Cooking Course: Moroccan Veggie

October 18, 2007

About two weeks ago, I received a surprise parcel at work. It was these two beautifully wrapped gifts from Peters of Kensington (a kitchen shop in Sydney). It had the message “Do not open before the 15th October”  inscribed on one of the pressies. I just LOVE surprises.

Lisa and Nathan with matching apronsThis was all the clever concoction of my wonderfully innovative boyfriend. On Monday (15th Oct) I got to finally open my pressies. They were matching Nigella Lawson aprons (blue stripes – very professional chef-like). We would be using them for a cooking course that Nathan had booked at this place called Accountrement in Mosman in Northern Beaches Sydney.

Lisa and NadineThe theme of the course was Moroccan vegetarian and the chef was a woman called Nadine (pronounced Na – dene NOT Nay-dene) Abenseur. She isn’t very well known in Aussie (which she seemed a little put out about) but as the author of the very well known book: The Cranks Bible in the UK, she’s actually pretty famous in the food world.

She was born in Casablanca and this was enough to make her cooking course really authentic. There were eight recipes altogether and each couple made one dish. The great thing about the course was that the recipes were very simple so the course didn’t drag on for hours. As soon as one dish was ready, we would all gather around and taste. We tried a number of variations of Moroccan Salad with roasted veggies and delicious haloumi.

NathanNath and I made two variations of Basteya (Moroccan pies). The one filling was spinach and feta, the other grilled eggplant and gruyere cheese. We made our own very oily pastry which was easy to make and baked into a melt in the mouth, golden delicacy. Yum!

Lisa and the datesThe highlight for me was the rose water marzipan paste which was stuffed into Medjool dates and then dipped into chocolate. I’m not even a big date person but believe me, this is the most scrumptious dessert. Perfect with a strong cup of coffee, I would imagine.

The course ended just before 9pm – which was well timed as I’ve been on similar courses that run on till past 11pm and people are exhausted by the time they leave.

Nadine was a fascinating person and a really good host of the night. She regaled us with stories of her new art venture in Byron Bay (where she lives). She also told us how she had been a staunch vegetarian since she was 19 and then woke up four months ago and just craved meat and now devours hamburgers.

On the way out, I bought her latest veggie book (it sounded as if she is moving away from cooking so it’s probably her last book for a while) and a wooden rolling pin.

I can’t wait to try out our new recipes at home.


Lindt Chocolate Appreciation Course

October 11, 2007

Lindt ChocsLast night I lived out one of my fantasies – 90 minutes in Willy Wonka Heaven. Ok, there was not an Oompa Loompa to be seen and the chef was slightly less outlandish than the original Roald Dahl chocolatier. But it was still choccy heaven.

 Three days before my birthday, I received an sms from my cousin Taryn. It went something like this: “should we buy Lisa a voucher for the Lindt appreciation course for her birthday?”. Clearly, in a tangle of thumbs, Taryn mixed up recepients. But at least I got to answer the text with a resounding “yes, please!!”.

So almost 8 months after receiving this special gift, I finally got to go on the course at the Lindt Cafe in Martin place.

 I was joined by Julie – who had also been given a voucher for her b-day by my sister. We were both notorious choccy lovers and united in the quest to consume as much choccy as we could.

The Lindt chef (I can’t remember his name) is the face of Lindt. He’s authentically Swiss with a tang of Aussie thrown into his accent and you can see he loves his chocolate.

liquid chocWe were given a small cup of hot chocolate on arrival. It was rich and smooth and up there as the most delicious hot choc I have tasten. If you order a Hot Choc in the Lindt cafe, you get a cup of molten choc and a cup of milk. It’s up to you to mix it in the right proportions…which I never seem to get right. It was so much better when the experts made it up for me.  I asked the chef for some advice on the perfect combo of liquid choc and milk and he said “Just practise”.

The course started with a look at chocolate through the ages and the launch of Lindt & Sprungli. Did you know that the company is actually Lindt and Sprungli but the marketers decided that foreigners outside Switzerland would struggle with the Sprungli name – so they dropped it. Apparently there are still two Sprungli descendents on the corporate board. I wonder how they feel about their name being banished?

taste plateAs the chef described the history and the making of chocolate, we each got a plate with about 8 different chocolate blocks to sample. We were warned to pace ourselves so we made sure to try and eat only half of each block and put the other half in the takeaway bag.

Out next plate was full of different kind of truffles. The chef then gave a demo of the truffle making and I volunteered to help out…which was pretty fun. I got a cool Lindt apron for my efforts.

Lisa helping chefFinally we went onto to taste cake and the Delice macaroons and topped it off with a sampling of ice-cream.

I was on a serious sugar high after all that! So I had a slither of 99% cocoa chocolate to bring some bitterness back to my tastebuds.

