China, here we come!

Chinese groceries
Getting ready for lunch in China

I’m starting to get ready for lunch in China, and have visited the Hiep Phat supermarket in Mitcham.

And what a great place to visit! Not only is there a stunning variety of completely unfamiliar sights and smells, but the staff are extremely helpful. I could browse through those shelves for hours.

I need lotus leaves for the Lotus Leaf Wrap Sticky Rice, and had no idea what to expect of a lotus leaf. Holy moly, they’re huge!

And then it was off to the North Ringwood Meat Supply to buy some belly pork for the crispy roast pork, and chicken and beef for the steamboat. Oh, and to scrounge some butcher’s string to tie the sticky rice in the lotus leaves.

I was a bit half-hearted about making fortune cookies (which aren’t Chinese at all – they originated in the US in 1920), but then found a website with fortunes, and couldn’t resist. I haven’t had fortune cookies very often, and remember not being at all impressed by the very bland taste of flour and water. The recipe I found includes almond essence, which upped the flavour considerably, and was supposed to make ten cookies. But I got 13 quite large ones, so when the real time comes, I’ll make them quite a bit smaller. Which means we’ll have more fortunes!

Other dishes on the menu are dumplings (of course), spring rolls (of course), steamed prawns with garlic, and spring onion pancakes.

I’m not even going to attempt to make Chinese desserts, and bought some pie cookies with mochi and blueberry and custard cream dai-fuku. I have no idea what they are or what they will taste like but, after all, the whole idea of 80 cuisines around the world is to step out of our food comfort zones.

Lani is very keen to write the quiz, so she and I will sit down together during the week and come up with 20 questions. I’m very glad that Lani chose China for her birthday month. I think we’re gunna have another great feast!

It’s Lani’s birthday on Monday. I’ll have to research if the Chinese have a special kind of birthday celebration cakes for six-year olds. Happy birthday for Monday, Lani-pops!











Italian delights

Italia! Bellissimo!!

Our Italian lunch did not disappoint, and we finished yet another international lunch reflecting how good life is.

We started with bruschetta, which was my favourite. I had prepared the fetta, garlic and chopped basil the night before, so it was well-flavoured by the time it got onto the yummy crispy  toast with the tomatoes that had been chopped and also stored with basil the night before.

Jan liked the pan-fried gnocchi with sage and parmesan, which is one of my favourite Donna Hay recipes. I have tried to make potato gnocchi many times but it always ends up very claggy (maybe I use the wrong kind of potatoes), but this recipes uses ricotta. It hasn’t failed me once.

Will brought some lovely home-made ciabatta. He’s got bread-making down to a fine art, has Will. And we had some lovely oil and vinegars to dip it into.

For the first time in more than 40 years, I used a recipe to make the sauce for the lasagne, and I’m very glad I tried it. Adding bacon and chorizo gave it a real kick, and I also used beef and pork mince for the first time – usually I just use beef mince. The recipe said to add mixed spice, but I won’t do that again, and I wonder if it should have read mixed herbs.

The osso buco was also note-worthy, and as delicious as it usually is.

But the desserts! Oh, the desserts! Are there better desserts anywhere in the world than in Italy? Tiramisu, fresh strawberry gelato, cannoli, coffee and amaretto panna cotta – wow to each of them. Did I really say the bruschetta was my favourite?

Well, they were all my favourites until the affogatto appeared. Love, love, love affogatto!

The marsala and lemonade, as expected, took us back in time, as we reflected on those drinks we thought were so sophisticated back then – cold duck, Mateus rose, phorphyry pearl. And then Jan announced that she used to drink marsala straight. She’s hard-core, that woman!

Jill and Neil brought a bottle of chianti, and a bottle of chinotto (which we never got around to sampling). The chianti was perfect for quaffing in the sun over our mains – but we adjourned inside for dessert as it was a tad too hot outside.

Liam wrote the quiz questions, and did an amazing job. Thank you, Liam! And his strategy to prevent Will from winning the quiz was a great success. I won the quiz but, in truth, I should win every quiz seeing as I put the factsheet together! The quiz, and the answers are attached to this post.

Again, Elysia has taken a great range of photos. Thank you, Shish – you’re a treasure! And thanks for choosing Italy – it was a very good decision.

Next month we’re off to China. Lani wants me to help her do the quiz questions – I’m so excited that the kids are getting into the spirit of these lunches. Lani also wants to try some of the different Chinese foods before our lunch, although she keeps asking for dumplings with water in them – where on earth did she get that idea?

