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Stewed beef pie in a buttery crust

>> Wednesday, September 28, 2011

{Food for a sentimental time}

Stewed beef pie in a buttery crust

September 2001, the late teen me bid goodbye to my parents, friends and hometown and left for Melbourne. It was intended for a few years only, but ten years have passed and I have called Melbourne home ever since.

Often or not, I think of these ten years as "being away from home". But lately, that sentiment has changed. Melbourne has become my second home, a place that I miss when travelling. There is a real sense of belonging, a quiet connection to this space and time.

Australians do love their meat pies, something I can totally endorse. At my new work place, we have "pie party" almost every week. Great for bonding, and not so much for the waistline!

During winter I made pies fairly regularly. The beef pies are definitely Mr. B's favourite. The filling is meaty, enclosed in a buttery crust.

Beef pie in a buttery crust

This is my first time working with hot water pastry and I am sooooo happy to discover the technique. So easy to roll and shape.

Beef pies are great with ketchup, and a lots of salad greens. I think making them in small portions will be great for Grand Final Day. After 10 years here, I still do not understand the appeal of Footy. Soccer Rules in my house! Oh wait, not really. Beef pies rule! :D



Food photography session with Dario @ Food Pixels

>> Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cherries, donuts, and tea

A few weekends back, I got a chance to participate in a food photography class taught by Dario from Food Pixels. The class was organized on the 2nd level of The Light Room, in a small street just off Elizabeth St in Melbourne CBD. The atmosphere was small and cozy and I got a chance to explore something I like! A good way to enjoy the weekend!

I suppose the content of the workshop was not entirely new. Technical information and tips on composition and styling can be found in books and various places on the internet. What really valuable was the hand-on approach. With limited space and time, Dario did a good job in organizing practical activities so everyone got a chance to explore their camera, and food photography.

Some tips I learned from the workshop :).

{Controlling your light}

Natural light or strobe, the key is control. With natural light, this means to choose the “right time” to shoot, which can be tricky. Sometimes the light can be very strong, so diffuse and even double diffuse the window is recommended.

Controlling light also involves the understanding of light sources. Say your main light is big window. But how other windows or lights in the room affect your food? Should you block them out? Or involve and control them?

{The discovery of artificial light}

I was skeptical about using artificial light at first. You know, most sources teaching food photography emphasize on natural lighting. But with artificial lighting, there is control and the ability to create different lighting mood that draw viewers in.

Did I tell you that I love the first photo? The shadow and highlight of the photo create such a perfect lazy, casual mood.

The drawback of artificial lighting is the cost. The rule has it that the larger the source of light compared to your subject, the better. Decent flash system is not cheap at all. The one I am looking at costs close to A$1000. So I ask myself, do I really need it? (Yes…. And no….lol)

{Props add personality}

Worn-out, vintage pieces will never go out of fashion and add a home-feel touch. Food memories, the sweetest kinds, often come from the home. I like Dario’s reasoning here.
Props can be hard and expensive. And I discover something called prop hire shops! I have not explored these options yet, but a Google search yields some promising results.

{Practise with cheap but interesting ingredients}

This advice is perhaps more relevant for those who are interested in building their portfolio. Look for things that are unusual and interesting. Practise with simple subjects with different lighting and styling...
Photo with herbs, and… instant noodles

Instant noodles and herbs

{Lighting and texture}

Again, on lighting. Dario drew my attention to its relationship with the texture of the food, background and props. In particular, how the light is reflected and bounced upon these subjects? Cherries will reflect the light differently from cauliflowers (the former yields highlight on their skin). Taking note of these small details will help to improve the photos, avoiding flare and unintended highlighting area in the photos.

Playing with artificial lights (combination of soft boxes and grid light?)

I guess there are more an more I can write about the workshop. Like how lovely everyone was! I hope there will be more intensive workshop, focusing on artificial lighting, for me to learn and practice!


