Landing in Madagascar

Today has been a day of cooking and prep for tomorrow’s lunch in Madagascar.

I’m  not sure that all the recipes are going to be resounding successes. The varenga (shredded beef) is amazing, as is the coco crevettes (prawns in coconut sauce), but I’m not sure about the Malagache fillet of pork – the flavours seem at odds with each other. I don’t know if it is the powdered mustard (normally I would use my fave Milawa mustard) or the brandy.  I very rarely use alcohol in my cooking, and invariably end up deciding that it would have been much better on ice (the alcohol that is, not the food).

As I write this blog, I’m watching the bonbon coco steadfastly refuse to set. It is supposed to be coconut candy, but it looks like it wants to be coconut ice. I think it might be up to Coles in the morning to get some sweetened condensed milk to turn it into what it wants to be. Which, I’m sure, is coconut ice.

On the upside, I’m really looking forward to testing the cocktail I’ve chosen – Madagascar Sour. It is made of lime juice, rum, vanilla liqueur and vanilla syrup. I’ve tried so many places for vanilla syrup with no luck, so asked at my local café. What a brainwave that turned out to be! Brodie and Liss were more than happy to help me out, and I’ve come away with plenty of vanilla syrup to make plenty of cocktails. Thank you, Brodie. Thank you, Liss. Thank you Highside Café in Bayswater. If any readers of this blog are in or near Bayswater, call in and get the best iced coffee you’re gonna get in the eastern suburbs – here’s a link to their facebook page. Go there. Now.

All that is to do now is make the clafouti, which I’ll do tomorrow.

Oh, and test the cocktails.

I’ll do that now.

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, Madagascar!

Flag MadagascarIt’s May, so off to Madagascar we go.

Lunch in Madagascar is on Sunday 21 May. Apart from Lauren and Will and the kids, we’ll also have Will’s parents (Viv and Bill) and my friend Jan. Jan and I worked in our very first job together as fresh-faced 17 year olds, and have recently reconnected. I cannot believe that 40 years have gone by, but we have been able to catch up as if it was only 40 days. It’s been wonderful.

Our menu is looking great – peanut soup, curried beans, shredded roast beef, vanilla bean fruity clafouti are just some of the choices. I’ve never made a clafouti before, but it looks easy enough.

Our primary tipple will be Madagascar Sour, which contains rum, lime juice, vanilla liqueur and vanilla syrup. I thought that vanilla liqueur would be the hardest of these ingredients to source, but a trip to good old Uncle Dan’s saw me come out with vanilla Galliano. It’s the vanilla syrup that is proving difficult to get. With none to be seen in any local shops, and my refusal to order it online and pay $16 for delivery, I’m going to have to get creative.

And some interesting facts about Madagascar? We know that it is one of the world’s main suppliers of quality vanilla, but it also supplies the world with cloves. And it provides half the world’s supply of sapphires. Who’d have thought?

Oddly enough, Madagascar was settled by Asians (from Borneo) before it was settled by mainland Africans, and its ecology is truly unique. Lemurs are found only in Madagascar, and a huge percentage of wildlife and plant species are unique to Madagascar. And it has the third largest coral reef system in the world.

Madagascar sounds both amazing and intriguing. I think I might have to add it to my travel wish list.

The Madagascar factsheet and placemat are attached below. The factsheet is only two pages this time – I could not find any famous people from Madagascar. It’s obviously all about the vanilla and the lemurs!

Madagascar_factsheet

Place-mat_Madagascar

 

 

 

 

 

Portuguese delights

Melbourne, you have outdone yourself! The weather for our lunch in Portugal was perfect. Again! We put a gazebo up this time to make it a little more festive, and to shelter us from the warm sun. It’s the end of April and we need shelter from the sun. Oh, how we love you, Melbourne.

Thirteen of us enjoyed lunch in Portugal – my two daughters, two sons-in-law, all five grandchildren, and my nephew and his wife and son. OK, Liam and Lani had cocktail frankfurts and, at eight months old, Eden didn’t really try too much (although he did make a decent fist of a party pie). But hats off to Lili who, at two and a half, tries everything and enjoys most of it. Well done, Lili.

It could not possibly have happened without Rob’s amazing help in the kitchen, as we churned out caldo verde (kale soup that tastes much nicer than you think kale could), marinated mushrooms (the star dish of the day), spicy broad beans, pork and mussels, peri peri chicken, beef spiced with ginger and curry leaves, baked cod, and sardines. The marinated mushrooms were scrumptious, but the sardines were a little confronting for most of us. Karma and Rob, who have been to Portugal quite a few times, liked the sardines, but the look and smell of them did not endear them to the rest of us.

Dessert was a great hit. I’ve always loved Portuguese custard tarts, and they were yummy. The almond tart was delicious, and definitely a winner.

