Saturday, 31 January 2009

The News

The Bloke and my mates B1&B2 have known about this for a while, and B1 sent me this wonderful card from the clever people at someecards. But finally, as of yesterday, it's official. So, I'm sitting here on a Saturday morning, with the dawning realisation that I don't actually have to get all the laundry and shopping and meal-planning and gardening and tidying up done this weekend, because I don't have to go to work on Monday. I have a nice little redundancy package, and am contemplating being mortgage-free. Whee!

In other news, I have started a new blog called Frumious Thought, which I intend to update totally erratically whenever I feel like it. I am planning to keep this one up regularly, though last week has been a bit, well, busy. Stressy. Angsty.

Also hot, so who's cooking? Several cafes and restaurants, and me making salads and a spag bog, that's who. Satis' veggie salad feast, om nom nom. I have a cute picture in connection with the spag, but my camera is in the shop for a grease and oil change, so that can wait. Expect normal service to be resumed shortly.

And finally, here is something very pleasing and cheerful: a little compare and contrast exercise from the US.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Baking up a storm

Or a minor downpour, perhaps. I made brownies, and a lemon polenta cake for a work morning tea.

It was this lemon polenta cake from the BBC Good Food site. And these brownies from Chocolate & Zucchini. I read C&Z regularly, and it was a recent post just as I was contemplating what to make. And with all the lemons needing using from the tree down the side, a lemon cake seemed like a great alternate choice. I decided to try for a gluten-free variety, just in case any of my audience needed it.

I won't give recipes, because basically I just did what the recipes said. Instead, here are my notes on how it went.

For the lemon cake, I poured over a lemon juice based syrup rather than limoncello - it was for work, not a home dessert. Other than that, it was down the line following the recipe. It was pretty good, but I think it needs work. It came out nicely moist, but it was also quite fragile, tending to crumble easily. The polenta remained a little bit grittier than I'd like - I used an instant one, but still. And I felt the lemon flavour was not strong enough for my taste. More zest, or perhaps a bit of lemon oil should do it. My tree is, I believe, a Meyer lemon. They are relatively mild and sweet, so perhaps using the bitier shop lemons would improve it, too.

The brownies were absolutely fabulous. I used a mix of roasted almonds and macadamias for the nuts. The one issue I had with the recipe is that they are supposed to be done when the top goes shiny and cracks. But this didn't happen in the given time, nor in the two ten minute extensions I gave it. I called a halt there, as underdone has got to be better than dried out. I was a bit worried that I might have overdone them, but they came out fudgy, rich, and very strongly chocolatey. Nom. I do think that a slightly larger pan would have been good: they are pretty thick. Cut them very small to serve!

Sunday, 25 January 2009

BBQ Lamb a la Wog

In a hat tip to Australia day, and the forthcoming Canberra multi-cultural festival, I present you with this recipe in honour of our immigrant communities, and our sheep. In titling this post, I trust that years of "Wogs out of Work" and other comedians have sufficiently moved this epithet away from insult to a joke that a Skip may use.

So, anyway, roasting lamb is fine and good, but a roast dinner is a bit heavy for this weather. BBQ lamb and salad is the ticket - and it's really very easy. I bought a pre-made one from Meatways a while ago, and that inspired me to make my own. The salad in the picture is a random assembly from what salad fixings I found in the fridge - baby spinach, cucumber, tomato, avocado, olives. But to keep it in theme it was dressed with olive oil and lemon juice.

Recipe: BBQ lamb with lemon and herbs
1 small leg of lamb, butterflied. (About 1.2kg)
3 large lemons
6 medium cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fruity extra virgin olive oil
a loose half cup of chopped fresh herbs: parsley, oregano and a bit of basil.

