Monday, 23 July 2007

HELP! Planning for Christmas in July Down-under

HELP!!! ... I need your culinary expertise....
Before I get to that, let me introduce you to Lokilan, my friend Em's part-time cat. "Part-time" because he actually belongs to a neighbour but often stays over at Em's place. He's got nothing to do with today's post, but I just had to share that photo with all of you - he looks like a furry penguin! LOL. Can you tell that he loves food?

Ok, back to my culinary dilema. As some of you already know, we are hosting a Christmas in July party this Saturday (just a few days away). " What are those crazy people in Oz up to now?" You might be thinking. Well, Christmas arrives in the middle of summer in Australia and New Zealand, so we miss out on "typical" Christmas food like roasts because it gets waaaay too hot here in summer. A Christmas meal here typically consists of fresh seafood and other delicious foods that do not require hours of cooking in the oven. So, what is quite common in the middle of winter (July) down-under is to organising a "Christmas in July" dinner party with friends. This way we get to exprience Christmas (the eating part!) in winter.

I have very little experience with a cold weather Christmas dinner menu planning and so, I need some suggestions (HELP!) from those of you who are more experienced with Northern hemisphere Christmas dinners. If you have recipes on your blogs, even better! Just point me to the right direction. There are so many recipes and combinations out there and I am really feeling quite bewildered. All I've done so far is order the turkey and some decorations (e.g. Christmas crakers/bon bons, an inflatable Christmas tree....)

Some ideas I'm tossing around so far (for 9 people):

TBA by Eva

6-7kg Roast turkey (how should I cook this?? Brined? Hellllpp!)
Some sort of stuffing for the turkey
Scalloped potatoes or two potato gratin
Warm zucchini, tomato & eggplant salad
Balsamic roasted baby carrots & baby onions (I like cute stuff)
I need to make another meat dish (but no ham/pork)
Another side dish, you think?

Sticky Date Pudding with Toffee sauce

I am counting on all of your expertise....

Friday, 20 July 2007

Ginger & Sesame Braised Noodles

I love stir-fried or braised noodles. The contrast in textures of the different ingredients in it, the colours. It's also so versatile and never boring. My stir-fried noodles never taste exactly the same because I don't ususally measure how much of each sauce or seasoning I splashed on the noodles.

So this is a disclaimer for this recipe because I think you should adjust the seasoning according to your preference. I've chosen to post this particular recipe because I wanted to highlight the use of toasted nuts, specifically sesame seeds in stir-fries. The addition of toasted sesame seeds makes stir-fries extra yummy because it adds another layer of flavour and texture. Toasting the sesame seeds enhances the slightly sweet, nutty flavour. Try lighty toasting some sesame seeds and tossing them into your usual stir-fried noodles and you'll get a slightly different flavour. I also use roughly chopped roasted cashews and peanuts in stir-fries, but sesame seeds is my current favourite.

This noodle recipe uses the "braising" technique rather than frying with oil, so it is a good way to cook noodles in a low-fat way.

This will be my submission to Presto Pasta Night, hosted by Ruth.

Ginger & Sesame Braised Noodles
Serves 2

350g fresh, flate egg noodles
150-200g raw chicken breast fillets, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 carrot, julienned (cut into thick match-sticks)
1/2 - 1 cup water or stock
sliced vegetables of your choice, e.g. chinese broccoli (gai larn), snow peas (mange toute), red capsicum (pepper)
3 tbsp grated fresh YOUNG ginger
2 tbsp fish sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Thai sweet chilli sauce
fresh lime juice
2 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
3 tbsp fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves

(vegetarian option: replace chicken with glazed firm tofu)

Marinate the chicken with half of the minced garlic and 1 tbsp of soy sauce. Prepare the other ingredients.

Heat the oil in a non-stick wok, add the chicken in batches and stir-fry over high heat until golden. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Set aside.

In the same wok, bring about 1/2 cup of water/stock to boil together with the carrots, onion, ginger, sauces and remaining garlic. Lower the heat and simmer till the onions and carrots are tender. You may need to add more liquid.

Prepare the noodles according to the package instructions, keep warm.

Add the prepared noodles, chicken and vegetables into the wok and toss all the ingredients around gently so that the ingredients will be evenly coated by the braised sauce. Squeeze some lime juice over the noodles and adjust seasoning accordingly (you may need to add more soy sauce or sweet chilli sauce).

