Red Velvet Cake with beetroot

I’ve never quite understood the fascination with Red Velvet Cake. I’ve tasted a few cupcakes which have the red colouring, but don’t really taste like much. So what was the point?

Then I got this recommendation:
I had a beetroot red velvet cupcake from Organic Bread Bar yesterday – it was AMAZING. Strong beetroot flavour, really moist and so tasty! Definitely a fave.

I had seen a video post from working class foodies, who had used the juice of baby beetroots to create a natural food colouring for the cake. But then to get the flavour of the beets into the cake? I guess it contains pureed beetroot.

A little further poking around on wikipedia shows that the original recipes probably used red food colouring during times of food rationing. Oh the joys of industry.

Why not try and replicate a cupcake I’ve never tasted?

I’m up for a challenge!

I settled for the recipe listed on the Red Cross’s “big cake bake” fundraising page. Poh Ling Yeow, I presume.

My trick with this cake? Roast the vegies the night before. I then mixed the dry ingredients, then the wet ingredients in separate bowls.

No vegies hiding in here:
It's all chocolate

It was already 1030pm on a school night, so I decided to keep the ingredients separated and bake them the next morning. That way I got to take a warm cake to work, straight out of the oven. Of course I was hopping up and down, testing the cake every few minutes with the skewer, wishing it to cook faster, faster, or else I’m going to be late. As it was – I pulled it out of the oven *just* as the skewer pulled out clean.

Final result:

Red velvet cake

My changes to the recipe?
I don’t have a food processor, so I pulsed the beetroots with the stick mixer, so the pieces were about the size of a pea or smaller.

Wet mixture:
Red Velvet Cake Wet Mix

Instead of 70% dark chocolate, I used milk cooking chocolate (20% cocoa solids).
Instead of dark drinking chocolate, I used van Houten dutch process cocoa which has been in the cupboard for at least 4 years.
As I had roasted and chopped up the beetroots the night before, I found that the mixture was drier upon combining than expected. I believe the warmth of the roast beets would’ve probably helped the mixture combine in the proportions given. As it was, I had to add about 1/2 cup of milk to the mixture to make sure there were no dry spots.
I also only made half the amount of icing – I don’t normally eat icing, so I wanted it more as an option than forced upon the tasters.

Really dense, really delicious. Almost like a mudcake in texture , but without the overpowering sweetness that you get from a mudcake. There was no strong beetroot flavour – so strike one there. However, every now and then you got a little ‘pop’ from a piece of the beetroot. The cake was a favourite with the colleagues – but also really filling. I had one piece at 10am, and then couldn’t eat anything until 230pm where I forced myself to eat something so I had fuel for that afternoon’s boot camp.

Red velvet cake slice

I may have to visit the Organic Bread Bar to taste the inspiration… and adjust the recipe to match. Perhaps the use of buttermilk, or vinegar may help bring out the taste.

Add this one to the favourites list!

Caysorn Thai, Haymarket

I was in the Ultimo area for work, and it was time to have lunch. I had in mind a thai restaurant on a particular street, but when I searched the internet, I found something so much better.

Caysorn Thai had a rating of 92% likes on urbanspoon, it served southern style Thai food, it was closer than ‘Thaitown’, so why not?

Caysorn Thai, Haymarket

At 1230, the place was about 1/4 full and looked a lot classier than the places downstairs with the barkers* out front, and it had an interesting looking menu. They have boat noodle soup… Normally my favourite to order, but there were so many other choices.

I settled upon Eggplant salad ($14.90):

Caysorn Thai - eggplant salad

It looks like broth surrounding the edges, but instead it was a mouth puckeringly sour sauce. This was almost like a thai version of ceviche – with delicate sliced pieces of calamari and prawn. The eggplant was mouthwateringly soft and unctuous. The dish has finely sliced pieces of match stick thin boiling hot chilli – I had to pick these out so I didn’t accidentally eat them. The dish was hot enough for me. I think I picked it because I hadn’t seen it on a menu before, and because of the egg.

Chicken chilli basil ($12.50):

Caysorn Thai - chilli basil

I’m used to this dish arriving with a fried egg that has a barely cooked yolk. You can mush the rice into the egg. This looks very plain by comparison: but the dish contained a lot of the matchstick thin chillies, this time in green. My dining companion says that the dish did contain a lot of chilli, but was very tasty indeed.

