Summer is gone and autumn has slowly but surely crept up on us. Crisp mornings and warm sunny afternoons on good days, rain and cold winds on bad days…the weather is certainly changing! Same in the galley, where I am still trying to use up the various ingredients garnered during our world cruise: jars of condiments, tins of beans and preserved vegetables…all adding spice and excitement to our dinners. But nothing beats the flavour of fresh ingredients and in the last few weeks I have been obsessed with tomatoes. It actually started months ago, when we arrived in Cairns and I stumbled upon Phil Pena’s Happy Tomato’s stall at Rusty’s Markets. Phil grows all sorts of vegetables on his Mareeba farm, over 30 different lines he told me, including heirloom tomatoes. They’re the ones I fell in love with: big hearty ones, dainty cherry ones, yellow, red,…perfect in a simple salad !
Nothing tasted the same afterwards, the supermarket varieties didn’t come close. Then last month, one of our “land” neighbours in Sydney, Steve, a keen gardener, texted me “ We’ve got fresh tomatoes coming out of our ears. Would you like some?” 15 minutes later I scored bags of bush ( well garden really, this is Sydney after all) ripened tomatoes, in all shapes and sizes, not as perfect looking as the supermarket ones, but certainly smelling and tasting a 1000% better.
These red treasures have been turned into bruschetta toppings,
Roasted for sauces,
thrown into salads (on their own or mixed with other things),
but my favourite way was stuffed with some sausage meat, baked and served over rice. Simple and delicious, it can be served warm or cold.
I came up with this version one day, when faced with over ripe tomatoes I didn’t want to turn into a sauce again! One request from my kids was for this dish to include meat (they are reluctant vegetarians) which I had a short supply of: 2 garlic pork sausages, left over from a previous barbeque. Further rummaging thru the fridge uncovered half a block of firm tofu, left over from some chinese dinner, which I thought would add bulk to the meat filling. The beauty of using sausage meat is that the mixture is already seasoned, so there is no need to add extra herbs and spice, the flavour is already there. I did add a bit of shallots and parsley though, for colour.
Serves 8 for lunch, or 4 hungry teenagers!
8 tomatoes, very ripe
2 thick herb and garlic pork sausages, uncooked (about 250g)
250g firm tofu, chopped
4 spring onions, chopped
1 cup grated cheese
1 tbsp oilive oil
- Pre-heat oven to 200 deg C.
- Slice 1/3 of the top of tomatoes to make a hat. Scoop out the flesh and juices from the tomatoes into a bowl and set aside. Turn the tomatoes upside down on a rack so they “drip dry”.
- Cut off the sausage casings to extract the sausage meat. In a large bowl, mix the sausage meat , tofu and spring onions.
- Divide the mixture between the tomatoes, sprinkle with grated cheese and top each with a tomato hat. Brush tomatoes with olive oil.
- Bake in oven for approx. 25 minutes.
- Serve with tomato rice (recipe follows) and some gravy is desired. Enjoy!
Here is an example of my “no-waste” philosophy in cooking, somehow necessary while cruising. This recipe makes use of the flesh and juice scooped earlier out of the tomatoes.
1 tbsp olive oil
Flesh and juice from 8 tomatoes, scooped out
1 cup rice
2 cups water
- In a pot, heat up olive oil, add tomato flesh and juice, breaking up the flesh with a wooden spoon.
- Add rice and water, stir, cover and bring to the boil. Then turn the heat right down and simmer for 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave covered for another 10 minutes.
- Fluff the rice with a fork before serving.
This post is long overdue. We have spent the last month (February) swinging between school lunch making, FebFast (total failure), birthday parties, and reunions. So cooking has been a mixture of late summer salads, pancakes, easy grilled dinners and last but not least, Asian inspired feasts in honour of Chinese New Year. Obsessed with dumplings, I have dragged Terry to numerous dumpling houses in our area in search of the best Xia Long Bao (soup dumpling) and so wrapped in Asian cooking that I was, our February guests had no choice but tasting my take on Chinese fare, not once, but 3 times! I must say they have been very good sports, slurping cold noodle and duck salad, minced beef stir-fry, and my own version of dumpling soups. Some of it has been experimental (i.e hit and miss like a char sui roast pork), others better received ( everyone loves deep fried money bags!)
