, I scoured the internet for Jiu Cai Jiaozi recipes and came across the very simple steps provided by Billy from A Table For Two. They were so good I kicked myself for forgetting to thank him when we ran into each other at a Peruvian degustation (see Billy, there was a reason I thought I knew you).

These seriously good dumplings are my pasta offering to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by fellow Aussie blogger Haalo from Cook (almost) Anything At Least Once.

Jiu Cai Jiaozi (Chinese Pork & Garlic Chive Dumplings)

Recipe by
A Table For Two. Makes 30 dumplings.


500 gram pork mince
1 bunch garlic chives (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 packet of dumpling skin (30 skins)
1 tbsp corn flour
2 tbsp rice wine
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Salt & pepper, to taste


1. Add all ingredients into a large bowl (except the dumpling skins) and mix well together.

2. Fill a small bowl with water and set aside.

3. Scoop a tablespoon of the mixture and lay it in the centre of a dumpling skin.

4. Dip your index finger in the water, then run it around the edge of the dumpling skin.

5. Fold the skin in half from bottom to top, press the skin together and seal the mixture inside.

6. From the centre, overlapping the skin inwards from both sides until it reaches the pointy edges.

7. Run the edges and press tightly with 2 fingers to make sure the dumpling is properly sealed.

Steaming Method:

1. Inside bamboo steamer baskets, lay some iceberg lettuce and make sure is flat enough to put dumplings on top without falling over.
2. Arrange 6 to 8 dumplings inside basket without touching each other so they don’t stick together when cooked.
3. Use a wok and pour 2 cups of water and let it boil in medium heat. Place the steamer basket inside the wok and cover it with a lid. Let it simmer for 10 – 15 mins or until the dumpling skins looks translucent then it is ready.

Frying Method:

1. Heat up a frying pan with a little bit of vegetable oil.
2. Put some dumplings in the pan and lay flat on one side. Make sure they don’t touch each other to avoid sticking together.
3. Pour 2 tablespoon of water in the pan, and quickly cover it with a lid.
4. Few minutes later, flip the dumplings and fry the other side. Again, pour 2 tablespoon of water and cover it with a lid.
5. Fry the dumplings until crisp and golden brown then it is ready.

Billy's note:
the dumplings usually go with condiments of soy sauce, sesame oil and black vinegar. A hot spicy chilli paste is also an essential condiment with the dumplings.

Anna’s variation:
I added that grated fresh ginger for extra kick.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

salpicón de camarónes (veracruz prawn cocktail)

This recipe comes from Saveur, an American food magazine which I love.

The best way to explain a salpicón, is to take the words straight from Saveur:
“The word salpicón, which comes from the Spanish sal, salt, and picar, to chop, refers, in classic French cooking, to a mince of poultry, game, or vegetables bound with a sauce. In Mexico, however, it can mean anything from a shredded beef salad in the north to this citrusy shrimp appetizer”

As summer comes closer to Sydney I begin to crave raw seafood drenched in lime or lemon (but never both at the same time!). Adding chillies, coriander and avocado is an additional blessing and this dish is one of my all time favourite meals in summer.

It's also another 2009 food challenge since it's another Mexican recipe.

Salpicón de Camarónes (Veracruz-Style Prawn Cocktail)

Recipe from Restaurante Doña Lala in Tlacotalpan, Mexico.
Printed in
Saveur Issue #12. Serves 4.

1 lb. cooked small prawns (shrimp)
1 cored chopped tomato
½ small white onion, peeled +chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled +minced
1 fresh jalapeño, seeded +sliced
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Salt & freshly ground white pepper
1 avocado, peeled + sliced
Lime wedges


1. Peel shrimp.

2. Mix together shrimp, tomatoes, onions, garlic and jalapeño.

3. Stir in oil and parsley, season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Top with avocado and garnish with lime wedges.

I added coriander and used cherry tomatoes.

As my Weekend Herb Blogging entry, I’m focusing on the avocado. Our host is Katie from Eat This, so go check out the round-up.

Avocado has been my theme ingredient in two other WHB posts, one in 2007 (cold avocado soup from the Ivory Coast) and one in 2008 (avocado shake from Vietnam). So here’s 2009 and some avocado information copied dircetly from my 2007 post.

The word avocado comes from the Aztec (Nahuatl) word ahuacatl, via Spanish aguacate and means “testicle”. Perhaps because of its appearance, the Aztecs believed avocadoes were an aphrodisiac and called it "the fertility fruit". Apparently during avocado harvesting, virgins were kept indoors to prevent any promiscuity taking place.

