Muesli bars – the non gross variety

So just last week I went for this epic hike with an old housemate of mine from my uni days. We drove 6 hours from our respective homes and walked 70km in 4 days, up hills, down hills, through long grasses, stumbling over rocks, crossing waist-deep creeks, warming ourselves by roaring fires, dodging stinging nettles and generally having an awesome outdoorsy time.

I appreciate that this sounds like absolute HELL to most people, but fear not, this post is not about convincing everyone that camping out for a week will benefit human kind; I’m here to tell you about food, of course! Walking along in the bush you end up burning up a heck of a lot of energy, so you need something that’ll (a) give you a quick hit to get you up those hills; and (b) provide some longer sustenance to get you through those many, many kilometres.

I stumbled across a recipe for some home-made muesli bars. Packed full of nuts, dried fruit and seeds, as far as muesli bars go, they’re actually pretty healthy and epic-ly tasty!

You will need:
– 1 cup of flour
– 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
– 1 cup rolled oats
– 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
– 2/3 cup brown sugar
– 2/3 cup sultanas
– 1/2 cup cashews
– 1/2 cup almonds
– 1/2 cup dark chocolate in little pieces
– 1/2 cup various seeds (I used a mix of sunflower, pine nut and pumpkin)
– 10 dried apricots
– 10 dried dates
– any other dried fruit you like – I used in total about 1/2 a cup of dried apple and dried pear
– a dash of vanilla essence
– Honey to drizzle (I used about 3 tablespoons)
– 1 egg, whisked lightly
– 125grams of cooled, melted butter

You can basically use whatever ingredients you like. Don’t like dates? Leave them out! The thought of almonds gross you out? Don’t bother with them.

Step 1 – gettin’ hot and heavy: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celcius, fan forced. Grease a slice tin with butter and line with baking paper.

Step 2 – mix it up: this is quite possibly the easiest recipe since those raspberry muffins I made a little while back and is pretty much the same theory: chuck everything into a bowl and mix it up. You’ll want to be cutting up your apricots / dates / any other large bits of dried fruits into smaller bits (I cut my dried apricots into quarters) – this way the various ingredients mingle better and you don’t end up with a huge bite of apricot and nothing else. So whack in your oats, coconut, brown sugar, nuts, fruits, seeds and chocolate and mix it up. Then add your egg, vanilla essence and butter and stir until it’s all well combined. Spoon this nutty conglomerate of a mixture into your slice tin and really give it a good press to flatten it all down (this way it’ll all hold together better in the end). If you so choose, you could sprinkle a few extra nuts / seeds on the top…not outrageously necessary though. Drizzle the honey all over the top. Bake for around about 15-20 minutes – until you can see everything turning a delicious, welcoming, scrumptious golden brown. Once it’s cooled, slice and enjoy.

Fruity, nutty, seedy deliciousness

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I can, you can, pecan, toucan

I’m not sure where I was going with that title, but I am sure where I’m going with this post: pecan pie. The greatest of all pies, and if you disagree, then we’re absolutely not friends (unless you’re allergic…in which case, how unfortunate).

Anyhoo, pecan pie. Crunchy, nutty, golden, caramelly – what could possibly be better? There are two components to this recipe – the shell and the filling, so it does take a little bit of prep time – but it’s definitely worth it. And you’ll feel ever so vaguely healthy. Anything with nuts in it is good for you, isn’t it?

First up, the shell. You will need:
– 250 grams plain flour
– 190 grams unsalted butter, chopped
– 1 egg yolk (not strictly necessary, it just acts as a bit of extra shortening and gives the pastry more of that epic golden colour)
– Iced water

Step 1 – the world is crumbling around me: whack the butter and flour into a bowl and start rubbing it together. You want to rub the flour and the butter together so that you ultimately end up with what looks like really course bread crumbs. That way you’ll know the butter has been properly dispersed and you won’t end up with these random oily bits and random crumbly dry bits in your pastry. It usually takes me, say, 5-10 minutes to really get it all mixed. Now add your egg yolk if using.

