Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Don't Screw With The Paella

"The first rule when it comes to making Paella is that you're not allowed to cook it unless you can pronounce it properly, it Pah-ey-uh"
Chef Miguel Maestre.

I have done a lot of reading this week. Seems I fell down the rabbit hole of the dish known as Paella and what I have learnt from all this study is there is one sure fire way to piss off a Spaniard and that is by messing with their Paella. Just ask Jamie Oliver who received a truck load of vitriol when we posted a "Paella" recipe on his website. His sin, the true crime he committed against all of Spain and most of all the people of the region of Valencia...he stirred the Paella. Oh and there was Chorizo in it. Two crimes apparently worthy of a lynching. This then lead to much research on my behalf and some heated discussion in our household. We veered from cultural appropriation, the hot catch phrase these days to authenticity to creative licence and where did that all lead....nowhere really. All I know is that if you don't want to piss off the Spanish then don't cook any old rice dish with any old ingredients and call it a Paella.

With such passionate beliefs on what is a true Paella and I knew I had to explore it more. It turns out the rice dish we all know and call Paella, you know the one smothered in a wide array of seafood isn't actually Paella at all. Spaniards would prefer this dish to be called an Arroz dish, the Spanish word for rice. The true Paella has very specific ingredients. There are three main proteins chicken, rabbit and snails. These are accompanied by beans both green and white as well as seasonings of Paprika, Saffron and Rosemary. When in season Artichokes can also be found in the Paella. It is all cooked up in the famously wide Paella pan, originally over coals but today more so over a gas flame. Bomba rice is recommended for best absorption without breaking down and a chicken stock is the liquid medium.

Seeing as the spirit of this blog is learning and cooking cuisines from around the world I didn't want to walk the fine line that is debated over Paella. Instead I have decided to bring you a recipe for the original, the Paella Valenciana. I have cooked this one over coals as cooking outside is a fun change from the kitchen now that it is warming up but this dish goes just as well on your gas burner. You are actually aiming for a slightly burnt and crusty bottom. The Spanish call this the Soccarrada and if you achieve this you can consider yourself a Paella master.


1/4 cup olive oil
tablespoon of salt
500 grams chicken thighs chopped into bite sized chunks
500 grams rabbit on the bone chopped into chunks
36 tinned or fresh snails. If using tinned rinse and boil in water for 3 minutes before adding to the Paella
200 grams flat green beans or green beans, if the beans are long chop into managable lengths
200 grams white beans, tinned, fresh or reconstituted dried beans
2 Artichokes trimmed to hearts and quartered.
2 tomatoes, grated flesh only, discard skins
3 teaspoons smoked Spanish Paprika
1 1/2 grams saffron threads, soaked in some of the stock to release colour
2 litres good quality chicken stock, I used homemade as it is so rich but you can use ready-made if preffered
400 grams Bomba rice, can substitute a short grain rice if Bomba or Calasparra cannot be found


Add the olive oil to the pan and heat over high flame.
Add the salt.
Add the chicken and cook till browned all over, you want some nice caramelisation.
Push the chicken to one side of the pan and add the rabbit. Again cook till browned all over.
Push the rabbit over with the chicken and add the green beans, white beans and artichokes. Cook for around 5 minutes.
Push beans and artichokes to the side of the pan with the meats and add the tomato pulp.
Cook tomato for 5 minutes then add the paprika cooking then together for 1 minute.
Stir all of the ingredients in the pan to combine and cover the base of the dish.
Pour in the chicken stock and soaked saffron. This should come close to the top of the pan.
Simmer for 30 minutes, topping up the liquid if it goes below the handles of the pan.
Add the snails stirring to distribute them evenly.
Add the rice to the dish but pouring in a swirling motion to evenly distribute through the liquid. You can give it a quick stir to even it out of required.
Cook for 20 minutes or until the rice is done and don't stir at all! The liquid should be at a steady simmer over a medium heat. The rice should be al dente when the heat is turned off.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Rest for a further 15 minutes before serving.
Serve by scooping out Paella whilst scraping the base to ensure the crunchy bits on the base of the pan are included in the serve.


Here are my step by step pictures to give you some further detail on the cooking process.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 23 November 2016 by

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Never Eat The Same Meal Twice

I once read an article by former New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser that really stuck in my mind. It was advice to aspiring food writers that they should never eat the same meal twice. I can't say I live and die by that information, there are just meals out there that you want to eat a thousand times (hello Vietnamese Pho). But her voice seems to enter my head regularly, reminding me to expand my horizons and not to get stuck in a rut and constantly cook and eat old favourites.

It is amazing how one simple idea can change your whole way of thinking. I have always been quite an adventurous cook. I was bought up to be adventurous with food, there was not a plate of meat and three veg in sight in our household. Some of my first food memories are mum's steaming fresh home-made chapatis and you wouldn't catch a vegetable on my dinner plate unless it was in mum's pungent Chinese stir fry sauce. There were no bottled sauces, everything was made from scratch and dad was just as accomplished as mum in the kitchen. I went for many years insisting on Thai Green Curry at least once a week and rice was my staple diet. It was an environment that fostered adventurous eating and despite a lull in my twenties where microwave alfredo was a go-to dinner item I have followed along the path of expanding my food horizons.

