Thursday, October 27, 2011

Old Skool No-bake Apricot Ginger slice

This is such an 'old-school' slice. It's perfect!

Here's another recipe from New Zealand's Annabel Langbein, though this time from her new 'Free Range in the City' cookbook. I actually bought her previous book, The Free-Range Cook, after making this panna cotta, and the new one is also a great read if this teaser is anything to go by.

Although it's billed as a cookbook based on eating well, for city dwellers (as opposed to country lifers), this recipe for Apricot and Ginger Slice would be right at home at a school fete, country fair or farmhouse kitchen. It's also no-bake, so it's quick to make and all it needs is a quick chill in the refrigerator and it's ready to gobble up.

Note: My "Hey you, you're not allowed to buy any more cookbooks unless it is an absolute emergency" rule is in great danger of being broken after tasting this recipe. The new cookbook is released here next week, I think, so another couple more days before we see how strong my resolve is. Hint: I'm a usually a weakling!

Ginger and Apricot Slice
makes about 20 squares

100g unsalted butter
3/4 cup (185ml) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup (150g) dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup (100g) crystallised ginger, finely chopped, plus extra for topping
1 cup (90g) desiccated coconut
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tblsp lemon juice
375 plain biscuits, crushed to fine crumbs
2 tblsp pistachios, shelled and chopped

50g unsalted butter
1 tsp lemon juice
3 cups icing sugar, sifted

1. Line a 30cm x 24cm Swiss roll pan or baking pan with baking paper.
2. Heat butter and condensed milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the butter melts. Remove from heat.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together the apricots, crystallised ginger, coconut, ground ginger and lemon juice. Then add crushed biscuits and stir to combine.
4. Add butter and condensed milk mixture and stir well to combine.
5. Press into the prepared pan and refrigerate for 1 hour or until set.
6. For the icing: Melt the butter and mix with the lemon juice, icing sugar and 2 tablespoons of boiling water,  until smooth. Spread icing over the chilled base and sprinkle with extra chopped cryst. allised ginger and pistachios.
7. Leave to set, then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in a cool place.

recipe adapted from delicious magazine

Ingredients, including condensed milk, chopped crystallised ginger, crushed biscuits (I used Nice biscuits), coconut and dried apricots

It's so easy - just mix everything together and press into the pan.
The icing is also easy to make, and it tastes slightly tangy.

Cut the slice in squares to serve

  You could also wrap squares in plastic wrap to sell at the school fete.
Or wrap in foil to take to work for little lunch.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chat Thai Westfield - a hot spot

Nice menus. Saves me having to type the post title!

The Westfield Level 6 restaurant precinct above the food court is turning out to be a fantastic place. Lots of excellent quality restaurants and still some construction going on. Having recently visited Xanthi and Mood for Love (pics to come), this post is about the well-known Chat Thai.

This was my first time at Chat Thai, I think. I may have visited the takeaway branch in the Galeries Victoria, can't remember. We got here early for lunch (12pm), so didn't have to wait for a table. Judging by the crowds normally outside Chat Thai, a wait is usually inevitable, though it looks like the turnover is quite fast inside the restaurant.

Inside Chat Thai Westfield - dark, modern decor, waitstaff in signature yellow t-shirts

To drink, Thai tea with sweetened condensed milk ($4.50), Corona beer ($8).
The chicken larb ($12.50) was surprisingly super spicy, the hottest out of all the dishes we had.

Roast duck with noodles ($15) - lots of moist, delicious duck pieces
Fish cakes ($10) - a very good version, not too oily, topped with fried basil leaves

Fried chicken wings ($12) - Bangkok wings are like spicy buffalo wings, comes with a chilli dipping sauce
It gets busy at Chat Thai, but the service is quick and efficient.

Icy coconut dessert ($6.50) - we thought they delivered the wrong dessert at first, seeing only some coconut on a mound of ice. But if you dig into the bowl, green squiggly worms, taro and other goodies appear. The ice melts on the tongue, leaving the scent of coconut milk. So refreshing, Yum!

Our other dessert, thin 'crepes' filled with uncooked meringue and dried shrimp ($8). Pretty as a picture and lovely to eat. Thankfully, you can barely taste the shrimp and the shell is a crisp delight, like a wafer. The meringue is melt-in-the-mouth.

Overall, I like this Chat Thai. A bonus is that if you can't get in and don't want to wait, there are other good restaurants nearby that you can substitute.