I had to have something to cool myself down, so I ordered Thai milk tea ($3.50):

Caysorn Thai - milk tea

Instead of straight ice cubes, there are little ball bearings of ice. It’s almost like a slushie.

I will have to return to investigate more options on the menu. I later found out that they were listed in the cheap eats guide (good food under $30) with two stars in 2013. The opening description is: “A crash course in southern Thai food, it’s slap-in-the-face hot, sour, spice-driven and spiked with contrasts in texture, mixing fresh with fermented ingredients.”
And with that, I heartily concur.

*barkers = spruikers = touts touting for business. Such an apt description.

Caysorn Thai
web:, menu available online.
street: Shop 106-108a, Level 1, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket
(the Burlington centre, take the escalator and then the stairs).
phone: 61-2-9211-5749
7 days: 1100-2200.

Operation Chill

I have a cherry tree, Starkrimson type.


It’s been in the ground 2 winters.

I bought it locally, so it should be suitable for my area and it should fruit, right?

Not necessarily.

Stone fruit require a certain number of hours (chill hours) which the tree needs to be exposed to temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius (doesn’t have to be ‘below zero’ – interesting). Most fruit are high chill, which require 700 hours plus of chill time.

According to the PlantNet Chill Guide, Sydney is classified as a “medium chill” area. With an average temperature of 12.2 degrees during winter, apparently it gets on average 640 chill hours per season.

In my area during winter, we usually get a few overnight frosts per year. So far this year, at the start of the second month, I’ve observed only 2 days of overnight frosts so far. I’m not sure about the full 640 chill hours estimated – that would be equivalent to just over 2 months of below 7 degree nights, consistently. We’re down one month of a very warm winter already.

I can’t find any info on how many chill hours the Starkrimson cherry tree requires. The only kind that I have found documented to have a “low chill” requirement are Minnie Royal or Royal Lee, available at Daleys – possibly – as a two way graft. These require about 300 chill hours – or one month of below 7 degree C nights.

Thus, Operation Chill:

Operation Chill

What do you think?

Is it the roots that need to get the chill hours – if so, I’m ok.

If it’s the buds and stems, this probably won’t work. I have tried to wedge bigger blocks of ice amongst the branches.

I’ve also read some web posts about people rigging up a reverse green house (cold house?) in order to trick their stone fruit tree. This would only work if the tree did not receive sunshine during winter.

What garden innovations have you rigged up to get around a problem?

Chiswick Restaurant

It starts with a celebration – and the decision was made to head to Chiswick Restaurant in Wollhara, Matt Moran’s new venture. It’s a lovely place, a conservatory in the middle of the Chiswick Gardens with its very own kitchen garden. Unlike some kitchen gardens which I have seen, which are just for show, the kitchen really does use produce from this garden.

We were so busy catching up and gossiping, we had to get reminded that the kitchen closed in 10 minutes.

Chiswick RestaurantI don’t think we were the only ones, everyone else is busy catching up.

Everything here is designed to be shared. Since we had five people, we decided to order two of the “to share” plates, and an entree each.

Codfish cakes in a baking dish ($21):

Codfish cakes

These were served in a tomato based sauce with two polenta chips. The codfish was fall-apart rich with a slight nuttiness of cheese. I really liked the polenta chips, but wasn’t particularly fussed about the codfish cakes.

Seared scallops ($24):
Seared Scallops

The scallops look like little jewels all nestled in the plate. A lovely delicate flavour, and I can never get my scallops not to stick to the pan, especially the griddle pan.

Pickled vegetables with pistachios ($11)

Pickled vegetables with pistachios
A really lovely presented dish, and I enjoyed the combination of puffed grains and pistachios with the slight sourness of the pickles. Look at those baby vegetables. I’m so glad I didn’t have to shape them into those perfect shapes. Each were lightly pickled, no more than a day, and were very light in sour flavour.

Crab sliders ($9.50 ea):

Snow crab sliders

Sliders are the dish du jour. The bread was fluffy and insubstantial, so we all picked the breaded crab cake out and just ate that.

