Date Archives March 2011

Feeling like a tart?

I decided to have some people over the other day, and I’ll be honest – I was absolutely freaking out about what I’d serve. I knew that I only wanted finger food – it’s really hard to cater to everyone’s tastes – and I wanted variety. The answer, tarts! These mini tarts are so easy to make, and you can absolutely go nuts with the filling!

All you need for the tart shells are defrosted sheets of puff pastry (you can buy them from the supermarket) and a metal egg ring. The metal egg ring gives you the perfect size of pastry to make a shallow cup at the bottom of a muffin tin. I didn’t do any blind baking – the tarts were fine without it, IMO.

And now for the filling. I did three varieties, all in advance, but what you put in your tarts are limited only to your imagination!

Spinach and Ricotta
250g frozen spinach, defrosted
1 L full cream milk
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 clean square of muslin
Salt to taste
1 egg
Parmesan, grated (optional)

How to make ricotta:

This is so simple, I never buy ricotta anymore.

Heat the milk till small bubbles start to form.

Add the vinegar and give it one stir. ONE ONLY.

Let it rest for about 15 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to ladle the curd into a clean square of muslin, laid over a colander. Tie the corners around a wooden spoon and hang over a pot/bowl for about an hour.

Et voila! Ricotta. 1 litre of milk makes about 250g of ricotta.

For the rest of the filling:

Preheat your oven to 180C. 

Squeeze out all the excess water from the spinach. Mix the spinach, ricotta, stock powder, and egg together, and spoon into prepared, raw tart cases. Top, if you like, with grated parmesan, and bake for about 20 min or until golden brown.

Caramelised Onion

3 Medium Onions
2 tbsp brown sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic
1 medium red chilli
1/8 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Splash of soy sauce
Splash of Mirin (optional)

Finely slice the onions, and finely dice the garlic and chilli.

Sauté the onions in the olive oil (over medium heat) with the garlic, chilli and salt until the onions turn translucent.

Add the sugar, vinegar and salt to the pan and cook till the mixture reduces.

Finally, deglaze the pan with the mirin, and leave to cool.

Fill each tart shell and crumble some feta on top. Bake till golden brown.

And finally…

Vegetable medley
Char-grilled Capsicums
Marinated eggplant
Semi Dried Tomatoes
Garlic, finely diced
Grated parmesan

Chop all the ingredients (use as much or as little as you like), and fill tart shells. Top with grated parmesan and bake till golden brown.

And that’s it! It’s so easy, and you can serve heaps of people without much worry!

How about you? What are your favourite party recipes?

Sea Sweet

Whenever Sean and I are in the mood for sweets, there is one place that we turn to. We chanced upon it one day after taking an after-dinner stroll, and we are absolutely addicted to it. 

Besides the lovely staff who greet you as you come in the door, the inside of the restaurant is impeccably clean (never take that for granted!) and a welcome sight sits at every table – orange blossom and rose syrup. Now I know that desserts with the addition of syrup can end up saccharine-ly sweet, but there’s something about the smell and the sweet coating on my tongue that makes me feel all tingly inside.  

Something that we always order is the Knefe, served in a seasame seed bun.

Oozing cheese with a layer of semolina stretch and melts with every bite, tempered by the fragrant, crusty bread. If we’ve had dinner before, Sean and I tend to order this to share – it can get quite rich and if you’ve eaten just before, you might end up feeling jalak

The mix plate of Beklawa was lovely in its variety. Each mouthful was an absolute delight, and it’s great that the servings are so small – I don’t think that I could have handled large amounts of layers of sweet pastry, nuts and syrup.

And for those who like the more western cakes and pastries, there was the Choux a la Creme Chocolat.

It was a chocolate cream puff really. Good, but nothing really special.

And finally, my new favourite thing to order.

The Halawet El Jebn Kashta was just divine. Layers of soft, fluffy, but slightly chewy cheese were covered in syrup and another sort of creamy cheese, and then layered liberally with crushed pistachio. Again, very rich, but refreshing in an odd sort of way. It’s served cold, quite unlike the Knefe, and very good for a warm, balmy night. 