So crumbly

Along with that, whack in a tablespoon or so of iced water. The idea is to add JUST enough water so that the pastry JUST comes together. Add a tablespoon, have a mix, add another tablespoon if you need (you really shouldn’t need more than that). If you use too much, it’ll basically mean that when you bake your pastry it’ll end up steaming and you’ll have this limp, soggy, sorry wonder instead of a crisp, short, crumbly shell of brilliance. Knead the dough for a couple of moments, flatten it into a disk shape of sorts, wrap in gladwrap and chill for an hour or so. (or longer…if, like me, you’ve forgotten about it)

Something like this…

Step two – shake and bake: Ok, so there’s no shaking per se, but we are baking. Roll out your perfectly chilled pastry into, say, half a centimetre thick. It really doesn’t matter – I’m a fan of a decent chunk of crispy pastry but you can make it thicker or thinner if you like – it’ll just effect how long you back it for. Lay your pastry in a pie tin (grease it first if it’s not non-stick), use a fork and prick little holes all around (this way you won’t get random air bubbles around the base of your pie crust), cover with baking paper and fill with dry beans / rice / baking stones, and bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove the baking paper / weight and bake until just golden.

Pie shell…with a nice little bit where it’s cracked on the left. Oops

Now, the filling. For this one, you’ll need:
– 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter
– 1 cup of golden syrup (well, I never said it was good for you)
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 3 large eggs
– 2 cups of pecans
– pinch of salt

Step 1 – stairway to caramelly heaven: Melt the butter in a saucepan, and simmer it until golden brown (give it a bit of a stir). Let the butter cool to room temperature, then add the golden syrup, sugar and salt and mix it all in. One at a time, whisk in the eggs, and then stir in the pecans. At this point, control your drooling.

Caramelly, pecan-y heaven

Pour this epic sea of deliciousness into your perfectly baked pie shell and bake at 190 degrees celcius (fan forced) for 10 minutes and then turn down to 180 degrees for another 15-20 minutes (or until it looks nice and golden). Let the pie hang out for a while, while the pecans get to know each other. It’ll set and go all treacle-y and also will cool down to avoid the brutal error of eating hot sugar. Ouch! Serve with ice cream, cream or just guzzle by itself!

Yum, yum pig’s bum

Food Society, Darlinghurst

Foodgasm: the sensation of dining at Darlinghurst’s Food Society. I’m sure there’s a dictionary out there that says that. Here is a slightly belated post about a foodie wonderland of deliciousness that my dining friend and I experienced a couple of weeks ago.

A brief cop-out: the photos are truly awful. I’ve yet to work out how to straddle the mix between taking quality photos of food in low light, and being that asshole diner that feels the need to disrupt everyone else by using that blinding flash every time a new dish comes out.

Anyway, the Food Society menu is Eastern European. But not in that heavy, stodgy, I need to be a 150kg angry man with a moustache to handle this. It’s almost a modern take on what you’d think Eastern European food should be.

We started our evening, arriving about 8 minutes early. Just to throw in a line of generalisations here, I think our waiter must have been German as his predisposition to precision timing meant that we weren’t actually allowed to go to our table yet (…it was unoccupied) – but with an impressive looking wall of spirits, liqueurs and strange liquids, we were happy to oblige and sit down at the bar.

I started off with the signature Apple Pie cocktail ($15) (…as apparently every food blogger has) while my dining friend went with a healthy litre of Czech’s finest lager. The cocktail was delicious, and actually tasted like a (well spiked) apple pie, right down to the little pie crust crumblets around the rim of the glass.

I spy half drunk apple pie

Moving to our table, I’d heard mention several times of the cauliflower entrée ($11). I won’t lie and say that a plate of cauliflower sounds particularly appetising to me, but the masses don’t lie, so we went ahead and ordered. I immediately took back my initial scepticism as we were soon presented with a large plate (pretty sure there was actually a whole cauliflower on that thing!) of super crisp, gently fried, red wine vinegar-y, spiced cauliflower intertwined with various bits of parsley and watercress.  Inside was tender, outside was flavourful and crisp. In some spots, the balsamic was a little strong (that sort of breathy shudder that you get when you really eat something tangy), but it was hot, perfectly seasoned and all round delicious. And despite the mass of food we had, getting nervous that we’d grossly overordered, it actually wasn’t heavy or stodgy.

Spiced cauliflower

The mains were set on the table not too long after. DF ordered the lamb ($26), while I went for their modern interpretation of a goulash. If I could eat that lamb every day for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy chappy. Falling off the bone and juicy as hell, a decent serving (…photo may or may not be after our first helping) of lamb rack topped an almost ratatouille (minus the watery soupy stuff) of potato, tomato and eggplant, slightly spicy, well seasoned and perfectly complimentary to the lamb. The lamb itself wasn’t too flavoured – as if the concentration was on the development of the flavours of the meat through the slow roasting process, but it sure as hell went well with the veg! DF complained that it was too spicy; I explained that this was because he is a wimp.