In my thirties this exploded. I think it was after my husband and I started experimenting with curries. It opened a whole new world of home cooking to the extreme where many hours if not days could be lost to a curry. Then with the considerable expansion of my cookbook collection which opened many more culinary doors I became a lost cause.

With Amanda in my ear I now march forward with experience in mind, Amanda also said in the same article "if you want to be knowledgeable about food you need to experience it yourself." Since then I have made sure I try out recipes that are not at face value "appealing". They may not be a ten out of ten dish but they are an experience. It is a worthy cause to try unfamiliar ingredients, cuisines and techniques. They can be one off attempts just to taste new flavours or they can lead you down a rabbit hole, possibly to wonderland. I recently made a Mexican pork stew. It had none of the upfront appeal of tacos or burritos, fresh herbs and spicy sauces. It wasn't sexy like tex-mex or fashionable like Korean-Mexican fusion. It was at it's core Mexican home cooking and that is a part of the beauty. It was unlike anything I had had before, it was earthy and honest and reminded me of a Mexican Mole sauce although this didn't have chocolate. It fitted with Amanda's ethos perfectly, it was traditional Mexican food but it was new to me. I have now added it to my food memory and expanded my knowledge of Mexican food beyond it's former confines.

Eating new things consistently makes you realise how you are limited by your experiences. You can impose a narrow view on yourself, one that you are completely in control of. It is as simple as trying something new and you can open doors and worlds and experiences that can change your perspective forever. Keep that in mind when you next go to cook your go-to dish, be it Bolognaise or Tacos, whatever it is just think of mixing it up, pull out a cookbook and give something new a go. Trust me, over time it will change your world.
Originally posted on Wednesday, 26 October 2016 by

Monday, 19 September 2016

All aboard the Yotam Ottolenghi Train, Better Late Than Never

The diversity and richness of Jerusalem, both in terms of it's cooks and their disparate backgrounds and the ingredients they use, make it fascinating to any outsider. But what makes it doubly exciting is the emotional and spiritual energy that this city is drenched in. When it comes to people's emotions it is hard to overstate how unique it is as a city.
Yotam Ottolenghi, Jerusalem

For a cookbook aficionado I have been quote neglectful, irresponsible one might say. There is one cookbook author who has been releasing best selling cookbooks for nearly a decade. His books are even cultural just the way I like them and yet I have been in recklessly nonchalant in my attitude towards them. I have skimmed past his books on the shelves hundreds of times without ever purchasing. It may be that they are so popular they are never ever discounted or it may be a bit of the tall poppy syndrome we are so well known for here in Australia. How good could his books really be?

Well I have begun to answer that question with the purchase of the 2012 cookbook Jerusalem and surprise surprise it is everything one could hope for in a cultural cookbook. It is personal in ways I have never seen in a cookbook. It takes you on a journey through the authors past and present using food as a window into a complex city that is impossible for outsiders to understand. It opens a door to a nation that you rarely see depicted in any other way than through it's struggles and unrest. It highlights shared connections with neighboring countries as well as shedding light on their differences. It is a raw and real insight that is so rare in these days of social media. The food in the book is intertwined with religion and political issues just as they are in reality and it is one of the most honest accounts you will read of life inside the city of Jerusalem.

The photography is just as honest as the recipes and stories. The images depict every day life in the city, people doing every day things, eating and cooking the food they eat and cook everyday. There are shots of supermarket shelves, people eating in restaurants with decaying walls, expansive outdoor markets, letterboxes, babies and their mothers, men socialising on the streets, set dinner tables, bakers, vendors and food food food. It is such a clever insight, it is life in the city minus the filters.

From a cooks perspective it is a book that is so usable you will want to cook everything from it. Nothing seems daunting or over wrought. Each recipe has an introduction that draws you into the story or history behind each dish. The ingredients are all readily available, which may be by design when written with the western cook in mind or it may be that the primary ingredients used in the middle east are common in the west. I suspect a little of both.

This book gives me the sense that Yotam and his co-author Sammi are savvy chefs. They have presented a selection of recipes that are a mix of traditional to the region as well as "inspired by" the flavours they grew up with. It is a blend of recipes that are approachable by the home cook, a set of recipes that will make you unsure which to start with as they all read in a manner that you know are achievable in your own kitchen. That is actually quite rare in a cookbook. Many times I sit down with a selection of books, skim through and start thinking, "oh I can't get that ingredient around here" or "that recipe is too complex or time consuming for a Sunday night dinner". It can be frustrating and I strongly believe much of that comes down to the presentation of a recipe. You need the intro to each section of the book as well as each recipe to demystify what it is your cooking and why. Yotam really takes you by the hand a walks you through the dishes, explaining each in detail to break down any barriers you may have to cooking the recipes.

There is a strong voice to this book that carriers through from page to page creating a cohesion that makes you feel at one with the author. Even the method's for each recipe impart that voice, as if Yotam is there in the kitchen showing you how to cook his dishes, what to look out for when cooking and even how to plate the dishes. It is quite remarkable that a person can have such a strong presence in written form.

