Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #15

When I very first started growing this pot of mint it was so lush, so beautiful, so promising!

And then it became home to all manner of nasty critters...mostly caterpillars who treated it as their own private hotel and buffet. I mean, look at this guy - he's built a cocoon in my mint and is settling in for the long haul. I don't think so buddy. Where's there are moths and caterpillars there are eggs = MORE CATERPILLARS!  Needless to say he was evicted toot sweet!

When they're not hanging around in their homespun sleeping bags the caterpillars are chomping away at the mint. On one particularly sunny Saturday I removed about 10 caterpillars from this small plant. At first I was carting them downstairs to the lawn, which I'm sure has got to be far my appetizing than my mint. Nowadays they are unceremoniously turfed over the balcony railing...which my seem mean, but we're at war people!


In addition to caterpillars the mint has also suffered at the hands/fangs/teeth of other bugs such as aphids and white flies which seem to just suck the life right out the leaves - they literally leave the skeleton of the leaf behind...that's it! 

I've had some gardening help from my twitter friend Tim who's told me White Oil will help get rid of the suckers (like aphids + whitefly) and Dipel will help get rid of the chompers (like caterpillars). I had been using Pyrethrum up until now which I thought was a one-stop-shop to halt all nasties in their tracks, but I've been told this also kills good bugs (like bees + ladybugs which you need in your garden). Oops - sorry guys!  If you're using any of this stuff make sure you read the instructions carefully, use as directed and adhere to the exclusion times (that is, don't eat the veggies/herbs until it's safe to do so).

Remarkably the mint is making a bit of a recovery. New leaves are sprouting on the previously chomped bare branches and the time has come to give the mint a bit of a hair cut to allow the new shoots to have their turn. Things are getting a bit top heavy on the old mint at the moment.

As it's been so hot lately (when it's not raining that is) I've been using my recently plucked mint to make a simple iced mint tea.  This couldn't be easier if I tried...pour boiling water over mint, pop in the fridge and let cool. Viola! At first I was adding a teaspoon of sugar to the mix but it's totally not necessary...

You can view more Harvest Monday posts on Daphne's Dandelions blog.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Menya Noodle Bar, Chinatown

As I continue to explore the various ramen joints on offer in Sydney I've come to the realization that I don't really love ramen all that much (Ippudo so far being the exception to the rule). I'm more of a Udon Noodle Soup kind of girl. Plonk me down in Menya Mappen and I'm as happy as a pig in...well, an udon joint.

Firstly I find all of the different types of ramen truly mind boggling. The BFF and I stood in front of the vast menu board at Menya Noodle Bar in Chinatown for a good 15 minutes and ended up being more confused than when we walked in.  Whilst we stood scratching our head ramen lovers walked right up to the counter to place their order without even a glace towards the menu board. What on earth where they ordering?

One thing is clear though - there are no pretty much no vegetarian options when it comes to ramen...you either go with chicken (tori gari) or pork (tonkotsu) broth. That said, the broth can sometimes be a mixture of both.  There are also variations with or without miso/soy/fish stock added.  The options are truly mind boggling.

After dilly-dallying over my order for nearly 20 minutes I should've gone with my usual "garlic" broth type of ramen as it really is quite tasty - Kogashi Ninniku ($11.30). Needless to say I had massive food envy over The BFFs bowl of aromatic and tasty ramen. The garlic really adds a great depth of flavour.

Compared to The BFFs garlic ramen my big steaming bowl of Ton-toro ramen ($12.30) seems rather bland...although the fatty pieces of pork belly are melt-in-the-mouth soft. Perhaps it would've been a bit more punchy with the addition of miso or shoyu (whatever that may be)....or perhaps one of those wonderful Japanese soft-yolked eggs.

I did order a side of VERY spicy eschallots that I added to my ton-toro broth which gave it a nice chilli hit.  They were just a bit too spicy to eat on their own, but I gave it my best try anyway.

Do you have any tips on which is the best type of ramen to order? What is your favourite? HELP ME!

Menya Noodle Bar is at Shop TG8, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket.

Menya Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 22, 2013

Matterhorn, Wellington (NZ)

Matterhorn seems to be the coolest "too cool for school" bar come restaurant in windy old Wellington...which is funny considering that it's been kicking around since 1963.  It's older than both The Boy and I, and about 1000 more hip too! 

Matterhonrn has a recent makeover giving it a sleek, hip new interior that reminds me a lot of Melbourne's CODA.  A revamp of the menu helps to brings this old joint right into the 21st century. It would be interesting to see some photos of what this place was like back in the 60s. I can't quite imagine it.

