Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mochi, Mooncakes and MFest09

The past weekend was a busy one, filled with festivals, food and fun.

First up, Malaysia Fest (aka MFest) is an annual get-together organised by the Malaysian students' organisations in Sydney. It was held in Tumbalong Park at Darling Harbour and consists mainly of food stalls, live entertainment and a cultural stand (there may have been a Malaysian tourism stand in there, too).

We come for the food, though, and there is a wide range to be had. I played it safe (and didn't want to queue at too many stalls) by getting my lunch from Mamak - roti telur, satay chicken and teh tarik - amazingly good considering they are preparing the food outdoors on non-restaurant stoves.

Click on the picture below to see larger:
(top to bottom, L to R): Crowds in the (windy) sun at Tumbalong Park; great singer on stage; eating with the city backdrop;
wandering tiger; goods at the Ayam stall; Mamak stall;
making roti at Mamak; roti telur with egg filling and dipping sauces; teh tarik;
cendol drink from Cafe Kasturi; chicken satay from Mamak

Later we wandered to the Shushinbou mochi stall in World Square where I got a strawberry mochi - straight out of the freezer, which the salesgirl said was best. It was strawberry icecream with berry bits, covered in an icing sugar-dusted chewy ball - refreshing and delicious and cool.

Mochi for gift-giving; bite taken out of my mini strawberry mochi ($1.75 limited offer!)

Getting ahead of myself there, before World Square, we stopped at Market City to check out the mooncake stands. There was a large variety for sale though I do like the red bean or white lotus ones with 1 or 2 egg yolks. The Moon Festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese calendar, which is on 3rd October this year.

I got some mooncakes for personal eating (my birthday is on August moon this year! how 'bout a moon birthday cake?) and some for giving:

There was also a night of eating burgers after all of this, but it doesn't fit in with my Mochi Mooncake MFest theme, so I'll tell you about that another time...


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Now for something different - pearl couscous

Here’s something a bit different – pearl couscous (also known as Israeli couscous because it is sometimes made in Israel). I was sent a sample* of blu Gourmet Pearl Couscous and was keen to try it, given that it is fairly new to the Australian market.

Pearl couscous is made from hard wheat, toasted in an open flame oven. It is cooked in a similar way to pasta, by simmering in stock, and can be used as an alternative to pasta and rice. Pearl couscous has a low GI rating, and, interestingly, contains 626 kJ per 100g, while regular couscous has 1500kJ per 100g.

I prepared some by using the couscous as a replacement for rice in a risotto-like recipe. I mean, it was certainly easier to make than regular risotto, just chuck everything into a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes. The larger couscous grains are great because they absorb the flavour of the stock it is cooked in without going soggy. I was really pleased with the final result of silky grains of couscous, and my taste tester said that it was fantastic (high praise, indeed!).
There are some further recipes on
this website.

Pearl couscous with bacon and mushroom
Serves 2-3

1 tsp olive oil
100g bacon, chopped
100g mushrooms, sliced
½ tsp crushed garlic
1 cup pearl couscous
1 ½ cups chicken stock
80g baby spinach or rocket
Parmesan cheese, to serve

1. Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat
2. Add bacon and cook for about 3 minutes
3. Add mushrooms and garlic, and stir until the mushrooms are soft
4. Add the pearl couscous and stir to coat
5. Pour in the chicken stock, stir, then bring to the boil
6. Reduce heat and simmer, with lid on, for 10 minutes. The liquid should be nearly all absorbed.

7. Remove from the heat and mix in the spinach or rocket so that it wilts.
8. Spoon the couscous into bowls with some parmesan sprinkled on top, if you like.

blu Gourmet Pearl Couscous is available from selected Coles supermarkets for $3.49/pack

Gabriel Gaté is the brand ambassador (which is why he's on the packet);
comparison of regular couscous (less than 1mm) and pearl couscous (3mm)

Preparing the couscous: stir in the couscous with bacon and mushrooms;
add the chicken stock; simmer with lid on for 10 mins; add spinach at the end

Serve with parmesan cheese, if you like

* Thanks to by Liz at Haystac for the sample!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Miss Popularity - Portuguese Tarts

Variations of these tarts have been around on the internet for ages and the recipe for this version of Portuguese Custard Tarts originally comes from Bill Granger's everyday cookbook.

There's a very good reason why such a large number of cooks and bloggers have written about this recipe - it is easy to make, the custard filling is sweet and rich (but not too rich), and the final result is one of the best Portuguese tarts you'll eat. And considering that comparable tarts at a café can be quite pricey, you can get a dozen tarts from this recipe that will have your friends asking when your new café will open.

