chips n gravy

The August 2009 Daring Cook’ challenge was hosted by Olga of La Cosas de Olga. She chosed the delicious spanish rice dish with a catalan influence called “Rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes” based on a recipe by José Andrés from his US cooking show, Made in Spain.

This is my first Daring Kitchen and also my first Daring Cook’s challenge and I am pretty excited to be part of this extended cyber clan of talented cooks and bakers from around the world. I have been admiring and following the “exploits” of Daring Kitchen for a while now yet I never had the chance to participate until now. I do not think I need to include a history of how Daring Kitchen came about as they are well known throughout the blogsphere by now.

A little history on the chef, José Andrés. He used to train under Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame and according to wikipedia, is often credited for bringing “small plates”/tapas/mezze to the United States.

Also, Wikipedia has an excellent page on Catalan Cuisine. The influence of the Catalonia region can be seen heavily from the ingredients used, artichokes, cuttlefish, mushroom and capsicum are all found along the coast. When the challenge was revealed, I was quite pleased because I hardly cook proper spanish food and I have never made sofregit (sofrito) before. I have heard plenty about this famous sauce, but never tried it myself. The dish gave me a reason to cook something different and also to introduce more flavours and variety to W, my partner, who up until he met me, has had an uneventful gastronomy journey. Fake chinese dishes that was concocted by opportunistic Chinese over here to sell really cheap ingredients at really high price to ignorant Caucasian Aussies were the highlight to his meal. Other than that, it is frozen vegetables with frozen meat pies, fish and chips, charcoal chicken with chips, his housemate’s really horrible spaghetti with instant bottled bolognaise sauce or his housemate’s really horrible soggy boiled rice with stir fried beef in instant black bean sauce. Ah yes, I can hear the many shudders. So did I when I learned how badly he ate.

Btw, I wrote this post few days earlier because I do not want to do a last minute job, and today (Sunday, August 9th) we went to ChocolateRush festival at Flemington Racecourse. W had his first ever Macaron! He likes it. He had 4 hazelnut praline, 1 chocolate and 1 chocolate fudge macaron. I am so pleased.

Back to topic at hand. I will cut and paste the recipe below before mentioning about the alteration that I have done (with permission from our gracious hostess).

Rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

1 Chopping Board
1 knife
1 medium saucepan
1 Paella pan (30 cm/11” is enough for 4 people. If not available, you may use a simple pan that size)
1 Saucepan

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 Artichokes (you can use jarred or freezed if fresh are not available)
12 Mushrooms (button or Portobello)
1 or 2 Bay leaves (optional but highly recommended)
1 glass of white wine



2 Cuttlefish (you can use freezed cuttlefish or squid if you don’t find it fresh)
“Sofregit” (see recipe below)
300 gr (2 cups) Short grain rice (Spanish types Calasparra or Montsant are preferred, but you can choose any other short grain. This kind of rice absorbs flavor very well) – about 75 gr per person ( ½ cup per person) Please read this for more info on suitable rices.
Water or Fish Stock (use 1 ½ cup of liquid per ½ cup of rice)
Saffron threads (if you can’t find it or afford to buy it, you can substitute it for turmeric or yellow coloring powder)
Allioli (olive oil and garlic sauce, similar to mayonnaise sauce) – optional

Sofregit / Sofrito

Cooking time: aprox. 1 hour

2 tablespoons of olive oil
5 big red ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 small onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
4 or 5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup of button or Portobello mushrooms, chopped (optional)
1 Bay leaf
Touch of ground cumin
Touch of dried oregano

Allioli (Traditional recipe)

Cooking time: 20 min aprox.

4 garlic cloves, peeled
Pinch of salt
Fresh lemon juice (some drops)
Extra-virgin olive oil (Spanish preferred but not essential)

Allioli a la moderna (Modern recipe)

Cooking time: 3-4 minutes

1 small egg
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (as above, Spanish oil is highly recommended)
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tbs. Spanish Sherry vinegar or lemon juice (if Sherry vinegar is not available, use can use cider or white vinegar)
Salt to taste



1. Put all the ingredients together in a frying pan and sauté slowly until all vegetables are soft.
2. Taste and salt if necessary (maybe it’s not!)