Toss the toasted sesame seeds and coriander into the wok, give the noodles a quick stir and serve immediately.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Back to Basics #1: Shepherd's Pie

More comfort food. This time, it's back to basics. A friend requested that I post some simple, classic and healthy recipes that she can easily do at home. She is also interested in meals that can be frozen. So here is the first "Back to Basic" recipe: Shepherd's Pie, sometimes referred to as Cottage Pie or Potato Pie, a traditional British dish made of a bottom layer of cooked mince meat and covered with mashed potato (with an optional top layer of cheese). Traditionally, lamb mince is used, but I prefer beef. If fish is used, it is called a Fisherman's Pie. In American, a varient of this pie is called a Cowboy Pie, also referred to as pâté chinois by the French Canadians. A vegetarian version is sometimes called a Shepherdess Pie.

This week's herb blogging is about yet another humble herb that we have in our garden - Thyme (Origin: Southern Europe).

Thyme is a aromatic herb which is part of the mint family. It is a herb that can be used with other herbs because it blends and enhances many other herbs without overpowering them. There are over a 100 varieties available, including lemon thyme, which combines the aroma of thyme with lemons. The one pictured here is the common or garden thyme which has a subtle woody aroma. Thyme is probably best known as one of the primary components (together with sprigs of parsley and bay leaf) of the classic bouquet garni.

Back to the pie: There are many recipes out there and many of you probably have you own family recipes that have been passed down through generations. The first time Ihad Shepherd's Pie was when my sister moved to England more than a decade ago. I couldn't get a hold of her recipe when I made this because she was on vacation so I used this recipe instead, which is a slight variation of a true classic Shepherd's Pie.

My adjustments to the recipe:
I used the leanest minced beef I could find, I added 2 cloves of mince garlic, 2 tbsp of Worcheshire sauce and about a cup of frozen peas to the meat and did not use any butter for the mash potato. We were also too impatient to wait for it to be baked so I put the pies under the grill instead of baking them. That's why the tops of the pies in the photo turned dark brown.

We both really enjoyed this. The meat layer was very flavoursome and a nice contrast to the fluffy mash potato topping. I also liked the cripsy bits of the potato. Quikong even said that I should make this more often. The addition of parsnips and horseradish in the mash potato really lifts up the dish.

For freezing:
Make more of the meat sauce and freeze for use at a later time. The mash potato topping can be easily whipped up when you are ready to make more pie.

This will be my submission to this week's WHB hosted by The Chocolate Lady from In Mol Araan.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Longing for Summer - Pumpkin Pesto Quiche

I am so over this cold weather. A tropical gal like me can't take too much of winter. I'm sure that Quikong is tired of hearing me talking about the cold. It doesn't help that most of you (yes, you) have been writing about summer and blogging about sorbets, bbq, salads, peaches, etc...

This is my way of pretending it's summer.
Making a quiche. Maybe if I think warm thoughts, I'll feel warmer. How about that!? A quiche in the middle of winter, AND we had it for dinner.... I'm such a rebel. ;-)

I decided to try something new when I made this quiche - I added pesto to the liquid, no cream, and also used a lower fat wholemeal crust. Quikong and I really enjoyed it - the flavours of the roasted vegetables comes through, the pesto was not overwhelming but noticeable enough to add some depth to the filling and the wholemeal pastry was wonderfully flaky.

Pumpkin Pesto Quiche on a Wholemeal Crust

Wholemeal Shortcurst Pastry:
1 cup plain flour
1 cup wholemeal flour
4 oz butter
iced water

Process flours and butter in a food processor till it resembles fine crumbs. Add enough iced water to form a soft dough. Remove dough and knead lightly. Form a round disc, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes (this prevents shrikage of the pastry when baked).

Roll out the pastry in between two plastic wraps or a lightly floured surface, large enough to fit a 9-inch flan tin. carefuly lift pastry into the tin without stretching the pastry. Press pstry into the flutted sides. Prick the base and sides witha fork. Chill for 5 minutes.

Blind bake the pastry case: line the pastry with a sheet of non-stick baking paper and fill the tin with baking weights or dried beans/rice. Bake in a preheated oven (180 degreec C) for 10 mins. Remove the weights and paper and bake the pastry case for a further 10 mins, or until it is light golden in colour. Cool to room temperature.

Roasted pumpkin and red bell peppers
Low fat Greek-Style feta cheese, cut into small cubes
Sundried tomatoes, chopped
3 eggs
3/4 cup low fat milk
1 tbsp
(optional: a few roughly chopped flat leaf parsley)

Arrange the vegetables and feta cheese evenly in the pastry case.

Combine eggs, milk and pesto (& parsley, if using) in a jug and beat till well combined. Pour liquid into the pastry case.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until set and browned lightly. Serve with salad.