So here is my version of the tarts - you'll notice that the tops of this batch are deliberately non-burnt because they were for my mum and she doesn't like eating burnt bits!

Portuguese Custard Tarts
Makes 12


3 egg yolks
115g (¾ cup) caster sugar
2 tbsp cornflour
400ml full cream milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry, slightly thawed


1. Put the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a saucepan and stir together. Add the milk and whisk until there are no more lumps.
2. Put the saucepan over medium heat and cook until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. You now have a wonderful custard – but do not eat it just yet.
4. Pour the custard into a bowl and place some cling wrap onto the surface to stop a skin from forming. Leave to cool for about 30 minutes.
5. Lightly grease a 12-hole muffin pan.
6. Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F)
7. Now, prepare the pastry cases: cut the puff pastry in half and place on piece over the other. Roll up the pastry tightly from the short end, like a cigar. Cut the pastry into twelve 1cm (½ inch) pieces. Use a rolling pin to flatten each cut piece of pastry into a circle about 10cm (4 inches) in diameter. The circles should be reasonably thin.
8. Put a circle of pastry into each hole in the muffin pan.
9. Spoon the cooled custard into each pastry case.
10. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden. If you do want some dark bits, turn up the oven to 210°C for the last 5 minutes of baking.
11. Remove from the oven and allow the tarts to cool for 5 minutes in the pan before taking them out to finish cooling on a wire rack.

Whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar;
stir in cream and milk; bring to a simmer; add vanilla

Preparing the pastry cases

Fill the cases with custard;
remove cooked tarts to cool on a wire rack

And here is a shot of my kitchen benchtop while I waited for the custard to cool. Typical Sunday, really:

(Clockwise): Sunday papers (with article on The Sartorialist); thinking about whether to have the levain ficelle (from Victoire bakery) now or later; definitely having Victoire's croissant now (with new Vegemite); forgot to put the eggs away; trying not to have a taste of the cooling custard

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Friday Night Pizza

Does this sound familiar? Usually, on Friday night, after a long week at work, my routine is to get some takeaway and eat it while staring moronically at the rubbish on TV.

But occasionally, I feel like pizza, but there are no decent pizza places nearby, so I end up making my own. And even more occasionally, I make my own pizza bases! This is a big deal for me, as I have not had good experiences with yeast so far, but the recipe I've used here is foolproof even for me. And there are no long waits for the dough to rise, and no heavy kneading.

And best of all, you get to choose what you want on your pizza. Sometimes, I do a pizza blanco, with lite cream cheese, bocconcini, mozzarella and anchovies - give it a try and come to the light side.

Pizza with toppings of your choice
Makes 1 pizza about 30cm x 25 cm or variations of this

Pizza base ingredients:
125ml (1/2 cup) warm water
2 tsp (7g or 1 sachet) dried yeast
225g (1 1/2 cups) plain flour
1 tbsp olive oil
extra plain flour, to dust

1. In a small bowl, stir the yeast into the warm water, mixing until the yeast dissolves. Leave for about 5 minutes, by which time the mixture will become foamy.

2. Place flour into a mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Add yeast mixture and olive oil. Use a round-bladed knife in a cutting motion to mix until combined. Then use your hands to bring the bits of dough together in the bowl.

3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. It should be smooth and elastic.

4. Preheat oven to 210 deg C.

5. Spray a pizza tray with olive oil spray. Roll out the dough (with a rolling pin) to fit the pizza tray. I made a rectangular pizza, and a smaller round one. Try and roll the dough as thinly as possible if you prefer a thin, crispy crust. Place dough onto the prepared tray.

6. Put toppings onto the bases: tomato paste, proscuitto, chorizo, bocconcini, mozzarella, whatever.

7. Bake in oven for 12-15 minutes or until the base is crisp.

8. Remove from oven. Put some greenery (rocket is good) on top, then cut and serve.

Mix yeast with warm water and leave it to activate;
add yeast mixture to plain flour with olive oil

Roll out the dough (or do the flipping thing, if you can!)

Do-it-yourself pizza toppings.
Get your guests to flavour their own pizzas

This pizza has rocket pesto topped with shaved ham and cheese

Now, tell me which you prefer:

Pizza 1. Tomato paste, ham, cheese, pesto (layered on really thick)

Pizza 2: rocket pesto, ham, cheese (nice round shape, not too heavy)

If you haven't guessed, Pizza 2 was mine - go me, haha! It was delightfully good.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Zumbo Layers

I know what you must be thinking, “Geez, we haven’t seen any Zumbo posts lately! I hope Belle@OohLook is keeping her strength up by eating enough cake..”.

