Friday, January 31, 2014

Cinderlad (Boy version of Cinderella)

From being homeless, abandoned, frightened, starving and desperate a year ago, Spike today has somewhere he can call home with chaise lounge to recline on (plus that silk cushion from Jim Thompson’s).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Braised Beef with Dark Beer

This is super simple dish but you need about 2 hours cooking time – however, prep time is not long only about 15 minutes or so. And while it is simmering away; you can do some other things you need to do.

1 kg diced beef
1 bottle dark beer – I use Monteith's
1 large onion, sliced
½ cup all purpose flour
Salt & pepper
Canola oil to fry

Heat the oil in the casserole over medium heat. Add salt & pepper to the flour – you can do it in plastic bag or in a bowl. Dredge the beef in the flour mixture - shake off excess flour and fry until brown on all sides, drain on paper towel lined plate and set aside. In the same casserole, scrape all the brown bits and set aside with the beef – add more oil and fry the onion until soft and opaque. Return the beef to the casserole - add beer and bring to the boil. Place the lid on the casserole and reduce the heat so that it simmers gently. Leave to simmer for 1 1/2 hours or more, stir from time to time so the flour does not stick to the bottom of the casserole – until the beef is tender. Add more seasoning if needed. Serve warm over creamy mashed potato and steamed carrots and beans.

On Canola Oil – I have read the newspaper the other day about how some people believe that you should not consume canola oil because it was used to make mustard gas! I have heard a lot of food myths before but this one is new to me. I use canola oil a lot – it’s bland so it’s good for variety of dishes and it’s low in saturated fat – good for me as my cholesterol is a tad on the higher side.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Panama Hat

Hats are back in fashion for men again in the past few years – thanks to stylish men like Leonard Cohen, Johnny Depp and err….Walter White (Breaking Bad). Bob has started wearing hat (apart from wool beanie!) a couple of years ago. A few years back I bought him a couple of trilbies so he can be faking bad when he goes out for his poker nights.

This summer he has fancied a straw hat for dog walking – straw trilby is fine but I think Panama is more stylish. So I bought him a straw Panama hat for his birthday this year.

I remember my grandfather (on my Dad’s side) wearing one for his outings when I was little. His Panama hat was finely woven (much better than Bob’s). When I look back I realise how neat and handsome he was, even when in his late 70s (he was over 6 foot tall). When he went out to one of his lunches with old army friends or to the temple, he would wear his Panama hat, a light coloured shirt with cotton vest underneath and his trousers were neatly pressed with sharp creases. He also carried a cane with silver handle.

Funnily, I just also learned that Panama hat originated in Ecuador but they were shipped from Panama to the rest of the world. The hats are graded by the numbers of weaves per square inch. My grandfather’s probably was one of the superfinos and made in Ecuador, I guess. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Power of Hypnosis


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Buffalo Wings away from Buffalo, NY.

When we went to Las Vegas a few years back, we hopped casinos like the tourists do. We were at MGM Grand one night and ate at one of their Cafes that looked not too crowded and we could get the table right away without having to queue up for it. I think it’s called Avenue CafĂ© but I cannot be sure as it seems like ages ago.

What I do remember though is their Buffalo Wings. They were so yummy and the price was reasonable. I don’t like blue cheese but their blue cheese sauce was so lovely that I forgot about my dislike. We went back to MGM Grand a couple more times after that just for the wings. It’s quite a walk from The Bellagio where we were staying but MGM’s wings were much better that we did not mind that bit of exercise. We even think that next time we are in Las Vegas we will have to stay at MGM Grand so we can have their Buffalo wings every day.

I have cooked the wings several times at home – not as good as MGM Grand’s but not too bad either. I do my wings in the oven and sometimes on the BBQ.

1.2  kg Chicken nibbles (wings without tips – about twenty pieces)
Salt and pepper to taste
Canola oil spray
1 tablespoons Canola oil

Rub chicken pieces with salt and pepper and refrigerate for about an hour. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C with tray lined with foil. Add oil to the tray and let it heat up for a few minutes.

Place the wings on the hot tray in single layer. Spray the oil over them a bit for crispiness. Bake for 40 – 50  minutes (20 - 25 minutes each side).

You can also deep fry or shallow fry the chicken for this dish.

Hot Sauce
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1-2 tablespoons butter
½ cup canned dice tomatoes in juice, blitzed
1-2 tablespoons Sri Racha Chilli Sauce
2 Table spoons Tomato Sauce

Heat butter in the wok over medium high heat, add garlic and fry until fragrant. Add pureed tomato, tomato sauce and chilli sauce. Sprinkle with salt or stock powder. Let it bubble for a bit longer – add cooked chicken wings and turn to coat. Remove from heat and serve with Blues Cheese Sauce, carrots and chips.

