Sunday, January 30, 2011

And the countdown begins...

You may have noticed that there's a new countdown widget adorning the right hand side of my blog - a countdown to "Eurotrip 2011". Now, this trip has been in the works for a very long time - nearly 2 years, in fact. The name is somewhat deceiving. As well as numerous areas of Europe, we will also be spending time in Asia and the Middle East. We will be fortunate enough to be staying and travelling with some very special friends, with whom I am very much looking forward to trying the local food on offer. You will all be happy to know that although I may be MIA for periods, I will be reporting on all my adventures (both culinary and otherwise) in detail upon my return.

Today, in anticipation of this holiday, I have decided to post some of the most inspiring and beautiful photos (source: Flickr - attribution provided in the link above each image) of some of the places we'll be visiting. Enjoy!

Can you see why I'm excited?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Running shenanigans - a (second) brief update

I have some devastating news (oh, and I'm prone to hyperbolise if you haven't noticed!) - my 5k charity run is not to be. Late last year I decided to take a Summer MBA unit to expedite the completion of my degree. I noted down the class dates in my diary and then promptly forgot about them. When signing up for the race (clever little cookie that I am), I did not check my diary and surprise, surprise the two events clash. The $30 race registration fee is a slightly (understatement of the century!) smaller financial commitment than my MBA. So sadly, class wins out. 

I am now considering two options, because I will run 5k before the month of February is out. The first involves a run around the local park, using my RunKeeper iPhone application to track distance. The second involves registering for another local fun run. At this point I'm still undecided...but rest assured, I am determined! So determined, in fact, that it's time for some frolicking right now - basketball time (in lurid purple!) - gotta fly!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A volcanic picnic

As a child, I would regularly travel with my family to Victoria's beautiful spa country - Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and surrounds. This was long, long before these towns were gentrified - a time when a white bread "sanga" with ham and salad was the height of gourmet for this small regional area. But, how times have changed!! Spa country now has a reputation as Victoria's gourmet capital and boasts a number of wonderful restaurants including the very special Lake House (my personal favourite restaurant in Victoria), Sault and the very trendy Frangos and Frangos. 

Given my love for the region, it's not surprising that I drag my beloved along for a visit around around half a dozen times annually. Yesterday was one such day. 

Following a visit to the Daylesford market (well worth the trip for locally made organic honey and peanut butter, plump cherries, crusty wood-fired breads and hand made soaps), we drove onwards into Hepburn Springs and settled on a takeaway pizza for lunch from Rubens.
Why a takeaway, you ask? Well, our trip *always* necessitates a visit to our favourite picnic area in Victoria - Mt Franklin - an extinct volcano, with picnic/camping areas in the lush crater and great views along the rim. (Note to self: Why is it that every time I think about volcanoes I *need* to put my Dr Evil voice on and say "Liquid hot magma"?)

Here is our pre-pizza anticipation (note the local spring water accompanying our meal for which the region is renowned).
And the post pizza glory - half Greek lamb with tzatziki, half artichoke.
We have purchased pizzas from Rubens (en route to Mt Franklin) for some time and are yet to be disappointed. The artichoke pizza was cooked perfectly, with meaty chunks of artichokes, plump tomatoes and generous doses of roquette. Sadly, the Greek lamb component of the pizza did not meet the lofty standards set by the artichoke half. The feta was a tad chewy and the synergy of flavours was not quite spot on. Nonetheless, a great way to spend an afternoon - lolling with an old school pizza and my better half in a volcano crater - bliss! 

No trip to the region is complete without a visit to the Chocolate Mill (need I even explain with a name like that?!?) to stock up on their intensely rich dark chocolate and to enjoy dessert. For only $3, one can enjoy incredibly creamy ice-cream topped with locally made chocolate (a choice of dark, milk, white or chilli), topped with lashings of cream. Bargain!
As per usual, we thoroughly enjoyed the detour and gobbled up our shared dessert in record time!
An excellent day for the stomach and the soul, don't you think?

