Sunday, 23 August 2015

Experiments with Sinigang

Asian soup has always fascinated me. Hearty warm soups are generally something that hit the Western dinner table when the temperature drops and the frost sets in. In winter I grew up with soups on the weekends. Mum would cook up vegetable based soups like broccoli or mushrooms and the house would fill with delicious smells as the soup cooked away. I can almost taste that creamy mushroom soup as I sit here and think about it.

In Asia though soup is a year round affair. With no regard for the 35 degree heat or the ninety percent humidity you will find locals across Asia sitting out on the streets on those funny little stools enjoying the local soup. This really hit home to me in Vietnam where there really does seems to be a serious love story between the locals and soup. Whilst Vietnam has a wide range of soups, the soup that has travelled from Vietnam around the world and you will likely be most familiar with is Pho (pronounced fur). The hearty beef broth cooked for many hours and then garnished with thinly sliced beef, fresh herbs and bean sprouts has found a place in the hearts of people around the world. My own obsession with Pho does mean frequent trips to our local Chinatown. I just can't seem to get enough. I have cooked my own Pho a number of times but when you take the cost and effort involved and put it head to head with the experience of getting a bowl from a Vietnamese restaurant for $10 that really does testament to those authentic flavours I just can't justify the effort of making my own very often.

With hundreds of bowls of Pho having already passed through my digestive system it is about time to explore what other soups Asia has to offer. With recent success in cooking and immensely enjoying Filipino cuisine it seemed like a great place to start. Filipino cuisine is fascinating and you can read more about my first impressions on it here. It's distinct sour flavour profile certainly does appear in what could be considered a national dish "Sinigang".

With some pork belly laying in wait in my fridge I decided to put my trust in my favourite Filipino cookbook 7000 Islands by Yasmin Newman. Yasmin's Filipino hertiage makes her somewhat of an expert in the cuisine and I have been so impressed by her Adobo recipes I have cooked them again and again. You can actually get your own copy of the Sinigang recipe I used right here. Yasmin explains that the recipe comes from Richie Gamboa of the 21 Restaurant in the city of Bacolod but she decided to  add pork ribs to add some more flavour to the broth. I decided to take it one step further. I wanted a really meaty broth with a great depth of flavour. It may not be totally traditional to make the Sinigang this way but boy it was tasty.

So I took a couple of kilos of porky bones. I used some pork hock that I had leftover in the freezer and bought some smoked bacon bones that our local butcher sells. I added those to around 4 liters of water along with some additional asian flavours like chunks of ginger, lemongrass, carrots, onions, shallots, celery. Whatever you have at hand is fine and it is a great way to get rid of leftovers floating around the fridge. I decided I would make mine a 24 hour slow cooked broth so I popped it on the stove on a very low simmer and when ready I strained out the chunks and there you have a wonderful pork stock to use as the base for your Sinigang. Don't be afraid to take a great recipe and take it on your own unique tangent. This is easier to do as you get more familiar with flavour combinations but the best way to learn is just to experiment and find out what you like, because in the end, it is all about you!

So from there I basically followed Yasmin's recipe. I left out the pork ribs as I didn't have any on hand and didn't want to spend the additional money (I'm a bit of a tight arse!). The recipe was very quick and easy and the results were a dish unlike anything I have eaten or cooked before...which is basically my sole purpose for being. The tamarind brings a tartness and set against that meaty porky broth with hints of ginger and lemongrass you have a flavour profile that is wonderfully complex. The green beans give you a crisp fresh burst and the pork belly has that delicious decadent fatty quality and the two offset each other perfectly. The sweet soggy capsicum and the earthy eggplant soak up the juices and take on a porky tone.

I was instantly transported. I can imagine myself on a beach in Boracay eating a seafood version of Sinigang with big juicy prawns and chunks of white fleshed fish or a bustling street stall in Manila slurping up the meaty goodness surrounded by enthusiastic hawkers and wild traffic. You can go there too. Just get in the kitchen and get cooking now!
Originally posted on Sunday, 23 August 2015 by

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Unique Journeys- The Buckland Luxury Retreat

Being in the travel industry and talking travel all day gives me some unique insights. I am constantly surrounded by the latest travel trends, get first hand feedback from hundreds of travellers every year and am bombarded with industry reps touting their travel products and don’t forget the familiarisation and personal travel I undertake every year. 

All too often I see people fall into the trap of taking uninspired holidays. In this Series “Unique Journeys” I am focusing on bringing you unique experiences worldwide. One of a kind getaways and fascinating experiences to get you seeing travel from a new perspective. 

The experiences and properties you will see recommended here are not sponsored they are brought to you from my many years experience as a travel consultant. 

Sometimes life can wear you down. The day in day out routine is tiresome and we all need to treat ourselves from time to time to a break from the monotony. This can't always mean jetting off overseas, sometimes you need to look in your own backyard and here in Australia let's be honest we have one hell of a backyard!

