HCB Smackdown, 2014 edition

Although the supermarkets seem to stock hot cross buns year ’round, I try to restrict my intake to just the easter period. Some places seem to think that if “spicy fruit is good, adding chocolate makes it better”. Bleeurgh. I disagree.

Brasserie Bread:

Brasserie Bread HCB

Having gone and looked at more bees, I was driving across town and remembered the existence of the Allpress coffee store on Epsom Road in Roseberry, but *also* that they stock bread from their sister store Brasserie Bread. I got there just before closing, and grabbed a soy coffee and a pack of six original hot cross buns for $17.20.

Reportedly made with Herbies “fragrant sweet spices” which includes rose petals, there is no glaze. I can see little currants and the dough is of a darker colour.

To him: Toasts well, and doesn’t crumble when buttered.
To me: unfortunately, unremarkable.

street: 58 Epsom Road, Zetland, Sydney NSW 2017
phone: 61-2-8198-4440
web: http://au.allpressespresso.com/allpress-roastery-cafes/sydney-roastery-cafe/

On the same cross town journey to find my new yoga mat (looking for a yoga store that was there about 10 years ago), I stumble across the bake bar.

the bake bar ($3 ea):

Bake Bar HCB

There is a gorgeous little jumble of glossy glazed hot cross buns on the counter. I buy two. I think my lack of lunch and sugar crash from three cakes at morning tea may have affected my judgement. I can’t remember the spices – there were some – but the bun itself is very moist with lots of fruit. The glaze doesn’t have spices, but it appears to be based upon honey rather than a simple sugar syrup. The HCB are organic.

To him: Toasts well, and doesn’t crumble when buttered. His favourite.
To me: yummy! Also, see earlier disclaimer.

street: 67 Frenchmans Road, Randwick, Sydny NSW 2031
phone: 61-2-8021-0728
web: https://www.facebook.com/Bakebarrandwick

Once again, the Good Living liftout (now re-monikered “good food”), did a piece on the best hot cross buns around Sydney.

This is the one that got me all excited:

Sweetness the Patisserie:

Share from Pixlr

Sweetness were due to make an appearance at Castle Hill Markets, but were unfortunately unable to bring some to the markets for me. So after querying colleagues who live around that area – and finding that none of them were likely to make a trip to Epping that weekend, I wrangled a special journey.

The smell of cream buns filled the car. The glaze has got a citrus tang, the bun tastes buttery with a dryish texture but not overly spicy. The cross has been applied across each set of 3×2 buns. The cross itself is almost like a lolly – it’s got a sweet crispy texture. It’s not just a dough mixture. I spot sultanas, currants, and bitter orange peel.

I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know how much these cost. I was so excited about getting buns, that all I can remember is… rocky road + 1 dozen buns = $29 ish. rocky road, hazelnut brittle + 1 dozen buns = $56 ish

To him: Crap. Crumbles when toasted and buttered. When are you next going to Randwick?
To me: I could have a winner here..

street: 38 Oxford Street, Epping, Sydney NSW 2121
phone: 61-9829-3800


Delicia HCB

A late contender, also purchased as part of a special journey based upon a “hot rumour”. On Saturday, these guys had sold out by 1pm, so a special weekday trip was made.

Smells yeasty, dough is speckled with spice, and I can also taste the grittiness of it in my teeth. Not much fruit. I think I found a juicy moist sultana, possibly soaked in liquid before baking. The bun is slightly gummy but not as moist as that from the bake bar. The cross is fat and white.

Him: I didn’t let him near this one, because I only had one. But I toasted half – and it crumbled to bits when you tried to butter it. I don’t think he would have liked it.
Me: Surprised by the lack of fruit. I don’t think the spice was that prominent apart from the gritty taste, but there was a nice aroma when I toasted them.

street: 298 Willoughby Rd, Naremburn, NSW 2065
phone: 61-2-9438-1330
web: http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/70/1522388/restaurant/Sydney/Willoughby/Delicia-Naremburn

For my future reference, here is the Epicure article for the Melbourne contingent.

Verdict: This year, I think I preferred the HCB offerings from Sweetness, followed by that from the Bake Bar. Your mileage may vary.

Happy Pagan Festival Everybody!

Checking on a beehive

One of my friends who had moved to the blue mountains had started keeping bees. The swarm had been captured by a ‘mad uncle’, and delivered in the boot of a car by a nervous relative. Six months later, it appears that the hive had been established and settled in, so it was time to crack open the boxes and check on their progress.

On the first weekend chosen, it was hammering down with rain. Not good bee inspecting conditions.

