I bless the rains down in Africa

Zebra

Alastair and I are going on a belated honeymoon tomorrow. If we’re lucky we might catch a glimpse of some zebras, giraffes, elephants or maybe some lions!

No, we’re not going to Werribee Zoo… Tomorrow, we fly out to Capetown, and we’ll be spending 4 weeks in Southern Africa – Capetown, Namibia, Botswana, Victoria Falls (on the Zambia side), the Kruger and leaving from Johannesburg. On the way home we’ll be spending a couple of nights in Singapore.

Yes, I’m very excited. :)

Giraffes

I’m not sure if there’ll be many good meals eaten while we’re in Africa, but I fully intend to eat my weight in food while we’re in Singapore. Too bad we’re only there for two nights – there’s only so many meals I can eat in that time (but I will do my best).

Hope you all have some good eating in the meantime, and I’ll update when we return in 4 & 1/2 weeks!

Capsciums stuffed with bulghur

Capscium

We’ve been eating a lot of vegetables and salads in the last couple of days. I’m stocking up on fresh stuff because I have a feeling that we’ll be eating a lot of pasta and rice while we’re away.

Capsciums stuffed with bulghur

Serves 4

1 cup bulghur
1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 cups water
1 small onion
2 carrots, peeled
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Salt and pepper
8 small red capsciums

Preheat the oven to 180 degree C.

Rinse the bulghur, then place into a pot with the vegetable stock power (the bulghur will expand, so use a good sized pot). Crush the garlic cloves with the flat of your knife and add it with the water to the bulghur.

Cover with a lid and bring to the boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer until all the liquid has been soaked up. Turn off the heat, take the lid off and cover the top of the pot with a clean tea towel. Place the lid on top of the tea towel and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Finely dice the onion and carrots. Heat up a frying pan on medium heat and add a touch of oil. Saute the onion and carrots on a gentle heat – I let them cook until the bulghur was ready.

Cut the tops off the capsciums, and deseed. Add the pine nuts and bulghur to the frying pan and stir to combine with the carrots and onions. Season with salt and pepper.

Put the capsciums into a baking tray, and spoon the bulghur mixture into them. Put the capscium tops back on and cover with foil. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, then take the foil off and bake for another 10 minutes or until the capsciums are soft.

Serve with the remaining bulghur (there should be quite a bit remaining!) and a crunchy salad.

Caffe Panette

Pannette coffee

If you’re in the South Melbourne vicinity, stock up on some fruit and vege at the market, then head across the road to Caffe Panette to replenish your energy. The coffee is good, and there is one dish in particular that blows my socks off.

We were in the area last weekend as I had a voucher to spend at the Coventry Street Bookshop. The voucher was a farewell gift from work and naturally I bought cookbooks! I was terribly indecisive, flicking through most of the cook books there while the Boys waited patiently. We were all starving by the time I decided and headed to Panette for some lunch.

Panette gnocchi

The Boys had the homemade gnocchi bologna veal and pork sauce with red wine, tomatoes and fresh herbs ($15.90 for the main size). This is what I tend to eat when I go to Panette. And seriously – it’s the best gnocchi (the Boys agree). The gnocchi is light, delicate and fluffy plus the bolognaise sauce is rich and meaty. God, I could rave about it for ages. I didn’t order it on this occasion but I kept stealing pieces from Alastair’s plate. I should’ve just ordered my own, really.

Panette chicken salad

Instead I had the white chicken salad with poached and sliced chicken breast with saffron kipfler potatoes, taragon mayonaise and salad greens ($14.90 for the main size). The potatoes were hidden under the salad greens, and as you can see there was no skimping with the chicken! This was a good salad – a little bit too much mayo for my liking, (and it wasn’t the gnocchi) but I soldiered on and enjoyed it anyway. :p

If you order lunch, they bring you bread and butter, which is a nice touch. Service can seem a tad abrupt during busy market days, but one bite of that gnocchi and any minor quibbles are forgotten.

Caffe Panette
144 Cecil St, South Melbourne 3205 VIC
Phone: (03) 9690 2803

Caffe Panette on Urbanspoon

Coconut pancakes with bananas in palm sugar syrup

Coconut pancakes with bananas in palm sugar syrup

I asked Alastair what he wanted for brunch on Sunday. I had two possible dishes in mind, one involving baked eggs and the other pancakes. I gave him an option of savoury or sweet.

He choose sweet – pancakes it was!

Coconut pancakes with bananas in palm sugar syrup

Coconut pancakes with bananas in palm sugar syrup

Adapted from a couple of recipes seen on internets

Makes 6 medium-small pancakes (enough for 2 people)

For the pancakes

135g flour
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons caster sugar
4 tablespoons shredded coconut
130ml milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter

For the bananas

70 grams palm sugar
50 ml water
2 medium bananas, peeled and sliced

Mix together the flour, salt, sugar and coconut. Whisk in the milk, egg and melted butter until it all comes together.

