What happens when the freshest of ingredients meet some past their prime in my fridge? Some would say, get rid of the old and make room for the new. My answer is mix them up, giving leftover cooking a fresh twist.
It all started with a quick trip to the shop for milk with Mr T. I should have known we’d end up with more, especially when I spotted him at the fish stall next door eyeing out scallops and wild Canadian salmon. The latter in particular is rarely seen fresh in australian retail shops, and very much a delicacy for us. Unlike the farmed Atlantic salmon usually available, wild sockeye salmon stands out for its brighter colour, drier and firm texture as well as a distinctively pronounced taste ( more fishy, less fatty ). While it is pricey, in my opinion the superior flavour makes it well worth buying. If only for the memories it brings back… Read More
Welcome to our first Halloween party! Yep, it has taken that many years for us to succumb to the Halloween madness, always finding an excuse: French people don’t celebrate it, our generation didn’t grow up with it, treat or tricking makes no sense on a boat, don’t like scary things anyway…then we had kids, we spent some time in the USA during fall season, and lately social media is swamped with Halloween references!
So it all started with a Sunday lunch invite at our place last weekend. As always our family get togethers follow a theme, and this time being so close to Halloween, I thought it a good idea to make it the overall theme. It was initially meant to apply to the food, but as I poured over cookbooks, magazines and blogs researching related food props and table settings, I found myself at this party supplies shop loading up on more Halloween decorations that I ever bought in my life! I blame this particular blogger who I follow for her quirky and delicious posts, particularly at Halloween time and somehow made me believe I could throw a ghoulish party at a few days notice! Lucky it helps to have a teenage daughter who is into anything gory and gruesome and knows what it takes to achieve maximum effect.
The Set Up:
The party was to take place at home and after much consideration for our guests dislikes and phobias ( i.e. spiders and severed body parts ) we settled on a mixed theme of haunted house and skeletons. I went crazy starting with Haunted Scene tape on the doors, acquiring a couple of hinged skeletons, a dozen skulls, countless rats and baby spiders, enough spiderweb to drape over a couple of rooms, a little ghost and eyeballs to float into drinks! I even uncovered a ghost- like photo of myself taken 30 years ago which I framed and displayed next to more skulls and spider webs…
Couldn’t leave the toilets alone either and stuck a skeleton poster on the door while covering the seat with pictures of spiders ( that pushed the envelope a bit for some…hehe!). I will spare you the photos!
Anne helped with some edible decorations, carving watermelon and pumpkin, turning mandarins into mummies, and picked the music score, finding an already composed Halloween playlist on Spotify, mixing Thriller with Adams Family tunes.
Dress up initially optional, was heavily encouraged to keep with the party spirit.
I could not decide what to be, between a witch or a fairy so I mixed them both, figuring that the hat would fit either description. Mr T went for the Black Ripper, which looked oddly realistic and had the merit of being very comfortable to wear. Anne wrapped herself in a white sheet, intending to be a ghost but looking more like a medieval maiden. Shelley and Tania came as the Devil and Maleficent, accompanied by pirate Jai and monster shirt wearing Matt ( who I suspect played it tame because he had no idea what to expect! )
Top prize must go to the youngest kids though with Jesse dressed as vampire Dracula and Hannah eerily scary in her ghost outfit straight out of the Ring movie set. How can 7 and 8 year old look so spooky??
For drinks, I had peach bellini cocktails to welcome guests. It was quite popular with the girls in the kitchen, but the boys thought it too sweet and dainty and stuck to beer ( no surprise there!)
More success with the kids drink: fresh watermelon juice mixed with lemonade, pourable from the urn, went like a treat and kept them hydrated all day.
