Sealevel Restaurant, Cronulla

Photo courtesy of Dynafix

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!

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Ready to roll at sunset. Photo courtesy of Sealevel.

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!

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.
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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Sea level Restaurant & Bar

2 The Kingsway, Cronulla NSW 2230

Ph: (02) 95238888

http://www.sealevel.com.au

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“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.

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Steamed pork spare ribs, these are actually left overs I quickly pan fried the next day

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.

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Few samples from the Chinese stores: duck giblets, marinated beansprouts and chill anchovies

“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.

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Trying to be organised: I planned on 12 dishes so we would actually serve 10!

 

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.

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Lotus root chips, cooked by Anne

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Who doesn’t like prawn crackers?

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.

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Not the prettiest sesame prawn toasts but certainly the yummiest. In the corner, you can just see deep fried prawn heads, my favourite!! 

 

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!

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I always love the way the kids gather closely for the first slice of 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!

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Serves 6 as a side dish

Ingredients

750g broccoli
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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Serves 6 as a main or 12 as part of a buffet

Ingredients

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
50g sugar
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

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Freshly squeezed orangeade, and flamed sausage, yes, right on the tiled bench!

, or introduced to BBQ chicken hearts in the home of a French expat on the island of Itaparica

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New country, new flavours for this kid!

. 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.

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Fazenda do Carmo

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!

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I want to climb trees like this when I turn 70.

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An early boat ride in the jungle river

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Jungle trekking with a 5 year old. It can be done!!

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Tarantulas are friendly. Apparently.

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.

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Do not wake up the sloth!

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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!

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Trying to go faster, not always working.

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How glamorous is buffalo riding!

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!

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Unpasteurised buffalo milk, ready to drink…Anne would have none of it!

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The brasilian version of a barn in the middle of the flooded field

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.

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This is the cheat’s version, about to go into the oven

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The homemade version out of the oven

Makes about 30 rolls

Ingredients:

225g finely grated fresh parmesan cheese
2 eggs
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

  1. 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.
  2. Place the tapioca starch and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight.
  6. Pre-Heat the oven to 180C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

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Makes 12 skewers

Ingredients

1 tbsp ground cumin
500g chicken hearts, trimmed
3 garlic cloves. crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

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Makes about 1 litre

Ingredients

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)

  1. Place the sweet condensed milk and avocados in a food processor and blend until the mixture is very smooth, about 2 mn.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
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It is Olympic fever at our house, much like everywhere else I suspect. Even though I am not a sporty person, there is something compelling to be able to watch the best in the world and it doesn’t matter which sport, I am happy to sit and see athletes on top of their games: swimming, rugby, basketball, diving even horse riding…we’ve been glued to the TV screen in the past week!
Of course, the fact that the games are held in Rio makes it especially interesting for us, bringing back memories of our trip there so long ago. We had a fantastic time, though my kids were too young to remember, and I can honestly say Rio de Janeiro was one of my favourite cities.
Wondering why? Let me share the post I wrote after our visit in 2008.
Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
January 4-10, 2008

What best way to start 2008 than spending a week in Rio. This had been a long dream of mine since I was 10 years old, and now that we were so close ( well, sort of) I could not resist pack and drag the family in a midnight flight down south!
We decided to stay by the ocean in Copacabana for 5 nights, and while the hotel was a little dated, the staff was very friendly and the location was superb: to open your shutters to a full view of Copacabana beach was priceless!!! Brazilians call Rio de Janeiro a cidade maravilhosa (the marvelous city), and for good reasons: the setting is stunning, flanked by the large bay of Guanabara to the east, and the Atlantic ocean to the south, white sandy beaches and granite peaks. Terry ranks it as the most beautifully situated city in the world, after Sydney of course!

