Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hong Kong at Home

Housemates can be the pits sometimes. They drink your wine without replacing it, eat your food without asking, store their shoes in your bathroom (it happens) and keep you awake with loud music while you’re trying to sleep. If you’re really unlucky, you might even find they’ve died on your couch while eating a kebab.

But housemates can also become your best friends, your partners in crime, the people you go to for advice, they make you laugh and drink wine with you out on the deck. My boyfriend has such housemates – they’re moving back to Hong Kong on the weekend and to say goodbye they cooked us dinner. It was simple and quick but delicious and fresh – steamed crab with slices of ginger and spring onion and boiled tiger prawns with a chilli, oil and soy dipping sauce. So good.

We sat around and talked about Hong Kong and the food they eat for breakfast (egg, sausages and noodles) and they told us about a local singer who has made a reality TV show in Tasmania – apparently Tasmania is high on the list of places to visit for people in Hong Kong. We also talked food - our love of sashimi, street food, yum cha and how in Taiwan the name for fried rice means making love, which I thought was cute.
After a couple of bottles of champagne, and a piece of crab I think I wasn’t really supposed to eat, we said our goodbyes but promised we’d experience the food of
Hong Kong for ourselves one day soon.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

There was flour all over the kitchen after I made these scrummy treats from Joy the Baker - it was in my hair, on the floor, in the toaster and all over my face too. It's not that they're hard to make, I'm just a bit special sometimes - either way, they're completely worth the effort.

We've been stalking Joy's blog for some time now, one of us has been swooning over her creations for years.
I thought I would give these a go after one of us baked them and brought them into work a couple of weeks ago. I ate three cupcakes that day, today I ate another three. They're super easy and the girls I baked them for absolutely loved them. Check out Joy's here.
{ Carrot Cake Cupcakes with Dulce de Leche Buttercream }

Recipe from Joy the Baker adapted from Martha Stewart.

Makes around 28 cupcakes.

4 cups peeled and finely grated carrots
3 large eggs, room temperature

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1/3 cup buttermilk

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved for another use (or 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)

1/2 cup crushed pineapple, well drained

1 cup walnuts or pecans, toasted and finely chopped

1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground cloves

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 standard muffin tins with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together carrots, eggs, sugar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla seeds, and coconut, pineapple and nuts if desired. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Stir flour mixture into carrot mixture until well combined.

Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until testers inserted into centers come out clean, 23 to 28 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks, 10 minutes. Turn out cupcakes onto wire racks, and let cool completely. Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen for up to 2 months in airtight containers.

Frost cupcakes with dulce de leche or cream cheese frosting. Frosted cupcakes can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature, and sprinkle with toasted coconut (press gently to adhere) before serving.

{ Dulce de Leche Buttercream Frosting }

From The Pastry Queen

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened

3 tbl heavy cream

1 tsp vanilla

4 cups powdered sugar

pinch of salt

3/4 cup prepared dulce de leche

Cream together softened butter and powdered sugar on low using an electric mixer. Add cream and vanilla and beat on medium speed until smooth and no lumps appear. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the prepared dulce de leche and beat to incorporate. Frost cooled cupcakes using a knife or a pastry bag and tip. Top with toasted coconut.

A friend also brought along a tasty pavlova inspired by Donna Hay's from last week's Master Chef challenge. Yum!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

City Chicks

There’s something special about producing your own food, picking it, plucking it or pulling it from the ground. Whether you have herbs growing out on the balcony or a full-blown veggie garden flourishing in the backyard, it's great to go back to basics, get your hands dirty and create something from nothing.

If you’ve ever had the chance to search for warm, freshly laid eggs created by your very own cheeky chooks then you know how magical and rewarding that feeling is. If you haven’t, and you’d like to, then it might be time to give Ingrid Dimock of City Chicks a call.

We visited Ingrid at her home in The Gap over the weekend and got a chance to meet the chooks and chicks, the boutique hens and a lone duckling and found out what City Chicks is all about. We're suckers for baby animals too.

Ingrid’s a teacher by trade but after having three kids and returning to work, she decided it just didn’t sit right.

“I felt I really had to do something else,” Ingrid said. “I stayed home for about six months and I just went mad, then I was looking for something to run myself. I read about a fellow in Sydney, the rent-a-chook bloke, and read he had a simple rental concept with a couple of chooks and it was just going gang-busters. I just thought that was really wild,” she said.

At the same time Ingrid and some of her gal pals were thinking of getting some chooks of their own but weren’t impressed with what they encountered.