Heat a frying pan on medium heat, melt some butter or a touch of oil. Add 1/4 cup of batter. When you start to see bubbles appearing on the surface, flip the pancake over and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Make the rest of the pancakes and keep warm.

Heat the water in a small saucepan and melt the palm sugar (you may want to grate it so it melts more quickly). Simmer until it’s darkened and thick, add the sliced bananas and gently toss through the syrup. Serve with the pancakes.

Three colour salad

Three colour salad

Today has been a great day.

I’ve finished up at my old job and didn’t have to go to work. I got to sleep in this morning!

And, I had lunch with a good friend that I haven’t seen in ages.

And, the weather was gorgeous! As soon as I stepped outside and felt that warm air, I felt a twinge of glee.

PLUS, last night we had this beautiful salad. How can you not feel good after eating something so colourful and vibrant?

Three colour salad

2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
400g broad beans, podded
1 bunch of asparagus
Lettuce
Red cabbage
salt and pepper

Parboil the potatoes and garlic in salted water until just cooked.

Blanch the broad beans in lightly salted water for a couple of minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and refresh under cold water. Peel off the thick skin.

Slice the asparagus into 3cm slices. Cook in the salted water for a couple of minutes and remove with a slotted spoon.

Slice up some lettuce and red cabbage (maybe a couple of leaves per person) and wash well. Spin in a salad spinner or dry well, then toss through the potatoes, broad beans, and asparagus with your choice of dressing (I used a bit of whole egg mayo and a dash of extra virgin olive oil). Season well with salt and pepper.

Baba House (closed) : Hainanese chicken rice and more

My parents used to work a lot – they would regularly work 12+ hour days. The exception to these long days was Sunday, when the shop didn’t open until 3-4pm (depending on how my dad felt). On Sundays we usually went out as a family for lunch.

It was during these Sunday lunches that my Bro and I were introduced to Hainanese chicken rice – white chicken served with rice that has been cooked in chicken stock. We always had it from a stall at Wakefield Market foodcourt (in Wellington). The rice from this small stall was heavily impregnated with the flavour of chicken – it was very oily and fatty. Eaten with the silky cold chicken, it was a real treat, but fortunately for our arteries we only ate it occasionally!

Hainanese Chicken rice

This version from Baba House ($8.50) was not as oily or fatty as the dish I remember from Wakefield Market but still tasty. The only downside was the MSG thirst that persisted for several hours!

Baba House is our “outside kitchen” – that is, when I can’t be bothered cooking, Alastair heads there to pick up dinner.

Char Kway Teow

I’m always on the look out for a good char/fried kway teow as it’s on my (rather long) list of favourite things to eat. Baba House do an acceptable version ($9.20) with well seasoned wok fried flat rice noodles, prawns, fish cake, dried mussels, calamari, egg, crunchy bean sprouts and a hint of chilli. Personally, I like more chilli and would love that hint of chilli to be upped, but that’s a personal preference.

I should also say that the last time I had this from Baba House it gave me an MSG thirst like the chicken rice did. It seems that only recently there has been an excess MSG problem. I’ll have to remember to ask for no MSG for future visits.

(By the way: If you know of a place that does an outstanding char kway teow, please let me know!)

Nasi lemak

I have saved my favourite Baba House dish (and unfortunately, the worst photo) for last. Although it looks a bit like poop in a bowl in my photo, I can assure you that the Nasi Lemak ($9.20) is good! There’s so much to love about nasi lemak. Coconut rice. Tick. Dried anchovies. Tick. Sweet/sour crunchy pickles. Tick. Spicy, tender beef rendang (there’s also chicken or lamb if you prefer). Tick. Crunchy peanuts. Tick. Hard boiled eggs. Tick. Fortunately, there was no MSG thirst when I ate this one. :p

Alastair has the laksa 90% of the time ($9.20). The soup is fragrant, spicy and creamy and it’s chocka with noodles, chicken, fishcake, beans, eggplant and fried tofu. He loves his laksa and says that it’s better than Laksa King.

Baba House – so much food to love. What a great outside kitchen to have!

Baba House
34 Errol St, North Melbourne
Phone: 9329 1762

KitcCh

Last weekend Alastair made a small bet on the NZ versus France rugby World Cup game. He bet on France (what a bad kiwi!) so we headed to Kensington Village to pick up his winnings. We stopped for brunch at KitcCh, which is across the road from the TAB.

The Boys and I have our own jargon that helps us recall things and places. We call KitcCh “the dark one” due to the dark wood panels and the painted black floor. The walls are lined with artwork that is available for purchase.

During the weekends, KitcCh does breakfast all day, but there is also a lunch menu. Since we’re late risers in the weekend, I generally have breakfast even when it’s closer to lunch time.

