We wake up this wednesday morning to a beautiful sunny day on the South Coast. Surprisingly fresh considering the amount of wine and beer consumed the night before, I venture to say the brisk walk home must have had a lot to do with clearing our foggy heads. It is 8am and I am itchy to start the day with a long walk along Mollymook beach. We’ve decided to skip breakfast, as we have a wine tasting tour and a light lunch booked for later in the morning. I also reserved a table for dinner at one of the fancy restaurants in the area (more on that later) , so the key for the day is to pace ourselves. Starting with a couple of bites of ginger biscuits and strong long blacks courtesy of the Nespresso machine in our room.
The stroll along the beach is magical, I am amazed to find it so quiet despite the school holidays. We come across a couple of fishermen, the few surfers in the water and a young family frolicking in the shallows but that’s just about it! Terry suggests that, since we’ve only switched to daylight saving, most people would still be in bed. Well I am certainly mainly making the most of a near deserted beach!
Today’s excursion takes us to Cupitt’s Winery, a family estate located in a pasture only 5 km inland from Ulladulla and Milton, overlooking a plot of vines. We have booked a Tour and Tasting experience, led by Wally Cupitt, one of the sons of Rosie and Griff Cupitt, the owners of the property. He explains how cattle farming was the original idea behind the purchase of the then Washburton Farm, but Rosie who is a horticulturist turned oenologist, decided to try her hands at winemaking, so the winery was born. As well as breeding Black Angus cattle, they grow some of their own grapes (semillon and sauvignon blanc) while also sourcing other grapes from the southern regions.
The wine is crafted in their custom built cellar (or barrel room as they call it), hidden under the hillside.
Aside from the cellar, the tour takes us thru the kitchen garden, where a lot of the produces they grow are served in the restaurant. Today it is in transition, being tended by the resident gardener preparing the soil for the next crop, but one side still has artichokes and some asian herbs thriving.
Of great interest to Terry is the micro brewery, the brain child of Wally and his brother Tom. Yes, you heard right, an estate that offers wine AND beer. Wally pulls out samples of hops and malts and talks us thru the brewing process, all a new world for me whose knowledge of beer making is somewhat limited. What started as a hobby is now growing into a small boutique business, with their distinctive ales available for purchase at the restaurant (sadly, the production isn’t big enough to allow for beer tasting!)
Next building is the fromagerie, where Rosie and a couple of ladies are busy making a batch of goat cheese. Like the beer, production is small. It is a recent venture that Rosie’s thrown herself in, and her enthusiasm is obvious when she pops her head out of the room to offer us a sample of the blue cheese she is working on, all the while describing the various processes needed to produce the different varieties of cheese. Currently, Cupitt exclusively produces goat cheese, served at the restaurant and available for sale at the cellar door.
Ah the cellar door: housed in the old creamery, this is where the tour ends and the tasting starts. Wally hands us over to Michael who expertly pours and describes every wine produced by the estate, starting from the lightest (Semillon) to the strongest ( Shiraz). One of the ladies in the group is pregnant, and I do feel for her as she waves away the glasses on offer having a sniff of her husband’s instead. That must be torture, but I tell her it will probably tastes very special after the baby is born! Terry is as taken by the wine as I am, loving nearly all of them and we have trouble deciding which ones to take home. We finally settle on 2 cartons, have Michael arrange the packing while we shuffle next door to the restaurant for lunch!
The large room is bathed in sunlight and overlooks the vineyard and Burrill lake below. The French inspired menu looks lovely, and I am very tempted to settle down for a 3 course lunch. But we are going out for dinner later, so we decide to try the morsels menu instead, which offers lighter fare in the more casual setting near the fireplace. We order some local oysters and the cheese board. The oysters are from the Clyde River, only 50 klm away, and taste deliciously briny served with a simple shallots and red wine vinegar dressing. We also share a selection of goat’s cheese: Mild blue, Aged Gouda, Crouton and Tomme…all delicious, ranging from sharp, to salty, served with some quince paste, marinated baby figs, apple and crackers. They are nicely paired with the house Semillon! Terry shunned the wine, preferring a tasting paddle of 4 house beers: a “light” Hefeweizen, a Pale Ale, an IPA and a Brown Ale. The waitress advised us that the servings do not total more than a pint, which is good as it means that Terry is ok to drive after lunch!
I am not a great passenger at the best of time, the car motion always puts me to sleep. Today is no exception, especially after the wine tasting and lunch, small as it may have been. Terry decides to take us on a scenic drive to Batemans Bay, 1 hour down the road, which courtesy of my dozing, only seems to take minutes! I can’t say much about the place, as the weather turned rainy and grey, we didn’t feel like exploring the beaches and chose to retire back to the motel for a spa session instead, hoping it would make us hungry for dinner.
Before we left Sydney, I had read about Tallwood Eatery in Lorraine’s blog and also found out that its chefs would feature in a Good Food month event this month. My curiosity picked, it is on top of the list of places to eat this trip. We decide to walk the 2.5 klm path along the beach, to work up an appetite.
