Vanilla Crème Brulée

It’s better to watch Masterchef with other people. Particularly if those people bring withe them pots of crème brulée and a tiny butane torch.

Ad break! Crafty Kay sets the three ramekins out on the bench. She sprinkles raw sugar evenly across the tops of each creamy-yellow custard. Then… blue fire!

Wow, it happens so quickly! The second the flame touches the dessert the sugar dissolves into bronze liquid. On one the sugar is piled too high and suddenly blisters black.

“I’ll eat that one,” Crafty Kay says, handing me a perfectly crisped brulée.

This is my first time trying crème brulée so I’m not going to argue.

Back in front of the television. I tap delicately on the caramelised top. It’s very thin, and crinkles apart. Tasting the shards.

Um… I don’t know… tastes like burnt sugar. Which makes sense, considering its origin, but is that how it’s supposed to taste?

Beneath shell the butter-coloured custard is smooth and well-set. My spoon goes in easily, softer than jelly but firmer than pannacotta.

Oh! Oh! Delicious! It’s creamy and gentle and tastes so much like beautiful vanilla ice-cream. No egg-ness at all.

Huh, Jimmy is cooking chai crème brulée on TV! I’m sure that would be good too… but the brulée in the hand is worth three on the screen.

Eating it slowly… slowly… it’s so good I’m scared of finishing it.

…but it’s gone.

I want more!

The Masterchef judges drink Jimmy’s runny brulée up as I mournfully hunt the corners of the ramekins for any lost custard.

Forget the caramel on top, just give me the custard!

Rating: ★★★★☆

Specifics: Vanilla crème brulée cooked by my lovely talented friend

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Prune Juice

I remember staying with my grandparents as a child, and my disgust at my grandfather’s breakfasts. All-bran with prunes, marmite on toast, with freshly squeezed orange juice. I sat there with my coco-pops, legs swinging under the table, while he chuckled at my screwed-up face and teased me.

I also remember when I finally bothered to taste prunes. Delicious! I thought they’d be a great healthy snack to eat in front of the television, and ate half a bag at once. Then I discovered what eating so many prunes at once does to the digestive system. Fortunately I didn’t have anywhere to go the next morning.

So I’m on to you, prunes. You are tasty but dangerous. And I worry that prune juice may be concentrated trouble.

It looks like brown muddy water. Not attractive.

Unscrewing the metal lid off the glass bottle. Sniff. Heavy sticky-treacle scent of essence of prune. Mmm.

Sip. The smell is stronger than the taste. It does taste like prunes, but with less bite. Still syrup-sweet. It’s almost like a dessert wine!

I miss the soft chewy texture of the dried fruit. I mean, it’s okay. Nothing wrong with it. But I’d always rather eat than drink.

Also then I can regulate my prune intake to prevent another… incident.

But I’m going to finish the bottle! And then maybe I should find some marmite to taste.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Specifics: Sunraysia prune juice, bought from Coles Macquarie Fields

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Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tart

The last twenty-four hours have been so tense and, because we finally convinced a landlord to trust us with his property, the reward for my success is more stress moving from a three bedroom house to a two room unit. I’ve spent hours each night exhausted but kept awake by my thoughts.

But now it’s Friday night, and I deserve a pop-tart.

Usually I leave them for The Husband. He loves them so, and I’m sure they’re just high-calorie junk. But I deserve some sugary, chemically trash tonight.

I thought I knew all the places in Sydney you could buy pop-tarts, but I’d never thought of looking in a tiny suburban IGA before! Expensive little morsels that they are, I’m glad I indulged The Husband in them. He has so few food delights!

I offer to do the toasting and he comes to take over, concerned I’ll burn them. Oh, I see, there’s two in each foil package. He pops two brown rectangles down… and spring! Less than a minute and – according to the box – now we have hot chocolate pastries.

Pastries? That’s a funny use of the word. They’re much more like crunchy chocolate biscuits oozing moist filling with some strange hard icing than pastries. Standard brown chocolate colour. Pretend sugar sprinkling.

Nibble a corner. Just the hard biscuit, no filling. Average chocolate biscuit flavour and texture.

Taste the frosting. It cracks when I snap it but I can’t actually separate its taste from the sandwich it sits on.

Okay, let’s go for the goo!

Yes, it is the best thing about the pop-tart. It’s warm and soft and tastes just like under-cooked cake batter. I like warm raw cake batter. With the filling the pop-tart begins to feel more like a brownie than just a biscuit.

It’s okay. I don’t see The Husband’s fascination, but anything warm and cocoa-flavoured is welcome during winter.

