Friday, January 29, 2010

Aussie-American salad of Lamb and Pomegranate

Yes, folks, it's still summer, season of sun and mellow saladness.  It makes me wonder why I don't do more of this type of dish in the winter months.  Read on...

This is a lamb and pomegranate salad that is supplemented by small kipfler (fingerling) potatoes.  For some reason, pomegranates in Australia in January are all labelled 'Product of USA'.  The same applies to the common lemon - no matter where you see them in the shops (supermarket or grocer), they are all imported from the US.  Impact on global footprint aside, the fruits are sweet and full of juice.  Let's just hope the pomegranate and lemon travelled by sea, not air.

Salad of Lamb, pomegranate and potato
serves 4

juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tblsp olive oil
500g lamb fillet (I used lamb backstrap)
6 small kipfler or anya potatoes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
80g baby spinach
2 roma tomatoes, sliced
1 pomegranate, seeds removed

1.  Combine lemon rind, half the lemon juice, oregano and 1 tblsp olive oil in a bowl.  Add the lamb, mix and cover.  Put in refrigerator for one hour.
2.  Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in a large saucepan of boiling water until tender.  Drain, and when cool enough to peel, remove the skins and cut potatoes into thick slices. Place in a large bowl with the garlic, remaining olive oil and remaining lemon juice.  Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to coat.
3.  Preheat non-stick frypan (or grill pan) to high.  Cook drained lamb fillets for 3 minutes each side.  Remove from heat and rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
4.  Add spinach and tomato to the potato and toss together.  Put the salad on a plate and top with the sliced lamb.  Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Do you like my potato scrubber? It was actually labelled as a 'pot scrubber', but I took that to be an abbreviation for 'potato scrubber'.  It works beautifully on potatoes.
To get the seeds out of the pomegranate, hold half a pomegranate over a large bowl and whack the skin with the side of a wooden spoon.  The seeds should fall out easily. Very satisfying.

This is just the type of dish to remind you of summer.  And of our American friends....

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fico Ristorante - Italiano romantico

Looking for a romantic, dimly-lit spot for a special rendevous? Valentine's Day is coming up, so you if you are romantically inclined, you may want to start thinking about it...

This is my second visit to Fico Ristorante in Balmain.  During my first visit, the restaurant was full and we were seated in a dark corridor.  This time, the restaurant was empty and we were seated in the dark front section.  The lack of patrons may be because it was just after Christmas, and maybe because most people were seated at the outside tables (it was a warm night).

The restaurant has a lovely feel about it, with tablecloths and good crockery and glassware.  Our waiter was friendly and seemed to know the menu fairly well.

Speaking of which, the menu appears to have changed since last time, with fewer choices and a less 'Italian' bent.

The bread is was lovely (soft, chewy with crisp crust) and served with olive oil and salt.

Here are our starters:

Scallops wrapped in ocean trout with an eggplant caviar ($20) - the nicely cooked scallops were a good size and they paired well with the almost pickled texture of the eggplant.
The fresh beef carpaccio ($20) came with summer black truffles and baby herbs - I loved the flavour of the black truffle on the carpaccio, and again, the serve was substantial.  As you can see from the photos, the plates were decoratively smeared with streaks of balsamic vinegar...

Here are the mains:

I had the homemade Gnocchetti ($27) with scampi and vanilla beans.  Unusual combination and unusual (though not unpleasant) flavour.  It was strange to taste vanilla in a savoury dish, and it was quite rich.  The gnocchetti were lovely and small, and very soft and pillowy.
The Calamaretti ($28) are filled with spinach (and something else I forget) and grilled.  Tender little calamari were tasty and artistic(?) squiggles of fish roe, broad beans and sauce adorned the plate.

Finally, here are the desserts:

Tiramisu ($15) tasted better than it looked, with very creamy mascarpone atop sponge and coffee liqueur.
Sicilian cannoli ($14) was alright, though I thought it was like the cannoli you can get in a cafe (for $3).  Both plates this time were grafitti-ed with chocolate, with the cannoli sitting on a wide chocolate skid mark.

