Just Sous Just Me

Musicians, inspired recipes, songs and food adventures.


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Queue-Ba

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No amount of research or advice from fellow travellers, not any of the multitude of documentaries or published texts available in any library can prepare you for Cuba. This is one country, and I have visited several in my existence where prior research to visitation is essential, but still does not prepare you for what lies ahead after your arrival. The best advice I was given was to ‘Go With It’, have no expectations and for want of a more inventive phrase to just ‘Live In The Moment’. This is the Cuban way. Make plans yes, as you do for any new adventure but in Cuba don’t expect them to unfold accordingly. Five minutes wait can turn into two hours and don’t ask how long something will take. If you find yourself in a long queue for example at a bank or a supermarket chances are the vendor/teller is having a nice chat oblivious to the line of people waiting patiently behind. This is the Cuban way and no one seems to mind! When you get your head around this, you will be fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are in Cuba for the music of course. Of the many facets to this country, the music has been our motivation to visit. Musicians who wish to perform in Cuba need an official invitation, one of which we were lucky to receive from the Havana International Jazz Festival. Without this, we were not officially recognised as performers there and was an essential document needed for customs next to health insurance certificates.

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Needless to say, the music is present everywhere you go. If it was on the streets, in the bars, in the theatres or restauraunts, it was there and always excellent.  I thought I had mastered maracas in Australia and couldn’t have been more wrong as was offered an impromptu lesson when one of these maraca masters witnessed my questionable technique. They can do it in their sleep and even before they are born at a guess.

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The food on the other hand, is not so. You would think that a Caribbean Country with Spanish, African and South American influences would have a somewhat exotic cuisine base. Theoretically this makes sense but realistically was not the case for us. Who ever heard of Cuba as a world food force the likes of Italy, France or even Sydney. When you spend time there, you realise why so. They eat and market seasonally which is a good thing in any foodies books. It’s just what is available and to whom which makes eating compared to what we are accustomed in Australia a daily challenge. As a chilli addict, was having major withdrawals discovering nothing of any heat was available. Anywhere. Including at the fresh produce markets I visited with my Casa girl who through a lost in translation episode as she no English and I no Spanish, purchased a bag of miniature capsicums disguised as ghost chillies. They looked promisingly hot. Alas they were not, with little flavour  to speak of.

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The Bananas are very good and very cheap in Cuba

At the beginning of the trip we decide upon the breakfast option at our Casa for an extra five CUC a head. (I decide later in the trip to prepare our own breakfast as we have access to their kitchen in order to save our diminishing cash supply – mostly everything must be paid for with cash in Cuba). This is always an omelette, slices of processed ham, cheese, papaya chunks, pineapple or guava juice, bread rolls and coffee. The coffee is very good. Coffee is one of Cubas main exports next to rum and tobacco, so mercifully they do know how to make a decent espresso. Out of the three separate Casas we stayed in there was virtually no variation in the breakfast presented to us, with the exception of bananas or pineapple instead of papaya. With the uncertainty of food options in the streets, the fruit was welcoming as it very well could be just rice and beans for the rest of the day. We ate many bananas.

Our first restaurant in Cuba, not knowing any better and dog tired from travel was a tourist trap. It was the closest in proximity to our Casa and Lobsters are ordered. We are in the Caribbean, right? Wrong. Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations has sung praises of the Cuban Lobsters. Perhaps he dined at one of the more affluent expensive tourist restaurants which do exist commonly in Cuba, but these are out of our reach finacially being a five piece band on a guitar-string budget. Tonight the taste is tantamount to fried rubber. Taking the iniative I enquire  as to the special of the day – In broken English the waiter recommends the squid ink rice with shrimp and octopus. It’s dark, almost pitch black however very tasty. A wiser choice than the lobster at this establishment. Advice for future travellers to Cuba – go for the specials. There is an element of freshness to these dishes as opposed to the menu options designed purely to cater for the Western World palate.

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The Cuban Salad

Our next dinner outing is at a Casa Particular around the corner from ours. This is a private home with a dining room set up in the front and always an affordable option so locals often dine in these homes too. Here we can expect a typical Cuban meal of which I am curious to try. The menu is entirely in Spanish (the tourist restaurants always have English translation) so our menu decoder in the back of the Spanish phrase book comes in handy. First course is a vegetable noodle soup and is very good, not needing any extra salt and served with lime wedges. So far so good. Second course is salad. Every salad you order in Cuba appears the same way – Thinly sliced tomatoes, cucumber, an avocado cube and a mountain of grated cabbage on the top. This one also had additional ingredients: One boiled broccoli floweret, finely diced boiled to within an inch of it’s life carrot and a few unidentified green leaves. There is no dressing. Unimaginative but healthy which is what I remind myself during consumption. The third and final course arrives. Picadillo is a traditional dish of ground beef, capsicum, raisins, ham, beans and rice. It is in a mound shape on the plate and next to some fried plaintains, also another Cuban delicacy. If any spices have been used here I am unable to detect them. Right about now I’d murder for chilli sauce or Himalayan Sea Salt! Still, a cheap and cheerful meal with a few bottles of quite good Chillean wine has cost us around thirty Australian dollars for the five of us so we are happy and content musicians.

