Thursday, September 30, 2004

Warm Ride

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, I was lucky to land myself a job in a brasserie called Post 97. It was part of a group of three food and beverage outlets on Lan Kwai Fong, the main nightclub district on Hong Kong Island.

I took up working as a waitress to keep the cash flowing while adjusted to my new way of living (squished in with six million other people on a rock hardly big enough to swing a cat). During day shift we had no bar tender, so the two waiting staff (there were rarely more at that time of the day) had to prepare drinks as well as serve customers. Having a fully stocked bar at my disposal made me feel like Queen of my little dung-heap for some strange reason. Believe me when I say there is immense satisfaction in pulling a beer!

At night the bar was managed by Alan, a prize winning cocktail maker, no less. His winning drink - vodka martini. He made it for me one time when I'd finished a Friday night shift. I was totally unprepared for the fire that raged all the way down my throat and continued to smoulder in my belly! I don't what the hell I thought a martini was made out of, but it sure wasn't like any of the sweet confections they conjured at Dominque's at home in Penrith Panthers!

Back in Australia two years later, my sister decided Christmas should be characterised by an endless procession of cocktails. I was thrilled to take up her challenge. I found myself standing before the blender on Christmas Day, liqueurs lined up on the counter, wondering what wonderous thing I could produce with the limited ingredients we had. I tossed in a bit of this, a bit this, added an extra splash of something else, dropped in some crushed ice and turned the blender on. The scent of something wild filled the air. I poured the creamy goop into two glasses, passed one to my sister, and took a sip. I was immediately overtaken by a warm sensation, my arms turning numb, my jaw, I'm sure, going slack.

"What's this called?" my sister asked. There was no other way to describe it.

"Warm Ride," I said. She took another swig then sank into her chair, circles of red emerging on her cheeks.

30ml brandy
30ml amaretto
30ml Kahlua
60ml fresh cream
crushed ice
extra coffee powder

1. Half fill the blender with crushed ice. Pour all the liqueurs over the ice then add the cream.

2. Blend until mixture resembles constency of a thick shake. Pour into a martini glass. Decorate with coffee powder and straw, then serve.

Refreshing Pineapple Crush

When I was about fourteen years old, the greatest thing happened: my dad was awarded a prize for being the number one salesman at the transport company he worked for. The prize was redeemable in overseas travel, and having just returned from a sales conference in Singapore (Dad's first ever trip overseas), my father was keen for the rest of the family to take a trip on a plane. He decided it was time for a family holiday.

There was much debate over what our destination would be. My mother was keen on America, but the budget wouldn't stretch that far. I was keen on London, mainly because I was stark raving bonkers about Duran Duran at the time. I can't remember what my sister's preference was, but I think Dad was seriously considering New Zealand at one point. I don't know what made him about face, but one night, he finally announced that we were heading to Fiji.

The flight there was absolutely shocking. Nobody told me they airconditioned the cabins to the same temperature as our tucker box freezer. All I remember of that trip is being chilled to the bone. But Fiji - it was a tropical paradise. We stayed at the Fijian Resort, which I believe still stands today, albeit a bit weather beaten and somewhat aged. On our arrival we were served an icy cold glass of pineapple juice, freshly squeezed and sweeter than anything I've ever tasted in my life!

Crushed pineapple juice became the standard drink for all of us on that trip. We drank it at breakfast, at lunch, and at dinner - you name it, we pineappled ourselves to within inches of our lives. One afternoon, after a hot and perilous trip to Suva (on the exact opposite side of the island to where we were staying) we returned to the resort parched and desperate for a juice. We sat down in the open air brasserie and ordered our pineapple crushes - the waiter shocked us all by announcing they had run out of pineapples!

We were gob smacked! No pineapples? What the hell did they expect us to drink? My dad immediately ordered a Fiji Bitter. I foolishly decided I would have nothing until the next load pineapples arrived - what if that had taken a week? Lucky for me, it was only a half hour wait. The pineapples were straight off the truck (probably from the market at Singatoka) and warm. The waiter loaded our glasses with crushed ice then began shoving the pineapples through the juice extractor right by our tableside. I was thrilled! Pineapples were back in town!

