What's broken

Are food brands believable? The case of an Australian grown choc chip

Picture this: Kids frolicking through sun-baked fields, the golden hue of the sun shining on their happy faces, tall wheat swaying gently in the wind, drops of crystal clear rain nourishing the earth. “Out here, fed by rain, nurtured by earth, kissed by the Australian sun, getting taller everyday…”, says the gentle young voice.

I feel warm and fuzzy inside. It taps into so much of my own personal psyche. As a kid, living in a small town surrounded by fields, I would spend hours kicking a ball about in the open air. They were the happiest days of my life. As a dad, I am fully aware that kids are our future. They need nurturing. And my kids deserve the best. They deserve wholesome, healthy, naturally grown, locally sourced food. Yep, you’ve got me hooked. I’m ready to buy. Just tell me what you are selling.

(Cut to Uncle Toby’s Choc Chip Muesli bar)

Er…are chocolate chips grown in Australia? Wouldn’t they melt in the sun? Can I take the kids chocolate chip picking at the weekend? The kids will be so excited.

I know, I know. Uncle Toby’s aren’t telling me chocolate chips are natural and locally grown. They are talking about the oats. But the intention is to give me the impression that these muesli bars are full of Australian sun-kissed wholesome goodiness. And that makes me angry, because they are not. They are full of sugar and preservatives and they are about as good for me as a can of coke. And at least the can of coke doesn’t pretend to be anything else. 

So, Uncle Toby, here’s a few reasons why I don’t believe you.

I am influenced, but by many things…

Food is a hot topic. The media are awash with information about food security, prices, fads, the sugar debate, food labelling, super-foods and the obesity epidemic. It’s very confusing. But consciously and subconsciously all this information is going into our brains to form an opinion. Little by little, we are becoming more educated about the ingredients in our food. So repackaging the same crap is still crap.

I don’t like being talked at

Twenty years ago I soaked up advertising and believed it all. But today is different. I am not a food expert, but I know there’s more to a muesli bar than oats, even if I can’t list the rest of the ingredients. So telling me it’s wholesome only makes me angry.

I believe my friends

It’s a well-known fact we trust our family and friends more than government or corporations or men in white coats. So if you are making claims about your product, remember that we gossip and today gossip spreads very quickly.

What you can do

It makes me angry that a food company can think that putting gorgeous images of kids frolicking through fields is good enough. It’s not. If this sort of advertising annoys you, get on to Uncle Toby’s Facebook page and let them know: facebook.com/uncletobys

In case you missed it:



European, Tasting

Split pea and smoked hock soup

This soup is the definition of simplicity. Apart from sautéing the carrots, celery and onion, you throw everything else in. And then all you do at the end is remove the ham hocks, blend the soup and throw the meat back in ‘sans’ bones.

It’s hearty, tasty and filling. It easily passes as a main course, especially when you serve it with some nice crusty bread. And it’s (relatively) healthy too. It will keep you regular, if you know what I mean.

It also passed the kid taste test (no screwed up faces and they finished it, with a bit of cajoling of course). Enjoy.

The ingredients (serves 4) – downloaded from taste.com.au

  • 290g (1 1/3 cups) green split peas
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, trimmed, chopped
  • 1 brown onion, halved, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 x ham hocks
  • 2L (8 cups) cold water
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper


  1. Rinse split peas under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the onion softens.
  3. Add split peas, ham hocks and water. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 2 – 2 1/2 hours or until ham hocks are tender and the meat is falling away from the bones. Set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly. Remove ham hocks from pan. Remove the meat from bones. Coarsely chop meat and set aside.
  4. Place one-quarter of the pea mixture in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Repeat with remaining pea mixture. Return to pan with ham. Alternatively, hand blend the soup while it is still in the saucepan (as I did). Taste and season with salt and pepper. Stir over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until hot.
  5. Ladle soup into bowls.
European, Tasting

A winter BBQ for Braveheart and Time Lords

It’s still winter here in Sydney and the weather has been relatively mild (until today, which is bloomin’ ‘orrible). So, when the weather is unseasonably warm, what do poms (English people) living in Australia do? Have a bbq of course. In winter. Wearing short sleeves, eating outside.

I invited friends over from my cycle club.