Food details:
Where: Rubens@Hepburn (70 Main Rd, Hepburn, VIC, 3461)
What: Pizza to go
Rating: 15/20 (solid performer with flavours that really hit the spot!)
Rubens @ Hepburn on Urbanspoon
Where: Chocolate Mill (5451 Midland Hwy, Mt Franklin, VIC, 3461)
What: Chocolate stock up and dessert
Rating: 15/20 (excellent chocolate and a relaxing atmosphere)
Chocolate Mill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Thai steamed fish

I know I've been missing in action most of this week in terms of blogging, but I have really been enjoying some quiet times with my beloved, friends and family - just what the soul needed! Tonight, I'm back to the cooking experimentation and have quickly thrown together a delicious and ever so easy Thai fish dish. The dressing was so good that my beloved compared it to our favourite Thai restaurant - a massive compliment! I highly recommend said dressing for not only the steamed fish dish, but also as a Thai beef/chicken salad dressing. It's also vegetarian/vegan friendly for anyone that way inclined.

Thai steamed fish
Serves 2
1 whole snapper (400-500g) - obviously scaled and gutted!
Generous handfuls of chopped spring onion and coriander (to serve)

2 coriander roots (cleaned)
2 large cloves of garlic
3 small hot chillies (I used little killer red chillies)
1 tbs white sugar
3 tablespoons lime juice
1.5 tbs fish sauce
Pinch of salt

Score fish a couple of times on each side.
Place the fish on a heatproof plate or some baking paper and place in the steamer. 
Steam over simmering water for between 15 and 20 minutes until cooked.
Meanwhile, using a pestle and mortar, pound the coriander roots and salt into a paste. Add garlic and chillies and continue pounding. Add sugar, lime juice and fish sauce. 
Taste the sauce to ensure the classic Thai flavour combination is balanced (hot, sour, salty and sweet). Alter flavours to your taste.
Remove fish from steamer the steam!
Spoon the dressing over the fish and top with plenty of shopped coriander and spring onions. 

A very astute (and vegetably-inclined) friend pointed out that the dressing isn't suitable for vegos and vegans due to the use of fish sauce - something my carnivorous self had overlooked. All I can say, is...just shut your eyes and you wouldn't even know it was on there.... ;)  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dukkah crusted chicken with quinoa and herby carrot salad

For the last couple of weeks, I've been eating a fibre-rich diet. The sort of diet that makes me feel energized, fueled and generally rearing and ready to go. It's interesting that once you're on a roll with the healthy, hearty eating and momentum is in your favour, it becomes much easier to continue eating well. Indeed, the more wholesome food I consume, the more I crave fresh, flavoursome and natural meals. Note to readers: I say this now in a moment of strength and virtue. Come back to me when I've pigged out on all sorts of processed junk and it'll be a very different story!

Tonight a spur of the moment decision and a craving for something *zingy* led me to concoct this little gem. The quinoa salad component can be teamed with any protein and would work particularly well with fish or lean red meat. It can even be eaten as a meal in itself. However, tonight chicken was on the menu. This a very tasty Summer meal that is quick to prepare and goes town a treat!

Dukkah crusted chicken with quinoa and herby carrot salad
Serves 2

1/2 cup quinoa rinsed
Olive oil (1 tsp for salad dressing and a splash to lubricate the pan)
2 diced carrots
250g chicken tenderloins/breast strips 
2-3 tbls dukkah (my not-quite-father-in-law makes stunning dukkah and I used his. Here's an easy recipe for those who don't have a dukkah making in-law!)
Juice of half an orange
Large handful of flat leaf parsley (chopped)
Large handful of mint (shredded)
3 spring onion stems
Salt and pepper

Place rinsed quinoa and a cup of cold water in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer covered until water has absorbed (approximately 10 minutes). Rinse and drain.
Splash a little olive oil in a frying pan and cook carrots until just tender (approximately 5 minutes) and transfer to a bowl.
Sprinkle both sides of chicken with dukkah 
Cook in pan until golden and cooked through. 
Meanwhile, chop up spring onions, mint and parsley (or do as I did - made my beloved do the knife work!)
Combine quinoa, parsley, mint, spring onion, carrot, juice from half an orange, 1 tsp of olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. Toss to combine (and don't forget to marvel at the bright wholesome goodness of the salad you've just created).
Top salad with chicken.
Devour. Feel healthy, virtuous and energised!

Friday, January 14, 2011

My first guest post

That's right folks - my first ever guest post has been uploaded on the brilliant Mimi's 1972: The Retro Weight Watchers Experiment blog.

