June 26, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Posted in Northern & Eastern Europe | 1 Comment

Belgium. Known for chocolate & beer and on the surface…er, not a lot more. Belgium is a little short of notable other things. After a bit of research, I didn’t find a whole lot more, other than the fact it hosts the EU headquarters in Brussels and that peculiarly almost-Australian Kim Clijsters actually hails from Belgium. But I think that’s OK – their reputation as creators of fine chocolate and superfluous beer is deservedly unassailable.

The Plan

As it turns out, the Belgian national dish is moules frites or mussels & fries. I love this dish, but I’ve only consumed it in restaurants. How hard can it be to cook? To make it, I’ve followed Gordon Ramsay’s recipe in part, but deferred to Heston Blumenthal’s recipe for chips. You need to make the chips and mayonnaise first, the mussels are completed very quickly.

Note the mussels dish serves about 2 hungry big people (I supplemented this with prawns on the side to make it fit a family of four)


  • 1 kg blue mussels
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 fat garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 large carrot, julienned
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • 1 bunch thyme
  • 100ml olive oil (I used half of this!)
  • 150 ml dry white wine
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • A bunch of parsley leaves.
  1. Put the mussels in a large bowl of water and clean them. Leave them for 20 minutes.
  2. Dice the vegetables. Pick the thyme leaves from the stalks, discarding all of the thicker stalks.
  3. In a large pan, put on the heat and add the oil. When the oil is really hot, throw in the vegetables. The thyme leaves should start crackling and give off a gorgeous smell.
  4. Cook for about 1 ½ minutes, or until the vegetables have started to wilt.
  5. Add the mussels and shake the pan so they form an even layer. Add a tight lid and cook for another 2-3 minutes, shaking the pan occaisionally.
  6. Add the wine, shake through and return to the heat for another 1 ½ minutes.
  7. Take a colander and pour the mussels and vegetables through into a bowl. Discard any mussels that did not open.
  8. Return the reserved liquid to the pan and reheat. Stir in the sour cream and parsley leaves
  9. Add the mussels and vegetables back to the pan. Shake a few times, then serve in large soup bowls.

Home made mayonnaise

  • Two egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon mustard powder
  • 150ml olive oil
  • 1 tsp wine vinegar.

Put the egg yolks, vinegar, mustard powder, some salt and 2 tbsp of oil into a blender. While blending, slowly add the remainder of the oil to produce a creamy emulsion. Chill

The Ultimate Chip

  • 1.2kg potatoes, washed and peeled (King Edward or Sebago)
  • 1 litre groundnut (peanut) oil
  • 1 litre rendered fat (optional)
  1. Put on a large pot of unsalted water on to boil.
  2. Slice the potatos into chips, around 1cm or more in diameter. Concentrate on making them consistently the same thickness. Square off the ends of the potatoes. Place them in a bowel and run them under a tap for 10 minutes to remove as much starch as possible
  3. Once the water is boiling, add the potatoes. Return to a boil, but then make sure they’re only cooked at a gentle simmer. Cook for 9 minutes.
  4. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chips. Place on trays and refrigerate until chilled. They should harden when they cool.
  5. Heat the oil to 130C and plunge in the chips. After 5 minutes, remove – they should appear drier, but not browned. Drain, dry and return to the fridge for cooling
  6. When ready to cook for serving, you can either use the original oil or the rendered fat. If it’s the latter, heat to 180C (otherwise, heat the vegetable oil to 130C). Fry the chips for 8-10 minutes

The Event

I made a huge mess making this, plus sliced the top off my thumb at the end while making some garlic prawns as a side (forgettable). The chips were slightly over parboiled and I suspect probably too wet to begin with (read up on Heston’s chip making article), but they were still good. Not having a fat thermometer was a problem (meat thermometers peak at 100C). Bearding mussels was a new experience – you do need to be careful not to kill the mussel or it won’t open.

The Outcome

Liam: “The mussels are great except they’re kind of more disgusting than prawns. The mayonnaise is too vinegar-y. I like the chips though! And the bread!”

Jacq: “This is FANTASTIC”

Chris: “10/10 for effort! I’ve never had mussels, these are good!”

Me: The mayonnaise was a disaster (1 tbsp is not 1 tsp) but the rest was hands down perfect. A great meal. In fact, the only real problem was that we don’t have bowls big enough to contain the mussels!



June 19, 2011 at 9:31 pm | Posted in Oceania | Leave a comment

Vanuatu is one of the nations in the Pacific that make up our Oceania region.   It’s west of Fiji and has an interesting history as being a uniquely governed by a joint agreement between the British and the French.     It became it’s own nation in 1980 but a heavy French influence is still evident.