1 fresh pineapple, any size
1/2 cup ice cold water
small handful of mint
1 tblsp sugar
crushed ice

1. Peel pineapple. Contrary to popular belief, you do this with the pineapple's spike still attached! Use it as a handle to get a grip on while you carefully slice the spiky skin off, ensuring all remnants are removed.

2. Cut the pineapple flesh through the middle lengthways. Then cut it again into quarters and again into eighths. Carefully slice the core from the edge of the pineapple pieces and discard.

3. Fire up your juice extractor and feed the pineapple wedges through one at a time. If you don't have a juice extractor you can use a blender. Chop the pineapple flesh into small pieces and blend in two or three batches, using the water to help the blender blades turn.

4. Pour all the pineapple juice (and water if you used a juice extractor) into a large glass jug, one third filled with crushed ice.

5. Wash mint leaves, roughly break in half and sprinkle over top of pineapple juice. Stir in with wooden spoon or large swizzle stick.

6. Pour into a glass, insert a straw and drink! You can hang a paper parasol off the side of your glass if you want to feel like you're on holidays while you sip!

Note: if you're drinking this at party time, add 30ml of white rum to spice up your life!

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Humming Bird Cake

In my final year of high school there was a ten day period before exams called Stu-Vac. This was a very important time in an Aussie student's life - it was either spent catching up on study that had slipped through the cracks throughout the year, or it was spent bunking off in full knowledge that there was no chance of ever hoping to catch up.

One thing I was particularly good at in school was exams - it was everything to do with strategy, which in my opinion had to include eight hours sleep, eight hours study and eight hours play. Unfortunately for me, at the beginning of my Stu-Vac my sister's boyfriend decided he should move house. At the time his household included Lady the snooty Australian Terrier who was heavily pregnant, Ben the big dopey bloodhound who had been rescued from starvation, and a cockatoo (if he had a name I don't remember it) who enjoyed providing a running commentary on the goings on of both dogs.

My bedroom was at the back of our house, my window looked out onto the yard. I sat down at my desk and prepared to immerse myself in the rotten goings on in Denmark, which featured in Shakespeare's immortal play, Hamlet. Wouldn't you know it, Lady decided to go into labour! She searched furtively around the house for a 'nest' to bed down in while she squeezed four enormous puppies out of her tiny little body. Thankfully Mum managed to coax her into a box lined with newspaper which she'd set up in a corner in the dining room. Meanwhile Ben was running around the back yard like a complete hooligan, sounding off single 'WOOFs' in his deep rounding bark at regular intervals, the cocky all the while turning somersaults in his cage with his yellow comb fully extended, screeching "Arrrkkkkk! Arrrkkkk! Arrrrkkk!"

It was a bloody mad house! What I thought was going to be a quiet week and a half at home had turned into a veritable menagery. Once Lady's puppies had arrived she got very protective of the area around the box. I'd hear my dad in the kitchen shouting "Get back to your puppies Lady!", then the cocky in the yard would start shouting, "Laaaady! Laaaady!" I wanted to throttle that bird! He was an absolute menace.

Eventually my sister's boyfriend got settled into his place and came to collect his animals. We actually kept one of the puppies - the little girl who was also the runt. We fed her with a doll-sized baby bottle, her little belly full to the brim so that all she could do was lie on her back and sleep. I persevered with my studies, training myself to do forty minute essays in less than thirty minutes, then taking them back to my teachers at school and asking them to assess them for me. It turned out to be a very successful approach - I scored perfect marks on most of my English and Ancient History essays. It seems the animal mad house turned out to be a good thing after all.

