Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tracey’s Thai-ish BBQ Whole Snapper

As promised, this is one of Trace’s recipes amongst other Thai dishes she cooked for us a few weeks ago.
“Thai BBQ Grilled Fish

1 whole snapper (scaled and gutted)
1 thumb sized piece of Galangal
1 thumb sized piece of Ginger
3 stalks of Lemon Grass
Coriander roots (3 or 4)
3 chillies
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 clove garlic

Blitz all the ingredients (except the fish) in a food processor, or finely
chop and pound in a mortar and pestle.

With the fish, cut a few slits across the flesh from top to bottom on both
sides.  Squish some of the above mixture in the slits and put
The remaining mixture in the stomach cavity (for want of a better

BBQ or Bake for approx 20 minutes (depending on the size of your fish).
To check the fish is cooked, poke a knife in the flesh and if there is no
resistance it should be cooked.”

Tips: This dish will go well with Thai Seafood Sauce:

1 Chilli (you can remove the seeds if you don’t like too much heat)
2 cloves of garlic
Juice from 1 or 2 limes
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped coriander leaves

Use your mortar and pestle to smash and mix the dry ingredients together – then add liquid ingredients (or you can blitz everything in food processor) –dip the fish (or any seafood) in this sauce and enjoy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

From Breaking Bad to Ryan Gosling

We watched the finale of Breaking Bad not long ago – and oh, man what a TV series it is. It is super fantastic and applauses to actors and actresses especially Bryan Cranston who played Walter White in the series. I will not go into details about his performance – Sir Anthony Hopkins has said enough and never mind Oliver Stone and Britney Spears. Because of Bryan Cranston’s performance in Breaking Bad – we are exploring the films he was in, post BB. We have just picked “Drive” to start with….and not been disappointed.

Apart from blood and gut bits, it is beautiful. The expressions of affection between characters are very sweet – nothing much needs to be said (no sex scenes in this film – they are not really required). The story line is short and simple yet complex. Everything is fantastic from lighting, cinematography and Ryan Gosling – with those half smiles about the corner of his mouth.

It’s not that Bryan Cranston is extraordinary in this film, he’s good but the whole film is brilliant and  much more Gosling’s  than Cranston’s. If you have not yet seen this film – go get a rental DVD or buy it from Amazon – you can always cover your eyes during the violent parts like I did.

Note: The photo above is from Amazon.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mad Dog and Bonnie

This sheepdog is bonkers, you can see it in his face and his owner confirms it. Bonnie meets him in the park and they play together but he takes off from time to time to try to catch sparrows high up on the tree and barks and jumps at them.

Bonnie just looks at him, like, are you OK dude? – I like catching birds too but I am not that ambitious as you are.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Chocolate Brownie

Why are brownies served in many cafes here often dry and heavy? I like my brownie a bit cakey, moist, not too sweet and very chocolaty. And it needs to be chocolaty – blondie will not do for me – to be honest. So if you are like me, you will find that this recipe yields quite a pleasing result.

You will need:

200 grams dark chocolate, chopped or dark chocolate melts or dark chocolate buttons
120 grams butter
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
Icing sugar to garnish

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Line 20cm x 20 cm cake tin with baking paper and set aside. Sift flour, salt and baking powder together and set aside.

In a saucepan, melt butter and chocolate melts on very low heat until the chocolate just melts – with lumps here and there but don’t worry – remove from heat and stir until it all melts. Beat 2 eggs lightly in a jug. Transfer melted chocolate to a mixing bowl – let the mixture cool down a bit before beating eggs into it. Add sugar and vanilla extract – beat well. Add flour and mix until combine.

Spread the brownie mixture evenly in the pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Leave to cool before cutting into squares - sprinkle icing sugar through sieve.  Invite a neighbour over for a cup of coffee
– serve freshly baked brownie as is or with a dollop of cream on a nice plate.  It’s moist and it’s rich – try to resist eating it all on your own!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Spring in the Neighbour’s Garden: Ajuga

These are Ajuga plants in my neighbour’s garden. Spring is officially here and plants grow like mad. Barbara’s garden is a kind of cottage garden with a lot of flowering plants of different colours and it is very pleasing to look at. And not for long her hydrangeas will also in blooms.

