No, I'm not talking about the moderately successful FOX science fiction series staring Jerry O'Connell. I'm talking about these:


Sliders. Here in Australia, a land sadly bereft of White Castle restaurants, the concept of the slider is foreign to most. I've only heard of the thanks to the internet, and even then I still don't have a clear concept of what they are beyond being small burgers. So with that in mind, please be gentle in correcting me for what is no doubt slider heresy.

I wasn't even supposed to make sliders, to be honest. The idea was to make a regular burger, but when I got to the bakery late in the day to find that they were all out of burger buns, I bought a couple of dinner rolls instead. Fleetingly I considered making the patty smaller and photographing it to look like it was full-sized, but dear reader, I respect you too much to do that.

And that's the story of how I made sliders.


Ingredients (makes about 14 sliders):

  • 500g beef mince
  • 1/2 an onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 14 small burger buns/dinner rolls
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Chilli jam
  • Sea salt

1. Blend the onion and garlic with the tomato paste, mustard, pepper, and sugar to form a paste1. Mix this thoroughly with the beef mince and set aside in a cool place.
2. When ready to cook, set the stage: Half the burger buns and place cut side up on a baking tray, and cut bun-sized pieces of cheddar. Shape the beef mince into 14 equally sized balls.
3. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pan2 to a medium heat, then add the balls of mince and press down with the back of a spatula to form a thick round patty. Cook for about 5 minutes, then turn over and cook for another 5 minutes3.
4. While the patties are cooking, grill (broil) the cut surfaces of the burger buns until browned. Leave the grill on. Remove from the oven, set aside the tops of the buns and spread them with chilli jam4.
4. When the patties are cooked, place one patty onto each bun bottom, a seasoning of sea salt, and a slice of cheddar on top of that. Place back under the grill for 1 minute until the cheese is melted.
5. Replace the tops and serve.

(1) I find that this makes for moister patties than usual fine dice method, plus I hate biting into crunchy bits of undercooked onion.
(2) You want it to be a well-preheated heavy pan so the temperature doesn't completely drop once the meat is added.
(3) Use your heat with the timing — mine took 5 minutes a side because they were quite thick, but if you've got a hotter pan and thinner patties they will obviously cook more quickly.
(4) You don't have to use it of course, but have you tasted it? It's damn good.

Beef & green bean rice noodles, dry-style

Beef & green bean noodles

I simply can't resist ordering dry-style rice noodles when I'm in a Chinese restaurant. Pork, beef, duck, seafood, vegetables, they're all delicious. There's something about the perfect texture of fresh rice noodles that makes them so moorish, and as it turns out, they're a pleasure to cook as well.

If you've never cooked with fresh rice noodles before, I strongly recommend trying it. They're cheap, versatile, almost impossible to screw up, and it can't just be me that finds separating them to be a strangely relaxing experience. They're made by pulverising soaked uncooked rice into a paste, then spreading that out to a thin layer and steaming it. A layer of oil followed by a second layer of rice batter is poured on top, and the process repeated until you have a stack of steamed rice noodle sheets, ready to be cut into thinner strips. You could do this yourself if you were desperate, but just about everyone who isn't a Chinese farmer's wife buys them, and you don't want to be different, do you?

Fresh rice noodles

The other great thing about this recipe is flank steak. I'm shocked by what supermarkets pass off as "stir-fry beef" — If you're lucky it's tender-but-flavourless loin, but more often than not it's some unspecified cut that is sliced too thickly to become tender when cooked quickly. Flank steak, on the other hand, is perfect. It's a long, relatively flat muscle from towards the (wait for it) flank of the animal, with very a very obvious grain of muscle fibres that travel along the length of the muscle. While flank can be tough if not handled properly, very thin slices cut against the grain and stir-fried briefly are extremely tender. I took a photo of some raw flank steak to demonstrate how to cut it, but unfortunately it looked too much like an alien penis to post. Just remember, against the grain.