What follows are the stand out dishes of the month, the ones most likely to feature again on the menu: Minced Fish in Lettuce Cups (Chinese dinner #2), Prawns with XO Sauce (Chinese Dinner # 3), Chicken with Lily Flower and Dried Mushrooms (Chinese Dinner # 2), and Pandan Tapioca Pearl pudding (Chinese Dinner #1)
Minced Fish in lettuce cups
Try as I might to be authentic, the availability of ingredients (or lack thereof) played a major part in the finished dishes, hence the twist on some classic. This is a typical example. Similar to Sang Choy Bow, which uses chicken or pork, this dish is equally delicious with fish ( I used wahoo fillets) served hot or cold.
Serves 8 as entrée
800g white fish fillets (wahoo, snapper, mahi mahi…), skinned
3 tbsp lemon or lime juice
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp water
3 tbsp finely chopped green spring onions (shallots)
3 tbsp finely chopped coriander leaves
½ cup chopped celery
3 tbsp sweet chili sauce
Salt and pepper
8 baby cos lettuce leaves (iceberg lettuce leaves are good too)
Dried shallots, to garnish
- Mince the fish fillets in a food processor. Combine fish, lemon or lime juice, fish sauce and water in a wok or frying pan over high heat and bring to the boil. Break up the fish using a wooden spoon and simmer 2 or 3 minutes.
- Place fish in a bowl and mix in with spring onions, coriander, celery and sweet chili sauce. Season to taste. Divide mixture among the lettuce leaves and serve.
Prawns with XO sauce
XO sauce is one of our favourite chinese condiment. It is made with dried scallops and dried prawns, packed with seasonings such as chili and garlic and is used to enhance stir fried dishes like beef, tofu, chicken or seafood. You can find it in Asian food stores, though I discovered that none of the shops in my area had it, and I had to ask one of our guests to buy it for me in Chinatown (where everything is available, so I am planning an Asian grocery shopping trip there very soon to stock up the galley). Homemade XO sauce tastes immensely better than store bought one, but since sourcing the ingredients is just as challenging as buying a jar of the stuff, I am sticking to the commercial version for now. A word of caution: this sauce is seafood based, so unsuitable for any one allergic to shellfish. This is the case of our son, who loves the aroma of it but sadly will never taste its spicy delights.
Serves 8 as entrée (or part of a banquet)
1 kg tiger prawns, uncooked, shelled and deveined
4tbsp grapeseed oil
10 garlic cloves, crushed
6 cm knob of ginger, finely chopped
3 long red chillies, sliced
6 green spring onions (shallots)
4 tbsp XO sauce
250ml chinese rice wine (Shaoxing), or dry Sherry
½ cup oyster sauce
A pinch of white sugar
Coriander leaves, shredded to serve
- Heat a wok over high heat until smoking hot. Add grapeseed oil, garlic, ginger, chili and spring onions, cook for 30-60 seconds until fragrant. Add XO sauce and cook for 30 seconds. Add prawns and stir fry for another 30 seconds until coated thoroughly. Add the chinese rice wine and bring to the boil. Then add the oyster sauce and sugar and cook for another minute.
- Top with coriander leaves, extra spring onions or fried shallots if desired. Serve over rice, or inside lettuce leaves.
Chicken with lily flowers and dried mushrooms
I discovered dried lily flowers in a Papeete supermarket, while cruising in French Polynesia last year. Tahiti used to host a very large Chinese and Vietnamese community, and that is reflected in the local food scene. Food shopping was always a delight: I would fill my basket with duck magrets, brie cheese, red wine, as well as spring rolls, Chinese noodles or tubs of poisson cru…
Dried lily flowers (or lily buds) have a fruity, floral scent and are used in traditional Chinese dishes such as hot and sour soup. They are typically paired with dried mushrooms, as in the following dish. This is an adaptation of a recipe I found in a local Tahitian cookbook, Cuisine de Tahiti by Lisa Mairai Bellais. It originally calls for duck legs, which is easy to source in Papeete. The duck was delicious, lending a certain richness to the sauce which everyone loved. I have since tweaked the recipe a little, using chicken instead and substituting water chestnuts for the jicama (impossible to find in Sydney!)