As I cook recipes like 'Hummus Kawarma with Lemon Sauce' and 'Basmati and Wild Rice with Chickpeas, Currents and Herbs' it is an awakening. An awakening to a vibrant cuisine that takes everyday ingredients we have all used time and again and melds them into something new and exciting. The latter mentioned rice dish was unlike anything I had eaten taking fresh herbs like parsley, dill and coriander and mixing them through a blend of rices and currents and topped with crunchy fried onion.  I can see it going into my dinner party repertoire to be cooked many more times in the future.

Yotam's catalogue of cookbooks seems to be growing fast and if Jerusalem is anything to go on I am excited to try them all out in time.
Originally posted on Monday, 19 September 2016 by

Sunday, 14 August 2016

When One Chinese Door Closes....

The Royal Hotel Bungendore which once housed the best (and only) Chinese in town.

At least once a week, every week for the last five years myself and my husband have wandered through our back gate, into the local pub and had a meal at our local Chinese restaurant. If I am totally honest it was quite often twice a week and I am pretty sure there was at least one occasion we ate there 3 times in one week. It was by no stretch of the imagination award winning food but it was Australian country town Chinese that is a brand all of it's own. They had all the classics, Kung Pao Chicken, Mongolian Lamb, BBQ Pork and Plum Sauce, Honey Prawns, Combination Chow Mein. It was the standard menu you would expect from such a restaurant but they did it well and for the right price backed with good service. And lets's be honest it was located at the end of our yard so there was the convenience factor.

We aren't spoilt for choice out here in the country, options generally range from Chicken Schnitzel, to Hamburgers to an egg and bacon roll and we were lucky to have the only Asian food in town right at our back door.

I talk in past tense as the restaurant recently closed leaving me with an empty hole in my stomach that craves my weekly Chinese fix. Just two weeks on from it's closure and I am still in mourning.

To cheer myself up I decided to pull out my favourite Chinese cookbooks and whip up some Chinese flavours to fill that hole.

If you are looking for great Chinese cookbooks there are two chefs you cannot go past. Neil Perry and Kylie Kwong. I have reviewed Kylie Kwong's cookbook on the blog before and since then I have also been cooking from Neil Perry's Spice Temple. Together these two books have your Chinese cooking needs covered and they are a testament to how fantastic Australian published cookbooks are.

I was surprised when I found out that Neil Perry was a renowned Chinese chef. His daggy blond pony tail belies a secret passion for Chinese cooking especially leaning towards the punch of Szechuan cuisine. I personally can't go past a hot and numbing szechuan dish and I have harped on about it quite a bit here on the blog. Those peppercorns get me every time. Spice Temple is one of the few books that have made me desperately want to go to the restaurant it represents. which is quite a feat as I find most restaurant cookbooks too "cheffy". They write them for themselves and their cheffy friends forgetting that the home cook isn't cooking for 100 people or has 5 days to prep a multitude of elements. This book succeeds in that it is an ambassador for the restaurant as well as being practical for home cooks.

I went through both books from front to back twice before I finally settled on a Red Braised Pork Belly from Kylie and a Prawn Wonton with Spicy Szechuan sauce from Neil. I was yet to make wonton wrappers from scratch and having been itching to do so for some time and the pork dish would give me a chance to pull out the master stock I have been developing for a few years now. I also recently purchased some of the meatiest pork belly I have ever seen and have had it portioned up in the freezer waiting the perfect dish...that dish had now arrived.

Kylie never fails to impress with her braised meat dishes. The pork simmered away for three hours absorbing all of the flavours of that master stock and the final dish was so tender it just melted in your mouth.

Neils wontons also hit the mark and the spicy sauce reminded me of a favourite dish of mine from Din Tai Fung, a well known Taiwanese dumpling restaurant that has branched out to Australia. The homemade wonton skins were silky and had the texture much like home made pasta. Far superior than the ready made variety.

Both dishes had a great depth of flavour, layers of all the tastes that make Chinese food so great garlic, chilli, soy, chinkiang vinegar, ginger all balanced so they pop on the palate. The dishes certainly bought authentic tastes from China but they just didn't fill the hole quite as I expected.

Australian-ised Chinese is almost a cuisine of it's own. It's not particularly authentic, it's not particularly refined but it is familiar and safe and full of memories of growing up in rural Australia.

Who knows what the future holds though, there is a gap in the market in Bungendore if any Golden Dragons, Lotus's, Camellia's or Golden Stars need a new home....please.

Kylie Kwong and Neil Perry dishes together at the table. I should have made one more dish from Ken Hom maybe and then I could have named it the Holy Trinity. Missed Opportunity!

Originally posted on Sunday, 14 August 2016 by

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Wedding Cakes Galore

Now that I have officially been out of the cake decorating game for a little while and I have let my former website lapse I thought I would bring together some of my favourite cakes together in one place. All the cakes pictured here were personally made my myself under my business name Stacked Cakes. I will do a series of these to collate some of the work I did over about a five year time span. Wedding Cakes seem like a good place to start. I spent most weekends for many years driving these little beauties to venues all over Canberra.

And if you want more of my cakes you can see my Novelty Cake gallery here.

Sorry if you ever got caught behind me on a round about, cakes onboard!