Zest 2 of the lemons thoroughly, or three half-arsedly.
Juice the lemons, and crush the garlic
Mix everything except the lamb together.
Remove any large obvious chunks of fat and tendon from the lamb.
Place in a non-reactive container, and pour over the marinade mix.
Smoosh it around to coat, and leave for at least 3 and up to 36 hours. Turn it over occasionally.
When ready to cook, heat BBQ to a medium low flame.
Scrape off most of the herbs, and plonk the lamb on the BBQ, and leave it alone for ten minutes.
Turn it over and drizzle with some of the liquid from the marinade, or a bit of extra oil & lemon.
Leave to cook the other side - 5 minutes is enough for rare; up to 15 minutes for well-done.
Remove from heat, wrap in foil and leave in a warm place to rest for at least 15 minutes.
Slice across the grain. Serve as a pile of slices, not a big chunk.

Notes: A Greek salad would be the perfect accompaniment, of course.

We had part of this one night, cooked on the cast iron grill inside, with salad, pita bread and a dollop of bought hommous. And I took the rest to a BBQ on Friday, where our host and fellow guests added BBQ corn and asparagus, a sweet potato and chickpea salad, and a carrot and zucchini salad. And some other meats. All good stuff. I drank a few too many purple champagnes, though.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

K is for Kambah

Aha! You were expecting Kingston, weren't you?

OK, I suppose not. I've been very obvious with clues back in November and December with my mentions of Meatways. Kambah it is, then. Down south, Kambah Village is at the corner where Tuggeranong Parkway changes its name to Drakeford Drive. The cross street is called Boddington Crescent to the west, Marconi crescent to the east. You can see it easily: look for the big sign and the metal sheep.

So, anyway, out at Kambah you will find Brew Your Own. Despite their minimal dead website, promising updates in 2005, this is a brilliant shop for the home brewer, wine maker or concocter of spirits. I am half appalled and half enthralled by the options of whisky essence, woodchips for infusing in your pseudo-bourbon and such devices. The bloke sticks to the grains, malts, yeasts, hops and such. The owner, Colin Marshall is deeply knowledgeable about beer. Discounts are available to members of the Canberra Brewers' Club. Brew Your Own is round the back of Kambah - go through the path beyond Woollies and turn left, or drive round. There's parking in front.

While the Bloke goes for the beer, I go for Meatways. This brilliant butcher is my main reason for visiting Kambah. If The Bloke is going to the brew shop on a Saturday, I'll tag along. Meatways has prize winning gourmet sausages of all kinds of flavours. The ones in the picture are pork with parsley, fetta and pine-nut. There's usually half a dozen flavours in stock, but the specifics vary weekly. The bacon is house-smoked, and it's very good. The owner, Cameron Fenson, also does smoked chicken, salmon and kabana sausage. There are several "value-added" meats - we had a Greek-style marinaded leg of lamb a while back, and it was very good. I'm often suspicious of pre-marinaded meats, and I never buy supermarket ones. But at Meatways it's good. Lemon, garlic, herbs, no mysterious flavour additives. They are open 7am-6pm Tues-Fri, 7am-1pm Sat; closed Sunday and Monday.

The Kambah Village complex has a Woollies supermarket, and it's a very big one. It's surrounded by clubs and pubs - the Burns Club, the Kambah Inn motel and bar, and the Vienna Restaurant. There's also a few restaurants, and a bakery in the actual complex. The bakery is an independent business, awkwardly named "Bakeshoppe". I bought a fancy "megagrain" loaf and some scotch baps from them, and they were pretty good. It's a standard bakery, rather than gourmet or artisan or patisserie, but it seems pretty good for its genre. It's bright and clean; the pies were selling well, and the finger buns and vanilla slices looked appealling.

I haven't tried any of the restaurants, and have heard no rumours, either. There is a fast-food style Indian, with the big bains-marie. Spring Garden Chinese looks like the usual local Oz-Cantonese generic place; the Village Cafe looks like a standard old-fashioned milkbar/take away with pizza. The Vienna is Austrian, a schnitzel and strudel place with lace curtains. And I don't know what the Burns Club offers. Maybe Sri Lankan haggis curry? Seriously, their website says that their "Banana Leaf Brasserie" serves Sri Lankan, British, Scottish, Portuguese, Italian and Australian Cuisine.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Rhubarb and Berry Sago

I've been hacking about in the garden, planting inedible screening things like an oleander and a banksia rose, and I've brought in another kilo of rhubarb. It's really taken off this year, but it remains very green.