I absolutely love that dish. It reminds me of French Polynesia everytime I cook it, which I know is weird since it is a Chinese meal. I guess my taste buds are confused, in a good way…that’s travelling for you!
Serves 4, as a main course
4 chicken marylands (thigh+drumstick attached)
½ packet of dried lily flowers, rehydrated in warm water and drained. Keep soaking liquid.
4 large black fungus (mushrooms), rehydrated, drained and roughly chopped. Keep soaking liquid.
1 small can of water chestnut, drained and roughly chopped.
1 small knob of ginger, roughly chopped
5 tbsp dark soya sauce
5 tbsp oyster sauce
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup chinese rice wine
- Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C.
- Heat 2 tbsp grapeseed oil in a large pot, brown the chicken marylands on all sides. Transfer to a large baking dish.
- In the same pot, add the rehydrated lily flowers and black fungus with their soaking liquid, water chestnuts, ginger, dark soya sauce, oyster sauce, garlic, sugar and chinese rice wine. Bring to the boil. Take the sauce off the heat and pour over the chicken in the baking dish. Cover with foil and transfer in the oven, cook for 45 minutes or until the chicken is done.
- When cooked thru, transfer the sauce back to the pot, leaving the chicken in the baking dish. If the sauce is thick, add more chinese rice wine to thin it down (don’t worry about the alcohol content, most of it will evaporate!). Bring to the boil and simmer until it has reduced to a gravy consistency (it can take up to 20 minutes). In the meantime, place the chicken under the grill, to crisp up the skin.
- Serve with rice and sautéed Chinese greens, with gravy on the side.
Pandan Tapioca Pearl Pudding
Ok, this is not a Chinese dessert per se. It is a very popular sweet dish from Malaysia and has been a favourite of ours for years. Similar to the coconut tapioca pearls dessert, this version uses pandan leaves which gives it a distinctive flavour ( best described as jasmine, baked bread and toasted coconut all rolled into one). Used widely in SE Asia, these leaves also grow in the Pacific islands but for some reason the locals would rather weave mats and hats with them rather than cook with them. It wasn’t until we landed in Australia that I found the leaves for sale at the markets as well as pandan essence in a bottle. The latter has a much stronger flavour than the leaves, and is generally dyed green (not sure why, probably for dramatic effect in cakes ?) It is best to use the essence sparingly, a drop at a time, according to taste.
Serves 12, as dessert
500g tapioca pearls
500g palm sugar, crushed
1 cup (250ml) coconut milk
3 pandan leaves
1-2 tsp pandan essence (to taste)
A pinch of salt
- In a saucepan, boil water, fill with tapioca pearl and cook over medium heat until translucent. Stir occasionally to prevent it from sticking at the bottom.
- Remove from heat. Strain and rinse away excessive starch.
- Scoop the tapioca pearls into small serving bowls or cups. Set aside.
- Cook the coconut milk on medium heat with the pandan leaves and a pinch of salt. Stir constantly ensuring it doesn’t overboil. When cooked, take off the heat, remove the pandan leaves, add pandan essence a drop at a time until you reach the desired colour and flavour intensity ( some of our guests like it very strong!) Set aside to cool.
- In a small saucepan, melt the palm sugar with a little water to obtain a thick brown syrup.
- Once the tapioca is cool enough. Pour the pandan coconut milk over it, followed by the palm sugar syrup. Serve at room temperature. It can be kept covered in the fridge for a day.
Sydney – February 24, 2015
One of the best things about cruising is meeting so many different people from all over the world, and all walks of life. Encounters have occurred at the beach when playing with the kids, in chandlery shops while looking for boat parts, and naturally in yacht club bars swapping fishing/boating stories. Friendships have been formed sometimes instantly, mostly facilitated by having children as a common denominator. Other times, the “bonding” process was more gradual, like when you realise that you have been sharing the same anchorages with the same boats, and after waving at the crew while passing with the dinghy, one day you decide to stop by and have a chat.