My cycling club has a funny relationship with weather. When it is even hinting at rain, we pull out of an early morning ride at the drop of the hat. Even the sun temporarily hiding behind one solitary wispy cloud is enough for us to call the ride off. One Shoe will not brave below 12 degrees centigrade, full stop. So we don’t see him too often in the winter, or autumn, or spring for that matter.

A bbq, on the other hand, is a completely different matter. If free food is on offer, the normal fair weather riders turn into Braveheart, willing to huddle together, clan-like, eating cold food and beer in sleet, hail and 120km/h winds.

And team members, normally tardy, suddenly turn into time lords.

Mr Pants (who lives closest to the park where we meet for a cycle) is always late.

Yet at a bbq, he teleports out of nowhere with a half drank bottle of beer wedged between his lips before anyone has arrived. Before I’ve even been born. No words, just a slight nod of the head and a raise of eyebrows to acknowledge he’s here.

The menu included:

  • Grilled chicken marinated in lime, orange juice, garlic, chillies, sherry vinegar and coriander seeds served with Salbitxada sauce (tomato and almond salsa) – courtesy of Bill Granger
  • Butterflied leg of lamb marinated in garlic, rosemary, balsamic vinegar, chilli and a splash of Shaoxing wine

  • Roast potatoes with rosemary and garlic
  • Cabbage and fennel slaw, dressed with sour cream, parmesan and sherry vinegar

  • Rocket, mizuna, spinach and watercress salad (from the garden) with fresh soft boiled eggs (from our chucks) and parmesan (from the supermarket)

  • Fresh sourdough
  • Finished with Chocolate and blueberry cheesecake, courtesy of fellow blogger expat chef.

For this post, I’ll concentrate on the chicken and sauce. If you want to know any other recipes, let me know.


For the chicken

  • 1 X 1.5 kg chicken
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp orange juice

For the salbitxada sauce

  • 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1 roasted red pepper, peeled, diced
  • 30 g blanched almonds, , toasted, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
  • 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh flatleaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil

1. For the chicken: remove the backbone from the chicken by cutting either side of the bone. Flatten out with the palm of your hand, then slash the chicken breast in a few places on each side with a sharp knife. Place the chicken into a dish, cover and set aside in the fridge.

2. Pound the garlic, chilli, coriander seeds and salt to a paste together in a mortar. Transfer the paste to a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then carefully pour the oil over the paste. Add the sherry vinegar, lime juice and orange juice and mix well to combine. Season with freshly ground black pepper, then pour half of the mixture over the chicken and leave to marinate in the fridge for one hour.

3. For the salbitxada sauce: place all the  ingredients, except for the olive oil, into a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a pan until shimmering, then carefully pour over the tomato mixture. Pulse to a chunky puree in a food processor.

4. Heat your barbecue to a high heat. Place the chicken cut-side down on the rack, close the lid and cook for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. (If not using a barbecue, preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7 and cook for 30 minutes, or until cooked through.)

5. To serve, carve the chicken into thick slices and divide between the plates, then serve the salbitxada sauce alongside.




Images from Surry Hills, Sydney

A couple of months back, a friend was visiting from Hong Kong. I hadn’t seen him in a number of years. We went for breakfast at the iconic Bill’s Cafe (my first time) in Surry Hills. Even though I hadn’t seen him in ages, we were giggling like little kids.

There are a lot of the cool creative agencies located in Surry Hills.  So as you can imagine, it is a hub of creativity. I love the area. It’s an old working class suburb that feels alive,  imaginative and slightly bohemian. There are great restaurants and bars, interior design studios, art galleries and cool coffee shops where the beautiful people hang out.

So we went wandering around, taking snaps of the area and stopping for the odd cup of coffee.


Asian, Tasting

Kaleem (Pakistani slow-cooked lamb and lentil dhal)

This, my fine fettled friends, is the best darned dhal recipe ever. Yes, I know, that is a big claim. But this is very tasty. Slow cooking with the lamb adds a tasty dimension. Some of the pulses hold their shape, unlike the many times I’ve made dhal, which normally ends up being 100% thick mush. Tasty mush you could build a house with.