So, for a pleasant dinner (inside or outside), I'd definitely consider Fico Ristorante.  The food came out at a reasonable pace, and the service was good.  Come to think of it, they may have even brightened the lights after we sat down, so, in all, it was a good night.

Fico Ristorante is at 242 Darling St, Balmain, NSW  Ph: 02 9818 3868.  Open for dinner Mon-Sun.

Fico Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Have a Surf then Turf these on the barbeque

Admittedly, my barbeque does not get an regular workout because it is a portable (Weber Baby Q) that has to be carried outside and hooked up whenever it's to be used.  But in the summer season, it doesn't seem like such a hardship when there is the promise of a great-tasting meal at the end of the effort.

This recipe for Surf 'n' Turf skewers is from Ainsley Harriott and it's accompanied by a brilliant salad of rockmelon, tomatoes and cucumber.  I was particularly lucky to score a sweet, sweet rockmelon and extra-crisp cucumber for this salad and together, they danced in the mouth!

Surf 'n' Turf barbeque skewers
makes 4-5

1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp mild paprika
1/4 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
12 green tiger prawns, peeled, deveined, tails intact
350g piece of sirloin or rump steak, cut into 16 2.5cm (1") cubes
Lemon wedges, to serve

Garlic and parsley butter
50g unsalted butter
2 small garlic cloves, crushed
2 tblsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tblsp lemon juice

1.  Soak 4-5 bamboo skewers in cold water for 30 minutes.
2.  Combine olive oil, paprika, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce plus salt and pepper. Dip prawns into the marinade then lift out onto a plate and set aside in the fridge.
3.  Stir the steak pieces into the marinade and leave for 15 minutes.
4.  Preheat barbeque to medium-high. Thread 4 pieces of steak and 3 prawns alternately onto each skewer and barbeque for 5-10 minutes, turning once, until steak is done and prawns are just cooked through.
5.  Meanwhile, for the garlic and parsely butter, put the butter and garlic into a small pan and melt over medium heat (or on side of the barbeque).  Stir in the parsley, lemon zest and juice.
6.  As soon as the kebabs are cooked, lift them onto plates and sppoon over the garlic butter. Serve with lemon wedges.

Recipe from delicious (November 2005)

Rockmelon and Cucumber salad
serves 4

1/2 rockmelon
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup blueberries

1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 tblsp red wine vinegar
pinch of caster sugar

1. Cut rockmelon into wedges, then scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard. Cut the flesh away from the skin, then cut into slices
2.  Remove skin from tomatoes by cutting a cross in the base of the tomato then plunging into a bowl of boiling water for 1 minute.  Peel off the skin, then slice the tomato
3.  For the dressing, whisk the olive oil, vinegar and sugar in a bowl with some sea salt and black pepper to taste.
4.  Combine the rockmelon, tomato and cucumber in a large bowl. Pour over the dressing and sprinkle with blueberries.

After marinating the prawns and steak, thread them onto bamboo skewers

Barbeque for a few minutes - I like to save on washing up by using a non-stick BBQ sheet on the grill tray.  The garlic and parsley butter adds a richness to the surf 'n' turf skewers.

The salad is very fresh-tasting and colourful to boot.

Nothing's perfect ... but this comes close!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kangaroo Salad with Asian flavours - hop to it

While kangaroos are a wild animal in Australia, they are a protected species and can only be harvested under licence.  Kangaroo meat has been legalised for human consumption in Australian States since 1993, and the meat is exported to countries such as Germany, France and England.

Roo meat is also readily available in Australian supermarkets, though it isn't considered a popular meat compared to, say, beef.  It is high in protein and low in fat, however, so consumption is becoming more widespread.  It has quite an intense flavour (gamey) that may take some getting used to, although you can substitute beef for kangaroo in most recipes.

