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Choko Sautéed with Bacon and Mushrooms

Choko has gotten a bad wrap over the years as a lowly peasant food, but since peasant food has been making a come-back on restaurant menus the past few years with the resurgence of dishes like oxtail I decided I decided it was time to give the choko a chance, especially since it has such a vibrant color.

It is commonly found as a vine hanging off of fences in Australia but is actually native to Central America and Mexico and was spread to many areas of the world after the Spanish conquest.

Choko, which is also known as the vegetable pear, is from the gourd family, is low in calories and a great source of vitamin C.  When choosing a choko look for one that is small, bright green and without any brown spots.  The ‘meat’ of the choko can be cooked like almost any vegetable once the seed is removed from the core. Some swear that you should never boil it, and that sautéing is the best option so that’s how we cooked it – sautéed with mushrooms and bacon.  For more choko recipes visit Burke’s Backyard.

Ingredients

  • 1 small green choko, seed removed, skinned and finely sliced
  • 150 g mushrooms
  • 80g chopped bacon
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • ½ tsp lemon pepper (or seasoning of your choice)

Preparation

Heat the oil in a fry pan.  Add the bacon and sauté until it starts to brown.  Add the sliced choko and mushrooms.  Season with lemon pepper.  Continue to sauté until the choko and mushrooms are almost soft – with just a slight firmness.

Can be served as a side dish to chicken, pork, fish, or even as brunch with eggs!

Sunday Markets in Wellington, New Zealand

My boyfriend and I went to Wellington, New Zealand for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June.  We met in New Zealand over 5 years ago on a study exchange but never got to spend much time exploring the capital city so we decided to dedicate some time to really exploring the city – and for me that means doing a whole lot of eating.

We were fortunate enough to be there on a Sunday, which is when they have their weekend harbourside markets just outside Te Papa, the National Museum.

I was blown away by the amount of beautifully fresh, local produce and how reasonably priced it was compared to what we are getting in Australia at the moment!

Since I wasn’t in the market for produce to cook we spent most of our time exploring the amazing international food stalls and trucks that ranged from Chilean empanadas to Chinese dim sim to Spanish churros (full list of stalls can be found here http://www.harboursidemarket.co.nz/stalls/)

I lost track of how many meals I ate that day since they all started blurring into one continuous food fest but my waistline has no regrets because it was certainly worth every calorie.

If you are ever in Wellington on a Sunday you should make it a point not to miss the market- and if you are looking for specific recommendations then I highly recommend sampling the deer meat stew, a butter chicken or lamb curry roti from Rojesh Roti, and an empanada from the Chilean empanada lady.  I didn’t sample the NY pizza but they had a wood fired oven and a long line so I would venture to guess that it would be worth trying as well.

And if you are in for a serious foodie treat then head over to the City Market for food enthusiasts that’s near the harbourside market in the Chaffers Dock Building. It showcases Wellington food and wine artisans and has a bit more of a culinary focus than the outdoor market with events such as wine tastings and chef demonstrations.

All I can say is eat your heart out, it will all be worth it.

Harry’s Cafe de Wheels, Sydney – the Ultimate Meat Pie Experience

I’ve already blogged about Vegemite and pavlova, so in honor of Australia Day the next most Aussie thing I can think of eating is a meat pie!  My obsession with meat pies dates back to my study abroad in New Zealand 5 years ago.  I’ll never forget my first pie from the 24 (pron: Two Four)  convenience store.  Since then I’ve discovered that pies can range from the ultimate bogan cuisine (ones that come in a sealed plastic bag from the 24) to gourmet masterpieces filled with quality meats and cheeses.

