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A Few of My Favourite Things!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

WCB 51

Winter is very much upon us now and I think our clever kitties have discovered that we turn on the electric blanket in the evening some time before we are ready for bed because they don't always seem inclined to spend time with us on the couch in the evenings. They appear to prefer the warmth of our bed to the warmth of our company. Here's another way of staying warm though - by wrapping themselves up in the blanket that we abandon when we are ready for bed!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Chocolate-Ginger Checkboard Cookies

Oooooo, I feel so bad! But yes, I am going to, um, sorta cheat but I'll call it taking a little shortcut! I'm combining my entry for Sugar High Friday and Donna Hay Day with this little contribution. I present the Chocolate Ginger Checkerboard Cookie!

The theme for this SHF, which is being hosted by
Ruth, is ginger - an ingredient that I use to absolutely loath. I could not understand why mum would want to cook with it all the time. I'd find it in soups, chicken dishes, vegetable dishes and I'd insist that she fish out all the pieces so that I would not accidentally encounter it during my meal. I didn't understand how mum could enjoy eating the bits of ginger that she had removed from my plate but, y'know what, some tastes can be and are worth acquiring. I love ginger now, although I tend to use it more in savoury dishes than sweet.

I've been thinking about making the Chez Panisse Gingersnaps that Clotilde blogged about some time back but after reading that this Donna Hay Day's challenge was Checkerboard Snap Cookies, I got thinking. More specifically, I got thinking about crystallised ginger pieces coated with dark chocolate. Translate this to the checkerboard cookies - how about dark chocolate squares matched with ginger-flavoured squares. And why not add some small ginger pieces to the ginger squares? Hey, why not go all the way and add ginger to the dark chocolate squares too?

So, I amended the basic recipe to include 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp ground cloves and 2 tbs cinnamon and 1 tbs stem ginger pieces in half of the dough and cocoa and Green & Black's organic dark chocolate with crystallised ginger pieces in the other half.

These cookies smell like gingerbread but for me, the dark chocolate parts were the best bit about these cookies - intensely chocolately with a hint of ginger. I would add even more ginger next time so there's a real zing to each bite.

Chocolate-Ginger Checkerboard Snap Cookies

185 gms butter, 1 cup of caster sugar, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 2 1/2 cups flour, 2 eggs

  1. Beat buter, sugar and vanilla until smooth
  2. Add flour and eggs, beating until smooth
  3. Halve the dough and add 1/2 cup cocoa powder and 1 tbs Green&Black's dark chocolate with crystallised ginger pieces to one lot. Add 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp ground cloves and 2 tbs cinnamon and 1 tbs stem ginger pieces to the other half.
  4. Divide each half into 2 lots and shape into logs. Place a ginger log next to a chocolate log, then top ginger log with the other chocolate log and top the chocolate log with the other ginger log.
  5. Slice into 4-5mm thickness with sharp knife and bake 10-12 min at 180C.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Mussels are so incredibly easy to cook, it's hard to go wrong. After debearding them and giving them a once over with a brush, these mussels were thrown into a pot with some sauteed onions, parsley and white wine, steamed until they opened. Serve immediately with a crusty baguette! Mmmmm....
We also had this:

I recently bought "The Soup Peddlar's Slow & Difficult Soups" by David Ansell, who shares with us his first season of serving soup to those in his neighbourhood and 35 soup recipes. I have to admit that I've skipped past all the reminiscing and straight to the soup recipes. I flipped through a number that sounded promising but how could I go past the 'Armenian Apricot Soup'? Kinda like a watery dahl but with the sweetness of apricots instead of warmth of spices. I did add a few dashes of white pepper to cut through some of the sweetness but all-in-all the soup was quite delicious.

Armenian Apricot Soup

1 tbs olive oil, 2 onions (diced), 3 carrots (chopped), 1 tbs groud cumin, 3 cups red lentils, 10 cups water, 375g dried apricots (chopped), salt & white pepper

  1. Saute onions in carrots in olive oil for around 10 min.
  2. Add cumin and stir well before decreasing heat and sweating vegetables for 10 min
  3. Add lentils and enough water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 min until softened. Top up water as required
  4. Remove from heat and stir in apricots, remaining water and season. Puree until smooth and serve hot (although I think room temp is fine too)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Greatest Shave- Coca Cola Chicken & Pasta Bake

We held an office lunch and took part in the World's Greatest Shave to raise money for the Leukaemia Foundation a couple of weeks back. It was a pot-luck lunch so everyone brought something along to share. A. marinated some chicken wings and drumettes which I helped him to bake in a slow oven with a couple of glugs of Coca Cola (yes, you read that right!). Mmmm,dish of the day! Just have a look at that picture - doesn't it make you drool? I made a pasta-bake with a bolognese-type sauce that included peas and sweet corn, and buffalo mozarella melted through.

So, now A.'s hair is short - down to a 1 - and I think he looks great, as always! My hair got a colour - blue and glittery-silver vertical stripes.

Friday, May 19, 2006

WCB 50: Pretty Picture

Before drawing this picture, my niece wanted to know whether 'the cats' would rip the paper to bits with their sharp claws if I gave it to them! As you can see, they gave the drawing due attention!

I like lying on my stomach to read (even tho' I know that this is so bad for my back!) and the cats, especially Bella, like to cuddle up in front of my chest, between me and the book/newspaper that I'm perusing. Sometimes though, they will actually attempt to sit ON the newspaper itself and give me glances as if to say "Look at ME!". I'm well aware of this being a most effective way of getting attention as I myself as a toddler used to sit on the exact article in the newpaper that my mum would be reading! How naughty of me...and isn't it nice to know that my kitties take after me? Heh heh.

