So much for Valentine’s Day!

I had such wonderful plans for this blog for Valentine’s Day – I was going to do one hell of a post, put up one of the best ever recipes for creme caramel and post photos so delicious you’d lick your monitor.  As with all great plans, there were some hiccups.

Our internet (and phones) died for two whole weeks.  I ended up watching far too much daytime TV and I’ve not really recovered.

The creme caramel that I made was tasty but I used a new pan and it didn’t turn out well.  As in, slightly less-than-perfect.  Which is just not acceptable!

And then my stove died (at 49 years old, this is actually good news as far as I’m concerned).  Roll on kitchen renovation at long last!

At this point, I’ve given up on creme caramel.  The stars have not aligned.  Clearly it’s a sign that the world is not yet ready for such amazing texture and deliciousness.

Given my lack of oven-ness, I’m wondering what would be an acceptable substitute to the creme caramel.  What are your thoughts on…say…tripe?

Smacked Cucumber (Pai Huang Gua)

Smacked Cucumbers

Smacked Cucumbers

I first came across this recipe in Fuchsia Dunlop’s excellent book Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province (page 62 – see my bookshelf page for details – I highly recommend this book).  It sounded fun and I like cucumbers in just about anything so I decided to give it a go with two slightly worse-for-wear cucumbers that I had in the crisper.  Despite a rather messy first attempt, this has become a favourite and is especially good when paired with heavy or fatty foods.  Or just with food in general.  But, I digress…

The recipe has you smack the cucumbers with the flat of a cleaver in order to make them soak up the dressing.  The first time I tried this, I read the directions carefully and went SMACK!  This was followed pretty much instantaneously with SQUIRT! as the hapless cucumber ejected seeds and juice at high speed out of both ends at once – spraying both me and the wall opposite.  There was a moments silence as cucumber seeds dripped off my glasses and then I came down with such a fit of the giggles that I had to go and sit down. While I suspect that the condition of the cucumbers was responsible for the mess, these days, I forgo the smacking and just cut the cucumber into chunks instead.  You may wish to live life more of the edge than I.

Ms Dunlop gives two versions for this recipe – one with salted chillies and one with dried chilli flakes and hot oil.  I’ve sort of gone with a hybrid, and indeed – mine seems to be closer to the (probably non-Hunan) versions I’ve been finding in restaurants.  As I’m currently in the middle of a chilli glut, I’ve gone with fresh.  Use what you have handy.

You will need;

  • 1 large or 2 small cucumbers (about 375 grams).  The recipe doesn’t say to peel but I do as my local cucumbers tend to have thick and fairly horrible skins.
  • 2 or 3 chillies – fresh or dried cut as fine as possible (add more if you like the heat – my quantity will give you a mild zing)
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, very finely minced (use 2 or 3 teaspoons of paste if you like, but fresh gives a better flavour in my opinion)
  • 3 tablespoons clear rice vinegar
  • a teaspoon of sugar
  • a teaspoon of sesame oil

Smack the cucumber (if you’re feeling game) until it splinters and cracks open.  Then chop into bite-size pieces.  Skip the smacking if you’re a cowardly custard.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and leave to drain for 30 minutes.

Combine all the ingredients except the cucumber in a small bowl and stir until well combined.  Give the cucumber a quick squeeze, put into the dressing and toss to coat.

Serve alongside anything that needs a bit of tangy freshness.

Steamed Snapper with Young Ginger and Schezuan pepper oil.


I wanted something light and tasty for dinner and when I saw small snapper at Woollies this morning, I knew that I should finally get around to making Chinese-style steamed fish.  It really couldn’t be simpler!

Take one medium fish and scale it because someone at Woollies couldn’t be bothered. Seriously.

Make two slashes on each side of the fish in the thickest, meatiest parts to let the flavour penetrate and to let it cook more evenly.

Season inside and out with salt and pepper and stuff with ginger peelings – slice the rest of the ginger into as fine a shreds as possible and pile on top of the fish.