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Copacabana beach from our hotel window

There was talk (mostly from me) of visiting the Centro (downtown Rio) and walk thru the historical quarters, take a look at a samba school, even doing a favela tour (they are the hillside shantytowns or slums, where hundreds of thousands of people live in precarious circumstances) but democracy ruled (a rare event Marc says) and I was outvoted 3 to 1, in favor of spending time at the beach! While I managed to sneak in a tour bus to the Corcovado Mountain (at the top of which Christ the Redeemer gazes over Rio), we spent most of our time taking in Rio life, as the cariocas (Rio dwellers) do. And it turned out to be a lot of fun. We caught up with the kids new friend, Taina (the Amazon from NYE), who, with her mother Maria, drove us to Sugarloaf Mountain and around town, giving us an insight of cariocas daily life. When not working, the people seem to spend their time shopping, eating, drinking, and going to the beach with boundless energy, pretty much like Australians! Add to the picture, the sounds of bossa nova and samba music flowing out of open-air bars and restaurants, and we were very happy to fit in, exploring Rio’s 3 world famous beaches of Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon.

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Cable car ride up Sugarloaf mountain 

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Overlooking Botafogo Bay

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We took our first walk along Ipanema and Leblon beach on a Sunday, not a good day for shopping but great for people watching, as the 6-lane road running along the beach was closed to vehicle traffic. While Marc and Anne spent hours in the surf, Terry and I sat at one of the dozens of refreshment shacks, sipping agua de coco for me, Skol beer for Terry, watching the constant traffic of joggers, cyclists, walkers. I marveled at the variety of the people (black, brown, blue eyed blonde, red hair), and Terry kept a sharp look out for the beautiful bodies in the briefest bikinis he’d heard Ipanema was famous for! Let me tell you, that there are a lot of bodies in brief bikinis out here, but they’re not all beautiful. It doesn’t matter though if you’re not gorgeous, most cariocas seem uninhibited, and go by the motto “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”. For the ones who haven’t got it, some stop at the plastic surgeon first, and the ones who can’t afford “reshaping” display their front and rear bumpers in a “who cares anyway” attitude. It provided us with endless entertainment, along with the impromptu street parties and beach football and volleyball.

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Young cariocas on the beach

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Looking down Leblon and Ipanema beach

We loved the beach scene so much that we ended up spending the rest of the week there. Terry and I took it in turns going on beach walks, as the kids didn’t want to leave their favorite spot opposite the hotel. Where else could you walk around in your bikini, passing fellow walkers, fishermen, streets hustlers, 5 star hotels, 1960’s high rise apartments, designer jewellery shops? And how strange to reach exclusive Leblon, with its fancy restaurants, yet a favela on its hillside. The poor have a million dollar view down the beach!

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Not our hotel, unfortunately

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One of the many favelas

Back to Copacabana, unlike the upmarket suburb of Ipanema, it is more densely populated, traditional and lively. Since Terry and the kids were not interested in walking around the neighborhood, I’d leave them at the beach, browse thru the numerous music shops, bikini boutiques, and markets, and then meet them later at the local beach bar (which happened to be a favorite with the local girls too!) Now you would ask how one can stay all day at a city beach. The water itself is not very clean, in fact it is dirty with plastic bags and other rubbish, however as the waters inside the bay are even more polluted with sewerage, most people are happy to swim on the ocean surf. Our first reaction was “thank goodness for our tetanus and hepatitis shots!”. The main attraction though is the fact that you can rent a deck chair and umbrella for 7 reals a day (less than 3 euros), watch the world go by and the kids play safely, while dozens of vendors ply the beach offering icy cold beer for 2 reals (80 cents), camaroes (bbq prawns), fruit salads, ice creams, hats, sarongs, …you name it, you don’t even have to get up and worry about rubbish, someone comes along and takes it off you! If only we had that service on Australian (or French) beaches. No wonder no one wanted to leave the beach.

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Beach vendors on a break

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Life is better at the beach, they say

Even the gastronomic outings came out as second best, yet we ate like kings. From a simple “kilo place (you fill your plate from a buffet, then pay by the kilo), to a neighborhood churrascaria, a Thai restaurant in Leblon, and the extravagant Marius Meat and Seafood Buffet (where we all proclaimed to have the best meat in the whole of Brasil), we sampled more food than we could imagine (let alone eat)!