A famous place to eat the quintessential Aussie meat pie is Harry’s Café de Wheels on the Sydney Harbor, just down from Russell Crowe’s house!  It dates back to the 1930s and is famous for the Tiger, which is on the Sydney Morning Herald’s 50 Things Every Sydney Food Lover Should Try. It’s named after the founder, Harry “Tiger” Edwards and simply put, the Tiger is a basic meat pie, topped with a scoop of mashed potatoes, a scoop of mushy peas, and a scoop of gravy (a pie floater).  It sounds like an absolute mess to eat but the artful way in which they scoop the toppings onto the pie makes it surprisingly easy!  I can’t say the actual pie is the best meat pie I’ve ever had—that award goes to Lure in Brisbane’s Paddington suburb where I am currently living—but it’s meant to be a pie floater and if the pie was amazing it would steal the show away from the potatoes and peas.

Harry’s has seen quite a few celebrities over the years, such as Anthony Bourdain, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Brook Shields, Kevin Costner, Billy Crystal, Pamela Anderson, Olivia Newton-John, and Colonel Sanders!  The Colonel reportedly scarfed down 3 pies during his 1974 visit.  Who knew he ate anything but chicken?!

I noticed before I left the U.S. that hand pies were coming into vogue.  Williams-Sonoma is now selling a Breville pie maker (Aussie brand!) and they were featured in several food magazine’s January issues as trends for 2011.  Be on the lookout for them, but I must warn you – they are highly addicting and are terrible for your waistline.

Happy Australia Day!

Baked Relief – Queensland Floods

Little did I know that when I moved to Brisbane this month that I would have the city’s worst natural disaster since 1974 as my welcome wagon.  Go figure.

Luckily, my house was completely unaffected by the floods, but there are several neighborhoods within walking distance from me that have houses that were completely submerged in water.  It was a surreal introduction to life in Australia and something that I will never forget.

The most amazing thing about this experience is how quickly the community has come together to help out in every way possible.  One of the most surprising ways to help that has popped up via the blogosphere and Twitter has been Baked Relief, which was started by the Brisbane based blogger Digella.  She posted this post on her blog about her mission to provide home baked goods to the relief workers and flood victims and then started tweeting with the hash tag #bakedrelief, which quickly rallied an army of over 1,000 bakers!  She was featured on News Channel 9 tonight in this story, which goes to show how a small idea can spread like wildfire here and take off to be a huge success!  It’s currently the #2 twitter trend for Australia!

For all the details, check out her site that has been launched:

www.bakedrelief.org

You can also follow her on Twitter @digellabakes for up to the minute updates!

FFwD: Pommes Dauphinois

This dish got rave reviews (one from a Frenchman who said it was a very familiar dish to him) at both of the Friendsgivings that I took it to last week.  The gluten-free people especially loved this dish, which I didn’t even know was gluten free!

It’s as simple as simmering some heavy cream and infusing it with crushed garlic before pouring it over each thin layer of scalloped potatoes.  Top the entire dish off with Gruyère and bake for about an hour (depending on pan size) or until you can stick a fork through the layers of potatoes without much resistance.  I added fresh thyme, salt, and pepper between each layer as well and used Gruyère as a base with some of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formaggio cheese as a topper.

Dorie was right in that the crust on top was the best part!

* Tip: Don’t slice the potatoes and then go to yoga before finishing making the rest of the dish – they turn a dark pink color that’s not very attractive.  Fortunately, no one at the Friendsgivings noticed, or at least they were too nice to say anything about it!  It still tasted fine, just wasn’t a real ‘show piece’ when sliced on a plate, hence the lack of picture of the slice.

Atlanta Street Food Soiree

(This photo: gracesgoodness.wordpress.com)

I missed the first 2 Super Secret Food Truck Extravaganza’s in Atlanta so I was determined not to miss the Street Food Soiree last Wednesday and I am glad I didn’t! (Here’s a slideshow by Brad Kaplan of one of the events that I missed)

For those of you who don’t know, Atlanta has a budding street food scene but unfortunately the city has restrictive vending ordinances that prohibit street vendors from actually selling on the streets.  The Atlanta Street Food Coalition has been formed with the mission of persuading local and state lawmakers to implement instead a regulatory system which encourages sidewalk and roadway entrepreneurship, but so far nothing has been passed.  To get around these restrictions, certain businesses in Atlanta (Souper Jenny, Sweet Auburn Curb Market, and The HUB) have offered up their parking lots to Atlanta’s street food vendors, which have enabled them to still feed the hungry street food lovers of Atlanta.

