Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Brylcreem and Pipi's

Memories of childhood trips to my fathers homeland of New Zealand are punctuated by two things, two smells to be exact. The first my pop's brylcreem, the thick emulsion applied liberally and daily seemed to preserve my grandfathers hair well beyond it's used by date. Black long past when hair should be black I am certain the cream created a time vortex in which the hair, forever hardened could not age. The second smell of steaming piles of pipi's I found pungent and vile. Their soft formless bodies freed from their shells appeared and re-appeared on the dinner table for what felt like an eternity, their fishy aroma offending me to the core and their consumption by my parents and grandparents defined the utter aliens that were adults.

Memories can be inexplicable. As a child our trips to see relatives in New Zealand were rare, scrounging the airfares for a family of four was a major undertaking and it has been many decades since the smell of brylcreem and pipi's have crossed my path but there it is, branded on my memory like the initials on a cows hide.

The smell of the hair product made famous the world over by air force pilots and Ronald Reagan was so synonymous with New Zealand for me that at one point in time as a child there was no distinction between the country and the smell. The smell I thought was the "scent of New Zealand" That smell that was with us from the time we arrived at the airport in Auckland, in the car trip to Morrinsville, in every room of my grandparents home and burnt into my nostrils for weeks afterwards was only identified as brylcreem when my grandparents visited Australia and the smell came with them. Turns out this was not the scent of New Zealand, this smell was my pop's slick head of hair and after weeks of them sleeping in my bedroom (myself sent to sleep in my parents unfinished en-suite amongst the exposed plumbing) the stench permeated my bed, my carpet and every absorbent surface in the house. As a man wearing brylcreem well past it's heyday I have no other associations for it, my pop and the smell of brylcreem are forever entwined.

The smell of pipi's cooking on the other hand brings back a different set of memories from the same locale. As memories so often do mine are faded. I have no recollection of how many times we went pipi'ing I just know we did, I don't know how old I was I just know I loved it. Led by our deeply tanned heavily brylcreemed pop and his side kick my father, who at five foot five was the tallest in his family, my bespectacled older sister and myself were sent out on a seaside hunt in the coastal community of Thames, a thrilling prospect for two inland dwellers. Who knew the ocean held creatures beneath the sand, hiding and waiting for curious little hands to dig them out and trap them in a vessel like Hansel and Gretel in the gingerbread house. As that bucket filled I felt triumph with a side of competition. Each pipi caught held glory for the hunter and as the youngest my sketchy memory of the event leaves me certain I was the champion pipi hunter. Catching the pipi's for me was the whole mission, beyond that the washing, the boiling and the eating was the domain of the adults. I had no interest in consuming these creatures and once cooked their smell was so pervasive that it masked the smell of brylcreem for some time, no small feat I can tell you.

It is interesting what brings these memories to the surface. I have started seeing pipi's everywhere. Anthony Bourdain munching away on them in Mozambique on an episode of "No Reservations", Rick Stein feasting on pipi's in his series "From Venice to Istanbul", bottomless tubs of pipi's for sale in the local fish markets and recipes in food magazines like the latest issue of Delicious which has a concoction from Lennox Hastie of the restaurant Firedoor which combines pipi's with garlic shoots and chilli. These strange beings from the deep which were so foreign to me as a child are eaten the world over. Who knew.

The photo accompanying this story is the only existing evidence that these events occurred. It's blurry people, my family, are far clearer in my memory than what was preserved on film so often the case from those days prior to digital photography. That brief moment in time captured on film, converted to digital, posted on the internet, read and re-read by friends, family and strangers has now taken this memory and immortalised it.

In memory of Reginald Pekin

Originally posted on Tuesday, 27 October 2015 by

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Cultural Cookbooks For Christmas

This is my absolute favourite time of year. Not because I am a total sadist who loves the jingle of Christmas carols in the mall (which I kind of do love) but because there is a massive influx of cookbooks on the market...which I might get some for pressies if I drop the right hints (Yes Martin this is your hint).

It may be 9 weeks till Christmas but I am chomping at the bit for the upcoming cookbook releases. There are so many titles that tickle my cultural cooking obsession that I felt I had to share them with you.