The next weekend was gorgeous. Lovely, sunny and warm. Perfect!

Those beekeepers who have been keeping for a while have a full white overall suit with a netted box around the head. You can also just wear the jacket with the netted box – but then you have the vulnerable gap around your middle.

First you need to light the pine needles in the smoker box. This is quite hard to do, so a gas powered torch like thing with a sustained flame is the way to go:

Starting up the smoker

You smoke around the entry point to quieten the guard bees down. You need to release the strapping metal tape from its clamp and then use your ‘hive tool’ to separate the give boxes from each other. Apparently the bees use propolis to glue the seams of the boxes together and keep the warmth in.

We were looking to see if the bees had started to ‘move down’ from one box to another and if there was plenty of honey: some for us to thieve, some for the bees over winter.

This is the top box:

honeycomb top box

You can see the bees have started to build honeycomb on top of the hivebox and the frames that have been set up for them. This needs to be ‘cleaned up’ as part of the maintenance.

Here are the resident beekeepers checking in the status of a frame:

honeycomb frame

I couldn’t get too close because although I had a veil, I had dark clothing on. Did you know that deep in their DNA, bees don’t like dark coloured figures because it reminds them of a black bear stealing their honey?

It all looked good, so we put a new hive box at the bottom, and stacked the existing boxes on top. The bees had started to build honey comb atop of the cover sheet and underneath the lid of the top box, so this was was cleaned off and put away for safe keeping.

Everything was out back together again, and we left out the honeycomb wax that we had scraped off next to the hive. Perhaps when they calmed down the bees could use it as an input for the next set of honeycomb.

I, beehive

We had to retreat inside to taste the fruits of their labours. Otherwise, they would come investigating that sweet smell.

Here is the honeycomb, pooh bear:


It was an incredibly sweet explosion of sherbet in your mouth. Almost too sweet.

I’m now a thinking that I to would like some honeybees in my garden. I wonder if someone nearby has a hive, because I certainly have a lot of bees buzzing around my basil. Perhaps I can use an empty hive and some kind of ‘lure’ to attract them. Hmm.

Jasmine Tea Smoked Chicken

I picked up a free range whole chicken from the shops.

This is the second whole chicken that I have faced in my entire life. I’m not sure why, but chicken just doesn’t feature highly in my diet.

I flicked through my current favourite tome of inspiration – Encyclopedia of Asian Food , and settled upon the Jasmine Tea smoked chicken

I did not have chinese rose wine. This is the first time I’ve heard of it. In fact, it’s not listed in the list of ingredients in the encyclopedia. Hmm.

Later exploration yielded the hungry excavator, whose dad makes grilled chicken wings using Chinese Rose Wine. The bottle contents looks clear, so it would not have helped with the colouring of the chook.

For 1 tablespoon chinese rose wine, I substituted ½ tablespoon of vodka, ½ tablespoon of rose water.

The chicken was prepared in the morning and left to marinate all day:
Chicken marinating

It didn’t look much different pre- and post- marinade. Perhaps you need to spike the skin a bit, or use something acidic in the marinade.

When I got home from work, I put it onto steam on my temperamental burner. On/off/on/off for 20 minutes.

I was also lacking brown sugar – so I used coconut sugar.

Here is the mixture for smoking the chook:
Smoking mixture

Then I smoked it for 20 minutes. A wonderful aroma of sweet tea and mild star anise (not as overpowering as from roasting a duck) filled the air and didn’t smoke out my kitchen. I also forgot to turn the burner to ‘low’ after the smoke escaped from under the lid (although it didn’t).

The juice ran out clear when tested, but the attachment point between the drumstick and the body was still a bit pink.

We carved off the breast meat, and put the bird on to smoke for another 10 minutes.

Jasmine tea smoked chook


The skin got most of the smoke/star anise flavour, with only a mild dose on the flesh. This was improved after I resmoked the bird, and part of it turned a slight yellow colour.

The smaller items – the chicken wings got the most intense hit of the smokey flavour, probably because the meat was thinner. I would try this recipe with a mass of chicken wings, although I am not sure how they would fit onto tiny little plate inside my stockpot.

Once I shredded the meat, it was delicious folded through a salad or in a sandwich. You picked up notes of sweet smokiness as you were eating.

Next time?

Use a dark soy sauce instead of a light one – this will help get you that colour on the chicken skin.

Try using eschalots or the white part of the spring onion as part of the ‘stuffing’.

Use the longer cooking times suggested. My bird was 1.2kg, but it still needed an extra stint in the smoker/steamer. I would probably smoke the chook outside – so I wouldn’t be so scared of smoking out my kitchen, and use a pot I didn’t care about so that it didn’t matter if the bottom got all blackened.

