Is there anything more inspiring than someone who actually gives a fuck? Case in point, I’ve found myself in a conversation with Little Indi co-owner Frank Meura on the finer points of biodegradation. I think. I’m not 100% on what he’s on about, but I am appreciating the passion and earnestness for the subject. That, and the excellent cup of hand-pumped espresso (in the form of a macchiato) I’m sipping away at. I’m nursing it in its little bowl like its a precious baby.

I haven’t yet ordered anything to eat from their vego, sustainable menu, but judging by the delicious bruschetta-like item chef Rebecca Chippington (formerly Revolver) has just dished up, I probably should have; it is a gorgeous mess of boiled eggs, avo, herbs nuts and cheese piled high on a thick, seedy slab of Iggy’s bread, ‘made with love,’ she grins. I’m wishing I’d skipped brekky so I could have some.

It’s been almost a year since the pairs’ Surry Hills pop up ‘Naked Indiana’ finished. Their new project, Little Indi is located in an industrial laneway in Alexandria and serves a rotating vego menu with a raw/vegan focus. They are also selling the produce they use direct to the public, acting as a point of convergance for independent aussie food and drink businesses. Everything at Little Indi is local, at the very least, Australian; if they can’t get it from this wide brown land, they don’t use it. Everything they use is recycled and composted, nothing goes to waste. And the coffee, using Public Grounds beans, is damn good.

I notice the sign offering a 30c discount on coffees for those who bring their own cup for takeaway. Frank tells me that’s not really taking off. ‘I lend people my cups instead, but you know, I’m running low, so…’ I love this idea; I hate the sensation of sipping coffee from a paper cup; it just doesn’t feel like a coffee break if I’m gulping my caffeine from a flimsy disposable receptacle.

I have to say it’s refreshing to meet two people so genuinely excited about something I can’t much be bothered thinking about. In an age where concepts like ‘sustainable’ ‘green’ or ‘raw food’ can act as little more than buzzwords, meeting a pair of ethical entreprenuers who actually, no joke, want to ‘get active in saving our environment’ is kind of lovely. And the reason a place like Little Indi works so well is that even if you could care less about any of the things that drive it, if you love good food and good coffee, it’s for you. I’m thinking I’ll be back to pop in for a coffee or maybe some of that old-school cream-topped Tilba milk they use.

Little Indi
50 McCauley Street
Alexandria NSW 2015
Tuesday – Friday 7:00am – 2:30pm
Closed Weekends
www.insideindiana.com.au

Little Indi on Urbanspoon

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Home made Hummus. It’s one step up from buying a tub of dip and a box of crackers, and yet somehow, platingt up seems so much more decadent, like a special occasion. People don’t generally expect home-made snacks, as shop-bought snacks are neither rare nor expensive nor difficult to come by.

This recipe came from a supermarket magazine, either a Coles or Woolworths one (I’m sorry, I can’t recall, I only have the clipping). It never fails. It’s great with pita shards or carrot sticks if you’re feeling particularly virtuous. I’ve served it here with some awesome Multigrain Struan that I made in a Brasserie Bread Class the other day.

You could soak dried chick peas (it makes the hummus creamier). You could add coriander (it adds complexity). You could use lemon instead of limes (it’s a tad more exotic). But sometimes, isn’t it nice to serve up something plain, simple, spur-of-the-moment and yet somehow impressive? Classics are often classics for a reason.

Quick tip: use middle eastern tahini/tahina rather than the rock solid stuff my mum used to buy in health food stores. It’s often more expensive than ‘anglo’ tahini (is there such a thing?) but it’s much creamier. Just give it a stir, it’s infinitely more stirrable as well.

Piss-Easy Hummus

1 tin of chick peas, undrained
The juice of one lemon
1 Tablespoon Tahini
1 garlic clove, quartered
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

A food processor or immersion blender

Process the chickpeas with half their liquid and all other ingredients. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika.

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It has always amazed me how eager the Sydney food scene is to absorb reinterpret the so-called ‘traditional’ and ‘peasant’ foods of other nations into overpriced, ‘exotic’ wank. Besides the prohibitive prices of foods like tapas, Brazilian bbq and Cuban food, these reincarnations of cuisines which claim to be ‘inspired’ or ‘influenced’ by various countries almost always miss the point of the cuisine they claim to ‘draw inspiration’ from.