We ate at:

Sea Sweet
Shop 4, 354 Church St
Parramatta 2150
1300 90 80 70

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Taste Sydney 2011

Ah, I love food festivals. And Taste Sydney is an excellent example of that. Not only can you get a huge variety of people showcasing their food-wares, you can also get to sample food from all the top restaurants in the one spot!

After having so much fun last year, I absolutely had to go again this year.

But first, we all know that I love free food, and I certainly got a lot of that this weekend!

Free Food!

Johnny Walker had a tent that held tasting sessions (to full tents) every 20 minutes. I would love to tell you more, but I am, quite unfortunately, allergic to alcohol. But it did look interesting though!

One of the sponsors was Regal Salmon, and there were little cups of awesome given out at various points of the festival.

What else can I say? I love salmon, and when you put fresh, raw, salmon, and salmon roe together, I believe that nothing much can go wrong. Seriously yummy.

Tabasco had a booth again this year, and I had to go again. (I am an absolute Tabasco fiend – I carry a small bottle in my handbag always – you never know when you need that burst of flavour on something!) They had dips made with all the different flavours of Tabasco, and Sean and I had a lot of balancing piles of dips on itty bitty crackers.

The omnipresent Pukara estate (I see them at practically every food festival/fair that I go to) had flavoured oils, vinegars and mayos up for tasting.

Little bits of bread on the end of toothpicks were dipped into every flavour and savoured. Most of the flavours were good, but not particularly outstanding, but the blackcurrant vinegar was definitely a winner. I could definitely see ripe, red, succulent strawberries macerating in it. The caramelized balsamic added a syrupy coating to the little cubes of bread, and it’s something that I can eat all day. 

Speaking of little cubes of bread, there was a fantastic selection of yeasty goodness from The Grumpy Baker.

Soft, fluffy sourdough were amongst other offerings, and my absolute favourite was the roasted garlic and olive sourdough. Chunks of smoky roasted garlic and bits of salty olives were threaded through each chewy bite. An om nom nom moment.

Another thing that I love about Taste is the ability to mingle with the chefs!!


The crew at Aperitif were a hoot and a half. Miguel Maestre was his charming self as always, and early on in the evening there was quite a bit of friendly banter between Miguel and Manu, who own Aperitif together.

But the thing that makes Taste stand out for me is definitely the Chefs Table. It’s one thing to ask a quick question as you see a chef walk past you, but chances are, they would be busy, and it wouldn’t be nice to disrupt them in the middle of work.

And that’s where the Chefs Table comes in. The chefs take some time out of their busy schedules, and about 20 people get to sit around the table with them and have a chat. You can ask them anything you want, anything, and the answers are fairly candid, but some of the sessions are filled with hilarity.

The very extremely expressive Matt Kemp, who spoke about his start in cooking, working in Balzac…all with wild gestures and a very quick wit.

And this year, the man whom I think is the sexiest chef EVER had been scheduled to speak. He talked about his son, Ready Steady Cook, Aperitif, the best places to eat in London…amongst a myriad of other things.

How sexy is that? And the best part of all is that he has such a wicked sense of humour – every sentence was followed by guffaws of laughter and giddy giggles.

I even managed to get a photo with him!

Other chefs who spoke included Alessandro Pavoni of Ormeggio at the spit and Alex Herbert of Bird Cow Fish.

They both shared insight into the culinary world, and they discussed their experiences in cooking. It was extremely enlightening to hear words of advice from the mouth of experienced chefs. It gave me some ideas and inspiration, which definitely helps with my obsession with food.

The Main Event

The Churros Con Chocolate from Aperitif were fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside, and it was all coated with silky smooth chocolate.

The Regal King Salmon carpaccio with orange segments, citrus and chardonnay vinegar dressing, shaved fennel, salmon roe, baby herbs and crispy salmon skin might have been a mouthful to order, but it was a delicious mouthful nonetheless. it was all wonderfully balanced – my only gripe about it was that I felt the salmon skin wasn’t quite as crispy as I had hoped it would be, but in the grand scheme of things it was good.

The Regal King Salmon curado with chilli and star anise tasted good, but personally I couldn’t really taste the chilli nor the star anise. All I could taste was the dill with the firm flesh of the salmon, which, I’m really not complaining about.

