What’s the point of having a food blog if you can’t post your Asian aromatics snapped in Canberra’s perfect winter afternoon light?

Dried blood orange peel, green onions, ginger, sichuan pepper, sand ginger and cao guo ready to cook up a big pot of Sichuan red-cooked beef. The germ of the idea came from the fresh tofu skin I bought at the farmers market on Saturday morning:

I asked my twitter food friends for suggestions to use it, having only used dried tofu skin before. After I realised the skin was too fragile to stuff – and after the weather took a turn in the freezing effing cold direction – I starting thinking of a chilli laced braise.

The braise was thrown together after reading Fucshia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cooking and Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking

Sichuan red-cooked beef


1 kilo chuck steak in 2 cm cubes
2 Tablespoons corn or peanut oil
20 g ginger, sliced thickly and smashed (about the size of a ping pong ball)
3 spring onions (aka green onions, aka scallions), trimmed and cut in thirds
90 g chilli bean paste – about four generous tablespoons
4 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 pieces dried citrus peel – likely tangerine from the shop, or what you have at home
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 cao gao*
2 pieces dried sand ginger*
2 star anise
1 litre stock (I used half chicken stock, half water)

1/2 cup dried lily buds*, tied in a knot and the hard bud end pinched off, soaked for 30 minutes in hot water from the kettle
6 fat white capped shiitakes, soaked for 30 minutes in hot water from the kettle (use different containers)
the same volume of fresh tofu skins, in 2 cm lengths


Blanch beef cubes in a saucepan of boiling water, drain and rinse.
Heat oil in a wide pan, and add chilli bean paste and stir for a minute or so until the smell rises and the oil is red. Add beef and all ingredients up to (and including) the stock.

Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook for about 2 – 21/2 hours until meat is ridiculously tender. Do not be afraid of the sea of oil on top – you won’t be eating it. You can cool it to reheat later which improves the flavour and allows you to defat it.

Reheat and add the second group of ingredients, and simmer until the flavours are infused, 20 minutes or so. Serve with coriander over rice and lots of green veggies.

red braise

Although it seems like a huge quantity of chilli bean paste going in, it’s not super hot, more of a deep background warmth. It will make your house smell better than you thought possible.

* There are some ingredients that you may not have on hand, but most Asian groceries should have them. The cao guo is the big ridged nutmeggy lookin’ thing, like cardamom in flavor but with a kind of peppery-menthol note. They might be labelled “Tsao Kuo”. Sand Ginger looks like slices of dry pale bark and might be labelled “sliced ginger”. Dried Lily buds are about 5 cm long and thin, and might be labelled “golden needles” or “tiger lily buds”. Fresh tofu skin is hard to come by, but soaked dried tofu stick works just as well.

As suggested by Mark in comments, you might want to check out my earlier post on demystifying Asian grocery ingredients for some background and more info.


Kirsty presents: Food Art

Sometimes I find art made out of food quite distressing. When I see those strange, misshapen sculptures that are entered into competitions at agricultural fairs around the country I mourn the waste.  I think this reaction has much to do with the fact that said sculptures are usually half decomposed by the third day of the show, at which point I think of the poor sod who has to scrape the fetid, liquefying remains of vegetable carcasses from the cabinets in which they’re displayed.

Such thoughts were far from my mind when I opened an email from a friend that directed me to the website of the UK Telegraph and an article that show-cased the work of photographer Carl Warner.

Image by Carl Warner via

Image by Carl Warner via

Warner composes foodscapes and photographs them quite beautifully, as the image composed of purple cabbage above attests.  In the article there is some mention of the ill effects of hot lights on food, and, despite claims to the contrary, I’m not entirely convinced there’s much left over that’s edible after the obvious manipulations of supergluing and pinning. Still, since I can’t either see or smell any signs of decomposition in the images featured in the article, well, that leaves me to concentrate on the artistry of the sculpture and photography itself, which, you must admit, is quite spectacular.

Kirsty Presents: Home Cooked Photography

A friend of some friends has the curious habit of taking a photograph of every meal he eats.  Whether he is at home or dining out, no matter the occasion, he takes out his camera and makes a record of that which he is about to eat.

Bunya Nuts

Our mutual friends discuss this individual’s practice as part of a continuum of OCD behaviour on his part, but I can’t recall their deliberations ever extending to reveal what he does with the photos he produces.

On my own, I have contemplated his apparently obsessive desire to take photos of his meals. 


First of all I wonder about the logistics of taking the photos. What kind of camera does he have? Or does he use a mobile phone?  When he’s in public  or dining at a friend’s is he concerned that he might be breaching social etiquette by producing his camera at an inopportune moment? At home, does he have to contend with irritated loved ones who just want to start eating before the meal goes cold?


Perhaps the meal doesn’t have a chance to go cold.  That possibility would suggest he cared about the quality of the photo he was producing due either to another dimension of his already compulsive behaviour or the knowledge that the photos would be seen by others, who might bring some understanding of ‘quality’ to their judgement of them.

As someone who occasionally blogs about my own meal experiences and who likes to accompany any rumination on culinary feats (either shopping, cooking or eating) with pictorial evidence, I’ll admit that I’m slightly intrigued by the proposition of taking a photo of every meal I eat.  As a study in the everyday it appeals to me. What kind of picture would emerge over time? What narratives would be wrought?

Sesame Toffee

Here, I’m reminded of the Paul Auster/Wayne Wang film, Smoke, where a tobacconist, Augie, takes a photo of the corner outside of his shop at the same time everyday.  He places them in an album and looks through them from time to time, observing the shifts of people and seasons just outside his door.


Doing a similar project with meals would, in an affluent country such as Australia, lend occasion for more variation in the photographs taken than those in the Auster/Wang film.  And, since the advent of blogging, the impulse to post the photographs online would be overwhelming; it’s the stuff of those 365 Blogs whose authors seek to self-impose discipline and post everyday for a year.


Imagine the stories, not of culinary or photographic expertise, but of meals prepared and eaten: shared and alone, on holidays, remembered from childhood, exotic and plain, old favourites and new discoveries, experiments and failures, for comfort, health, and taste, and, indeed, for very much more.