Sunday, December 20, 2009

Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne, Australia

I'm going to start with the end first: above is the bounty we acquired at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, Australia.

What did it take to get here? Just a 32-hour jaunt halfway around the world.

We went to QVM to stock up on provisions for our week on the beach off the Great Ocean Road, which starts about 1 hour south of Melbourne and winds along miles of breathtaking seacoast.

QVM is a large open-air market where you can buy anything from toys, shoes, belts, and coats to organic vegetables, meat, seafood, and gourmet cheeses, bakery, and deli items. It's like NYC's Chinatown compressed into an area of a couple blocks.

This is Rashed, a Bangledeshi who sold us our Australian boomerangs, some of which were made in Indonesia.

These lovely flowers were made out of soap!

My husband asked me to take this picture of the Uggs poster, so he could send it to his contacts at Uggs Australia, whose boots are all the rage in the US. It's a US company and not Australian.

At the food court, I tried Butter Chicken and Turkish delight for the first time. Both were delicious. Christina ordered nachos, which were definitely not nachos, but corn chips with chunky tomato pasta sauce and some non-sharp cheese. Greek food is ever present here, so my husband and Lizzy got some lamb and chicken souvlaki, and my sister-in-law Liz ordered some pizza with feta cheese.

When I went to the Greek vendor to get coffee, we had an interesting exchange. I said, "I'd like some coffee." He said, "What kind? Cappuccino, latte, black coffee, white coffee..." I replied, "I'd like a black coffee with cream or half and half." He said, That's a white coffee." I was expecting an American coffee, but what he gave me was an espresso with frothed and steamed milk. How a white coffee is different from a latte I don't know, but it was delicious, as have been all the coffee I've had here, including the latte I had at McDonalds. It seems Australia's coffee scene is more like Europe than America, and that's a good thing.

The Greek vendor also asked me if I was Canadian. My sister-in-law Liz, who lives in Melbourne, told me I'd always get asked if I was Canadian, because it's the safer thing to say. Canadians are insulted if asked if they are American but not the other way around.

After we ate lunch, we went food shopping. At QVM, there's are sections devoted to organic goods, fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood and vegetables.

In the deli section, we bought different cheeses, a container of goat-cheese stuffed red peppers, a container of "goat cheese surprise," which was goat cheese topped with basil pesto and red pepper flakes (that was the surprise), and some artisanal breads from a storefront that had a long line of people. By the time, I got there they were pretty much cleaned out.

In the fruits and vegetable section, we bought mangoes, passionfruit, and fresh lychees as well as a lot of different vegetables, including lettuce, asparagus, red and green peppers, scallions, baby bok choy, potatoes and tomatoes. By and large, the produce was very similar to what one gets in the United States, but at a higher price point. Food is definitely more expensive here in Australia.

That said, the vegetables we bought here and in the grocery store tasted more farm fresh and flavorful than the produce we can buy in the US grocery stores. Maybe it's worth the tradeoff.

We perused the meat and seafood section, but didn't buy anything because we didn't have a cooler. Above is a pic of rock lobsters, and while I don't have a pic, I love that you can buy shrimp with the heads on here. Where I live I haven't seen heads-on shrimp in years.

As we were leaving, I had to get in line at this food stand, because when we came in, there were long lines and there were still long lines when we came out. What was so special about these "American doughnuts?"

I bought a bag of six donuts for AUD$5, and right after I bought my donuts, they put up the sold out sign. Oh my, there were a lot of crestfallen people in the line behind me.

Here's a pic of the donut, which was a jelly donut. It wasn't as light as the jelly donuts we're accustomed to in the US, but it was good.

After we finished our shopping, we headed down to the rental house and found this lovely kitchen awaiting us. Isn't is awesome?

We made lots of lovely food with what we took home. What would you make with this?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On Holiday

Hi Everyone,

I'm off on a little adventure, so if I can't blog for the next few weeks, it's for a good reason.

I hope you enjoy the last few weeks of December, full of great food, family, and friends.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cookie Swap: Kate's Ginger Snaps

I love ginger cookies, especially the soft, chewy kind.

So I was delighted when Kate brought these to Julia's cookie swap.

Kate is one of the most well-rounded people I know. She can bake, cook, garden, sing, play instruments, teach, administer, speak in public ... you name it, she can do it.