Which is where this dish comes in.  The recipe is from Jill Dupleix in delicious magazine (Feb 2010).  It's a colourful and aromatic melding of Asian-inspired flavours while using kangaroo fillet as the base.  The original recipe emphasises the Thai flavours by using mint, basil and coriander in the salad, but personally, I prefer less 'herb-y' flavours, so used normal spinach and rocket leaves instead.

Thai Kangaroo Salad with crisp-fried garlic
serves 4

600g kangaroo fillets, trimmed
1 tblsp soy sauce
1 tblsp seseame oil
2 tblsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 eschalots, thinly sliced
2 spring onions, thinly sliced on an angle
70g salad greens (eg. spinach and rocket) OR
1/2 cup basil, mint and coriander

2 tblsp lime juice
2 tblsp fish sauce
1 tblsp olive oil
2 tsp caster sugar

1. Combine kangaroo, soy sauce and sesame oil in a bowl and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes to marinate.
2.  Heat olive oil in a frypan over medium heat. Cook garlic for 1 minute each side or until light golden. Remove and drain on paper towel.
3.  Return frypan to high heat.  Drain excess marinade and juice from the kangaroo before searing meat for 2-3 minutes on each side (medium-rare).  Transfer to a plate and loosely cover with foil and rest for 15 minutes.
4.  For the dressing, whisk the dressing ingredients together in a bowl until the sugar dissolves.
5.  Place tomatoes, eschalot, spring onions and salad greens in a bowl.  Thinly slice the rested kangaroo and add to the bowl.  Sprinkle with the fried garlic.
6.  Serve with dressing on the side.

Recipe adapted from delicious (February 2010)

The marinating of the kangaroo meat (in soy sauce and sesame oil) really improves the flavour of the meat. Make sure you do not overcook the meat - the low fat content means it can dry out easily.

Serve the salad with the dressing to drizzle over.  The crispy fried garlic is a pungent but moreish accompaniment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Deconstructed Chorizo and Turkey Burrito

Here is an interesting take on an idea by Bill Granger (in delicious magazine Dec/Jan 2010).  It's intended as a way of using up leftover turkey, but you could substitute leftover roast chicken for an even more tasty treat.

The recipe also does this thing with the sliced red onion, by soaking the onion slices in boiling water for 10 minutes.  What this does is remove the strong odour of raw onion, making the onion much more palatable. It also turns the slices a lovely shade of hot pink, which I think is reason enough to always soak beforehand.

To further 'deconstruct' the burrito, I toasted the tortilla in a frypan before cutting into slices.  This was partly for presentation purposes, but also because the tortillas I had were a bit old (ie. dry and stale), and cutting them up made them easier to eat. Not to mention the fact that eating dinner with your hands (as you would with a normal wrapped burrito) makes it seem like fast food - try and use civilised cutlery, people!

Chorizo and Turkey 'Burrito'
serves 2

1 tblsp olive oil
1 chorizo sausage, thickly sliced
3 roma (or other ripe) tomato, seeds removed, chopped
1 cup shredded cooked turkey
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 red onion, finely sliced, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, drained
50g fetta, crumbled
1 tsp parsley, chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime, pluse lime wedges to serve
few drops of Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 handful lettuce leaves, shredded
Flour tortillas, warmed in a frypan, sliced into strips about 1 cm (1/2 in)

1.  Heat olive oil in a non-stick frypan over medium-high heat.  Add chorizo and cook, turning once, until golden, about 4 minutes.
2.  Add chopped tomatoes and simmer for 8 minutes until they begin to break down.
3.  Add turkey and stock, then simmer for 8-10 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
4.  Season with salt and pepper.
5.  Meanwhile, combine the drained onion, fetta, parsley, lime juice and Tabasco in a bowl and toss to combine.
6.  Top the shredded tortilla with the chorizo and turkey mixture, lettuce and onion/fetta mix.
7.  Serve with lime wedges

Cook the chorizo and turkey with the tomato

Look at the brilliant pink of the soaked red onion

Reminder: Don't forget to enter the buysterlighting giveaway. There's an $80 voucher up for grabs!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Adriano Zumbo Mini Chocolate Mousse Cake - limited edition

We weren't all lucky enough to have the chance to buy one of Adriano Zumbo's Chocolate Mousse cakes in last year's lottery.  Nor were some of us clever and competent enough to make our own (recipe from MasterChef here), though there were plenty of excellent attempts.