It’s not a pastry though. I feel like that’s an abuse of English to call it that. It’s a biscuit you put in the toaster. Even the icing is a bit like the top of an Arnott’s Hundreds & Thousands. Just a 200 calorie biscuit. That’s all.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Specifics: Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tart, bought from the IGA in East Lindfield

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Blueberry Apple Crumble Yoghurt

Been sitting under the heater so I’m nice and warm… and ready for some yoghurt!

I don’t normally buy the Nestle diet yoghurts – anything so exotically-named but that low in calories doesn’t inspire confidence -  but none of the others were on special.

And the names are enticing… I mean, blueberry and apple crumble, what part about that isn’t tasty?

Pulling the plastic cover off the tub.

The yoghurt is very lavender-purple, a bit too bright. There are little blue-black flecks. But what is with the layer of watery whey on top? It’s like a lake!

Stirring it back in. Taking a spoonful.

It really does smell buttery, like a crumble out of the oven.

Taste.

It tastes of blueberries first, with a hint of baby-food apple second. Swallow. Then the scent of crumble crust becomes an after-flavour. Then a funny chemical finish.

The texture is like a runny mousse. It flows rather than holding shape. There is an occasional snippet of withered blueberry that has no taste of its own. The yoghurt leaves a grainy feel on the back of my teeth.

But, overall, it does taste somewhat as promised!

Rating: ★★½☆☆

Specifics: Nestle Diet blueberry and apple crumble flavour yoghurt, bought at Coles Macquarie Fields

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Seaweed Onigiri and Mushroom Onigiri

Wandering around the food court. Where is that bagel place I keep wanting to try? And where’s the T2 cafe? Darn it, I must be on the wrong level.

Not even hungry. Late breakfast and now an early lunch. But if I don’t eat I’ll spend the whole wedding mentally hurrying the service along and that’s not pleasant.

Hey, this place has onigiri! And apart from the meat and fish varieties they have both seaweed and mushroom. I could eat one now and the other one closer to the ceremony.

I hand over $6 and take hold of the onigiri. Oh, they’re quite solid and heavy! Hmm, maybe I only needed one… They’re bigger than my hand, a triangular rice sandwich with filling in between the rice and a sheet of nori wrapped around like a paper holder. The rice really does act like bread rather than encasing the filling on all sides.

Sitting at the table. The Husband watches people on the ice skating rink over my shoulder. Can’t watch the skating, too busy trying to follow the Korean opening instructions written on the plastic packaging my onigiri came in.

I’ll eat seaweed now and mushroom later.

Well, the little pictures say to pull a strip down the middle off and then slide the halves off. Pretty funny that they included directions, I’m sure I can manage this!

Yup, here’s a tab marked one. Pull it. It twists around the package. Slide one side off… oh, huh? The nori is encased in plastic rather than touching the rice. To keep it crunchy I guess? Tugging the plastic off. Leave the other side on so I can hold it without getting ocean smell on my fingers.

The middle layer of seaweed filling is the typical seaweed salad. Long green chewy strands with specks of red chilli and sesame.

Bite. Yup, the nori is crunchy… and really good! Toasted, not fishy, with a vague sesame sense. Normally I dislike dry nori but this is nice. It crackles and is easy to bite through, no chew.

The rice is bland. Not like sushi rice at all. I like sushi rice better; what isn’t improved by vinegar? Also the grains are at least medium grain, if not long, rather than the fat stubby balls of short-grain sushi rice.

And the seaweed salad is seaweed salad. Why do I keep buying this stuff? I never really like it. I don’t trust food that refuses to be bitten or chewed. The chilli is a good temperature, warm without burning, and there is the occasional seed.

So half gone. Now to get the wrapped off the other half.

Uh-oh. I think I was supposed to pull this off while the onigiri was whole. Now I’ve got no other end to hold while I tug, so I’m always holding the plastic I’m trying to remove.

Doh! Try and inch it out. Ooops, now half the nori is free but the other half is stuck and my sandwich is coming apart. Fine, okay, I’ll do a reconstruction job when it’s gone.

Eeek… hmm… there! Okay, wrap the green crunchy sheet back around my rice slabs… Not too bad, didn’t fall apart much.

Eat. Seaweed is not great but it’s fine.

Pretty full… but the other one is looking at me…

Back in the car and I give in! I will eat you mushroom onigiri! I’m sure time won’t make you better anyway.

This time I free all the onigiri at once. Bounce goes the car. But my onigiri technique is clearly improving.

Ooo, they put two little soy sauce fish in the bag! Darn it, I bet that would have improved the first one.

Trying to hold the onigiri and hold the fish and unscrew the little red mouth-lid at the same time. This always happens when I eat sushi too, it’s so awkward! Another bounce, and now the lid is gone somewhere beneath my seat. Gotta use all the sauce then, or I’ll get brown on my wedding clothes.

The mushrooms seem to be thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms. Nothing really with them, just scattered by themselves. But soy sauce will cheer them up!