We were quickly running out of time in Wellington and a quick pit stop seemed like the best way to squeeze in a visit to Matterhorn.  Proving that we are in too uncool for anything we arrive right on opening time (3pm) for a spot of afternoon tea (how very nana chic of us). Of course at 3pm they are not serving the full menu so we grab four out of the five of their bar snacks and sit back and enjoy our snacks.

I really enjoyed the white bean + lemon dip that came with shards of crispy pita bread and a spring onion relish (NZD$9.00). The dip was zesty thanks to a hint of lemon, quite creamy yet lighter in texture than the more popular hummous.  The pita bread chips were super crispy and certainly seemed like a more healthy alternative to chips. I found a really simple recipe for this dip + chips and whipped it up to take to a BBQ recently - I was a bit heavy handed on the garlic, but other than that it was good.  The nori salted potato crisps, house soured cream (NZD$7.00) on the other hand is something that I'd never be able to replicate at home. The crisps we so thin and wonderfully salty with hints of nori flavour  throughout. The were perfect just on their own so we left the sour cream to its own devices.

The bit sized morsels of crispy fried corn fed chicken (NZD$15.00) was served with a really interesting sour peanut sauce.  Interesting in a good way of course, still very peanuty yet slightly sour at the same time - like it had been mixed with vinegar.  The salt cod croquettes with lemon and saffron aioli were as soft and pillowy as mashed potatoes yet quite strong in flavour - probably not great for people who don't like their fish fishy, but we devoured them in minutes.

Mattheron can be found in the Cuba Street Mall - 106 Cuba Street, Wellington, New Zealand.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Balcony Garden: Harvest Monday #14

You'd be hard pressed to find a Sydney-sider who doesn't love Bourke Street Bakery - or more specifically a Bourke Street Bakery sausage roll.  Their most famous sausage roll is probably the Pork + Fennel...which funnily enough is the only one I've not tried!  Lucky for me everything can be found on the Internet after a quick tete-a-tete with Mr Google I come up with the recipe for Pork + Fennel Sausage rolls.

I'm mostly keen to make these little babies as one of the ingridents is Thyme, of which I have a TONNE growing out on the balcony but really no idea what to do with it.  I figure I may as well chuck some rosemary in for good measure -- seeing as I finally got the darn stuff to grow!

The receipe seems straight forward enough, but it is a little time consuming with loads of chopping, cooking, stirring etc etc etc. I got to use my teacup sized food processor to whiz the rosemary + thyme = fun.   I also refrigerated the mince for awhile to make it easier to handle later on (aka; a good time to go off shopping for an hour or so).

Despite what I perceive as A LOT of effort and faffing around the end result is totally worth it if you have a lazy morning to mess around in the kitchen. These babies were so moist and flavoursome.  Now I need to go off to Bourke Street Bakery and try the real deal.

You can view more Harvest Monday posts on Daphne's Dandelions blog.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

El Matador, Wellington (NZ)

Despite my obsessive list making and need to visit every restaurant on my eat-list when I travel...I do also like to explore a new city and stumble up little gems that the internet hasn’t dished up for me before my trip. Which is how The Boy and I found El Matador...a post dinner stroll after our dinner at Logan Brown led us to El Matador...a self-proclaimed “old world” Argentinean eatery.

We returned a few nights later with my work peeps for a good old meat-feast. It’s really interesting to see in NZ that nearly every restaurant we went to served free-range meat AND eggs, and they stated it loud and proud on their menus.  I really think this is GREAT and I wish that more Aussie places would do this – just say it up front so we don’t have to ask.

El Matador cooks all of its delicious meat on an open wood fired grill, known as an adores and parrilla (yes yes, just like Porteno here in Sydney).  We left smelling quite smoky – but it’s a small price to pay for an amazing feast.

We begin our feast with a few plates of tapas.  It seems most democratic for us each to pick the tapas of our choice. I tried really hard to influence people’s choices (food bloggers prerogative, right?) as there were SO many great things listed on the menu.

My choice was broad beans with prosciutto, cos lettuce, onions & cream ($NZ9.00).  This seems like such a simple dish on face value but it really was so flavoursome.  Now that I’ve had the pleasure of trying fresh broad beans I have to say I love them. My mother used to serve up the frozen kind out of a bag when I was a kid...nasty stuff.  The Baking Lady went with the grilled chipotle octopus w/ fennel, red onion & tomato (NZ$12.00). The octopus was so tender and smoky in flavour – a great dish.