Drizzle with soy sauce, a little sesame oil and a small splash of shaoxing wine and put the plate in steamer, cover and steam for 10 minutes or until done.

Heap plenty of finely-sliced shallots, more ginger and chilli on top of the fish.  Spoon some of the pan juices over the fish and then heat a couple of tablespoons of peanut oil in a saucepan until smoking and then pour this over the fish.

Listen to the hissing and crackling from the oil and salivate madly.

Add a few drops of Sichuan Pepper oil (if you have it – it’s awesome), and garnish with coriander.  Serve with steamed rice and smacked cucumber pickle (recipe to come).  Delicious!

Rebooting the Kitchen

This poor blog has been languishing at the back of the fridge for so long now that it’s gone past the metaphorical covered-in-mould stage and is well into the dessicated mystery object territory, and I’m both embarrassed and saddened to see it neglected so.  There’s only me to blame, I’m afraid.  The last 12 months have been stupidly busy and fraught with the sorts of drama I’d expect in a soap opera rather than my (usually) boring life, and it seems that there were a lot of you in the same boat.  Poor us.  Call me Cleopatra (Queen of DeNial) but I’m going to do my best to pretend that 2012 didn’t happen, that the calendar skipped straight over to 2013, and that all of the awfulness of the last 12 months was just a bad dream brought on by too much delicious cheese before bedtime.

Who’s with me?

So, to now ensure that there’s a seamless transition between my last few posts and this, I should probably bring you up to date on one or two teeny changes around here.

Firstly, and most obviously, Voodoo Kitchen now has its own domain.  I used to run a business from here but the Great Economic FlusterCluck of 2012 (henceforth known as “the year we do not speak about”) has pretty much put paid to that.  I’m in the process of bringing all my old content over from so things will be in a state of slight flux until I can get things sorted out and filed properly.  Why on earth I have so many silly categories I can not say!

Secondly, and not at all obviously, is that I need to knuckle down and try to remember what I used to love about cooking and blogging.  Stress (and its evil twin – depression) affects us all in many horrible and insidious ways.  I became so busy that there was no time for me to do anything other than sit on the internet and fritter away my life looking at silly cat pictures whilst trying to pretend that I wasn’t going out of my mind.  Yeah, right.  In short, somewhere along the line I lost the will to cook.  So, from now on, it’s all about having fun and making delicious things.

So, bear with me, and let’s see what 2013 has in store for us.  Allez cuisine!

Searching for Kombu Seaweed/Kelp

I’ve been trying to buy kombu seaweed for making dashi and other delights for about a month, but with no luck.  Today, I tried my favourite Asian grocer – the famous Tai Kee at Haymarket – and was told that it has been removed from sale due to the Fukushima disaster.  Apparently the radiation was being detected in the kelp and therefore harvesting and export have ceased.

I think that possibly it’s also produced for the Japanese market somewhere in Indonesia but my inquiries have not turned anything up so far.

This is, of course, a small disaster in itself.  I have been assured that wakame, nori and other seaweed products have not been affected (most come in via Korea these days) but it’s still disturbing.  If anyone has more information or can point me to an alternative source, I’d really appreciate it.

***UPDATE – 24/3/2013***

It turns out that the lack of kombu has nothing to do with Fukushima and everything to do with the fact that a particular brand of soy milk that was “enriched” with seaweed had such high levels of iodine that a few people were coming down with iodine poisoning.  The makers of the soy milk removed the offending extract and warnings were published about the custom of giving breast-feeding mothers a traditional seaweed soup (iodine is passed along in breas tmilk).  As a result, kombu was voluntarily removed from many shelves by the shops themselves.

It is, however, still available if you know where to look.  I have found one supplier – Chef’s Armoury in Rosebery – that has several varieties listed.  I had initially thought that they were mostly selling knives (Oh, and what knives they are!  Swoon!) but they also stock a small but select range of foodstuffs.  Highly recommended!  They also mail order if you don’t want to go in and be tempted by all the bright shiny things.