Originally posted on Wednesday, 22 June 2016 by

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Curry Cookbook So Good I Bought It Twice

Do you have an absolute favourtie cookbook, one that you just keep going back to over and over again and every recipe seems to be a winner? A cookbook like that is essential to every cooks life and for me it is simply called "Curry". It doesn't have one single author which can be a recipe for disaster in the case of many cookbooks but in this case they have sourced experts in their fields to bring together Curry's from all over the world. David Thompson writes the section on Thai cooking,  Sri Owen in the Indonesian expert, Vivek Singh contributes to the Indian section. It is a high profile line up. And it makes sense, no one person is going to be an expert in Curry's from places as diverse as Pakistan, Vietnam, Singapore, The Caribbean Nations, India. It's just not possible. 

Old Meets New

Our 2006 edition is well worn, it's pages splattered with remnants of Curry and we have rated recipes out of ten so we know which ones to go back to (if it scored less than an eight we probably won't be cooking it again, harsh but there are too many great recipes out there to cook average food). My all time favourtite Curry comes from this book it is called Kachhi Mirch Ka Gosht which translates to Lamb Shoulder with Green Chillis, Mint and Yoghurt. It comes from a region of India in the north called Lucknow and the depth of flavour and the perfect balance of spices never grows old with me. This recipe alone makes the purchase to the book worthwhile.

So when I heard that they were releasing a new edition, ten years on from the original I was curious. Did I need a second copy? Turns out that the answer is yes, yes I do. The new version now has a purple cover, isn't that reason enough to buy it? But aside from that it has had a complete overhaul. The presentation has been modernised to fit with the look of a modern cookbook. It is a larger book with matt paper pages instead of the old gloss version. The photography has been updated and is totally drool worthy and there are twenty new recipes. That is twenty all new curry's you should not live without. It also has all new instructional pages with how to pictures, a format that is becoming more popular in cookbooks and I am sure has started because of the layout of blog posts.

Pakistani Lamb and Potato Curry

The release of this new version makes me feel like my favourite child graduated college. It's all grown up and dressed for success.

If you happen to own this book or go out to buy it some must cook recipes are:

Mutter Pulao (Green Peas Pilau)
A simple recipe that packs a surprising amount of flavour. Go to the effort to either make or buy the ghee, it really adds a lot to the taste of the dish.

Cambodian Saraman (Cardamom and Ginger Beef Curry with Peanuts)
This recipes is another ten out of ten for us. It is super rich and meaty.

Nalli Gosht (Slow Braised Lamb Shank in Saffron Sauce)
This is another recipe from the Lucknow and Awadh area of India, seems to me that I could have a possible love affair with this part of India. Who doesn't love slow cooked lamb shanks where the meat is so tender it falls away from the bones.

Udang Asam Pedas (Hot and Sour Prawn Curry)
An Indonesia Curry made sour with tamarind water, something we now keep on hand in little frozen blocks waiting a dish like this.

Cambodian Beef Saraman

Originally posted on Sunday, 19 June 2016 by

Saturday, 4 June 2016

"And That's What BBQ Does"

People are at their best when they realise they really are connected and that's what BBQ does.
Ed Mitchell,
North Carolina Pit Master.
Photo courtesy of vxla from Chicago, US (Brushing Meats with BBQ Sauce) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ever since I started cooking world food I have pondered why. Why does it interest me, what does it teach me and does it need to teach me anything except the simple art of cooking and enjoying food?

 My first thoughts tended to lean towards the academic aspect of food and had me thinking it was all quite cerebral, worthy of study and writings in text books. I thought maybe it could teach me about world economies, ancient trade routes, ingredients and their roots. But as I delved into this side of the subject it dawned on me that it had little interest to me. I didn't need to know the ancient spice routes that bought me these cinnamon sticks and to tell the truth the history of the tomato is really quite boring.

I had to go back to the drawing board. What is it about cooking and eating cuisines from around the world that has me so captivated? I thought of my travels, of the memories food conjures up and how it can link you to a moment in time. Whilst that is a part of it I knew it wasn't quite the whole story. Over time the more I cooked, the more techniques I gained, the more flavours I tasted and the more cultures I experienced I realised it is all about one simple thing and nothing more for me. It is all about a shared experience that forms a connection.

It may sound simple and I guess it is simple, connection. Think about it for a while, what are we all looking for in this world even if we don't know it or may even want to deny it, we all want a connection, to belong, to share in something larger than ourselves. Why do we humans form clubs, teams, religions and gangs... we all want to belong. From the Kibbutz to the KKK club house there is one simple tie that binds the human experience in all forms and and that is a shared connection.

When this thought first entered my mind I could feel my whole being pushing back against it. I struggled with it all being such a basic concept, it needed to be deeper. There had to be more to it that just a connection but over time as the concept sunk in, seeping from my brain down through my veins, carried by my vessels around my body and eventually settling in my tummy I knew I was right. This was it and here is how my thought finally formed.

If I eat something you eat, if I cook something you cook then there is a bond.

So simple.

You like Yakatori, I like Yakatori we share a bond. You like Haggis and I hate Haggis then we have a different kind of bond but still a shared bond in the experience of Haggis. You eat Pho for breakfast, I eat Pho for breakfast, we can be friends. You roll out little tortellini's like your mum taught you, you show me how to roll out little tortellini's like your mum taught you and we are like sisters.

