I am not going to even apologise for not posting in so long. No point waffling on so today I will share with you a family tradition. It’s raining in Sydney and for once in my life I have decided not to venture far and enjoy hearing and watching the rain rather than being in it. Since moving away from my family I have to say I have been holding on to our traditions more tightly. I find them comforting and it makes me feel closer to them. Now that I’m older I wish I could speak Arabic and am now trying to learn how to speak, read and write. It is so hard and my lovely dad has yet to say I told you so. I can still remember the moment as a child when he asked me to speak Arabic and I refused. He said I’d regret it. As an adult it’s not so much regret but a challenge that I’m excited to take on as I try to learn my parents mother tongue. Well that’s what I keep telling myself. I definitely have embraced my Lebanese heritage more than ever. As a child I think I was often confused and not sure where my heritage fits in my life. Now it’s not all of me but it’s definitely a part of me that I embrace.
Today on this rainy day is Good Friday, which means not eating meat (we grew up not eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays but I think it was my mum’s way of making sure her kids ate fish) and going to mass. As a child I fondly remember going to Good Friday mass at the only Arabic church* in Perth to take my Teta (arabic for Grandma) who mainly spoke Arabic (though her English was a lot better than she lead people to believe. Case in point she was able to translate Bold and the Beautiful from English to Arabic for me. Why I never knew but I loved her getting so angry at Brooke). Good Friday at Arabic church involved walking around with candles and walking under this beautiful flower arch. This sad day in the Catholic church was strangely one of my favourite masses. One of the reasons was that after mass we would venture to the hall and enjoy makhlouta soup. I remember burning my mouth many a time eating this mixed bean and silverbeet soup out of styrofoam cups. So today while my family is 4,000 kilometres away all I can think about is this soup. The rain doesn’t help. Luckily I always have lentils in the cupboard, a couple lemons left from my dad’s garden that I brought back from my last Perth trip and my local greengrocer was open on this public holiday for the greens. The recipe I am sharing with you today is my take on the lentil and lemon soup (a simpler variation of makhlouta). Make this on your next rainy day!
Rita’s Adas bi Hamoud
Good Friday Soup
1 brown onion chopped
4 cloves garlic crushed
2 birdseye chillis (keep the seeds in)
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp Lebanese Seven Spice (aka baharat)
1 bunch Tuscan Cabbage (aka cavolo nero. This is my variation with the traditional recipe using silverbeet. Either will do).
1 cup green lentils
1 litre of boiling water
1 cup lemon juice (use real lemons)
1. Get a big pot on the stove on medium heat. Add the oil, chopped onion, garlic, chilli, cumin and Lebanese Seven Spice. Stir it all together and saute for 5 minutes or until softened.
2. Add the chopped Tuscan cabbage (make sure you remove the hard centre stem) and sauté for 5 minutes or until wilted.
3. Add the green lentils, lemon juice and water. Bring to a boil and then simmer on low for 25 minutes.
*Sadly this church that I was christened at and spent many hours of my childhood is now bulldozed.