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Festival Performance at Cafe Miramar

Back to the music. After a brief sojourn to Cienfuego and Trinidad across the country and back, we are slowly getting into the Cuban Swing. Of these two towns Trinidad was the most beautiful. Vibrant colours, cobblestoned streets, loudly coloured Chevrolets navigating the narrow streets, music music music and a long awaited dip in the Caribbean Sea via Anacon Beach. Our travel from and back to Havana to visit these places was also colourful. Hurtling down the ‘single-laned-suicide highway’ dodging horses and carts, tourist buses, potholes and other travelling vehicles of varying speeds left us fairly frazzled! My knuckle bones white from the trip and grip, no seatbelts, thirteen of us piled into an elongated Jeep and only half a seat for the 300km journey. I do pray we make it to Havana in one piece. Stan says, just don’t look. We stop to refuel at a farm rather than a service station off the road down a lumpy dirt track. The motor still runs while petrol is poured into a funnel into the tank and the driver smokes a cigar nearby. I don’t look.

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Riviera Hotel Pool, Havana

Finally, it’s the day of our first gig. By now we are used to being given very little information in relation to what we are doing till the final minute. The festival program, fresh off the press has just been handed to us. We have learned not to ask questions as usually is answered with a shoulder shrug. We get told what we need to know, when we need to know it and ‘hurry up and wait’ has taken on a brand new meaning in Cuba. Our soundcheck time is 1pm and they tell us we need to be there at 11am. OK. Except it’s now 1.30pm, we haven’t yet soundchecked and the program of four bands starts at 2pm. ‘Should we eat’ I suggest? Yes, says Mary but make sure you are back here for soundcheck. Whenever that will be. Then we are told that we will be on second, rather than first. So we sit out the first band, but are told half way through their performance that we will be on third now. Only to be informed next we will be last. This is Cuba afterall, things change at the last minute and we are beginning to realise this. Also, we are to perform for no longer than thirty minutes maximum. So when we finally get our spot, at 6pm after waiting around for hours, we give our thirty minute adrenalin fuelled performance everything we’ve got. My word, we do.

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Playa Anacon – Trinidad

As the week goes on we are making a few inroads into this country and just how they live and operate on a day to day basis. Staying in a Casa enables ground-level knowledge being right in touch with the locals, language barrier and all, an experience not to be had if a tourist hotel option is taken. This becomes most apparent when we decide to start cooking for ourselves and need to shop for ingredients. We have a stove-top and some very basic kitchen utensils so why not? Just what to exactly without any knowledge of produce available or where is our next challenge.

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Descarga de Bienvenida (The program lists this as the name of the band) translates into ‘Downloads Welcome’! Que? They are brilliant Cuban Musos

We’re pointed in the direction of a supermarket co-incidentally located next to the Jazz Club and situated opposite the famous Riviera Hotel (Frank Sinatra’s old haunt). There’s aisle after aisle of canned, boxed and plastic packaged items. Bag upon bags of rice, pasta and lentils and an extensive frozen food section, not much in the way of vegetables other than one lonely bag of frozen broccoli. No eggs in sight. Looks like dinner tonight will be pasta and a canned pasta sauce. There are no spices whatsoever other than one Maggi brand labelled Sazon and at a price of 1CUC, this will not break the band bank and is our only option. There’s one whole row of identical plastic oil bottles labelled ‘Soya’ telling me Olive Oil is out of the question. Blindingly flourescently lit, the power went off for about ten minutes while we were waiting in another long queue at the checkout. No one seems fazed, taking the opportunity to chat with each other rather than pull out their smartphones to stare at screens in order to pass the black-out time. Wifi and internet access exists but is not widely available or affordable yet in Cuba. A refreshing prospect. People talking to each other again. Who’d have thought.

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’57 Chevy

Back at the Casa and into the kitchen I go. Glenda our host is curious and watches on as to just what I will prepare there. I cook the pasta (in bottled water), heat up the canned sauce and serve to the band. She appears fascinated and all the while chuckles. I wish to ask her what is so funny, but she no English and I no Spanish so we laugh together at who knows what. It’s ridculous to me because I never cook this sort of thing up at home. And until I learn how to speak Spanish properly, I’ll never know what amused her so.

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On the Bourdain trail at Puerto de Sagua. Excellent Mojitos and Lobster

However, I must somehow communicate with her as I want to visit a fresh produce market and she would know. Even Bourdain says there is a great one and the translator book helps now more than ever. She comprehends my desire, and even better will drive me there herself in the morning in her carro. Turns out it is three blocks and two streets away from the house and is the exact same one Bourdain went to.