I like purple and blue flowers but do not have many in my own garden. Maybe I didn’t tell the landscaper about that so we ended up with a few variegated agapanthuses that flower once a year. But I cannot complain as I know you have to work quite a bit on cottage gardens while the modern gardens are quite low maintenance.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mr Blue

We have made Spikey his blue name tag recently and he is wearing it proudly with his blue flea collar. We cannot do such thing with Pipi – she will either kill us or die if we dare put anything around her precious little neck!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Crock Pot Dinner – Chicken Pieces and Paprika

I go to the gym (almost) every Friday night between 5.30 and 6.30 and we normally have dinner at 7.15. To avoid doing everything in a rush, I try to prepare dinner before hand and crock pot seems to be another perfect answer for me – in cooler weather anyway.

Slow cooker roast chicken pieces with Paprika is another pot roast favourite of ours. To serve 2, you will need:

4-6 pieces of chicken thighs, skin on and bone in, but trimmed of excess fat and skin
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, bruised with flat of a knife
Salt & pepper
1-2 teaspoons of Paprika
1 teaspoon of corn flour

Rub the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and brown them first in a pan over high heat - you can omit this browning if you like since the paprika will also give them a little bit of colour.

Line the crock pot with onion and garlic then place the chicken pieces on top – skin side up. Use a fine sieve to sprinkle paprika evenly over the chicken. Set the slow cooker on low for 4-5 hours (and go to the gym or do whatever you need to do).

Lift the chicken pieces with onion and garlic, rest them in a deep dish and cover with foil. Transfer the liquid from the crock pot to the sauce pan, mix corn flour with a little bit or water and add to the pan. Cook over medium heat until reduced and thickened – stir frequently. Add more salt and pepper to the gravy.

Serve chicken pieces with mash and gravy. Dinner’s done!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Tracey Doing Thai

We had dinner at Marcus’ and Tracey’s on Saturday night and guess what – she was cooking Thai. Marcus said Tracey was a bit anxious cooking Thai food for me and Bob.

She should not have been worried – the food was yummy. We had grilled whole snapper with lemon grass, grilled prawns with tamarind sauce and fantastic Carrot Som Tam (Thai spicy carrot salad) and divine coconut rice. I could have stuffed myself with the latter two happily and nothing else but the snapper and prawns were also irresistible.

Thai cuisine has become widely known internationally in the past 30 years or so – and it is wonderful to witness its popularity in a home cooking ambience. Many food snobs might have cried for authenticity but I beg to differ. Food evolves all the time – haven’t we fried spaghetti with chilli, salted fish and basil in Thailand and people applause the adaptation? People cook food the way it suits their palate. Even mega fast food chains like KFC and Macas have to add special Thai-ish options to their menu to suit Thai palate and entice Thai consumers. And just coming back from Thailand after a month long visit – a lot of Thai food dishes in Thailand have also changed – both in tastes and appearances. Mind you, Asia, including Thailand did not know chillies until introduced by the western navigators/traders a few centuries ago. So, IMHO, authentic cuisines should not be oh so sacred.

We do not have all the ingredients for Thai food readily available here in New Zealand so we have to improvise – even for Thais. As long as you have a good palate and good ingredients (that can be improvised), you can cook yummy food of any nationality I think. So well done Tracey and Marcus – can’t wait for your next Thai dinner!

I’ll ask Tracey to share her recipes with us, especially the coconut rice – there are so many Thai dishes that go well with it. I’ll post the variation here sometimes.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Come on in, the Water’s Fine

When we had heavy downpours two weeks ago, parts of the park had been turned into many small puddles. What is it with puddles and dogs (and kids)? They seem to be best of friends aka partners in crime, I think. Bonnie ran happily through these puddles the other day. When I have a bath filled half way with water at home she doesn’t seem to like it especially when there is shampoo involved.Funny that!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Panna Cotta & Fruit Salad – Asian Style (เต้าฮวยเย็นฟรุตสลัด)

They used to serve this for pudding in most Chinese restaurants in Thailand. But food fashion seems to rule it too ‘70s so it is not as popular as it used to be. My version might not be the same as theirs – one notable difference is that I don’t use Almond essence to flavour my panna cotta but you can, if you like.

Fruit Salad
1 big navel orange, peeled and cubed
1 big golden Kiwi fruit, peeled & cubed
½ apple, peeled & cubed
2 tablespoon canned pineapple chinks in juice
¼ cup pineapple juice (from the can) or orange juice
3-4 teaspoons sugar

Mix fruit pieces together in a bowl. Add sugar into fruit juice and stir until sugar is dissolved. Pour the juice over the fruit cubes and refrigerate.