As is tradition, our guests were asked to bring a dish each as a contribution to our banquet. Shelley jumped in with the idea of a brain, made of salmon mousse and dotted with black fish roe to resemble blod clots. We ended up serving the former on a bed of lettuce and the latter separately, thinking the initial concept might have been to gross…
I liked the thought of serving black food for Halloween and came across the recipe for Black Hummus on this blog, which I tried to replicate not without some challenges. I had to order black chickpeas from Melbourne, my blender barely coped with the amount of black sesame seed to turn into tahini then mix with the chickpeas to make the hummus ( I am now officially in the market for a high-speed Vitamix-style blender ). But the result was a striking looking dip ( if a tad greyer than on the blog’s picture) perfectly matched with the colourful corn chips.
And while we’re on colours, you can’t go past a black wooden platter loaded with orange cheeses. We had 4 types; a mild Leicester, a not-as-stinky-as I’d like washed rind, a potent cheddar and black garlic we purchased a few weeks ago in Tilba and an evenly scented piece of truffle pecorino brought by Tania and which I tried to keep for myself! We served them alongside charcoal crackers and black seeded crackers I made after reading a similar recipe in NQN blog a few days prior.
Tania said she was dying to try a ribs recipe on our bbq, which was music to my ears as a) everyone loves ribs b) I had been meaning to make this for the longest time!
Danielle had the carb-lovers ( meaning everyone! ) covered with mac and cheese. Rosalie brought a tangy potato salad and I made a multicoloured coleslaw, which is not very Halloweeny but I figured people might feel like something green and crunchy at some point.
As for the sweets, the piece de resistance was a White Chocolate Mud cake Kathy purchased from New York patisserie, a local family favourite. It was such a pretty cake, we felt bad adding rats and spiders around it…only for a second though!
I had also made green goop ( i.e tapioca pearls in pandan coconut sauce ) which some of us partook in… the ones who were not full, that is.
Of course there was a lolly bowl, filled to the brim with wrapped candies and chocolates and for which the kids didn’t have to trick anyone.
We ate, we drank, we talked about scary shows ( Stranger Things Season 2 is on everyone’s radar at the moment!), laughed at each other, watched the kids slip out of their costumes into the swimming pool and scolded them for eating too many lollies so close to bedtime…waving goodbye long after darkness had fallen.
It is somehow nice to celebrate Halloween a few days in advance. That way you can stretch the fun a little longer, a bonus considering the effort of putting it all together. As I write, I am told how Kathy tricked the kids with spiders in their lunch boxes yesterday. The same way I laughed when Mr T found rats at the bottom of the sink last night. As for the ghost behind the toilet door? He is still there, oooohing the unsuspecting. I am told the joke is wearing thin, still one more day though…
To those who are into it, Happy Halloween!! For the ones who aren’t, here are a couple of black recipes for a Goth-like party anytime.
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
In Australia, I found black chickpeas from a specialty indian grocer in Melbourne. They take longer to cook than white chickpeas, especially if like me you forget to soak them before hand, you will need to simmer them for at least 3 hours.
The black tahini is available online at Harris Farm and some organic stores. I wish I’d known. before I embarked on making my own and nearly ruined my blender in the process.
I used a food processor, as instructed in the original recipe. It took a long time, some extra water and the texture was still a little grainy for my liking. I am now investigating a high speed blender ( Vitamix or Nutribullet?) to achieve a “whipped” result. Stay tuned.
This recipe makes a lot, but it keeps in the fridge for months ( apparently!)
Makes about 4 cups
4 cups cooked black chickpeas
4-6 tablespoons lemon juice
4 medium garlic cloves, crushed ( I used smoked garlic, a gift from a friend, plain garlic will be ok )
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup black tahini ( see comment above )
1 cup ice cold water ( or more depending on the consistency )
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- In a blender or food processor, puree the chickpeas into a thick paste. Add the lemon juice, garlic and salt. With the processor running, add the tahini. Slowly add the ice cold water, until you reach the desired consistency. Keep processing for at least 5 minutes.
- Taste and adjust salt, lemon juice, water as necessary.
- Serve drizzled with EVO and crackers on the side.