Sadly for now, it’s ciao and grazie to Italy, and ni hao, to China.






Seatbelts fastened. Buonasera, Italia

Preparations are well under way for lunch in Italy tomorrow.

Let me check through the menu:

  • Bruschetta – ingredients chopped
  • Lasagne – cooked
  • Osso buco – in the slow cooker
  • Gnocchi – made and waiting for its sauce
  • Salad – all ingredients chopped and dressing made
  • Tiramisu – assembled and chilling in the fridge
  • Coffee and Amaretto panna cotta – setting
  • Cannoli – shells made, waiting to be filled

The house smells amazing, and I can’t wait to get into the food tomorrow.

Friends of mine, Neil and Jill, are joining us, and will bring chinotto and chianti. That’ll be interesting – I tried chinotto as a teenager and hated it, but I’m sure my taste buds have matured since then.

The tiramisu and cannoli shells both have marsala, in them so I had to buy a bottle. I’m sure the label hasn’t changed since I used to drink it in my teenage days (and much preferred over chinotto). I might buy some lemonade, and have a few drinks of marsala and lemonade tomorrow – jeepers, but that’ll be a blast from the past!

We should be able to eat outside – they’re predicting neither 39 degrees nor a one-in-ten-thousand years rainstorm. The prediction is 25 degrees, which sounds perfect. And very Italian!

I’ve posted some pics, and will post more tomorrow (thanking Elysia in advance!).







Italia, here we come

Flag_ItalyPreparations are under way for lunch in Italy next Sunday, 18 February, and I’m anticipating another wonderful feast.

The Italians, like the Greeks, have been emigrating to Australia for many decades now, and their delicious food and vibrant culture have become an entrenched part of the Australian way of life. How much richer we are, in so many ways, for their contributions!

And, as with choosing the Greek menu, there are so many wonderful and familiar foods to choose from. Shaping up for a spot on the menu are bruschetta, grilled fennel and asparagus salad, gnocchi, osso buco, tiramisu, cannoli, strawberry gelato, panna cotta and affagatto. Definites on the menu are Will’s foccacia and my lasagne. Will makes amazing bread so it has to get a guernsey and, with shameless immodesty, I hereby stake my claim to making THE BEST lasagne in the world. It’s a big call, but it’s a great lasagne.

I was very excited to hear that Liam wants to write the quiz questions, and delighted to hear his method of handicapping his father, thereby giving the rest of us a chance of victory. Liam has decreed that Will will only have 15 minutes to read the factsheet and place mat. Good thinking, Liam!

Let’s hope the weather is kind to us. Not too hot and not too wet!

The factsheet and place-mat are attached. Study up for Liam’s quiz, which I will post after our lunch.

A presto!








German delights

Danke, Germany. You are superb.

Yes,  it was too bakingly hot to even look outside and, yes, I had cooked good, hearty, winter German food. But how delicious was that food???? Omigosh. Will even went so far as to say that Germany was better than Japan. Now, that is a seriously big call. Japan had blitzed the others by a long shot.

The rouladen and sauerbraten were delicious, the spatzle and the potatoes were impossible to resist, and the pretzels turned out really well. But, for me, the highlight was the black forest cake. Chocolate cake, cherries soaked in kirsch, coffee and kirsch flavoured icing, kirsch-flavoured cream and fresh cherries. Seriously, what is there not to love about black forest cake.

Jan brought what must be the biggest beer stein in the world, Will brought a case of Bitburger and a Bitburger stein, and Viv and Bill brought two bottles of Henkell Trocken. Lauren brought some Fanta for Liam. Liam loves Fanta but he’s not allowed to have it very often. Did you know that Fanta originated in Germany? I didn’t know that but Liam must have – he’s the one who chose Germany.

After sating ourselves with wonderful food and making sure that we were staying hydrated (as you must do in hot weather), we settled in for a round of Scattegories.  I love Scattergories. Even more, I love taunting Will while I’m playing Scattergories.

Will won the quiz. Again. Thanks Jan, for doing the questions. In response to popular demand, I have posted below a copy of the questions in case anyone wants to test their knowledge. Just remember that the questions are drawn only from the factsheet and placemat, and the information on them is drawn from random websites, and I am not putting any veracity in any of that information.

The music was great as well and added to the ambience of the day. I found a Spotify playlist of German Music at Okterberfest that played some good rollicking German drinking songs, even the more popular words to Living next door to Alice. It was fabulous!

Thanks again, Liam, for choosing Germany. It was awesome!