I was a bit disappointed that I ended up putting the remaining ‘cake’ of smoking mixture in the compost bin – what a waste of all that tea! Days later I realised that the Japanese genmaichai has little crispy nuggets of toasted rice in it – and perhaps I should’ve saved a tablespoon full of the smoking mixture to see what a ‘smoked jasmine tea with star anise and chicken extract’ tastes like brewed in a pot!

March in the garden

March in the garden

Planted successfully: queen squash, snow peas, Jon quills
Planted unsuccessfully: broccoli – still no seedlings, two weeks on.

Harvested: perilla, sweet potato greens, basil, some late asparagus

Activities: I had some rosemary in a styrofoam box, and it was not happy. Becoming a bit root bound, and only getting the early morning sun, so I moved it. Finally. Into the sport recently filled by a large gardenia. The rosemary’s got a wall now which can help keep it warm, and the sun stays on it until at least midday.

In other news to report I tried a beer trap to catch the snails and slugs. I was amazed by its success: the first night, the snails were falling over themselves for the beer, even crawling down the neck of the bottle which I had left in the garden.
Unfortunately, it was a one time limited edition beer from when I completed a mountain bike race, seven years ago.

Planned next: I want bees. But I also hope to be harvesting snow peas, and planting a cutting of Vietnamese mint and rice paddy herb I bought from a shop.

M & J Thai Cuisine, Parramatta

Parramatta’s Woolpack was one of the first ten hotels licensed in Australia by Governor Phillip, in May 1796.

That makes it Sydney’s longest continuously licensed pub. There are other pubs which possibly have been upstarting longer, but perhaps they weren’t licensed. It started off as the Freemason’s arms in. M&J Thai operates the restaurant inside the pub.

After an event at the new music venue: the Lennox Theatre inside the Riverside Theatre, we decided to try some Thai food.

I was super excited to discover they had traditional beef noodle soup, or boat noodle soup. I have yet to work out how to make this dish.

Beef noodle soup ($10.90):

Beef Noodle Soup

Served with rapidly disintegrating pieces of pork crackling. This had a strong cinnamon and star anise flavour, and a sweet/sour after taste. It had a little hit of chilli and was good to the last drop.

Duck noodle soup ($13.90):

Duck Noodle Soup

Very similar to the beef noodle soup, I’m sure that they use the same stock base. This had shredded pieces of roast duck instead of the beef. I had this dish on a different night, and so I think the stock base had been prepared differently to the beef soup base. This one seemed less complex and I found it a bit to sweet and same-y towards the end of the bowl.

Fried rice with crab meat ($10.90):

Fried rice
Gut sticker dish. I had trouble finding evidence of crab, but perhaps my dining partner had scarfed it before I got to the dish.

I like this place. You can get a whole range of beer or cider with your meal, and they have boat noodle soup. There is also a roti pancake on the desert menu which I’ll have to come back for.

M & J Thai Cuisine
Wool Pack Hotel
street: 19 George Street, Parramatta NSW 2150
web: http://woolpackhotel.com.au/parramattadining.htm
phone: +61-2-9633-9394
Mon-Sat: 1200-1500, 1700-2100
Closed Sundays and Public Holidays.

Nopales, two ways

Nopales? What’s that?

It’s a food staple in Mexico, coming from the leaves or the ‘paddles’ of the prickly pear plant. The plant is a noxious weed in Australia. Often you see it by the side of the road or in uncared for bits of pasture.

So one day when retreating bushwalking, I thought that I would see what it tasted like as a food.

It was a bit of an effort to harvest: I didn’t have gloves, so I used two flat rocks as my “gloves” and twisted the paddle around and around until it tore off. I wrapped it up in newspaper and took it home.

Now I know that before I returned the 1000 Mexican Recipes book to the library, I took some photos of the recipes on how to prepare nopales. I have misplaced that photo, so instead Mexico in my Kitchen was my guide.

Here is the ‘raw’ paddle:

Cactus paddle

Oh my goodness. I managed to pick a paddle that tiny feathery prickles on it. When disturbed, these prickles scatter all over your chopping board, knife, kitchen bench. If you want to try this at home, don’t pick a paddle like this. Pick one with giant vicious single spikes that hurt like blazes when you trip and fall and land on one.

Yes, I really have done that.

It was quite hard scraping all the prickles off. A sticky gooey substance oozes out when you cut off the spines, then the knife gets coated in it. Of course, since I only had one paddle, I was trying to maximise the amount of green left.