Crunch goes the nori. Soy soaks into my tongue. Man, this is like a million times better! No can’t-chew seaweed, just salty rice and mushrooms and crunch!

Hoeing in even though I’m full. Bounce. See, got to eat it quick before all this bumping results in mess.

And it’s gone…and I’m really full. That was a lot of rice! No hungry stomachs distracting me from the ‘I do’!

So the lessons of today: always follow instructions – even when written in another language – and use soy sauce liberally.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Specifics: Seaweed onigiri and mushroom onigiri bought from Totoro, in the Macquarie Centre

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A Footnote From The Author

I’m starting a new job this week and going to a camp next week.

The job will be an adjustment and at the camp I will not have any choice about what I eat.

So after trying 139 new foods – from tsuivan to five spice bean cake to pomegranate to pashmak – since 18 December 2009 I am taking a fortnight off!

See you Monday 12 July!

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Kaya

This is the third Cabramatta supermarket we’ve been in… surely this one will have kaya?

Trying to think of the advice I was given in the Masterchef chat. Look for it in a jar, not a can… or was it the other way around? Brown is better than green, because the green is just food colouring. And that’s all I’ve got.

I’d never even heard of kaya before reading food blogs. I may not be able to eat it in Malaysia – and I’m not willing to spend so much time cooking something I’ve never experienced – but shopping in Cabramatta? That’s fun!

Browsing the shelves… dried foods… teas… noodles… canned vegetables… where is this kaya?

“Is this it?”

Turning. The Husband points to a jar I just walked past. A jar, score! But the insides are decidedly green.

Pick it up, look at the ingredients. Lots of coconut… no pandan in the list. Just chemicals.

Well, tasting the fake version will get me on my way at least.

***

Spreading it thick on toast. Super thick. I should have thick gobs of butter with it… but I can’t quite stomach that! Also, no eggs. I’m in a hurry!

The green paste is thick and grainy, as if there are tiny crystals mixed inside. It looks like lemon butter and moves the same too. It smells headily strong of coconut, fresh rather than dried.

Bite. The crunch of the toast is muffled by the thick mattress of kaya. It tastes new. Not just coconut, though that’s the primary flavour (particularly in the after taste). Not just sugar, even while being sweet. Can’t be pandan, since there isn’t any in the jar! Perhaps it’s the egg that turn it into something else. Whatever it is, it makes my mouth water at the next bite.

Normally I just eat two slices of toast. With kaya, I eat three.

***

Time for a white-girl method of eating kaya. With vanilla ice cream.

Two big spoonfuls of the kaya, plops of translucent green against the creamy pale dessert.

Mashing it all together into a soft-serve of coconut kaya swirl. The gritty texture spreads into the milky smoothness until it is all as one.

Resting it on my tongue to melt. The extra sweetness of the ice cream dials the coconut down. I find the combination of cool and wet more pleasurable than the hot crunch of the toast.

This sugar rush is going to keep me up for hours! I don’t care. Forget kaya for breakfast, give me kaya for dessert!

Rating: ★★★½☆

Specifics: Glory brand kaya, bought in Cabramatta

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Spicy Salt and Pepper Tofu

The waiter sits us down. I’m anxious about the time. “We only have an hour, will we have enough time?”

He looks at me. “Sure, if you order in a reasonable amount of time.”

Yep, touche. Flicking through the menu. Vietnamese is one of my favourite Asian foods, but sadly often not a huge range for vegetarians beyond rice paper rolls. Ditto for the average Chinese restaurant. Not like Thai; lots of choice there!

So predictably we both want to order rice paper rolls. But it’s winter! So we should eat something warm… plus I always feel so silly when we order the same dish, it seems redundant.

Ooo, salt and pepper tofu! I hear about people liking salt and pepper squid so why not tofu? We can split both dishes.

After five minutes the rice paper rolls are here! Bit too much noodle, and the rice paper is very chewy… but the peanut sauce is some of the thickest I’ve ever seen! Best part!

Another five minutes and the tofu arrives, deep-fried oblongs piled on top of each other and scattered with green onion and chilli.

Each tofu pillow is pale with a thin scratchy salted skin. Enough looking, got to eat before it gets cold!

First thought: yup, salty and peppery. It’s white pepper, which I prefer, giving it bite without the overloading aftertaste. The batter is very thin, almost like the pieces were just rolled in scratchy seasoning before cooking. It crunches gently, a little glutinous at times.

The tofu itself is magnificent. Silken and soft, almost melting like butter in my mouth. Without its crust it would be nearly runny, and the contrast of textures is great. The taste is neutral of course, but that works when seasoned with this much kick.

