Wednesday, 29 August 2012


In one week, GC will be taking a break while the blog mistress heads overseas for some R&R.

Can you guess where I'm going?

That's right - Russia! Home of caviar, St Basil's cathedral and the iconic babushka doll.

What's not to love about a country where vodka is served by outrageously good looking people in fur hats?
Also featuring on the itinerary is Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic. I was quite excited to find out a cooking class is included during our stay in the Carpathian Mountains in the Ukraine.

I'm hoping it's as great as last year's lesson in Sarajevo. At the guesthouse we stayed in, the lady of the house taught us one evening to make dolma. I adore dolma! They're any vegetables you can stuff with filling- tomato, pepper, eggplant, onion, zucchini, vine leaves, squash...

It's simple - make the filling by mixing together mince, rice and spices.
Then stuff your chosen vegetables with the mix. Arrange in a baking dish, cover with warm water and olive oil, and simmer for 20 minutes.
(Obviously this is a simplified version, I suggest SBS Food's recipe if you intend making them)
No meal is truly complete without a cup of Bosnian coffee
View from my window <3 Sarajevo

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


Inspired by a similar recipe on Gourmet Traveller and wanting to use up the maple syrup leftover from my "vegetarian roast" (recipe to come) I decided that over the weekend I would try making a pie. Now, I've never baked a pie or even made pastry dough before. So, for a virgin pie-maker, it was a fairly ambitious escapade. Here's why: making a decent dough is something that comes with a lot of practice, a lot of trial/error and (deep breath) a lot of patience. You will swear lots, possibly cry and consider throwing in the towel a number of times. Don't - perseverance pays off, and no matter how munted or lopsided the pie looks, it'll taste great, trust me! 

The Gastronomically Challenged Guide to Pecan and Maple Pie

4 eggs
150gm brown sugar
150gm chopped up pecans
200ml real maple syrup (no "maple flavoured' imitations)
60gm melted butter
about 1/3 cup flour
20ml Cointreau
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla essence

1 cup of plain flour (sifted)
1/3 cup brown sugar
90gm cold butter
1 egg yolk
1 tsp sea salt

There's four steps to master: making the pastry, rolling it out, blind baking and filling.

Step one: process the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add butter and process until fine crumbs form. Add the egg yolk - at this point I felt that the dough was a bit dry so I added a splash of water to help it form. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and form into a disc. I left it wrapped in plastic in the fridge overnight (apparently its OK to store this way for up to 3 days.) Otherwise let it rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours before baking.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees. Grease a pie dish or tart tin with oil. Roll out the pastry - Gourmet Traveller suggested 3mm as a guideline. I kind of ignored this and rolled it to my own specifications. Big mistake. The pastry was WAY too thick.
You can either to roll it out on a floured surface or between sheets of cling wrap (which stops the roller from sticking). Typically,  my dough stuck to the cling film instead, but I managed to get it in the dish in (more or less) one piece. Trim any excess from the edges.
**NB: Put it back in the fridge to chill while making the filling. The last thing you want happening is for the butter to melt.

Whisk the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl, then whisk in the maple syrup, melted butter, flour, Cointreau, spices and vanilla essence and a pinch of salt. Stir in the pecans - now your filling is ready to go. 

Remember how earlier I stressed the importance of paper-thin dough? The next stage, blind baking, means you pre-bake the crust to a hard, crispy shell before adding the filling. To blind bake you need baking paper and some weights. Naturally the weights will prevent the pastry from rising. Pie weights (ceramic balls that serve literally no other purpose) are sold by most kitchenware suppliers but dry rice/beans work just fine. Make sure you put a circle of baking paper between the pastry and the weights.

Bake for 10-12 minutes until the pastry is a light golden colour, then remove the weights and bake for a further 8-10 minutes.
Unfortunately for me, carelessness = partially cooked/partially raw dough :(. My pastry looked like this post-blind baking (after I literally landscaped out the chunky, uneven parts with a knife.) 
Reduce the oven to 160 degrees. Pour the filling into the pastry case. Bake at 160 degrees for 40 minutes until golden and set. Cool the pie (preferably on a window sill) and enjoy.

We ate the whole thing. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


They might have shown us that they can put on a cracking Olympics, but England isn't exactly the first place which springs to mind for having an appealing national cuisine. In terms of variety, flavour or health consciousness. If anything, they have an abysmal success rate on such lists.

But there are two things I LOVE about the Brit's and their attitude towards food. One: their liberal application of the term 'pudding' to a range of dishes both savoury and sweet (Yorkshire pudding, black pudding, bread pudding, et al) Two: thinly veiled sexual innuedo (spotted dick, toad in the hole and many others that SOUND dirty but actually aren't) - which is also a succinct description of British humour from the Edwardian era up to the present day. As both my parents hail from the land of the crisp sandwich, British food is something I've grown up with and as it were, over the years something I've become almost nostalgically fond of. It's heavy, stodgy and completely unpretentious.

In defence of British food, here is my personal recipe for a dessert which utterly typifies these three things. Actually, my version is a bit pretentious cos I use Cointreau and fancy dark chocolate. Eat yo heart out Nigella.