What I did was cut all the ingredients for the sofrito into brunoise (small cubes) and saute the onion first until caramelised before adding the rest of the ingredients. I also use canned whole Italian tomatoes as it was not a tomato season now in a wintery Victoria. So fresh tomatoes will not yield as much flavour as the canned tomatoes and i opted for the canned one. Also, I would really really recommend that you prepare the sofrito days ahead (like maybe a week) before wanting to prepare this dish. As I was preparing a lazy lunch one day with my leftover sofrito (that was more than a week old by then, but still keep so well) and couscous, I find that I used very little amount of sofrito as compared to the heaps and heaps when I used to make this dish, the sofrito has develop more in flavour. So, if you really want a flavourful dish, do make the sofrito ahead.


1. Place the garlic in a mortar along with the salt.
2. Using a pestle, smash the garlic cloves to a smooth paste. (The salt stops the garlic from slipping at the bottom of the mortar as you pound it down.)
3. Add the lemon juice to the garlic.
4. Drop by drop; pour the olive oil into the mortar slowly as you continue to crush the paste with your pestle.
5. Keep turning your pestle in a slow, continuous circular motion in the mortar. The drip needs to be slow and steady. Make sure the paste soaks up the olive oil as you go.
6. Keep adding the oil, drop by drop, until you have the consistency of a very thick mayonnaise. If your allioli gets too dense, add water to thin it out. This takes time—around 20 minutes of slow motion around the mortar—to create a dense, rich sauce.

José’s tips for traditional recipe: It’s hard to think that, when you start crushing the garlic, it will ever turn into something as dense and smooth as allioli. But don’t give up. It’s worth the extra time and effort to see the oil and garlic come together before your eyes. Just make sure you’re adding the olive oil slowly, drop by drop. Keep moving the pestle around the mortar in a circular motion and keep dreaming of the thick, creamy sauce at the end of it all.


1. Break the egg into a mixing bowl.
2. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the garlic cloves, along with the vinegar or lemon juice.
3. Using a hand blender, start mixing at high speed until the garlic is fully pureed into a loose paste.
4. Little by little, add what’s left of the olive oil as you continue blending.
5. If the mixture appears too thick as you begin pouring the oil, add 1 teaspoon of water to loosen the sauce.
6. Continue adding the oil and blending until you have a rich, creamy allioli.
7. The sauce will be a lovely yellow color.
8. Add salt to taste.

José’s tips for modern recipe:
(1) If you do not have access to a hand blender, you can use a hand mixer (the kind with the two beaters) or a food processor. If you use a food processor, you must double the recipe or the amount will be too little for the blades to catch and emulsify.
(2) What happens if the oil and egg separate? Don’t throw it out. You can do two things. One is to whisk it and use it as a side sauce for a fish or vegetable. But if you want to rescue the allioli, take 1 tablespoon of lukewarm water in another beaker and start adding to the mix little by little. Blend it again until you create the creamy sauce you wanted.

I made the Allioli moderna because I do not own a mortar & pestle. Whipping up a mayo was faster than grinding up garlic and I was making dinner for a few hungry men.

Last minute addition: Audax Artifex, my fellow Daring Cook, insert a forum exchange regarding the colour of the Allioli and why everybody’s allioli colour slightly differentiate from each other. I did a minor research and found out why. Click HERE to go to Audax’s blog and read about it and also see his creative ways with this month’s challenge (his idea, which I love btw)


1. Cut the cuttlefish in little strips.
2. Add 1 or 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and put the cuttlefish in the pan.
3. If you use fresh artichokes, clean them as shown in the video in tip #7. Cut artichokes in eights.
4. Clean the mushrooms and cut them in fourths.
5. Add a bay leaf to the cuttlefish and add also the artichokes and the mushrooms.
6. Sauté until we get a golden color in the artichokes.
7. Put a touch of white wine so all the solids in the bottom of the get mixed, getting a more flavorful dish.
8. Add a couple or three tablespoons of sofregit and mix to make sure everything gets impregnated with the sofregit.
9. Add all the liquid and bring it to boil.
10. Add all the rice. Let boil for about 5 minutes in heavy heat.
11. Add some saffron thread to enrich the dish with its flavor and color. Stir a little bit so the rice and the other ingredients get the entire flavor. If you’re using turmeric or yellow coloring, use only 1/4 teaspoon.
12. Turn to low heat and boil for another 8 minutes (or until rice is a little softer than “al dente”)
13. Put the pan away from heat and let the rice stand a couple of minutes.