I had some left over pastry which fits a cute mini flan tin.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Tagged: 7 Random Things About Me

Wendy from a Wee Bit of Cooking recently tagged me for this meme. Like she said, memes are ideal for hectic times or lazy days. My schedule is a bit crazy at the moment because of the start of a new internship. I don't even have time to run as much as I'd like to, let alone bake or cook. I hope to get back to my usual self soon. For now:

7 Absolutely Random Things About Me ...
(1) I learnt to ride a bicycle when I was 25 years old.

(2) My full name has 31 letters.

(3) I have a very high tolerance and big love for spicy food, so don't challenge me to a chilli eating competition.

(4) I ate so much papaya and carrots as a kid that I now have a permanent yellowish glow on my skin (luckily, I have tanned skin, otherwise you might think that I am related to the Simpsons!).

(5) I can speak 2 (English, Malay) + 0.5 (Indonesian) + 0.5 (Mandarin) languages & also read Arabic (I don't understand it though). I tried to learn Italian and French without success - well, I probably didn't try hard enough (I was just happy to be able to understand the menus in both countries!)

(6) I am allergic to pain medications like asprins and paracetamol, so when I have a headache or have a cold, I use aromatherapy (e.g. lavender oil, eucalyptus). It seems to work, even if some of it may be a placebo effect.

(7) More than a decade ago, I wanted to set up my own bakery and cafe, but after working in a bakery for 2 months, I realised that it's too hard (very, VERY long days, very tiring) and it took the joy out of baking for me.

I'm not tagging bloggers who have been around a while just because they've probably been tagged before, so I will tag 7 new & "new-ish" faces in the food blog world since I enjoy reading their blogs and would like to know some random facts about them:

Janet from Janet is Hungry
Amanda from
Little Foodies
Kelly-Jane from
Cooking the Books
The Ninja from
The Cooking Ninja
Truffle from
What's on My plate
Susan from
The Well-Seasoned Cook

And of course, my good friend Eva from Sweet Sins (although she's not that new to the food blog world, I wonder if she can tell me random things about herself that I don't already know....)
And here is a random food photo I haven't posted:

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Stirring up a Red Risotto - when two cooks are better than one.

Photo and Food Styling by Eva

If you think that is an amazing photo, you have to have a look at Eva's food blog Sweet Sins and her Flickr photo album. I've always admired her photography skills, but she has always been very modest about it. Eva, along with my French-Canadian friend, Em and my sister were my catalyst for start this blog.

So what do two foodies like Eva and I do when we get together? We talk about food, we share food, and this time, we also cooked together. I don't know why it took us this long to finally prepare a meal together. I enjoy cooking with friends, but many of them feel nervous about cooking with me or for me because they think that since I am a food fanatic, they worry about not meeting my "high" standards. I always reassure them that I always enjoy home cooked meals, no matter how simple or elaborate, because it's always made with lots of TLC (Tender Loving Care). While I enjoy eating at restaurants, I much prefer home-cooked meals.

It was really fun cooking with Eva because she is relaxed and flexible about the whole process. We agreed to prepare a 3-course meal: Pumpkin Soup, Bill's Tomato Risotto with Garlic Chilli prawns and German Vanilla Custard. Believe it or not, it was very quick and easy to prepare this meal, which was good considering that it was a week night and we ddn't have that much time to work with before the hungry boys (i.e. our partners) arrive.

Eva made the pumpkin soup (sorry, no photo). It was delicious - she added fresh ginger, which was perfect for winter. She also garnished the soup with pumpkin seeds. I loved the contrast of textures and the slight saltiness that the seeds added to the natural sweetness of the pumpkin.

Trying out a red risotto was my suggestion because I've been curious about this after reading Bill Granger's article in May. I'm a big fan of Bill's recipes, so I was keen to try out his tomato risotto recipe. Eva and I decided to write about this meal so head over to her post to find out more about how our risotto turned out.

Our next food project together is a "Christmas in July" dinner party at my place. Eva has volunteered to make the entrée and Quikong has also been roped in to make egg nog. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Garlicky Olive Prawn Penne

"Northwest to westerly winds becoming strong and gusty, reaching gale force at times during the afternoon and evening...". It was indeed very gusty. I was shivering as I walked home from the bus stop this evening. Shivering and famished. I secretly hoped that Quikong had already started cooking. Surprisingly, he has even finished cooking. When he cooks, we usually end up eating after 9pm. I'm not complaining because he's a great cook and has cooked elaborate meals in the past. As I tucked into the pasta, I realised why he was in such a hurry to finish cooking - a live football game was being televised.