Kitcch

I had the Black jack cheese and baby spinach wrapped in a double smoke ham served with poached eggs, basil oil and hollandaise on english breakfast muffins ($12). It looks like eggs benedict – the cheese and baby spinach were hidden in the ham. Despite one of my eggs not being as runny as I like, it was still good. The spinach and basil oil helped cut through the fattiness of the hollandaise and egg yolk.

KitcCh coffee

Good breakfast, but the coffee was only average – mine was rather sour. I finished off with a raspberry smoothie (that I didn’t bother taking a photo of). Very yogurty, with a bare amount of sweetness, it made me happy and made up for the sour coffee.

KitcCh
512 Macaulay Rd, Kensington
(03) 9376 5694

Chorizo and chickpea salad

Chorizo salad

Another day, another meal utilizing canned chickpeas. I enjoy chickpeas, and I seem to use them a lot because they’re so easy. Most weeknights, I don’t have much time to cook – by the time I get home, chill for a bit (reading me some internets), exercise and shower, it’s at least 7.30pm by the time I get in the kitchen. It’s a good night when the bulk of my cooking time involves opening a can and tossing together some salad ingredients.

Chorizo & Chickpea salad

Serves 3-4

2 chorizo sausages, sliced
400g can of chickpeas
Handful of mixed salad greens/lettuce per person
2 carrots, grated
1 Avocado, diced
Handful of sprouts
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper

Heat a nonstick frying pan on medium heat, add the chorizo slices, and sauté gently on all sides until the juices run and the edges are slightly crisp. Turn off the heat and add the chickpeas into the pan, tossing them around until they’re all nicely coated in that yummy, tasty fat.

Put the salad greens/lettuce, carrots, avocado and sprouts into a large salad bowl. Add the chorizo and chickpeas.

Drizzle over the olive oil and balsamic vinegar, toss gently and season well with salt and pepper.

Chickpea and ricotta balls

Chickpea and ricotta balls

The idea for these balls floated around in my head for a couple of days before I got around to making them. My cooking inspiration hasn’t returned yet. Even walking around the South Melbourne market on Wednesday didn’t help. Sadly, it was my last weekday wander around the market for the foreseeable future.

It’s my last week at my current job (tomorrow is my last day!) and next Thursday Alastair and I go on holiday. My head is full of finishing up, and sorting things out for going away and my routine is all shot. I suppose it’s hardly surprising that cooking has been neglected.

I’ve no doubt that inspiration to cook will return when we get back. I do have several meals that I haven’t blogged about yet. I’m finding it difficult to think of something interesting to say about them, but perhaps I’ll just whack them up with minimal commentary.

>My chickpea and ricotta balls ended up rather soft, which is why they look more like lumps than balls. I could’ve added some fresh breadcrumbs to stiffen the mixture but couldn’t be bothered. My Bro made a simple green salad of lettuce, cabbage and cucumber, which worked perfectly with them. The crunchy salad provided a great textural contrast to the balls.

Chickpea and ricotta balls

Makes 12

1 small onion, peeled
400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
200g ricotta
1 egg
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you prefer less spiciness)
Salt (about 1/2 teaspoon)
Pepper
Dried breadcrumbs

In a food processor, pulse the onion until finely diced. Add the chickpeas and pulse until mashed.
Tip into a bowl and add the ricotta, mashing it into the mixture.
Add the egg, paprika, cayenne pepper and salt and pepper. Mix well.
Roll into balls, then dip the balls in the breadcrumbs until covered.
Fry over medium heat, turning them every couple of minutes, until warmed through.

Beer battered fish

Beer battered fish

I resisted it for a long time, but a few months ago we bought a deep fryer. I realise that you don’t need an actual appliance – a pot will suffice – but I can’t use a pot of oil after standing above the commercial deep fryer in my parents’ shop for so many years. It just didn’t seem safe and I have problems figuring out the temperature, even with a thermometer.

Finally, I succumbed to the allure of deep fried goodness. Honestly, we don’t use it too much, but occasionally we have deep fried nights (not healthy but oh so good). Below is a good, simple recipe for beer batter. It’s nice and crispy and the bonus is the faint malty taste of beer.

PS: The chips were frozen chips from the supermarket. I like to cook, but that doesn’t extend to making my own chips. Maybe one day.

PSS: The model in the photo is Alastair, who patiently held the cone while I demanded that he hold it higher – no higher! No, lower! Lower! Right there. Oh, that shot doesn’t look good, hang on, don’t move!

Beer battered fish

Serves 4

600g fish fillet, skin and bones removed
200g (1 1/3 cup) plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
300ml beer (I used Coopers Sparkling Ale)
Vegetable oil, to deep-fry

Method

1. Cut fish into 8 pieces. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Gradually add beer, using a whisk to stir until well combined.

2. Reheat oil to 190°C. Dip 4 pieces of fish, 1 at a time, into the batter to evenly coat and deep-fry for 3-4 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Repeat with remaining fish pieces, reheating the oil between batches.