I've googled it, and most likely it's not a problem of soil or light; it's just a green variety. At least, one such green kind is frost hardy. I don't remember it saying that on the label, but plant labels are often a bit lacking. I was very cross a couple of years ago when I bought some creepers from Bunnings, and they died totally in the first frost. And yes, I did buy then from an outlet in Canberra. I learned my lesson; I stick with the specialist nurseries now.

So far I've cooked some of it straight, with just sugar, and I've put rosewater, vanilla and cochineal in another batch. And I've given some away - Belinda says saffron is nice with the rhubarb, but the colour is ridiculously awful. This time I've split it into two batches. One I cooked with lemon and sugar, and have stuck in the freezer for winter. The other one turned into a rhubarb and berry sago - the berries provided an amazingly bright colour.

Recipe: Rhubarb and raspberry sago
1/2 kg finely sliced red rhubarb
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/5 ltr late-picked white wine
1/2 vanilla bean split
1 and 1/2 tbspn sago
80 g caster sugar
1/2 kg frozen raspberries
1/4 cup water

Place rhubarb, water, lemon zest, sugar, vanilla and wine into a non-reactive pan
Bring to simmering point.
Add sago, reduce heat, place pot on a simmer mat and cook gently for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Tip in frozen berries, cook for a further 5-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until berries are just thawed and the mix just returns to the simmer.

Allow to cool before serving. The colour will intensify as it cools and the sago will continue to swell.

Notes: first, this isn't an original. The source is here, and it's by Stephanie Alexander.

I've followed it pretty closely - sago needs some precision, as a small amount makes a big difference. 1.5 Australian tablespoons is 30ml, or 2 tablespoons for the rest of the world. The only change I made was to have a few other berries in it. I didn't have half a kilo of frozen raspberries on hand. I had about 200gm and for the rest I used a pack of mixed frozen berries - not the one with the black currants.

It makes a pretty good low fat dessert - or possibly a slightly decadent breakfast, with yoghurt. I'm not 100% happy with it - it's very sharp and needs more sugar. And I say that as one with a taste for bitter and sour flavours. The rhubarb flavour is rather overwhelmed by the berries. Also, the sago texture is mostly lost - it acts as a thickener here, not a feature. It's not set, and the little granules aren't noticeable among the berries.

This may be a plus if you don't like rhubarb or sago, but I do. Which is why I looked for a rhubarb sago recipe in the first place. Oh well, I can try and invent my own next time.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

New Places in Dickson

I had dinner out twice last week - once I had some tapas at Sub-Urban with the Bloke and a workmate of his, and once I went with a small group to the new Thai restaurant. I'll be going back to both of them.

Sub-Urban is the new incarnation of Bellucci's. It's half bar and half restaurant, and so far I've only eaten at the pub side. They do a decent burger and acceptable chips; the chicken caesar salad is fresh and crisp, but lacking in anchovy zing. The tapas are mostly better: good crisp szechuan-spiced squid, a little mild, but perfectly cooked. Nice dips, and the spicy meatballs were excellent. I was less impressed with the crab cakes - overcooked on the outside and bland. They have some good beers on tap - Little Creatures and James Squires.

The decor is retro, rather 30s looking to my inexpert eye. I like the 1940s and 50s style cocktail posters on the loo doors. On weeknights, and weekends during the day, it's got quite a pleasant vibe - moderately busy, a mixed bag of customers. I'd avoid it on Friday and Saturday nights, though - at those times it's packed out to screaming volume with what I can only describe as Canberra's young Westies.

We saw this on Friday night from across the road in the outside seating for the new Thai place, Little Thailand. It's where the Addis Abbaba Ethiopian used to be. It's got fairly standard modern Thai restaurant decor, pleasant in wood tones with a large Buddha painting and a few bare-breasted classical Thai ladies on the wall at the exit to the loos. The menu is all in English, with no Thai names for the dishes.