I’m not proud to admit when I fail but I have failed. I have been so busy exploring Sydney and my relatively new life here that my blog has not only fallen through the cracks…it’s almost died. I’m not prepared to let it go. I don’t give up and as I once famously said in a job interview…I always start what I finish. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? If this blog is on death’s door then I am technically starting something I finished. So in my true waffling style, I have done a Jesus and resurrected my blog from the dead. A hobby of mine is reading newspapers. As I used to work at one, I still feel a strong kinship with this piece of paper that smudges my hands. I absolutely adore the Good Food lift out in the Sydney Morning Gerald. My kind desk neighbour at work, Helen, without fail puts it on my desk after she reads it every Tuesday (except the last three weeks she has been on holiday. I’ll have to have words with her). I’ll get to the point eventually. So the Good Food lift out is having a love affair with the hottest restaurant in Sydney…Nomad in Surry Hills. Now I’m having a love affair with it. Though it took me 18 months to step in there. It’s because I don’t think I’m cool. If anything I’m dad joke daggy. So I was scared to step into this hip happening restaurant that has Sydney raving and booked out. I thought 3 weeks before my Saturday booking was enough but all I could get was a 6pm service. Hot tip…book in advance but not the 6 month lengths of Quay. Everything about this restaurant is cool. The industrial finish makes you think your in Melbourne, the tattooed chefs and waitstaff make aprons look like the latest couture and the folded paper menu just screams unfold me. Have I mentioned the awesome caveman wooden chairs? They’re too cool to be comfortable. My absolute favourite item besides the open kitchen (which sometimes scare me) are the hanging dead animals also known as charcuterie. It’s what I love about Rockpool in Perth – not the pretty candles in the walkway but the hanging meat. You know I love a place when I’m a repeat customer in a short period. Sayers is case in point (see Quick Treat: One day I will stop talking about Sayers…when it closes down). In a space of three weeks I went to Nomad three times. So this entry is a mixture of all three experiences. The first Nomad experience was to celebrate my friend Jess becoming a lawyer. The waitress Serena (I think that’s her name) was sensational. When the wine I wanted was sold out she provided the best solution. When I say best I really mean it. Best’s Great Western Riesling was amazing. I’ve just downloaded the Vivino app (it’s like Facebook for wine) and I wish I had it back then. Though I definitely need to improve my wine vocabulary. Here is my attempt. It had a smooth start with a fruity middle and heavenly honey after taste. So in other words it was delicious. It’s time to talk food. I am the most indecisive Capricorn (if you follow star signs this is very un-Capricorny. Yes Capricorny is a word). So the banquet was a great option to try the menu with the decisions made for us. The house made sourdough bread we ate too eagerly. I wish I waited for the charcuterie board. The cured meat was melt in your mouth magic. The stand out was the salami and copper. I actually don’t remember every single one as there was about six different types on a chic wooden board. The falafel with steamed buns perplexed me and my Lebanese heritage. They don’t call me Rita Bread at work for nothing. My childhood falafels were wrapped in Lebanese bread with tahini, lettuce and tomato but devoid of onion (I was a fussy eater back in my day. Now I can’t cook anything on a frypan without onion even scrambled eggs). However, living up to the restaurant’s name this confused combination actually worked. I can’t wait to convince my mum to give it a go. Another highlight for me was the lamb. Oh how I love my slow cooked lamb. After seeing a lamb get killed when I was 8 and then dished up for New Years dinner, there is no way you can turn me vegetarian. This paddock to plate is actually in vogue now. I’m trying hard to learn more about the source of my food. I grew up with having lemon trees and herbs in the garden. I know that the perfect fruits and vegetables at the supermarkets are not perfect. Lemons are not perfectly oval and yellow…they are often green and lumpy. Whoops I’m on a tangent but I do know that Nomad does pride itself on its produce and nose to tail eating. Wagyu tongue anyon? I was also a big fan of the eggplant with the lamb. Classic Middle Eastern flavours inspired many of the dishes but often given a sporadic twist. Nomad also loves their cheese. The haloumi gave Apollo’s honey saganaki a run for its money. Another time I tried the savoury churros with truffled honey goats cheese. I prefer that than its cinnamon sugar sister. The goats cheese was to die for. I think I ended up licking the bowl (well at least scraping it). On my second visit with my friend Bron, we were in prime position sitting at the kitchen bar watching the magic happen. The steak tartare caught my eye as well as the impressive knife skills that are required to get the beautiful beef so finely diced. I didn’t get to try it but there’s always next time. You can’t fault the service. When we were about to over order the waitress was honest and removed an item. As the menu is meant to be shared then I recommend for two people an entree, shared main and dessert (with a cheeky bottle of wine) is all you need. I would definitely recommend the crispy half chicken and if I could I’d order the cauliflower salad on its own. It was a dish in itself but you get them together so it’s happy days. The dressing on the salad was taratoor-like with a zesty tahini kick. Now to the second stomach…dessert time! I was lucky to get to Nomad when Christine Mansfield had her diva desserts on offer. The Gaytime goes nuts made famous in Masterchef was glorious. The photo says it all…that dessert was demolished. The chocolate cake with Iranian apricot put two of my loves together. It actually sparks wonderful father and daughter memories as I grew up on that dessert combination. Buying Australian apricots (despite bein $30 per kilo) at Kakulas (a family continental store) and eating chocolate in any form strengthened the father daughter bond. I have fond memories of hearing the rustle of chocolate wrappers and catching dad opening a cherry ripe. I think I still have that gift despite living in Sydney while my dad remains in Perth. A couple times I’ve called him and caught him out. I don’t even know why I started reminiscing about childhood memories but it just shows how strongly food, family and friends are united. So in my most recent visit it was fitting to take the Sydney family there. These special people have become the people I rely on while my family is miles away. I’m a feisty independent person so though it’s taken me awhile to be able to say help me, I feel confident that they can. While we sampled the free wine and charcuterie offerings to celebrate Nomad’s new online wine store it was unanimously decided that we eat there. I also may have talked up the place quite a bit by then. Not going to lie the service was a lot slower this time and a bit clumsy. The Rita jinx continues. Whenever I talk up a place to people, something always happens to let me down (my friend Fran never lets me forget the steak sandwich saga at Sayers). However you couldn’t fault the food at Nomad. So do yourself a favour, don’t be intimated by Nomad’s coolness and enjoy the amazing food, wine and wonderful company you bring. In saying that I’m having a break as I’ve pretty much conquered the Spring menu. I have just found out the Head Chef is leaving so not sure what direction the next menu will be. Rumours he is joining a Merivale project in the city, which I can only assume will be another hip addition to Sydney. I give Merivale props for turning the beer soaked Coogee Palace into a food and games night haven – I owe you a blog for that one. Another Merivale favourite is Mr Wongs with duck pancakes fitting for Kimye. So though I’ve kept you waiting a very long time for my centenary blog entry, hopefully it was worth the wait. Fingers crossed you will see more treats from me in 2015.
THE FOOD JOURNEY
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged apricots, Best's riesling, Christy Mansfield, dinner, falafel, lamb, merivale, Nomad, open kitchen, steamed buns, surry hills, wine
I’m sorry. I know actions speak louder than words and my blogging has been few and far between. I actually thought I hadn’t written in six months so I was relieved to find out my last blog entry was in December last year. Ok so it’s been awhile. Hopefully it was worth the wait because my first blog entry for 2014 takes a different direction. Yes I have been trying more in the kitchen (not that you know because I haven’t been writing about them) but now I am stepping it up a notch. Today’s blog is my first quasi interview style with a celebrity chef. Chefs are the new rock star in my humble opinion. The hospitality industry may also share the sex, drugs and rock roll (chefs can be musical too) that of a rock star previously without the claim to fame. Now people can rattle off what chef owns what restaurant or what show they are on or what produce is recommended. It’s almost the opposite of what Shakespeare said, ‘If music be the food of love play on’ (thanks Berkeleouw Paddington book store MC for the quote suggestion). Food is the new music. Chefs are treated like rock stars. Once hidden in the kitchen they are now given a spotlight or in Manu’s case, a prime time TV show. Yes the first blog in 2014 is my musings of meeting Manu. His new book French for Everyone, is his attempts to show Australia how the French eat everyday. Yes there’s the long arduous