Rest assured, I am getting enough cake, and keeping tally for posterity (and posterior – mine). Luckily for me, the queues at Zumbo are thinning out a little after the MasterChef excitement and there are plenty of cakes for everyone. Better be quick, though, I imagine that the Sydney International Food Festival will be whipping up more enthusiasm shortly.

And so while waiting for the new Adriano Zumbo Patissier range due in a couple of months, here is a montage of previous layered or Opera-style cakes. The dates are when I first tried the cakes.

August 2007Imperial. One of the first layered cakes, topped with gold leaf.

September 2007Magilla. Magic gorilla?

November 2007Cha cha cha. This had salt flakes on the chocolate plates, and a tinge of very hot chilli, yowza!

December 2007Scuro. This cake was so good it was reissued in February 2009. A stunner.

March 2008Piste as she goes. Strange name for a strange cake. Pistachio, from what I remember…I didn’t post on this cake, but I certainly ate it!

April 2008Essaouria. The chocolate plates have become a recurring theme, and this Moroccan-inspired fantasy did not disappoint.

July 2008Cinque Terre. Ooh, how I loved this cake – the olive pieces in the chocolate mousse, the meringue, oh yum…

September 2008Tanzanie. Don’t you just love the neat layers and the Magilla-like curve of glossy chocolate

November 2008Cassius. The perfect combination of choc plates and Opera layers.

Craigie Bam! (top photo) – November 2008. Salted caramel crumbs, chocolate and more caramel.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

White chocolate + Butter = Caramel

Continuing on with the white chocolate theme, here are some Caramel Mud Cakes that use white chocolate and butter (ie. 'caramel') as the base for a dense, moist, utterly delicious dessert or afternoon tea.

My taste-tester, as usual, suggested replacing the choc bits with white chocolate chunks, and as usual, my response was 'Too late now, maybe next time you can make them yourself'. The cakes still got eaten, though!

Caramel Mud Cakes
Makes 10


100g white chocolate, chopped
100g unsalted butter
½ cup (110g) brown sugar, firmly packed
2 tblsp golden syrup
½ cup (125 ml) milk
¾ cup plain flour
¼ cup self-raising flour
1 egg
2 tblsp dark chocolate bits (or white choc bits)
1 tblsp icing sugar

1. Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F). Line a muffin pan with 10 paper cases.
2. Put the chocolate, butter, sugar, golden syrup and milk in a saucepan over low heat. Stir until the chocolate and butter are melted and everything is smooth. Leave to cool for 15 minutes.
3. Pour the melted mixture into a mixing bowl and add the sifted flours and egg. Stir to combine. Add the choc bits.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, unit golden.
5. Put on a wire rack to cool.
6. Dust with sifted icing sugar before serving.

Ingredients; melt chocolate, butter, sugar, milk and golden syrup;
mix in flours and choc bits

Pour batter into muffin pan; cool on wire rack

Caramel Mud Cakes dusted with icing sugar

Mmm, tasty!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Potato Layer Cake by any other name

I've mentioned before that I am a mag hag - show me a glossy magazine (food, fashion, home or scrapbooking) and I'll sit quietly in the corner for hours, emerging only to grab another pack of Post-It tags and a cup of tea.

One of my latest favourites is the British olive magazine. It's full of great recipes, fab photos, reader reviews and articles on eating out around the UK and the world.

However, the seasons are a bit back-to-front, as they are in the northern hemisphere, and we are in the south. But all is not lost - it takes so long for non-subscription copies of the mag to reach our shores that they are being fairly up-to-date for us.

Here is a recipe I made from the early-summer edition - a potato 'pie' that is very like a layered potato cake, filled with cheese, butter and sage. This recipe does take 2 hours to cook, so best to prepare it the day before you need it. Perfect for a day in a punt on a river (in England) or a spring picnic by a beach (in Australia).

Sage and onion potato pie
serves 4

2 medium onions, finely sliced
50g butter (for cooking onions)
1kg red-skinned potatoes, like Desiree or Pontiac
120g grated cheddar cheese
50g butter (for layering with the potatoes)
1 bunch sage, leaves only


1. Heat oven to 200 deg C (400 deg F)
2. Fry the onion in 50g butter until soft, about 5 minutes
3. Grease an 18cmx7cm springform tin with a little butter. (I think you could also line a normal baking tin with foil instead, although this may prevent the potato from browning up).
4. Place an overlapping layer of potato slices around the edge of the pan, and a layer of concentric overlapping discs on the base.
5. Scatter with some onion, cheese and sage leaves. Season with salt and pepper and dot with a little butter.
6. Continue layering with potato, onion, cheese and sage leaves, until you reach the top of the side layer of potatoes.
7. Sit the tin on a baking sheet and cover loosely with a scrunched up piece of foil. (It's important to put it on a baking sheet because, if you're using a springform tin, the butter will melt and leak out of the tin, so you need the baking sheet to contain it).
8. Bake for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and bake for 30 minutes until the top is crisp and golden.
9. Cool in the tin and cut into wedges and serve with salad.