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Chill and spices at the Copa market

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Fresh Chicken anyone?

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Picanha at one of the Churrascaria

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Salad bar at Marius meat and Seafood buffet

Picanha and Farofa

This is typical Brasilian Churrasco (BBQ) fare. Picanha is a very popular beef cut in Brasil, here referred to as rump cap. Where I live in Sydney, we are very lucky to have a butcher nearby who prepares these rump cap skewers in a spicy marinade, all ready to grill. Then, a 5 mn drive away, there is my favourite green grocer in Miranda who sells a whole range of brasilian foodstuff like black beans, guava paste, and farofa. The latter is coarse manioc flour, which resembles dry breadcrumbs and has the texture of sand. Sounds appealing doesn’t it? Actually it tastes better than it sounds, and the dish is served in every churrasco as a side to grilled meat or rice and beans. The secret is to use lots of fat (butter or bacon or both!), herbs and spices to flavour and moisten this otherwise tasteless and dry flour, it then turns into a delicious accompaniment. I like to cook mine with eggs and spring onions, but any vegetables and herbs is fine too!

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Serves 4 as a side

Ingredients

50g unsalted butter
275g manioc flour
2 tbsp virgin olive oil
4 spring onions, sliced
5 eggs
Salt and pepper

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add the manioc flour and toast it to a golden colour, stirring often for about 10 minutes. make sure it doesn’t burn. Set aside.
  2. In a non stick fry pan, heat the olive oil and cook the spring onions until just soft.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and pour into the spring onions, scrambling them slightly and keeping them a little moist. Add the manioc flour and stir until well combined. Season to taste.
  4. Serve with sautéed spinach (or collard greens, as the brasilians do) and grilled steak.

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Two recent events have caused me to feel quite nostalgic lately and longing for our past cruising life.
First, was us attending the Sydney Boat Show last weekend. While we are not currently in the market for a new sailing boat since selling our beloved VOAHANGY ( and Terry is plenty busy with our new charter venture), we like to keep in touch with new developments and people in the boating industry. The Lagoon team has been such a big part of our cruising life, we have made friends with a few of the staff over the years and when we received an invitation from their Australian distributors to attend the launch of their latest model, the Lagoon 42, we jumped at the opportunity to catch up over French Champagne and canapes! So many familiar and new faces, old stories were (re)told, plans were hatched, inevitable questions were asked ( So, when are you going again? ), and of course, we had to inspect the new boats. There is nothing like the smell and feel of a brand new yacht, and wandering around the galley of the L42 felt like being back home (though a smaller version of the L560). I even started to rearrange the table setting much to the embarrassment of my daughter who stopped me saying “Mum, what are you doing?!”. Yes, I am incorrigible and I either need help or a new Lagoon (or both!) What a great night it was and needless to say that not a day has passed since when I don’t miss our floating home.

Another trigger has been the incessant media frenzy over the imminent Olympic Games in Rio. All this talk of Brazil is reminding me of our unforgettable trip there back in 2007. In these days, we were sailing our Lagoon 500 back from France, and had joined the Rallye des Iles du Soleil, a french organisation gathering 35 cruising yachts travelling from the Canary islands to Brazil. The main reason we joined the rally was not only for the companionship and fun of being surrounded by other family boats, but the itinerary that year included dream destinations like Cape Verde, Senegal, and the Amazon river which we would have been hesitant to navigate on our own. As a family with young children ( Marc was 9, Anne was 4) already involved in boat readiness, homeschooling, and maintenance it was a massive relief to know that some logistical issues such as cruising permits, escort mothership, security, and cultural excursions were taken care of. Fast forward 8 years, and when asked about our preferred cruising destination, Brazil remains my absolute favourite. For the record, Terry’s is the Inside Passage in Alaska, while Marc and Anne can’t decide between Mexico and the US East Coast.