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Marketplace 19th and 3rd – Havana

We make the short journey to the marketplace in her Fiat Polski, a bright blue tiny two-door with no boot leaf-blower-engine sound-alike car. Luckily she knows all the vendors here and does my negotiating and paying for after I just point at stuff and open my wallet. Everything here is in season and every stall has all of the same things on display. Tomatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin, capsicums, carrots, okra, cilantro, bananas, papaya, pineapples, limes, guava, avocados and mangoes.  I buy some of everything as it all looks wonderful. (I do find out later the mangoes are actually out of season. They were of stringy texture, but tasted pretty good and was a welcome alternative to the ever-present papaya). The avocado is enourmous and will take a few days to ripen. Took a week as it turned out and was a complete meal for all of us when it did. I calculate this abundant fresh fruit and vegetable supply has cost around $6.50 AUS, and will see us out for meals over the next week.

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British Ambassadors indoor pool

Then there was the meat section. Slabs of pork, different cuts and sections all displayed on an unrefrigerated bench top in the open with a couple of blowies hovering. Bourdain had gone there but I’m afraid I just couldn’t bring myself to do the same.  I know the boys of the band would have loved me to bring home the bacon but being a temporary vegetarian won’t hurt them. Plenty of opportunity to resume their carnivoric diets back in Australia Xmas day and beyond.

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Manouche performing at Sala Raquel Revuelta

I decide on a pumpkin soup first, as we’ve now a huge chunk of it plus carrots, onions and garlic galore. Normally I’d roast all of this drizzled in Olive Oil then wizz it up with stock and spices and re-heat on the stove-top. Roasting is not a possibility in Glendas kitchen as it turns out. I point to the oven she possesses and she hand gestures wildly while repeating ‘Non, Non, Non!’. I figure this translates as it’s on the blink. So it’s all in the one big pot on the stove, boiling furiously. Glenda has a blender thankfully so I can wizz it up in this. I must use my imagination when it comes to seasoning this soup with the absence of stock. I use the Maggi Sazon and wait for it…a generous dash of Havana Club. Amazingly, the end result is delicious. I ask the band to guess all the ingredients. One of them correctly guesses the rum. (My recipe for ‘Rumpkin Soup’ is at the end of this blog).

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Old Habana

Wonders never cease in this country. We’ve kindly been invited to the British Ambassadors palace for their Xmas party with lunch included in exchange for a private Manouche concert, a fair enough trade. The guests were a mix of Ambassadorial staff and representatives from other Embassies, around forty in total for this pleasant afternoon soiree in the grounds of the stunning building. Which, co-incidentally was located three blocks from our Casa, within easy strolling distance for carting accordion purposes. The catering for this was, as you’d imagine generously salubrious. Large platters filled to the brim of more of the same seasonal cuisine – rice and beans, cabbage salads, cucumber and tomato slices and lashings of avocados. And an endless supply of the omnipresent Mojito. There are barbequed pork steaks piled high as well as fat chicken breasts. (Our Embassy girl Alice mentions she has never seen such fat chicken breasts after a year of service in Cuba and where these would have been obtained she couldn’t comment). Of course, the band pile their plates to capacity then have seconds and thirds. Then we play for them. They don’t usually have live music at these do’s, so they are very appreciative of this. It goes both ways as we haven’t eaten like this yet either.

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The most interesting of facts the British Ambassador to Cuba informed us over lunch was that Mick Jagger had been for drinks there a few weeks before us. Turns out Mick is angling for the Rolling Stones to perform in Havana at some future point. He has been laying the groundwork for what will be, when and if they can pull it off, a concert of a lifetime. Because, the Rolling Stones are by a long shot Cubas most endeared band ever. And they have never performed there. This is a valid reason to return to Cuba I decide right there and then. The Ambassador will keep us in the loop with developments <insert smiley face here>.

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Local friendly butcher

Amidst the communication, banks and food challenges we are met with everyday and our subsequent overcoming of these, the Jazz Festival has been running alongside and we have been performing and also watching other fantastic and diverse bands from all over the world. To our delight, our music has been received very well by both Cubans and international visitors alike. It was a major undertaking getting our five piece band Feel The Manouche to Cuba. With the fully funded Pozible campaign generously supported by family, friends and fans our mission was successful. One of the venues the Cafe Miramar even invited us back for an unscheduled encore performance on the last night of the festival. Gestures such as this are uncommon and made us feel that all the effort was worthwhile. We made many new friends and contacts, both English speaking and non as communication through music the universal language, we’ve now seen first-hand absolutely applies in Cuba.

Cuban Rumpkin Soup

Ingredients:

2 Brown Onions, chopped

5 Garlic Cloves, chopped

1 Kilo Butternut Pumpkin, peeled and chopped

6 Carrots, peeled and chopped

4 Tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 Mashed Banana

Mango pulp (I used half a large one plus juices)

Handful of Coriander leaves

Juice from one lime plus the zest

I TBS Sazon (Or seasoning of your choice, sea salt good)

1/2 cup of Havana Club Dark Rum

Method:

  • Fry onions and garlic till soft and fragrant
  • Put all remaining ingredients into the pot and bring to the boil
  • Simmer for an hour
  • Let cool and transfer to blender in batches and return to pot reheat
  • Swirl through Rum
  • Serve garnished with coriander
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Rumpkin Soup

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Havana Central

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Ossi

 