“We had gone to a produce shop and had quite a negative experience,” Ingrid said. “We were educated women with about 100 questions and these blokes just weren’t interested in looking after us at all. I felt there could be a niche market for something like we were after,” she said.

The market is certainly there and business is booming, with everyone from mums and young couples to empty-nesters getting on the backyard bandwagon.

“It’s more mums with young kids,” Ingrid said. “They bring the kids here, have a look at the chooks and have a chat. We also have a lot of empty-nesters who had chooks when they were kids or who are semi-retiring and want to set up something in the backyard. We also sell to a lot of younger people who want to set up something in a terrace home or in a small yard or at their parents’ house. We tend to sell more of the boutique chooks then, the little fluffy ones, which are probably more lap chooks than anything else,” she said.

Chooks make great pets too apparently – they poo a lot though so if you’re planning to have them around the house it might be best to invest in a chook nappy. I’m not even kidding, they exist.

“I had some clients come to me saying ‘Look, Dorris and Abigail come inside with us and watch TV but I have to put a big towel on my bloody lap because they’ve been pooing everywhere,” Ingrid said. “I thought I would research it on the internet, so I hunted and hunted and I eventually stumbled on a link. Now I sell one a week. If you have a sick chicken and you’re keeping it inside, it’s not a bad thing to have one anyway.”

If chicken poo isn’t for you, City Chicks has expanded due to the constant push for other types of produce and they can now organise anything from native beehives to mushroom gardens and veggie patches.

“People would often phone in after a while saying, ‘The chickens are really good but I’ve just got all this shit everywhere’ or ‘My husband is hopeless and I want to get a garden bed’,” Ingrid said. “Then I started thinking, well if that can work, what else can we do? I especially wanted to encourage the kids to get into the backyard as that is really what we are all about.”

Be sure to visit the City Chicks website, they have loads of interesting family-friendly things.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Queensland Natural Beef

Hanging with cows after you’ve just polished off a steak? Yes, siree. With mind to meeting what we’re eating, we set off on a Saturday jaunt to Harlin, west of Kilcoy, where the fabulous and very kind Blacklock family of Queensland Natural Beef showed us their digs, explained the ins and outs of the grass fed beef industry and brought us up to scratch on the current state of beef farming practices in Oz.

It was a huge learning curve and a bit of a wake up call - it’s one thing to picture a cow when you’re buying meat from the butchers, the farmer’s market or god forbid, the supermarket, but to actually hang out with cows in their paddock? Pretty darn cool.

The lack of thought that goes into buying meat today is staggering, especially when contemplating new shoes is up there with launching a space shuttle. Why are we so insistent on wearing of-the-minute designer heels made by Italian craftsmen from top notch leather, but are so nonchalant about where our meat comes from? Is it that the living, breathing animal seems so far removed in our minds from the cling wrapped end product?

QNB produces delicious grass fed, natural beef. The cattle we rubbed shoulders with are free range - they feed on what grasses they like and drink when they choose - and are treated with care and respect. The difference between the spectacular steaks we ate for lunch and what you’ll pick up at your average supermarket is mind boggling.

“Most beef from supermarkets is probably grain fed, so the cattle are generally locked up and can’t exercise, and are force fed so they gain weight quickly for fast returns,” said Carolyn, who works the cattle station with her dad and her husband Shane.

“The budget cuts will probably be young cows or poor quality beef, the mince is from old cows and cattle.”

The catch with supermarket beef? You don’t know what you’re getting. It could be grain fed or grass fed, may have lived a splendid life or one of misery. But it’s all sold together, as plain old beef. In a nutshell: you don’t know how your dinner has been treated.

“Most of the beef in Australia is produced with hormones, and I don’t think the Australian public has an understanding of that,” Carolyn told us.

While the poultry industry bore the brunt of consumer complaints about poor living conditions and the use of growth hormones, the beef industry has slipped under the radar.

“Chicken in Australia isn’t allowed to have had hormones - farmers can feed them medicinal antibiotics but that’s it,” Carolyn said. “I think we know what consumers want. In my personal opinion, people are concerned about the health and well-being issues, not just for the person eating it, but for the animal.”

Carolyn said interesting challenges lie ahead for the beef industry, but until consumers pipe up and demand information about hormone use and animal livelihood, it’s unlikely to change.

Over lunch, we tasted the difference, and Carolyn’s mum Carol told us that grain fed meat - which has much more intermuscular fat - can always be tender but not necessarily flavoursome, while grass fed is bursting with flavour but needs monitoring to ensure it’s tenderness.
Carol, who's a passionate cook - her Y Bone casserole is a family staple - says chefs like Neil Perry and Jamie Oliver, and shows like Masterchef have encouraged people to know more about their meat, and to put lesser cuts like shin and oxtail to good use.