We also sampled a simple salad of baby spinach salad with feta + sherry vinaigrette (NZ$7.00) – I could replicate this at home, but it’s the broadbean salad I’d really like to be able to whip up in my kitchen (any tips people, please).  A plate of steamed asparagus with basil butter (NZ$8.00) also graced our table along with a good old tapas staple - patatas bravas - fried potatoes w/ spicy tomato sauce (NZ$7.00).

To be our celebration of wonderful, free-range meat we decided to order an extra tapas dish for the table – just for good luck.  The grilled flank steak with chimichurri ($13.00) was wonderful. The meat was so tender it just fell from the bone with the touch of the fork.  The meat was so perfectly flavoured from its smoking over the parrilla.

With the arrival of the Parillada we move on to larger shares plates (NZ$45.00). This platter is crammed to the hilt with chicken, morcilla, chorizo, moellajas, beef  and lamb all fresh from the parrilla – it’s wonderful!

Morcilla, or blood sausage, is something that I’ve recently come to appreciate and this rendition is great, quite dry and crumbly.   I also love the garlicky chorizo, so much so that I might have snuck more than my fair share...which is fine really as Miss P is garlic impaired so I was doing her a favour by eating her share.

We finish the dinner section of the evening with a wonderful hunk of Rump steak (NZD$25.0) that is cooked medium in order to keep it nice and tender. Lady Ruth and I nearly went to heads on the cooking of the steak, her being more from the “ I like my steak pretty much raw and still mooing” camp and me being form the “burn it til it becomes shoe leather” camp.

El Matador recommends that this cut of steak is best served medium…a good compromise that saw us both pretty happy I’d say.  The rump was grilled over the wood-fired parrilla and came with some beautiful chapa potatoes, onions and chimichurri sauce. The potatoes were EXCELLENT - like someone had tipped a super tasty bag of Thins onto our plate.

Time for dessert and in a VERY smart move The Boy decides to go out on his own and orders a serve of Churros with warmed spiced chocolate sauce (NZD $9.00) all to himself.

Not wanting to be left out the ladies at the table also ordered the Churros.  I have to say it was the best Churros I've ever had - I think the spicy chocolate sauce really gave this dish a real ZING.  Because we're sharing our dessert amongst four bellies it seems sensible to also order the Panqueques con dulce de leche with the ice cream of the day (NZD $10.00).  These thin little pancakes were lifted to another level with the addition of the sweet dulce de leche. The richness of the sauce was cut through by the sharp flavour of the strawberry ice cream. Lovely.

El Matador is at 196 Cuba Street, Wellington Central, New Zealand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Nonna Maria's Place, Parramatta

More often than not it's the simple things in life that are the best. Saturday morning sleep ins, the warmth of the sun on your face after a long day at the office, catch up with old friends, noticing new blossom on your tomato plant or a simple home cooked meal.

And what's better than a simple home cooked meal that you don't have to cook yourself? Nothing (especially as it means you don't' have to wash up). Enter Nonna Maria's Place in Parramatta - a family style Italian restaurant that dishes up delicious home cooking in a no-frills restaurant setting.


There's not many places these days that give you a free drink...other than tap water, but at Nonna Maria's good old Italian hospitality prevails and each table is given a jug (or two) of refreshing homemade lemonade.

The bread is on the house too, soft, white fluffy bread that is served warm...but don't eat too much as you don't want to spoil your dinner.

Our group of five decide to order two entrees.  First up is the special of the night, an incredibly flavoursome  Bruschetta ($7.00) that most of us declare is the best we've ever tasted (and the guy at the next table agrees with us). The crusty bread is top with beautiful tomatoes, basil and red onions...the flavours are fresh and vibrant. The homemade triangles ($9.00) had a simple, but really flavoursome filling of fresh spinach + feta cheese.

I find it hard to eat pasta without a virtuous salad to accompany it. I guess I think the carbs and creamy sauces are negated by a healthy dose of greens. The Italian Salad at Nonna Maria's was a very generous serving for just $5.00  - another simple, but tasty dish.

We all ordered our own mains but in the true spirit of dining with friends we happily offered up samples of our own meal and were rewarded with tasty morsles of all the other dishes.