This is not a beachfront restaurant, though not far from the sea, it is located in a suburban street in a small shopping complex and next door to Bannisters Pavilion. We are early, amongst the first customers, so enjoy the full attention of the waitress.The menu features a lot of the regional produce, a contemporary take on classics, it all looks nice to me but the specials of the day win us over: tuna tataki for starters and a share plate of Wagyu beef served with 2 side salads.
I have always loved fresh tuna, and this dish brings me back to our cruising days when we used to catch yellowfin and find ways to cook it. Tataki ( or seared tuna) used to be my favourite way of preparing the fish, and Tallwood’s version with miso dressing, sliced kohlrabi and puffed rice is right down my alley. There is just enough for 2 ( 3 slices each ) so would think of ordering 2 plates for a bigger table.
The main is definitely big enough. with a 500g piece of what is referred to as Wagyu rib eye, though the meat is cooked medium rare to perfection, I can’t help think that Wagyu should be melt in the mouth rather than just tender. The salt crystals on the outside are a nice touch however. The sides are outstanding: the leek and spinach gratin is sooooo comforting. while the radish and quinoa salad is very refreshing and satisfying. These are the highlights of dinner for me! By the time the dessert menu is presented, the restaurant is quite busy with a mix of locals and tourists alike. The people at the table next to us have obviously dined here before, and without hesitation ordered the fishcakes while asking what the chef is cooking tonight. The lady whispers to me “the desserts are to die for”, but as much as I would like to try some, I am just too full. I can’t even finish the glass of wine I ordered at the start! Terry still has a bit of room left, but is not in the mood for Roasted Rhubarb or Fennel Cake. All he wants is Affogatto, which I remember seeing on Bannisters’ menu.
So off we trot next door, walk up to the Rooftop Bar and Grill for dessert. The place is pumping, most tables are taken by what I assume are hotel guests, lots of families and couples. No one seems to mind that we are here for dessert only, and we are seated near the bar. Terry goes straight for the Affogatto with spiced vanilla ice cream and chocolate tuile, and I get talked into ordering the special of Creme Caramel and Coconut Sorbet. The plan is mostly to share it with Terry, since I am full, but somehow the lightness of the creme caramel and the freshness of the sorbet win me over and I have polished the plate clean! I did share with him the balls of Dulce de Leche accompanying the creme, they were too rich for me anyway.
We briefly consider asking for a taxi to go home, but decide to stroll back instead. It is actually quite a pleasant way to end the night, walking off a full day of food and wine. And once again there is not a soul to be met in this dark moonless night. End of day 2.
We’ve been meaning to go on a road trip for ages, Terry and I. Since selling the boat, it seems that life has turned very static. Though we are busy with a new business venture, kids in high school mean staying put lest their social scene be disrupted. Still, when we became land based, we promised ourselves to keep moving, even if it meant short escapades in the city or along the coast. But beside a short skiing trip down the Snowy mountains last year, we have not managed to get away. Something always gets in the way!
So these school holidays, I decided to try harder at making it happen, and started to plan a getaway down the South Coast. Marc opted out, citing a heavy study load, with his HSC exams looming later this month. Anne was quite hesitant, only keen if we could take either the dog or a friend along so she would have some company. Things didn’t look good!
Then, Moo, one of Anne’s girlfriends invited her to spend a couple of days over. As she happens to live an hour south of us, it was perfect for us, and in a “stars are aligning” kind of moment, I quickly finalised accomodation and restaurant reservations. ( I know it sounds too organised for a getaway, but since we don’t do it that often, I want to maximise our time away). The destination is Mollymook, a once sleepy village 3 hours south of Sydney, where Terry tells me he used to drive decades ago for surfing and spearfishing weekends. I am more interested in the relaxing vibes and the food scene, especially since reading reviews from Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella ( one of my favourite blogger lately).
So we drive off on tuesday morning, leaving Anne at Moo’s along the way, and with the GPS all set we settle for the easy 2 hour drive along the Princes Highway. It is over a year since we’ve taken a road trip and I had forgotten how beautiful the Australian countryside is. We hug the coast to Kiama then head inland winding our way along green rolling hills, passing old farms, some restored to a picture perfect condition, others left neglected…it is quite a pastoral region, with so many cows I lose count. We traverse the popular and picturesque town of Berry, the much bigger agglomeration of Nowra, to finally make our first stop in Milton. By then, it is way past lunch time and I am ready to chew on the door handles. Luckily, we park opposite Flour Water Salt Bakery, in the main street, and feast on a lamb sausage roll and caramelised onion and feta tart.
Sadly I have no pictures to show (beside the shop counter), as we were too eager to devour them, but let me tell you, these were the tastiest morsels we’ve had in a long time. The sausage roll is heavy with lamb mince, flavoured with rosemary and mint, while the tart rich custard-like filling, sweet onions and salty specks of feta make for a very satisfying meal indeed. We both agree to stop by on the way back and buy enough to bring home! I suggest we need to walk off lunch, and what better way than window shopping. Milton is notorious for its small quirky shops, ranging from cool surf shops, to vintage items, trendy homewares…I soon realise that I will need more than the 30 minutes Terry is prepared to indulge me, so I quickly do a reconnaissance of where the interesting places are, forewarning him that we WILL come back and shop, and drive off to Mollymook, only 5km away.