Surviving Costco (Auburn Edition)

There’s been a lot of hype in the news about Costco opening a megastore at Auburn (that’s New South Wales, Australia for all you international types).  Yours truly decided to see what the fuss was about and trundled off to the store today for a good look around.  It took me ages to get in but I amused myself by looking at the trolleys full of groceries that were streaming past me – Veuve Clicot champage with a large box of sliced ham and a 24 pack of toilet paper, a bar stool, floor mats, several boxes of pastries and what seemed to be a 5 litre bucket of either mayonnaise or yoghurt – the mind boggles!

Anyway, here are my best suggestions to surviving and making the most of your Costco experience – peoplewatching notwithstanding.

The first question most people seem to ask is “What’s it like?”.  In short, it’s like the ungodly offspring of Aldi and BigW mixed with a pinch of IKEA  and Bunnings, and no-where near enough parking.  There’s a good range of new and familiar brands across every department I can think of and not everything is packed in super-large bulk packaging, although you can certainly load up pallets of stuff if you like (choose the special orange trolleys rather than the standard double-wide ones).  It’s a little disorganised, but this is mostly down to two things – firstly this is still all very new and the staff are trying to work out wrinkles in the system, and secondly, people haven’t quite figured out how it’s supposed to work and spend a lot of time milling about.

The next question seems to be “How does it work – what’s shopping like?”  Here are a few points that will help give you an idea.

1)  It’s busy.  Really really busy.  Allow plenty of time for waiting, queuing and generally standing about.  If you’re lucky enough to find parking, grab a trolley and go up the ramp.  There’s a queue on the left for people who need to apply and pay for their membership card.  Do the smart thing and register online, print out the receipt, sweep past the line with your trolley and go right in.  You can get your card later and I was told that the receipt was all you needed to start shopping.  If you queue for your membership card, expect to wait an hour or so.  If the parking situation is too ridiculous (and it IS), park over the road at the Homemaker center (free parking, generally never too full) and be prepared to shlep your stuff back.

2)  Be careful with your prices.  Sure, there’s all manner of bright shiny things tempting you to load them into the humongous trolleys, but not everything is an amazing bargain.  If you know how much you normally pay for stuff, you’ll be able to shop wisely.  Meat, for example, has some bargains scattered through it.  Twin packs of Lilydale free-range whole chooks were at $5.69/kilo, which is slightly cheaper than the usual $6-7 at Woolies.  Whole sirloin was $15.99/kg which is a great price, if you’re able to deal with that much meat (they seemed to be about the 3-4 kilo range each).  There were whole pork bellies (and portions) priced at $8.99/kg which isn’t too bad.  I noticed, though, that the use-by date on the meat is only a couple of days.  Now, I didn’t note if this was a “Sell by” or “Use by” but I’m fairly sure it was a use-by date and there were only two or three days on a lot of stuff, so check carefully and plan accordingly.

3) Wear closed-toe shoes.  Seriously, folks, there are a lot of people there who can’t control their trolleys, don’t look where they’re going and simply don’t care if they run over your feet.  There’s no dress code but it IS a warehouse with pallets all over the place, so be warned.  For this reason, you might want to leave the kids at home.  I can see where little Davey or Fatima could easily get squashed under a bucket of mayonnaise or a generator.

4)  There are a lot of unfamiliar brands, especially in the food section, but there are also plenty of samples!  Employ your sharpest elbows to get said samples.  And if all else fails, try something – even the most expensive stuff isn’t actually that expensive so failure won’t be catastrophic.  And if you dont’ want to shop hungry, there’s also a tuck-shop/cafe thing right outside the main entrance with plenty of tables and chairs.  Popular foods were the hot dogs (giant dispensers of tomato sauce, mustard and raw onion are to the right) and 18″ pizza’s (roughly $3/slice or $15 for the whole), as well as the mixed berry sundaes/frozen yoghurts.