To follow my salmon obsession, Balzac’s Seared Regal Salmon with a salad of pomogranate, mint and feta was light and refreshing, with the just amount of tang and sweetness. Very good for a hot and sticky day.

And how can I visit a food fair and not sample one of Manu’s creations. The Slow cooked shoulder of lamb, smoked potato puree and jus had the deep mature flavours that I absolutely love about lamb. Every bite just falls apart in your mouth, and the puree leaves a lingering sense of luxurious creaminess.

Dank Street Depot & Cotton Duck’s Stone fruit roasted with home cured pancetta, verjuice and chilli was glorious in all its succulent, salty, garlicky goodness. Every mouthful was an absolute joy, and Dank Street Depot never disappoints. I’m still dreaming about last year’s Watermelon Smoked Ribs.

Now if you’re in the market for a heart attack, then Balzac’s Saddle of suckling pig with baby garden peas is for you. According to Matthew Kemp, the suckling pig is smothered in duck fat, slow cooked in a vacuum pack, deep fried, then covered in a buttery sauce. Oh, and the peas apparently have bacon bits too. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to coronary failure must be paved with mouthfuls of this delectable, melt-in-your-mouth dish. Definitely something I couldn’t get enough of.

On the lighter side of pork, Four in Hand’s offering of Confit of pork belly with Squid, Chorizo and Chickpea was a hearty dish indeed. It invoked memories of rich winter stews and the aroma of ripe, fresh tomatoes. Not quite as impressive for me as the saddle of suckling pork, but not bad at all!

And there were a couple of desserts that we absolutely had to try. 

The Ricotta Fritters with berries and honey were soft sweet balls of lovely. For some reason, they reminded me of very sophisticated jam doughnuts!

On a side note, Sean and I were just having a discussion about how many cultures seemed to have somehow have created a dish involving fried dough sometime through history. There are doughnuts, 油条 you tiao, roti prata, churros…Every culture seems to have come up with a dish that includes flour, moisture and hot oil.

But anyway, back to the food.

The final dish that we had for the day was Otto Ristorante’s Amadei milk chocolate mousse with salted caramel and fresh berries. The mouse was light and lovely, and an excellent foil to the rich, dense salted caramel that it hid within. This was a dessert to share for sure. It was one of those ones where we really felt like we wanted much more, but knew that we absolutely couldn’t have any more of the rich stuff.

As Sean and I waddled slowly out of Taste, patting our satisfied tummies, we made the decision that we absolutely have to go back next year. We had an absolute blast, and can’t wait for the next one!

And to leave you, I will end with this hilarious picture of the sexy Manu.


Mushroom and Bacon Risotto

I’ve finally had a moment to do a bit of cooking, and with Sean’s newfound love of risotto, it’s the new challenge that I’ve decided to put my efforts toward getting right.

I heard somewhere that how you know when a risotto is ready, is when your arm gets tired. Boy, is that true. But it’s all worth it in the end, as the result was absolutely yummy!!

Mushroom and Bacon Risotto (Serves 4)
2 cups Aborio rice
1.5 L stock (I used chicken)
4 rashers bacon
Butter and Mushrooms to your taste
1 medium onion, diced

Start frying the bacon till it starts getting crispy. Add the mushrooms and half of the butter, and sauté till the mushrooms brown. Transfer to a bowl.

Start warming the stock. It should be just simmering, not a rolling boil. 

Next, sauté the onion on medium heat till translucent, then add the rice and half of the remaining butter. Fry till the rice is glossy. Start adding the stock – a ladle at a time – and stir till the stock is absorbed by the rice, before adding another ladle.

After adding about a litre of stock, start tasting the risotto to test whether the rice’s donen-ess is to your liking. It should be cooked, but still have enough of a bite to it and not just mush.

Serve with the mushroom and bacon mixture with a healthy grating of Parmesan on top. I also like to add thin shavings of butter to stir in as you eat.


Risotto isn’t that hard to make actually, and with so many ingredients, it’s hard for it not to be tasty. Just make sure that you’re using good quality stock and you’re halfway there!

What about you? Are there any reputation-ally hard dishes that you’ve cracked the secrets to?