Cook this: Orange, rosemary & olive oil cake

As a general rule, I’m not a fan of social media. I got off Facebook… wow, it was so long ago now I can’t even remember when. I don’t get the point of Twitter. I really don’t get Snapchat. I don’t have time for that crap in my life. But Instagram, I actually really love. I find it a happy, safe(r) sharing space. It’s where I go for travel inspiration and food inspiration and just generally finding amazing people who are living their dreams, which give me that little extra push to live mine.

img_0739

One of the accounts I’ve started following relatively recently is @dear_franny, which most people who know me would find kinda weird. Rachel posts mostly photos of her adorable little girl, and I’m not really an “awww look how cute the baby is” kinda gal. But she also bakes. And her baking shots always look amazing. One of her latest really caught my eye – a citrus rosemary olive oil cake. I’m a fan of olive oil in a cake for something a bit different, and I love the combination of citrus and rosemary, so I thought I’d take a peek. Rachel uses the rosemary just in the frosting, but I wanted a plain, simple cake sans-frosting, so I made it a bit more “me.” Here’s my version…

Ingredients:
– ¾ cup caster sugar
– finely grated zest of 1 medium orange
– 1 cup plain flour
– pinch of salt
– ½ tsp baking soda
– 1 tbsp dried rosemary
– ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
– ½ cup milk, at room temperature
– 2 medium eggs, at room temperature
– juice of half a medium orange

img_0734

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 175ºC and grease a medium sized round cake tin.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar and orange zest, rubbing them together with your fingers, which releases more of the oils from the zest (great tip, Rachel, thanks!).

3. Once combined, add the flour, salt, baking soda and rosemary, and mix to combine. Set aside.

4. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, milk, eggs and orange juice until completely combined.

5. Pour the wet mixture into the dry, bit by bit, folding it in with a spatula as you go. Once completely combined, pour the batter into a cake tin and bake for 40 – 45 minutes, or until it passes the skewer test.

6. Cool in the tin until cool enough to handle, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. You can ice it, if you want – I like just a bit of icing sugar dusted over the top. Keep in an air-tight container up to 4 days.

Eat here: Bale Well, Hoi An, Vietnam

Bale Well
45 Tran Hung Dao Street, Hoi An

So, we were sitting in our beds after a long day of travelling, and Sib (I call my baby sister Sib or Sibba – she’s my sibling) whipped out her iPad to hunt down some Hoi An food porn on Instagram while I read my book. It wasn’t long before I was distracted by “oohs” and “aahs” and “oh my GODs” coming from the other bed. I finally gave in and joined her on her bed to see what the excitement was all about. It was Bale Well.

20140707-152601-55561810.jpg

Down (another) dodgy looking alley, Instagram reports from fellow travelling foodies indicated that $5.00 would get you an all-you-can-eat Vietnamese street food feast. That’s all the info we needed to convince us we should visit.

The following night, we whipped out the map and started walking. We really didn’t have much of a clue where we were going to be honest, but we found the general area the alley was meant to be in. Then we got into a bit of trouble. We wandered for a while, up and down streets, hoping for the best. Eventually we looked up and saw a tiny blue sign with an arrow – 100m that way, apparently. Off we went! We kept going, with me counting out my steps to try to measure it. We bumped into another sign with another arrow – 20m more. Ok, no worries. Followed the sign down another smaller, darker, dicier alley, and promptly wound up… in someone’s backyard. Hmmm.

The little old man sitting there looked at us and smirked a little. “Bale Well?” Um yes…. where?! Pointed back the same way we came from. Great. We backtracked, got to the same 20m this way sign, looked right (the way we came from) and saw another house. Looked left and spotted another tiny blue sign. The 20m arrow was pointing the wrong way. We kept walking, and eventually stumbled on this magical place. Bale Well.

IMG_5376

We found an empty table for two and took our seats as a purple t-shirt clad woman descended upon us. “Drink?” Yes thanks, 2 bottles of water. That was about the extent of our verbal communication and ordering. We looked around at the other tables, took a few photos, and all of a sudden a procession of food was making its way to our table.