My family’s chicken congee (Cháo Gà)

>> Sunday, September 11, 2011

Delicious Vietnam #17

My family’s chicken congee (Cháo Gà)

Back to the time I was in high school, one day a friend invited me to a small shop near the main cathedral in Hanoi. Supposedly, that shop had “the best chicken congee” in town. Tuned out, the shop did sell decent congee. But the horrible service was such a letdown, I vowed never to return.

The simple fact is while I did not mind queuing for food; I would not do so for a bowl of congee! My father and his mother make much better congee that it is hard to beat. Admittedly my father is more famous for his fish congee. I have never made one as good s his though. Gotta learn more in my next trip back home. :-)

Congee (or cháo) is Asian-style rice soup. It is our food of comfort, so much like pho I would say. The Vietnamese version of congee is similar to the one we find in Cantonese restaurants here – small grains of rice being cooked until soft and tender in a savory soupy broth. We like to eat our congee with fried Chinese doughnuts (quẩy), for extra carbohydrates!


What makes my father and his mother’s congee so special? I guess it is in the love and care in the preparation. Unlike a lot of other recipes, we cook our congee from a combination of normal Jasmine rice and sticky rice. The rice is pre-soaked, and then coarsely pounded before cooking long and slow in chicken stock. I love the consistency of our congee – smooth, with separated small grains.

We, Vietnamese, also like to eat out congee with a lot of herbs. Sisho leaves and spring onion are the to-go combination for congee, and it is known to help with flu and the likes. In this instance, I have used Vietnamese mint (laksa leaves) and spring onion from my garden.

Melbourne weather today has been cold; it feels as though we are back in winter. We had chicken congee for lunch, and it was so satisfying!

Phuoc from phuoc’ndelicious is hosting this edition of Delicious Vietnam. Please head to her blog for the round up!
My family’s chicken congee (Cháo Gà)

I never really have a proper measurement for this recipe. So use this as a guide only. You will need a whole small chicken for the stock, but there will be leftover meat. Use it in sandwich, or salad.

printable recipe

Ingredients (serve 4-5)
½ cup sticky rice
1 cup Jasmine rice
6-8 cups water (estimate only)
1 small free-range chicken
1 piece of ginger
2-3 spring onions
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Salt and pepper
Condiment: finely chopped laksa leaves and spring onions
Fried Chinese doughnuts, to serve

Soak the two types of rice for at least 1 hour. Drain, and coarsely pound them with a pestle. It will look somewhat like this (broken rice!)


While the rice is soaked, cook the chicken. Bring 6 cups of water to the boiling point. Stuff the chicken with the ginger and spring onion. Put the chicken into the water, boil with high heat for 10 minutes, and then turn the heat down until the stock simmers nicely. Cover, and let it cook for 30 minutes. Take the chicken out, soak in cold water until cool. Shred the chicken meat, discard the skin and bone.

With the chicken stock, now add more water if needed to make a total of 8 cups of liquid. Bring to the boil, and gradually add in the rice. Bring the mixture to the boiling point, then, simmer with slow fire for at least 30-40 minutes until the grains are soft. Stir occasionally (nothing is worse than burned congee). Add more water if you feel that the congee is too thick.

Turn off the heat, cover the pot of congee and let it rest for 10 mins or so.

Now, to serve. First off, put the Chinese doughnuts under the grill in the oven until crispy. Cut thickly with scissors.

Put enough congee into another clean pot, add chicken, fish sauce. Adjust the consistency of the congee with extra water (the congee will be quite thick after resting) – you want a thick soupy consistency. Check the seasoning and add salt accordingly.

Just before serving, throw in the finely chopped herbs. Serve congee with lots of pepper, chilli powder (if preferred) and Chinese doughnuts.


B&W wednesday #7 Broad Bean Flowers

>> Wednesday, September 07, 2011

 Broad bean flowers

Ah. Prettiness! Broad bean flowers, I never knew they could be so delightful.

Can you believe that I grew them from seeds? :)

This photo is for Black and White Wednesday, created and hosted by the lovely Susan from The well-seasoned cook.

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