We check into our accomodation, a spa suite at the Mollymook Shores Motel. While the view is not as expansive as we were expecting, the location is great, across the street from the beach and the Golf Club. The newly renovated room is quite comfortable, with a kitchenette, separate lounge area, a king size bed, 2 Tvs, spa bath and a balcony looking over the ocean ( as well as the road, the golf club and the apartments next door). This will be our base for the next 2 days.
After reading one of Lorraine’s reviews of the area, I had wanted to try out dinner at Millard’s Cottage in Ulladulla, a few kilometres down the road. I checked their website and made a booking online, patting myself on the back for being so organised, though I never received a confirmation. Imagine my disappointment when Katrina, at reception, tells us that the restaurant is closed permanently and the building now occupied by a real estate agent!
Terry isn’t that overly worried, deciding we’d wander around town and pick a place. Indeed there is no shortage of places to eat, from Bannisters on the Mollymook side, to the cafes and Asian eateries in Ulladulla. Tuesday however is a quite night in that part of the world, with many restaurants closed, so after debating the merits of the Ulladulla Oyster Bar, Rooftops at Bannister’s and the Ulladulla Indian Restaurant we agree to go Indian.
By then, we have hiked around the headland, strolled thru the Plaza (and found another Vintage shop for me to browse, poor Terry), and discovered the Fine Wines and Ales shop, so judge it wise for a taxi to take us to the restaurant. Now, I assumed there was only one Indian restaurant in Ulladulla, so expected to be driven to the Ulladulla Indian. Instead, the driver takes us to the Bay Leaf Cafe, another indian restaurant, which he highly recommends, adjoining the taxi ramp. Standing on the footpath I am utterly confused, wondering if we should not cross the road and look for the “right” restaurant, but Terry thinks it would look rude, and besides, a lady walked out from the Bay Leaf, arms loaded with take away and enthusiastically telling us this is the best in town. So we walk in, warmly greeted by the owner and a young man around Marc’s age, as her shadow ( new on the job we are told). No sooner have we sat down, that Terry gets up again, as we realise the restaurant is unlicensed. Luckily, the Marlin Hotel is next door, so by the time he comes back with some libations, the menu has been ordered.
We start with Paneer Pakora, cottage cheese deep fried in chickpea flour batter. While a little bland in flavour, it is a good snack to have with drinks, especially when dunked in mint sauce.
Next comes the tandoori chicken served on a bed of lettuce. The spicy marinade is delicious, and it would have been great if the meat was not so dry. Terry comments that the dish looks a bit like a road kill, I guess a result of the bright red colour, but that doesn’t stop him from digging into it washing it down with beer!
The best part of the meal is undoubtedly the curries: we ordered lamb rogan josh and Goan Fish curry, accompanied with Jeera (cumin) rice. The meat is very tender and deliciously coated in spices. The fish is still firm, swimming in a heady sauce of onions and tomato gravy, finished with coconut cream. This is my favourite dish. The cumin seasoned rice is a nice change from the usual plain version, and I wish I could eat more, but by then we are quite full (in hindsight, we could have ordered one less dish!)
As I pay the bill ( a reasonable $60 for 2), the lady at the counter offers us tiny multicoloured beans from a very small dish, explaining they are fennel candies, similar to after dinner mints. Except they are made of fennel seeds, sugar and dyes. They are said to aid with digestion after a rich meal while acting as a mouth freshener. Always keen to try something new, I grab a handful, so does Terry who thinks they are menthols. That’s when I push him out the door before the lady sees his reaction, as you see, he hates anything to do with aniseed or liquorice, and these little candies are like mini cluster bombs of aniseed exploding in his mouth! He can’t wait to spit these seeds soon enough, no matter how beneficial I tell him it is ! I sincerely hope the indian lady didn’t see his face, though as embarrassing as I find the situation, I can’t stop laughing!
That is until I look up the taxi ramp, to discover the last cab left a long time ago and it is now 9.30pm, a cold and windy night, and no other option than walking 2.5 kms back to the motel. Just in case, I check out the Uber App on my phone, but I guess they have not made it to Ulladulla. So we stagger along the road, giggling at Terry’s attempts to spit out the last of the fennel seeds, thinking how the kids would hate having to walk back in the dark, though personally it is reminding me of many hikes and dinghy rides back from shore in our cruising days. We used to like the adventure…
We make it to the room 20 minutes later, not having crossed a single soul along the way. End of day 1. To be continued…
Sealevel Restaurant in Cronulla, has been around for 18 years. It is owned and operated by the Shire based Allouche family, who has been involved in the local hospitality industry for as long as I can remember. Over the years, the business has built a strong following from the local residents, who flock down not only for the excellent food but the most wonderful location, right on the water’s edge off North Cronulla beach. This has always been the go to dining choice for many locals, including ourselves. You just can’t beat that ocean view, and every time we’ve had people visiting, this is where we’ve taken them for a taste of the Shire!
As befits a beachfront venue, the menu features lots of seafood with the platter for 2 being ever so popular. For non-seafood eaters, duck and beef have always enjoyed pride of place and interesting treatment.
