Iso catch-up: cocktail classes, birthday feasts and meal ideas at home

It’s been a while since our last Weekly Edition – mostly because we haven’t really been doing much! But we’ve put together a few highlights from the past month or so that Christina and I have been in lockdown. 

This Weekly Edition has some great meal ideas if you’re running short of new things to cook at home, plus our cocktail classes we’ve been running remotely and some hot tips on gins you should try.

And of course there’s the small matter of my birthday to talk about, not to mention Mother’s Day, plenty of outings to our back yard and I remove most of my beard… on purpose.

We hope you enjoy this catch-up.

Cheers – Jim & Christina xx

Let’s be honest, there hasn’t been a lot to smile about over the past few months. But it’s so important to try and stay upbeat.

Things like this chalk drawing Christina’s found during her daily exercise really help.

Another thing that’s really helped us is our view. We’re lucky to have what I reckon is one of the best back yards in the city, and we try and put it to as much use as possible.

Especially at the moment.

We often pop down just before sunset for a little drink and a game of backgammon. By the way, this prosecco from Zonin is perhaps the most underrated bubbly you’ll find. It’s under $20 in national bottleshops and it’s superb.

Capello Pizzeria, Balmain East

We’ve been cooking at home pretty much the whole time restrictions have been in place, but tonight we’ve decided it’s time to support local restaurants too.

It’s a bloody good decision – these takeaway pizzas from Capello Ristorante in Balmain East are delicious – just as good as when we’ve eaten in. Can’t wait till doors open again. Hope it’s soon.

Portsea Chardonnay

We’re back in the garden again this evening enjoying the beautiful light over the water.

This Chardonnay is also a delight – a little winery we found when we were on the Mornington Peninsula earlier in the year (which feels like a century ago!) called Portsea.

Remember to drink Chardonnay a little warmer than other white wines to get the best from its flavour and body.

But this is where most of our time’s been spent: in the kitchen!

Here are 12 things we’ve eaten that I can highly recommend turning the oven on for:

1. Lasagne

I made a big batch of variations of bolognese a while back and froze it all. Then you just have to add things to it to create anything from chilli to a pasta sauce. When you do, make sure you add gastrique to the mix; it transforms any tomato-based sauce completely.

2. Creamy chicken pie and polenta

I love having frozen sheet pastry at home and baking pies fresh. The Aldi puff pastry is probably the worst puff you can find, but because it’s like a hybrid of puff and shortcrust, it makes the best pie pastry you’ll find.

Polenta is also super useful. You can make it creamy like a mash (use stock rather than just water) or you can make polenta chips like these and it’s my secret ingredient to the best roast potatoes you’ll ever have.

3. Thai red curry

When it comes to cooking South East Asian food, I let Christina take over. She’s a real master – and since our cooking class in Bangkok in March this year, she wields fish sauce like a pro chef.

4. Indian curry

Easily one of my all-time favourite foods, Indian is a lot of fun to cook at home. I tend to go a bit crazy when it comes to cooking up a curry, but here are a few of my favourites to make.

I’ve also recently added naan bread and saag tarka dhal (the one I’m using the blow torch on) to my repertoire. Watch this space for in-depth recipes.

5. Left-over pies

Kind of linked to both the lasagne and my point about having pastry in the freezer, one thing I love doing is making pies out of dinner leftovers. I made a batch of little party pies from a chilli I made. Christina’s pretty happy with the outcome!

6. Meatballs

Another thing you can do with a big batch of mince is make meatballs. They’re really easy to mix up (I use an egg to help hold everything together, but many recipes don’t) and then you can freeze them for later.

When you make up the sauce, just plop the frozen meatballs in for about 20 minutes or until they’re cooked through.

7. Gluten-free choc peanut butter cookies

Christina made these little works of art for my birthday. She hasn’t made them in a while, which is probably why I can still fit into most of my clothes.

You only need five ingredients, they’re gluten free and they’re the most delicious thing you’ll ever eat. Here’s the recipe.

8. Bacon egg rolls

Perhaps not the most inspiring-sounding option, but when you have really good, locally produced bacon, things really step up on this delicious lunch option. I’ve also popped some pickles on here, which really works by the way.

But best of all, I made the bun at home too. I’ve used this bun recipe before a few times and it never fails!

9. Chocolate brownies

You might think those packet-bake brownie kits you get at the shops is cheating, but I tell you what, the Betty Crocker triple choc brownies are an absolute win. A little sprinkle of Maldon salt on top turns them into quite grown-up options too.

10. Choc and berry cupcakes

I wish we could take credit for these, but they’re actually a gift from our beautiful neighbours Denese and Jack. They even gave us these magazines to keep us entertained. So sweet.

We have a kind of baked goods barter system with them. Usually it’s cookies in return amazing things – including this incredible block of rocky road.

11. Banana bread

For a while, I thought Christina was hoarding bananas, which I thought was neither a good idea nor sustainable. It turns out she was keeping them until they went black to make into banana bread, which also turns out to be very in-trend at the moment.

I’ll have to squeeze her for the recipe at some point, but in the meantime, here’s my regular bread recipe I’ve been using for a couple of years now.

12. Macadamia shortbread cookies

If I could say I have a sweet speciality, I think it would have to be these gluten-free macadamia shortbread cookies. They’re so good but dangerously more-ish. These are my go-to currency when Denese brings round something delicious.

Nip of Courage - Aussie Tipple Co negroni

A delivery came the other day from our brilliant friends Kathleen and Jarrod, who run Nip of Courage – a distribution and marketing company for Australian craft spirits.

They also have a pre-mix cocktail company called Aussie Spirits, and they’re making these amazing 1-litre bottles of negronis (and other cocktails) while we’re all in lockdown.

