Kulaway Nut young Thai coconuts

Many years ago, when I was a kid, my dad bought fresh coconuts once in a while. All I can remember is that they were mature coconuts (the hairy ones), it was a pain in the ass to crack them open, and completely worthless to me because I didn’t like coconuts.

A while ago we found young Thai coconuts in Woolies. Opening them was a bit difficult because we had no idea how to do it properly, but it was worth the effort. The meat was delicious, sweet and moist, and the water super fresh, way better tasting than packaged coconut water.

Coconut meat is high in healthy saturated fats and fiber, plus it has a low glycemic index (doesn’t raise blood sugar too much). Coconut water has lots of electrolytes but it also has some sugar, so it’s great as a rehydrating post-workout drink. It’s also delicious as an alternative to sugary drinks for making cocktails.

Coconut

Kulaway Nut coconut

Now that we’re hours away from the new year, why not make a toast with a fresh coconuty drink?

Happy new year everyone! May you meet all your goals in 2012!

Christmas Paleo eats

In Perú the biggest celebration of the year is Christmas eve. That’s when most families get together for a big feast, presents, hugs, kisses, and fireworks. We (my sisters, parents, niece, aunties and uncle) used to spend Christmas eve in my parents’ house eating roast turkey, “Russian” salad (beetroot, potato, peas, carrots, corn, apple, avocado and mayo), applesauce and rice (sometimes white, sometimes with olives and raisins, sometimes Middle Eastern-style). After dinner we waited until midnight, when we made a toast with cider and hugged each other. Next came the gift exchange, followed by more (!) food: panettone and hot chocolate (yes, hot, in the middle of summer).

Christmas lunch was at my uncle and aunties’ house (right next door from my parents’), and it was always takeaway chifa (Peruvian-influenced Cantonese food), which we bought every year from the same restaurant. The massive meal was followed by ice cream for dessert and more panettone and hot choc for afternoon tea.

My family back home is still eating the same meals every year. The expats (my sister Gladys, Alvaro and I) decided from day one to forget about traditions and go with whatever we felt like. This year we decided it was time to roast a turkey again, so we got a small one from Establishment 218. I followed the recipe in this post with a small change: I didn’t have any whisky on hand, so I used Cointreau (which worked out really well with the orange juice), and didn’t add any honey (enough sugar in the booze!). The result was fantastic.

Xmas eve dinner: Turkey

Turkey

Who needs rice when there’s cauliflower? Seriously, people! Cauliflower rice with toasted almonds and raisins (recipe here) was the perfect side for the bird, with its sweet and nutty taste, and its crunchy texture.

Cauliflower rice with raisins and almonds

We also had a simple, yet flavourful mushrooms, palmitos and olives salad. The salty, briny flavours of the palmitos and olives complemented the sweetness in the other components beautifully. Well, that’s what I think :)

Mushrooms, palmitos & olives salad

Mushrooms, palmitos & olives salad

We made a break to open our presents. For dessert there was no panettone and hot chocolate, but instead an almond flour shortbread (recipe here) served with coconut milk and cherries.

Almond shortbread, coconut milk & cherries

On Christmas day we skipped breakfast (dinner was super late and plentiful) and dived straight into lunch: BBQed veggies & seafood. We bought prawns, octopus, calamari and scallops in Faros Bros the day before (big queues!). The veggies were zucchinis, onions and mushrooms.

Grilled veggies & seafood

Grilled veggies & seafood – Yes, that’s a plate for one

Salads, etc.

As sides we had a beetroot & kohlrabi salad, leftover salad, leftover palmitos, an avocado and lemon wedges. And a few glasses of chilled semillon/sauvignon blanc.

Hope everybody had an awesome Christmas filled with love and great food!

Review: The Kitchen @ ivy bar (Sydney CBD)

I’ve done it again. I’ve visited another Merivale establishment. I felt, once again, like a black spot in a sea of white. And yellow. At the ivy bar.

