Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Cutlets - carrying on family traditions

In a food-driven family such as ours, a lot of history and memories can be encapsulated in cherished dishes and treats. This particular dish is indeed very special, shared with me by Mr Duckie's grandmother.

For Mr Duckie, his Grandma's cooking is a tradition that he can always rely on. Grandma is a wonderful lady who has devoted her life to looking after her family. When Mr Duckie was young, it was Grandma and Grandpa that raised him and cared for him, teaching him how to write and how to do maths.

Of course, Grandma is a very capable cook as most ladies of her generation are (all those years of experience!), and she is quite famous for her food. Even now, old family friends and relatives reminisce about the food she used to make. Grandma specialises in traditional Sri Lankan food, excelling in the sorts of recipes that would have been handed down generation after generation. I wanted to take down some of her stand-out recipes as a way of carrying on these cherished family traditions.

So as I mentioned, Grandma is always trying to look out for those around her. After I said to her that I wanted to learn her cutlet recipe, Grandma tried for weeks to tee up a time with me! She even got up early one Sunday morning to make sure we could do this together! 

Cutlets are a traditional Sri Lankan snack food, made up of crunchy balls of spiced tuna. It is a light yet satisfying "short eat", and one of Mr Duckie's favourites!

Learning this recipe, I realised just how important the many years of Grandma's cooking experience was. Whilst trying to shape the balls of tuna, mine kept falling apart whereas Grandma's stayed nice and neat! I got some very firm instructions on the proper shaping technique, but I still don't think I've quite got the hang of it.

I also got some educational notes on cutlet recipes. Grandma informs me that cutlets are usually a round, golf ball shape, but she flattens her slightly to reduce the amount of oil needed for frying. Also, the balls are usually crumbed with egg as the "glue", but as my sister-in-law is allergic to egg, Grandma has substituted with a flour and water mixture. 

So, I am very honoured to share this special recipe and I hope to take down more of these time-honoured recipes to keep the family history alive!


Makes 18-20


1 large  potato
1 large onion
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
A few curry leaves, finely chopped (optional)
1 finely chopped green chilli and ground black pepper, or 1-2 tsp chilli powder
1 x 425g tin tuna
3/4 cup flour plus 1 cup water, or 1 egg
2 cloves garlic
3-4 cups dry breadcrumbs (or "rusks" as Grandma calls them!)
Canola oil, for frying

1. Chop potato into small chunks. Place into a pot of water and bring to the boil. Boil until potato is tender.

2. Meanwhile, chop onion very finely (so that you can't tell the onion pieces in the tuna mixture)

3. Heat oil in a pan and add mustard seeds, fennel seeds and curry leaves. Fry for a few minutes to toast spices

4. Add onion to spices and fry until onion is soft and translucent (do not brown onion)
5. Drain tuna and crush it with a fork so it is broken up. Add to onion mixture and stir to combine.

6. Finely chop garlic and grind to a paste in a mortar and pestle. Add to onion mixture. Add some salt and chilli powder to taste. Take pan off heat.

7. Drain potato and roughly mash (some small chunks will remain). Add to tuna mixture and stir to combine.

8. Taste again to see if more salt or chilli is needed. Set aside and cool slightly.
9. Mix flour and water until it is a runny paste (or alternatively beat egg). Take tablespoonfuls of tuna mixture and squeeze together in your hand to form a small ball. You need to make sure to squeeze hard so that the mixture holds together firmly, so that it won't fall apart when frying. You will see some of the liquid oozing out when you squeeze. If there are any bits of onion or curry leaf sticking out, pull them off.
10. Flatten balls between palm of your hand slightly. Dunk balls into flour mixture, then into breadcrumbs. When coating with breadcrumbs, first cover the top with breadcrumbs. Then flip it over and with your fingers spin the disc around in a circle. Whilst doing this, gently squeeze the ball - the aim is to try to give a nice round shape and also help the ball to stick together
11. Put cutlets in the fridge for 20-30 minutes to firm up. 
12. Heat about 2 cm oil in a pan. The aim is to have enough oil to cover the cutlets whilst they are frying.