Prep time 20 minutes, baking 40 minutes

8 – 10 slices of raisin bread or fruit loaf
1/3 cup sultanas
dark chocolate chips
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
3 eggs
300 ml pouring (thin) cream
300 ml milk
1 orange (for zest)
Brown sugar

First, soak the sultanas in Cointreau for 15 minutes and preheat your oven to 170C. Then combine the eggs, cream, milk, orange zest, vanilla and a few tablespoons of Cointreau in a bowl. Whisk thoroughly and set aside.
Butter the bread, cut off the crusts and halve lengthways like you’re making sandwiches. Layer slices over an ovenproof baking dish, scattering sultanas and dark chocolate pieces between each layer. '
Pour mixture evenly over the bread slices and stand for 15 minutes, until the mixture is completely absorbed. Scatter brown sugar over top of the pudding and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven up to 180c and bake for an additional 10 minutes. 

When it’s ready, the pudding should be golden and the custard firm. Serve warm with ice cream.  

Friday, 10 August 2012


It's no secret that the humble chickpea is popular all over the world. I'd call them nature's 'blank canvas' because they're incredibly versatile and with a bit of creativity can make an outstanding curry, stew, soup, salad or dip. Traditionally served in pita bread and sold as street food, felafel is the Middle Eastern term for ground and deep fried chickpeas. These burgers are a protein-filled, vego-friendly dinner/BBQ option. Better still, for the pantry hoarders out there (you know who you are) you now have a reason to use those "emergency" canned beans before they expire after months of collecting dust.

Makes 4

400g chickpeas
50g toasted pine nuts
1 onion, diced very finely
1 carrot, grated
1/2 lime (zest and juice)
2 tspoons of cumin
2 tspoons of grounder coriander
salt and pepper

Drain the chickpeas and whizz through a food processor to a fine, crumbly paste. Set aside in a large bowl and repeat step #1 with the toasted pine nuts.

Mix in the vegetables, seasoning, lime zest and juice.
It should now look like this: 
Whisk an egg and add a few spoonfuls. The purpose of this step is to add "bind" to the dry mix so you can form patties. A few recipes I came across didn't mention adding egg, but without some element of stickiness you will have a hard time stopping the burgers from falling apart in the frying pan.

Now, by hand you can form the mix into burgers. Dust them with flour.
Heat 1cm of oil in a pan and fry on each side for 4-5 minutes.
Assembly of burger:

Monday, 6 August 2012


Spectacular is a word I don't throw around lightly, but this is one of those rare instances where it's almost an understatement. Meeka Restaurant, tucked away on a quiet Subi corner, is a Perth 'must-try'. I'm almost annoyed at myself for not having found it sooner!
Meeka have really nailed their niche, and there was nothing on the Saturday evening we dined there that that could fault the experience. Like, at all. The food is a Middle Eastern/Moroccan-Australian fusion, with a section of the menu devoted to tajines - spice enriched stews. The menu is quite diverse but we finally settled on the stuffed dates and duck pastries to start, before moving on to baked eggplant and a lamb tajine for mains.
Everything was presented beautifully and executed with finesse. Patterned crockery and ceramic tajines were a nice flourish, without that kitschy/contrived feeling you sometimes get at 'themed' establishments.

Dates stuffed with cheese and almonds
Duck pastries
Tajine vessel
Baked eggplant stuffed with cheese, nuts and prunes

I have to compliment the staff on the service - it was attentive and helpful but not overbearing. The eggplant was cooked to perfection - I love eggplant and the balance of the creamy house-made cheese and candied walnuts was delectable. It's obvious that someone has put a lot of thought and consideration into every menu item.
Even at restaurants normally I skip dessert, but so far highly impressed, decided to give Meeka the benefit of the doubt..

We were not disappointed.

Turkish delight stuffed doughnuts - pistchio ice cream - fairy floss
Dark chocolate mulberry tart with a gold leaf garnish
Meeka seems like a great place to go with friends and share a few plates/tajines - enough variety here to satisfy customers of all palates, from the cautious to the intrepid. There's even a glossary in the menu to help patrons decipher traditional ingredients like za'tar and kataifi.

Meeka Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, 3 August 2012


No recipe this time, but a question: what’s the strangest/most adventurous/outlandish food you've tried?
Offal (which is confusingly also called ‘sweetbreads’) generally takes out first place on the oddity radar in Australia, where prime cuts are a national obsession and the average Aussie probably consumes all the leftover parts blissfully unaware, in bakery items disguised heavily with sauce.

I'm on to you, Mrs Mac.
Anyway, I didn’t start this just to slag off our cultural icons (though I did learn that the Food Standards code requires a pie to be at least 25 percent meat to be legally sold as such). My memorable offal moment happened earlier this year when Greenhouse were serving ‘brain nuggets’ – a.k.a deep fried lamb’s brains. My boyfriend, along for the ride as always, gamely choked one down. The burghul they came with helped texturally, but the best description I could use to describe how they tasted is grey. And soft. And well..brainy.

Definitely not something I’d be hurrying back to again, though well worth the experience for sh*ts and giggles (as they say), also to pat ourselves on the back later for sampling brains.

Entrails, intestines, pate, blood pudding you rate them as gourmet or garbage?