recipes that make you feel like you need to go to Le Cordon Bleu to master. However, he made a very good point. You don’t eat beef bourguignon, coq di vin and confit duck 365 days a year. But those special occasions you do…wow. So I like this concept of bringing the French cuisine into your daily routine even if it’s a simply marinated sardine (I love sardines it’s true, I’m my father’s daughter after all), the humble burger with a twist or crepes with chocolate sauce and banana. I actually have family living in France with cute 7 year old cousins who don’t speak English yet I can understand their princess stories. Both my uncle and aunty work full time and don’t have time or I’ll be honest technique to have a fancy French meal on the table. I remember when I was 19, my first time in Europe and we enjoyed a 9 course dinner to bring in the New Year. Each course wasn’t a rich and creamy dish to put you in a food coma. From a simple serve of smoked salmon to my first taste of foie gras (took me forever in Google to find the spelling), it’s the little pleasures that make a full experience and stomach. How did Manu end up in Australia? After 8 years in London having only arrived there with a backpack and 300 pounds, his move to Australia at the age of 26 was quite similar with a backpack and $700 in his pocket. How does a chef go from a kitchen to TV land? (Those were my words). He said it was by watching a man kiss a fish on TV. It definitely wasn’t Huey, Manu made that very clear. It was actually Rex Hunt. Manu said that he was confused as to why Rex would catch amazing fish but never cook it. He went so far as emailing Rex Hunt and offering his services. Good old Rex declined, his show was about fishing and not cooking. That ignited Manu’s interest in TV. Eventually the Ready Steady Cook producers came knocking on his door to audition. He thought he blew it and was quite honest with the producer. His honest approach and let’s face it charm were a ‘marriage made in heaven’ for TV. I couldn’t help myself there. What else did Manu have to offer us? His charm. He was quite honest and smooth in his answers and in being honest he actually said he couldn’t answer some MKR questions. Fair enough, he knows the winners, he wants to keep a job. So where’s the sauce? The gossip? Any scandal? I perhaps might have alluded to that by asking him if he plays on his twitter a lot. It came out wrong but what I meant to ask was actually a savvy social media marketing question that could appear in Mumbrella but ended up being a possible GQ question for the Miranda Kerr interview. The reason why I asked about Twitter is that the hashtag #MKR constantly trends and I wanted to know how Manu used it. For example, MKR judge Colin Fassnidge uses Twitter to sell full pigs and to source produce. His answer to my question (again I appreciate his honesty) is that he does tweet but he also has a ghost writer aka personal assistant. My friend Lisa also tried to get some juicy gossip out of him. Do people in his life get intimidated to cook for him? The answer was no. He said his fiance is an amazing cook. No scandal there. Just reemphasises the saying that a way to man’s heart is through his stomach. All in all Manu loves food, food makes you happy and happiness is the point of life. Right?
My first quasi-interview (I asked him a couple questions so it counts)
So let’s ignore the fact I renegaded from my promise to write a post per week. So I’m hoping to make it up to you with my famous pumpkin pie recipe. Ok not so famous but definitely a popular dessert. Since living in the USA 5 years ago, I decided to adopt Thanksgiving here in Oz. The food is just too good to resist. I decided to make pumpkin pie for my first Christmas here in Sydney. It worked out perfectly because it bucketed down with rain all day. I have gone all Donna Hay in this recipe and cheat with the pastry. For a $3.20 pastry tart shell from Coles you would do the same. Bake, eat and enjoy!
Frozen shortcrust pastry tart shell (I use Pampas. Approx $3.20)
800g butternut pumpkin peeled and cubed
1/2 tsp ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 cup cream
1 egg yolk
3/4 cup brown sugar
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius
2. Wrap the pumpkin in foil, place on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 40 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool slightly, then place pumpkin in a food processor with the spices, vanilla extract and cream and process to combine.
3. Beat together the eggs and sugar in a small bowl, then stir into the pumpkin mixture.
4. Blind bake pastry tart shell for 10 minutes.
5. Pour in the pumpkin filling in the tart shell. Reduce the oven temperature to 170°C and bake for a further hour until the filling is set. Set aside to cool. Serve with the extra cream (I like vanilla ice cream).
Apologies: no photo evidence sorry. My presentation skills are still not up to scratch.