In Spain, where dinner is generally served at around 10pm, bars will offer tapas; small, simple, tasty, cheap morsels of food that you eat standing up to stave off hunger and stop you getting too drunk. This fulfils the dual purpose of soaking up alcohol and stimulating thirst. The point of tapas is not to fill you up. It is not even really to have a ‘meal’. People don’t sit down at a table, order a variety of drinks and food and then have them all brought over, eat, drink and pay at the end. In Australia, this style of serving is rare, and tapas becomes just an item on a menu, not a cultural practice.

What baffles me about this mistranslations is that restaurateurs and I presumably have a similar experience when we go to a foreign country. We’ll be walking the streets of whatever town in Spain as the bars will start to fill up with people socialising, drinking and snacking. The overall impression is of vibrancy. Life. Hospitality. Community. I look around me and think ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could bottle this and take it back home?’

Obviously we all view holidays through rose-tinted glasses. But it seems to me that many restaurateurs are viewing theirs with dollar-sign eyeballs. They want to bottle this experience and take it back to Australia, but they also want to pour half of it out, dilute it with water, mark up the price and sell it. They are translating a cuisine completely literally and without any of the nuance that comes from the culture it’s a part of. They take the food of Spain and plonk it down on an Australian restaurant table.

Now, it’s a fair point that Australian diners may not want tapas-style dining, just tapas-style food. Clearly a restaurant cannot force people to order this way or they won’t have any customers. I have noticed though that more and more pubs are serving tapas, and this seems more in line with tapas’ whole ethos.

The most basic tapas recipe is tortilla de patatas, sometimes known as tortilla española. In Spain you can buy it in supermarkets and chop it into wedges. It can be eaten hot or cold and consists of eggs, potatos and sometimes onions. I add garlic to mine but that’s completely optional. Serve with tomato sauce or aioli. Or plain.

Tortilla de Patatas
(serves 2)
2 medium potatos, peeled
½ a medium onion
2 cloves of garlic, optional
2-3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive oil
3 eggs
Salt, to taste

Microwave or boil the potatoes, whole until cooked but not mushy. Leave to cool slightly. Whisk the eggs with a pinch of salt.

Finely slice the onion and finely chop the garlic, if using. Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch, cut them into thick slices.

In a very small non-stick pan, heat the oil on a medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, then the garlic. Once the onion is golden, take the pan off the heat and turn the heat down low.

Add the potatoes to the pan. Mix them gently with the onion and garlic to combine but try not to break them. Pour over the egg mixture, making sure it gets into all the gaps, and place the pan on the heat.

The tortilla should cook very slowly and begin to firm up. Some people like it quite runny in the middle, some like it well cooked. I like mine firm so I leave it until almost completely set, 5-10 minutes.

When your tortilla is solid enough to flip, use a large flat spatula to do so. It won’t need much time on the other side as it is just to cook the top.

So, dear reader, what tapas dish do you crave?

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Do you have a dish that’s such a staple in your repertoire that you assume you’ve already cooked it for everyone you know? One that’s renowned all over town, prepared for every special occasion? Or used to be, back in the day.  ‘You’ve tried mum’s eggplant dip, haven’t you?’ my boyfriend has been asking me for the past 5 years. No. I. HAVEN’T. Ever! Until now.

I was very curious about this magical dip that made my boyfriend sigh at every other eggplant dip I’d ever seen him try. We could be eating the smokiest, most luscious baba ganouj in the world and no matter how amazing I thought it was, he’d say ‘Yeah, but it’s not as good as mum’s eggplant dip.’ Sigh. But then I’m sure we all have our family recipes that make all other versions pale in comparison in our eyes…

The worst part, especially when I was a vego, was never having tried this legendary concoction. So when I started writing Corridor Kitchen I was determined to get my boyfriend’s mum to prepare her Israeli Salat Hatzilim, made of mashed grilled eggplants, homemade mayo and garlic so that I would finally get a taste. And I’ve gotta say that it lived up to the hype.

When it was originally described to me, I don’t think I realised just what an important role the mayo would play in the overall flavour and texture or the dip. It makes it creamy and lush and the eggplant itself, grilled over open flame is smokier and more pungent than I could ever have thought possible. This dip will wow your guests and is totally worth the effort.

Salat Hatzilim
1 eggplant
1 egg yolk
Pinch salt
1/3 – ½ cup canola oil
A splash of water
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
3-4 cloves garlic, grated

Over a fire that is starting to die down (a combination of flames and embers), cook the eggplant, turning until blackened and blistered on the outside and cooked all the way through. Alternatively, you can cook it over a gas burner like this.

Leave eggplant to cool slightly and then peel off all the skin.

Using a food processor or immersion blender (or a whisk if you want to torture yourself), puree egg yolk until creamy. Add salt and once dissolved, pour the oil, drop by drop, constantly stirring, the way you would to make aioli.