The people I was with hit on the idea of asking the waiter to get the chef to give us his six favourites. I was a bit worried that we might get the clueless westerner banquet menu out of that, but after a bit of explaining it did seem to work pretty well. We had a very tasty and crisp salt and pepper squid dotted with hot chilli slices; a pad thai with prawns; red curry chicken with plenty of vegetables; a lamb and chilli stirfry; garlic chicken salad; and crispy fish with tamarind sauce. I was especially taken with the squid, and the chicken salad.

It came to $22 per head, with the rice and corkage. It was all very good - well cooked, fresh ingredients, a medium level of spice, nicely presented. It was a tiny bit slow in service, but they were busy. I'll definitely go back to try some more.

And just for information, one of the people I was with recommended the place next door, New Asia. She said it was a simple, standard no frills Chinese place, but the food is all fresh and very well cooked.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Beef Week

Last week was chicken, this week was beef. We've had cheeseburgers with the Minto Galloway mince, and I roasted the 1.5kg hunk of silverside to medium rare. We had it as a hot roast dinner one night, with some roast potatoes, pumpkin and steamed beans, and a dab of horseradish. But mostly we've been eating it cold. With this hot weather, a salad is perfect, and I've been making Thai-inspired ones.

The one in the picture has mixed greens, coriander, mint, spring onion, capsicum, radish, cucumber and tomato, with a sprinkle of cashews on top - and plenty of rare roast beef. I did one with avocado and some of the cold roast pumpkin, too. The dressing is a standard for me, but so far I only seem to have posted two variants.

The salad dressing recipes are very simple, but the proportions really are a matter of taste. It's lime juice, fish sauce, and grated palm sugar - with sesame oil and chilli as the optional extras. The sesame oil is not traditional in Thai salads, but it works beautifully. Use fresh lime juice if possible, or a good preserved one like the Lime Grove juice cordial. If you don't have palm sugar, you can use jaggery, coconut sugar, or just a dark brown sugar. Use dried chilli flakes, fresh chilli shreds or a dab of sambal oelek. Make your own personal blend of sweet, sharp, salt and hot.

I think the coriander, mint and green onion are essential to this dish. Without them, I would choose some other salad dressing. I've been thinking of trying a more European style, perhaps with parsley, beetroot, red onion, horseradish and shavings of manchego or parmesan. There's still enough beef left for one more salad...

Monday, 12 January 2009

Muesli Bars and Muffins

I've mentioned before that I like to make muesli muffins with the out of date muesli. I have this because every now and then I buy muesli, and eat half the packet. Then I get bored. And I hate waste, so as long as it's just a little stale and not actually gone mouldy or rancid, I'll try and use it up. If you have a good recipe for anything that includes muesli as an ingredient, do let me know.

This time I made these muesli bars and I'm going to record the recipe for future reference. But don't make them, they're not worth the effort. They came out very soft, but by the time they were cold they were nicely solid and crunchy. So that was good. But also they're rather bland, and the dried fruit on the surface is overcooked - chewy and slightly burned. See the little black dots in the picture? That's not so nice. I don't know how people solve this problem to make raisin cookies; I must look that up some time.

My Sunday morning muffins were much more successful. These were in part a use-up: I had half a cup of pumpkin puree in the freezer, leftover from the pumpkin pie experiment. That's why they're so orange. I used a similar spice mix as for the pumpkin pie: cinnamon, ginger and allspice.

While I do sometimes follow recipes, especially for tricky cases like high bran content, muffins can also be a great home for leftover odds and ends. Toss in the last of a jar of honey, that last tablespoon of syrup, some old cereal. Chop up that one dodgy apple, and chuck in the last couple of spoons of rhubarb. Whatever. I have a sort of routine that I use, which I'll put below the fold. I admit it's not perfect: it does tend to produce slightly dry muffins. I think this is because I make them low fat. But if you are eating them hot from the oven, it's not really a problem. Reheat the next day in the oven for best results, or nuke for 20 seconds. They're not so great cold.