Blue Cheese Sauce
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons mayo
1-2 tablespoons blue cheese (I use Roquefort-smelly as but tastes nice)
Juice of half lemon

Crumble the cheese into little pieces and add a bit of sour cream to lose the cheese up. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. You can blitz the sauce in food processor but some people (like Bob) like morsels of blue cheese here and there so I do mine by hand. Refrigerate until before serving.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Taste Drive: Magic Pandas Heat and Eat Meals

I love Wonton soup and am often disappointed with the ones served in Chinese Fast Food joints here. So when I saw Magic Pandas Heat & Eat Wonton Soup in the freezer of our local Asian grocery, I could not resist buying one to try. It’s wonderful and true to instruction, you just heat and eat (in practice- of course, you have to wait until it’s cool down a bit so it does not scorch you tongue).

I have been a big fan of this Magic Pandas' little bowl of soup for sometimes and I thought I should explore their other Heat & Eat meals so I bought Frozen Chick Noodles and BBQ Pork Fried Rice to try. The following is my verdict:

Wonton Soup
As I said early on, this is my favourite. You just loosen the lid and pop the bowl in the microwave for 7-8 minutes as instructed and voila – you get a beautiful bowl of Wonton soup.

I heat mine for 7 minutes. I put the plastic bowl in my ceramic bowl so that it is easy to get the soup out from the oven. The plastic bowl tends to soften and you might burn yourself if not careful.. The flavor is quite right but some people might like to add 2 tablespoons of water to the soup.

Don’t worry about 2 or 3 thin pieces of BBQ pork, each wonton is packed full with yummy pork filling. Very good value for money at around $5 (prices vary between stores).

Chicken Fried Noodles
The instruction says 4-5 minutes in the microwave, stir and then heat for another 1-2 minutes.

You will find it very difficult to stir the noodles in a tightly packed bowl. What I suggest is to transfer the whole frozen content into a bigger bowl and cover with microwave lid or cling film and you might need more than 2 or 3 minutes after stirring and turning because it’s chicken – it needs to be piping hot.

Although it is a bit more expensive than the soup, it is loaded with chicken. This one is also good although it’s not my ‘go to’ dish.

BBQ Pork Fried Rice
I had very high expectation for this dish – what could go wrong with fried rice. What a disappointment! It is too salty and the rice does not hold its grain. You will need to transfer the content to bigger container as well to heat and will also need a little bit more time heating. I don’t know what to say more about this dish. Maybe rice would do better in a pouch so the moisture could be retained when heated.

All of the above are available from Asian groceries and Pak n Save.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Simple Pleasures – Cuddling a Cat

You all know that cuddling your kitty or puppy is a simple cure for stress. Does cuddling simple cat make it a square of simple-ness?

We suspect that Spike, our recently adopted cat, might be a little bit on a simple side. He knows how to get out of the house through the cat door but has never figured out how to get in the same way and he’s been living with us for nearly a year now.

Anyway, this cat is doting on Bob and vice versa. They can sit like this on a warm day for a long period of time. Hopefully, if Bob strokes him often enough some logic might rub off on Spike and we can get him to come in the house through the cat door like Bonnie and Pipi do.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Coffee Swiss Roll

The sponge itself is similar to the Old Style Swiss Roll that I posted last year here  but I just add a teaspoon of espresso (you can make this with your espresso machine or dissolve 1 teaspoon of instant coffee granules with 1 teaspoon of hot water) to the batter.

Now for the coffee flavour filling – you can do it 2 ways:

Coffee Caramel Sauce and Whipped Cream
¼ cup brown sugar
30 grams butter
A pinch of salt
¼ cup cream + 2 tablespoons
1 teaspoon espresso coffee
¾ cup cream, whipped

Place the first 4 ingredients in a saucepan over medium low heat and stir gently until sugar has all dissolves and the sauce thickens Leave to cool down a bit before adding coffee. Stir to combine and set aside until cool down to room temperature.

Unroll the sponge and spread the sauce evenly (you will have leftover sauce that you can refrigerate and keep for a few days) then spread whipped cream on top. Roll the sponge back up – slice and serve.

Coffee Butter Cream
70 grams butter
120 grams icing sugar
1 teaspoon espresso coffee (completely cool)

Beat the butter and icing together until light and fluffy – add espresso coffee and beat a little bit more to combine. Unroll the sponge and spread the cream. Roll the sponge back up – slice and serve.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Simple Pleasures – Simple Food

This summer is really warm and we have had it early. The warmth ripens the fruits and we enjoy plenty of strawberries and cherries. I tend to buy my cherries after Christmas though as they are cheaper and much sweeter.