Looking for a quick lunch in the budget in the city is quite a task. Fortunately, the kitchen at the ivy is not that expensive and has enough variety to keep everyone satisfied. The coolest thing about the bar, apart from the hip people sipping trendy drinks, is that you can mix and match your salads ($12, including classics like the Greek and the Caesar and a few others) and your choice of protein ($8, including prawns, chicken, salmon, and steak). And the menu indicates which options are vegetarian and/or gluten-free. Extremely helpful.

I chose the roast beetroot, pumpkin, spinach, goats’ feta and baked tomatoes salad and the harissa king prawns. I asked about the prawns’ serving size, they told me they were big and plentiful. Alright, then.

Some minutes later, the buzzer let me know my meal was ready. I panicked a little bit because it looked smallish on the plate. The salad was good, but the chunks of beetroot (my favourite vegetable), pumpkin and goats’ feta were scarce. There were about six medium-sized prawns with a great harissa kick. I was a bit hungry after lunch; next time I’ll order two protein add-ins.

Roast beetroot, pumpkin, spinach, goats’ feta and baked tomatoes salad with harissa king prawns

Roast beetroot, pumpkin, spinach, goats’ feta and baked tomatoes salad ($12.00) with harissa king prawns ($8.00)

The Kitchen @ ivy bar
Level 1, 330 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9254 8100
merivale.com.au/ivybar

Review: Splash Seafood (Newtown)

My housemate Bonnie is not like me. If she eats somewhere and she likes it she’d be keen on returning ASAP and often order the same dish. She had dinner at Splash Seafood a while ago with a friend and loved the coriander barramundi she ordered so much she had to have it again.

So we went for dinner and even when she was pretty sure about what to have we ended up ordering something different for sharing purposes. As we both love prawns and scallops, the entrées were easy to pick: garlic prawns served in a cast iron pot in sizzling olive oil, garlic & parsley, and Tasmanian scallops, grilled and served on a bed of mixed leaves with lemon & aioli.

As main we ordered the Macadamia cod, grilled with crushed macadamia nuts and topped with lemon and butter sauce. We asked if the sauce had any kind of flour in it, the super attentive waitress asked the cooks and they said no. Fantastic. The fish comes served with mash potato or rice and salad, we asked if we could have steamed veggies and salad (no dressing, please) instead. Not a problem. Great.

The prawns and the scallops arrived at the same time. Sadly, the scallops were crumbed (it didn’t cross our minds because they were grilled and we did ask about flour in the main dish), but fortunately the waitress (a different one) apologised and offered to bring uncrumbed scallops for us. The new dish came shortly, the scallops were a tad overcooked, but at least didn’t have any flour on them. We couldn’t taste the garlic in the aioli, it was more like very lemony mayonnaise.

Tasmanian scallops

Tasmanian scallops ($15.90)

The garlic prawns were great, the oil was super hot even when it took us a few minutes to dig in, and had a nice garlic-parsley flavour, although it was low in salt. The serving size is 5 prawns, which is perhaps a bit pricey and definitely difficult to share between two (try cutting a prawn in half inside a pot of hot oil).

Garlic prawns

Garlic prawns ($18.50)

We were not impressed by the main. After Bonnie’s description of the dish she fell in love with, my expectations were high. The fish was ok but overcooked and thus dryish. Not a lot of macadamia (felt like there was only one in the whole dish) or butter but the veggies (which included sautéed zucchinis, yay!) and salad were great.

Macadamia cod

Macadamia cod ($29.90)

Splash Seafood
226 King Street
Newtown NSW 2042
(02) 9550 1229
www.splashseafood.com

Review: Opia Cafe and Pizzeria (Sydney CBD)

It was Monday. It was raining and I didn’t have leftovers for lunch. I wasn’t willing to walk too much to get something to eat, and fortunately I didn’t have to. Opia Cafe and Pizzeria has been in my to-try list for a while, mainly because of its location, a couple of blocks away from my office. And because I see their takeaway menu every time I open the fridge at work.

For a person who doesn’t eat grains it sounds a bit silly to go to a pizzeria. That’s when the “cafe” part comes in handy. They have a decent variety of main dishes and salads, and of course coffee.