Add the garlic, lemon juice and eggplant and blend together. Serve with pita or crudités, or as part of a meal.

What’s your favourite recipe from your childhood?

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It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have a very sweet tooth. So imagine my delight at every hostel I stayed at in Argentina and Uruguay when each breakfast came complete with dulce de leche, the classic spreadable caramel that is liberally dolloped on desserts, cakes and even toast. No matter how dodgy the coffee, how tepid the ‘orange fruit drink’ or how stale the bread, there was always dulce de leche to smother it and more than compensate. My favourite way to eat it was as ‘Flan con dulce’, basically a crème caramel slathered in the stuff. Heaven.

It’s quite the trendy condiment these days and I’ve gotta say I’m glad of it. If you’re craving alfajores de maicena, those delicious cornflour-based biscuits sandwiched together with thick dulce de leche and rolled sparingly in caramel, you could make them yourself, and no doubt I will at some point. But if you can’t be bothered, don’t worry as Argentinian cake shops are popping up all over Sydney, from La Paula in Kingsford to Baker Street in Ultimo to Sugarloaf Patisserie in Kogarah.

You’ve probably heard of this cheat’s version of dulce de leche, and I have to admit it’s not quite as good as the real thing, either homemade or mass produced. The traditional way of making it involves boiling and stirring a litre of milk with sugar until you reach the point of thick caramel deliciousness. However, the cheat’s version yields an acceptable result, and when you consider how little effort goes into it.

Cheat’s Dulce de Leche

As many tins of sweetened condensed milk as you want dulce de leche
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract per tin (if desired)

Put the tins of sweetened condensed milk into a large pot. Boil enough water to more than cover the tins. Place the pot on the stove and pour the boiling water over the cans. Bring to the boil.

Once the water is boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 hours, making sure the tins are completely covered with water at all times as there is a chance they could explode.

Leave the tins to cool in the pot for an hour or more. Empty each tin into an airtight container and stir through the vanilla if using. Serve on everything!

So, do you have a food that you’re craving from overseas?

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My friend Ms. Phonetic, a Texan girl born and bred, often laments the lack of good Mexican, never mind Tex-mex, available here in Sydney. When we were sharing a house back in the day, I remember her half-baked plans for tortilla stands, burrito buses and importing Mexican beer. More recently, I witnessed her untamed joy as we walked through Fiji Market on King Street, Newtown and came a across tins of Chipotles in adobo, Mexican hot chocolate, hominy and a plethora of Mexican sauces.

In recent years Australia has seen a lot of Mexican grill franchises popping up (Guzman y Gomez, Mad Mex and the like). Generally, these places will use large flour tortillas to wrap a burrito filled with your choice of grilled meat, rice, refried or black beans and various salsas, sauces, sour cream and always ALWAYS charge extra for guacamole. Ms. Phonetic maintains that they’re twice the price and nothing like the real thing. Debates about authenticity aside, I’ll have to take her word for it. I guess nothing beats a freshly made tortilla or a fresh batch of Mexican rice or real queso dip.

So, having only my experiences eating at lost-in-translation burrito franchises to go on, I worked to duplicate something of what I had tasted. I scoured the internet for ‘Mexican Rice’ recipes. This recipe is really easy and delicious, all I’ve done is added more spices and extra garlic. My favourite way of serving this is as part of a burrito, which I’ll outline in my next post, but it’s also an amazing side dish. I’ve yet to mix up a batch for Ms. Phonetic but when I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mexican Rice (adapted from The Frugal Chef)
serves 4 as a side dish.
1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil (I used Extra Virgin because that’s all I buy)
1 Tablespoon pickled jalapeños, finely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 a small onion, finely chopped
1 cup Basmati or other long grain rice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1-2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup liquid stock
1/2 cup water

Heat the oil in a small pan to medium high. Sauté the jalapeños, garlic, and onion for a couple of minutes. Add rice and spices and toast a couple more minutes.

When the rice begins to ‘pop’, quickly stir through the tomato paste. Add the stock and water and stir through.

Put the lid on and turn the heat as low as it goes. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Burning the bottom of the rice a little is encouraged. I generally turn off the heat after 15 minutes and just let the rice sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with black beans or chicken or in a burrito.

I know it looks ugly, but trust me. It’s delicious.