The absolute top of my wish list is the Nordic Cook Book by Magnus Nilsson. Until recently I was unawares of Magnus. Enlightenment came through an episode of Chef's Table a magnificent Netflix Original series that is a must watch for any foodie. Magnus Nilsson may be the demi-god of Nordic cooking bringing foraged food to fine dining at his restaurant Faviken but the cookbook promises us Nordic cuisine for the home cook and I could not be more excited. At a whopping 768 pages with 600 recipes and abound in gorgeous photography this cookbook better be in my stocking this Christmas....you got that message Marty?

Next on my list is Hartwood by Eric and Mya Henry. Their restaurant of the same name is the most popular restaurant in Tulum, Mexico. Fully open air and serving fresh, local produce Hartwood has resonated with tourists who frequent the area. The book intrigues me as I have holidayed in Tulum and it has to be one of the most stunning locations on earth and has not been compromised by big business tourism like it's neighbor Cancun. If you want to find out more about the backstory of Hartwood you may enjoy this article By Lucky Peach called Bare Necessities.

Who wouldn't want a piece of our very own Aussie George Calombaris this Christmas. Being voted into the "Top 40 Chefs of Influence in the World" George has something to say and you can find it right here in his latest cookbook Greek. Delving into the flavours of his childhood but adding a modern twist this book is sure to be a valuable tool for the home cook who wants to whip up a cultural creation relevant in today's modern world.

For sometime now Peruvian food has been touted as "the next big thing". I don't think it has quite gained the traction aficionados had hoped for but it has made a splash. Fire of Peru by Lima born Ricardo Zarate with Jenn Garbee looks like it will be a new take on Peruvian cuisine bringing us modern dishes like Peruvian Burgers as well as traditional dishes like Ceviche (lets be honest it would not be a Peruvian cookbook if it did not cover Ceviche). The cover also promises stories from his Peruvian kitchen and you know I am a sucker for a good cultural connection.

It seems you can't have a foodie thought these days without hearing about Ramen. It is the new hot food taking over from last years reigning champion Sriracha. Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota can be your bridge this Christmas to demystify Japanese food. Maybe you could even swap out the stodgy Chrissy roast for a fresh and vibrant Japanese spread.

I am cheating here a little. Gelato Messina is not a cultural cookbook but Ice Cream needs no excuses. The Sydney store Gelato Messina is known for it's over the top flavours like Apple Pie and Dulche de Leche and Poached Figs in Marsala. Gelato Messina, The Creative Department is bound to bring a smile on Christmas day and bring out the ice cream loving child in all of us.

Originally posted on Thursday, 22 October 2015 by

Monday, 19 October 2015

R2D2 Cake Step By Step Tutorial with Templates and Sound Module

This blog post originally appeared on my Stacked Cakes website. As I no longer make cakes for sale and the site is being shut down I thought I would move it over here. It also seemed very timely with the imminent release for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. Now you have a step by step guide to create a cake that will delight all the Star Wars Geeks out there.

Since the blogs original creation back in March 2012 I have seen so many re-creations of this cake all over the internet, it is great to see all those ambitious cakers taking on a big cake project. At the time I made this cake I could not find a single example of a free-standing R2D2 cake that did not have a support underneath the main body of the cake and it is exciting to see so many of these on the internet today. I feel my templates have gone some way in creating this design that so many people have loved and enjoyed which was always my main aim in sharing this type of instructional blog post. You will find the downloadable templates at the end of the post so make good use of those.

I have had a few people contact me asking for tips and tricks for this cake and my biggest tip would be that if you have far to transport this cake that I would recommend assembling it on site. As the cake is up on legs it is top heavy and I would not recommend driving any distance with it if you want it to arrive intact. I also wouldn't recommend this cake for beginners but I did originally make this cake with no instruction on heavily constructed cakes so don't feel you have to be an expert either.

The other big question I get asked is where I got the sound module from. We ordered these from Ebay, I couldn't tell you the original seller now, it has been many years. They are the sound modules that you get in greeting cards but you specifically want the ones you can record onto yourself. They are very cheap and quite small so a great little trick that you can add into so many cakes. I have known decorators to mount them under the cake board in an indented space so the recipient gets their own personalised birthday message with their cake.

I have also expanded on the descriptions that go with the photos, the more information I can give you the better position you will be in to get this cake built.