5)  It’s pretty much busy all the time, although someone did tell me that late in the evening (from about 6pm onwards) it quietens down.  I went at midday and it was packed and I’ve driven past in the early afternoon and it seemed similarly congested.  If there is an optimal time, please let me know!!

So, was it worth it?  Yes and no.  If you generally do one large shopping trip for basics, then yes – you can load up on the usual things.  If you want certain items only, it is going to depend on your tolerance for crowds and queues.  I went as much for the experience as for the bargains and I certainly got that – people-watching is a favourite pastime and I had plenty to look at (peoples trolleys can certainly be interesting!).  Go for a gawk and if you feel that it’s not going to work for you, you can turn in your membership card at any point and have your $60 refunded in full.


NOTE:  I’m still suffering from the dreaded lurgy, so if there’s a mistake in the above, please let me know so I can fix it!

Agedashi Tofu

I think I’m going through a stage.

I can’t tell you quite what set it off – head trauma, alien abduction, or suchlike things.  All joking aside, it might be the 40th birthday looming in the not-as-distant-as-I’d-like future.   But…I’m starting to really, REALLY like tofu.

If you’d asked me a couple of years ago, I’d have told you that it was tasteless, squidgy stuff that made me think of erasers and cardboard.  It was what vegetarians and vegans ate to make up for the lack of anything chewy and meaty in their diets.  It was what health nuts ate, or people stricken with some horrible health problem that forced them to give up all the good things in life and subsist on slop.

Oh, tofu.  I’ve done you wrong.  And I’m sorry for all the mean things I’ve said.

That said, it does help when it’s good food prepared by skilled cooks.  It especially helps when it’s a superior product.  BUT (and like my own, it’s a huge “but”) it has to be a very good recipe indeed when it can be made with indifferent ingredients by someone who can cook but isn’t bothering to care that evening, and the food still comes out the other side tasting brilliant.

Can I suggest that you try Agedashi Tofu?


Agedashi Tofu


There are a lot of recipes out there.  Tons.  An authentic top-notch recipe will have you make dashi (which is a sort of broth) from scratch.  It’s a bit of work, but not that much.  However you can also buy dashi powder which makes it no work at all.  Sure, it’s not authentic and it doesn’t taste quite as good, but most people aren’t going to notice the difference and you won’t be struck down by ninjas if you use it.  The one big problem with my recipe is that it’s not really a recipe.  I don’t have quantities because I mostly tasted and made it up as I went along.  Sorry!  Google really is your friend in this instance.

However, if you want to take the risk of wandering into uncharted territory with me, it sort of goes like this.

Buy a pack of medium-firm tofu.  Drain the tofu on paper towel and cut into large cubes.  Mine were about 2cms across.  Make up a small bowl of dashi by any means you like.  Add a splash of soy sauce and a splash of mirin.  No one flavour should predominate and you should have a slightly sweet, salty broth.  Put this aside and heat some oil.

While the oil is heating, carefully toss the tofu in flour.  I’ve used plain flour and corn flour – plain goes a good golden colour and corn makes for a very crispy coating.  It’s traditional to use potato starch but I didn’t have any and couldn’t be bothered (which has started to be a theme around here).  Fry the tofu in batches until golden.  You can shallow-fry or deep-fry – it doesn’t matter which.  When golden and crispy, drain the tofu and put a couple of cubes in each dish.  Spoon broth over the tofu, garnish with spring onion and bonito flakes.  I add a slice of lemon (not traditional) because I like the tang, but I’ve also used wasabi oil (with caution – that stuff really does a number on your sinuses!).  Use both!  Knock yourself out!

Slurp to your hearts content.