Fortunately, for this week only, Zumbo presents a mini chocolate mousse cake ($9.50 each) for our consumption and entertainment.  All the components of the original masterpiece are here in a more compact form.  The flavour of the chocolate mousse is incredibly intense yet light in texture.  The caramel is rich and gooey, and the apple filling is a refreshing counterpoint to the overall sweetness.

It's topped by a curl or two of white chocolate (sprayed with lime green food colour), and a hazelnut dipped in silver metallic dust. 

Head to Adriano Zumbo Patissier (296 Darling St, Balmain, NSW 2041. Ph: 02 9810 7318) for your own little piece of genius before the end of this week.

A work of Art!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pear Frangipane Tart - shortcut without shortcrust

You may have noticed that I am all for shortcuts in cooking – anything that speeds up the process or makes it easier is all right by me. That said, I haven’t caught the ‘slow cooking’ bug yet, but as I’m a classic late adopter, I’d give it a couple more years...

But back to the shortcuts. I came across this recipe for Pear Frangipane Tart in Australian Good Food magazine. It’s by food writer, Lyndey Milan, who quite rightly points out the time usually spent making the pastry and poaching the pears for the tart. So, her solution is to use readymade puff pastry and tinned pears. Sounds good.

A couple of things I noticed: the recipe calls for blanched almonds to be cut in the food processor; it might be easier to use almond meal (ground almonds) instead. The texture of my tart was quite grainy, so almond meal might make it smoother. Also, my taste tester said, when he saw this tart, “Isn’t frangipane tart supposed to have shortcrust pastry?”. Er, that’s right. So using readymade shortcrust pastry instead of puff might also be better (and less likely to burn).
Here’s my effort, anyway!

Pear Frangipane Tart
serves 6

375g (1 sheet) puff pastry (OR shortcrust pastry)
100g blanched almonds (OR 100g almond meal)
100g caster sugar
100g butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
800g tinned pear slices

1.  Press the defrosted pastry into a 23cm flan tin with removable base.  Prick base and sides with fork. Place in freezer for 30 mins.  Note: If the pastry sheet does not fit the pan, you may need to roll or stretch it out to fit.
2.  Preheat oven to 220 C. Place a sheet of baking paper over the pastry base and fill with dried beans, rice or baking weights.  Bake pastry for 15 mins.
3.  Process almonds and sugar in a food processor.  Add butter, egg and vanilla and mix until combined. Spread into tart shell.  Place pear slices in an attractive manner on top of the filling.
4.  Bake in oven for 30 mins until golden.  Cover the top with foil if it looks like it is browning too quickly.
5.  Serve warm or cold with thick cream.

Recipe adapted from Australian Good Food magazine (Sept 2008)

I only have a 25cm flan tin, so had to stretch out the pastry a bit...

Alternatively, use 100g ground almonds instead of whole almonds.

I used pear quarters, which are substantial enough not to fall apart when baked.

This shortcut pear tart is moist and delicious, with a very flaky pastry. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The old 'Butterflies in a Frame' trick

If you're a visitor to markets and craft shows, you may have noticed how popular are paper butterflies stuck into a wooden box frame.  There are so many different designs around these days, and they've always appealed to me because of their simple, clean style.  In fact, part of the appeal of the butterflies (or birds, or whatever design is chosen) is that they are sometimes handcut from vintage papers - very delicate yet bold.

So of course I think to myself "I could do that!".  This type of decoration has been around for years, and I first thought of making my own about 2 years ago.  However, with one thing and another (aka 'procrastination'), I've only just completed the project.  As it was, both pictures took less than an hour to make.