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Slice Of Heaven

photo (1)If there ever was a song best paired with a dessert there’s only one that can be attributed to this little concoction – that very memorable and unforgettable instantly up-lifting little 80’s ditty by Dave Dobbyn. No doubt some people would find the song irritating but the same cannot be said about this divine combination of frozen Kiwi Fruit and Chocolate.  And when you bite into this delectable creation, if ‘Heaven’ is the so-called place where only good things happen, this is promptly where you will find yourself along with wanting more of course. We’ve been putting strawberries and chocolate together and fonduing since the Ice-Age but Kiwi Fruit and frozen at that takes the tried and tested fruit-chocolate combo to a new dimension as the moon shines over your horizon.

photo (2)Is it my imagination or is anyone else noticing the abundance of Lindt Chocolate cutting us off at the path every turn of the trolley during food shopping expeditions? I always thought Harris Farm was primarily a fruit and veg marketplace. I realise other items besides produce have been appearing on their shelves for some time now but the special that hit me square in the face upon entering the store last week was three one hundred gram blocks of Lindt Chocolate for five dollars. Contrary to my local IGA selling them for a weekly ‘special’ of three dollars forty-nine cents per one hundred grams, the Harris Farm deal looked like a true bargain. I only needed some continental parsley and a bunch of eschalots, but my basket now had blocks of exotic sea-salt, chilli, coconut and zest of lime sensations thrown in as well. It’s only a matter of time before Lindt takes over the world as we know it.

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Even dearer in North Sydney CBD….

Wrappings can be torn off and the chocolate consumed in that state immediately which of course is what is intended by the manufacturer but I like to experiment and find other ways with chocolate other than an instant fix. The Texans invented a Chocolate Chilli Con Carne and Nigella Lawson (the unsurpassed Chocolate Queen) uses it in her recipe too. Yes, it’s generic dark cooking chocolate they use rather than luxurious Lindt, but I never had a problem eating dark cooking chocolate straight from the packet either finding it perfectly edible. I struggle to find a reason why Lindt’s Sea Salt variety wouldn’t also work in the Con Carne.

If you can muster the strength and resist temptation to eat all the chocolate before you melt it for ‘Slice Of Heaven’ you’re doing well. Afterall you’ll be eating it eventually so it’s a healthy will-power exercise. With the knowledge you’ll also be rewarding yourself with a good Vitamin C dose from the Kiwi Fruit the guilt from chocolate consumption is a minor consideration. And kids love this, even the ones who are defiantly fruit-intolerant. Here-in probably lies the original reason fruit started being smothered in chocolate in the first place. Would it work the same with a member of the Brassica family I wonder, ‘Choccoli’ anyone?

SLICE OF HEAVEN*

6 Kiwi Fruit; topped tailed, peeled and sliced into thick rounds

2 TBS Coconut Oil

1 Cup Chocolate Pieces (Lindt or any other chocolate you like)

1/2 Tsp Chilli Powder (only for the Chilli fans, absolutely optional)

Catering cocktail forks to insert in Kiwi Pieces

METHOD

1) Insert forks into Kiwi slices, place in a single layer on baking paper and pop in freezer 30 mins

2) Melt chocolate and coconut oil in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Take off heat and bring to room temperature.

3) Remove Kiwi slices from freezer and spoon melted chocolate over each making sure they are covered evenly.

4) Place them back on the tray and put back into the freezer till ready to eat. OR

5) Repeat steps 2, 3 and 4 for a decadent double coat.

* The inspiration for this recipe can be found here.

 


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Orange Is The New Soup Ingredient – Carrot, Fennel and Orange Soup

IMG_9377 Surprisingly several songs exist with ‘Orange’ in the title like Orange Crush by REM, Clockwork Orange by Kraftwerk, Bruised Orange by John Prine, Orange Wedge by the Chemical Brothers and Orange Blossom Special of course. My favourite is ‘Orange Juice Blues’ by Bob Dylan & The Band. Not so surprisingly the term ‘Orange’ in these songs is purely metaphorical having nothing to do with the actual fruit itself. I tend to side with cooking exploitations of the very versatile Orange rather than writing or listening to songs about them. And no ducks were harmed in this recipe either!

My earliest memories of Oranges stems back decades ago to my childhood netball ventures. It was during rigorous Saturday afternoon games, when juicy segmented pieces of oranges presented in Tupperware containers was our hydration of choice. Fancy electrolyte sport drinks and bottled water hadn’t even been thought of back then and when H2O was required this entailed a trip to the bubbler queue. I still opt for an Orange segment over a swig of sugar-loaded Gatorade anyday. IMG_9380The quest is on-going during this long cold Winter to come up with tasty, to-the-bone warming and at the same time healthy, flu-fighting soup recipes and so far have succeeded in avoiding being bed-ridden with any un-welcome ailments even though have been in the front-line of exposure to sniffly individuals on pretty much a daily basis. (It could very well be due to the large amounts of garlic I consume which contributes towards the distance kept between us). More elaboration on this here – Flu-shot in a soup bowl.

