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Christmas Spirit

It’s beginning to feel very festive at our place!

The Christmas Elves have set up the tree – as always, Small Man dragged the tree up from under the house, assembled it, then added all the lights, before asking Big Boy and his girlfriend Monkey Girl to help him with the decorations. I think they did a wonderful job!

I’ve pulled out my Christmas sunnies

…and paired them this year with red Indian happy pants. Yes, I went walking in this outfit. If elastic waisted, hand printed cotton pants are your thing, I can highly recommend buying them from Parvez on Ebay. He’s been excellent to deal with and ships directly (for free!) from Jaipur, but you need to buy ten pairs at a time (I gave five away as early Christmas presents). Here’s the link.

My Chatbooks have arrived and they’re awesome

I made two Christmas cakes and gave one to my mum…

This year’s Christmas spirit is Drambuie 15, made with aged malt whisky…

…and a batch of homemade Chivas Regal irish cream (or “Mummy’s Little Helper”, as my girlfriends call it…)

Last week, chef Steve Manfredi offered me some of his gorgeous stone ground Italian flour to bake with. Molino Quaglia Petra flours are the secret behind the amazing pizzas being produced at his restaurant Pizzaperta at The Star Sydney. The Petra 3 is stone ground and wholemeal…

I took him a furoshiki full of cime di rapa and purslane from our garden as a thank you…

The flour was sheer joy to work with, producing a bouncy, pillowy dough that baked to perfection…

I’ve always found local stone ground flours heavy and unresponsive, but the Petra loaf was light and crispy with an elastic, open crumb. Thanks Steve! ♥

Speaking of bread…I’ve been baking like a madwoman.

Yesterday, I had three batches on the bench before 9am. The baguettes were straight from Emilie’s book, and the chocolate sourdough was a variation of her recipe as well, with two types of Belgian chocolate and added cacao nibs…

The three loaves at the top left are filled with walnuts and Lebanese fig paste. If you’re a bread baker, the paste is well worth seeking out (you should be able to get it at Arabic grocers). Each jar has a mountain of figs, sesame seeds and a hint of anise, and it works brilliantly in a filled focaccia or walnut loaf. Good for just eating with cheese as well.

The 800g jars at Harkola were just $5.50 – my preferred brand is the Salloum Bros. one on the left. Here’s the formula I used for my three loaves:

  • 100g bubbly starter
  • 1kg bread/bakers’ flour
  • 200g walnut halves
  • 200g Lebanese fig paste
  • 750g water
  • 18g fine sea salt

Our garden is full of leafy greens at the moment! We’ve planted shiso for the first time…

…and we’re harvesting this much cime di rapa every day for dinner…

We have a seasonal dinner with close friends every three months. The final one for 2017 had this amazing entree of bought and garden greens (purslane, shiso, basil and mint) on a green mole sauce…

The recipe came from Bread is Gold, a wonderful book by the amazing Massimo Bottura. All the recipes in the book were created by internationally renowned chefs who cooked at the Refettorio soup kitchen that Bottura created to use up waste food from Expo 2015 in Milan. There is a documentary about it on Netflix called “Theater of Life” – well worth watching if you get a chance…

My gorgeous neighbour Jane went on holidays to the Northern Territory and brought me back a grab bag of beautiful scrap fabric designed and printed by indigenous artists and craftswomen at the Bábbarra Women’s Centre in Arnhem Land. My friends know me so well!

The scanning of old photos continues. This one of Pete and Big Boy is priceless…love is letting your wife dress you and your toddler in matching homemade jungle print shorts…

Our hydrangeas have been stunning this year…

…and our daily walks have been blessed with views like this…

I hope you’re all enjoying the festive season as much as we are!

Much love from our house to yours! ♥

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Madly Baking Bread

Since my friend Emilie’s book landed in my Kindle app, I’ve been baking bread like a mad woman…

She’s convinced me to actually use the bannetons I own (normally, I’m too lazy), and the results have been fabulous…

It helps that I can line the baskets with the Japanese tenegui (hand cloths) that I bought from Daiso. The open weave makes them less sticky than regular tea towels. Plus they’re dead cute…

I followed Em’s shaping technique and ended up with this magnificent holey crumb in my high hydration loaves…

. . . . .

I made her chocolate sourdough recipe with Callebaut 811 54% dark. The neighbours lost their minds…

It was unbelievably good, especially with the Belgian chocolate…

I tried another version with leftover Halloween candy. That was less appealing to anyone over twenty-five, but the kids loved it (yes, that’s melted Snickers Bars in the middle)…

. . . . .

I’ve tweaked Em’s focaccia formula a bit to accommodate for our local flour. I think our plain (AP) flour might be lower in protein than the US ones, so I’m substituting a 50:50 mix of bakers flour and plain flour. The results have been perfect – non-cakey crumb but controlled even rise and super-crispy crust.