Then you have special circumstances, like the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) , which we joined over 3 years ago and suddenly provides you with over 1000 potential new friends! We met a few crew, ending up befriending about a dozen people (actually double that if you count all the kids involved!). All of us crossed the Atlantic Ocean together and met again at the other end, in St Lucia. Some kept us company in the French Caribbeans for a whole season while others with a cruising schedule tighter than ours continued on.
It was the case of David and Magali, a couple on their 48ft catamaran ENSEMBLE, who we met briefly during the ARC, shared a couple of dinners onboard and parted ways too soon: they to Panama, us to the Bahamas. Still, we managed to strike enough of a friendship to keep in touch via email and Facebook (don’t you love technology!). Magali and I are quite different physically: she is as tall and diaphanous as I am short and dark. However, we have quite a bit in common. First, we’re both Europeans (she’s Belgian, I am French) who moved to Australia after falling for our Aussie husbands. Second, we both love cooking and eating, and (unbeknownst to each other) started our food blogs at the same time ( check out Magali’s nautical themed site Gourmet on Board). This couple travels as much as we do, if not more, and came back to Australia recently for a holiday. Magali and I were so excited to finally catch up after 3 years apart, the first thing we discussed was where to meet for lunch. We wanted something special: she suggested Guillaume, who doesn’t do lunch on weekdays. I proposed Rockpool, which had been on my wish list for ages, as one of the best fine dining venue in Sydney (if not Australia). It also happened to be David’s favourite. So the booking was made and what ensued was a whole week of anticipating.
Why I am telling you all this, instead of getting on with the restaurant review? Well, I just want to put it all in perspective: while I had all intentions to photograph and dissect every single dish, study every details of the interior, the excitement of seeing our friends got the better of me and as we merrily chatted, food took a backstep. I know, it’s sacrilege, right? Believe me, I am currently sitting and feeling bad that I can’t describe this culinary journey with the reverence it deserves, and you will have to put up with my fairly amateurish pictures. Then again, we all had a fantastic time: great food, great company, lots to drink…the making of a fine lunch. Now on to the review.
Rockpool is located at 11 Bridge Street, in the heritage listed Burns Philp building, smack bang in the middle of the Sydney CBD. A simple gold plate on the façade indicates the restaurant, a few steps leading up to a space swathed in heavy drapes, with dark wood and mute painted walls.
The Burn Philp building in Bridge Street. Photo courtesy of Hospitalitymagazine.com.au
Photo courtesy of Rockpool
A black-vested waiter greeted us and took us to our table, where our friends were already seated. First impressions: it is blissfully quiet and Terry is looking forward to be able to converse without shouting or struggling to hear (too many venues with bad acoustics nowadays!) Magali and I can’t help comment on the waitress’s classy black dress (it’s her uniform, she says), the dainty crystal water glasses, the starched tablecloths, …we’re in for a treat. The lunch menu is quite extensive, and unlike dinner which is a “journey” of nine courses or more, there is a choice of a-la-carte dishes as well as a two-course Prix Fixe menu, for the ones who can’t decide what they want. Designed by the chef for the month, it offers Queensland spanner crab linguine as a starter, followed by Confit of duck leg for main. Everything looks yummy, it would take at least 20 minutes to decide so 3 of us opt for the prix fixe menu option, because it is easy and we can keep talking. Except that Terry elects to be different and orders a-la-carte, so the knowledgeable waitress explains every dish, patiently listening to our comments, dutifully checking with the chef on behalf of the allergy prone diner amongst us, and probably wishing we’d stop talking for a second and focus on the food. The drinks order takes just as long, with a wine list 43-pages thick, David knew better and already ordered a G&T. Beer-drinking Terry was happy to try new brews and fell in love with locally brewed Lord Nelson Pale Ale, ordering 2 at a time, thirsty man! Poor Magali was left with the job of selecting the wine for us girls, and after a few minutes of page turning and advice from the sommelier, she came up with the most refreshing and light pinot grigio (Lost Turtle ?)
Then the food arrives. A freshly baked honey spelt loaf accompanied by house made butter and fresh ricotta is the perfect “bar food” to nibble on while waiting for our entrees. Great with beer, Terry reckons.