The food becomes a bridge, one on which we can both meet in the middle, some common ground despite wildly different cultures, pasts and futures.

I had been ruminating on this for sometime when it all was encapsulated in one sentence for me. Whilst watching the new netflix doco based on the book "Cooked" by Michael Pollan, Ed Mitchell a North Carolina pitmaster told a story from his childhood about blacks and whites coming together at the dinner table during the tobacco harvest for BBQ. Not just any BBQ but whole slow cooked pig. He went on to say that "people are at their best when they realise they really are connected". That one sentence summed up all my thoughts. It really is that simple. If people can share in something they can find a connection and with that connection we can make some sense of the world in which we live. Make it seem less scary, shine a light into those corners that have previously gone unseen.

The more I think about this link the more relevant I see it is right now. As the circus of the American presidential primaries takes place and I watch potential leaders of the worlds most powerful nation spew hate speech like it is back in fashion I know that finding some common ground can only do good. I'm not expecting world peace, life isn't a Miss America Pageant but maybe a little less reckless rhetoric and a little more Kofta with a side of Fatoush would help stabilise the man behind the toupee.

I am willing to follow the lead of Pit Master Mitchell, I mean if a BBQ pig bought together two races as at odds with each other as blacks and whites were in 1950's America then surely we stand a chance today.

Originally posted on Saturday, 4 June 2016 by

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Happy Masterchef Eve

Happy Masterchef Eve Y'all!

Now I am not one to spout lyrical about a television program, particularly a reality style tv program but seriously, Australian Masterchef is worth getting excited over. For serious cooks this is the Super Bowl, the tv event of the year not to be missed. The show has been stripped back and rid of all the gimmicks and bullshit that so many reality style cooking shows get bogged down in, this is not a game show this is the cooking Olympics.

The show has always been good but since moving the show to Melbourne a few seasons ago and with a renewed focus on beautiful produce, strong cooking technique and fostering the education of passionate home cooks the show is now great. As if that isn't enough to float any foodies boat there is the added entertainment provided by the hosts, what colourful cravat or crazy pants will the enormous Matt Preston be wearing each night. How many spicy dishes will it take to turn George Calombaris's head into a fountain that needs regular mopping and how many slabs of butter will one plate of food require to get Gary Mehigan rubbing his portly belly and licking his lips like a five year old about to receive a lollypop.

I have pondered of late that maybe one day I would like to compete on Masterchef. I was recently pursued by the Great Australian Bake Off but with work commitments and the lack of any prize as a drawcard it was just not going to happen this year. After reading the contract for the Great Australian Bake Off I also realised that once you have been on a show like that your arse is theirs for ten years. You cannot appear on other shows or pursue any media opportunities without the channels permission for a whole decade. That is a big commitment and at the end of the day although I was once a cake decorator I am interested in expanding my horizons to envelop all culinary fields.

This years masterchef has touted itself as the most intense apprenticeship program in the world. I know it is media spiel but as you watch the contestants progress from good cooks to outstanding cooks over a 6 month period it is clear that there is a strong focus on learning and growing and that is what I am interested in. It would be a life experience that few people get to have and for many past contestants, like my cooking hero Poh Ling Yeow who went on to host her own SBS food program, it opens many doors.

There are a few issues with auditioning for a show like Masterchef. The first is that the calibre of contestants they get these days is high. It isn't unusual to see audition dishes that I would be happy to pay for at a high end restaurant, delicate parcels of ravioli floating in crystal clear consomme's and rich desserts with complex techniques. Although I am an adventurous cook a lot of the techniques are out of my current league but that is not to say if I practiced and developed my skills further I couldn't get to that level. The next issue is that the style of cooking on Masterchef is very "cheffy". I use to be ashamed that I thought "cheffy" food with it's artistic plate smears a little wanky. But then I heard Rick Stein commenting that he finds "cheffy" food pretentious as well and I suddenly felt vindicated. Rick is a chef and cookbook author of the highest standard and if he doesn't see the need for food to look like a pretty little garden on the plate complete with edible flowers and chocolate dirt then that really is a valid point of view from a lover of cooking. Rick is a man of my heart with his love for hearty peasant style food that is packed full of flavour but I just don't think that type of cooking will pass muster on Masterchef where trends are set and world class chefs pop in for a cuppa. It becomes a little like an ice skating competition where artistic expression is as important as technique.

For me the be all and end all is taste. I want food that makes your eyes roll back in your head in ecstasy but when presented on a visual format like television that isn't going to be enough. The famous saying repeated time and again on Masterchef is that you eat with your eyes. Quite frankly I eat with my mouth so that could be an issue.

I now await the first episode to air with anticipation as I will be coming at this season of Masterchef with a new perspective. One of eager observation and critical analysis with the overarching idea...could I do that?

Originally posted on Saturday, 30 April 2016 by

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Secret Life Of The Japanese Appetite

Gyunyu Purin (milk pudding)

I can remember a time when I didn't eat sushi. Early 20's, so naive. When you think back on your former self it can be a surprise to realise that you haven't always been the way you are in the present. At that point in my life I hadn't eaten a prawn, I wouldn't go near an oyster and I thought all sushi involved raw seafood so I kept it at an arms length. Yes folks I was as far from a foodie as you can imagine.