My google-fu failed me, and I could not find a recipe for a muesli bar or slice that included muesli as an ingredient. It's all about oats and nuts and dried fruit. I found this one by googling about, and used it as a rough guide to developing my own.

Recipe 1: Muesli Bars
50g margarine
100 ml honey
100 ml golden syrup
50g brown sugar
75g plain flour
600g muesli

Preheat the oven to 180C.
In a pan over a low heat, melt together the margarine, honey, syrup and brown sugar, stirring well until all is melted.
Combine together the muesli and flour in a large bowl and then pour over the syrup mixture. Mix well.
Tip the mixture into a shallow baking tray. Press the mixture down well to get an even spread. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden. While still warm and soft, cut bar shapes with a pizza cutter.

Meh. This could work, without the fruit, to make some nice thick oaty cookies. Also, I'd add some cinnamon or something to boost the flavours.

Recipe 2: Muffin of the Week

2 cups self raising flour
2 cups liquid
Some fruit and spice and stuff

Preheat oven to 180C.
Mix everything together quickly, without over-doing it. Add a dash more milk if it's too solid.
Tip into silicon muffin pans and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden.

This makes 12 small ones or 6 large - the large ones only take about 5 minutes longer.

This week's implementation was:
* Liquid: 1 egg, 1/2 cup pumpkin puree, 50 ml maple syrup, 25 ml sunflower oil, topped up to 2 cups with light milk.
* Flour: just ordinary white self-raising.
* Fruit and stuff: 3/4 cup blueberries, 1/4 cup white sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp allspice
It worked nicely.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

A breakfast and a small spot of shopping, times two

Zucchero is one of my favourite spots in Manuka. It's an unpretentious, straightforward cafe/patisserie, serving up good food and coffee with no attitude. I like this a lot. I guess I'm a reverse snob in some ways - I can't bear to go to JusQytly simply because of their appalling name.

They keep civilised hours at Zucchero, serving breakfast until 3pm. I had a late breakfast there yesterday, with my usual pair of mates who also don't work on Fridays. I had a very decent rich Illy coffee, and a terrific bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich on their house bread. The bacon was cooked to perfectly crispy, but not at all burned, and the bread was a chewy mixed rye and white loaf. Both my friends went for pancakes, which were of the very fat fluffy hotcake kind, and came with a good serve of berry coulis and maple syrup. They were pronounced excellent, but I was so into my bacon that I didn't think to ask for a sample.

The meals aren't very expensive: I paid $12 for my sandwich and coffee, and the pancakes were also around $9. They also have bigger breakfasts, including several different vegetarian egg options, and good baguette sandwiches. I didn't buy any of their patisserie this time, but I have in the past. I remember a rather good lemon-lime tart. This time they had a new line in, of some kind of white mousse or maybe a pannacotta, sitting in a white chocolate cup, with a fruity gel layer on top. Beth and I disagreed over whether those ones looked good - I went for "odd but intriguing", she went for "off-puttingly plastic".

It was a lovely morning for sitting out in the lawns in the shade. The sun was bright, but yesterday's cool change gave us a pleasant breeze. After a while we pottered off to do a bit of light shopping, sneaking peeks into the shiny things shops, the bookshop, and the wool shop (not for me but my mates are both crafty types.) We spent up a bit at Manuka Fine Foods, which does indeed stock a lot of lovely - if often shockingly expensive - fine foods. I picked up some tea and piccalilli from the Xmas bargain table, that I'd never have bought at full price. And with a great effort of will, I avoided their extraordinary cheese room.

We had a second coffee at the Wine and Cheese Providore, which was OK but not so great - mine was a little too cool. I noticed that they stock Barossa Fine Foods smallgoods, but I was very annoyed that none of them had a price label. It seemed a bit strange: quite a lot of their refrigerated products lacked price tags, and some of the shelf goods, too. I find that this rather strongly inhibits one's browsing. We left without buying anything else, largely because of that.