Here, I replaced artichokes with asparagus as I do not eat artichokes nor does W and there was no point in buying something and have to spend the time to prepare them when no one are going to eat them. I also uses Thai Jasmine Rice instead of the spanish rice as I could not find any type of short grain rice in the few supermarkets that is around my area and I am not about to go really far for the rice. The jasmine rice lent a lovely fragrance to the dish and it has also managed to absorb the liquid lovingly and yet not becoming mushy.

Olga’s Tips:
(1) In Spain, rice is not stired as often as it is when cooking Italian risotto. You must stir it once or twice maximum. This tip is valid for all Spanish rice dishes like paella, arròs negre, arròs a banda…
(2) When cooking the alternative style you can change the cuttlefish or squid for diced potato.
(3) If you can’t find cuttlefish or squid, or you’re not able to eat them because of allergies, you can try to substitute them for chicken or vegetables at your choice.
(4) Sofregit can be done in advance. You can keep it in the fridge or even freeze it.
(5) For more information on how to clean and remove the heart of artichokes, please watch this video
(6) To watch how Jose Andres cooks this dish click here.
(7) For more information on how to clean and remove the heart of artichokes, please watch this video
(8) To tone down the taste when you do it by hand in a mortar, then add an egg yolk. If you want to tone it down in the alternative way use milk or soy milk. Anyway, the best alternative way is the original oil and garlic alone.
(9) Allioli must be consumed during the preparation day and preserved in the fridge before using it.
(10) For help on conversion on metric to imperial, visit this page.


Overall, I had a lovely experience with this dish, and I do not like the cuttlefish in this dish, all that ate the dish found it fishy and I would prefer it with browned chicken slices or with mixed seafood and using a prawn stock rather than fish stock. You can also try to cook the artichoke (should you use) with the sofrito a la barigoule and add into the dish for a more flavourful dish. The sofrito is really lovely and versatile, in the forums, all the daring cooks that participated are so inventive and has used the dish or part of the dish and reinterpret it in so many forms. A note about the allioli, it is very powerful! Don’t say I didn’t warn you first! 😀


There had been so many bloggers raving about macarons and so many bloggers making them so well. I am just posting because this is the first time I am making macaron with the current oven in the house, and its sort of a get to know you session. Above is the first ever batch i made, notice there was 2 with bumps. Ah well, did not stopped it from being delicious.

As the bender continues, Its scary is it not, this macaron thing. Once you start, you cannot stop. You just keep making them. It is like childbirth, a painful process (my arms are sore from sifting so much almond meal) but you keep doing it because the results are so worth it.


first ever batch from this oven.


second batch

BTW, it is painful to bake macarons with a small oven and with only 2 trays and 1 silicon mat. Like my lime green silicon mat? Funky isn’t it? 😀 Making them yourself is so much worth it, not only you get to learn to be patience and these temperamental babes really test your knowledge of baking and understanding of your individual ingredients, but it is also cheaper. In Melbourne right now, cheapest I have found is 1.95 aud at Cacao. Lindt new cafe that is at Collins St sells their Delice Macarons for 2.00 aud a pop and it is really not that great, still they are being sold out. When I went to the ChocolateRush festival last weekend, only the Cacao’s stand was selling macarons and they sold out, beating all those fancy cupcakes stands. The macaron craze has officially arrived in Melbourne, no thanks to that stank of a show, Masterchef Australia. (Let’s not even go there, I am a big fan of Masterchef UK, but Masterchef Australia, 1/3 into the season, for me, you just sank)


the second batch fresh out of the oven

I was able to finally gauge my oven’s temperature after baking 4 batches. 160C for 5 minutes then followed by 100C for 30 minutes with the oven door ajar. When I was an apprentice, we used to make them in those big industrial pastry ovens, and what I remembered was my seniors they would use double tray (no need for me) and also baked it really low after the initial crust setting. When it is macaron baking time, the ovens will be occupied for at least 3 hrs. So, remembering them, I bring down my temperature and it worked beautifully, no sticking to the silicon mat and with a nice crisp shell and chewy center, just how I like it.


I am pretty relieved. I have not baked them for ages (like years) and macarons is still one of those things that strike fear into my heart whenever I think about baking them (especially with unknown oven). Now, I have to say, layered cakes and artisan bread is still my crux. 😀

So, you may ask, what flavours did I make? The pictures above are whats left of the macarons after a 2 days carnage.  Two flavours were wiped out and these are what’s left and I am continuing to make more.

The flavours:

  • Crunchy peanut butter (finished)
  • Burnt coffee-toffee (finished)
  • Nutella with Dark chocolate (barely surviving)
  • Thyme scented lemon curd
  • Orange with orange marmalade
  • Oolong with Chai.