Black Seeded Crackers
Adapted from Not Quite Nigella
I was originally looking for a charcoal crackers recipe when I came across Lorraine’s gluten free seeded crackers. I already had a lot of seeds and nuts from granola making so it was not a far stretch to turn them into savoury treats. I only tweaked the recipe a little, adding charcoal powder and using black sesame seeds left over from the black tahini efforts! I also substituted soya sauce for nori seaweed. You can’t really taste the charcoal, but it is definitely crunchy and tastes nutty as! This is great to make in advance as it keeps in an airtight container for a few days.
Makes 2 large trays of crackers
100g almond meal
75 g pepitas ( pumpkin seeds )
75 g sunflower kernels
30 g black sesame seeds
30 g flaxseeds
1 cup cold water
1 tsp soy sauce
A few drops of sesame oil
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C and line 2 trays with baking parpaper. Place all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mix well and divide the mixture between the 2 trays, pressing down and spreading thin with a spatula or the back of a metallic spoon ( I tried with clean hands, and made a real mess!)
- Sprinkle salt over the crackers dough, bake for 40mn and remove from the oven. Break the cracker in half and turn it over to bake for another 15mn until crisp ( careful not to burn!) Allow to cool and break into shards.
- Serve with cheese ( as I did ) or with dip. I think it would also be great served with soup as an alternative to bread.
It was Terry’s birthday last month, and as usual, the kids were racking their brains as to what gift to buy him. Every year I am asked the same question: “ Dad has everything already, surely he doesn’t want another book, shirt or pair of socks?”. And every year, we brainstorm and come up with…books, shirts and socks.
Except this year. I put a little more effort and thought into it, starting a few months in advance. It was after one of these busy weekends, filled with fishing and private charters, the week had been busy dealing with aviation issues and he mentioned how he wished we could get away for a few days. As fate would have it, only days later I received an email from Groupon, offering a special 4-night stay at, a 5* luxury resort in Terrigal, on the NSW Central Coast. There was my answer to the birthday conandrum: a family getaway!
I spent the following 3 months secretly organising the rest of the family, catering, dog sitting and generally ensuring the plan remained a surprise. Amazingly it did, and I was so relieved when Terry found the resort brochure attached to his birthday card and he actually beamed with a huge smile! The past couple of months had been stressful on him, so this was something to be excited about.
The plan was for the 2 of us to drive up to the resort on the Thursday and enjoy a night on our own, while the girls and Anne would arrive the following night. Craig and his family also drove up the next day, staying in nearby Avoca, where apparently the surf is better! Due to work commitments, Marc didn’t join us until the Saturday, as did Danielle and the kids ( sadly Mal had to stay behind and deal with the fishing charters…someone had to work!). As you can see, it shaped up to be a road trip for everyone, even the weather came to the party with sun and soaring temperatures giving us an early taste of summer.
Can you believe that after 29 years in Australia, I have never visited the Central Coast. It is only a 90mn drive north from the city, and stretches from the mouth of the Hawkesbury River to the Southern end of Lake Macquarie. Terry remembers surfing there a very long time ago but has not been back either, instead we always bypassed it on our way to and from Queensland. We feel like the odd ones out, as nearly everyone we know in Sydney seem to have memories of summer holidays spent at any of the coastal towns that dot the shoreline.
The drive from Cronulla takes 2 1/2 hours to Terrigal, it could be shorter but we decide to explore along the way and check out the picturesque towns of Killcare, Copacabana and Avoca Beach.
Our destination is the Star of the Sea resort at Terrigal. Location is stunning, overlooking the beach and the Haven, and a 5 mn walk to the town. Our 3-bedroom apartment is pretty fabulous with partial ocean views ( the Groupon deal does not apply to full ocean views ) and overlooking the tennis court. It is full of light and a massive 250sqm with a fully equipped kitchen and a laundry room large enough to be a single bedroom! I can see how guests stay here for a few days and treat the resort as their home away from home, in fact most apartments are larger than most homes! For my part, I only plan to eat in once for Terry’s birthday dinner, and even then it will be a catered affair ( more on that later ).