One of the most interesting parts of Vanuatu is that its the source of a unique cargo cult, John Frum.  This cult believes that by following a mystical white man (John Frum), they will be rewarded with Western goods.   John Frum followers surged after  World War II:  during the war,  loads of Americans were stationed in Vanuatu end brought in huge amounts of goods.   When the war ended, the supply dried up:  to encourage the flow of goods again, the cult went on to build new runways to encourage the Americans to fly back in and bring in the wealth.    Spooky religion.

The Plan

This was was taken from Vanuatu chefs.

Local Coconut Cake


4 cups of grated coconut
250 grm unsalted butter
8 whole eggs
2 cups castor sugar
2 cups of self rasing flour


  1. In a bowl using an electric mixer whisk sugar and butter until light and creamy.
  2. Then add the eggs one by one into the butter and sugar mix making sure that you mix    the eggs through thoroughly.
  3. Using a metal spoon mix the flour and grated coconut into the above mixture.
  4. Butter and flour a round or square medium size baking tin and pour mixture into it and then place into pre heated oven.

Cook for 1 hr and 15 minutes @ 130 degrees Celsius

The Event

Er, this was a cake.  Not much to report.

The Outcome

Chris:  “Yum!”

Liam: “Yum!”

Jacq:  “This is the very best thing you have ever cooked”

Me:   I still don’t get deserts.  This was sweet, tasty and…a cake.


June 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Posted in Northern, Middle & Eastern Africa | Leave a comment

Ethiopia is often one thinks of the absence of food given the terribly tragedy of the mid 80s. I am of course talking about the circumstances that lead to Band Aid.

Some of the things I didn’t know about Ethiopia:

  • Ethiopia was one of only two countries to retain its independence when European countries divided the rest of Africa between them.
  • The last Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is the source of worship for the Rastafari movement who see him as the returned Messiah. His title was “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Elect of God” 
  • Today Ethiopia is one of the strongest economies in East Africa
  • Ethiopia – the dust bowl we saw in the 80s – is the source of 85% of the water that makes into the Nile.
  • It is generally considered the site of the emergence of the first humans.

As it turns out, the famine that killed nearly 1,000,000 people in Ethiopia in 1984 (and lead to many of us considering Ethiopia perpetually hungry) was caused an horrific drought, but was also exacerbated by a horrendously incompetent Marxist government that spend 46% of its GDP in the year that 9m of its people were famine affected. Thankfully the government and drought eventually disappeared and today Ethiopia is a vibrant country with, as it turns out, excellent food.

The Plan

The Ethiopians have a traditional meal that involves serving a variety of stews on a large piece of flat bread, injera. In many ways, the bread is the tablecloth, and that the meal is only complete when the tablecloth is eaten.

Taken from a few sources, this dish is a Chicken Wat with garlic spinach, yoghurt and flat bread.

Serves 4

  • 450g/1lb boneless, skinned chicken breast, diced
  • 50g of butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 onion, diced.
  • 1 tablespoon berbere
    • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
    • 1 teaspoon paprika
    • ½ teaspoon cumin
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ inch cube root ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 lugs of olive oil
  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 1 can of tomatoes
  • 1 green capsicum, sliced
  • Half a glass of red wine
  1. Fry the onions and ginger until the onions are quite well done.
  2. Add the spice mix and fry for 60 seconds, stirring vigorously.
  3. Add the chicken and the oil. Once the chicken is browned, add the capsicum, stock cubes, wine and tomatoes.
  4. Simmer for 30 minutes. The stew needs to be quite thick – add a tablespoon of flour if necessary.

Make a side dish of garlic & salted silverbeet.


Makes 5 9-inch pancakes

  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup water
  1. Mix together to make a batter
  2. Fry the batter into a number of pancakes. Flip when the pancakes are bubbling.

To serve: cover the table with foil. Spread the pancakes over the foil, one in front of everyone but overlapping if possible. Add a scoop of chicken wat, wilted silverbeet, and a dollup of natural yoghurt.

The Event

This was a lot of fun, except the pancakes were a disaster – a shortage of eggs and possibly plain flour isn’t as good as the correct Ethiopian Tef flour. Still, overall a lot of success – the stew needs to be thick or it will seep through the pancakes. I also cheated and had some rice on hand.

Serving was excellent – just dolling out piles of food haphazardly across the table. Also, one is supposed to use just your fingers but we reached for the utensils…

The Outcome

Chris: “I like the chicken, but the bread goes cold quickly. Good though! We’ll take forks if we got to Ethiopia”

Jacq:  “What is this I’m eating? Wat is this I’m eating!”