As a former Weight Watcher and lover of all things retro, I was thrilled to be asked to test a 1966 Weight Watchers recipe for "Spaghetti". Yes, the inverted commas are necessary. Find out why here -

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Product review - Smooze Fruit Ices

I've decided to jazz my blogging up a little with the addition of some product reviews. New food products are constantly finding their ways onto supermarket shelves and the rustic trestle tables at farmers markets. While I understand that many of my readers are from all sorts of exotic and interesting places in the northern hemisphere, I also feel us southerners are somewhat under-represented on the food review front. Please note that I have never been paid, nor have I been provided with any product free of charge. This is something I've decided to do for the benefit of other Aussies, Kiwis and anyone else who may be interested. If, by some freak chance of awesomeness(!), anyone would like to sponsor an honest review of their product, I would certainly not decline (please note, I'm particularly partial to chocolate and ice-cream!), but trust me, it'll be an honest opinion irrespective of any kindness on a company's part.   

So back to business! Not long ago on a hot Summer evening, my beloved and I were browsing the supermarket shelves for something refreshing and stumbled across these delicious pyramids of coconut and mango.

We were so taken by their bold fruity flavour, smooth consistency and creaminess that we bought 4 boxes the following week when we saw they had been reduced to a meager $3 - bargain! Here's a link to their website for those interested. 

So here's what I think:
Taste - the fruit flavour packs a punch and Smooze manages to be creamy and refreshing simultaneously.
Portion size - it's oh so refreshing to find a 65ml treat. It's just the right size for a sugar hit and doesn't leave you feeling stuffed or nursing a sugar headache.
Nutritional stats - the mango and coconut flavour (the only one I've seen on supermarket shelves) is made up of 48% mango juice and 40% coconut milk. The remaining 12% of the Smooze ingredient list comprises non-scary sounding things. 
Carbon footprint - if I had to be nitpicky, I could only criticise the fact that Smooze Fruit Ices are manufactured in Indonesia. I understand that this is a practicality, given this is where the coconuts (and presumably other fruit used) are grown, but in an ideal world, it would be great to enjoy an all-Australian version. 

Verdict: 8/10 (that's a high distinction!) - try it!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fruit-only "soft serve"

I've been trawling through many food blogs of late, wanting some good ideas for best enjoying the stunning Summer fruit currently in season. In the last week, Australian berries have escalated in "yumminess" factor ten fold. Searching for some fruit ideas, I stumbled across honorary Aussie, Mish's new blog - My Thunder Thighs. Creating an ice-cream like substance from only fruit - who woulda thunk it?! On further investigation - many thunkded(?!?) it! I garnered ideas from Choosing Raw and Oh She Glows and made my first fruit-only soft serve earlier in the week. The taste was fresh, sweet and intense. So good was my initial creation, that I knew I *had* to share the process with all of my readers. 

Firstly, freeze a banana along with any other fruit that are conducive to ice-cream like creations (I particularly recommend berries and mango). May I suggest freezing only for a couple of hours - this makes the blending process easier. Here's some fruit I prepared earlier:
On the menu today: banana-strawberry "soft serve".
Toss banana and berries into blender container.
Then whack in the stick blender...I'm sure this would work equally well in a food processor, but alas my kitchen is not sufficiently large for such appliances.
 After a minute or so of "blitzing", spoon the luscious goop into a bowl. It's nearly ready for consumption...
...but not quite - garnish with a few plump berries and gobble it up!
This is seriously delicious (and healthy!) stuff and I have to pass on huge thanks to all of the aforementioned food bloggers for passing on such an excellent and yet simple concept. This one is going to be replicated many, many times!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Running shenanigans - a brief update

It's been a while since I updated y'all on the progress of my running (read: slow waddling) endeavors, but I'm pleased to report that not all fitness was lost during the festive period. While I have certainly not managed as much training as I had hoped (1-2 times weekly is about all my life and body allow at present), I managed to run over 2km straight this week and felt I could have gone further. I pulled up at around the 2km mark because I want to be careful to ease into this new activity slowly. As a hyper-flexible and *reasonably* fit person, I'm all too familiar with my ability (talent?! hehehe!) to painlessly partake in certain activities only to find myself riddled with pain the following day. 

My 5km event is now less than a month away and I'm hoping to slowly build up from my 2km run this week. I realise this is ambitious and will be proud of myself for finishing the event irrespective of whether I am able to jog the entire distance.

**Note to any runners out there with an iPhone, the RunKeeper Pro app is free for the month of January - I have been using this (and previously the free version) and can certainly vouch for its ease of use and general niftiness!  