IMG_9385The proven immune-boosting ingredients used in Carrot and Orange Soup takes flu-shot in a soup bowl to a new level and there is no compromise in taste either. The citrus bursting Orange flavour in this, next to robust beta-carotene ant-oxidant loaded Carrots, and Fennel which incidentally is also loaded with Vitamin C produces an extraordinarily delectable and moorish bowl of goodness indeed. For added eupepsy properties, I added a good lug of grated fresh ginger to further heighten the experience. Once assembled, this soup becomes a vision of orange exquisiteness due to the high carrot and orange content.

My new go-to version of Sea-Salt, combined with Chilli Flakes. 10 out of 10!

My new go-to version of Sea-Salt, combined with Chilli Flakes. 10 out of 10!

During the past week I prepared two different versions: One where the peel was removed before the blending process, and the other where I left the peel in. It made a difference to the end result, the second being far more zesty plus after recently discovering orange peels contain a ginormous amount of nutrients and should be consumed rather than discarded! Who’d have thought…

Carrot, Fennel & Orange Soup

(Serves 4-5)

Ingredients: 1 TBS Coconut Oil

1 Red Onion, chopped

1 Stick Celery, chopped

1 Kilo Carrots, peeled and chopped

1 Medium Sized Fennel Bulb, chopped

1 Orange, peeled

1 TBS grated Ginger

4 Cups Organic Chicken Stock or Veg Stock

Method

1) Heat Coconut Oil in large saucepan over medium heat then add onions and sauté gently for a few minutes.

2) Add Carrots, Fennel, Ginger,  Orange Peel and cook gently for five minutes, stirring often

3) Add Stock, bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

4) Turn off heat, let cool slightly then transfer contents to a blender, whizzing till smooth consistency. (Remove orange peel before blending if you don’t want it too orangey).

5) Pour back into saucepan; juice the orange and stir through soup then gently reheat till ready to serve

(Optional: A scattering of toasted sesame and a bit of chilli sea-salt (pictured above) goes very well with this). No need for any green garnishes, as detracts from the orange flavour).


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Roast Garlic and Ginger Soup (Flu-Shot in a Soup Bowl)

 

GarlicThere appears to be much discussion in Sydney right now about the unusually warm weather we are experiencing for this time of the year, but it’s only a matter of time before it will inevitably snap. And when it does, contrary to Summer-loving Sydneysiders  I am a self-confessed cryophilic and find gratification with the on-set of Winter – presenting with it a season of opportunities to create hearty soups, aromatic stews, roasts and whatever else needed to be nourishingly slow-cooked for hours with the fire crackling away near-by, luckily situated in my kitchen. Early darkness also appeals, as this means I can get dinner cracking earlier and usually do a little happy Mexican Hat dance whenever Daylight Saving finishes as this signifies remedying, cosy kitchen times ahead.

Annoyingly, there is a not so enjoyable side to Winter in the form of the Flu. And the hot topic on the talk-back radio I caught today comes as no coincidence coinciding with the cooler weather approaching being about none other than the Flu-Shot. It’s not something have given much thought to before and only subliminally being aware of its existence after seeing posters on the walls at my GP’s office, or after hearing people talk about it. Visiting the USA last September, it was hard not to miss the confronting billboards displaying the question, ‘Have You Had Your Flu-Shot Yet?’ placed along freeways we were frequenting? Impressive and ominous advertising for a jab. I won’t bang-on about vaccinations here as it’s the recipe am in a hurry to share, and do realise the Flu-Shot is necessary for some people such as those chronically ill. However I truly believe if you are otherwise a healthy specimen with your immune system in top match-fit fighting condition achieved through consumption of good food full of vital nutrients on a regular basis, those nasty little flu germs should have little chance of successfully invading your body and creating the irritating havoc they are very capable of achieving.

Royal Blue Potatoes

Royal Blue Potatoes

Roast Garlic and Ginger soup is a good place to start. Not only is this incredibly tasty, but it can be referred to as having a ‘prophylactic’ nature, which translates to using with the ‘intention’ of preventing disease or infection but does not actually have an effect on the severity or duration of the symptoms if you are already sick, just what the Flu-Shot is designed for (I think devouring this soup is a more enjoyable experience).  Consuming on a regular basis, it can also decrease the frequency of colds and flu. There’s no secret about the therapeutic properties of Garlic having been used for thousands of years to treat various ailments particularly respiratory issues.

Head of Garlic, sliced and ready for roasting

Head of Garlic, sliced and ready for roasting

Garlic is the main star of this show, with Ginger in the co-starring role. Besides benefiting digestion, which ultimately leads to better immunity, Ginger also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and makes your body sweat out nasty toxins. And it tastes great in this soup, added in the cooking process and again finely minced and stirred through at the end.