Liam: “What? Never mind – no-one leave till they’ve eaten the tablecloth″

Me: This was much better than expected. Lots of fun to make and to eat.


June 12, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Posted in Northern & Eastern Europe | Leave a comment

Ah, England. So much influence across the development of the modern world in virtually all things… cuisine not being one of them.

Seriously, England has influenced the world hugely via warfare, colonialism and trade. The British Empire at one stage spanned half the world. The modern language is, despite the lack of native speakers, the de facto international language. Western legal systems are largely founded in English common law, many of Christianity’s modern incarnations can be attributed to the Church of England, and the only comedy worth anything is aped and copied from the classic English sense of humour. So why did they fail to make a significant positive gastronomic imprint on the world (and by saying positive, I’m excluding the chip).

OK, I’m being a tad unfair given some of the dull dishes we’ve had from some far-flung parts of the universe. English cooking is fine – but it’s both ubiquitous and generally evokes a sense of insipid plain fare, where vegies are merely boiled, meat is simply roasted plain, the only starch is a potato and the most exotic spice is a toss-up between pepper and rosemary.

In truth, England has a number of gems: Fish Pie is a gorgeous sloppy mess (Deb, must get your recipe), Toad-in-The-Hole is one of the odder ones from Yorkshire (tried to make a showing here but first attempt was unmitigated disaster), and the historical national dish of Fish and Chips was of course a contender. However, England is, by virtue of the hangover effects of colonialism, is a melting pot of cuisines. We shall tip our hat to that.

The Plan

This dish was invented in England in the 70s, despite its Indian roots. A man dining in Soho was given a dish of Chicken Tikka, but complained to see it arrive without a sauce. Quick as a flash, the chef whipped up a sauce (apparently based on a tin of Campbell’s tomato soup, although what *that* would be doing in an Indian kitchen defies explanation) and created Chicken Tikka Masala.

Matthew sourced this dish for me, and he implored me to use this one for England. No protests here.

Serves 4

  • 450g/1lb boneless, skinned chicken breast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp tandoori colour or a few drops of red food colouring mixed with 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • ½ inch cube root ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsps ground coriander
  • ½ tsp ground allspice or garam masala
  • ¼ of a whole nutmeg, finely grated
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • 125g/5oz thick set natural yogurt
  • 4 tbsps corn or vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  1. Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle with ½ tsp salt from the specified amount, and the lemon juice – mix thoroughly, cover and keep aside for 30 minutes.
  2. Put the rest of the ingredients into an electric food processor or liquidizer and blend until smooth.
  3. Put this marinade into a sieve and hold the sieve over the chicken pieces. Press the marinade through the sieve with the back of a metal spoon until only a very coarse mixture is left.
  4. Coat the chicken thoroughly with the sieved marinade, cover the container and leave to marinate for 6-8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
  5. Preheat the oven to 230°C.
  6. Line a roasting tin with aluminium foil (this will help maintain the high level of temperature required to cook the chicken quickly without drying it out).
  7. Thread the chicken onto skewers, leaving ¼ inch gap between each piece (this is necessary for the heat to reach all sides of the chicken).
  8. Place the skewers in the prepared roasting tin and brush with some of the remaining marinade.
  9. Cook in the centre of the oven for 6-8 minutes.
  10. Take the tin out of the oven, turn the skewers over and brush the pieces of chicken with the remaining marinade.
  11. Return the tin to the oven and cook for a further 6-8 minutes.
  12. Shake off any excess liquid from the chicken. (Strain the excess liquid and keep aside for Chicken Tikka Masala)
  13. Place the skewers on a serving dish. You may take the tikka off the skewers if you wish, but allow the meat to cool slightly before removing from the skewers.

TIME: Preparation takes 30-35 minutes plus time needed to marinate, cooking takes 15-18 minutes.


Serves 4

  • 450g/1lb Chicken Tikka
  • ½ inch cube of root ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt salt or to taste
  • 50g/2oz unsalted butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ¼-½ tsp chilli powder
  • 125ml/4fl oz liquid, made up of the reserved juice from the precooked Chicken Tikka and warm water
  • 300ml/10fl oz double cream
  • 2 heaped tbsps ground almonds
  1. Mix together the ginger, garlic and ½ tsp salt from the specified amount and crush to a pulp. Keep the remaining salt aside for later use.
  2. Melt the butter gently and fry the onions for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the ginger/garlic paste and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Stir in the turmeric and then the cumin, coriander, garam masala and chili powder. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add the liquid and stir gently.
  6. Gradually add the cream and stir.
  7. Add the remaining salt and simmer for 5 minutes and then add the chicken. Adjust heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
  8. Stir in the ground almonds and simmer for 5-6 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat.