125g butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1.5 cups self raising flour
2/3 cup milk
1/2 can crushed pineapple
2 squishy bananas, mashed
1 tsp mixed spice

60g butter, melted
250g cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
juice of half a lemon
shredded coconut to decorate

1. Place butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and milk in the large bowl of your mixer. Mix on low speed to combine, then increase speed to high. Continue to beat until mixture becomes glossy and thick. This should take about seven minutes.

2. Reduce mixer speed to low and carefully add crushed pineapple, mashed bananas and mixed spice. Continue to mix until combined. Don't over mix!

3. Poor batter into a greased and lined 20cm square cake tin. Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees celsius) for 50mins or until cake springs back at the touch (you can also test it by inserting a skewer into the middle of the cake - if it comes out clean, the cake is cooked).

4. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to separate it from the tin. Turn onto a wire rack then flip so that cake is seated right-side up. Allow to cool completely.

5. For the icing, place the cream cheese in the small bowl of an electric mixer. Beat on low speed until cheese is softened then increase speed to medium. Add melted butter, lemon juice and vanilla then continue to mix until well combined.

6. Gradually add the icing sugar a half a cup at a time. Continue beating - icing should begin to thicken. Once all icing sugar is added, mix for a further two minutes.

7. Spread cream cheese icing over top of cold cake then decorate with shredded coconut. Cake yields about 14 slices and keeps in the fridge for four days.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Marinaded Barbequed Chicken

Barbeques. They are at the heart of every good Australian family's social activities.

According to some, barbeques are just an excuse for men to drink beer and light fires. This, to some extent, is absolutely true. Certainly, barbies are the realm of men - women may prepare the food and may bring it to the fireside, but they may not put it on the grill, or take it off, for that matter. Nor should they stand in close proximity and give instructions on what to turn and when. Never mind that Aussie men cook no other meals at any time throughout the year! Once the fire is lit, they are the Kings of the Outdoor Kitchen!

When I was little there was a period in my life when there was a barbeque in our backyard every Sunday - not because we were devotees of crispy chared sausages and over cooked onions - it was because there was a serial on the radio called the Story of Elvis which played weekly after Sunday lunch. My Dad loved that radio series. Those Sunday barbeques were organised with military precision so that all cooking and eating was done in time for the blanket to be spread out under the banana tree so Dad could recline on it while we listened to that radio show.

I don't remember much of the show. I just remember the itch of the blanket (a prickly old brown one which I'm sure Mum still has in the closet), the warmth of the sun, the blueness of the sky, and my parents sending me inside to make them yet another cup of tea. I leapt to my feet, grabbed their coffee cups and headed towards the back steps. I remember those coffee cups distinctly. There were four - one blue, one green, on brown and one mustard yellow. They were cheap chunky stoneware bought from Flemmings, glazed in muted colours. There was no such thing as a designer coffee mug back then. At least not to my knowledge!

On one ocassion I decided I would swing my arms around in overarching circles as I walked up the path from the clothesline to the house. It felt good, the wind whistling unders my arms, the weight of one cup gripped in each hand seeming to make my arms swing faster - until they met before my chest with a resounding crack! I was totally shocked! It never ocurred to me that my arms didn't swing around in perfect circles (rather than pivot in their sockets). Luckily neither of my parents saw what I did - or heard it either, they were so engrossed with the Story of Elvis. I made them their tea, brought it back out to where they were still reclined on the rug, and prayed they wouldn't notice the chips in the enamel. I don't think they ever did.

2 tblsp sweet chilli sauce
2 tblsp soy sauce (Tamari is excellent)
1 dstsp honey
1 tblsp barbeque sauce
2 cloves crushed garlic
4 chicken thighs (deboned)
2 chicken breast fillets (cut into four pieces)

1. Combine the sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce, honey, barbeque sauce and garlic in a bowl. Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.