Chat Thai Westfield is on Level 6, Westfield Sydney, Pitt St Mall, Sydney
ph: 02 9221 0600

Chat Thai Westfield Sydney on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mushroom soup with a side of snails

Apparently, there’s a popular TV series called Game of Thrones, and it’s based on a series of fantasy books. Admittedly, not being a fan of the genre, I don’t know much about them. Probably why I’m not into video games like World of Warcraft and the like, either.

BUT I do like to trawl the interweb, and there is a website (Inn at the Crossroads) that interprets recipes from meals in the Game of Thrones books, and some of them are real doozies. The descriptions of the food in the books really draw you in, as they are sort of medieval and evocative, and cleverly, Inn at the Crossroads also gives a modern interpretation of the dishes as well.

This recipe for ‘Cream of mushroom and escargot soup’ sounded interesting so I thought I’d try it – that, and the fact that there were 2 cans of escargot in the cupboard that I wanted to get rid of. In the end, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to post about this recipe, though. It all came down to a can of funky snails. On opening the can, it smelt like a herd of flatulent cats had let off a joint stink bomb, and well, you get the picture. As a result, after cooking the soup with a peg on my nose, the snails were served on the side of the soup. Maybe try this recipe with decent snails next time.

Creamy Mushroom Soup with Snails
Serves 6

3 cups chopped mushrooms, such as button or chestnut, swiss brown, shiitake
1 eschalot, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
4 tblsp butter
¼ cup flour
1 cup milk
1 cup light cream

Snails on the side:
125g (4 ½ oz) can of snails, drained
1 tblsp butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ bunch chives, chopped

1. For the soup: Combine mushrooms, eschalot and chicken stock in a saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and use a blender or stick blender to liquefy the mixture.
2. For the sauce: In a separate pan, melt the butter over medium heat, then stir in the flour. Add milk and cream stirring constantly until smooth, Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Pour the mushroom and stock mixture into the sauce and stir until combined.
4. For the snails: Sauté the snails, garlic and chives with the butter over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Serve with the soup.

Recipe adapted from
Rustic ingredients: large field mushrooms, swiss brown mushrooms, eschalots and chives

Dodgy ingredient: Canned snails (escargot). These ones are product of Indonesia, probably NOT a nation famous for their snail exports.

The garlicky, buttery sauce was delicious. Shame about the manky snails.
PS: The original recipe says to chop up the snails and add to the soup.

The soup, on the other hand, was sublime. Creamy but not too rich, and fresh-tasting at the same time.

There was plenty of soup for leftovers - the same can't be said of the snails.
Mr Garbage Bin enjoyed them, however.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Messy Meal specialist

Or, Confessions of an Unorganised Cook.

 I'm great at creating a mess, I'm just really hopeless at cleaning up. And it just so happens that I love to cook from recipes that involve just a couple of ingredients but LOTS of implements - like chopping boards, knives, stirring spoons, whisks, bowls lots of bowls, small saucepan, medium frypan, large stockpot. The list goes on.

There's a promotion on at the moment (sponsored by Finish dishwashing tablets) called 'We Love Messy Meals', where you can upload a photo or video or your messiest meal and get the chance to win $25000 and star in a tv commercial. Chance of stardom, who could turn that down?

Well, come into my kitchen any night of the week and you'll have a winner, which is why I've entered. You can enter your own mess, here, but hurry, entries close October 22, 2011.

I do have a dishwasher, but Tabitha cat often does a quicker job.
Not as clean, though.

This post was kindly sponsored by Finish Quantum and Momentum

Friday, October 14, 2011

Funky blue cheese panna cotta for dessert

Major excitement. A bit of 'squee!' action.
All because of 3-4 little words:
Blue. Cheese. Panna.cotta.
(is panna cotta 2 words or only 1?)

Yes, there was a spot of OMG! going on when I saw this recipe on the website. It contains my recently discovered love of panna cotta and my "I'm not quite sure but I could grow to love you" feelings for smelly blue cheese. 

So, this is a strange combination of savoury cheese and the traditional dessert ingredients of cream, vanilla and sugar. The result is ... unusual. I still can't decide if I really like it or not, as it's quite a rich dish, even in the small dariole mould sizes that I used. The blue cheese can be quite burny on the tongue, and you definitely get that effect with this panna cotta, although the vanilla teamed with sugar takes a bit of the edge off.

Please give this a go anyway, and decide for yourself. I will probably make it again, just to be sure.