Kaleem isn’t like that. It’s a thick sauce, yes. What dhal wouldn’t be like that? But it has distinguishable pulses dotted throughout and melt-your-mouth lamb. It’s not too heavy either, although I don’t think it’s a summer dish for you lot in the northern hemisphere.

I hope you give it a go.

Check out the recipe here.

Middle eastern, Tasting

A dish I’d turn vegetarian for…

Er, well, maybe not. That’s a big call. I don’t think I could go without a juicy steak and chips on a Saturday night, or a bacon and egg sarnie after my weekend cycle.

But there are some dishes that when I eat I say “Oooh, this is so good I could become a vegetarian”. One is Masala Dosa, a south Indian crispy pancake filled with a spiced potato curry and served with a number of condiments. It was recently featured on Bam’s Kitchen blog, so check it out. It is yum.

And this pumpkin and chickpea soup is another one of those dishes.

It’s hearty, filling and very tasty. It is the complex, yet subtle spice and textures that make this dish a real stunner. Turns a simple soup into something quite sophisticated.

And it can easily pass as a main meal. This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that was featured in a 2008 Delicious magazine.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 1 butternut pumpkin, peeled, diced (about 2cm), seeds rinsed and reserved
  • 1 tbs cumin seeds
  • 1 dried red chilli
  • 2 celery stalks, trimmed, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsely, leaves chopped, stalks finely chopped
  • 2 small red onions, finely chopped (although I used white onions)
  • 1.5L chicken stock
  • 2x 400g can chickpeas, drained (I used 400g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight. But this was way too much, so I made hummus with the leftover. I reckon 200g would be more than enough).
  • 2 tsp each fennel seeds, sesame seeds and poppyseeds
  • 2/3 cup (50g) almond flakes
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • A few springs of fresh mint, leaves chopped
  • Harissa paste (either make your own or shop bought would be fine)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C.

Spread pumpkin on a baking tray. Sprinkle cumin and dried chilli over the pumpkin. Drizzle with olive oil, mix together and roast for 45 minutes or until cooked through.

Heat a large saucepan over medium-low heat and pour in a splash of olive oil. Add the celery, garlic, parsley stalks and 2/3 of the onion. Cook gently with a lid on until softened. Drop in the pumpkin and sweat for a few minutes, then pour in the stock. If you are using dried chickpeas, add them now.

Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. If you are using tinned chickpeas, Add them now and simmer for 15 minutes more.

Meanwhile, dry roast the reserved pumpkin seeds, fennel seeds, sesame, poppy seeds and almonds until coloured all over and you can smell the release of the natural oils of the spices.

Season soup well with sea salt and pepper, then using a stick blender, whiz for a few seconds so it thickens, but there are still some chunky bits. Keep warm while you mix together the lemon zest, parsley and mint leaves. Chop the remaining onion finely, then mix it into the zesty herb mixture.

To serve, put 1/2 tsp harissa paste into each bowl, then ladle over the pumpkin and chickpea soup. Stir each bowl once, then sprinkle with the toasted nuts and seeds, followed by the zesty herb mixture. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.



Pic of the day: Fiji sunset

They are my favourite parts of the day. Sunrises I see when I go for a cycle. Sunsets are when I crack open a beer and watch the world melt away. Here’s a favourite of mine from Fiji. This is a pic of my daughter. Enjoy.

Fiji: my daughter

European, Tasting

Osso Bucco

I didn’t follow a recipe. I applied the same principles from my slow cooked lamb shanks and liberated myself from the shackles of a recipe book.  It was an enlightening experience. I also didn’t put any wine in so the kids could eat it. Even so, the results were mighty fine.

As a reminder, here are my principles for slow cooking:

  • right cut of meat: in this case veal shin, which after slow cooking falls off the bone
  • inject flavour into the sauce: I browned fatty bacon, used a decent beef stock and put in a bouquet garni freshly cut from the garden
  • don’t rush it: friends came over and I left it cooking on the stove top on a low heat for about four hours.