So for now, it is Auf Wiedersehen to Germany, and Ciao to Italy. We’ll be in Italy on 18 February. See you there!








Fasten your seat belts for the descent into Germany!

It has turned out as I feared – we’ll be eating good German winter comfort in a predicted 39 degrees with high humidity. Oh, well, c’est la vie (oops – wrong language, wrong country!). What is that German word that I could use here? I can’t remember how it starts, or even the loose translation of it, but I’m sure there is a German word for it.

I’ve done as much cooking as I can today so that we don’t overheat tomorrow. The purist in me doesn’t like to cook food the day before and reheat it, but the realist in me doesn’t want to have the oven and all four gas burners on with a house full of people in 39 degrees.

The sauerbraten has been cooked and is waiting to be sliced and the gravy poured over it. The rouladen is cooking. The ingredients for the bratkartoffeln have all been prepared. The pretzels are in the freezer. And the black forest cake is in the fridge soaking in all the juice from the cherries that have soaked overnight in kirsch. All that has to be done from scratch tomorrow is the spatzle.

I’ll dash up to the shops in the morning and get some crushed ice to put the drinks in (and to put in the drinks!). My poor little fridge won’t be able to cope with the drinks we’ll need. And we all know how very important it is to stay hydrated in hot weather!

And because it’s going to be so hot, we’ll have to eat inside. The upside of this is that I’ve been able to set the table today and not worry about things blowing away.

It’s looking good!








Guten Tag, Germany

Browsing the internet for German recipes, I began to think that it might be a bit crazy to eat lots of wonderful German comfort food in an Australian summer. But then I came across a recipe for Black Forest cake. I am not waiting six months to bake and eat a Black Forest cake!

The menu planning has been going really well.

I found a recipe for soft pretzels, and got to wondering how to shape them. Here’s a great You Tube link that shows how. They are now made, shaped and frozen, waiting to be cooked on the day.

The Black Forest cake is also baked and in the freezer, waiting to be assembled for devouration on 28 January (I think I made up a word there!).

I’ve also bottled a jar of sauerkraut, which worries me more than a little. I have never, ever had any success with preserving (not once, ever), so do not have a lot of faith in what we might end up with. I normally don’t cave into worrying too much about what might go wrong but have bought a pouch of sauerkraut, just in case.

Last weekend I did a trial run of kasespatzle. I remember watching MasterChef one night and the judges were amazed that one of the contestants made spatzle the traditional way, by cutting bits of dough off the board straight into the boiling water. Another visit to You Tube showed me how to make it with a special maker, which I had no intention of buying for this one occasion. More digging around found a clip that used a slotted spoon, so I gave that a try last weekend. So, so, so very yummy! That recipe is a keeper, for sure!

Other food on the menu is Bratkartoffeln (pan-fried potatoes), rouladen (which looks a bit like beef olives) and sauerbraten (which is a pot roast). And I’m about to head off to the shops to do some hunting and gathering of bratwurst sausages.

My shopping list includes 27 pieces of bacon. All that bacon! How can this not be the most delicious feast ever?

The drinks for Germany have been the easiest so far, but that might be because I am not responsible for any of them. Viv and Bill are bringing a couple of bottles of Henkel Trocken, which is one of the nicest of the drinks we are not allowed to call champagne anymore. And Lauren and Will are bringing a slab of Bitburger beer. Nice work, Lauren!

Do you know it’s not punishable by law to escape from prison in Germany? It’s in the fact sheet below. I read it on the internet so it must be true 😉






Japanese delights

Oh. my. God. Japan, how wonderful you are! It doesn’t matter what language we say it in, you are magnificent!!

Japan has definitely given us the best lunch yet. We have had some great food so far (Yassou, Greece. Ssalamu lekum, Morocco) but, Japan, you have set the bar seriously high.

We didn’t really talk about which was the hero dish today – there was not an unpopular dish. The teriyaki oysters were very popular with those who eat oysters, the beef with miso mash was delicious and the nasu dengaku was scrumptious (thank you, Karma, for the recipe!). The Japanese pancakes were great, and the toffee apple roll with black sesame ice-cream was yummy. Who could not love black sesame ice-cream?

The Sapporo beer went down well, but not nearly as well as the Japanese Gumboots. This is a seriously nice cocktail, and we enjoyed quite a few. The sake was not to anyone’s liking. We all tried it, but most of it went down the sink.

Jenny brought some lovely Japanese paper, and Elysia made an origami crane. We meant to make some more after our meal, but didn’t get around to it.