Mmmm. Garlic Bread

Mmmm. Garlic Bread

The final essential ingredient for this soup is the home-made, thoughtfully prepared chicken stock. Apologies, but the pre-packaged store-bought variety which is usually just salty water, just won’t do here. If the prospect of making your own chicken stock scares you or isn’t something you’ve ever bothered doing preferring the purchasable convenience, I can offer assurance there is no comparison taste-wise between the home-made variety and the stock-standard cube. Plus if you’ve made it yourself, you know exactly what’s in it and it’s not likely you’d be adding extra flavour and colour enhancers or, gulp, MSG which is found in some of those mystery parcels.  Next time you roast a chicken, and go organic for extra taste and goodness, throw all of the remaining bones and bits in a pot with water, sea-salt, peppercorns, parsley, celery tops, onion, bay leaf and half a lemon. Bring to the boil then simmer for a few hours – don’t bother skimming off the fatty bits because you’re going to strain it afterwards. Then place in containers , freeze or refrigerate if using within the next week. Or, start from scratch with one kilo of chicken necks and feet using the same method.  Or even better, use this genius method to make a chicken stock from scratch in fifteen minutes !

Flu-Shot in a soup bowl :-), and unless you are watching you grain in-take, make sure you serve it up with some very garlicky bread or giant garlic croutons drenched with olive oil for an added hit.

 

ROAST GARLIC AND GINGER SOUP

1 Whole Head of Garlic; and a few extra cloves reserved for mincing and stirring through at the end

1 TBS Coconut Oil

1 Celery Stick, chopped

1 Brown Onion, chopped

1 Thumb sized piece of ginger, peeled and minced – 1 Tsp full reserved for adding at the end

500gms Royal Blue Potatoes, peeled and chopped

500ml Chicken Stock

1 Bay Leaf

Fresh Thyme

Sea Salt

METHOD

1) Carefully slice the top off the head of garlic making sure it all stays in-tact, then wrap in foil and roast in 200C oven for 30-40 mins, or when smells amazing and is just caramelised.

2) Heat Coconut Oil in a pan then Saute Onion, Celery, Ginger till soft and fragrant

3)Add Potatoes and Thyme and gently fry for another five minutes

4) Pour in stock, add Bay leaf, bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer till potatoes are soft

5) Turn off heat, squeeze all roasted garlic into potato mixture

6) Transfer into a blender and puree till smooth

7) Put back in the pot, re-heat till ready to serve

8) Just prior to serving, stir through reserved minced garlic and ginger

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The World’s Most Healthiest Birthday Cake

Watermelon Cake

Watermelon Cake

Birthday parties for kids are generally speaking synonymous with one thing – sugar, sugar and more sugar.  I shudder thinking of years gone by, gracing the lolly aisle of the supermarket investing in giant-size bags of all things equivalent to zero nutritional value and great expense resulting in short-lived sugar hit highs for all and added reasons to visit the dentist.  I once jokingly informed my daughter one particular year, we were going to have vegetable bags instead of lolly bags – cut up pieces of celery and carrot in shapes of lollies, and also broccoli chips. This idea was met with a very disappointed expression and the irony was lost on her, so it was back to the lolly aisle once again.

A decorated birthday cake can be a virtual work of art. Over the years I have occasionally splurged and ordered gorgeous custom-made and individually decorated cakes as am simply not skilled enough to make such a creation and there’s one less thing to think about on the day of the party. Additionally to the lolly bags, the actual birthday cake can also be an extra vessel for all things sugar and fat. Besides being visually attractive, cake batters are traditionally all butter, sugar and flour and then loaded with frosting which is also just more butter and icing sugar. Not to mention all of the other sugary trimmings on top of the icing, like crushed up Tim-Tams or shredded Mars-Bars with individual slices topped with scoops of Ben and Jerry’s Choc-Chip Cookie Dough – not something you’d want to consume everyday, once a year is enough.  Yes, there are many versions of ‘healthy’ cakes whether they be gluten-free, flour-less, sugar-free, fat-free, made out of vegetables even, falling short of putting a cauliflower head on a plate with some candles stuck in it, there can’t be anything healthier than the Watermelon Cake.

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Whoever invented this idea is a genius. Really, it’s just a fruit salad but is in cake form as opposed to chopped up little pieces in a bowl. But trust me, when it comes to assembly and decoration of  a watermelon cake,  I really can’t remember having this much fun in the kitchen, ever.  And, with the knowledge that you are creating something that is also extremely healthy – fat-free, gluten-free, wheat-free (not sugar-free because of the high fruit-sugar level but it’s not the dreaded refined variety) this is most certainly a win-win situation.

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The trickiest part about making a watermelon cake, is getting the desired shape. Topping and tailing a watermelon is potentially a perilous exercise without the aid of a very good quality razor-sharp kitchen knife. After each end of the watermelon has been removed, it’s then just a matter of carefully trimming off the skin and all the white melon part so that all that is left is the juicy vibrant red bit, sculpting as best you are able into a ‘cake base’ shape.  Once you are happy with the shape, it’s time to start decorating and creating your work of  ‘fruit art’.