Every year, people hope and pray that Kate is their Secret Santa. She makes the most wonderful scarves. I cherish the fuzzy red and white one I have, and I wear it all the time.

Ninette sporting Kate's scarf at the Chili Cookoff

Kate passes this recipe on from her friend, Nurse Mike.

"Mike was the one of the school nurses at Lake Forest Academy (Illinois) when I worked there," she said. "He always brought cookies in on Fridays. As he said, 'Fridays are better than other days in so many ways.' The gingersnaps were my favorite. Mike was happy to share his recipe, and I'm happy to share it here."

Kate's helpful tip is to put a piece of bread in with the cookies if you want them to stay soft and chewy.

Kate's Ginger Snaps

Makes about 6 dozen

1 cup shortening (I use half butter and half veg oil)
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ginger
2 tsp allspice
4 tsp baking soda
4 cups flour
roll in balls
roll in granulated sugar
bake at 350 on lightly greased cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes.


Cookie Swap: Ruth's Florentine Cookies

When I heard my friend Julia's daughter, Monika, say excitedly, "Oh, thank you for making the cookies!," I knew Ruthie had made her famous Florentine cookies.

Crispy, airy, and with a smear of chocolate on the backs, these cookies are coveted items at the cookie swap.

Along with being a very talented baker, Ruthie is a master crocheter and expert on all things Disney.

She also makes the most delicious Mexi-dip. She has to bring it to every party for me; otherwise I will cry.

Ruthie's helpful hint: make these cookies on a dry day with no rain, snow or humidity.

Florentine Cookies
Makes about 3 1/2 dozen cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2 cups Quick Oats
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup of flour
2/3 cup of butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

One 12oz. package of Dark or Milk chocolate kisses or chips. Pastry brush and double boiler.

Heat butter (low heat) in sauce pan then add sugar and vanilla. Mix flour, salt and oats then add to sauce pan. Add corn syrup and milk and mix well. Remove from heat.

Work fast for the mixture will thicken quickly. Do not re-heat mixture. Place mixture by level teaspoon on foil lined baking sheets and spread thin about 3 inches apart. Bake for 6-8 minutes until light brown. Let cool on foil then remove and place on wire rack.

For chocolate coating - place kisses or chips in a double boiler and stir until melted. Do not let the water boil in the double boiler for the chocolate will burn.

Brush a light coating on the back side of cookies and let dry completely before placing in an airtight container. Stack cookies chocolate side together and layer with wax paper in container.

FYI these cookies will last for about 6 weeks in an airtight container.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Julia's Cookie Swap 2009

I know the holiday vacation is just around the corner when I find myself in front of Julia's fireplace, laughing with my female colleagues at the annual "Ladies' Auxiliary" Cookie Swap.

Julia, who's been a guest blogger here, is a super woman. She's a top producer at work. Her kids are smart and nice. She manages to cook for her family every night. And she's kind enough to invite her co-workers over every year to share some good cheer at her lovely 18th century home.

She sends out an invitation with this type of picture to get us in the mood to put our aprons on:

Can you tell Julia teaches anthropology and about the cultures of LONG AGO?

Despite the lack of lipstick and perfect hair, we come from work with our cookies in boxes, Ziplock bags, aluminum containers, and trays. Some of us have our kids in tow. Others bring appetizers, like Ruth's mexi-dip (my favorite!) or Kelly's baked brie, to join the spiral ham and lentil-chestnut dip at Julia's dining room table.

While we gather in the living or dining room, the cookies hang out in the kitchen, a merry crew of balls, filled tarts, sharply cut shapes and gentle mounds. Studded with nuts or candies, flavored with chocolate or rum, the cookies are as diverse as the cooks who made them.

What a lovely tray of cookies we all can bring home, along with fond memories of our annual get togethers at Chez Julia's.

Cookie Swap 2009

Below are the cookies that my friends brought to the swap. I'll be posting the recipes over the next few days. Enjoy!

Ninette's Chocolate Almond Toffee Bark

Sheena's Scottish Shortbread

Elizabeth's Granny's Sugar Cookies

Kate's Ginger Snaps

Elaine's Buckeye Balls

Zoe's Bisquick Sugar Cookies

Nancy's Fudge

Ruth's Florentine Cookies

Kelly's Pignoli Cookies

Julia's Andes Thin Mints Pillow Cookies

Tish's Peanut Butter Blossoms

Desiree's Pecan Tarts

Cookie Swap: Almond Chocolate Toffee Bark

This year, I'm looking to make it through the holidays stress-free.