Today was a different style of breakfast and shopping. I started with a trip to the EPIC markets. This wasn't as successful as usual. I started quite late, and some of the usual stall-holders seem to be on holiday. I had no luck finding tomatoes, eggs, coriander or bread rolls; they'd all sold out before I got there. Anthoula wasn't there with her cinnamon twists and pumpkin bread.

But I did get some amazing huge blackberries, and some tiny plums and a few fresh blueberries. Cherries are still in season, though a lot are not of the best quality. But I did eventually find some good ones - I split a 2kg box of big fat dark red ones with a woman in a pink stripy top. For veggies, I bought salad greens, radishes, herbs, spring onions, broccoli, garlic and some interesting looking dark purple beans. I also have some Galloway beef mince and a roast; and some honey, lime cordial, bread and olives.

Breakfast followed the shopping today. Back at home, I started a no-knead bread and another lot of roasted tomatoes and garlic. And I've just eaten a big slice of sunflower-seeded sourdough, with the new yellowbox honey, and a bowl of cherries. Pretty good, but I'm not wild about this honey: it's rather light and bland. I like them robust - stringybark is good, and you can get an amazing coffee-blossom one from one of the plantations up round Cairns. Oh well, it can be my cooking honey; I need a mild flavoured one for a gelato.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Internet Salmagundi XI

A fascinating look at errors and their corrections in the media, this lengthy report includes a major recipe blooper. Search for "Antony Worrall Thompson" to find it quickly.

If programming languages were religions... then I'd still be a humanist, it seems.

These designs are called "Guilloché patterns", but to me it's virtual spirograph! Great to fiddle with.

If Facebook had existed in Jane Austen's era. Or Shakespeare's.

Among all the new year posts I've seen on all the blogs I read, I like Chocolate & Zucchini best.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

One chicken, three meals

An Asian style poached chicken has been the basis of all dinners from Tuesday to Thursday this week. I started this chook on Monday night while we were eating our tomato, olive, mushroom and basil pasta and salad. It's a very easy recipe. It doesn't take much effort, just a little observation and a timer.

On Tuesday, I stripped the meat and used some in the first of our chicken meals: a refreshing cold noodle salad. On the same night, I tossed the bones back in the pot and let the stock simmer down for another couple of hours, before straining and reducing it to about two cups.

On Wednesday, I made steamed rice in the stock, and we ate more of the poached chicken. This was a pretty good meal, and the rice was delicious. Sadly, the accompanying bok choy in sate sauce was disappointing. I bought a jar of macadamia sate sauce from Food Lovers in Belconnen Market, as a small time saving luxury, but I was in a hurry and did not read the ingredients carefully. Macadamia flavouring? Not actual nuts? Oh dear. I'd never have bought it if I'd read the label, but now I have to use it up anyway. It's not vile, just disappointingly lacklustre.

Finally, tonight I made fried rice. I don't do this often, but it is a good way of using things up. And if your rice is as tastily chicken-flavoured as this was, it is totally delicious. A fried egg topper and a swirl of classic Sriracha chilli tops it off. I used the last of Fiona's "green" eggs, nearly a month old but still good. Fi, what sort of chook lays them? I forgot.

I'll put recipes for the chicken and salad below the fold, but really the only one you need is the poached chicken. The rest is improv. To cook rice in stock, you simply put stock instead of water in your rice cooker. Duh. To make fried rice, you stir fry some onion and garlic and vegetables; add cooked meat and leftover cooked vegetables and a splash of soy or rice wine or something; then add the cold cooked rice and stir well, and keep stirring so it doesn't get stuck. I used red capsicum, broccoli, a bit of leftover bok choy, some frozen peas, and a small tin of pineapple chunks. I like pineapple, OK? You don't have to.