Here is the paddle, deburred, prior to washing:

Cactus deburred

During the washing process, the thing dripped sticky mucilaginous liquid everywhere.

I had one paddle, so I prepared it two ways:

1. Boiled, As per the Mexico in my Kitchen’s instructions
2. Raw, after salting; as per the comment from Fiamma Culinaria in Mexico in my kitchen’s post (8th comment).

Boiled with a pinch of salt. I did not do this for the suggested 15 minutes, I only let it got for about 5 minutes whereupon it turned brown, and I took it off the heat.

Salted for 5 minutes, then washed again. They were sticky.

Nopales two ways

Boiled is on the left, raw is on the right.

I made a salad using the nopales two ways. Mesclun lettuce mix, tomatoes, avocado, coriander, marinated fetta. I used bottled lemon juice (ethics of using bottled lemon juice versus imported lemons: discuss), and almond oil for the dressing.

Nopales Salad

The salad was nice. I didn’t emulsify the lemon juice and almond oil together first, which contributed to the ‘sharpness’ of the salad dressing.

But the nopales? Ever so salty. It appears that the nopales are just a carrier for salt. If I tried this again, I would probably try the raw washed paddle, without the pre-salting. Or only 1 minutes worth of salting.

It was a lot of effort deburring the paddle. I think perhaps the eating of the prickly pear paddle originated from famine, which then became a tradition.

St Ali, south and north, Melbourne

St Ali South I visited in the depths of winter, hunting for a cheese n ham toastie with truffles sourced from madam truffle. It was a dark warehouse conversion with peeling paint hanging off the walls, exposed beams, reused furniture and little nooks and crannies. That’s what I remember, although my photo of the entryway at St Ali South says I’m telling porkies:

St Ali South

I could’ve gotten my “normal” coffee, but hey, I’m in a temple of coffee. So I get the batch brew coffee:

St Ali South - cold drip coffee

This was described as a “like filtered coffee, but through a machine”.

I don’t know if it’s for me. I think I’ve had milky coffee hardwired through my tastebuds. When camping, we normally have filtered coffee, but with a lot of milk added.

With the batch brew, what I really noticed was sour notes, but also that it was refreshing. I actually added sugar – which brought out the sour taste; then in a streak of inspiration – added salt. Well – salted caramel makes caramel taste sweeter and moreish, so why not coffee? It did improve matters.

Perhaps I need to do one of the coffee tasting sessions to work out what I’m looking for in the blackest of black coffees.

After perusing the standard menu, and the specials board I chose the Hazelnut crumbed lambs brains with sauce gribeche, poached egg and water cress ($16.50) – including “Adding shaved truffles for $10″:

St Ali South - special

Of course, I had to add the shaved truffles. You got a lot of truffle for your $10. I wish I had a small jar to take some truffle with me and add to some scrambled eggs! This came with watercress, fried bits of quinoa grain a cornichon pickle, and a side of seedy soy and linseed bread. It was very lemony and a touch on the oily side. That’ll be the sauce gribiche – a mayonaise style cold egg sauce where the eggs remain a chunky part of the sauce. I think I needed one more piece of toast to mop up the remains.

St Ali north is very different to St Ali south:

St Ali North, Melbourne

It is also hidden off the main drag, this time behind a bicycle strip along side a linear bike path/park. You feel as though you are in a garden conservatory, with a children’s playground just next door.

St Ali North interior

Although summer this time, the menu is very different and it seems more focused on breakfast. The menu is printed glossy cardboard that has been well thumbed and falling to bits. I shudder to think about the amount of bugs growing in the fold out.

Eventually, I chose Octopussy Scramble ($18.50), which is chorizo and chive scrambled eggs with balsamic & red wine braised octopus, potato, confit onion & toast:

St Ali North - Octopussy Scramble

What’s that black stuff? I think it’s the charred stuff left in the pan after you fry up a marinated octopus. The yellow bits that I thought were capsicum are the confit onion. If requested, you also get a single serve of pepe saya butter, so cute…. and I only used a little bit of it, so I took the leftovers with me.

But the dish? Unfortunately not for me. The smell when it landed on the table was fish. I enjoyed the small pieces of octopus when I found them in the dish. But there were also little pale pink frankfurter sausages hidden in the dish that I’m pretty sure weren’t not in the dish description.

I guess to make this post complete, that I should try St Ali north-north when it opens, also known as Sensory Lab. Another time.

Next time?
Head South young man, head south.

St Ali North
Street: 815 Nicholson St, Carlton North, VIC 3054

St Ali South
Street: 12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne, VIC 3205

web: http://www.stali.com.au/


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