It should not come as a surprise then, that August has been declared Brazilian month in our house. From samba music playing in the background, to weekly latin american dinners, it is a trip down memory lane for us…One which I would like you to join me on for the next few weeks, with a recipe or two and as a bonus, in each post, I will attach an excerpt of a log entry from some of the books I kept back in these “blogless” days. We used to email these updates to family and friends, so while some of you may remember receiving these a long time ago, it will be news for a lot of you (albeit old news!).

Let’s kick off with our arrival in Salvador da Bahia after crossing the Atlantic from Senegal.

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Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
December 17-26, 2007
After spending 12 days at sea, finding ourselves in a city of 2.4 million people is pretty overwhelming. And it’s not just adjusting to crowds again. The week flew by in a flurry of boat repairs (at least organizing them!), catching up with the arriving rallye boats (most had arrived by the end of the week), and most of all, prepare Christmas. The kids had put the pressure on during the Transat, while we were counting the days before arriving to Brazil; they counted the days till Christmas.

I can hardly describe the feeling of being in a place like Salvador at Christmas time. The city is a buzz of activity. It is described in the guide books as the African soul of Brazil, due/thanks to its large population of African slave descendants. This translates in everyday life as the most vibrant place we’ve ever been so far. Remember the 5.45am call to prayer in every Turkish town? Well in Salvador, we have the 6am samba drum wake up call!!! Strangely enough, we don’t mind: the sun is already up by then, it is the coolest part of the day, and it’s such happy music we find ourselves shuffling over breakfast.
The city sits at the mouth of the Bay of all Saints, and was built on a cliff top facing the sea. It is divided in two levels: the lower city and the upper city.
The marina is located in the lower city, next to the ferry terminal, financial district and Elevator Lacerda which takes us to the historical center thru a 72m vertical cement shaft in 20 seconds! The historical centre houses countless baroque churches (365 according to popular belief), museums, and other colonial buildings, much of them renovated and painted in bright pastels. In the middle of it is the area known as the Pelourinho, a Unesco-declared World Heritage site. Pelourinho means “stone column”, mounted in the public square with a bronze pendant for publicly tying and whipping criminals and rebellious slaves. As the first capital of Portuguese America, Salvador was doing a thriving business in slave trading and had its “pelos” installed in open and central places. As a pelourinho was a symbol of authority and justice, it ended up lending its name to the historical and architectural part of the city. Another reminder of Salvador’s past as the place with the largest percentage of African slaves brought into Brazil, is the Mercado Modelo, only meters from the marina. It’s now a tourist market, but back in the 1860’s it was the Customs House and had the dubious task of storing shipments of new slaves in the watery depths of the building. Apparently you can tour the basement of Mercado Modelo, which we declined to do.

As we are in one of the most popular area with tourists, we were immediately drilled by the RIDS organizers on the precautions to take when going out: no jewellery or watches, no bags either, only take the cash you need, one credit card at a time, don’t walk alone at night,…Evidently there is poverty and misery right outside the marina gate. It’s different to Senegal though. First impressions are of a modern city full of people going about their work in shops, banks, offices, we could be in Cairns CBD. However, walking in the back streets, we come across kids begging for 2 reals (50 cents), dilapidated buildings, men collecting empty cans for reselling,…No one really comes up to ask during the day, but we were warned that come darkness, the more desperate come out and muggings are quite common. Sadly some members of the RIDS would tempt fate and go out on Christmas night, only to be robbed of their passports and cameras, one of the ladies even ending up with a broken finger trying to hold on to her purse! So, armed with all this knowledge, we set out to visit the city during the day and socialize on the pontoon at night. Unfortunately, the safety issues make it impossible to carry any camera, let alone take photos, so you will have to do with my descriptions.
Wherever you go, there is music, young people practicing capoeira moves, black women wearing big white dresses, street vendors offering sugar cane juice or coco gelado (cold young coconut). And let’s not forget the smells of tropical fruits, dende oil (local palm), coconut cream…

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In the Pelourinho, surrounded by 17th century churches

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 Overlooking the marina, from the upper city. The Elevator is on the left

Coconut drinks for sale at the beach

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Praia Porto da Barra, the closest to the city

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Onto the cooking. Both following recipes are adapted from Cook Brazilian by Letitia Moraines Schwartz. I found the book in Australia,  a few years after our return on land and spending a long time trying to recreate brazilian dishes by memory.

