Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Beautiful Bircher

Celery raw, develops the jaw
But celery stewed, is more quietly chewed.
 - Ogden Nash

This rhyme came to mind as I chomped, cow-like, through a bowl of WBC Bircher* muesli. Don't get me wrong, this is excellent stuff. Like all natural foods should be, it's 100% raw, high in fibre and protein, easy to digest, and also gluten-free.

I'm not normally a big breakfast eater (except for a naughty piece or two of Vegemite on Turkish toast, lots of butter, please) because it's a hassle to prepare something in the morning rush. Bircher muesli is ideal, because you can put a bowl of it into the fridge to soak the night before, then scoff it down the next morning. And the contents of this brekkie should not cause anyone to complain.
Ingredients in WBC Bircher are: Rolled rice (35%), Almonds (10%), Pepitas (10%), Sunflower seeds (10%), Dried Cranberries (10%), Coconut (10%), Walnuts (7.5%), and Sultanas (7.5%). You can taste the healthfulness of the nuts in particular, when you eat it.
WBC also has a cereal in the range and they've also just launched a porridge - visit their website for details. Don't forget to refer to the poo chart to check your, um, movements.

And to finish, here's another short one from O. Nash:

The cow is of the bovine ilk
One end is moo, the other, milk.

Love the bright packaging of WBC Bircher. This is the 500g bag. The unsoaked Bircher looks delicious enough on its own, doesn't it?

To prepare, soak 50g (per serving) of WBC Bircher in fruit juice (I used unsweetened apple juice) for 8-12 hours. It can be left in the fridge for up to 5 days.

The next morning, scoop out your brekkie (there may be some liquid left, just drink it) and grate some apple on top.
Traditionally, Bircher is also served with yoghurt. See it on the right.

Gosh, just looking at this makes me feel healthier already. Must be time for another bowl, my jaw and tastebuds need a workout.

*Thanks to Rebecca from Flujo for sending me the sample of WBC Bircher. WBC stands for World's Best Cereal, by the way. WBC is available online or from selected healthfood stockists.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Westfield Sydney: A Fancy Food Court

While the upgraded Westfield Sydney (in Pitt St mall, Sydney) opened a couple of months ago, the extension to the food court on Level 5 was unveiled only last week. There are now nearly 20 upmarket food outlets to sate your stomach (assuming that the upmarket shops downstairs haven't already satiated your wallet).

The Twitterverse was alight with word of the Becasse bakery and yet-to-open Quarter 21 restaurant. The pastries and cakes at the bakery look crisp and delicious, if a bit pricey.

Rows of fresh-baked baguettes and loaves at Becasse bakery.

A newcomer to the city is Pie by Mick's Bakehouse. You can get a range of normal or gourmet pies here, in petite or regular sizes ($5-$5.80). We tried a range of pies, and they were sublime, with lovely flaky pastry and lots of real meat inside.

Three mini pies ($10) from Pies by Mick's Bakehouse: Hungarian goulash, kangaroo with red wine, and Peking duck. The kangaroo was the best but they were all really good.

Also tried the Snag Stand.  You can get a sausage in a roll, or on its own with salad. The prices range from $7.90 to $10.90 for the hot dog-style rolls (with condiments). They have a Toulouse sausage that sounds great but it wasn't available ('sold out').

Snag from Snag Stand: Beef and Horseradish ($10.90) - Wagyu beef sausage with horseradish mayonnaise and beetroot relish on a white roll. Quite good, and although the sausage was quite salty, the mayo and beetroot cut through it. Had to eat this with a knife and fork as it's a bit sloppy to pick up with the hands.

And I couldn't leave the food court without a bowl of parmesan and truffle fries from Charlie and Co. At last count, this was our 10th bowl in as many weeks. The fries are usually fantastic - hot, crunchy and oily - just like fries should be. And with lots of parmesan crumbs and that wonderful truffle flavour (do they use truffle oil? Can't tell, not that it matters).
Fries I have tried - parmesan and truffle fries ($8.90) from Charlie and Co. The Aussie burger was small but mighty, with a rich Wagyu beef patty, cheese and beetroot. Almost couldn't finish the fries as a result.

