Six months have passed since I last looked at my little blog. I am loopy from jetlag and baking like a mad woman again...Read More
A sad puppy stands guard out the front of a store selling ancient pottery.
Hoi An in my mind has a very specific colour palette. Rich yellows and oranges, deep reds and vibrant greens. It is a popular stop for most tourists offering a calming reprieve after the chaos from cities like Hanoi or HCMC.
I have found a one bedroom apartment with a little kitchen to call my own. I now live next door to a rooster who can't tell morning from evening so he compensates by crowing every five minutes. I am enjoying my days walking the streets trying to figure this insane country out. It is Tet (lunar new year celebrations) this week so the streets are lined with people burning offerings. The streets smell like diesel, incense and ash. There are markets set up all over the place. Tables full of dried fruits and candied coconut, chocolates, sticky rice cakes filled with mung beans, sweets and lucky money.
I was trudging through some back streets in Hanoi the other afternoon, my feet cracked in a day's worth of crud and the ashes of hundreds of offerings. I was tired and feeling sideways - an unfortunate side effect from too much street food and was craving a chance to cook for myself. I hadn't really ventured beyond pasta or instant noodles in my little kitchen yet. A lady across from me was set up with some bamboo baskets full of vegetables, prawns, ginger, chill and Chinese coriander, and a deep red basket full of pipis (a tiny clam). Everything you could possibly want or need for soup!
Back in Hoi An I was constantly being fed a lemongrass broth full of tiny clams. It seemed to be a dish you would serve with bia hoi (fresh draught beer) but in our case it was usually part of a ten course seafood feast. The pipis I found to be pure soul food. The perfect cure for when you are feeling slightly off. Every time we ate this dish it tasted slightly different. The first time the broth was clear and the clams were sweet. The next time, the broth was muddier, darker and more peppery. The next, it was firey. I had no idea where to begin but I was determine.
I didn't have a recipe to go off but the smiley lady who sold me the clams gave me some instructions in broken English and after some miming and odd hand gestures I think it worked.
Vietnamese Clams in Lemongrass Broth
- 500 grams small clams (pipis if you are in NZ or Australia)
- 3 lemongrass stalks, thinly sliced
- 1 small birds eye chilli
- small bunch of shallots, chopped roughly
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2cm knob of ginger, sliced thickly
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce (more if desired)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 lime cut into quarters
- freshly ground black pepper
1. Rinse and scrub the clams.
2. Heat some oil in a wok and sauté the lemongrass, chilli and shallots until tender. Add the garlic and ginger. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
3. Add three cups of water, fish sauce and small amount of sugar to the wok and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Add the clams and put a lid on. They will begin to open almost immediately. Take off the heat and steam for about 5 minutes (not too long or they will be tough and disappointing)
4. Taste broth and season accordingly with more fish sauce if needed, lime and pepper. Serve immediately.
Hanoi. Chaotic, heaving and paradoxical at times. This city is like a labyrinth and I feel like I need another ten eyes just to try and take everything in. There is a constant cacophony of car horns and street vendors yelling. The air is pungent with fuel and incense and ash. I am constantly checking for street names to orientate myself , constantly checking the sidewalks, sidestepping piles of rotting garbage and avoiding stepping onto oncoming motorcycles. Little weatherbeaten ladies under conical hats, holding deep wicker baskets, shove donuts rolled in honey and sugar under your nose, or try and hoist their yoke (the long strip of wood they use to carry baskets) onto your shoulders so they can charge you 15,000 đồng for a picture. Whilst you are trying to take in all this it is so important to remember to look up and around at all the buildings. The architecture here is something else and you never know what you might see.
We have spent our days eating and walking, walking and eating. With a little sight seeing to keep things interesting. Usually we begin with a visit to our favourite coffee spot, Oriberry, a pokey little cafe under the shadow of a great gothic style cathedral. The walls are lined with beautiful pottery and celadon and the banana cake is light and fluffy. A decent cup of Coffee is something that is easily found in Hanoi now. When my family first started traveling here 15 years ago the only coffee you could get was the instant kind or the thick gritty bitter vietnamese coffee that was lightened with condensed milk (actually quite delicious!).