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There are these very rare moments where you stumble across something you never expected, a hidden gem. Even better are those times when someone lets you in on their little secret…

On a recent visit to Canberra, my Mum took me to the Aru Padai Murugan Temple, a Hindu temple in Torrens. To raise money for the construction of the temple they open a canteen every Saturday selling Sri Lankan food, much like the Sri Venkateswara Temple in Helensburgh does.

The food was crazy delicious, not to mention crazy cheap. The dish that really stood out for me was spinach with coconut. This is a tad strange because I’m not normally much of a coconut person, for example, I don’t really like lamingtons all that much. But this vivid green, plain salty dish won my heart and made me realise I actually love coconut in it savoury incarnations. So I did what all of us do in this situation and googled the hell out of Sri Lankan spinach recipes until I found on that fit the bill.

The great thing about this recipe, besides it being quick, easy, vegetarian and high in iron is that (if you have spinach in the freezer) you may have all the ingredients on hand, which makes it great for when you don’t feel like shopping. I served it with basmati rice cooked by the absorption method (directions below) and a big dollop of greek yogurt.

Spinach with Coconut
(makes 2 generous servings)
Canola oil
½ an onion, finely chopped
80g potato or pumpkin, cubed (optional)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground paprika
1 Tablespoon of red lentils
150g spinach, fresh or frozen, finely chopped
A handful of beans or snowpeas, finely chopped (optional)
Salt
Up to 1 cup stock or water
½ cup dessicated coconut
A smidgen of ground cayenne pepper

Parboil the potatos/pumpkin and lentils for 5 minutes, drain and set aside.

Heat oil and cook onion, cumin seeds, lentils and potato or pumpkin (if using) for 5 minutes with a pinch of salt to prevent browning.

Add some liquid and cook for another 5 minutes or until everything is soft.

Add all remaining ingredients and cook until spinach is soft. Serve with yellow rice.

‘Yellow Rice’
½ cup basmati rice
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds (optional)
Canola oil
Salt
Turmeric, for colour
1½ cups water

Heat oil in the pan on high heat and add rice and mustard seeds. Toast until seeds start to ‘pop’.

Add all other ingredients and immediately turn heat down as low as possible. Once rice is simmering just a tiny bit, put lid on and cook for 15 minutes. Leave pan on the stove with the heat turned off for another 5 minutes.

Do you have any food discoveries to share?

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Recently, my friends and I had a discussion about carbohydrates. We tried to decide if we were stranded on a desert island and were only allowed one type of carb, which it would be. And I’ve gotta say that although it’s a toss-up between pasta and potatoes  for me, potatoes won out. Their just so versatile and impossible to duplicate. In fact, I might go so far as to make them my desert island food. They’re what I’d eat if I were allowed only one kind of food for the rest of my life.

I won and amazing barilla prize pack from Not Quite Nigella recently. It included pastas, sauces a pizza kit and a packet of instant polenta. Awesome. The thing is, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the instant polenta. I’ve had a bag of the non-instant stuff in my pantry for about 2 years and only recently broke it out to make the polenta with bolognese recipe from ‘Poh’s Kitchen’.  I’m ashamed to say that’s the only time I’ve ever really had a go at it as I was under the impression I’d have to stir for an hour, but in reality polenta is a stir-every-so-often-type-deal.

So I was really excited when I stumbled on Malaysian-born Aussie Emily’s blog ‘fuss-free cooking’ and her post on Donna Hay’s Polenta-crusted baked potatoes, which called for instant polenta. Bingo. Two carbs in one dish! I couldn’t wait to make them, but of course I had to tweak the recipe quite a bit, as a pretty much always do. I halved the recipe as I only had half a kilo of potatoes on hand and I used Pontiacs rather than sebagos. I also left the potatoes unpeeled to make them extra crispy (also because I’m a lazy cook). I also used a pizza stone, because my oven is basically a glorified grill. Finally, couldn’t resist adding 3 cloves of garlic in with the polenta. I can’t wait to experiment with maybe a bit of romano cheese and cracked black pepper as well…

So how are they? Unbelievably crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle, with a gorgeous salty aftertaste and just a hint of garlic. I love their golden colour and how simple they are to prepare – definitely a case of results far outweighing effort.

Polenta-Crusted Potatoes
Serves 2 as a side dish

500g potatos, unpeeled and quartered (I used Pontiacs)
1/3 cup (85g) instant polenta
2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ teaspoon freshly ground salt
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped.

Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius (425 degrees Fahrenheit).

Place the potato in a large saucepan of salted cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for 8 minutes or until just tender.

Drain and return to the pan with the polenta, oil, salt and garlic. Shake the pan to fluff the potato and coat in the polenta. Give them a stir.

