Sunday, September 24, 2006

Isn't wool exciting?

Remember in August when in an almost fairy-tale manner --- in a pumpkin? get it? don't you read Cinderella or Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater at least once a week like I do? --- I bought a life-time supply of ribbon/raffia/wool/string? Hey presto, check out this book, again from the Lifeline book fair. Doesn't this send you back to the '70s? I remember these books from my childhood... and interestingly, they stand the test of time (or perhaps I'm forever stuck in the '70s). I love the masks; they are made by wrapping around a bucket then painting with diluted glue several times to make them stiff. Inspiring.

How to decorate a cake

This past weekend was the Lifeline secondhand book fair. Lifeline is a suicide prevention phone line, and this is their popular fundraiser which I look forward to (Canberrans are avid book readers so the pickings are very good). Here is one of my favorite finds for 50c (OK perhaps doctored a little.)

I really want to have a cocktail party so that I can use the black and white image as an invitation! The text reads 'The good cocktail hostess should be somewhat reckless, following every whim of her imagination and surprising her guests with novelties they have never seen before.' Hmmm, if you make tiny sandwiches out of miniature cookie cutters, are you really that reckless? You can figure out which side of the reckless fence I'm on by the fact that I actually purchased the identical tiny cookie cutters at a op shop (thrift store) a couple of weeks ago! I think I will embarrass DH next time he has poker with the boys at our house by serving a plate of these reckless creations.

Another inspired salad from Donna Hay

I don't have a camera for a while, so that's why you are all missing out on my recent cooking (though to be truthful there hasn't been a lot of cooking lately... mostly picking up takeaway or frying eggs). So here's a scanned image of what I cooked for a family dinner last night. This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks of all time: Off the Shelf by Donna Hay. She also has a really good magazine.

I've made this salad several times, but this is the first time I've finally kicked out the couscous (which tends to be too clumpy and gluggy when I make it??? why oh why??) and ushered in the brown rice. The chewiness and texture was much better with the brown rice. The salad also included roasted sweet potatoes (or pumpkin) and blanched sugar snap peas (or green beans or snow peas) and is dressed with lemon juice, EV olive oil, honey, more fresh mint than you think you'd need, and a titch of salt, pepper and chilli. One time I also added some the chopped rind of Moroccan preserved lemon and that was delish.

Cosmorex coffee

Cosmorex is my favorite place to buy coffee in Canberra. When my son was in preschool, I ran the coffee & cake cafe at the Fete, and another mother suggested her uncle's coffee store as a potential donor. I called them up and told the owner that we were having a Mother's day Fete and would he interested in donating coffee? He replied in a charming European accent, 'Yes of course -- mothers love coffee!' He certainly knows his clientele!

When I went to pick up the coffee and coffee machine that he generously let us use, I was amazed. They import green coffee beans from all over the world, then blend and roast themselves. The aroma was divine-- enough to drive a mother mad!

On my most recent trip I bought these two varieties (I love strong Italian-style coffee):

Rio Gold Blend: An espresso style roast with brisk full-bodied flavour. Smooth and strong Italian style at its best.

Kenya A grade plantation coffee: Washed high altitude coffee ranking amongst the worlds finest. Producing medium to full bodied, pungent and snappy brew with high natural acidity and characteristic lingering aftertaste. A big coffee.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Check out these fantastic maps from worldmapper. Only the first map shown here is the true geographical size. The other examples are resized according to characteristics of that country, here, population and toy imports and exports. Look on the website... there are hundreds of other interesting ones.

Each territory's size on the map is drawn according to its land area.

The size of each territory shows the relative proportion of the world's population living there.

Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide net imports of toys (in US$) that are received there. Net imports are imports minus exports. When exports are larger than imports the territory is not shown.

Territory size shows the proportion of worldwide net exports of toys (in US$) that come from there. Net exports are exports minus imports. When imports are larger than exports the territory is not shown.

Floriade in Canberra

Spring has sprung in Canberra, and that means going to the spring festival of flowers called Floriade. Not as big as the "real" Floriade but always a cheerful time because the weather is finally warmer and how could you not be happy when surrounded with so many tulips! The birds-eye view shows what the beautiful lake in the middle of Canberra looks like. We love to ride our bikes around the lake on the many bike paths.

At the Floriade I bought a big jar of curry powder: Agra Lamb and Coconut Curry blend to be precise. Mudgeeraba Spices makes a huge variety of curry powders, pickles, sambals and chutneys. Instead of making wet spice pastes, they prefer dry spice blends which don't have any preservatives. Their stall smelled delicious and exotic, and they have giant rice cookers filled with rice made with the different spice blends. I'll let you know how they work at home. For $20 you get a big jar which makes 18 curries (with 1kg of meat or vegetables, to serve 4 people).