Blue cheese panna cotta
serves 4

olive oil, to grease
250ml (1 cup) milk
250ml (1 cup) thin cream
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
40g blue-vein cheese, finely chopped
1 tbs boiling water
1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatine
1/2 crisp green apple, or ripe pear, to serve

1. Brush 4 125ml (1/2 cup) capacity metal or plastic dariole moulds with oil to lightly grease. Place on a tray.
2.Combine milk, cream, sugar and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.
3. Add blue cheese and stir until cheese melts. Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a large heatproof glass bowl.
4. Place water in a small heatproof bowl. Sprinkle with gelatine and whisk with a fork to remove any lumps. Set aside for 3 minutes or until gelatine dissolves and mixture is clear.
5. Gradually whisk the gelatine into the cream mixture until well combined. Ladle mixture equally among prepared moulds. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 6 hours to set.
6.Dip moulds, 1 at a time, into hot water for 1-2 seconds, then turn onto serving plates. Serve with fruit slices.

recipe adapted from

Ingredients, including cream, milk, blue cheese and vanilla bean.

The milk, cream, vanilla and sugar are first heated, then the cheese is added and stirred into the hot liquid. It is then sieved to remove the lumps and grey veiny bits.
Add gelatine and pour into moulds. (yes, I only have 2 proper dariole moulds!)

After the panna cottas are set (about 6 hours), unmould onto a plate.
The funky cheese aroma is very mild (until you eat it)

Nice specks of vanilla on the base/top of the panna cotta.
Oh stuff it, this looks too good. I'm gonna make it again this weekend!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Coopers and Pie at the London, Balmain

 October is a great food month in Sydney because it's time for the Crave Sydney International Food Festival. There's no shortage of food events, and one of the more accessible ones is the Coopers Pie'n Pale challenge. Imagine 26 pubs vying for the title of 'pub with the Best Pie', where you can get a specially created pie plus a glass of Coopers Pale Ale for $20.

I was invited to check out a pie*, and I chose to try the one at the London Hotel in Balmain. There are a couple of pubs from Balmain in the challenge, and I wanted to support the locals (though, because there's a pub on almost every corner in Balmain, I'd be surprised if there were any fewer contestants). This pie excursion also gave the chance to test out some other dishes from the London's restaurant.

The London still has its original sandstone walls and internal woodwork, currently decked out in rugby World Cup finery.

The restaurant is away from the hubbub of the pub, and it has a steak focus, judging from the bovine artworks on the walls. Chef Steve is the creator of the contest pie.

While waiting for our lunch, chef Steve presented us with bruschetta. Fabulous warm bread topped with spicy tomato, onion and basil. Great for whetting the appetite.

The London's entry in the Coopers Pie'n Pale contest is a Ham Hock Pie. It's a rich pot of delicious pieces of smoky ham and leek, topped with creamy potato mash sprinkled with ham hock floss. The pastry is a lovely short pâte brisée. A great pie that goes really well with the wheaty Coopers Pale Ale (and a Wallabies win!).

We also ordered a main of lamb rump with sourdough gnocchi ($29). Tender pieces of meat with an unusual but excellent 'gnocchi' that are like little flavoursome patties.

You can see the other competitors in the Pie'n Pale promo here. There are some interesting pies that have been created and the London Hotel's is a fine example. There's also an app you can download that tells you where the nearest pub is for that fix of pie and ale. Most of them are concentrated around the inner city.

*Many thanks to the London Hotel and Frank PR for the pie and ale.

The London Hotel is at 234 Darling Street, Balmain, NSW
ph: 02 9555-1377

London Hotel on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Satay chicken not quite radioactive

I really admire those bloggers who regularly post interesting stuff that makes you miss them when they go AWOL for a while. This is particularly because, occasionally, little streams of apathy blow invisibly across my  keyboard, and to even think of something to write about becomes a headache of massive proportions.

So that's when you write about how hard it is to find something to write about. Rather than bore you with the details, how about we jump straight into a recipe? Sounds good.
This is a rather easy and delicious satay chicken that's perfect warm as it is cold. And because I like things colourful, the fluoro yellow hue is just the thing for brightening a dull day.

Birthday update. Thanks for all the good wishes for my birthday a few days ago. Some of the food-related gifts I got: dinner at Claude's, lunch at Chat Thai, lunch at Aria ('Let's do Lunch'), the new Bill Granger Asian cookbook, wooden pig-shaped chopping board , 'Keep calm' cake tin (I actually bought some of these for myself, but I'm worth it!). No food processor or ice cream maker, but I am super happy regardless (another year older notwithstanding).