  1. 4 x veal shin (osso bucco)
  2. olive oil
  3. seasoned flour to dust the veal
  4. 1 x carrot, 1 x white onion, 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  5. 1 x garlic clove, finely chopped
  6. two rashers of fatty bacon, chopped
  7. 400ml tin of tomatoes
  8. good teaspoon of tomato paste
  9. beef stock (amount depends on the casserole dish you use, but rule of thumb is that the stock should just cover the meat after all the ingredients have been included)
  10. bouquet garni tied with kitchen twine (I used bay, parsley and rosemary)
  11. chopped parsley


  • heat oil in a casserole dish (make sure it has a tightly fitting top)
  • dust the veal with the seasoned flour
  • brown the veal
  • brown the bacon until crispy
  • add the onion, celery and carrot and cook on a lowish heat until softened.
  • add the garlic
  • if there is any flour left over, add it now, and stir to mix with the vegetables
  • add the meat and bacon back into the casserole dish
  • add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock and tuck the bouquet garni down the side of the meat
  • bring up to a simmer, lower the heat. Add the lid and leave for a few hours
  • when the meat is tender and falling off the bone, remove the lid and let the sauce thicken a little
  • remove the bouquet garni
  • add chopped parsley
  • I served with pasta, but steamed vegetables and creamy mash would be lovely
  • enjoy with a nice glass of red wine.


Pics of the Day: Maroubra sunset

To clear my head I went for a walk down to Maroubra beach. It’s a winter day, but it was a clear, crisp and unseasonably warm. With not many people around, the atmosphere was calming and slightly ethereal. Here are a couple of pics from my little sojourn. It was also my attempt to look professional. I took my tripod, which looked a bit silly with a micro four thirds camera plonked on the top. I hope you enjoy.

Kids playing

Maroubra at sunset

Asian, Tasting

Five spice pork belly with steamed eggplant and garlic

I first moved to Hong Kong in 1995, when I was 24. I went on a whim. As a Brit before 1997, you didn’t need a visa to work.

I was very wet behind the ears. Frankly I didn’t know where Hong Kong was, let alone what the food and cultural values would be like.

My experience of Chinese food to that point was based on local takeaways. A typical dish was sweet and sour pork. Cubes of grey overcooked pork in soggy batter with sweet (no sour or spice) glump. Lumps of tinned pineapple swam in a fluorescent orange glue-like sauce.

Living in Hong Kong opened my eyes to a whole new culture, values and culinary tastes that simply blew me away. Everything was so different. Chinese food was so varied. And so was South East Asian.

So I adore Asian cuisine. I know that sounds very general, but that’s what I love. The variety. The spiciness of Sichuan, the comfort of Beijing dumplings, the straightforwardness and sophistication of Shanghai food, the freshness of Vietnamese, the complexity of Thai and everything else in between. It’s so exotic.

So this weekend, as a nod to the past and a wink to my love of Asian cuisine, I cooked a modern, sophisticated version of sweet and sour pork. It’s a recipe from Christine Manfield’s Fire and is vastly different from Chinglish version of sweet and sour. In fact, if Christine knew I was comparing the two, I think I’d receive a lifetime ban from her restaurant. So let’s call the link tenuous at best.

Fire is an eclectic mix of recipes from around the world. I don’t cook too much out of it, because the recipes tend to be involved, with lots of mini recipes within recipes. There are a few simple dishes though, such as Firecracker Chicken,  straightforward, hot and numbing .

Today’s recipe is Five Spice Pork Belly with Steamed Garlic and Eggplant. The eggplant is finished in a spicy and slightly (but not overly) sweet sauce. It’s involved, but there are also opportunities for shortcuts.

For example, the recipe calls for grinding your own five spice, making your own chilli oil and chilli jam.  If you buy good quality versions, I don’t think it would be a problem. I did everything apart from the chilli jam, because you have to make so much of it. I didn’t see the point, so I bought some.

The recipe also calls for suckling pig. Now, in Hong Kong, suckling pig is just that, young and small. However, laws in Australia prohibit selling of pigs so young. So a suckling pig in Australia is more like a teenager. Too much for a family of four and too big for my oven (as well as a little controversial). So I plumped for pork belly. The recipe in the book is for 12, but below are the correct proportions for four people.

The end result was lovely. Enjoy.