The spanner crab linguine is delicious and creamy with a nice crunch courtesy of the fried breadcrumbs on top. I certainly enjoyed every bit of the 4 mouthfuls plated in the bowl. Yes, the servings are small for the prix fixe menu, more like snack sized.
In comparison, Terry’s entrée of grilled Squid with stir fried shitake, miso and chili dressing is more substantial (say 6-7 mouthfuls?) but granted, the a-la-carte menu is more expensive. His dish was a complex mix of flavours: shitake mushrooms, miso, squids…all very rich and spicy.
Neil Perry’s cuisine is famous for classic dishes tweaked with Asian influence. The main courses were a revelation for me. I love duck, and have had plenty of Confit of duck leg in my life, but this one was nothing like I’ve had before: the meat was superbly tender and moist, without the stringiness you sometimes find in duck confit, the skin slightly crispy and sweet from the hoisin glaze. The fried rice was something else too: black rice encased in omelette, nothing really fried, but oh so delicious! Such a clever twist on traditional dishes. The only complaint I would have is that there was not enough of it. You see, Terry and I are the kind of people who like to share plates in restaurants. We always order different meals, working on our respective first and second choice, and swap plates after eating half. It sometimes drive other diners crazy, and can be embarrassing when waiters think we are done and come to take the plates away, only to have me holding on to it explaining “no, no! We’re swapping!”
It took all of my resolve to stop eating this duck and handing the plate over to my husband, who had dutifully set aside my share of his Trevalla with coconut rice, chicken skin and turmeric pickle. The serving was bigger so there was more to taste. The coconut rice was beautiful, the fish cooked to perfection, the turmeric pickle too discreet for me to notice…on the other hand, the chicken skin had me intrigued: a small piece of skin, rolled flat and (I am guessing) rendered until as crispy as a chip. Now that’s different! A very subtle dish, I wish I tried it before my main however, as it tasted mild after the bolder flavours of the duck.
For sides, we ordered shaved brussel sprouts with bacon, almonds and pomegranate. A cold dish, it is more like a salad and complemented the duck well. Terry’s eyes lingered on the Potato dauphines on the menu, but didn’t order them for fear of looking greedy!
By then, we are on another bottle of wine, a Grosset “Rockpool” chardonnay, hand picked by David. Unlike a lot of Chardonnays which I find too oaky, this one is wonderfully rich yet fresh, if that makes any sense. A perfect drop to accompany desserts, which Magali and I still had room for (that is no doubt the reason for the small servings…) Her ricotta parfait, almond and white peach, strawberry, spiced lemon sorbet looked completely ethereal on the plate, I didn’t taste it but Magali said it was heavenly.
I can’t go past a chocolate dessert and ordered the Vahlrona chocolate and macadamia, coffee prunes, banana and liquorice ice cream not sure how all these flavours would go together. Well it worked very well: who would have thought that banana and liquorice were a match made in heaven? Combined with the prunes, the macadamia, peanuts and of course the chocolate it made for a surprisingly rich yet light dessert (a bit like the wine!). Two weeks on and I am salivating at the memory of it, that’s how good it is!
We were reasonably full at the end of the meal, and happy to finish the wine, chat and laugh for a little longer. A quick look around the room revealed that we were the only table left, the suits on a power lunch long gone back to the office…At that point I must mention the Rockpool service: from the greeting staff to the kitchen crew, and all waiters, the service was exemplary: friendly, knowledgeable, attentive ( Terry thought it may have been oversolicitous once, but to the waitress’ defense, she was explaining all the components of the dish we were being served, well appreciated if like me, you can’t remember exactly what you ordered!) and very accommodating. As we lingered on, long after the wine was gone, our drink waiter kept topping up our crystal water glasses without any mention of passing shifts or overdue closing time. We were well looked after from start to finish ( It was way past 4pm when we finally left!)
Rockpool is the best meal we have had in Sydney since our return last year. Which is just as well, since it is expensive, but the standard of the food, execution, and service is well worth it. The $49 2-course Prix Fixe menu (lunch only) is unbeatable value for money in my book, in spite of the small portions. Adding dessert rounded up the meal nicely, leaving me satiated enough. Terry felt a little underfed, so maybe we should order some of these delicious side dishes for him next time. For, there will be a next time…we just need another special occasion.