We checked out a large chunk of the 1200 acres, explored Carol’s vegetable garden and trawled through her hand written recipe book while she treated us to home made jam drops and tea. Spoilt or what?

In How To Cook, Jamie Oliver writes:

“The truth is most people buying meat do not see any value in it, have never thought or wanted to know or even questioned where their meat comes from, how it’s been fed, looked after, slaughtered or butchered. You might think, ‘why would I want or even need to know?. Well you should, because the difference it makes to the quality of your meat is incredible.”

It’s so worth the time, effort and curiosity to really investigate and understand where your meat comes from. And with an abundance of Farmer’s Markets, there’s no reason why you can’t. If you’re in Queensland, Carolyn and Shane run two butcher’s shops where they sell their meat, and they deliver to the city once a week. You can visit their website here. Read more...

Friday, April 16, 2010

A night in with Jamie.

After a long working week there is nothing better than downing - yes I know I should be savouring not downing but ho-hum - a quiet vino or three on a Friday night. Well, actually there is and that’s a quiet vino or three partnered with Jamie and a bit of cooking! If only it was Jamie in the flesh and not just book cover Jamie.

After sitting on the deck and enjoying the usually non-existent peace and quiet (‘house sharers’ downstairs), I decided to venture in and make use of the four black bananas sitting in my fruit bowl. I think I subconsciously buy bananas and don’t eat them so I can make banana bread or banana cake or anything that requires very ripe bananas. The lovely Joy supplied this recipe. The recipe says to use three bananas but I used four and instead of canola or walnut oil, I used organic coconut oil as that’s what was in the cupboard.

[ Low Fat Oatmeal Banana Bread }

1 1/4 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

3 tsp canola or walnut oil

1 large egg, beaten

2 medium egg whites, beaten

3 large bananas, ripe

1 cup uncooked oats

Preheat oven to 180C. Grease and flour a loaf tin and set aside.
In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients including the oats and cinnamon. In a smaller bowl, mash bananas with a potato masher or fork. Add oil and whole egg and mix thoroughly. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix well. Batter will be fairly thick. In a medium sized bowl, with an electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites until medium stiff peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter in three additions. Pour batter into tin and bake until top of loaf is firm to touch, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes. Flip out and cool on a wire rack for another 10 minutes.

PS. I served this toasted with butter and honey – does that defeat the purpose of low fat?

With Saturday brekkie sorted, Jamie and I decided it was time to put something in my pinot-lined tummy for dinner. It had to be something quick, easy and absorbent ... pizza. My lovely housemate and I usually have this pizza for Sunday lunch or dinner, depending on our energy levels. And, without fail, it’s made and eaten whilst watching Sex and The City episodes and discussing the previous evening’s adventures which is usually broken down into a minute by minute account so the pizza takes a while to get through.

Anyway, this pizza is all about what’s in your fridge. The must-have ingredients I suppose are the base, the tomato paste/pesto and the cheese. The rest is whatever you want or have. Tonight I have chicken, onion, capsicum, zucchini, mushroom and sweet potato. Excellent.

Preheat oven to 200C. We always use Lebanese bread as our ready made base. On that we spread a bit of tomato paste or pesto or a bit of both. Sprinkle with a little cheese. Set aside. Chop up whatever meat and vegetables you have. In a frying pan, heat about 1tsp of oil. If you have meat, cook that first and then set aside.

Do the same again with your vegetables but don’t cook till soft. Leave them a little hard. While the vegetables are cooking, season with salt and pepper and herbs you prefer, if any. I added some pine nuts into the mix. Turn off the heat and add your meat to the vegetables and mix. Leave mixture to cool for 5 minutes before putting on the base – this stops the base becoming soggy later down the track. Sprinkle a bit of cheese over the top and put in the oven for about 5-10mins or until cheese has melted and the base crispy. Once done, drizzle with sweet chilli sauce, cut, serve and devour.


Thursday, April 15, 2010


Market-fresh coffee and walnut yogurt straight from the tub - heaven!


