I hope you enjoy the food!!!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In The Air

We finally made it!


April 21st has arrived! It always seemed so far in the future, and never really seemed real. A dream even, somthing that prrhaps wasn't quite real. Even today as I got up at 2.30 in the morning (yes 2.30!!!), i mean who gets up at 2.30 in the morning? The only people up at that time are people on the move. People who are coming home from a night out, or people who are going somewhere. On the way to the airport we pass countless people on their way home from pubs and clubs - so that must make us the ones going somewhere!


All holidays have to start with a funny story. So what's ours?


As you know, I was up early, and those of you that know me well, know that I always like to be ready early. Barb told me that she would pick me up between 3 and 3.15. So rather than cool my jets in the house, I decided to wait at the top of the driveway. 3 o'clock came and went, so did 3.15, pretty soon it was 3.30. Where was she? I decided to text her. No response (I later found out she had left her phone at home on the kitchen bench!) As we waited, we looked up in the night sky and commented that we couldn't see any stars, not particularly unusual we thought,probably just cloudy!


Eventually Barb and Bruce arrive, so I ask them ummmm, did you forget to set the alarm? The answer they gave me was totally unexpected. It seems that the river was so totally shrouded in fog, that as they left their jetty to cross the river, they took off in the opposite direction, they ended up doing three circles just trying to get their bearings. Apparently they even paid a visit to a houseboat along the way! Reason finally prevailed and Barb insisted they go home to find a torch! Now you can imagine the scene can't you. Two people whomhave had little sleep, up very early, and navigating their way across the river in a boat. Add getting bamboozled and frustrated with the fog into the equation! I believe there were countless swear words, and numerous instructions given on how to hold a torch properly! Eventually they made it safely to the other side!! They have lived on the river for 14 years, and have crossed it so many times it probably doesn't bear counting, but tonight of all nights, a simple crossing was not in the cards!


All's well that ends well though, and finally the International airport is in sight.


It still doesn't seem real though. It is only now, as we sit here 6 hours into the flight, 2 movies later, and we have finally watched the little plane leave the continent of Australia, that we look at each other and say "we're on our way to Italy!"


The adventure begins!


Out flight is very monotonous, but is made slightly more exciting by the fact that I am suddenly hit with a case of the runs! Call it Delhi belly, Bali belly, whatever you like, but halfway through a flight, I can tell you it is not fun. I did have the foresight to buy some Imodium before we left, but I thought I had packed them in my bag, not anticipating to need them so soon into the trip! No pun intended but shit, this flight was now looking like pure hell. Barb convinced me to ask the attendant for something, and thank god she did, I was as right as rain again quick smart.


Dubai is finally in sight! We arrive to a dirty dusty looking city. It seems that they are in the midst of a sand storm. The part of town we are staying in, the buildings are all fairly typical of any Asian city. It wasn't until we ventured out after a shower and a change of clothes that the building scape took a change for something completely different! Not your typical buildings here! To say that in Dubain they do everything bigger and better is probably a little bit of an understatement! Our first stop of the evening (and by this time it is around 9 pm Sydney time) is the Dubai Mall! Wow! That is all I can say! The place is enormous, and filled to the brim with high end, glitzy glamour, and beautiful shiny, bright colorful things! Jimmy Choo shoes in all the colours of the rainbow. We make our way to the water feature, where every half hour there is a light, and water spectacular! Better than fireworks, the display is set to a backdrop of music such as thriller! Amazing - but that is not all this mall holds! There is also an ice skating rink, countless water features, and an absolutely amazing aquarium, which has a huge glass wall within the mall, to try and entice you in. But wait, there is more - there is also an old fashioned themed gold souk market place. All themarble and the decorations, it is mind blowing! In one section there must be a million butterflies suspended from the ceiling!


I am not sure how far we walked, but we went from one end of the mall to the other, with many side diversions in betwee!! It would be very easy to get lost in that mall im sure! Even though our brains were pretty well addled at this stage, we managed to get out alive, and in one piece. Finally our body clock tells us that it is probably time to call it a night, so we make our way to the taxi rank! Again, more than you could possibly imagine. Think of the guy that stands on the Tarmac directing planes, but here he is directing 50 or more taxis, are you are starting to get the picture! Don't get in the wrong taxi, they don't like it, there is a definite order that must be adhered to (plus if you get in the wrong taxi, the meter is ticking while you are in a holding pattern!)