I am still on a bender, what I have up next, is thinking of making some adult macarons with a Shagger buttercream (Shagger- a cocktail made from Jagermeister, orangejuice & milk) and vodka lime buttercream. That is on my list. Also, to do some chocolate macarons a la Pierre Herme. Oh~ also Basil & blueberries. Ah, the possibilities are endless and only can be stopped by your lack of imagination.

Are you addicted? Because I am. They are so loveable.

p/s: i am not the most diligent of blog keeper and should any of the posts recipes interest you, please feel free to drop me a message and I will post up the recipe. ^_^

If everybody believes that organic, natural food is the only kind of food that we should eat? Why do food engineers, technologists and chemists alike (people like me) worked so hard to find ways and refine technology to make the food better, last longer, safer, effiecient, as a supplement to modern diet and more convenient for the masses?


buttercupBefore I start off on today post, I just want to say that, this is my guinea pig, she is called Buttercup, but I called her affectionately as “Poopy” because she is like a pooping machine, although that could be my fault. I felt that  I may have fed her too much. 😀

I got her 2 weeks ago from a farmer’s market. She looked kind of lonely but so cute. I must state that I have kept many furry pets throughout the years but never guinea pigs mainly because I do not find them attractive but, Buttercup stole my heart for some reason. She just have this look that is so adorable. I love her.

Guinea pigs represent a challenge for me, with Buttercup, I have to work for it to make her trust and be comfortable with me. She is very fidgety and skittish also easily scared. According to the seller, she was entrusted to her through a friend of her who owns a petshop. Buttercup was too old to be sold in a petshop as a pet anymore, so they were trying to get rid of her. I shudder to think of what happened should nobody bought her and gave her a home. Btw, did I mentioned that I only paid 5 Aud for her? What a steal! Granted, ever since I have her, I been spending a lot of money on her (but I am happy to see she is well fed, she has gained weight ever since we brought her back). Luckily W workplace is full of timber, we got all these timber for free and he built her a lovely hutch. I should take a photo of it. She’s only been outside in it once as we are still in winter and Victoria’s weather as usual been pretty unpredictable.

Ok, back to today’s post.

photostudioThe picture above is my D.I.Y kit of trying to make a “photo studio”. From previous post, you can see I was pretty offended by foodgawker keep rejecting my photos. Anyway, I take this as a learning process and also as an experiment. I bought a piece of black perspex, 2 piece of foamcore whiteboard as you can see from above and also a piece of reflective “mirror”-white. All of the above and the black perspex cost me 9.93 aud (this is after 20% student discount). So the following pictures is of me experimenting with the lighting. The box still lack some parts, but I think the picture has a vast improvement to it. I only have a point and click 10.2 mpx camera. So this is currently the best that I can do.

20080101-100_0910Those that follows me on twitter might have learn that a few days ago, I bought some really lovely quality mince at a bargain price. 1.78kg for 10.41 aud (very very cheap indeed).

Now, what can I do with so much mince? I do not want to make bolognaise, as W, my partner always eat them. I am sick of his boring meals. I was thinking meatballs? Kibbeh? Kofta? Meatloaf? Chilli? Kibbeh and kofta requires me to get additional ingredients. Not keen. Meatballs? Too similar to bolognaise. Chilli? W cannot take the heat. So I googled meatloaf and see how do people make them.

I have never made meatloaf nor ate meatloaf before. I think I never really came across them, and also because I do not like to eat ketchup as a condiment, lashing and lashing of ketchup on top of the meat is not my idea of gourmet. Also the restaurants that I had worked with would never serve meatloaf. Anyway, W and his mates has eaten meatloaf before and they had all been bad experience for them. He was not keen on meatloaf. He said and I quote “they suck”.

I had an idea of how they should taste like after browsing through many recipes. Yeah, it looks pretty easy to me, so I decided to make my own meatloaf flavour. It is a case of whatever is in my pantry, hence the title of the post.

Here is a list:

  • minced meat 750gm
  • bread crumbs 4 tbsp
  • fresh corn kernels
  • shredded carrot
  • chopped onion
  • chopped purple garlic
  • ketchup
  • W’s Nanna special barbecue sauce
  • curry powder
  • fresh chopped parsley
  • Chinese Shaoxing cooking wine (chinese sherry)
  • salt
  • dried mixed herb
  • cayenne pepper
  • streaky bacon

20080101-100_0925It is tasty, juicy, and baking it with streaky bacon, the bacon fat as it drips down into the meat, the meatloaf absorbs the bacon fat. Ketchup inside the meat rather than outside gives it a nice lovely tang as compared to just ketchup being lathered on the meat (shudder).