We also have a lot of tomatoes as well, a variety to choose and pick to your liking. I like the acid free Romanos. They are brilliant on crosstini style bread but some people might like a bit sweeter and tangier cherry tomatoes and that is fine. I make my crostini from stale bread sticks – I buy mine from Baker’s Delight. As they are preservative free, they are good eaten fresh for only a couple of days (but best on the first day – so yummy, crispy outside and soft on the inside.) On the third day I slice them up – thick and thin. The thin ones are good for crostini. Have them buttered and baked in moderate oven for around 10 minutes (or less) and serve them with cheddar and tomato slices. A bit of cracked black pepper on top and voila – you have wonderful, simple light lunch. Add a few slices of ham, chorizo and other cured meat with a bit of olives and you will have a chacuterie dish. Simple yet sophisticated!

Note: Google Search function on has been broken for several weeks now but I have fixed the problem with Search Direct – this will enable my dear readers to search for the recipes again.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Simple Pleasures – Dogwalk at the Beach

We joined a Christmas Eve dogwalk at Kariotahi Beach again this year. It’s only 20 minutes drive from our home. There were about 30+ dogs running free on the beach. Some people told me that two years ago there were nearly a hundred dogs – must have been an awesome sight.

Bonnie seems to be the fattest and slowest dog among them. She doesn’t care – she is featured in the Rotary Club 2014 calendar and they are not. Jealous much?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Guest Post: Cavena French Bread

This is a guest post from our aunt Olive in Canada:

Adding cooked Cavena oats (also called Cavenua Nuda or naked oats, it is a hull-less oat grain.  It was developed in Manitoba Canada) to a traditional French bread recipe results in a delicious loaf of bread that you just can't stop eating.  2 ½ cups water & 1 cup Cavena Oats, brought to the boil, then reduce heat to medium for about 35 minutes provides 2 cups cooked oats.

Due to lack of counter space in my kitchen I mix in a bread machine but cook it in the oven. Those 2 loaves were made using the quantities on the right hand side of the recipe ingredients. I also substituted 1/3 of the all purpose flour for whole wheat flour but that is my choice.  The 3 teaspoons of dried yeast equal about 14 grams. I buy a jar of bread machine yeast not envelopes so I had to convert.  It surprises me that the recipe does not use any sugar & even though it has no fat it stays moist......maybe that's because it gets eaten so fast.   Our measuring cups equal 8 fluid ozs & our teaspoons equal about 5ml.
2 cups             warm water                                      1 ½ cups
2                     packages of quick rising yeast        3  tsp
1 1/2 tsp         salt                                                  1 1/8 tsp
5 cups            all-purpose flour                             3 ¾ cups
1 cup              cooked  Cavena oats                       ¾ cup
1 egg white

Cook the Cavena oats according to directions, but allow to cool in an additional 1/4 cup of water.

In a large bowl add yeast to warm water and allow to get frothy, about 2 minutes. Add flour and oats, (drain off any water that didn't absorb into the oats while cooling) knead until firm and elastic in appearance, about 3 minutes in a mixer, or 8-10 minutes by hand. Allow to rise in a greased and covered bowl for one hour or until doubled. OR: Mix in bread machine.

Punch dough down and divide in half. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll or stretch into a large rectangle. Roll up and pinch to seal. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper sealed side down, and lightly score the top of the loaf. Brush with egg white and place into a 375F oven for 20 minutes, brush again with egg white and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes.

Note: In New Zealand naked oats can be found from on-line and specialty stores such as Millmore Downs  and Huckleberry Farms.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Simple Pleasures – Magnolia Little Gem

This holiday season for us was very low key. I didn’t even put up the old Christmas tree although we exchanged gifts (could not forgo this part:). No pressure thinking up menu, queuing up to buy that last punnet of strawberries or being a kitchen slave. We didn’t stuff our faces senseless either – we just relaxed, laid back and enjoy simple pleasures around us.

We enjoy simple stuff that we can easily find without stretching too far just like a single stem of Magnolia flower from one of the trees in colourful vase – our magnolias are Little Gem. We have three of the plants to screen one side of the driveway. We chose them because they will not grow too fast or too big. They have enchanting flowers and glossy leaves with copper matt underside that are nice to look at when not in bloom. They have been producing flowers since young. Magnolia flowers smell sweet but gentle. When I put one in the vase, it lasts for a couple of days and I get a nice whiff every time I walk pass.

However complicated 2014 might be for some, be positive and enjoy many nice simple things around you. Happy New Year!