The recipe (for four people)

Sea salt

2kg pork belly

30ml vegetable oil

20ml of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

2 tablespoons of freshly ground Chinese five spice

  • 5 star anise, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds & Sichuan peppers, 2 teaspoons of cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
  • Grind spices and pass through a fine sieve to remove husks

Steamed garlic eggplant

2 x 250g eggplants, deep-fried (cut into chucks and deep fry until golden brown)

2 tablespoons of fried garlic slices (deep or shallow fry until golden brown)

20ml of light soy sauce

20ml oyster sauce

60ml tomato puree

1 tablespoon of caster sugar

1 tablespoon of chilli jam

10ml of sesame oil

1 tablespoon of chilli oil (heat vegetable oil to simmering and add chilli flakes. Turn off the heat and allow to steep)

12 roasted cherry tomatoes (cut cherry tomatoes in half and put in a roasting dish. Add oil, salt, pepper and roast on 180 C for 20-25 mins)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 spring onions

chopped coriander

The method

  • Rub half the salt to the skin of the pork belly and leave for 30 minutes
  • Preheat the oven to 200 C and lightly oil a roasting dish
  • Combine the oil, sweet soy sauce, five spice and the rest of the salt. Massage in to the pork

  • Lay the pork skin side up in the roasting dish. Cook for a couple of hours until the meat is succulent (skewer the meat and the juices should run clear) and the skin crispy. Let it rest for 30 minutes and cut into 2 inch squares.
  • Lay the deep-fried eggplant on a flat plate. Sprinkle with half of the fried garlic slices
  • Steam in a bamboo steamer for 10 minutes
  • Combine the soy and oyster sauces, tomato puree, sugar, chilli jam, and sesame and chilli oil in a saucepan and heat to simmering point
  • Stir in roasted tomatoes and pour over the eggplant, mixing gently. Sprinkle with white pepper and finish with spring onion, remaining garlic slices and coriander.
  • Serve the eggplant and add the pork on top.

Images from Maroubra beach, Sydney

Maroubra cube

In my post, New Beginnings, you’d have seen that my family have moved to Maroubra (there are also a few extra pics in Slow cooked lamb shanks in Sangiovese). Maroubra is a beach suburb in the east of Sydney. Unlike Bondi and Coogee, it hasn’t been over-developed. It still has a slightly shabby and untouched feel, although I am not sure how long this will last. There is talk of development going on very soon.

So I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting to know it a little better. I’m only starting out on this photography lark, so please excuse me if they are a little amateur (some of the photo blogs I visit are breathtaking and very inspirational). Comments/advice most welcome.

Asian, Tasting

Mrs Chen: old crone, pockmarked-face, tofu legend

By all accounts, Mrs Chen wasn’t blessed with good looks. She had a face so disfigured that she was thought to have leprosy. She was often described as a lady who had been stung by a plague of wasps and had an acid tongue to go with it. She was also a widow.

Mr Chen died early. On the one hand, he couldn’t live with being vilified by a society unforgiving of Mrs Chen’s looks. On the other, his brittle heart couldn’t stand the daily lashings of his wife’s stinging words. He died a broken man.

Mrs Chen, penniless, was banished to the outskirts of Chengdu city in Sichuan, to ensure she didn’t spread disease to the wider population.

But out of adversity came opportunity. Mrs Chen was banished to a busy trading post; a well-trodden road frequented by hungry workers earning their living transporting goods. With no restaurant in sight, they often brought food for Mrs Chen to cook for them. For poor weary travellers, this was mostly tofu and meat. As time went on, Mrs Chen perfected a unique way to cook tofu and her restaurant became well-known for it. Travellers came far and wide to sample her dish. Even Mrs Chen’s constant profanity weren’t enough to keep hungry travellers away.*

The dish she created became known as ‘tofu cooked by the old pock-marked woman called Chen’, or Chen ma po tofu.

We know it today as ma po tofu.

The finished dish

Ma po tofu is probably Sichuan cuisine’s most recognisable dish. Silken tofu is cooked with chilli bean paste, minced pork and Sichuan peppers to combine for a sizzling, spicy, numbing flavour. The numbing comes from the Sichuan peppercorn, which is not related to black pepper at all. The plant is part of the citrus family.

Make no bones about it, I am not a fan of tofu. On its own it’s tasteless and bland. But it’s like a sponge and carries flavour so well. In this dish it is the hero. The pork is the support act.