We could then buy Lindt cafe products for a discount and were given a lovely box of choccies and some truffles as a farewell pressie.

It really is a well- recommended course – professional, slick, generous and absolutely scrumptious.

 The only bad thing – you become a true chocolate snob – you’ll never be able to eat anything but Lindt after this.

yum yum

Tobogganing at Salamander Bay – NSW North Coast

September 5, 2007

Quad Biking (see previous post) wasn’t the last of our adventure in Port Stephens.

On the drive back from our farmstay at Nelsons Bay, Nath and I decided to stop off at Toboggan Hill Park. This is an adventure park situated in Salamander Bay a few minutes drive from Nelsons Bay.

The highlight of the park is their toboggan run. You climb into a black plastic toboggan (which is very similar to the Sentosa luge in Singapore) which has a lever which controls your acceleration and braking (forward to go, back to slow).

TobogganWe were first pulled to the top of the run by a conveyer belt and then once you’re at the top, we whooshed down the 1 km slippery route which has 11 bends.

It was really good fun and in the second time round, I was more confident and zoomed even faster around the bends.

There were a couple of other activities at the park, such as a dilapidated putt-putt course and a climbing wall. But on the ‘net they don’t make it a secret that they’re trying to sell the park to make way for apartments – so no wonder it’s a little wilted.

Quad Biking in Port Stephens – North NSW Coast

September 5, 2007

Last weekend, myself, Nath and his family headed out to Port Stephens. This is a bay which lies on the North Coast of New South Wales – about a 3 hour drive from Sydney. It’s made up of a couple of towns – including Anna Bay, Nelsons bay, Shoal bay.

 I actually stayed at Anna Bay when I visited Australia a couple of years ago so things were slightly familiar – but of course, so much has changed in my life since then.

We drove up after work on Friday night so tackling the unfamiliar roads in the dark was slightly harrowing and I wasn’t even the one doing the driving – poor Nath, I reckon he got the brunt of my stressful passenger behaviour.

LlamaWe were staying in a farmstay called Kookaburra farm. We had hired out 2 cottages which each had three bedrooms. Just outside was a farmyard with a variety of animals including these Llama-like creatures, a donkey, chooks (chickens) etc etc.

The donkey turned out to be a cock-a-doodle-donkey as it played the role of the rooster and brayed at 6am each morning. As you can imagine, I was unimpressed!

Naomi’s kids loved it though and they had fun milking the cows, collecting the chicken eggs, riding the ass and feeding the pigs.

quadbikesOur adventure of the weekend was quad biking on the awesome Stockton dunes at Anna Bay. When I was here the last time, we did some 4 x4-ing on the sands, but this was far more fun.

The guides started off by telling us that we better be careful ’cause if we weren’t we could puncture a lung, break every bone in our body, crunch ourselves under the bike and the only way out is by rescue helicopter which can cost upwards of 20 grand.

quadsQuite the thing for the confidence boost…not!! But it turned out that it was a little bit of build-up as the whole thing was actually quite tame. The council have given the quad operators a small portion of land that they can use for the biking so we had to stay within the orange beacons. After I got my confidence, I was quite tempted to roar around beyond the demarcated areas.

It was alot of fun and soon I was accelerating up and down the dunes and taking the corners at high speed. It was exhilirating with the wind flying through my hair as I zoomed over the sand.

After an hour or so, we were called back to base and transported back to the parking lot.

Australian Idols Mania

August 30, 2007

Last year, when I arrived in Australia, I got caught up in Idols Mania. Every Sunday and Monday evening, Tam and Rich were glued to the TV to see whether the hottie Saffa Dean would get through. Tam and I were very keen on Dean-o. Richard, not being dazzled by Dean’s gorgeous looks (as I have to admit T and I succumbed to), was voting strongly from Damien – who actually landed up winning.

Now, Idols has started again and I’ve made Nathan a fan. Every Sunday and Monday we’ve been laughing ourselves silly at the hillarious antics of the country-wide auditions. Some of these people have been pretty ridiculous, while there have been hints of talent rainbowing through.

We’re now onto the shaping of the final 24 into the final 12 – it’s nail biting stuff. And to make it even more competitive, Nath and I have introduced a wager.

DanielIf Daniel (the gorgeously sensitive scarf-loving day soapie star) with a magnificent voice wins, the Nath will take me to the famous Rockpool restaurant (at $150 a head for a 5 course meal).

mattBut if Matt (also a looker – aren’t us women lucky- but younger (he’s only 16) but I guess more teenie bopper posterboy) who also has a great set of vocals, wins, then I will have to take out a bank loan for dinner at Bennelong at the Opera House (it’s something like $110 for high tea so who knows that the damage would be for dinner).