I ordered the super simple smoked salmon and avocado salad topped with mixed cress leaves, olive oil and lemon dressing. Unlike other places where you are (usually pleasantly) surprised by undisclosed ingredients on your plate, Opia stays true to the menu descriptions.

Smoked salmon & avocado salad

Smoked salmon and avocado salad ($18.00)

Simple as it was, it was carefully presented and well seasoned. I ordered a long black to try the coffee, and it was good. I can’t say I was full after the meal but I wasn’t starving either. Service was friendly and effective, even during the lunchtime rush.

Opia Cafe and Pizzeria
115 Clarence Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9299 9119
opia.com.au

Review: Paju BBQ (Newtown)

On our way back from lunch at Rowda Ya Habibi I spotted a new (to me) Korean BBQ restaurant on King Street. What’s not to love about grilled meats and an unlimited supply of delicious side dishes?

Alvaro and I went there for dinner that day. The place, located on a first floor, looks a bit too fancy for this kind of restaurant and for the sign downstairs. I couldn’t remember what was there before until I Googled the address. Top Level pizza was its previous tenant; now it all makes sense.

We were served by a young man and an older couple (I guess the owners), all super attentive. We ordered a plate of Wagyu beef intercostal and pork belly. Shortly after, a portable grill arrived to the table.

The side dishes (aka banchan) in this restaurant are excellent. We were provided cabbage kimchi, daikon kimchi, mung bean jelly with sesame seeds, boiled egg in soy sauce, a Western-style leaves salad, dipping sauces, lettuce and whole chillies. The kimchis were a bit too spicy for Alvaro, which allowed me to have more.

Egg in soy sauce, cabbage kimchi, mung bean jelly, daikon kimchi

Side dishes

Salad & sauces

Salad & sauces

Lettuce & chillies

Lettuce & chillies

The owner came to the table to grill our meats. We must look like complete rookies… well, at least we can use chopsticks. Both meats were fantastic, super tender and flavourful. Some people would miss the charred flavour achieved by using an open grill; I didn’t mind not having the BBQ smell in my hair and clothes for the rest of the day.

Wagyu intercostal

Wagyu intercostal

Wagyu beef intercostal ($16.00)

Pork belly

Pork belly

Pork belly ($13.00)

We got a refill for our side dishes. I asked the older man if they sold kimchi and he told me that no, but they could give me some for free. “My wife makes it”, he told me with a smile. The young man promptly brought me some cabbage kimchi in a takeaway container. Talk about excellent customer service!

We were full and ready to go when a complimentary quartered orange arrived to round off the meal with a sweet, fresh and healthy touch.

Complimentary orange

Complimentary orange

In a street where restaurants come and go all the time I really hope this one stays a long, long time.

Paju BBQ
Level 1, 196 King Street
Newtown NSW 2042
(02) 9517 2772
www.facebook.com/pajubbq

Review: Rowda Ya Habibi (Newtown)

Before tucking in this review, remember there’s a Xmas book giveaway going on. Type in a comment for a chance to win, you have time until this Friday 16th at noon.

Back to our regular program… Sunday was a crazy day. The clear, sunny sky turned into a black roof and all of the sudden it started pouring down. My sister and I met at Rowda Ya Habibi, which was pretty empty for weekend at lunchtime. I’d usually take it as a bad sign but in this case I blamed it on the weather. I mean, several trustworthy food bloggers and eating guides have praised this Lebanese place, so it can’t be bad, right? Wrong.

The front of the restaurant is like other budget takeaway joints, with ready-to-go food in a glass display and a few tables. There’s a sign annoucing a cushion room upstairs (more suitable for functions, I guess) and a dining room at the back, which was our chosen spot. The furniture and decor look worn out but I’ve learned that some of the best eateries ain’t fancy at all.

There are a few banquet options on a blackboard, and a la carte menu, both with reasonable prices. As always, we choose from the latter. I ordered the shish kebab (tender lamb fillet pieces grilled on skewers) and Gladys the kafta (lamb minced with parsley and onion grilled on skewers). Given the lack of salads we ordered a side of fried cauliflower and a Lebanese omelette (egg, parsley, mint and garlic, all combined and pan fried) to share.