Our first dinner is booked at Yellowtail, a small restaurant in the middle of Terrigal, located within an unassuming shopfront. Whenever there are just the two of us, I like the intimacy of small neighborhood restaurants, and Yellowtail is definitely meeting the brief: it sits 35-40 people and definitely feels cosy. There is a projection of moving jelly fish on the wall above my head, which I think is cute but Terry finds distracting as his eyes keep being drawn to them rather than me!
The menu combines influences from the Mediterranean, Middle East and Asia, all mouth watering choices which have us totally undecided. Led by our waitress’ suggestion, we eventually opt for the Chef’s pick Sharing Menu.
We start with some Pambula oysters ( one each ) and a plate of snapper sashimi with finger lime, black sesame crisps, galangal and coconut. The fish is fresh and zingy from the lime.
The first main course is ocean trout served with dashi broth, grilled asparagus and turnip puree. I love this dish: it is quite light, but so flavourful and the fish is cooked just right!
Served alongside is a bowl of soy glazed fried eggplant with sesame and shallots. Terry is not an eggplant fan, but he doesn’t mind the sauce.
The second main is a crispy duck breast cut in half ( we are sharing!) with smokey eggplant puree, broccolini, labne and walnuts. The duck skin is super crispy yet the meat remain very tender, and I love the combination of flavours ( though, there is just too much eggplant for Terry’s liking !)
Lucky for him, there is a plate of roasted cauliflower coming along: charred florets, smothered with tahini, and a generous sprinkle of dukkah.
Desserts appear simple on paper, but are quite sophisticated on the plate. One thick slice of triple cream brie is “stabbed” with tissue thin linseed wafers, surrounded by little blobs of guava puree and a scattering of candied walnuts.
The poached rhubarb and yoghurt plate is quite refreshing, served with pistachio pastry and rose sprinkling.
By the end of the meal, we are feeling quite full and welcome the short walk up the hill back to the resort.
We wake up the next day to a glorious sunrise and the forecast of a mega hot day.
That’s our cue to go on an early beachwalk and enjoy lunch by the water, our last opportunity for a tete-a-tete before the kids arrive!
The Reef Restaurant is a bit of an institution in Terrigal, famous for its beachfront location and its unsurpassed ocean views. The menu reads fine dining, but they have a midweek lunch special at a reasonable $49 for 2 courses and a glass of wine. That’s perfect for us, since we are not that hungry after the previous night feast at Yellowtail and we promised the kids a pizza night on their arrival.
I order an entree of soft shell crab with Vietnamese salad and cashew nut nam jim. The crab is crunchy on the outside and juicy in the inside, while the cabbage salad has just the right amount of spice ( not overly hot! ).
Terry chooses the crispy pork belly on a bed of jerusalem artichoke puree, chorizo soil and scorched cherry tomatoes. The skin lacks in crispiness, but the meat makes up for it with it’s melt in the mouth tenderness.
There are a choice of 3 mains: fish, beef and duck. As much as we’d like something different from the salmon and duck which we ate the night before, that’s what we end up ordering as neither of us feel like steak and ratatouille in that heat.
The salmon comes as a pan fried fillet sitting on a generous amount of broad beans and peas ( a mountain, says Terry!), with pancetta and cauliflower cream. The fish is cooked perfectly, and while the dish looks light it is quite rich with the creamy cauliflower and the beans.
In contrast, the duck is nowhere near as heavy as it looks, it is a whole leg confit served with bok choy and shimeji mushrooms and chili jam. The sweet spiciness of the jam offsets the gamey flavour of the duck, and I end up polishing the plate while Terry struggles with finishing his ( we actually share every dish, and normally I would have handed back the duck as he clearly preferred it to the salmon, but somehow I didn’t…oops! )
All dishes from the set menu are an adapted version of what is on offer on the a la carte menu ( read, smaller serving and maybe an element missing ). We initially thought we’d still be hungry but at that stage, we both were full. Unfortunately that means neither of us felt like dessert, for fear of spending the rest of the afternoon dealing with food coma. I did ask for a coffee though, but by then the restaurant was extremely busy with the Friday lunch crowd and the staff was running in all directions, forgetting my request. I eventually walked to the counter to settle the bill and to their credit, was offered a free coffee to go, which I declined as I am not much of a coffee sipping driver.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on the road, exploring the area north of Terrigal to the Entrance: beaches as far as the eye can see, holiday houses lining the foreshore…the kind of place where you just pick a spot to drop your towel and stay there for the day!