I must confess though that since our return from overseas, our loyalty was tested by the emergence of half a dozen new restaurants in Cronulla dining precinct. When 15 years ago, Sealevel stood out as the only choice for “fine”dining among a plethora of takeaway joints, fast forward to 2016 and the variety of eating places is staggering. To the point where Sealevel’s menu looked predictable and boring.
But earlier this month, Terry was offered a dining voucher for his birthday, so we booked a table for 4, taking the kids along for a special evening. It was a cold and windy Thursday night, we arrived at 6.30pm, and were greeted by a warm and friendly staff. I looked around and the restaurant was a third full already, the clientele a mix of families (like us), couples possibly after a romantic night, and I noticed two tables beside us were set for large groups (who arrived 30 minutes later and filled the place with noise and laughter, not a bad thing in itself, but as unfortunately the building’s acoustics are not the best, it makes holding a conversation very challenging. You just have to talk louder, something to be aware of).
As usual, we ordered drinks first, knowing it would take a while to peruse the menu. I decided on a cocktail for a change rather than the usual sparkling wine, and ordered an Aperol Spritz. Terry ordered 2 beers at once, saying he was thirsty, and Michael, the waiter, not missing a beat, offered to bring him 5 in a bucket of ice so he could open them at his leisure!
With Marc and Anne starving (teenagers!), we ordered not one but two portions of sour dough bread served with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and butter as well as a bowl of marinated olives and set out to study the menu.
You have a choice of a Mid Week set menu ($ 55 for 2 courses – $65 for 3 courses) or an A-la-carte menu, which features 10 entrees and 10 mains. As I mentioned earlier, half of the dishes are seafood, with the rest split between chicken, beef, pork, duck and interesting vegetarian options (strangely, no lamb tonight)
For entrees, Anne ordered Potato gnocchi, served with pancetta, dried cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, 3 cheese sauce and olive powder. She wasn’t so keen on the strong olive flavour, nonetheless polished her plate.
Terry can’t go past a plate of scallops and went for the seared atlantic scallops with black pudding, roasted pumpkin puree, spiced beetroot gel and crispy quinoa. The scallops were cooked to perfection, moist and full off flavour, however the crispy quinoa was far too crispy for Terry, who reckoned it was like chewing on tiny rocks and that ruined the dish for him. I tend to agree with him, the mouthful I tasted was a little gritty …a pity, as the dish was otherwise very tasty.
As for me, I have always been keen to try vegetarian options, so ordered the mushrooms: a pile of mixed king brown, shimeji and oyster mushrooms, with miso butter, panko sesame fried tofu, smoked onions, crispy garlic, and dashi onion cream. The combination of earthy mushrooms, rich miso butter and crispy fried tofu was such a revelation, I could have eaten more of it and vowed to replicate the recipe at home!
For mains, both kids picked the roast chicken breast stuffed with gypsy ham and smoked cheddar served with carrot and potato fondants, celery fennel puree and rye parmesan crumbs. I told them it was not a very adventurous choice, as it looked to me like an upmarket version of Chicken cordon Bleu. Still, they loved it, and Anne said Cordon Bleu is actually her favourite dish so she was over the moon!
Terry ordered the BBQ prawns, served with beurre blanc foam, smoked tomato, grilled corn and chili salad and sweet corn puree. This is actually an entree, but for an extra $13, was served as a main-size portion. A nice touch, I think, as I often find some entrees so yummy I wish they’d come in a larger serving.
The fish of the day was Swordfish served grilled with a bowl of chips, and a refreshing salad of fennel, redlof, mint, daikon and soy roasted seeds with orange dressing. The fish was cooked to perfection ( i.e. not too dry ) and so were the chips, which I was made to share with the rest of the table ( it was quite a big bowl for one person anyway ).
The menu features a selection of side dishes, ranging from feta and watermelon salad to mashed potatoes, the sizes of which are designed to be shared. We didn’t order any, as to be honest, we found that not only are the portions sufficiently large but there are also enough garnishes on the plates to fill you up. Having said that, had we skipped the starters earlier, we probably would have gone for a little extra.
When the dessert menu appeared, Terry and Marc initially declined, declaring themselves too full. Until I mentioned affogato, the dessert you have when you don’t want to order dessert. Terry ordered his with Grand Marnier, Marc preferring Bailey.
Anne and I were lured by the idea of pretty sweets so she ordered the white chocolate and raspberry meringue roulade, salted white chocolate mousse, freeze dried raspberry, and lemon lavender gelato. She gave the thumbs up to the meringue roulade and the white chocolate mousse, however didn’t like the gelato ( tastes like cough mixture she said, I don’t necessarily agree with her but will say it is very much a grown up flavour)) or the freeze dried raspberry (too strong and tart for her liking). In hindsight, she would have preferred the selection of gelati.
I didn’t have such qualms with my choice: textures of mandarins, mandarin sorbet, meringue, mandarin and elderflower curd, freeze dried mandarin and mint fizz. Being a mandarin lover, I was in heaven and could have happily eaten another serve of it, even though I was quite full.