Among the first things to arrive at the table was a basket of complimentary Lebanese bread that was appreciated but remained almost untouched (Gladys had a piece). The fried cauliflower arrived too, but with mashed garlic instead of the sesame sauce announced in the menu. The florets were swimming in not-so-fresh-tasting oil.

Fried cauliflower

Fried cauliflower ($8.00)

In the middle of the table there was a plate with what I thought were complimentary falafels, until Gladys told me it was the Lebanese “omelette”. It was visibly crumbed so I took out the outer layer and tried the interior. It was dry and cakey, with lots of flour in it. Bummer! Why on Earth did they mention all the ingredients except the gluten-containing ones in the menu? I ate part of the red cabbage tossed with tahini that was in the middle of the plate, the highlight of the entire meal.

Lebanese omelette

Lebanese omelette ($8.00)

Moving on to the main dishes: the meats were served with a pale slice of tomato cut in half, on top of some more cabbage and with some mashed garlic on the side. My “tender” lamb fillet pieces were more on the chewy side and underseasoned. Gladys’ kafta was easier on the jaw but also needed some salt.

Shish kebab

Shish kebab ($12.00)

Kafta

Kafta ($12.00)

Lunch was small but felt heavy on our stomachs, even without all that bread.

Rowda Ya Habibi
101 King Street
Newtown NSW 2042
(02) 9557 5368

Book giveaway

Xmas is coming! I have four food-related books that I bought brand new but realised won’t need them. So what better idea to give them to some of the brave people who read my silly posts? Here’s the deal: just write a comment in this post saying which book or books would you like to have from the list. Unlike Santa I can’t guarantee you’ll get what you asked for, but I’ll do my best. Just make sure to include your email address (and yes, if you’re the only commenter you’ll end up with the full package).

The goodies:

  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat (young readers edition) – Michael Pollan: I haven’t read this one (not a kid anymore!) but read the grown-up version and absolutely loved it. American journalist Michael Pollan is one of my favourite food writers. Unlike others who sound more like extreme activists, he manages to find an easy-to-read balance between food politics, sustainability, and health. This book would be a great present for helping your kids (or young relatives) become more aware of what they eat.

    The Omnivore's Dilemma (young readers edition)

    From the book:

    It’s time to become a food detective!

    “What’s for dinner?” seems like a simple quetion, But do you really know…

    - What happens to a field of potatoes destined to become french fries… or

    - In how many disguises corn sneaks into your food? (Hint: It’s in your soda, your burger, and that Twinkie!)

    - Do you know what that “organic” sticker on your banana actually means… or

    - Where the chicken in your nugget grew up?

    Do you know the secrets behind what you eat?

    in this book, you’ll go undercover at the supermarket. You’ll delve behind the scenes of your dinner, and by the time you’ve digested the last page you’ll have put together the fascinating (and sometimes disturbing) puzzle of what’s on your plate and how it got there.

    This young readers edition of Michael Pollan’s bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma includes a brand-new introduction and afterword, an exclusive author Q&A, and a variety of fresh visual “evidence.”

  • Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual – Michael Pollan: For this book Michael Pollan compiled a large set of rules regarding what, when and how much to eat. These rules didn’t come from doctors or dietitians, but from traditional cultures, mums and grannies, and that wacky thing called common sense. Awesome little manual to have always on hand.

    Food Rules

    From the book:

    Eating doesn’t have to be so complicated. In this age of ever-more elaborate diets and conflicting health advice, Food Rules brings a welcome simplicity to our daily decisions about food. Written with the clarity, concision and wit that has become bestselling author Michael Pollan’s trademark, this indispensible handbook lays out a set of straightforward, memorable rules for eating wisely, one per page, accompanied by a concise explanation. It’s an easy-to-use guide that draws from a variety of traditions, suggesting how different cultures through the ages have arrived at the same enduring wisdom about food. Whether at the supermarket or an all-you-can-eat buffet, this is the perfect guide for anyone who ever wondered, “What should I eat?”