Just as surely as the primordial blob evolved into humanity I too evolved. Sushi is a standard on my lunch menu despite bemoaning the dearth of the really good variety and just to ensure my former self is truly gone forever my absolute favourite is the raw seafood variety.

Till recently sushi was as far as my knowledge of Japanese cooking extended. Beyond that I was intimidated. It appeared to be so steeped in tradition and history not to mention technique that I thought there was no way I would be able to cook authentic Japanese food at home.

Enter Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murato. From the get go Maori informed me I was all wrong about Japanese food. Yes there are sushi masters who train a lifetime to master their technique but Japanese food is so much more diverse and making it at home can be simple. Maori's words gently took my hand and guided me the full way through Japanese food, the food he grew up with and the food the Japanese population are eating on a daily basis.

He starts where all good books start and that is with the essentials like correctly preparing rice in the Japanese style which surprisingly involves a number of rinsing and resting steps. He takes you through making a dashi broth, an integral part of many Japanese dishes. This is where you get your first introduction to cooking with seaweed and katsuobushi (dried fish flakes). You will also be stepped through all the different variety's of miso and their uses. You will learn to pickle vegetables which are the perfect accompaniment to a Japanese meal. You then have a master class in the noodles like the Yakisoba we whipped up with Maori's help adorned with rich fatty pork belly and topped with a fried egg, as well as noodle soups soups such as Ramen that are so popular in America at the moment. You will learn to assemble a Bento Box which is the Japanese version of a lunch box. We ventured into the fried food territory with Tonkatsu (fried crumbed pork) that you would think would be more at home in a German pub than on Japanese dinner tables but when served as a Katsudon which is basically a fried pork omelette on a bed of rice you are in a Japanese world all of your own. Of course the book holds a touch of sashimi because where would Japanese food be without it's raw seafood and you will play around with Japanese desserts. We indulged in the velvety smooth Gyunyu Purin (milk puddings) which we topped with a black sugar sauce. Maori does all this through his recipes as well a taking you on a visual journey. There are step by step how to style pictures as well as photography that takes you behind the doors of Japanese homes and restaurants. It is about as un-intimidating as you could hope for when taking your first steps into the world of Japanese cooking.


Of course my journey to understanding Japanese cuisine never ends with one cookbook. Zenbu Zen by fellow Aussie Jane Lawson first presents itself as a tranquil drift down a calm river. It's pictures of sunlight on autumn leaves and frozen ponds will lead you to believe you are entering the more austere side of the Japanese culture when in reality you are actually being drawn into Janes story of a gaijin (foreigner) loose in Kyoto. This book is actually a hybrid, part cookbook part memoir Jane leads you through her memories of Kyoto through a series of tales interspersed with recipes.

Jane bought Oyakodon to our dinner table. Like many Japanese dishes this recipe starts with a dashi, in this case a Tori Dashi which is essentially a chicken stock with the additional of the ever ubiquitous seaweed. Wanting to get the flavours right we hunted down Kombu for this dish, no mean feat seeing as it is illegal to import into Australia. Once found we were not disappointed in how foreign this ingredient is to the westerner. Opening the packet of dried papery seaweed it soon became apparent that it was not just seaweed we had here, with it came a considerable amount of sand and possibly some sea life of the crustacean variety, no wonder the lady in the Asian supermarket warned us about rinsing it off before using it. Once re hydrated the Kombu became thick and leathery and I am certain if we had not found this elusive ingredient at the shops we could have just gone to the beach to collect the seaweed washed up on shore. Making the dashi turned out to be the time consuming portion of this recipe, once done it was a matter of simmering some dashi with onions, adding some diced chicken and finally pouring in some beaten eggs to form a loose omelette. Served on rice the flavours were subtle but topped with a little Shichimi (Japanese 7 spice powder) it was a tasty dish, so much so it became my lunch for the next three days.

The more Japanese food we cooked the more I wanted to experience. We ended up hunting down local Japanese restaurants to seek out more complex dishes that we had not had time to cook in our own kitchen. The restaurant Mr Shabu Shabu located in the City West region of Canberra has become a fast favourite and I have already been back a number of times to indulge in their cook your own hot pot's called...Shabu Shabu. These guys do a mini single serving Shabu Shabu where each person is presented with a bubbling broth on top of a small burner and a selection of ingredients such as mushrooms, beef, pork, and noodles to pop into your broth and cook to your own liking. The broth itself was clearly in the vein of what we had been making at home, a seaweed infused clear stock but this was more complex with a sweetness and depth that suited it being eaten as a soup. This is the type of dish that is best eaten out, with good company and an insatiable appetites.

With Shabu Shabu bringing the joys of cooking your own food at the table we decided to host a tempura party for two at our very own dining table. The perfect host to guide us through the techniques of this slightly kitsch dinner was Charmaine Solomon. Her timeless book The Complete Asian Cookbook is the perfect reference point for everything Asian and she didn't disappoint with her Tempura. The light airy tempura batter when eaten straight from the fryer at the table is a crunchy delight and is ideal for all manner of seafood and vegetables. With a simple bowl of Shoyu (light Japanese soy sauce) as an accompaniment the produce is given space to really shine.