Our Portuguese tipple of choice was green wine, which was different but very, very nice.

Elysia wrote the quiz this time, which was absolutely hilarious with Will and Scott getting themselves right into the spirit of taking quizzes seriously. Or not, as the case may be. My favourite answer was by Haiden. Elysia asked when the oldest bookstore in the world was established. Haiden’s answer was “the good old days”. Love your work, H.

Liam turns nine in May, so he has chosen our May country. What other country would an eight-year-old choose but Madagascar. So Madagascar it is. And no, Lauren, we will not be having roasted lemur. I’m looking forward to making something with vanilla! No. Not lemur with vanilla sauce!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Portugal

Portugal flagAnd so, the planning for Portugal has begun.

We will go to Portugal for lunch on Sunday 23 April, which is two days before Karma, Rob, Lili and Eden go back to London after being DownUnder for five weeks. It’s REALLY scary how quickly five weeks can go.

Anyway, back to Portugal. The lovely Scott and even lovelier Lara are coming to Portugal with us, so it will be a fairly large family affair.

The Portugal factsheet and placemat are attached below. Did you know that:

  1. Portugal was the first colonial power to abolish slavery, which was  50 years before France, Spain, Britain or the US.
  2. Portuguese is the sixth most-spoken first language in the world, and is the official language of nine countries.
  3. The oldest bookstore in the world is in Lisbon.
  4. Portugal is the oldest country in Europe. It has had the same defined borders since 1139, making it the oldest nation-state in Europe.

And the food. mmmmmm! Grilled chorizo sausages, piri piri chicken (the Portuguese invented piri piri sauce!), grilled sardines and, of course, Portuguese custard tarts. Portuguese green wine is worth trying as well, apparently. Dan Murphy’s, here we come!

It’s going to be quite a crunch timewise, so I’m very glad that Rob will be here to help. The only word to describe Rob is the kitchen is amazing.

Tchau for now

Portugal_factsheet

Place-mat (Portugal)

 

 

 

 

Jamaican delights

Welcome to Jamaica and have a nice day. Yes, it’s an oldie. But it’s a goodie.

Eden_Liam
My two boys – Liam and Eden

On yet another day of perfect weather we went to Jamaica on our virtual tour of the world in 80 cuisines.

Rob did a fabulous job in the days beforehand while I was caught up at work, and marinated the chicken and cooked the goat curry, which was awesome, as was the jerk chicken (two recipes!). The pork chops with coconut rum and caramelized pineapple sauce were delicious, due largely to the fact that I used fresh pineapple rather than the sugar-loaded stuff you get in cans.

Karma and Rob liked the salt cod and tomato fritters, but they were too salty for my taste. And I had skipped over all the Jamaican rice and peas recipes, due to my life-long and never-to-waver intense dislike of peas. But, they’re not peas! They’re kidney beans!! This is more than a little confusing for someone who runs a mile at the thought of peas. But wow, the rice and peas were yum, yum, yum.

Karma had cooked a Jamaican ginger cake that used fresh ginger. It was delicious.

And the cocktails. Wow, the cocktails.

The coffee cocktail was everything perfect.  Jamaican rum, Kahlua, coffee and cream. Except that we were supposed to use hot coffee and whip the cream. We had the coffee cold, the cream not whipped, and we added ice-cream for extra creaminess. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

And when we were coffee-cocktailed out, we moved onto pina coladas. Thank you, Will – they were fantastic as well. And thanks for leaving the leftover Bacardi at my place – much appreciated!!!!

So with all that alcohol, we didn’t actually get to have any rum and coke. Which was, perhaps,  very un-Jamaican of us.

Thanks again to Elysia for taking the photos.

Lauren, Liam and Lani drew up the quiz for us, which, by tradition should only be drawn from the factsheet and place-mat, but we let Lani (who has just turned five) add her own question even though it was not particular to Jamaica. The question was “which is bigger out of cats and dogs”. That’s a great question, Lani!

It was so very wondrous to have my whole family together in one place. And we’ll all be together next month for Portugal. Rob and I are already hunting down Portuguese recipes. Any suggestions are welcome …

Place-mat (Jamaica).1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamaica, here we come

Jamaican rumResearch and planning are well under way for our lunch in Jamaica. This is going to be very exciting because Karma, Rob, Lili and Eden will be here. The Aussie branch of the family is so excited – they’ll be here for five weeks, so we’ll have lots of opportunities for baby cuddles with Eden (who is eight months old) and playing with Lili, who is two and a half. Karma chose Jamaica for March, and Rob has chosen Portugal for April.

As is becoming the custom, when planning for our culinary virtual tours, my mind turned to what alcohol we should have. OK, it’s Jamaica. It’s a given. We’ll have rum. And off we go to Uncle Dan’s in Ringwood to check out their stocks. James was amazingly well versed about what was worth getting and what was not. I ended up with a bottle of Appleton Estate Signature blend rum. Given that we’ll have five adults at this lunch, I’m sure there will be another visit to Uncle Dan’s.