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Using tooth-picks, secure the fruit to the outside of the cake like pictured. I started with peeled and thinly sliced kiwi-fruit, and slithers of oranges. Next it’s time for the berries to work their visual magic – raspberries, strawberries, blueberries arranged in whatever creative way imaginable. Blackberries and Mulberries and pomegranate could also be used. And a very useful tool is a melon-baller – use this to scoop out cute little melon ball shapes out of the discarded watermelon tops, and some rockmelon then pile on top of the cake between the berries. I was slightly naughty at the end and added a dusting of vanilla sugar all over.

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The kids were mightily impressed, demolishing this creation within seconds, and of course you slice it up like a normal birthday cake and remember to remove the toothpicks 🙂

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This cake isn’t just for kids, an adult-only version can also be made. We all know how wonderful Hendrick’s Gin and cucumber is, well there’s no surprise it also pairs extremely well with watermelon. You go about making the cake exactly the same way except prior to starting the decoration, pour a generous drenching of Hendrick’s over the cake base and let infuse for a few hours in the fridge.  Then get creative with a fancy mandolin slicer and use cucumber as decoration instead of or as well as berries.

Happy Daze indeed.


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The Wrap Artist

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‘Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams’, ‘Wrapped Up In You’. Anything that comes in wrapped form usually means there is a hidden treasure inside just waiting to be revealed. Brown paper packages wrapped (yes I realise it’s actually ‘tied’ in the lyrics) up in string must be favourite things for all of us. ‘Wrap it up’ (I’ll take it) by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, ‘Christmas Wrapping’ by the Waitresses or who could ever forget ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ by Agnetha Faltskog.

How about food being wrapped up, how about that. Who hasn’t experienced the wrap? Who hasn’t ordered a mystery parcel in the form of a sour dough or wholemeal wrap at a lunchtime sandwich bar? You may have ordered a salad, teriyaki chicken or a roasted vegetable wrap. A ham and swiss, a bacon and egg, or a smoked trout, beetroot and horseradish wrap, how divine.

Whatever sort of wrap you have chosen, it will undoubtedly be wrapped. Unless you unwrap the wrap and who would do this unless it’s not been assembled correctly in which case easier to consume in the unwrapped version where the ingredients just spill-out everywhere. This scenario is fine considering all contained ingredients are thoughtful, tasty, fresh ones plus a knife and fork on hand. Wrapping a wrap is indeed an art-form, it’s all about placement.

And then there’s avocado wrapped eggs.

Eggs and Avocado

Eggs and Avocado

For the last few weeks have seen pictures flung all over the internet of eggs inside avocados, you may have seen similar visions. Sometimes cooked, sometimes even raw which would be a major protein hit and highly nutritious mono-stereo fat hit. This has been intriguing and have clicked on the links only to find that this is not a recipe at all but a site selling the miracle weight-loss cure called Garcinia Cambogia. I didn’t want to lose weight only wanting to find out more about those eggs and avocados. There is no recipe or any other mention at all but of course further googling uncovered several recipes for avocados and eggs. If there is any food that is going to wrap up another food, avocados and eggs are pure chemistry at its best. (Possibly only surpassed by grated lime-soaked carrot, garlic, mint and ginger wrapped up in chinese cabbage leaves).

IMG_8852As you’d expect, there are varying recipes for this type of dish – some calling for roasting the avocado with an egg cracked into its cavity. Personally am not a fan of baked avocado, finding the room-temperature sublimated flesh of a fresh, uncooked avocado irresistible. Poaching or boiling an egg and then placing into the avocado cavity splashed with lime juice and a dash of olive oil, seasoned with sea salt, cracked black pepper and a sprinkling of smoked paprika is truly something else. So basically simple and easy to assemble, this dish would appear to be a breakfast option but can be experienced any time of the Night Or Day.

Spicy Avocado Wrapped Eggs

Ingredients:

1 Ripe Avocado, sliced in two and pit removed

Juice from 1 Lime

1 Organic Free-Range Egg – Hard boiled and cut in half lengthways (Or two small poached eggs)

1 Tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Black Pepper

Pinch of Smoked Paprika.

Method:

Remove a decent scoop of avocado flesh from each half. (Just enough to make room for the egg and at least half of it left as texture – don’t bother reserving the flesh for another use, consume immediately).

Drizzle each half with Lime Juice and Olive Oil

Place boiled egg halves or two poached eggs individually in each cavity and sprinkle over sea salt, pepper and smoked paprika.

Love Lettuce Wrap

(Ingredients pictured at top, such a gentle alternative using lettuce as the wrapping as opposed to a wheat-flour dough variety)

Iceberg Lettuce leaves, whole

1 Lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced with a mandolin

Avocado flesh for spread

1/2 Green or Red Capsicum, thinly sliced

Lemon Juice

Shredded Basil Leaves

1 Tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Grated Cheddar Cheese

1 Tsp Airlie Beach Chilli Sauce (optional)

Method:

Wrap all listed ingredients inside the iceberg leaves same as you would do with San Choy Bau.

It’s a wrap.