Panna Cotta
1 ¼ cups milk
1 ¾ teaspoon gelatin powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 mil water

Sprinkle gelatin into a jug containing 10 mil water and set aside. Warm milk and sugar in a saucepan on gentle medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract, then pour the mixture into gelatin. Stir until well combined and let it cool down a bit before pouring into a rectangular mould – I use plastic container with lid. Leave to cool down to room temperature and refrigerate for at least 3 hours but over night is best. When it is set, cut into cube, divide the cubes into 4 bowls and ladle your fruit salad on top. Panna cotta in this recipe will be a bit firmer than normal as you have to make cubes of it - but not too firm. You also can use canned fruit salad if you can’t be bothered.

Monday, October 7, 2013


While I was in Thailand, I tried to eat as many tropical fruits as I possibly could. They are much cheaper there. I had been dreaming of mangoes, mangosteens, lychees, longans and rambutans weeks before I departed for Bangkok. Alas, to my disappointment, apart from longans and rambutans, everything else seemed to be insipid this time round. Is it because of the floods a couple of years back that washes away the nutrients from the soil? I really don’t know.

Rambutans in Thailand are of the red variety. These hairy fruits have divine whitish sweet flesh.
The rambutans we bought whilst in Thailand were gorgeous. The flesh was not too wet and came away easily from the stone. They were even more gorgeous chilled. I have not seen fresh rambutans here in New Zealand yet, only in cans (or maybe I haven’t looked at the right place). I think the fruits can be easily treated either with chemical sprays or heat treatment to comply with NZ bio-security and health standards. Many years ago, I had a chance to visit the orchard in Chantaburi, south-east of Bangkok. Nothing could beat the taste of ripe fresh fruits just plucked from the tree.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Bangkok Cats

I am partial to tabby cats I don’t know why. Gingas are OK but not my favourite – they look too much like their bigger cousins, lions and tigers.

In front of an unassuming restaurant in Bangkok lives this tabby cat. It’s not a ronin (masterless..see here) cat as  it’s got a collar and looks quite well fed and looked after. So it’s probably owned by the restaurant owner or one of the staff or even owned collectively by the staff.

In Thailand, if you live near swamps, your cats and small dogs could be in danger of being a snakes’ feed (I mean big snakes like pythons) – as experienced by my aunt and uncle who tried to wrestle their cat from the python but the poor thing did not survive. Thai cats are normally tiny – much smaller than cats in New Zealand so they are easy preys.

Here we are lucky that our cats and dogs do not have to dodge any snakes, big or small, and we do not have to call a snake wrangler like they do in Thailand.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Seafood Chowder

I went to one of the upmarket food stores in the city with Barbara two weeks ago and bought a tub of seafood chowder to try. The cook made this with coconut milk and load of thyme. Bob ate this and said he did not think it was improved from basic recipes. So the following week I made my version of Seafood Chowder from basic American recipe – completed with not so Oyster crackers.

You’ll need:

For Chowder
100 grams prawn meat, chopped
200 grams firm white fish, cubed
200 grams cooked mussels, chopped to chunky pieces
2 large potatoes, chopped
1 carrot, chopped in halves
½ onion, chopped
50 grams bacon, chopped
¼ cup cream
8oo ml fish stock or chicken stock
Several dashes of Sri Racha chilli sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
A tablespoon of chopped parsley or coriander to garnish
A bit of oil and butter for frying

Place prawn, fish and mussel pieces in a saucepan and add about a litre of water – bring to simmer and poach for about 15 minutes. Lift the meat and reserve the cooking liquid – this will be used as fish stock.

On medium high heat – brown the bacon pieces, add onion and a bit of butter and oil (you can omit butter and oil if your bacon pieces have already rendered enough oil). When onion is soft, add potatoes and carrots. Fry a few minutes further then add 800 ml of fish poaching liquid (add water to make up to 800 ml if needed). Bring to the boil, place the lid on and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 30 minutes. Leave to cool for a bit and lift the carrot and a several pieces of potato. Blend the rest in the blender – your soup will be thick and creamy at this point – you don’t have to blend until totally smooth, just leave a few chunks of potato will also be nice. Return it to the sauce pan, chopped the carrot and add to the pan with potato pieces. Season with salt and pepper - I also use a bit of chicken stock powder. Bring to simmer – add fish, prawns and mussels. Simmer a bit further then add cream and chilli sauce. Ladle into a soup dish, sprinkle with chopped coriander and a round of white pepper. Serve warm with crackers.

For Not so-Oyster Crackers
1 Sheet of ready rolled Puff Pastry, thawed
Sea Salt and Black Pepper   
Soft butter

My cheat’s crackers are quick and easy. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Just spread butter onto the pastry and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Cut the pastry with sharp knife into 3 cm square. Bake until puffed and golden and you’re ready to go.

No complaints from Bob, so it must be quite OK:)