This reputation stuck with the avocado for such a long time and many people in South America wouldn’t eat it because they wanted to appear wholesome. Companies had to undertake serious PR campaigns to dispel the myths and get the fruit out to the public.

The Nahuatl word ahuacatl makes up other words like ahuacamolli, meaning "avocado soup/sauce” which the Spanish transformed into guacamole.

In 2005, the world’s top ten avocado producing nations were, in order: Mexico, Indonesia, USA, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Peru, China and Ethiopia. As trees need well aerated soils and subtropical or tropical climates to thrive, this makes sense.

Propagation by seed takes around 5 years to produce fruit and the quality is never as good as the parent tree. Commercial plantations therefore graft new seedlings.

Avocadoes mature on the tree but ripen once harvested. The fruit is high monounsaturated fat contents and contains 60% more potassium than bananas, vitamin Bs, vitamin E, vitamin K and folate.

In Brazil, Vietnam, the Philippines, Jamaica and Indonesia avocadoes are blended with sugar and milk to create a milkshake.

It is also interesting to note that avocado foliage, skin and pits are said to poison animals such as birds, cats, dogs, cattle, goats, rabbits and fish.


This time previously on M&M:
2008 -
Sago gula bali (Balinese coconut sago dessert)
2007 -
Fatteh (Syrian chickpea & yoghurt breakfast)
2006 - Japanese-style tomato carpaccio

Saturday 24 October 2009

banana & honey frozen yoghurt

It seems rather decadent to have ice cream for breakfast, and unhealthy too, but this recipe couldn’t be better for you!

Would you eat a bowl of natural yoghurt, some banana slices and a drizzle of honey? Well this recipe uses all the same ingredients only blended and frozen in an ice cream machine.

This is a case of having your ice cream and eating it too!
But, you will need to eat your frozen yoghurt on the day you make it.

Sugars and fats are what stop ice cream from seizing up so, since this recipe doesn’t have much of either, you can be sure 24hrs in the freezer will lead to one solid block. If this does happen, you can put chucks into a blender and churn out soft serve, but then you’ll need to eat it fast!

Banana & Honey Frozen Yoghurt

Anna’s very own recipe. Makes approximately half a litre.

500g natural yoghurt (I used low fat)
1 ripe banana
2 tablespoons honey


1. Combine ingredients in a processor or blender.

2. Taste for sweetness.

3. Chill according to ice cream machine instructions.

4. Serve (on the same day) with chopped pistachios and a drizzle of honey.

add ¼ teaspoon of ground cardamom or cinnamon.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

a taste of peru

(photo from

Sometimes it’s wonderful being a blogger.

Like last night when I was shouted a great meal by Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia whose only request in exchange was that I experience the special produce his country has to offer.

Even better I was able to bring my little sister, Stinky, who visited Peru a few years ago and remembers her time there fondly.

I was truly excited by this opportunity because I adore trying new tastes and ingredients and, having learnt so much about Andean cuisine when I made it one of my 2008 food challenges, I could finally taste some things I’d only read about.

So what did I taste for the very first time?
*ají – Peruvian yellow chilli pepper
*beef heart
*rocoto – Peruvian red pepper (capsicum)
*sea urchin
*huacatay – a herb also known as black mint or tagetes minuta
*alpaca meat
*purple corn

Croquetas de Yuca y Queso Manchego con Salsa Huancaina
cassava and Spanish cheese croquettes with Huancayo sauce
These crispy spheres were a salute to the Peruvian classic Papa a la Huancaína (or Huancayo style potatoes). Normally slices of boiled potato sit in a sauce of fresh cheese, ají, evaporated milk, salt and garlic. In this exciting version, mashed and chunky starchy yuca was complimented by an ever-so-slight spicy burn and beautiful, strong cheese that I would never have guessed was manchego. This canapé was absolutely lovely.

Causa de Trucha Orgánica del Titicaca
potato mortar terrine with organic trout from Lake Titicaca
Both the potato and trout gave these morsels a real earthiness. The fish was salty-sweet and the avocado added creaminess. It was doused liberally in rosemary and black pepper oil. Very enjoyable.