2. Sink the chicken pieces into the marinade then cover with Gladwrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

3. When the barbeque is all fired up and ready to go, remove the chicken pieces and cook over the open grill. IMPORTANT: do not turn and turn and turn and turn the chicken pieces (or anything else on the barbeque for that matter). Cooking on a barbeque is no different to cooking in a frying pan or over the stove top. Allow the chicken (or meat) to seal completely on one side before you even contemplate turning it. This is usually about four to five minutes for chicken. That's four to five minutes EITHER SIDE.

4. Marinade should caramelise the outside of the chicken, as well as give a delicious spicey flavour. Serve with Crazy Salad, baby beets and a healthy-sized hunk of garlic bread. Oh! And don't forget the beer!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Tuna Pasta

If memory serves me correctly, the first dinner party I ever attended as a bonafide grown up was one put on by my friends, Neil and Bruce.

Bruce was a big fan of baked dinners. I'd mentioned to him once that I loved a good baked dinner but hadn't really had one since I'd left home (I was nineteen at the time and had only left home that year so I wasn't THAT deprived!). Bruce decided he would put on a dinner, the feature being his very special roast lamb. It never ocurred to me that there'd be more than one course for the meal, so when I arrived to find the place settings decked out with cutlery for not one but THREE courses, I was absolutely delighted.

It was the late eighties and the whole low fat fashion hadn't totally taken over our dinner tables or tastebuds yet, so it was still open slather on cheese and cream. I asked Bruce what was for entree and he said pasta. No problem - that was something I could easily enjoy. But when Bruce presented the first course to us, I was overcome with the stink of cooked fish mixed up with cream and melted cheese - it was more like a tuna bake!

"What is this?" I asked Bruce, trying to be as polite as possible and not succeeding. Tuna fettucine, he declared. I was mortified. I had to apologise profusely - I was still in the throes of my anti-fish period, and there was absolutely no way I could attempt the congealed yellow mass on the plate without gagging and thereby irrevocably disgracing myself.

Neil was a Godsend - and a big eater. He snatched my plate out from under me and scraped the food onto his own, then consumed it all in record time. I was relieved not to have to eat the pasta, but I will never forget the wounded look on Bruce's face. Shame on me - I should have learned to love dairy coated fish before I left home!

250g spiral pasta
2 tbslp olive oil
180g canned tuna in springwater
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can tomatoes, crushed or pureed
8 fresh basil leaves
1 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
pinch dried chilli flakes
2 tblsp red wine - whatever you've got lying round (but not port!)
1 tblsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
Salt & pepper to taste
Grated parmesan to garnish
Extra cracked pepper

1. Boil a saucepan of water, adding one tablespoon of the olive oil while the water is cold. Add pasta on the rolling boil. Cook for 10 minutes or until al dente (or just pick one pasta out and eat it to test!).

2. In a separate saucepan, lightly sautee the onions and garlic over a medium to hot heat, being careful not to burn either.

3. Add the tomato puree and stir with a slotted spoon. Then add the basil, parsley, chilli flakes, bay leaves, red wine and stir to combine. Allow a few minutes for the spices to infuse their flavour in the tomatoes then taste. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

4. Add tomato paste to sauce - this will thicken the sauce, helping it to coat the pasta.

5. Drain tuna and add to sauce. Stire until tuna is completely broken up and combined into the sauce. Taste again - add a little more salt and pepper if you wish. Remove from heat.

6. Pour the cooked pasta into a collander to drain. Do not rinse. Tip the pasta back into the saucepan then pour the tuna sauce over the top. Stir with a pasta claw to combine thoroughly. Serve immediately, garished with shaved parmesan and extra cracked black pepper. A nice crusty piece of Italian bread on the side would not go astray!

Note: this recipe should produce about four serves. They can be easily frozen and reheated later for a quick lunch or dinner.

Chocolate Tart

When I was about eight years old a miraculous thing happened at the local Flemmings supermarket: they introduced a weekly serial of recipe cards published by the Australian Women's Weekly.