So, is Sealevel boring? Definitely not. And we don’t seem to be the only ones thinking this. The place was packed! You can’t say people came for the view alone, as at that time of the evening, there was nothing to look at beside a whole lot of blackness (it was a moonless night!). It is just that while the food is as fresh and carefully handled as in the past, it is given a bit of a modern twist: powders, gels, foam, freeze dried items, asymmetric plating… Anne commented that it was Masterchef kind of dining! And that, makes it fun.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the service we received from the staff, efficient and friendly without being too familiar. These folks know their stuff, from describing every item on the menu, sharing a story about a wine or talking to a shy teenager ordering coke! Some have been working there for so many years they seem to be on a first name basis with a lot of the patrons, and it was sweet to watch a young waiter shadowing a more experienced member. They took care of our table brilliantly, along with Blake, one of the partners ( the Allouche boys are very hands on ) who kindly suggested I take my opened bottle of wine home, after I mentioned how I really loved it but could not have another drink. I think we’ve come full circle, Sealevel is back to being our Cronulla favourite.
Sea level Restaurant & Bar
2 The Kingsway, Cronulla NSW 2230
Ph: (02) 95238888
“Can we have a quiet week, please?” Terry asks me yesterday morning, after the kids have left for school and I am finishing clearing the weekends dishes…
I must say, last week has been crazy busy, a whirlwind of family lunches, birthday dinner, recovery attempts and taste experiments. Not necessarily in that order.
You see, it was Terry’s birthday last wednesday, which happened to be 3 days after (Australian) Father’s Day. We decided to combine the two events and celebrate with a massive Sunday lunch, inviting the family for a chinese style yum cha (yes, we are never short of a theme!). As usual, I spent a few days looking for inspiration on my bookshelves and found it in Chinese Cookery by Ken Hom, an old cookbook I had forgotten I had. From snacks to stews, it was all there, including handwritten notes for some of the recipes I evidently had cooked 20 years ago! I love the odd trip down memory lane, don’t you…
I had my heart set on sesame prawn toasts, a bit old fashioned but no yum cha is complete without it. Dumplings were high on the list too, though I didn’t fancy all the work involved with the pleating. Then after reading about the quest for balance in a chinese menu, ensuring there was a yin for every yang, the list grew and grew to include contrasting ingredients and cooking techniques: lotus root chips and prawns crackers (deep fried snacks), marbled eggs and broccoli salad (cold and healthy-ish, kind of like a palate cleanser), prawn toasts and steamed pork ribs ( more deep fried and fatty bits), wonton soup (the only soup dish in the entire meal) and potstickers, marinated chicken wings ( for the kids!), a chinese style beef and radish stew accompanied by boiled rice ( ok, we didn’t really need this but no banquet is complete without a one-pot dish).
So, what about dessert? A fruit platter of oranges and pineapple would have sufficed, but I know from experience that fruits do not dessert make so I substituted with a mixed platter of fortune cookies, snow rice biscuits and mango coconut jelly pods. Still, I remembered how you can’t mention a birthday celebration to little kids without offering a cake and candles to blow, even if the birthday boy happens to be in his prime (believe me, we had a cake-less dinner once, and the look on the kids face when, after refusing to eat much of the main meal saving themselves for the cake, they realised the best they could hope for was ice cream…awkward, to put it mildly!). So I rushed to the local patisserie and bought this gooey, rich chocolate mud cake. Not a very chinese finish, but a celebratory one nonetheless.
Once I decided on the menu, the fun started with a couple of trips to Hurstville, a suburb not far from home, host of a large asian community. Anything exotic can be found in the dozens of chinese supermarkets, butchers seem to carry cuts of meat impossible to find in the shire ( think calve’s liver or veal shoulder), and the seafood choices are endless. Though I had made a list of items to shop for, I admit being completely overwhelmed on my first trip and coming home with vegetables and spices only. Ok, I also bought boxes of take-away chinese roast duck, hoisin pork, chili duck giblets salad, chili anchovies, marinated bean sprouts…so intrigued was I by what was on offer. Some of the stalls had such long queues of customers, I just joined in, figuring they must have known something I didn’t. It took another trip to work my way thru the various dumplings, noodles and sauces; and after our first dinner of take aways I was instructed to bring back more duck!
Needless to say that by the weekend, we had eaten our fair share of Chinese food already.
“How are you going to serve 12 dishes at once?” asked Terry on the saturday night.
“I’ve got this, darling! Check out my lists and my timeline.” As much as I like to think that I am organised, I’ve learnt over the years that unless 80% of the prep is done BEFORE the guests show up, chances of the meal served on time goes out the window. My problem is that once people arrive, drinks are poured, conversations start, host gets ahem distracted…and food, well, is forgotten for a while.
So my plan was to produce 2 dishes at a time, with a breather in-between to allow time for cooking. To make it even easier, I had prepared the pork ribs and the beef stew the night before, so they only required re-heating the next day. I cooked the eggs and the broccoli salad in the morning, baked the chicken wings an hour before lunch…so that all that was left to do was deep frying! And just as well, because we all had underestimated how long deep frying for 16 people takes!!!