And until this week I had never cooked it from scratch. I have used the recipe from Neil Perry’s Balance and Harmony, probably my favourite cook book.

The ingredients

Note: the bottle of tsing tao is for oiling the chef’s wheels

  • 300g silken tofu, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 200g minced pork belly (or minced pork will do it)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions, sliced (I didn’t have any, so I garnished with coriander)
  • 2 tablespoons hot bean paste
  • 125ml fresh chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • A good pinch of Sichuan pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil


  • Grind the Sichuan pepper in a pestle and mortar until fine (ground to perfection here by my handy assistant and daughter).
  • Heat a wok until smoking.
  • Add the vegetable oil and, when hot, add the minced pork and stir-fry until browned.
  • Then add the garlic, spring onions and bean paste and stir-fry until fragrant.
  • Add the stock, shaoxing, soy sauces, sugar and salt.
  • Bring to the boil, add the tofu and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly. Add the Sichuan pepper and sesame oil and gently mix together.
  • Serve with jasmine rice.
*Note: I have slightly stretched the original story, but I promise no wasps were harmed in the writing of this post.

A picture showing the evolution of man, starting with ape and finishing with man carrying fast food
What's broken

Should we be doing more to tackle obesity?

I read this week an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about a study conducted by the London School of Medicine on global obesity.

The researchers predict that if all people had increased their weight to the same average body mass index (BMI) as Americans (85 kg), it’s equivalent to adding one billion people to the world’s population. In short, it’s not just an increasing population we need to worry about for food security, it’s our widening girth.

So, now the agenda has broadened from chronic disease to ecological sustainability, are we doing enough to tackle obesity? Or are we quite happy for our kids to eat pizza and it be classified as one serving of a vegetable?

It’s a tricky line to tread, because civil libertarians would argue that as long as we can pay, we can do what we like in society, and that tackling obesity is moving towards a nanny state. The argument is the same as the tobacco industry continue to spruik – as long as you’re an adult, you should be free to choose what you want to do.

But when the burden on society is so great on our population and resources today and tomorrow, we can’t simply turn a blind eye and continue to pander to food lobbyists. Can we?

What do you think?

Should people be free to make their own choices, whatever the consequences on society? Or should governments step in and tackle the issue head on?

European, Tasting

An offally good pie

Now, I know offal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But before you start pretending to put two fingers down your throat and mimic hurling your guts up, hear me out for a second.

Firstly, I’m not a passionate advocate when it comes to offal. I will only eat it if it is turned into something special and I can forget it’s offal on the plate. So there is hope for you.

I can, at a push, eat liver if it is cooked nicely (not overdone, slightly pink) and in a very tasty onion gravy that masks the flavour. Serve it with a mountain of buttery mash and I’m just about ok. I’ll give sweetbreads a go because the name has no bearing on what they actually are, and the French are very good at turning these little nuggets into something quite lovely.

But one thing I have never been able to eat on their own are kidneys. I could never quite get my head around the fact that kidneys are designed to siphon toxins from an animal’s body. Surely that can’t be good to eat. And that smell.

So, it may come as a surprise that I am writing about steak and kidney pie. This recipe is the one exception (there is only one) to my aversion to kidneys. You see, something remarkable happens when you cook kidneys with a good cut of beef, good stock, red wine and a smattering of a few other ingredients for a couple of hours. Gone is the smell of a male public toilet and hello delicious, rich gray with melt-in-your-mouth beef.

Convinced? No?

Well, add to that a buttery and flaky short crust pastry and you have in my view the tastiest pie on the planet. Rich, tasty, meaty, flaky, moist and all the yuk factor of kidneys melts away in your mouth like they never existed.

If you are unsure about offal, this recipe is for you. You’d never know you were eating it.

Gone on, give it a go. You only live once.

The recipe

I used the recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s “The River Cottage Meat Book”. It’s a fab book, if you like meat. Good, hearty traditional and honest food. His recipe calls for homemade puff pastry, which is a little time-consuming for me. So I plumped for Delia Smith’s short crust flaky pastry. Dead easy and a winner in my book.