These recipe cards couldn't have arrived at a better time in my life - or my mother's for that matter. It was right when Mum was discovering international cuisine, and I was demanding to be taught how to cook. Every week when we did the grocery shopping, Mum faithfully purchased a new set of cards - about twenty-four in all, which covered everything from Favourite Cakes to Light n' Lovely Cool Desserts to Traditional Roasts. I would pour over the glossy cards, admiring the pictures, as Mum created delight after culinary delight in our kitchen.

Amongst those cards featured a plethora of flavour revelations: they contained the original chocolate caramel slice which in the twenty-five years since has been worshipped by many a cafe goer, yet hardly ever reproduced in a fashion faithful to the original. There was also a section on confectionary which included a recipe for sherbet cones. As a teenager I ditched the cones and just made up bowls of sherbet for an afternoon snack.

But the piece de resitance in that monumental library of taste-bud tantalizing treats was the Coffee Liqueur Chocolate Mousse. I watched Mum make it many times, and decided it was something best left to the experts. She had to melt this, mix that, and quite often one component had to sit momentarily in the freezer because it was just too darned hot in the kitchen to work any other way. The resulting mousse would be served at the fanciest of dinner gatherings. My sister and I would skim our long-handled teaspoons across the surface of the mousse, gathering a sampling to be sucked and savoured... there was NEVER any scoffing where that mousse was concerned. We took our time to enjoy its rich chocolatey flavour.

Ah! What a memory! That mousse is untouchable in my mind.

Then something odd happened last year - I was browsing a summer furniture catalogue when I noticed a recipe for chocolate tart obscured on one of the pages. I thought I'd give it a shot and was astounded to discover when the filling was complete that it was a near immitation of the Recipe Cards Chocolate Mousse (albeit with the liqueur left out). The startling thing was this: it took five minutes to make! I started to mess with that recipe immediately: more chocolate, less cream, liqueur in, liqueur out... then I impressed everybody with a thick but tiny portion of mousse mud at Christmas dinner. Yay! Still, the chocolate tart idea is good. Makes mousse access much easier!

1 large sheet shortcrust pastry
250g dark cooking chocolate
1 cup castor sugar
3 eggs, brought to room temperature then separated
200ml cream, whipped

1. Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees celcius. Grease a tart case tin with butter then line with the shortcrust pastry. Fill case with pie weights and cook until edges are golden brown. (Check pastry cooking instructions for recommended cooking time).

2. Remove pie weights and leave tart in tin to cool on a wire rack.

3. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in a large cooking bowl. Add sugar and microwave for approximately 2mins 20secs or until chocolate has melted. Do not over cook! Stir chocolate and sugar to combine.

4. Whip cream while chocolate is melting. If you have a stick blender, they are ideal for this - very effective and very quick at the same time.

5. Add lightly beaten egg yolks to the chocolate and sugar mix AS SOON AS IT COMES OUT OF THE MICROWAVE. The heat of the chocolate will cook the eggs, thereby eliminating any yolky flavour. Allow the chocolate mixture to cool for five minutes.

6. Gently fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. Continue to fold until cream is completely combined with chocolate.

7. Immediately pour mousse filling into cold tart case. Place tart case and tin on a baking sheet and position on bottom shelf of fridge. Allow to chill for at least two hours before serving. Mousse will become quite solid and cuttable.

8. Remove tart case from tin and present on a gorgeous cake plate. Slice into wedges and serve with fresh berries. Depending on the size of your tart case, you should get about 10 servings from one tart.

Note: you'll most likely have some filling left over - pour in into ramekins and save it to eat later!

Friday, September 10, 2004

Carrot, Coconut & Beetroot Salad

When the Olympics were on in 2000, for some strange reason we all believed it would be a major debacle. So many of us made plans to leave town to avoid the chaos we thought would be foisted upon us.

My destination of choice was the Vipassana Meditation Retreat located at Black Heath in the Blue Mountains. The hysterical thing about my choice was that it was totally the opposite to the Olympics - a 12 day retreat where one takes a vow of silence for 10 days and does nothing but meditate for something eleven hours a day! I thought this was a great idea, mainly because I wanted to lose some weight and get a big bliss out. Boy was I there for all the wrong reasons!