There are plenty of other eating options in the new food area. Outlets that caught my eye included Sassy's Red (Malaysian offshoot of Chinta Ria, they have laksa and nasi lemak), Din Tai Fung (smaller but no less efficient dumpling offshoot of the main branch in World Square) and Ragu Pasta and Wine Bar (look for the empty b/w striped chairs).

Overall, this is a nice grown-up addition to the CBD food court scene, and such a great alternative to the school-kid- (and allegedly rat-) infested courts. Most of the food outlets at Westfield provide a beeper, indicating that they cook to order. Also, it's a bit more expensive here, but it does appear that you are paying for quality, as well as a location above the Gucci and Bottega Veneta stores.

Pie by Mick's Bakehouse on Urbanspoon Snag Stand on Urbanspoon Charlie & Co Burgers on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Baked in tradition: ANZAC biscuits for a royal wedding

25th April is ANZAC Day, a day of remembrance when Australians and New Zealanders honour those who died and served in military operations since World War 1.

It's an occasion marked by commemorative services at Cenotaphs thoughout the country, parades and marches with current and former soldiers and the like, and lots of 'legal for the day' two-up gambling and a drink-till-you-hurl mentality. Lest we forget.

On a completely different note, ANZAC day this year falls in the same week as the Great British Royal Wedding. Since Australia fought under the Union Jack, it's probably fitting that some of us will be waving the red, white and blue flag on Friday. I love a royal wedding, and can't wait for this one. Onya, Kate and Wills! And onya, ANZACs, too.

This is a traditional recipe for ANZAC biscuits that we all learn to make at school. This year, I made the normally flat and crunchy biscuits a bit more fat, round and chewy. Moving with the times.

ANZAC biscuits
makes about 30

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup plain flour
3/4 cup desiccated coconut
3/4 cup sugar
125g (4oz) butter
2 tblsp golden syrup or honey
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tblsp boiling water

1.  Preheat oven to 150C/300F.
2.  Combine oats, sifted flour, coconut and sugar.
3.  Put butter and golden syrup in a saucepan over gentle heat and cook until the butter is melted.
4.  Mix the bicarbonate of soda with boiling water and add to the butter mixture. Stir into dry ingredients.
5.  Roll teaspoonfuls of the mixture into balls, flatten slightly and place on lightly greased baking trays, allowing room for spreading.
6.  Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Loosen while warm, then cool on wire racks.

Ingredients, including sugar, coconut, rolled oats, flour, butter and golden syrup.

ANZAC biscuits, before baking and fresh from the oven.

Serve biscuits with a cup of tea while reading about the royal wedding.

This is such a classic biscuit. I may need to make another batch to nibble during The Wedding on Friday.
PS: My previous ANZAC bikkie efforts: here and here

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Twofer: Chilli-baked ricotta with quinoa pilaf

TWOFER  noun /ˈto͞ofər/
1. An item or offer that comprises two items but is sold for the price of one.
2. A case of 24 beers (see 2-4) [Canadian slang]

This bargain blog post is #1 above.

I'd never heard of the term 'twofer' until a year or so ago. I thought it had something to do with gophers, which I'd only ever seen in the movie Caddyshack. I'm alright...! I gather 'twofer' is a fairly recent term anyway, and like most things, popular in North America but spreading its influence worldwide.

So here is a two-for-one deal for you, readers! For a strictly limited time, Ooh, Look... is offering you not ONE, but TWO delicious recipes on the same blog post.  Not only are you increasing your protein intake with an incredible quinoa pilaf, you can fulfil your cheesey cravings with creamy baked ricotta! These recipes are so easy, you can have a meal on the table in no time!! Most of all, your family will thank you!!!

Phew, so many exclamation points, so exhausting. Pass me one of those creamy baked ricottas, thanks!

