In April last year year we took a long and scenic drive to Mount Wilson, in the Blue Mountains in search of autumn colours. Mount Wilson is known for it’s beautiful open gardens, but it is in Autumn that this little village puts on a spectacular display of amazing vibrant autumn colours.
It was also this trip that led us to our first chestnut and walnut picking experience. Not far from Mount Wilson is Mount Irvine, which is home to several chestnut and walnut farms. It was so interesting to learn that chestnuts had a protective spiky burrs. Since we came at the end of the season we only saw the spiky brown burrs all dried up. End of season also meant the quality of our chestnuts was not very good either but we couldn’t tell until we prepared them at home.
This year we were determined to get in early for the chestnut season. I checked the website of Kookootong Nut Farm religiously since the start of March and as soon as the farm gates were open, we made the trip to Mount Irvine. Coming at the beginning of the season we were treated to the wonder sight of the green spiky shells of the chestnut which were still on the trees. From far the trees looked like they were filled with green pom-poms and it was just amazing to see. But don’t be fooled because these green pom-poms look-a-like were very prickly and needle sharp. We got pricked several times and it really really hurts.
When chestnuts are ripe the spiky burrs open up and the nuts fall to the ground. Then it’s just a matter of picking them up from the ground. Chestnuts are unlike most nuts and are highly perishable. So freshness is key in having great tasting chestnuts. Look for chestnuts with shells that have a healthy brown shine. Avoid chestnuts with mottled or dim shells. The chestnuts should feel firm, with no air between shell and underlying flesh.
Coming at the start of the season we get first dips at the freshest and biggest nuts. Not taking any chances as we really want only the best chestnuts, we only collected those nuts that were on the ground but still inside the spiky green shell. They took more work because you have to take the chestnuts out of the spiky shells. To do this you really need thick garden gloves or break away the spiky shells with your shoes. The farm sells canvas gloves but they are really thin and I found them not to be very effective last year, so we brought our own gloves this year. Also their gloves are too big for children. Also wear thick sole shoes preferably gumboots. The spiky shells are so sharp that they even went through the sides of my sports shoes.
Kookootonga also have lots walnuts for picking too but we were too early and most of the trees were not ready. But we really came for the chestnuts and were very happy with our two half-full buckets of chestnuts weighing in at 8kgs. The farm was selling the chestnuts and walnuts at $8kg. After giving away half we ended up eating chestnuts every single day for a whole week. The most common way to cook them is to roast or boil. I prefer to boil the chestnuts and remove the shell and eat it as it is. All our chestnuts were 100% good so it was really good to get in early.
Our family really enjoyed the chestnut picking and have made it as an annual event. Also that drive through Mount Wilson is just spectacular. Going early for the chestnut season this year means we missed out on the amazing display of autumn colours as the colours on the trees only just beginning to turn. Good excuse to make another trip just for the Autumn colours and check out the beautiful gardens. To get to Mount Irvine we passed through Bilpin and since it was still apple season we stopped by for some fruit picking. It really was a fun day for the family and highly recommend it.
With Mount Irvine being 135km from Sydney (2 hours drive) a bit of planning is required before you make the trip. Something to take into consideration are:
- There is no food or drinks available at Mount Wilson/Mount Irvine. Bring your own food and have a picnic at the several picnic grounds in Mount Wilson.
- Closest food is available at Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens (30km away), Bilpin (40kms away), Mount Victoria (40kms away).
- There is no petrol station in Mount Wilson/Mount Irvine. The nearest petrol station is in Bilpin or Mount Victoria (40kms away!).
Kookootonga Nut Farm
247 Mount Irvine Road
Mount Irvine NSW 2786
Ph: 02 4756 2136
Free to enter and only pay for what you pick
Chestnuts and walnuts are usually available mid March to mid Autumn. Always best to check on their website for updates so that you won’t be disappointed.1 Comment
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. If you like a thick soup then add the cornstarch mixture to the pot. Continue to stir until the soup is thickened. 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. 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