Despite my natural talkative nature, I found undertaking the vow of silence was easy. I discovered human beings say an awful lot when sometimes saying nothing is far superior. I also discovered that I could live without a soy latte and almond friand every day. And I was completely happy to hand the responsibility for my food over to someone else.

At the retreat they served a strict vegetarian menu, which I understand is very Hindu in its nature - lots of chick peas and tofu and carrots and cauliflower and spinach (blech!) and so on. There is a big old cook book in the kitchen, I hear, and the meals are prepared by volunteers who wish to serve the meditators. This is called dharma service - very noble, and of course attracts merits (in the next life, I assume). I also understand the volunteers aren't necessarily experienced cooks. The recipes are supposed to be fool proof so no matter how unskilled the volunteers, they still come out good 'n tasty!

We were meant to conduct ourselves as if we were alone in that place, but that never stopped the stampede from the meditation hall to the dining room at breakfast time. Imagine trying to jostle to get your bread into the toaster without being able to tell somebody "Hey! Your bloody toast is about to catch fire!". And of course the bananas in the fruit bowl were coveted by all - yet there were never enough for everybody. Last in was not best served!

At the end of the retreat I promised to vacuum the dorm room I'd stayed in, but I was overcome by a desperate need to get the heck out of there. I could see my car through the trees, and when no one was looking, I made a mad dash for it through the bush. Unbeknownst to me there was a thin wire fence around the boundary and I got hopelessly caught up in it, much to my chagrin. I had to head back to the room with my tail between my legs and perform the promised chore before I could exit like an adult through the front gate.

When I returned home I was immediately overtaken by the excitement of the remaining week of the Olympics. On one hand I was sorry I missed it. On the other hand, I knew I'd experienced something at the retreat that was invaluable to me (and I don't mean constipation!). I figured out how to be still - very important when one lives in a busy cosmopolitan city.

2 large carrots, peeled
2 large fresh beetroots, peeled (remember - put gloves on to do this!)
1/4 cup desicated coconut
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp natural yoghurt
1/4 cup sultanas

1. Grate the carrot and beetroot into a large bowl.

2. Sprinkle the coconut over the top.

3. Add the olive oil, natural yoghurt and sultanas then stir all the ingredients until they are well combined. The beetroot will stain everything, but don't worry about that! It looks pretty!

4. Serve immediately. Unfortunately this salad will not keep. If you find you have too much salad to eat in one sitting, reduce all ingredients by half the next time you make it. This salad is an excellent compliment to barbecued meats, accompanied by a nice green salad (or even a serving of Crazy Salad!).

Friday, September 03, 2004

Chicken Rice Wrap Rolls

In my early twenties I lived in an illegal structure on the top of a building in the middle of downtown Lan Kwai Fong, Central Hong Kong.

I will never forget the night I arrived in Hong Kong - I was wearing a navy blue suit and the minute I stepped out of Kai Tak airport into the humid summer night I began to swelter. I peeled my jacket off, got into a red taxi cab and proceeded to head from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. The radio blarred "Thieves In The Temple" by Prince as we sped past the walled city, which has since been knocked down. My eyes were assalted everywhere I looked by neon lights, and to my great surprise, the majority of the signs illuminated the virtues of smoking! Cigarette advertising had long since been banned in Australia, and it was bizarre to be accosted by it again, even if I was in a foreign place.

My apartment was in the middle of the night club district in Central Hong Kong. In the bottom of my building were two very popular restaurants - one which ran by day, the other by night. The day restaurant was managed by Vietnamese immigrants who sold all manner of meals for HKD$14 - the equivalent of $2.30, Australian. Their menu was in Cantonese, but thankfully they had pictures of everything they served so I was able to make my choice based on the visuals. My favourites were satay beef and rice (a dry yet spicey version of the Indian delicacy), shredded chicken and rice and of course the cheapest meal on the menu - rice noodle rolls.