I made a cheese and black olive filled focaccia using her croque monsieur shaping technique…

. . . . .

For the caramelised onion and goat cheese bialys, I again subbed a mix of bakers and plain flour, and ended up with easy to shape balls…

…that kept their shape (and fillings) as they rose. The crumb was super tender and the crusts thin and chewy. All twenty-four bialys (I made a double batch, as you do) were shared out and eaten on the same day…

. . . . .

Finally, the overnight baguette twists were an absolute doddle to make and completely delicious. Definitely one for a future dinner party…

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If you’re a home sourdough baker (or would like to be), I can’t recommend Emilie’s book highly enough. Yes, she’s my friend, and yes, we share a sourdough starter, so my opinion was always going to be biased. But I can honestly now tell you that I’ve tried a stack of recipes from her book, and they all work brilliantly (just ask my neighbours). If you’d like to know more about it, here’s my first post on Artisan Sourdough Made Simple. I hope you enjoy baking from it as much as I have! ♥

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So…how’s that for a blog title?

It’s actually pretty apt for what turned out to be a hilarious weekend!

On Friday, my friend and neighbour El rang and said…”I ordered a mountain of paper pom poms but the whole lot arrived in this tiny flat box. Help!” Three hours and several cups of herbal tea later, there were enough huge pink paper balls to cover a double bed. We (cough cough) may have said a few bad words along the way…

On Saturday night, Pete and I headed over for her 50th birthday party. The theme was simple and very doable – wear a fancy hat. I wore my Anatolian (Turkish) bride fez that I’d bought years ago for no reason at all…

The matching fez was too small for Pete, so he wore a captain’s hat that I’d found at Hat World instead. I think his naked lady shirt (look closely) complemented it perfectly…

A happy selfie from later in the evening, taken by lovely Ray. The birthday girl was glamorous in her diamond tiara, Ray was at his handsome best, and I was red-faced after my sixth glass of champagne…

Dinner was an incredibly scrumptious roasted free range pig on a spit, provided by Feather and Bone. Earlier in the evening, I’d sidled up to Chris the chef and said…”You know at the end of the night when the pig’s head gets thrown away because no-one will eat it? I know for a fact that the Asian up the road will take it!” (putting up my hand). He roared with laughter, but was delighted not to have to waste it and asked me to bring him a baking tray.

So at 1am on Sunday morning, and ever so slightly inebriated, I found myself trying to jostle this into my fridge…

The following morning, I got to work separating the head into rind, fat, meat and bone. Chris had generously thrown in the trotters as well, so I had a lot to work with…

I rendered down the fat in a saucepan over low heat and ended up with half a jar of delicious roasted lard for the fridge. I saved the crispy bits too, possibly to go into a loaf of bread at a later date…

The bones were enough to flavour eight litres of pressure cooker stock for the freezer – the second batch with the trotters produced a darker broth…

I crisped up all the rind under the griller (broiler), then salted it…

There was an enormous amount of strongly flavoured meat on the head. Half of it went into the freezer and the other half into a mountain of tray baked nachos for Sunday night dinner…

As we were sitting down to eat, El’s son dropped back the Christmas lights they’d borrowed for the party. Have I ever mentioned that my neighbours are hilarious? It was the perfect ending to an awesome weekend! ♥

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Let me tell you about my friend Emilie.

She’s drop dead gorgeous, creative and smart, but still manages to be one of the most grounded people I know. We met years ago through our blogs and have been firm friends ever since, despite living on opposite sides of the world. Together we’ve shared an amazing sourdough journey – our starters Priscilla and Dillon are related – and between us we’ve baked hundreds (literally!) of loaves in our little home kitchens.

I love her to bits. I mailed her some dried starter years ago, and since then her bread baking skills have taken off at an exponential rate. Every time we chat, I learn something new from her, which is why I’m beyond excited that her book on sourdough has just been released…

It magically appeared in my iPad Kindle reader on Tuesday (I’d had it pre-ordered). I started reading her introduction, got to this section…and began to tear up. Here’s what she wrote…

You see, Em gets it. The magic of sourdough baking is in the sharing.

It’s in the mailing of a packet of starter halfway around the globe, or baking a loaf for an elderly neighbour, or exchanging ideas with sourdough obsessed friends on Twitter. And it’s also about sharing knowledge, so that others too can learn to bake delicious loaves at home. That small pot of bubbling flour and water has the capacity to empower and connect, and to build a sense of community in an age when gentle camaraderie is sorely lacking. The opportunity to “break bread” with family, friends and neighbours, both in real life and virtually, can be truly soul restoring.

And that’s why I’m so excited that Emilie has written this book! You see, she isn’t just a brilliant bread baker, she’s also incredibly real and down to earth. Many sourdough bread books are written by professionals working in commercial environments and as such, they’re not targeted towards “regular” folks baking in their home kitchens.