First to go was decorating the house. All I have is a wreath on the door, and the kids set up little trees in their rooms.

Second was not doing gifts this year and using our holiday money for a trip. No running around trying to find the perfect gift. No waiting in line at the mall. No ordering from Amazon.

Third was finding the easiest, most delicious cookie for Julia's annual cookie swap.

Almond Chocolate Toffee Crunchies from SweetSavoryLife were just the ticket.

I had been thinking of making a bar cookie anyway, with a sugar cookie base and a chocolate and nut topping. When I saw that this recipe substituted saltines for the dough, I was definitely in.

My daughter Christina and I had fun making these. They were super easy. And they were yummy.

If you're looking for a stress-free recipe, this is it!

Almond Chocolate Toffee Crunchies Recipe
(double the recipe for 6 dozen cookies)

1 sleeve of saltine crackers
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup chopped almonds, toasted (or any topping you like -- Heath Bar toffee bits, crushed candy canes, etc.)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Spray cookie sheet with non-stick spray or line it with a Silpat.

Line crackers on cookie sheet close together.

Melt butter and brown sugar in a medium pan on medium-high heat. Stirring often, heat the mixture for about 3-5 minutes until it turns into a nice caramel looking sauce.

Pour the sauce over the crackers until they are completely covered.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle chocolate chips over the cookie sheet. Put in oven for a couple minutes. Take them out and spread the chocolate over the toffee mixture and top with nuts.

Allow to completely cool before breaking toffee up in pieces. Enjoy!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

I know. You expect me to talk about that Simon & Garfunkel song, don't you?

But I won't. I've got other things on my mind. Or in my hip, rather.

Specifically, a cortisone shot. The procedure was very easy, but I was instructed by my doctor to not drive, go to work, or overtax myself.

So for dinner I recruited my oven to do most of the heavy lifting.

I rarely use the oven. I grew up on Filipino food, which is by and large stovetop cooking. The other kind of food I grew up on came out of cans, which we also warmed up on the stove in the pre-microwave days.

Chef Boy-ar-dee or Campbell's Soup, anyone?

But I digress.

In the fridge, I had some remnants of Thanksgiving meal-shopping: a vacuum-packed pork tenderloin from Costco; fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, chives, and garlic; brussel sprouts, granny smith apples, and walnuts.

I also had some Gruyure cheese from some French onion soup I made.


A roast pork marinated in olive oil, fresh herbs, and garlic, paired with roasted brussel sprouts and apples topped with walnuts and gruyere cheese, made a perfect -- and perfectly easy --December dinner.

Cook's Notes:

On Meal Composition

In an earlier post, I wrote about my philosophy to cooking on the fly. In sum, it's based on covering the taste sensations (salty, sweet, tangy, bitter, spicy, umami) and having different textures and colors on the plate.

When I decided to cook pork with herbs, I knew as a contrast to the light-tasting meat, I wanted something earthy/bitter (brussel sprouts), sweet (apples/candied walnuts), sour (apples, red wine vinegar in the marinade), spicy (black pepper and red pepper flakes), and umami (potatoes and gruyere cheese). And of course, kosher salt and olive oil as a transmitter of flavor.

As far as textures, the roast pork would be both a little crunchy on the outside but mostly soft. That's why I roasted the brussel sprouts, apples, and potatoes until they were very toothsome and crunchy (as well as soft), and I added the crunchy walnuts and melted texture of the cheese.

It worked very well. The only thing I was missing was color as this was a very brown and green meal. Another way to have gone was to make a salad with greens, the apples, cheese, and perhaps red peppers, but I didnt' have those on hand.

Instead I finished the meal with bright orange clementines and their refreshing sweet/tart taste.

On Cooking Pork Tenderloin

Here are my tips on cooking pork tenderloin.

1) Brine if you have time. A basic brine is 1/2 cup salt, 1/4 cup sugar to 4 cups water. You can add garlic, fresh herbs, peppercorns, etc., but at minimum, it's salt and water. Mix the brine until the salt dissolves (you may need to heat it first, let the salt dissolve, and then cool). Brine about four hours or over overnight (if over night, cut the salt and sugar in half. Rinse pork when it's brined, dry off with paper towels and continue with your recipe.