Jamie Oliver Opinion

Opinion on Jamie Oliver in the UK is as divided as opinion on Jennifer Aniston in Who Magazine. According to a piece in the London Times:

If Britain has a problem with Jamie Oliver, it is because we can’t decide what he is: campaigning saint transforming troubled kids into chefs with his Fifteen restaurant or steely businessman, churning out Jamie brand pasta sauces or merchandise for his Jamie At Home direct-sales outfit, Tupperware parties for the Cath Kidston generation? How could he campaign against battery chickens, and accept £1.2 million a year to endorse Sainsbury’s supermarket, when they were selling them? Jamie Oliver the aw-right-mate, dress-down geezer can seem at odds with the owner of Jamie Oliver Holdings, 2008 pre-tax profits £6.8 million, employer these days of around 4,000 people, who made the Sunday Times rich list well before he was 30.

This is a valid point - you either love Jamie, or hate him. You look at him as a genuine, hard-working family man whose commitment to youth education, empowerment and health is something special, or you see a cashed up celeb pocketing more pennies by interfering in people’s lives, telling them that knowing the difference between a tomato and a potato is indeed something worth knowing while the cameras are rolling. To my mind, why shouldn’t someone whose focus, enthusiasm and passion revolutionised the way British school children eat, got kids off drugs and into kitchens and uses his fame to raise awareness about the food industry reap the financial rewards?

In the same article, Jamie talks about his campaign to tackle obesity in America. Journalist Janice Turner writes:

I interviewed Oliver five years ago, just after his British school dinner project, and found him unexpectedly thin-skinned, even at a mildly put suggestion that he might – with relentless waves of books, TV shows and product ranges – be in danger of overexposure. But meeting him again, I sense an epidermal thickening, an inurement to criticism born of battles fought, confidence that his cause is righteous, his allies – including the new White House, Oprah Winfrey and politicians of all hues in Britain – are mighty, that no one can take away his victories, his hard-earned stripes.

“Look,” he says when I mention his critics. “I’m Jamie Oliver, I’m 34, I’m an Essex boy and I love food. If I have an opportunity to tell the story, in the biggest slot, in the biggest country in the world with the biggest problem, at the age of 60 should I be saying, I tried and failed. Or even I succeeded! Or do I say I was too busy f***ing around in England?”

After 11 years trying to break America, “on the a***-end of the Food Network”, Oliver says he’d been about to scale down his US ventures when ABC offered the show. “Why me? Because I’m the only f***** who’s stupid enough to do it. I’ve done it and smelt it and felt it before. The time’s right. I’ve been trying to get someone to tell this story here, ever since I found out America was the worst of pretty much everything I was learning about, doing research [for School Dinners] in England.”

Nonetheless, Huntington was a tough gig. America, he says, is five years ahead of Britain in its food degeneracy and obesity levels. At least the kids in Greenwich, South London, where he launched School Dinners, could identify a tomato, and when Jamie showed them what chicken nuggets were made of, by grinding beaks and carcasses, were suitably repelled: American kids watched this and still elected to eat them over roasted meat. And what with the boot-faced dinner ladies serving pizza for breakfast, milk adulterated with sugar, teachers believing it dangerous for kids to have cutlery – so children literally did not know how to eat anything but hand-held fast food – local shock-jocks asking him how he got to be crowned king, it ended with Jamie sobbing on camera. I ask what finally broke him and ignite one of his looping, sweary, heartfelt spiels.

“My role here is a very strange one because I am a foreigner. The town didn’t like me. Every aspect of media was f***ing slagging me off on a daily basis. I didn’t have friends or family and it was f***ing hard. But if you don’t just talk the talk and really do and get your hands dirty and stay and live with different people and understand they’re not just obese because they’re f***ing stupid, it is… f***ing hard.”

Such was the negative press, he says, that White House aides and senators who had agreed to meet him – as a prequel to presenting his research to Michelle Obama, who is also campaigning on obesity – pulled out in alarm. “I was all suited and booted,” he says. “I’d flown over to Washington and it was cancelled.”

So why do this at all? Why not consolidate work in British school kitchens or roll out more of the Ministry of Food centres which began in Rotherham and have expanded to three other Northern towns, teaching families to cook? Why open such a huge, unwinnable new front when it would take you so long and often from home, especially when your wife Jools is pregnant with your fourth child?

“I don’t think I have any choice,” he says. “I’m not saying I’m on a calling. Although the local pastor in Huntington said, ‘You have been sent from God, we’ve been praying for you and now you’re here.’ But it’s my job to sow a seed of change.”

Following the story are pages and pages of comments.

Amid much bickering between Brits and Americans about which nation has the greater girth, there are many along these lines:

Rather than pick on America I would like to see a photograph and the statistics of the entire Jamie Oliver family tree, nephews, cousins, uncles
and aunts.... I bet they are not all skinny!


I think that Jamie Oliver should take a good look at himself first before spouting off about obesity.