Quinoa Pilaf
serves 2-4

150g (1 cup) white quinoa
500ml (2 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
1 small brown onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tblsp butter
 2 tblsp pine nuts
2 tblsp flaked almonds
2 tblsp chopped pistachios
3 tblsp dried fruit (like cranberries, apricots, currants)
1/4 cup parsley, shredded
1/4 cup dill, finely chopped
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
lemon wedges, to serve

1.  Rinse the quinoa and place into a small saucepan with the stock.  Bring the stock to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and the liquid has evaporated.
2.  Meanwhile, gently cook the onion and garlic in a frypan with the butter until it has softened.  Add the nuts and cook for a few minutes until they are lightly browned. Stir in the dried fruit and set the pan to one side.
3.  When the quinoa is cooked, add it to the nut mixture and fold the herbs through.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with lemon squeezed over.

recipe adapted from Good Weekend (Cath Claringbold)

Chilli-baked Ricotta
makes 4 small servings

400g low fat ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tblsp finely grated lemon rind
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper

1.  Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
2.  Place the ricotta, chilli, lemon, garlic, salt and pepper into a bowl and mix well to combine.
3.  Press the ricotta mixture into 4 lightly greased 1/2 cup-capacity muffin tins and brush with oil.
4.  Bake for 30-35 minutes or until puffed and golden.
5.  Set aside for 2 minutes before turning out and serving.

recipe from Donna Hay

Ingredients for the quinoa - I used dried cranberries and dried blueberries as the fruit

Simple ingredients for the baked ricotta - low-fat ricotta, lemon rind, chilli flakes and garlic. And a muffin tin with at least 4 holes.

The nut and onion mixture and the quinoa with fruit. I placed the fruit on top of the quinoa after the quinoa was cooked, to plump up the fruit a bit.

The baked ricotta is spicy from the chilli, so add more or less chilli flakes according to taste.

The Turkish-inspired quinoa is lovely to look at (see those pistachios!) and even better to eat, most tasty and so good for you.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Black-and-white-and-red-all-over cheesecake

Q: what's black and white and red all over?
A: a sunburned penguin!!!

When was the last time you had a good laugh? These days, in a world where we are all grown up and so serious about study or making money or bringing up the family, there's not much opportunity for guffawing and sniggering. Alright, to be honest, I have a giggle each week when 30 Rock is on television - there's something endearing and admirable about Liz Lemon's determination and Jack Donaghy's bizarre business pronouncements: "He built GE into the greatest company on Earth, and the Earth into one of the top three planets in the universe!"

So where does this cheesecake come into it? Well, I had a pretty good laugh - or it could be construed as a sob of despair - after I took this cheesecake out of the oven. It was advertised as a 'black and white cheesecake', but the black is not quite black, and the white is more of an off-white with a hint of clotted cream. Dulux's paint chart would probably have a closer match. So I covered it with a red raspberry puree. At least it's RED. Sort of.

Black and White (and Red) Cheesecake
serves 8

300g Oreo cookies
50g butter, melted
500g cream cheese, softened
2 tblsp plain flour
100g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
150ml sour cream
180g white chocolate, melted and cooled
100g frozen or fresh raspberries
50g caster sugar

1.  Heat oven to 180C (fan-forced 160C).
2.  Pull apart the biscuits and scrape out the filling (discard or eat the filling later). Crush the biscuits in a food processor into fine crumbs, then add the melted butter. Mix until combined then press into the base of a 20cm springform tin. Bake for 5 minutes, then cool.
3.  Beat the cream cheeese with the flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs and sour cream until light and fluffy.  Stir in the white chocolate and pour into the tin.
4. Bake for 40 minutes and check - it should be set, but wobbly in the centre. Leave in the tin to cool completely.
5.  For the raspberry puree: Crush the raspberries in a food processor until almost liquified, then push through a sieve to remove the seeds.  Put the puree and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Simmer gently for 5 minutes until it thickens slightly.  Cool, then spread over the cheesecake.

recipe adapted from Olive (January 2011)

I like Oreo biscuits because they are quite light in texture.
Other ingredients include eggs, white chocolate and cream cheese.

You have to scrape the filling from the Oreos before crushing them to dirt.
Only problem is, what do you do with the sweet innards? I eventually had to turf most of this because it was too sweet to eat and some ants were making their way across the benchtop to the bowl.