The box frames are from IKEA (bought, er, 2 years ago).  The butterflies were cut from various scrapbooking papers and from an old crappy novel I was about to throw out (Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, if you're interested).  To save time, I used a Cuttlebug machine with a butterfly die cut - so much quicker than handcutting, and less prone to error and frustration.
The butterflies are attached with 1/2" quilting pins on foam core board.

The final effect looks pretty good, I think.  The feeling of relief at finally getting them out of the way is... priceless!

Butterflies cut from an old yellowing novel, attached to black foam core board.

Butterflies cut from scrapbooking paper, on white foam core board.

Getting a bit of a craft display going on the upstairs landing.

Friday, January 8, 2010

More on the BBQ side - asparagus prosciutto and olive salsa

Fact:   Summer = barbeques + flies + long cool drinks. 
Fact:   Barbeques = meat overload
Fact:   Meat overload = opp(Sides + sides + sides)

Don't get me wrong, I love a summer BBQ.  But sometimes, you need something a bit different to counteract all that meatiness.  Like seafood, or some interesting side dishes to serve with your steak. And no, I don't mean boring salads.

Here are two sides that complement roast lamb particularly well.  The olive salsa is great on barbequed meat, like lamb.  The asparagus with prosciutto can be thrown on the barbeque to cook while the meat is resting.

Olive Salsa
makes about 1 cup

1 cup (120g) pitted green or black olives (or a combination of the two), finely diced
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp mint, chopped
1 tblsp parsley, chopped
1 tblsp red onion, finely chopped
2 anchovies, chopped
1 tblsp minced garlic

1.  To ensure that the olives and herbs are finely chopped, you can put them into a food processor and whizz for a couple of seconds
2.  Then combine all ingredients in a bowl and cover and refrigerate until needed.
3.  Serve on sliced barbequed lamb

Asparagus with prosciutto
serves 3-4

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed (ie. ends cut off and peeled if necessary)
4 slices prosciutto

1.  Cut the prosciutto into 2 or 3 pieces, crosswise
2.  Wrap a piece of prosciutto around a stalk of asparagus
3.  Cook on a barbeque over medium heat for 5  minutes, until the prosciutto is crisp and the asparagus is cooked
4.  Can be served immediately or is great served cold the next day.

Thanks to Nathan for this recipe idea!

Wrap prosciutto pieces around asparagus stalks before barbequeing

Serve olive salsa on the barbequed lamb with the asparagus and prosciutto

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Asian influence - Prawns with coconut rice and sago dessert

This is a quickly-prepared meal for when you don't much feel like cooking or sweating over a hot stove (er, when do I ever not feel like that? - rhetorical question).  It's prawns with coconut rice.

The prawns are bought from the supermarket or fish shop already peeled and cooked - large prawns are better in this dish.  The rice is cooked in coconut milk which imparts a wonderful flavour and moistness to the grains of basmati.  To cheat even further, I used a packet of pre-cooked basmati rice (the ones that you microwave, except I didn't microwave it).  The cooking time is reduced because of the pre-cooking, but the coconut milk still gets absorbed readily.

Prawns with Coconut Rice
serves 2

200ml light coconut milk
150ml water
200g basmati rice
1/2 tsp salt
1 lime, juiced
1 tblsp fish sauce
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp brown sugar
200g large cooked, peeled prawns
1 stalk celery, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced

1.  Bring coconut milk and water to a simmer in a large saucepan.  Add rice and salt.  Cover and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15-20 mins.
2.  Make a sauce by mixing the lime juice, fish sauce, ginger and brown sugar.
3.  Spoon the rice into bowls, top with the prawns, celery and chilli and pour over the sauce.

The basmati rice can be the pre-cooked variety.  The sauce is a fragrant mixture that includes fish sauce and lime juice.

Pour over the sauce before serving.

Add a couple of lime wedges to squeeze over.

For dessert, I mixed the leftover coconut milk with a jar of sago dessert that I picked up from the Malayisa Festival a few months ago.  You just mix a 1/4 cup of coconut milk with the sago and chill in the refrigerator.  The sago dessert is extremely sweet - full of caramelised palm sugar - so the coconut milk is essential.

