Wines on Wednesday: Banrock Station Shiraz Cabernet in a box!

What typically comes to mind when you think of boxed wine? Cheap looking? Cheap tasting? An aching head the next morning? All of the above?

Too many questions? Let me drop some knowledge.

Over the past few years an increasing number of quality wines have been getting packaged in boxes. Putting out great tasting tipples in stylish and easily recycled cardboard, these wine makers are paving the way for the future by popularizing this humble, eco-friendly container.

Lighter than glass and easier to pack into a truck, boxed wine is easy to transport. And shipping more wine for less money makes for a smaller carbon footprint.

Apart from the better quality of wine now available in boxed form, there are other taste benefits. The way the spout is fastened to the bag ensures that the wine will not touch the air until it is poured, keeping it fresher for longer. Cooking is another great aspect – when you need a little splash here or there for a dish, no need to worry about opening a new bottle.
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Crab Cakes with Green Yogurt Dressing

Crab cakes and football – that’s what Maryland DOES!

Confession: I’ve never been to Maryland, as far as I can recall. But Wedding Crashers still makes me laugh after seeing it about 50 times, and I love love love crab cakes so it seemed like a good quote to lead into this recipe.

I have made similar versions to these crab cakes a few times, and I think I have finally tweaked them to just the way I like them. I pre-cook my diced peppers and onions prior to adding them to the crab mixture to bring out their full sweetness and the fresh parsley adds appropriate flecks of green spice to the sweet crab and aromatics.
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Pavlova, a first

I had never heard of pavlova until I started dating an Australian. Since then it has popped up in conversations, magazines and websites all around me. The colorful and tropical toppings, the mounds of whipped cream, the crunchy outside with the fluffy marshmallow center. And for all that chat and daydreaming, I’ve only actually eaten it once. And made it myself? Never.

We’ve thought about it. And there was a failed attempt during a New York winter a few years ago headed by Mr. F, but that one went awry pretty early on.

I found the Great Australian Pavlova Blog Hop and decided to join right away. Making the national dessert of Australia/New Zealand (I’m not taking sides here, you guys can battle it out) for a virtual bake-off of sorts, gave me the perfect incentive to approach this dessert of legend.
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Happy Thanksgiving! (p.s. I love Green Bean Casserole)

It’s Thanksgiving here in Australia already and I should probably be writing about pumpkin pie and other glamorous autumnal dishes, but no, I am writing about good ole’ green bean casserole.

Green bean casserole is one of those very American baby boom-era dishes (fun fact: it was invented by the Campbell’s Soup company in the 1950’s, says Wikipedia.) and happens to be one of the more controversial dishes in my family’s Thanksgiving Day lineup.

It was often snickered at/ignored by certain members of our family who deemed it a little lame and old-fashioned. Until one year, it just wasn’t there. (Did you see this one coming? I sure as hell didn’t.) Gammy* didn’t make it because, “no one liked it”. Whaaat? I never said that.

And so I began my crusade of bringing the unhealthy, almost unnatural veggie casserole back into fashion. I didn’t get far beyond making it for my friends at college and getting it back on our Thanksgiving table, but that was enough for me.

This is my second Thanksgiving away from home and this week I was craving that endearing cream-o-mushroom-flavored dish something awful.

I decided to challenge myself a little and make it without the magical ingredients of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom condensed soup and pre-packaged fried onions. Both of which I probably couldn’t find here if I wanted to, so I spared myself the disappointment.

I used chicken stock thickened with flour and a little cream, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions and green onions that I crisped in the oven. The result was a success – I captured the flavor and essence of an old fashioned green bean casserole with healthy, fresh ingredients.