Crushed frozen raspberries. These were crushed while still frozen although you should probably leave them defrost first. Looks like raspberry sherbert...

So the inside of the cheesecake is whiteish, but not as white as, say, Dulux Vivid White (paint colour)

The so-called white can also be compared to Porter's Paints' Lamb's Wool

How does it taste? This is quite a rich, dense cheesecake due to the white chocolate in the filling. The Oreo base was the best part, in my opinion. Next time, I will stick to my trusted Vogue Entertaining recipe.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Loophole Yoshoku prawn noodle salad

I made an informal resolution this year to NOT buy any more cookbooks than was absolutely necessary. There are a couple of ‘loopholes’ in this statement and it all comes down to definitions. What is an informal resolution? What year are we talking about (calendar year, financial year, druids’ lunar phase)? How do you define ‘absolutely necessary’ – a cooking emergency can occur at any time, and there are many, many times when a cookbook purchase has been a veritable lifesaver, your Honour.

So I see this book, ’Yoshoku, Contemporary Japanese’ by Jane Lawson, at the book store. Further investigation reveals that Yoshoku is where Western cuisine is adapted in a way to make it Japanese. The book is full of beautifully styled settings (always a gold star in my opinion) and intriguing dishes like corn potage and potato salad, but with a Japanese twist. I also noticed that the book was first published in 2005 although the publishers have plonked a new cover on this edition.

After a couple of days of reassessing my resolution-setting methodology and finding it lacking, I order the book online and it arrives 2 weeks later (I know, it would have been quicker to just buy it locally, but I’m scrimping). While the book is great to browse, I’ve found that there aren’t that many recipes I actually want to make. I settled on this chilled prawn and cucumber noodle salad, and it turned out lovely – easy to make, and some of it can be prepared ahead of time. It also sent me on a mission to stock up on ingredients like wakame and seven-spice pepper, so it looks like I’ll be cooking more Yoshoku dishes soon.

Resolution: ‘I informally resolve to cook another dish from Yoshoku before the end of the year’.
Please be my witness!

Chilled prawn and cucumber noodle salad
Serves 2

200g cooked medium prawns, peeled and deveined
1 Lebanese cucumber
1 tblsp dried wakame (seaweed) pieces
100g soba noodles
Seven-spice mix, to serve [seven-spice mix is a combination of togarashi red chilli pepper and other ingredients like sesame seeds, nori or mustard]

½ tsp dashi granules
1/3 cup Japanese rice vinegar
¼ cup mirin
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp sesame oil

1. For the cucumber: Halve the cucumber lengthways, scoop out the seeds, then use a vegetable peeler to cut into long, thin strips. Put into a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave for 10 minutes, then rinse and squeeze out as much water as possible. Chill in the refrigerator.

2. For the wakame: Soak the wakame pieces in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. It should be rehydrated and glossy, but not mushy. Drain and refrigerate.

3. For the dressing: Mix the dashi granules with 1 tablespoon of hot water and stir until dissolved. Add the rice vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, ginger, sugar and sesame oil, then mix until combined. Chill.

4. For the noodles: Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, then add the soba noodles. Boil on medium heat for 4 minutes, then drain and rinse well with cold water. Drain again.

5. To serve: Combine the noodles, prawns, cucumber and wakame and toss with the dressing. Sprinkle with seven-spice mix before serving.

Recipe adapted from Yoshoku by Jane Lawson

Tabitha cat models the new cover of Yoshoku

Ingredients, including dried wakame, rice wine vinegar, mirin, dashi granules and 7-spice pepper.
The teacups are not used for anything- I thought they looked cute!

The various stages of wakame seaweed reconstitution, from dried black bits to chewy green seaweedy bits.

Gratuitous shot of uncooked soba noodles with f2.8 depth of field.

A beautifully light salad that is so easy to prepare.