Friday, January 7, 2011

A taste of the Pacific

To me, food in Vanuatu is generally more reasonable than what people often give it credit for. The country’s historical ties with France means that baguettes and pastries are tasty and cheap. Furthermore, the flourishing beef industry makes the Australian equivalent seem (although I hate to admit it) second class. However, for those who desire to eat as they would in their home country, there may be some disappointments. Certain foods must be imported and thus lose their flavours and freshness. In addition, it is not prudent to assume that a small tropical island will keep abreast with the latest food trends. 

One thing I loved about all of our dining experiences in Vanuatu was the portion sizes. Plates would arrive with just the right amount of food. Normal plates. Plates that, in a time gone by, were considered dinner plates. How refreshing not to have piled up food on platters. While these portions pleased me no end, I have to admit that it did take some getting used to and it was initially not unusual for me to have “is that all?” thoughts. “Is that all” turned out to be the perfect amount. No waste and no bloating. I wonder if such servings will ever again be the norm in Australia? 

Sadly, my “eating in Vanuatu” post is going to be somewhat brief, owing to the fact that most of our meals were self-catered. For anyone contemplating traveling to the area, I can assure you that self-catering is affordable and easy. The supermarkets have a good range of delectable, tender beef and fresh produce can be easily sourced from the Port Vila market and often also by the roadside. You may even get lucky, as we did, and be gifted fish caught literally metres from our barbecue - I have never before tasted such sweet, delectable fish!

So, what was the best meal I consumed during my time in Efate? Drum roll please! 

The hands down winner goes to my steak with a generous dollop of herb butter and potato gratin at L’Houstalet – a quaint French establishment. While the place has received mixed reviews, it has long been a favourite of our family. Indeed, my father was once game enough to try bat here. Respect! The chili prawns (stolen from the plate of my mother) were also excellent.  

The south west of the island was next best in show, with the Tara Beach and Benjor Beach Club restaurants each offering tasty dishes. Of particular note was Tara Beach’s fish and chips, accompanied, of course, by an icy cold Tusker (bia blong yumi!). The poulet fillet was crumbed and served with piping hot, salty chunks of potato and salad. Benjor’s “bum burner” beef curry, also rates a mention. At under $20AUD, the combination of curry, rice, papadum, raita and fried onions went down a treat.  

In town we ate at two old favourites - Au Péché Mignon and the restaurant formerly known as El Gecko - The Beef House. The latter was formerly our favourite lunch spot in Port Vila and I'm pleased to report that the change of name/management hasn't totally altered this eatery. Most importantly, the best iced tea (in the world!) can still be procured from the establishment. Refreshing and with just a slight citrus kick - yum! Evidence below:

However, our food was sadly not up to those standards set by El Gecko. Previously, my lunch of choice from the establishment was the tuna salad, with it's fresh chunks of fish (real fish, not tinned fish!), fresh salad and slightly acidic, creamy dressing. With my hopes high following the delivery of my iced tea, I ordered the same dish. Gecko's lofty standards were certainly not retained as far as the tuna salad was concerned. The obvious use of tinned fish rendered the dish inferior to its predecessor, but still reasonable. Here's my side-by-side comparison:

I would still recommend a visit to The Beef House, but perhaps give the salad a miss. I have it on good authority that the steak is delicious (you'd hope so with a name like theirs!) and you really *must* try that sensational iced tea.

With regard to another favourite - Au Péché Mignon - we similarly had mixed feelings. While my pepper burger (pictured) was juicy, succulent and down right delicious, the wilted lettuce and droopy beans in my beloved's Niçoise salad was less than optimal. Naturally, one cannot visit this bakery without sampling a few (six in our case!) of their delicious desserts and pastries. We were not disappointed by these morsels and I can highly endorse the virtues of the banana tart!

Further down my culinary rankings is the Bali Hai Café and Bar at Iririki Resort. While our Melanesian fish curry and vegie pizza were both very tasty, service was atrocious! Drinks ordered prior to our meal sat unattended atop the bar for around 15 minutes, we were asked to settle our bill midway through our meal and staff seemed to be running around frantically with little knowledge of what was going on. My beloved equated their antics to that of "headless chooks". A real let down for the picturesque island resort, which seems to have a lot going for it. 