Then it is onto the sights of the day. My favourite is Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake (the "Lake of the returned sword"). Partly because of the legend of a Golden turtle god who saved the day, partly because this is a spot where you can see Vietnamese society broken down into its many forms. Both tourists and locals gather here. University students gether here for lunch and coffee, at night they skate and play music. Old men play board games or sketch. Little ladies cook meat skewers over makeshift stoves. Its all happening here. Hanoi is full of places to explore. Temples, galleries, old war museums - it is very hard to be bored here.
We are sometimes faced with choice paralysis at eating time. Where to eat What to eat? There are just so many choices and so many delicious things to try. A good rule of thumb is generally to avoid restaurants that cate specifically to westerners - their vietnamese dishes are often under spiced, over sugared and just blah. My go-to at the moment seems to be a banh mi off a street vendor for ₫20,000 ($1.25) or minced beef wrapped in betel leaves. Big bowls of pho or cha ca (tumeric and dill spiced fish soup). I have so many favourites. The food here is definitely the biggest draw card for Vietnam.
Plums. Every summer our small unassuming trees are ladden with plums, We spend our days picking them, eating them, preserving, canning, stewing, baking and poaching. My hands at the end of summer bear tiny cuts from digging out seeds, and are stained with a reddish tinge from the ruby flesh. I make jams, and chutneys, sauces and pies, cakes and preserves. I leave for Viet Nam in a couple of days which means my plums will be left to the birds. This may be my last chance to do some baking for a couple of months so I am holding onto one last tradition before I go.
Perhaps the easiest mini cake recipe in my cookbook but by far one of the tastiest. A friand is a buttery almond cake (similar to a French financier) punctuated with fruit. These are supposed to be made in an oval shaped friand pan but after the chaos of moving all I had to hand was an old muffin pan - it works just as well.
LITTLE PLUM POPPETS
- 150g butter
- 1 2/3 cup almond meal
- 1 2/3 cup pure icing sugar, sifted
- 2 Tbsp heaped plain flour, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 5 egg whites
- 5 plums sliced thinly
- melted butter to grease
1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Place butter in a saucepan over low heat. Cook until melted completely. Remove from heat and set aside.
2.Combine almond meal, icing sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl. Stir to mix. Beat the egg whites until frothy (but not peaked). Add the egg whites to almond mix and stir gently with a wooden spoon to mix. Add butter and mix well.
3.Grease a friand or muffin tin with melted butter. Spoon two tablespoons of mixture into each cup and sprinkle with plum slices.
4.Bake in preheated oven for approximately 15 to 20 minutes until cooked, risen, golden and still moist in the centre.
5.Dust with icing sugar to serve.
I haven't ventured to Chatswood in years. Years and years. North Sydney just seems like such a long way away to an inner-west tragic like myself. My terrible internal geography of Sydney aside I decided to make the journey with my best girl K to try and experience the Hello Kitty Diner. My expectations weren't exactly high but what greeted us was beyond fantastic. Three words; Cute As Fuck.
It is sort of secreted away above the train line. We set off in the opposite direction at first trying to find it. After much googling we spotted it next to Tim Ho Wan. The aesthetic is 1950's diner with neon lighting and bows. Bows everywhere. The genius behind the menu is Chur burgers Warren Turnbull which offers American style diner foods; burgers, fries, shakes, waffles and fried chicken all with delicious cheeky twists.
After we are done squealing with delight at everything we order drinks - K opted for the diner soda which tasted strangely delicious - i tasted apples and lemons and cinnamon. Maybe? I opted to get my Freakshake on. With three flavours to choose from I went with a Pancake flavoured Freakshake and holy mother of God did it taste like pancakes. Im not talking pancake batter - it tasted like actual pancakes. The Freakshake is a meal in itself and makes for some serious Instagram/food photography fodder.