The seven-spice adds a little heat to the dish and also provides a flash of fluoro orange colour!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Of winter hats and white wine chicken

Now that the weather is finally cooling down, our thoughts turn to winter-weight peacoats (maybe in teal?), patterned tights and maybe a leopard-print cloche hat, like Tuppence from Agatha Christie’s books might wear. Okay, that’s just my thoughts. I also can’t stop thinking about a gorgeous Fiorelli handbag (silver chain, fake fur insert, fierce).

Long slow cooking on Saturday afternoons is also a feature. Like this dish I made last weekend. This is a fairly tradition treatment of chicken that yields a thickened, creamy, thyme-scented sauce. The smell that permeates the kitchen while this is cooking is pretty amazing, too.

Chicken braised with wine, cream and thyme
Serves 2

2 large chicken marylands, bone attached
1 tbls p olive oil
1 carrot, cut into 4cm lengths, quartered
5 eschalots, halved and peeled
½ small bunch thyme
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ cup white wine
½ cup cream
1 tblsp plain flour
10g unsalted butter, softened

1. Wash the chicken, then pat dry with paper towel. Place a large deep frypan over medium heat. Add olive oil and fry the chicken, skin-side down, for 3-4 minutes until skin is golden brown. Turn and continue to fry for 2 minutes until cooked through. Remove chicken from the pan and drain on paper towel.
2. Carefully pour off any excess fat and wipe frypan clean with paper towel. Return chicken to the pan with carrot, eschalot, thyme, garlic and wine. Place over high heat and bring the wine to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and braise for 30 minutes. Alternatively, the chicken can be placed in a roasting pan, covered with foil and braised in a 180 C oven.
3. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and add cream, then season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, covered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is almost falling from the bone. Remove the chicken and vegetables with a slotted spoon to a dish and keep warm.
4. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Combine the flour and butter in a small bowl to form a paste, then whisk into sauce. Simmer for 1-2 minutes to cook out the flour and thicken the sauce.
5. Plate up the chicken and vegetables and serve with the sauce.

Recipe adapted from delicious (April 2011)
Partially prepared vegetables, with corn-fed chicken marylands

The chicken is first browned to crisp up the skin, then the veges, thyme, wine and cream are added.
The butter stirred into the sauce silkens it beautifully. The chicken is also wonderfully moist after its simmer in the frypan.

Serve chicken with the sauce poured over.
Cloche hat and teal peacoat are optional. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Night in the Cross at LL Wine and Dine

There are 2 reasons I was really enthusiastic to be invited try the new menu at LL Wine and Dine in Potts Point:
1. The venue is a hip, happening wine bar-cum-restaurant that was voted ‘Favourite Bar’ in the SMH Good Food Guide 2011
2. It’s located in Potts Point, a place, believe it or not, I had never been to before.

The Location: Thanks to Google’s Street View for showing the way. LL Wine and Dine is in Llankelly Place, which just off Darlinghurst Road, about half way between Kings Cross railway station and the El Alamein fountain. It’s just a short walk from the station past infamous haunts like Porky’s nite club, several ‘adult’ establishments, backpacker tour joints and McDonald’s.  Made me feel quite cosmopolitan.  Llankelly Place is a pedestrian-only laneway and there are quite a few restaurants in the short street, from a Czech Bohemian cafe at one end to the Asian dumpling spot at the other. LL Wine and Dine is in the middle.

Background: It’s well documented that LL Wine and Dine is on the site previously occupied by an adult book store. Co-owned by brothers Matt, Chris and Tim Barge, Chris told us how they found lots of interesting reading material when the restaurant was being set up. They ended up expanding into the next-door cafe, and now the restaurant is an atmospheric combination of old upstairs-downstairs rabbit hole mixed with Chinese lacquered screens and silk wallpaper and cushions. It reminds me of the movie ‘In the Mood for Love’, where the apartment dwellers (in cheongsams) pop downstairs with a thermos for takeaway food, and if you live nearby, you’d be spoilt for choice when it comes to food. Potts Point/Kings Cross is that contradictory mix of well-off inner-city types and the old hardcore, homeless inebriants, both of whom are well represented on a fine autumn evening.
Warning: Sorry the pictures are a bit dark - it adds to the atmosphere!