I've been slack with WCB lately and I even missed the big news, but we're back & we wish Clare & Casey the best!

Happy Mother's Day

Look what I got for Mother's Day! Aren't my parents the best? te hee hee

After getting up extra early on a Sunday for the Mother's Day Classic, a fun run around Melbourne's Botanical Garden, we rushed around to Sydney Road to pick up some Lebanese sweets to share when our families came over that afternoon. I didn't get photos of the Knafi, a Lebanese pastry made with clotted cream and topped with pistachios and syrup, but we normally order it in a huge tray that measures 50-60cm in diametre. We normally have this with kaak, a type of bread sprinkled with sesame seeds. This dessert is popular for celebratory-type occasions such as the day after a wedding. I'm always astounded by the similarities in food between cultures and for those who are familiar, kaak is almost exactly like the Asian 'Ham Cheem Bang' (sorry, my terrible guess at the spelling!) minus the cinnamon. Hmmm, I wonder who came up with it first?

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Tale of Two Hotels

When we are away on holidays, I usually start missing the comforts of home after several days of suitcase-living. I miss the freedom of being able to throw a simple meal together for dinner or even to boil some hot water as many hotels do not offer tea and coffee making facilities. My preference is to stay in a self-catering place or in an apartment, but when this is not possible for whatever reasons, I like to find a hotel that provides as many of the facilities that will allow me to do most of the things that I do at home. For example, exercise goes a long way in making me feel less jet-lagged so I will try to find a hotel that has a gym. I enjoy drinking hot water first thing in the morning, so having a kettle in the room is good.

Before booking a room, I will check the hotel reviews in Trip Advisor. These are far more accurate than going by the pictures shown on a website (which can be very deceptive!) or the facilties that the hotel lists on its website.

On this trip, A. & I found a fantastic hotel in Prague that I had to write about. Designed by Eva Jiricna, Hotel Josef has a brightly-lit and very contemporary interior. We were initially given a room in the older part of the hotel but upon requesting a room at the front, our belongings were moved to a room in the newer part of the hotel while we were out sightseeing. When we asked for a kettle, one appeared at our door as soon as it was made available. We were mistakenly told upon checking in that our breakfast was included so they provided us breakfast free of charge the next morning. The service was just outstanding at this place and nothing appeared to be too much trouble. The front-of-house staff always had a friendly smile ready and greeted us upon our return.

We had quite the opposite experience in our next hotel, the Regent Petite France in Strasbourg. I don't really like the ieda of putting out a 'bad' review of any place and I don't think that I have anything really terrible about this hotel. I think it's just that the indifferent service was so contrasting with our Prague experience that it felt like a real let-down for us.

Let me give you some examples:

1. we were watching one of their pay TV movies on night when the movie suddenly stopped playing. My husband spoke to reception and was told that the movie had finished because the video had stopped. When he explained that it had in fact not finished, the receoptionist asked 'Are you sure?'. Well, it's kinda obvious when you haven't seen the end.

2. The front-of-house never greeted us once when we came downstairs or when we returned for the evening. Now, in a place where almost everyone greets you with 'Bonjour' when you pass in the corridors, it did make us wonder why the staff wouldn't even bother looking at us. We did notice that they were quite good with the other guests, who generally tended to be slightly more mature with young or teenage children. Was it a case of being biased against visitors who did not look like they should be staying at a stuffy hotel?

3. I noticed that the hotel advertised a fitness centre when making the booking. On the first morning, I wandered down to the first floor for a quick workout, and well, it turned out to be a LOT quicker than I expected. I walked into a dimly lit room to see 2 deck chairs in the middle of a small room. There was a decrepit bike at one corner that had seen better days and a sauna next to it. I'm not sure why the deck chairs were there given that it was obviously not for sunbathing - the window coverings could not be open and there was barely any direct sunlight into the room. But, seeing as the bike was the only form of exercise equipment there, I hopped on. When I described it as decrepit, I really do mean it. You had to change gears by flicking a metal rod out of one setting then pushing it into the next gear setting. The best thing about it was that it started making a clack-clack sound whenm I started cycling, which increased in speed as I cycled faster. I managed about 30 or 45 seconds before almost falling off the bike 'cos I was giggling so hard. Fortunately no one else was in the room :-D I then called A. and told him to come down and check out the great gym

Anyway, we didn't stress out too much about the second hotel, but it really confirmed to us what a great place Hotel Josef is. I would definitely recommend this hotel if anyone is staying in Prague and we will be staying there again in the future. Thanks to all the staff there!

View from our second room at Hotel Josef

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Manakeesh Four Ways

I was thinking about the Manakeesh (pronounced 'm-naeesh') bi Zatar from Sydney Road and decided that some home-made ones were in order. After mentioning this to A., we decided on M'naeesh bi Za'atar, bi Feta, bi Salami/Tomato/Jibne (cheese) and bi Zaytoun (olives).

I followed the recipe from Arabesque by Greg & Lucy Malouf and also compared it to a different one that was pretty much just flour and yoghurt. I much prefer this recipe as the dough is more pliable and the other dough tasted a little too sour for my taste.

Lebanese Bread
(based on recipe from
Arabesque by Greg & Lucy Malouf)
500g mix of plain and stoneground flour, 20g salt, 30g yeast, 20g white sugar, 1.5 cups warm water
  1. Mix yeast, sugar and water and let sit 5 min until foamy.
  2. Add this to flour & salt mixture and mix with dough hook. Knead for 5-10 min until smooth, glossy dough forms.
  3. Cover with cling wrap and leave in warm spot until dough doubles in size.
  4. Knock dough back & divide into 16 balls. Roll each out into a round ~15-20 cm in diam.
  5. Top as you like and bake at 180C for around 10 min.