Will won the quiz. Again! This is getting more than a little boring.

A decision to eat inside was justified. The sky cleared up a couple of times but not enough to think about eating outside. We would have been very, very wet.

Thanks Elysia, again, for being the official photographer.

Sadly for now, it is Sayonara, Japan (and thanks for the memories!), and Guten Tag, Germany.






Japan flag

Konnichiwa, Japan. I can’t wait to meet you!

It seems so long since we have had an international lunch, and I suppose it is. We were all so busy in November that we couldn’t find a free Sunday, so here we are having lunch in Japan in December.

Our menu comprises prawn and vegetable tempura, smoked salmon and cream cheese rolls, oysters with teriyaki dressing, Japanese pancakes, nasu dengaku, beef with miso mash, black sesame ice-cream and a toffee apple roll. It all sounds yum!

I’m also looking forward to enjoying our Japanese tipples. The internet tells me that Sapporo beer is better than Asahi, so I’ve got some Sapporo in. And how could I resist buying sake while I was at Uncle Dan’s?

I am really, really looking forward to the cocktail. What else would we have but Japanese Gumboots. This is a drink I used to have years ago with a friend of mine (hello, Peter!). Cointreau, Midori and lemon juice. Could there be a better combination? It is officially called a Japanese Slipper but, really! Who wants a slipper-size drink when they can have a gumboot-size drink? Japanese Gumboots, here we come!!!

Getting the factsheet together has been interesting. If we can blindly believe everything we read on the internet (we can trust the internet, can’t we?), Japan has more McDonalds restaurants than any country outside the US. This cannot be a good thing. And the birth rate is so low that there are more adult diapers sold than baby diapers. This also cannot be a good thing. Japan comprises 6,852 islands and, unsurprisingly, sumo wrestling is the national sport, although the most popular spectator sport is baseball. The fact sheet and place mat are attached below.

Our guests this time will be friends of mine from way back. Jenny is a retired school teacher who has been to Japan quite a few times, and Robert is just an all-round nice guy. Lauren, Will and the kids will be there, as will Jan. Lauren is going to write the quiz. Jan, we have to crunch Will somehow!

I have to admit to being a little worried about the weather. I have finally bought an outdoor setting, and Melbourne has just recorded its longest spring period of days with temperatures above 30 degrees (13, I think). I was worried it would be too hot to be outside. But the Weather Bureau announced today that Melbourne can expect three times the average December rain to fall on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, along with “unprecedented” thunderstorms. Ya gotta love Melbourne’s weather!!

Watch this space for my next report. We’ll either be very hot or very wet, or maybe both.

But we will have lots of food, lots of fun, and lots of Japanese Gumboots. We might need those gumboots!









Nepali delights


Lunch in Nepal was another grand affair although, with hindsight, I don’t think I chose the menu wisely. With only a couple of exceptions, the ingredients and cooking methods were quite similar so there didn’t seem to be very much variety.

The standout dish was the mutton curry, except that I couldn’t source mutton in a hurry (why the heck am I always in a hurry?), so it was lamb curry. But it was still very nice, and definitely worth trying again. If only I knew a butcher who could get mutton for me!

The momo (dumplings) were lovely, but I must make a note to myself to not make them the day before and leave them in the fridge overnight. They tasted OK, but looked quite messy.

And the cocktail. Yes, the cocktail lived up to all of our fears. Coconut and curry and lemon and gin was never going to be a good idea. It just goes to show that you should always listen to those little warning bells.

At this stage, it sounds like lunch in Nepal was an exercise in what not to do. But that is a very unfair judgement on our meal. The Chicken Thukpa (soup) was delicious, as was the mango chutney, and the gwaramari (bread) was a big hit. And, if I was perfectly honest, the mango chutney was the nicest I’ve had. The Kheer (vermicelli pudding) has great potential. I’ll definitely make it again, but with more sugar and perhaps some vanilla.

We invited Liam’s two mates (who are twins) and their parents along, so with Jan, we had four kids and six adults. As a variation of frog in a pond, I did a frog on a mountain for the kids.

Will won the quiz. Truly, Jan, we’re going to have to think of a way to sabotage Will so that he doesn’t win so easily so often!

Photos are below. Elysia wasn’t able to make it, so Pete took the photos. Pete – they are awesome photos, especially for a nine-year-old. Thank you so much for taking them!

Namaste, Nepal, and Konnichiwa, Japan. I’m very excited about going to Japan!!