Place the potatos on a baking tray and roast for 30 minutes or until crisp and golden.

So, dear reader, if you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one carb, what would it be? Pasta? Potatos? Rice? Or something else altogether?

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If you’ve paid attention thus far, you’ll know I eschew any food prep that’s complex or time consuming, unless I know it inside out. I’m also a massive declutterer so I’m not into purchasing appliances unless they’re absolutely necessary (all part and parcel of having a tiny kitchen). In fact, the only thing that made me happier than my aunt giving me her old blender a few years back was a few months back when it broke. ‘Huzzah!’ I thought, ‘Now I can get rid of something!’

The problem with this philosophy is that sometimes you miss out on opportunities. From listening to my friend Gina talk, making ice cream is a complex process. It involves making a custard and having an ice cream maker taking up space in your freezer. Just thinking about doing either of these things makes me sleepy. As a result, I’ve never had a go at homemade ice cream, sorbet or gelato other than a few times with my Grandfather when I was a teen. Or a tween. Some marketing-type-word.

So when I went round to Gina’s to watch her make ice cream I was surprised that it could be so easy. I figured since she was doing all the work, I should supply the ingredients, so we chose a blackberry banana sorbet as I had a kilo of what I thought were blackberries in my freezer at home as well as a banana I’d never gotten round to using. As soon as Ms. G saw them she said ‘They’re not blackberries.’ So we made boysenberry banana sorbet instead.

Since the majority of the ingredients were frozen it only took about 20 minutes in the ice cream machine and then maybe an hour of freezing. Gina picked her ice cream maker up on ebay for twenty bucks but she says that with this recipe, you don’t even need one. Having blended everything together in a food processor, you would simply transfer it into another container and leave it in the freezer, stirring with a whisk every half hour until set. You could hypothetically do this with any recipe but it works best if the ingredients are already frozen. In fact, once the mix was blended we wanted to eat it with a spoon then and there!

Banana Boysenberry Sorbet (from ‘The Perfect Scoop’ by David Lebovitz)
1 medium ripe banana (mine was chopped and then frozen, but it doesn’t matter).
2 cups of frozen boysenberries (you could really use any berries).
½ Cup caster sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until most of the skins are liquidised. You can’t really strain them out because you won’t be left with much.

Chill in the ice cream maker as per its instructions or if you don’t have one, place immediately in the freezer, whisking every half hour until set. Consume ASAP.

What’s your favourite ice cream flavour?

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I have a friend, let’s call her Ms. G, who is in the habit of whipping up amazing and intricate dishes on a regular basis. I’m always excited to be invited round for dinner and luckily, she doesn’t live far and invitations are frequent. Ms. G is adept at homemade ice cream, paella, bread made from scratch, risottos…the list goes on. I’m amazed at her patience at skill and it’s serendipitous that she’s an expert in all those dishes I would never dare attempt.

In my own kitchen, my absolute favourite recipes are those that involve minimal effort but yield maximum results. This probably has as much to do with my lack of patience as it does pragmatism, but nothing gives me more pleasure than recipes that are zero fuss and yet somehow, absolutely stunning. It never continues to amaze me how many recipes pack a massive flavour punch with very few ingredients, very little effort and very little time.

Amaretti was one such happy surprise for me. I had always marvelled at their crisp outer shell and chewy centre, perfect with a ristretto or dunked in a cappuccino. Surely, I thought, they must be fiddly and time consuming to taste this good, something like macarons. And yet these little Italian biscuits were as forgettable as they were delicious; in fact it wasn’t until about a year ago that I looked online for a recipe. I ended up selling some to a cafe for a while but due to their understated appearance, that didn’t last long.

This is one of the easiest and fastest biscuit recipes you will ever make in your life- all you do is whisk a few ingredients together with a fork, roll the mix into balls and bake. Enjoy!

Stellar Amaretti
200g almond meal
¾ cup caster sugar
2 egg whites
¼ teaspoon almond essence
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 175◦c. Line two biscuit trays with baking paper.

Beat sugar, almond  essence and egg whites together with a fork until smooth. Stir in almond meal with fork.

With dampish hands, roll small amounts of the mixture into balls of 2-3 cm in diameter and place on trays. I usually fit about 11 per tray. Flatten them with your fingers and dust liberally with icing sugar.

Bake for around 12 minutes. They should not be brown, just starting to get a touch of colour on them. Cool for one hour before serving and/or storing in an airtight container.

Makes 25 amaretti, which will keep for up to 2 months. Makes a great Christmas gift!

So, readers, do you have a favourite no-fuss treat?

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