That is exactly how my husband and myself were feeling just a few weeks ago. It had been a long, cold winter, we hadn't had a holiday all year and we were tired. Our annual trip to Melbourne was the perfect remedy and you can read more about that here. Once we were done with eating our way around Melbourne we headed to Bright, Victoria for a two night stay at The Buckland Luxury Retreat

The studio's tucked away in a slice of Australian heaven

Our bathroom, can't beat that view & with a tub for two it is just perfect

Our living room with full kitchen and wood fire

Our bedroom, the bed was up high to take advantage of the bushland views out the window

I am always on the look out for unique properties, whilst it can be nice to stay in a fancy hotel with all the amenities it can also be a little dull. After a while hotel rooms all start to look the same no matter how much you pay for them and as a travel agent I refuse to fall into the trap of generic holidays, boring!

Well generic is not a word you will hear associated with The Buckland. Nestled into the Australian Bush with frontage facing wineries, farmlands and the magnificent Mount Buffalo this is a couples holiday that you will not soon forget.

The five individual studios are a private haven away from the stresses of everyday life. From the moment you open the door you won't want to leave. Featuring a full kitchen, living space with wood fire, bedroom with king size bed and the massive bathroom with a free-standing bathtub overlooking the bushland through full height windows you have no need to leave if you don't wish. All of this is cleverly surrounded by bushland at the rear for total privacy (which you will need as the full height bathroom windows have no blinds) and at the front you are looking out at Mount Buffalo which in winter is magical with it's snow capped peaks.

The show stopper of the studios is definitely the bathrooms. An open shower with double rain style shower heads will have you revelling in more than just a mere shower. On the other side of the shower stands the free-standing bathtub which sits proudly in front of the floor to ceiling windows with glorious views of the native peppermint forest. Thoughtfully equipped with a side table to sit your wine (because what is a luxurious bath without sipping on your favourite beverage) and candles to set the mood you will want to wallow in this tub all day and with it being large enough for two...why not?

If you can't imagine spending all day in the tub then you are perfectly located for endless days of exploring. After indulging in your home cooked brekky personally made by the owners of The Buckland you must head out and explore this unique part of Australia. At the heart of Victoria's Alpine Mountains the setting is extraordinary. Mount Buffalo is easily accessible for skiing, tobogganing and snow man making (an essential part of any winter getaway) or in summer the walks, waterfalls and lookouts will have your heart soaring at the beauty of the mountain and surrounding farmlands. Just down the road you have Mount Hotham for the more serious skiers and adventurers. If skiing isn't your thing you can head out dog sledding, snow mobiling or just set yourself up in a restaurant or bar for a day of relaxation.

If dining out is your thing Bright may appear a quaint town on the surface but the array of restaurants and bars from Brewery's to fine dining will please even the choosiest foodie (like me) or if you want to delve into the Gold mining history head out on the diggings walk or try your hand at fossicking or panning. My personal pick for a casual meal in a lively setting with good and affordable food is the Bright Brewery. We went with a selection of small dishes plus a pizza. The Buffalo Wings with blue cheese dipping sauce were melt in your mount with a spicy zing and the Cheeky Beef Pizza bought a touch of class to the pizza world with it's slow cooked beef cheek topping with peas, tomatoes, caramelised onions and mozzerella

After a busy day you know you have your heavenly studio at The Buckland to return to. The wood fire will envelop you for a cosy night in or in summer sit out on the deck taking in the sunset and watch the birds busying themselves in the trees all around you. If you are lucky you will spot the local wombats or Kangaroos who frequent the area.

The Conde Nast Hot list could not be wrong, this place is heaven located in a unique slice of an amazing country. It certainly does have me thinking more on the value of a holiday closer to home. Unique experiences are not governed by crossing the seas, you can have the holiday of a lifetime just down the road.

The larger studio Number 5. All studios have views over Mount Buffalo

The larger studio number 5. The private bushland setting of all studios makes you feel secluded

The larger studio number 5 can open up to the outdoors, perfect for summer

Go on...

treat yourself....

you know you want to!

It's all waiting...

at the Buckland Luxury Retreat

Originally posted on Thursday, 13 August 2015 by

Monday, 10 August 2015

Eating Melbourne...Again

I spend a lot of time combing the shelves of bookshops for that hidden find. A great cookbook that will sit proudly in my collection or become a new favourite, it's pages becoming sticky with food over years of prolonged use. Lately though I have become a little disheartened by the quantity of books solely aimed at the fad diet market.  The masses blindly following the Pied Piper of Paleo, Pete Evans, over a cliff with the promise of the fountain of youth laying in wait at the bottom. It doesn't stop there, I recently saw a Paleo Cafe that bore the motto "anti-grain". WTF since when are grains not an essential part of a healthy diet? And if I see one more pack of lollies bearing the "health slogan" Gluten Free I am going to poke my eyes out. Seriously get off the band wagon people and back to reality.

When all seems lost though you can guarantee a trip away to the Foodie capital of Australia, Melbourne will be as good as a shot of adrenaline for a poor disenchanted Foodie and with guides like my Foodie Guru In-Laws leading the way we were certainly in for an exciting long weekend of exploring Melbourne's food scene. This winter trip to Melbourne is becoming an annual affair and you can read about my last trip here. As usual this trip lived up to all expectations, Melbourne is not a city that disappoints. 