So, some interesting facts about Jamaica?

  • Jamaica is one of only two countries in the world that does not have red, blue or white in its flag. Do you know what the other country is?
  • There are hardly any snakes in Jamaica (mongoose were introduced to kill the rats in the cane fields, and after the mongoose took care of the rats, they turned their attention to the snakes). The ones that are there are not venomous (unlike Downunder!)
  • Ian Fleming wrote ten of his James Bond novels in Jamaica. He designed his dream home, had it built in Jamaica, and called it Goldeneye.
  • Jamaica was the first country in the world to impose economic sanctions against the apartheid regime of South Africa.
  • Jamaica has made significant contributions to two of the most important things that make the world go round – music and sport. We love you, Bob Marley. We love you, Usain Bolt.
  • The movie Cool runnings is not an accurate  depiction of Jamaica’s entry in the 1988 Winter Olympics. In fact, after reading the real story, the movie is rather cringe-worthy.

 

 

 

 

 

Moroccan delights

Oh, Morocco. How you amazed us with your flavours, your subtlety, your variety!

Our lunch in Morocco was wonderful. On another perfect Melbourne summer’s day, we decided to eat outside under the shade of the neighbour’s trees.

I was worried during the menu planning stage that it would all taste the same. Every savoury dish seemed to have dried cumin and coriander in it and fresh coriander and parsley on it (as a garnish). But I should have known that I could trust centuries of Moroccan cooks – every dish was deliciously different, and each complemented the other perfectly.

I would never order soup in a restaurant, but decided to make Harira (lamb and chickpea soup) as a mark of respect to Islam. According to my recipe book, harira is served to break the fast during Ramadan. It was the most hearty, delicious soup I have ever eaten, and will most certainly go into my list of favourite recipes. I suspect that harira is a bit like spag bol, in that there are many different variations – all of them good, but all of them subtly different. The version we tried could not be improved, I’m sure. It was simply wonderful.

Another recipe to keep is beyssara, which is broad bean dip. Except that it needs dried broad beans, and I left it far too late to source non-traditional foods like dried broad beans! I used canned butter beans instead, but the result was delicious. Maybe even better than homemade hommous.

And the filled savoury pancakes! Homemade pastry filled with savoury minced beef then rolled and fried. So very yummy!

The slow-roasted lamb with cumin was easily one of the best roast lamb dishes I’ve had. It was even better than the slow-roasted lamb shoulder at Cumulus Inc. And if you’ve ever had the slow-roasted lamb shoulder at Cumulus Inc, you will understand what a big call that is. It was impossible to stop picking at it.

And if you try nothing else from these pages, try this. Cut the skin and rind off a chunk of watermelon, cut the flesh into 2 cm cubes, put them into a bowl, sprinkle with rosewater, refrigerate for one hour, then sprinkle with chopped mint before serving. This is seriously pimped-up watermelon, and it was even more impossible to stop picking at than the lamb was. In fact, we didn’t stop picking at it, and managed to eat half a watermelon between us.

And the mint tea at the end of our feast settled our stomachs nicely, just as it is supposed to do.

It was so very hard to pick a favourite out of this menu.

I had said that Chile would be a hard act to to follow. Move over, Chile – Morocco is now the benchmark.

And next month, it’s off to Jamaica. The land of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, jerk chicken, reggae music. Planning starts next week. Watch this space …

The descent into Morocco begins

Fasten your seatbelts and stow your tray tables away, we’re commencing our descent into Morocco!

My friend Viv (who is also Will’s mum) gave Lauren a Moroccan recipe book for Christmas, so I have dipped heavily into that for our lunch in Morocco. My first pass through gave me 18 recipes to try, and given that Liam and Lani are unlikely to try any of it and Elysia will be very hesitant, it leaves three big people to eat 18 lots of food. Ummm, that just ain’t gunna work.

So, after some heavy culling I got it down to 12, and will make half, and even quarter, quantities. My workmate, Jess, doesn’t think I understand the meaning of the word “cull”, but some very difficult decisions were made – it was hard work, Jess!

This is what our menu looks like:

  • Broad bean dip
  • Warm olives with lemon and herbs
  • Fried pastries with seafood
  • Filled savoury pancakes
  • Lamb and chickpea soup
  • Slow roasted lamb with cumin
  • Spicy prawns
  • Fried potato cakes
  • Beetroot and cumin salad
  • Tomato and preserved lemon salad
  • Watermelon with rosewater and mint
  • And, of course,  mint tea. It’s not a visit to Morocco without mint tea.

And maybe hot dogs for the kids, which I will serve on some of the blue platters I bought when I was in Morocco. Which will make them Moroccan hotdogs. Easy peasy!

