We are always on the hunt for a pick-your-own farms, but living in Sydney it usually involves a fair bit of driving. Luckily we are only just 90 minutes drive from Bilpin in the Blue Mountains, home to the many apple orchards. They call the town of Bilpin as ‘The Land of the Mountain Apples’.
We visited Pine Crest Orchard for the first time this year in Jan during the start of the apple season. It was also just before Lunar New Year so my family was very delighted to have fruits with fresh green leaves to display for the new year. We enjoyed the experience so much that we came back again in March. The orchard grows more than just apples as they start the fruit picking season with stone fruits in December. Depending on when you visit the orchard there are different varieties of apples, pears, plums, peaches, nashi pears, persimmons and small amounts of cherries available for picking. It’s best to call them directly to check what is available or follow their facebook page for all the latest updates.
Fruit picking is such a fun experience for the whole family. We don’t grow anything edible in our garden so it’s a great experience for the kids to see and learn where their food comes from. Best of all everything is so fresh straight from the trees.
Pine Crest Orchard as well as other orchards are located along Bell’s Line of Road. The drive is really enjoyable and there are many roadside stalls selling the local produce. Since we’re in the land of the apples that also means apple pies. There are many stalls selling homemade apple pies which is worth sampling. And do try the hillbilly apple cider made from the local apples.
Pine Crest Orchard no longer provide buckets. You can bring your own bags or buy calico bags from them.
Not far from the Bilpin is Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens which is worth a visit.No Comments
Sticky rice is a popular grain used in Vietnamese cuisine. But unlike white rice which is normally served to accompany a dish, sticky rice is often used to create many different delicious sweet and savoury snack food.
This savoury sticky rice mixed with Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and shiitake mushroom is just so delicious and simple to make. Chinese sausage makes everything tastes so good. I have a love hate relationship with Chinese sausages. Why does something smells and taste so good yet be so bad for you? My children love this dish for breakfast. In fact, they would choose any Vietnamese snack food for breakfast over pancakes, toasts or cereal. I guess they are still part Vietnamese after all.
Vietnamese Sticky Rice with Chinese Sausage and Dried Shrimp Recipe
2 cup (400g) sticky rice (soak in water overnight)
4 dried shiitake mushroom (soak in boiling water for at at least 1 hour), then very thinly sliced
3 Chinese sausages, thinly sliced
3 tablespoon dried shrimp ̣soaked in warm water at least 30 minutes, then drained
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
Drained the glutinous rice. Prepare the steamer to steam the sticky rice. Line the steamer with muslin or baking paper. Steam the sticky rice for about 15 minutes or until rice is soft and translucent. If the rice is dry add water (using a tablespoon at time) and mix.
In the meantime, in a small fry pan, add a teaspoon of oil, add sliced chinese sausage, shiitake mushroom and dried shrimp and spring onion. Sautee the ingredients for about 5 minutes. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce and give good mix.
In a large bowl, combine the cooked sticky rice, the sauteed mixture of sausage, mushroom and shripm mixture and mix together . Adjust the seasoning by adding soy sauce as needed. Serve with some pork floss and sprinkle some fried shallot.1 Comment
I really wish the weather makes up it’s mind if it wants to be winter or summer. This past week I have to dig out winter clothing again. But the rain is very welcoming considering the bushfires of the past weeks. The good thing about cold weather again is being able to enjoy the slow cooked meals like this braised oxtail. I really like the gelatinous meat from oxtail and after hours of slow cooking it so tender and falls of the bone. Love the flavours from the soy and spices which is soaked into the meat. I love to have plenty of the tasty sauce to pour over my rice or noodles.
Chinese Braised Oxtail
1.5kg oxtail (2 oxtails), cut into pieces, fat trimmed
1 onion, diced
1 inch knob of ginger, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 small tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup rice wine
1/2 cup soya sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 star anise
1 large strip orange zest
2.5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns, coarsly ground
1/2 cup water
1 small chilli, thinly sliced (optional)
I do have a habit of parboiling bones before using it so I’m going to do the same for this. Parboil the oxtail by bringing a pot of water to the boil, add oxtail and vigorously boil the bones for 5 minutes. Remove the bones and wash the pot clean.
In a large heavy pot, add oil over medium heat, add onion, garlic and ginger. Fry until fragrant. Add oxtail. In a small bowl, add rice wine, soy sauce, sugar and stir until sugar dissolved. Pour the mixture over the oxtail tail. Add the star anise, cloves, peppercorns and orange zest (put zest on the side of pot). Cover the pot with the lid and let gently simmer for about 2 – 2.5 hours over low-medium heat.
About every half hour, rotate the meat around so that it is covered in sauce (be careful not to mix the orange zest around to avoid it being disintegrated).