Twice cooked lamb

The goulash ($28) was far different to what I had expected – the traditional hearty soup variety. A large earthenware-esque bowl came out, generously filled with sweetly roasted veg, crisp snow peas, a kind of gluggy polenta and the most tender beef cheeks you could imagine, topped with a pouring of a very tasty gravy at the table. I mean, at the end of the day it wasn’t an outrageously impressive dish, save for those beef cheeks. All of the components were fine and it was a very hearty, comforting dish. But it didn’t have that jaw drop sort of moment where you take the first bite and the world seems to stop. There was almost a slight disconnect between the various ingredients  – especially with the carrots and the snow peas. It sort of just felt that they didn’t belong with this big, hearty, beefy, carby meal….but then again, maybe that’s the modern take.

Goulash of the modern age

That said, all-round, I was very impressed. The service was very attentive, the food was truly delicious and pretty generous as far as inner-city Sydney restaurants go and a great night. The restaurant has a great ambience – dim lighting, a cute little candle on your table, a rustic interior, with chattering tables nearby – can you really go wrong?

Food Society
Lower ground floor, 91 Riley Street
Darlinghurst NSW 2010

Food? 8/10
Drinks? 8/10
Ambience? 9/10
Recommend it? Absolutely – hearty food, good service, nice atmosphere, delicious drinks, reasonably priced – why not?!

Food Society on Urbanspoon

Motivation to keep bothering you guys with my posts

So I’ve been lucky enough to have been nominated for the liebster blog award (thanks Jen!! http://ilovejenscupcakery.wordpress.com/). I’m very flattered and happy – I really do love writing about food and travel!

I apparently have a couple of questions to answer, courtesy of Jen, so here we go 🙂

1) If you had to make and eat one meal for the rest of your life (and only one thing) what would it be?
Are we taking calories off the table here? Haha. I’m actually really into Mexican food. In fact, I really enjoy the concept of people not having a whole lotta money, and using these incredible ingredients around them, living off the land, and just cooking this overwhelming food that is so gastronomic, and yet they think nothing of it.

2) Biggest culinary disaster?
I actually remember cooking this dish with Dad once (sorry, Dad) and it involved searing this great big lump of steak in a pan, tipping in some whiskey or something, and then lighting it. Having misjudged the pyromanic abilities of alcohol, mixed with many many years of fat gradually building up on grate, we managed to annihilate half of the rangehood and I don’t think we’ve “flambeed” anything since.

3) Who is your biggest influence when it comes to cooking?
Mum and Dad! What a cop-out answer, huh?! Ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I was helping Dad out in the kitchen and getting Mum to teach me wok-related techniques. I remember when I was about 6 years old and Dad and I were mincing our own meat. Mum walked in to find me – this tiny kid – with two of our sharpest knives, going mental on the chuck steak. I’ve been super fortunate that travel and good eatin’ was a huge part of my childhood and now is an even bigger part of my life.

4) If you were on a desert island, which 5 food items would you take with you?
Well I guess that depends on how dire the circumstances. So let’s just say that I’m not eating for sustainability / waiting for rescue, and am just going for enjoying a few good meals. Something to cook fish with! A smoker? A bbq? I’ll assume my fishing skills are up to scratch and that there are good fish around this island. Some big knives to cut open those fresh coconuts I’ll be drinking from.  That’s actually a really tough question!

5) What is your favourite thing about baking?
I like how there is a range of easy to challenging. The sky really is the limit. I like that I have my mainstays but I like how there are methods and bakes that I’ve never tried before. I like how I found macarons outrageously challenging, but that I felt so satisfied when it was done.

Thanks again, Jen, your nomination was very much appreciated! Now to keep blogging!

Magnificent Malaysia

I’ve been somewhat absent from the blogosphere for the last couple of weeks – my excuse? A trip to Malaysia! I was actually there to visit my grandma a decent number of family members who I’d never met / known of until now, but I’ll be honest with you – it was a great opportunity to eat meal after meal of drool-worthy food. The great thing about travelling with “the locals” is that they know the local food! They go to the local joints, none of these fancy-pants restaurants. They go where the good food is and swear by it. Heed this warning – there may be a LOT of pictures.