Our guest were the usual suspects: Terry’s 4 children ( Craig, Mal, Michelle and Tania) and their spouses (Danielle, Kathy and Jai ), the 4 grand-children ( Harry, Hannah, Cooper and Jesse), the boys mother and her husband (Rosalie and Ian) as well as the four of us. I assigned Marc with the taking of photographs, a task I am normally in charge of, when I don’t have to spend so much time in the kitchen. He started off well, until dish number 5, when he was offered a beer and asked to join the men’s conversation. That’s when the camera was retired in a corner, only to be found again just in time for the cake*.
Anne took charge of the deep frying and while she handled all these lotus roots and prawn crackers brilliantly, we nibbled on the bakkwa ( asian jerky) that Shelley and Jai had brought over.
As Tania had read my mind, and made the mixture for prawn sesame toasts, I decided to turn up another prawn dish, deep fried on a bed of lettuce. The prawns were a hit, as well as the steamed spare ribs we served along side.
Then, it was show time for Rosalie, who kindly offered to take care of the wontons, since I declared them too fiddly to make. There is nothing like a guest coming over with their own chicken stock, tray of home made dumplings and sauces, AND the cute little bowls to serve the individual wontons in!
By the time the chicken wings and the beef stew appeared, most of us could only handle a mouthful of everything.I had planned a plate of chinese green leaves with soya sauce, so we could say we had vegetables, but these got forgotten about and by the time I remembered them, the little ones were asking me when the cake would be served.So they stayed in the fridge, for use later in the week ( that’s another story in itself!)
Which brings me to the end of the meal, with the customary fortune cookies, mango coconut jelly cups and snow biscuits the grand-children had saved room for. And of course the chocolate mud cake!
Needless to say that we all left the table full…and as our guests made their way home, I packed away enough left overs to last us for a whole week.
*This explains why some of the dishes photographed are in a different light, as we didn’t get a chance to do it during the lunch, we plated whatever left overs we had the next day for photos!
Cold sesame broccoli
Adapted from Chinese Cookery by Ken Hom
This vegetable dish is perfect for a buffet or a picnic, as it can be prepared in advance and kept in the fridge until ready to serve. It is a delicious way to serve broccoli other than steamed!
Serves 6 as a side dish
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp oil (not olive oil)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 1/2 tbsp light soya sauce
2 tbsp finely chopped spring onions
- Wash and separate the broccoli heads into florets. Keep the stems for another use (like a soup or a salad). Blanch the broccoli pieces in a a large pot of boiling, salted water for 5 minutes, drain then plunge into cold water so they retain their bright green colour. Drain thoroughly in a colander and set aside in a large bowl.
- Roast the sesame seeds in a small frypan, until they are golden. In a small glass bowl, combine the roasted sesame seeds with the rest of the ingredients and mix them together well. Pour the mixture onto the broccoli and toss well. If you are using the next day, cover with plastic wrap and keep in the fridge until needed.
Stewed beef northern style
Adapted from Chinese Cookery by Ken Hom
This meat dish has a very unusual flavour, with a combination of sweet spices and fermented yellow bean sauce. It smells quite strong but tastes surprisingly mellow. The original recipe uses beef brisket but I prefer to use chuck steak instead, as it is more tender and flavourful. It can be cooked in advance, cooled and kept in the fridge. Re-heat slowly before serving.
Serves 6 as a main or 12 as part of a buffet
1.5 kg chuck steak, diced in 5cm cubes
4 spring onions, sliced diagonally into 5 cm segments
2 tbsp oil (not olive oil)
6 slices fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 red chilies ( more or less, to taste)
500g chinese white radish (daikon), peeled and sliced into 5cm segments
For the braising sauce:
900ml chicken stock
1 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
4 whole star anise
2 tsp five spice powder
5 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp yellow bean sauce
- Heat a wok or a large frypan until very hot. Add the oil and when it is smoking, add the beef. Pan fry until brown on all sides (you may have to do this in batches, so that the meat sears rather than stews). Replace all the meat in the frypan, add the spring onions, ginger, garlic and chilies and stir fry with the beef for about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the meat mixture to a large casserole or dutch oven. Add the braising sauce ingredients, bring the liquid to the boil, skimming off any fat from the surface (if any, I usually don’t worry about it) and turn the heat to as low as possible. Cover and braise for 1 1/2 hours.
- Add the daikon slices to the meat and continue to cook for another 30 minutes or until the meat is quite tender. Then turn the heat up to high and boil rapidly to reduce the liquid for about 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens slightly.
- Serve with plain rice. Enjoy!
Wow, August has come and gone just like that. One week we’re in the middle of Olympics fever, swinging to the latest Brasilian tunes, and the next is planning forthcoming holidays (NOT in south america, as much as we like it there!) As I mentioned before, the media spotlight on Rio has brought back many fond memories of our previous travels, and reading thru old log entries I was reminded of some of the weird and wonderful culinary experiences we (or at least I) enjoyed. There was the time when we flew to the Argentinian/Brasilian/Paraguayan border to visit the Iguacu Falls and ordered Argentinian Chorizo ( it turned out to be a tough piece of steak instead of a spicy sausage),were served “orangeade” ( a lethal cocktail of cachaca – sugar cane spirit – orange juice, and honey) ) in a remote village on the bank of the Rio Paraguacu
, or introduced to BBQ chicken hearts in the home of a French expat on the island of Itaparica
. The latter were an instant hit with my kids (then aged 5 and 10) who kept talking about it long after we returned to Australia. Back in these days I wasn’t into blog writing, let alone food writing. Now I wish I was, so that I could describe the fascinating process of anticipation, discovery, and appreciation one goes thru while tasting some (occasionally confronting ) new food.