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pesto pasta

This is my quick-I'm-exhausted-and-everyone-is-starving-and-has-to-eat-now meal. Pesto pasta sauce from a jar and a salad. Unfortunately I tried a new brand of pesto which was awful... back to my Italian brand Barilla next time.

Braised tofu

Tonight's sauce to marinate hard tofu is my usual (a little teriyaki sauce, chicken stock from a cube, garlic, spring onions, ginger and sesame oil) with a few extras (some plum juice from canned fruit and half a leftover tomato). I marinate for a little time-- or a long time-- then simmer for a while, thickening at the end with some cornstarch. Served with rice; stir-fried green beans, snow peas and baby bok choy; and some fresh beetroot (can you tell I've just been to the markets?!)

At the secondhand shop at the markets I found these bowls decorated with fish. They make me almost as happy as the kids' chopsticks I recently found at a toy shop! I've been looking for these for ages.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bean soup

Five reasons why I love this soup:
  1. So easy to make, especially if you've got a busy day. I usually chop the vegies the night before and soak them with the 1 cup legumes (beans or lentils) overnight in ~ 1 liter stock. The next morning, before I leave for a busy day, I top up with 1.8 liter water (from the kettle) and leave to cook in the slow cooker all day long. When I get home from picking up the kids from school, I taste and add stock cubes (if needed) and extra virgin olive oil for the last couple of hours. Today the soup needed some more flavour so I added some tomato paste too.
  2. So inexpensive yet filling.
  3. The kids are actually eating beans!!! woo-hoo! (I started them on this soup using red lentils, which disappear with cooking. They haven't seemed to notice the progression to big chunks of identifiable beans)
  4. A good soup for when you're trying to lose weight. I don't add a lot of olive oil so it's basically vegies and beans... I eat as much as I want. It must be low GI, as you stay full for a long time afterwards.
  5. It's even better the next day. My son takes it to school for lunch in his thermos.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Anniversary dinner at The Chairman and Yip's

This week marks our 10th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, we went out to eat at one of our favourite restaurants, The Chairman and Yip's, which serves modern Chinese-inspired food with an Australian twist (the chef is from Hong Kong I believe). We had the Chef's tasting menu, which includes 7 small courses plus dessert. Oh yummy. And lucky for you, I embarrassed myself by taking a photo of every course (I think they all thought I was a poorly disguised restaurant reviewer... instead of a housewife with a blogging obsession). I'm sorry the photos are rather dark... it was dimly lit and romantique!

King prawns wok-fried with chilli plum jam

A fantastic start. The prawns were fresh and not overcooked. The chilli plum sauce was spicy and sweet, and the addition of basil and pine nuts was inspired.

Lightly fried calamari with a ginger sambal emulsion

This dish was our least favourite. While the calamari was cooked well, with a light batter, the sauce was too similar to the previous dish without any of its merits. It was too vinegary, and I couldn't taste any ginger which might have rescued it. The end result was bland and disappointing.

Sesame crusted ocean trout with cinnamon infused soy dressing

Fortunately, things looked up immediately: our favourite dish! The combination of cinnamon and soy sauce is superb... I want to try cooking Chinese greens with this sauce. The ocean trout was perfectly cooked, and the long snake beans were very briefly deep-fried and thus crisp and fresh-tasting. Oh man oh man this was delicious.

Roasted duck and shitake pancakes

This was a tasty parcel of duck, mushrooms and hoisin sauce rolled up in a pancake. Peter started eating his with his knife and fork, but I used my fingers... then the waiter suggested that Peter follow my lead! haha. Thus began what Peter perceived as blatant waiter favouritism towards me.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Anniversary dinner continued

Chargrilled field mushroom filled with a coriander, chilli and cashew pesto

The pesto was beautifully flavoured but I found the mushroom wept too much watery liquid for my liking.

Crispy skin quail with a honey, pepper and black bean sauce

I enjoy ordering a tasting menu because it includes dishes which I would not normally order, such as this boned quail with a peppery sauce which offsets the juiciness of the meat perfectly. The smidgen of sticky rice served alongside was just right.

Pepper beef & scallop hotpot with a side of stir-fried cucumber and pumpkin

And here is our second favourite course, though by this stage we were starting to get reasonably full as you can imagine! Oh this was delicious. The first time I had this hotpot dish, many years ago, I finally realised why chefs prefer cooking their beef rare: it the result is so tender and flavourful. The hotpot also includes perfectly cooked, tender and meltingly sweet scallops. The side dish was sublime and spicy. The stir-fried cucumbers were crunchy and contrasted with the soft pumpkin; I would never have combined these two ingredients in a stir-fry but it worked very well.

Peter's dessert: coconut sago pudding with black sesame ice cream

I made Peter choose this one so I could see what it tasted like :) The warm sago pudding was like tapioca, and the black sesame ice cream was very unusual -- nice, different, unusual.