Test the meat if it’s soft and easily remove from the bone. Taste the sauce and add more season to your taste (soy sauce or sugar). We like ours with lots of tasty sauce but if you prefer thicker sauce then reduce further by turning up the heat and leave the lid open until sauce is reduced. Remove the spices and orange zest from pot. Garnish the braised oxtail with sliced chillies, serve with rice or egg noodles.
We use Australian measurements for cups and tablespoons:
1 teaspoon = 5 ml
1 tablespoon = 20 ml
1 cup = 250 ml
Last week I visited the markets at Cabramatta and I was so delighted to see that it’s green mango season. I love love love green mangoes and the sight of these green mangoes makes my mouth water. Growing up we always used to eat these crunchy and very sour green mangoes dipped in sweet fish sauce or with chilli salt. I am salivating just writing this. There is a Vietnamese saying that if you eat too much sour fruits then you become really lazy. My parents would always say this to me but I didn’t think I was lazy; just a very good procrastinator.
There seems to be more varieties of green mangoes available in recent years. The different varieties I saw at the market didn’t have names on them but it was graded by sweet and sour or super sweet. Of course the green mangoes without the mention of sweet on the sign were extremely sour (like the ones in the photo above). They were way too sour for my liking. But the ones in the picture below were sweet with some tartness to it. It is sweet enough to eat by itself without the use of any dips. I definitely like these variety more. Green mangoes are best when eaten firm so don’t let them go ripe.
Green mangoes are perfect for refreshing summer salads. Choose firm mangoes as it gives the salad a nice texture. This salad has an explosion of flavours with the fragrant herbs and the fish sauce dressing. Depending on how sour the mango is you need to adjust the dressing to balance out sourness. Add some poached prawns to complete this salad.
Vietnamese Green Mango Salad with Prawns Recipe
2 green mango, peeled and julienned
12 medium cooked prawns, peeled and de-veined
1 cup Vietnamese herbs (mint, perilla leaves) (use only mint if you can’t get other herbs)
2 tablespoons fried shallot
2 tablespoons roughly chopped roasted peanuts
1 chilli, thinly sliced
Fish sauce dressing
1/2 cup warm water
3 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2.5 tablespoons fish sauce
2 chillies, finely chopped
Prepare the fish sauce dressing. Combine all the ingredients into a small bowl and stir until sugar dissolved. Keep tasting the dressing until you get the right balance of sour, sweet and salty.
In a large bowl, combine the green mango, herb, chilli and prawns and couple of spoons of fish sauce dressing. Toss well. Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with fried shallot and peanuts.
We use Australian measurements for cups and tablespoons:
1 teaspoon = 5 ml
1 tablespoon = 20 ml
1 cup = 250 ml
Asparagus are in season at the moment. I always like to take advantage of fresh produce when they are cheap. But I think I may have gone a bit overboard with these sweet fresh asparagus as we have been eating every week and the kids are frowning at the sight of another asparagus.
Asparagus is not an ingredient commonly found in Vietnamese cuisine, but the use of asparagus in this soup is influenced by the French. This asparagus and crab soup is very delicate in flavour and such a simple dish to make. Usually this dish is reserved for special occasion because of the use of expensive crab meat and the rare asparagus in Vietnam. Canned asparagus is usually used in making this soup, but I always prefer fresh asparagus to canned as the ones the canned asparagus is too mushy for my liking. Fresh asparagus is much sweeter. You can also add other ingredients like baby corn, quail eggs, shiitake mushrooms to this dish. But don’t add too many fillings as it can overshadow the delicate flavours of this soup. This soup usually has a thick texture but my children does not like thick soup and I have omitted the use of cornstarch. Also I highly recommend using homemade stock for this delicious soup.
Crab and Asparagus Soup
Serves 4 – 6 small bowls
1.5 litres of chicken soup
250g fresh asparagus, woody ends trimmed and cut into 2inch pieces
150g crab meat
3 sprigs coriander, roughly sliced
2 spring onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
ground white pepper
In a medium saucepan, add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add the fresh asparagus and lower the heat and cook for until soft (around 10 minutes). Add the crab meat to the soup and stir gently. Taste and season the soup with salt and pinch of sugar. Bring the soup to a boil and swirl the soup in a circular motion. Slowly add the beaten egg in the soup and continue to stir in a circular motion. If you like a thick soup then add the cornstarch mixture to the pot. Continue to stir until the soup is thickened. Remove from heat.
To serve, ladle the hot soup into small bowls, add some white pepper, and garnish with chopped coriander and sliced spring onion.No Comments
I can feel summer is in the air and what better way to celebrate the warmer weather than to have a barbecue and enjoy the outdoors. This weekend I busted out my brand new mini-barbecue for the first time. We didn’t have a barbecue as such but used the barbecue to chargrill these delicious skewers to make this refreshing vermicelli noodle salad (bún thịt nướng).