The food was well beyond what I expected. Not wanting to miss anything we order a little bit of everything. The kimcheese fries were a little under seasoned and could probably have used more kimchi which is really the only fault I could find. The burger was served on a pillowy soft bun and was stuffed full of pickles and fried chicken. The fried chicken was served with double barrelled maple syrup and a thick kitty shaped waffle. This was our favourite thing by far! Maple syrup waffles and chicken is a bloody revelation. Dessert was a cinnamon waffle with apple pie ice cream. It was delicious and kitschy and satisfied all our Hello Kitty nostalgia. If you are ever in Chatswood I would highly recommend!!
It is December which means I can officially get excited by my favourite month of the year. Christmas Month! AS much as I adore this time of year, it is always chaotic – we all feel it. The endless parties and gatherings, family events, work functions, shopping trips, it can all sometimes leave you with this faint anxiety in the back of your mouth. If December is not busy enough, I have also decided that its a good idea to move out of my little inner Sydney house and back up to my parents house in the Blue mountains for the next two months.
Classic Ruby Timing. Life feels busy – throw moving house on top of that ever accumulating shit heap.
The next two weeks are going to be a haze of cleaning and packing and un-packing and more cleaning. I am so tired by it all, i just want to go fetal under my duvet and watch Netflix and play star wars battlefront on the Xbox. Not a valid option unfortunately. So i get on with it.
Today's recipe is a simple one and the recipe itself is probably redundant. Slow roasted tomatoes – I am in the need for a bit of slow at the moment - are a Christmas staple in our house. I add them into salads and just eat them. They are just so delicious. My aunt used to make them with big fat roma tomatoes and they would be the first thing to disappear off the Christmas platters ( my mother and I were the main offenders I believe). I can’t quite describe to you how sweet and salty and flavoursome they were without sounding like some verbally incontinent weirdo so believe me when I say they are the freaking bees knees. I used cherry tomatoes because we had a couple of punnets in the fridge and I am trying to use up everything we have before moving rather than buy anything new.
SLOW ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES
- 2 Punnets of cherry tomatoes or a kilo of Roma Tomatoes sliced in half length wise
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
- Decent drizzle ofolive oil
- Balsamic Vinegar
- handful of basil leaves, bruised and torn
- Sprigs of rosemary, bruised
1. Preheat oven to 110 C/ 230 F
2. Put the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking dish.
3. Drizzle well with Olive oil. Drizzle very very lightly with balsamic vinegar
4. Crush over garlic, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and throw in the basil leaves and rosemary. Shake the dish lightly to coat the tomatoes in everything well or use your hands to mix together.
5. Place in oven for 2-3 hours. Check 2 or 3 times during cooking to make sure they are not burning.
French toast has so many names.
French toast. Eggy Bread. Torrijas. Pain perdu. I like calling it pain perdu which when translated means something like “lost bread”. Doesn’t that just sound so sad and wistful? Clearly the phrase “lost bread” appeals to my inner angst and dramatic sensibilities but in reality pain perdu is anything but sad. It is delicious. Thick slabs of stale brioche or challah dunked in an eggy, milky vanillary mixture and fried in butter, served with lashings of maple syrup and berries and ice cream if you are feeling particularly deserving.
I love baking my own bread, but if you don’t eat it within two days its not much good for anything really except pain perdu. Last post I had baked a Nutella swirl brioche which made for a really decadent and delicious version of French Toast but really you can use any old bread. Sourdough, challah, wonder-white whatever! I topped it with maple syrup, crushed pecans, fresh blueberries and a dollop of vanilla ice cream. Again top it with whatever you like, whatever is in season or whatever you have on hand. One of the blueberries landed smack bang in the middle of the ice cream, while i was eating I couldn't help thinking it looked like a little boob staring up at me.