Looking later through the menu, I realised that I had left off those two most Moroccan of foods – tagine and couscous. The tagine I have is rather big, so I might have to leave it out for this time. Although maybe I could serve some of the food in the tagine. And I bought some couscous – just in case we’re still hungry.

The Morocco fact sheet and place mat are attached. I wonder what questions Quizmaster Will will come up with.

morocco-factsheet

place-mat-morocco

OK. Now’s its off to the supermarket, then hitting the kitchen for lunch in Morocco on Sunday.

wadaeaan al’an

(my translate app tells me that that means “goodbye for now” but I guess it could mean anything)

 

 

 

 

 

Morocco, here we come

It’s February 2017. That means Morocco.

map_morocco

djemaa-el-fna-05
Djemaa el-fna at night – the best time to visit

I have been extremely lucky to have been to Morocco twice.  In August 2009, Karma, Lauren, Will, Liam and I had a few days in Marrakech. Truly, if there is one place to visit before you die, it has to be Marrakech. Djemaa el-fna is the most wonderful souk imaginable, and is all noise, colour, action, smells – everything that stimulates the senses. Beware the water sellers though (see below).

 

In March 2009, I went on a 10-day tour of Morocco. It is the most amazing country, and every moment there was a lesson in life. I’m afraid I let myself be disappointed in Casablanca – maybe I expected Humphrey Bogart to be at the airport, gaze in to my eyes and say “here’s looking at you, kid”. But, of course, that was never going to happen.

hassan-ii-mosqueCasablanca is the home of the fabulous Hussein II mosque, which according to Wikipedia (and we know that Wikipedia never lies) has the tallest minaret in the world, at 210 metres. It is an extraordinarily beautiful building, but its beauty creates a stark contrast to the rest of Casablanca.

And Fez. Don’t forget Fez. Fez is the home of the one of the largest medinas in the world, apparently it is listed as a World Heritage Site. Like Marrakech’s Djemaa El-fna, it is a wonderful assault on the senses. A visit to the tannery at Fez is another Moroccan must, although I’m sure it smells worse than Labyrinth’s Bog of Eternal Stench (I miss you, David Bowie!). They give you bunches of mint to sniff when you go in, but it is entirely ineffective – that’s how bad it is.

fez-medina-tannery-07
The tannery at Fez – worse than the Bog of Eternal Stench

And so to the water sellers.

We were warned about how pushy the various tourist touts in Morocco would be. But the water sellers at the Djemaa El-fna take the cake in my experience. We were warned to always negotiate a price before taking photos of tourist touts, and ten dirham was the standard and, at about A$1, it wasn’t going to break any banks.

I asked a water seller if I could take his photo. No problems, that’ll be ten dirham. So then he called some of his mates over and said he would use my camera to take a photo of me with them. If I wasn’t so naïve, I would have heard the alarm bells then. The photo was duly taken, and I asked for my camera back. But, suddenly, the cost had gone up to 100 dirham. When I said that we had agreed on ten dirham, the water seller (the one in the middle in the photo below) reminded me that he had my camera. Ten Australian dollars later, I had my camera back.

To be fair though, I did see the water sellers giving money to the beggars in the souk, so they were prepared to spread their income around. I understand that giving alms to the poor is one of the five pillars of Islam, so I didn’t mind too much that my $10 was used in a respectful way. And they have a living to make as well. I never let any tourist touts go near my camera after that, though.

water-sellers-01
Marrakech water sellers – a photo with a back story!

Chilean delights

img_0705
The table set and ready to go

What a great choice Chile was for our first international lunch! The table looked incredible, and we hopped into the food with great gusto.

I was able to do a fair bit of preparation on Saturday afternoon, which left us with the easier recipes to finish off on Sunday morning. Elysia did a great job at alternately constructing the Torta De Hojas and photographing the food – all the photos on this page are thanks to her!

Lauren and I liked the Avocado Shrimp Ceviche best, but the Chapaleles were a hit as well. And how can Chapaleles not be a hit – pan-fried mashed potato with blitzed pork crackling is always going to be a winner. The pork emapandas were also great, and definitely worth cooking another time, but the Leche Asada was a little too eggy for our palates. The pisco sours were as good as they were last week, except that I’m sure they were even stronger!

Lauren and Will called into Dan Murphy‘s on the way and bought some Chilean wine, which we can highly recommend.

Our factsheet is attached below. Will was the quizmaster and, true to form, devised some fairly obscure questions. Questions like “Which world leader would be most welcome in Chile?” You have to study the factsheet and think outside the box to get the answer to that one.

chile-factsheet

Check out the photos below. Thanks Elysia for taking them!

Chile will indeed be a very hard act to follow.

But now it’s adios to Chile and ssalamū ‘lekum to Morocco.