Tempura party

Every cultural food immersion comes with surprises, unexpected twists and turns and the food of Japan has been no exception. The images most easily conjured to mind of expertly cut slivers of fish and tiny serves of daintily rolled sushi are only a very small part of the Japanese cuisine. The Japanese have somehow hidden from the world that they want to hunker down on a big piece of fried pork or slurp up a massive bowl of noodle soup, they have kept hidden their appetites for big serves, greasy fry up's and sweet as sweet desserts and it turns out they are just like the rest of us. Now go get cooking and see for yourself.

Originally posted on Sunday, 17 April 2016 by

Friday, 19 February 2016

Nordic Cooking With Magnus Nilsson

The top of my recent Christmas wishlist was of course a cookbook. Not just any cookbook but what I would now consider the Britannica of Nordic cooking. It is the only Nordic cookbook you will ever need because it pretty much covers all that could possibly be out there to know on the subject. If you, like my husband, want to give a gift that will not only impress but intimidate then this is the one. When wrapped and hidden in gift paper your loved one, yet to receive their gift, will assume you have wrapped up a besser block for them and be none the wiser that this besser block is actually the 768 page, aptly titled The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson in disguise.

Saveur magazine listed it amongst the best cookbooks of 2015 and if size weighs in on this judgement I am surprised it wasn't THE best cookbook of 2015. But don't let size be your only measurement when it comes to the quality of this cookbook. Crack it open and take a look at what I can only describe as a work of pure obsession. The opening chapter by the author sheds light on the process to bring this book to life and it must be madness. Prior to the research and writing phase of the cookbook itself Magnus sets out to see what else the cookbook market has to offer on the buying all four hundred books about Nordic cooking available on Amazon. Now I don't want to be trivial and immature here but WTF. Firstly who knew there could possibly be four hundred titles on Nordic cooking in existance and what type of person would be possessed to buy them all? Not only buy them all but read them all. And you know what his summary of this cookbook extravaganza was... that almost all four hundred titles on Nordic cooking available on Amazon are crap. Yep you heard it, total crap.

What is a man, not only a man but one of the worlds great chefs to do when presented with the chance to publish yet another Nordic cookbook that could well be number four hundred and one crap Nordic cookbook available on Amazon. Well I guess he decides to nail it, to blow all the others out of the water, to intensely research every aspect of the topic from a culinary and historic perspective and to print the best goddamn book on Nordic cooking the world will ever likely to see, so that is quite simply what he did.

I will be totally upfront with you here. There is some weird shit in this cookbook. Fermented fish, stuffed Puffins, Boiled Seal Intestines with Blubber and Crowberries and how about a little Braised Pilot Whale. Let me just say that again for effect Braised Pilot Whale. I am sorry but I need to say it again WTF? I am not shitting you when I tell you there is a photograph in this book of a group of men, standing knee deep in the ocean that is crimson with the blood of pilot whales, their lifeless carcasses wallowing in waves of their own life source. A part of me wants to be outraged by that photo but as a meat eater I know I have no right to be. As meat eaters in any form we must accept that we kill to eat, the act of eating causes pleasure and therefore we are taking some form of pleasure in taking the life of a living creature for our own consumption. We also need to understand that not all countries consume the same animals as us and that it may offend our sensibilities to see whales being slaughtered and photographed for a cookbook but that very act has deep roots in the history of food and hunting for food in the Nordic region.

That history that is encased within these pages is quite astounding. The food is so diverse yet so linked to the land and nature and what they have to offer us humans for sustenance. There seems to be no lengths the Nordic people won't go to for a feed. Hanging off the side of a cliff to nab a birds eggs right from it's nest in the very place it nested to keep it's young from harm, yeah sure. Rounding up whales to the slaughter, why not? Mastering the art of fishing and foraging amid the ancient woodlands and within the hundreds of thousands of inland lakes that cover this region, of course. Magnus paints a picture of a rugged land and even more rugged people. And whilst many of those people may not still associate with scaling cliffs to scrounge for birds eggs they still hold their recipes that are steeped in that history close to their hearts.

In the two years Magnus spent travelling and researching he found common culinary links that tie the nations in the region together. The people of Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands don't associate themselves as the all-encompassing title "Nordic", they associate with each individual countries national identity but Magnus wanted to present their shared history to highlight what all the nations have in common as well as those unique aspects that set them apart. He compiled over 11 000 articles including recipes, interviews, notes scribbled on napkins, newspaper cutouts, poll data and email conversations. On top of that he had over 8000 photographs. Just imagine the dedication it would take to first compile all of that and then meticulously sift through it all to weed out the important information. In doing this work I am convinced there will never be a need for another Nordic cookbook. There is no stone un-turned in Magnus's obsessive quest for the definitive book on Nordic cooking both past and present.