Home, and bed has never felt better. We have an early start in the morning, so we ask for an early morning wake up call at 5.45am. We really need not have bothered, as we were both wide awake at around 2am and watching tv! You see that was wake up time back home! I decide that I might as well have a shower, but really I should have just stayed in bed, as we both fell asleep again, but we were thankfully woken up with a start when the phone rang.


Off to the airport. As with most airports, there is a coming, and a going side to the place. The arriving side, while still,very impressive didn't give us even a hint as to what the departure side would look like. I could easily see Tom Hanks live in that airport for a very long time! We check the board for our departure gate - gate 121 - the board tells us that it is a 25 minute walk from where we are! 25 minutes, filled with people everywhere, and duty free shop after duty free shop. Architecturally and aesthetically it doesn't disappoint, there are fountains and lifts that are pure works of art! They love their water, and their fairy lights in Dubai! In fact on our flight yesterday, the ceiling was twinkling the whole way with "stars".


The impatient side of me wants to get heading down to gate 121. I reason that we can wait somewhere down there, there will still be plenty to do. We pass Irish pubs and snooze cubes, that sure got our attention! We are at this stage thinking that we have more than enough time to get to the gate. There's gate 121, and flashing up on the board - final boarding call! Toilet stop? No madam, sorry, you need to just get aboard! Oh, and by the way happy upcoming birthday!


Rome here we come!


As this is my first time flying in this region I am amazed at the views from the window. Flying over the desert is not at all like flying over our desert. Ours is a rich red colour, below us all you see is sand. Even the clouds look a sandy colour. As we head over Beirut, there are many strange formations, they look like dried up rivers, cracked, and parched, giving the appearance of snakes in somthing like an aboriginal painting! There are pockets of civilization here and there, and then out of the barren flat lands you see a lone mountain top peeking through the clouds! Further along there are mountain ranges, that have colour variations that look like snow with underlying vegetation, but I think in reality it is just vegetation and more sand!


Not long now and then we must try and navigate the Italian train system and find our way to the hotel!




Friday, April 20, 2012

Italy Here I Come!!

Finally the day has come!!!  All those days of eating non blog worthy food with the goal of shedding a few kilos for my trip to Italy has paid off!!!

I take off tomorrow morning in the wee small hours!  Am I excited??? Yes, just a tad!!!

If you would like to see what we get up to, then come along for the ride, and visit Italy with us.....


I promise to come back and write about all the wonderful Italian Food that I have learned to cook while I am away!!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Two Great Salads

A meal is never set in concrete until it actually hits the table here! Take last night for example, I had planned to make sweet and sour pork chops, with the associated trimmings, that was until I received the phone call from DH at the 11th hour telling me that he was going to play tennis that evening.  He was playing, then he wasn't, and now of course because I had a meal organised it was back on again!!!!

That then cast an entirely different view on the meal. Had to be quick and light, and prepared early (which given that we had just turned back the clocks to end daylight savings was not a problem. Is it just me, or do you get yourself out of kilter for a couple of days when the clocks change?).

Normally I wouldn't blog about side dishes, but these two were punchy little numbers that deserve some attention. With the Easter holidays coming up, and many people entertaining these would make a great addition to any table.

The first one is a new take on the old Thermomix Beetroot salad. Everyone who has been to a Thermomix demo will have tasted their version of a fresh Beetroot salad. This recipe was given to me by a customer, so I am unsure exactly of its origins. The flavours in this salad are amazing. It combines the freshness of the raw beetroot and carrot with a punchy little dressing of pomegranate molasses and orange juice. Wow! Try it - you have to!

Beetroot Salad
Adapted from a recipe found in a book I believe is called Ripe Recipes, possibly of NZ origin

500g fresh Beetroot, peeled
600g carrot
1/2 bunch fresh mint
30g Sunflower seeds, toasted
30g pumpkin seeds, toasted
80g raisins

2 tbs Pomegranate molasses
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
Juice of 1 orange
1/4 cup Olive oil
1 tbs honey
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Now this recipe says to have the carrot and beetroot grated, and the mint chopped. What I did was make it the same way as I make the Thermomix version. I bunged the mint, carrots and beetroot in the bowl and gave them a chop on speed 5. Just make sure that you move it around with the spatula, as there is quite a lot of veggies in the bowl!