On the other hand, my darling friend has tested her recipes in a tiny fifty year old domestic oven with a gerry-rigged latch, retrofitted to hold the door closed. She has proofed dough in her non-airconditioned kitchen through sweltering heatwaves and New York winters. She has learned how to produce fabulous bread on days when it’s too hot to preheat the oven, coddled a sleepy starter back to life, and figured out a baking schedule that fits easily into a busy lifestyle. She knows the problems you’re likely to run into when you’re a novice baker, because she’s been through them.

. . . . .

An hour after the book arrived, I pulled Priscilla out of the fridge and began feeding her up. The first recipe I tried was the High Hydration Sourdough, and the results were superb…

I was very chuffed with the blistered crust (highly valued by artisan bakers) and well developed sourdough flavour…

. . . . .

Inspired, I mixed up a batch of Em’s focaccia dough that evening. I was intrigued – it was completely different to any recipe I’d tried before.

The following morning, I assembled her Stuffed Croque Monsieur with Ricotta and Swiss. I texted her to (jokingly) complain that she had me trashing my kitchen at 6.45am…

Somewhat ambitiously, I made a double batch of the recipe and then attempted to fit it all into a half sheet pan. Peering nervously through the oven door, I watched as it rose…and browned and bubbled to perfection. It was, without doubt, one of the best breads I’ve ever baked…

Everyone should buy this book, if for this one recipe alone…

. . . . .

If you’ve never baked before, Artisan Sourdough Made Simple will teach you everything you need to know – how to grow your own starter from scratch, how to bake a variety of different loaves, what to do with your leftovers, and much more. Emilie’s prose is chatty and approachable, and her instructions are clear and succinct. There is a photo of every loaf, plus clever hints to help you achieve perfect results from your very first bake.

And if you already have a Priscilla starter in your kitchen, please buy this book. Not just because we’re all mentioned in it (although how exciting is that!) or because it’s great to support a member of our baking community, but because secretly (shh) Em wrote this book just for us. Hmm. Ok, that’s not really true, but it certainly feels that way! ♥

PS. The hard copy looks magnificent (Emilie has a video on her blog), but I bought the Kindle version as I was too impatient to wait for delivery. The e-book cost me less than US$10 and reads brilliantly on my iPad – the font is sharp and the text is fully hyperlinked, which makes it simple to navigate between sections.

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I’m always a bit conflicted when I post photos that I’ve taken at the White Rabbit Gallery.

On the one hand, I really want to encourage everyone in Sydney who has an interest in contemporary Chinese art to visit, and I don’t want my photos to gazump the magic of seeing an incredible piece for the first time. Additionally, many of the artworks are large and immersive, and it’s hard to do them justice in two dimensions. On the other hand, I know many of you don’t live in Sydney and will never get to see these amazing and unique pieces in person.

My compromise is to offer you a taster – a small snippet of what’s on offer over the three gallery floors. And it was hard to pare the photos down for this post, because Ritual Spirit is one of the most beautiful White Rabbit exhibitions ever.

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Farfur the Martyr (2008) by Peng Hung-Chih, a stainless steel creation juxtaposing different religious views on the meaning of martyrdom, stands in the entrance foyer…

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Defence (2014) by Xia Hang is a large stainless steel clockwork construction. Like all things steampunk, I found it hypnotically beautiful and instantly appealing…

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Mr Sea (2014) by Geng Xue combines video with exquisitely expressive porcelain puppets…

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Play 201301 (2013) by Xu Zhen is a tied and suspended cathedral created from leather and BDSM accessories. It fills an entire room…

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100 Years of Repose (2011) by Yu Hong poignantly depicts what the artist refers to as China’s “sleeping sickness”. The pressures of modern Chinese life are so great that people fall asleep anywhere they can – on trains, benches or even under parked trucks…

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Finally, a clip of the ethereally beautiful Scripting (2011) by Luxury Logico of Taiwan. Thirteen suspended fluorescent tubes move in time with John Cage’s haunting music. The artwork is massively enhanced by the clever curatorial decision to place it in a darkened room over a reflective black vinyl floor…

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Every piece comes with its own story, and I’ve included links in the post above so that you can read a bit more about the individual artists.

The White Rabbit Gallery is one of Sydney’s great treasures and I’d urge you to visit if you ever get the opportunity to do so. Focusing on works of contemporary Chinese art made in the 21st century, the gallery continues to share these with the public completely for free. Their exhibitions are always brilliantly curated, thought-provoking and often very poignant.

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White Rabbit Gallery
30 Balfour Street
Chippendale NSW 2008

RITUAL SPIRIT is open 10am to 5pm, Wed-Sun.
The exhibition runs until 28 January 2018

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