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Tamworth and the Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

Ruth's Festival Fuelling Fruit Salad

Ruth’s Festival Fuelling Fruit Salad

Hitting the New-England Highway each year as I drive away from Tamworth back to Sydney, my mind is undoubtedly swimming with many vast and varied wonderful musical moments and memories.  Mixed feelings of relief and exhaustion follow due to having survived it all once again because if there is one time of the year when musicians must be well nourished, match-fit both physically and mentally, the Tamworth Country Music Festival is it. Preparation and fore-thought is vital to endure this festival and to emerge on the other side of it intact rather than a dishevelled wreck which can occur after grabbing food on the run, sleep-deprivation, navigating roundabouts and the ever escalating build-up of traffic adding stress to reaching sound-checks on time only then having to locate a car-park after loading our equipment on to the stage – all of this madness carried out under searing degrees of 39 Celsius plus.  It’s a case of every musician for themselves in these conditions, not to mention the punters who follow a similar regime trying to get around and see as many favourites performing as possible over the ten days.  It’s a conundrum how this is achieved on the smell of an oily bucket of chips laced with chicken salt 🙂

During previous festivals, musician friends and I used to have competitions to see who could do the most gigs over ten days. In 1998 I did thirty-nine gigs, ten of which were in the attractive time-slot of midnight till 3am at the West Tamworth Leagues Club Legends Bar, followed by a few 8am Bluegrass Breakfast gigs and various shows throughout the day, then back to the midnight slot. In those days my body could handle it but now am a bit more selective and wiser (I hope). With that kind of carry-on, coupled with salubrious accommodation (such as squash court floor one particular year) there would always be what I label the inevitable ‘Mid-Festival Meltdown’, something I try to intercept from occurring these days.

Starmaker Grand Final View From The Stage

Starmaker Grand Final View From The Stage

While not hurtling around town from venue to venue navigating roundabouts, camels and cowboy hats, alternatively am required to be on a stage reading charts for more than ten hours backing Starmaker hopefuls, previous winners and students of the Academy of Country Music. Sustaining the level of concentration required for this (including executing fiddle solos in feel-good keys of C# and F#) can only be fuelled by sensible food options. In the words of Ian Lees – Musician of the Year 2014, “There’s nothing worse than staring at a chart and all you can see is a burger”.  Mercifully, the Starmaker organisers supply us with a beautiful fruit platter and some healthy vegetarian wraps on the busiest day which is a very welcoming sight indeed as catering for the musicians is usually a rare or substandard occurrence. (One day, we were presented morning tea in the form of a tray lined with hot-pink iced cupcakes and a plate of chocolate chip biscuits next to a crate full of Coke – not really my idea of musician nourishment however it’s the thought that counts). During these situations, I am grateful to have the hand-bag almonds on hand, never leaving home without them.

The Atrium in Ruth's House

The Atrium in Ruth’s House

It only took thirteen festivals to find her, but serendipitously my angelic Tamworth host Ruth Blakely now opens her home and her highly nutritional kitchen to me every year. Ruth’s home is quite simply Nirvana and an essential link to my survival of this festival. Every morning, she prepares an incredible fresh fruit salad of mangoes, strawberries, paw-paw, rockmelon, blueberries and what ever else of what seems to be endless supplies of fruit on-hand. After this, if she isn’t rushing off to work herself, she will offer to cook up a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes. Then, she will fill up jars with almonds, cashews and macadamia nuts for us to take away. Being a host to musicians for several years, she has surely observed the plight  we face every day and understands the value of a good breakfast in order to face the daily marathon, because when we leave her home each day we are often at the mercy of the un-known, food-wise. Sometimes all we will have time for later in the day in between shows, is a quick and easy no-queue-waiting soggy white bread salad sandwich in a plastic container. Or, if there is more than five minutes to spare, perhaps extravagance in the form of a roast dinner for $26.

Performing with The Bushwackers at the Longyard Hotel

Performing with The Bushwackers at the Longyard Hotel

A night off is not something I get to experience much during the festival, however do manage to squeeze one in this time. As all of my time not involved with performing has been writing charts and learning songs and repertoires, there’s been no time to go to any local restaurants or even do any research on where is best to eat out. Plus my ears need a rest from all of the music as some on-stage volume levels have been monumentally decibelic. A quiet, cleansing salad is in order so I rummage through the well-stocked fridge full of love and nourishment, with the addition of some of Ruth’s own home-grown produce to create this one.

Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

Mid-Festival Meltdown Salad Fix

As for any salad, you can add any ingredients you like but being absolutely fresh is the key. Even better if you are lucky enough to pick the produce straight from the garden. Realising my schedule for the next few days would be nothing short of monolithic, this was a definite pick-me-up :-).

Mid-Festival-Meltdown Salad

1 Bunch of English Spinach Leaves

1 Bunch of Rocket Lettuce

1 Zucchini, thinly sliced with a mandolin

1 Cucumber, sliced

Vine Ripened Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half

Basil Leaves, torn

Juice from freshly squeezed lemon

1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper

Dried Chilli Flakes

Method:

Place all ingredients in a bowl, add the lemon juice and olive oil and gently toss. Consume immediately. Goes nicely with a cup of organic green-tea

* You can also add sliced boiled eggs, or for the non-vegetarians some sliced grilled chicken breast.