Since when did Jamie Oliver become a poster boy for body image? Is he really telling people they should be ‘skinny’? Is he only allowed to campaign against obesity and promote healthy cooking and eating if he (and apparently his entire family tree) looks like James Bond? I don’t think so.

Eating junk vs eating real food shouldn’t - doesn’t - translate to fat vs thin. It’s about feeling awful or feeling well. It’s about eating chemicals, preservatives and trans fats because it’s easy, because you’re tired or bored or lonely, or eating because you care about yourself, your health and the planet. No one ever said you can never have your (homemade) cake with double cream on the side again. No one ever said you should have the same measurements as the Victoria’s Secret angels or you don’t deserve to live. And if they did? Well, fuck ‘em.

Although we’re bombarded with messages about thinness and can barely open our eyes in the morning without news of a celebrity’s ‘Body After Baby’ pinging back to where it was before, Jamie Oliver is not the Anna Wintour of the food industry. He’s not asking people to ditch Happy Meals for green salad with no dressing, to bid adieu to sugar, diary, eggs, carbs, red meat and anything else that might, you know, BE TASTY, so we all fit some insane Hollywood ideal and can swap our trackies for skinny jeans.

He is asking you to consider what you put in your gob. And to enjoy every last lick of it.

What do you think of Jamie’s new American project and the reaction to it?


Monday, April 12, 2010

The Markets

Fluorescent lighting, bad music and apathetic teenage staff - no I'm not talking about a new nightclub, but multinational supermarket chains.

No one looks good in lighting that harsh, but that's not the point, it's what they're doing to our wallets that's the real issue and, even worse, what they're doing to the livelihoods of our farmers. Not only have the two majors marked up their prices by more than 41% in the last 10 years, they've made billions of dollars in profits in the process including more than $100 billion dollars in 2009 alone.

The ABC's Hungry Beast program did a great piece about these "friendly giants" a couple of weeks back. Check out the clip.

As well as the consumer, farmers are getting a pretty raw deal. There are reports they're not being paid enough for their produce, that 'imperfect' fruit and veggies are being rejected and that the ones which do make it through are being kept for a questionable length of time in cold rooms.

We decided to ditch the superstores and headed to a nearby farmer's market in West End in search of local fare, a hot breakfast and some seriously cute puppies.

So next time you're contemplating that quick trip down to the shops, why not wait until your local farmer's market rolls around. Read more...

Saturday, April 10, 2010


We skipped work drinks. It’s happened before. Here’s what happens when you mix three girls, a bottle of white wine (or was it two?), tinned plums and a few other things together:

1. Boy wish lists. Gerard Butler and Alexander Skarsgard might have been named once or twice, folks. And a celebrity chef who will remain anonymous.

2. Talking, listening, laughing and a small amount of singing. Aren’t girlfriends the best?

3. Tipsy cooking. It happens.

tad uneven and some will be three times the size of their friends. Then you’ll be coating them in flour, dipping them in egg and milk and smothering them in breadcrumbs. Eventually, your hands will feel like they’re covered in wet cement, and look like this:

{ Roast Pumpkin Feta Patties }

1/2 butternut pumpkin
400g can brown lentils
50g feta cheese
1 cup flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 tbs milk
Plain flour, for coating
Breadcrumbs, for coating
Vegetable oil, for frying
Olive oil, for coating
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 180C. Peel skin off pumpkin and chop into cubes. Place in roasting pan. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for about 30min or till golden. Set aside to cool.

Drain lentils; squeeze firmly to remove all excess water. Place in a large bowl with feta, parsley, salt and pepper. Mash pumpkin and add to lentil mixture. Mix well. Shape into small patties and place on a tray. Set up 3 bowls: one with flour, one with the egg and milk (mix together) and the other with breadcrumbs. Lightly dust each patty with flour, dip in the egg/milk mixture and then coat in breadcrumbs. Place patties back on tray and once done put into the fridge to set.

Heat 1cm vegetable oil in large non-stick pan and fry patties till golden. Keep the heat low and cook slowly.

Serve with salad.

{ Plum Clafouti }

1 ½ cups (375ml) low fat custard
¼ cup (35g) self-raising flour
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites
825g can whole plums; drained, halved & seeded
2 tsp icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180C.

Combine custard, flour and egg yolk in a medium size bowl. Stir until smooth. Beat egg whites in a small bowl with electric beaters on highest speed until soft peaks form. Fold into custard mixture. Pour into 24cm round oven dish. Pat plums dry with absorbent paper. Arrange plums, cut side down over custard.

Bake, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until firm. Just before serving dust with icing sugar. Serve with vanilla ice cream.