TIME: Preparation takes 10 minute plus time needed to marinate the tikka, cooking takes 25 minutes plus time needed to cook the tikka.

Serve over rice. Goes well with a nice yellow dahl on the side.

The Event

I’ve cooked this before:  whenever one roasts the chicken, try to get as much of the liquid marinade off it.   Some will melt and produce a watery liquid, it’s best to drain that off after thee first time you see it and add it to reserved liquid.

The cream in this makes the dish, but it’s very rich:  if anything, go a bit easy on the cream.

The Outcome

Jacq:  “Best. Dish. Ever”

Liam: “I give it 9 out of 10.   Mum’s last attempt was 0 out of 10”

Chris:  “Hey, I didn’t cook that one!  I just served it – and it was awful.  However, this is definitely 9 out of 10 – 10 if I didn’t have the flu.”

Me:  This is definitely a classic recipe, and the outcome is just divine.


June 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Posted in Northern, Middle & Eastern Africa | Leave a comment

Morocco is one of the most exotic countries in Africa, holding a place of both old world mystery as well as a  relatively modern and contemporary one.     Morocco also holds a place quite close to France, having been casually occupied by France in the 19th century during The Scramble For Africa  (where European imperialist  nations spent much of that era carving up Africa).   In fact, some people blame the tussle over Morocco between France and Germany to be one of the sparks that started the First World War.   (I still blame Franz Ferdinand’s driver failing to ask for directions…) Oddly enough, despite Morocco’s closeness to the oil rich lands of the Middle East, 75% of their energy comes from coal.  Morocco is also the home of Casablanca, which is actually not the capital (Rabat).

The Plan

Morocco is one of the great food melting pots on the planet, mixing European, African and Middle Eastern flavours.   The flavours are rich and blend exotic spices with fruit and rich meats.   Thus, we’re going for Moroccan Beef Stew borrowed from Mike’s Table.


  • 1 kg chuck steak
  • Ras el Hanout – a dry spice mixture, some example flavours to include in no particular amount:
    • smoked + Hungarian/sweet paprika
    • pepper
    • salt
    • cayenne
    • cinnamon
    • coriander
    • nutmeg
    • cumin
    • cloves
    • allspice
    • turmeric
  • 1 cup of fresh coriander stalks
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • Juice from half a lemon
  • 1 sweet potato, diced into large chunks
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp of fresh ginger
  • 1 440ml can whole tomatoes and juices
  • 1.33 cups beef stock
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • fennel seeds
  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 preserved lemon
  • 1 440ml can chickpeas
  • 16 dates, diced
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • pinch of saffron strands
  • ~1/4 cup parsley
  • ~1/4 cup coriander leaves
  1. The first thing is to make a good Ras el Hanout. This literally means “top of the shop” and is a mixture of common spices. I didn’t write down the precise measurements but used only a little cinnamon and cumin and lots of the rest.
  2. Dice the meat into largish chunks. Roll the meat into the spices until liberally covered.
  3. Chop the garlic and coriander stalks roughly, mix in the lemon juice and blend into a paste. Pour over the meat.
  4. Cover the meat and let sit for at least an hour, possibly 8 or even longer
  5. Heat a pan and brown the meat chunk in batches, shaking off excess spice mixture.. Crowding the pan will steam the meat, so don’t do that! While this is cooking, crank the oven to 160C Remove all the meat, but the pan should be really messy with all the spices and juices that have come off the meat.
  6. In this gloriously messy pan, add some more oil and fry off the onions and add the garlic, ginger, carrot and sweet potato. Saute for 5 minutes or until the sweet potato really starts to soften.Add the stock & red wine, deglazing the pan. Pour in the tomatoes and remaining dry spices.
  7. Return the meat to the pot, and simmer for 5 minutes. If there’s any leftover marinate, chuck it in to the pot. The liquid should only barely cover the meat.
  8. Put the pot (or transfer to a casserole dish – you’ll need a big one) into the oven and cook for 1 ½ hours. The pot needs to be covered to not lose any liquidRemove from the oven and add all remaining ingredients except the coriander leaves. Return to the oven for 30 minutes, with the lid slightly ajar.
  9. Remove from oven, and stir in the diced coriander leaves.

Serve over rice.

The Event

The smells this makes while cooking are suburb. For a large list of ingredients, it’s actually pretty straightforward to cook.

The Outcome

Chris: “This is nice, do this one again”

Liam: “more!”

Jacq: “Awesome! I love Mrrocco”

This felt a bit of a “throw-everything-you-have-at-it” dish, but it was surprisingly good while retaining all the complex flavours. We do a lot of hearty

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