So I’ve run out of excuses as to why my treating is so irregular. I mean I haven’t stopped eating. I pledge that I will keep treating at least once a week with the odd recipe here and there. Today’s treat is exactly that. The Grounds of Alexandria is wonderful! It’s like a mixture of Old Mcdonald had a farm/Secret Garden/Rita’s heaven. Walking into The Grounds for the first time I couldn’t help but smile. Then I turned to my right and saw the long line for a table. Luckily my friends already had a pager in hand and at 9am we only had a half hour wait. Yes I know! On my left was this awesome outdoor kitchen. You are surrounded by strawberry tarts, muffins, lemonade stands, nuts….it truly is a food haven. It’s a lot to take in. So if you didn’t want to wait to be seated in the restaurant section you won’t leave The Grounds starving because there is food everywhere. Don’t forget to say hi to Kevin Bacon and Bradley the lamb who have returned after being stolen and found in country Victoria. The cute little petting farm in the back of The Grounds is a wonderful touch for families. I’ve used so many superlatives without even talking about a meal yet. After waiting (yes I waited and I would do it again) we went inside to be seated in front of the coffee roaster. Swoon! I am loving this trend with coffee roasting on the premises. Typika in Perth (see Treat 65) invested in a $800,000 coffee roasting machine that I loved staring at when I dined there. So I apologise to the company I was with if I was staring out to the distance. They even have a coffee menu with diagrams! I noticed the Sydney trend is to order piccolos, which is a small latte. I like that idea because I don’t like milky coffees. But knowing me I’ll stick to my macchiatos. I guess there piccolo is like a long macchiato. I tried ordering a long mac once and they gave me a long black. So I might try get on the piccolo bandwagon. The Grounds also offers French press coffees and aeropress coffee which I’ve never had. Aeropress coffee brews full bodied coffee that is less acidic and without bitterness so I’m looking forward to trying it. Or I could just get The Grounds coffee sample tray and try them all! Ok food time…sorry it’s long overdue. The breakfast menu has great variety – think quinoa porridge soaked in coconut milk with chia seeds and pawpaw, breakfast burger with eggs, bacon, relish and a relish roll; and even falafel gets a mention. The sides also give you heaps of choice. Make sure to try the homemade beans. I felt like something simple and ordered the breakfast board with double smoked bacon, pesto, persian fetta, heirloom tomatoes, avocado and poached eggs. It was so fresh and tasty. I did have issue with the bread. The sourdough was hard to cut and didn’t add anything to the meal. I probably chose the least creative dish on the menu but I left a happy camper. It just means I have to keep going back. I love The Grounds concept. Enchanting design, delicious food and friendly staff. I just want to tell everyone about it except then I don’t because it’s already so busy. I mean a half hour wait at 9am? Perth friends if you are visiting Sydney…I’ll probably be taking you there.
THE FOOD JOURNEY
The Grounds brekky
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged aeropress, avocado, Bradley the lamb, breakfast, brunch, coffee, heirloom tomatoes, Kevin Bacon, Persian fetta, pesto, The Grounds of Alexandria
I first heard about kale from my good friend/favourite actress Julia Roberts. She just had her twins and was telling me about how awesome kale was and how easy it is to grow in the garden. That’s all I remember from that particular magazine article. I’m still learning how to use kale. I broke one of those rocket blenders in my attempt to make a green smoothie. You need one of those fancy high speed blenders. You also need to remove the very hard stem. Another failed kale experience was making chips. Now that I live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney I see organic this/biodynamic this and so it’s very easy to find kale chips…for a price. It’s cheaper to make it yourself. My first attempt at kale chips was an oily disaster and it’s taken me awhile to try it again. But this time it was a success and embarrassingly easy. Make sure your kale is very dry after washing to ensure it gets the required crunch. Season as you like with herbs and spices but I kept mine simply salted. Recipe for you below. Don’t you feel healthier already.
Bunch of kale
I tbs olive oil
Season with salt
(Yep only 3 ingredients)
1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius (temperature may vary depending on your oven)
2. After washing kale make sure it’s dried thoroughly. Cut into small chip size pieces and make sure to remove large hard stem in middle.