To make the dressing, simply place all the ingredients in a screw top jar. Shake to combine.

Place beetroot, carrot, mint, pumpkin seeds, raisins and sunflower seeds in a large bowl. Toss through the dressing. Make sure you toss again prior to serving so you get all those lovely flavours mixed through.

The next salad combines two of my favorites - haloumi cheese and quinoa. I just love quinoa, and like to use it now in place of couscous. It's one of natures super foods, low in GI, high in protein and with a great flavour to boot!

Warm Quinoa Salad with Haloumi
Recipe from Good Food Magazine April edition

2 tbs olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
270g jar chargrilled red capsicum, thickly sliced
200g quinoa, rinsed, drained
2 cups vegetable stock *
1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
250g haloumi, sliced

* I used 1 tbs concentrated tm vegetable stock, and 2 cups of water

Heat 1 tbs of the oil in a medium saucepan, on medium high heat. Cook the onion and capsicum, stirring, for 2-3 minutes, or until the onion softens. Add the quinoa and cook for 3 minutes. Add the stock, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the quinoa has softened and all of the liquid is absorbed. Stir through half of the parsley.
Mix the sugar, lemon zest and juice with the remaining oil and parsey.
Heat a frypan over medium high heat. Cook the haloumi slices 3-4 minutes each side, or until golden and crisp.

Toss the dressing and the haloumi through the quinoa.

 I apologise for the photos - I am experimenting with the iphone camera so that I can use it when I am blogging on the run in Italy!!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chinese Braised Beef

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month!

Today marks several things!

It's April Fools Day, and it's also the end of daylight savings for us down here in the southern hemisphere. The days will now start to get shorter, and colder. For me though, the most important thing about today is that it's the start of the countdown to my trip! Only 20 days to go!!

After the horrible summer (or should I say lack of summer) that we have had here in Sydney, it's hard to believe looking out the window at the glorious sunny day we have today, that winter is just around the corner. So good bye summer, thanks for nothing!

It's time to turn our thoughts to autumn. Our meals will start to change, the BBQs will become less frequent, and soups and stews will start making appearances at our table. I made this stew just recently, and it was a lovely change from the usual. The flavours were fantastic. In fact it was so good, that "The Darlings" gobbled it all up, and left none for DH (who was late home this particular night - that will teach him!).

So if you are looking for something a little different from your usual beef stew, give this a try - you will not be disappointed.

Chinese Braised Beef
Recipe by Valli Little

Serves 4
2 tbs plain flour
1 tsp five spice
1kg chuck steak, cut into 5cm pieces *
1/4 cup peanut or sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3cm piece of ginger, peeled, grated
1/2 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
1 long red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped
50g Chinese rock sugar, or brown sugar
1/4 cup shaohsing Chinese rice wine
1 cinnamon quill
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1 liter beef stock
2 tbs peanut butter
2 tbs hoi sin sauce
Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
Combine the flour and five spice powder with 1 teaspoon of salt. Coat the beef in the flour mixture, shaking off and reserving any excess flour.

Heat 2 tablespoons on the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish over medium high heat. In batches, cook the beef, turning for 3-4 minutes until browned all over. Remove for the pan and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan and cook the onion, stirring for 1-2 minutes until softened. Add the garlic, ginger, spring onions and chilli, then cook, stirring for a further minute. Stir in the reserved flour mixture with the sugar, rice wine, cinnamon, soy sauce, beef stock, peanut butter and hoi sin sauce. Return the beef to the pan, then increase the heat to medium high and bring to the boil. Cover and transfer to the oven. Bake for 2 hours, or until the beef is tender.

Serve with steamed asian greens, and rice.

* I actually increased the beef to about 1.5kg and there was plenty of sauce even with extra meat.

The smell of this dish is wonderful. Make sure you get in quick, because I can guarantee you there will be no leftovers!