And if neither wins, whosever star goes out first in the competition, has to take the other to a restaurant of their choice (but a little more modest than the winning wager).

I’m a little in shock as on Monday, Daniel didn’t get into the final 12 – while Matt did. I saw my credit card turning green at the thought of making the trip to chef Guillaume’s eatery. But never fear, there’s always the wildcard entry when the judges get to pick someone who wasn’t voted into the audience. I bet Daniel gets in. Actually, one second thoughts, maybe I’ve done enough with the betting. It’s starting to get expensive.

The competition heats up……

Edible Review: Brown Sugar – Bondi beach

August 30, 2007

Meet my new favourite restaurant – Brown Sugar situated in the world famous Bondi beach (not on the beach but up one of the side streets).

I’ve been there three times now and each time, I’ve enjoyed my meal thoroughly. It’s warm, friendly and cosy and the food is top-notch and has a wonderful home-made style with a dash of modern Australian thrown into the mix.

 The dining area is small – it must hold about 50 people so when it gets full (which it most often does), it can get slightly buzzy. But that just adds to the atmosphere.

menuThe menu is written on the large blackboard on the wall, although it hasn’t seemed to change during my visits – perhaps they adapt the menu seasonally.

I usually start with the lentil and haloumi salad which gives a nice healthy-ish boost to the meal. They not exactly overally generous with the cheese but haloumi is actually quite rich so sharing between two, you get about two strips of this rubbery but delicious cheese each. The lentils are interspersed with small blocks of beetroot and sweet potato.

fish pieBrown Sugar is famous for their fish pie (they use blue eyed cod for the filling). as you can see from the pic, it is large and golden crusted and looks really delicious. Since I’m not a bit fishy fan, I had to rely on my sister and mom for their verdict. My mom felt that the topping was on the saltier side but the creamy filling got a thumbs up from both. The empty dishes were obviously a good sign.

 I have my usual – fresh linguine pasta with roasted pumpkin and rocket. You won’t find this on the blackboard – it’s actually on their lunch menu which I happened to check out on the ‘net before coming to eat. Anyway, it was even better than it sounded and was bursting with taste. Perfect winter comfort food. I usually have this without the chilli oil but if you like a bite, then keep this in for some added spice.

They also have specials every night – like their seafood bouillabasse which a friend of mine had and seemed packed to the brim with a variety of seafood. Yet again, the bowl was licked clean.

Nathan’s tried the lamb (delicious) and the duck (roasted so that the meat just falls off the bone) which was served with caramelised pear and rosti. Others ordered the osso bucco (also reported to be excellent).

Dessert is another highlight – with the farm chocolate soufle a decadent treat – it’s a small choccy dome housing oozing chocolate molten lava – wow! The pannacotta (a special) was deemed delicious and the tipsy tart packed all kinds of fruit was also very good.

My favourite part though is paying the bill – who would have thought that. ‘Cause instead of the peppermint, they bring you a sliver of the most delicious melt-in-your-mouth brownie. I always ask for two pieces – one is never enough. I’ve tried to get the chef to bake me a whole brownie but i haven’t succeded yet. I will keep trying and I will keep on returning to Brown Sugar.

Theatre Review: Finding Nemo on Ice

August 30, 2007

A couple of weeks ago, Tamara and I went to see Finding Nemo on Ice at the Homebush Sydney Olympic Centre. It was my first time in Homebush – and we got there easily with the help of my GPS (although it struggled to locate the Acer Arena in it’s databrain – I had to find what road the stadium was in and then look from there).

If there was any hint of broodiness in my system, it was forcibly evicted by the 5-million-plus under eight year olds streaming into the arena. The hall was packed with stalls selling everything from finding nemo hats ($22) to the ridiculously priced Nemo stuffed toy ($44) and of course the ubiquitous flashing Nemo thingymabob ($30). I could just imagine the cries of “Mommny, please can I have a Nemo hat” or “Daddy, I simply won’t be able to live unless I have a Nemo flashing toy”. Well, it looks like the whines worked, ‘cause the arena was spotted generously with Nemo-hatted kids and ones sporting the light-up fish.

The show started and so did the camera flashes. I have never been to a live production that allowed photography from the audience.. We almost got evicted out of Priscilla last week when a mate of mine produced a camera. But here, it says clearly on the website that cameras are allowed (unbelievable!). And so my head was blipped with camera flashes coming from all over the room at 5-second intervals – you would think that we were at a world famous rock star concert, not a kid’s show about locating a clown fish.

The highlight of the show was probably the costumes – very elaborate. The skating was pretty basic, except for one number where there was some lovely partner lifts. I think the voice-overs were form the original movie so no surprises there.

So all in all, it was a fun romp with the fish but I’ll probably think twice before booking for a kids-only show again.