Then walk back to your hotel/motel/resort and order takeaway pizza for the kids while enjoying the cheese platter and wine generously offered by management! I could get used to this…
It is a warm spring day, I am sitting at Rosetta Ristorante, the Neil Perry’s Rockpool Dining Group new venture in Sydney. I am joined by my cruising and foodie friend Magali, who is just as keen as I am to try the latest eateries around town. She has been my dining partner before, at the fine dining Rockpool before it became Jade Temple, and other trendy venues in the city. This time, we decided to go Italian.
In my case it was not that I felt like Italian food so much, it is a cuisine I have very little to do with, beside pasta and pizzas. The main reason is Terry’s dislike for any tomato based dishes which he associates with Italian gastronomy, so I rarely cook it at home. But today, it is just us girls, and if someone is going to serve good Italian, surely it must be Neil Perry!
Located in Sydney CBD, Rosetta is spread across 3 levels: a terrace, the main dining area, and a bar and a mezzanine. I enter a lift to access the restaurant, and a sharply dressed lady takes me to our table, nicely set next to the wine cabinet and with a partial view of the open kitchen. While I wait for Magali, I observe the ballet of staff welcoming diners. Most are wearing suits, hinting at the corporate clientele, and though the place only opened 6 weeks ago, judging by the familiarity of the greeting of some customers, Rosetta appears to have become a regular lunch cantina for a few people. My heart skips a beat, when I spot a dark suited figure striding in towards the kitchen. The pony tail gives him away, and I can’t wait to tell Magali “ Neil is in the house!”. We are like teenage girls with a crush, disappointed to hear he was gone soon after he arrived, but quickly get over it by ordering a Rosetta Bellini. Made with fresh strawberries and prosecco, it is the perfect start for a midweek lunch. While we chat, the waiter comes over with freshly made grissini and an offering of sourdough or foccacia bread, to dip in extra virgin olive oil poured from the bottle in front of us. Magali checks out the label and nods in approval, I don’t bother looking as I have already dunked my bread in and it tasted divine.
The menu offerings cover all options with a few vegetarian dishes, seafood and poultry ( 2 duck dishes even! ). But what takes my fancy, is items I don’t often see on Sydney menus: veal features in 4 different ways ( as an entree of veal tonnato, in osso bucco, , crumbed alla milanese, and a grilled veal rump) and tripes alla Romana. Yes, tripes!!! Since I always make a point of ordering what I don’t cook at home, the choice is easy: veal tonnato and tripes for me!
The veal tonnato comes as a surprise. Instead of the traditional presentation of cold poached veal slices with a tuna mayonnaise, the dish looks more like a terrine of tuna with thin lemon slices and parsley leaves draped over it. You need to slice thru to find the paper thin veal slices actually layered inside, very much like a terrine. The combination of the veal, the tuna, the baby capers, lemon and olive oil is perfect. The flavours are so intense, we can’t tell if there is any mayonnaise ( if there is, you hardly taste it ). It is quite a rich entree, large enough to share ( which I do, as i can’t finish it ), and one that I would easily serve at home with witlof leaves as an elegant canape ( or on bruschetta for a hearty snack!).
Magali’s entree of asparagus and soft boiled eggs looks very pretty and she delights in its simplicity yet deliciousness. She sighs with pleasure, saying she feels like being in Sicily again. I suspect the glass of Sicilian Grillo wine she ordered helps. I should know, as I am particularly pleased with my own choice of Monrose Rose, a dry rose wine from Lombardia that tastes more like a white wine ( in a good way ).