At sundown the Vietnamese packed up shop, leaving their cranky dog, Sai Fai, to hang out with the man who arrived at around 7.00pm to cook congee on a rickety tressel table. The irony of Sai Fai was that her name translated as 'Little Fat'. She was far from little, nor was she fat. She was a mongrel, rusty in colour, quite dingo like in my opinion. Perhaps the reason she was so cranky was because she was half starved to death. She was surrounded by food day in, day out, yet she was as skinny as a rake. She would wait by the congee cook's feet hopeful that morsels would fall off the table and into her mouth. It rarely happened. It seems the Chinese are far less indulgent with dogs than we Westerners are. As a result, Sai Fai never failed to snarl at me whenever I made my way home from work in wee hours of the morning. Sadly, I always at my boot at the ready in case she picked that occassion to lunge at me.

I was in Hong Kong for two years and when I came home I brought a deep love of Chinese food with me - not the stuff you get at the lunch time takeaway counter. It was more the idea of its simplicity that appealed to me. Thank God Australia is crowded with Asian immigrants - they've made it so easy to get hold of the ingredients that are staple to the cuisine. At dirt cheap prices!

250g chicken breast mince
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp oyster sauce
1 tblsp tamari soy sauce
handful chopped shallots
pinch dried chili flakes
1 packet glass noodles
2 lettuce leaves (butter lettuce is great!)
bunch of mint
12 round rice noodle wrappers
1 large carrot, grated
2 tblsp crushed peanuts
sweet chili sauce to season

1. Heat frypan on stove top. Add olive oil and chicken mince, stirring with slotted spoon to separate chicken bits while it browns. Make sure the chicken does not ball together in clumps. Add oyster sauce and soy sauce and continue to stir. Add shallots and chili flakes and stir again until all ingredients are combined. Remove chicken from stove when cooked and allow to cool completely.

2. Put glass noodles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak for approximately two minutes, or until noodles are softened. Drain and set aside.

3. Slice hard vein out of middle of lettuce leaves. Cut each leaf into pieces approximately four inches by three inches square. Don't sweat if they don't look neat! You should get four to six pieces from each leaf. Set aside.

4. Flood a dinner plate or round platter with water. Carefully slide a rice wrap round into the water, ensuring it is fully emersed. Allow to soak for about one minute or until it becomes soft. Gently lift out of the water by the edges, allowing excess water to drain off. Lay rice wrap out flat on clean benchtop.

5. Place one mint leave leaf face down sideways on the rice wrap. Position it in the bottom third of the round closet to you. Lay a piece of lettuce over the top and arrange a small tangle of glass noodles on it. Sprinkle approximately one dessert spoon of chicken mince over the noodles. Add two pinches of the grated carrot and a pinch of crushed peantus, then finish by drizzling a little sweet chili sauce over all.

6. Fold the left and right sides of the rice wrap up over the filling - they probably won't connect in the middle. Don't worry about that! Fold the side closest to you up over the top then gently begin to roll the wrap, squishing the ingredients as you go to compact the filling. Hopefully you'll end with the edge on the opposite side to the mint leaf which should be visible through the rice wrap top.

7. Don't panic if your roll comes out a bit wonky on the first go! Practice makes perfect with rice wrap rolls. Try positioning things off centre, try squishing tighter as you roll, in fact just experiment until you get the effect you want. To serve, see if you can get hold of a banana leaf. Cut it into a nice rectangular shape to cover your dinner plate, arranging the rice paper rolls on top. Rice wraps will last for two days in the fridge.

Important! ...Handling Rice Paper Sheets
Your sense of touch will be the most important tool you have when it comes to handling the rice paper sheets. The water you soften them in need not be hot - but luke warm is nice because your finger tips will be wet during this entire assembly process. They don't have to be cold too!

Slide the rice paper sheet into the water, guiding the edge down to the bottom of the plate. This will fully submerge the sheet. If it floats, don't push it down - you could break it. Just wait for it to moisten and sink.