2) If you're not brining and you're making a vinaigrette of sorts like I did, be sure to generously salt your pork with kosher salt before you put it in the marinade for a couple hours. Before I cooked the whole tenderloins, I cut off a small end, cooked it and tasted it to make sure it was seasoned properly.

3) Let the pork come to room temperature by letting it sit out for 30 minutes. It will cook faster and more evenly.

4) Sear the pork on both sides before sticking it in the oven for a nice color.

5) Don't guess but use an instant thermometer and take the temp dead center of the meat. I cook my pork to 149 degrees, which makes it the lightest of pink, cooked but still juicy. The ends will be well done, so you'll have a range of of doneness in the pork to satisfy people. Also, if you have leftovers, the pork will reheat nicely.

6) Take out your meat, tent some foil over it, and let it rest for 15 minutes. This is key. The meat's temperature will continue to rise to 159 degrees.

Roast Pork Tenderloin with Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme Paste

Pork tenderloin (1 vacuum-packed pork tenderloin has 2 pieces in it)
1/2 cup fresh herbs, finely chopped (e.g., rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley)
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tbs. red wine vinegar (or you can use 1:4 ration of vinegar to oil)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Mix garlic slices and olive oil together in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high for one minute to infuse garlic into the oil.

Add fresh herbs and red wine vinegar to the oil and let cool.

Rinse the tenderloins, dried them off, and heavily salt them with kosher salt and gave them a good dose of freshly ground pepper.

Put the pork and marinade in a Ziploc bag and let marinate 3-4 hours in the refrigerator.

One hour and fifteen minutes before you want to serve the pork, take it out of the fridge, and let it come to room temperature -- about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the roasting pan (if it's heat proof) or a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add a little oil and cut off a little piece of pork from the end. Cook and taste to see if you need to adjust the seasonings on the pork. Add a little more salt and pepper if necessary.

Remove the meat from the marinade, and over medium-high heat, sear the tenderloins on all sides until nice and brown. This may take around 10 minutes, but it will take as long as it takes.

Put the pork in the oven and cook until it's 149 degrees dead center.

Take out of the oven, tent with foil, and let rest 15 minutes. Slice and serve.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

French Onion Soup -- Or Is It American-Onion Soup?

Last night we were over the house of my friends Jessica and Peter. They invite us over a lot. And we most happily accept.

Peter is an avid cook and his current passion is pizza. We were the happy recipients of his perfected pizza dough and toppings galore for personalized individual pizzas, including caramelized onions.

As Peter roasted red peppers, grilled chicken, cooked shrimp,and prepared the rest of his toppings, I leisurely stirred the onions over low heat until they reached a rich brown and their sweet and savory smell perfumed our pizza-making endeavors.

So is it little surprise then that I had French onion soup on the brain for tonight's dinner?

Isabelle the kitty lounging ....
I haven't made this soup in twenty years. At that time, I lived a Friends tv show like existence in New York City. A bunch of us 20-something guys and gals lived within a block of each other, and we would have a great time cooking together on the weekends. We usually made amazing eats, but with the vat -- and I mean vat -- of French onion soup, we learned what the phrase "too many cooks in the kitchen" meant. The soup was like a salt lick from too many eager hands throwing salt in the soup. We had to throw the whole thing out.

... in front of a roaring fire (with some cool colors from coated pine cones).

This time around, it was only me at the stovetop, so the soup turned out rich and flavorful. I used half beef broth and half turkey stock which I had made from the Thanksgiving turkey, so this French soup had some American panache. What a great Intercontinental pairing!

I also pulled out a set of French onion soup crocks my mother-in-law gave me around 15 years ago, which I think were her friend Marianne's. These bowls are at least 30 years old. I never had an opportunity to use these until now and honor the memory of Marianne who passed away in 1985.

I think the secret to a great French onion soup is to caramelize the onions over low heat for at least 20 minutes until they're browned, sweet, and a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. A quick saute will give you flabby onions and insipid soup.

I didn't measure, but I was inspired by the use of vermouth and cognac in this recipe from In Praise of Leftovers.

Surrounded by my family and warmed by a fire cheerily blazing in the fireplace, this soup was the perfect supper for a Sunday night in December.