Chicken Satay
serves 4

1 tsp grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
zest and juice of 1 lime
1 tblsp peanut butter
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cumin
100ml coconut cream
1/2 tsp salt
2 spring (green) onions, chopped
6 chicken thigh fillets
steamed rice, to serve

1. For the marinate: Put the ginger, garlic, lime juice and zest, peanut butter, turmeric, cumin, coconut cream and salt into a food processor and mix until smooth. Add the spring onion to the mixture.
2. Put the chicken into a large bowl and pour over the marinade. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
3. Heat oven to 190C/375F. Line a large baking tray with foil and lightly spray with oil. Drain the chicken pieces and spread over the trays. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. The coating should be slightly charred; cover with foil if it is darkening too much.
4. Serve chicken warm, with rice.

Ingredients, including spices and peanut butter, coconut cream, green onions and lime.

Easy marinade: just whizz the ingredients together then add to the chicken pieces.

The slightly burned, crispy bits are particularly good.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Claude's Woollahra - and (almost) another year older

Claude's at Woollahra used to be an 'occasion' restaurant, where the atmosphere was rarified, the ladies dressed up to dine there, and the food was exquisite. Well, times change, and so has Claude's.

For my birthday dinner this year, I chose Claude's because I'd always wanted to go there, and the new menu, with its slight Asian twists sounded interesting. So we donned our best smartish-casual outfits and rocked up to the very discreet, blink-and-you'll-miss-it doorway on Oxford St for our Saturday night delight.

The dark walls, starched white tablecloths and subtle lighting in the downstairs dining room are the perfect environment for dinner a deux, though there was a table of 3 when we were there. The waitstaff are professional and make you feel welcome. On Saturday night, there is an 8-course degustation dinner available ($135 per person, plus matching wines for $85 extra), so we had that (without wine). You are offered sparkling or filtered tap water to drink.

This is what we had:
Amuse bouche: seaweed rolls and crispy things (like prawn chips, but better)
To drink, a Tiger beer
First course: Chicken liver, taro and turmeric with tapioca, on crispbread - beautiful mousse-like chicken liver and pickled vegetables
Bread with homemade butter - this was so good, the rolls were studded with salt crystals and the butter was creamy and perfect.

Sour and fragrant broth - had spiced chicken pieces on spinach, with the tangy broth poured over at the table.
Rock oyster, trumpeter, black fungus relish - the Batemans Bay oysters were served off the shell, on slices of marinated trumpeter (fish). Warning: relish contains evil coriander!

Wrasse and giant octopus - the wrasse was coated in polenta(?) crumbs and beautifully cooked, so moist and flavoursome. Octopus was thinly sliced and very tender.
Broad bean and soy curds with mushroom ketchup - be warned, the 'ketchup' packs a punch with lots of hot spice. Otherwise, this was a refreshing vegetable dish (with wafer-thin beet and mushroom) before the meat main
Blackened beef, pineapple, green garlic - the beef is 'blackened' using squid ink and is served with a super-tender slice of rare-grilled beef. Smooth garlic puree (with garlic cloves) is balanced by sweet caramelly pineapple.

Dessert time!
Pear, coconut, tapioca - pear/honey ice cream with shredded coconut
Golden rhubarb - beautiful spongey cake with jam with tuile-like covering and creme anglais.

Birthday cake kindly provided by Claude's - amazing flourless chocolate cake. When cut, it crumbles like a normal cake, but it tastes like chocolate melting on your tongue. How incredible!
Madeleines - dipped in honey syrup
English breakfast tea in silver teapot

It was a lovely meal we had, last night at Claude's. It gave us a chance to dress up a bit and try an institution that has successfully moved with the times (without resorting to foams and molecules and stuff). I'll definitely be back, though hopefully before the next birthday.

Also, Claude's has recently introduced an 'experimental dining concept' on Tuesday nights, cleverly called The Mighty Bouche. New dishes and ideas are going to be showcased, and I'm hoping that chef Chui Lee Luk will lead diners in a rousing rendition of the Bouncy Bouncy song. Sounds like a date!

Claude's is at 10 Oxford Street, Woollahra, NSW
ph: +61 2 9331 2325
Claude's on Urbanspoon