Popcorn prawns ($14):
Popcorn prawns

One of the surprise hits of the day, everyone kept going back for more. Little nuggets of deep fried prawn pieces with a chipotle mayonnaise (or thousand island dressing), pickled jalepenos and iceberg lettuce pieces. Like a build it yourself prawn cocktail.

For drinks we got a pitcher of Gin and watermelon juice($38):

Pitcher of gin and watermelon

This had bombay gin, fresh watermelon, lavender syrup, fresh cucumber & lemon juice. I picked it because of the lavender syrup. It was a larger serve than I thought it would be! Not too sweet, it was a revised take on pimms with the cucumber.

Some of the others got the warm Mexican heat cocktail ($18):

Mexican Heat Cocktail

This smelled very heady, like a chocolatey mulled wine. It contained Olmeca tequila, ginger liquer, agave, egg white, lime & grated cinnamon – no trace of chocolate!

Then our “to share plates turned up”. Wowee.

Here is the prawn and fish pie ($66):

Prawn and Fish pie

Topped with mashed potato, it was a creamy mixture with some slight crunchy bits burnt in the oven. They were very generous with the prawns. When I first read it on the menu, it didn’t sound too appealing to me. A fishy shepherd’s pie. Hmm. But it was a really lovely warming winter dress, delicately flavoured. I may be a convert to the “fish pie” idea.

The star of the afternoon:

Roast Lamb and kipfler potatoes

Slow roast leg of lamb from the Moran’s family farm in the central tablelands, it was served on a smear of babaganoush, topped with chimichiri with a side of giant couscous, lettuce and kipfler potatoes ($68). The lamb just melted off the bone, and there was even a little bit of marrow to dig out. Gorgeous. Delicious. A perfect winter dish for a rainy afternoon, and one that I would most definitely order again.

Although I had another (dinner) appointment coming up, I made a little room for dessert.

Bombe Alaska

No, that’s not some weird alien figure. It’s a bombe alaska ($16)!

As you probably have figured, I like getting dishes that I can’t make at home. Bombe Alaska with the blowtorched meringue and the ice cream inside still frozen. This meringue was a soft white italian meringue.

Apple and rhubarb crumble with vanilla bean icecream ($16):

I’m much too cunning with my crumble, always trying to reduce the amount of butter and sugar and increase the amount of oats. This was crumble as it should be, crunchy and sweet ontop, warm and slightly tart underneath.

I have eaten my fill, and then some at Chiswick, with lots of lovely surprises. I may start seeking out a fish pie from now on, and I’m going to be looking into replicating that wonderful dish of lightly pickled vegetables and toasted nuts.

This recipe for Chiswick pickled radishes may help:

Chiswick's Pickled Radish Recipe

I waddle off to my dinner appointment. I have to do some walking to work up an appetite!

Chiswick Restaurant
street: 65 Ocean St, Woollahra NSW 2025
phone: 61-2-8388-8688

Mon-Thu: 1200-1430, 1800-2200
Fri-Sat: 1200-1500, 1730-2200
Sunday: 1200-1500, 1800-2100.

On tour: Canley Vale Progressive Lunch – part two

To recap, my friend M had invited me on a trial tour of Canley Vale, run by taste tours and the benevolent society. This is part two.

Waddling down the road, we then stopped at…
Henry Steamed Buns

We tasted some of the custard buns….

Henry Steam Buns custard

Amazing, bright yellow filling and very very egg-y in flavour. I have made these in the past, and I did cheat slightly with the addition of custard powder. My ones were lacking the fluffiness of the bun, because I tried to spread it across two many buns – they were more dumpling than bun.

Henry Steam Buns times two

We each got a packet of two buns, a giant one, and a smaller one. We were too full from lunch to sample our packs immediately.

The larger bun was a very tasty vegie bun. I saw water chestnut, corn, cabbage, peas and carrots. Very pleased to see the variety of veges in there – vego ones can sometimes be really disappointing.

I thought that the second one was supposed to be a pork bun and was initially disappointed when I opened it up and it looked like it was a red bean bun! I heated up the bun and was very surprised to find that it was actually pork!! The sauce was so red and the meat was so tightly packed in that it looked like red bean mixture. Amazing. I loved that there was lots of meat rather than too much gravy. The vege bun was pretty tasty as well.