We’ll be enjoying this lovely gift during our Skype call with them later tonight. Missing friends and not socialising is one of the hardest parts of having to stay put during the epidemic.

Our own personalised Negroni bottle and a long virtual chat with good people helps a lot.

Get your cocktails mixed and sent to you here.

Another of Christina’s newly discovered comforts is a good bath. I don’t know why, but she’s really into them at the moment. Perhaps it’s the cold evenings… or perhaps it’s that I keep bringing her champagne while she soaks.

Come to think of it, maybe I should have a bath!

There are few things in life that beat a good martini. And the more olives you can get on your stick the better!

On IGTV recently, we started doing cocktail hour classes – and here you can watch how I make ours.

I’m using Warner’s Gin – a beautiful London dry from the UK. The Warners are a couple working together like us, so we feel some kinship there. They’re also the major sponsor for Hospo For Life – a foundation to help people in the hospitality industry who are struggling with mental health in these hard times.

Warner’s are putting $5 from every bottle sold towards the foundation until the end of the month.

Today, Christina is decorating the office. We’re spending more time here than ever before, and these big white doors aren’t best backdrop for Zoom calls.

So she’s using Japanese washi tape to create these cool line drawings. The tape just peals off, so if you make a mistake or have to remove the pictures, it comes off easily.

Warner's Gin negroni

Tonight is another Cocktail Hour Class on IGTV. This time, we’re making negronis. There’s been a bit of hype to negronis recently thanks to Stanley Tucci’s aberration (sorry Stanley, you can’t ‘just swap gin out for vodka’) and also Alexander Kraft of Sotheby’s International on IGTV with The Rake.

If you haven’t seen this guy before, he does regular tours of his estate, his car collection, his watch collection, his vintage cigars… he’s amazing and every room has a negroni kit ready to go.

Our negroni is made with Warner’s gin again – but this time their pink rhubarb gin. It adds a delicious sweet tartness to the drink – but see for yourself. I’ve been taught by real master mixologists how to make a negroni. I hope my learnings come through!

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In another of our Cocktail Hour classes on IGTV, I talk about the wonders of the gin mule and – of course – show you how to make it. I’m also using the Warner’s rhubarb gin here.

Discovered that the little harbourside pools and beaches around Balmain are not as safe as they might seem today. I don’t know if this is a sign that the harbour is cleaner than normal or what, but a note on the rocks warning about a blue-ringed octopus living in the water here is a bit worrying.

They’re one of the most poisonous creatures in and around Australia… which is saying something!

Anthony Nader RAW

Thanks to Christina’s hair and beauty site Hair Romance, we’re lucky enough to be working with the super-talented hair stylist Anthony Nader today in his cool Surry Hills salon and his hair product and equipment business Sydney Salon Supplies.

We’re creating some ‘cuts-at-home’ videos with him to help people trim their overgrown hair in lockdown.

We’re shooting a men’s hair and beard trim at the moment – as you can see from this BTS shot.

Inspired by Anthony’s craftsmanship, I’ve decided to give myself a bit of a beard trim too. Not sure which version I prefer… though the photo in the bottom right makes me wonder where my chin’s gone!

Today, to celebrate Mother’s Day, we’re at Christina’s sister’s place. We’re welcomed by the house gargoyles – Raven the black lab and Monte the moggie!

Christina’s sister’s house has a great back yard and the most recent addition is the fire pit. As our nephews get the flames going, we prepare for an evening of fun and catch-ups.

We enjoy the warmth of the fire with Christina’s mum and our brother-in-law – architect and builder of the fire pit.

And if you’re wondering what those silver pear things are, they’re potatoes we’ll be baking on the fire later.

After dinner, we break out the marshmallows. It’s so good to see everyone – it’s amazing to think the last time we saw these guys, talk of an epidemic was almost speculation and fiction.

Today is perhaps the most important day of the year. Yes, that’s right, it’s my birthday!

We were supposed to be in Europe today, but obviously Covid has seen to that. But if cancelled travel plans are the worst that happen to us, I think we’re pretty lucky.

Partagas D4 Cuban cigar

It’s more than enough for me to be spending my birthday with this amazing woman. I barely notice the view when I’m with her.

But sitting here with Christina, negronis, a magnificent cigar and a bit of backgammon – not to mention a new shirt – I couldn’t be happier.

Not Just Curries Balmain delivery

Unless you include a curry feast! This magnificent meal comes from our local Indian and is exactly what I was hoping for.

Thanks to my mum and dad for the present. We’ve ordered far too much food – to the point that the guy on the phone taking the order persuaded Christina to get more rice because he thought this was for more than just two people!

I took my own advice though and have made pies with the leftovers. Lots of pies!

Thanks also to our awesome neighbours Red and Lysh for the beers. Young Henrys Natural Lager goes so well with a curry.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Tonight is the first time I’ve been out to socialise since lockdown began and (obviously) since the rules were relaxed a bit.

I’m off to see my mate Pete for a cigar and some whisky.

As I come home, I realise how pretty the harbour is at night. It’s been so long since I saw it like this. And that’s the good thing about being at home so much: you see the beauty again in places you’ve seen so often.

It’s a humid night in the city. In fact, Sydney is the only place I’ve ever been both cold and sweaty at the same time. How can it be both humid and chilly?

But as the low clouds tug and pull at the buildings and towers, the moon glints down from its shining seat in the heavens.

Only morning, with the pale sun pinking the sky, do the city mists flee, leaving a damp, glimmering town below.

Partagas Cuban cigar

We hope you’ve enjoyed this Weekly Edition. Stay safe and be happy.

Jim & Christina xx

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