Recipe 1: Asian-style Poached Chicken
1 chicken
2 teaspoons salt
1 lemon, whole
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 shallots, sliced
a large chunk of ginger, about 2 thumbs in size, washed and sliced
50 ml Chinese cooking wine

Wash the chicken, and rub it with salt. Stab the lemon a few times and stuff it inside the chicken with a few slices of the ginger, garlic and shallot.
Put the chicken in a large saucepan and pour over water to cover. Add a good splash of rice wine.
Bring the chicken to the boil rapidly, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the chicken cool in the broth for a couple of hours, then refrigerate overnight.
Next day, skim the congealed fat off the broth, and remove the chicken for whatever use you like.

Notes: My chicken was a 1.8kg free-range bird. Smaller or larger won't matter as long as you keep it covered. Recipes often say to skim off the scum as it boils, but I have found that the floating ginger and shallot gets in the way, and there isn't that much scum anyway.

Recipe 2: Cold Chicken Noodle Salad
300g cold poached chicken
150g bean thread vermicelli noodles
1 bunch coriander
few springs vietnamese mint
1 carrot
1/2 red capsicum
cos lettuce to taste
30 ml lime juice
20 ml soy sauce
10 ml sesame oil
1 tsp palm sugar shavings
1/2 tsp chilli flakes

Soak the noodles in cold water for 15 minutes, or until softened to your taste. Strain them and dry them well, and chop roughly. Put in a bowl, along with chopped herbs, chopped chicken, julienne shredded carrot and capsicum. Put lime juice, soy, sesame oil, sugar and chilli in a small jar and shake well. Mix into salad.
Serve salad on a bed of chopped cos lettuce

Notes: Improv! Use other salad veggies, herbs, maybe some nuts, whatever. Use any other cooked meat, or tofu if you must. Mung bean vermicelli comes from Asian grocers, in little bundles, and really does not need cooking at all.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Work and New Yearishness

I'm back at work, but not back "at" work. I'm enjoying working from home at the moment - I see no reason to waste time commuting when there's no-one there to talk to anyway. I've spent the morning clearing out the email, spam, software updates, and doing a general new yearish sort and tidy. After lunch I'll be ready to start on the actual coding bit.

Being at home also means that I can shove trays of maple syrup drizzled apricots and vanilla sugar sprinkled rhubarb into the oven at lunchtime. Both are from the garden - it's my first apricot crop, I got around 1.5 kg of very small but extremely tasty apricots. I've eaten a lot just plain, but I fancied roasting some. I've mostly used brown sugar with apricots, but maple syrup struck me as a fine idea. Breakfast tomorrow will be apricot yoghurt.

Dessert tonight would have been apricots with caramel gelato and honeycomb toffee shards, but I'm going back to my regular plan of desserts being for weekends and special occasions, now that the Xmas break is over. I'll have to save some apricots for the weekend. This is the only New Year thing I'm doing right now. For various reasons, mostly to do with work, I hereby decree that for resolution purposes, my new year will start in February.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

J is for Jamison

Not to be confused with Jameson, the Irish whiskey of a slightly different spelling. The Jamison Centre includes a small mall now badged as "Jamison Plaza", and a few businesses in neighbouring streets. Technically it's in the suburb of Macquarie, but nobody ever calls it the Macquarie shops, so I'll keep it as my "J" entry.

There are two notable restaurants off in the Wiseman St/Lawry St court area, near the Salvation army shop. The Dumpling Inn is reputed to do the best yum cha in Canberra, and one day I must get round to trying that. I've been there for dinner once, and it was good. They're currently closed for holidays, due to reopen on 12 Jan. The Turkish Pide House was a staple for friends living in that inner Belconnen area, so I've been there several times and eaten their takeaway pide even more often. It's a good example of its type, and I do recommend it even though I prefer TurkOz at Dickson. There are three of these Turkish Pide House restaurants; I don't like the city one much, because I've had bad service there too many times. Jamison has always been much better in my experience.