Green Bean Casserole
– 6-7 green onions finely chopped (thinly sliced shallot would work well too)
– 5 cups fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-3 cm/1 inch pieces
– 1 1/2 cups white button mushrooms, sliced
– a small knob of butter
– 1 cup of chicken both
– 2 tablespoons of flour, sifted
– 1 tablespoon of cream
– 4 heaping tablespoons of caramelized onion**
– salt& pepper
– 1/4 cup grated parmesan

Place the green onions on an oiled baking sheet and grill/broil in the oven for about 5 minutes, until crispy. Set aside. (I burnt mine a little – be careful.)
Preheat oven to 200 C/400 F
In a small saucepan bring the chicken broth to a boil. Take off the heat and whisk in flour and cream until thickened. Season with salt & lots of pepper.
In another pan, melt the butter and saute mushrooms. Season with pepper. Once softened, add to the thickened chicken broth.
Place green beans in boiling water for about 5 minutes and drain.
In a casserole dish combine green beans, thickened broth with mushrooms, and caramelized onion. Toss gently to coat the green beans.
Cover and place casserole dish in the preheated oven or 20 minutes. Uncover, turn on the grill/broiler and top with the crisped green onions and parmesan. Bake for 5 more minutes.


*Gammy is the master of mashed potatoes AND green bean casserole. She also happens to be the greatest grandma in the world.

**To make caramelized onion: Combine chopped brown onions with a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and cook covered on a medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes or until sweet and a completely softened. I try to make a big batch to have on hand for making things like this more awesome.

Wines on Wednesday: Speakeasy

Wines on Wednesday is a new weekly blog feature in the spirit of zany American morning show hosts Kathie Lee and Hoda who sample wines on Wednesday mornings. (Sometimes things get a little crazy…and awkward. But it’s all in good fun!)
There won’t be any inappropriate drinking before noon here (sorry if I got you excited about that) but there will be some sipping and reporting on wine bars and wines I come across. Note: I have almost zero wine knowledge but I enjoy trying new things and a good Malbec. 


This week, we adventure to Speakeasy Bar in Bondi. Situated near the corner of Curlewis and Glenayr, this is one of several small wine bars that have popped up around the ‘hood in the past couple of years. The small wine and tapas bar has a welcoming eclectic decor with cozy couches, several small tables and bench seating at the front window for people watching and catching a breeze.

The wine menu is perfect for someone like me – it provides unpretentious and helpful descriptions of each wine. The captions give you just the right amount of information, like this one for Dusty’s Desire Barossa Valley Shiraz: “smooth and easy like chocolate” Um, sold.

The night we went it was on the chillier, damper side of spring weather – you know, red wine drinking weather.  Mr. F ordered the 06 Bodego Vistalba Corte Malbec Merlot from Agentina, “smooth earth, spice and cherry.” And I had the 08 Pindarie Tempranillo Sangiovese Shiraz Barossa, “we love this blend. smooth & earthy.”

I have been a Malbec fan for the past couple of years. Malbecs sold in the U.S. are nearly always a good deal and a nice red to have on hand. I have had trouble finding them in Australia, especially for the same good value. I was happy Mr. F ordered the blend so I could have a sip. It was really nice, although I would have liked to try a Malbec without the Merlot blend.

In my efforts to educate myself on wines, and Australian wines in particular, I had come across a little article on Aussie Tempranillos. Tempranillo is a type of grape native to the Rioja region in Spain that has taken off in Australia in the past few years. It makes for good fruity flavors with a low acid. I know I liked several of the Rioja region wines we tasted in Spain so I was excited to try the Tempranillo when I saw it on the menu. This blend was lovely, and I was happy I chose it. I will be keeping my eye out for Australian Tempranillos in the future, for sure.

In addition to the thoughtful and copious wine selection at Speakeasy, their tapas menu is not easily overlooked. Nightly specials look particularly enticing and they offer great sharing plates of varying sizes. I have my eye on chorizo with crispy potatoes, thyme and oregano for next time. Yup, we’ll be returning. And often, I predict.