PAIN PERDU/FRENCH TOAST/EGGY BREAD
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Tbsp Vanilla Sugar
- 1 Tbsp Grand Marnier
- Pinch of Salt
- 3/4 Cup Milk
- Four thick slices of stale (lost) brioche or challah (or whatever bread you have on hand - it really doesn't matter what kind)
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 1 Tbsp Oil
- 2 Tbsp caster sugar mixed with 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- Handful of nuts
- Fresh berries
- Maple Syrup
1. Whisk together the eggs with the sugar, Grand Marnier, salt and milk until well combined.
2. Soak the bread, one slice at a time (roughly 30 seconds each side).
3. Heat the butter and oil in a fry pan or griddle pan and cook until golden and crispy. Turn during cooking to ensure it doesn't burn on each side.
4. Transfer to serving plate, sprinkle with a little cinnamon sugar and top with blueberries, nuts and ice cream or whatever the fuck your heart desires.
How do you like to eat your Lost Bread?
"S’ils n’ont plus de pain, qu’ils mangent de la brioche"
Whether Marie Antoinette really said "let them eat cake" or more accurately "let them eat brioche" is a moot point as far as I am concerned. It has become iconic irregardless and it is an excellent saying all the same - it certainly helps justify days where I have cake for breakfast. Brioche is this luxuriant fluffy combination of cakey bread made from lashings of butter and eggs that will make your house smell amazing. When it is stale, it will cure all your French toast cravings. I mean really, is there a better bread you could use for French toast? Noooope.
Brioche has been on my to bake list for ever. When I was in high school I used to make little brioche buns filled with chocolate chips in a muffin tin but somehow they never felt like real brioche – just starchy muffins trying hard to be fancy and for some reason I kept throwing it into my “too hard not now” basket where things go that I want to try but usually forget. I found this recipe for briochewhile I was trawling through the glorious Hungry Girl Por Vida. It is really workable and yields such a beautiful loaf. I love the idea of tear away loaves. She uses lemon in hers which is pretty genius. I opted for Nutella because for some reason we had three jars in our pantry and well, because its Nutella. Next time I think I will make the cinnamon version from Joy the Baker or a savory kind, with caramelized onions and garlic and three kinds of cheese.
NUTELLA PULL-APART BRIOCHE
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar (i used organic cane w/ fine results)
- 7 grams instant yeast
- 5 grams ground sea salt
- 1/3 cup whole milk
- 60 grams/2 oz. butter, unsalted
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs, room temp
- Big spoonfuls of nutella
- Big handful of chocolate chips
- 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tsp of water
Put the oven on high for 20 minutes.Then turn off
In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Set aside. In a small saucepan heat milk and butter over low heat until the butter is just melted. Remove from heat, add water, and set aside for about a minute until the temperature registers 50C/120F (Not too hot as you want the yeast to activate!) Add the vanilla.
- Pour the milk mixture over the dry mixture and stir to combine. Mixing by hand (if like me and you are too poor to afford one of those amazing fan dangled mixers with dough hooks), add eggs one at a time (If using a mixer make sure it is fitted w/ the dough hook). When mixing the eggs it will look like you are not going anywhere and just have a big ol mess but be patient and I promise you it will come together and incorporate.
- Add 1/2 cup flour and mix until smooth. Add remaining flour, 2 tablespoons at a time and knead until smooth and sticky (don’t try and firm it up with more flour or you will have tough bread which is one of life's greatest miseries).
- Place the dough in a large, greased bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rise in a warmed oven until doubled in size. Punch down the dough.
- On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough into roughly a 30x40 cm rectangle. Spread the Nutella thickly over the rectangle and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Cut the dough long ways into 5 or 6 strips. Stack the long strips on top of each other and cut into 4 to 5 smaller squares and line into a greased loaf tin.
Preheat the oven to 180 C/350F.
Brush the loaf with egg wash and leave to rise in a warm spot for another hour or so until the loaf has filled the tin. Bake for 30-35 mins or until golden on top.