Serve with a side of couscous and black pepper gravy. I did not hear a single sound from the boys until their plates were clean. W and one of his mate are even having it as their lunch tomorrow. After this meatloaf adventure, I still have close to 1kg of mince left.

20080101-100_0916What do you think? Will this be a good meatloaf for you?

dear foodgawker,

you may be snotty enough to reject me for so many times. BTW, WTH is bad composition? =.= are you telling me how to plate my food now? Not everybody can afford a DSLR and I am pretty happy with my point and click digital camera. if you do not want me, i do not want you too.

Thank you tastespotting for accepting my photos. Good to know your site is still about food not about who can take better photograph. If everybody rejects people that shoot with point and click, what is the point of a website like foodgawker?

100_0881Back to my roots. This is a plate of a hot appetiser using fish. The marriage of red snapper, vadouvan and curry rub on the fish was sooooooo good, it will be something that I will be making again and again. Accompanying the fish are; pickled corn kernels (again in a brine solution w/v) which is lightly sauteed, garlic confit, wilted spinach and a mushroom reduction.


banan-caramel1-wordpressBanana cake layered with salted caramel mousse, dark chocolate glacage spiked with gorgeous leatherwood honey, topped with caramelised banana and accompanied by a 70% callebaut dark chocolate ice cream that sat on a bed of finely crumbed cinnamon streusel which is garnished with crushed candied cashews.




  • 198gm salted butter, softened
  • 225gm caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs (60gm each)
  • 220gm AP flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking soda, sift together with flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder, sift together with flour
  • 60ml whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 3 big bananas, roughly chopped half and mashed the other half.


  1. Preheat oven to 180 CELCIUS.
  2. Cream the butter and the sugar until really light and fluffy. You can see the butter turned an off white and the sugar has all been incorporated into the butter (no sandy texture).
  3. Add the eggs slowly.
  4. Mix in the milk and vanilla essence.
  5. Mix in both the mashed and chopped bananas. The reason here is to have the banana moisten the cake and to have the banana flavour, but also to have chunks of bananas that is lovely to bite into.
  6. Add in the sifted flour, baking powder and baking soda in batches.
  7. Incorporate the flour until just mixed. DO NOT OVER MIX! This is very important so you would not get a really hard cake.
  8. Pour into a lined or greased 8 inch cake tin. I used a round cake tin lined with parchment
  9. Bake in oven for 35 minutes or until skewer came out clean.
  10. Transfer to a line rack and let it cool completely.



  • 300gm dark brown sugar
  • 335ml cream
  • 85gm butter
  • 1-1/2 tsp salt


  • Just dump them all into a pot and bring to slow boil and whisk it intermittenly.
  • Let cool.
  • This yield 2 cups. More than enough for sauce and also for mousse.



  • 150gm cream
  • 180g 70% dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp (15ml) honey (I used leatherwood honey from Tasmania)


  • put all ingredients in a mixing bowl and melt over the bain-marie.

4. Caramel Mousse


  • 1 cup (australian std cup) salted caramel
  • 1 cup (australian std cup) cream
  • 2-1/2 sheet gold quality gelatine sheet (this is 2gm each, which will equal to 5gm)


  • Soak gelatine in ice water to soften. Then squeeze out all the excess water.
  • Heat a small amount of caramel just enough to melt the gelatine. Put the gelatine pieces into the heated caramel and whisk thoroughly to incorporate the gelatine.
  • Pour back the gelatin-caramel mixture back into the rest of the caramel and let cool but not set.
  • Whip cream until soft peak.
  • Gradually fold in caramel into the cream.
  • Refrigerate mousse until almost set. Firm but not runny.


  1. Trim the crust and sides of your cake.
  2. Divide cake into 3 layers (although I only did 2, it is much better to divide them into 3).
  3. Spread mousse onto the first 2 layers and also leave some mousse to filled the side. Smooth mousse.
  4. Pour chocolate glacage over entire cake.
  5. Refrigerate until set.


Serve with reserved caramel sauce. Chocolate ice-cream optional. This is a decadent cake. W loves it. I had fun baking it and it was a fun using banana cake as the sponge rather than using normal sponge.


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