Last month south american inspired dinners included a lot of comfort food (stews, grilled meats, rice dishes,…) as well as unusual food combinations with common ingredients cooked differently, or out of the ordinary ingredients served in a familiar way. So today, let me introduce you to food with a twist, a menu where your mind tells you one thing, but your taste buds say another : pao de queijo (cheese bread), churrasco do curaçao (grilled chicken hearts) and avocado ice cream.
But first, let me share one last story of our 2008 trip to Brasil. This is about an excursion at the mouth of the Amazon river, most remembered by my kids for wildlife watching and by me for the taste of buffalo mozzarella and avocado ice cream!
Soure and Marajo Island, Brasil
March 2 – 7, 2008
The town of Soure does not have much to offer, except being the main town on Marajo, an island as big as Switzerland at the mouth of the Amazon river and famous for its buffalos and mozzarella cheese. It is also a good base to explore the rest of the island which we did. Along with the crew of AtC, we set off for a 2- day excursion to the Fazenda do Carmo. Joining us were 3 other boats and Miles, a UK journalist on a week assignment writing about the rallye. Well, reaching the Fazenda (ranch) was an adventure in itself: crossing the river in a local punt, driving 40mn in a minibus on a dirt road, then hitting another river and hopping in a fast tinny from the fazenda for a 1 hour ride surrounded by jungle and mangroves. When we finally arrived at the ranch jetty, we were greeted into this 120 year farmhouse, an original pioneer cattle settlement in the jungle, with a breezy home, swimming pond and cowboys quarters! The next 2 days were to be filled with non stop activities interrupted by lavish meals all home cooked using the local ingredients.
First on to the jungle walk: after punting down a narrow channel, our guide found land above the high water mark for us to explore (no mean feat as most of this flat area gets flooded in the wet season). Equipped with gumboots (lent by the fazenda to those who forgot to bring their own), we sloshed thru the rainforest led by Claudio, our Amazonian Indian guide. He showed us the Quinine tree, then some vine with bark that smelled and tasted of strong garlic (in fact the Indians use it as an infusion). He pointed out to rubber trees (heveas) that had bled yellow sap which had turned into rough elastic bands. There were also other trees, which sap was used as an antiseptic (veronica), or yellow paint. We found a lot of palm fruits on the forest floor, some other fruits growing on trunks,…And these were just the plants! One nasty tree is the horny palm tree, which has very sharp spikes on its trunk and branches. Anne made the unfortunate experience, as she was sitting on Terry’s shoulders (little miss didn’t want to get her feet dirty), and as he bent down to avoid a branch, she forgot to bend with him and caught the spikes on her head. It’s amazing how much blood can come out of a scalp, but luckily there was no further damage. Around a corner, we found a giant fig tree and a favourite hunting spot. Claudio explained that the hunters would leave fruits at the base of the tree while sitting up overhead ready with a spear or blow darts. He proceeded to make a wreath of palm fronds, wrap them around his ankles and climb about 15m up the tree to the vantage point. We’ve never met such an athletic 70 year old! We kept going, crossing trunk bridges as the ground got swampier, and the group came to a sudden halt when Claudio held out a tarantula that happened to cross our path. He assured us this one was not venomous as it seemed to happily crawl on his arm. I used my zoom all the same for the photo, not taking any risks!
On the way back to the ranch, Claudio pointed out to a sleepy sloth hidden in the branches, little squirrel monkeys jumping from trees to trees, dozens of birds of prey, toucans flying overhead and a primitive bird called a Hoatzin ( a cross between a yellow chicken and a blue crested pigeon). We did manage to spot lots of butterflies by ourselves, in fact they are so big and colourful, they’re hard to miss.
After lunch, it was time for buffalo and horse riding. Buffalos are very stubborn creatures, and they tend to move in close packs, which can mean “horn kicks” on your legs if you happen to be riding one of them. We all headed off into the paddock, which was in fact a flooded swamp knee deep in water sitting on a horse (even thigh deep sitting on a buffalo!) Oh what fun it was, sloshing thru the reeds, trusting the horses not to slide in the mud (they didn’t), realizing that the buffalos actually swim in the deep holes. Anne felt very special riding with the head “gaucho”, and Marc kept coaxing his bull to move faster (unsuccessfully). When we swapped “vehicles” things became even more exciting, with Marc and I enjoying a splashy gallop on the horses, and poor Terry wishing he’d never sat on a buffalo!
The rest of the day was spent watching the birdlife around the homestead for me, swimming in the pond for Anne, playing billiard for Marc and chatting to the journalist for Terry. After dinner, Marc joined the crew from AtC for a nocturnal pirogue expedition and a bit of spotlighting: apparently they saw slithering snakes, capybaras (the world’s largest rodent) munching away, numerous egrets and falcons, but the kids were most disappointed that there were no crocodiles waiting on the banks of the river (in fact, they only appear in summer when the river is dry, during the winter they move further inland and reach for higher ground).