Beef & green bean rice noodles, dry-style

Ingredients (makes about 2 main serves):

  • 250 g flat rice noodles, fresh
  • 100g flank steak, sliced thinly against the grain
  • Small handful of green beans, parboiled until almost done
  • 1 egg, whisked together lightly with 1 tbsp water
  • Small handful of bean sprouts
  • 4 garlic chives, chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger1
  • 1 clove garlic, finely grated
  • 1/2 tsp chinese 5-spice powder
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper, ground
  • 1.5 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1.5 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Peanut oil for cooking

1. In a small bowl, make the sauce by combining the dark soy, light soy, hoisin sauce, and sesame oil. In another bowl, combine the beef and beans with the garlic, ginger, chinese 5-spice powder, and white pepper. Pour over a small amount of the sauce (about 1 tbsp) and toss to coat evenly. Set aside.
2. Heat 1 tbsp of peanut oil in a medium-hot wok and add the whisked egg. Cook until almost set on top, then remove to a bowl. Meanwhile, separate the rice noodles.
3. Heat the wok to the highest heat, then add 1 tbsp oil and the marinated beef and beans. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the noodles and about 3/4 of the remaining sauce. Toss to coat the noodles evenly with the sauce, frying for about 2-3 minutes. Taste and add more sauce if necessary.
4. Remove from the heat, and toss in the bean sprouts, garlic chives, and reserved wok omelette which should break up as you toss it with the noodles.

(1) Alternatively you can mince a 1/2 inch piece of ginger — I just find that grating ginger is a quick and easy way to get crushed ginger. Make sure you grate it over whenever you plan to add it, to catch any juice.

Trippa alla Romana (Mario Batali's Roman-style tripe)

Trippa alla romana

I don't blame anyone for being hesitant about tripe. It looks weird, it can be unpleasantly chewy, and physiologically it's a tube for poop. A tough sell, really. But let's make a deal: I'll give you one recipe for tripe as it should be, and if you still don't like it I will never bug you about it again. In fact, I'll never bug you about anything — I wouldn't want to get on the bad side of someone who is so obviously insane.

There is one thing to remember when cooking tripe: cook it until it is done. When I was a kid I remember having the thought, "why don't our intestines digest themselves?" (Boy was I a popular kid). Now, years later, I understand — intestines don't digest themselves because they're made of something very, very tough: intestines. This is originally a Mario Batali recipe, and frankly his recommended 1 hour of braising is wildly optimistic unless you're intending to serve a hearty bowl of leather. Rather, check the tripe every hour and allow plenty of time if you need it to be ready for dinner that night — mine took 3 hours to achieve the melting tenderness I was after.

Serve it with some buttery toast to soak up what's left, and you'll never look back.

Trippa alla Romana


  • 900g ox tripe
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract1
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small brown onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
  • 2 cups Mario Batali's basic tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano, parmagiano reggiano, or a mixture of the two
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint, sliced thinly
  • 1 thick slice of fresh italian bread
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Salt, to taste

1. Place the tripe in a non-reactive pot with the vinegar, vanilla essence, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour. Check the tripe every hour and cook until it is completely tender.
2. Drain the tripe, and once cooled cut into 1 cm strips. Heat the olive oil to medium heat, then add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the sliced tripe and chilli flakes and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, adjust seasoning, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, combine the cheese and mint in a bowl. When ready to eat, toast the bread on both sides on a grill or broiler, then spread generously with butter. Season with salt.
4. Spoon the braised tripe into a bowl, sprinkle over the cheese mixture, and serve with the toast.

(1) Although I've never experienced the funky taste that some people associate with tripe, the addition of a small amount of vanilla extract is intended to counter that.

Geology rocks

Desert sunset

Before I begin, I'd like to thank the universe for the opportunity to be here. If a supenova billions of years ago hadn't performed a bit of nuclear fusion to make zinc atoms, I wouldn't have been able to write this post about wine in the desert. I also wouldn't be alive, but that's another matter. I'd also like to thank global warming in the Miocene that created a tropical, acidic environment that leached our friend zinc from its rock and set it free in the soil. Finally, I'm indebted to the capacity of zinc to improve photosynthesis in leaves, which means it gets sucked up by plants, which means that geologists can come up with mad theories to pick leaves as a way to study the subsurface, which means that I get to hang out in the desert and drink wine.