Finally, I would caution anyone from dining at Beachcomber Lodge on Efate's north east coast. We stopped here for lunch during a round-island drive and felt like we had entered a time warp. Everything was cooked with lashings of cream (and not in a good way!), the seafood in the marinara appeared to originate from the packaged frozen goods department of the supermarket and likewise the fish burger was tasteless, processed and nasty. The lodge itself had been denuded of any flora and, while the ocean views were lovely, the building and it's surrounds were depressingly barren. 

I feel it's not fair to end the post on such a low note, as overall, we were once again very happy with our dining experiences in Vanuatu. For anyone planning on visiting, I highly recommend a mixture of self-catering, eating out and sampling some local delicacies (easily procured at the market). However, most importantly, approach all dining experiences with an open mind and an empty tummy and you'll be delighted!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


And so I'm back. Back to Australia and back to work after a wonderful 10 night stay in Vanuatu. In good news, this also means I'm back to blogging. What better way to resume my writing in 2011, but with a brief run down of our time away?!

My entire family ("entire" may lead you to believe we're a large family, but "entire" really only consists of my folks, my beloved and myself) decided to get away to Efate for Christmas and New Years. We've all visited the island a number of times. In fact, this was my parents' fifth visit in around 6 years (I suspect that immigration are starting to get suspicious!). This time, was the first time that we decided to stay in a holiday house (sadly not our own) in a more remote part of the island and hire a car - an Isuzu ute that came in very handy for transporting locals and their goodies. These were two excellent decisions, as I no longer much care for big resorts with (what's the collective term for bogans?) a throng (thong?) of bogans! For all non-Aussie readers here's some more information on the fascinating individuals who make up the subspecies of bogans!

I digress! Our time away was truly relaxing and invigorating. It was such bliss to escape the silly season Down Under and truly unwind. Despite escaping festivities at home, we still managed to eat (blog post still to come with thoughts on my eating experiences, including reviews of a number of restaurants in which we dined), drink (G&Ts proved a hit in the humidity) and become particularly gifted cribbage and scrabble players during our time away.

Trip highlights included:
The glorious vista we enjoyed from the property in the sun,
in the rain,
at sunset, 
and early in the morning

We were thrilled by the newly paved round island road - trust me, this is a significant improvement on the previously potholed and oft precarious driving conditions.
Did I say previously precarious driving conditions?? Perhaps it is still a tad dangerous...

In any case, said road enabled us to better explore Efate. Furthermore, my beloved and I were overjoyed by our easy access to the stunning Blue Lagoon - undeniably one of our favourite places on earth.
On our penultimate trip to Vanuatu, we spent an entire lazy morning at Blue Lagoon, without seeing another soul. In fact, I was reluctant to mention the destination, as it seemed so precious and untarnished. However, it seems that my special spot has been "discovered" (yes, yes, I realise it was "discovered" quite some time ago!), with numerous tourists and locals frequenting the refreshing waters on both occasions we visited in December. I guess I no longer have to be quiet about this one!  

Other activities (although sadly photo-less, as we felt that we had captured enough images during previous trips), included snorkeling at Hideaway Island and Tara Beach Resort, a dip in the picturesque Mele Cascades, a lap-lap lesson with the local family who looked after our name a few...

We particularly enjoyed sharing a vodka (or two...or three) with local artistic icon and friend, Aloi Pilioko. This was the first time we visited since Aloi's partner Nicolai Michoutouchkine sadly passed away. We were delighted that he has continued to paint and found his most recent works to be vibrant and inspiring. I was thrilled to purchase a new addition to our humble art collection - our second "Pilioko" (my parents already have four, including a stunning 2x2m canvas, which adorns the lounge room). His work emanates a kind of naivety that really resonates with all of us. 

The Port Vila market (as always) was a joy

...and the "boys" had a great time with new years eve fireworks, which have been banned in Australia for some time. 
Finally, as cat lovers, we were overjoyed to be joined by these little guys (and Mum) on our first night. Over the subsequent 10 days, we did all we could to ensure they will have the best possible start to life. 
I don't hold high hopes for these little guys, but will leave my passionate animal activist thoughts to another day. If this isn't the best photograph of kitten ever, I don't know what is:

So there you have it, folks. A very brief outline of our most recent holiday to beautiful Vanuatu. I've skimmed over so many details and would be happy to answer any questions more thoroughly - ask away! In the spirit of this blog, I also promise a rundown of our dining experiences (the good and the bad) in the next week - keep your eyes peeled!