  • The Baking Bible – Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter: This one’s for the bread lovers! There’s nothing more satisfying that kneading, baking and serving your own bread. And there’s hardly a better smell than fresh bread out of the oven.

    The Bread Bible

    From the book:

    Over 100 traditional bread recipes and variations from every corner of the world, from Europe and the Mediterranean to Asia and the Americas.

    More than 600 colours photographs in total, including both step-by-step instructions and glorious pictures of finished breads to demonstrate exactly what the finished results will look like.

    A fully illustrated reference section presents a glallery of the breads of the world with fascinating details such as how the bread is baked, its history, shape and flavour, and the ingredients used.

    Includes recipes for classic breas such as Italian ciabatta, Irish soda bread and San Franciscan sourdough as well as less well known varieties such as Portuguese corn bread and Syrian onion bread.

    Learn how to make pumpernickel, pretzels and parathas, and all kinds of delicious sweet loaves such as bara brith, muffins and Boston brown bread.

    A detailed step-by-step techiniques section explains every stage of the bread-making process from mixing and kneading to glazing and baking, and offers advice of using bread-making machines.

  • Jams And Preserves – Murdoch Books: Homemade edible gifts rock. Jams and preserves have an added bonus: they last virtually forever (well, maybe not but way more than cookies). Get your pots and jars ready, you’ll find all the recipes you need in this book.

    Jams And Preserves

    From the book:

    Making jams and chutneys is an easy way to defy the seasons and preserve the flavour of fruits and vegetables for many months. More than 100 recipes for sweet and savoury jams, preserves, marmalades and pickles celebrate an old tradition that will never go out of fashion.

Review: Blue Fish Cafe (Darling Harbour) (2), The Criterion Hotel (Sydney CBD)

As you may recall, I purchased not only one but two Spreets vouchers for Blue Fish. In our first visit, my sister and I enjoyed a plentiful supply of prawns but were not impressed by the salads (plus the darkness didn’t help my poor shooting skills). This time we were joined by Alvaro, had better luck with the salads and with summer’s natural light.

Once again we received two buckets of prawns each served with prawn cocktail sauce and a wedge of lemon, plus a bottle of plain decent wine. As we were previously disappointed by the vegetable sides, this time I suggested getting the pricier salads on page one.

But let’s start with the prawns. The two buckets were enough for the three of us; granted there was ice in the bottom of the buckets but still the servings were generous.

Bucket of prawns

Bucket of prawns

The salads we ordered this time were way better. The BBQ calamari salad had four tender portions of calamari tossed in Nam Jim dressing, plus rocket, cucumber, bean sprouts and mint. Nice flavour combo, although a bit pricey.

BBQ calamari salad

BBQ calamari salad ($28.50)

This was not the best Greek salad I’ve ever had, but good enough. Aside from the cucumber, olives, feta, red onion, tomato & baby cos lettuce, it had a French-style dressing (mustard, white vinegar and oil) which was a bit unexpected and a tad too much. But the salad was good.

Greek salad ($14.50)

Greek salad

When we finished the wine we decided to go for another drink somewhere close to Town Hall station. We considered the Edinburgh Castle but it was extremely noisy (karaoke night), so headed to The Criterion Hotel, a typical Irish pub.

Even when dinner had our stomachs satisfied both my sister and I have the psychological need to munch on something while drinking. A while back we would have chosen wedges or nachos but these days we prefer sharing a nice and healthy meal. Our choice was the Silver Dory Fillet served with red cabbage, fennel, mustard seed salad & olive tapenade. It wasn’t a huge serving but enough to fill in the gaps, the flavours were good and went perfectly with my tequila, soda water & lime.

Silver Dory Fillet

Silver Dory Fillet ($22.00)

Blue Fish Cafe
287/10 Darling Drive
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9211 0315
www.bluefishsydney.com.au

The Criterion Hotel
260 Pitt St Cnr Park Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9264 3093
www.criterionhotel.net.au