Recently the food trucks have been gathering in a single spot and marketing their food truck extravaganzas via facebook and twitter.  I started following all of the food trucks after hearing about the first one that happened in Souper Jenny’s parking lot in Buckhead and have been following their whereabouts ever since.

Unfortunately, the truck that I was dying to try, the Good Food Truck was out sick for this week’s Soiree so I’ll have to try their famous poodle (hot dog with a French toast bun) next time.

The following food trucks were there:

The taco trucks were definitely the most popular with the crowd but after sampling from as many trucks as my stomach could manage I decided that Taqueria del Sol’s smores taco was by far the most creative.  They heated up some chocolate chips in a flour soft taco and then let you roast your own marshmallows over an open flame to your likeing before smashing them into the taco with the chocolate.  They also had Mexican coca-cola, which was an added bonus.

I tried the apple pie ice cream from West Side creamery which totally lived up to all the hype.  You just can’t go wrong with hand made, locally sourced ice cream.

I also tried the 100% organic pimento cheese from Grace’s Goodness, who even hand made the organic mayonnaise and roasted red peppers in the pimento cheese, which gave her some extra bonus points in my book – that and the fact that she had zero waste by serving her food out of canning mason jars.

I was too full to try Just Loaf’n and the Yum Yum Cupcake truck so I’ll have to save those for next time.

The Perfect Cup of Coffee

Coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters in Portland, OR

Some of you have asked me how to make the perfect cup of coffee.  I’m here to tell you that it’s not rocket science, but it does involve a few key factors.  Thanks to my friends Anton & Luke who founded Smoltz Roasters in Mississippi I learned the best way to get the best home brew possible.

Anton & Luke of Smotlz Roasters (This photo: http://www.smoltzroasters.info)

Beans

First, you should always buy whole beans.  The BA Foodist in this month’s Bon Appetit recommends buying ethically sourced and artisanal roasted beans with a ‘roasted on’ date and only buying what you will use during the week.

Storing

Second, you should NOT store your beans in the freezer.  Anton & Luke informed me when they saw my cheap $10 3lb bag of Costco ground coffee in the freezer that this was exactly the opposite of what I should be doing.  Beans or grinds stored in the freezer can absorb flavors of the various foods in your freezer, which in my case included fish (eek!), beef, chicken, and indian masala veggie patties.  Gross.

Freshness

Third, you should always grind your coffee with a burr grinder just before use.  Anton & Luke informed me of the ‘Rule of the 15’s’, which is that green coffee lasts 15 months, roasted coffee lasts 15 days, and ground coffee goes stale after 15 minutes!  This was a rude awakening for my sad bag of pre-ground coffee that had been sitting in my freezer for 3 months.  It also made me realize that even grinding coffee before bed and setting the auto-drip maker on a timer for the morning was always going to produce stale coffee.

Grinders

My burr grinder

The other piece to this is that in order to get the most even grind in your coffee beans and thus the most even taste you should use a burr grinder.  Anyone who has watched a blade grinder has seen the way the beans jump around before they hit the blade, which results in an uneven grind.  I use the Cuisinart DBM-8 Supreme Grinder.

Brewing

For the best results you should use a French press.  Unlike a drip coffee maker, the French press allows the flavor and oils of the beans to stay in direct contact with the brewing water rather than be trapped in a paper filter. Also, unless you are making over 8 cups of coffee, an autodrip coffee maker is not going to have time to heat up the water enough to properly extract the flavors from the beans.

Water

Lastly, the water that you use should always be filtered for the most pure taste.

Proportions

This is stated on most bags of coffee but for the best taste I use 2 tbsp of ground coffee per 6 oz of water.

Sounds a little more involved than it actually is, but once you have it down you’ll be on your way to a great home brew.