Change and disruption are well on their way. I know it is coming and I am on the edge of my seat with excitement wanting it to hurry up and get here already. But I am also hesitant and reluctant for change. Things here are passable and quite often enjoyable even if they are stagnant. But what if the change that is coming means everything gets fucked up and goes to shit and it never goes back to being good again. That awful little voice in my head that doubts that my expectations will be anything like reality gets in the way and those little seeds of doubt bloom into big ugly fucking panic attacks. I am wracked with nerves and anxiety. I am worried about the homesickness that hasn't even happened yet. I am petrified about the friends I might never meet.
While I long for the vigour that changes bring and panic about the felicities I am letting go of I have to remember that the world in not just one line, it is not a long corridor of locked and unlocked doors. She is an evolving immortal circle, a sagacious ouroboros. For every happiness I will be letting go of, another one will find me. While I wait for it though it doesnt hurt to create your own happiness in the everyday.
So i am seeking comfort wherever I can find it. Sleeping in on weekends in my bed, a purring fur baby crooked under one arm. Sundays spent with my sister foraging at markets and watching dada esque cartoons. Being elbows deep in flour and butter and sugar making pasta, pastry and dough. Cooking, tasting crocheting and cultivating all sorts of familiar magicks. Like baking cookies.
A warm cookie straight from the oven where the chocolate is melty is perhaps the epitome of comfort. I bake for my sister more than anyone else. When I ask what she wants the response it usually "cookies". Her favourites are the ones with peanut butter and chocolate chips.I Personally really hate seeing nuts in a cookie. Especially macadamias. Mostly because it looks like a sizeable chunk of white chocolate but when you bite into it it is nothing but lies and disappointment. But peanut butter in a cookie is different. It adds something more.
We were low on just about everything the day I baked these. We had chocolate but only white chocolate. We had a little butter and a few tablespoons of peanut butter. We had plenty of flour because let's face it I have more types of flour in my pantry than I have friends but not much of anything else. Certainly no vanilla or cinnamon to work into the mix. The neighbours Rosemary bush that grows across out washing line was in bloom with pretty little purple flours so i decided that would be an adequate substitute.
WHITE CHOCOLATE & ROSEMARY COOKIES
- 4 Tbsp butter
- three rosemary sprigs, bruised
- 30 grams softened butter
- 60 grams crunchy peanut butter
- 1/2 White Sugar
- 1 cup Brown Sugar (packed)
- 2 Eggs
- 2 & 1/2 Cups Plain flour
- 1/2tsp Baking Soda
- decent crack of sea salt
- Block of white chocolate cut into chunks.
1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
2. Melt 4 tbsp of butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Once melted, add rosemary, and continue to stir until butter bubbles and crackles, then turns a rich medium brown. You can let it go darker for a nuttier richer browned butter flavour just don't let it burn. Set aside and let cool.
3. Cream the 30 grams of soft butter and peanut butter together in a seperate bowl.
4. Strain the browned butter over the peanut butter mix, to remove the rosemary sprigs. Discard the sprigs. Add the sugars and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
5. Add the first egg beating well to incorporate. Repeat with second egg.
6. Add dry ingredients and chocolate and mix to combine.
7. Roll into balls and pop them on a lined baking tray about 3 cm apart. Place tray I the refrigerator for 20 mins for the dough to firm.
8. Cook in oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
This weekend was SweetFest, part of Sydney's GoodFood Month. It was pretty much a cake lovers wet dream. Some of Sydney's brightest stars in pastry gathered together showing off their most delicious creations and a few masterclasses by some of my favourite pastry chefs and bakers thrown in for good measure. It was hard not to go full fan girl. Alright - when Dan Lepard walked on stage I went full fan girl. Here are a few snaps of some of the treats on offer.