We all got a 5am wake up call the next day for a daybreak pirogue expedition (sunset and sunrise are the best times of the day to spot the animals, said Claudio). This is my favourite part of the day: as the sun came up, the sky took on fantastic shades of red, the forest slowly came to life with the murmurs of the birds, including some toucans, then a noisy chorus of howling monkeys, which we could not see, but certainly heard as they were marking their territory. Thanks to Claudio’s magical eyes again, we spotted green parrots, more hoatzins and squirrel monkeys running along branches, and capybaras on the prowl for breakfast.
We had to work for our own breakfast, with a visit to the buffalo shed to help milk the cows. The fresh milk tasted quite sweet and rich (yes, unpasteurised straight off the cow!!) and had Marc wondering why there was added sugar!
Which brings me to the end of the stay, but not without mentioning the magnificent food, all home cooked: these buffalos make for the most tender roasts, their milk is turned into delicious cheeses (fresh mozzarella and drier cheese), we were treated to exotic palmitos (heart of palm) salads, feijoadas (black beans stew), wood fired crusty bread, carrot soup, scrumptious cinnamon cakes and guava tarts, and (my favourite) avocado custard for dessert! We certainly ate our fair share of buffalo cheese, and our tight clothes are there to prove it.
Brazilian Cheese Bread
A popular savoury snack, this golf ball size bread roll is characterised by its soft and chewy texture, thanks to the main ingredient: manioc (tapioca) starch. This makes it a gluten-free alternative, for those having issues with wheat based bread. I like to stock up on tapioca starch when shopping in Asian grocery stores or health shops, so I can make a batch of these rolls anytime. However, I must confess that since discovering that my favourite green grocer sells the pre-mixed imported from Brasil, I sometime cheat and cook pao de queijo from a box! Here is the recipe to bake it from scratch.
Makes about 30 rolls
225g finely grated fresh parmesan cheese
2 egg yolks
275g manioc/tapioca starch
2 tsp salt
125ml/1/2 cup milk (full fat, not skim)
125ml/1/2 cup water
60ml/1/4 cup + 3 tbsp olive oil
- Place the parmesan, the whole eggs and egg yolks in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend for 1 mn or until you have a smooth paste. Set aside.
- Place the tapioca starch and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
- In a small saucepan, pour the milk, water and olive oil and bring to the boil. Transfer immediately into the starch mixture and start kneading at low speed. Mix until the dough is smooth and all the starch is incorporated, approx 2 mn.
- Pause the mixer and add the cheese and egg paste directly into the starch mixture. Mix the dough at low speed until it turns out a pale yellow. This process can take up to 10 mn, as you try to develop the structure of the dough (it is very much like bread making!). The dough should feel moist and sticky, not too runny.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight.
- Pre-Heat the oven to 180C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
- Shape the rolls: wet your hands with olive oil and use a spoon or ice cream scoop to make 2.5cm balls, rolling them with you hands. Place them on the baking sheet, leaving a 5cm space between them.
- Bake in the oven until they puff up and look golden, about 12-15 mn. To ensure even baking, rotate the sheet once during the cooking time.
- Serve immediately while they are warm and chewy!
Grilled chicken hearts
I call this a “mind over matter” kinda dish. It tastes very meaty (almost gamey), crunchy on the oustide, chewy on the inside…Opinions are split in our house: father and son love it, so do I. Our daughter used to like these skewers when she was five, now 13 years old, her imagination got the better of her, and despite the garlic and spices, she can’t stop thinking beyond the fact that she’s eating hearts. Each to their own, I’ll let you decide.
Makes 12 skewers
1 tbsp ground cumin
500g chicken hearts, trimmed
3 garlic cloves. crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
- In a medium size bowl, mix cumin, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Add the chicken hearts, toss to combine and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Thread the hearts onto skewers.
Pre-heat the grill or bbq to high heat and grill the skewers in batches, turning occasionally until charred and just cooked, about 5 mn. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Serve with boiled rice and watercress (or any other green leaves).
Avocado ice cream
Did you know that technically avocado is a fruit? My mum used to serve it with a spoonful of sugar for dessert and it wasn’t until I came to Australia that I tasted it in savoury dishes. Here we are so used to have it as a spread, guacamole, or in salads, that serving it as a dessert seems un-natural. Yet, the buttery texture of avocado lends a delicious creaminess to any custard-like dessert (think, creme brûlée or chocolate mousse). Avocado ice cream is one of my favourite dessert, not only for the flavour but also for its simplicity: 3 ingredients and it’s done!
Makes about 1 litre
300ml sweetened condensed milk
3 medium ripe avocados, peeled, stoned and cut into chunks
Juice of 1 lemon (to taste, try a tablespoon at a time)
- Place the sweet condensed milk and avocados in a food processor and blend until the mixture is very smooth, about 2 mn.
- Add the lemon juice, a tablespoon at a time, and blend for a few more seconds after each additions. Taste the avocado cream to check that the flavour is right (not too avocado-ey, not too lemony).
- Using a spatula, scrape the mixture in an ice cream maker, and churn for 20 minutes.
Transfer in a suitable container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.