I chose the All'Arrabbiata with Spaghetti ($12). All the pasta dishes are a "mix and match" affair - choose your sauce and + pasta and enjoy.  The All'Arrabbiata sauce was rich, tomatoey with just the right amount of chilli to give it a good "zing". I think the most coveted dish of the night however was the glorious homemade sweet potato gnocchi topped with homemade pesto ($15.00). Man, this was GOOD! The gnocchi is the only pasta made in house and its soft pillowy texture was the perfect match for the rich pesto.  I know what I'm getting on my next visit.

The Chicken Schnitzel Lemon ($16.00) is exactly what it says on the menu - two pieces of tender chicken fillets, crumbed, pan-fried and served with a wedge or two of lemon.  It's good to order the Italian Salad to eat along side of this.  The pesto is so good that it holds it own when adoring a bowl of simple penne pasta ($12.00). Another winning dish, that I will definitely be ordered when I revisit is the Spaghetti Bolognese ($12.00). Why does my bolognese sauce never taste this good when I make it at home? There must be an Italian Nonna's trick to it that I just don't know about.

I'm not normally a fan of Tiramisu ($10.00) at all, but I have to say that I really enjoyed the offering at Nonna Maria's. It was less "wet"  and creamy than other Tiramasu's I've have - the sponge still had the texture of sponge cake rather than something soft and mushy that always makes me question what I have in my mouth.  I also found the espresso/liquor flavour were quite mild which I liked - the flavours were balanced. It was perfect. Nonna Maria's is perfect. Perfectly simple and perfectly great! Go!

Nonna Maria's Place is at 56 Phillip Street, Parramatta. Phone them on 9689 1112.

Nonna Maria on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meat Free Week (18th - 24th March) + Harvest Monday

One upon a time meat used to be a luxury item – a roast chook was a special occasion meal maybe once or twice year. It was expensive because there weren’t a lot of chickens around...it was before factory farming. It was before we expected to eat meat for nearly every meal.

Free range chooks at a friend's farm. Most chickens don't get to roam in lush paddocks like these - they live their lives out in crowded sheds with limited or no access to the outdoors.

It’s no secret that in the last few years my eating habits have changed. Since I became aware of the awful + inhumane conditions factory farmed animals live in I’ve cut a lot of meat out of my meals and started to incorporate more vegetarian meals into my diet. The Boy and I participate in Meatless Monday every week and this year we’re going to be participating in Meat Free Week (18th – 24th March).  

Growing my own veggies on my little balcony has helped me incorporate more vegetables and more vegetarian meals into my diet. It's fun to cook with produce that I've grown myself.
Australia has the second highest consumption of meat in the WORLD and two thirds of the world's meat comes from factory farms! Our bodies are not meant to be eating meat three meals a day, seven days a week. As well as the negative health implications the demand for a constant source of cheap meat has led to the rise of factory farming where animals live in terrible, cruel, uncomfortable, squalid and unkind conditions – if you could see inside a factory farm for just one minute I’m sure you’d change your mind about eating so much meat. You’d make better purchasing decisions, choosing free range and going with meat for a few meals every week.

Some sheep (aka lamb chops) being put through their paces at the Gulgong Show. Most sheep have a better life than factory farmed chickens + pigs but there are still some issues that you can read about here.

When I first starting making more vegetarian meals I found it REALLY hard to cook a meal that didn’t involve meat. I struggled...a lot. I had no concept of cooking a meal where meat wasn't the "star attraction"  Gradually, with the help of blogs like VegeTARAian, She Cooks She Gardens and good old Pinterest, I started to see how simple meat-free cooking could be. When I heard about Meat Free Week I knew I could cut meat right out of my diet for a week. Easy! Especially as they have tonne of recipes on their website to help us along.

A Vietnamese salad with vegetarian springs rolls made from carrots, mint, coriander and shallots grown on my balcony.
For this week's Harvest Monday I’ve attempted one of the recipes from the Meat Free Week website – Stir Fried Curry Brown Rice with Cashews (by Bill Granger) as it looked so super simple, plus I had a few of the ingredients growing out on my balcony.  I'd been having a bit of trouble getting my bok choi past the caterpillars and mould, but after about 3 months I FINALLY had three little bunches of bok choi that would go perfectly in this dish.

Meat Free Week is not asking us to become vegan or vegetarian...the message is simply to think about where the meat you are eating comes from, to make compassionate choices and to try and eat less meat to better serve your health, the environment and the animals suffering in factory farms.

Meat Free Weeks aims to increase awareness about factory farming as well as the health and environmental impacts of our huge reliance on meat. It also aims to raise funds for the animal advocacy group, Voiceless.

If you’d like to sponsor me in this years Meat Free Week you can do so here.

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