All wines (besides a couple types of sparkling) are sold both by the glass and the bottle. Speakeasy Bar, 83 Curlewis Street Bondi Beach, NSW


Peanut Chili Sauce

Now might be a good time to tell you that I am a peanut butter fiend. My cravings for peanut butter and the high frequency at which they occur are borderline abnormal. I’m a fiend – but I’d like to think of myself as a fiend with standards.

My peanut butter criteria:

  • The only ingredient should be peanuts. Or roasted peanuts.
  • Make that organic peanuts/roasted peanuts.
  • Nine times out of ten, it’s gotta be crunchy (although, my current jar is not).
  • It should be kept in the fridge.

Often I just eat it straight out of the jar on a spoon, standing in front of the refrigerator. But for more civilized dining, I’m pretty open to any and all combinations involving PB.

While I am biased, it doesn’t mean that this sauce can only be enjoyed by fellow peanut-loving freaks. Evidence: Mr. F is generally indifferent to nut butters, and he gave it a glowing review.

This peanut sauce is a perfect combination of salty and tangy with a little spice to it. It’s just dreamy.

Peanut Chili Sauce
– 3 tablespoons of all-natural peanut butter
– 1 tablespoon of lime juice
– 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
– a couple of drops of toasted sesame oil
– 2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
– 1 teaspoon of red chili flakes
– 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger (optional)
– 2 tablespoons of warm water

Combine all the ingredients and whisk together. If it’s too thick to pour, add a little more warm water.

I combined cooked soba noodles, steamed broccoli, asparagus and tofu with the peanut chili sauce. Made in less than 15 minutes, this is a gorgeous meal to serve up on the fly. Use whatever veggies and protein you’d like. I’m thinking this would be really nice with some grilled prawns and red capsicum too.


And before you go…

On the kitchen playlist: David Bowie, Album: Hunky Dorey

This gave me a giggle: Thanksgiving Drinking Game

First music, then fine art. Loving the new kind of meal pairing: Feasting on Art


real bananas, fake ice cream

This is one for the banana lovers.

In the Good Living section of the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of weeks ago, I read about a sneaky mother’s brilliant idea of making fruit puree “ice cream” for her kids. Like most children, her little ones could eat ice cream every day if allowed. Instead of depriving them, she chopped up a couple of over-ripe bananas, froze and then food processed them. It looked, felt and tasted like ice cream. A revelation.

If you blitz bananas in the food processor for a minute or two, the frozen bananas yield a silky, creamy and perfectly balanced fice cream (fake ice cream, if you will. You won’t? Ok.) It’s best to let your bananas thaw for a few minutes so you spend less time pureeing. It will look like a chunky dry glob for a good 30 seconds there, but press on and it will give way to a frozen treat. You honestly wouldn’t believe there was nothing else in there besides fruit. The banana’s natural consistency creates this non-dairy smoothness like no other fruit can.

I don’t have any sweet-toothed children to fool, but I could certainly be talked into an ice cream every day. This is a fabulous compromise for a banana fan – an indulgent feeling dessert with no added sugar or dairy. A spoonful of peanut butter alongside a scoop of our banana “ice cream” and I’m on another planet. I swear, it’s that good.

It’s perfect if you’re not up to the task of baking with your over-ripe bananas and not in the business of wasting delicious fruit. I should note that your bananas don’t necessarily have to be over-ripe but definitely don’t make them under-ripe, they won’t be sweet enough to fool children or artificial banana flavoring enthusiasts.

Bananas (however many you want to use), sliced

Place a layer of sliced bananas on a plate lined with baking paper. If you have more bananas than surface area on your plate, place another sheet of baking paper over your first layer and place more bananas on top of that.
Freeze for 2-3 hours or overnight.
Remove from freezer and let sit out for about 3-4 minutes.
Place in the food processor and process for 1 to 2 minutes until the consistency is creamy. Serve like ice cream.

It refreezes well and will maintain its ice cream-like texture.