I know some people are purists and do not want to make cakes with any styrofoam in them. If you wish you can replace the styrofoam on the legs with cake, the ganache should hold it in place even though it is vertical. In my opinion it adds a lot of uncessessary weight to the finished cake which can make transportation even more difficult and in the end most people just don't need that much cake. It will be thrown out in the end so I recommend saving yourself the trouble and using styrofosm. Let's be honest, 95% of this cake is made from real cake and that should be enough for anyone.

So here is the original post, enjoy!

We finally got a request for an R2D2 cake.  We have enjoyed making our previous sci-fi themed cakes and were looking forward to making a Star Wars favorite.

We decided we wanted him to be able to stand up properly without a support under him. This necessitated making his legs and feet out of non-edible, structural materials (wood and polystyrene). His body and head is made entirely out of choc mud cake and icing.

R2D2 was the perfect opportunity to add a sound module to one of our cakes. These modules allow the cake to make any noise you can imagine with the push of a button. Music, sound effects, engine noises, talking, anything at all is possible. Please let us know if you want to add the special touch of sound to your next stacked cake.

You can watch a video demonstrating R2D2's sound module below, and keep reading for step by step photos of the construction of this mega cool cake. Templates are available for download if you want to have a go at building your own R2D2

Planning Stage

Templates we created and you can download below

Legs and base board cut from MDF with a jigsaw

Support assembly (interlocking)

Installation of sound module on underside of base board

Bottom taper attached

Underside of base covered in icing and details added
Feet carved from styrofoam

Styrofoam attached to legs and carved with details

Fondant icing added to the legs (use piping gel for adhesion)

Body of cake stacked and ganached. This is done on a separate board with centre pole then transferred to the real structure

Fondant added to body and details pressed into the icing

R2D2's body, head and stand nearly ready for assembly

Main structure assembled over centre pole and head added

Details being painted on with a mix of icing cut outs and edible paint
Battery pack and cables added, again carved from styrofoam
The finished cake

Originally posted on Monday, 19 October 2015 by

Monday, 12 October 2015

Guy Grossi: The Don of Italian Cooking

What happens when you take a foodie and send them to the shops for some ingredients for some simple home Italian cooking? They walk out with a $270 motorised pasta machine, a $60 potato ricer, new measuring cups and spoons and a box full of produce of course (plus a chest of drawers and a mirror but that is another story). This is what happened to me this weekend anyway and as I sit here looking at my goodies next to my flacid empty wallet and contemplate the amazing cooking that is about to happen I know that I did not waste a penny.

Italian cuisine as we know it today feels ancient, it feels like it has deep roots in the past but like so many things we hold dear in our imaginations, it is not. Italy as it exists today did not unite till the 19th century and new world ingredients that are so iconic to Italian cooking like tomatoes and potatoes did not enter the Italian repertoire till the late 18th century. It is hard to imagine Italian cooking without the use of the beloved tomato but you can take comfort in knowing that evidence of pasta making goes back as far as 400BC and the much told story of Marco Polo discovering pasta in China and bringing back to Europe is just a myth, phew.

Just as tastes and trends change today Italian food has been through many incarnations. The 4th century BC food writer Archestratus spoke of seasonal and fresh ingredients unadulterated by the heavy use of herbs and spice but the Romans were known for their decadent use of flavourings. Like many things it has come full circle and Italian food as we know if today is once again all about seasonal, fresh, simple food where the produce speaks louder than processes it is put through to turn it into a meal. And as the world grows ever smaller who knows where Italian cooking will go in the future.

To delve into a great cuisine you need a great master to take you there and for this journey the Australian chef Guy Grossi will be my don. Awarded the prestigious "L’insegna Del Ristorante Italiano" by the Italian President and brave enough to be photographed in his bathtub I knew I had the right man for the job. His book "Love Italy" has been meticulously compiled to cover the diversity found across many of the regions of Italy. Above all it is a love letter to a country that Guy clearly feels deeply connected to. Its stunning photography of both the food as well as Italy itself will give you a greater understanding of Italy, it's people and of course it's food. As a home cook this book need be the only book on Italian cooking you will need.