IMG_5381
For a mere sum of AUD$6.00 per person, we got a bottle of water each and an all-you-can-stuff-your-face-with pile of fresh herbs and salad, peanut dipping sauce, stir fried veggies, rice paper, freshly fried spring rolls and BBQd meat on sticks. We just stared at it all while we tried to work out what was going on, not realising that our very helpful waitress was preparing to feed us. Literally. She grabbed a rice paper sheet and demonstrated how to put it all together – layer some green stuff and/or veggies, a spring roll and a bit of meat (remove stick first). Dip in sauce. Then, she shoved the roll in Sib’s mouth. Not just help it in front of her, actually, physically fed her. She then pointed to the camera – apparently she wasn’t taking the food out of Sib’s mouth until we took a photo. We thought we’d be safe after that, but no, it was my turn next! There I was, a 28 year old woman, being hand fed by a Vietnamese woman, without a single word exchanged. To call it the most bizarre dining experience of my life would probably still be an understatement.

After the feeding episode, we were finally left to eat our food, and it was incredible. Worth getting lost, worth the embarrassment of accidentally turning up in some poor old man’s backyard, worth the humiliation of being hand fed in front of other diners. This food was amazing!!! The meat was so soft and tender – still not entirely sure what it was, we think one was pork, the other we didn’t have a clue. The fresh herbs made the world of difference, and those spring rolls – wow. The dipping sauces were perfect with the food too, and when we looked like we were running out, the bowls were topped up by the attentive staff.

We couldn’t get through it all, it was literally piled on the plates. Just as we were rolling back in our seats and comparing food babies, dessert came out. We weren’t expecting this part! Mango mousse with a little whipped cream and sprinkles. I have no idea what was going on in that cup, but my goodness it was special. It was cold, smooth and creamy, with actual bits of fresh mango – perfect finish to dinner!

If you’re heading to Hoi An, do yourself a favour and look this place up on Instagram like we did. Then get yourself a map and some directions and get ready to eat like a maniac. Also, prepare to possible be hand fed. It’s worth it.

Cooking Vietnamese to numb the hurt of returning to reality

20140712-142914-52154119.jpg
So I’ve only been back from Vietnam a few days, and I’m already struggling to re-adapt to reality. It’s hard going back to work and regular household chores when my soul is restless, knowing it should be living out of a suitcase in a different city every week. As I usually do after returning home from travelling, I’ve fallen back on the food to merge my reality and my recent adventure.

Sib and I took a fantastic cooking class in Hoi An, which you’ll read all about soon enough; between that, all the eating we did and the close observation of the methods of the street food vendors, I guess I picked up enough to get back to my kitchen with a bit more confidence. So three days back in Melbourne, and here are the three tables of food I’ve put up for husband and I…

Day 1: pork marinated in shallots, garlic, lemongrass, salt, pepper, sugar & oil, with some greens stir fried in oyster sauce, brown rice, crispy shallots, and fresh herbs including coriander and mint.

20140712-142440-51880192.jpg

Day 2: Hoi An style pancakes with cucumber, carrot, fresh herbs, peanuts, crispy shallots and home made dipping sauce, with rice paper to wrap it all up in.

20140712-142439-51879839.jpg

Day 3: healthy bun cha – rice noodles (didn’t have vermicelli in the house so I improvised!) with pork meatballs, home made sweet & sour sauce, cucumber, carrot, crispy shallots and fresh coriander.

20140712-142439-51879505.jpg

It’s healthy food, it’s fresh, delicious, and most importantly it’s REAL. Nothing they eat over there (and in fact most of South East Asia) comes from a package, it’s all fresh and home made. Eating like this for the last few days has made me feel a bit better about being back to the “real” world – after all, isn’t travel all about finding new ways of living, learning, taking the parts that resonate most with you back home with you? And for me, it’s almost always the food that resonates most, it’s the truest indicator of other lives and loves.