There are many variation to this cold vermicelli noodle dish but I do really love it with the chargrill pork skewers. The flavours and aromas of these pork skewers are just amazing. It is beautifully fragrant with lemongrass and garlic, and there’s the contrasting elements of sweet and salty. The pork skewers are just so delicious chargrilled and it will be very hard to resist eating them by itself. But you must resist and make a complete dish with this noodle salad which is full of flavours, freshness, colours and textures. This noodle dish really is the perfect summer dish.
Vietnamese Grilled Pork with Vermicelli Noodles – Bún Thịt Nướng
500g pork neck, thinly sliced
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
4 tbsp fish sauce
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped lemongrass
2 tsp ground pepper
2 tbsp sesame oil
250g rice vermicelli noodles
1 cup of herbs (mint leaves, perilla leaves)
l Lebanese cucumber, halved and sliced
2 handful bean sprouts
5 ice lettuce leaves, shredded
4 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts
5 spring onions, thinly sliced
2 tablepoon oil
fish sauce dipping sauce
pickled carrot and daikon (optional)
Marinate the Pork:
In a large mixing bowl, combine lemon grass, garlic, sugar, fish sauce, honey, pepper and sesame oil. Mix until sugar has dissolved. Taste and adjust if needed. Add sliced pork neck and marinate for at least 2 hours, overnight is even better.
Make fish sauce dipping sauce:
Follow this recipe to make the fish sauce.
Make spring onion oil:
In a small pan over medium heat add oil. Add spring onion and a pinch of salt. Stir reguarly. Cook for a couple of minutes until spring onion wilted. Transfer to bowl to cool.
Cook the Noodles:
Cook vermicelli in boiling water for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly so that the noodles don’t clump together and stick to the bottom of the pot. To check if ready, take a strand of noodle and press against your nail of your thumb and index finger. This should break apart easily. Drain and rinse noodles under cold water.
Cook the pork:
Thread the pork into the skewers and chargrill for 2-3 minutes on each or until brown and cooked.
In large bowl, add vermicelli noodles, then some fresh herbs, lettuce, cucumber, pickled carrot and bean sprout. Place grilled pork, put spring onion oil on grilled pork and sprinkle crushed roasted peanuts. Serve by pouring dipping fish sauce.
No doubt the most notable element in Vietnamese cuisine is the abundance use of raw fresh herbs. Not only are herbs used to enhance flavours and aromas of a dish, but fresh raw herbs are eaten generously as an accompaniment to foods. A plate of fresh herb leaves and whole sprigs are usually usually served at the table. There are many different ways herbs are used in Vietnamese cuisine: chopped and topped as garnishing, torn and eaten in noodle soups, sliced and tossed in salads, rolled in fresh summer rolls, herb leaves layered together and used as a wrap in meat dishes.
Below are some of the herbs found in Vietnamese cuisine.
Coriander / Cilantro (Ngò)
Coriander is very fragrant and is easily available at all grocery. A very common herb that is used in Vietnamese dishes, and is usually sliced up and used as garnishing in salads and soups.
Spearmint (Húng Lũi)
Spearmint is best in salads and on fresh raw herb plate. Mint is commonly available so if you can’t get spearmint then other variety of mint still tastes good.
Thai Basil (Húng Quế)
This picture is of some cross-variety my dad grew. Thai basil has purple stem and purple bud. It has a liquorice flavour and stronger than your Italian variety. This herb is commonly served in pho as well raw herb plate. If you can’t get Thai basil then use Italian basil.
Vietnamese Mint (Rau Răm)
Fish Herb / Fish Mint (Diếp Cá)
Fish Herb has a distinctive heart-shaped leaves, with a strong sour and fish taste. Eaten raw, fish herb is used in grilled meats, fish and noodle soups.
Perilla / Shiso Leaf (Tía Tô)
Perilla has distinctive leaves with purple colour on top and green underneath. It has a minty and lemony flavour. Commonly used in salads, rice paper rolls, cold vermicelli noodle dishes (bún bò xào, bún chả giò, bun thịt nướng).
Vietnamese Balm (Canh Giơí)
Vietnamese Balm has a mint and lemon citrus flavour. Usually eaten as accompaniment in soups (bún riêu) and on fresh raw herb plate.
Sorrel (Rau Chua)
Sorrel (Rau Chua) has a very sour taste. Not very common herb but it’s something my parents started growing. Often used in fresh raw herb plate.
Peppermint (Húng Cây)
Peppermint has a spearminty sweetness. Used in salads and fresh raw herb plate.
Sawtooth (Ngò Gai)
Sawtooth has an intense coriander taste. This herb is commonly used in pho and sour soup. Only available at Vietnamese grocer.
Rice paddy herb (Ngò om)
Rice paddy herb has small delicate green leaves with a cumin and citrus taste. This herb is a must in sour soup (canh chua) and yam soup (canh khoai mỡ). Only available at Vietnamese grocer.