The Food and Drink: That’s what we’re here for, so please bring it on. Chris was our host while his brother Tim was on bartending duties for the night. Chris suggested that we try a range of dishes from the menu and we’re happy to let him decide. The dishes we had were scaled down because there were so many – the sizes are normally a lot bigger than this, judging by what we saw on other tables.
Chee Chee Mule – muddled lychee and lime with 42 Below vodka and lychee juice, topped with ginger beer and cinnamon. I loved this, sweet and tangy with heaps of lime, though I had the virgin version (no vodka) because I don’t drink. Oh wait a minute, I do drink when it’s in a cute glass.
Ginger and Lychee Martini – fresh ginger and lychee muddled and shaken with 42 Below vodka and lychee juice. This was beautifully strong and dry. I’m a bit of a two-sip screamer so I just had a taste of this. And had a photo taken to prove it.

Sashimi nachos of kingfish and ocean trout – why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Super fresh cubes of raw fish with salsa, avocado, sour cream and black caviar on crisp toast. Great starter for the tastebuds.
Lobster bisque soup dumplings – like a really fancy xiao long bau, there is hot soup inside the dumplings, together with prawn and scallop. The dipping sauce of soy and red vinegar cuts through the richness. Lovely, strong shellfish flavour from the lobster bisque.
Mount Horrocks Riesling – goes well with these entrees (so I’m told).
Confit crispy skin duck breast – for a duck lover, this is a magnificent dish. The duck is beautifully cooked with its skin lusciously anointed with 5-spice. Served on thin taro chips with egg omelette pancakes and plum orange sauce. This one’s a keeper.

Crispy pork belly – you can’t go wrong with caramelised pork belly in palm sugar, kaffir lime leaf and rice vinegar syrup. Pork belly is the dish du jour around Sydney and this is a gorgeously moist and tasty offering.
Braised beef cheek – wow. The dishes were eaten with chopsticks, and you could just gently shred the meat from this soft, soft piece of beef cheek. The smoked bacon and sweet potato mash and sugar snap peas are a nod to the fusion of east and west. This dish so reminds me of my mum's braised beef in terms of authentic flavour.
Jumbo king prawn curry – Chris says that this dish is inspired by the crab curry of Singapore, with prawns being substituted for the crab. The prawns are U6 size – officially deemed ‘colossal’, as there are 6 prawns per kilo. As a result, they are incredibly meaty and perfect with the mildly hot curry. Comes with fried dough sticks to mop up the sauce.

Cinnamon and honey panna cotta – I really need to find out how to make panna cotta that can be unmoulded without falling apart. This is a nice example! Great flavours, too, especially with the caramel ice cream and cinnamon sugar pastry sticks. Great finish to the meal.
Final drink: Valdamor Albarino – Spanish. Again a dry white. Chris did suggest a red wine to go with the beef, but I put the kybosh on my drinking dining buddy’s intake.

The new menu was devised by Chris and his chefs, including head chef Jin Kung. It follows a tour around Asia to gather ideas, and it’s come together flawlessly. And you have to hand it to the cooking team who appear to be working in a very small but perfectly formed kitchen. The floor staff are super friendly, and with the welcoming Chris at the helm and Tim at the bar (brother Matt was having a night off when I visited), it has all the ingredients for a great night out.
LL Wine and Dine is a fabulous place to drop in for an after-work drink or meal. The food prices, I think, are in the mid-upper range, but for the quality and city location, that’s about typical. They also have a Sunday yum cha, with a band, so if you need a weekend dumpling fix without the Chinatown crowds, this would be the place to be. To paraphrase Dennis the lawyer in The Castle, it’s all about the ‘vibe’, and this place has it in spades.

On the way home, I had to stop and take a tourist shot of the El Alamein fountain (erected 1961) to round out my night at the Cross.

LL Wine and Dine is at 42 Llankelly Place, Potts Point, NSW
Ph: (02) 9356 8393
LL Wine & Dine on Urbanspoon

Thanks to Esther from LL Wine and Dine for the invite to this meal.