I place all my finger tips on the rice paper sheet and sway it a little under the water, feeling it as it hydrates. There is a point between totally dry and too soft that is perfect to work with. You will still be able to feel the imprint of the pattern on the sheet. The sheet itself might feel a little glutenous.

To pick the sheet up I carefully slide it out of the water on the side of the plate furthest away from me. I spread my fingers wide as I lift and press the sheet lightly against the heel of my palm. I let most of the water cascade off the sheet then position it on my chopping board so that it's as flat as possible. Be gentle at this stage! Tears develop easily in the sheet.

When folding the rice wrap over the filling, I find if the two side pieces touch in the middle they help seal the roll and hold the filling in place. Things can look quite fragile when you lift the side closest to you over the two connecting sides - don't worry! Just gently squish (compress) the filling as you roll and everything will be fine. If it's not, eat the failure and start again!

I've found the secret to rice wrap rolls is the leaf you use as the base. The shape and texture of the leaf will determine how well your roll will hold together so please, don't underestimate the imporance of your leaf preparation. A soft leaf with little or no hard spine is best - butter lettuce is my favourite choice.

If you have any difficulties with this recipe, please don't hesitate to post a comment - I'm happy to share what I know about making these babies turn out great!

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Tasty Tuna Sandwich

I've already told the story some weeks ago about my fish issues and how they stem from my dad's maniacal fishing obsession... but what I haven't talked about is how I got over my aversion.

It was back in 1994 when I was on a well being program which involved hiring a personal trainer. Guy was his name - he had me on a high protein diet which helped me reduce body fat and gain muscle mass. It was a great time in my life, training with Guy. Not only did I peel off stacks of kilos, I also started to look like Miss Hard Body 1994. I don't ever remember feeling that well or that physically capable before or since!

But what I didn't like was the amount of beef Guy's eating program had me consume. I had to eat 125g of animal protein a day. I actually think I ate twice that, which would explain why I was able to lift 125kgs on the leg press! I went Guy and told him that I thought I was eating too much beef. I was also eating chicken, turkey and eggs, but no fish. Guy's answer was simple: eat tuna.

I don't know what else I thought he'd say! I had seen Guy eat tuna and rice - it was disgusting! A pile of glutenous rice with the tuna straight out of the tin sitting on top. No salt. No pepper. No love and kisses! I complained about it to my friend, Cameron, and he immediately tried to convince me that canned tuna was absolutely delicious. I thought back to the days in primary school when my best friend used to turn up with fish paste on her sandwiches. Eew! She'd take the lid off her lunch box and a pungent aroma of over ripened fish would waft out, scattering us in all directions. Shockingly, she always ate the sandwich anyway and suffered from fish breath for the rest of the afternoon.

"They don't make fish paste out of tuna, do they?" I asked Cameron. He said no. Then he asked me over for lunch, saying he was going to show me just how tasty a tuna sandwich could be. When I arrived, Cameron showed me a tin of Greenseas Tuna in Springwater. Forget the one in oil, he told me... too fatty. He then proceeded to make me the most scrumptious tuna sandwich I've had in my life. I integrated tuna into my diet and I've never looked back!

90g tin of tuna in springwater (dolphin friendly please!)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 tblsp low fat whole egg mayonnaise
several lettuce leaves (minionette or coral are excellent choices)
3 slices ripe red tomato

1. Lightly toast the bread. This is very important and absolutely crucial!

2. In a bowl, combine the tuna (drain the springwater first tho!), onion and mayonnaise. Stir until all ingredients are well combined.

3. Heap the tuna mix onto one slice of bread. Arrange the tomato slices and the lettuce leaves over the top. Cover with the other slice of bread and either cut in half on the diagonal or leave it uncut if you prefer! Eat while still warm!

Note: for extra falvour, try adding chopped black olives to the tuna mix. You could also try a couple of capers!