Anticuchos de Corazón y Salsa Criolla
beef heart skewers with ají sauce

This was the best taste of the night. The meat was very salty (in a good way), extremely tender and rich in iron flavour. The sauce so divine I wanted to lick it off the plate. The flavours were rich with olive oil, lemons and fresh onions and a mild spiciness lingered in the mouth moreishly. Too good.

Santiago Queirolo Pisco Sour
This cocktail made from lemon juice, syrup, egg white, bitters and pisco (Chilean/Peruvian grape spirit) was a well made Sour and similar to other tangy, lemon drinks. It was good, but I didn’t swoon even though the pisco tasted lovely and smooth.

Canete Plumgrapes Santiago Queirolo Pisco Martini
Although we ordered the Don Santiago Pisco Punch, we were served this martini in a tumbler and told it was punch. We were disappointed and then we tasted it. It was amazing! The drink was so fragrant and aromatic, with a sweet aroma, sweet entry flavour and then a sour ending that left you wanting more, more, more. It was made from plum pisco liqueur, grapefruit bitters, old fashioned aromatic bitters and a pink grapefruit twist. Simply delicious!

Kingfish Tiradito in Two Oils
The fish had a gentle flavour and toothsome texture, but I couldn’t detect the pisco it had been cured in. In fact it was slightly dry, but once you flipped it quickly in the rocoto and basil oil it bounced right back. The basil added a slight aniseed flavour which was pleasant, but at the time I thought coriander would have been a better choice. Later, finding coriander in a few other dishes, it occurred to me that the chef might have been avoid a repetition of flavours throughout the night. The Peruvian rocoto (red pepper) was delicious, adding a spiciness that many capsicum don’t contain.
Served with Brown Brothers Prosecco 2008

Passion at the Pacific
This was a ceviche using passionfruit and ají to cure generous portions of pink snapper, prawns and sea urchin. Tasting the thick fatty texture and mild salty-milk flavour of the sea urchin ticked off another 2009 food challenge. The snapper was deliciously tender and the prawns had the most perfect firm, inviting texture when so often they become slimy and soft when served raw. But best of all was the spicy and quite acidic curing sauce, flecked with coriander. I found this dish very impressive and perfectly balanced for my tastes.
Served with Brown Brothers Vermentino 2008

Pisco & Citron Granita
As a palate cleanser this granita fell a bit short since it arrived practically melted and tasted like an extreme mouthful of Pisco Sour. It was refreshing though.

Oxtail, Rocoto & Solterito Salad
I was dreading this dish because it’s premises was a stuff capsicum (pepper), a vegetable I detest. It came cold in soft shreds on a bed of lukewarm oxtail ragu which was unfortunately gristly and not very flavoursome. Interestingly it was the rocoto that lifted the flavours of the dish. This tiny round pepper was sweet and spicy all at once and tasted the way I’d always hoped other capsicums would taste. Good work rocoto! Alongside it was a truly wonderful salad of doughy, popcorn-like corn kernels called choclo (reminded me of hominy), feta cheese, broad beans and a huacatay dressing (black mint or tagetes minuta). I adored this salad, but does solterito mean bachelor?
Served with Brown Brothers Tempranillo 2006

Cured Alpaca with Quinoa Taboulé
I was really excited about trying alpaca meat, and it may have been the large amount of wine I’d consumed but it was one of the best meats I’d tasted in a long time. It seemed to be strong like beef or game, yet impart an incredible richness like pork. It certainly had the potential to be dry and chewy (Stinky’s slices were overcooked) but my pink strips were delectable. Unfortunately the quinoa’s earthiness tasted more like dirt and was overpowered by chunks of colourful capsicum.
Served with Brown Brothers Heathcote Shiraz 2006

Purple Corn Ice Cream
Our dessert seemed like a tribute to Chicha Morada, a Peruvian drink made by boiling purple corn with spices and pineapple. This was the ice cream version, slightly purple, lightly spiced with cinnamon and sitting on a bed of macerated pineapple and strawberry pieces. I just loved the flavour of the ice cream and think I could make my own version if I could get my hands on some Chicha Morada powder.
Served with Brown Brothers Moscato Rosa 2009 (delicious!)


Overall, it was wonderful to taste so many new and exciting ingredients from an area of the world so seldom featured in food media.

Thank you Chef Saravia for the amazing experience and, for those Sydney-based people who want to experience their own taste of the Andes, visit the Peru Concept website.

For impressions from other bloggers spotted on the night check out:
Not Quite Nigella
Grab Your Fork
A Table for Two
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