The affable and self-proclaimed pastry anarchist Alistair Wise from Sweet Envy in Hobart, Tasmania kicked off my first morning masterclass and it was all about perfecting the ice cream sundae. And the making of a 4.8 metre long "gutter trash" sundae. The components of which were a gazilion flavours of ice cream, momofuku crack pie, brownie pieces, a blueberry and rosemary caramel coulis. It was topped with crushed macarons and the most essential element to any sundae Sherbet! Some might argue that 10 am is far to early for an ice cream extravaganza. Thats a load of pish. This was an amazing blow out of flavours and textures. Nutty, sweet, salty, crunchy creamy and fizzy on the tongue all at once.
Next masterclass was Dan Lepard and perfecting chocolate cakes. Then it was time to buy more cake! Oh and a Bagel and glass of champagne to balance out all the pancreas destroying sugar I was practically inhaling. It was good people watching too. You could clearly make out the people who were there for a chance to meet their food heroes or with a genuine interest in food and who was there for the countless Instagram opportunities.
Arguably the biggest draw-cards were Andy Bowdy and Instagram sweet queen Katherine Sabbath. You could tell from the amount of time you had to spend in the queue waiting for them to appear just to ensure a view. If you ever go to a Sydney event where eithr of these two are doing any sort of appearance make sure you turn up an hour earlier at least and be prepared for people to literally elbow you out of the way to get themselves a better spot. Food in Sydney has achieved a kind of rock concert status. Andy Bowden who exudes awesome took us through his Jasper cake - a chocolate fudge cake sandwiched with milo mousse and topped with torched meringue. It tasted better than it looks to if that is even possible. And Katherine Sabbath demonstrated how to create a water colour effect with buttercream. Her cakes are like crazy pop art.
"I'm going to have the daintiest things possible....things that will match the spring, you understand...little jelly tarts and lady fingers, and drop cookies frosted with pink and yellow icing, and buttercup cake. And we must have sandwiches too, though they're not very poetical"
- Anne of Avonlea; L.M. Montgomery
It is full on spring here, Spring flirting with summer. Warm and green. Winter and Fall are for staying put and cultivating your roots down deep. Then there are the seasons for moving and growing. Seasons to be outside.
The spring months are when you crave to be outside soaking up sunshine and feeling grass between finger tips. My heart craves picnics for aren't they just the sweetest thing.? I got my picnic wish last week complete with rich chocolate cake, parmesan crumbed chicken with an apple and fennel slaw, vegetable sticks, kiwi dip (for the nostalgia), fresh berries and one of the most beautiful souls you will ever meet. This picnic was for reconnecting and for sunshine.
“Insulated from natural contacts with earth, air and sunlight, by corsets pressing on the solar plexus, by voluminous petticoats, cotton stockings and kid boots, the drowsy, well-fed girls lounging in the shade were no more a part of their environment than figures in a photograph album, arbitrarily posed against a backcloth of cork rocks and cardboard trees.”
― Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock
We shared crisp lemonade and a cheeky Japanese cigarette and unloaded stories of what we have missed from each others lives since the summer. She told me of life back in New Zealand which caused a physical ache of homesickness in my gut and of her latest adventures in Japan. We chose a grassy spot opposite the Opera House, (because grass and a decent view are very important when having a picnic), a busker set up and played a constant stream of background music for us. It was as beautiful as a day can be.
Picnics are one of my most favourite things in the world. Probably stemming from a childhood infatuation with the whimsical literary picnics of old. The famous five with their boiled eggs and buttered bread. The girls of hanging rock with white frocks and Miranda leaping off the pages ethereal and slightly melancholy and their feast of chicken pies and a giant love heart cake – it was valentines after all. There were the picnics in Wind in the Willows, and while I myself would pass on tongue sandwiches they still made me yearn for the outdoors and friends like Rat and Mole.
The essentials of any picnic must be a decent blanket, a little music or perhaps a book of poetry, refreshing drinks, sandwiches or cold pies and cake of some kind. Cheese, crackers, pear and wine may also be called for. Oh and maybe a flower crown. Because if you cant wear a flower crown at a picnic where can you? But do tell, do you enjoy picnics? What are your picnic essentials?