The tripes are served in a large shallow plate, soup-like. the dish has a rustic look about it, with plenty of tomato sauce ( I think of Terry ) and a good sprinkling of parmesan cheese. The meat is tender yet still with a bite to it, and the sauce sweet and slightly tangy. I love it and wish I could bring the plate to my lips to slurp the last of the sauce.
Magali could not go past the pasta and ordered the spaghetti a la chitarra with king prawns and pistachios. She is very happy with her choice, though surprised to see the thin pasta was flavoured with squid ink, a fact not mentioned on the menu.
Both meals are quite filling, and we try very hard to make a dent in the side dish of baby carrots and stracciatella ( my choice, I have a weakness for the fresh cheese ). The vegetables are simply roasted and served with a generous amount of stracciatella, a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil and seasoning. Sadly, we could not finish this.
Needless to say that we had no room for dessert either, which is quite sad considering that we both started lunch with desserts in mind: I skipped the pasta and Magali the secondi, so that we could taste at least the canoli! Oh, well, that means we’ll have to come back. I might even lure Terry in next time…
What a month September has been. While it has been wonderful for us, with family celebrations and getaways, it has also been traumatic with the news of the devastation brought by hurricanes Irma and Maria to the Caribbean islands. Add to this the 2 earthquakes that rocked Mexico in as many weeks, and it was enough to render us speechless.
As some of you may know, the Caribbeans and Mexico are destinations close to our heart, places where we sailed to on our previous boat and where we spent over 18 months combined. I feel a little guilty for saying this, but we lived some of our most memorable cruising moments there, and to witness the destruction of such beautiful places just broke my heart.
We still have a few friends there, some on land some on boats and a lot of our thoughts have been with them lately. Going over news feeds and messages, has invariably led to the uncovering of old photos and diary posts, bringing back sweet memories of cruising encounters, explorations and of course, feasts.
A few days ago, I came across an article I wrote in our old sailing blog entitled “ 10 ways to eat fish “. This was back in the days, when I was new to blogging and I was focusing more on the travelling and sailing aspect of our cruising life rather than the culinary side. We had completed the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, as part of the ARC, a 200+ fleet of cruising boats from the Canaries to St Lucia. Spirits were high and life was good!
The piece had a link to a note written earlier for the ARC daily logs, where every participating boat was encouraged to post as it allowed people on land to share the fleet’s lives on board. Subjects were varied: some crew wrote about sea conditions or mechanical issues, I mostly mentionned fishing and food. here is an extract of the log in question:
Marc’s fishing efforts were rewarded in the afternoon with another mahi- mahi,1,10mt long, nearly as big as the first one. At the risk of sounding spoiled, I must say we are
reaching saturation with fish dinners, and after keeping enough for one
last feast of fish and chips tonight, the rest has gone in the freezer. I
suggested it was time to put the rods away, since we have more fish than we
can eat, but boredom must have set in, as I heard the whizzing sound of the
lines going in this morning. Marc claims he needs a fresh catch everyday so
that he can have fish tartare!
Of all the fish recipes, this is our family favourite: it takes 10mn to
make, no cooking involved (precious in this hot weather), and can be
prepared in advance and kept in the fridge. So here goes.
You’ll need: 500-600g FRESH fish fillets (mahi-mahi or tuna) cubed finely,
1tsp chopped capers, 1tsp chopped gerkhins, 1tsp grated ginger, 1tbsp
chopped shallots, 1 crushed clove garlic, 2tbsp soya sauce, 1tbsp oilve
oil, 1 squeeze lemon/lime juice (optional)
Method: Mix everything together in a bowl, season to taste. Chill
thoroughly. Serve with lettuce cups or crackers.
Fish Tartare is still our favourite fish recipe. We like to refer to it as “Boat food” as it has always been the way to prepare freshly caught fish on board. But it can easily be prepared on land, where I often call it “ Pantry food “ since we always have the ingredients on hand either in the fridge or in the pantry. Just add any firm fish: tuna, wahoo, mahi-mahi,…the sauce is also great served on the side with sashimi or carpaccio.