Getting to the practical side of things if you are like me you won't be able to go down to the supermarket and pick up a puffin to stuff and there won't be any whale meat at your local butchers. Magnus is well aware that not all the recipes are achievable by the average home cook and before you gripe about it he does warn you at the beginning that these recipes are there to complete the picture of the food of the region, not for you to go foraging on the sides of cliffs or wading in pools of blood in search of ingredients. The large majority of the recipes are more practical like roast duck with prunes and apples, now doesn't that sound more appealing. Or how about some lovely homemade almond biscuits with your next cuppa, I think we can all deal with that. I also love the illustrations that hark back to cookbooks of another era. This simple imagery alongside the stunning doubled paged landscape photography found all throughout this book and all taken by Magnus himself makes for one of the most unique cookbooks I have bought in sometime, which is no mean feat as I buy a lot of cookbooks.

Originally posted on Friday, 19 February 2016 by

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Why Cake Decorators Should Pursue Their Own Aesthetic

When it comes to cake decorating as a creative pursuit the actual design and having free reign over the cake design is one of the most creatively satisfying processes of the job, yet as a cake decorator I found one of the toughest aspects of the job was getting clients or potential clients to see your vision for their cake.

When given free reign I felt I produced my best work. Having no guidelines or a basic colour scheme to work with the process of designing and decorating took on a life of it's own. As the cake comes together it almost speaks to you. The design you started with morphs into something new and usually, hopefully something better. The cakes I have had the greatest feedback from and response online have been purely my own design. Often they are cakes I made for myself like my 30th Birthday Cake that was selected by CosmoBride to appear in their Spring weddings special. That cake was entirely my own vision. I didn't source that look from elsewhere, the solid bright colours were something I hadn't had a chance to work with in my work for clients. It felt bold and fun and I was amazed when it paid off and I got that phone call from Cosmo and was beyond proud when I saw it in print.

The  problem is your vision is just that.... your vision, not your clients. It exists in your head and is bound by your aesthetic. To present that vision as a description or a sketch it loses something in the process. It was near impossible at times to convince brides and grooms to be that you could create a unique, stand out piece for their wedding. I often found clients were more comfortable choosing an image off the internet that is in line with their aesthetic and simply getting a quote on that pre-designed cake. In doing so they are simply looking for a cake decorator with the technical ability to build someone else's design and not an artistic interpretation of their needs.

There are a number of problems with this. Firstly your clients don't get an original cake, you find that some cake designs get re-hashed over and over. You see them in different colour schemes all over the place and it is dull dull dull. The second problem is there is no room for creative licence. If a client has paid for a set design that is what they want. As the cake is formed it doesn't have the freedom to be anything special, to take on those unique flairs that are the true skill of a good decorator. At times I have called clients with changes I would like to make and often that was met with interest but at times that was all too hard. The client wants a replica of the design they had already found, no matter how dull. The final problem from the decorators perspective is that you can never form your own style and that is the greatest loss of all.

If you aren't sure what I mean by your own style or aesthetic I would recommend taking a look at the work of Ron Ben Israel. His abundance of finely hand crafted flowers, fine details and pure elegance are unique to him. I can spot a Ron Ben Israel cake a mile off. Every cake is his vision entirely and I would love to know how he doesn't compromise that vision in the face of clients wanting reproductions of the work of others. However he does it he has created his own brand. Every cake screams him and what he is about, there is no mistaking his work, his aesthetic precedes him.

Ron Ben Israel is the best example of why all cake decorators should doggedly pursue your own vision. Your work becomes your brand, you will become known for the work you produce and the clients will follow. Not only that but you will be fulfilled in only producing work that excites you, that speaks to you and about you. At the end of the day we all got into the game for the creative pursuit. I don't know a single decorator who got into the game for the great wads of money because it just isn't there. So if we are all pursuing a creative vision and satisfaction why not do it your own way. Do better than I did, work endlessly at your aesthetic, make your clients see you aren't merely a robot there to produce the work of others, create what you love and love doing it.

Here are some of the cakes I am most proud of. They are times I have been given creative freedom by the clients or they have been cakes for family where they have trusted me to do my own thing:

This is my personal birthday cake that made it into Cosmo Bride Magazine. Seeing your own work in print is the most rewarding thing

Some of my first wedding cakes. The back cake I created as my first display cake to show off my work and the front cake I was given the brief to create a Bird Cage. That was a challenge and I didn't want it to be heavy with clunky black bars. the client trusted my vision of the white on white.

Another of my first display cakes, I loved this cake as it was all my own vision and it was so popular for weddings. I must have made different versions of this cake a dozen times.

My first online viral hit, the Dalek. 100% my own design which involved a fair bit of structural work, he stood 2 feet tall. This was blogged about around the world in many languages and I saw the awesome power of the internet,

The brief: Make a mountain with dad riding down it in the Tour De France. Okay. 

The brief: Stacked suitcases. the client trusted me to design this cake and do my own thing with the vintage travel stickers. So satisfying.

My first uber Sci- Fi Cake. The brief: A Stargate cake with Teal'c on it. Luckily my hubby is a Stargate fan and made this replica of the gate to exacting precision piping on all the tiny gate details to match the real thing.  This was my first chance to cut loose with the metallic airbrushing, the client was beyond thrilled with the results.

The clients let me get totally carried away with this one. This is the cake where I learnt that exceeding expectations makes for some very happy clients. Making the sorting hat and designing the mystical books of Harry Potter was very creatively satisfying.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 17 February 2016 by