Also around Jamison is the Jamison Inn (Jammo), a pub that's been there forever, and is a bit of a dive. And there's the Southern Cross Club Wests, with the usual club brasserie and stuff. I've never been in there. (Correction: the Jammo is now closed down. Thanks, Anon commenter.)

On the outside edge of the "plaza", you'll find a burger, sandwich and pizza takeaway, and a Turkish Kebab House. The latter is an offshoot of the Pide House, using the same logo, and sharing management, but it's more of a fast food joint. It's brightly lit, has the gyros grilling behind the counter, there's no table service. You can get the usual kebabs, soft drinks, chips and such. They also have a few unusual items for a kebab house: vegetarians can choose a zucchini puff roll as well as the usual felafel roll. There are cheese burek, and gozleme, too.

I first encountered gozleme at the Folk Festival. They are simple things - a grilled flat bread wrap, like a quesadilla or a lightly filled pancake. I'm quite fond of them. So since I was in need of a late lunch, I tried one of those. They have four pre-made varieties, all assembled across the way in the main restaurant. They're reheated on a large sandwich press. I tried the mince, cheese and spinach, and liked it. The bread wrap was thin and slightly crisp, as I've also had at Ades in Belconnen. The folk festival stall does a softer version. I don't know what's more authentic, but they're both nice. There's a recipe at which I may try out one day. (Picture from, credit Louise Lister.)

What's in the mall?
Inside the major complex, there are two major supermarkets (Coles and Aldi) and a couple of chain shops, Donut King and Coffee Guru. There are two bakeries, one rather old-fashioned in its offerings with plain breads, pies, softdrinks, and an icecream freezer. The other is more patisserie-styled, and sells gourmet pies. The bread shown here is a "German Grain Sourdough" ($5.60) from the more modern looking one, Bakery Culture. It's a nice brown loaf, but lacks the tang and density of a real sourdough. They also have cheaper regular loaves, and the patisserie looks nice - I was most tempted by the fruit custard "clafouti" tarts.

There is a pleasant cafe there, Ricardo's, which was closed when I went but is due to reopen tomorrow. I went there once with Beth, and seem to recall a decent coffee. But it was a long time ago. There's also a mixed Asian fast food place, with stirfries in the bains-mairie, and laksas on offer. It looked OK as far as I can tell.

On the supply side, there's a butcher, Simco Fresh Meats, and also the Allergy Centre, a health food shop with plenty of useful supplies for coeliacs and other people with specific dietary needs. The health food shop comes with the usual dose of woo-woo - a naturopath on site, and expensive fad superfoods (gojiberries and mangosteen are so last year, pomegranate is the latest), a huge wall of supplement pills, and ads for magic water and other quack stuff. That's unavoidable, it seems, but I don't have to like it.

I've saved the best till last: I loved Go Troppo. This is a pretty decent fruit and veg place, like its relative in the Fyshwick markets, but the Jamison branch also has a large deli and frozen food section. They stock many good things - frozen berries by the kilo; a dozen flavours of Pure Gelato; frozen and dried fish; and Mario's pastizzi and ravioli. I was especially excited about the pastizzi, since this is the first time I've found them in Canberra. Pastizzi are excellent party nibbles. I took some ricotta and spinach ones as a contribution to a New Year's Eve party last night; they came out really well. They have a very good light flaky pastry, and you can cook them straight from frozen.

Also in the deli, there was a terrific cheese selection. I bought some Manchego and a firm Dutch goat cheese, and noticed that they also had the aged Gouda that I was so exited to find in Fruitylicious. Actually, my excitement over these delis may say more about my habits than the delis. Dickson has no deli, and the ones in Belconnen that I'm most familiar with tend to stock more Italian and gourmet Australian products, and not so much of the north and east European range. This self-imposed exploration is a good idea.

Happy New Year!

Starting the year well, I am now enjoying a good breakfast. I have a thick slice of dark grainy bread, spread with cream cheese and Crankypants grapefruit & cointreau marmalade. I also have a bowl of cherries, and a large mug of Toby's Estate coffee.

Happy 2009 to all.