Recipe adapted from olive (June 2009)

Ingredients and preparation: sliced potatoes, onions and sage

Cook in a springform tin on a baking sheet

Cut into wedges to serve

Love the crispy bits on top!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sweet as: White chocolate and raspberry parfait

I usually like to have a supply of white chocolate in the house so that I can bake goodies like the Salted White Chocolate Oatmeal cookies. However, lately, someone (no names) has been eating the chocolate before I can get to use it.

So the following recipe was a last-minute decision, to stop you-know-who from getting to it first. It is a take on the traditional parfait, but with fewer ingredients, and with the cream mixed into smooth white chocolate. You could use other fruit besides raspberries – strawberries, mulberries, peaches or even mango.

White Chocolate and Raspberry Parfait
Serves 4


180g white chocolate
1 tblsp orange zest
1 tblsp orange juice
250ml thickened cream
100g raspberries

1. Melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water; do not let the bowl touch the water. Alternatively (and this is what I did), chop the chocolate roughly and put in a microwaveable bowl, then heat in 1 minute bursts on medium-low, stirring after each minute; it should not take more than 3 minutes in total to melt.
Allow the chocolate to cool slightly.

2. Add the cream, orange zest and juice to the white chocolate. Use an electric mixer to beat until thickened. Do not overbeat, or the mixture will become grainy.

3. Fold the raspberries through the mixture.

4. Spoon into small glasses and chill for one hour before serving.

White chocolate: (before) ready to be melted,and (after) melted;
orange zest; mix the orange, cream and white chocolate together

Spoon into glasses, then chill

White chocolate and raspberries - dig in!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Le Grand Brunch at Le Grand Café

I knew I would visit Le Grand Café, but little did I know that it would the day after reading about it at
Not Quite Nigella! This café is run by the folks from Bécasse restaurant (which is just across the road), so the odds were always in favour of gorgeous food and classy presentation.

The café is on the ground floor of the Alliance Francaise (257 Clarence St, Sydney), so it’s a great opportunity to practise your French language skills on the staff or the menu. In fact, I felt a bit sorry for the charming French lady behind the counter, as she had to take meal orders from patrons using their high school French (moi included).

The customers are mainly students taking lessons at the language centre above, as well as walk-ins and grey-haired Francophiles. On the Saturday morning we were there, there was also the French waitress and a couple of waiters – some of whom had broad Aussie accents.

Anyway, over to the food. You sit yourself at a table when you arrive, then peruse the short menu and order and pay at the counter. There is a selection of baguettes at the counter, as well as the daily desserts.

I ordered the Frisée aux Lardons ($10), a salad of poached egg, salad leaves, bacon bits (lardons) and vinaigrette. I have to say that it was the best salad I’ve had in ages, perfectly dressed in a light and tangy manner, with the lardons adding that extra perfect savoury dimension.

Frisée aux Lardons: Salad of frisée leaves, caramelised onion,
soft poached egg, bacon and crouton
The other half decided on the ‘artisanal charcuterie plate’ ($12). Imagine his shock and disappointment when a wooden board turned up with 3 rows of salami and prosciutto. He was at least expecting some bread or condiments to go with it and I had to give him a bit of toasted bread from my plate. So be forewarned about this dish, and about the cheese plate ($12), which is also behind the counter, and from what I could see, consists of 3 pieces of cheese (no fruit or crackers!).

Charcuterie plate: Salami and proscuitto - and that's all

Lovely pot of English breakfast tea - enough for 2+ cups

I had already decided on the petit pot au chocolat ($8) after seeing it on NQN, and was lucky enough to get the last one (this was at 12pm). It definitely lives up to the hype, with the rich, chocolate-y, mousse-textured pot hiding the splodge of smooth gorgeous caramel at the bottom of the bowl. Superlatif!

Petit pot au chocolat with caramel blob in the bottom - c'est magnifique!

A return visit (and many more) are on the cards. I just have to brush up on my French skills so that I don’t embarrass myself. Come to think of it, how many ways are there to say ‘J’reviens. Vive le Grand Café’?

Au reviour, bisous! ** Exit stage left, whistling Le Marseillaise' **
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