This place was a little gem. Just make sure that if you are after a BBQ pork bun, you specify this.

Everyone else had wandered a bit further down the road, and we found them at the Passion Cafe.
Binh gave use a run down on how the green pandan flavoured ‘worms’ are made in the three colour drink.
Three colour drink

The tall glasses were then returned to the kitchen, to be divided up into smaller sample containers. We had, after all, finished lunch a mere 15 minutes beforehand.

Drinks at the Passion Cafe

A sampler of ‘tamarind iced drink’ was also distributed (on the right, above). This was indeed an interesting drink. Icy cold with sour tamarind, sweet palm sugar, roast peanuts and little pieces of crystalline ginger. Very refreshing.

I saw that little vietnamese coffee drippers were available, so before departing on my way, I ordered one to go. You take one sip, and it’s like: BLAM! The punch of serious caffeine, sugar and ice just whacks you about the head. Lucky I hadn’t yet had any coffee that day, or else I would have had trouble sleeping.

I might have to make a return visit to try their other options!

Before leaving the area, we went a little further up the road to visit Canley Heights. This place was buzzing with people, and we popped into a small grocery store off the main road to see what we could find.

I first spotted the greens, and some of which we had been discussing that day in the restaurant.

Canley Heights greens

From left to right we have: kang kong (ong choy, tong choy, water spinach or Ipomoea aquatica), Vietnamese Mint (Vietnamese Coriander, hot mint, or Persicaria_odorata), Rice Paddy Herb (or Limnophila aromatica). The first one I ate, the latter two I didn’t quite get around to eating the entire bunch, but I did strike some cuttings in a pot, and they are taking over. I asked the shop assistant what the vietnamese name for rice paddy herb was – she said that it was very long, but that it was used to make Tom Yum soup.

The dry goods that I found:

Canley Heights booty 1

A ginger tea in a bag that doesn’t contain any sugar, tamarind paste (seeds included), and roast rice powder – to save me from dry roasting and then hand grinding in a mortar and pestle when I want to make the thai salad dish larb. I really liked the tea to add a bit more oomph to a standard lemon and ginger tea, when I don’t have access to fresh ginger.

I enjoyed myself so much here, that I came back again a few days later to buy some more pork rolls.

Henry steam buns
Shop 3/17 canley vale road

Passion cafe
15 Canley Vale road
0700-2200, daily

On Tour: Canley Vale Progressive Lunch – Part One

My friend M had emailed me a deal I couldn’t refuse: A foodie tour of Canley Vale in the Fairfield council area for the bargain price of $30 instead of RRP $55.


Trackwork on the train line meant that I, who normally would need to change trains got to catch a direct one there: whilst other friends had to change trains twice.


There were two reasons why this particular tour was so cheap:
1) it was being run as a trial with the aim of developing a full tour of the area
2) it was being sponsored by the council.

Hurray. After meeting our brightly t-shirted taste volunteers at the station we went across the road to the N.S.W Tien Hau Temple.

Tien Hau templeThis temple has been built in 1995 by Vietnamese refugees in the area as a tribute to the goddess Tien Hau (天后, Lim Mak Ngeo), who they felt had guaranteed then safe passage through the South China Seas. Our guide, Binh, remembers being one hungry small child in one of those boats, and how the first meal she had on land was the best tasting meal she’s ever had. Really a very sobering thought.

Tien Ha temple, canley vale

Binh also told us about the fortune telling/divining rituals, and how the temple was staffed entirely by volunteers – no full time monk here.

Next up: Canley Vale hot bread shop.

So I’ve been to a few of those places seeking the varieties of the banh mi – pork roll. Normally you get a choice of pork, chicken, salad.

Canley Vale bakery

Here the choices were: pork, BBQ pork, pork meatballs, fish cake, egg, omelet, tuna, plus almost any combination of the above. Binh described the process of making the mayonnaise, the pate and the hot pink pork sliced sausage. If you were keen, you could also buy your own 1kg tub of either mayo or pate at a very respectable $14/$16. The fish cake roll – with the tastebud scorching chilli was very delicious. If I didn’t know that I had lunch coming up, I would’ve bought another roll.