Oo! Bit into a chilli! Hot hot! Drink water. No good. Need something else. Sticking a bit of the peanut sauce on my tongue, rolling it around. Ah… much better.

Okay, stick to the green onion and brush the red bits off.

More salt than pepper. The Australian in me suddenly wants vinegar. There is a smidge of oiliness but they’re quite dry considering. Good, I hate my tongue being awash with oil.

Can’t quite finish the plate. It’s very filling, all that protein.

Well, not healthy like rice paper rolls, but tasty! Too much effort to cook at home so a nice treat to eat out.

And we’re all done within half an hour. The waiter looks smug when I pay. “I told you.”

You did, you did.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Specifics: Spicy salt and pepper tofu (dau hu rang muoi

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Bertolli Arrabbiata Pasta Sauce

It’s dark. The road reaches up the hill, the incline that never ends. I’m so hungry all my movements feel floppy. Step. Step. One after the other, each one closer to dinner but still so far away…

At last, into the house. Getting changed. The screech of our car’s brakes outside. The Husband! He will feed me!

Hugs and welcomes, then beseeching looks.

“Can you cook the tortellini? You’re so much better at it than I am. Remember last time I cooked ravioli, and all the filling ended up in the water?”

He kisses me. “Sure.” Yay!

While he fills the kettle and gets the saucepan of water boiling I eagerly peruse the six jars of pasta sauce I got in the mail. Which one to put with tortellini? Well, the tortellini are supposed to be spinach and cheese (ha, as if, all supermarket tortellini taste like they’re stuffed with breadcrumbs) so perhaps something other than cheese. Hmm, there’s one that’s supposed to have red peppers and chilli. That might perk up the pasta!

I’d better stop watching the water boil if I ever want to eat.

And at last the tortellini is cooked! The Husband drains it and tips it back into the saucepan before unscrewing the jar of sauce and pouring it in. No extra cooking, the heat of the pasta will warm it up! Stir and serve.

The tortillini is its usual pasta lumps. The sauce is chunkier than most other kinds I’ve used. Instead of a puree it’s more approaching diced tomatoes. There’s the occasional square of red capsicum, and a sheen of brightly crimson-orange oil. Dark flecks of parsley right through.

It tastes sweetly of tomato when I first put it in my mouth but the chilli is quite warm; it’s what lingers in my throat and on my tongue. The Husband comments on it. I like it with the tortellini, it lifts it compared to the stodgy innards, but I would never use this sauce in a lasagna or something. It would work well with penne though… perhaps with some olives added.

Not bad, I like that it’s not runny. In fact it really is more of a relish consistancy than a liquid. If I take a scoop with my fork it’s thick enough to sit with no drips as if snug in a spoon.

Better than the average supermarket sauce for a quick feed. I can feel the energy returning to my bones… just in time to deal with the cleaning up.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Specifics: Bertolli Arrabbiata Pasta Sauce

Disclaimer: I was sent this sauce as a free sample.

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Instant Peanut Dessert

Still hungry. Not much protein in leek and barley pilaf.

So that must mean dessert! Yay!

Hm, could have chocolate. Could have yoghurt. What would fill me up more?

There’s that packet of peanut dessert mix that I bought. Peanuts have protein, so that’s practically healthy!

Reading the ingredients. Sugar comes first. Okay, not so healthy.

Boiling the kettle in order to follow the instructions. Cutting open two sachets, emptying their yellow powdery contents into separate bowls. Smells like peanuts. Pour on the water and stirstirstir!

Um, it’s hard to simultaneously stir. I feel like my left hand is totally uncoordinated. There are still little pockets of powder and they form into balls that won’t dissolve.

Oh, fine. Swapping between each bowl, mixing them in turn. Now it seems to have gotten thick.

Hmm, a warm thing like this will not be bad on a cold night!

Handing a bowl to The Husband, sitting down to continue watching Veronica Mars.

The powder has become a smooth golden paste, with the occasional fleck of peanut… or powder, who can tell?

The bowl warms my hands. Scooping into my mouth.

Yes, very smooth, like a peanut puree. It’s very sweet. In fact, it’s more sugary than nutty. But the nuttiness is there… it’s peanut porridge!

The Husband complains that it’s too salty, and washes his down the sink. Salty? I don’t taste any salt.

In fact, the more I eat it the more I like it. I’ve always liked moist, smooth things – I mash my ice cream and I soak my weet-bix – so the texture appeals to me. There are the occasional crunches of peanut shards and the grit of sugary undissolved powder but both are pleasurable in a way.

But it is very very sweet, too sugary, and that does wear on one.

Now it does start to get salty. And sickeningly sweet.

Quickly scrape the bowl clean.

Urk. Well, those last two packets can go in the bin.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Specifics: Torto Instant Peanut Dessert, bought from a grocery store in Cabramatta

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