13. Once the oil is hot, drop in a few cutlets at a time. Fry until breadcrumbs are golden.
14. Drain on paper towel, cool, then enjoy!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

High tea at The Hydro Majestic - the Blue Mountains Life

Looking out into the Megalong Valley
Hello everyone! Sorry for the long absence. I am finally back home, having finished my first placement in the Blue Mountains! I have to say that I was somewhat apprehensive at first at having to move to a regional area, but in fact I really enjoyed living in the Mountains.  Everyone was very friendly, the lifestyle was relaxed, and of course there was always a stunningly picturesque view right around the corner. The Blue Mountains Hospital itself is a lovely hospital, and even though it was a quieter than one of the bigger hospitals, I was glad to have had the time to develop my basic nutrition assessment and education skills.

Watching the sunrise from our balcony in Leura
As usual though, Mr Duckie and I had an emergency drama to deal with which certainly kept life more than interesting! The first week back Mr Duckie and I drove back to Sydney for a wedding. Mr Duckie was best man so he went to the groom's house the night before to help with some last minute preparations. Our beloved car, Jeeves, who was Mr Duckie's first car, and who we have had for over eight years, had given us some trouble over the past year but he had managed the drive up and down to the Mountains without any trouble (about a 90km drive each way!). However, that night things took a very scary turn for the worse. On his way home, the front right wheel of Jeeves fell off! Luckily Mr Duckie was on a straight stretch and the road was very quiet. We were lucky that no one was hurt. Sadly though, I think it is now time to let go of Jeeves. He's been fixed and is sitting in the driveway of my parents-in-law's house, but I'm not sure if he will go again. We managed to quickly buy a new car that is basically a newer version of Jeeves, but we still miss him very much.

Here's a picture of our beloved Jeeves. As you can see, he's been through rather a lot in the past 8 years. He somehow lost his hubcaps (unfortunately they got stolen whilst we were out one night), he's had a few dings, and in the end the side mirror and boot door were no longer working. You can also see the front of the new car just behind him - in fact, he is a newer version of Jeeves! Once Mr Duckie finds what he likes, he sticks with it ;)

So you would think that I've gotten all the drama out of the way for a while! Not so - funnily enough, right at the start of my second placement we had another emergency! But that may be a story for another post ;)

During my stay in the Mountains, I managed to check out the local food scene (as every good dietitian does!). The one place that I really wanted to visit was the iconic and legendary Hydro Majestic Hotel, which is very famously perched on the edge of the cliff face overlooking the Megalong Valley. Much to his credit, Mr Duckie had secretly booked us in for a high tea on Valentines Day!

The view from The Wintergarden
The Hydro Majestic Afternoon High Tea is served in The Wintergarden. The hotel recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and re-opened last year. It has a very glamorous Art Deco inspired atmosphere. And the view truly lived up to its reputation - it was the unique point making all the difference to the afternoon tea experience! Combined with the relaxing songs being played on the grand piano, and the slightly grey and cloudy sky, I felt like I could have been in the English countryside!

I again had my breath taken away when the high tea came out. The food was served in a traditional three-tiered stand and was very generous in its proportions. I imagined that it was like the three meals of the day in one!

We started off with the sandwiches and savouries (middle tier). There were chicken and walnut sandwiches, cucumber and herb butter sandwiches, and roast beef and tomato chutney sandwiches. The other savouries were a blini with smoked salmon, and a tart filled with goats cheese, olive, and cherry tomato.

Next we went onto scones. These came out very warm and soft! And in a very generous touch we got two scones each - one plain and one fruit. They were served with thick clotted cream and a nice, runny strawberry jam. My recommendation though, as tasty as the scones are, is to only have a maximum of one scone each as they are so filling!

Last of all was the sweets layer. Unfortunately by this time we were so full we couldn't make much headway into the sweets! This layer contained honey and mango pannacottas, strawberry macarons, mini almond friands, and passionfruit and raspberry tarts (my favourite!). We tried our best to eat them but eventually we ended up taking the rest home in a takeaway box.

Afterwards we decided we should try to walk off some of our fullness and we enjoyed the  beautiful views out into the Megalong Valley. Ultimately though what we needed was a good old fashioned afternoon nap!

Next time you are looking to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, I definitely recommend a visit to the Blue Mountains and to indulge yourself at The Hydro Majestic!

Hydro Majestic Afternoon High Tea
Wintergarden Restaurant
The Hydro Majestic Hotel
Great Western Highway, Medlow Bath
NSW 2780