The filling

  • 1kg of beef skirt or chuck steak cut into generous cubes (you can ask the butcher to cut it up for you)
  • 400g of kidneys, cored and cut into chunks (again, ask your butcher to do this for you)
  • A little oil
  • Up to 50g of plain flour, seasoned
  • 1 glass of red wine (a generous glass!)
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon of English mustard
  • 1 bay leaf
  • About 750ml of stock (I used veal stock)
  • 350g of button mushrooms
  • Salt and pepper

The pastry (note you may have to increase the proportions because I didn’t quite have enough to line the dish and put the top on)

  • 225g of plain flour
  • 175g of cold butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • Cold water to mix
  • One egg yolk

Start by making the pastry. Make sure the butter is cold. Cut up the butter into cubes and add to the flour in a large bowl. Using a palette knife, stir and break up the butter so that mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Don’t use your hands. You’re trying to keep the mixture as cool as possible. My hands are as hot as hell – good for massage, rubbish for pastry making. I’m ok with that. But it means need to keep my hands as far away from the pastry as possible.

Then add cold water little by little (about a tablespoon at a time) and continue to mix using the palette knife. When it all comes together and the bowl is clean, pour it out onto a work surface and bring the dough together. You don’t need to work it much. If you do, you’ll lose the flakiness. Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour or so.

Now make the filling. Heat a little oil in a heavy based frying. Dip the beef in the plain flour, dust of the excess and fry the meat in batches until browned.

First brown the meat

Do the same with the kidneys. Transfer the meat to a heavy based casserole or saucepan.

Brown the kidneys

When all the meat is browned, deglaze the frying pan with half of the wine and add this to the meat.

In the frying pan, add a little oil and fry the sliced onion until softened. Add the onions to the meat, along with the mustard, ketchup, bay leaf and enough stock to cover the meat. Add the rest of the wine.

Add bay leaf, English mustard and tomato ketchup

Cook on a very gentle simmer for one and a half hours, until the beef is fairly tender, but not quite finished. Leave to cool. At this point, brown the mushrooms and add to the meat mix.

Next, roll out the pastry. I used a square pie dish. Make sure you grease it lightly.

Roll out two rectangles of pastry, one to fit the top and a bigger version to fit the bottom and sides. You’ll need to roll the pastry out about 5mm thick.

Line the dish with the largest bit of pastry, right up to the lip of the dish. Trim any excess. Brush the inside with egg yolk. Spoon in the meat so that it is higher in the middle than the edges. Then spoon in the juices.

Cover the pie with the smaller piece of pastry and add to the top of the pie. Crimp the edges to seal it.

Bake the pie in a moderately hot over (190 C) for 50 minutes to an hour, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve with vegetables and buttery mash.

More pie porn


Cooking with kids, Tasting

Orange and cardamon biscuits

Rustic and crunchy, these biscuits are the business

This recipe is dead easy and the results are amazing. Crunchy, spicy, glossy biscuits that beat anything you can get in the shops. My kids helped me make this, they are that easy. I find making biscuits is a good way to get the kids involved. The recipes are simple, so don’t get bored. They can mix, help roll the dough and best of all lick the bowl and spoons.

This recipe is from Bill Granger’s Open Kitchen. I love this book. It’s so Sydney. What I really like about it is the recipes are short and fairly easy. But the results are always amazing. It’s a book I forget about and then come back to and earmark loads of recipes I want to make. I don’t get tired of it.

The recipe

  • 375g of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 345g brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons of brandy (I didn’t have any, so I added a little water to make sure the dough came together)
  • finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • extra plain flour for dusting
  • 1 egg white for glazing
  • 30g of granulated sugar

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl. Place brown sugar and butter in another bowl and beat until pale and creamy. Add the brandy and zest and mix well. Using a large metal spoon, fold through the dry ingredients in two batches.

Put a bit of flour on the work surface and need the dough for 30 seconds. Roll the dough into a large rectangle shape about 5mm thick.Cut into shapes of 3cm x 6cm. Brush with egg white and sprinkle with the granulated sugar.

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Place biscuits 2cm apart on a baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and leave to cook on a wire rack. This recipe makes about 40.



Snap happy in Hyde Park, Sydney

There’s something magical about Hyde Park in Sydney. It’s surrounded by old majestic buildings, has old majestic trees running through it, is steeped in history and is frequented by so many interesting people. And it’s smack bang in the city.