Insalata di Caprese – Summertime deliciousness

The heat and burn of the sun is working its magic on the garden.  To pick tomatoes is to wade into a forest big enough to hide a grown man (albeit a bent-over man), redolent with the stink of tomato foliage and the tang of basil where an unwary footstep has gone awry.  To the cat, its a jungle and she is a tiger – stalking between the mighty trunks in search of prey or just curling up in a quiet corner for a snooze with just a glint here and there of green eyes watching from beneath lowered lids.

It has escaped us, this garden.  The husband is picking nearly a kilo of tomatoes a day and only the cherry tomatoes are ripe at the moment.  Halfway through Summer and we are already deep into a glut and giving away baskets to friends and family, the neighbours and their families, and so forth.

So, what to do when you can’t give them away?  Well, I’ve been making fresh salsas and boiling batches of plain tomato sugo (so good for pasta).  There have been a lot of salads.  The best of them, I’ve discovered, is the one that uses the most amount of tomatoes. 🙂

Insalata di Caprese.  Salad in the style of Capri.

Tomato and mozarella salad

I’ve no idea if this salad actually originated on or even near the island of Capri.  Probably not at all, given the usual penchant for impromptu invention that recipes seem to develop.  However, I am deeply grateful that someone came up with it because it has turned into a favourite of mine and it has become for me a true taste of Summer that I shall cherish, particularly through the colder months where there is no jungle of rampaging tomatoes to store sunshine for me.

The recipe, if you can call it that, is simplicity itself.  Slice up good tomatoes.  Add slices or torn pieces of tender mozzarella, preferably in the form of bocconcini.  (These days I can find bambino bocconcini that are the same size as the cherry tomatoes and they look so sweet together – like someone has lost a string of pearls into the mix!)  Add torn up or chiffonaded basil, salt, pepper, good olive oil and a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar.  I’m partial to balsamic, so I add several generous swirls of the deliciously sweet, tangy syrup, which is why my bocconcini look so muddy and dark.  I don’t care what they look like – they’re delicious!  Mix and devour.

Do not skimp on either the balsamic vinegar or the oil.  Not only will the flavours not be as bright and as tasty, but you really are doing a great disservice to your other ingredients.  Celebrate your salad!  Treat it with respect and it will bring light and deliciousness into your life and, when the weather is cold and miserable, you will have something to look forward to.

I Ain’tn’t Dead Yet…

Ta da!!!

Yes folks, I’m still alive and breathing, and feeling terrible guilt for abandoning this poor blog to its own devices for the last NINE months.  What the hell was I doing?

Well, working, for one.  That’s how life goes when the economy is in the crapper – the going gets tough and the tough go out and get casual work that starts off as a few hours a week and rapidly becomes a full-time, no-holidays affair that’s hard to turn down because the money is sooo good.  Except that the money isn’t really that great but it sure does pay the bills on time.  *sigh*

Have I been cooking anything delicious?  Yes, of course.  The problem was that I was usually too tired, too hungry, or too busy to sit it down and take any photo’s of it.

Doing any other interesting things?  Yes, I went out to Rookwood one precious weekend and took some photos;

Empty mausoleum at Rookwood

Empty mausoleum at Rookwood

I found a section with a lot of old (and very posh) mausoleums.  Some were in excellent repair and were clearly still in periodic use.  But others were in a terrible state.  The doors had rusted off and the contents had been sensibly removed.

Open Mausoleum

Open Mausoleum

It was so bad in some areas that it was like walking through just after Night of the Living Dead – not a single undisturbed grave anywhere in sight.  However, repairs are in progress.  Instead of putting in new doors, some have just been bricked shut.

He's not getting out again.

He's not getting out again.

Did I peek into the open tombs?  Of course I did.  What do you take me for??  And don’t give me any of that “Oh, I’d NEVER do that!” because both you and I know that you’d SO do the same thing.


But as always, I try to tread lightly, treat all with respect and take nothing away but photo’s and memories.

Light & Life

Light & Life

And it’s SPRING!  Terrible as it sounds, this photo reminded me that I really need to get back into the garden.