Quikong prepared a very delicious dinner that warmed me up quickly. He allowed me to post his recipe on one condition - that I write about Paul Newman's Own products. We usually make our own tomato sauce for pasta, but when we buy ready made pasta sauce for "emergency" situations (=whip up a meal quickly) it has to be Paul Newman's Own tomato sauce. Since 1984, Paul Newman has given more than $9 million to charities in Australia and New Zealand. All profits (after taxes) from the sale of his products worldwide are donated to charities. To date, this has exceeded $200 Million. If all of us buy one of his products every so often, imagine what a difference it makes for those who are less fortunate.

Here's Quikong's recipe. I'm sorry that I don't have exact quantities of the ingredients because I wasn't there when he cooked and he can't recall exactly what he did :-)

Garlicky Olive Prawn Spelt Penne

Serves 2

Half a jar (750g) of Paul Newman's Own Tomato Sauce (
classic or organic marinara)

4-5 garlic cloves, minced
EV olive oil
8 pitted
kalamata olives, roughly chopped

16 raw prawns, shelled, deviend & tails removed

tobasco sauce or chilli flakes
fresh basil, roughly torn

250g spelt penne

Over medium heat, place olive oil in a saucepan. Saute garlic in olive oil till fragrant. Add prawns & cook till prawns turn pink. Add tomato sauce, olives & tobasco sauce/chilli flakes. Simmer & allow flavours to mingle. In the mean time, cook the spelt penne accordingly. When pasta is almost al dente, throw the basil in the sauce. Drain pasta, place pasta into two large bowls, spoon sauce over pasta and serve immediately.

This will be our contribution to
Pasta Presto Night #19 hosted by Ruth.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Rejuvenated by a Selfish Passion

Dear friends and fellow bloggers, you may have noticed my blog idling and I have also not been commenting on your blogs. I have a lot of blog-reading to do – so many stories and recipes to catch up with!

Wow, can you believe that we've already been through half of 2007? A short mid-year vacation is a good idea to prevent feeling "burnt out" and I had a few days off before I started a new internship so I decided to refresh my mind by going somewhere along the south coast of New South Wales. Fortunately, despite this last minute decision, we managed to rent an apartment by the beach in Gerroa. The township of Gerroa, “Population: 4978”, is about a 2 hrs drive south of Sydney. The apartment is large, well-equipped and most important of all to me, it has a 180 degrees panoramic view of Seven Mile Beach National Park. Although it’s winter, I still love being by the sea. Due to the wonders of central heating and full length glass doors and windows, I was able to take in the view of the beach while sitting on the couch or lying in bed under the covers.

Vacation also means that I’ve hardly been in the kitchen, except for making coffee, toasting bread and scarmbling some eggs. I love exploring neighbouring towns on foot and tasting the local produce. Two places that left a lasting impression were: dinner at 55 on Collins (in Kiama) and a late lunch at Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery. The quality of the produce, food preparation, presentation and the service at both places were exemplary. I didn’t take any photos except for this take-away apple tartin from the sourdough bakery. There were several meals and sweet treats that inspired me and when I attempt to recreate them in my own kitchen, I will definitely write about it, so stay tuned.Now, about my selfish passion. Food to me is a very social passion because I bake or cook to share with others. Another passion of mine is my work – I feel that helping children and families while challenging at times, is always very fulfilling. But again, this involves being around other people. I have one passion that is completely selfish.

. It’s my therapy, it keeps me sane, my form of meditation. Being on a vacation means that I get to explore a new area during my morning runs. I enjoy running somewhere different because my usual routes were getting rather monotonous. But I never expected that I would find the PERFECT place for running during this trip - and I’ve run in many parks, streets and beaches during my travels.

It doesn’t matter that I had to wear leggings, gloves, a beanie and a vest (it was sunny, but very windy). The sand at Seven Mile Beach was the perfect texture for running – firm enough to run with sneakers on but yet soft enough that it’s gentle on the knees. As soon as I started running, I did not feel the ground any longer. It felt as though I was floating on the sand and I felt as though I could run forever. Oh and did I mention the view? I was pretty much by myself on the beach but one morning, I did cross paths with two beautiful brown horses. Alas, they were too quick for me. ;-) Such beautiful runs remind me of why I love running so much. The runs I had during this trip were so exhilarating, therapeutic and selfish.

It is a selfish passion because running is just for me, to be with my own thoughts, It's “ME” time that makes me feel good. I am sure all of you have your own way of taking time out for yourself.

I feel rejuvenated. Sometimes one has to be selfish. I feel ready to conquer the next six months of 2007. I hope you are too.