If you are a novice to Melbourne the first thing you will notice here is that people love good food and they will wait out in the freezing cold in queues that snake around city blocks just waiting for the chance to grab a table at their favourite venue. Now this mentality of queuing is not about "being seen" at the hottest new restaurant. There are no pretensions and no agendas other than a genuine desire just to eat awesome food. You will find people of all ages in all attire huddling against the frigid Melbourne winds, the game is a mental one. If you can stick it out long enough you will get that table and you will eat that food and you will be one happy chappy,

Our first queue of the trip was at Tall Timber in Prahran. Our intentions were for a late brunch but after around an hour on the street waiting for a vacancy it become lunch but no matter the wait was worth it. The menu was a unique take on breakfast featuring a wide selection of gorgeous meals. The spiced vegetables with a middle eastern influence like my spiced roasted mashed pumpkin topped with poached eggs sitting atop a crunchy Ciabatta were to die for. I am far from vegetarian but a menu like this easily makes you forget all about meat for the time being. But for the meatlovers there are heartier dishes such as the Pulled Pork Benedict in which a slow cooked pulled pork is presented as a Bruschetta and topped with poached eggs and an apple cider hollandaise. It is creative food and certainly stood out as the best brekky/brunch of the trip.

I was going to focus on the food highlights of this trip and as I sit here looking over the cards I collected from the various restaurants we went to I am having a hard time narrowing it down, that's Melbourne for you. So I will touch on a few here as there were so many highlights.

If you are looking for modern Thai food in a setting that is Oh so Melbourne (a graffiti covered upstairs nightclub with 1960's dining settings and dozens of assorted chandeliers) then Colonel Tan's is the place for you. Great service, fast, friendly and the food packs that spicy punch you want from your Thai food.

For a slightly more upmarket but still with that Melbourne laid back "come as you are" vibe and out of this world Vietnamese Food Saigon Sally is a must. The "Feed Me" option is becoming a staple in Melbourne restaurants and is hard to pass up. The set price will get you an array of dishes all chosen by the chef and often presents you with dishes you would not choose on your own so is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. I have this terrible habit forming and that is to judge a restaurant by it's raw/cured fish and Saigon Sally's Kingfish Cerviche served on Betel Leaf with Pomelo, Green Papaya, Shallots and Chilli blew my mind. It was tart and crunchy with flavours and textures all popping in your mouth. Being the first dish served to us it set the tone of the meal, the fresh herby flavours carried all through the meal and finishing up on what could only be described as Tiramisu sandwiches and Vietnamese Doughnuts we were all suitably impressed. This one will be joining a short list of must-do Melbourne eateries.

Saigon Sally Dessert

Saigon Sally Mains

Saigon Sally Cerviche

A missed opportunity to return to Chin Chin (the line at 5:30pm was beyond the point of where we were willing to wait) turned into a chance to try a new cuisine. Pastuso who have dubbed themselves a "Cervicheria & Peruvian Grill" was conveniently around the corner and we were early enough to beat the booked diners and nab a table. Again we couldn't go past the "Feed Me" option. The meal started with a range of Cerviches which fed my raw fish obsession for the night, their tart, fresh flavours were a hit with everyone. This was followed up by a selection of small dishes from the street food section of the menu. The Cassava chips were an interesting and tasty alternative to potato and the meat skewers were moist and tender. The main dishes are cooked on the open grill or smoked in the smoker that all sit within view of the restaurant. It is like going to a kitchen theatre with plumes of smoke billowing from the smoker at times and the flame grill being cranked and rotated by hand. The grilled chicken was beautifully moist with a smoky flavour and seasoned crispy skin. The Goat was also lovely and tender but the flavour were a little too subtle for my tastes.

Pastuso Cerviche

Pastuso  Street Food

The biggest surprise of the trip was a little gem of a bar, only opened 8 weeks ago and expertly hunted out my my genius in-laws. Graze Bar located on High Street in Prahran had a fairly traditional menu with dishes like Steaks and Risotto served by some fairly un-traditional bearded hipster types but wow, absolutely cracking food. The open kitchen was being manned by one lonely bearded chef and I could not believe he was churning out such amazing food all on his own. My Mushroom Risotto would have to be at the top of my all time best Risotto's and the steaks were gob-smackingly juicy.

Some honorable mentions of the trip would be "The Smith" serving modern Asian food in a pub setting and "Hobba" for a delicious brekky in a converted warehouse style venue,

I won't even talk about all the cookbooks I bought on this trip. I don't know whether to be thrilled or ashamed. My addiction does seem to be worsening and I have so many new cookbooks I don't even know where to start with them.

I will be back later in the week to tell you about the absolute Gem of a couples luxury getaway in Bright that we stopped in at for a few nights on the way home from Melbourne. Pure heaven.
Originally posted on Monday, 10 August 2015 by