This dessert is a refreshing complement to the prawn and coconut rice.  It would also be good after a spicier meal, such as rendang or curry.

Reminder: Don't forget to enter the buysterlighting giveaway. There's an $80 voucher up for grabs!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Let there be light - and a Giveaway!

You might have noticed that I abhor dimly-lit restaurants, where you can’t see the fork in front of your open mouth, let alone the food lovingly prepared by the chef. Similarly, a gloomy kitchen or workspace is not conducive to decent food photography or study, either.

Well, someone is paying attention, namely Maree from For she has brought to attention a way to search for and purchase a range of lights to brighten the darkest of rooms and to enhance the dullest of complexions (okay, maybe the latter is stretching it a bit in my case…).
Here are some table lamps that caught my eye…

But why should this be of interest to you, the eager reader? Well, thanks to BuysterLighting, I have an $80 voucher to give away to one lucky winner.

What do you have to do? Just leave a comment on this post (as many as you like, limit of one per day). Winner will be selected randomly. Delivery of prize is within Australia only.  Small print conditions are below.

So, have a look at for some cool lighting to set the mood, and be in it to win it! Good luck!

Conditions for buysterlighting $80 voucher giveaway
1. Competition closes midnight 31st January 2010.
2. Entry is by comment on this post, limit of one comment per person per day. Comments will be moderated but not published, so don't be shy in entering as often as you like
3. If your entry does not contain your contact details (eg. via blog address), then please email me your details (with your first entry) to, so I can contact you if you win.
4.  Sorry, the prize can only be delivered to Australian addresses.


1 February 2010

We have a winner:  Congratulations to Andrea for your entry. You are the winner of the $80 prize from

And a big Thank You to everyone who entered.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Chicken with lemon - delicious in more ways than one

In my neverending quest to find uncomplicated, quick-to-make meals, I came across this recipe in delicious magazine.  It would not usually leap out, as it looks fairly nondescript, but it does contain lemon, butter, white wine and chicken, which is always a wonderful combination.

Chef Tobie Puttock describes how this dish was very popular when he was an apprentice at Caffe e Cucina in Melbourne, and how it can be made in one pan.  You're preaching to the converted, Tobie.  'Tagliata' means 'cut' in Italian, and the chicken is finely sliced to promote quick cooking.  The original recipe calls for chicken breast fillets to be used, but I used chicken thigh fillets instead, as the flavour and texture are much better and the meat does not dry out so easily should you leave it in the pan for too long.

Maltagliata di pollo con limone
(pan-fried chicken with lemon)
serves 2

1 lemon
2 tbs olive oil
20g unsalted butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup (35g) plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
400g chicken thigh fillets, cut into 5mm strips
100ml dry white wine
100ml chicken stock
1 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp roughly chopped marjoram or parsley
rocket salad, to serve

1.  Cut thin strips of lemon rind using a zester, then peel the lemon and thinly slice the flesh. Set aside.
2.  Heat 1 tbs oil and 10g butter in a large non-stick frypan over medium heat.  Add onion and cook for 3-4 minutes, until softened.  Remove from pan and set aside.
3.  Add remaining oil and butter to the pan.  Toss the chicken in the flour to coar.  Shake off excess flour and add chicken to the pan.  Cook chicken in batches for 1 minute, until golden.
4.  Return onion and all the chicken to the pan.  Add the wine, then simmer for 1-2 minutes until almost evaporated.
5.  Add lemon zest, lemon slices, sugar and stock.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for 2-3 minutes until the liquid has reduced by half and the chicken is cooked.
6.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir through the herbs.  Serve with rocket salad.

Recipe adapted from delicious (Dec 2009/Jan 2010)

Chicken not shown (nothing attractive about raw chicken, I've found)

After adding and simmering the wine, stock and lemon, the sauce becomes thick and syrupy.  Sprinkle with herbs for flavour and colour.

This is a light, flavoursome dish...

...and very tempting to Tabitha cat when dining alfresco...