Becky's dessert: caramelized eggplant on mango mousse with basil seed sauce

I could not resist. Eggplant for dessert?! As the waiter gave me this, he murmured 'excellent choice, madam' haha (husband rolled eyes). Lightly battered and deep-fried, the eggplant tasted like banana fritters, but not quite as sweet, with a sesame caramel sauce. The mango mousse wasn't quite as mango-y or as refreshing as I'd expected, and the basil seeds were tasteless little frog eggs which seemed to be there for the texture. Altogether, a lovely dessert. I'm sure my brothers would love this (I introduced them to the joys of eggplant when they were young). Perhaps when they visit I will try cooking it?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tuscan peasant bread

Oh no not another bread making book from the library! The Bread Bible is by one of my favorite authors Beth Hensperger (she also wrote the rice cooker and bread machine cookbooks I was obsessed about earlier this year.) Inspired by her cookbook, as well as my bro Brian telling me about a bread recipe he uses from NPR, I baked this Tuscan peasant bread. It starts with a sponge of flour, yeast and water which sits for 2 - 8 hours. Then you add more flour, yeast and water and use the French bread option on the breadmaker.

This bread is gorgeous. Easily my favorite loaf ever from the bread machine. The crumb is superb, the crust crusty. The only problem was that it needed some salt. Once that's added, this is the perfect home-baked Italian loaf. I liked that it didn't have any added milk or sugar; I find breads too cakey and sweet with too much of either. I'd love to try a wholemeal version of this bread. One fantastic hint I've learned from Hensperger's books is to always add gluten when baking with flours (as opposed to purchased bread mixes). Even more is required for wholemeal bread.

The next bread book I'm seeking is The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking.

Pizza by A

My daughter A made Hawaiian pizza tonight. I had some purchased pre-baked pizza crusts in the freezer, and she added pizza sauce, cheese, ham and pineapple. Altogether, a quickly assembled Friday night dinner.

I've got a pizza stone which I bought at the Hunter Hill Fete last year. This is a posh neighborhood in Sydney where the Fetes are out of this world! Pizza stones are heavy round flat ceramic tiles that you preheat in the oven at a high temperature. Initially I made the mistake of putting pizzas directly on them, thus staining and burning the surface as they cooked. Tonight I tried these flat metal trays which worked fine. Next time I'll try using baking paper which I read about in a bread baking cookbook.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Congee-cum-chicken and corn soup

This one would win a gold medal in the Refridgerator Olympics. What do you cook when you have two sick kids and nothing in the fridge but two chicken carcasses and leftover cooked corn cobs? Well this soup worked a treat. I made a rich stock with the chicken carcasses and the corn cobs (with the kernels scraped off) and... oh OK, I did have a carrot and an onion. Then I sauteed more onion and carrot with some butter, added the stock with 1 cup short-grain rice (Arborio), and cooked the heck out of it until I got this buttery corn-sweet plain-rice soup. Soothing for sore throats and tempting for tired tots.

The detritus after cooking the stock

Vote vote vote!

My aging husband requires reading glasses. Hopefully this will cut down on the 4-eyed jokes I have to endure for my own glasses. Which frames do you vote for:
Number 1:

Number 2:

Number 3:

Tuesday dinner

Stir-fried chicken and broccoli sprinkled with cashews.

Father's day pancakes

In Australia, Father's day is on the first Sunday of September. DH requested pancakes, served here with Swiss custard yogurt and orange pieces with a drizzle of maple syrup.

Fried rice

Stir-fried leftovers (brown rice, chicken, cabbage and carrot) with egg on top.

Roast chicken (again)

Roast chicken and potatoes with sides of corn and sauteed silverbeet (Swiss chard). I'm getting better at gravy. Now I pour all the drippings into a big glass measuring cup and allow the fat to settle on top, and then spoon
most of that off. Then I return the rest to the original pan and heat it over two burners with a stock cube for flavor, adding a little glass jar of water with about a tablespoon of flour. And just because I had some in the fridge, I added some cream at the end which made it (to coin T's new pet word) divine.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Govinda's in Sydney

During my Hot Mama Weekend we tried out Govinda's which was an interesting experience! It is a restaurant/movie theater. First you have a Indian buffet dinner. We found the food a little disappointing: not all Indian; rather flavorless; and lukewarm. Not unlike a buffet at a friend's house, where you remember to avoid anything in a yellow casserole dish because you know the owner is an ordinary cook!

But it was all worth it when we went to the movie afterwards. We lay down on comfortable cushiony beds in the front row and this is the first giant image we saw:

And there was Johnny Depp, hovering giant and gorgeous, speaking directly to us: "Ladies, I am up for it all of the time." I was laughing hysterically, I think I embarrassed my friends! Then followed a very saucy and bawdy movie 'The Libertine'. It was pretty good, very funny, but with a grim ending for our Johnny.