These are the Mundi Mundi plains in western New South Wales. As it's a proven fact that deserts and wine form a mutually beneficial relationship*, I decided it was time to open the Primo Estate Sangiovese. Now, this post isn't really about the wine at all. I could have been drinking the cheapest swill and it still would have been great. Like food, it's more than just taste and flavour. Sitting on the bonnet of a dusty NSW Geological Survey 4WD, the sun setting with the landscape glowing almost purple in the fading light, the moon full behind us- this is far more important than how long the wine was kept in oak barrels or what time the grapes were picked. So get out there. Find a desert. Drink up.

*See McCrae and Vittermoser's famous 1993 article 'Semi-arid environments and fermented grape juice: hell yeah'.

Desert sunset

TypePad hacks: Display multiple random entries

Please excuse me while I geek out for a moment. I've added a feature to the individual entry pages of this site that displays links to 5 random posts from the archives. It requires a bit of a workaround for TypePad, a work around that I spent a while searching for. This won't apply to the majority of you, but I'm posting it here to save the next person a bit of time.

The hows and whys are after the jump.

Massaman beef curry

Massaman beef curry

It's a shame they've already awarded this year's Nobel prizes, because I've made a breakthrough. The difficult part now will be to figure out which Nobel prize to go for. It will heal all physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds, so medicine/physiology is a possibility. Or perhaps it should be under chemistry, as a unifying model of fructose, capsaicin, sodium chloride, and tartaric acid. There's always peace prize, too — lord knows this it will bring people together. Can you win two prizes in one year?

Do they give a Nobel prize for hyperbole? How about modesty?

Of course, the inevitable Nobel millions should really go to Christine Manfield. Her terrific massaman curry paste recipe used here is just one of many pastes, spice mixes, sauces, and stocks from her cookbook Spices, which happens to be completely awesome. This is a woman who cares deeply about spices — let her three distinct garam masala blends be a testament to that.

It's no surprise that the curry paste recipe required very little modification. The only change I did make was the addition of galangal, and even then it seems like such an obvious omission that I'm wondering whether I copied down the original recipe incorrectly. As for the curry itself, I like to simmer the beef in coconut milk and spices until it's tender, then discard the spices and combine it with the curry paste, coconut cream, and vegetables. This infuses the beef with flavour and ensures that everything is cooked to exactly the right texture. The curry paste part of the recipe (after the jump) makes heaps — enough to cook at least three generous batches of curry. Once you try it you'll understand that this is a feature, not a bug.

Spring has sprung: Spaghetti genovese

Spaghetti genovese

It sure feels good to be home. I enjoyed my time in Whyalla, but a month away from home has taught me that there are some things telephones and facebook can't substitute. Driving home, I was looking forward to two things most — a night in my own bed, and a meal in my own kitchen.

Back in Adelaide I was shocked to learn that not only is it abnormal for every exposed surface to be covered in red sand, but that while I was away winter had become spring. Whyalla lacks seasonal flora, so the change of seasons is instead noticed by experienced locals who are able to sense a shift in the weather either slightly up or slightly down the scale of "uncomfortably warm and dusty". Back in Adelaide — where I am, at least — you wouldn't guess that we're still years into a chronic water shortage. The trees are green, flowers are blooming, and the skies are blue. Life is good.

As one does when life is good, I made pesto. Well, that was the plan. When it became clear that I'd left my paid-for pine nuts on the shop counter at the markets, I diverted course slightly and made what would be better described as a basil, cashew, and lemon paste. It doesn't quite have the same ring to it as 'pesto', but damn does it taste good. The generous amount of lemon makes it zestier than a traditional basil & pinenut pesto, which is perfect for a warm evening. I could even see this working at room temperature in place of your usual pasta salad.

Now without further ado, please allow me to officially return the second pancake to its regularly scheduled programming. Pesto & genovese recipe after the jump.