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Prawns with hearts of palm and tomatoes

Hearts of palm are widely used in Brazil and are easily found fresh all over the country. I used to keep some tinned on the boat and use them in salads, after rinsing them well. In Australia, they are available in specialised grocery stores. I cook the prawns in their shells as I like to munch on the crispy tails and slurp on the juice. But that’s me, so feel free to peel and devein them is you prefer.

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Serves 4 as a main

Ingredients

400ml fish stock
12 large green (uncooked) prawns
3 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
1 onion peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
125ml dry white wine
250g drained canned hearts of palm, cut into 2cm rounds
2 tomatoes, chopped
4 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

  1. Place the fish stock in a small saucepan and keep hot at a low simmer
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a saucepan and add the onion. Cook on medium heat until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and stir. Add the white wine, stir and reduce by half another 2 minutes.
  3. Add the fish stock and bring to the boil, cook for about 5 minutes until it starts to thicken. Season to taste, add the hearts of palm and tomatoes and cook until hot, about 2 minutes. Set aside. Garnish with the coriander just before serving.
  4. In a large frying pan, heat the remaining oil until smoking. Add the prawns and cook until they turn pink and opaque, about 1 minute on each side. Keep on heat for a few moments longer to crisp up the shells, trying not to overcook them.
  5. Place vegetables on a plate, prawns on top and serve with white rice. Enjoy!

Fish with Coconut Ginger sauce

In this recipe, the most time consuming task is the dicing of the capsicums, but you can slice them instead if you are in a hurry. I like to use flathead fillets, but any thin piece of fish is suitable. In Brazil, they crumb the fish with fuba, which is like fine polenta. I had left over arepa from the boat ( corn flour bought from Colombia, yes, more left over!) so I used that but really polenta will be just fine! The veggies and the sauce can be prepared ahead of time so it is a very quick and easy dinner to put together.

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Serves 4 as a main

Ingredients

3 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil
1 green capsicum chopped
1 red capsicum chopped
2 red onions, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves. peeled and crushed
1 tbsp fresh thyme
40g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
50ml dry white wine
350ml fish stock
225ml coconut milk

500g flathead fillets, skinned and boned (ask your fishmonger to do it for you)
100g polenta
3 tbsp grapeseed or olive oil

  1. Cook the vegetables: Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large state pan over medium heat. Add the capsicums and one onion, cook, stirring often until soft, about 3 minutes. Add 2 of the crushed garlic cloves and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper, add the chopped thyme, take off the heat and keep warm.
  2. Make the sauce: place 1 tbsp oil and remaining onion in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until soft and translucent. Add the grated ginger and remaining crushed garlic, cook stirring for another 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and reduce by 2/3.
  3. Add the coconut milk, stir well and cook over a low heat until the sauce reaches a thin paste consistency. Strain the sauce thru a sieve into a gravy boat and discard the solids.Season to taste and keep warm.
  4. Cook the fish: pat dry the fillets with paper towels. Place the polenta, salt and pepper in a ziplock bag, add the fish fillets, close the bag and shake it until the fillets are well dredged. Remove from the bag shaking off the excess polenta.
    In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Gently lay the fish in the pan, it should sizzle lightly. Cook until golden on both sides, about 2 minutes per sides. Transfer to a warm platter with a fish slice.
  5. Serve topped with the warm capsicums, spoon the sauce all round and serve with white rice.

 

 

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