11 Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9252 1888
Lunch Monday to Friday
Dinner Monday to Saturday
Monday morning 6.30 am. Rush hour on board, it has been a busy weekend entertaining with friends and my usually organised self is all over the place today : I am wrapping lunches, kids are getting ready for school looking for clean uniforms and matching socks, their father keeping an eye on the watch…” we leave in 20 minutes!”
Me: “ Hurry up and have breakfast”
Son: “ We’re out of milk, can’t have cereals!”
Daughter: “Can I have the last toasts?”
Son: “ What else is there?” (Note to myself: nearly 17 years old, about time he learns to fend for himself)
Me: “ Look in the fridge, I am sure we have left overs of something”
Son: “ All I can see is some mooshy nectarines and just enough yogurt for one person”
Me: “Perfect. Who wants nectarine thick shake?”
So, that was breakfast, an express version of our beloved smoothie.
Only 3 ingredients: nectarines (2 very ripe, seeded and quartered), yoghurt (2 tablespoons), and some almond meal left over from a frangipane tart I made a while ago ( 1 tablespoon). Blend for 10 seconds. Serve in a bowl with a sprinkling of granola for crunch ( to your liking). Enough for one.
Had I been more organised I would have added some orange juice, a handful of mint leaves, maybe some honey and even ice cubes… But that’s the deluxe version, I save it for days when I don’t need to have everybody out the door in 15 minutes!
The last couple of weeks have seen us shifting gears, while making the most of the rest of the summer holidays, also preparing for the return to school (for the kids anyway!). So our days were a mixture of morning surfing and afternoon shopping for school supplies. The kids hung out with their friends (as opposed to attend organised camps), for some precious “chilling” time, we squeezed some serious dining out, enjoying our last days of “not having to get up at dawn tomorrow”…which meant that cooking was minimal and on the easy side.
Then came the day when I decided to survey the contents of the fridge, intending to get rid of the old and make room for the new. Obviously some of it needed to go (out of date eggs and mouldy cheese), but a lot was still in pretty good condition and since I hate wasting food, I had a ball coming up with ways to accommodate the leftovers. Starting with a big chunk of Ham, that had been given to us for New Year’s Eve and I had kept in the fridge (wrapped in a pillow case to maintain freshness). It had already been sliced to the bone, made into sandwiches, quiche fillings, pasta bakes, fried rice garnish…but still had a fair amount of meat on it, not mentioning the smoky rind, so the only logical thing to do with it was a soup. Add the cabbage, carrots, onions and celery in the vegetable tray, and the obvious choice was: cabbage soup.
This soup is an earnest soup, not the diet-kind you read about in the Cabbage Soup diet. It has chicken stock and chunks of ham (including the rind) for flavour, vegetables galore for goodness, and vinegar for extra zing! The kids initially turned their nose up at the mere mention of cabbage soup, but were won over by the smell and the smoky bits of ham floating around…Verdict? Empty bowls. Marc : “Job well done, Mum”. Anne: “Is there more?” This will definitely reappear on the winter menu.
Ham and Cabbage Soup
Serves 6-8 as entrée (or 4 as a single course)
1.5 litres chicken stock
500g ham on the bone (bigger is fine, it will tastes more “bacony”)
4 cups water
3 tsp allspice
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp marjoram
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and minced
3 celery stalks, trimed and minced
1 onion, peeled and minced
2 cups white cabbage, shredded
- Place the ham bone, chicken stock, water, allspice, bay leaves and marjoram in a stockpot (I use my Le Creuset dutch oven). Bring to the boil and simmer on low heat for about 2 hours. Remove the ham bone and set aside to cool. Skim some of the fat from the stock (leave some though, it adds flavour!)
- Add vinegar and sweet potato to stock, simmer for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, onion and cabbage and simmer for another 20 mintes. In the meantime, pick out the meat from the ham bone, peel the rind and chop roughly. Keep aside. Add the reserved meat and rind to the pot, and simmer for a final 10 minutes. Season to taste.
- Serve warm with fresh bread. Enjoy!