3. In a bowl coat kale evenly in olive oil.
4. Spread out kale on tray. Make sure leaves are flat and not on top of each other. It’s all about getting that crunch.
5. Bang in oven for 10-15 mins depending on your oven’s temperament. Leaves should look slightly darker and slightly curled up. More than anything they should look dehydrated. So on your first batch keep checking them to avoid a charcoal mess (that was my failed second attempt)
6. Season with salt and put in bowl to eat now or air tight container for later.
Yes it’s that simple and it tastes delicious. Take it to work for that 3pm snack or as a replacement for popcorn during a movie (the latter is a hard sell…of course you have to get popcorn at the movies).
Just like a green smoothie but only crunchy!
I am going to make a sweeping claim today. I have found the best ribs in Sydney. Ok not as bold as saying the best in the world. Though I did say Vue de Monde in Melbourne was the best meal in my whole life in the whole world (See Treat 50) So where are the best ribs in Sydney? After 3 years of walking by Ms G’s my friend Bron kindly waited till I moved to Sydney to venture there. The wait was worth it. We were there early so no waiting for us (another restaurant with a no booking policy). Ms G’s offers funky modern Asian food (that was the description from its website). I mean hello corn on the cob? I decided to road test the corn. Why? Well Mamasita in Melbourne (see Quick Treat: I’m Corny)have a signature corn and its delicious. I wanted to see what Dan Hong’s kitchen do. It was wonderful. Parmesan encrusted, graced with lime and a hint of spicy sauce. I couldn’t wipe the smile or sauce off my face. Better than Mamasita’s corn on the cob? In my humble opinion…yes. The menu at Ms G’s is designed to share. Keeping in mind we were having desert no matter what…we ordered with caution. As you may know I have a tendency to over order (see Treat 12) We enjoyed the following dishes:
-Malaysian style butter prawns, curry leaf chilli, lime
-Purple kale stirfry
-Jow’s sweet & sour lamb ribs
Prawns were brought out first and we couldn’t wait for the other dishes so off we went. It was a great start. Crunchy…tick. Flavour…tick. Nice hint of spice…tick. At this stage it was winning but then came along the ribs and blew the prawns out of the water. The ribs were sticky deliciousness that I happily devoured. Now lamb ribs is always risky because most of the time you get more fat than meat. I experienced this recently when I accidentally ordered a full lamb rack, inspired by memories of Ms G’s lamb ribs. It was not the same. I still dream about Ms G’s lamb ribs and when I will be reunited with them. Sigh. Ok I’m back…yes so if I haven’t mentioned it already, do yourself a favour and get the lamb ribs. The purple kale was a pleasant addition. I still haven’t conquered cooking kale…my attempts have been futile. I know it’s good for you but it taste better when there’s bad things for you on it. This dish also gets a tick and I am now going to attempt a kale stir fry drowned in soy sauce and garlic (there are probably more complex flavours than that in Ms G’s dish but I am simplifying it for a single working girl’s kitchen…ok also add chilli for some heat). Last but not least…the creme de la creme…Stoner’s Delight. Yep that’s the name of the dessert. What is in a Stoner’s Delight you ask? Are you ready for it? It includes…doughnut ice cream, peanut butter, raspberry jam, candied bacon, potato chips, mars bar slice, banana fritter. What does it taste like? Perhaps an Elvis Presley scale heart attack. Aka amazingness on a plate. The doughnut ice cream had the right hint of cinnamon that ensured the ice cream hit the brief. Peanut butter desserts…oh how I love you. This made the dessert an automatic winner. The candied bacon…while weird actually gave the dish a nice crunch. The banana fritter was reminiscent to those you get at Chinese restaurants but without the oily remains. It had crunch, it had banana goodness and you don’t need to be a stoner to enjoy this dessert. You just need to be human. I love Ms G’s. Can you tell? Two words for you…go there.
THE FOOD JOURNEY
Ms G’s corn on the cob is better than Mamasitas…there I said it.
Best ribs in Sydney!