Despite my love of Italian food I have not personally cooked a lot of it. It is a meal I often reserve for a good restaurant as despite being a simple cuisine it also means there is no where to hide. It is time though to broaden my horizons. Working with two first generation Italians means my cooking cred is starting to slip, I need to up my game to be able to compete on their level, add some more skills to my kitty and eat some good food. Isn't that what this cooking this boils down to in the end, eating good food?

To get started I sat down with Guy's immense cookbook and trawled through it looking for a couple of classics to get started with on the weekend. Nothing too fancy just a few good dishes to learn the basics and how could I look any further than Gnocchi and Tortellini.

The first time I ate Gnocchi I was pretty sure the chef had taken balls of clag glue, bound it together with saw dust and served it up. Such an experience leaves you with a bit of a scar and I have never really gone back for more. This time was to be different though. Guy's recipe "Gnocchi Alla Fontina" was the key to light fluffy potato gnocchi and with a sauce as simple as cream, Fontina cheese and parsley the gnocchi is really the hero of the dish. Prior to cooking this dish I had never heard of Fontina and as it turns out this cheese that smells slightly like feet is a wonderful cheese for cooking. The cheese is produced in the Aosta Valley in the far north west region of Italy right up near the Swiss and French borders.  It's funky smell translates to a fantastically subtle sweet nutty flavour, the perfect accompaniment to potato gnocchi. You will see in my below photo that we served the Gnocchi with fresh baked bread, the recipe to which you will find in Dan Lepard's book Short and Sweet. A story for another time but if you need a beginners baking book or want to master bread check out Dan's books, they are written with normal humans, not chefs in mind.

Moving on to pasta 101 I decided Tortellini was a solid place to start. I have been an avid pasta eater for as long as my memory spans but have only attempted to make it myself once. That first time, after all the effort, without racks to dry it on it all stuck together and I had a mess on my hands. Time to redeem myself and I can tell you redemption was had.

"Tortellini di zucca con burro fuso e balsamico" turned out to be as epic as its name appears to be in Italian. Myself and Martin started cooking at 2pm and when all was done it was 7pm. It is not unusual for us to fall down the rabbit hole like that on a Sunday I just didn't expect it to to be with a pasta dish.

This recipe is a must cook and I can't stress enough that if you love to cook you must own this book. The pasta for the Tortellini turned out so much better than I could have hoped. We went with a 50/50 mix of durum wheat flour and "OO" flour (the recipe says to use one or the other so of course we used both) and it worked a treat. Once filled with the roasted pumpkin mashed with sautéed garlic, chilli, leek, sage, Parmesan and Gruyere the pasta was soft and pliable and was easily shaped into little pillows that reminded me of the Oysters in bonnets from Alice in Wonderland. Can you see the resemblance or have I lost it?

Once cooked and tossed in browned butter, a smidgen of parmesan and some sage this would have to be at the top of my all time favourite pasta dishes, and I made it myself which is even better.

And the icing on the cake was that with 12 eggs yolks required to make it we had copious amounts of egg whites left over to whip up a batch of meringues.  We did these with 50/50 light muscovado sugar and caster sugar which gave them a nutty, malty flavour. Yum.

I'll leave you with some of my photos of Italy to really get you in the mood to get in the kitchen and get elbows deep in one of the world's best cuisines.

Originally posted on Monday, 12 October 2015 by

Saturday, 3 October 2015

A Week of Cooking and Eating Malaysia

One phrase comes to mind when I think of the rich curries, hearty noodles and fragrant soups we made this week, comfort food. This food is a long way from the flaming hot curries of Thailand, the fresh herbs of Vietnam or the smack you in the face spicy Sri Lankan food we recently cooked up. This stands alone, a cuisine that takes all the glorious Asian flavours of Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaves, Coconut, Belachan, Tamarind, Galangal and old favourites like garlic and ginger and harmoniously blends them so not one taste alone assaults your senses, they are all equal. This harmonious meeting of flavours creates food that just makes you happy. It is like coming home to a warm bed on a frigid night or curling up in front of the warm fire, Malaysian food envelops you in warm comforting arms.

Our house has been immersed in Malaysian cuisine for an entire week. Cooking one cuisine night after night is a great way to really get to know a country and it's flavours and after a week of Malaysian cooking I feel so much closer to a culture I have not actually experienced first hand.