Busily making baos

The local “restaurant”

Popiah

Char kway teow

Local Chinese takeaway – eat your heart out

 

The local restaurants are these street-corner setups consisting of about a dozen little stalls, each offering their food – wonton noodles, tofu, porridge, hokkien noodles – for what is literally about 4.50 ringgit, or about AUD1.50. It’s sort of like fast food, plus freshness, minus deep fried saturated fats. We had one of my favourite meals in the entire world at one of the local restaurants, char kway teow. Flat rice noodles stir fried with chinese sausage, prawns, cockles, bean shoots, chives, egg – all singed to perfection, slightly salty, nice and crunchy and just all-round fresh and delicious. I also tried a dish called popiah – this one cost AUD 50 cents! Outrageous. It’s sort of almost like an unfried spring roll pastry, which wraps shredded carrot, turnip and bean shoot and then there’s this sweet plum sauce smooshed in as well as some chilli. It sounds outrageously simple and to be honest, when I describe it, it sounds boring and really doesn’t do it justice, but it really was very flavourful and once again incredibly crunchy and fresh.

Ikan billis

Taro cake for steaming or frying

Ginger and mushrooms

 

Curry puffs – a definite staple

Roast duck, street style

The freshest of fresh veg

Hard at work

Kueh

On my first morning in Kuala Lumpur, we went to this local street market – there were piles of fresh veggies, strikingly bright orchids, meat unnervingly kept out in the open (in 30 degree heat), ginger and Chinese mushrooms, Ikan billis (tiny dried anchovies) little Malaysian cakes (we got a selection of Kueh, filled with little peanuts and coconut and gulu malaka (a dark, sweet, thick liquid) and beautiful fragrant pandan – I guess it’s quite similar to a filled jelly). There were trays of curry puffs and a taro cake (it’s probably more well known in Aus as a yum cha dish which is pan fried and is made from shredded turnip. I like to think of it as the hash brown of Malaysia) and roast duck and yew char kway (the deep fried Malaysian “donut”). Brilliant.

We also hiked up the 300-odd stairs up to the Batu Caves (where I’m pretty sure every tourist goes) and saw monkeys!

 

and fresh coconut juice

Coconuts!! fresh for the cracking and the drinking

Apparently my great great great great great (ok, a very long time ago) grandfather was a total dude and built this building, the Chan clan house where people could gather. They apparently imported all of these elaborate tiles from China, tile by tile, to build this beautiful building

Inside the house

Incredible carvings

We also went to this Malaysian-Indian restaurant and had Roti Canai (a fluffy flat bread served with a super delicous curry sauce and sambal) and teh tahrik (which I am pretty sure is tea made with condensed milk and “pulled” (i.e. tipped from one container into another from great heights to make the drink super smooth) and, of course, the famed, the smelly, durians

Roti Canai

Durians

We went to an authentic satay house. I’m talking smokey, I’m talking peanut-y. I’m talking spicy and singed and the best satay I’ve ever had.

Satay sticks to feed an army

And we went to visit a traditional Malaysian gathering house

Tranquility in a picture

While we were driving home after the massive satay feast that we’d had, we came across a store selling lemang. Lemang is essentially rice with coconut milk, cooked in a bit of bamboo, super slowly over a fire. It’s eaten over the ramadan period in Malaysia. A lot of families would make it themselves, but we were lucky enough to stumble across one of a few stores selling it by the road. It’s absolutely delicious by itself, but is also served with a hearty, coconutty rendang.

Splitting the lemang

 

A great saucepan

 

Couldn’t get enough of the stuff

We also had a nasi lemak (with a wicked sambal) – apparently one of the best in the state of selangor

Nasi lemak – fish in the top left, fried chicken in the top right and a classic rendang in the centre

Mum and I went to the local markets one morning and ordered a couple of spicy, coconutty, rich laksas for breakfast. Chicken, fresh cockles, bean shoots, noodles – incredible. Check this out:

Now this is what I call laksa

Oh and what do you do when it’s 35 degrees and 200% humidity? You have a cendol. Sweetened soy and coconut milk with pandan flavoured jelly “worms”, red bean and a tonne of ice. Check out this old school ice shaver!

That was pretty much it in a nutshell. If you get the chance, you should whisk yourself across to Malaysia. The people are pretty pushy, the climate is pretty hot and sticky, but the food and the sights – amazing.