Each taster also got a can of grass jelly drink. I’m afraid I missed the spiel, I just remember that the grass jelly was a relative of the mint family. I have had this drink before. I like it when the grass jelly are big cubes of wobbliness, rather than tiny hard squares as in this can.

Bach Dang Vietnamese Restaurant
Whilst walking from parking her car to our meet up location, my friend M had wandered past a restaurant with the most amazing aroma wafting out from the kitchen. This place was a little bit fancier, what with padded chairs and carpet and all.

On the menu:
-Caramel Fish and soup (two dishes)
-Spring Rolls
-Bean Curd with butter and garlic
-Veg pancakes
-Campfire beef

Spring rolls:

Bach Dang: spring rolls

The spring rolls were flavoursome and tasty, and not your usual fare. I think I picked up taro, vermicelli noodles, black wood ear fungus in the mix. How unlike the standard chinese ‘spring roll’ contents of not much!

I was super excited when the vietnamese pancake banh xeo turned up.

Bach dang - veg pancake

Clap my hands happy. Clap. Clap. ‘Banh’ means cake, ‘Xeo’ means sizzling. This is one of my favourite dishes to order whenever I see it on the menu. This is the first time I have seen a vegetarian version – filled with lovely fat slices of tofu, mushrooms, bean sprouts. Utterly delicious.

Campfire beef before:
Bach Dang - campfire beef before

This is the dish just after it got brought to the table, and the methylated spirits was set alight. You then needed to ‘stir’ the dish (two soup spoons worked best), so that the onions and beef cooked throughout. We had two dishes of this on the table, and one worked, and one was a bit raw.

Campfire beef after:
Bach dang - campfire beef after

As you can see, it makes a right royal mess of the cooking bowl. You can kind of see why this is a special occasion dish, rather than an everyday one.

Butter and garlic tofu:
Bach dang - butter and garlic bean curd

I don’t know why this stuff was bright yellow, but the batter on the tofu was very thick, almost biscuit like. I cut the tougher sides off mine before eating the silken tofu insides. The crispy garlic and spring onion mix was very moreish. Like salt and pepper tofu, but extra yum.

Sour fish soup:
Bach Dang - fish soup
This is a traditional Vietnamese dish – an every day food. First, a silver perch is seared, and then poached in tamarind broth. This is flavoured with rice paddy herb and elephant ear stem. Normally it has pork added, but this one didn’t.

The soup was very sour! The rice paddy herb added citrus/cumin flavours, and the elephant ear stem added a spongy texture – but like tofu, it doesn’t have any flavour itself. I also picked up flavours of garlic, okra and tomato.

Caramel Fish:
Bach dang - caramel fish

By contrast, the caramel fish was very sweet, and you are supposed to eat this mixed through your rice. I ate this caramel fish first, and it tasted really sour. After a tasting of the sour soup, the caramel fish tasted really sweet!

Tien Hau Temple
124-128 Railway Parade, Canley Vale NSW 2166

Canley Vale Bakery
4/32-34 Canley Vale Road, Canley Vale NSW 2166

Bach Dang Vietnamese restaurant
Tue-fri: 1000-1430, 1700-2200
Sat-Sun: 1000-2200
46 canley vale road, Canley Vale NSW 2166

Sample Coffee, Surry Hills

I spotted this slightly bigger than a hole in the wall place on the way up the hill to visit Bourke Street Bakery. I stopped in on my way down the hill: BSB did not have any green olive loaf ready for sale at 830 in the morning, which made me sad. Doesn’t everyone eat green olives for breakfast?

Sample Coffee

The pastries and biscuits are from Penny Four’s, Leichhardt. I *thought* that I recognised that chocolate hazelnut cookie! There was a slight markup of 30c, but it saved me a trip into Leichhardt, so it was with it.

Here is what my soy flat white looked like:
Coffee, Sample Coffee

Yup, I ordered my coffee with milk, and it was goooooood.

About once a month, the owner Reuben Marden has a ‘black Saturday’ event, where upon ALL coffee is served black. Apparently coffee with milk is just ‘flavoured milk’, and to get the true character and flavour notes of the bean, you need to drink it black.

Mon-Fri: 0630-1600
Street: 1A/118 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills


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