It’s a great place to wander round and snap happy. Below are some photos I have taken recently as I wandered lonely as a cloud. Hope you enjoy them.

European, Tasting

It’s slow cooked season: recipe for lamb shanks braised in Sangiovese

Winter is the time to take everything slowly. Slow walks along the beach, slow to get dressed on weekend mornings, slow read of the paper and slow cooked food. It’s my favourite time of year for cooking because the frantic, last minute prepping of summer food is replaced with melt-in-your-mouth one pot wonders, with no worry about having to watch over the pot every couple of minutes.

This recipe ticks all the boxes. I haven’t used a recipe from a book. That’s the beauty of slow cooking. You don’t need to. Follow a few basic principles (right cut of meat, inject flavour into the sauce and don’t rush it) and you can’t go wrong. It’s the old adage – the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Slow cooking is food alchemy.

The recipe is below along with a few photos of the food and us enjoying our new backgarden.

Lamb shanks slow braised in Sangiovese, served with pasta

4 x lamb shanks

Plain flour to dust the lamb

Olive oil

1 x rasher of bacon or proscuitto

1 x carrot, stick of celery and onion, all finely diced

2 cloves of garlic

6 x French shallots

Mix of herbs, tied with butcher’s twine (I used rosemary, bay and parsley)

1 x large tin of tomatoes

Enough red wine (don’t get cheap plonk, it’s not worth it. I went for Sangiovese) to cover the meat in a casserole dish (needs a tight fitting lid and should be big enough to hold the meat nice and snugly)


  1. Dust the shanks in plain flour. Knock off any excess flour.
  2. Heat oil in the casserole dish on a fairly high heat.
  3. Brown the shanks. Set aside for later
  4. Brown the bacon/proscuitto. Set aside.
  5. Lower heat and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook until softened (probably about ten minutes)
  6. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a minute or so
  7. Add any excess flour to the cooked vegetables and stir through (this will help thicken the sauce)
  8. Add the lamb shanks, bacon, herbs, tomatoes and enough wine to cover the meat (around half a bottle, depending on the size of your casserole dish). Season to taste.
  9. Bring liquid to the boil, turn heat down to a simmer and add the lid. Cook on a low heat for at least a couple of hours.
  10. Check the meat. When it falls off the bone without any effort it’s done. At this point I take the bones out, remove the lid and cook for another hour or until the sauce has reduced or thickened.
  11. Serve with pasta, and finish with decent parmesan and chopped parsley. I tried to make handmade parpardelle but I made a right pigs ear of the dough. I used the wrong flour. So I had to go with dried penne – it’s all we had.

New beginnings

For the last four and a half years I have lived with my wife and two young and energetic daughters in a two bedroom flat, about 9kms from the centre of Sydney. It was convenient, but very small. And living with three other families in the block was far from ideal.

So we have now moved to our little oasis ten minutes walk from Maroubra Beach, Sydney. We have chickens (Snowy and Sophie), raised veggie beds, a big outdoor deck for entertaining and more importantly space for the kids to run and space for mum and dad to feel less stressed. The kids get up every morning to check if any eggs have been laid.

Until last week, I had never eaten a proper, freshly laid egg.  Oh my. The egg was creamy, yummy, and so colourful.

Yes, our place is a bit further away, but it’s a small price to pay to have privacy and peace and quiet. It’s the reason I’ve been quiet of late (that as well as work), so expect more food posts to come as we settle in. Below is a selection of pictures from our new piece of paradise to whet your apetite.


Stunning south coast of New South Wales, Australia

Three hours south of Sydney is Jervis Bay. The Bay beaches are world famous for their white sands and crystal clear waters. The protected beaches and marine park make for a tranquil getaway. My family have been there every year since arriving in Australia eight years ago. We love it because it is still relatively unspoilt. There’s amazing camping in the national park at Greenpatch, a state run site right next to the beach. At the other end, there’s ample choice of luxurious villas.

At Easter we went to a place called Currnajong Point on Lake Canjola. We only went for four days, so hired a villa. Here’s a few photos of the beautiful south coast of New South Wales.