In choosing our menu for the week I had to be organised. There would be no popping into the supermarket mid week to pick up this or that because quite frankly the local supermarket does not stock a vast majority of the ingredients required for Malaysian cooking. This would mean a trip to China Town where obscure ingredients adorn the shelves and adventurous western cooks like me can only wonder at all the unusual jars, boxes, fruit and veg.

The diligent little planner and cook I am I sat down with all of my cookbooks that had a section on Malaysia. I went through each and every recipe to select a range of meals that would let us experience a wide range of techniques and tastes. There was one concession to authenticity I had to make. I understand Malaysian food is more often eaten in a shared banquet style with a number of dishes and sambals to choose from. With just the two of us in our household it was just not conducive to the budget to cook more than one dish per meal so we did eat in a more western style with one larger dish to share. Here was our weeks menu:

Billy Law's Laksa Lemak from Have You Eaten (below image)

Charmaine Soloman's Chicken Curry with Toasted Coconut from the Complete Asian Cookbook (below image)

Rita Zahara's Serunding Daging from the book Malay Heritage Cooking

Poh Ling Yeow's Cubic Char Kway Teow from the book Poh's Kitchen (below images)

A combined dish of Charmaine Soloman's Beef Satay Skewers and Billy Law's  Belachan Kankong from the above mentioned books

And lastly Beef Rendang from the new cookbook East by Leanne Kitchen & Antony Suvalko

The thought behind my choices was that I wanted to try my hand at some of my favourite Malaysian dishes like Char Kway Teow but I also wanted to try some dishes entirely foreign to me like the Serunding Daging.

Whilst utilising many of the same ingredients (which is convenient from a shopping perspective) each dish was very distinct and stood out in it's own right. There are things I would go back and change I felt the Laksa was a little heavy on Belachan (my fault not the recipe, I did not weigh that accurately and did not quite predict the consequences of that decision). The cubic noodles came out a little stodgy and I would re-do that recipe with store bought rice noodles and unfortunately we missed the last bunch of water spinach at the Asian Grocery store for the Belachan Kangkong so that recipe ended up on the chopping block (no pun intended).

Technique wise Malaysian cooking bought some new skills to my repertoire. It was my first attempt at home made noodles and whilst I was not entirely happy with the results it still gives me a grounding and a place to work from. The Char Kway Teow also gave me the experience of being a street stall vendor. The recipe advised to cook each serve individually to achieve the correct smoky flavour. So I divided all the ingredients into three piles and once that wok was going I was like a ninja. Ingredients were hitting that wok like nobody's business and I can tell you it was worth while. Each serve was hot, fresh and smoky. There was no time for anything to overcook or go soggy. It was a little tricky to sit down to a family meal when I was churning out individual serves but what the hell it was fun.

I think the photos of these dishes speak for themselves. Malaysian food is vibrant, packed full of flavour and has me all the more intrigued to Malaysia to try the real deal. I can highly recommend all books I used in the creation of these dishes and particularly loved working for the first time with Charmaine Solomans absolute classic from 1976. This chick is the original Asian cookery legend  you can still find many of her books in print today but if you can get your hands on an original then you will get the deluxe time travel experience to the days of burnt orange and brown crockery.

If you want some "straight from the horses mouth" recipes then you can't go past Poh or Billy both Australians with Malaysian heritage. Poh's cooking has a Nonya slant to it due to her roots and both offer a strong insight into the food and culture of Malaysia. Both books mentioned above are a mix of their Malaysian recipes and other cuisines which I think is a shame. They both have the knowledge to offer a stand alone Malaysian cookbook I don't think it should be watered down with a mish mash of recipes from all over the place.

Rita Zahara's book Malay Heritage Cooking I actually got for free at Singapore airport. Gotta love Singapore airlines for their free transit money...free money! This is the most comprehensive Malaysian cookbook you are likely to find and combines traditional recipes with photos and stories from the authors childhood.

East is a cookbook I have not yet invested in. I have access to it through my Cooked membership. If you are a keen home cook I can highly recommend joining Cooked for access to hundreds of new cookbooks for a flat yearly fee.

There are so many places you can source great Malasyian recipes, just get out there and get cooking. Here is a comprehensive collection on the SBS food website to get you started. You won't regret connecting with this exciting culture.
Originally posted on Saturday, 3 October 2015 by